Rune Breaker: Chapter 30 – Prices For Power

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3)
The reaction in the link was instantaneous. The barriers Ru used to shut her off from his emotions came crashing down like blocks of immovable stone. At the same time, the man himself floated backward away from Taylin as if repulsed but an unseen force.
She had expected this, even hoped for it on some level. Even though she had done what she had for the right reasons, there was still a penance to be paid. Let him be as angry at her now as she had been with him so often and just as justly, she thought.
Except there was no accusation in those yellow eyes, but shock, as if she has just walked in and seen him unclothed.
“How.” His voice was back to the reptilian rattle he affected before life and Daire relaxed him.
Taylin shifted uncomfortably on her perch on the table. “I saw them. When you had that… night terror and I saw your memories, remember? I’m not sure what exactly I saw, but I saw you being scarred on purpose—lines and arcs all over your body. And there were tattoos also. And… and that drink.” Timidly, she touched her own belly. “It… burned. Nothing’s ever burned me.”
“And none of my previous masters have been so utterly unguarded mentally that they slipped through the link and into my head.” Ru complained bitterly. He turned toward the hearth and threw his power viciously into the spellcraft arrays there. It enlarged dramatically, becoming large enough that he might have cast himself into it if he felt the need. A working of flaer kindled a roaring blaze whose ignition blew his robes around him in the first blast of hot air.
“I don’t know how I did that, but it did stop.” Taylin unconsciously turned her face into the heat suddenly flowing past Ru. The hot, dense air hit her lungs and she felt relaxed and invigorated, as if she hadn’t properly breathed in a very long time.
Ru continued manipulating the hearth, raising patterns in the stone surrounding it; trees with bark like scales twisted up with leafy vines concealing the spying eyes of animals that hadn’t lived for millennia. The image formed from his memories, a facsimile of another he knew well.
“I put a stop to it.” He said at length. “But I knew that. What I don’t know is how you knew. You know nothing of magic, and I conceal my markings as a reflex. There is no way for you to know such things and yet…” His eyes flashed dangerously and he span, turning toward the door. “Arunsteadeles.” He growled.
Taylin didn’t move to stop him. “No Ru. You told me yourself.”
The dark mage halted in air and drifted closer to her, curiosity rivaling incredulity in his expression. “Odds, bods, hammer and tongs—what are you talking about?”
Sitting still as stone on the table, Taylin locked eyes with him. Her gaze was a match for his in all respects, especially as, for just a moment, he thought he saw her pupil reshape into a vertical slit before reverting to normal.
“Right here.” She said calmly and firmly, a woman now accustomed to dealing with a volatile subject, “In this house. In this room. You threatened Brin and you swore ‘on your scars’. You even exposed your arms to show them to her—but they weren’t there. You forgot.”
Ru’s slow drift toward her stopped cold as a long groan escaped him. Taylin pressed on.
“You’ve never done that before. Not with me, or Kaiel, or even against the bandits. Normally, you don’t threaten, you promise and then act on it. And I know it wasn’t in respect to me, because you don’t, so why Brin? What made you act like that toward her, especially knowing how emotional she still is over Layaka?”
Baring his teeth, Ru looked around impatiently for something else to work his power on and settled on repairing the area he damaged when struck by Talyin’s earlier guilt. “I did it because I want to know what she’s hiding. I wanted her to feel threatened and lash out with whatever she’s hiding in self defense. I will not brook another ‘Layaka’ fouling my vengeance on Immurai.”
Taylin stopped shifting about on the table and stared at him. It was her turn to be incredulous. “You suspect Brin of betraying us? How can you even think that?”
“Who brought Partha into our midst?” Ru asked, “Who has worked hard to ingratiate herself with us and now wishes to lead us off our set path to some remote enclave-turned-boneyard?”
He stopped working his spells and focused on Taylin again. “I told Arunsteadeles before that there is a magic about her that I cannot identify. And as a master in spellcraft, I do not trust any magic I cannot discern. By my blood, she will bring us to ruin if you and he continue to indulge her.”
Taylin exhaled slowly and leaned forward, elbows on her knees, head in her hands. “And what did you learn from what you did to her?”
Ru huffed in disgust. “Nothing. But that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong, only that she saw through my gambit. I usually have no need for these subtle tricks, after all.”
