- 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
Rune Breaker: Chapter 44 – Haumea
The Gathered Shards Inn was just across one of the bridges from the Library on an island Brin and Kaiel both identified as University Island.
Yolinderian’s remark about the Historical Society not volunteering any tangible resources proved all too correct, as the inn was one that typically catered to scholarly pilgrims come to study at the library. As such, the rooms were little more than sparse cells with a bed and writing desk. Evidently, even then, their earlier guide, Bairoe, had been called upon to pay for the single, tiny space as he was a member of the Bardic College.
It had been a quiet, uncomfortable walk across. Kaiel was deep in thought, lips moving unconsciously as he went over plans already forming in his mind. Brin had fallen into a snit Pele couldn’t guess at, though it had something to do with the cool looks she was directing at Kaiel. Raiteria, usually one to be counted on to lead the conversation, was watching the previous two with a smug look on her face as if waiting for something to happen that only she expected.
Only Ru’s thoughts, clicking along mechanically in the link, kept things from being entirely silent for Pele. She couldn’t guess what his mind was working at, but she doubted it was pleasant. Hopefully, it would be unpleasant for Immurai.
The short, round-faced woman who ran The Gathered Shards looked surprised when she saw five people asking after a room not large enough for one to be comfortable, but gave them the key anyway. It was a wholly mundane thing or a mundane mechanical lock. Pele felt a little disappointed, considering some of the things both magical and mechanical she’d seen recently.
It was only when they were standing before the open door, looking at the room overflowing with their gear such that only Raiteria could have fit inside, did Kaiel seem to break out of his own head and break the fugue that enfolded the group.
“I’ll… have to add finding rooms to my list.” He said.
For reasons Pele couldn’t guess at, this was the trigger Brin had been waiting for. She rounded on him, hair swinging, ears flicking in irritation in a way Pele wasn’t sure elf ears could. “This is not your mission alone, Keese Kaiel.” The use of his real first name drew the chronicler up short, but he didn’t get a chance to defend himself before she plunged on ahead.
“Rivenport is my city. I work here; I have connections. In fact, as we just learned, the resources of the Historical Society are closed off to you while, as a contractor for them, they are not closed to me. And don’t give me a line about ‘centering myself’; I’ve probably been preparing for expeditions into hostile territories far longer than you.”
Raiteria grinned. “I’ve been waiting for that.”
To his credit, Kaiel didn’t flinch, though he did look somewhat cowed. One gloved hand came up to run fingers through his dark hair. “My apologies; I was just trying to make it easier on everyone.”
“You think I want to sit quietly and fret about Motsey and Pele and Immurai-the-ashing-Mask?” Rai asked. “Of course not! I want to keep distracted and feel like I’m actually doing something to help us win this fight. Would you be able to ‘center yourself’ in my place?”
Folding her arms under her breasts, Brin regarded Kaiel. “Of course not. That’s why he’s trying to take it all on himself.” Her tone softened, “Very selfish, Kaiel.”
He failed to meet her gaze. “Right. Just on reason I’m still just on the path of the loreman instead of holding the title: there’s a lot for me to learn as a student of all.” He swallowed, then nodded to himself. “Division of labor then: Only I can report to the Bardic College and ask for aid from them, so I’ll handle that. Brin, Rai; if you can find us a new inn and gather the supplies? We can all look for a ship in the meantime.”
“What about me?” asked Pele, noticing that she hadn’t been invited to the conversation yet.
“You can come with us.” Rai said immediately.
“Actually,” said Kaiel, not as cowed from the previous discussion as he’d let on, “Lena Hiddakko’s journal might have some information about how this power Immurai wants from you works. If so, it would be nice to turn it against him.”
Pele became aware once more of the book’s weight as she carried it under her arm. Reading it was exactly what she’s wanted to do, but at the same time, she’d been hoping another task would come up to justify putting it off. Her gaze then drifted to the gear-choked room. “I… can’t read in there.” She probably couldn’t even fit a wing inside.
“More than enough places for that on University Island.” said Brin. “Between contracts, I usually take a dime novel over to Haumea’s shrine. It’s a very nice place—private too: the swooning couples don’t go there except at sunset and otherwise, you’ll only find a few art students there.”
Rai slipped into the room. “Still, we don’t want you going around unarmed with Immurai and whatever followers he has out there.” After a bit of digging through bed rolls and packs, she found the Eastern Brand and Novacula Kuponya in a pile with everyone else’s weapons at the foot of the narrow bed. With great effort, she dragged the swords out to her sister.
