- 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
The Daire City temple of Pandemos looked suspiciously to Taylin like a very large, exceptionally wall kept, tavern and inn. It took up half a block on its own and stood in two sections; a low, flat front end with doors opening onto a spacious common room with a long bar. This connected to a second, two story section by way of a covered walk. Between the two was the courtyard, which opened out onto the street.
Dozens of people lined the courtyard, or sat in the shade of the covered walkway by the time they arrived, all tended to by robed priests who passed out wooden cups of wine for a few pennies and bowls of beans or lentils for a dime.
At the center of the courtyard, an intricate pattern had been drawn, measuring twelve feet across; the consecration circle of the invincible. It glowed with unearthly, blue light, a sign that it was prepared, but not active. One the ships, the permanent circles were usually kept hidden under a tarp. A second circle was drawn around the consecration circle with white sand; the so called Trinigon Arena.
Dactus directed them to what he assured them was a prime viewing location before asking Brin to come with him to meet her opponent.
“Good luck Miss Brin!” Layaka yelled after her and waved, almost upsetting the falcon on her shoulder. Amet made a rolling, crooning sound and threw out its wings for balanced, but soon settled.
Taylin’s eyes were on Brin as Dactus introduced her to another priest, a woman with graying, blonde hair, who in turn brought her over to where an armored man was sitting on a bench, sipping a cup of wine. When Brin approached, he put the libation aside and stood politely.
He wasn’t quite a match for Dactus in height, but taller than Ru or Kaiel. His shoulders were wide and made wider by the pauldrons of his armor. The armor was a thing of beauty. It was expertly crafted mail and plate with the mail portion painted so it shone golden and the plate painted black with gold accents.
What struck her most though was his bearing. Half her life had been spent on the battlefield, but it was rare for her to meet a human who could maintain the ready posture of a highly trained warrior like a hailene could. This man made her own stance feel inadequate. It was as if he’d been born in the military and never learned to stand in any way other than one that was ready for battle.
And despite that, his face, with its close cut beard and dark, heavy brows, radiated nothing but openness and friendliness as he was introduced to Brin. In short, she was impressed. She wasn’t the only one, though for all the wrong reasons.
“The distinguished competition.” Ru was standing behind her and the link told her that he was enjoying picking at Kaiel. “And my, isn’t he distinguished. And no doubt charming.”
Rai, thought not malicious about it, joined in. “The priest made it sound like he was a blade disciple. That’s right-fair exotic in these parts. Wonder what Brin thinks of ‘exotic’.”
Being the merciful person she was, Taylin gave Kaiel a chance to retreat to something comfortable; teaching her about the world. “Kaiel, the priest thought I was one, just because I didn’t want to fight for sport. He said something about ‘small gods’.”
The chronicler stepped up beside her and gave her a thankful look before gluing his eyes on the man. “Not everyone follows the Vishnari Pantheon; Sylph, Pandemos, Dey, Hessa, Denaii, Justicar and Dodregar. There are many religions and ‘small god’ is a sort of condescending term for those gods. A blade disciple is a worshiper of the Mother of Blades, a goddess who concerns herself with using the sword to protect. It’s a rather… specific… religion and true faithful are rare.”
Taylin looked delighted. “Really? I mean what you said about using swords to protect?”
Rai made a playful, but rude noise. “Sylph and Pandemos aren’t enough for you, Taylin?”
“Oh, it’s not that… not entirely. I’ve just been thinking along those same lines since…” She regarded Layaka, who was watching too wrapped up on feeding Amet dried meat and clucking softly to her to be actively listening. Still, she might overhear something and the girl was curious enough to make the whole thing uncomfortable. “Sense we met. I find it interesting that it matches an existing religion.”
“I think if you look hard enough, you can find a small god for anything you can think up. And if not, you can just make one up our of distant relations like the minotaurs and the hailene on Illium.” Rai shrugged. Being nir-lumos and therefore under Pandemos’s protection automatically tied her allegiance to the Vishnari gods, but she didn’t personally give religion much thought beyond funeral rites and speaking a few choice blasphemies.
Kaiel chuckled at the discussion. “I’m afraid I’ve just told you the extent of what I know of the Mother of Blades and her religion. Well, that and the fact that her true priests are, understandably, expert sword-smiths and enchantment specialized spellcrafters. Beyond that, information is lacking, as there’s maybe only a few thousand disciples in all of Ere and that’s only if you count swordsmen that hear this much about her and offer a prayer or two.”
“Maybe you can ask the man himself once the fight is done.” Rai suggested.
“Assuming he’ll be in any shape to speak after the upcoming thrashing.”
Kaiel glanced at Ru. “I wouldn’t have through you’d be wagering on Brin for this.”
