- 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
The great black dragon rose up and Matasume turned in air to face him. Motsey thrashed and squealed in her grasp, but her grip remained firm and her focus remained on Ru.
“Lord Immurai told me that you were predictable. Unoriginal. Clumsy. I had hoped that he was wrong. With Motsey secure in one arm, she snapped open a war fan with the other. When fully open, and up close, a pattern was revealed to be lightly etched on the thin metal stretched between the fan’s ribs: a complex array of vin and the more rarely seen ferif, the energy of elemental metal.
Like all Kaydan demons, Matasume had not only her personal well of power, but a connection to her master to tap, which she did. Silver threads, so thin that they were only visible when the firelight from the Murderyard struck them, emerged from the fan’s ribs and wafted on a breeze she controlled.
“Let’s see if he was also correct about your immortality.” She intoned before sweeping the fan down in Ru’s general direction. Borne on her fell wind, the strands extended and gained rigidity. Ru couldn’t see them to avoid them.
The first pierced his wing, slicing the membrane as cleanly as the finest blade and continued just as easily through blood vessels and muscle. Another slashed through his arm, nearly taking it off. More and more slashed him, and the more her tried to escape, the more impossibly thin strands he ended up flying into.
Soon he was bleeding all over, one eyes out, scales and flesh flayed. Only then did he finally give in to the pain and lose consciousness. The great black dragon, sluicing blood all across the Murderyard, began to plummet. As he did, his form began to change; shrinking and becoming more man shaped.
By the time he met the ground with bone-crunching impact, he was once more in the shape of Ru Brakar.
Immurai watched it all happen while seated serenely on the edge of the stone dedicated to Nov I’s defeat with a flute of sparkling wine in hand. He raised the glass in salute to Matasume. “My dear, I do so envy you sometimes.”
“How rude.” Immurai turned his masked visage toward the guard that was barging toward him. His eye slits were narrowed. “You do not address a guest as ‘you’.”
The guard lowered his spear threateningly. “You’re one of the ones that started it. I’m bringing you in for disturbance.”
Immurai laughed a short, dry and humorless laugh. “I don’t believe that I am your priority at this point.”
To his credit, the guard didn’t shy away. “Seven hells you’re not! Surrender, or I’ll spit your through and through.” His spear’s blade glinted in the light of surrounding fires as if to back up his claim.
One of the eye slits in the demon’s mask expanded in a strange parody of a raised eyebrow. “Or…” He snapped his long fingers and channeled the last bit of energy needed to kindle the array behind him. The air over the monument stone heated rapidly, throwing out a wall of searing wind from its center. A leg that ended in a sharp hoof emerged from a heat shimmer at that same center.
The rest of Bashurra the Crevasse followed shortly after. Over twenty feet in height, he made none of the overtures of civilization that Immurai or Matasume did. Where they dressed in finery, he wore the whole skin, head and all, of a massive reptile draped off one shoulder, brass fittings on his thick fingers that added jagged blades to his knuckles and nothing else.
His skin was red, his eyes pure white with no visible pupil. A massive rack of black antlers swept out from the head of a stag, but for the mouth, which couldn’t even fully close for the mismatched chaos of teeth within. In one barrel sized fist, he gripped an ancient, beaten bronze ax.
As the wave of heat dissipated, her rolled his neck, and stretched his musclebound arms. “Immurai.” His voice was loud and deep, lacking any hint of gravel or rasp. “The time has come for me to subdue the Rune Breaker?”
Immurai didn’t answer immediately, too concerned with watching the look of horror in the guard’s eyes as he stared up at the hulking demon. His gaze never left the man as he took one step back, then another, then broke and ran.
With casual cruelty, he raised one hand. “Icicle Lancet.” a puff of frosty air issued from his palm, preceding a two-foot long spear of ice, which leapt through the air almost faster than the eye could track toward the fleeing guard. It took him in the back, punching through his armor and exiting from his chest. The man tumbled to the ground in mid-stride silent from the shock.
“Not exactly.” said Immurai. “I have located what I want, but it remains untested. You will provide that test. Now listen closely…”
The link didn’t actually transmit Ru’s pain to Taylin, but she ground her teeth against the information it provided nonetheless. “We have to get to him. He’s hurt. Badly.”
Kaiel got to his feet with Signateria’s help. His legs were only partly healed and he winced when he put pressure on them. “He can’t just heal that? I saw him take similar wounds during the battle with the King of Flame and Steel.”
