- Rune Breaker: Chapter 13 – Tales of the Rune Breaker
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 14 – Another’s Darkness
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 15 – The Tenth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 16 – Daire City
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 17 – The Flaw in the Myth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 18 – The Trinigon Arena
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 19 – Citadel
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 20 – Audience
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 21 – Sparring Sessions
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 22 – Grace From Outside
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 23 – Old Soldier
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 24 – Bones of the Earth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 25 – Matasume the Wind
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 26 – Devices
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 27 – Ashes of The Dawn
Book 2 – Lighter Days
Wind swept the top of the hill, laying the grass flat and shaking the leaves in the sparse trees at its crown. If wind could be seen, this one would be revealed to be swirling around a dark figure who stood on the bald, south facing slope. It gathered his coal-gray robes and tossed his jet hair, but it may as well have done nothing for all he noticed.
Gripped firmly in both hands was a scythe, but it was in a form that was neither a farm tool, nor a weapon of war. Its curved haft was blackened by fire tempering and girded by rings of unadorned iron. The scythe-head was over sized, wickedly curved and polished to a silvery sheen. Intimidating, and in those practiced hands, also functional; deadly.
It was around that murderous curve that the eye of the small whirlwind centered, drawn by invisible patterns of magic, and the words on his lips.
“That which is nothing and yet fills all empty space. That which we pass through, and yet drives galleons forward. Heed my will. Focus and be transformed.” He raised the scythe overhead. The whirlwind intensified. “Let all forces arrayed against be scattered. Let those who stand in my way be torn asunder!”
The spell fell into place, a complex weave of patterns, each iterating into the next, concentrating energy, directing it into a singular direction and encasing it in still other patterns. Tension built as titanic forces were channeled.
Mnemonics, like the one he intoned, were concentration and memory aids for spell casting. The less complex the spell and the more advanced the caster, the less necessary they were. He was a master of his art, but his personal reserves of energy had been depleted, requiring him to use a longer form of the spell with a built-in structure for summoning the energies needed to power the spell.
Forces that proved too much for the mere matter that hosted it. A high keening of steel sheering against steal filled the air for just a moment before being overtaken by a sharp, loud report like a rifle shot. The scythe blade shattered, the mystic pressure within sending the steel shards out in all directions with ballistic force.
“Odds, bobs, hammer and tongs!” Ru roared, throwing down the now empty haft of the scythe. The fury of yet another failure made the seven or eight shards of metal in his arms and chest almost and after thought to him.
They did not go unnoticed by someone else.
Ru, what was that? Is something wrong? Taylin didn’t have to ask if he was hurt because she could tell, even when the pain was in the back of his mind.
That was failure and disgust, Miss Taylin. He replied darkly. Down below the hill, he could see the wagons, arrayed in a lazy arc along the banks of the Hattale River, centered on the low, stone building that served as a kind of rest station for halfling caravans. Within its walls, raised by deific magic identical to that which Grandmother channeled, were emergency rations, healing supplies, and permanent magical structures for purifying water and locating nearby settlements. The White Willow was strong at the moment, so instead of partaking, they added to the stocks of salt meats and dried food for their cousins in hard times.
At the moment, the clan was taking advantage of the river for cleaning and bathing. Nir-lumos clans bathed communally as a bonding activity, but none of them batted an eye at the fact that their human and hailene ‘siblings’ didn’t take part. There were a few barbs about the tall folks’ idea of propriety from Raiteria when Taylin absconded with a metal tub from a supply wagon and retreated into the woods downstream to do her own washing.
Without looking, he could pinpoint exactly where she was, thanks to the link, and it worked both ways. He imagined he could feel her infuriatingly concerned glance in his direction even from a quarter mile away, but she let the subject drop when he response proved he wasn’t badly hurt.
The girl needed to learn that his pain was not her concern, he thought darkly. It was barely even his concern when it wasn’t from a directly mystic source. Absently, he picked a three inch sliver of metal out of the flesh beneath his collarbone and glared at it for its lack of mystic fortitude.
“You curse like a relic.”
Ru turned in place. As he nearly always hovered, he didn’t have to move a muscle to accomplish it.
A translucent, yellow kite shield hovered n the air just ahead of Kaiel’s open palm. Three more pieces of shrapnel were caught in its layers of protective energies, slowly rotating as they continued to spend their momentum against his mysterious power source.
As much a curiosity at a magic he couldn’t sense burned at him, for three weeks, Ru refused to reveal his ignorance and ask after what the chronicler was tapping when he performed magic. He fixed the other man with a glare through the shield.
