Rune Breaker: Chapter 21 – Sparring Sessions

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

A great noise filled the small air in a clearing between the nir-lumos wagons arrays before the gates of Daire City. Metal met metal in a resounding clatter as the two combatants locked blades.

It didn’t seem possible to Taylin; she knew she was stronger than Issacor, but the man’s stance seemed to make overbearing him impossible no matter how hard she pushed. At the last moment, both disengaged and flew apart, Taylin doing so literally with the help of her wings while Issacor leapt.

The former landed lightly and didn’t miss a beat before charging forward with a series of punishing blows before the latter could land. Taylin quickly found herself being forced back, unable to land for fear of tipping over from her own momentum.

At length, she had enough of fighting defensively and pumped her wings to surge forward with a sweeping blow of her own. Issacor seemed to be waiting for this and twisted aside instead of blocking or dodging. The twist became a lunge and his sword flashed in under her guard to lay flush against her shoulder.

“Touch.” he declared and Taylin sighed heavily before dropping from the air.

“That’s ten to four. I thought I was better than that.” It disappointed her, but she wondered if it should. Didn’t she want to be bad at killing, bad at being a weapon? But that conflicted with what she’d started thinking with regard to herself; that she was good at protecting, good at being a bastion.

Issacor rested Faith-Be-Forgiven against one shoulder and motioned for him to walk with him toward the water barrel. He acted as if he wasn’t even aware of the small cheering section he’d picked up in the form of Motsey and Rail who were being ostensibly watched over by Brin and Layaka.

Ostensibly because halfling clan law prohibited non-family from touching children without express permission. Raiteria had very pointedly given them permission to watch the children, which left the two only able to observe and shout for Taylin should the pair misbehave. Luckily for them, the swordplay kept the young ones entertained well enough to prevent the system from being tested.

Taylin smiled to them and offered what she imagined was a swordswoman’s salute on the way over to the barrel.

Issacor noticed the motion, raising and nimbly flicking the Eastern Brand one handed and pointed to her hand. “You don’t need to use two hands for that, do you?” He dipped the ladle into the barrel and offered it to her.

She waved for him to drink first. “No. I was taught to fight with a shield, and the swords they gave us were a bit heavier than this.”

“But you don’t have a shield, do you?” Taylin shook her head and Issacor gave her a considering look. “Blade Disciples aren’t taught to use a shield at all. But the Five Virtues Blade becomes lighter with each seal you unlock.” He drank quickly and then took Faith-Be-Forgiven from his shoulder, indicating the three tarnished seals and the two that now shone like new. Taylin now knew that the untarnished seals are the ones that Issacor had unlocked; Oor-ma and Oor-kutre – Self and Pride.

“I have work to do before I can wield my blade in one hand, but the Disciples who have advanced to that step tend to use their free hand to honor the Mother more: by wielding a second blade.”

Taylin scowled slightly at her reflection in the Oor-ma seal. “I did have another sword, but I don’t know what happened to it since we reached the city…” There was spike of… satisfaction? Self importance? She couldn’t quite tell, but it was in the back of her head and it gave her a good idea where her ‘razor’ had gone.

In an unnecessary gesture, she turned to look at Ru, hoping to fix hm with a glare. The mage was sitting cross-legged in the dust not far from Brin, Layaka and the kids. It was too early in the morning for him to disappear to the tavern, but borrowed books from his arguing partners kept him quiet most of the time.

He didn’t look up, or in any way acknowledge her attention outwardly. Yes, Miss Taylin?

Please tell me you didn’t hurt someone with my sword.

I did not. He said, a bit quickly for her taste, but the dark amusement that leaked through told her that was intentional. Quite the opposite, actually.

Ever ounce of her instincts directed her not to pursue how one could perform the opposite of hurting someone with a sword that was more or less a huge straight razor. So she returned her attention to Issacor, who was far more pleasant company in any event.

“…but I doubt I’ll ever see it again.”

Not being privy to anything that had gone on in the handful of seconds that she hesitated, Issacor was left with his own assumptions and tsked, half seriously. “Taylin, the First Exhalation of the Sword is ‘and you will treat the blade as your person and care for it well. Serve its needs and it shall not break and will strike true in your hour of need.’. I appreciate that I haven’t quite converted you, but I find that to be good advice all the same.”

Taylin drew her wings closed in agitation. It wasn’t her fault that her mind was connected to the strangest creature the wide world had to offer. “It is and I plan to take it more to heart.”

