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


10. Lingering

The shadows were really beginning to irritate him. The city was beautiful and exciting and new, and if not for the urgent sense that he needed to leave, he would already have purchased some massive building, and hired so many servants that he could sit around all day and do absolutely nothing.

Even if he didn't have the money, he could've stolen it. Currently, however, there were more pressing matters at hand.

He gathered his most precious possessions from the inn room - his best three coats, his most expensive jewels, and then his favourite items he'd brought in the last few weeks here. Finally, he slid his dagger through his belt, and pulled his coat over it to disguise it.


He slung his bag over his shoulder and left the inn.

Outside the sun seemed to be battling the clouds for control - though the sun appeared to possess the current advantage, Rubin could smell it in the air: the rain was coming.

He walked through the streets towards the palace, and there was eagerness in his steps. Already Rubin felt he belonged: the busy market streets felt more natural to him than his old home; the intricacy and grandness and magnificence stole his breath way as no natural sight ever could.

There was a jerky tug at his coat, and Rubin spun around, his lips already curling in a snarl. A small girl stood behind him, her face pale, her bones jutting from her flesh.

"Please," she said. "My brother's dying."

"Everybody's dying." He looked down with disdain, and the girl shrank beneath his glare.

"I don't need much. Just something to buy him medicine."

Rubin snorted. "Medicine costs a lot."

"Please. I really need your help."

"That doesn't mean you're going to get it." He moved to turn away, and when the girl did not release her grip on his coat, he snatched the material from her hand and kept walking.

"I'm begging you!" she screamed.

Rubin did not turn. "Leave me alone."

And suddenly there was a great wrench at his shoulder, and then there was no weight at all and it took him a moment to realise that the girl had stolen his bag.

It took him less time to give chase.

In a few steps he'd seized the hood of her cloak and was lifting her, but instead of tears he was met with a burning defiance.

"What does it matter if you give us a few of your precious coins?"she hissed. Rubin watched her coldly. "You're all the same, very single one of you! All you rich, heartless monsters! You were born with everything! You could never know what it's like."

Her words were filled with venom, but Rubin was immune.

"I was born poor," he stated. "Everybody I loved died, and I left them, and all that effort to make me forget about it, you just go and unwind it." There was emotion in his voice, now, but he could not stop the words as the tumbled from his lips. "I had to leave that all. I did everything. I stole. I stole my way to comfort, to forget, and you go and bring it all back." A bitter laugh. Silence.

Rubin realised that perhaps he was not completely immune, and he succumbed.

"But I like you," he finished. "So fine. Take me to your brother, and I'll see what I can do."



The walls were cracked and the roof was collapsing, their door barely closed and their beds consisted of moth-eaten blankets and ragged scraps of material.

"This is your home?" he asked.

"He's over here," she said, ignoring his comments as he wrinkled his nose in disgust.

She knelt beside her brother, worry seeping from her expression. At first, he was so motionless that Rubin thought he was dead, but then came the faint rise of his chest, and followed by that the violent convulsions.

And then he was still again.

Rubin knelt reluctantly beside him, wearily checking his head for a temperature. Cold, he realised.

"Anything else?" he asked her, and she pulled way the blankets over his bare chest. There was a wound - still fresh, by the looks of it - that ran down from his shoulder and across his chest. Long. Deep. Painful.

Rubin winced.

"You're going to need a lot more than medicine," Rubin stated. The girl's face contorted into one of horror.


"We'll take him to a healer," Rubin sighed, and then as an afterthought, "I still don't know why the hell I'm doing this."

For a moment, the boy's startlingly pale blue eyes flickered open and met his own, and within them was a strikingly powerful mixture of hope and desperation. And then his eyes closed again, and Rubin sighed.

"Thank you," the girl breathed, as he lifted the boy into his arms. He felt almost too light, but Rubin supposed that was just another problem with poverty. Starvation was never far away.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Nymfe," she replied, gratitude spilling freely from her words.

"And your brother?"

"Krig" she said. "His name is Krig."



Rubin barged through the door to the healer's place. He'd walked past enough to know where it was, and he didn't have time to find anywhere better.

An old man raised his head and studied the three of them with cold, hard eyes.

"Do you have enough money?"

"Yes," Rubin replied. "Where do I put him?"

The healer gestured to a white-surfaced table, and Rubin set the boy down gently. They were probably about the same age, he realised. That was still no reason to cast away his money, of course, but there's been something about the girl...

As he reached for his money pouch, his fingers brushed past the hilt of his knife. He smirked.

"Heal him, else I'll just have to kill you," h said slowly. He ignored the look of horror on the girl's face, and stepped closer to the healer. "How long will it take you?"

The healer looked at him incredulously. "You wouldn't-"

"I would," Rubin cut in. "How long?"

Slowly, the healer's eyes left the knife and fell to the boy. "Three hours to stabilise him, another two to ensure he lasts."

Rubin considered it. Did he have time to stay? He wanted to get closer to the palace quickly - this would only hold him back.

"Fine," Rubin said. "I'll come back in six hours. If you haven't healed him, I'll kill you. You can kick them both out if you want, but you'll die." He shrugged nonchalantly. "Your choice."

And with that he left the building.

The girl's footsteps followed him, and he turned to scowl at her.

"You're not coming back, are you?"

"No," he said calmly. "And you can't stop me."

She beamed. "I wasn't going to. I was going to thank you."

He shrugged, pulling a silver coin from his money pouch. Her eyes widened.

"Don't starve," he said, tossing her the coin.

She caught it with eager fingers, and an image of the boy's eyes flashed into his head again. They wouldn't last long with only that, even if it was a silver coin. Sighing deeply, he slipped his bag from his shoulders and dug to the bottom, drawing out the box of rubies. Only one, he told himself. Even so, handing even the smallest jewel over to the girl was almost painful.

"Only use it if everything else fails. If they open the portal, use it if they don't let you into the palace. If you get to the new world, keep it for emergencies. Got it?"

She could only nod.

"Don't starve," he told her again, shot her one last glance, and left.



It was nearly dark by the time he reached the palace. It took him an hour to identify the best way in, and then he found an old inn where he could stay the night.

Tomorrow, he would find out how to escape.

It saddened him, strangely.

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