Rune Breaker: Chapter 29 – The House

This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3)
Three days out from Daire found them beyond the hills that surrounded the city and on the grasslands to the south. There, the sun blazed down on endless, gentle slopes of grass, kept short by the herds of wild horses, antelope, and thick necked aurochs that roamed freely.
Where the army had passed, the grass was trampled and churned into the dirt, revealing the bones and gristle of herd animals taken by soldiers to supplement their rations. These were being picked over by sun scarabs; beetles the size of house cats with blue and gold carapaces, who were in turn made prey by koshi orms; winged serpents whose verdant scales glittered in the sun.
The scarabs were harmless, but koshi orms that felt threatened by larger creatures employed a poisonous bite, so Kaiel steered the party slightly westward and out of the direct path left behind by the army. Once or twice, they caught sight of a small pride of spotted lions waiting out the heat of day beneath the rare tree growing out in the open, or mated pairs of moas; distant cousins of ornis birds like Miser, ahunt on the edges of herds.
When they weren’t eating or sleeping, Taylin stayed in the air, as high as she dared and riding lazy thermals to keep up with them with minimal effort. Her increasing silence over the past few days hadn’t escaped Kaiel’s notice, but every time he tried to talk to her, she said that she was still thinking and most of the time, he couldn’t even try that much, as she kept to the air.
The only person who could fly to reach her, had fallen similarly quiet, but for easier to deduce reasons.
Ru floated along behind them, legs crossed, robes dragging the grass. The artifact held his complete attention. The day Issacor was laid to rest, Ru told Kaiel that he’d made a breakthrough, and over the past days, he’d grown increasingly excited and bizarre; muttering nonsense phrases at the bauble, shaking it, and at one point, pouring the blood from a rabbit Miser had caught onto it. Such bouts of irrationality were short lived and usually followed by longer periods of sulking.
Kaiel found both their behavior increasingly concerning, but there was nothing he could do about it while they were on the move. Instead, he tried to fulfill his promise to Rai and do his best to keep work to keep the rest of the groups’ spirits up.
Brin had asked earlier what life at the College was like, and so he bulk of the morning was given to his more entertaining anecdotes from his earlier years.
“…so I come to Sovemeya’s office and she tells me to sit down. The entire time, she’s looking at me over those thick spectacles as if she were looking at a clown who was seconds away from bursting into antics and shenanigans.”
Rai, riding in a makeshift howda constructed from their supplies secured to Gaddigan’s back, snickered at the imagery.
“She takes a second, composes herself and says ‘Arunsteadeles, I have reviewed your first offering for publication’. I have no idea why she’s looking at me like that, so I ask her if I was going to fail the first segment of her class. She just lets out this long, drawn out sigh and says, “I cannot mark it a failure, as it is acceptable. You have a proficient grasp of language, your style is nascent, but within the requirements, and the story is reasonable for publication.
“At this point, I’m very confused, so I ask her what’s wrong with what I wrote. Sovemeya looks me right in the eye, and no one stares you down like a native Chordini; they have more types of glare than words for ‘love’. So she’s staring me down and she says, “The problem is that your main character is named after yourself, easily wields powers not even known to the greatest wizards of the Age, and the love interest is clearly meant to be me.”
Rai laughed raucously and almost slipped from her perch in the process. “You didn’t!”
Kaiel suppressed a grin. “Actually I didn’t; The love interest was meant to be Cellion Zhai, this gorgeous half-elf that sat across from me in Sovemeya’s class. But I thought maybe I was only passing because she was flattered and kept my mouth shut. To this day, whenever I’m in the Court of Written Arts, she gives me odd looks.”
Again, Rai was in stitches, but Kaiel’s own mirth was tempered when he noticed the Brin wasn’t joining in. He looked to see that she was still atop Miser, riding at his right hand, but her attention was the landscape around them.
“Something on your mind, Brin?” He asked, voice still jovial from his story.
At the sound of his voice, her head whipped around, sending her golden mane spilling messily all about her face and over her pointed ears. Once more, tiny suspicions planted by Ru forced Kaiel to take note of the little differences between herself and the elves he knew back in home, or in Chordin. Complete nonsense, but damn the dark mage all the same for putting it in his head.
