- 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
The dwarf regarded her a moment, the question of why Pele had two names never quite forming on his lips, but twitching his mustache. She couldn’t blame him: she couldn’t think of any common reasons why someone might walk around with two possible names that a traveling companion might leave for them.
He didn’t ask though, and she imagined that it was due in part to not wanting to get in the middle of whatever they were involved in. Instead, he just harrumphed and checked his ledger again. “Hmm. Yes, I am to give you passkeys to her suite.”
Scooting his seat back, he pulled open the draw in front of him and from it, produced three octagonal wooden tiles large enough to fit comfortably in Kaiel or Ru’s hands and twice as thick as the bound cover of a book. From another drawer came yet another book, this one bound in pale, yellowing leather with a scaled texture on its surface, a quill pen made from a bright blue feather, and a crystal inkwell.
The clerk cleared his throat roughly and fished a monocle out of one of his coat pockets, wiping it primly on his sleeve before seating it over his left eye and fastening the alligator clip on the end of its chain to his eyebrow curl. “A moment while I prepare the passkeys, begging your pardon.”
Ru leaned forward with interest now that there seemed to be spellworking going on. Thick fingers cracked the new book open and leafed through pages crammed full of tiny messy writing until he found what he was looking for, and began to transcribe several short phrases onto the edges of the tiles; finishing with stylized vox symbol in the center.
After blowing on them to dry the ink faster, he passed one tile to each of them. “She is on the third floor, suite five. These are effective for three days, ending at precisely noon on the third day. After that, the doors will not recognize you and you will be unable to enter the suite or use the lifts except to exit to this floor.”
“There is no magic in this.” Ru observed, turning the tile over in his hands as if he could find the magic if he got it to just the right angle.
The dwarf let out a deep, gravely chuckle. “No sir, of course not. It would be quite the waste to devote energy and skill crafting disposable keys for each guest. The magic is in the doors; they identify the cypher written on the tile and the specific properties of the ink.”
Ru’s eyebrows rose with intrigue. “Is the spellcrafter who created this system in residence?”
Another chuckle. The clerk seemed to think this line of questioning was the most amusing or absurd he’d ever been privy to. “Indeed not. We contract all of our spellcraft with Master Norry of Harpsfell—only the best is worthy of guests at the Silver Hammer Lodge.”
“If the work is half as good as the concept, I must meet this man.” Ru muttered.
Pele couldn’t help but smile a bit at the curiosity and impatience to see the doors for himself she was feeling in the link. More proof that he was either lying or delusional when he said he wasn’t a person. She’d had a lot of swords and none of them had passionate hobbies or interests.
“I suppose you’ll get to see for yourself. Let’s go up to the room and…” She trailed off because, having already taken stock of the room, she saw no obvious way to go up. Before she could speak up, Kaiel was already walking around behind the desk toward the alcoves she’d noticed before.
Upon closer inspection, there was a bronze tablet half again as wide and tall as her hand-span bolted to the wall to the right of each alcove with an inscription etched into it that roughly formed the outline of an octagon. Just as she surmised from a distance, however, the alcoves housed only open pits cut into the floor with identical holes in the ceiling of each one.
For once, she didn’t venture the question balanced on the tip of her tongue, and instead just stood by and watched as Kaiel palmed his passkey and pressed it to the tablet situated next to the center alcove. A slight breeze wafted out just ahead of a stone disc that dropped from the aperture in the ceiling with the exact slow, steady pace and absolute smoothness of motion that no falling rock should have, in Pele’s estimation.
It was deeply carved with characters from the draconic language called graphur—the same one that supplied the decoration on the house artifact—all over it. Once it sank fully into view, a ring of iron railings became visible, hammered into the stone directly with a gap that lined up with the entrance to the alcove.
“I suppose you’ve never seen a modern lift.” said Kaiel, stepping aside and offering to let Pele step on first.
