Rune Breaker: Chapter 4 – Clan of the Winter Willow

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series A Girl and Her Monster (Rune Breaker, #1)

So the masters were no longer even masters. Even realizing that almost four hundred years had passed, that was shocking. More shocking than the revelation of the new taboo on attacking wings. She clearly recalled seeing spells employed to blast the feathers from the wings of turncoats that fought on the side of the enemy.

“Taylin…” Kaiel’s voice made her glance up into those horrified, blue eyes. “Who took your wings?”

She groaned at herself for having given that much away. No one would believe her if she explained and instead of being understanding, they would… she didn’t even know what they did to the mad or daft in this place and time. The halflings who once hid and fled from the masters now rode wolves and coldly aimed crossbows from their hiding places; anything was possible.

He nodded at her silence. “I understand. As I said, I won’t ask for your secrets. Just know that by helping the Clan of the Winter Willow, you’ve earned friends. Friends who won’t let those who did this to you repeat their actions.” He didn’t make any illusions of turning to glare at Ru, who followed behind like a wayward kite, allowing the breeze to drift him gently from side to side.

Taylin followed his gaze. She hadn’t even thought about the self proclaimed shape-shifting master in hours, having learned to tune out his baseline emotions rather swiftly. But she knew in an instant that he’d been listening to the entire conversation, including the story about her lost wings and Kaiel’s implication that it was his fault, either by action or inaction.

A bit of her still simmering anger at him from earlier filtered through the link and made him glance at her. She got the sense that he was surprised at the depth of her anger. Presently, he corrected that notion.

I am no stranger to rage, but how do you keep it so well leashed? Your predecessors would have lashed out by now, made the link punish me for my insolence if only through unconscious action.

Most people don’t leap at revenge and hurting others.

She didn’t know that for sure and previous experience indicated otherwise, but she clung to that idea more than any other: People were good. Some just lost their way. Some were just born aberrations.

Even you don’t believe that.

I do. And I won’t punish you. I don’t even know how, but I wouldn’t. Slaves get punished. You are not my slave.

More than a minute had passed and Kaiel had watched the silent exchange with his jaw clenched. “Taylin, if he…”

“No.” She replied softly, smoothly ignoring Ru’s response to her. “I lost my wings years ago. We’ve only known each other a short time.”

There was truth that, he could feel it. So he nodded cautiously. “Would you like them back?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wings. I’m not an expert on the art, but if they’re like arms or kidneys, they can be grown back. The spell is powerful and usually expensive, but…”

Ru appeared not two feet from him, a look of derision curling his lip. “No charlatan can return what was once lost to a body.”

Anger slammed through the link with enough force to make him wheel around into the green glare of his not-mistress.

Behind him, Kaiel scoffed. “I notice that this all powerful mage before me hasn’t done so either.”

Unable to catch both of them in his own glare where he was, Ru floated back to do so at range. “That is because it cannot be done. Not without sacrifice.” Bitterly, he added, “Willing sacrifice. Do not seek to accuse and lecture me when you dangle false hope in a sad attempt at bedding a ‘helpless’ damsel.”

The accusation made Kaiel choke on a gasp. “How dare you even imply such a slur against my profession!”

That made absolutely no sense to Ru, but before he could retort along those lines, a deep growl caught all three of them off guard. It had come from Gruwluff, who had stopped in his tracks at Bromun’s urging. The halfling smirked at how easily he’d been able to derail the argument.

“Neither one of you can manage regeneration once the wound’s healed.” He said gruffly. “Kaiel knows that too. But he also knows that if you put your hand in protecting us,” He spoke to Taylin, “that Grandmother will share the blessing Sylph gives her with you.” Now he turned to Ru. “Can you at least agree that even you can’t match the power of a god?”

Ru gathered himself up and replied sullenly. “If my guess is correct; attempted and failed.” Suddenly, he set eyes on Kaiel and Taylin felt a mixture of curiosity and tentative pride wafting form him. “Tell me, charlatan; how did that bay form?”

He was met with surprised blinking for a moment. All of the cruel aggression arrayed against him had just fled in an impossibly mercurial mood. Still, being called a charlatan again was a step up from the accusation that haunted those of his calling.

