- Rune Breaker: Chapter 43 – Pele
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 44 – Haumea
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 45 – Arunsteadeles and Ridsekes
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 46 – The One Who Was Lost
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 47 – Reclamation
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 48 – Days of Light and Joy
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 49 – What Matters
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 50 – An Evening at the Silver Hammer Lodge
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 51 – The Immaculate Raptor
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 52 – Spiders and Demons
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 53 – The Journal of Lena Hiddakko
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 54 – Beasts of the Deep
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 55 – The Drinking Gourd
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 56 – Death and Fog
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 57 – The Siege of Nhan Raduul
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 58 – Last Line of Defense
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 59 – He Who Destroys
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 60 – In the Sanctum of the Mask
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 61 – Daughter of the Dragon
Through the lens of an adult, the mind of the younger self is often clouded and inscrutable. Armed with the experience of years and the accumulated knowledge of the same, it was difficult to fathom what processes of the mind brought about the daft beliefs and profound misunderstandings and mis-rememberings of childhood.
What she had thought were her earliest memories were of the mines, scrabbling in the tight spaces only little hands could reach for every last bit of iron ore before returning to one of the pits to hunker around a fire and eat her rations with the other miners.
Not knowing her history and knowing that no child with such hideous red wings and hair could have come from the large house with an indoor garden and other amenities the child described to them, the older miners, mostly ang’hailene, but a few petty criminals, patiently explained to her that she had imagined it, that it was all the conjuring of gas leaks and fear of the dark having an effect on her head. She had obviously come from the same hovels and deep jungle villages that all ang’hailene called home before becoming property of the Emperor.
And when she told everyone she met that here name was Pele, the more educated among them assumed she meant pe’le, the Vishnari word for ‘clever girl’. She corrected them, saying her mother called her ‘taylin‘, the same phrase in hailene-de, which was also an uncommon but not unheard of name. They took her to be addled by those same gas leaks that caused her made-up memories, and informed her that her name was, in fact, Taylin. No one offered her a surname at all and assumed that she was an orphan and had none.
Neither they, nor the bright-eyed girl with fire-colored wings and hair could suspect that five-hundred years later, she would trek across the nation and into a deep cavern beneath the city of Rivenport to discover the truth.
Her name was Pele Hiddakko, daughter of Lena. And she was the Soul Battery.
Her origins did not lie in the jungles of Riven, but on a scientific vessel commissioned by the Emperor of the Hailene Empire for the purpose of her creation. And it was the power within her, locked inside and apparently out of her own reach, that motivated the demon, Immurai the Masked, to hunt her and eventually to take the halfling child Motsey, hostage in hopes of luring her to his stronghold on a distant island called Nhan Raduul.
And every word of that had just been dropped upon her shoulders over the course of ten minutes.
The whole thing struck her momentarily dumb as she stared at the worn and stained pages of her mother’s journal. There were more revelations for her to seek out in the tome, including what manner of creature she really was; stuck somewhere between hailene and dragon, but not one of the dragonsired, and where the draconic component to her make-up came from.
Those registered in her mind and were filed away for later review, but the bulk of her mind was occupied with what she now knew and what it meant.
Some of it made her heart warm in her chest. She hadn’t been going insane from fumes, and her dreams of a happy childhood with a mother who loved her were absolutely true. There was even historical evidence to the fact. No matter that the bulk of her childhood had been spent crawling through narrow shafts with only a cheaply mass-produced magelight to guide the way. She had once been a happy child.
Other bits, however, stole that warmth away before it could even settle. It was her fault that Immurai had taken Motsey and if she had never come to Daire City, the demon would not have seen fit to loose his horde of stone skeletons and the demon Bashurra on the people at King Solgrum’s ball; an act that left the city in chaos and the principality without a leader.
Nor would Layaka, really Elder Partha who was also called Mage’s Mortality, have murdered Aba Issacor Trueddeles. As much as she hated to consider it, as time went by she was starting to think Ru might have been right about how she felt about the blade disciple. The pain of so many other friends who had died hadn’t lasted half as long as that which followed Issacor’s death.
A tear formed in her eye and slid down the side of her nose, dripping silently on her mother’s book. Around her, her friends and companions started to break their silence.
