Shadow Prove is, despite all appearances, of the noble house Prove. Upper class— close to, but not quite, royalty levels of upper class.
When he was young a pair of thieves stole him away in the night, or so the press releases go.
When he was young he became friends with a duo of scrappy, scared street children; a girl with electric blue hair and eyes who was defined almost solely by her rage and a small, rail-thin child with a wide, innocent smile as sharp as knives and clever fingers. They asked if he wanted to come with them so he did and together the three giggling children fled into the night, far away from anything someone could consider safety but also far away from the dangers of parents and the weight of their expectations and fists.
But when Shadow was young he also met the sole heir to the vestal throne- he and the young prince were the same age, and meant to become friends.
When Prince Hydron was young, no one held their hand out to him and offered to steal him away and into the night, not into safety but at least out of danger.
This is a story where someone did.
“Father, I-” Hydron stops himself at his father’s cutting glare, immediately averting his eyes and playing nervously with the cufflinks in his shirt, a lock of his hair.
He does not want to be forced to have this ‘play date’ with the Prove family’s son while his father and the duke talk business.
(This is a test, some part of him knows. A reminder. The Prove’s son has a too-long tongue and too-sharp teeth and doesn’t think right after— after he fell. Cracked his skull, his teeth, changed something in his brain. He— fell. That’s what his Father makes him say about his bruises, too.)
Hydron’s father does not acknowledge his son beyond another cutting glare, and Hydron stays quiet as they are led to and through the front doors, deeper into the maze-like mansion of a house.
“Stay here,” his father orders when they reach the ‘playroom’ that had been set up for himself and the other boy, “and stay out of trouble.”
Hydron can’t quite hide the flinch at the tone. His father is already in a bad mood, it seems.
Then the adults are gone and it’s just him and the piercing, curious gaze of the Prove’s son.
Hydron straightens his spine, takes in a deep breath through his nose, and spins on his heel.
“Hi,” he greets the other boy with what he hopes is a convincing smile, “I’m Hydron.”
He doesn’t know why he doesn’t introduce himself as Prince Hydron, as he had every other time before, but Shadow speaks up before he can correct himself.
“I’m Shadow,” the boy says, words somewhat slurred but not as badly as Hydron half expected them to be, “How come you’re here?”
Hydron’s smile falters, “My father had important business to attend to with yours, so he brought me along to— to make friends?”
It’s not the wording his father had used. (It saves him.)
Shadow studies him through narrowed eyes for a moment before his entire demeanor changes and he jumps up, almost like a puppy with his tongue lolling out somewhat uncontrollably.
“If you wanna be my friend, you have to meet my friends first,” Shadow says, nodding to himself, and grabs Hydron around the wrist and all but drags him away and down a dimly-lit hallway.
“Shadow!” Hydron hisses, trying to dig his heels in and break the other boys’ grip on his arm, “Father said we weren’t to leave the—”
He cuts off as Shadow opens a door seemingly at random and shoves him inside of it.
A dark storage room, lit only by the light coming in through the one open window and sheer white curtains; boxes are piled high in various places and whatever furniture was in the room is covered by a sheet similar to the curtains. Hydron turns to face Shadow, confused.
(Maybe the Prove child really had lost his mind.)
He searches the room for a moment, similarly puzzled, before his gaze catches on something above them and his demeanor lights up.
“Hey Lync— this is Hydron! He wants to be our friend, too!”
Hydron turns to see whoever this ‘Lync’ person is and finds himself looking into the eyes of a demon.
It’s some kind of bird-person monster— it’s bigger than any bird Hydron has ever seen, the top half of some kind of massive birds’ skull over its own and a cloak of dark crow feathers covers the rest of it. It’s crouched down on its toes with perfect balance; three sharp, gleaming talons protrude from what could be shoes or could just be wrappings of cloth around the sole. Its got human arms, as far as Hydron can see; resting its elbows on its knees, fingers unnaturally still.
Its eyes are a sharp, venom green; too bright and too intelligent and cutting clean through him.
Shadow doesn’t seem to notice his companions’ terror, beaming brightly at the demon; it uncoils with a kind of controlled speed nothing fully vestal could be capable of, landing in front of him with the barest click of metal talons on tile and Hydron falls backwards with a shriek.
The bird demon advances slowly, sharp point of its bone-beak in his face, and Hydron can’t bring himself to look away but can’t make himself stop shaking, either.
A small hand raises from the mass of dark feathers and gently pushes the bird’s skull up and off the creature’s head.
“Hi,” the bird demon says, suddenly very small and very vestal with pink hair that stuck up in all directions and eyes that were more a seafoam green-blue than sickly bright venom.
“Uh,” Hydron stammers, trying to process the situation, “hi?”
The… boy?— puts a hand on his chin, studying Hydron closely. It doesn’t make him feel any less picked apart than when he had while the boy was wearing the mask.
The boy pats his own chest and trills something in what sounds like a bird call, then does it again but this time chirps “L-nc” in a broken, high-pitched accent.
“He’s still learning how to speak our language,” Shadow pipes in, all but hauling Hydron to his feet, “but he’s better than My is!”
Hydron doesn’t get the chance to ask who ‘My’ is before a metal-covered hand appears in on the windowsill and a girl with bright blue hair and challenging eyes pulls herself effortlessly through the open window with an almost feline grace, walking for a moment on her hands and feet before pushing herself up to a normal walking stance.
She doesn’t look like a monster, not in the same way Lync did, but his instincts scream danger nonetheless.