Until being so rudely interrupted by the threat of high velocity death, Kaiel had been sitting with his back against a tree, surrounded by open books, drawing some sort of spell diagram on parchment spread out on a lap desk across his knees.
Parchment and desk were toppled into the dust now, books askew. It wasn’t for the first time, not even the first time that day. Ru’s experiments with the scythe had started two days out from the formerly besieged village. He claimed he was making progress, but that seemed to only mean that his failure had gone from mundane to spectacularly dangerous.
This one seemed to tire him more, in body and spirit, than the others however, and he didn’t respond to the shot with his usual acid. “That one comes from Miss Taylin’s direct successor. Of all the undeniably mad creatures to hold the link, he was among the worst.”
Having blasted the weapon apart several times already, this time he had the forethought to place several contingencies on the blade. A small surge of energy tugged on invisible lines of force connected to each broken piece, pulling them back to a center located above his hand. Within moments, a small cloud of metal began to orbit him and reassemble into some semblance of their former form.
“If you say he was mad…” Kaiel started.
Ru sneered. “It truly vexes you not to know the entire story, doesn’t it, story spinner?”
Somewhere along the way, one of the halflings must have taught him that ‘story spinner’ was another derogatory term for a student of the College who wasn’t a story spinner by profession. Kaiel neglected to point out that he was a story spinner and thus wasn’t insulted, if only to prevent him from going back to ‘charlatan’.
He still shot the mage with a glare though, followed by a mean spirited smirk as he released his shield spell. “Just as much as it vexes you not being able to detect my casting.” The point hit its mark, as Ru’s eyes narrowed. Kaiel laughed inwardly as he shifted position against the tree and drew his desk back across his knees. “I wonder how many hours of thought you’ve poured into that? Probably as man as I have trying to figure out the how and why of this link of yours. Thus, I propose a trade.”
“Information for information.” Ru guessed. His eyes were on the now largely reconstructed scythe blade. “You will explain how you conceal your power and I will shed light upon the nature of the link.” Much like their method of ending up in the current time period, Taylin didn’t like talking about the link, or Ru’s identity. But she never expressly or implicitly forbade him from divulging that information, so he had no qualms at doing so.
Kaiel gave him a level look. Something along those lines had come to mind for hm. “Are you sure Taylin doesn’t mind?”
“Why should I care? I don’t intend to tell you anything further about her; my history is my affair, not hers.” The link brushed his nerves with a certain sharpness that warned that his words were dangerously close to punishable insubordination.
“You’re overly harsh with her.” Kaiel admonished. “Especially when she concerns herself so much with being pleasant to you.”
Ru hunched his shoulders. “I’ve warned her time and again about wasting her time in that way. It is none of my concern that the girl foolishly insists on treating me as something other than what I am.”
“This isn’t the first time you’ve talked like that.” Kaiel noted. “As if basic demi-human compassion and dignity are below you… or possibly beyond you. It’s not fitting for a self important blow hard like you.”
“If you want to satisfy your curiosity, pay your end of the trade; tell me what in the seven interlocking hells is so different about your technique that literal centuries of training my senses cannot tell.”
Kaiel laughed. “I would actually be greatly impressed if you trained yourself to detect what was barely in use four hundred years ago, when you were last active. Oh, the Dragon Nations had the secret since the era of Draconic Control, but in your time, only the hailene were putting it to use, and only then, mostly in laboratory settings.”
“If you remain so cryptic, I reserve the right to be cryptic as well.” said Ru. “And if I choose to, I can twist words into instant madness.”
The chronicler got the message and moved to the heart of the matter. “It isn’t the technique you’re unable to see; loreman tradition still relies on spell structures and patterns like any other. The thing that’s confounding you is the source; the discarnate energy from the Well of Souls.”
Ru knew of the Well. It was the afterlife, or at least the current afterlife; it hadn’t existed before the world was called Ere. Everyone that died passed down through it’s layers; the Afterworld, the White Ways and Court of Wandering Souls, the Seven Interlocking Hells, until finally joining with the Source of All Souls. It never occurred to him that the magic there was any different than in the living world.
Kaiel read his expression. “You’ve never heard of discarnate energy. Understandable. It’s use has grown since wide knowledge of it came in the Age of Tragedies, but it’s still uncommon for anyone not born to it like a soulbound, or inborn caster to had access to it. The College is one of only three schools that teach it. It’s… hmm; are you aware of the five points of mortality?”
“Indeed: Mind, Body, Soul and the two sides of Anima: Generation and Decay.” Ru said, still studying the scythe blade, half wondering if it could by physically girded against the forces it had to contain.
