Rune Breaker: Chapter 19 – Citadel

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

The noise of the assembled crowd pressed in on Issacor’s ears as he took a several deep gulps of air. The battle was hard fought and later, he would have much to meditate on, both mistakes and successes. He started to rise and found a hand held out to help him up. He accepted and found that it belonged to the woman, Brin. It surprised him to see the disappointed expression on her face.

“One should not grimace at a victory hard won.”

She shook her head. “It’s not my victory to smile or frown at.”

“But I did fall out of the arena. That means you won.”

“No, I overbalanced at the last minute.” They both had to raise their voices above the crowd. I stepped out of the ring at the last moment, right before you hit the ground.”

Issacor frowned. How anticlimactic. “That hardly seems right. You caused me to over-commit. You should have won. At the very least, we should split the prize.”

Brin shouldered the Barratta, still glowing with Reflair’s light. “I appreciate the thought, but the rules were very clear: whoever steps foot out of the arena loses. My foot landed first. The victory is your, Disciple Issacor, don’t grimace at it.”

Defeated by his own words, he inclined his head politely in social submission. “I admit that I must accept this logic, lest I be a hypocrite. However, perhaps I can use some of my winnings on a token of my esteem for your skills in the arena. Have you taken the midday meal yet?”

“Yes, actually.” Kaiel glided into the conversation as smoothly as someone who was invited into it. “Our friend is new to the city and we’ve been sampling the food carts with her all mid-morning.” Taylin and the others were coming up behind him with Rai preoccupied in counting the pile of silver and gold coins she’d won. He didn’t extend his hand, but instead touched his forehead, bowed slightly, the moved his hand to his shoulder as he straightened.

Issacor smiled broadly at the gesture and duplicated it. “In these times of waxing and waning politics and culture, it’s rare to get a proper greeting even from a fellow Nov; everyone seems intent on crushing one another’s hands. My appreciation, Loreman.”

“Chronicler.” Kaiel tapped his brooch, knowing that the crest of the Bardic College had given Issacor that impression, “I am not yet a loreman, Disciple Issacor. Someday, but not this day.”

“Miss Brin!” In a blur of faded maroon, Layaka was beside Brin. “You were amazing! You deserved to win, but obviously, the dice priests drew the arena too small.”

Brin shook her head and the glow surrounding her began to retreat back into the reliquary around her neck. “No, Layaka. I lost.” The girls tarted to protest, but Brin held up a hand, causing her to stop obediently. “There’s no shame in losing. Even if I was the best–”

“You are!” Layaka insisted.

“Even if,” Brin said evenly, “I would still lose from time to time. Luck, mistakes, or many, many other things come up even in practice and show battles that you can’t prepare for. Maybe I should have won, but I didn’t. Next time, I’ll know to move further to the side when I do that. Maybe it’ll save my life knowing that.”

Layaka wasn’t satisfied with that and her expression made it evident, but she left it alone.

Once she was sure her charge wasn’t going to accuse the servants of the God of Luck of anymore wrongdoing, she returned her attention to her former opponent. “I’m sorry, Issacor. This is Layaka Emeries, and my rather new friends, Taylin, Raiteria, and Ru.” She flashed Kaiel an unreadable smile, “And Kaiel Arunsteadeles.” Kaiel’s brows rose at something in her introduction, but he didn’t react otherwise.

“A great pleasure.” Issacor offered them the same greeting he and Kaiel exchanged. He cast a quick glance at Kaiel before speaking further. “As I was saying before your arrival, I fear that my victory was not entirely fair. I was feinted and would have lost, but for a fluke. Brin graciously contests this, but my sense of right remains unconvinced. I was going to offer to pay for her midday meal, but Chronicler Arunsteadeles says that I am too late for that.”

Rai baked a laugh. “We’ve only really had the one midday meal and a nir-lumos in the city can lunch until tea. But between you and I, the debt’s been settles; you’ve won me a good bit of coin, Disciple Issacor.”

“You bet against me?” Brin asked, only slightly shocked. The few hours they’d spent together didn’t obligate anyone to any loyalty.

“As did I.”Ru added. “But it is expected of me to be crass.”

“Crass has nothing to do with it.” Raiteria jingled her coin pouch. “If Brin won, she would get the purse for the winner. Therefore, it make sense that someone in the group to bet against. This way, coin was still made by one of us.” She answered the skeptical looks with a glare. “Stop looking at me like I’m a Kimean Raider who just took your grandmother and your lap-bear; I’ll pay for everyone’s dinner at Little Ueparia tonight.”

“Rizeni food’ll give you nightmares if you stuff yourself.” Dactus came upon them with all the tact that Layaka had. He was bearing a cloth pouch, over flowing with gold full-marks and silver split-marks and dimes. “Now, in the Gold Quarter is a place that does a good Mindeformean rolled fish with rice. Far more worth the money and now blasted trencher peppers like the Rizeni put in everything.”

Rai balked. “I never thought I’d see the day I’d meet a priest of the One Dice that fears spice.”

