- Rune Breaker: Chapter 13 – Tales of the Rune Breaker
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 14 – Another’s Darkness
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 15 – The Tenth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 16 – Daire City
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 17 – The Flaw in the Myth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 18 – The Trinigon Arena
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 19 – Citadel
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 20 – Audience
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 21 – Sparring Sessions
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 22 – Grace From Outside
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 23 – Old Soldier
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 24 – Bones of the Earth
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 25 – Matasume the Wind
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 26 – Devices
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 27 – Ashes of The Dawn
Kaiel shouted a word in a pre-Vishnari dialect. It leapt from his throat as a cone of deep, drawn out noise that vibrated a pair of the skeletal warriors apart.
His throat was getting sore, his lips grew numb and his jaw was aching. He’d divested himself of all weapons in deference to Solgrum’s request; even his half-flute, in the name of being a good guest. Because of his attempts at being polite, he was left with using the raw Words and Song to defend himself and others.
That was a skill for fully vested loremen and took years of vocal training to be able to do without destroying their voice. The invasion of the Murderyard by the undead forced him to do far too much with too little skill and he was paying for it.
A cough interrupted his next draw of break and he couldn’t work up the saliva to balm his dry and burning throat. His side of the circle he, Taylin and Brin had opened up for themselves quickly began to collapse with five new stone skeletons lurching forward to fill the gap left by the last two.
Someone grabbed his shoulder and he nearly swung a fist at them before realizing it was Brin.
She was resplendent in a suit of mystic armor conjured with Reflair’s aid. It looked like a coat of scales forged entirely from glowing, white mist somehow forced into rigidity and altered into a full length gown. And as beautiful as it was, it as just as functional. Where she touched one of the skeletons, the suit banished the nekras animating it, causing it to topple apart as inert rock.
“Can’t.” Was the only word his managed to choke out.
Brin just nodded her understanding, then pulled him back behind her, between Taylin and herself.
Eloquence was the least of his problems, but it did rankle him that he wasn’t able to explain himself. Still, he took his moment of respite to heart and dropped down to one knee. Left with no foci and no voice, he fell back to basic rituals, drawing the pattern in the dirt with his finger.
Anyone who was taught anything about magic knew the basic patterns and how to activate them ‘manually’; that was, by drawing them physically and willing one’s personal energy into them. They were taught to anyone expected to survive away from a town or farming enclave more than a day, and in places with formal mundane education like Rizen, they were a universal early lesson.
Kaiel drew the pattern: an arc with the edge facing toward him, connected to two more, inward curving lines on either side, which met at the top, closing the shape. The most common pattern for akua, elemental water. Around it, he drew a circle with four short lines extending outward from it at equidistant points around the circumference: the manifestation pattern, crea.
As he had not time to add modifiers or an array to cause the spell to gather water from the environment, it depended on him to put his own, personal energies into it. Leaning forward over it, he hummed, a deep, rich mnemonic while cupping his hands over the pattern.
It didn’t take long. Akua Crea didn’t need much to work; just some concentration and power. The water manifested directly over the pattern as a rainstorm localized in a space only about a foot in diameter. Some of it collected in his cupped hands and he drank it slowly, careful not to gulp lest he irritate his throat.
Seconds later, the spell spent itself and faded.
Kaiel raised his head to see where he could do the most good. Brin was holding her own. The coat of light made her literally untouchable by such simple, constructed undead, so he checked on Taylin.
Her dress was ruined beyond repair, having been both torn by the weapons and claws of her foes, and covered in the dust of their crushed pseudo-bones. At first, he thought she was fighting barehanded, but closer inspection revealed that her hands had become covered over with thick, red scales and her nails had grown into blackened claws. She had worked out that the spell animating the creatures was seated in the spine, and was now striking at those exclusively.
He recalled the wounds received by the bandit king all those weeks ago. In the aftermath of the battle, he hadn’t had time to investigate. Was Taylin dragonsired? Why hadn’t see mentioned it before? And more importantly, how was it that she could hide her scales without magic?
Asking would have to wait. Without Kaiel forming another point of defense, the skeletons were closing in on the sides. He dashed out the pattern with his boot and stood to defend once more. Except he found himself not needing to.
Ru Brakar appeared in front of Taylin just as she felled another skeleton. His face was the image of rage and he floated high enough that he was glaring down at her like a stern proctor staring down a disruptive student. For a moment, even as a pair of skeletons clawed at his back and chopped at him with an ax, the two of them refused to look away, no doubt locked in a heated argument in the link.
Then, without preamble or diverting his gaze, Ru thrust his hands out to his sides and unleashed twin jets of fire into skeletons on either side. The heat didn’t extend beyond the flames themselves, but were hot enough to cause the rock bones to melt and run under its intensity. Molten rock pattered to the ground like searing rain where the monsters once walked. Here and there, the dry grass caught fire.
