It didn't take them long to find the underground hideout.
The place belonged to a woman who had betrayed a gang of criminals, selling them out for a high sum of money to royal guards. In doing so, she had caused the deaths of over half of the gang's members, the destruction of their headquarters, and seriously wounded the leader.
Apparently, they were willing to pour half of their remaining money into seeing her dead - a deal to which Axel was happy to oblige. The woman had betrayed her own. Yet another act of human filth.
Their griffins dropped to the ground near to the entrance, and Rubin glanced at the instructions on the slip of parchment before dismounting.
"It says here that the ruins are east from the pond," Rubin stated. It was unnatural to see him being so strangely formal and serious, but Axel could hardly complain. Life had been made easier merely by the change in his personality around the prince.
Drawing a compass from within the saddlebags, Rubin lead them eastwards.
"Princeling," Axel called out to Lux. "If you want to know why we call ourselves monsters, then watch us destroy whatever protection she might so possess. You will not be so surprised, then."
Lux swallowed as he looked back, and there was that swell of emotion in his eyes again. Humans were strange, strange beings.
"You don't seem like a monster," he said quietly, before speeding up to evade further talk of the subject. Axel lingered slightly to speak in whispers with Skala. With so many human voices and so little of hers, he was starting to get irritated.
"You seem to get along with Lux," she noted, almost warily. Axel shook his head.
"He's just more interesting than most."
"But you answered him," she replied, and a small smile played on her lips. "You - answering to a human."
"Yes," Axel agreed. "But only because he makes for mildly amusing conversation. Other than that, he's a fool." He glanced ahead, to where Rubin spoke flatteringly to Lux. Pathetic - bowing to a child.
"Mildly? You laughed, Axel." Her tone was almost teasing. She was enjoying this a little too much. And then, "But he doesn't seem like a bad human, does he? I mean, he doesn't appear to be quite as shallow as the rest of them."
"I suppose," Axel shrugged. The sky was darkening rapidly; fingers of fiery sunset were clawing at the night, as though trying to slow the advance of the nebulous sky. "But, having said that, he's naive. More so than most of his kind."
"Yes," Skala nodded. She ducked beneath a trailing whip of thorns. "He's so sincere. I would have thought a criminal would be a lot less trusting. We're not exactly the sort who are easy to confide in."
Mumbling his agreement, Axel glanced to Rubin and Lux again. The prince moved swiftly, he realised, like he was no simple spoilt brat, but had been trained. He cleared any obstacles with little effort. Perhaps, he wasn't quite so terrible as the rest of his kind.
Ahead, the prince and the assassin stopped walking, and Rubin threw a quick glimpse back to them. Leisurely, Axel strolled towards them, not bothering to speed up. If he wanted to move more quickly, he would. Currently, he did not.
When they caught up, Axel pushed past to observe the ruins.
The foundations of several stone houses lay across the glade, broken and crushed. Faintly, he remembered going after the group of mages who had destroyed the homes and their residents a few years ago, merely to satisfy their own blood lust. There was no problem with killing the corrupt, but the innocent? That, Axel did not agree with.
"Where do we go from here, assassin?" Axel demanded.
Rubin opened his mouth - probably to call him an amateur, but apparently decided against it with Lux standing beside them.
"We go to the ruins of the house that used to be in the centre of the town. There's a large fragment of stone roughly in the middle of that house's ruins. Apparently, the stone's fake, and we can move it easily to open up some trapdoor. There's supposed to be a key, but I figured you could probably blast it down, amat- Silver," Rubin explained, quickly correcting himself at a questioning glance from Lux.
"Oh? And how did our client come by this information?"
"They sent a spy as one of the woman's guards. Apparently, the spy's withdrawn from the hideout now that the request's been issued. The woman had roughly twenty guards, and the gang have ten men left. Twenty shouldn't be too much for us, should it, my Prince?" Rubin asked to Lux.
The prince smiled. "I'm glad we're to be receiving a challenge. If you feel twenty is a fitting number of guards, then yes, that is fine."
Rubin nodded graciously. "Thank you, Prince," he said, bowing his head before stepping into the ruins. Axel followed, and they headed towards the building in the centre.
Stepping into the remains of the house - a square of overgrown wilderness, surrounded by low, crumbling walls of stone - Axel knelt by the fragment of rock in the centre. About the width of one of his arms, it seemed real enough, though if you looked closely it wasn't quite so dark as the other ashen debris.