“Well that’s one thing for certain.” Kaiel said, “Taylin can’t go to Nhan Raduul.”
“Let the hells she can’t!” snapped Ru, the dark mage rounding on the chronicler. There was a dangerous gleam in his eye that translated into a spark of anger in the link he shared with Pele. “If she doesn’t go, I cannot go and slaughter Immurai. That is unacceptable.”
Brin’s motion to get between the two was accompanied by her boots scuffing the floor. “And I suppose handing him the precise person he needs to fulfill whatever plan he has is completely acceptable, ‘Rune Breaker’?” The name came out as a sarcastic jab, which only made the spark of anger kindle further.
“It is no more of a risk than it was when I suspect his plan was to take control of the link.” said Ru. “Less so, as we now know he won’t risk slaying Miss Taylin.”
The way Ru addressed her; a compromise as she hadn’t wanted to be referred to as Master or Mistress, but the quasi-sentient link required that Ru speak to her with respect, had never set right with her. Now it was worse, a weight that settled into an uneven lump in her head.
A basso rumble broke her from this train of thought and reminded everyone in the cavern that they were still in the presence of Librarian Yolinderan. The great dragon turtle clacked his beak, a noise like an executioner’s ax falling. “You make haste when you lack the full scope of the danger Immurai might pose if he gains possession of the Soul Battery.
“I have seen the accounts of the hailene capitol ships, the so-called Dragonslayers, when they were introduced in the last days of the War of Ascension. The moniker is not an idle boast: powered by the soul batteries, those dreadnoughts were capable of producing explosions of concentrated discarnate energy with magnitude great enough to destroy flights for the Vishnaris’ allies from the dragon nations. In the hands of a capable spellcrafter such as Immurai the Masked, there may be no limit to what he is capable of.”
“That won’t matter when Immurai is dead.” said Ru, transforming the fingers of his right hand into foot-long talons for emphasis.
Kaiel shook his head. “You’re assuming you can kill him. Bashurra was toadying to Immurai and it took a coalition to destroy him. We simply can’t risk letting him capture Taylin—“
“Hey!” Raiteria’s voice bounced around the cavern, leaving even Ru and Yolinderan taken off guard and silenced. The halfling women folded her arms as she cast wicked looks at everyone involved. Her face had lost every ounce of the usual nir-lumos childishness and had taken on a seriousness that commended them all to listen.
When she was certain they all knew that she was in charge for the time being, she took a deep breath and spoke. “Maybe you’ve all forgotten when you started panicking over what Immurai was going to do when and if he got the Soul Battery, or about missing out on their revenge; but we just found out that the Soul Battery isn’t some dusty artifact or secret spell. If she was, then we could argue on and on over whether it was worth the risk to save my son, and you know exactly where I’d stand on that.
“But she isn’t a thing, she’s my sister; and I’d appreciate it if you took just an ashing second to ask her what she thinks, yeah?” She looked up at Taylin, which, given she was only about hip-high to the woman and standing directly beside her, was a mighty long way up indeed. “Take your time, Taylin, we understand if this is too much for you.”
The strange thing was, it wasn’t feeling like so much anymore. It was a nasty tangle of complications and strangeness for true, but the core of things felt pretty cut and dried. It was as if learning who she’d been had made the snags and confusion over what she was less pressing, allowing her to focus on what was really at stake.
“Pele.” said Pele after a moment’s thought.
This not in any way answering the question she’d asked, Rai blinked stupidly for a moment. Even though she vaguely connected the dots on a subconscious level, it wasn’t enough to stop her mouth from asking: “What?
“My name is Pele.” Pele said softly. “I was never really Taylin, I just thought I was. So many years in the mines… everyone thinking I was daft because no child like me could have a pretty foreign name or grow up on an estate…” Now it was she who blinked stupidly. “And I’m rambling now.”
She fluffed her wings out of nervous habit and cleared her throat. “Sorry. More to the point, I understand what I am and what it means for Immurai to gain control of me. I also understand that he sacked Daire City and kidnapped Motsey with the express purpose of luring me to him. Hundreds of people are dead and Motsey is alone; separated from the clan and surrounded by monsters; because Immurai wants me.”
