Rune Breaker: Chapter 15 – The Tenth

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

Blocking the link, she quickly realized, only worked one way. And she had already learned that it was far from a complete cessation of the telepathy it created. It was more like muffling it; the emotional transference stopped, but if one concentrated, at least form the command side of the link, it was possible to still read surface thought processes, if not thoughts themselves.

That was how she learned; concentrating exactly how Ru did to do the same and then applying it to the cold, solid object n the back of her mind that represented the link. It as essentially the same method she used to stop it from punishing him before. Idly, she wondered if Ru was aware that even when blocking, he wasn’t achieving true privacy.

Nevertheless, he hadn’t thought to block the link in turn, and Taylin was surprised at the emotions her actions elicited in him. Shock, annoyance, the darkness of cynicism, even a touch of smugness toward Kaiel all played through his head. But no hatred. Maybe she just didn’t know what hate felt like when it was in the link, but she was certain there wasn’t anything in there that she might be missing that was hatred.

She wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. At the core of it, she didn’t really want anyone to hate her. Who did? But on another level, what she told him was how she felt; it was the only sane and logical emotion a slave should feel for their master. But maybe he believed her when she insisted that she didn’t want to be her master.

It didn’t really matter all that much. She hated being linked to him, having a constant reminded of a sin committed unwittingly in the back of her head. Nor was she particularly fond of the man. If she had her way, there would be a powerful mage in Daire City who would dissolve the link and they would never have to cross one another’s path again.

No one could say she hadn’t tried. As long as they were forced into the link, she wanted to make the best of it. But the Rune Breaker had other plans, trying to force her to make the situation worse. Even when he did manage to do some good by her, she wasn’t sure if it was intentional, accidental, or part of some larger manipulation.

He was winning, she thought as she crept silently into her wagon to look in on her adoptive niece and nephew. They snuggled together in a nest of her bedsheets, angelic faces the very image of contentment.

On some level, Ru was winning, because he was making her wonder if he really was as irredeemable as he insisted. How that was winning, she had no idea, but they were playing by his rules. The more isolated, dehumanized, and reviled he was, the most satisfied he was. The only thing that was better in his eyes were drawing parallels between that grotesque caricature of himself and every other person in the world.

And now, she knew, he felt smug at finding her darkness; the vengeance she felt against hailene and slavers in general.

…Her darkness…

Somehow, she’d picked that one up from him. It was apt, but uncomfortable in his meaning of it. She would have to be on guard against picking up anything else up from him, or else there really would be darkness there.

She sat a while in the wagon with the two young halflings, watching them sleep with a peaceful smile on her face. And it was for them that she built her resolve. She would not let Ru’s madness hurt or corrupt her. Not only would she not let him drag her down, but she would find away to cast aside what wrongness was already in her heart, placed there by her former masters.

Eventually though, Signateria came for her so they could get moving along with the caravan. By then, she felt much better.

***

Ru stayed pointedly out of the way during the entire ride. He rode Gaddigan up and down the lines like a guard, but kept well clear of the wagon whenever he passed.

The caravan arrived at the gates of Daire City well after sunset, and set up along the road in a loose arc of wagons. Fires were lit, and the Clan of the Winter Willow ate a heavy meal from their stores in a mildly festive atmosphere. In the morning, the city gates would open and they would do trade.

For the nir-lumos, trade didn’t just mean coin. It meant fresh fruit and vegetables, unsalted meat, and new, clean clothes. A new city also meant new news, and for those so inclined, new entertainment in the form of books, street performers and even live theater.

Taylin and Kaiel, as per usual aside from that first night, ate with Rai and the children. Bromun, Rolfas, and Minarene were missing that night; the tradition of the hunters was to meet the garrison on the night they arrived at the new city.

Ru didn’t materialize again until Taylin was returning to her wagon, when a gray tomcat streaked past her and made itself at home once more in a nest of red silk on the windowsill. He uttered not a word before dropping off almost instantly to sleep.

She spent a few minutes frowning at the ball of scarred fuzz before removing her armor. It was still early, so she lit a candle and took up a book she borrowed from Kaiel.

The chronicler never asked where a former slave learned to read, which was good because she didn’t know either. It came from somewhere before the ships, or the mines. She remembered that for a while, she had slightly better treatment in the mines as the administrator found it useful to have someone to take dictation who wouldn’t be missed if she needed to make them disappear should her skimming be discovered.

