Summary: Yin and Yang. Good and Evil. Black and White. Light and Shadow. For every concept, there is an opposing force. For the people of the Shadows, their opposite is the dwellers of the Light.
Years ago, after a bloody and brutal war, a truce was enacted to stop the killing. Now, with the attempted assassination of the King of Light by a man of Shadow, that truce is threatened.
Can Flynn, Commander of the Shadow Warriors, and trusted servant of the Shadow King, help prevent Shadow and Light from destroying one other? And when an even bigger threat is revealed, can he find the means to save his precious kingdom? Or will all be destroyed?
Warnings: Gore, explicit violence, homosexuality, slash, language
The shadow slid along the dark alley of the golden city, avoiding the piercing light as it made it's way to it's target. Morphing into the shape of a four legged beast, it's misty, swirling form flew silently across the cobbled ground.
Suddenly stopping, it lifted it's head upwards, sniffing the air. With a lunge, it lept onto the alley's wall, forming into an indescribable black form as it crawled upwards. Reaching the rooftop, it formed a snake and slid across the ground, then gained legs and began leaping from one rooftops to the next, unnoticed by all except a mangy street cat.
It stopped a few lengths away from the castle's outer wall, examining the guards. Seeing a chink in their observation, it slid along the ground and wormed through a hole in the wooden gate, making it's way along the grass and towards the castle. Climbing up the golden wall, it entered the castle through a window, sliding along the un-illuminated ceiling as it made it's way to it's destination.
Slowly, cautiously, it entered the King's chambers, breezing through the anteroom and becoming substantial, forming a human body. With a flick of it's hand, a vicious black sword shot out from it's palm, glinting in a small ray of the moonlight. Teeth flashing, the shadow-man stepped silently towards the lump on the huge, four poster canopied bed, raising his sword.
Dropping the sword, the shadow-man cringed as the room was suddenly enveloped in light, dozens of men dressed in golden cloth wielding gold-plated weapons and armor leaping from hidden crevices and filling the room. Surrounding him, they pointed their weapons at him, not allowing for a chance to escape.
"How dare you!" one of the men hissed, prodding the shadow-man with the point of his sword. "How dare you try to harm our King! We have a treaty with you-you barbarians! And you'd willingly break it? This means war!"
"Talick!" a calm voice suddenly said from the doorway, the speaker entering the room. "That is enough."
The shadow-man's eyes locked on the golden eyes of the young King, narrowing dangerously as he bared his fangs. "Murderer!" he hissed, his fingers turning to claws.
The King's eyes looked at the shadow-man, examining him. "Why do you call me that, when it is you who comes here with a sword?" he asked, his voice reasonable.
"You killed my family!" the shadow-man shouted, his outline blurring and turning dark.
The King frowned, slowly shaking his head. "I have killed no one."
"Your men have," the shadow-man hissed. "You let the ones on the border do what they want. They-they-" he broke off, his voice cracking. "They killed my family!"
With an incomprehensible scream, the shadow-man lunged, breaking through the guards and reaching for the King.
Flame suddenly roared from the left, striking the shadow-man and engulfing him in fire. With a high-pitched shriek, the shadow-man vanished, replaced with a black fog. Swirling, the flame and fog quickly dissipated, leaving nothing but a plume of smoke and a black ring that fell to the ground with a loud 'clang.'
For a second, nobody moved. Then, with an unknown signal, suddenly everybody was moving and shouting, orders flying across the room as a circle of guards surrounded the King. Ignoring them, the King stepped forward and leaned down, grabbing the ring and straightening. Examining it, he suddenly paled slightly, his hand lightly trembling as he turned it over in his hand.
"My King?" one of his men questioned, having seen the King's expression change. "Is there something wrong?"
The King glanced up, his eyes locking with his trusted adviser and friend, Levine.
"Yes," the King said, holding up the black ring. "We just killed the Shadow King's son."
The black haired, silver eyed man jumped as someone yelled his name, nearly causing him to fall on his ass from the crouch he was in. Jumping to his feet, he looked towards the entrance of the garden, spotting one of the servants walking quickly towards him.
Giving a short, quick bow, the servant said, "The Shadow King calls for you."
Nodding, Flynn gave one last glance at the pink flower he'd been studying, then turned and left, heading through the massive hallways of the castle to the King's study. Knocking on the obsidian door, Flynn entered the spacious room, quickly taking in the sparsely furnished room, with shelves of books lining the walls, the wall of stained-glass windows looking out on the city, the single, paper-covered table set in the center of the room, and the man sitting behind it.
"My King," Flynn said, bowing graciously to the black-haired man, straightening only after the King greeted him.
"Flynn," the King said with a distracted nod, "Sit."
Making his way to one of the chairs across from the desk, Flynn sat, staring at the man in front of him. With a frown, he realized the King was paler than normal, his long hair slightly ruffled.
"My King?" Flynn asked, tilting his head slightly, giving the man a worried look. "May I ask what's wrong?"
The King sighed, lifting a paper from his desk and staring at it blankly, then holding it out towards Flynn. Hesitating, Flynn reached out and took the paper, quickly scanning it, growing pale himself.
