Rune Breaker: Chapter 24 – Bones of the Earth

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series Lighter Days, Darker Nights (Rune Breaker, #2)

Ru felt it was he entered the Murderyard. He didn’t need Kaiel’s histories or the name to tell him that many men lost their lives there or that Daire City had been defended largely by spallcrafters specializing in the power of the earth. The energies of dark anima, and of earth magic filled the space even three decades after the last battle of the Age of Tragedies.

Someone had smoothed the plain out in later years to make the military grounds, but with Ru’s keen sense for magic, he could tell that the place had been a living hell of traps that opened chasms, raised stone spikes, and erected walls to separate and stagger enemies. The power of the earth ad stone, ere-a had been tapped and used so often that it was now naturally dominant on the plane.

If there was any truth to modern religion, most of those men’s souls had begun their return to the Well of Souls. But the nekras, or dark anima generated from the deaths of so many still hung like a thick cloak that only he could see.

Someone was taking advantage of both of those. Ru could feel patterns and circles drawn in the dirt, just beneath the surface. Gathering ere-a and nekras, pushing them into arrays and delaying them. But delaying them for what? It was a strange combination: an animating force and power typically used to move existing rock and stone? It intrigued him.

Accepting a drink from a passing servant, he continued on. The bulk of the manipulations were identical stone and dark anima constructions; delayed arrays of unknown purpose. But there was another composed largely of vox—void energy—in patterns of attraction and more complex ones that were typically meant to form sympathetic connections between objects.

It was constructed, as the others, just beneath the ground, but this one was centered below a massive stone slab more than fifteen feet across and inscribed with a dedication to the Great Green Sage, Kalueth-Nor. The massively powerful dragon was, according to the slab, one of the architects of the Twelve Nations Accords that ended the Age of Tragedies.

Daire City paid special homage to her as she had personally arrived to turn a siege laid upon the city by Nov into a peace treaty, saving hundreds from slow starvation. It was an interesting turn of fate for a city in East Novrom, which during the Age of Tragedies was known for atrocities committed against the dragonsired tribes, possibly even some that were distantly related to Kalueth.

Ru’s trained eye saw the spell for what it was immediately.

“I suspected that you were the ‘great power’ Immurai thinks he’s on the path to reclaim.”

The dark mage whipped around with speed that belied the elderly guise he was in, prepared to take a far deadlier form. Instead of danger, his eyes fell on a clearly emaciated man, shirtless and showing pallid skin with the ribs showing through, with simple, homespun pants tied with a rope which also held a gourd fastened by a leather thong.

A wide, conical straw hat like those worn by workers in Rizen and southwestern Novrom was pulled down over the man’s eyes. Beneath it, a narrow nose and square jaw with several days’ growth of dark beard were visible, as was a mane of unwashed, brown hair that hung to below his shoulders.

He didn’t react to Ru’s sudden motion or defensive posture, only reached down to free the gourd and take a drink from it.

Ru’s nostrils twitched. Lamp oil. A fairly expensive type, probably stolen nearby from whoever was responsible for keeping the decorative lights that weren’t being maintained by magic burning. “Zect.” He said, shifting his weight back to the stooped position proper for an old man.

“You were expecting Immurai.” said Zect of the Drinking Gourd, refastening his namesake hollowed fruit to his hip. It wasn’t a question. “He is here, but distracted. You’ve had experience with that beast; you know how nothing can be done to further a single goal when he can further several plots at once.”

Ru agreed, but didn’t stow it. “That doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

Zect smirked. “Immurai asked me to come. He believes that because I work against the Threefold Moon that he and I share aims; that I would support his bid against our creator purely because of that.”

“I wondered before how you even survive.” said Ru. “Immurai as well; unless your god is such a fool that he accepts that so many of his demons seek to subvert him.” Even as he spoke, he looked about across the Murderyard, seeking Immurai.

He muffled the link to keep Taylin from interfering. Now he had confirmation that it was Immurai’s work that he was sensing. It was rare that he got a chance to get revenge on a person before time and age stole the honor from him. Luckily, the demons of Kayda were long lived and his hatred for Immurai was once that burned brighter than all but one other he carried over so many long years.

Zect remained unnaturally still, not even drawing breath except to speak with. “Sometimes I think he stays his hand against me out of sentimentality; I’m one of the eldest mostly only improved, not transformed. More practically, I’m not much of a threat to him, created before he had any skill at creation. And pragmatically? He knows I find demons like Immurai more of a danger in the short term than him; that I will do his will for him anyway in subverting Immurai.”

“You’ll have to do nothing but direct me to him.” Ru growled low n his throat.

The rebellious demon exhaled forcefully. “I wanted to speak with you before you found him. So we could coordinate.”

