Title: Our fears are different here [standalone]
Fandom: Razia's Shadow
Pairings/Characters: Adakias/Anhura, Pallis
Word Count: 4,018
Disclaimer: I don't own Razia's Shadow. Title from "Modern Age" by The Strokes.
Warnings: Blood, violence.
This is an Adakias!lives AU. I thought about what would have happened if he'd tried to sacrifice himself, but survived. This is the first part of a series that chronicles what I view as an imperfect reunion of the two halves of the world.
The story takes place just a few months after the end of the musical.
The air tastes like sand and dirt and sweat, the wind is dry and hot, and the sunshine scatters over everything, reflecting and refracting, glimmering and shimmering in a hazy halo of light.
He sees the grin creasing his brother's features as he takes in the sights. Adakias looks perfectly at ease on these dusty, crowded streets. He reaches out, fingertips brushing Anhura's palm, and the princess glances up at him, smiling slyly.
Pallis turns his head, because if he watches them for too long he starts to think about everything he almost took away. Instead he focuses on the glinting sun, and the sounds of laughing children, darting, barefoot, between stalls and vendors.
He stares up at the castle wondering how, exactly, it was built, because from where he's standing it looks like…like somebody took a mound of glass, and carved and chiseled and chipped away the smooth exterior, digging out tunnels and passageways, detailing parapets that glisten in the sunlight.
Adakias is standing just behind him, a far off grin dancing across his features. "It's wonderful, isn't it?"
Pallis doesn't answer. He thinks that when the sun sets, it will probably slink behind the castle before it slips beneath the horizon. He thinks that when it does, that maybe the shining walls will ignite in a fiery, goldenrod glow, streaked with red and orange. He thinks he'd like to sit here and watch, just for a while, just to see. He's looking for the beauty that has his brother entranced.
He still hasn't found it.
"The king can't see you right now," the advisor tells them, and Pallis doubts that he could look less interested if he tried. "Come back later."
"Now what?" Pallis asks, trying not to sound too gloomy as the heavy doors slam closed. He had this grand fantasy where they snuck in, exchanged pleasantries, and bolted before the day was over. Obviously, things weren't going to work out that neatly.
Adakias suggests a traditional music festival. Pallis replies that he'd rather be fed to sharks in Holy the Sea. Anhura tells them that they're both idiots.
Eventually, they compromise, and that's how they end up in the city's busiest marketplace.
He's tugging at his collar because the air is absolutely stifling, and there's sand in his boots and honestly, why would anyone wantto live here? This city is too hot, he thinks, and too full. The streets are packed with citizens, hustling through their daily routines and casting wary glances at the visitors.
The vendor across the table looks harried and impatient as Pallis examines the wares spread out before him. Dozens of brightly colored charms and trinkets adorn the table, sparkling in the sun. His fingers skitter over glass forms of spiders and foxes, finally slowing to a halt.
"What's this one mean?" he asks, fingertips tracing the counters of a tiny salamander, colored in yellows and golds.
Now the vendor is frowning, fixing Pallis with a curious gaze, like he's trying to decide what to make of him.
"Faith," the he says finally, his voice as gruff and weathered as his tanned and wrinkled skin.
Pallis thinks of Anhura, who left her homeland because she was in love, and of his brother, who was willing to give up his life because he believed.
"I'll take it," he says, fingers tightening around the figurine.
They're out in an open corridor, waiting for their audience with the king. If possible, Adakias is even more on edge than the half-dozen guards they've brought along with them. Pallis watches as his brother fidgets restlessly, as Anhura reaches out with a sigh to straighten his collar.
"Calm down," she tells him gently, raising her hand from his neck to trace her fingers along his jaw-line. "Everything's going to be fine."
"What are you so worried about?" Pallis wants to know, because honestly, for someone who spent most of the morning basking in the city's glow, Adakias is suddenly looking like he would much rather be back at home, or maybe hiding under a rock.
"Adakias and my father don't exactly get along," Anhura replies lightly, glancing over her shoulder at Pallis. "It's nothing, really."
