Rubin

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

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5. Raven

Fox followed the river, and in doing so he found the village - if you could even call it that. At least half of the buildings had been reduced to rubble, and corpses littered the ground, their limp, lifeless frames like leaves torn from a dying tree by a ruthless gale.

The animals were still there - dogs by their fallen masters' sides, cats wandering the surviving rooftops. Ravens and crows pecked flesh from the bodies.

At first, the sight was enough to make him gag, but with fascinated horror, he advanced, setting trembling feet into the village.

Monsters.

Nothing else could have done this.

Fox felt suddenly very cold, and only his burning hunger made him stay. Without food, Fox would perish, and he hadn't made it all this way simply to starve now.

Nimbly picking his way through the sea of bodies, he tried not to look too closely at the victims around him. The odour of decaying flesh was invading his nostrils, and he pressed a hand over his nose.

Staggering into one of the still-standing buildings, Fox glanced around for food. He found some bread, then discovered some cheese and meat in the basement. After a little scavenging, Fox found a bag - presumably left by the dead house-owners, and stuffed the food inside. He stole a fur cloak from its hook by the door, before snatching an old deerskin water flask, and pushing that into the bag. Fox wondered if he should feel so guilty. Did it really could as thievery if the owners were dead? He decided that it didn't.

Pushing the door open and holding his nose again, Fox started once more through the village. He was hungry, but to eat among the ocean of corpses...

In front of him, a raven looked up from its meal of a baby's rib. If Fox had been keeping any food in his belly, he would have lost it. The raven was disgusting, its beak, glistening with the all-too familiar ruby of blood. Its eyes, like polished jet, followed him, and the bird tilted its head.

Were they really so different? They both were scavenging from the death, taking the easy pickings because they were simply there. Fox didn't see much difference, only the raven was eating from a body.

The fox had led him to the water, but the raven was too similar to be ignored.

"Raven. Fox."

He decided on the former, changing his identity once again. Ravens were free, and they could simply fly away. He would soar from his past, from the sorrow that refused to loosen its grip on his conscience.

Raven.

He liked it.

Leaving the bodies behind, Raven paused by the river, filling the deerskin flask with water before following the road that led from the ravaged village. He would head to the capital, and seek refuge with the mages there. Maybe they'd stand at least a little chance against the monsters, and Raven could get by, there. He'd survived this far, after all. Only when he could no longer smell the lingering death that had hung over the village did Raven stop to eat. He consumed the food ravenously, halfing his supply of bread in a single meal. The meat and cheese suffered similar fates, and although Raven knew he should save some, he was too hungry to leave food.

"Raven."

He said it again, this new name he had selected to represent himself. Without the starving hunger to accompany its connotations, it sounded almost... weak. Raven wanted to live, not to spend his days scavenging. Besides, birds were fragile, and lived shorter lives than people.

Forcing himself to stop gnawing at the cheese, Raven stood, brushing crumbs from his trousers. It would suffice, for now, until he found something that really showed who he was, at least  -something that didn't link to his past, that linked only to his strength. His name was the very person he was, after all.

Raven shrugged it off, setting off again. His legs were stiff from walking, but he'd just have to endure it. His mind, after all, was in worse shape.

For a while, he walked in silence. The ruby of blood refused top leave his head - a permanent image, imprinted there for life. Before, Oben had whimpered, Odmar had whimpered. Fox had been stronger; Raven stronger still. Now, the ruby blood did not weaken his entire body like it had the former two.

Now, he could endure.

Hooves from the distance rung through the air. Already, Raven was hiding - just in case, just in case he could get something out of this. As the sound of hooves grew closer, he inspected the approaching image. A horse-drawn carriage - painted and decorated with little care to cost.

The carriage driver, Raven decided, looked friendly. If he was wrong, he could die; if he was not, he could find himself suddenly blessed with money...

Taking the gamble, Raven staggered into the road again, limping, clutching an arm to his chest as though it was wounded.

"Move!" The carriage driver? Must be.

Raven ignored him, focusing on the horses hooves.

Slowing. Slowing. Slowing.

They stopped.

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