His name was Rubin, and he hated love. ---Prequel to Free---


16. Countless

"Our aim is to grow stronger, so that we may find Prince Lux his way back to the throne," Vipera said. "When he came to this world, the people cast him aside. Told him that he could not rule." She paused. "They owe their lives to the Arsenio family. Everything they own, they own because our Prince's parents died for it. But still they cast him aside and elected new leaders."

Rubin could understand their anger. But right now - right now he wanted to do nothing more than curl up and sleep.

"I see," he said simply. Vipera shot him a glare that implied he should have said more, but Rubin could think of nothing to say but, "A noble cause."

And then he excused himself and left the room.



It took him a full two weeks to get over the fact that he could kill; it took him three months to accustom himself to it, and that was only because Vipera had forced him to kill person after person after person.

He was good at it.

The fact no longer disturbed him - not after Vipera's training had been completed.

After that, she finally allowed him to return to the Shade to accept a job. A job to kill.



He arrived early at the Shade to collect the job request. The most well-paid one there, Vipera had told him. He replayed his instructions to the woman handling job requests, and she slid him a scrap of parchment across her desk. Rubin picked it up and scanned the words.

Name: Vitalis Deus

Occupation: Smuggler

Location: Selya

Rubin thanked her, and set out to kill Vitalis.



Selya was a relatively pleasant town, by the looks of it, and one that had survived by fishing. Boats filled the harbours; the scent of fish invaded Rubin's nose the moment his griffin landed, and mingled with it was a salty taste that settled on his tongue. The town was built upon a hill and rolled gently down to the sea. Birds passed overhead, their wings outstretched as they basked in the freedom above.

But he was not here for the scenery.

He was here for the target.

Rubin tied his griffin's reins to a tree, and headed down towards the docks. With each step, the scent of fish grew stronger; with it grew the salty aroma he'd detected previously.

He stopped the first fisherman he saw.

"Do you know of a man by the name Vitalis Deus?"

The fisherman looked wearily at Rubin's mask before nodding cautiously. "Aye. Ye'll find him down on the biggest ship in the ol' harbour," he said, and then, a little more hesitantly, "Though I'd never trust 'im with any deal ye might be wantin' to make, if yer after any fish."

"I have business with the man, not the fish," Rubin replied calmly, and the fisherman's face fell. "Thank you for your time."

He continued down to the harbour, swiftly identifying Vitalis's boat. It was by far the largest, with sails of the finest material and masts of the strongest wood.

And then there was her captain. He stood beside the gangway, talking to another man. He was dressed in fine attire, with silk clothing, polished boots and a coat of the bluest hue. His eyes gleamed ruthlessly - the glint of a cold-hearted businessman. His hair was trimmed neatly.

All in all, Rubin was hardly surprised the townspeople kept away; his boat was hardly fit for fishing and he looked too wealthy to be a man of any trade dealing with fish, be it importing or catching.

No - he was definitely a smuggler.

Rubin followed as he headed back to the ship, clearing his throat and calling out as he ascended the gangway. Vitalis turned to inspect him.

"What might ye be wantin'?"

Dressed like a wealthy man, spoken like a poor one. Rubin was not surprised.

"To talk with you," Rubin replied. "Might we talk inside your ship?"

"'Course," the smuggler nodded, and Rubin followed triumphantly. The second they were inside, he drew a blade.

"Now," he said, "why might somebody want you dead?"

The smuggler froze. Turned. Stared at Rubin.

"See, somebody put a lot of money into seeing you killed. Were you stealing goods, perhaps? Stealing business? Either way, you're dead."

The smuggler tried to run, but Rubin was faster, and when he plunged the blade into the man's chest, it did not feel wrong.

He stepped back to inspect the corpse and smiled. Vipera's training had worked after all.

Slowly, Rubin turned to Vitalis's underling, and memorised his face.

"I shall spare you, I think," he said. "And you can take up his position, and smuggle goods as you please. But you owe me your life. Remember my mask, for you will be seeing it again at some point." He moved to step away. "I'll come back, and I'll want some riches from you. It's that," Rubin said, striding confidently down the gangway, "or your life."

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