“Sorry” Brin said, more gently than she normally spoke, as if some of her inner strength had been sapped. “But I just realized what track the army is taking. If we keep following it, we’ll be passing Idarian Homestead before nightfall.”
Behind Kaiel, Rai’s laughter subsided at that. The halfling woman gave the elf a sympathetic look. “Where Layaka was from.”
“Where she said she was from.” Brin said with deep bitterness. “I don’t even know if Layaka was ever a real person.”
Kaiel gazed ahead of them. The tail end of the army was cresting the next hill and there was nothing of the Homestead or whatever farmland it once controlled yet. “Did you perform any of your docent duties over the dead there? Check for lingering spirits? Because if they died b violence…”
“There wasn’t time. Lay… Partha made it sound like I easily won the day against those spirit beasts—or demons, I suppose—but that’s not true. I killed more than my share only because I merged with Reflair, and when I couldn’t hold the merger anymore, we had to run.”
Kaiel ducked his head. Now he understood why she took such care and measures when sealing and cleansing Issacor’s grave.
He opened his mouth to express his sympathy, but Rai beat him to it.
“The demons should all be dead or gone now though.” the halfling pointed out. “You could do… whatever you’re meant to do there now.”
Brin’s face brightened, but she shook her head. “I couldn’t waste your time. Not with what’s at stake, especially for you.”
Rai. scratched her neck and looked down. She worked hard to maintain the light attitude of her kind, but confronted with the threat to her son directly, she had to fight for it. “We’ll be passing it at nightfall, you said.” She finally spoke, eyes still low. “We can’t move at night anyway. You can perform your exorcism then.”
Graciously not attempting to correct the idea that docent performed exorcisms like priests and druids, Brin murmured her thanks.
Again, Kaiel was about to plunge into another attempt to make the two women feel better when he was interrupted by a string of profanity so old that he only identified it as such by simmering anger in the speaker’s voice.
“What is it now?” The chronicler tossed over his shoulder without even bothering to look at Ru.
Ru rumbled a growl low in his throat as he flew closer to the others, still in his cross-legged posture. He clapped the book on his lap shut and waved the artifact in the air as if to shake the secrets from it. “This thrice cursed device! I have toiled for days to divine its mysteries, and divine, I have. But now, on the cusp of success, I find that whoever created it—may his corpse fester in the bellies of a thousand diseased rats—tied its function to a command word.”
Giving Brin an apologetic look for her crisis being interrupted, Kaiel turned to diffuse things as quickly as possible so they could get back to discussing the Homestead. “Is that she has you hissing and growling so? Many spellworks require command words. They’re rarely difficult to bypass.”
The dark mage gave him an icy glare. “Do you believe that I, with my skill in the art, would be perturbed by something so simple? Basic command words are just trigger phrases. You can easily fool one of those. This… the word is used as a word of power to complete the primary array the make the device function. I would be impressed at the intricacy and creativity if I weren’t imagining the spellcrafter responsible being drawn and quartered.”
Kaiel rolled his eyes and shrugged. “It’s still just a pass phrase.” He regarded the draconic character painted on the artifact a moment, then said, “Why don’t you try ‘home’?”
“’Home’?” Ru made a sour face at him and looked almost triumphant when nothing happened. “That would be dangerously stupid.”
“Not ‘home’, it’s written in graphur.” said Kaiel, “Try the draconic word for home ura-la.”
Ru looked at the device warily, weighing the reward of finally activating the artifact against the disdainful idea of Kaiel being right about something. At length, curiosity won out and he raised the device. “Ura-la.”
The uneven disk of stone warmed in his hand and the yellow paint that formed the graphur character became golden. There was no other outward indication that it was now in an active state, but Ru’s senses felt the surge of vox that was being marshaled as the array, long dormant, engaged.
Satisfaction curled his lip as he thrust the device before him. The air rippled from it like the surface of a pond, but those ripples didn’t go very far before rebounding from unseen edges, their passage and return outlining a rectangle in the air, five feet wide and eight feet high.
The ripples continued to move back and forth in the air from the other side, but on Ru’s side, they slowly ebbed, giving way to a door of stained wood, carved with patterns of vines leaves that nearly concealed dragonflies, birds and small bats behind them.