Dactus chose the most mature option in his mind and made a face at her. “only when spice overwhelms flavor.” He proffered the bag to Issacor. “You’re winnings, lad. Oh, a moment…” He reached the bag and withdrew a disk the size of a sand dollar from it.

Made of cream colored enamel and rimmed with silver, the disc bore a stylized character from the draconic language, graphur, in yellow, outlined in blue. It was recognizable, even to Taylin, as a symbol carved over the entryways of houses, inn rooms and ship’s cabins; the character ‘ura-la’, meaning ‘home’.

“A housewarming present?” Issacor inquired as Dactus handed it to him. “My apologies, but I have no permanent home city, to say nothing of a house.”

Dactus pressed it into his hand nonetheless. “part of Miss Brin’s conditions for joining the match was that the temple add a small, magical treasure. She is a treasure-thief, you know?”

Brin huffed at the description. “I am a contractor with the Historical Guild. If I were a treasure-thief, I’d be a member.”

Issacor chuckled at the exchange and gazed at the bauble thoughtfully. “What does it do?”

The priest looked sheepish and scratched his ear. “We don’t rightly know. Found it in the vaults of the old temple after Solgrum burned it down. All the records burned up. Can’t be too dangerous though; it wasn’t in the deep vaults.”

Kaiel had his doubts on that front seeing how avariciously Ru was eying it and how uncomfortable Taylin appeared with whatever Ru was saying or doing in the link. Despite frequent, sometimes even amiable discussions with the man, Kaiel couldn’t find it in himself to completely trust him.

After all, if he was, as he claimed, the Rune Breaker, he was a being of immense evil. And if he wasn’t , there was still little reason to trust a man who would claim such a legacy. He had to act quickly.

Clearing his throat, he stepped forward before Ru could begin to speak. “If you don’t have a need for it, Disciple Issacor, I would happily purchase it from you. Item evaluation and identification are required skills for the trade I’m pursuing, after all. Does… one hundred and fifty full-marks sound fair?”

“Fair only in as far as he can’t tell a single property.” Ru breezed past Taylin, who was now glaring at the back of his head. He inclined his head to Issacor. “I am Ru Brakar, a mage by birth with the gift of a sense for magic.” He tapped the space between the eyes in an oblique reference. “This prize of yours is a work of art in terms of spell-work; structures within structures, almost entirely composed of Void with traces of Earth, Water and vitae.”

Nothing in his speech resonated with Issacor, who shrugged. “Unfortunately, I am without any magic of my own, but that provided by the Mother through Faith-Be-Forgiven. I know nothing of spellcraft, or even channeling; I’m merely one of the faithful, not a priest.”

“Then I shall make it simple for a non-practitioner:”

“Ru.” Taylin said sharply, sensing a tone in the link that he hadn’t given voice. Ru paid no heed.

“To pay you one hundred and fifty would be equivalent to robbery.”

“If I don’t know what it is, and cannot use it, I don’t see why it should be worth much at all; even one hundred and fifty.” Issacor pointed out.

Ru studied him for a long moment, as if trying to find out what kind of creature stood before him. At length, he cleared his throat. “Because I will give you three hundred for it.”

“Three-fifty.” Kaiel said automatically.

“Kaiel, don’t.” Taylin said warningly, her gaze never leaving Ru.

“Three and seventy-five.” Ru countered, speaking over her in the process. Taylin’s feathers bristled.

Whatever it was about the enamel disc, it had Taylin fairly upset. Kaiel resolved to redouble his efforts for his adoptive sister’s sake. “Five hundred, hard coin.”

Issacor stood between them as the impromptu bidding war heated up, looking slightly bewildered that they were offering such large sums for something that was useless to him. Beside him, Brin and Dactus were displaying confusion and delight respectively.

“Six!”

Ru and Kaiel paused to look down at Raiteria, who grinned avariciously. “If two mages fight over it this hard, I think I could sell it for thousands in Kinos. We nir-lumos are a people of opportunity.”

“Rai…” Taylin sighed. “No one should be bidding on it. It’s not worth…”

“Eight hundred.” Ru said loudly.

“You don’t have eight hundred.” Kaiel pointed accusingly.

“Of course I do. I have almost nine.”

“You have nine hundred in Taunaun gold coins.” said Kaiel. He folded his arms smugly. “It’s not even an officially recognized currency. It amounts to around six hundred-twenty full-marks.”

Ru reared back, looking affronted. “That’s preposterous. Why would people have multiple currencies?”

“Because they’re different nations, Ru. Even I know that.” Taylin stepped in, glaring furiously at him. “Now can you stop this? Please?”

“Stop what?” asked Kaiel, keeping a suspicious eye on Ru.

Any further discussion was cut off by Issacor, who cleared his throat loudly. “I believe I can put an end to this disagreement quite simply.” The others looked at him intently, but the heat of their gazes didn’t faze him. Turning the enamel ‘home’ disc over in his hands, he finally held it out to Brin.