In return, Taylin never asked Kaiel where he was actually storing the dozens of books she’d seen him with over the last month. Neither the chest in his wagon, nor his saddled bags accounted for the many sizable volumes in his possession. She had a feeling that in an era with such sophisticated technology and foreign magics, hers would be a foolish question in any event.

Moving Forward From a Dark Age was the title scribed on the book’s worn leather spine in metallic blue letters. It was a fictional account of a wandering knight following the collapse of the kingdom he served near the end of the Age of Tragedies. Though it was fiction, Kaiel had recommended it to her as a primer on what had come to pass during her sleep. He laughed that the many anachronisms would allow her to also glean something of current social attitudes and trends.

She read with great interest through a section where the protagonist attempted to woo a noblewoman, unaware that she was. In fact, the rival for a mercenary job whom he had spent the previous fifty pages cursing. The noblewoman was Taylin’s current favorite character; she succeeded on using information to powerful effect and exploiting people’s character flaws then direct confrontation. The whole idea of fighting with her mind instead of a blade appealed to her.

Though she was very, very good with the blade.

Clever Girl.

She fell asleep still holding the book, wondering if it was possible to blend the two approaches.

***

The iron capped butt of the staff smashed into her center and Taylin stumbled back. Not to open space. That would have been the thing to do in a fight, but this wasn’t a fight; it was a beating. She needed to get away, but on the next step, the ground wasn’t there to catch her.

The world pitched and she had no idea what was happening until her shoulder and hip struck the stair below. The force rattled her teeth, but it wasn’t enough to stop her. Twice more, she bounced on hard stone, striking the weather worn edges with her ribs and then her shoulder again before landing on flat ground and rolling once until she was laid out flat on her belly.

Her eyes flicked fearfully upward and found the two guards coming down the steps after her. Their weighted staves were ready to finish the job they had hoped the stairs would. No use in looking at them, she looked down at her hands, desperately trying to remember how she made it happen before.

She needed it. It was the only thing that might save her. Why wouldn’t it come back? Did it only appear to seal her doom and then abandon her? Light, a spark—Anything, please!

Taylin’s mind was running in parallel. Both seeing and feeling the events, but also not. In the safety of her second mind, she was wondering what ‘it’ was that she was trying to summon, where this temple was with the high stone stairs, why the guards had incandescent orange eyes, and how it was that her hair had become so black, stringy and matted with dirt.

“Disgusting creature!” The lead guard bellowed. His words were in a language she didn’t know, but she understood it perfectly. “How dare you bring your blasphemous filthy into the House of Vitalius! I will dash your head in for this trespass. In His name!”

There was no dodging. She hurt too much and even if she didn’t she was so hungry that her body wouldn’t move in time. Up went the head off the staff.

And then it leapt away from the shaft, tumbling away and almost hitting its wielder as it fell.

She had no idea how he got there, though on another level, she knew it had to be the same kind of teleportation Ru was fond of, but there was now a third man on the street between her and her attackers. Gray robes billowed beneath a vibrant red mantle with white piping. The head of an impossible sharp scythe gleamed as the last splinters of wood along its edge came free of it.

“I just saved you from becoming a murderer.” The new man said in an even tone that dared them to dispute his words.

The second guard didn’t get the message. “Lord Vitalius decrees that all who display Power outside of His name must be put to death.”

“’Lord’ Vitalius’s house ends at that step.” replied the newcomer. “By the corrupt and baneful law of this city, you are within your right to commit your god’s murder upon those steps, but by blaze and weirding, you do not own the street yet.”

“In His name, that boy has committed blasphemy in His house and he will die.” The first guard regained his composure and nerve.

Boy? Taylin wondered. Who were they talking about? She thought they were after her.

Her defender shook his head. She couldn’t see anything of him except that his hair was steely gray, short and neatly combed. “Are you so afraid of one young sparker that you would stoop to killing children?” She could hear a sneer enter his voice. “Or is it your god who is afraid?”

Outrage distorted the features of both men, but before they could react, the head of the scythe was suddenly awash with arcs of violet electricity.

Taylin started and scrambled backward, only for her back to run into something almost immediately. She looked up to see a boy and girl standing there.

