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.


1. Prologue

Skala had long since stopped wishing for the sky.

She had realised, by that point, that to feel the air rushing against her scales would be impossible. That she would forever be a creature of the shadows, a mere puppet for the monster at the heart of darkness. Sometimes, she would dream of soaring, her scales illuminated by the fading glow of the golden sun. Other times, it was the ocean above which she flew, wings skimming the sapphire waves as they lapped at the perfect sands of the coves.

But Skala would always wake up, and she would always remember. The freedom. The glory. Never to be felt again. And then they would drag her from her cell: the shadowy creatures with their obsidian eyes and voices like snakes. They were already servants of the dark, and she was to join them soon. Every day, they would transform another part of her, taking fragments of emotion from her mind until she was no longer sure what mercy meant, until her once alabaster scales had been stained a deep, nebulous hue that gleamed in the dark like defiant coals.

Only her eyes remained unchanged. Still, they were as pale and as beautiful as silvery moonstones, and that the shadows could not change.

But that was a small victory. Skala was lost to the ocean of insanity - her mind trying, night after night, to heal itself. But that was never enough, and it never could be. The shadows changed her until they had shattered what little remained of her resolve. Until she was impossible to transform any more. Until they could do nothing else to shift her very being. When that time came, the shadows realised that she had not been transformed into the beautiful creature of destruction that their master so desired, but a broken being with little left in her mind but a distant memory of impossible freedom. All malevolence had somehow been broken along with her mind, and although the sadistic nature lurked somewhere within the shards of her splintered mentality, the shadows had lost their experiment. She was useless to their master, and so they left her to starve in the chains that held her. 

When Axel found her, days - or maybe weeks - later, she was already too far gone, too deeply cast into the world of the darkness. He ran his hand along her wings, wondering how she could be the Skala from the myths, how this atramentous dragon could be the one with the ivory scales. But he knew, somehow, even before the beast opened her eyes, that the broken form before him was the Skala from the legends.

And he saved her, somehow, from the void of darkness within her mind.

She still convulsed if anything triggered her fear of the cell; she never trusted any but him, but the remnants of her conscience had been put back together by the outlaw, slowly healed by the hands of the renegade killer.

She could never be the celestial guardian of Haven again, they both knew that much. But she could at least fly again, a raven rather than a swan, a monster rather than a myth. And yet Skala had never felt so free than with the boy who had saved her. The boy who had been the first to chase away the fear.

And for the first time since Haven's beginning, there was a star that cut through the dark.

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