And with much less effort, Pele took then and started strapping them back in place. “Thank you, Rai.”
The nir-lumos woman nodded and went back inside to grab the others’ weapons and her own. “Any weapon laws in Rivenport? The caravan usually makes for Kinos instead of coming this far south.”
“No firing chemical rounds is all I can think might apply to you.” said Brin. “With so many contractors for the Society here, there aren’t many they can hope to enforce.” She looked at Ru, “There’s also a ten-foot limit on spell radii-of-effect in public spaces without express permission.”
For the first time since the left the library, Ru took an interest in what was being said. “A short-sighted and wasteful law. A real spellcrafter could not be pacified by any city father’s decree.”
“These city fathers have over one hundred spellcrafters of note in the city watch alone.” said Brin.
Ru huffed through his nose. “Shameful what has become of wizards in this age.” He looked over to Kaiel as the chronicler was accepting his rifle and sword from Raiteria. “And you had best forget giving me some assignment as if I were your subordinate. There is only one who could hope to order me,” He pointedly did not look at Pele, “And she chooses not to.”
“What would be the point of even trying?” Instead of strapping on the sword, Kaiel just draped the sword belt over the opposite shoulder as his rifle was slung. “You do what you want no matter what in any event. What’s more, I should hope that the Rune Breaker knows how best to prepare himself for battle.”
Said Rune Breaker started to retort to that barb, but Pele stepped in. Her wings flared, ‘accidentally’ flicking Ru gently with her feathers. “I think we all know what to do now, thank you.” She regarded the packs and other sundry items still in the room. “Should we meet back here to carry everything to the new inn at a given time?”
“Are you going to read at Haumea’s shrine?” Brin asked, “We can come and collect you once we make arrangements at the Silver Hammer Lodge, then come back here for our things.”
“The Silver Hammer?” Kaiel crooked an eyebrow. “I’m not sure the Bardic College will be willing to pay quite that much—” He was silenced by Brin’s finger being held to his lips.
“You are not the only one with connections, recall.” She said softly. “I preformed an exorcism for the owner once: a murderer hid his victim in the sluice-pipe under the place and the victim’s shade went poltergeist; killed two of his staff and nearly did the same to the owner. I pay for a room there maybe three times what this room here costs, provided the place isn’t full up.”
Kaiel smiled against her finger before backing up to speak. “More fool I for not asking.”
“Then we’re set.” Pele said, unable to hide a smile at the interaction between the two. Her hand rested on Novacula Kuponya’s pommel at her hip. “Let’s be off then.”
Following Brin’s direction to Haumea’s shrine only served to get Pele and Ru, who had accompanied her without comment, lost. Luckily, there were plenty of students on University Island and they were more than happy to point her in the right direction.
University Island, home to the University of Novrom South, was one of the largest natural islands in Rivenport and also one of the least densely populated. There were open spaces, copses of trees, and even small, artificial streams between the modern looking brick and stone buildings, each etched with architectural spellcraft.
It seemed to Pele that every subject or family of subjects possible to study had their own structure all to itself on the island. Those were supplemented by clusters of small shops, restaurants, cafes, and specialized libraries and museums, making the island a small city in the heart of the larger context of Rivenport.
Idly, she wondered just how one got to be a student at a place like that. She quite liked reading and learning new things. If—when, she insisted to herself—she survived Immurai’s attentions, it was something to consider.
The passing students eventually directed her to the western edge of the island to a park built right up to the water. The shore, planted with flowering shrubs and trees and furnished with marble gazebos and granite benches, terminated in a natural slab of rock that jutted out into the water.
Over the decades, people had sought to protect that rock; a seawall made of a patchwork of worked stone, conjured clay, and even concrete blocked the river’s worst storm-blown waves from assailing it, and a more recent Air Screen spell had been spellworked into the top of the wall to form a half-dome overhead.
Standing astride the stone was the object of that protection: the statue of a woman, standing twenty feet tall. She looked human in bone structure and proportions, but from her back erupted three sets of beautific feathered wings, too long and slim to be mistaken for the voluminous wings of a hailene. She was clothed in a resplendent gown; the artist’s skilled hand having picked out not just every fold, but the texture of the cotton weave. The gown was caught in mid-flutter on an eternal wing along with the medium length coif of curls that hung about her face.
The woman had been caught in the middle of taking a step forward, her arms outstretched as if approaching a lover for an embrace. By dint of the sculptor’s skill that same intent showed in her expression and even in her eyes. She was less a statue than some old goddess trapped forever in stone.
