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


20. Comrades

"I want you to investigate a castle," she said. "To see if it would be fitting for our new headquarters. And to clear it of unwanted residents."

"So we get to kill people?"

"Of course," Vipera replied. "A baron had it made as his hideaway. He had its builders killed so that none would know of its location. The only ones who know are there now. You must ensure that none of them escape alive, if the castle is worth our time."

Rubin grinned. "Consider it done."



Considering they got there on different mounts, the journey was easy.

When they got there, however, things were different.

They landed the griffins by a nearby lake, and dismounted side by side. With any other person, Rubin would have annoyed them, or left them to fear him in silence, but Krig seemed like somebody who'd be impossible to annoy, and he didn't seem to possess so much as a grain of fear for him. Of course, it was somewhat impossible to tell considering the expressionless face, but there was something about his demeanour.

"To the castle?" he said awkwardly.

"Of course," Krig nodded. "Vipera told me to convey the message that I should survey its suitability before we make ourselves known."

"That sucks," Rubin muttered. When Krig did not reply, he sighed, pushing his way through the trees. "All right then, let's go."

Krig followed him as he battled through the undergrowth, and he bit his lip. Should he try to ask about Nymfe?

"So... Do you have any family who made it out of Disan?" He held his breath, before telling himself that was stupid and forcing himself to try to breathe normally.

"My parents died when I was young."

"Oh... Siblings?"

When Krig did not reply, Rubin threw him a sidelong glance. His eyes were narrowed and his lips twitched slightly in what might have been sorrow. But he did not reply.

They lapsed again into silence. She was probably still alive, he reasoned. They'd probably just been separated.

"Rubin, might I ask you a favour?" Krig asked.


"I am not quite so confident as I wish to be at fighting, yet. I asked Vipera to take this into account, though it seems as though she thought me best for surveying. Would you mind if I stayed behind you during the fight?" Even as he asked for help, there was no trace of feeling in his voice. No embarrassment, no humility. Nothing. But that didn't matter - not if he got to fight even more or them.

"I have absolutely no problem with taking on more people," he agreed cheerfully.

Krig nodded his thanks, but before they could take another plummet into silence, they broke free of the forest. The sun struck them with instant heat, and Krig raised a hand to shield his eyes as he gazed up at the castle. Following his gaze, Rubin's eyes rested upon their potential new headquarters.

It stood tall - taller than most of the other buildings he'd ever seen here, and was crafted from roughly cut blocks of stone, probably mined from the mountains around them. If he'd compared it to something from Disan, it would have looked shabby, but out here - out here it looked magnificent.

"I will go in to survey it," Krig announced. "Wait here until my return."

Rubin sighed pointedly. "There's no way that could be a worse headquarters than we got now," he muttered. "We might as well just charge in now."

Krig shook his head. "No. I have my orders."

Rubin briefly considered telling Krig that he owed him his life, so they should at least follow his will, but something stopped him. Instead, he rolled his eyes, but let it pass. It wouldn't take too long, after all.



Rubin was seriously considering following the spy by the time he emerged again, and by then, he was bored, stiff, and more violent than he'd been feeling before.

Which was, in his case, a good thing.

"Took you long enough," he muttered. "Ready?"

Krig nodded, and another grin found its way across Rubin's lips. "Wonderful. Let's go!"



Climbing in through one of the windows seemed the easiest way to get in, and it was easier than it sounded. There was only one problem - Rubin couldn't make a dramatic entrance. Which might have seemed like a minor thing, but in actuality it was actually a very big deal. Dramatic entrances were so much more fun.

"Where's the baron?" Rubin grinned, already unsheathing two blades.

"Follow me," Krig ordered, darting through the nearest door and into the corridor outside. Sprinting after him, Rubin wondered briefly what Vipera had done to make him so cold and efficient, but then there were two guards and his mind was torn back to reality.

Krig fell behind him as he surged forwards, meeting the first guard's blade with ease and deflecting the second's in a fluid movement. The next moment, he drove into the opening, and pushed his knives into the guard's chest, narrowly evading a strike from his comrade. Laughter bubbled from his lips as he pierced the second's chest.

"Keep going," Rubin grinned to Krig, and the spy nodded, darting forwards once again.

"Where is he?" he called after the spy.

"He was here, feasting in the hall with the other guards," Krig shot back over his shoulder. "The majority of them seemed to be gathered there."

Rubin could do nothing to fight the excitement rising within his stomach. "Great! Keep the baron alive for now, then we can interrogate him later about any other people who might be here."

Krig nodded before halting at the double doors that would undoubtedly lead to the hall.

"Ready? You get any who try to escape."

Krig nodded, and Rubin pushed in.

It was almost a disappointment to see only twenty of them there - his training had led to so much more than this, but he supposed he could make do.

"We're here to kill the lot of you!" he declared. "Fight me for your lives!"

The guards leapt from their seats, but two had knives embedded in their chests before they made it so much as two steps; Krig had taken out one with a crossbow bolt by the time they reached Rubin.

No matter how many came, he was going to win.

He had to.

There was the screech of steel against steel, and already he was amidst them, spinning and blocking and slicing and piercing. Exhilaration widened his eyes in delight; the thrill sharpened his senses until he became an unbeatable typhoon of silver blades and fury.

"Rubin!" Krig's cry split through the screams of dying soldiers, somehow, and Rubin cursed. How had he forgotten?

Instantly, he was spinning around and darting through the mass of corpses and bodies, cutting down the guard ascending on Krig before he could hurt the spy.

There was enough time for a brief, "You okay?" before Rubin had to turn around to meet his next opponent, only to find a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest.

"We're even," Krig declared, and Rubin laughed over his shoulder.

No, he thought. We're not.

"Whatever," he said, and darted back into the fray.

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