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


18. Strangers

"You took your time," Vipera scowled without looking up. Rubin grinned beneath the mask.

"I was being flocked by my millions of fans," he laughed, bathing in the irritation that flashed across her face. "What job you got me?"

"You're going to the Shade," she said, "and you're going to follow this slaver." She pushed a neatly cut piece of parchment across her desk to him, and he took it, studying it with interest. A name. A description.

"When he stops, you are to identify his strongest-looking slave, and you are to bring him back here. Knock him out first. When he wakes up, I want him to see Lux first. It's the easiest way to gain his loyalty."

"Sure," Rubin grinned. "I haven't done recruitment in a while. Should be fun."



Following the slaver provided him with little difficulty. He wasn't careful in his movements; he didn't turn suddenly through places where he could lose any followers; he didn't leave traps; he didn't use decoys.

But he did have a guarded headquarters - which meant that Rubin would get to have even more fun. The only downside was that he had to help somebody.

Rubin dropped from the griffin's saddle and ran towards the building, knives in hands. He'd already disarmed and killed the first two thugs by the time anybody realised that he was attacking, and by then it was already too late. Their fear was their downfall.

Rubin was unstoppable.

Until, of course, he remembered he'd need a way in - and the door didn't exactly look very open. He tried it just in case, but had no luck.. In which case, there was only one way in: brute force.

He wrenched a mace from the hands of a fallen guard, grinning as he took a practise swing. Heavy. Destructive. Powerful. It would be an effective weapon.

Rubin raised it before taking his swing at the door. Splinters flew everywhere, exploding from the door like shards of fury, but still, Rubin did not stop. Again, he swung, and again the splinters burst from the wood as though freed from a terrible evil. It still wasn't enough. Rubin struck again and again, until finally the door could do nothing as he kicked away its remnants, striding inside with natural confidence.

He was met by thugs, and laughed. Where was the fun without a fight?

The first opponent struck out with a spear, and Rubin threw himself aside, narrowly evading the weapon with a strange fluidity, he twisted beneath the spear, striking at the man's elbow with his knife before slamming another into his throat. By then the others were upon him, their weapons glinting with menace and cruelty sand hatred.

Rubin met every strike, out-speeding them with ease as he darted through them, every second bringing with it another slit throat or dying heart or punctured lung.

And then he killed he last one, and it was almost a shame because killing mindless thugs was certainly more interesting than saving people.

But it couldn't be helped, he supposed.

Rubin made his way through the building, following the trail of blood and grime that would surely lead to the slaves. The floors were wooden and riddled with splinters; the walls were uncovered and bare.

Slavery must be a loathsome life.

"Who are-"

Rubin sliced open the key keeper's throat before he could continue, catching his crumpling body and snatching the keys before letting him fall. He pushed through the door to the placer where the slaves seemed to be kept.

Inside were tiny cages, within which men and boys were huddled. As he walked in, a few lifted their heads in desperate hope, but most seemed too far gone for something so frail.

He stalked down the aisle of cages, inspecting the prisoners within. His eyes fell to a boy of similar height as him, and instantly he saw the scar that ran down from his shoulder and down across his chest.

"You," he called, and the boy looked up. The moment he saw his eyes, the image flashed his head: Disan, the wounded boy, the desperation in his eyes.

It was him.

Nymfe's brother.

Rubin decided that, even if he wasn't the fittest, he would be the finest recruit - because he couldn't simply abandon him to die here, no matter how long he had spent learning to quell his emotions. He slid the keys into the lock, but before the boy could blink and register the image of his mask, Rubin was already there. He slammed his fist into the boy's stomach, and caught him as he fell against him. 

"What was your name?" he muttered absently, as, for the second time, he lifted the boy into his arms. "Krig," he said eventually, and laughed a little. "Well, Krig, you owe me your life twice, now."

And once again, he carried Krig to safety.

But Krig would never know.

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