"You-your son-" Flynn muttered, his silver eye's locking with the King's tired black ones.
"He's dead," the King said, a wry smile twisting his lips. "He tried to kill the King of Light. But he was caught."
Flynn jumped out of his chair and began pacing, his mind whirling. "The shadow people will call for blood once they hear of this. There will be war."
The King shook his head, slumping in his chair-something he'd only allow Flynn to see. "No. I will do everything in my power to keep the peace."
"Sire-" Flynn said, giving him a helpless look. "You can't keep this secret. It will get out."
"I don't plan to keep it secret. But, the people don't need to know the entire story."
Flynn stared at the King, slowly sitting back in his seat. "What will you tell them?"
"My son..." the King gave a tired sigh, standing and walking towards the giant windows, staring at the outside. "My son was, I hate to admit, not the best of men. He was great family material, but no ruler. He didn't think things through, and he acted on impulse. I disowned him to try to protect him, knowing he'd one day do something like this and put the country in danger."
The King paused, turning back to Flynn and leaning against the windowsill. "He is-was no longer my son. He was a man who'd lost his family to bandits and blamed it on the neighboring nation. We shall send our deepest apologies to the King of Light for the man's actions. Hopefully we can avoid a long, drawn out and bloody war."
Nodding, Flynn grabbed a paper and quill and began writing a long and sincere letter to the other nation's king, handing it to the King for him to sign. After reading it over, the King signed it, sealed it in an envelope with a wax seal, then handed it to Flynn.
"I want you to deliver it to the King of Light personally," the Shadow King said. "Talk to him if need be, and explain the situation. Tell no one of these details."
Flynn gave him a sharp look, narrowing his eyes. "Are you sure-"
"I'm sure," the King said, his tone giving no room for argument.
After a brief hesitation, Flynn gave a silent nod of acquiescence, stuffing the letter safely in an inner pocket of his tunic. "I shall leave as the sun rises."
Once the King dismissed him, Flynn headed towards his quarters. Entering his room, he shut the door and sighed, running his fingers through his hair. Heading to his wardrobe, he opened a secret compartment and slid the letter into it, shutting it with a quiet click. Feeling his stomach rumble, Flynn decided to head down to the kitchen to eat the dinner he'd missed.
After a dinner of a lukewarm meat soup and a thick slice of bread, Flynn headed out to the castle stables. Finding the stable master, he told the man to prepare his horse for the trip tomorrow, and to get him supplies for the long journey. Once that was done, Flynn headed around the back of the castle and began hunting down a few specific people.
"Jiordan!" Flynn shouted, spotting the swordsman fencing with another swordsman in a dirt-covered area near the stables.
Jiordan finished off the weaker man with a sudden stab, winning the round. After bowing to each other, Jiordan pulled off his helm and set it and his sword on a rack. Walking over to Flynn, Jiordan grinned at him, giving him a questioning look.
"Flynn," he said. "What can I do for ya?"
"You've heard about the incident in the City of Light, I presume?" Flynn asked quietly, leading Jiordan to a quiet alcove where they wouldn't be overheard.
Sensing Flynn's serious tone, Jiordan nodded, his own expression grim. "Yes, it's been the talk of the castle."
Flynn gave a wry chuckle, glancing away. "Word spreads quickly."
Jiordan snickered. "And you're surprised? How long have you lived here, Flynn?"
Shaking his head, Flynn's smile quickly dimmed, turning into a frown. "The King is sending me to the City of Light to talk to their King."
Jiordan's eyes widened as he inhaled sharply, letting his breath out through his teeth in a quiet whistle. "When do you leave?"
"Tomorrow," Flynn said. "Actually, that's what I came to talk to you about. I was wondering if you'd join me. You may bring others," Flynn added as an after thought.
Jiordan didn't even hesitate. "I will join you," he said with a decisive nod. "Plus, this will be a good learning experience from one of my students," he added with a grin. "She's shown great potential, and I think this would be good for her."
Flynn grinned. "Alright. I hope she's a tough one. The journey will be quick-paced, and we'll be in Light territory. Do you think a youngster can handle it?"
Nodding confidently, Jiordan said, "She one of my brightest, most open-minded students. She has no hate for the people of the Light, only mild dislike, which is something I can't say for quiet a few of my other students."
Eying Jiordan's frown, Flynn gave him a moment to himself, then said, "We leave in the morning. Be ready by then."
Saying their goodbye's, the two men split, Flynn back to the castle and Jiordan back to his students.
Flynn headed to the armory next, finding his next recruit.
"Creason," he said, greeting the bear of a man.
Creason glanced up at the smaller man, grinning at Flynn. "Why, if it isn't Flynn. How ya doin', boy?"
Flynn watched as Creason set down his giant axe, standing and greeting Flynn.
"I'm doing good, Creason," Flynn said.
Nodding, Creason quickly got to the point, not one for chit-chat. "So, what can I do for you?"
Flynn told Creason the same situation he'd told Jiordan, then asked if Creason would like to come with them. When the giant bearded man nodded, Flynn told him to be ready by tomorrow, then said his goodbye's and headed for his next stop; the barracks. There, Flynn selected a few soldiers he knew would be good for the journey into the other nation, then told them to be ready for the trip tomorrow.