Taylin shook her head and made a sound of frustration. “Ru usually heals by shifting his injuries away, but he needs spells to heal damage from magic—only right now, he can’t think to cast.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Brin, looking between the two.
“Later.” Taylin said, more shortly than she would have normally. “We need to go right now. I can’t let anyone else die. Even if it’s him.”
“Peace, Taylin. We’ll get to him.” Still needing Signateria’s help, he hobbled to the still open portable library. “Just let me find a scroll of teleportation and a healing scroll. I don’t have enough left in me to do anything without assistance right now. Besides, if he is what he says, there’s no danger of him dying.”
Taylin bit her lip, and then inspiration hit her. “Just find the healing scroll.”
“I’ve nothing with that much range.”
But she wasn’t listening. Instead, she had her eyes closed and was concentrating on the link. Ru could teleport to her with a thought and zero casting time thanks to the vast and complex magic that bound them together. Since his end was the subservient end, then there had to be…
The hard, cold feeling in her head that was the link itself shifted. Success.
Ru appeared amid a puff of displaced air. A pool of his thick, dark blood cam with him such that he remained in a spreading pool of it on arrival.
“How did—“ Brin started, but Taylin waved her off.
Had he been a mortal man, the Rune Breaker would have been long dead. His right arm was flayed to the bone, as were his ribs and hip on the same side, his left was missing the last and ring fingers. His left cheek was open to the jawbone and where his missing eye should have been was merely a cascade of slow spilling blood.
Shockingly, he wasn’t even unconscious, only incoherent.
“C-cannot… find.” He muttered. “Must… f-follow. Retrieve.”
Before any of the companions could tend to him, he sat up. The blood moved with him in long, sticky strings that were now clearly moving back into him instead of out. “A-all c-c-costs.” He bowed forward and a hump began to form on his back. Beneath his robe and skin, it writhed as muscles and bones struggled to reconfigure, and before long, a pair of membranous wings began to unfold.
“The order must… must be c-carried out.” He went to stand, only to be pushed back down by Taylin. Though he struggled, his strength was nothing compared to hers even in ideal health. With one eye gone and one disturbingly blank, he nonetheless stared at her, face twisting with the pain. Even so, his voice was calm, without emotion: the link speaking through him. “Mu-st…”
Staring down at her, Taylin felt her stomach churn. She had seen the link force him to act, seen it punish him, but she was only just seeing the true extent of the horror of the thing: Though he was incoherent from pain, though his body was destroyed beyond function; it would not let him go. It drove him to carry out the mission given by his master until it was physically and metaphysically impossible and not a second sooner.
“No.” She said quickly, “No you don’t. Stop now. That’s an order.”
“C-conflict.” He said, now staring up into the stars. “Original t-takes…” A laborious breath racked him. “Priori-ty.”
Taylin sat back, confused, but didn’t have too long to ponder, as the moment she stopped holding him down, Ru began to rise anew. She lunged at him and bore him back to the ground again, restraining his arms and looking directly down at his face.
So recently his eyes had held little for anything but contempt, smugness and constrained rage. Now there was naught but emptiness in his one golden eye and it was more disconcerting than anything he had done intentionally. Taylin tried to look away, but when she did, her gaze landed on Issacor’s body and she found the sick feeling at her core threatening to overcome her.
“Someone do something!” She screamed at her companions. “I don’t know any magic and… and I can’t just hold him like this forever.”
“I’m searching. I used up most of my healing scrolls before I met the caravan. I was going to restock before we left.”
Brin crouched down on the other side of Ru. “Reflair can’t stop healing me halfway. But what’s he talking about? What order?”
Taylin tossed her head. “Later. Brin. “
“It’s just that it sounds familiar. ‘Original takes priority’ It’s like what one of a gazetteer tables at the historical societies displays if you make a mistake choosing which area you want a map of and try to put in a new one.”
An idea struck Taylin through the haze of near-panic that gripped her and the ever present pain signals the link blared into her head. Ru may be human, or something close, but the link was just a device, regardless of the fact that it was entirely metaphysical. Like the helms that controlled the ships she lived on the majority of her life. They all had specific rules, instructions and procedures they had to follow and didn’t do anything without reason.
“What did you do when that happened?”
“When what happened?” Brin asked, not expecting what she’ just said to be relevant.
“When the gazetteer table said that.” Taylin wondered what a gazetteer table even was, and resolved to find out when all this was over.
Brin blinked in confusion, but shrugged it off. “You just had to remember to erase the slate completely clear to make sure it rescinded the original coordinates.”
Taylin suddenly felt very foolish. Panic and distraction was no excuse. “That’s it! Thank you so much Brin!”