“Leave her alone, Ru.” Taylin’s head was down, but she was looking up at him with the fierceness of a lioness guarding her cubs.
“You can’t be serious. After what I just told you? Of the magic that surrounds her?”
“Leave. Her. Alone.” Taylin said, slow and dangerous. “You may be a powerful mage, but you don’t understand Kaiel’s magic either. As far as I can tell, Brin’s is closer to his than yours, so there’s an extremely good chance that you’re just sensing something you can’t understand.”
Ru drew himself up and stared right back at her. “And when she puts that spear in your back? When she ruins my chance to kill Immurai the Masked? What then will you say?”
Slowly, stretching each muscle involved in turn, Taylin stood. Though he hovered above the floor, above the floor, she still towered over him, and when she stretched her wings out to their fullness, she well and truly dwarfed hm. “As I have always said, and as you have to know by now thanks to the link, I will never try to be your ‘master’.”
Normally when she said the word, it was filled with disgust and shame, but this time, it was as adamant as all the words that came with it.
“And I will not give you orders that the link will force upon you. But I will not let you hurt my friends. Not physically, not emotionally. Brin saved Layaka, cared for her like a sister. I believe her because maybe I’ve stayed away from everyone since Daire, but I’ve seen how badly her betrayal hurt her.
“You don’t care, but the rest of us do. It doesn’t matter if she was all a lie or not, Layaka was a real person to us and Partha destroyed her. And then Issacor…” Her jaw set and her wings snapped in close around her. It took a long moment to steady herself. “I’m not going to lose someone else because you have no faith in people.”
Ru let go of the blocks on the link to let her feel his annoyance and frustration and anger at the whole thing. Snarling at the whole thing, he reached out to an array in a nearby wall and unleashed a torrent of vin and ere-a into it. The stone there disintegrated into an arch and continued to transmute into dust in the space beyond. Within seconds, a new room was created there; a blank box of stone walls.
With a belligerent glance in Taylin’s direction, he headed toward it. “And I will not lose my chance to ensure Immurai dies screaming because you’re foolish enough to put your trust in them.”
“It isn’t foolish.”
“Of course it is.” He threw up his arms as he entered the new room and the floor became polished, black marble. “Perhaps she isn’t in league with the Threefold Moon, but like all people, she has an agenda to carry out. Bonds of friendship or love are just manipulations to get you to aid in that agenda.”
Taylin followed him and stood blocking the arch. “’Like all people’? That’s demonstrably mad. Kaiel and Raiteria—“
“Arunsteadeles is here for the stories and experience he needs to become a loreman. Raiteria is here because the Immurai took her only son. I am here because I owe Immurai agonies unkind.” At the mention of that, the link boiled with naked vengeance and half formed memories that made Taylin dizzy.
Ru held out a hand, palm up, clenched it closed and pulled it toward him. One wall, its array charged with ere-a erupted forth with a stone counter that jutted out into the room, stopping just short of clipping him.
“These are agendas I trust, because our goal is the same. But I don’t know Brin’s; she could turn on us and ruin this venture in an instant.” He placed both hands down flat on the top of counter and exhaled slowly, willing small teases of ere-a and ferif into the surface. He was no longer using the native arrays in the house, but his own transmutations to put his memory into the stone.
Fractal lines of silver shot through the gray stone, which became smooth by the same manipulations. In his time, it as called thunderstruck marble, though the base stone wasn’t actual marble at all. Those without magic thought it occurred naturally, those with it made a livable profit ‘importing’ it.
“She won’t ruin anything.” Taylin said vehemently, though she couldn’t restrain her curiosity enough to keep her from watching the entire process that was creating a room before her eyes with a sense of wonder. “Brin is my friend, and Kaiel’s and Rai’s. We wouldn’t abandon her and she wouldn’t abandon us.”
“And you’ll go on believing that until it happens.” Ru said coolly. The link betrayed the bitterness behind those words.
Taylin’s expression softened when she felt it and she came to stand opposite him across the counter. “Ru… you can’t think of people like that. Her dying doesn’t mean that she abandoned you, and it doesn’t mean…” She trailed off because she was struck full on by a wave of confusion.