“A shame that she was Lydon’s final and only surviving work, yes?”
A young man, presumably one of the art students if the lap desk across his knees and assortment of colored charcoal at his side on the bench he sat on were to be believed.
It occurred to Pele that she’d inadvertently stepped into his line of sight. “Oh. I’m very worry.” She said, moving aside. “I’ve never seen a statue like it.”
“Quite alright. She’s distracting for true.” said the artist with good humor. Now that she had time to look, she wasn’t sure if he was human. He wasn’t an elf, that was for sure; being only a little over half-again as tall as Raiteria where every elf she’d ever heard of or seen was at or above six feet. But he had slender hands like one and was lithe like few humans she’s ever met. Thick, black hairs grew sparsely all over him even; as she observed, the pads of his fingers and palms of his hands. Despite being hirsute, he was beardless and his hair grew up in a stiff, black brush that was bending to gravity in a manner more akin to stalks of wheat than most people’s hair..
“Have you heard her story?” He asked, interrupting Pele’s pondering over his species.
Pele again felt the weight of her mother’s journal and the desire to delay the possibility of learning unpleasant truths about herself. She shifted the book to her other arm. “No, I haven’t.”
Half hidden from the artist by her wing, Ru muttered something about meeting yet another ‘useless chronicler’, but was ignored.
The artist smiled placidly and selected a blue charcoal to do the sky on his drawing. With it, he gestured to the seawall behind the statue. “If the wall wasn’t there, you’d see Tinkersisle; one of the new islands, actually—not much older than the Accords. But if that wasn’t there, you’d see Godshome, where all the temples are.”
Following the pointed coal, Pele could see the top of the multi-spired building she’d glimpsed from the air on their approach to the city.
“The Cathedral of Southern Sun.” the artist supplied, sensing her question. “But two hundred years ago, there was only a nameless temple to Denaii there—in fact, it was the only thing for miles aside from the fishing village that sat where Market Town is now. Orlon Lydon was a wizard—a refugee from the schism in Te’ran and an ere-a master. He settled here: on this island. His old keep is now the Lydon Hall of Classical Art.
“Being a wizard, he earned his livelihood with spellworking, both in barter with the villagers and in coin from the temple.” This point caused approval to filter up through the link from Ru, much to Pele’s amusement. Ignorant of the exchange, the artist continued, “The story goes that Haumea was a young lady from the village. Her family dedicated servants of Denaii, but her talent lying in hedge-wizardry.
“A first, her family was glad to send her here to study and increase her abilities: an array of spells to beat back brigands and spirit-beasts have always been more valuable than any precious stone outside the cities. They even approved when an attraction sparked between Lydon and Haumea.”
The artist paused in coloring in his sky and looked wistfully at the statue. “If things had followed their course, we would be without this beautiful work, and it is possible that Lydon and Haumea might have carved out a nation here before Nov I was even born.”
He sighed, “But the temple opened its doors to new initiates to serve Denaii and Haumea’s family suddenly changed course: pressuring her into going to the temple and becoming anointed in the name of the Lawgiver. And in the order that originally settled on the delta, love and marriage were forbidden.”
Pele scowled. “You know, the more I hear about Denaii, the less I understand about why anyone worships him.”
This made the artist laugh. “It’s not the god that’s the problem, it’s the people. And while I grant that the Lawgiver has more than his share of madmen in his ranks, from the aesthetics to the whole of Calderia, I’ve met truly horrible followers of the Goodly Morn and the One Dice as well. And the folks running the Denaiian temple at Godshome are decent folks.”
He took Pele’s now thoughtful expression, he continued his tale. “The head cleric of the temple knew all about Lydon and Haumea’s relationship and though he continued to hire the wizard, he arranged it such that the two were never allowed to lay eyes on either other. Some say he wished to spare his initiate temptation and pain, others, that he was unwilling to risk losing a skilled spellworker from his order.
“Whatever the reason, Lydon and Haumea were separate, but the wizard knew that the main path among the temple outbuildings could see the western edge of his own island and set out to offer her a token of his love.” He nodded toward the statue. “If you were an expert in stone and earth, you could tell that the statue isn’t marble or granite or any other kind of stone common for statues. Lydon delved deep into the world with spells he crafted purely for the purpose, and found a new rock from its heart. And he worked it with magic and chisel and probe for months through all weather and the dark of night.
“Haumea observed from the shores in the temple’s shadow; saw the blazing arrays of his spells drawn in the air, heard the ring of his hammer. By and by, she witnessed him make of her an angel.”