Seeing only that something had come of Ru’s attempts at activating the device, Kaiel wheeled his horse around, intent on putting a stop to any ill deeds the Rune Breaker might have planned with it. Brin wasn’t far behind, though she had to catch Gaddigan’s reigns to bring him around, as Rai knew nothing of guiding a horse.
They rode around to Ru’s side and found themselves facing an open door and no Ru. The space beyond was cast in shadows, illuminated only by a sickly white light that bobbed and weaved somewhere within.
“Blood be stilled.” Kaiel muttered, dismounting.
“What is that?” Rai hopped nimbly down from Gaddigan’s back. She hadn’t taken the time to pull out her rifle, but she did have a pair of kukri drawn. “Has he finally turned on us? Or did he get himself killed?”
Kaiel shook his head that he didn’t know and crept cautiously toward the hole in the air created by the open door. He forced himself to breath more deeply and more evenly, preparing to make use of Word and Song if things went wrong. Steady, careful fingers reached down to check to make sure his rifle was still at his side on its strap.
There was a resounding thud behind them and he turned, raising his weapon to confront whatever it was. Rai and Brin had evidently been similarly spooked, as both of Rai’s kukris and the Barratta had both been brought to bear on the figure that landed behind them.
To their relief, it was Taylin.
Kaiel breathed a sigh of relief and admonished himself. He should have known her arrival by sound alone: he bet nothing landed the way Taylin did. Birds and bats and orms did their best to soften their landings, fluttering to the ground and touching down lightly. Hailene landed the same way, and unlike many animals, it was almost impossible for them to land without a very audible fluttering.
Taylin on the other hand, dropped like a stone the last teen feet or so, and landed solidly, often having to put on hand down to keep balanced. Such an act would break a normal hailene’s ankles, but Taylin was never hurt. He suspected her of being dragonsired from what he’d seen the day after they first met, but she never talked about it, and from experience, most dragonsired wanted to talk on nothing more than their parentage.
But as recent as a generation ago, dragonsired were hunted as a menace. Being from a much earlier period in history, he could lay most of it at the feet of prudence on her part. He would have to talk with her about that—provided she wouldn’t avoid that as she avoided the subject of Issacor, or explaining the nature of her relationship with Ru to Brin.
She had landed in a crouch with both hands on the ground and her wings flared out for stability, and now she was straightening herself back to standing. At no point did her eyes meet those of the others. “Is everyone alright? I saw that you stopped, and the…” She tried to come up with a word for it and failed, finally just nodding toward the door.
“The house, Miss Taylin.” Everyone looked to find at the door, a sphere of light hovering just over his shoulder and the artifact in hand. “It is like the chronicler’s portable library, only more advanced by far: a spellcrafted domicile that exists outside of normal space.”
Kaiel finally lowered his rifle and looked to Ru in exasperation. “That’s what you were so excited about and desperate to see in action?”
Beside him, Brin planted the butt of the Barratta and leaned on it. “Most wizards of middling power can create something like that. They use them instead of tents.”
Ru sneered at them. “Children playing with sticks and calling them swords. I’ve seen N-spaces before and this is to them what a clock made of ice is to a casting of akua crea.” He gestured sharply for them to come and disappeared back into the doorway.
“Do you think it’s safe?” Brin asked Kaiel while keeping her eye on the entrance as if she expected something nasty to come back through.
The chronicler wished he could say no, but there was curiosity in the eyes, behind the natural wariness, and he was glad to see her pain delayed. “He couldn’t have altered it, I’ve been keeping an eye on him. And it takes weeks to collapse one of these, so he can’t trap us there. Let’s have a look.”
With that, he hummed deep and a ball of multi-hued lights sprang into being before him. He held out a hand to her. “Shall we?”
She smiled, but it was a small smile of mischief. “Reflair. Illumination, if you would.” She called and the ghostly mist began to rise from her reliquary and up to the head of the spear. The metal let out a barely discernible, high pitched tone and began to emit bright, steady, blue-white light. Leading with the glowing weapon, she nodded to Kaiel and proceeded with him through the door.
In the space of one stride, they went from the full sun of the plans to the comparative darkness of the house. The air was still and cool, but not stuffy, as it should have been after being unused for decades.