Ru paused in his work on the counter top and looked up at her. “Who is this ‘her’ you’re talking about?”
Blinking in her confusion, she looked back at him with the same expression. “The… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t bring up things I saw when I… saw your memories, but I this is important. I don’t think Gloryfall would want you feeling this way because of her death.”
A harsh snort was Ru’s reply and he went back to work, leaving unreadable emotions swirling in the link.
Not understanding that reaction, or the emotions, Taylin drew her wings even closer and cocked her head. “What was that about?”
Ru didn’t look up this time. His fingers traced out some silver patterns of his own design and his eyes tracked them carefully. He dampened his end of the link, but didn’t lock it off completely. “Miss Taylin, if you have had a vision of Gloryfall’s demise, you did not pull it from my head. She passed while I was sealed, likely very old and very powerful.”
Frustration, as usual ruled the link, but a slightly different flavor than before. It was joined by bitterness, malice, and a feeling Taylin had only just felt herself in the past few days, one she couldn’t put a name to. But she hardly noticed for her own thoughts.
“But I was there. The bed. The blood. I felt how much that hurt, Ru.” Just the memory of it made her stomach knot.
Now the link closed off entirely again and Ru moved from in front of her to whee the counter sprouted from the wall, still refusing to look at her. “It wasn’t…” He pressed a hand firmly down on the counter and once more tapped into the arrays. A section of the counter sank into the surface, leaving an oval indentation in the surface.
“…Gloryfall.” He finally finished. “You are remembering the death of Gand.”
Taylin followed him, though she still kept the counter between them. She wasn’t worried that he might hurt her, but they both seemed to feel less tense with space between them. “Gand? The man who saved you?”
“The man who saved me many times.” Ru’s voice lost its gravely edge, but remained low as he extruded an elegant, curved spike carefully from the wall to extend over the indentation and began pressing spellworking patterns around its circumference. “The man who raised me, taught my the channel my gifts into more than sparks—into true spellworking. All of us.”
He stopped what he was doing. “He had sixty-eight students there in the end. The Reaping Brotherhood, bound by oaths to Gand to sow the seeds of good will between we who innately controlled magic and the mundane folk, and reap a bright future for all beings.”
Taylin stared at him, silent. Never would she have believed that the man before her had ever stood for making anyone’s future ‘bright’. The idea of the Rune Breaker tasked with spreading good will felt laughable. Gand sounded like someone Issacor or herself might ally themselves with, not Ru.
Something must have drawn Ru’s attention in the link because he shot her an odd look before returning his gaze to his paused act of creation.
Instead of commenting on whatever he sensed, he spoke on. “He lived exactly as he told us to and spent the day before his death among the people, converting every iota of his power into vitae to heal their children, treat their wounded, and ease the suffering of those beyond the reach of magic while the priests of Vitalius let them rot.
“And that’s exactly why he had nothing left to place a warding, not even an alarm around his bedchamber. Why, when two of the townsfolk who he wished so much to coexist with put a dagger in his throat and another in his heart, he couldn’t heal it—couldn’t even call for help.”
His left hand balled into a fist that began to hum with power. “There were forty of us there that night, under his roof at the sanctuary. Not all of us knew vitae patterns, but there were enough. But by the time he was found, he was beyond magic.”
“He sounds like he was a great man.” Taylin said quietly.
As suddenly as all that poured out of him, he was suddenly back to himself, voice and all. “Did you not listen to what I said? He thought that we could have peace with those people and even after he drained himself completely to improve their selfish lives, they couldn’t even keep him around to use him, so great was their hatred. They murdered him in his bed and then in less than a weak the church of Vitalius held a festival celebrating his death while we, his children, were left alone and without direction. His good intentions came to nothing but his corpse moldering in the earth.”
Taylin drew in a breath and scowled at him. “He was trying to do something noble!”
“Noble men die for their foolishness. It’s the same foolishness and nobility that’s blinding you to this problem with Brin. And one would think you would know better after what’s happened.” said Ru, and went to start his work anew. Only he was struck in the link by a wave of white hot rage that didn’t register on Taylin’s face.
He looked up and studied her. There was hurt there, though thankfully not enough to trigger retribution, and there was sadness, but nothing to betray the pure, animal fury that was clawing its way around in the link like a living thing.
