- 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
Vengeance. Love. Violence. Camaraderie.
Everything became a haze. The images and thoughts no longer came in order or made sense. She was drifting away from something she shouldn’t have been inside and now wherever defenses had failed were being rebuilt and hedging her out.
They did it strongly enough to knock her into wakefulness from a dead sleep.
She didn’t wake with a start or a gasp. All she did was open her eyes and take stock. She was on her bed in the wagon, curled up on her side with her wings sprawled out from under the covers to almost brush the opposite wall. The candle was still burning, though it was near to going out. The book was open and propped against the wall where she’d left it.
Without really thinking about it, she reached up and pulled down a lock of her hair. Still red. Of course it was, that had been a dream—and not her own.
After a few more minutes, she sat up. Pale morning light was coming through the window, enough to make the candle redundant, so she blew it out and put it on the table next to her bed. Also on that table was a pitcher like the ones Kaiel and Grandmother had. Once she learned that it could be set to heat water as well as cool it by running her finger in one direction or another around the rim, she traded the coin equivalent of two horses to Minarene for hers.
Kaiel warned her that she was overpaying and that she could get one of her own in Daire City, but the promise of immediate hot water won out over economics. She ran her finger around the rim now and waited a few minutes before drinking a long pull of the near-boiling liquid. The others sipped at coffee or tea, but she found hot water just as refreshing and didn’t suffer the burns of drinking it quickly besides.
But in the end it was all distraction; things to do to keep her eyes from traveling up to the windowsill. To help her ignore the knot of stress in the back of her mind. She reminded herself that a bad history didn’t forcibly transform a person into a monster. If it did, she would be one was well. There was a choice and Ru had made his; reveled in it.
Eventually, she did look up and saw the cat sprawled on his side, his face burrowed into the nest of slick fabric, his belly rising and falling rapidly. Taylin had been cast out of it, but the nightmare continued.
And seeing that, she reminded herself that this was the difference between them: when she was in pain, he had helped, but only to advance his agenda of persuading her that he was some sort of tool to be used. She could help too, but for no ulterior motives.
Thus assured, she stood and stole over to the window.
She tried the link first; calling his name through it, then trying to focus positive feeling through it to counter the negative. None of the worked, so she reached out and gently shook him awake.
Wild tension from the dream mixed with the cat-brain reflexes into a singular, frenzied strike at the thing that was clearly attacking him as he slept. Four sharp claws raked across the back of Taylin’s wrist even as his faculties returned to him. He had just enough time to register that something very bad was going to come of that.
As the first searing pains hit his nerves, he twisted away from Taylin and darted away, or as far away as he could get in the small wagon. Attacking his nerves might have been enough for upsetting her, but the link would not be so kind for actually harming his master. It didn’t care that it was an accident.
Taylin felt it happen. The cold, hard point that was the link suddenly animated in her mind and she got the sense of a gargantuan vine wrapping the cat, sending thorns like foot long needles into his body. Pain translated to her as unattached status reports; she was aware that he was feeling pain in his spine, his lungs, and temples, but was by no means sharing it. It wouldn’t do for the master to feel the weapon’s pain.
Ru snarled as the stabbing agony forced him out of cat form, the link constricting worse and sending metaphorical thorns into more places. He refused to cry out, even as his body struggled to draw breath to do just that. It was the only resistance he could manage, however, as his legs gave out, sending him toppling to the floor. In a last act of defiance, he forced himself up onto his elbows, a long, low growl coming from him.
From across the wagon, Taylin witnessed it all. The link seemed to ring in the back of her head. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought it was taking pleasure in tormenting the mage. There had been many taskmasters like that, both on the ships and in the mines. She knew them well, the ones that not only thought of ang’hailene as not people, but resented having to interact with them at all. They took great pains in hurting them, secure in the knowledge that no one would stop it. After all, ang’hailene literally meant ‘not people’.
Much like Ru insisted that he wasn’t a person, now that she thought of it. So many just accepted it as a given, as he did. It didn’t even register any bitterness or unhappiness. It was just a fact. In Ru’s case, he might even be right; she had no idea what he was. But he did have his own thoughts, his own emotions. His own pain. And no matter what he was and how he acted, no one deserved what she knew he was going through now.
And someone was there to stop it. For as little as she tried to think about it, she was the master of the link. And for once, she needed to act like it.
As she did before, she imagined reaching out to it, touching it. This time, she didn’t fumble. Contact was immediate and solid, but the link resisted as she tried to manipulate it. Not resisted in the sense that it was more difficult to move, but in the sense that it moved as it to escape her mental grasp, almost as if it didn’t want to relinquish it’s torment of Ru.
She didn’t know a great deal about magic, but she was sure that wasn’t normal. Then again, the link itself was like nothing she’d ever heard of. So instead of thinking about it, she just redoubled her efforts and moved it by force of will.