The entrance too a sharp turn to the right a few paces inside, presumably the break line of sight or attacks directed into the door. From there, it opened up into a room with a floor of highly polished wood. There was a huge, stone hearth along one wall with a mantle above which was mounted a bronze shield with a scene of a man with an ax and shield being attacked from all side by giants painted on it.
There were two chairs, sturdy, wooden and un-upholstered arrayed in front of the hearth with a long, low table between them and together, those three accounted for all of the furnishings, save a bear skin hung in an arch between that room and the one beyond, apparently the only other room there.
“Better than having to sit in the damp around a campfire. Still, not as cozy and livable as a wagon.” Raiteria commented as she entered behind Kaiel and Brin. She was followed not long after by Taylin.
Taylin folded her wings close and looked around with wide, curious eyes that were mostly focused on the hearth.. “It’s wonderful though.”
“It’s pathetic.” said Ru, peeking past the bear skin.
Rai scowled. “You were just falling all over yourself about how great it was.”
“Heh.” Ru straightened up and turned toward her, gesturing with the device that created the door. “The spellworking and the mechanism are things of glory and I said as much. What you don’t understand is what we’re looking at: this tiny device allows its holder to shape the way in which the house manifests. With skill, one is limited only by their imagination.”
He made a disgusted noise and gestured ’round. “And this is the limit of the imagination of the last owner. They didn’t even take advantage of the convenience spells in the array Such a waste is an insult to spellcrafters everywhere. It will take a considerable amount of time to make this place into a proper dwelling.”
“At least you’ll be kept busy when we stop for the night.” said Kaiel.
“Tonight.” Ru snorted derisively. “If I start now, I can have something liveable in place by then, that I will not suffer the indignity of sleeping in the out of doors again.”
Kaiel looked around, considering. “My portable library can’t be moved while it’s open. Can this place?”
“Of course not.” said the mage, moving to sit on the floor in front of the hearth, “The door must stay in place to keep the connection open and the connection can’t be broken while the control device is inside.” He waved the disk for emphasis.
“Then you can’t work on it today.” Kaiel concluded.
A dangerous snarl came from Ru. “What?”
“We’re following the army for a reason, remember? To minimize or exposure to spirit beasts. If they get too far ahead…”
“You only want to make haste for her sake.” Ru thrust a finger in Brin’s direction as he rose from where he’d just sat. His hateful yellow eyes turned on the elf. “And why is it that you want to return to the charnel house in the first place?”
Brin’s face became stony, severe. “It is the duty of a docent to protect the spirits of the dead in any way we can. I wasn’t able to cleanse the area or seal it against nekras before, but I can now.”
Ru and Brin stared each other down a long moment before Ru hissed at her. “That’s not it. It’s the girl. You want to find her. Or what’s left.” Brin started to protest, but Ru pressed, “You’re a fool if I’m right. Assuming Partha stole her guise, you still know nothing of her and owe her less than that. She was dead before you set foot at Idarian!”
E-jah!” Brin spat a foreign curse and suddenly the glowing blade of the Barratta was pressed against the mage’s chest. Her breath came shallow and fast as she fought to contain herself. Kaiel stepped up and put a hand on her arm to stay her hand if she decided to thrust.
Ru bred his teeth and pressed forward, causing the blade to start to pierce the dark cloth of his robe and the flesh behind it. Raising a hand, he made the robe’s sleeve unravel to the elbow. Do it!” He barked. “Do it and by these scars, I will show you the pain of retribution.”
A strong hand closed on that arm and Taylin pulled him bodily away from Brin and off her spear.
“Ru.” She said flatly and he was overcome with the buzz of emotions in her head. For the first time in days, she wasn’t blocking off the link and now he was subject to the flood of concern, guilt and irritation boiling inside her. “Stop.”
Rumbling with his own irritation, Ru snatched his arm back, allowing the robe to reform over his exposed arm. “Yes, Miss Taylin.” He said bitterly.
Taylin paid him no heed, stepping smoothly between him and Brin. “I’m so sorry, Brin. About all of this. If not for us, Partha never would have put you through this, or the people of Idarian Homestead. The absolute least we can do is to make sure you’re able to return, for you, for them, and, if she was real, for Layaka.”