She raises an eyebrow at Shadow; asking, if not out loud, who Hydron was and what he was doing here.
Shadow nudges Hydron hard in the ribs and suddenly Hydron realizes he should be the one introducing himself, this time.
“I’m— I’m Hydron,” he says, swallowing his nervousness and his princely title and holding out a hand for a handshake, as he’d seen his father do plenty of times before.
The girl looks him up and down, holding her hand (wearing some kind of sleek, scaled silver armor; a glove with claw-tipped fingers) to her chin in the same way Lync had, before seeming to come to a conclusion and moving her hand down, tapping over her heart with a single, deadly steel claw.
“My,” she says, voice deepened with an accent that sounds more like a rumbling growl; primal, something from the lowest lands of Vestal, Hydron notes distantly. She doesn’t take his hand, and Hydron’s glad for it; his breath is coming short and sharp as the claws laid over her fingers, the sharper instruments of pain his father had always glanced at but forgone in favor of his own fists and feet.
Hydron pulls his hand back into himself, clutching it tight over his heart. “So, uh, these two— these are your friends?” He manages to croak, looking at Shadow, who grins widely enough to show off his sharp, crooked teeth.
Hydron hesitates. “And- and your parents don’t care?”
“They don’t know!”
Hydron flicks his gaze between the two… others. “But what happens when they find out?”
(Parents always find out, his father would always, always find out—)
Shadow doesn’t seem to share his concerns. “They won’t!”
Hydron scrambles for an answer. “But- how are you sure?”
“Because,” Shadow says, grin lessening into something like a smirk, odd on his sharp-toothed, lopsided face. “They’re not gonna be able to find me.”
Hydron opens his mouth— he’s not sure what he wants to ask. words jumbled into a static mass on the tip of his tongue, staggered at the edge of a cliff, waiting for their own weight to send them over. A noise starts in his throat and dies behind his teeth as the heavy chime of a clock resounds throughout the mansion, startling him into silence and motion; they can’t be here, his father will know, they’ll be caught—
Shadow cuts off his spiraling thoughts with a click of his too-long tongue, whining. “Aw, that means we have to go back— c’mon, before they realize we’re gone.”
Shadow tugs on Hydron’s sleeve, reaching for the door— My stops them, putting a hand, careful of the points of her claws but firm with intent nonetheless— on Hydron’s shoulder and turning him to face her. She studies him for a moment, and Hydron’s not sure if it’s safe to breathe nevermind demand an explanation.
“Shirt does not cover wound,” she rumbles, struggling with pronunciation as she presses lightly on a bruise on his collarbone; Hydron sucks in a breath, but the gesture isn’t meant to hurt.
“Parent should not hurt,” the girl says with absolute conviction, strength out of place on someone of her stature and foreign to Hydron’s ears. She straightens Hydron’s dress shirt to properly cover the bruise, something like rage flashing across her face before it smooths out into something Hydron can’t read.
“I fell,” Hydron tries, then remembers that these are Shadow’s friends and Shadow fell much harder than Hydron ever did.
“Return,” My says, and Lync nods sharply once, in apparent agreement.
Shadow grins and drags Hydron out through the door and back through the dim hallway, into the living room where they should have remained.
“Shadow, what—” he starts to ask, but then the door opens and the frame is filled with his father’s imposing figure so he clamps his mouth shut.
“We’re to stay for dinner,” Hydron’s father says, “then I finish with business. We’ll be another couple of hours.”
Hydron nods, mutely, and Zenoheld motions for them both to follow him through the doorway.
“Don’t worry!” Shadow whispers, sharp and too loud as they round a corner, “They liked you!”
“But what does that mean?” Hydron asks under his breath; his father wouldn’t be pleased when he heard of the two… outsider children who snuck into the Prove mansion; in fact, Hydron should tell him right now to head off his father’s wrath—
“It means," Shadow says, hushed as he can be through that too-wide, too-sharp grin, "that you get a choice!"
“If you two are done,” Hydron's father snarls, turning on his heel and glaring down at the two children, apparently fed up with their whispering game, “Unless there is something in particular you want to share?” Hydron knows that tone. It's the confess now or you'll hurt so much worse later tone, the I will find out what you're hiding tone. The I will make you regret this tone. Hydron's heart is in his stomach, burning up in the acid and beating a wild tempo through his very bones. Hydron's father always knows, always wins, and the longer Hydron drags it out the worse it will get. Hydron's words rise from his lungs and clog in the back of his throat, a thousand excuses and apologies and prayers knotted together in a thick clot that tastes like blood.
Zenoheld raises an eyebrow, waiting. His patience is running thin, Hydron knows, and he has to say something, anything to stop his father's rage from exploding on them both.
He chances a glance to Shadow, who—
Who doesn't look afraid at all, smiling at his father with the same twitchy grin he'd given to Hydron, belligerent and fearless; because there's nothing to fear, Hydron realizes in a flash. Because Hydron can choose not to be afraid, to not have to be afraid of his father anymore. Shadow trusts him, just like that. Because they're friends, because Shadow's friends could be his friends, now.
Hydron's words untangle, rush forward in a flood of what ifs.
Hydron— Hydron bites his tongue, swallows them down. “No, Father,” he says, ducking his head and keeping his eyes down. Shadow smiles guilelessly up at Zenoheld's imposing figure, unafraid, and Hydron can't help but watch the other boy from the corner of his eye as they’re led to the dining table.
Hydron’s never had a choice before.