- Rune Breaker: Chapter 1 – The Bargain is Struck
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 2 – The Clever Girl
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 3 – A Paradise in the Future
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 4 – Clan of the Winter Willow
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 5 – Spell-worked Water, Alchemical Food
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 6 – Waste Not Want Not
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 7 – Battlelines
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 8 – Filling the Gap
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 9 – The King of Flame and Steel
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 10 – Recovery
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 11 – Sisters, Brothers
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 12 – Her Most Beauteous Wings
“Keese Kaiel, how is your injury?” The small moment between her and Taylin was over and instantly, Grandmother was back to business.
“I only ache now, Grandmother.” Said the chronicler. “And most of that is from overextending myself drawing on the Well that last time to heal Meysur.”
“Then you are at your limit for spell work for the day.” She reasoned.
He hung his head. He was far ahead in his studies, but behind in building up his skill capacity in channeling energy from the power source loreman tapped to work their magic. Someone as far along the path of the loreman as he should have been able to call on at least a third more than he. “That is true.”
“As am I.” the nir-lumos matriarch said with a hint of comfort in her voice. “But we all have other things we can do. I wish to have you speak with the captured bandits. The dealings of the King of Flame and Steel concern me. We must know if there were others involved; how many of their number worship the Three-fold Moon. Find those among the prisoners and put them to the sword. The rest will be relieved of their weapons and released.”
Kaiel bowed his head. “It will be done, Grandmother.”
“Heh. Putting someone to the sword has the sound of being my area of expertise.” Ru smirked and transformed one arm into a blade of what looked like acid pitted, black metal.
“I believe not.” Grandmother said firmly. “Are you aware, Ru Brakar that at this moment, you are the only one present who is not family?”
Ru didn’t see why he should care and gave a non-committal huff in reply.
“Although you did well in battle, and will for true be compensated, you are also not paying passage with us.” Her hard eyes met his and it was like two swords locking. “However, Keese Kaiel tells me that neither has coin between you. I am prepared to let you work for your debt.” Ru stared to protest, but she interrupted, “Spellwork.”
That got his attention. The tension in his shoulders at some imagined indignation released.
Grandmother nodded as if agreeing with the shift in body language. “Are you at your limit for the day?”
“I rarely am.” He bragged. Taylin felt as if she’d choke on the cloying pride she was feeling from him.
“So I surmised.” said Grandmother. “Then let us see if we can find that limit. I’ve already seen you heal Taylin in battle. My healers have all taxed themselves as I have; bring your healing to those still in danger, those who still hurt, and I will consider it as good as coin.”
“A bit trivial for my talents.”
“There are lives that may depend on it. There is no such thing as trivial in such cases.”
“From your perspective.” He pointed out, earning him a hard look that seemed to cow him at least in a small way. “But practice in the art is practice, I suppose. I will seek out your healers.” Without another word, he was gone.
Grandmother frowned at Taylin. “You’ve chosen a very cold creature to travel with, child.”
“It wasn’t a choice that either of us made.” She replied before bowing her head and leaving with Kaiel.
Taylin’s tone was unreadable there, even to herself. She didn’t know what to think of the Rune Breaker. There was still considerable guilt at enslaving him, even if the fault wasn’t her own. And in truth, he scared her, link mandate against harming her or no.
Even he called himself a monster, insisted that she not consider him a person. And yet, there was definitely a person there. A spiteful person who delighted in spilling blood, but also a person who was passionate about spellwork, who had a sense of humor, dark though it was, and who suffered pain just like anyone else.
And for now, she wasn’t going to be rid of him. A dark specter hanging on the edges of her new and bright life.
But maybe it didn’t have to be that way. It occurred to her that Ru didn’t have a family either, that he had been a slave not for a few decades like her, but for thousands of years. As much of a toll as it took on her spirit, it defied imagination what it might have done to him. There wouldn’t just be a lack of hope, but a vast and hungry void where hope’s memory used to be.