Once that was done, Flynn headed to the kitchen and ordered the cook to get provisions ready for the trip, then, finally, he headed back to his chambers. Stripping from his clothes and undergarments, he fell into bed and was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Flynn scanned the trees lining the road, shielding the shadow-men from the sun. The canopy was soon going to disappear ahead as they entered Light territory, and Flynn was not looking forward to it. No one in their little group was.
"Flynn," Jiordan said, trotting his horse up beside Flynn. "How long until we reach the City of Light?"
"We'll reach the border in a few candle marks," Flynn said. "Two more days if we travel quickly, and we'll reach the City."
Jiordan sighed, glancing back at Creason, who was talking and laughing with the soldiers. Lillianna, Jiordan's student, was sitting ramrod straight in her saddle, her expression blank as she vainly tried to ignore the men and their loud laughter and crude jokes.
"Will she make it?" Flynn asked Jiordan quietly, staring straight ahead.
Jiordan immediately nodded. "She'll get used to them. And, if she doesn't, she's not one to make a big deal out of it, so you don't have to worry."
Nodding, Flynn was silent the rest of the way to the border, only speaking when they came within view of one of the guard towers protecting the border. Pulling out his Right of Passage from the King, he handed it to one of the guards, watching as they looked it over, then began asking him questions.
"What is your reason for crossing the border?" the guard asked Flynn, not bothering to hide his dislike of the black-haired man.
"We need to speak to the King of Light. We have documentation from the Shadow King promising we shall keep the peace and travel at our own discretion."
After a few more interrogative questions, the guards were finally satisfied enough to let the group cross. Leaving the safety of the trees, the shadow-men all cringed as they were hit full force by the sun, the light burning them. Pulling out their cloaks, the shadow-men quickly pulled the black material over them, cloaking their pale skins from the harsh rays.
The next few days were much like the days before, except the travelers wore their cloaks and had to stop often for breaks. Avoiding as many towns as possible, they reached the City of Light just as the sun was setting and couldn't help but stare.
The castle was situated atop a hill, with houses and other building surrounding it. The roads were paved in gold, catching the light of the setting sun and making the golden buildings sparkle and shine. The entire castle was built of the gold material, glowing brighter than anything in the city. Everything was ornate and decorated, a stark contrast to the Shadow Kingdom's practical and defensive design.
After giving each other a look, Jiordan and Flynn led the way through the city, their black attire and horses gaining stares from everyone as they passed, whispers and excited chatter following in their wake.
Flynn stared at the people of the City of Light, marveling at their differences from his own people. Where his people usually wore black and gray, these people wore gold and white, and several other light, vibrant colors. Everyone had golden colored hair, with amber or brown eyes. Where his home had been filled with darkness and shadow, this city truly was the City of Light.
Following the winding main path up to the castle, Flynn and his group went unassailed until they reached the castle gates. There, several soldiers stopped them, suspicious glints in their eyes.
"State your business!" one of the soldiers growled, looking ready to attack at the slightest provocation.
"I am Flynn, the Commander of the Shadow Warriors," Flynn said clearly. "I have been sent by the Shadow King to deliver a letter to your leader, the King of Light."
The soldier held out his hand, lifting an eyebrow. "I'll be sure to deliver the letter to him."
Flynn paused, not wanting to instigate a fight. "I was ordered to deliver it myself. Personally. Your King is expecting it."
The soldier narrowed his eyes, glancing at the group behind Flynn. "Fine. But they stay."
Nodding, Flynn glanced at Jiordan. "Stay here," he said. "I'll be back."
Narrowing his eyes, Jiordan gave a curt nod. "Be quick. Be safe."
Dismounting from his horse, Flynn followed one of the soldiers through the castle gates, three other soldiers following right behind, their weapons at the ready. Flynn couldn't help but stare at the flowers and bushes planted along the castle grounds, the foreign vegetation fascinating to him. The colors were striking; vivid reds, blues, purples and pinks. And even some colors he didn't know the names of. It was astounding.
They entered the castle, and Flynn continued to follow the soldiers as they led him through a maze of hallways and rooms. Everything was golden and brightly illuminated, making Flynn's eyes hurt.
Coming to a wooden door, the soldier gave three sharp raps, then entered and stood at attention, slanting his arm across his chest and pressing his fist to his heart in what Flynn guessed was a greeting. Flynn glanced at the recipient of the greeting, then felt his eyes widen as he stared at the King of Light.
He was a young man, with a mane of golden hair and matching eyes, with high cheekbones and a strong jaw line. He looked like a regal warrior, and his air of power and confidence left know doubt to his position. Where the Shadow King was lithe and quietly dangerous, the King of Light was muscled and ready to attack if need be. They were complete opposites, yet dangerous in their own ways.
"Commander Flynn of the Shadow Warriors, from the Land of Shadows, sent by the Shadow King," the soldier announced, and Flynn quickly bowed deeply, slowly straightening.