Though her voice was quiet at that point, the lack of other noise in the cavern made her heard. “I think we all know that this isn’t as simple as me not going. The moment Immurai realizes that I’m not going to be coerced to Nhan Raduul by threatening Motsey, he’ll just work out another way to find me. If I’m that valuable to him, he won’t stop until the day I die, and every day between now and then will hold the same risk: that Immurai catches up to me and uses me for whatever end he’s planning. The truth is, stopping me from going to Nhan Raduul won’t stop Immurai and it will bring Motsey to harm.”
Pele took a moment to look at the faces of her friends, sister, the two librarians and Ru. Most of them were concerned and rightly so. The fates of thousands, if not millions, rested on keeping Immurai from ascending to power. Her eyes lingered on Librarian Yolinderan.
The old dragon turtle had more time to think on the situation and possible solutions than anyone else and though she could not read his red glowing eyes, she knew full well the conclusion he had no doubt come to even if he wasn’t acting on it now.
“As the link would cause Ru to kill anyone who tries to kill me, that’s not an option. That leaves us one course of action. I choose to go to Nhan Raduul. I will take Motsey back, alive and well and then I will help Ru kill Immurai the Masked.”
On this, she spread her wings out fully and stood to her full height, her eyes daring anyone to challenge her on her decision.
Ru’s face split into a grin and the link was filled with dark triumph and lust for a demon’s blood. “Yes.” he hissed, sounding his most reptilian.
Kaiel started to open his mouth to argue, but Brin put a hand on his chest and silence him with a look.
When Pele looked down, she found Raiteria smiling proudly up at her. All logic aside, she knew better than any that Pele’s primary objective was Motsey, Immurai and his quest be damned. Nodding to her sister, she turned to face Yolinderan. In spite of her argument and even given her own and Ru’s combat prowess, they would be lucky to escape alive if the dragon turtle decided to press the issue.
“Your book, Librarian.” she said politely but with a firmness.
Librarian Yolinderan lowered his head once more so that it was level with Pele; all six eyes gazing at her. She tensed involuntarily. The breath of an ornim-hele was super-heated steam that cooked their food before they devoured it. And while Pele had never encountered a flame that could burn her, she’d never tested whether or not she could be par-boiled to death.
As it happened, she didn’t get to test it that day either.
“It is not my book, young Pele Hiddakko, Red Daughter-by-blood of Agmar.” His voice boomed. “It is the property of Lena Hiddakko’s estate, long believed to have been heirless. Yet before me stands Hiddakko’s own daughter.” He raised his head and moved slightly away, the position having proved to be uncomfortable. “There are copies in my private archive. The original belongs to you.”
“I…” Prepared for an argument, Pele came up short when she realized that she wasn’t facing one. “…Thank you.” She closed the book and looked at its worn cover. Her mother had kept that journal. Every entry was written in the actual hand of Lena Hiddakko and therein lay an accounting of the years she’d lost. “It means a great deal to me.”
Yolinderan rumbled again. “I suggest you read it carefully. Perhaps it will grant you some useful knowledge as you face Immurai the Masked.”
From beside Taylin, Rai spouted off. “I’m surprised to hear you being so encouraging.”
The two largest of the dragon turtle’s eyes narrowed, their glow dimming. To another dragon turtle, it might have meant something, but the gesture was inscrutable to Pele. “Contrary to what you might believe, I am not simply some ancient being of thought and logic without the compassion and empathy to temper it. While the possibility of destroying the Soul Battery to put the power of the Well of Souls out of Immurai’s reach presented itself in my studies, what you say is true: the Soul Battery is a person who presents no threat on her own, and I cannot bring myself to callously slay her even for the good of all.”
He sunk a bit in the subterranean lake and rose again, sending swells rolling along the water’s surface. “It would also do no good. Not in the face of centuries and the plots of Immurai the Masked. Since before I was hatched, Immurai has blighted the world with his machinations. Once he sought the Olveckia. At another time, he attempted to wrest control of the Rune Breaker from its master. Now, he seeks the Soul Battery, but should he fail, he will merely turn to his next quest for power. As young Pele says, the only way to put an end to this is to put an end to Immurai the Masked.”