“Exactly.” Kaiel nodded. “And each of those has energies attached to them. The Body is physical, made up of the six elements; Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Metal and Void/Aether; and thus under the purview of elemental energy; the power drawn from ley lines. The Mind is, of course the seat and subject of psychic energy, the power generated by the Body harmonizing with the astral plane. And Anima is driven by the twin energies of vitae, or healing energy and necrotic energy, both of which come from living things altering the world around them.
“But have you ever wondered why there’s no energy that pertains to the soul?” Kaiel didn’t wait for an answer, “It’s because a mortal’s soul needs only a small fraction of discarnate energy; the power that connects every living thing and draws them together. You can’t tap your own Soul like you can your Body or Mind, so it’s hard to even tell it’s there—unless you know how to tap into the Well, where discarnate energy is as omnipresent as elemental power here.”
He took the flute from his vest pocket. “The secret is music. Vibration really. The Well has resonances that the College calls the Word and the Song. Connect a sound to that resonance in your mind and you can draw on that power. Even better, being trained in understanding discarnate energy makes allows us to manipulate the sliver of energy in the people around us; make our words sound like the truth, or–”
“Hear the truth in the words of another.” Ru finished for him. “So that is how you do it. I assumed that you were just claiming to be adept at reading body language.”
“Most do.” Kaiel admitted. “and the College encourages it, just like it encourages the dime novels. It makes people underestimate us. Besides, it might endanger many people’s positions as advisers to the wealthy and influential if it got out that we could push and pull on people’s minds without creating a single spell structure.”
That actually impressed Ru. All mystical methods against mind altering effects that even he knew about relied on disrupting the spell structures as they were laid over the target’s mind. If there was not pattern to detect or disrupt, there was really no magical defense against them, only mundane training in detecting an evading mental attacks with ones own mind.
“So now you know.” Kaiel finally said after a period of silence. “Care to honor your end of the bargain?”
Ru walked over to a different tree, not far away from where he sat, and took a seat beneath it. “Where to begin. You call yourself a chronicler—stop me if you’ve heard the tale: There exists in this world a weapon ; sought after by the most ambitious and wicked, for whosoever wields it gains a power to bring a nation to its knees and destroy any who stand in their path.”
“Sometimes I forget just what time you came from.” said Kaiel. “I suppose the Rune Breaker legends were quite widespread in your time. They’re fairly obscure now, outside the College. Master Turenton teaches them as an example of the poison myth.”
“Proof that not all legends and stories are positive; a lesson to make the story spinners stop and think about what they’re putting on paper beyond just what will make them coin. The Rune Breaker legends seem to have done nothing but drive the half-mad and disaffected to throw away their lives looking for the cursed thing; many of whom did gruesome deeds in the pursuit.”
A sneer came to Ru’s face. “Heh. What do you know of the weapon?”
Kaiel raised an eyebrow and let his eyes fall on the pieces of scythe in the other man’s hands. “Why? Are you looking for it?”
“I can assure you that I have no need to search for the Rune Breaker.”
It was the truth. Kaiel could tell. “Fine…” He searched his memory. “No one can agree on much of anything would the thing’s origins. The prevalent tail is of a small nation during Draconic Control where the dragons separated mortals into peasants and aristocrats in order to use class grudges to keep them from uniting against their lords.
“A woman of noble birth was taken from her lover, a knight of some renown, and married off to a cruel warlord to foster an alliance. On their wedding night, she slew him with his own sword and presented it, still wet with his blood to her love. The warlord’s spirit dwelt in the sword, and over time, twisted the knight’s heart, causing him to become obsessed with conquest. His self-made widow, he ‘protected’ by sealing her in a tower alone but for when he delivered food and drink, until she went mad and died of loneliness.
“The sword passed from hand to hand, thereafter, granting its wielder its military genius at the price of losing everything of the self but the desire to conquer.”
Ru didn’t bother concealing his bemused expression. It was amazing what a few centuries could do to facts. “But that is only one tale, yes?”
“Of about a dozen that we know of.” Kaiel confirmed. “There’s another that says that it came to be in the peace after the begging of the world, when a shepherd found an iron flask with a demon bound inside. The shepherd was a clever man and tricked the demon the change his shape into a goad and locked him into it, promising that he could be free of that shape if he served whoever held the goad with his powers for one thousand years.”
He gave Ru a speculative look. “But why are you asking this? If you don’t want this weapon—if it even existed—then what does it have to do at all with my question?”
A sharp smile came to the mage’s face, though he didn’t look up from reattaching the blade to the scythe’s haft with some elementary manipulation of metal.
“What if I told you that both stories were, in a way, true? Neither are the origin of the weapon, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.” Kaiel was silent, looking at him, confused. This pleased Ru greatly, so he continued, hoping to exacerbate that condition.