But Adakias shakes his head. "The last time I was here, he forbade us from even speaking to each other."
Anhura folds her arms across her chest. "He didn't know you were a prince. And that was before-"
"Before we eloped?" Adakias supplies, his frown deepening. "Because somehow I doubt that helped matters much."
"I was going to say before we fulfilled the prophecy and reunited the world," Anhura replies, scowling.
"Wait," Pallis says, shaking his head because he hasn't heard this story yet. "You kidnapped her?"
"He didn't kidnap me," Anhura protests, and now her anger is directed at Pallis (like it usually is). "I went with him of my own free will."
"But against the king's wishes," Pallis points out.
Adakias is quiet for a long moment before responding, "Yes."
"And now," Pallis goes on, "you've come back, with the sons of his sworn enemy."
"Well, at least I've come back," Anhura replies.
Pallis's frown matches the one still etched on his brother's lips. "He won't let you leave again." He sees Adakias's eyes darken, and he knows that his brother has come to the same conclusion. He's starting to think that maybe this grand adventure is going to end badly.
"It's not like that." Anhura's arms are still crossed, and she looks troubled, and angry, and a little unsure all at once. "He's not…It's going to be fine," she insists, and maybe she would have said something else, but then the doors swing open and they're ushered inside.
Diplomacy has never been his strong suit.
Maybe it's best that Anhura's the one talking, since he's so angry that a low buzzing fills his ears. He was trained as a fighter, not as a peacemaker. He was never taught to negotiate, he was taught to destroy, so right now he's having trouble keeping his hand off the hilt of his sword, because King Malka is a bully and a tyrant and oblivious to the world around him.
"It doesn't mean anything," the king says dismissively, like he didn't notice an entire mountaincrumbling to dust before his very eyes. He's glaring at Adakias with barely tempered rage, and it's apparent that prince or not, the king fervently hates his daughter's intended.
Pallis can see why Adakias despises the king, but he doesn't understand why he fears him. Pallis likes to think that he's not afraid of anything – but that isn't really true, not anymore, because sometimes, when it's dark and quiet and he's alone, he can still feel his brother's blood, slick on his hands, and he starts to forget what's real.
"I think it's a sign," Anhura's saying. Her face is set and she's obviously inherited her father's stubborn streak, if nothing else.
"I think," the king replies, his tone mocking, "that I've put up with this long enough. You've been rescued, and that's what matters."
"Rescued?" Adakias echoes, but the next second the king waves his fingers and the royal guard advances, surrounding the trio.
Pallis draws his sword. Finally, he thinks, knocking aside his opponent's weapon. It clatters to the ground, and the man follows suit a second later, a vivid gash trailing across his chest.
He's infinitely glad that they brought guards along for the trip, because while Adakias may have received the same training as Pallis, fighting has never been his forte. Of course, Pallis is already wishing that he had more than six soldiers on his side – King Malka's royal guard is leeching in from every corner, filling up the room. They're surrounded.
He tries not to think about it, focusing instead on the arc of his sword as he disconnects one soldier's head from his shoulders. If he can just concentrate, and hold his ground, then maybe they'll have a chance. He swings again, and again.
Everything goes exceedingly well for about another ten seconds, until another guard –one Pallis had never seen – steps up behind him and clocks him in the back of the head, knocking him out instantly.
He sits up slowly, because his head is throbbing in a dull staccato and no matter how hard he tries he can't even see straight. It sounds like someone's trying to talk, but several hazy moments pass before the muffled murmurs sharpen into intelligible words.
"They put us in separate cells," Adakias is saying. Pallis blinks once, twice, trying to get world back into focus, but it's still faded around the edges.
"Well, they're not that stupid." Pallis tries shaking his head to clear away the fog, but that's a mistake. He buries his forehead in his palm as a wave of pain assaults him, trying, unsuccessfully, to bite back a groan.
"Are you alright?" Adakias asks, his tone worried. He's locked up across the narrow hall, leaning as far into the bars as physically possible. "You've been out for a while."
