- 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
“Was she even a real person?” She demanded. Her hair had come unbound and fell wild around her head and in her eyes where it clung wetly to tears. “Or was she nothing but fiction? Tell me why! And be quick about it, because I swear on the name of the Goodly Morn that I will end you if you try and make sport of this again.” Her voice rung out into the night and suddenly became a scream.
Blood exploded from her right arm, mixed with torn flesh and the fabric of her dress. The sheer shock hitting her system made her topple to the ground, eyes wide.
In the light of halfling camp fires, something silver glittered and retreated into the sky.
“I cannot allow that.” The voice was feminine, filtered through a metallic buzz, and showed a hint of amusement in an otherwise passionless delivery. “Layaka, who was Partha may yet prove of use to us.”
Descending from on high was an abomination. Like Immurai, she dressed in rich, colorful robes; orange and blue and yellow, but they couldn’t hide that her skin was fired clay, cracking in places and flaking continually. Nor could it conceal that instead of legs, she had a thrashing flagella that flicked out from under the robes as she moved. Her eyes were black hollows and she had no mouth at all. Hair, long, white and thin, whipped around the crown of her head and in her clawed hands, she wielded war fans of corroded iron.
She lighted near Layaka and the downed Brin, hovering because her flagella wouldn’t allow her to land. Her hollow eyes fell on Taylin. The fan in her right hand snapped closed and she pointed with it. “Lord Immurai has sent me to deliver a message.”
Now do you see why you should have let me kill him? Ru demanded in Taylin’s mind.
For her part, Taylin stayed silent, trying to gauge this new enemy.
Throughout it all, Kaiel had been intoning the spell from the scroll. Finally, he finished, though aiming at a target other than the one he intended it for.
Vin the energy of air, gathered and warped around a framework of vox and ere-a, manifesting as a net of force that sprang from his outstretched palm.
“Ha!” The demon’s laugh was throaty and boisterous like a noblewoman’s. Casually, she flicked open the fan she’d been pointing with and waved it in the direction of the net, sending up a powerful gale of vin that tore the incoming spell apart. “Unwise, larval loreman. One does not use air magic against Matasume the Wind. There will be a penalty for arrogance.”
She waved both fans now and conjured a force that threw up a dust squall strong enough to nearly knock them off their feet. Suddenly she was among them. A crumbling elbow struck Taylin in the chest, a war fan raked open a new hole in Issacor’s breastplate, and somewhere in the chaos, silver strands glittered and Kaiel let out a agonized scream.
And as suddenly as it was summoned, the squall ended. The dust fell back to the ground as if the air could no longer support a single grain any longer. Kaiel was on the ground. Like Brin’s arm, his shins had both been flayed by an impossibly sharp edge. Matasume hovered above. Held tightly in one of her arms was Motsey.
“Do I have your complete attention now?” The demon asked smoothly.
Taylin gripped her swords so tightly, she might have broken them. The rage roared within, causing the world to gain sharper focus and the telltale itch of growing scales to run up and down her arms. “Let him go. Now.” There was zero uncertainty and no end to the lethality in her voice.
“My message.” Matasume said without concern. “Lord Immurai instructs that if you want the child returned hale and whole, you will bring the Soul Battery to the Isle of Nhan-Raduul on the night when all three moons are full. Fail and the child pays for it.”
Without waiting for a reply, she turned and flew with incredible speed back toward the Murderyard, which was now alight with flames. Little Motsey, rendered silent by fear and the drug previously, screamed.
Taylin flared her wings, but realized that she could never catch up. The sound of the child she’d come to love as her own family pricked her ears and her soul. Cold settled into the pit of her stomach and became a solid mass as she realized that no other options were left to her.
“Ru.” She said, trying to keep her breathing steady. She couldn’t feel guilty about this. Not if it was to save Motsey.
“Yes, Miss Taylin?” He was near at hand, the link humming with cruel anticipation.
“Go after them. Bring Motsey back safe no matter what. Do whatever is in your power to make sure of it.” Her voice was steel, but on the edge of breaking. “We’ll be right behind.” She added for her own benefit.
She didn’t have to say it was an order. The link knew, and she could feel parts and protocols falling into place along its length. More than an order, she realized. Her command had unlocked something. Something that made the dark pride and ferocity rise in Ru.
“At last.” Ru rumbled It seemed that ever bone in his body cracked and swelled at once. His back hunched and a pair of wings tore free, fingers twisted and sharpened into claws, bones reconfiguring and fusing as he rapidly grew to tower over and then dwarf her.