“Heh. Look at his sword.” the dark mage gestured at the bench the blade disciple had been sitting on. Lying beside his spot was a truly massive blade; four feet in length, almost a full foot wide, and with a rounded tip. It was so thick that the iron looked more like stone than metal. And as inelegant as the blade was, the hilt was the exact opposite; polished steel and bronze with scrolling on the crossbar and a delicate, black tassel hanging from the pommel.
“Ash me, but that is a big sword.” Kaiel observed. “Taylin, I’m not even sure if you could swing that thing effectively, and you swing what is a human two-hander with one.”
She squinted to observe the weapon of interest. “It can be done.” was her conclusion. “But it wouldn’t be worth it. With that much iron, you could have two swords.”
“I’m betting on him.” Rai decided.
“What?” Asked Taylin. “But you just heard us talking about how he probably can’t even wield that monster.”
“Exactly why I’m betting on him. You think you’re the only ones to notice how impossible that thing is to swing?” She gestured broadly to the others milling around the circle, waiting for the spectacle. “That’s fantastic odds if he wins. And mark me, he will win. Because no one would be so stupid as to enter a fight, even a show like this one, with a weapon he can’t use.”
This discussion finally brought Layaka around. “But you can’t bet against Miss Brin! She’s the best fighter ever. I’ve seen her fight spirit beasts—she wasn’t even afraid.” She huffed and glared at the halfling woman. “Besides, if he’s got a hidden power, it’s nothing like Miss Brin’s.”
Kaiel and Ru exchanged looks. The former was forced to ask the obvious. “And this hidden power would be…?”
The farm girl smiled thinly and stroked Amet’s feathers. “You’ll see.”
“Reassuring.” Ru said dryly.
The deliberations were cut off as they spied Dactus striding out into the center of the arena. Many of the other folk gathered, already on their way to a full-mark’s worth of three-penny wine, continued to chatter without noticing him, though he seemed happy about that fact.
Reaching the center, he waved his hand of his head, a gesture Ru and Kaiel identified as a simple voice amplification pattern. A priest his age wouldn’t need to draw one, but he was probably conserving every big of energy he could to run the consecration circle. When he spoke, his voice carried clearly to everyone in the courtyard, cutting in over the din, the tipsy ramblings, and even the noise from the street.
“It is good to see so many of our friends turned out to meet us again on this wonderful evening under the One Dice. Especially after that tiny and unpleasant accident some months back wherein this temple was somehow razed to the ground.” He grinned proudly with mischief in his eyes as many of the assembled guffawed.
The same flippancy toward Solgrum’s coupe had gotten the place burned down in the first place, but flippancy was a small price to pay to stop what the Dice Priests did to Solgrum’s lumber holdings. He’d have to kill the lot of them to prevent that, and everyone with any kind of education in history knew that while you might kill a single Dice Priest and get away with it, slaughtering a temple of them was a good way to garner the attention of the One Dice himself. The God of Luck and Revelry was as creative in his plagues as his followers were in their worship.
Dactus waited for the laughter to die before continuing. “As you can see, we’re still here and you know what sacrifice my Lord demands—your coin fairly lost.” Another laugh. One man held up his coin pouch, jangling it while hooting. “And so, today we re-consecrate this temple in the name of Lord Pandemos, the One Dice Rolling with a favorite of the good people—you good people—of Daire: the Trinigon Arena!”
Despite knowing exactly why they were there, the crowd roared it’s approval and enthusiasm. More coin purses were held high, eager to place their bets.
“That’s what I wanted to hear, good people. And rest certain that my Brothers and Sisters (and my humble self) have worked hard not to disappoint.”
Behind him, the blond woman led Brin and the blade disciple into the Arena. The man dragged his sword along beside him like a child pulling a wagon.
“Today in this arena, the One Dice Temple of Daire gives you two warriors whose names will truly be written into history. To my right, presented to you courtesy of the Historical Society of Kinos, stands Brin of the Rolling Meadows Enclave, wielding the relic spear Barratta. To my left, hailing from the Principality of Te Manda, stands Aba Issacor Trueddeles, disciple of the Mother of Blades, wielding Faith-Be-Forgiven, the Five Virtues Sword.”
The other priests in the crowd immediately began to take bets, marking down names, amounts and choices on slates as the crowd pressed in to out their money down. Ru, Rai and Layaka were quick to join the press at the nearest one, leaving Kaiel and Taylin.
“Something wrong?” Taylin examined Kaiel’s indecipherable expression.
“Rai might be right.” He said at length. “Five Virtues Swords are the height of craftsmanship among the priesthood of the Mother of Blades. I’ve never seen one, but they’re always mentioned on lists of legendary weapons.”