It would explain how the lives and feelings of every other living thing could become ‘trivial’.
As long as the link existed, it was a testament that he would never be free. There was nothing she could do about that. What she could do though was exactly what she’d said only conversationally before: be his friend. She glanced beside her and found Kaiel deep in his own thoughts.
“Kaiel…” He flicked his eyes in her direction.
“I’m concerned about Ru…”
“The way you say that tells me that you’re not concerned in the same way I’m concerned.”
“…How are you concerned?”
Kaiel shrugged. “The man’s obsessed with death and destruction. Nihilism isn’t exactly a quality you want in a powerful wizard.”
She bit her lip. He had a point and it wasn’t in her favor. How much could she tell him? How much could he already guess?
“I… have a theory.” She ventured, sounding unfamiliar with the jargon she’d picked up here and there guarding some of the more philosophical or scientifically minded masters. Kaiel raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “Well… some wizards they say can extend their lives quite a bit, yes?”
“Not many are alive today, as they tended to keep such knowledge hidden a secret, but I’ve heard of lifespans in the hundreds of years, yes.”
Taylin nodded. “Right. And we aren’t from this time. Ru could be part of that generation, and he’s a shapeshifter on top of that, so it’s impossible to tell his age.” She waited for him to nod again. “And you know of the connection we share; how he is bound to be loyal to me.” Another nod. “But I am not the first to hold my end of this link. He’s been bound to it for… a very long time.”
Kaiel stopped walking and turned to face her fully. “You mean…”
She nodded. “Think about it: What if you were forced to fight for other people’s causes. Causes you don’t believe in, and even if you did, you know for a fact that you’ll live to see them become meaningless. Think of going through that for even a dozen years, let alone a hundred or more. It’d break almost anyone… but what if it didn’t? Maybe the fact that he’s cruel and rude, and treats killing like a game is how he kept from breaking.”
The chronicler frowned and turned to start walking again. “Or it might be that he really is just cruel and rude and blood thirsty.”
“It could.” She conceded. “But what if I am right and what he needs is to be treated like a friend instead of a monster. Even if you’re right, what are we really losing by doing this? It isn’t as if I can sever the link anyway, and even if he really is the monster he says he is, might make him feel less like acting on it.”
Kaiel kept walking, but Taylin reached out and grabbed his shoulder, turning him around more roughly than she planned, but catching his eyes with her own. “Please help me on this.” She looked down at him with a silent plea in her emerald eyes. “As my brother?”
His eyebrow twitched. Coming from anyone else, it would have been transparently manipulative. Based on his time in Harpsfell, some of the best manipulations were, in the hands of someone skilled in those particular ways. But Taylin wasn’t one of them. She was just desperate and blindly hoping that part of her new-found status among the clan would earn her the help she sought.
“They haven’t even made your badge yet and already you’re making use of the ties that bind.” He chided lightly, causing her to lower her head. “But there is something to be said about showing you how family behaves and not just in the nir-lumos sense. It might be best for me to teach by example.”
Taylin looked up from her tangle of red locks. “Does that mean…”
Kaiel nodded. “It’s said that the Loreman Hammond of Hollis Valley went among the ogres and lived for a year. If he can befriend a tribe of murderous ogres, I suppose a hopeful for his title can make overtures of friendship toward one.”
A bright smile spread across her face and before either one know what was happening, she grabbed him up into a hug, pulling him cleanly off the ground. “Thank you, Kaiel. I.. I’m not sure what I’d do if I didn’t at least try…” Something in the back of her head that wasn’t the link clicked and she realized what she was doing.
Almost as swiftly as she hugged him, she let go and retreated several steps, looking agog at what she’d done. That was the second time she’d done that in two days after a lifetime of… not. It was like a reflex, ingrained into her just as much as her her difficulty forcing herself to sit down completely, or her battle stances. It had just been waiting for a trigger. But where had it come from?