A smile flickered on Issacor’s lips. “I believe you. Which is why for this exercise, I’ll loan you an extra blade.” He reached his free hand up to his shoulder and made a gripping motion. “As luck has it, Blade Disciples with dedication are never without extra weapons.” There was a vague, mechanical sound, like metal ratcheting, and a leather wrapped handle emerged from a whorl of ether near the gripping hand. It slipped into his hand seamlessly and he drew the sword as easily as if it were form a scabbard.

It was a handsome iron sword with one edge straight and one toothed like a saw. The hilt was etched with a simple pattern of squares. None of that surpassed the fact that Issacor had just produced it from nowhere.

“We call it the Blade Vault.” He explained. “The Mother grants it to us, presumably because many of us, in discovering the holy value and beauty of edged weaponry, become collectors. It’s a space of folded Void powered by our connection to Her, and she will only allow us to use it for edged weapons and holy texts.”

Taylin squinted, trying to see the aperture, but it was already gone. Her mind was making connections and her concentration was so deep that she almost didn’t notice Issacor pressing the hilt of the new sword into her hand. “I wonder is that’s how Kaiel stores his books?”

“Hmm?” Issacor raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yes. I suppose that’s most probable; the Mother lays no exclusive rights to folded void creating space and I’ve heard of many devices sold for high prices that perform the same ask. The alchemists call it a ‘portable laboratory’. It wouldn’t surprise me greatly if there was a similar device for libraries.”

While Taylin got a drink of her own, Issacor leaned Faith-Be-Forgiven against the barrel and drew two more swords from his Vault. They were significantly lighter and shorter than the one he’d loaned her, but they would have to be for him to realistically use them one handed.

“Once you’re ready to go again, I’ll show you the basic two blade techniques I was taught.” He offered with a smile.

Taylin returned it and took up the borrowed sword again. “Thank you, I would like that.”

Over on the sidelines, Brin was watching the kids. For her, ‘the kids’ included Layaka. While Motsey and Rale had gotten bored waiting for the sparring to resume and resorted to some incomprehensible game they played with blades of grass and rules they made up as the went along, Layaka split her time watching Taylin and Ru.

It was a rare moment where Layaka was focused on something other than Brin and wherever greatness the farm girl saw in her. The attention had been ego bolstering the first few days, but now it came with a sort of fatigue. No one, in Brin’s opinion, could ever be as enthusiastic about themselves as Layaka was about her.

And it grated more on Reflair. The spirit had her own idea of what accolades should be like, and a singular cheering section was an embarrassment to her. To see Layaka otherwise occupied filled the spirit with a great sense of relief, a feeling she transmitted to Brin by skillfully applying a trickle of discarnate energies to sooth her too-tight muscles and relax her mind.

It wasn’t necessary; spirits of the once living could converse telepathically with anyone near them, and the bond between a spirit companion and a sublime docent was so intricate that in centuries of study, no spellcrafter had ever been able to replicate it with magic. If there was a need, what one knew could simply become known to the other with no communication at all.

But spirits varied as much as people, and Reflair was fond of using her powers to ‘reward’ Brin in the same way she would have a trusted lieutenant. On the outside, it might have seemed condescending, but the way the elven military worked in Reflair’s time, it was a gesture reserved for friends forged by war.

Brin conveyed her thanks subtly as she observed Layaka. She didn’t know what the future held for the girl once they reached Kinos. All told, it said a lot for her character to have lived through that night when Brin found her, alone with the bodies of her family and being circled by varges: dog sized lesser spirit beasts whose origins lay with the weasel. They weren’t whatever it was that killed everyone on the Homestead; they were just drawn to the fresh carrion. Nonetheless, they were a nightmare for someone used to living safe within the Homestead’s defensive walls.

She watched the girl quietly hold up a piece of jerky for Amet’s greedy beak as she watched Ru, and worried. Experiences like that could change people. Brin had seen it many times first hand on missions for the Historical Society when things didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Sometimes it destroyed people. Sometimes it remade them. And sometimes when if changed them, it wasn’t for the better.

Reflair cut off her comfort for that thought. Being a general, she wasn’t a stranger to the horrors of combat, but it was an elven general’s duty to make it seem glorious and even beautiful during her time, so she could not condone that line of thought. But she did impart a modicum of her own enhanced senses so that Brin could hear and catch the scent of the person coming up from behind.