"I'm fine," Pallis says, because he's used to lying to his brother, especially about these kinds of things. The room stops spinning and he finally manages to look up, glancing over Adakias and taking stock of his injuries. One of his eyes is dark and puffy, there's a bruise blossoming on his cheek, and his bottom lip is split open. It isn't good, but it could be worse. "What happened?"
"You were knocked out."
Pallis fights the urge to roll his eyes. "After that."
"Oh." Adakias frowns, tilting his head to the side as he thinks. "I didn't last much longer than you, really. As soon as I lost my sword a couple of them held me down, and the big one, the one that knocked you out – you should have seen him Pallis, he was a beast – well, he must have been their captain. He told them to tie us up and bring up down here."
"What about our soldiers?" Pallis asks him, scanning the empty cells to their left and right.
Adakias looks away, his body tense. "They're dead."
"And the princess?"
"I don't know," Adakias replies, his tone bitter. "She's not here, they must have taken her somewhere else."
"We'll find her," Pallis tells him, gingerly feeling the back of his head. Blood dots his fingertips. He looks back up at Adakias, who's wearing a strange expression. "What?"
"I thought you didn't like her," Adakias answers carefully, still watching his brother.
Honestly, he doesn't. The feeling's mutual – although the princess actually has a justified reason for her animosity, whereas Pallis's motives are (admittedly) petty and foolish.
Pallis decides not to answer his brother, instead saying, "We have to find a way out of here."
Adakias's face splits into a wide, devilish grin. "Don't worry – I have a plan."
Pallis is starting to wonder, why, exactly, their father thought it would be a good idea to send both princes on this particular mission. Adakias isn't a soldier, and Pallis has never exactly excelled in communication skills (he is, however, particularly good at nearly killing his brother).
Maybe he thought the brothers would complement each other. Maybe he thought they'd both get themselves killed.
If he's hoping for the latter, then he's about to get his wish.
"This is a stupid plan," Pallis says for what feels like the thousandth time.
"Shh," Adakias whispers, shaking his head. "Someone's coming."
The plan goes something like this.
Pallis is supposed to lie still on the cool, concrete floor, unresponsive and apparently dead – which should, theoretically, entice a guard to come in and check on him.
He argues that Adakias should be the bait, but Adakias counters that Pallis is the better fighter (which, Pallis has to admit, is true).
But his admirable skills aren't exactly put to good use, because maybe, just maybe, Pallis's vision is a little fuzzy, and the world still hasn't righted itself, so when he jumps up to launch into an attack, he stumbles. By the time the giant of a guard (who's even stronger than he looks) has Pallis pressed up against the wall, one arm twisted painfully behind him, Pallis still isn't sure which way is up.
It's not until the third time that Adakias shouts ("Let him go!") that his words even make sense. Pallis makes a mental note to remind his brother to keep his mouth shut. If he's learned anything from tedious hours of lessons and training, it's that you never show any emotional connections in situations like these. Captors just use them against you later, when they torture you.
The guard hits him hard, in the mouth, before leaving. He's grumbling under his breath as he slams the door and fastens the lock. Pallis manages to sit himself up against the wall, and doesn't open his eyes until the guard's footsteps fade into silence. He can feel blood welling up under his tongue, flooding between his teeth.
"Pallis?" Adakias calls, his tone frantic, and guilty. "I'm sorry – you were right, it should have been me, I-"
"-Wouldn't have stood a chance," Pallis finishes. He tries to imagine his brother in a fist fight, and smirks. "For the record, that really was a stupid plan."
"I see that now." He doesn't have to look at his brother to know that he's frowning. "We'll find a way out," Adakias promises, and Pallis would like to roll his eyes, but he figures that will probably hurt, too.
"I know we will," Pallis tells him, even though honestly, he's wondering why they haven't been killed yet.
Adakias says something else, but Pallis is too busy slipping into unconsciousness to hear him.
"Pallis. Pallis, wake up," Adakias is saying, and his hand is on his shoulder, shaking him roughly. Pallis opens his eyes, staring into his brother's face. His voice is loud, but it's not what he heard a minute ago. That sound is distant, and coming from somewhere above him. Above, and to the right.