I have seen angels, at least those of my world. Ru’s thoughts slipped through the link as he became distracted. They are beautiful, but beautiful like mountains or flames, and terrible as well. This is no angel: it is only beautiful.
Pele fought her urge to comment on that, both out of respect for the artist and his story, and because she got the sense that Ru wouldn’t appreciate that she’d caught him ruminating on beauty or of that fleeting image of Gloryfall had come across as he listened to the tale.
“Lydon finished his statue, Haumea in Truth, but even something so wonderful couldn’t turn the head cleric’s heart away from what he saw as his god’s command. It would be seventeen years before Haumea was raised to the station of cleric in her own right and she immediately left the temple, denouncing her order and their views on love.”
A small smile came to the artist’s face. “That’s why lovers still come to the shrine: so many of the romances the storyspinners and loremen tell today end in tragedy. Even the dime novels these days. But the true story of this shrine? It turned out happy, if not hard won. Haumea crossed the river and came to Lydon as he worked, as he always did on fair days, right here before the statue.
“They were married in the village and Haumea became mother not only to two girls, but to the people of this river, founding her own Denaiian church, the ancestor of the one on Godshome now.” He gave Pele and Ru a quirky grin that obviously misunderstood their relationship. “They say that if a couple stands in Haumea’s shrine was the sun sets and her shadow falls over them; just as it did on the day the two met again after all their time apart; they will never forget each other and their love for each other, no matter what.”
The notion set something aflutter in Pele, the same oddness within that she felt when she’d watched Kaiel and Brin together at the ball in Daire City. She’d tamped it down before, but now she was wondering at it. Much like the thing inside her that raged and roared when she lost herself in battle, it felt slightly alien in her mind while still being part of her. What was it?
She didn’t have much time for introspection because something exploded inside Ru. It was a great cacophony of triumph, interest, excitement and something even more rare for him: hope.
“Yes.” He said aloud, voice rough from disuse.
“Pardon?” asked the artist, leaning slightly to try and see him past Pele’s wings.
Pele tucked said wings and turned to look at him. “What is It, Ru?”
What came across his face wouldn’t be rightly called a ‘smile’. There were teeth and an upward curve of the lips, but those yellow eyes were even more malicious than usual. They burned with dark glee as he imagined something no doubt terrible.
“I know what to do now.” Ru declared. “How to prepare. How to win.”
Despite herself, Pele let go of a relieved sigh that he wasn’t pondering something awful concerning the statue. That relief was short lived when she remembered that it was inspired by that statue instead.
“Do you have any need of me for the next few hours, Miss Pele?” he asked. Unlike the others, he didn’t stumble, didn’t have to think about it when calling her by her new name. Even though it was certainly a side effect of the link, Pele still appreciated it.
She shook her head. “No Ru. I’ll just be here reading. I’ll be fine.”
Ru nodded, then turned his attention to the artist who was giving them a curious look. “Where are your wizards.” Somehow, it wasn’t a question.
“Mostly hedge-skill on University Island.” said the artist carefully. “Elsewhere, the spellcrafters set up wherever they feel like; there’s no school of magic in Rivenport, not a formal one at least.”
This did not endear the man to Ru, who ground his teeth. “Then tell me where to find someone who knows something useful.”
“Ru.” Pele glowered at him. The link seemed to quiver in the back of her head, waiting for an excuse to punish him. At that feeling, she eased back on her emotions. Expressing her displeasure was a different beast than wanting him to suffer.
The dark mage noticed this and glanced her way, the closest she could expect to a ‘thank you’.
The artist only shrugged, not fazed by Ru’s boorish manner. “You could try the markets on Constan’s Isle to the south. The Society contractors buy their spellworked gear there.”
“Good enough.” Ru said with a curt nod. He took one step away, then changed into a hawk before flying out of the garden, heading south.
Immediately following his departure, Pele shifted awkwardly as the artist gave her an askance look. “He’s my… bodyguard. Highly excitable.”
He calmly returned his attention to his drawing, exchanging his blue for a light gray to matched the statue herself. “It’s not as unusual as you might think. There’s something about Haumea above any other art on the island that tends to be inspirational.”
Pele doubted that the statue had ever inspired someone to what Ru might be pondering, but she smiled politely and looked around for a quiet place to read. “I’m not surprised. Thank you for taking the time and telling me the story. It was most enlightening.”
Again, he smiled a gentle smile, placid as he sunk back into concentrating on his work. “Always happy to foster appreciation for good art.”
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