Rune Breaker: Chapter 20 – Audience

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

It was cold in the presence of the god of the Threefold Moon. None of the heat or humidity from the previous chamber dared cross the threshold guarded by the gate-demon. Within the massive, irregular cavern, the air didn’t move even for those that walked through it, and sound traveled poorly, as if afraid to venture too far from its source.

From the gate, a ramp of white stone climbed to the throne of Kayda’s Vessel, it’s length dropping down to the floor far below and forming a wall that divided to cavern floor into two. Immurai looked down and found exactly what he expected: bodies.

One thousand years worth of failed demons, priests and other agents of the god, as well as particularly troublesome enemies. Those who were not worthy of feeding the next generation for fear of tainting them with the stink of their failure or disobedience. They did not rot, or desiccate and there were no vermin to feast on them. For all eternity, they would remain perfect trophies at the feet of the Threefold Moon.

Among the bodies, there were flickers of movement; the ghosts of the fallen, tethered there by the crushing weight of the god’s power, never to leave for greater reward or reincarnation. When the god was angry, they screamed in one voice. When He was pleased, they sighed.

On occasion, Immurai had seen them fed into diabolic engines as a power source, and seen their bodies animated and transfigured for special purposes. They weren’t mere trophies; they were resources.

The top of the ramp left a hand’s span of empty space between itself and the stone platform upon which the Vessel’s throne and the True Throne sat. It was a rough and ancient disc of rock and it hung in the air without means of support. Its surface was gouged and chipped from centuries of claws and hooves and other things dragging along it.

The Vessel reclined atop his throne, a raised pillar of chalk, made concave at the top and cultivated with soft moss.

Govaa-Det the Tremor-Step; a demon of Immurai’s generation, one of the first, one who was created, not born. He squatted on his six trunk-like legs, digging his flat, thick paws into the moss, resting on his broad belly. Long, greasy, brown fur hung off him, concealing most of his well muscled bulk while his thick tail lolled off the back of the pillar, swishing idly like a maid only pretending to be diligent in dusting.

As the Vessel, he had been further augmented with dull plates of the mystic metal orihalcon running along his spine and ribs. It also formed a full helm over his flat face, leaving only his white, catlike eyes visible. A subtle haze came through the ventilation hols.

Behind him rose the True Throne; place where the Threefold Moon touched Ere. Here, it appeared as a broken pillar, some twenty feet tall and made of black glass that seemed to twist in upon itself and flow outward all at once without moving. From it emerged the tethers that connected the god with His Vessel. They came in a multitude of forms; some were hoses made of thick rubber, the type favored by alchemists, some were cables of woven steel, or thin wires of copper. Others were like the entrails of a living thing, slick with ichor, and still others were composed only of spectral energies. They all extended from some unknown point within the True Throne quest into Govaa-Det’s body through the orihalcon grafts.

When Immurai and Sha reached the platform, Govaa-Det roused, pulling his legs beneath him so as to sit up. His great head swiveled in the their direction and a low growl escaped him along with a haze around his helm’s mask.

“Immurai the Masked.” The Vessel intoned. “Your failure precedes you. Time and power did the Lord of Shades devote to allowing you to raise up this promised puppet king of the desert. Much did you make of how he could raise an army and become a sword with which we could strike at the children of the dragons.

And then were are told that the puppet is dead, what little band he raised is broken, and the artifact cast in your own power—power that is blessed unto you directly from the Lord of Shades has been lost to us.” He inhaled deeply and below, the spirits began to shriek. Immurai heard some of them speak his name. “The forsaken wraiths cry out for you to join them. And the Threefold Moon is inclined to gift you to them as a boon. How many are there by your hand, Immurai? Mortals, priests and demons? Oh how they would torment your soul.”

Immurai offered no defense. If he were going to be cast down now, it would have happened already. It was wasteful in the eyes of the god to waste time giving lessons to the condemned.

Govaa-Det tilted his head, regarding the silent demon carefully. “How far did Immurai the Gaunt fall that now stands before me Immurai the Masked, come to beg forgiveness for failure.”

“Oh, but I am not here to beg forgiveness, Tremor-Step.” Immurai purred. “I have come to report on a success.”

This caused the Vessel to falter. He straightened himself up on the throne and glared suspiciously. “What possible success can you report that would not have come into the god’s knowledge before you arrived?”

“One centuries in the making.” Immurai stood tall and still. “Consult our Lord: does he recall what I was seeking out during the War of Ascension? What I was certain that I had located when that meddlesome waif who calls herself a goddess interfered?”

A minute of silence passed before Govaa-Det came back to himself. When he spoke, it was in monotone. “He recalls.”