“Now, as ordered, I will transport you all to the caravan.” A seething spite in his voice still rang in their ears as his form dissolved into a cloud of black smoke that rolled over them all.
Kaiel pulled the edge of his cloak up to cover his nose and mouth and backed up into the center of the cloud with Brin and Taylin. “There are more efficient and less disgusting smelling ways to do this.”
“He’s upset that I ordered him away from a fight.” Taylin muttered. Her hands had returned to normal, though she continued to flex them anxiously.
“Against Immurai the Masked.” Ru’s voice came from all around. The smoke began to thin, allowing glimpses that confirmed that the chaos and horror of the now all too aptly named Murderyard was replaced by the wagons and stillness of the caravan. The nir-lumos camp looked all but abandoned; those who weren’t attending the ball were either in the city, out hunting (on Grandmother’s orders), or had gone to sleep early, secure in the protection camping close to the city’s walls as well as the wards against strangers that Grandmother and Signateria erected allowed.
“The same Immurai the Masked that marked the King of Steel and Flame?” Kaiel asked. Was he still hearing the battle going on in the Murderyard all the way on the other side of the city.
“Indeed.” Ru said spitefully.
“That can’t be a coincidence.” said Kaiel. “Nor can the whatever made Signateria signal me.”
The smoke dissipated to tendrils and Brin let out a choked gasp. Her eyes focused on the scene before her: Issacor pressing an attack on Layaka with powerful blows that would have dismembered the girl if she wasn’t dodging with fluid grace that was almost inhuman.
“Nothing that’s happened in this city has been a coincidence.” She said tightly, then called Reflair’s name. The spirit ceased its maintenance on the radiant armor and became gossamer tendrils that trailed from her ankles and wrists and neck like the finest of spellworked scarves that were the height of fashion in Mindeforme.
They granted her not only extra litheness, but speed as well. Before Issacor could swing more than a handful of times more, Brin imposed herself between him and her charge.
“What in the seven interlocking hells do you think you’re doing?!” She demanded. Without a weapon, she readied her fists, his armor be damned.
Issacor checked his next swing, startled by her sudden appearance, but as a trained warrior, he never took his eyes off the enemy. Stepping into Brin’s first swing, he bought his sword down behind her, flat against her back as gently, but as quickly as he could.
Three flechettes went clink as they were deflected by the blade. The noise didn’t go unnoticed by Brin, who span on a heel to see what just happened. It was easy to spot the three poison coated projectiles lying on the bare ground, weeping their deadly payload into the dirt.
Her eyes widened and she looked to Layaka with a mixture of shock and hurt. “’yaka?”
“Partha.” The cruel, sneering voice was almost unrecognizable as Layaka’s. “Trinion Partha. You don’t know the real me… but your friends do.”
“Odds, bods, hammer and tongs.” Ru exclaimed. “The old man; the village elder.”
“What exactly is going on here?” Kaiel wondered aloud.
Taylin ignored them both and threw herself into the air, winging toward Signateria’s wagon. Kaiel followed her gaze and spotted what she’d noticed before the rest: Issacor wasn’t the only person in the fight. Signateria was outside of her wagon, holding a shivering Motsey and an unconscious Rale close while she fought to save Gruwluff’s life from the poison.
“Signateria, what happened?” She asked breathlessly. “Are the children alright?”
The halfling woman bowed her head. “They’ll live; she was trying to take them, not kill them. The poison she used there was weak enough that Motsey’s fighting it.” Despite the fact that she was shaking with rage and working a spell on the strickened wolf, she took a moment to hug the boy.
Taylin wanted to hug him too, but there wasn’t time. “I’ll make sure this never happens again.” With that oath, she rose, pulling her wings in tightly to her back. Then she reached out to the ball of bitterness and malice that kept a permanent residence in a dark corner of her mind.
Ru, I need my sword.
Of course, he refused to make it easy. His thoughts swam in reproachfulness. Why not abandon the field for petty reasons instead?
It’s important now. Layaka is trying to take the children.
It was important then! Ru’s voice roared in the link. Just because you didn’t recognize that importance does not erase it from existence.
Taylin let him feel her anger and disgust at his behavior, but couldn’t hide her desperation to protect the children. Do not force me to order you again. Please!
Instead of replying, Ru vanished, teleporting away. The link told her that he was at her wagon. Her eyes fell to Issacor, single handedly deflecting Layaka’s attacks while ignoring the wounds on his back. Something stirred in her. Why couldn’t she be bound to someone like him instead of the selfish spawn that had just abandoned all of them out of spite?