Placing both hands firmly upon it, Axel heaved the rock up, pushing it aside. Beneath was a wooden trapdoor, fairly small but not too large for any of them.
"This," Axel said, glancing over his shoulder to meet with Lux's eyes, "Is why I call myself a monster."
He lifted both palms from his side, standing, and aimed them towards the door. Dark energy instantly flowed through his veins, and he could feel the glorious tug of the power as it called to him. The black magic burst from his palms upon command, shooting towards the trapdoor.
There was cloud of dirt to obscure their vision; a loud, splintering noise, and, when the dirt had finally cleared, ladder rungs descending into darkness.
"That's not the worst I can do," Axel added calmly, as Lux stepped forwards to peer down. The prince swallowed, looking at Axel nervously. For a brief shard of a second, there was almost disappointment at Lux's edginess. What hope had he ever possessed? That the prince would not fear him? That he would do so in a way that did not irritate him like Rubin's own manner of foolish fearlessness?
"I'll go first," Lux stammered eventually. He still looked shocked, but Axel hardly cared for his opinion. Why had it even started to matter in the first place, anyway?
"No," Rubin interrupted. "I'll go first. There might be guards."
Without awaiting protest, he slid into the hole, clambering quickly down the rungs. Ignoring Lux, Axel gestured for Skala to follow. She nodded, and Axel climbed in after her. Above him, Lux entered the darkness, his hair completely and utterly contrasting.
He climbed swiftly, his hands barely touching the cold metal of the rungs as he descended. Below, the clashing of steel told him that already, he was missing a fight.
A soft thud as Skala dropped to the ground beside Rubin.
And then, screams.
He skipped the last few rungs, throwing himself down and coming up ready to fight. There were more corpses than live opponents themselves, which was completely typical. Axel needed to fight again - soon. Diving straight at two of the survivors, he slammed blades through each of their hearts.
"I'm going to kill the target," Rubin called out. "You can fight as many guards as you like, but I'm going to be raiding the target's room for money!" There was an almost gleeful hint to his tone, Axel noticed. Humans. Their love for money was almost sickening. Shallow, certainly. It was hardly surprising that Rubin wanted to go and find the riches.
He twisted, narrowly evading a lunge from a swordsman. Before he had the chance, Skala had punctured a hole through his chest with her own blade. The two shared a strange, twisted grin before returning to fighting.
Light footsteps hitting the wooden floor of the hideout alerted him to Lux's entrance. For a moment, Axel allowed himself a second to watch the prince. He had promised them fighting abilities. To what level his skills were at, Axel was yet to see.
Instantly, Lux had drawn a knife in each hand, launching them with perfect accuracy at the nearest foes.
"Oh? So you fight, do you?" Axel asked, keeping his voice calm as his lips fought to contain a grin and his hands emitted another wave of dark magic. Fighting - the moment in which he could truly feel alive.
"I said that I fought," Lux's voice came from nearer the trapdoor. "Where's Rubin?"
"He ran off to find the target and to steal her treasure," Axel called back, ducking and stabbing. A spear of ice came at him, catching his cheek and drawing a faint line of blood from his skin. Axel leapt forwards, a blade of black energy forming and tearing a hole through the ice mage's chest.
And then, for a moment, Axel could only stand, his fingers reaching out to touch the blood, withdrawing coated lightly with the sticky crimson layer.
"Silver!" Lux called out. Axel could hear the panic in his voice. "Silver, are you okay?"
Spinning around, Axel sent a dagger at the approaching mage - the last enemy near to him - and glared at the prince.
"A mere cut, and you worry for my health?"
A relieved expression swept over Lux's face as Axel returned to the fight around him. Only one guard remained, and Skala took care of her swiftly.
The three of them stood in a room filled with corpses.
"I didn't realise your wound was so small," Lux apologised quickly.
"No. And you didn't realise our power was so strong, which is the only reason you stay so far away and pretend to care," Axel snapped in reply, and Lux flinched. He realised too late - that had sounded bitter. That shouldn't sound bitter, had no reason to. Why should he care for the opinion of the princeling? He was just another human. A better human than the rest, admittedly, but still one of them.
Lux opened his mouth to reply, but before he could do so, there was a deep rumbling from the earth around them, like a thousand furious dragons had dived at the ground above.
And then, the world was shaking.