Rubin faced the crowd of soldiers. They were all looking up at him, like he was some great hero. Great, yes, but a hero?
"Strike teams one to four," he called out, "you're going to be randomly attacking the city. All of your team leaders have maps containing the points at which you will strike. Each strike team leader - including myself - will take you to the place you attack: somewhere of importance to the royal soldiers. After you hit the first place, return to the forest and wait with the others. I'll then tell you when to all attack again. You must spend very little time when you strike, and flee as swiftly as possible. Understood?"
The strike teams nodded gravely.
"Good. Everybody else will wait in the forest while the strike teams go in. After the strike teams are finished, we will wait, while Prince Lux, Skala and Axel draw the enemy away." He didn't say how. They didn't need to know - the possibilities of a traitor were still there. "When we see enemy troops leaving, we will attack the city. When they are finished, Prince Lux, Axel and Skala will join us. All soldiers of higher rank have been given specific orders. They will shortly explain the jobs of each of you."
There was no inspirational speech; there were no words of encouragement. Instead, he finished by saying, "If you try to betray us, or try to desert us without orders, then you will be killed."
Rubin stepped from the dais, and pushed through the soldiers. In the entrance hall, Aleron and Tiego would be giving their own orders out - perhaps with compassion to their words, perhaps inspiring confidence. Lux had already handled the inspiration. Giving hope wasn't Rubin's forte. This was a battlefield. Those who used hope to help them win were fools.
Hope could do nothing but shatter you all the more when it was destroyed. And he refused to go through that again.
He would win, not with hope, or inspiration, or encouragement.
No: instead, he would follow the only law he had ever obeyed faithfully, no matter how monstrous it made him.
His golden rules, so to speak.
The law of survival.
Axel ran a hand over Snow's silky feathers.
"Look after her, okay?" Lux asked. "And leave her with Quilia. She likes her."
"Sure," Axel nodded, as the phoenix bowed her head towards Lux. He ruffled the feathers above her eye, laughing as she nudged him with her beak. "I promise."
"Thanks," Lux said. "So, just to clarify, me and Skala will be flying to Vipera's base, and wait while you go with the others. When the strike teams have almost finished their job, you'll leave Snow with Quilia, use shadow-voyage to get to us, and we'll start the attack. Then, after we take down the base, we head back to the city to help out there, and I take Snow back again. Right?"
Axel nodded. "Right. I'll see you there, Lux."
The prince nodded, chewing his lip. Was he still nervous?
"You'll be fine," Axel promised. Lux swallowed.
"Last time, I took most of my people to their deaths."
"No," Axel told him fiercely, clasping his shoulder with a firm hand. Did he still blame himself for that? "Krig was the one to blame. Vipera was the one to blame. You have to be strong, and the others will be strong with you. Okay?"
He didn't sound sure. "You charged through the entire palace to save me, fighting whoever got in your way and escaping barely injured," Axel told him, swinging himself into Snow's saddle with elegant ease. "I think that makes you more than strong enough, Lux."
Rubin's griffin swept downwards, and he dropped lightly onto the roof of the royal soldiers' guard post. Before any of them could so much as turn around, there were already blades through their backs. Leaving the two corpses, he lead the charge deeper into the guard tower, plunging into the darkness beneath the trapdoor and cutting down the first woman he saw. It was almost too easy.
Maybe not for a person with remorse, but remorse was for the weak.
Behind him, his three comrades entered the guard tower, following him down with confident bounds.
Rubin summed up the situation instantly: four of them, four of his. He took the tallest soldier on, standing back as his allies completed their own tasks. Surprise was the victorious ally; their own power easily superior.
"You're like a one-man army, Rubin," one of his comrades grinned.
"I'm aware," Rubin purred, heading back towards the stairs. "Compared to me, you're all practically flies."
They were used to his arrogance, and if they weren't, they should be. Rubin was good enough to be arrogant. Hell, he was good enough to be worshipped.
He swung himself back into his steed's saddle, ignoring the flying harness and instead gripping the reins.
"Hurry up!" he barked to the other three, already urging his griffin into the air. "We're meant to be quick, you useless idiots!"
They joined him in the skies, and he turned his mount around, heading back towards the forest. Five out of eight targets destroyed. It was probably time for Axel to head over to Lux, by now.
He swept into the safety of the trees, glancing over his shoulder. All three allies were there, and no pursers. It was almost a shame - discarding any enemy cavalry would have been slightly more entertaining than killing useless soldiers. He was almost jealous of Axel and Lux. After all, why did they get to challenge themselves? It was hardly a battle if it was easy.
His griffin landed, and he slid from the saddle. The other strike teams were still absent. Did they really have to take so long? He paced over to Axel, who eyed him with a suspicious wariness. He'd never said anything about Lux, but Rubin hadn't missed the glances shared between the two. There was no way they were just friends, which meant that he was simply amazing for telling Lux and starting the whole thing, and masterfully talking Skala into manipulating Axel so that he'd talk...
"Axel, you can go to your precious little prince, now."
A steely glare.
"Waiting for you longingly," Rubin cut in. "Now hurry up, will you? I'm sure he's desperately awaiting a hug or something."
Axel snarled, a feral gleam in his eyes as he grabbed the collar of Rubin's coat. "Say that again, and I'll kill you."
Laughing, the assassin shoved his arm away. "Right, right, sorry. He's waiting for a hug and a kiss." This time, he evaded Axel's fist. "Really, you should hurry up. He's probably scared to death for you."
Axel's glare intensified. "You're dead when I come back," he threatened, fading back into the shadows.
"I should be a love expert or something," Rubin laughed, to nobody in particular.