Taylin studied him right back and spoke slowly and deliberately. “You mean with what happened to Issacor. You think…” She scoffed airily. “What he did probably saved Signa and Growluff’s lives and kept Rale from being taken. He protected them when we couldn’t. He died… and there’s nothing I can do to repay him.”
Ru was still searching for some sign that what he sensed in the link was actually going on in her head by the time she finished speaking, and still he found nothing. “It that all?” He blurted.
“What do you mean is that all? Isn’t that enough?”
“Aren’t you angry?” He pressed.
Adjusting her wings unconsciously, she leaned against the wall and muttered. “Unhappy. But then I’m always unhappy with you. You can’t leave things alone; everything and everyone has to be worse than what you see.” She took a deep breath. “I’d rather not think of how you see me, seeing as it’s fact that I’m already keeping you enslaved.”
Ru laughed, low and dismissively while returning to inscribing the patterns he’d already started. The tip of the spike split into two under his attentions, which curved out and around in opposite directions before ending up facing one another with a thumb’s width between them.
“I meant him. For dying and leaving you.”
“Us.” Taylin corrected. “And no, of course not.”
“It’s never ‘us’ when you rage at the dead.” Ru replied. “Always yourself. When Gand was murdered, it was left to his first and most skilled; we three who had to fill the place he had in the Brotherhood, in the minds of the students, and in each other. Many nights, I wished he would rise from the dead so I could visit punishments on him for that.”
“I would never want to do that to Issacor.” Taylin murmured and Ru’s eyes narrowed at what he felt in the link.
One more circle around the top of the protrusion, marked with the symbols for akua and flaer, and Ru was finished with his spellwork. “Heh.”
“May the link not see this as an effort to bring you pain, because I’ve no time to waste writhing in retribution, Miss Taylin, but you have no idea how fortunate you are that he died before you could learn what that feeling,” he touched his temple to indicate the link, “leads to.”
Bewildered and this time truly angered by his words, Taylin pushed off the wall and was moments from leaping across the counter at him. “Ru. Stop. Now.” There were the beginnings of scales blistering up along her arms and her eyes shifted subtly.
Despite the danger, Ru only leaned back. “Only a warning, Miss Taylin. You never encountered it before, but I have and the link makes me sense it. You cared greatly for him.”
“I care for everyone in our group.” Taylin stammered. Ru gave her a flat look and she sighed. “Caring for isn’t the same as agreeing with or being friends with.”
Apparently satisfied with this clarification, Ru folded his arms. “But it was deeper with the Blade Disciple. I’ve touched you memories too, recall, and I know you’ve had those close to you die before. This was different. It Arunsteadeles or Brin died back there, you wouldn’t have secluded yourself as you have.”
Taylin shivered at other memories and pressed her lips into a firm line. “If it were true, that wouldn’t mean I am better off with him dead.”
Ru took his eyes off her to admire his handiwork. “Miss Taylin, have you ever wondered how I became the Rune Breaker? How I was bound like this, by a spell even I can’t understand or overpower?”
Just happy to be off the subject of Issacor, Taylin took the bait. “I never asked because I thought it was private.”
“Heh. Allow me to inform you: for twenty-one years following Gand’s death, we three led the Brotherhood. Gloryfall was at my side and I gave her nations as tokens of my esteem. I cared for her more than my empire, more than the power at my command, and as far as I knew, she cared for me in equal parts. Until one day, the one day where the link refuses even the most powerful spells to make clear to me, I recall her staring down at me, tears in her eyes as the most complex array I have ever seen was drawn in the stone around me and the sky above.
“She told me that she was ‘sorry’, Miss Taylin,” He reached into the air before him and made a gripping motion. The air crackled and wavered as a ghostly chain manifested in air, leading from a densely drawn and populated magic circle in the center of Ru’s forehead and wrapping around to connect to the base of Taylin’s skull. “just as she gave me the last ‘gift’ she would ever give me.”
The memory welled and broke past Ru’s defenses and Taylin’s as well. As she had that night many days before Taylin found herself in a strange place and not herself.