The King of Light glanced at Flynn, standing and walking closer. "Thank you, soldier," he said, dismissing the man.
With barely concealed hesitation, the soldier turned and left, giving Flynn a warning glare on his way out.
"So," the King of Light said once we were alone. "The Shadow King sent you? I'm assuming he got my letter, then."
Flynn nodded, pulling out the letter from his King and handing it to the King in front of him. "This is my King's response," Flynn said.
The King took the letter and opened it, carefully reading the contents of it. Without a change of expression, he neatly folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope.
"So," he said. "The official story is a banished shadow-man blamed the People of the Light for his family's murder, and that's why he did what he did. Several of my men saw the ring signaling the man was the son of the Shadow King. How do you suggest we spin that?"
"The King's son was disowned a few years ago," Flynn said. "He kept his ring. He must have sold it. The assassin got hold of it, and brought it along on this unfortunate incident."
The King gave Flynn a measuring look. Nodding, he headed back over to his chair in front of a roaring fireplace, sitting down and taking a sip from a cup. With a quick flick of his wrist, the King tossed the letter into the fire, where the flames quickly devoured the parchment, leaving nothing behind but ash.
"So, your King doesn't want war, either," the King said, drawing Flynn's eyes away from the hungry fire and back to the powerful leader.
"No, Sire," Flynn said, his hands clasped behind his back. "He's heard and read about the Great War between the Light and the Shadows generations ago. He was especially interested in the after effects. The two nations were torn apart, and the people were dying. Only a particularly good crop season saved our land, along with the King's efforts. My King doesn't want to put his people through something like that again."
"A wise man, your King," the King of Light said.
Flynn silently agreed. "He also wishes to one day speak with you. Face to face."
The King glanced back at Flynn, a single golden eyebrow raised. "Oh?" he asked, sounding interested.
"Yes," Flynn said, nodding. "He doesn't want something like this to happen again. If we formally united our countries and became allies..." Flynn left the thought hanging, letting the King surmise what he'd been suggesting.
The King suddenly stood, walking over to Flynn. "How long will you be staying here in my city?"
"As long as we are welcome," Flynn said carefully.
The King suddenly grinned, his perfectly white teeth flashing in the firelight. "You and your companions must be tired from your journey. I'll have one of the servants prepare rooms for you. Tomorrow, I'd like to discuss how we can make a meeting between your King and I possible."
Once Flynn was dismissed, he was shown down several halls by a servant dressed in yellow, finally reunited with his traveling companions in a large room with several doors leading from it. They were well trained enough not to ask questions, but Flynn could tell they were dying of curiosity.
"We're staying here for the night," Flynn said, flopping onto one of the couches in the room. "I have to speak with the King tomorrow, then we'll leave in the next few days and head home."
Flynn finally noticed Jiordan, who was fidgeting and practically vibrating with energy.
"Jiordan?" he asked, concerned for his friend. "Is everything alright?"
Nodding, Jiordan gave a sheepish grin. "Actually, I've just been thinking. Could we go exploring while you meet with the King? I mean, the chance to actually see the City of Light...Few shadows have actually had a chance like this."
Chuckling, Flynn nodded, waving his hand in a vague gesture. "Of course you can explore. I wouldn't deny you a chance to see the City. Just don't cause any trouble," he added warningly.
Soon after, the shadow-men broke up, heading to their new temporary quarters. Flynn spared his room a quick glance, taking in all the gold, yellow and white colors, before falling onto the bed. He spotted his saddle bags in one corner of the room sitting on a chair, and felt a little relieved.
Rolling onto his back, he laced his hands behind his head as he stared at the domed ceiling, the intricate murals making his head spin, so he closed his eyes. Sighing, he couldn't help but wish he was back home, not in this foreign, too-bright and decorated land. But, his King had wanted him to come and do this, so he would. He would do anything for his King.
The two Kings were set to meet in a fortnight in a large city right on the border.
The company of shadow-men saddled up their horses and prepared to leave two days after they'd arrived.
Flynn had made arrangements with the King of Light, and had a letter he was to deliver to the Shadow King. Once again checking he had the letter safely stashed in his tunic, Flynn mounted his horse, the others of his group following his actions. With a large crowd of the City's people lining the streets, all eyes were on the black-haired men and the single girl as they began trotting down the main street.
"You'd think we were in a funeral procession," Jiordan muttered to Flynn and Creason, eying the quiet people.
Creason scoffed. "It's like they've never seen a shadow before."
"They probably haven't," Flynn interjected wryly. "Have you ever seen a man of the Light before this?"
Creason and Jiordan glanced at each other, then gave sheepish grins.
The procession of shadow-men was just reaching the market square when there was a sudden disturbance in the previously solemn atmosphere. Hearing a high pitched shriek, Flynn halted his horse, searching for danger. With a sudden flurry, before he could react, a small bundle of scales and claws came flying at him, wings flapping furiously as it crashed into the Shadow Warrior.
With a cry, Flynn grabbed the thing that was attacking his face, his gloves protecting him from the sharp talons of the little beast. Ripping the scaled animal away from him, he held it at arm's length, staring at it with his silver eyes.