Deep inside Taylin, a part of her, the same part that envied Brin and Kaiel at the ball, strangely enough, found itself breathless as where once was a man, Ru Brakar, now stood an eighty foot long obsidian scaled dragon. He opened his great wings, easily hiding the sky, and raised his head, bristling with dozens of curved horns after the fleeing form of Matasume.
He roared a challenge and used a single beat of his wings, almost as powerful by itself as the demon’s summoned squall to get airborne. Taylin was rooted for the spot for a long moment, watching him go.
But then a clatter of armor snapped her back to reality; back to a place where most of her friends were direly wounded.
By the time she turned back to them, Issacor was on one knee, levering himself up by planting Faith-Be-Forgiven’s point in the ground. His breath was becoming ragged and his eyes were glassy.
Taylin was b his side instantly. “Issacor! Stay still. We need to…” She was at a loss. “Signateria! We need you over here!”
“Don’t bother.” said Issacor, straining to be loud enough for Signateria to get the hint.
“What do you mean ‘don’t bother’? You can still be… I don’t know. But magic can do it. If Signa can’t do it, we’ll get Grandmother. Just stop moving around, you’ll spread it in your blood.”
Issacor fought to keep his eyes open. “It’s already spread. My heart, my liver. I can feel it there. It’s been there since before you got here, Taylin. I was dead by the time you got here.”
“That’s fever talk.” Taylin rambled desperately. She moved to take the flechettes out of his wound, but stopped, wondering how close they same to his spine.
“Oor-oorze. The Seal of Purpose.” Mumbled Issacor
“Don’t talk.” Taylin begged, forcing the tears in her eyes not to come. “Don’t talk. Signa!”
“I unlocked it. Three of the virtues. It means something to my order. Need someone to tell them.”
“You can tell them yourself.” She said, but he ignored her.
“And bring Faith-Be-Forgiven back.”
“Stop!” She screamed at him. “Stop it right now. You’re not dying!”
Issacor shook his head and let himself slump forward. “The seal’s power is to let a disciple fight on even if he should be dead. The Mother of Blades herself takes the place of your blood and strength so that you can keep fighting for what matters. Most of us… only get to use it once.”
“No.” Taylin groaned. The pain only intensified as she realized that the others were probably in just as bad a shape. Brin. Kaiel. Motsey. Issacor Gone in a night. Everything that was bright and hopeful in her life torn away.
Issacor must have sensed it, because he opened her eyes fully to look her in the eye. “Don’t be sad for me. I made Her proud here. I’ll be able to enter her house in the afterworld and study at her feet. Just promise me that you’ll get the boy back.”
She had already promised herself that, but she nodded and then bowed her head.
He smiled. “Thank you. Now please. Go. The others need you and… I don’t want you to see the end of me.” Gently, he lowered himself to the ground, laying on his stomach to avoid the blades in his back.
In deference to his wishes, she closed her eyes and tried not to hear that all too familiar death rattle. She’d heard it hundreds of times on the battlefield and in the ships’ holds to mistake it. Suddenly, something warm wrapped around her.
Startled too thoroughly even to react violently, Taylin looked up to find that it was Brin’s good arm, embracing her. The other was ensconced in a tight band of rolling mist that didn’t hide the savagery of the injury. Tears flowed openly from the other woman’s eyes as she looked down at Issacor
“I’m sorry.” she murmured. And then, with guilt clear on her face, she added. “Layaka’s gone. Escaped in the dust storm.”
Taylin’s hands clenched into fists. That traitor, that monster was still at large too. But she knew it meant something even more to Brin, who had become something of an older sister to Layaka before the terrible truth came out. Contact still made her cringe, but she would accept it to comfort her friend after that. And so she put her arm around the other woman in turn.
“Kaiel?” She asked, hopeful that Brin wasn’t the only survivor.
“In incredible pain.” the chronicler’s voice was pinched by the pain as Signateria worked to heal it. Having been poisoned and revived plus the stress of the moment was slowing the halfling down.
But if he was being witty, he would be alright. Everyone was alright except… For the first time, she let herself look at him and felt sick. Why him? She felt hollow and cheated that he was taken, more than any of the many other deaths she’d witnessed affected her.
“I need to go. She finally said. “I told Ru–”
The pain hit her hard and fast, blinding torment that surged through her like a thunderbolt. Only the pain wasn’t hers. And on the other side of the city, a black dragon fell from the sky.