“I don’t need to coordinate.” Ru was barely able to keep the link muffled against his rising bile and anticipation. “Lest you forget, I am the one called the Rune Breaker, the greatest weapon the world has known and I am Ru Brakar, the Shapeshifting Master; I’ve lived millennia and used that time to learn the mystic arts for longer than even your jealous, mewling cur of a god.”

That didn’t serve to convince Zect in the least. “And where have you been in the past five centuries, Rune Breaker? Since the day you caused Immurai the Gaunt to lose favor and become Immurai the Masked? Have you improved in that time? Because Immurai has.”

He took a step closer to Ru. As the dark mage wasn’t hovering at the moment, Zect was able to stand a head taller and look down on him. “Not only is he more skilled and more experienced, but look up.” Ru did so and shifted his eyes to filter out the glare of the thousands of light sources on the Murderyard. There was a shadow moving between him and the stars, flitting about too quickly for him to get a good look.

“Her name,” explained Zect, “Is Matasume the Wind. Immurai oversaw her priesthood, created her as a demon personally with theory stolen from houses of science all over Novrom and the magic the loremen think they’ve cloistered in Chordin. She is a new kind of demon; something even you’ve never seen before. And she is loyal to him, not the threefold Moon.”

“If she comes between me and Immurai’s destruction, then she will die as well.” At that moment, Ru’s senses detected spellcraft at work. There was spellcraft going on continually around him; performers, wealthy patrons with talent trying to impress or manipulate their fellows, even the servants providing refreshments; but he pushed all that away to find one specifically. Someone was moving ere-a and nekras.

Without another word to Zect, he moved in that direction.

“I won’t help you fail.” Zect warned.

Ru snorted at the comment. As if he could fail against Immurai. The only reason the demon yet lived was because, with his master at the time dead, Ru had been forced to flee before the link sealed him on the spot, leaving him vulnerable to be forced to make the pact with whoever Immurai brought to make it on his behalf. As a demon and therefore no longer technically mortal, Immurai couldn’t take the link up himself.

As he walked, he let slip his disguise, reverting to his ‘true’ form, the one Taylin had become aware of when she inadvertently touched his mind. He wasn’t sure how much of his history she knew, but he didn’t like her knowing any. And it worried him that the link had done that; it never had before.

But now wasn’t the time for that. He pushed past Solgrum’s guests and their retinues, ignoring their complaints and scathing remarks. Once more, he was clothed in the black robe he favored and extending his hand, he called the spellworked scythe into it. This bought rippled of panic in those he passed and alerted guards patrolling the crowd. Two armored men with spears began moving toward him, hampered by the shifting groups of party goers.

Ru found his quarry easily; a tall, middle aged man standing by a banquet table with a crystal goblet in hand. His hair was black, but starting to be flecked with gray and his mustaches, which curled all the way down to his chest, were already fully do. The robes were the same though; rich colorful and ostentatious. There was a bit of cleverness to the fact that tonight, they were primarily orange after Solgrum’s colors.

There was a pattern forming beneath him, hidden a few inches beneath the earth even though he wasn’t moving at all. As a demon and powerful spellcrafter, he didn’t need to move to do that, and probably wouldn’t have needed a physical pattern for even that complex of a spell if he were casting it directly instead of delaying it.

Ru announce himself by gathering vox and forming it into a disruptive pattern that swiftly ruined the emerging pattern his prey was creating. Even as the man raised his head, he repeated the spell, this time aiming for the glamor hiding his true nature. It looked to those around them as if the moustachioed man’s skin began to burn away, leaving the golden sheened mask and leather skin behind.

Immurai the Masked stared at Ru, the slits in his mask narrowing slightly. “The Rune Breaker? Interesting. Things begin to make more sense.”

“I told you centuries ago, Immurai: I am long lived and I often had nothing to do for decades but hate and plot. Your great misfortune is to have lived to see me come again. I swear by this reaping blade that I will take your mask as a trophy.”

He didn’t give any warning of the strike; he simply teleported and swung, hoping to easily harvest the demon’s head with the unnaturally sharp scythe. But Immurai wasn’t there and instead, he cleaved the air. There was no time to correct before a powerful blow struck him across the shoulders, throwing him down onto the banquet table, which broke on impact.

“Ru.” Immurai’s voice was, as always low and calm. “Let us be honest: I did you a favor. After that, I must assume no master ever seemed quite as harrowing an experience.”

Coming up with another swipe of his slash, Ru saw what Immurai did this time; working ere-a and vin, the energy of elemental air, to temporarily discorporate into smoke before reassembling himself elsewhere. The genius of the method wasn’t lost to Ru: there were risks involved with taking oneself apart like that, but it was a method of rapid, short range travel that couldn’t be blocked by the usual countermeasures against teleportation.