“The end of the War of Ascension.” He said smoothly. “Dey’s counter-stroke against the hailene for nearly exterminating the races that worshiped her most devoutly? You’ve… not heard this?” He turned to Taylin. “Surely as a hailene, you’ve heard of the sinking of most of the Illium mainland.”

Illium. Home of the hailene, her former masters. The island she’d never seen, but which was the source of all her torment. Sank by the holy wrath of a god. But so had the armadas, both the one that was home to her brothers and sisters, and the one that carried the heroes that opposed the masters. She didn’t even feel anything for any of them, but it hardly seemed fair.

But that didn’t feel important at the moment. Nor did Ru’s inflating sense of pride at having merely been knocked into torpor by the distant god-wrought cataclysm. No, one thing loomed large in her mind now. She turned hopeful eyes on Bromun.

“Is that true? She can give me back my wings?” It had been three years since a visiting Choirmaster had given the order and since then, she’d only been able to fly when… not herself. To have them back…

There were tears in her eyes when Bromun nodded. “If you fight and protect the clan, Grandmother will see it a worthy way to pay that debt. The life of family is our great treasure and we guard it jealously.”

Taylin smiled. There was a sentiment she’d never thought she’d ever hear. “I’ve actually never known anyone that thought that way.” She admitted. “Please, tell me more about your people, Bromun.”

“Ha. And we think it strange that everyone doesn’t.” Bromun said, urging Gruwluff forward to match Taylin’s gait. “Where to start? Well the most important thing is, we don’t see the world or each other that way the other races do. For us, every halfling is our cousin…” As Taylin and Bromun fell into a deep conversation on the nature and philosophy of the halfling race, Kaiel found himself lagging slightly behind with Ru.

“Why exactly are the two of you traveling together?”

“She has just a little control over it as I do.” Ru replied. “And just as little as you do understanding it.”

Kaiel set his horse into a trot. “I understand a mite. For example: Taylin vexes you because you don’t understand things like how she doesn’t want to hurt people, and yet so easily picks up her sword for the village. Maybe it’s part of the old adage of evil not comprehending good.”

“I’m not a demon.” Ru countered. “I’m worse.”

“That I don’t doubt. A demon does evil because it’s their instinct, or because they are driven to it by their master. A mortal man, no matter how intensely saturated with magic…” Ru starred at him in shock. “Yes, I can feel it. That’s a first year charm. Now where was I? Right, a mortal man does evil for gain, or sadism, or vengeance; base things that they should rise above.”

Ru folded his arms and floated along wordlessly before asking, “What makes you think man can rise above it? They might speak of right and justice, but what they are in the dark…”

“Now we talk philosophy.” Kaiel noted. “In fact, the philosophies of the Bardic College. We exist to assist in that rise.”

“And that is the ‘third’ philosophy of which you speak?”

“In a way. But all three have it at the core. The first was to merely inspire others to change the world. It was meant to take us out of the Age of Tragedies, but it wasn’t enough. Inspiring a weakling only kills them, after all. The second philosophy is the one that prevails now, the one the College endorses: don’t just inspire, but help and chronicle. And using those chronicles, teach others the successes and mistakes of the future.”

He shifted in the saddle to make himself comfortable. “That’s how we actually escaped the Age of Tragedies. The basic rule is that all of us; chronicler, bard, scald and loreman make the heroes and immortalize them in story. We never become part of it.”

“But there is a third.” Ru said. “Because even that can’t combat he nature of demi-humanity.”

“I wouldn’t call it nature. I call it culture and tradition. Blood hatreds and ignorance. But yes, there are those of us that think there need to be another step to keep us from backsliding.”

“And this philosophy that you follow?”

“The same I think exists in Taylin naturally.” said Kaiel. “Don’t wait for a hero. Don’t stall until you have a catspaw to build up because one may not appear. Act. Let the followers of the second philosophy write your stories for you.”

Ru cackled briefly and looked ahead at Taylin. “You believe all of that. And yet you are still not half as mad as she.”

Series Navigation<< Rune Breaker: Chapter 3 – A Paradise in the FutureRune Breaker: Chapter 5 – Spell-worked Water, Alchemical Food >>

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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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