“Then He understands why it is a success that I have found it once more. I have sent one of my own agents to watch over it, but with the power it wields, I cannot do it alone. I have Matasume the Wind at my side as always, but she will not be enough.”

“Our Lord does not approve of you and Matasume the Wind.” said Govaa-Det. “Demons should have no loyalties to each other, only to the Threefold Moon.”

“I brought her into the unseen light of our Lord on His orders.” said Immurai calmly. “I raised her up into a demon by His command. She was one of the first to be reborn. She is grateful for the gift I bestowed upon her, nothing more.”

Govaa-Det rumbled a warning, deep in his chest. Immurai had gone too far for the god’s taste.

“The gift was, as always, our Lord’s to give.” Immurai amended. “I misspoke.”

“Such missteps would not be tolerated in a younger demon.” Sha made herself known with that barb, much to Immurai’s annoyance.

The Vessel snorted a laugh, exuding a thick mist that wreathed his head for a few seconds before dissipating. “Indeed.”

Immurai didn’t let even a hint of reaction enter his voice. “Small mistakes have been permitted of me in the past due to my results. And this prize was to be and shall be my greatest success. Imagine having a shard, a fair fraction of the Threefold Moon’s power here on Ere. No barrier between worlds, no rituals and grand celestial convergences for a few hours of that power, but a raw flood of it constantly. Is that not worth a word or two out of place?”

Once more, Govaa-Det was silent as he communed with the god. The screaming of the wraiths below quieted. Finally, he returned to the here and now with a gruff. “What aid do you request.”

“Bashurra of the Crevasse for one.” Immurai had given a great deal of thought to his choices. Bashurra was old, but not particularly powerful or clever. He survived by shear brute strength and toughness. He would be useful without ever suspecting betrayal and when the time came, Immurai was confident that he or Matasume could handily destroy him. “And I wish to know the location of Zect of the Drinking Gourd.”

An unamused sound left Govaa-Det. “Zect of the Drinking Gourd. You tempt fate just by mentioning that creature in this place. Zect, of Unbent Knee. Zect the Faithless. There is a place for him with the wraiths even colder than your own.”

“And yet he remains useful enough to continue living.” said Immurai. “And he will prove useful to me as well. Perhaps seeing the power of what is now within my… ahem… our Lord’s grasp will make him faithless no more.”

While Govaa-Det had his misgivings, Kayda saw the potential in gambling on Immurai one last time. As such, He forced His Vessel to speak for Him. “You shall have what you ask for. And if you succeed, you will once more become Immurai the Gaunt. Go forth in my name and capture this lowly creature.”

The mask ensured that Immurai couldn’t smile. This was fortunate for hm now, as he wasn’t certain that even he could contain a sneer of triumph as he turned and stepped past Sha, secure in his upcoming divinity.

***

Taylin took a deep breath of the warm air as she stepped out of the cramped bookseller’s shop and out into the light of way once more. This time, she resisted stretching her wings, recalling an incident the day before when she’d almost knocked over a flower peddler.

It was near the end of the clan’s first week in Daire City. The original plan had been five days, but Solgrum, despite his earlier disrespect for the halflings, was now under pressure from the various mercantile guilds to keep them in the city as long as possible because the caravan was drawing in travelers from smaller cities nearby. To that end, a grand feast was being thrown in honor of the Winter Willow, but Solgrum continually pushed the date back, citing personal supply shortages.

While is frustrated Grandmother to no end, it did serve her purpose in forcing through favorable hunting rights for nir-lumos of all clans, so she put up with it.

Consequently, this suited Taylin just fine. For the first time, she had clothes and armor to fit, hard coin to spend, and a constellation of choices laid out in front of her.

It had taken three days to get those clothes. There weren’t enough hailene in Daire to make it profitable to keep a stock of clothing made to take their wings into account, and so everything had to be tailor made. Such extravagances (including her new modified mail shirt and alchemically treated leathers) had eaten much of her bandit windfall, but it felt worth it to be in something other than shirt with the back simply cut out, and far better than the barely cured hide and roughspun wool the hailene outfitted their slaves with.

Life was good. She flew on the daily, often taking Motsey and Rale with her. The children loved it even though the very idea made Rai’s stomach churn.

When not flying, she spent time with her expanded circle of friends and family. Most of that time was spent in the company of Rai and Brin (and by extension, Layaka, who seemed unwilling to let Brin out of her sight.), but in the evenings, she compared what she’d gathered from reading with Trace’s greater knowledge of history, or discussed the religion of the Mother of Blades with Issacor, who was also more or less stranded in the city, looking for work as a bodyguard.