Heartened by the ornim-hele‘s agreement, Pele turned once more to face the others; Kaiel in particular. “I’m not going to force you to come with me.” she said quietly. “Any of you. All I ask is that you don’t try to stop me. Saving Motsey and stopping Immurai are too important for that. What I will say though is that Kaiel was correct;”
The link tensed and the smug look vanished from Ru’s face as he tensed to hear what came next.
Pele ignored him and kept her eyes on Kaiel. “It took all of us plus and army to defeat Bashurra. I’m going to need all the help I can get to fight Immurai.”
A small sigh escaped the chronicler and he reached up to scrub a hand through his dark hair before bringing it down again to massage the bridge of his nose. Finally, he opened one eye to meet her two. “You’re giving me a way out?”
He shook his head and dropped both hands to his sides. “Now you’re forgetting things, Taylin… Pele.” His tone was lighter than she’d been expecting. “I am Bromun’s brother as you are Raiteria’s sister. That makes Motsey my nephew too. I don’t have a drop of nir-lumos blood in me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t share the White Willow’s view of family.”
His posture relaxed and he raised his chin in her direction, accompanied by a small smile. “I might have argued for keeping you away from Immurai and whatever stronghold he has on Nhan Raduul, but regardless of anything else, I was always going there to bring Motsey back. And if you’re going, I’ll be there with you. On my life and on my voice.”
Pele smiled at him. “Thank you, Kaiel. I shouldn’t have doubted you.”
“It’s understandable in the situation.” said Kaiel. “For true, I still feel a bit like shouting at you to stay as far from Immurai and the Kimean Isles as is possible. When you spoke though; about understanding what all this means for you and still wanting to rescue Motsey and kill Immurai?” He tapped the lobe of his left ear. “I heard the ring of truth in it. After hearing that, I wouldn’t deserve to be a loreman if I didn’t support you.”
Ru huffed at this. “Typical bardic romanticizing.” He sidled up to Taylin’s side, opposite Raiteria and fixed his wolf-eyes on Brin. “And what about you?” He said it as if issuing a challenge.
She met his eyes with a venomous look of her own before turning to Pele and then Raiteria. “Nothing’s changed on my end. If not for me, you wouldn’t have met Layaka, Issacor would be alive, and Motsey wouldn’t have been taken. I owe you for bringing that down on you and I owe Immurai for the heartache. Reflair agrees with me on this, especially after seeing the damage the Kaydans did to the souls of Idrian Homestead.”
Pele heard Kaiel release a breath he’d been holding just before the loreman stepped around her and Raiteria to stand before Librarian Yolinderan. “That makes all of us, Librarian. Five against one of the most devious beasts to crawl out of the Threefold Moon’s vats, at least one of his contemporaries, and whatever unfavorable conditions he intends to arrange for us on Nhan Raduul.
“I don’t think I would be out of line in asking for the Library’s cooperation in this and humbly request compilations of all pertinent information regarding Immurai the Masked, Matasume the Wind, the Soul Battery, the island of Nhan Raduul, and if there is any to be had: a soldier from the Age of Tragedies who earned the title ‘Mage’s Mortality’.”
Rather than answer directly, Yolinderan tilted his head and asked in an oddly deferential manner, “Will that be a problem, Librarian Dasahyur?”
Nearly forgotten by all but the dragon turtle, the dark skinned Librarian had stood silently behind them the entire time, taking in the entire discussion. Now she nodded smartly and allowed herself a small smile at Yolinderan’s respect for her sovereign command of the library’s most elite cadre of research assistants. “I can have Weggin, Tonce, and Burberry reassigned within a quarter hour. I hesitate to take Dosset from her work on the Calderian political landscape leading up to their war with the Sylvan races, but I will if the others have not made sufficient advancement by the dinner hour. And there are plentiful sub-assistants to aide them.”
“Thank you, Librarian Dasahyur.” said Yolinderan before returning his attention to Kaiel. “We will grant you the information you require, but if you need other resources, I suggest getting in touch with the Bardic College. Relations between our organizations is at an extraordinary high, but we will not open our coffers to a non-member.”
