- Rune Breaker: Chapter 1 – The Bargain is Struck
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 2 – The Clever Girl
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 3 – A Paradise in the Future
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 4 – Clan of the Winter Willow
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 5 – Spell-worked Water, Alchemical Food
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 6 – Waste Not Want Not
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 7 – Battlelines
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 8 – Filling the Gap
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 9 – The King of Flame and Steel
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 10 – Recovery
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 11 – Sisters, Brothers
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 12 – Her Most Beauteous Wings
“She loves flying.” said a voice to whom Taylin had never been able to put a face to. She was dreaming. Dreaming a dream she’d had many times before. It was always the same; a garden, blue skies, glass between the two, as clear as air.
The earthy smell of the place was so real, so familiar, as was the voice. It never spoke to her, but to someone else she couldn’t see.
“And smart too. She can already read and write, and she’s coming right along with sums.”
Fine brickwork made up the walkways between rows of carefully arranged growing plants. Some of those bore fruit; oranges and gathering melons that were so sticky sweet. She picked one and tore into it, not minding the green juice that ran down her chin.
“She isn’t just special in the way I intended. She’s become my very clever girl.”
Then the voice was lost in a roar. The wind over an aerial troop ship at cruising speed. Chains bound her arms and there was stone pressing against her chest and stomach.
“Do your duty, Captain.” said a new voice. A cruel voice, one that hated her as much as the other one loved her. “This one doesn’t need wings. Especially not such ugly ones.” Then there was white-hot pain. And always the wind.
Taylin awakened wracked with a terrible coughing fit that tore at her throat and sent her body into spasm. Unable to stop it, she rolled onto her belly and coughed up the dust from the stale, reeking air she’d taken into her lungs earlier.
But the wind she’d heard was real. A powerful wind had appeared in the room, not just the movement of air, but the movement of fresh air with the humidity and life needed by a living body. With it came a mild, yellow light, brighter than the magical torches, but far less harsh.
After minutes of hyperventilating and ridding herself of dead air, Taylin cautiously settled onto her side and looked to see where the light came from.
Fifty feet above her head, where the curve of the dome was well shrouded in darkness, there was a gap as large as her head in the air, bounded by arcs of white lightening. Through that gap, she saw not the stone ceiling, but an azure sky and white, wisps of clouds.
“What…” She wheezed and coughed again.
“Short range teleportaton, Ms. Taylin.” Ru’s rough voice said from somewhere to her right. “Held at the very moment wherein that space is in two locations at once.”
Taylin had not idea what that actually meant, but the moment she sighted him, sitting cross-legged directly beneath the hole in the air, only one thing was important. She scrambled to her feet and dropped her hand to her sword. “You tried…” She had to pause for breath, “To kill me.”
A sour feeling came into the link, yet another of his emotions she couldn’t identify. “I did not.”
She gripped the hilt of her only weapon and slipped into a stance that would maximize the effect of drawing and striking in the same motion. “Then why did I wake up choking?”
“Why am I rectifying that issue?” Ru replied, but they both knew the answer to that; he had to. After a moment of silence, he exhaled sharply. “I attempted to work your will, to allow you to sleep for one thousand years. But an outside force intervened.”
There was no need for Taylin to voice the myriad questions that provoked, he picked them up directly from her mind.
“It is possible.” He explained. “With my power, I could sustain you, at the cost of a substantial drain upon myself. I placed you into a dreamless slumber and created the necessary spell structures to sustain your life… but as I said, an outside agency, a power even beyond my own lashed out at the world. I was forced to split my focus to prevent this chamber from collapsing beneath the onslaught…” The sensation of his hurt pride came through the link, “I succeeded, but was knocked unconscious in the effort.”
Slowly, Taylin digested this information. A glance above revealed that some places in the ceiling were now worn and crushed to mirror-smoothness. Those patches glittered like jewels in the chaotic light of the portal Ru continued to maintain.
“That doesn’t explain why the air was so dead when I woke up.” She finally said, still unwilling to let go of her mistrust.
“Because that is what happens to the atmosphere in a sealed room over centuries with no one to maintain it, Ms. Taylin.”
His words struck like a bolt of lightening. Centuries? That had to be a lie. The link didn’t prevent that. But what did he stand to gain by it? Did that really matter? There was no way she’d been asleep for a thousand years.
Again, he skimmed the question directly from her mind. “You are correct, Ms. Taylin. Between the power I expended preventing the chamber’s collapse, and being incapacitated to the point that I couldn’t regenerate that power, I would not have survived sustaining you for ten centuries.”
Taylin would have relaxed a bit, if not for the fact that he was still talking.