The link stopped constricting and withdrew its thorns from the mage. But the damage was done. No new pain was being inflicted, but what had remained and kept Ru slumped on the floor, breathing deeply and rapidly.
His voice came in incoherent rumbles. It was too difficult to speak, but Taylin’s worry was all encompassing in the link, nearly as suffocating as the phantom pressure still crushing his lungs.
None of your concern, Miss Taylin.
“I think it is my concern, the link nearly killed you and as I’ve said, while we’re linked, you’re my responsibility.” She moved to try and help him up, but he backed away, bumping into the chest behind him.
Can’t kill me. He replied, sounding amused at the very idea even through the pain. Nothing can. Wants me alive to punish.
It took her a second before she realized he was talking about the link. “It wants to punish you?”
He was silent for a second. The pain wasn’t going away, but amid his still unsettled emotions, Taylin felt something solid, adamant. He was steadying his mind with a powerful act of will, blocking out the pain with sheer stubbornness. The aftermath of the link ate at it like acid, but for a moment, he was steadfast.
Not in the way that you or even I can ‘want’, but the link has objectives and it’s primary purpose is not to do what the master wishes, but to punish me, to inflict torment. It is able to adapt to previous event, even reconfigure its own pattern to accomplish this. I have said it is a dread machine, but it is also the work of a master in the craft, as near to intelligent life as mortal magic can create.
He managed to raise his head and look at the line of white scratches on her wrist.
It can only cause me pain as punishment, so that I am forced to follow orders and the bounds of the link, but as I have become more clever with circumventing them, it has adapted its definition of things like harm. Those scratches were as… reaction. And accident. But it used the excuse all the same.
Taylin frowned at the scratches. They didn’t even hurt and yet the retribution visited because of them was horrific to her. She knew Ru would shrug off the apology she considered offering, so instead, she asked. “Is there any way I can stop it?”
No. The iron clad will he summoned was slipping. The link does not serve you.
Somehow, she had expected that. Everything connected to Ru seemed to, if possible, be even more needlessly cruel than himself. “Then we have to give it less excuses. What made you scratch me then? I think I saw some of it… a nightmare?”
“I do not dream.” He mumbled aloud, managing to sit up against the chest beside the bed. For the first time since the link assailed him, Taylin saw his eyes. His pupil had constricted so far that it was almost as if he had two gold coins resting on his eyeballs.
“Memories of a dead man. Also not your concern.”
She refused to let it go and didn’t fully know why. Possibly because that jumble of images and events was still in her head and none of them had any context. “I saw a boy. They threw him down the temple stairs. A man named Gand saved him.”
At the mention of Gand, Ru blocked his end of the link with a suddenness that made Taylin flinch. “It sounds like one of Arunsteadeles’s stories. The start of something great where the old mentor takes in the urchin and teaches him his hidden potential. And that did happen, Miss Taylin. But the boy did not grow up to be a shining hero. He became the one the heroes were sent to slay. And eighteen years later, that boy died on a frozen, blasted mountain, his mind, body and soul captured in eternal bonds of magic.”
He tried to stand, but he wasn’t used to standing in the first place, and beyond that, still weakened by the link’s wrath. He collapsed again, clipping the chest and landing with his back to the wall. The last of his mental shields came down and the pain wracked him once more.
Taylin watched him with concern and, at last, couldn’t sit idly by. “Ru, heal yourself.”
“No use. And I cannot concentrate enough to cast as it is.”
“Isn’t there anything that can be done?”
Ru raised his head to look her directly in the eye, conveying the seriousness of his words. “Fix a form in your head, then order me to take it.”
Her wings bristled and she let him feel her anger. “I will not give you orders. I though I made myself clear on that.”
He growled in frustration. Of course, she would be difficult, it was the core of her being somehow. “I am not attempting to trick you. The link can force me to do things even if I am unable mentally to undertake them. Shifting will ease the pain enough for me to return to my right mind, but I…” another growl. He did not like explaining this, “I cannot do so on my own.”
Taylin relaxed her wings, but started chewing her lip. “But… well what should I ask you to become?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does. I don’t want to turn someone into an animal against their will.”
“Then don’t pick and animal, Miss Taylin.” He said through clenched teeth. “Have me become Bromun, or Arunsteadeles, or Raiteria. Just choose a form.”
She nodded, sensing the urgency in his voice. It was obvious now to her that he was concealing more pain than she’d though, trying to save face. Then a brilliant idea hit her and she knew exactly what form she needed in her head for this.
“Alright, Ru.” She said, unsteadily. Even with her idea to mitigate the violation of the act, issuing the order made her stomach turn. “I order you to take the shape that’s in my mind right now.”