Rune Breaker: Chapter 22 – Grace From Outside

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

Two of them were Tri-horn ceratos, so named for the three horns on their faces; one short one on their nose and two sprouting from their brows, just beneath the massive frill that protected their neck. The other was a bone-mask cerato with only the nose horn and a hedge of bones spikes in place of the frill.

All of them carried howdahs loaded with finely dressed revelers and were decked out themselves in fine, thick cloth banners and beautifully wrought champrons that sat upon their faces like iron masks.

Ru noticed both, but did his best to tune them out as he sought the spellcraft that caught his attention. Doubt tugged at him, warning that perhaps he didn’t want to find whoever was performing this rite. However slim the chance, it was still possible that the person he was seeking out was someone he wanted no part of.

But then again, if they were, it would give him great pleasure to end their life.


The Murderyard was normally defined by the observation deck used by officers of the guard to watch their men train, the various semi-permanent tents along the perimeter for the healers, mess and quartermaster, and the fifty foot stone seal that commemorated the day the city repelled King Nov himself, as well as the day Nov returned to accept their entry into his kingdom.

For the ball, dozens more tents had been erected, forming a ring several ranks deep. Some were for noble guests to rest between circulating and dancing, others were for the various entertainers, some of whom were actually paying Solgrum for the chance to present themselves before his guests, and others were for the merchants who backed the new king, each hoping to make sales and win contracts right there at the party.

Solgrum himself sat upon his traveling throne upon the observation deck. Two armored soldiers, both local women who had supported his coup, stood at attention at either side of the throne while a rank of minotaurs stood in front of the deck, blocking access to the stairs unless given orders to the contrary. A pair of hailene; one a woman with black hair tied in a braid, carrying a glaive, and the other than Percival Cloudherd, perched atop the upright spars of the deck, keeping watch in all directions.

Despite his bluster, Solgrum seemed well aware of how little love his country had for him and reacted accordingly outside the protection of his palace, Taylin observed. She remembered several ship’s captains like that; they more or less barricaded themselves on the bridge or in the forecastle, issuing orders via slave while praying the threat of mutiny would soon dissolve like dew before the rising sun. Most of them died in the process; most of those by the hands of those who guarded them.

Brin’s laughter drew her eyes back to present company. Rai and Bromun had disappeared from their company early; Grandmother had standing orders for all of the clan members who attended the ball to stock up on any food or drink that would keep when the caravan left. She still took personal offense at Solgrum’s earlier treatment, but this had nothing to do with that and everything to do with nir-lumos pragmatism.

Layaka wasn’t part of the clan and wasn’t a guest, so that left Taylin with Brin and Kaiel. And that essentially left her alone.

Brin was dressed in a green and white dress of the traditional style, with a white coat hanging from her shoulders. Her hair was done up with five complex braids that crossed and looped over one another in an intricate manner. She’s told Taylin and Rai that it cost her two fullmarks and then spent the next ten minutes explaining that yes, the hair was hers, but the money was for the work done to make it so beautiful.

Her arm was linked with Kaiel’s. The chronicler looked every bit the full fledged loreman; resplendent in black trousers and shirt with gold buttons, fittings and thin stripes at the seams. His vest was dark blue with obsidian toggles and his pocket watch, itself a symbol of wealth and progressive thinking, hung from the breast pocket by a gold chain. All of it was topped off by a midnight blue mantle with wide shoulders featuring gold stripes and an embroidered pattern featuring the common shorthand symbol of the magic pattern crea on the back.

He was relating a story from the Bardic College to her and was too absorbed by her presence to pause and explain some of the more modern parts to Taylin, so she stopped listening.

She wasn’t about to try and mingle with any of the invited guests, and it was hard to spot any of the of other members of the Winter Willow among them, so she tried to enjoy the music instead. Like literature, she was trying to develop a taste in other arts. A few days in the Golden Quarter taught hr that paintings were something that interested her. Music,however, was something that did not.

Maybe it was a lifetime of war drums and heralding horns. Maybe it was a childhood lived to the rhythm of the pickaxe, but where it moved everyone else—including Brin and Kaiel who had wandered from her side so they could dance—it did rather little for her.

“Drink, m’lady?”

