She stood beside Axel, her eyes glinting. Disan... She could still remember the days of so-called purity, of white scales rather than black. Those days were long behind her, and besides, she had friends now.
Now, she would not be overrun by shadows, no matter how many, no matter how vicious. She was stronger, now.
She took one last look at the glade. They might not be back for a while, Axel had said. It all depended on what they found in Disan. If it was empty, they wouldn't be there long. If there were shadows, however...
She still remember the agony of their magic, forcing away her own, destroying the light within her and replacing it with darkness. But they had not made her their puppet. No - Axel had found her, and he had given her a friend and a home and everything else. She did not love him as Lux did, but she still would die for him. To go back to her past would be easier, if it was for him.
Besides, they both were free, and what better than to escape the boundaries of a single world?
The sound of the river was faint, but gentle. What would they find in Disan? Would the streams still be clear and blue? Would the trees still be coated with emerald foliage, or had the shadows reigned their darkness upon them, too?
She padded across the grass, lifting her head to the sky. Vast, endless, an ocean of uncharted territory through which she could soar.
"I'm ready to go," she said softly. "You?"
Axel nodded, and looked away from the lodge, back to her. "I just need to speak to Lux before we go."
"Naturally," she agreed, half-mockingly, and Axel melted into the shadows before she could jest any further. Following him, Skala welcomed the cool of the dark as it brushed against her skin, and smiled at the sense of unlimited weightlessness.
It didn't matter how strong the shadows were - against the two of them, they stood no chance. Now, she knew the tricks of the dark, and mercy was a thing of the past. When dealing with shadows, mercy would only slow them down, could only ever hurt them.
Axel stepped from the darkness ahead of her, and Skala followed him, her feet touching the floor of Lux's documenting room. Rubin stood beside Lux's chair, still dressed in black and red rather than in the new uniform of the Golden Flame. He was wearing the mask again, but there were blue gems where half the rubies had been. They had been distracting him, he'd said, when Vipera had attacked and Krig had saved him. Skala still remembered the anguish in his voice as he'd sat, finally drawn away from the ale, telling her that he might have heard Vipera, if he hadn't been distracted by the sapphires. It was probably one of the only sentimental things he'd done, but he'd put them into his mask. He could never sell them, Rubin had told her. Never.
"Axel!" Lux's eyes lit up. Axel nodded in greeting.
"We came to inform you that we're leaving you, now."
Lux nodded, biting his lip. Axel set a hand on his shoulder. "You'll be fine. We shouldn't be more than a few days, and if we are, don't worry."
"You don't get it, do you?" Rubin laughed. "You're forcing him to go a whole few days without a hug or a kiss or something!"
The assassin didn't falter as both Axel and Lux turned to glare at him, and Skala couldn't help but silently agree.
"And you're sure this is safe?" Lux asked, turning back to Axel.
"Almost sure," Axel replied.
He bit his lip again, before rising from the chair. "It had better be safe," Lux said, before wrapping his arms around Axel tightly.
Skala met Rubin's eyes, a silent urge that neither of them should shatter the moment, as Axel returned Lux's hug, smiling softly.
The second they broke away, Rubin lost it. His laughter exploded through the room, as he sauntered over to Axel and slung an arm around his shoulder.
"Told you so," he sniggered gleefully, finally controlling his laughter to at least a non-deafening level.
"We're just friends!" Lux protested, blushing.
"Nope. Friends don't hug like that," Rubin laughed. "Right, Skala?"
"Correct," she put in, a smile touching her lips at Axel's scowl.
"Skala," he said warningly.
She ignored him.
"Before you ask, amateur, I'll protect your precious little king."
Axel sent him a glare.
"You'd better," he growled, pushing Rubin's arm away. "We're leaving now. Get off."
Rubin moved away. "Worried Lux will get jealous?"
Axel grit his teeth, apparently trying to ignore Rubin. Skala found herself smiling at the sight of it: Rubin back to normal, the three of them arguing again.
"See you," Skala said.
"Thanks for everything," Lux said to the two of them. "I'll see you soon."
His eyes flickered to meet Axel's, probably a silent message passed between them.
"Go kill shadows," Rubin grinned, clapping her on the shoulder. "And make sure he doesn't get too lonely without Lux."
"I'll try," she nodded, still ignoring the glares. For a moment, none of them said anything, but Rubin broke the silence.
"Get going." He was probably grinning beneath the mask - his default expression.
"Right," Axel nodded, taking a deep breath.
"See you soon," he promised. With one final glance to Lux, he disappeared into the darkness. Skala followed him.
They set off through the dark, bags over their backs, sticking close to one another, matching strides. She would follow him, they'd decided. Axel was more talented with the shadow-voyaging than her: he should be the one to lead. She trusted him with her life, after all.
"I think we're about a third of the way," he said, after at least a few minutes of silent walking. His voice echoed endlessly, rippling through the dark. Every sound in here was an eternal distortion of its original. It was obscure, but strangely calming. Skala admired the sound of it.
How would she react if she saw a shadow? Axel, knowing him, would most likely feel the anger returning. He'd never had much control over temper, not when he got really angry. But he could pull through, probably, for Lux.
"I think it's here," he said, his words rippling out again.
"I trust you," Skala smiled. "Let's go."
He clasped her wrist, and they stepped out together, hit instantly by a gust of wind.
She looked at the city around her - if you could call it that. Buildings had been reduced to rubble; skeletons lined the streets. Everything was empty.
"Well," Axel said, voice weak and trembling, "At least we got here."
She looked into the distance, remembering the mountains through which she once had flown.
"Yes," she repeated. "At least we got here."
For there was only one place it could be.