“When I regained my senses, I ended the spell on you… at which point, you struck me.” There was no recrimination or hurt at that, just informing her what happened. She could tell he didn’t give a damn one way or the other, but for some reason, that made her feel worse.
And in spite of it all, she sensed an unmistakable ring of truth from him. Whether it was from the link, or her own instincts, she didn’t know. She released her sword and heaved a sigh. “I thought you were attacking me. From now on, please—and this is a request, not an order—make sure I know what you’re doing before you do something like that.” No apologies. She felt guilty for the link and bad to punching him, but he should have known better in the second case.
“I will make the effort, Ms. Taylin.” Ru said, sitting up in a smooth, swift manner that no normal man could match.
She nodded. “Good. And don’t… assume I’m giving you orders. I don’t want to and I’d rather you stop trying to make me do it.”
He stood, brushing himself off dramatically. For whatever reason, he did everything with at least a dose of overwrought. “You could order me to stop.” He pointed out, smugness and dark humor emanating from him. Then he turned his attention to the door. It was nearly surrounded by the glassy stone that resulted from his battle of raw power against the unknown power.
“However, the cave you followed to this place was collapsed and fused. Unless your training or abilities include burrowing through eight hundred feet of solid stone, you will require my abilities.”
A huff of unhappy air erupted form Taylin and she bared her teeth at him in a way that made it clear that she wasn’t smiling. “Stop. Just stop. This spell, it connects us, I understand that. But it doesn’t force me to treat you like a slave, so I refuse to. Does it prevent you from helping me out of charity and camaraderie without an order?”
Ru grimaced at her continued insistence at this argument. “Do you have a camaraderie with your sword?” Does the sword bound out on its own volition to strike your foes because it cares about you and wants to help? No, it cleaves because you wield it.”
Taylin sent him a lance of her own annoyance and folded her arms and looked around the chamber, her eyes finally falling on the portal high above. “Ru?”
“Yes, Ms. Taylin?”
“Where does the other side of that portal lead?”
“It opens at ground level directly above the chamber; the shortest distance to fresh air I could locate.” He replied, looking up at it as well.
“And what happens if a person touches those edges?”
“The distortion would sunder their flesh where it touched the boundaries, tearing it apart on a basic level, such that there would not even be blood remaining.”
She chewed her lip as she came to a difficult decision. “That would be rather harmful to them.” Before Ru could decipher that remark, she was off, dashing atop the nearest rubble left over from Ru’s awakening. It only offered her a few feet of elevation, but every little bit helped, even with her phenomenal strength.
Two steps and a leap propelled her upward toward the scintillating gap in the air.
Panic exploded in the back of her head and suddenly, the gap enlarged enough for her to pass cleanly through it. Her gambit had been absolutely correct. Tingling raced across her skin as the windy cold of the chamber was replaced by calm and warmth.
A moment later, she landed face down on a slight, grassy slope, surrounded by trees. Salt air teased her nose and a warm breeze lapped at her face. It was something our of a dream, or a memory; simply lying out in the grass beneath the sun. There was no sun in the mines, and no grass on the ships, and yet… there was a fond memory of both together…
From behind her came a sharp buzzing; a thousand angry hornet trapped in a metal pail. It became higher pitched and more cacophonous until finally terminating in a muffled thunderclap. The portal closing perhaps? Ru was a tiny cyclone of anger and embarrassment that the link unerringly informed her was eight hundred feet directly below her.
A short fit of laughter overtook her as she got up on her knees into a sitting position. It wasn’t a noise she was used to making, but it felt good. Slowly, she became aware of the world around her.
The mental blip that was Ru suddenly jumped eight hundred feet to be behind her with no accompanying sound or other sensation. “Ordering me to help is immoral, and yet manipulating and exploiting the link in other ways are not.” He said in complete deadpan.
Taylin wasn’t listening. She was looking down the slope, to where it became sand before it disappeared into the bay. That bay, which hadn’t been there when the hounds chased her into the cave.
Very vividly, she remembered how the airships had docked along the face of a line of steep, ocean-side cliffs to send hunting and foraging parties out into the local marshes. She’d seen her chance and instigated the round of discipline that ultimately freed her. The flight that ended at the cave had gone on for five miles.
Five miles that were no longer there.
“Ru…” She said tentatively.
She didn’t need to say more. “The force that struck me while you slept was more than powerful enough to be responsible for this. As I said, it was vastly more powerful than even myself. We were fortunate to be on the edge of the burst. Had it been more direct, even I may not have survived.”