“Understood.” said Kaiel. “I feel I need to make a more detailed report now in any event. That on top of finding a ship whose crew and captain are willing to come anywhere near Kimean waters.” He clasped his hands together behind his back and looked to the others. “It looks like I’ve got a great deal of work ahead of me. I suggest the rest of you take the time to center yourselves: once we make our moves, I doubt Immurai will afford us the luxury again.”
The messenger found Lord Crossius in on the top floor of the central keep.
He stood at the large window, watching through wide-spaced iron shutters as several squads of soldiers drilled in the multi-tiered garden that stood between the main yard just inside the gates and the entrance. Nhan Raduul had originally been built by a Kimean noble whose specialty was plants.
Without direction from Crossius, the gardeners maintained the varied and numerous creations that inhabited the place, leaving it a riot of colored flowers and leaves. It was a strange place to watch the martial arm of the Threefold Moon’s church to practice dealing out death.
It was now obvious to the household staff and through their propensity for gossip, the town, that there were at least one hundred Kaydans and half a hundred terrible warbeasts of both Kaydan and Kimean make on the grounds. The soldiers made no secret of it, proudly displaying their banners and regalia, all featuring the symbol of the Threefold Moon worked into the crest.
Crossius observed the drills impassively, making note of those who performed in an exemplary manner and wondering if they might be convinced to be part of the inaugural squad his church militant once his ascension came. Assuming they survived what was coming, of course. Few would.
The messenger flitted through the shutters and landed heavily on the back of a chair behind Immurai. For a moment, it looked like a gull; white with black wingtips and a slightly curved beak. But once the deception was no longer necessary, the complex web of akua and vox that created the illusion and masked that same illusion from casual detection disengaged.
Bits of frost tinkled on the floor beneath the chair, and the real creature was revealed. Ashen flesh peeked through half-formed black chitin, which seemed to be held together at the seams by being bound by wire. A gleaming steel spine ran up its back and wrapped its chest with ribs of the same before extending out into a two-foot long tail that ended in a stingray’s barb. Its eyes were compound like an insect’s, and its beak was a proboscis. The wings mirrored a gull’s but were feathered with razors that dripped with venom.
The creature flared its wings out at Crossius, exposing its chest and waiting for his orders.
Ic roteth narra Immurai. He used no spoken language. If anyone had tried, the messenger would have attached them. Instead, its spine made a sound like a file drawn across a metal bar and its ribs split open, revealing a hollow in its chest. Inside was a bauble about the size of a thumb, sealed in wax.
Crossius extracted the item, ignoring the slick, oily preservative the messenger had secreted onto the thing. With a nail, he peeled away the wax until he held a spindle-shaped crystal of salt in his hand. The crystal was formed with ere-a and within the matrix of its structure, purple sparks of psi glittered.
He gestured to the messenger and it lowered its head, the skullcap where the spine terminated slid open to reveal a slot sized for the crystal. Crossius inserted it and used a bit of psi on his own to activate it.
The messenger lifted its head and broadcast a voice into the room; that of a man in the prime of his life. “Lord Immurai: my eyes along the Passage of Conquerors report that the Soul Battery and her companions survived Khish unharmed.”
Crossius’s eyes narrowed slightly. “All of them?”
“Indeed. The halfling, docent and chronicler remain at her side. They did not request aide at any of the watchtowers I have people in.”
“I believe my orders were for you to use your messengers to seed the fastest route through Khish with attractants to lure spirit beasts into their path.” said Crossius, remaining calm, but with an edge in his voice.
The voice from the messenger stuttered. “I assure you we did my lord. I had spotters report increased activity in the region ahead of the targets. As best we can tell, they met the spirit beasts… and destroyed them, my lord. All of them.”
“With no injury? Unlikely. The Rune Breaker would protect his Master, this is certain. However, the others should have suffered on some level: they are neither that powerful, nor that capable. The nir-lumos sow is like any other of her kind and the chronicler does not have enough knots to know any truly dangerous secrets of Word and Song.”
“My lord, what of the docent? Could she be the cause of their unlikely survival?”
Crossius tapped a finger to his chin. “Not according to what Partha told me of her. But the ‘how’ does not matter. They must be winnowed down. Make your way to Rivenport and slay the Soul Battery’s companions.” He turned and looked back upon the soldiers in the garden. “I do not wish to have any distractions when the Rune Breaker comes to my shores.”