She left the other woman not time to reply before lifting Ru up by his shoulders and forcing herself to look him in the eye. “Ru, ignore my last orders.” There was no mistaking the motion in the link or Ru’s suddenly ceasing in his attempts to stand.
His pupil contracted as the link’s coercion ended, leaving only Ru in control. That baleful yellow stare tracked to something above and behind her and the timbre of his voice changed dramatically. “Gloryfall.”
In the link, a swirl of emotion swept over the pain in the link, resonating with that strange, buried part of her before suddenly being consumed in a flare of more characteristic anger. It only lasted a moment before the pain came surging back and he fell back, panting.
When she could think clearly again, Taylin was able to formulate a new understanding of the link. Before, when Ru said that he was able to do things under orders that he wouldn’t be able to otherwise, she hadn’t truly grasped what that meant.
But now she had seen both meanings. Her discomfort at the fluttersome part of her when he became a dragon the first time had prevented him from taking that shape again—until she ordered him to do whatever it took to get Motsey back. And then, even when a normal person would at the very least be unable to move, and Ru himself was unable to think, the link still spurred him not only to continue, but to change his shape.
“Ru,” It sickened her that it was getting so easy to issue orders to him, but letting him suffer was the greater cruelty. “I order you to heal yourself.”
Once more, the link shifted and Ru stirred under her.
In too much pain to form coherent thought, much less mentally recreate the necessary pattern, Ru lever himself up inch by senses-shattering inch until he could reach the ground with his flayed right hand. At first, he tried to draw out the pattern in the dust, but the hard packed grounds would have none of it, so he resorted to his own blood.
First came a sinuous line that curled over at the top and above it, a single dot: the symbol for vitae. This was enclosed in a circle with lines jutting out at right angles, forming vitae crea. But he wasn’t done. A larger circle was drawn with the vitae crea centered on the edge. In the center of the new circle, Ru drew a line and then a second, forming a sharp, downward facing angle. Above this, he placed another dot, forming the symbol dosim, which Taylin had heard him name, but never explain. Lastly came a series of markings she barely recognized as language, along the edge of the larger circle.
The process was long and clearly taxing, but he never slowed, never paused. Because the link wouldn’t allow it. Finally, with a sigh, he paid his palm atop it and with the aide of the link, willed the power to activate into it. Ghostly white light, much the same as what Reflair emitted when she chose to be visible, ignited beneath his bloodied hand.
Unlike Taylin, his reaction to the healing was subdued; a slow release of breath only, and the shrill of pain being reported to Taylin’s mind began ebb. That was the only proof that he was healed at all, save for most of his blood continuing its slow progression back into his veins.
But the exertion and prolonged pain had proven too much. Once the link relinquished control, Ru promptly fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Kneeling beside him, Brin looked up at Taylin sympathetically. “Oh my. Taylin, is he…”
The former slave shook her head. “Asleep. He’ll be fine now.”
“How do you know?” Brin looked between the two. “How do you always know things about him? And why were you giving him orders like that? What is he to you? What is he in general?”
Taylin sat back, no longer needing to restrain Ru. If she noticed the blood stains on her thoroughly ruined dress, she ignored them. Instead, she looked up at the sky. Through wispy clouds, the stars were out and so were all three moons, though Azelia was minutes from setting. “It’s a spell. I can’t explain the ‘how’ better than that. I don’t know any spellcraft and I didn’t create it. But whatever it is, it links us and forces hm to do as I say.”
“Then why does he act…” Brin paused to consider her words, considering the man was brutally injured and unconscious before her, “the way he does if you can just make him stop.?”
“Because it’s wrong.” Taylin said instantly and looked her friend in the eye. “Maybe you don’t understand, living in the time and place you do, but there’s nothing worse than being at the beck and call of someone else against your will. Doing that to someone; forcing someone to be like that is… if you lived it you would understand. If you care even a bit about me, you’ll never suggest I do that to him, no matter how terrible he can be.”
Brin looked to the ground, shamefaced. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know.
They feel silent, the only sound among them being the unhappy groans of Gruwluff as the wolf suffered through the residual muscle spasms left from the poison.
And then Signateria stood. While the others had been ground down by recent events, she was slowly improving as her body threw off the effects of her own poisoning. “Taylin?”
“Hmm?” The woman in question had been lost in thought.
“We need to rouse the clan. Kaiel still can’t walk, but you and I can. Grandmother needs to know what happened here…” She looked away, “to say nothing of Raiteria and Bromun.”