The boy was of an age with her, even though she knew that wasn’t correct; she was on the cusp of fifty and even counting in terms of human development, she was in her late teens or early twenties while this child was no more than ten or eleven. And yet, the strange, parallel line of thought in her head identified him as near her own age. He was dressed in white cloak with brass closures that swallowed his body whole. His white-blond hair was in the same short, combed-forward style as the man with the scythe and he looked nervous out of his mind.

The girl was slightly older with light brown hair that fell in princess curls around her head that she seemed uncomfortable with. She wore a dull, brown cloak open over a beige tunic and stiff, cotton pants. The confrontation in front of her seemed to hold no interest to her and she opted instead to look down at Taylin with mild curiosity.

Awe filled Taylin and she didn’t know where it was coming from. Part of her split mind was floored by how beautiful the girl was and part didn’t see why she would find a young girl beautiful in that way at all. The man with the now electrically blazing scythe got her attention again, though the other part of her mind never lost focus on the girl.

“Before you say another word, bear in mind that you speak to a mage of talent and his disciples now. If you attempt to do us harm, we are more than capable of fighting back.” The temple guard stammered and he spoke over them. “This blade of mine is named Equity. Her name is my dream: that one day the venom and hatred you and your god spew like smoke into the air no longer poisons the heart of this city or this nation. That these children will live in a world where they are loved as all children should be, regardless of the gifts imbued in them at birth by the gods.”

He took a step that put him less than an inch from the bottom stair. “Do either of you want to philosophize with me to the contrary?” It was clear that ‘philosophizing’ would involve two beheadings.

The air was thick with threat for a long moment. Then the temple guards backed down and retreated up the stairs. “Lord Vitalius will work his will on you in another way.” One of the spat over his shoulder.

“Somehow, I am not afraid.” The newcomer said. He swung his scythe up to rest on his shoulders and the lightning storm in miniature on its edge ceased. For the first time, Taylin could see his eyes; violet like the electricity he conjured. “So. Young man. How long have you been sparking?”

Both of Taylin’s trains of thought had no idea what that meant. The man seemed to understand. “Sparking is what happens with people like us—who have a power born inside them—go untrained and don’t know how to channel it. You spark; that flare of light that came from your hand just now and alerted the temple to what you are.”

She shied back, which incidentally kept her close to the girl.

Again, the strange man seemed to understand. “I will have to explain it better later. What is your name, boy?”

“No name. Not a real one.” A thin, fearful and surprisingly boyish voice came form Taylin and in that moment, she finally understood—the other thoughts weren’t her own. “Used to be part of the thieving crew in the Brakar, ’til iron bellies pinched them.” As clearly as she knew what the Winter Willow was, she knew now that the Brakar was a section of the city, a dangerous one.

“What did the crew call you then?”

“Tenth new one to join. So they called me Tenth.” ‘Tenth’ was what it meant, but she recognized the word: ‘Ru’.

“If you were an aristocrat, that would make you Brakar nul te Ru.” The man mused. “But we can’t afford to be that ostentatious. My name is Gand of the Sidhe Road; I’ve not real second name either. And these are my disciples, Pernethes Seth and Adresine of Glory Falls.”

“Gloryfall.” The girl corrected, slightly annoyed.

Gand smirked. “The only one of us with the blood to back up ostentation and she rejects. Forgive her, Ru, she becomes a bit morbid when dragged away from her spellwork.”

Taylin, or rather, Ru peeled his eyes away from Gloryfall long enough to at least nod to Pernethes. He/she/they noticed that his eyes were a blue and felt it odd. Everyone had eyes of orange, violet, red, yellow or brown, didn’t they?

Before Taylin could ponder why blue eyes were now out of the norm, Gand gripped Ru’s arm and helped him up. “Come with us and have a meal without weevils in it at least. Then perhaps, we can discuss your future.”

Things began to break down from there and Taylin only caught sights and emotions. Learning to fly, learning to change form. The first night sleeping warm on a soft bed. The aches to overdrawing from her (no, his.) personal stores of energy. Gloryfall and how after years, only she (He.) was allowed to call her that. The touch of her hand. The taste of her kiss.

A room practically painted with blood. Loss. Rage that seemed never to end.

Hot blades that traced lines in flesh. Ink covered needles drawing circles. A burning draught that filled her belly with more than just warmth. The freezing touch of otherness as a contract was forged.

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 14 – Another’s DarknessRune Breaker: Chapter 16 – Daire City >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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