One hand brushes the side of his face, and Pallis refocuses his attention on his brother. He's about to ask how, exactly, he got in here, but that's when he notices the figure silhouetted in the open doorway.
"Come on, we have to go," the princess says urgently, and Pallis notes that there's a key ring clutched in her hand. "They know I got out."
"We're coming," Adakias tells her, then turns back to his brother. "Can you walk?" he asks, concerned, and Pallis scowls.
"Of course I can," he retorts, but he accepts Adakias's extended hand anyway, and allows his brother help to him to his feet. He even lets Adakias place a steady grip on his shoulder when he falters and almost loses his balance. Adakias's face is an expressive portrait of fear and concern, which Pallis promptly waves off.
"I'm fine," he insists, taking a step forward and, thankfully, not falling flat on his face. "Let's go."
Pallis remembers hearing a story once, about a maze and a golden spool of thread. It's on his mind now because this basement is less of a dungeon and more of a labyrinth, and he's starting to wonder how, exactly, they're going to get out of here.
Adakias seems to be thinking along those same lines, because he frowns, asking, "How many cells do you need?"
"You mean you don't have prisons?" Anhura asks as they turn yet another corner. Adakias trails a few steps behind the other two, looking nervously over his shoulder at every intersection, obviously expecting an attack
"Not this many," Pallis tells her, gaze flitting over the remains of what might have been a person, still shackled to a wall.
"Why not?" Anhura asks. He imagines she's rolling her eyes. "All of the criminals ended up on this side of the mountain?"
"No," Pallis tells her, and if she could see his face, she would catch his grim smile. "We don't keep prisoners."
In the dark, the princess shivers.
Anhura's been busy while the princes were locked up – so far she's escaped from her bedroom (turned impromptu prison), tricked a guard out of a set of keys, and questioned an old friend (read: longtime royal advisor) about the king's motives.
She tells them that yes, maybe there was a part of her father that just wanted his daughter back, but the rest of him wanted to start a war. And he wouldn't start a fight he didn't think he could win. All he's really after is control over both kingdoms.
Pallis is starting to think that the two kings would get along rather well.
By the time they get out, most of the castle has realized they've escaped, and there's a slew of soldiers and guards waiting for them. Pallis does his best to ignore the way his eyesight's flickering in and out, and Adakias does his best not to get himself killed. Everything's better once Pallis manages to get a sword, because then he's really in his element, ducking and weaving and slicing and dicing. The floor is slick with blood – unfortunately, some of it's his own.
"What happened?" Adakias demands, fingers lightly pressing against a wound in Pallis's side. They're nearly out of the castle, hiding in the shadows of a deserted hallway, waiting for their chance to run.
"I'm fine," Pallis says, just as Anhura shouts "Go!" and they're off, feet pounding on the pavement, breath catching in their throats as they reach the door. Anhura fumbles with the lock only briefly, and the key turns, letting them into the stable.
It's easier after that.
They ride for hours, until the sun's slipped away and they're far enough out in the desert that they aren't being chased anymore. This is no man's land, after all, and people are superstitious. Pallis just hopes the stories of creatures lurking out on the edges of civilization don't have any basis in fact.
He's focused on staying upright, on keeping his fingers clenched tightly around the reigns, but he still notices the furtive glances that pass between his brother and the princess. Pallis gets the distinct impression that they're having a silent conversation about him. He decides not to interrupt.
His suspicions are confirmed when Adakias pulls his horse to a halt and slides to the ground. Anhura follows suit, but Pallis remains firmly planted in his saddle.
"Why're we stopping?" he asks. His throat feels too tight and his fingers are going numb from some combination of cold, and exhaustion, and blood loss.
"You need to rest," Adakias tells him firmly, unbridled concern flitting across his features as he reaches up and practically pulls his brother to the ground. "And I need to look at the wound," he adds as Pallis's feet scrabble for purchase in the sandy soil.
"Don't worry about it," he tries to mumble – but suddenly, he's sitting on the ground, his brother's worried face just inches from his. "It's not even bleeding anymore," he adds, twisting away from his brother's searching hands.