Turning, she saw it was Kaiel, dressed once more in court finery. He hadn’t been present for breakfast and looked now as if a great fist from above was coming down to slowly crush him. It felt almost fitting that her first glimpse of him of the day be accompanied by the ring of steel on steel as Taylin and Issacor started up again.

His eyes were on her, but when she turned, he quickly flicked them up to the sparring match before returning them to her as if for the first time. “Two swords now?” He asked, coming to stand next to where she sat.

“That only just started, though I don’t know why. A shield is more practical.” As a feigned afterthought, she added, “Care to sit?”

“My thanks.” He sank down into a cross-legged position beside her and took off his reading glasses with a long sigh.

“I take it that this morning once again put the lie to the joyful and glamorous life of the loreman?”

“Without doubt.” Kaiel leaned over a bit to check on the kids. Motsey and Rale were once more engrossed in the dance of steel being put on for their amusement. Satisfied that they were content and distracted, he returned his attention to Brin. “Never let anyone tell you that it’s easy to keep a dullard from cutting off his own hand. Some dullards will sight you for the knife.”

Brin’s throat rolled out an amused little growl that she covered with a laugh. “Solgrum?”

“The one and, I pray, only. He amazes me with his creative applications of ignorance. Today it was the ball he’s throwing in Grandmother’s honor. At least it was a ball when we broke; the actual terminology has become a point of contention somehow. But the very fact that he’s doing this shows that he knows how valuable it would be to encourage caravans to travel this way more often, yes?”

Brin leaned back on her arms. “I would say any idiot can tell you the caravans increase trade wherever they go, but as you’ve said, you have a special idiot.”

“Special in so many ways.” Kaiel laughed. “And today’s is completely failing to understand the culture of the people he’s honoring. He continues to demand the formal attire be required and cannot connect the problem in that to what I’d told him of the nir-lumos. They have town clothes for when they come into a city, but beyond that, they think of clothes as something to keep you warm and unscratched. Clothing as symbolism is worthless to them, but Solgrum keeps insisting and I’ve begun to have the terrifying feeling that he believes he can convert them to Nov culture.”

Brin chuckled lightly. “What does the clan’s Grandmother think of that?”

“Oh, she handled it with acumen and propriety… before saying that Solgum can drop into the Seven Interlocking Hells and get his tonker caught in the grind between them.” He shook his head. “I’m not embellishing. That was the actual response she originally wanted me to convey to him. It took more than an hour to talk her down from it.”

“I think it’s a trait of people who think to work themselves into positions of power to be, well, children.” Brin offered. “You should hear some of the regents of the historical guild.” She sat up so as to raise her hands and wave them mockingly, “’This old and rusted crown is the single most important artifact since Denaii’s reading glasses! It is imperative that you charge into the tomb where it resides under-equipped, without proper scouting, and to do so as quickly as possible to make sure the cockatrices nesting there most definitely hear you coming. And how dare you ask for higher pay simply because you might have limbs transmuted to stone!’”

It was Kaiel’s turn to laugh. “I begin to suspect that the ability to perceive reality is the trade-off for wealth and power.”

Both smiled at one another and went several minutes in silence, watching Issacor and Taylin. The lesson was slow going, as Taylin continuously forgot that the object in her off-hand was a weapon and not a shield, though it was interesting to watch her instinctive attempts to bash, which with the sword was more like a punch.

“This ball is going to be an absolute disaster.” Kaiel said at length, still facing forward.

Brin did the same. “It does sound like it.”

“Utterly terrible. It might scar my reputation as a diplomat.”

“I can’t see how it can’t.”

“They’re holding it on the military parade ground to the west. It was originally a battlefield; sight of one of the bloodiest losses King Nov I ever suffered. They call it the Murderyard. Solgrum is holding a fancy outdoor ball in a place called ‘the Murderyard’.”

“I don’t know, in Mindforme, they do that on purpose; name taverns and shops purposefully unpleasant things.” Brin stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye and caught him doing the same. “But Novs aren’t Formeans.”

Kaiel didn’t look away once caught, but he didn’t turn his head either. “Believe me, both sides are loudly and arrogantly glad of that fact. Alas, I’m required to attend as the closest thing Solgrum has to a loreman to cajole into giving this carnival of ignorance legitimacy.”

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 20 – AudienceRune Breaker: Chapter 22 – Grace From Outside >>

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