She started at the voice and turned to see a man—a half elf from the look of his eyes and ears—standing beside her with a silver tray upon which sat a number of glass and crystal bottles. Hesitantly, she nodded. “Something not too strong.” As used as she was to the beer given to the slaves with her slop, she was worried about what would happen if she became truly drunk and she didn’t fully trust the vast array of methods to attaining drunkenness available to her.

The servant nodded. She noticed that he wore an emerald pin in the likeness of a hare on his breast. “I recommend the Sweetwater Spirits from Chordin then, m’lady.”

Taylin didn’t like the ‘m’lady’ one bit; it sounded too much like Ru’s ‘Miss Taylin’ to her ears, but she understood why he had to and that this man at least wasn’t a slave. “Yes, I’ll have that please.” It was Kaiel’s drink of choice and one of the rules for the path of the loreman was never to get so drunk that one lost control, so it must have been safe.

With a nod, the servant picked up one of the bottles; blown red glass with a paper label depicting a river at sunset. He muttered something and tipped the bottle over an empty part of the tray. Suddenly, Taylin had a theory about what the pin meant. As the clear liquid flowed, a perfectly clear glass cup formed around it, coming into being just fast enough to keep any of the drink from spilling.

When he’d pours a measure, he replaced the bottle on the tray and offered her the glass with a practiced and professional smile. “My conjurings only last about two hours, m’lady. Then the glass will be gone.” With that, he turned and found someone else to offer his wares to. Solgrum must have paid him well for him not to at least hint at her for a gratuity.

She sipped the wine experimentally. Sweetwater Spirits was an apt name; it tasted like honey without being cloying or sticky. It would have been impossible to tell that it had any alcohol at all if not for the smell that tingled in her nose.

It was a diplomat’s drink, meant for those who needed to keep a clear head at all times, especially in long meetings in hot climates. For reasons Taylin couldn’t fathom, simply drinking clean water was looked upon as low or childish.

In one of the open spaces informally designated for dancing, she caught a glimpse of Kaiel and Brin. Taylin couldn’t name the dance they were doing, or any dance for that matter, but as she watched, Brin rested her cheek against Kaiel’s extended upper arm and slowly drew away from him until her face ended up embarrassed by his hand.

Something like ice hit her stomach just watching that kind of soft and innocent touch. Bad memories of things seen through the slats of isolation pens and the shrieks of the unwilling as powerful magic was forced on them to turn them into something not themselves.

Taylin turned away. She couldn’t watch them anymore, not without being sick. And yet something wanted to watch; watch and empathize. As sick as the sight made her, she knew that what was done to the slaves on the ships wasn’t the norm. Something wanted to know what the norm was.

Chasing it away was a matter of draining the glass and motioning to another passing steward. This time she took Cylla wine from Rizen; the fermented juice of the wheyweed highly prized and highly priced for its flavor. Stronger than Sweetwater, she hoped it would be dulling and to an extend, it was.

She skulked the edge of the party, perusing the entertainment until she found a marionette play about how Nov I finally won Daire. There was a dragon in it, represented by two green fans attached to a glowing emerald that animated them to fly around at the direction of the puppeteers.

The show and the wine let her mind drift a while, but it also let that specter of thought creep up on her again. It was like when she found herself powered by internal rage in battle, only this wasn’t rage, but something like but different. It was warm instead of hot, yielding instead of steely, and instead of focusing her thoughts, it diffused them.

It made her miss Motsey and Rail; promising herself to by the toy version of the ‘dragon’ the entire puppet show was geared to selling. And it made her miss her talks with Brin and Kaiel, Raiteria and Signateria and her sparring with Issacor.

Part of her wished he’d taken her invitation, even if Brin was the one that bullied her into extending it.

The fragment of her mind that she dwelt on was making her even wish Ru had acted on his usual contrary inclinations and came in spite of not being invited. At least then she wouldn’t be navigating the place alone.

Minutes later, she wished she hadn’t thought that was a dagger of surprise and unmitigated violent intent stabbed into her mind from the link hard enough to make her drop her spellcrafted glass.

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 21 – Sparring SessionsRune Breaker: Chapter 23 – Old Soldier >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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