Even as he followed the spell, he kept his mind on Immurai and brought the haft of the scythe up to catch the demon’s clawed hand aimed at his face.

Before Immurai could react to that, Ru transformed into an ogre and struck him hard enough to toss him into the air to crash into one of the approaching guards. The appearance of the ogre set the surrounding crowd off, sending them screaming away in all directions.

Immurai rolled to his feet and took the time to straighten up. “Overt. Imprecise. Ineffective. There is a reason the Rune Breaker is known only as a weapon-you need an intelligent hand to wield you.”

Ru responded by dismissing the scythe and becoming a great, black wolf that charged the demon with a menacing snarl. Immurai met his attack head on, catching his slavering jaws with his bare hands. Almost anticipating the move, Ru became an ogre again, the jaws replaced by thick fingered hands that more than eclipsed the demons. With a savage howl, he lifted Immurai and slammed him into the ground, ignoring a guard that drove a spear into his ribs.

“I don’t need precision or skill to deal with a worm like you, Immurai.” He brought a massive fist down on the demon. “For a wretched creature like you, I won’t even sully spellcraft.” He drove his fist down again, only to find his arm pierced by three stone spikes the burst from the ground at Immurai’s behest. A bellow of pain ripped from his throat as he pulled his damaged arm away, snapping the spikes off in the process.

Immurai calmly got to his feet amid the crumbling stones. “This is what I mean. And really, is vengeance worth the pain? Was the experience I caused even so terrible? I did my research in my years seeking the Rune Breaker. There was that one master of yours… Arethlana, yes? Near the end of her tenure as your master, she made you pose as the lover she murdered. Tell me—did she also make you pose as him in the bedchamber?”

Now there was too much rage to hide from the link. Ru no longer cared if Taylin felt it or not. The ogre body dissolved into a pillar of black smoke. “Mind games, Immurai? Even after nearly half a millennium? Do you think that my anger makes me somehow less focused? Do you think it will force me to make a mistake?”

Obfuscated by the smoke, Ru drew out the patterns in air. It was a complex and powerful spell, the most complex and destructive spell in the realm of elemental magic, using the energies off all elements: the Chaos Lance.

“Indeed.” said Immurai cockily. Like Ru, he ignored the fact that two guards with spears and one minotaur with a heavy ax had arrived to quell the disturbance and were swiftly moving to flank. “My great strength is psychology. Unlike the other demons, I learned from the bards and loremen instead of just despising them for their pathetic attempts to elevate the sad mortal races. Tell me: are you angry, Ru?”

“Indeed.” Ru mocked Immurai’s tone. “But the very first time I lost my temper, a city burned so quickly and so hotly that I used the bedrock beneath it to construct a palace in obsidian. Is there a psychology in that? Then perhaps others can learn from this: feel my rage!”

The smoke collapsed down into the form of Ru Brakar just as he finished his array. Pent of energy of earth, air, water, fire, metal and void collided mixed, recombined, and became something else entirely. It manifested as an earthbound comet the color of which was a white beyond any found in nature; the absolute and perfect reflection of all color.

As it moved forward, tendrils of the light peels off like mist, dragging the ground. Where it touched, the hark packed dirt was transmuted into dull, red flame, which for lack of anything to consume, soon died away.

Immurai sidestepped a guard rushing him from behind, grabbing the man’s spear and using it to pull the man into the path of the Chaos Lance. The man screamed as the brilliant white light overtook him and burned itself out transmuting him. His boiled leather armor became glass, the spear’s haft, solid silver, and the tip flashed into a puff of colorless gas. As for the man, he became pure, clear water, which maintained his shape for a fraction of a second before splashing to the ground, his armor shattering.

“A devastating attack, Ru.” said Immurai, tracking the dissatisfaction on Ru’s face. “But the fatal flaw of such spells is that it takes a great deal of energy to do, well, that to a sapient being. I suppose a truly powerful spellcrafter would be able to hit me through that man, but it seems that the power of the Rune Breaker isn’t as worthy of legend as I remember. I’m disappointed in myself for seeking it out if this is true and almost feel pity for whoever your current master is.”

“My master has nothing to do with this.” Ru called fire into his hands to ward away the increasing number of Solgrum’s guards that were making their way to the point of disturbance despite the horrific demise of one of their fellows.

Ru! Taylin’s voice shouted in his head. What’s wrong?

Nothing. He replied, once more damping the link as much as he could.

The distraction was minor, he’d been living with the link and being relayed commands and information through it for centuries. But in the fraction of a moment that his focus on Immurai, the demon had closed with him. An over-large, flat palm struck him in the chest, augmented by a spell to multiply the force of the blow. Ru’s ribs all along his right side shattered and he was sent tumbling in the dirt.

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 23 – Old SoldierRune Breaker: Chapter 25 – Matasume the Wind >>

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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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