When Lux finally reached the cell, the fire mage was standing before Axel's limp form. For a moment, Lux could detect no movement, could see nothing.
And then - the faint rise of his chest.
Relief swallowed him completely. And was washed away again, as the fire mage pummelled his fist into Axel's stomach. A weak splutter, and already Lux couldn't take it any more.
"Get away from him!" he demanded, finally finding his voice. The mage turned, lazily, studying him with faint interest.
"You got past her, huh? Well, she was an ice mage, after all."
"I said, get away from him."
"Why should I? Wait, wait... Are you the one who lead those people to fight me? I was in charge of the everflames exploding. Nice touch, wasn't it?" he laughed. Lux's eyes widened.
"No," he breathed. The mage simply laughed, and the faces of those soldiers flashed through his mind. The eagerness with which they had accepted the task, and the suddenness with which they had died. Lux found himself breathing heavily, electricity flowing through his veins and crackling around his clenched fists. This had been the man to destroy them all, to crush his people, his friends, to reduce them to ashes.
The fire mage's hands lit up with flames, and Lux slid easily into combat stance. This man, he would have no qualms with destroying.
And suddenly, the mage was turning around, his palm pressing into Axel's shoulder.
"No!" Lux screamed, running forwards, but it was already too late. Axel's scream ripped through the cell, piercing into Lux's ears, worse than the pain of the ice, so much worse, so much more painful.
Just in time, the fire mage whirled around to intercept Lux's lightning with his flames, and he was laughing, laughing because Axel was in pain, and suddenly Lux wanted nothing more than to destroy him.
"You killed them!" he screamed, dodging a blast of flames without thought. Anger was his fuel, now, not fear, not determination: pure, loathing, hateful anger
"They were weak," the fire mage replied easily, rolling to evade a blast of electricity.
"They were strong! You had to reply on betrayal to hurt them!" Lux shot back. The fire mage scoffed.
"They were stronger than him, admittedly."
Him. Meaning Axel.
"He's never been weak! He's the strongest person I know!" Lux shouted, sending another web of electricity at the mage. Again, he evaded it, and Lux's frustration grew. He'd killed his friends, he'd hurt Axel, and now he was insulting them?
"Then you don't know a great deal of people," the fire mage scoffed, turning around for a brief moment and trying to send a ball of flames at Axel. Lux dived at him, and the two of them went tumbling, fire licking at Lux's ankle. The mage kicked him off in disgust, and Lux struggled to regain his feet.
"Would you really go through all this for him?" he laughed. Lux dragged himself up, leaning heavily against the now blackened wall.
"I'd go through hell," he hissed. "And you're not going to touch him again."
"Oh?" his opponent taunted. "And why does he mean so much to you? What worth does somebody like that have?" Once more, he tried darting towards Axel, but Lux moved faster, a bolt of electricity cutting off the mage's movement.
"Stop insulting him!"
"Why?" the fire mage scoffed. "He's useless. Why are you defending him? What makes you protect fools like him?"
"Because he's protected me!" Lux returned, eyes blazing. "Because he's always been there to save me, to drag me out of whatever dark pit I've dug for myself, and he's never left me. Not even once, no matter how much of a dead weight I've been, no matter how difficult it is to always keep saving me, he's always been there. Always." The electricity was sparking from his whole body, now, a physical aura of glowing energy, each of his words building upon the power until the fire mage could no longer bear to look at him. "So don't you dare insult him," Lux growled, concentrating the energy into his palms and meeting the slowly reopening eyes of the mage.
The lightning magic blasted its way straight through his opponent's chest, leaving a burning, smouldering gap through the man's body.
Lux hardly noticed. There was only Axel, hanging from the chains, breaths in shallow gasps, head down.
"Axel, please answer me, please, please, I'm begging you, Axel..."
How did he get him out? Any electricity on the chains, and they'd hurt him even more. A key? There had to be one, or something to release him, something, anything!
Lux looked at the locks that held the chains in place. He needed a key. But would Vipera have trusted anybody else with the keys? He ran to the fire mage's body, frantically searching pockets for any keys. He needed to get Axel out - the burn was looking bad, and Axel's breathing was too rapid, too shallow. Finally, he found it - the tiny piece of metal that seemed so light in his palm, the tiny piece of metal that was Axel's life.
Lux slotted it into the lock held into the walls, darting to catch Axel as he fell, held only by the chains secured to the wall at his right. Dragging Axel's limp body with him, Lux struggled to push the key into the second lock, and Axel was freed completely of Vipera's restraint.
Tugging the chains from Axel's body, Lux whispered his name again in frantic terror, checking his breathing, trying to lift him onto his shoulders. Of the two of them, Axel had always been stronger, but then Axel had always been the one who had to save Lux. Now, the tables were turned, and Lux was struggling where Axel had done everything so smoothly, so effortlessly. Giving up on trying to drag Axel over his shoulders, Lux tried to pick him up within his arms. Somehow, he managed to lift him, fighting exhaustion to carry him out of the room and through the corridors that Lux had been running through, only a few minutes ago.
Axel was bigger, stronger, heavier. His weight in Lux's trembling arms was almost too much, but Lux had to tell himself that it couldn't be too much, that Axel had to get out of here. Neither of them would be leaving if he couldn't just battle through it, Lux told himself.
His leg finally gave in to the burn, and Lux buckled. Pain shot through him as he hit the ground, and Lux was instantly swallowed by guilt. How could he be worrying about himself, when he'd just dropped Axel? Slowly, agonisingly, he untangled himself from the dark mage, trying to fight back the tears of frustration.
His eyelids flickered open briefly, his lips parting in a brave attempt to form words, but, just as swiftly, his eyes were rolling back, and Lux was left alone. Again.
Lux simply laid there for a long moment, breathing sharply, rubbing away the tears with furious movement. He couldn't cry, not now.
He struggled to stand again, lifting Axel awkwardly into his arms once more, and kept walking.