The call came, loud and insistent, from behind his door. Lux's eyes flickered open, and he ran to the door, hastily unlocking it and throwing it open.
"Rubin? What's wrong?"
"They were ambushed on the way here, my prince! Did you-"
Lux pushed past him, already charging down the stairs. "Where?" he called out behind him. "Where are they?"
Rubin's footsteps echoed out from behind him. "One of the third level corridors!" Rubin informed him. "Vipera set some of her strongest on him!"
Lux cursed. Why? Why hadn't he just gone to see them? He could have stopped all of this!
"Are they hurt?"
"Shadow's wounded," Rubin replied, and Lux clenched his jaw. "How badly?"
"Just a flesh wound. She was still fighting when I left to find you."
He sighed in relief. At least they weren't in mortal danger, but they would likely be turned against the Golden Flame if Lux didn't reach them in time. There was no way Axel and Skala could lose. Vipera hadn't seen their full power; her strongest warriors stood no chance against the two of them.
Lux reached the third floor, leaping down the last few steps and hitting the ground running. He had to reach them in time - he couldn't loose them!
Another figure emerged from a stairwell, and instantly Lux slipped into defensive position.
"Why are you doing this, Vipera?" he demanded. "Don't play a fool with me. I know what you're doing."
The woman's snakelike eyes turned to focus on him, and they were cold and cruel and hateful.
"They were plotting against you, my Prince," she told him, quickly recovering.
"They weren't!" Lux hissed. "Your men won't beat them. They won't listen to Krig, either."
"How do you know of Krig?" Vipera growled. Her lips curled up into a snarl, and she took an intimidating step towards him.
"I know of him because I heard you both yesterday. I won't let you trick them, Vipera," Lux stated.
"I second that statement," Rubin said, almost cheerfully. "In fact, my prince, you go ahead and help Silver and Shadow. I've always wanted to fight her."
He sent a brief glance to the assassin, whose mask concealed his expression, but not the tone in his words. Lux grit his teeth, hating to simply leave the assassin to fight his battle for him, and ran on ahead.
"You will fail, princeling!" Vipera hissed afterwards. There was the sound of screeching metal, and a knife sliced through the air past his head.
"Run!" Rubin's voice, this time.
Lux glanced back one last time, at the two locked in combat, and ran.
Axel snarled as he ripped through the chest of another Knight of the Golden Flame.
How pathetic. The prince had dared to do this? After Axel had trusted him with his name? With his past? With the most he'd ever trusted anybody but Skala with?
"For the prince!"
Another war cry, slicing into him and drawing another line of invisible blood, a wound of shame and betrayal and traitorous intent. Had the friendliness all been a ploy? Was his real self cold, ruthless, backstabbing? Axel couldn't believe he'd trusted the prince. Why? Why had he condemned himself to this? Skala was injured, because of him, because he had allowed himself to trust.
It just went to show what you got for trusting a human. They were disgusting little creatures, stupid and hateful and loathsome.
He plunged a blade of darkness through the stomach of an oncoming woman, pushing her corpse aside.
A new, unfamiliar voice echoed down the corridor as the last two opponents burst into flame. Skala's doing.
Axel looked up at the voice's owner, instantly spotting a man of roughly twenty, approaching with no weapons in his hands. A mane of shaggy, dirty blonde hair hung around his head; eyes of a pale blue danced brightly as he approached.
"What do you want, human? Have you realised how hopeless this all is?"
"Of course not," the human replied. "I'm here because I'm not one of them. I'm with the Tarns. The real royal family."
"Wonderful," Axel spat. "Then I'll kill you, too."
The blonde shook his head. "No. That wasn't why I came. If you join us-"
"I'm not joining the Tarns," Axel spat. "The rulers of Haven despise our kind. Run away, and perhaps you'll be fun to hunt."
"Do you not want to help us to crush the Golden Flame? Surely, you'll find it more amusing to crush them alongside others, so you can watch them fall completely to power and numbers and rulers."
Axel scowled at the man. "It would amuse me more to destroy everything now," he replied. His voice was devoid of all but hatred. They'd hurt Skala - his one true friend, the only one who would not betray him.
"But it would be too quick, too swift," the man replied. "To watch them suffer slowly... Would that not show everybody that they should not go to the trouble of trying to befriend one such as yourself?"
Axel laughed. "Why should I wait? I don't want to look upon their filthy existence again. Another reason, and perhaps I won't kill you."
The blonde titled his head. "There are many. Revenge. Does it mean nothing to you? Also, the Tarns could provide you with a large list of targets. Targets that are difficult to kill, ones that could amuse you. Royalty allows for such privileges. They could provide everything you needed."
"Why does it matter to you?" Axel snarled. "Why should we join your pathetic kind?"
"Because," the man said. "There is a war coming, against us and the criminals. Picking a side is the best way to participate in a war. Or do you want to tastelessly sit it out, ignoring the fighting and assassinating the occasional victim? You can bore yourself, Silver, you can join the traitors who stabbed you in the back, or you can join us. Are you in?"
Axel looked to Silver. He didn't want to trust these insects, but the man had a point. Slowly, she nodded as though telling him she would agree to whatever he had decided upon, her faith in him still undamaged. It should be at least dented now, her own trust. He had allowed them both to trust Lux, and this had been the result.
But they wouldn't need to trust these humans - they'd simply be required to work alongside them. Even that, however, sickened him.
"We will make our own side in this war, then. We're strong enough to fight you all. You're weak. Pathetic."
The man's eyes narrowed, and he unsheathed a blade, ready to fight them. Another corpse would hardly bother Axel.
Behind him, there were more footsteps, but only one set. Axel turned. The blonde could wait.
Behind him: Lux.
"You," he hissed. "If you've come to fight me, traitor, I don't care. You've hurt my friend, and I won't even bow so low as to fight you. My magic would be tainted with hideously loathsome poison if it so much as touched you. Skala, let's go."
The prince tried to speak as Skala melted into the realm of shadow-voyage. No doubt, the prince was trying to sting him with words, but Axel had already faded into the shadows.
He had been wounded enough, today.