It was a small, ruby red and gold dragon, with amber eyes and sharp fangs. With a swipe of it's sharp claws, it nearly took Flynn's nose off, but the man quickly ducked out of harm's way.
There was a shout from the crowd, and a burly-looking man came forward, sweating profusely and bleeding from a deep gash on his face. Flynn narrowed his eyes as he sensed something within the other man; something he didn't like. Something cruel.
"I-I'm sorry," the man gasped out, clutching his chest as he panted. "He-he got away from me."
Flynn glanced at the outstretched hands of the grimy man, then back at the little dragon in his hands. The beast's eyes locked with his, something in their depths calling for help.
"Is this dragon for sale?" Flynn asked, not taking his eyes off the scaled beast.
The man paused, staring at the strangely dressed man on the horse. The stranger was dressed in black, with black hair and strange, silver-colored eyes. His skin was pale, and he looked completely different than anyone in the City of Light.
But if the stranger had money, the merchant didn't care who the stranger was.
The grimy man named a ridiculously high price, and the shadow-man didn't even blink, simply pulled the amount from his coin purse and tossed it to the man. Without waiting for a response, the shadow-man kicked his horse into a quick trot, his companions eagerly following.
Flynn stared down at the little dragon as it sat on the pommel of his saddle, staring back up at him. It tilted it's head as it ruffled it's wings, examining the man who had saved him from that cruel animal poacher.
"Flynn," Jiordan said, pulling up beside him a few minutes after they left the City of Light. "Why did you buy that-that thing?"
"It's not a thing," Flynn said quietly. "It's a dragon."
"Whatever," Jiordan said, rolling his eyes. "Why did you buy it?"
After a second, Flynn sighed, finally glancing at the other man. "I don't know. Something in his eyes, I guess."
Flynn yelped as something sharp suddenly stung his arm. Glancing down, he spotted the dragon, it's teeth lightly biting his arm. Furrowing his eyebrows, he reviewed what he'd said, then realized something.
"Ah, I'm sorry," Flynn said seriously to the little dragon. "Not him, but her."
Jiordan gave his friend a worried look. "Flynn...are you sure that's a good idea? It's from the City of Light. Do you think the King will let you keep it?"
Flynn nodded confidently. "If we're going to form good relations between our two nations, we have to start somewhere. The King will be understanding."
Sighing, Jiordan fell back, riding behind Flynn as they made their way home.
Flynn set the little dragon on his bed as he dropped his bags to the floor. Sighing, he stretched, feeling sore from the long journey. He still had to report to the King, unpack, eat, wash up, check up on his men, read a massive amount of reports, and do some other things he couldn't think of at the moment.
"Okay," he said to the little dragon, taking a firm stance in front of it and staring down at it. "I've got to go for a bit, but I'll be back. Don't go anywhere, and, for the gods' sake, please don't make a mess of my room."
The little dragon blew a sharp breath, it's nostrils flaring as it stared up at Flynn. Taking that as an affirmative answer, Flynn nodded, then slowly turned and left him room, his tired legs carrying him to the King's study. Rapping on the door, he waited for his summons, then entered the chamber. The King was standing next to one of the bookshelves, flipping through a book as he chewed on a carrot.
Glancing up, he gestured towards one of the chairs, allowing Flynn to rest his aching body. "So," the King asked. "What happened?"
Flynn began his report, describing the King of Light, the City, and the upcoming meeting between the two Kings. Making sure to include all the important details and exclude anything irrelevant, it took Flynn a while to finish talking, and, by the time he was done, his mouth was dry and he desperately needed a drink.
The King pointed towards a pitcher of wine and a few cups set up on a small tray. Standing, Flynn went over and poured himself a drink, quickly gulping the sweet, tart liquid down.
"I hear you've acquired a friend," the King said, grinning at Flynn.
Flynn choked on his drink, coughing a few times and clearing his throat. "U-uh, yes, I did," he said, giving his King a level look, prepared to obey him if he ordered something from Flynn. "A little dragon."
"Why'd you bring it?" the King asked, sincere curiosity evident in his voice.
Flynn paused, furrowing his brow. "I-I don't really know. There was just something about her...Something in her eyes that called to me."
The King gave a decidedly un-royal snicker. "You sound like a love-struck fool."
Flynn reddened, narrowing his eyes. Scoffing, he walked back to his chair, flopping ungracefully into it. He continued normally, deciding to ignore the King's earlier remark.
"I figured I'd bring her back here so the shadow-men can have a chance to get used to something from the Light-people. We'll start with something small, that way, when we unite our nations, people won't be so unprepared."
The King nodded, tenting his fingers as he stared blankly at the wall. "Tomorrow, I want you to rest," he said. "The day after that, though, take the little dragon about the castle and introduce her to people. Then, bring her to see me. I'll have your second-in-command deal with your reports and other duties until you can return to them unhindered."
Agreeing, Flynn soon left the King to himself, heading back to his room. Taking a breath before he opened the door, he was relieved to see his room wasn't in shambles. The dragon was sleeping peacefully on his pillow, so Flynn was quiet as he grabbed some clothes and headed to the bathing chamber connected to his room.