For a time, Taylin marveled at the might it must have taken to carve the bay from those high cliffs. But then something tickled at her logic. “Why didn’t it kill all the trees? And the grass? Everything’s so alive here, as if nothing’s happened at all.”
“I imagine that it did kill everything, Ms. Taylin.” Ru observed. “But life is resilient and there has been ample time for it to recover.”
Taylin turned to look at him so quickly that it made her neck ache to do it. “Ample time? Ru, I thought you said you weren’t able to keep me asleep that long.”
“Indeed.” he nodded. “The attack that did this occurred less than a month after I put you to sleep and the moment I regained my senses, I was forced to release you from that state.”
“A month isn’t long enough for these trees grow back.” She pointed out, then in a flash of realization added, “Or for air to go dead like that. Or even for the hound corpses to dry out like they did.”
“You are correct, Ms. Taylin.” The emotions in the link suddenly became evasive in response to her own mounting anxiety. When he realized she could sense this, it dulled entirely.
“Ru.” She said forcefully. “How long has it been?”
“From the condition of the sleep spell, I would estimate three hundred and eighty-two years.”
Aside from the crash of waves and the calls of seabirds, silence followed. It seemed that despite previous evidence, Ru had either the sense, or the compassion not to comment on the swirl of thoughts that filled her head. And there were a great many thoughts, more than she expected to have on the subject.
Every cruel master, every traitorous or uncaring shipmate, possibly even every cold, uncomfortable ship she had known were gone. The war too, was probably a memory only the chroniclers could tell. No more soldiers, no more orders, no more punishment. She might have been panicking and voicing a fantasy when she asked for it, but she was free.
Far more free than she had been when her only plan was to hide in a cave until the ships gave up searching for her and left. In fact, her escape was more complete than any in history. An unbridgeable gulf of time separated her from anyone who wished her harm.
Again, she was laughing and she jumped to her feet, enjoying even the breeze through her ruined clothes. “Ru, do you know what you’ve done?” Before she could stop herself, she grabbed him out of the air and pulled him into a tight hug, causing a kaleidoscope of surprise, confusion and other, minor emotions to riot across the link.
He didn’t return the embrace. Didn’t even move except to speak. “I can assume that it was pleasing to you, Ms. Taylin.”
Taylin released him and took a few steps back. She hadn’t meant to do that anyway. “Yes, Ru. I didn’t really mean to ask for this, but it’s exactly what I wanted to happen.” Turning back toward the beach, she took in a deep breath. “Maybe I can really have a life here, huh? Maybe they don’t even know what a slave or ang’hailene is!”
Still brimming with new vigor, she ran down the hill and onto the beach. The sand was unforgiving of her stiff soled boots and so she got only two steps out onto the sand before stumbling. Skidding to avoid a fall, she turned and looked back up to the hill.
Ru was silhouetted against the blue sky between two trees, floating just above the hill’s peak. She asked him through the link if he was going to join her on the sand. He replied that he didn’t see the point. It wasn’t worth fighting over, so she unbuckled her boots and partook of the simple pleasure of sitting on the beach, gripping the sand with her toes.
“Remember that house I was talking about?” She called up to him. It was better than using the link; she was rather getting to enjoy the sound and feel of her own voice. Ru preferred the opposite and acknowledged her mentally. “I think I could just built it here. Right on the beach. I know how to fish, what fruit and things you can eat. That’s from the foraging parties. So I could probably be just fine here. Of course, I’ve got to take what you want into consideration, though.”
Taylin glanced up at him. He looked as stoic as ever, but he had sounded as if the world wasn’t making sense any more in her head. It was as if he’d never encountered basic decency before. Even she’d witnessed the good in people, and she spent her life as a slave.
“Of course you.” She replied with a forced laugh. It wasn’t funny or amusing, but Ru needed it made clear to him that she thought the idea of treating as anything less than a fellow demi-human was laughable. “As long as you can’t go more than a mile from me, it’s my responsibility to make certain that you’re comfortable with that mile.”
Turning fully around, she offered him a friendly smile, which she tried to compound by directing the same feeling through the link. It had the effect of making him flinch.
“So… would you want to build your own little house on the beach?”
Ru surveyed the natural wonders around him and held each in turn with disdain. He was used to stone and cobble. Dust, even was preferable to grass and weeds. His wandering eyes roamed the landscape from something more palatable and found it in the distance.
If required to make a choice in the vicinity, I would prefer the village, Ms. Taylin.
Village? Taylin shaded her eyes against the afternoon sun and scanned the bay’s coastline, from where it raced away from her to the west, meeting the mouth of a river as it arced gracefully north to the top half of the crescent, which even to her sight was just a thick, brown line on the horizon. There were no villages there. Not even boats.