Axel swore again, kicking at the grass.
"Humans," he spat.
"You couldn't have known," Skala sighed, though, judging from her voice, she knew that there was no calming him.
"I should have known," Axel snarled. "He's one of them. He's just another stupid, pathetic little human."
He should have killed Lux. What had stopped him? It wasn't like the prince cared about him, but he'd left him unscathed. Why? Why couldn't he have just pierced through his heart? He was just like Rubin - a faithless, heartless traitor. And he'd manipulated Axel enough.
"Let's go to the Shade," Axel growled. "We might as well take all of the Golden Flame's good jobs while they start a war with the Tarn family."
Skala nodded. "Stop blaming yourself, Axel," she told him. Axel laughed, at his own stupidity, at the nature of that stupid race, at the weakness of his own frail hand. Why hadn't he just ended Lux's life then?
"Stop blaming myself? I trusted a human, and look where it got us. You're wounded."
"It's not that bad," she told him. He'd already bandaged it, and it was, to be completely fair, not particularly deep or wide, but it still would have hurt. Skala had been hurt because of him, because of his stupidity.
"I don't care," Axel replied, gritting his teeth and tightening his clenched fists. "He still hurt you."
"Yes, but not much. We're in this together, Axel. We're both to blame for trusting them."
"I was the one who lead you to trust them!" he shouted. He realised that his eyes were burning: a lone tear streaked down his cheek.
"And you were the one who dragged me from the shadows' prison," she said gently. Her voice was a lullaby, soothing him, calming him. Axel allowed her to pull him into her arms, burying his head in her shoulder. Her cool skin was strangely warming; her words calming him as she spoke softly in his ears.
The human had made him feel, had played with his emotions, had truly made him believe that he was trustworthy. He had saved him, too. And Axel had trusted him. Had allowed himself to befriend him. Without Lux, he'd be dead. And yet it had been Lux who had tried to kill them both, had sent his men in. His men: prepared to die for the prince's cause. Didn't they realise they were being used? That they were mere pawns?
He had sworn not to let emotions play with him ever since Disan. He had forced himself to forget how to feel for anybody other than Skala. Anything else had been painful, and he'd thought that maybe Lux could have been the exception, but no. Only Skala. He could only trust her - the only being who had gone through the pain of the darkness.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into Skala's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
And he was. She followed him, blindly, obliviously - and he had almost got her killed because of one stupid choice. One stupid misjudgement.
"Don't be," Skala told him, standing and pulling him up with her. "Now, do you want to go to the Shade, or stay here?"
Axel swallowed. "You decide," he told her. Skala shook her head.
"I don't mind."
He sighed deeply, blinking furiously twice and rubbing his eyes. He could hardly make her stay here, forcing her to comfort him in his pathetic state of ruin.
"The Shade, then."
He recognised it instantly as Rubin's voice, the moment he entered the building. The woman who usually handed out requests was slumped in the corner; Rubin was here instead, his face bared. A long, jagged wound ran along his left cheek; his eye was swollen and blackened. Axel's hands both flared with energy.
"I will kill you if you move, assassin," he spat. Another of the prince's pawns.
And then realised, that Rubin had used his name rather than simply 'amateur'. Something was wrong.
"Please, you have to help us," Rubin begged. For once, his voice was not loud and confident, but... imploring?
"Us?" Axel demanded, though he was more bothered by Rubin's tone.
"Me and Lux."
"Why should I help the one who betrayed me? Who tried to kill my best friend?" Axel's voice grew louder as he snarled the words, and the assassin bowed his head.
"He did not, Silver. That was Vipera, ordering them to attack and telling them that you were going to betray Lux. She told them it was by Lux's order that they attack."
"Why should I believe you?"
Rubin sighed, pointing at the wounds on his face. From his bag, he withdrew his mask: sliced in half by something, exactly where the cut ran along his face.
"Vipera did this," he said slowly. "Vipera did this because I turned against her to help the prince. If I hadn't been wearing the mask, I'd be dead."
"Then why hasn't she locked you up?" Axel snarled. The human was lying - that was all they could ever do. Lie. Manipulate. Betray.
"Lux allowed me to escape. He held Vipera off."
"Why should I believe that?" Axel demanded. "You're probably lying, assassin."
Rubin grit his teeth. "If I were lying, I wouldn't be bleeding and begging, would I?" His voice was angry, so unlike his usual voice that it was almost unsettling.
"Please, Silver. Vipera has Lux, and she's hurting him. I don't know how much, but I know Vipera. She'll be hurting him so much, Silver, and I can't help him by myself. If you don't, he might die."
"Then let him die," Axel growled. "He betrayed me." His words were strong, but his heart was brimming with doubt, with hope. Could it have been Vipera? Could it simply have been her, manipulating Lux rather than Lux manipulating him? Axel tried to force down the hope, because hope might get Skala hurt again, might wound her once more.
"He didn't betray you!" Rubin shouted. His green eyes burned furiously with something Axel had never seen from him before: compassion. Desperation.
"He did," Axel said. How could he speak with such confidence, and yet feel with such a torn mind?
"We'll help," Skala cut in. Rubin stared at her in shock for a moment, before swallowing rapidly and recovering as quickly as he could.
"Thank you," he said. Axel turned to look at Skala, who fixed him with a reassuring gaze. Nodding once at her, he turned back to the assassin.
"Fine," Axel spat. "But if you're lying, I'll kill you and Lux both."
Rubin nodded, but his lips had formed a grateful smile. "Thank you," he repeated, bowing his head again and letting out a sigh of relief.
"You've already said that," Axel informed him callously, but inside his heart was racing. Lux might not be against them. Lux might not have been using them.
"Sorry," Rubin mumbled.
"Just tell us what you want us to do," Axel snapped. Rubin nodded.
"Meet me by that waterfall where we first met Lux. I'll fly there, and you can use that shadow-voyage thing you have. Bring some good weapons and stuff. We're going to try sneaking in, but if that fails, we'll need to fight. I've changed the guards at the door before I fled, so we've got somebody who knows Vipera well enough on our side."
'Stuff'. It was evident that the assassin had perked up.
"You're going to trust others?"
"Yes," Rubin nodded. "But Krig knows what Vipera's like. He's aware that she's hurting the prince right now, and he's loyal to Lux."
"Krig?" Axel mused. "I haven't heard of him before."
Rubin shrugged. "He's loyal. But can you be there soon, Silver? Can you be there so we can enter at the right time?"
Axel snorted. "Do you believe I'm tricking you, assassin? Do you think I'd stab you in the back, as everybody else seems intent upon doing to me?"
Rubin shook his head. "No. Of course not."
"Very well, assassin. We shall be there."
Axel faded into the darkness.