Once his bath was done, he quickly dressed into his night clothes, then rang for a servant. Once the servant came, he had the boy go down and fetch him some food, telling him to bring extra for the dragon. The servant glanced at the sleeping beast on the pillow, his eyes widening as he quickly nodded and backed out of the room.
The servants were complete gossip mongers. He had no doubt that by tomorrow, the news of his little friend would be all over the castle, and everyone would know about it. It'd make it easier for him to walk around with the little beast.
A different servant came back with the food, trying to surreptitiously peek at the dragon as he set the food down. Flynn let him get a quick look, then shooed the boy away, shutting the door after him. The dragon awoke as the scent of food wafted through the room, padding across the bed and flitting towards Flynn, landing on his outstretched arm.
"I'll have to think up a name for you," Flynn muttered, giving her a bit of food. She gulped it down, licking her fangs as she eagerly waited for more.
"What about...Ruby? No. Red? Fang? Beauty?"
She gave a small growl, baring her fangs at Flynn. "Alright, how about..." Flynn tilted his head, giving her a good look. Red and gold scales, he thought. She's from the City of Light...Light...red and yellow...fire...wings...like a bird...mythical bird...
"Phoenix!" Flynn said triumphantly.
The little dragon tilted her head, thinking. Liking that name, she gave a small trill, letting Flynn know she accepted the new title.
"Good, then," Flynn muttered distractedly as he began to eat. "We've got a long day ahead of us, little Phoenix. Eat up."
A week later, the King, several men of the High Court, Flynn and a large procession of Shadow Warriors and soldiers prepared to leave for the meeting with the King of Light and his men in the city of Leore on the border between the two countries.
The group of fifty men, along with twenty servants, departed from the Shadow City early in the morning. The pace of the large procession was agonizingly slow for Flynn, who had yet to get used to the time-consuming progression. His horse felt his discomfort, and became somewhat jumpy, snorting and tossing it's head.
The dragon Flynn had rescued a while ago had grown rapidly and to a surprising size, which enabled her to fly overhead, keeping sight of Flynn. Trilling, she swooped down, her wings buffeting the top of Flynn's head, before tipping back up and flying along the soldier's ranks. She was about the size of a dog now, and the soldiers were still wary of her, but few actually feared her.
Flynn was stationed next to the King as they rode, and constantly kept his eye out for trouble. He routinely sent scouts ahead to report about the conditions coming up, and was mollified when their reports came back negative for trouble.
The rest of the trip proceeded much the same as the first day, with only a few minor problems between the nobles that were easily fixed. A day's journey away from Leore, Flynn had the group halt as he and several other Warriors went ahead to the city and scouted it out. The King of Light and his men were already there and set up in the city Lord's castle and stables.
Flynn and his riders rode quickly to the Lord's castle to check on the Shadow King and his men's accommodations, and to let the Lord know they were arriving soon. Once that was settled, Flynn and his troops galloped back to the King, reaching the group just as night fell.
Flynn's canvas tent had been set up for him while he'd been reporting to the Shadow King, and he gratefully entered, discovering Phoenix sleeping soundly on his cot. Stripping, he slid beneath the blankets and laid down beside her, her warm heat permeating through the bed and keeping the chill of the night away.
The next day, the shadow-men proficiently packed up the camp, then quickly began the short journey to the town of Leore. Wanting to make an impression, the soldiers were dressed in their armor, which consisted of a thick, nearly impenetrable leather vest, lightweight chain mail, and a black tunic and thick pants beneath. The only difference between the soldiers and Shadow Warriors was indestructible shoulder and chest guards the Warriors wore, made of a shiny, shadow-made metal. The nobles were decked out in their formal clothes, with specially cut robes and two or three pieces of jewelry. The King was dressed similarly, with a black fur-lined robe and a necklace with a black stone veined with silver.
With shields held at their sides and weapons safely holstered, the soldiers marched into the town, the banner carriers coming next, then the King and his nobles surrounded by Warriors, more soldiers, and lastly, the servants. Flynn rode behind the King, his hand on his weapon and his eyes peeled for trouble.
But Flynn didn't have to worry.
The group made it unmolested to the Lord's castle, past the gatehouse and through the portcullis, then dismounted, allowing the servants to take the bags to their rooms and the stable boys to take the mounts to the stables. Now that the journey was over, the soldiers' moods were lifted, and they eagerly looked around them at the gray castle.
The city of Leore was somewhat separate from the rule of any nation. Considered a free city, Leore had it's own laws and rules minimally different than the other nations. The city guard kept the citizens in line, and kept crime at bay. The city was considered a haven for misfits, and had a considerable amount of free housing for families who needed it. There was a large market, also, due to the immense foreign trade, which made shopping a real treat, not to mention everything you needed was easy to find.
The Lord of the city, Lord Westphalen, came out to greet the shadow men and the King, eagerly bowing, then straightening and grinning.
"King Seraph," the Lord said to the Shadow King. "It is a great honor to have you here at Oferia Castle in the city of Leore. I hope your journey was peaceful?"