Adakias frowns, running one finger along the edge of the wound (which actually is still bleeding, but just a little bit). Pallis lets out a low hiss, and Adakias glances up. "Sorry," he murmurs, just as Anhura kneels down beside them.
Pallis tries to ward them off, he really does, but in the end, Adakias gets his way. Adakias always gets his way.
"Sit still," his brother orders him, pressing one hand into his shoulder and wrapping the other around his wrist. Anhura's covering his side with a makeshift bandage, her expression set. She may not like him, but he appreciates the fact that she isn't going to let him bleed to death.
In all honestly, the wound isn't even that bad. It's deep, and it hurts, but it was quick, and clean, and it will heal. At least, it will once they finish their trek back through the desert, through the rubble of the mountain, through the tundra, to their city. He can't wait to be back in his castle, away from the unbearable heat and never-ending sand. He can't wait to be home.
"We have to stop this," Anhura says.
They're seated by a small fire, and the horses are tied up just a few feet away. Pallis doesn't want to fall over and embarrass himself, so he's leaning heavily into his brother's side. It's a trade-off, because now he can't complain when Adakias raises a hand and combs his fingers through Pallis's hair. It's a role reversal of sorts – Pallis remembers the long nights of their childhood, when his little brother couldn't sleep because of the nightmares – he'd sit by his side and watch, protectively, his fingers tracing paths through Adakias's soft locks.
He does his best not to relax into the touch (but maybe he does, just a little).
Adakias shakes his head. "What are you talking about?"
"Our fathers want a war," she explains, a deep frown creasing her features. Her shoulders are tense, her mind set. "You know what we have to do?"
"Kill them both?" Pallis mutters, and Adakias nudges his shoulder lightly.
Anhura's frown deepens. "That's not exactly what I had in mind," she replies dryly.
"What, then?" Pallis asks. He tries not to close his eyes, but he's weary to his bones, and he thinks he might feel better if he could just sleep.
"I think we should start our own kingdom," Anhura breathes, her voice feather-light on the wind.
There's a long beat of silence, and then Adakias asks, "The three of us?"
"Of course the three of us," Anhura tells him, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "Pallis is supposed to be king of the Dark, and I'm supposed to be queen of the Light. And you're with me," she adds, smiling.
"How?" Pallis asks, because somehow, he's the practical one in this operation, and they have to be logical.
Anhura's smile fades, but just a little. "I haven't planned it all out yet," she admits. "We'll have to build a new city, and convince people from both sides to come."
"Why would they leave their homes?" Adakias wants to know.
"No one actually likes my father," Anhura points out. "And really, your city is depressing. And cold."
Pallis is fully awake now, his mind buzzing with the implications and possibilities laid before them. "We'll have to fight," he tells her, his tone serious. "This won't avoid a war Anhura, this will start one."
"We'll figure it out," Anhura says, because she and Adakias are a pair of dreamers, idealists, and everything's easy because it's destiny.
"Tomorrow," Adakias says, stifling a yawn.
"Right." Anhura nods, then walks over and settles herself on Pallis's opposite side.
"What are you doing?" Pallis asks, eyeing her suspiciously. The princess rolls her eyes.
"You're already hurt," Anhura points out, smoothing her skirt efficiently. "And it can get cold out here at night. We don't need you freezing to death."
He can feel Adakias shifting as he turns to face Anhura, grinning widely. He's thinking that the pair might kiss, except he's nestled between them, hoping that neither one moves because this is about as close to comfortable as he's going to get.
But Adakias doesn't do anything, he just bids them both goodnight and leans back into the boulder they're all propped up against, his eyelids falling closed. The princess says the same, a small smile playing on her lips as she turns to watch the moon glide across the night sky.
Pallis rests his head on his brother's shoulder and feels the grit of the sand between his fingers. Life isn't perfect – it's been better, and it's been so much worse – but he likes to believe that in the end, it'll turn out alright.
He takes a deep breath, listening to the whisper of the dry, desert wind and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, they can do this.