“The good priest said that a magical item was your request for this exhibition. Given how the match actually ended, and the fact that it is of no use to me, I wish to present this to you as a gift to satisfy my honor.”

Brin stared at the item for a time, weighing the pros and cons of accepting.

“Please take it Brin.” Taylin finally said. “It will keep Ru from goading Kaiel into paying too much for it.”

Kaiel’s glare could have ignited Ru if they grew only a fraction more intense. “You.” He said in a dangerous tone. Any elaboration to follow was cut off by a muffled cacophony in the depths of his cloak. Taken off guard, Kaiel paused to search out the source.

He finally extracted a worked brass pocket watch from one of his many pockets. A click of a button cause the case to open on a spring, revealing the watch’s black painted hands above the gleaming brass and iron of the clockwork.

“Ash me.” He muttered and closed the watch before stowing it anew. “It’s time for me to get back to the caravan and prepare Grandmother to meet with Solgrum.” Pivoting on a heel, he slammed a fist to his shoulder and bowed to Issacor. “It was good to meet you, Disciple Issacor.” Issacor returned the gesture and Kaiel turned to the others. “Don’t wait up. Solgrum was fond of pomp and extravagance when he was merely wealthy. King Solgrum will likely entertain well into the night.”

They bid him farewell, all but Ru. As he started off,t he dark mage turned his attention to Issacor. “Disciple, Miss Taylin has expressed great interest in the tenets of your fair. Perhaps you should still join us for dinner that she might learn more.”

Kaiel didn’t have to turn around to know that Ru was smirking at his retreating back.

***

A dust storm concealed Immurai’s arrival at the Taunaunian town of Mertha’s Creed. For that he was intensely grateful to his companion, who he presently only saw in silhouette through the dust as she herded the desert wind.

Normally, he would slip into a new skin and lurk about incognito, listening to existent rumors and sewing more favorable ones. This day, however, he was in a hurry. Not only that, but he loathed mixing with the dragon cults, like those who occupied Mertha’s Creed. Even now, he could smell the stench of dragon-sired, taunting him with their gross imperfections.

Baring with that was a necessary inconvenience, for unbeknownst to them, the people of Mertha’s Creed had founded their town at the base of a huge hill that was actually a lava dome. And that lava dome…

He had arrived at the very base of the hill. A mortal would see nothing remarkable about that place, just a slight rift in the rocks; a place where lizards might hide, or moss might grow. None of them, not even the dragon descended dragon-sired, had the senses to see where space was twisted by titanic forces beyond most mortal magic; the power of a god.

The winds changed and without looking, Immurai knew his companion was behind him. Even over the howling storm, he heard the flutter of a fine, regal robe like his own, smelled the exotic oils and the omnipresent scent of wet clay and stressed metal.

“Stay here.” He said. “I need the storm to conceal my departure as well.”

“Of course, my love.” The voice was strange. Immurai’s was made more hollow by his mask, but her voice was no voice at all. It was words that hammered themselves into the mind like a mental assault. That was by design. As all demons of the Threefold Moon, there was a method to their forms and functions.

Immurai was neither bothered, nor harmed by her voice. “Very good. But I know that you are anxious. Be patient, and you will be rewarded in kind.” He stepped forward, into the perversion of space-time.

He took another step and was standing atop a rough hewn platform beneath the lava dome. The air was stagnant, though not entirely stale, thanks to meager circulation from the god-wrought entrance. It didn’t matter; only demons and priests visited the Citadel of Gahm Keth-al and no demon or priest of rank needed to breath.

A stone bridge, only a few feet wide with no rails, extended from the platform from one hundred yards to the yawning iron gates of the Citadel. The way was lit by irregularly shaped candles that gave weak light and smelled of rancid fat. A concession to those who couldn’t see in the dark and those tasked with keeping records, and one made grudgingly.

The citadel itself was a gray stone structure that soared almost one hundred feet to the roof of the dome. True to the Threefold Moon’s symbolism, it was made up of three circular towers that overlapped, forming a central tower that rose higher than the three it was made from. Much like only a very rare type of eclipse positioned Ere’s three moons in such a way that they revealed the presence of a fourth.

Gargoyle-golems perched atop every arch and buttress. Live gargoyles would die in the atmosphere beneath the dome and after the fall of the Citadel of Blackest Pitch, also called Cale Firse, the Lord of Demons took no chances with his high temples. The golems watched Immurai’s approach with what looked like eager anticipation for a fight.

Immurai knew they couldn’t act against a demon unless directed by a higher ranking demon, and there were only a handful remaining who were old enough to issue that order against him. He passed under their gazes without a second look and stepped up to the gate.

The gate was a series of circular, iron grates set into a complex gear-work. Above them, the gigantic eye of some sea-going beast was set into a socket of smooth stone. Through the power of the god, it yet lived, it’s new body the gate-machine itself; a nameless demon with complete loyalty to the Threefold Moon.

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 18 – The Trinigon ArenaRune Breaker: Chapter 20 – Audience >>

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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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