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


9. Settling

"People are starting to call them shadows."

"They say only magic can kill 'em, unless you hack at 'em with a sword for long enough."

"The Arsenios are going to try opening a portal!"

Rubin listened to their conversations with interest as he made his way through the city streets. So far, he'd pieced together enough to understand that the shadows were killed only by constant bombardment of blades, or by magic - primarily light or fire. There was talk of the Arsenio family trying to open a portal, too - apparently, Disan was doomed; their only option would be to abandon this world and find a new one.

Of course, they were only rumours, but Rubin saw the truth of them. The shadows, as people had dubbed them, had destroyed his village with no effort - if there were enough of them, they could probably overrun all the mages sent at them.

As for the portal, he supposed it wasn't entirely preposterous. The royal family had ancient roots in powerful magic - if they all elected to open as portal, it could be possible...

Either way, the palace was the safest place for him.

All he needed now was a way in.



He left the inn at midnight and snuck out to find a patrol of guards. The quietest place so far was probably the dark alley behind his favourite jewellers shop. There would be two guards - fully trained to look out for trouble, though of course he was good at thievery. Stealing a simple knife would be child's play, and it would give him a better weapon than the old hunting knife he had now. 

He slipped into the alley after the guards, eyeing the knife belted at the waist of the man on the left. It would be simply. Just as knife.

Rubin tried to swallow down the rush of fear and exhilaration. He hadn't been scared like this since the horse and the carriage, and he couldn't allow emotions to take charge of him.

He approached.

Footsteps silent. Movements silent. Breathing silent. His heart was not. It pounded against his chest with such ferocity he thought that the guards would hear him for sure.

Rubin took the last step towards the guard, and in an instant his fingers were around the dagger and then it was out of the sheath and then - then the guards were turning around.

He froze.

"Give it back! the guard hissed, raising his spear and pointing it at Rubin.

His bones locked with fear, terror, horror. The guard lunged and finally Rubin moved, and suddenly he found himself running. His legs pumped furiously as he tore through the city. Behind him was the clash of boots striking the cobbled city streets, and Rubin could do nothing but run faster, faster, faster.

He pushed through a crowd of refugees. Their muffled anger echoed through the night; the guards' frenzied cries clung to his heels as though to slow him down.

His breaths - ragged. His heartbeat - racing. His mind - exhilarated.

All the fear and excitement and terror surged through his blood, and maniacal laughter burst from his lips as he darted into another alley, gasping for  breath and grinning and running as the guards chased after him.

He knew his way to the slums, by now - he'd lead them there! He could already detect its odour - thick and putrid and vile - and his grin widened.

Rubin plunged into the ocean of refugees, and he lost the guards from there.

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