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


21. Friends

Moving into the castle was insufferably boring, and so when Krig approached him, he was ready to do anything.

That didn't mean he was expecting anything, however.

"I wanted to ask you a favour," Krig said.

"Last time you said that, I got to fight loads of people and have fun. Fire away," Rubin nodded, waving him on.

"The slaver stole something of mine. I was wondering if you would be able to assist me in regaining it. I still haven't acquired fighting abilities similar to your own."

Rubin stood. Already, his fingertips were twitching with an unquenchable anxiety to grasp the familiar knives; his eyes flickered about in search for danger. It took nothing for him to succumb.

"Sure. We going now?"

"Yes," Krig replied, and something - gratitude? - flickered through his eyes. "Thank you."

"I needed a break," Rubin shrugged, as they headed towards the stables where the griffins were tethered. "What you getting back?"

"A ruby," Krig said, and then paused, glancing quickly at Rubin's mask. "Similar to your own. The slaver wears it on a belt."

Rubin held his breath. They hadn't sold it off to survive? Why? Krig might even have been able to escape slavery!

And yet it was strangely touching that Krig would want the gem back. That he actually cared about something, that Vipera had not sucked every shard of sentiment from him. Which was a stupid thought, he told himself, because he shouldn't feel touched.

"I see," he said simply, and, in a silence more companionable than usual, they made their way to the stables.



Luckily for them, the slaver hadn't decided to move location, even after Rubin's break-in. The new door was flimsier than the last; Rubin could kick it down even without a weapon.

"After you," he said to Krig, following the spy into the building. Only two guards stood to protect the place, and Rubin had little difficulty in taking them out.

"Where'd he be?" Rubin asked, surveying the room for possible routes to the slaver. Shaking his head, Krig shot a quick glance towards the direction of the cages.

"Not that way, to be sure," he muttered, and Rubin detected the slightest hint of coldness in his tone.

"Well, there's a carpet going down there," Rubin said, nodding to an archway across the room. "Let's try it."

They walked through in unison, and came to face a long corridor, barely kept lit y the sparsely placed torches.

"How did you end up here?" Rubin asked carefully."You don't have to say, but-"

"I was kidnapped," Krig replied shortly. Trying to get anything else from him would probably be useless, so Rubin decided to try talking about something else.

"You got any better at fighting, yet?"

"No," Krig replied. "I intend to improve soon."

"I can teach you," Rubin offered, and it was a strange impulse rather than ulterior motive that forced his words through his lips.

The spy nodded. "I would appreciate that."

They reached the end of the corridor and stopped. Only one door led onwards; Rubin pushed it open, and strode in confidently.


Instantly, there were surrounded by shadows, and Rubin drew his blades. Well, at least this wouldn't be completely boring.

With a grin widening his lips, he lunged forwards, and attacked the first.

There was a sudden burst of flames, and he only narrowly evaded it before lunging for the mage's throat. Magic was a weapon, not a safeguard. People should use it accordingly.

With the mage's death as his distraction, he turned to ensure that Krig was still okay. The spy was surrounded, but unhurt.

Rubin backed up to him just in case.

They swept through the shadowy figures with ease; Rubin would attack, Krig would cover him. It worked with a strange rhythm that Rubin had never expected to find in a fight, and by the end of it his grin was wider than usual.

"You're getting good," Rubin whistled as the last opponent dropped to the ground.

He surveyed the area.

They were stood in the entrance to an underground cavern. The roof stretched high above their heads, and before them was a lake of the darkest blue. By its shore, a boat - and two shocked men.

"Is the slaver across there?" Rubin demanded. "Do tell us, or we might just have to kill you."

The two men shared a look of helplessness before one finally nodded.

"Great," Rubin beamed. "You can take us across, then."



They were almost there when an oar collided with the back of his head. There was a sudden force behind him, and then he was falling and then there was water.

It took him a moment to realise he was in the lake, and by the time he could get his head around it, the freezing claws of the water had taken hold. Panic grasped him.

Air! He tried desperately to claw at the water, flailing and gasping and drowning and dying, and somehow he breached the surface for a moment.

"Krig!" he gasped in his brief moment of air. "Help!"

Then there was water in his lungs and he was under again. Beside him, there was a splash and jerky movements, but he couldn't pay attention to that because he couldn't swim and air air air air - he needed to breathe!

And suddenly, calm. Silence. Deathly silence.

His eyelids slid shut as he sunk through the water, and there was something welcoming about succumbing to the depths. Another shape moved towards him, and there was something around his wrist, but before he could figure out what it was - darkness.



When he woke up, there was weightlessness. It took him a few seconds at least to realise that he was being dragged ashore. A cough racked his body, and Krig stumbled to support his weight. The next second the two of them were sprawled out on the rocks, gasping and spluttering and choking.

"You okay?" Krig managed.

Another swarm of coughs erupted from, his chest before he replied. "Yeah. Thanks."

"Thought you'd be able to swim," Krig continued, his voice a dry rasp.

"Nope." Rubin threw a sidelong glance to Krig. His hair was plastered to his head, and his dripping clothes clung to his slender frame. Rubin couldn't imagine that he himself looked a great deal better.

"Rubin," Krig said, after a long pause.


"I want to trust you." There was an unfamiliar caution to his tone. "But Vipera told me never to trust."

"Well, Vipera failed to teach me how to swim, so it's not like she's perfect," Rubin muttered irritably. "But you can trust me."

Krig nodded, and pondered over his words before selecting them and speaking them slowly.

"You asked if I had siblings," Krig started. "A sister. Called Nymfe." A sorrowful smiled flickered briefly across his lips. "She saved my life, once. I got wounded trying to steal food. A guard attacked, and I escaped, but... I got hurt. She found another boy with money - lots of it - and he saved me." He swallowed hard. "He gave us the ruby." Rubin held his breath. It was so strange - being talked about like he was some kind of hero. He wasn't a hero. "I made it, because of him, and because Nymfe found him. We made it to Haven, and we scraped by. Then... the slaver attacked us. He said he'd let Nymfe go if we gave him the ruby." Krig clenched his fists. "He killed her. He drove a blade through her heart, right after promising not to hurt her."

Rubin had never seen so much emotion burning in Krig's eyes. All cold blue was replaced by an icy flame, and strangely, it angered him, too. Nymfe had been too young to die. How? How could somebody do that to her? Killing heartless thugs was one thing. But killing Nymfe?

"The boy's ruby saved me," Krig continued, his voice quiet but brimming with emotion. "They let me live, but the boy couldn't save Nymfe."

And that hurt. That hurt like only a wound should hurt, and Rubin wanted to say so much to Krig - wanted to break down and apologise, wanted to tell him that he would fight to protect him because he'd failed his sister, wanted to swear to help him avenge her, but all he could do was swallow hard, and set a firm hand on Krig's shoulder.

"We'll kill him," he vowed. "We'll kill him for Nymfe."



Like a coward, the slaver begged. Like a coward, he screamed for mercy - for all the mercy he had never once shown, for all the mercy he needed and had never once given. And like a coward, he died sobbing with Krig's blade through his heart.

Rubin still felt empty. The slaver's tears did nothing as his greatest enemy resurfaced and sank its fangs into his heart with icy hatred.


No matter now hard he tried, no matter how desperately he fought to push it from his conscience, Rubin would always be plagued by guilt.

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