The King nodded, giving a polite smile and a nod of his head to the portly older man. "It was, Lord Westphalen. And I'm greatly humbled you've allowed the use of Oferia Castle for the meeting between the King of Light and myself. If you're ever in Shadow City, please visit Mavro Castle."
Inclining his head, the Lord gave a small clap, then turned to one of the men in livery standing beside him. "See that the King and his men find their rooms, and get them anything they need."
Soon, the soldiers and nobles were directed to their rooms, while Flynn and a few Warriors followed the King as he went to his chambers. Phoenix stayed close to Flynn's side, pretending to ignore all the stares and gasps from the people walking the halls. Shaking her head, she snorted, secretly basking in the attention.
Entering the King's room, Flynn stood at attention as the King examined the large space, running his hand along the down blanket on the canopied bed. The King's eyes flicked to the ornaments decorated the room; the paintings, giant fireplace, the desk and chairs, the couch, the tables littered with vases and miscellaneous objects, oil lamps, along with the wallpapered walls and golden trim.
Grimacing, he turned to Flynn. "It's severely different from Mavro Castle. So...decorated. Ornate. I miss the simple styles of home."
Flynn silently agreed. Mavro Castle was carved into the side of a cliff next to the ocean, with sharp edges and a weathered, timed look. Her flags flew proudly in the ocean breeze, and the castle workers kept her clean, polishing the black walls so they flashed in the rare glimpse of pure sunlight. Though old, she'd stood for hundreds of years, and Flynn was sure she still had quite a few more years to go.
"Well, Commander," the King continued, dismissing his melancholy. "We have a long day tomorrow. I'm assuming the meeting will be held in the Great Hall, with all the nobles and the King of Light in attendance. Make sure you are there."
Nodding, Flynn waited until he was dismissed before he left, directing a few of his Warriors to stand guard outside the King's room. He then wandered down the hallway until he found a castle servant, who led him and Phoenix to their room nearby. After settling in as well as they could, they crawled into bed, awaiting the next day.
The meeting between the two King's proceeded quite positively.
They'd discovered that they had quite a few of the same views, and, after the initial awkward customary greetings (shadow-men bow to show respect, while men of the light made a strange gesture with their arms and hands, which caused a bit of confusion), the group got down to business.
The two Kings sat at opposite tables facing each other, while the men of their courts sat to the left or right of them, all facing an opposite country man. Flynn stood at attention unobtrusively behind the Shadow King, eyes on the lookout for danger, while Phoenix settled up in the Great Hall's rafters, watching from above.
Flynn didn't really listen to the meeting, but he got the general idea of what was happening. The Kings had treaties and plans drawn up, and patiently listened to the nobles' suggestions and concerns, amending the papers as best as they could. The meeting was civil, easing Flynn's worries somewhat, though he still stayed vigilant.
It sounded like the Kings planned to open the border, lower existing tariffs, and allow for each nation to trade with the other. Flynn highly approved, knowing that would bring a large amount of money to the Shadow Kingdom, not to mention it'll let the citizens of the two countries learn more about each other than they do now.
The following days were spent much the same, and Flynn quickly fell into a routine. After Flynn woke up, he'd get ready for the day, eat breakfast with the soldiers, then head to the King's room and join him as he dressed for the day and got ready himself. After that, they'd head to the Great Hall for the meeting, break for lunch, continue through dinner, Flynn would listen to reports from his men, then everyone would head off to bed.
Nearly four weeks later, the meeting was finally formally adjourned. The two Kings were free to explore the city of Leore, and they quickly jumped at the chance. With a small group of their soldiers, the Kings rode their horses into the town and visited the different shops and the large mid-town market, chatting all the while about small matters.
Phoenix found a few of her own kind, and spent a few days fooling around with the other, pygmy dragons. She trumped their size, but that didn't seem to phase them. Flynn was beginning to realize she was an actual dragon, and not a more popular pygmy- or demi-dragon. He was beginning to wonder where she was going to be housed once she grew full sized, which led to the thought of how big was full sized?
The Kings went hunting a few days after the last meeting, and ended up catching a boar in the nearby woods for dinner that night. The Lord of the castle had a feast prepared, with jesters, bards, and several other entertainers performing during the huge meal. The two Kings, though completely opposite in appearance, got along well, and were often seen laughing together or speaking frankly to the other, creating an easy companionship. Flynn felt hope that there would be no more animosity between the two countries if the Kings got along so well like this.
After the feast, Flynn excused himself from the room, leaving one of his trusted sergeants in charge. Heading outside and into the Lady of the Castle's garden, he breathed in the chilly night air, glancing up at the moon. It was full and bright, illuminating the night and casting a grayish hue on everything. Stretching, Flynn sat down on a nearby stone bench, sighing.
The silent night was suddenly interrupted by a quiet noise, gradually growing louder as Flynn stood and walked further into the garden. Following the sound, he recognized it as singing, and felt drawn to it. Turning the corner, Flynn stopped, his eyes resting on one of the most beautiful girls he'd ever seen.