“Aba Issacor must be very good to be trusted with one. Not just very good by normal standards, or even military standards, but by the standards of a religion based around swordplay.”
Brin strained to pick out voices from the crowd. There were so many, all competing with one another and the general noise of the city, but luckily, she was blessed with excellent directional hearing. She caught bets being made, largely on her, which was a mixed bag, as her purse would be based on how much the temple won thanks to her victory.
With some trying, she finally found Kaiel’s voice. He was talking about Issacor’s sword and what he had to say was less than encouraging. She’d never met or even read a story about a blade disciple before and only knew the religion existed because a number of Society contractors said their prayers to the Mother of Blades.
Chancing a look at Issacor, she found him standing at ease, sword planted on the dust ground. It was so heavy and sturdily built that he was actually leaning on it. If he could actually bring that thing on guard, one hit could end the fight right then and there. Before she’d been considering fighting fancy, both for the crowd’s sake and to impress her new friends, but now she was reconsidering.
The blond priestess, who was called Hayley Methes-Ro, touched her on the shoulder to get her attention and did the same for Issacor. Without a word, she nodded to Dactus, who was in the process of confirming that all bets were down.
Once he was satisfied, he nodded and raised his hands. “By request of Brin and by consent of Aba Issacor, both of whom care greatly for your entertainment, this Arena is declared no restrictions. A circle of the invincible will be raised, I will call our contestants to battle, and from that point onward, there is only one rule: The contestant who falls unconscious, or touches the ground outside of the Trinigon Arena loses.”
He turned to the contestants, motioning for them to take their marks on opposite sides of the glowing circle. “Brin of Rolling Meadows Enclave, are you ready?” She nodded. “Aba Issacor Trueddeles, are you ready?” Issacor nodded.”
Dactus closed his eyes briefly and breathed deeply as he channeled the power of Pandemos into the circle. It stopped glowing, the only sign that it was active.
“Fighters. The circle is complete. Stances!” Issacor planted his feet and lifted Faith-Be-Forgiven ponderously until the weapon was held aloft to his side at a steep angle. The crowd murmured appreciatively at his feat of strength. Brin held the Barratta parallel to the ground, the back third of its haft resting along her forearm and the butt resting against her hip. Her other hand was out in a guarding gesture and her knees were bent slightly.
Jogging backward out of the Arena, Dactus let a moment pass before bellow. “Fight!”
That was all Issacor needed to hear. He put all his strength into a leaping surge, bringing his blade down at an angle as if he were aiming to chop down a tree. Considering his weapon, it was a good tactic, trying to take down his foe in one swift blow. But it was also easy to predict, as it was the only strategy that made sense with such a comically oversized weapon.
Brin saw it coming and didn’t even try and opening attack. She jinked to her left and ran forward to avoid the back-swing and put herself beside Issacor. The Barratta lanced for his ribs.
But the back-swing just kept coming as the blade disciple allowed the sword’s weight to pivot him around more than ninety degrees, forcing Brin to abandon her thrust and keep running past him. When he finally planted his feet again, the sword’s momentum had brought it back up into prime striking position.
Doing so, however, left an opening that Brin didn’t ignore. She turned and whipped her spear around to threaten Issacor’s mail covered belly and the man obliged by taking a measured step back. Brin followed with a series of lightening fast thrusts that forced him back at a jog, dogging him back toward the edge of the arena.
Finally, he’d had enough, and the big sword fell again, only this time, laterally, the blade held in one hand and brace along the arm guard of another, effectively becoming a surprisingly mobile tower shield. With the strikes of Brin’s spear blocked, Issacor pushed forward until, with surprisingly nimbleness, he turned, letting the Barratta go right past him and causing Brin to overextend. She paid for it when he lunged sideways, cuffing her in the collarbone with the hilt of his sword. Dropping back, she realized too late that that was exactly what he meant for her to do.
Shifting his grip, the blade disciple swung horizontally, at a height that would have Taken Brin in the chest if she hadn’t dropped into a crouch. Once more, her spear darted out, this time passing between his feet before reversing and catching his heel with the crossbar. With swiftness and leverage, she tripped him down.
Now on the attack, she rose and jabbed for her opponent’s center, only for him to roll to the side. Again and again, he evaded her in this way, forcing her to chase him back to the center of the arena. The crowd laughed uproariously at the display.
Gnawing her lip, Brin switch tactics and changed her grip on the Barratta. Now she wasn’t thrusting, but spinning it in her hands, transforming the single blade into a flurrying circle of sure destruction.
Not as sure as she’d hoped, as Issacor finally managed to interdict his blade between himself and the Barratta, stopping it cold. His next move was to kick her legs out from under her and kip up into a crouch as if his armor weighed nothing. Brin was back on her feet before he could press his advantage, on guard and crouched low.