The blade of the Barratta lowered as tension seeped out of the elf. “It’s not your fault Taylin. It’s the monsters that caused this.” Her eyes were pointedly fixed over Taylin’s shoulder at Ru.
Ru returned the look with slightly less malice than before. “If there is one thing we can agree on, it is that the creature behind this must meet his demise. He has much to answer for, and I swear before all of you that by the time this ends, I will make a trophy of his mask.”
“Only if you find him before me.” Rai intoned from her place, sitting in one of the chairs.
Taylin fidgeted her wings before nodding. “We can all agree on that. But we have to get there first. Kaiel, why don’t you, Brin and Rai continue on ahead.”
“Ahead? Taylin, we really shouldn’t separate.”
She turned to look over her shoulder at Ru. “I think we need to. If we don’t there’ll be more arguments and fights and they’re a bigger danger to us than separating. Besides, Ru and I can fly; we can catch up before nightfall without slowing you down any and Brin can perform her rituals in peace.”
Ru met her gaze with defiance, which he also forced into the link. “And I can do something of actual worth instead of merely pushing forward.” He completely ignored the weary sigh from Taylin.
Gripping her spear in both hands, Brin scowled. “Taylin, I’m not happy with leaving you alone with him.”
“Heh.” Ru showed his teeth again.
Taylin’s feathers ruffled further. “He can do nothing to be besides drive me insane with his behavior.” She winced at a sharp feeling in the link, which Ru quashed immediately. She shook her head and continued, “Believe me, there’s nothing he can do to harm me.”
Brin looked unconvinced, but nodded her ascent. “I trust you to take care of yourself then.”
“Believe us, he won’t survive long afterward if you couldn’t.” Added Rai warningly.
Kaiel considered reassuring them, but there wasn’t much he could say without giving away to Brin the nature of the link, which Taylin still hadn’t revealed to her. Instead, he too nodded. “Very well. We’ll move on to Idarian Homestead. You should be able to see it from the air. Find a way to signal us if you need us.”
“I assure you that we won’t.” said Ru.
“We will if we do, but I don’t think we will.” Taylin said graciously. “Stay safe.”
“You as well.” Kaiel replied as he and the other two took their leave.
The moment they were out the door, Ru settled himself back down on the floor with the control device in hand. “Finally. Worthless distractions and foolishness—how does anything get done in this world with so many variations on ‘obstructionist’ and ‘useless’?”
Taylin took a seat in one of the chairs with a groan. “Leave them along, Ru. There’s no reason for you to be as pointlessly cruel as you’ve been.”
He turned his back on her and directed his attention to the wall on either side of the fireplace. Depressions began to form, in which think spikes of stone, scribed with symbols of power sprouted. “Then you think she’ll find anything at all worthwhile in that place?”
“It doesn’t matter if she does or not.” said Taylin as she shifted to try and make her self comfortable with the high backed chair restraining her wings. “I don’t even understand what she thinks she needs to do there, but I’m hoping it makes her feel better. So stop making her feel worse.”
The depressions gained a mirror-like surface as the spikes began emitting clear, white light. The room brightened by a good measure. Ru kept a heavy hand clamping the link down and simply intoned, “Yes, Miss Taylin.”
Recognizing that trying to find comfort in the chair was a loosing effort, she got up and sat on the table instead, flaring her wings. “I’m serious, Ru. You can’t treat the others like that. Like you said, we all have a goal in common and we can’t lose anymore friends.”
You can’t lose anymore friends.” Ru corrected. “I neither have nor need friendship. After what I felt that night when you were forced to order me to heal myself, I no longer have illusions that you are attempting to manipulate me, so I shall cease my attempts to force you to give orders, but you must be made to understand that I am a tool, not a companion.”
A wave of guilt hit him so hard that his attempt at creating more light sconces in the wall ended deforming a long, jagged line above the door. He turned to look at her confused. “What…”
“I’m sorry for that, Ru. I didn’t want to leave you in pain… and I didn’t think of the consequences.”
He swiftly turned away again. “What is it now?”
Taylin’s wings pulled in tight around her. “I didn’t notice it until you were taunting Brin. I remember you say that you gained them for power and now… I made you heal your scarifications away, didn’t I?”
Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 28 – MemorialRune Breaker: Chapter 30 – Prices For Power >>

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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