Free {Kingdoms of War}

An outlaw, tuned to kill. A shifter, transformed from myth to monster. A prince, denied rightful claim to the throne. An assassin, adapted to survive and to kill. Four monsters, and a common enemy to unite them.

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13. Chapter Twelve

They flew behind Rubin - who, luckily, knew the way to the Shade - and Lux.

It would have been easier to use shadow-voyage, but Axel reminded himself that sometimes, flying instead could be interesting. It wasn't like they had anything better to do, after all.

Axel wished that he could talk to Skala, but the wind would snatch away his words at such a high altitude. Besides, for now, it was enough to simply be right beside her. She was the only member of the Golden Flame he didn't loathe, who he could open up to completely and honestly. Rubin, he wanted to strangulate; Lux, he wanted to leave in the slums of Haven's capital; Vipera, he wanted to mock completely before slaughtering. Not exactly pleasant, he knew, but it wasn't like he was humane.

When they reached the entrance to the Shade, Skala expertly flew her griffin downwards, guiding the creature into a graceful descent.

"You're good at this," Axel grinned, leaning forwards and speaking towards her ear. Skala turned her head, smiling at him.

"Thanks," she called back. Axel couldn't help but wonder how she'd picked up flying so quickly. She was a skinshifter herself, so that could quite probably come into it. But the natural form she assumed as she steered the griffin towards the ground... He knew he could never pick it up simply by watching Rubin and merely being good with animals.

They landed, and Lux was the first to dismount.

"So this is the Shade?" he asked curiously. Like a child, Axel couldn't help but think. "I'd like to go in, but I might be recognised, and that might cause chaos inside. I'll wait here with the griffins," the prince said softly. Rubin glanced to Axel and Skala.

"You two, stay here with him. I'll get the most difficult job I can find."

Rubin gave a swift bow before leaving, heading into the tunnel that lead to the Shade. Axel was tempted to ignore his orders and follow, but the Shade was filled with people. One small child was preferable to the hundreds of humans inside.

"I'm surprised you followed an order," Lux said, looking questioningly at Axel.

"I only obey when I see a point to it, princeling. I do not follow orders; I create them for myself."

Lux smiled. "That's admirable. You must be strong, to do that so easily."

He snorted. "Really? You're meant to be ordering people around, and you think I'm strong merely because I'm different?"

At this, Lux's smile shrunk back a little. "I don't really do the ordering. Vipera does a lot of the orders, since she knows more about it. She's experienced, and she's clever."

"So you're a puppet on strings?"

The prince's eyes flashed with a swelling of emotion - acceptance, sorrow, defeat.

"Yes," he said in a small voice. "I suppose I am."

"Then you should stop listening to Vipera. You were better than her last night, weren't you? You easily turned everything around on your own, did you not?" Axel realised, as he said the words, that he was offering help - sincere help - to a human. A human. He did, of course, sound completely sceptical, but that was beside the point.

"I guess I should," Lux sighed. "But I'm not strong enough to oppose her. Besides, she knows about leadership. I don't."

"You've spent your entire life as a prince, and you still don't know about giving orders?" Axel scoffed. What sort of a prince wasn't used to giving orders?

"Well, I do, but Vipera's just... Better," Lux said eventually. "Though she can be irritable, sometimes." 

"I can tell."

"She has a right to be cynical, I suppose," Lux said quietly. "When she was escaping Disan, she only just made it through the portal. It cut off her parents, leaving them stranded."

With a grunt of acknowledgement, Axel turned his attention to the mountains around them. He shouldn't even be trying to help the prince. He was a mere human - far weaker than him; lacking resolve.

"Might I ask you, Silver, why doesn't Shadow speak? I can't see any physical injuries or scars. I don't really know much about this, but..." Lux trailed off, apparently embarrassing himself.

"Why do you have manners? You're royalty. Princes just demand things of people, you know."

Lux laughed a little. He was strange, the prince. "I'm not really a normal prince, am I?"

"No," Axel agreed. "You're not. Answer my question."

"I don't want to just impose my rule on people. I want them to follow because they want to, because they're loyal. Not afraid. I don't want to rule through fear."

Strange, and amusing. Definitely amusing.

"Fear is the easiest way to rule," Axel replied simply.

"Do I always have to select the easiest way? Is it a crime to take the harder road with the better results?"

Axel sighed. Humans - so foolish in their strange ideals; in their impossible dreams. "Fear will give you the greater results, princeling. Remember that."

Lux simply shook his head. "Not if everybody is loyal."

An entire nation of people - completely loyal. As he said it, Axel could tell that Lux was not going to give up on his precious little dream, but he didn't care. It might have been pointless, but at least it was something to occupy him.

"It will never happen. People all are different. You cannot hope to appeal to them all. There will always be those who will rise to take over your reign, because you are weak, and you are not using the fear you have the perfect chance to use against them."

At this, Lux tilted his head slightly, then shook it. "If some will follow me, then they will be enough. A loyal man fights better than one who is not."

"Those who oppose you will be loyal to their cause, princeling."

"But if more people are loyal to me than them, then we shall win."

Axel couldn't help but laugh. "You humans are strange," he said. "Sometimes, you dwell so much on your dreams that you forget to live."

Lux laughed with him. "And what if we live to chase our dreams?"

"Then you'd better find a dream you can not only chase, but catch," he said simply.

Lux nodded enthusiastically. "And I will catch my dream," he said. His golden eyes, Axel realised, were dancing with aspiration, hope, determination. It was almost inspiring, to see such perseverance in the eyes of a human. They might be ugly creatures, but their eyes were fascinating - filled with all of their emotions; sometimes hidden behind a shield but always there, if only slightly.

"And what is your dream?" Lux asked, with a certain timidity to his tone.

"My dream?" Axel mused. "I don't really see the point in dreams. If you live, then you do so. A dream is a hope; to live rather than to hope is to achieve that which you love."

"Then what do you love?"

"Freedom." Axel replied almost without hesitation. The only pause he made was to stop himself from answering Skala's name. Her friendship was equally as beautiful as the light of the liberty they basked within together.

Lux's eyes lit up. "I sort of expected you to say money, Silver."

Axel snorted. "Money is a human concept. It holds great value to you, but to me, money is worthless."

Lux studied him for a moment. "Human?" he asked. "You say that like you aren't one."

Axel laughed, but this laugh was not in amusement, but a cold, emotionless display of mockery. "We're not human. Shadow and me both."

Lux furrowed his brows in confusion. "Yes you are."

"We're not," Axel shook his head. "You do not know us truly, as we really are."

"Then what are you?"

Axel looked down on the prince, finally allowing his default expression - the metallic silver eyes with the emotionless sheen - to slide onto his face. "We're monsters, prince. Do not forget that."

Something changed in Lux's demeanour, like something had drained his previous blissful joy from his mind and replaced it with a monster of cold, heartless negativity. A brief glint of sorrow, dread, remorse, and depression entered the gold of his eyes, before he quickly managed to subdue it.

"I'm back, my Prince, and I have a job!" Rubin's loud, unmissable voice called out as the assassin emerged from the tunnel. Lux nodded quickly, taking the request from Rubin and reading through it.

"You have selected well," Lux praised him, though his smile was distant and forced.

And, as was the nature of the human eye, Lux's betrayed him.

Monster.

The question was: what did Lux have to do with his kind?

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