She was kneeling on hard stone, which vibrated like a constant earthquake as gold light etched symbols and circles into the earth and more of the same took form in burnt orange above. Kneeling in front of her was Gloryfall, a woman now, and are her most radiantly beautiful save for her freely flowing tears and expression moments from sobbing.
She felt Gloryfall’s hand touch the side of her face, heard her asking for forgiveness, and saw her lean forward for one last kiss. Except in that moment, the gold and orange light flared and some unseen force pulled Gloryfall away.
The earth erupted in pillars of etched rock, which trailed chains of many metals skyward. Taylin had seen those from the other direction back in the chamber where she found Ru before. Only now, as she watched, the stones dripped blood.
She started to become aware of other shapes littering the ground around her, but suddenly, she herself was pulled back from it all and thrust back into the present, standing across the counter from Ru.
The dark mage looked drawn and wizened for a heartbeat before he reasserted his shapeshifting, but the troubled expression remained on his face.
“That wasn’t my doing.” He said absently. “The link made that happen. It’s never acted that way before, Probably still adjusting to you refusing to give me orders—finding new means to torment me.”
Taylin’s wings quivered and she pulled them closer in and folded her arms. “Ru? Can we talk about something else?”
Relief spilling through the link was a refreshing change from Ru’s usual mindset. “Anything, Miss Taylin.”
She nodded and pointed to the thing he’d been creating. “What exactly are you making here?”
“Allow me to be completely forthright with you, Miss Taylin: I am sick to the verge of violence of taking my meals sitting on the ground in the wretched out of doors. Daire reminded me of the things I much prefer: food prepared in a kitchen, I place to dine with a table and seats no strewn with pine nettles, small stones and insects, baths not gotten by means of spell or taken in a tin tub. Civilization, Miss Taylin. I spent the first thirty years of my life in a city, after all. Discovery of this artifact house allows me to create all of those amenities and more besides.”
Taylin nodded slowly. She had very little experience to compare it to, but she missed Daire City already. Camping at night didn’t really bother her, but she wouldn’t deny that all the things Ru missed weren’t pleasant. Then she gestured tot he indentation and the spike poised over it. “What’s this then?”
Instead of telling her, Ru cupped a hand above the two prongs that faced one another and spoke, “Akua” Blue sparks raced up the prongs and between them, a blue, glowing mist formed. Moments later, a thin, cool stream of water began to pour forth from that mist to collect in the basin formed by the depression below.
“It’s like the purifying basins at the stone house.” Taylin recalled the permanent magic structures employed in the halfling way stations.
“Except this creates the water.” Ru agreed, “That is part of the standard arrays already inside the house. I added something else to make baths and tea and coffee easier to have.” Again, he cupped a hand other the prongs. “Flaer ni Akua/” The sparks turned red and now as the water fell, it threw up a cloud of steam.
Taylin’s eyes lit with delight and she immediately put her hand under the scalding spray. “Ru, that’s wonderful!” What remained of her emergent scales receded completely.
Ru spoke another short command to shut off the flow and looked around the empty room, a light in his eyes that Taylin knew well from whenever the promise of spellcraft presented itself to Ru. “I have not even begun. This room, individual rooms, a proper spellcrafter’s laboratory, a library… there is much to do.”
Still relaxed from the water’s heat, Taylin frowned lightly in sympathy. “There is. But not now.”
“What?” He glared.
“We have to catch up to the others.” She explained, making sure he could feel her sympathy as well as hear it. “You’ll have plenty of time to work while Brin purifies the enclave.”
Ru conceded silently, but groused aloud, “Or turn on us all there.”
“I asked that we not talk about this. Any of it.” Taylin said firmly.
“What I need is for you to promise me that you won’t let ‘any of this’ get in the way of our bringing a lifetime of pain to Immurai.” he said.
A resolute nod, and Taylin straightened herself up to her full height. “He still has Motsey. That’s what’s important to me. Whatever might happen with Brin, and whatever I might have felt for Issacor won’t change that I need to rescue my nephew, find Immurai, and make sure that demon can never hurt my family again.”
Ru floated around the counter as she started back to the main room. “The link enforces my loyalty. But from her until Immurai is burned from this world, Miss Taylin, you now have my cooperation.”
Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 29 – The HouseRune Breaker: Chapter 31 – Idrian Homestead >>

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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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