Though she didn’t mean any offense to Sylph or Pandemos, the Mother’s religion appealed to her. Swords, the scripture explained, are the bare essence of weaponry; all other forms being specialized for specific situations. And all weapons existed not to attack, but the defend. What they defended were known collectively as the Five Virtues.

Oor-ma was the Self, for defending one’s life is the most natural of actions.

Oor-suh was the Home, whether a homeland, or the actual place one lived in, for the Home was an extension of the Self.

Oor-yuan was the Heart, meaning loved ones; family, friends, lovers. For to have none who dwell in one’s heart leads to the destruction of the Self.

Oor-kutre was Pride, for a skilled swordsman would seek constantly to hone their talent to defend the Five Virtues.

And finally, Oor-oorze was Belief or Purpose, all beings have a purpose or convictions, which, if sacrificed, was almost as spiritually fatal as losing the Oor-yuan.

Taylin had never had reason to put much thought into religion before, as the hailene during the War of Ascension were convinced that the gods had forsaken them. But whether she subscribed to any of the other tenets of the faith, she felt that she could adopt the Five Virtues as her own.

Which was the reason for the detour to the bookseller’s shop this day. After much rummaging, she’d found a thick volume entitled On the Worship and Continuity of Small Gods, which she felt might give her more unbiased information on the Mother of Blades.

She planned the devour the book once she had time. And it was only partly out of academic interest. She’d found, after paging through some of Brin’s dime fiction that she rather enjoyed reading as it’s own purpose. Her short life in Daire had revealed that she actually had a fairly cosmopolitan appreciation for art; from storyspinner performances and plays, to the tiny art galleries tucked away in the Golden Quarter where only the old nobility and new guild leaders did their shopping.

In the city, she’d found even more contentment than she’d had in the caravan, though the family she found there was beyond any price.

But in Daire City, even Ru ceased to be a source of frustration. The Rune Breaker had discovered a tavern where the local mages of talent met to trade theories and observations, but mostly to argue loudly and boisterously. He was there at that very moment, a smugly satisfied buzz in her head that occasionally related to her the latest ‘preposterous’ notion that he felt it was his duty to tear down through a combination of logic and petty insults.

She had no idea what any of it meant, but the fact that they could both so easily lead satisfying existences without conflicting with each other added greatly to her mood.

The only thing taking away from it was the skirt. Raiteria had added a small assortment of skirts and dresses to her clothing order and insisted that she wear them to ‘get her money’s worth. The one she had on today was white, which according to Rai and Brin went with her button shirt of sky blue spider silk.

While she hated to admit that it looked and felt nice, it seemed a poor choice for someone who routinely flew. She considered it a personal favor to her adoptive sister in exchange for Raiteria selling the last of her bandit-won goods so that she had time to visit the booksellers.

Brin had come with, freed temporarily from Layaka courtesy of Kaiel offering the girl sword lessons. Her focus at the moment was the second book Taylin purchased.

Atrocities of the Hailene?” Brin asked. “Taylin, I am all in favor of your interest in history, but why would you even want to read that?”

Brin didn’t know the truth. Taylin decided that no one that didn’t need to know would hear a word of the truth. So far, it hadn’t been an issue, but now she had to keep her expression schooled. She couldn’t explain that she knew the vagaries of what her old masters did in their labs from seeing the results first hand. She’d fought and toiled and suffered beside them; manufactured ang’hailene who were crossbreeds with elves and minotaur, and dwarves. And others whose parentage was even more exotic and artificially induced. She wanted to know the how and more importantly, the why.

“Kaiel would say that we can’t focus on only the bright parts of history.” She replied. “Heroes and glory only go so far. The most important part is knowing the evils that came before so we can prevent them from coming again. And believe me, the hailene during the War of Ascension were one of the worst evils in history.”

“They couldn’t be worse than the Kimeans are now.” Brin’s eyes roamed around the various stalls on the street, but failed to find something of interest.

“I don’t know much about the Kimeans.” said Taylin. “But… from what I gather, the hailene ran forced breeding programs, using magic to force the subjects to do things so terrible that even being a witness could leave someone never wish to be touched.” She fought back a shiver from memories of hours spent hiding, but being unable to shut out the sounds.

Brin frowned, and spoke in a low voice. “The Kimeans raid the shores of the strait of Nivia, taking anyone they can find; breaking up families on purpose. They especially like to take the fey races; lasconti, elves, miare. No one knows what’s done to them, only that no one has ever escaped the Kimean Isles.”

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 19 – CitadelRune Breaker: Chapter 21 – Sparring Sessions >>

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