She had golden flowing hair that reached past her thin waist, and wore turquoise robes that hung loosely on her, yet seemed to hug her ever curve. She was seated on the grass, flowers of varying colors surrounding her, and next to a small, man-made stream. Her tinkling voice carried easily through the garden, and made Flynn feel irrationally calm.
She suddenly stopped, somehow sensing Flynn, and turned her head, staring at him with some of the most piercing eyes he'd ever seen. A mix between green and blue, the colors were vivid even in the night's darkness. They widened fractionally as they took in Flynn's all-black attire, skating over his sword, and coming to rest on the insignia donning his chest, announcing he was from the Shadow Kingdom.
Jumping to her feet, she faced Flynn, her hand gripping her robe nervously. Flynn noticed something was off, and it wasn't until she spoke that he realized what it was.
"A-ah, um, hello," she said.
No, he said.
Flynn was speechless for a heartbeat as he discovered the beauty was not a woman, but, in fact, a man. Where breast should have been, was nothing but smooth, flat chest viewed from the open neck of the boy's robe. Quickly recovering, Flynn hid his surprise by clearing his throat.
"Hello," Flynn said, inclining his head and giving a small bow. "I am Shadow Warrior Flynn, from the Shadow Kingdom. Might I inquire as to who you are?"
The boy gave Flynn a shy look, his hair cascading down his shoulders like a waterfall as he tilted his head. "I-I am Bard Luce. It is a pleasure to meet you, Shadow Warrior Flynn."
Flynn examined the boy's face, discovering why he'd thought Luce was a girl at first. He had high cheekbones, feminine features, and was petite with a womanly figure. As he shifted, Flynn saw the man behind the girlish body, though it was a little hard to detect if you weren't specifically looking for it.
"May I ask why you were not in the Great Hall entertaining if you are a bard?" Flynn asked politely.
Luce gave a sheepish grin, his smooth cheeks turning a light pink. "I-I am not confident enough to play for such a large and high class crowd. I mainly play for the Lord's wife and her companions."
Flynn nodded, feeling compelled to stay here and talk some more with the boy, but his duties were an urgent reminder in the back of his mind. Unnerved by the strange feeling, Flynn stared at the boy, trying to figure out why Luce incited such feelings in him.
"Um," Luce began, his hands constantly on the move, playing with his hair, adjusting his robe and squeezing his fingers. "I-I had heard the Shadow King and the King of Light were meeting here in Leore. Are-are you part of the Shadow King's men?"
Flynn felt his lips twitch in the hint of a grin. "Yes," he said. "I am the Commander of the Shadow Warriors, the Army, and the King's personal guard."
Luce's eyes widened, giving Flynn a better view of his eyes. "Wow," he breathed. He gave a hasty, awkward bow, quickly straightening. "Forgive me if I was too familiar."
Flynn finally freed his smile, giving a small shake of his head. "It's fine," he said, lapsing into a more informal speech. "We're not that big on formal speech in my country. Usually only on occasions where we meet someone for the first time, or during court."
Luce gave a small breath, his teeth flashing as he grinned. "Good," he said, giving a relieved laugh. "I was never that good at being formal for an extended period of time. I always trip up and end up offending someone."
Flynn chuckled, then slowly stepped forward until he was only a few strides away from the smaller boy. Giving into an impulse, he reached out and grabbed the boy's hand gently in his. "The Kings and a few of their men are going on a trip into the city tomorrow. Would you join me?"
The smaller boy's cheeks turned a vivid red hue as his hand twitched in Flynn's. "I-I," Luce stuttered, nervously glancing around. "I don't think this is proper..."
Furrowing his eyebrows, Flynn looked at the boy in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I-I-I am a man," Luce said desperately. "So are you. Two-two men can't...They can't... It's wrong..."
"Where I come from," Flynn said quietly, catching Luce's eyes with his silver ones. "It's not at all uncommon."
Luce's mouth opened, but whatever he was about to say died as he stared into Flynn's eyes. After a few tenuous seconds, he licked his lips, then said weakly, "I-I'm not where you come from."
Flynn was attracted to this man, of that there was no doubt. In the Shadow Kingdom, Flynn had learned, society was largely different than any of the other nearby countries. Shadow-men were more free to do what they want, while other nations' societies had a tight control on what was deemed appropriate and inappropriate. Flynn was surprised at the other nation's oppression, but there was little he could do about it.
After all, love was love. It shouldn't matter to whom it was directed towards, or what sex they were.
"I'll be leaving with the procession tomorrow at nine," Flynn said calmly. "I hope to see you there."
He held on to Luce's hand a few seconds past mere politeness, slowly letting the boy's hand slide from his grasp as he took a step back. Bowing, Flynn gave the breathtaking boy one last glance, then turned and headed back to the Great Hall, his spirits high and a smile threatening to overtake his face.
The Shadow King must have noticed something was up with Flynn, because he brought it up when there was a lull in the conversation around him.
"Something interesting happen?" he asked his Shadow Warrior quietly.
Flynn's lips curved upward and his eyes glinted as he nodded. "Very interesting."
The King didn't press for more, knowing Flynn would tell him if he asked, but the King didn't want to offend his most loyal subject.
Flynn would tell him in his own time.