Suddenly, Issacor wasn’t alone in their defense. Brin stepped in beside him She’d grabbed a goad normally used to urge the halflings’ draft animals on in bad weather for a weapon. It wasn’t the Barratta, but the telltale luminous mist from Reflair issued from it. Brin herself looked like Taylin had never seen her before; grim and on the edge of rage. The lie of Layaka had cut her deep.
“I need to fight too.” She muttered.
“Same, but without weapons, we’re both in a bad spot.” said Kaiel before he turned to Signateria. “Did you keep them near, like I told you?”
The halfling blinked in confusion before nodding, but she wasn’t about to take her hands off Gruwluff while her spell leeched the poison from him. “In my belt. Right side.”
Kaiel plucked a pair of brass handles, like those on a cabinet, from her belt pouch and walked to the wall of the wagon.
“What are those?” Taylin asked.
“You’ve never wondered where all those books I have stay when my wagon lacks space for more than a small shelf?” He was trying to be witty, but the half smile he gave her didn’t touch his eyes as he fitted the hinges into imaginary slots in the wagon. “I am one who seeks the truth larger than mere reality. In the name of knowledge, open these doors.” With that invocation, he pulled the handles in opposite directions…
And opened a hole in the side of the wagon. Dry, cool air wafted out into the night. Inside was a group of drawers; two as tall as Kaiel and narrow and five stacked up to the side to match that height. Each had a brass handle identical to the ones used to open that magically created space.
A snarl from Brin drew both Kaiel’s attention and Taylin’s. She’d grown tired of defense and charged Layaka, swinging the hook of the goad at her midsection. Layaka reacted by stepping into the blow, warding off the hook with a flechette in one hand while slashing at Brin’s arm with one in the other.
Brin checked her charge and knocked the slash away by swinging the butt of the goad around, then planted it in her former friend’s midsection, sending her crashing to the ground. Layaka instantly rolled and turned her fall into momentum for a sweep that took Brin down as well.
Face transformed into an impassive mask of concentration, Kaiel pulled open one of the stacked drawers, revealing it to be a long rack of scrolls in tubes. Without having to look, he grabbed the one he needed. The vellum unrolled smoothly in his hands, its surface covered with a complex web of overlapping circles and eldritch symbols; a spell diagram.
An incantation poured out of him as if he had no control over it, old words that made something in Taylin’s blood call out. Her arms started to itch as the scales started to show.
Ru’s sudden return to her side made her heart leap and it was only a supreme effort of fighting her reflexes that kept her from clawing his belly open. Something poked her in the ribs.
Just as the link told her, there stood Ru Brakar, and he was proffering not only the Western Brand, but a second sword, this one in a crudely made leather sheathe. He answered her confusion by simply thrusting both at her, hilt first.
Issacor had closed with Layaka now, preventing her from poisoning Brin while the spearwoman got to her feet. Layaka danced away from him and leered in a way that looked unnatural on her youthful face.
“Slowing down, swordsman? You’ve exerted yourself so much now that there’s no way a middling priestess like that halfling can save you.”
Bringing Faith-Be-Forgiven on guard, Issacor looked none the worse for wear save for the festering wound seen through the rent in his armor. “I don’t need her to.” His voice was steady and confident. “I’m held up by the power of a god.”
Somehow, his assertion, his confidence only made Taylin more frantic. Whatever power he was tapping to survive would eventually run out. The fight had to end so that she could get him to Grandmother, or one of the Dice Priests to draw out the poison before that happened.
No longer questioning where the second sword came from, she drew both. The new blade was straight and as wide as her palm, its metal black except for its double edges which held a silvery sheen. Instead of a point, the razor-shaped edge was lopped off at a blunted diagonal. The blue stone in its pommel flared to brilliance the second her hand closed around it, causing the link to thrum with shock and confusion from Ru.
“How did you do that?” He asked, more to himself than to her.
She ignored him, except to nod her thanks. Swords in hand, she folded her wings and rushed at Layaka.
Already dodging a swing from Issacor, Layaka bent with inhuman agility to curve her spine away from Taylin’s first attack as well, turned the dodge into a backward handspring, and landed a good three yards from them with a prideful smile on her face.
“I was waiting for you to get involved.”She mocked. “I wanted to thank both you and Brin for taking me to the baths so often this past week. It did an old man good to… soak.”
At that, Brin threw herself at Layaka with a wordless scream of rage. Her thrust went wide and a smirking Layaka once again stepped into it, trapping the goad under one arm while lashing out with a snap kick. Only Brin’s attack was more calculated than it appeared.
As Layaka bought her leg up, Brin hauled against her weight on the goad, snapping the wood so that she now had a jagged half spear with which to intercept. The force of the kick turned against Layaka as Brin used it to drive the broken shaft into her shin.
Layaka shrieked and fell, leaving Brin holding both halves of the goad ready to skewer her.