chapter nine;

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Their time at the palace was drawing to a close. Darryl knew it would be more than a little unwise to stay around the area for too long. The longer they stayed, the higher the risk was that somebody would come back and find them. He was sure that by now the rebels had noticed the fact that their three prisoners were missing and that, soon enough, somebody would be sent out to find them and bring them back again. Or simply kill them. That was a very real possibility too.

He had sorted through what few things he owned, opting only to bring what was necessary - several changes of clothes, some of the smaller pieces of weaponry he had, food and water. Packing it all up into a small travelling bag, Darryl swung it over his shoulder, heading for the stairs. Only when he reached the bottom step did he look back, gaze fixated on a picture-frame on his dresser. The picture of his family stared back at him, ten year-old Darryl's smile wide and beaming. Then, without pausing, Darryl took the stairs two at a time. He wouldn't look back. 

He found Vincent first. The astrologer was waiting at the top of the staircase, leaning back against one of the ornate walls and inspecting his cloak, as though looking for any tears or rips in the fabric. 

"Did you get everything you need?" Darryl asked, "We need to leave here as soon as possible. I don't want to run into the rebels if they come back, and there's a high probability that they will once they realise we're gone."

Vincent shifted a little. "Do you really think they'll come after us? It seems like a waste of energy and resources just for the three of us."

"I don't think they'll come after us, per se," Darryl explained, brows furrowing in concentration. "I think they'll come after Zak. He was a valuable prisoner and could be used as a bartering chip to get the King and Queen to come back here, so it seems logical that they'll try and go after him, especially since he's vulnerable right now."

"So we protect him?"

Vincent's voice was almost firm, something that Darryl wasn't entirely used to. The astrologer seemed fairly protective over Zak, that Darryl had always realised, but perhaps he hadn't realised the extent of it. It seemed like an odd relationship - two people from entirely different backgrounds and entirely different social standings understanding each other better than anyone else, but Darryl supposed that's the way things were sometimes, and growing up in the palace must have brought them closer together. 

"We protect him," Darryl agreed, pausing. "But we also protect ourselves. I'm sure you're also a valuable asset."

"Hardly as important as the crown prince, but I'll take it," Vincent grinned then, as though he had relaxed just a fraction. "I feel valued."

"You should. You're important." Darryl murmured, although he was only really half paying attention. Zak hadn't arrived back at the staircase yet, and the growing fear that had settled in Darryl's stomach wouldn't stop providing him with a million things that could have happened to him, each one slightly worse than the last. "All of us are essential to making this team work."

"We're a team now?" 

"Well." Darryl said, voice monotone but the smile curving his lips giving him away. "I'm thinking long-term."

At that Vincent laughed, and it was a pleasant sound to hear. A reminder that, even in the darkest times it was possible to be bright, to be happy. They could be happy after all of this was over and be friends the real way, without any of the fear that dogged their steps and chased their dreams. Darryl could already imagine lighter times. They'd be able to go out into the kingdom and wreck havoc (perhaps he'd even encourage Zak's chaotic behaviours). Maybe they could be the friends that he never got to have growing up. Maybe they already were. 

All they needed to do was push through this as a team and meet brighter horizons. 

"Vincent?" 

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