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


13. Zero

Rubin lost count of the times he feared for the survival of his race. In the first year, everything seemed impossible. Hundreds perished of starvation. Hundreds lost their lives to the elements. Rubin got by as a thief - by stealing the food of others and leaving them to starve, but this was the survival of the fittest, and that meant not caring who died.

The second year seemed brighter. Crops started growing; cities started evolving. And with the second year, came the Shade.



Rubin made his way into the Shade, his hand wandering to the hilt of his knife. This was the heart of the criminal world - to walk in unarmed would be a death sentence. Even with the knife, he still stayed away from the assassins and the mercenaries. Thieves, he could deal with, but murderers? He wasn't ready to walk among them.

A fire mage ran around, keeping braziers lit to keep the cavern from darkness, and Rubin wondered briefly if he was paid to do this, or if he had been threatened into it.

Knowing the criminals who had started the Shade, he suspected it was the latter.

Rubin headed towards the request hut, nodding to the woman who sat lazily at the counter.

"Anything that needs stealing from the capital?" he asked, and the woman pushed him three requests, scrawled out onto scraps of parchment. He took all three, bid her farewell, and left the hut.

"Hey, kid! Still haven't given up yet?"

He turned irritably to face the older thief. A few times now, Rubin had seen him glaring. Presumably, he 'd taken the requests the older thief wanted.

"Unlike you," Rubin smirked, "I don't back down on simple tasks."

The thief's eyes narrowed, his lips twisting into a snarl. "You don't know who you're talking to," he hissed.

"Evidently, neither do you. I'm not a child," Rubin said pointedly. "Please move. I have somewhere else to be."

The thief did not move. Rubin had expected as much. This was the Shade, after all.

With movements too quick to register, he kicked outwards to knock the thief over, and leapt nimbly over him. Flashing a grin over his shoulder, Rubin sprinted away, weaving through the stalls of smugglers and illegal merchants. The thief was giving chase, but he was better at escaping.

Rubin pushed over a table of jewellery, and instantly there were people pouncing on the goods from all directions. with a smug glance back, he saw the thief barrel into one of the smugglers.


He dashed from the cavern and swung himself into his griffin's saddle.

"Go!" he laughed, and his steed threw herself into the air.



Three completed requests later, Rubin headed into the metalsmith's forge.

"My mask?" he called out.

"Finished as desired," the smith nodded. "Just give me a second to fetch it."

The smith disappeared to find his mask, and Rubin glanced around the display room of the forge. Blades and other weapons hung from the walls; there were shields leaning against the counter. Rubin was already armed, but still the weapons seemed almost too alluring to him. Which was stupid, really, because still hadn't killed anybody. And nor did he intend to.

"Here it is," the smith said, handing Rubin the mask. A grin stretched across his lips. No longer would people ignore him for the dull innocence of his face. They would fear him. They would take him seriously.

"Thank you," Rubin nodded, taking it from the smith and admiring the skill with which the rubies had been set into the metal of the mask.

He tossed the smith the coins (he looked too strong to not pay him) and left the shop.

Outside, there was shouting. Rubin drifted towards it like a moth to flame, and when he finally battled through the gathering swarm of people, he could see the boy and the girl with silver eyes.

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