Pele had witnessed a great many things in her time, including things that flew or floated when they shouldn’t. At the same time, she’d also seen them fall when magic failed. She got Ru’s attention in the link. What do you think of the spellwork on this, Ru?
The swell of pride almost bowled her over. It might have been the first time in centuries that someone actually asked the man his opinion on his expertise rather than having it forced upon them.
Impeccable, Miss Pele. I suspect this ‘Norry’ has a hand in it. He is deeply clever: where most might use vin to levitate the stone, he instead uses attractant and repellant ere-a systems, repelling the core vehicle from the walls and the lowest level and attracting it to the highest level. Multiple redundant points of failure; genius.
She almost laughed at the very nearly childlike glee Ru was taking in his observation. As much as he complained about it, she decided to trust his judgment concerning the spellcraft and stepped into the lift. There was another bronze tablet situated on the back railing and once they were all aboard, Kaiel once more used his passkey to order it to rise.
Being lifted by something other than her wings made Pele tense at first. The hailene in her resented it strongly, but was in the end overruled by the novelty of a mystic machine that lifted those without wings, knowledge, or magical capacity, into the air. By the end of the short, smooth trip up three floors, she had a smile on her face.
“Do many buildings have these?” She asked as they stepped out of a new alcove and into a carpeted hallway lit by mage lights and scented with lavender. “Is that how they’re able to build so tall here while nothing in Daire was more than four floors?”
They moved left from the alcove, down the hall, and followed the numbers painted in gold leaf on the doors. Kaiel nodded, “That’s the influence of the Society; a lot of the king’s own engineers did work here, and tall buildings are the style in Kinos. Of course, not many would run up ten flights of stairs several times a day if they can help it, so lifts are a big necessity.”
It wasn’t long before they reached the end of the hall and the lacquered door bearing a golden numeral five. Once again, there was a tablet set into the adjacent wall. This one was copper with the inscription in silver. Pele caught Kaiel’s arm before he could use his passkey. “Can I try it?”
Kaiel stepped away graciously, unable to hide a brotherly grin at seeing her eager to try out a modern concept.
Up close, she saw a brief flash between the passkey and the tablet when she brought the former near. Some mechanism inside the wall let out a series of rapid clicks before a bell inside the room sounded. Immediately thereafter, the door knob itself rattled and clicked as a lock disengaged.
Pele couldn’t help but give the passkey a quick look afterward even though she knew nothing had changed about it. The thing was just a bit of wood and ink and yet it made so many other things possible. More to the point, it was one more thing about the new world she found herself in that she understood, at least on the functional level.
There was a certain lightness in her step as she turned the knob and stepped into the suite beyond.
The Silver Hammer Lodge did not disappoint with the luxury of the room. Everything was done in blue and white: midnight blue carpeting thick enough to get lost in, walls paneled with pale wood from trees Pele didn’t recognize, and more velvet curtains pulled back from the windows, these in royal blue. The main room, following the architectural style of the lodge, was round with a domed ceiling that held a chandelier which was a clever mix of science and magic. Its mirrors and lenses reflected and intensified a single mage light through a multitude of crystals to illuminate the room.
An alcove to one side held a hearth and tall, overstuffed chairs that were unfriendly to a person with wings. Another alcove, which could be concealed with yet another curtain, held a porcelain tub large enough for half a dozen people by Pele’s estimation. A pair of double doors presumably separated the living area from the sleeping area.
A long table dominated the main area, seemingly having chased a settee and several smaller lounges to the far corners. Sitting around it before an impressive spread of food whose tantalizing medley of aromas reminded her of how long it had been since her last meal, were Raiteria, Brin and who Pele was forced to assume was Layaka. The bell had announced her arrival, so all six eyes were on her, making her steps falter.
Multitudes of ways to approach the situation leapt to the forefront of her mind. Deep down, she wanted to loom over Layaka and bombard her with questions until she was satisfied that Brin was right, Ru was wrong, and the world was a bright place after all. Another wanted to spout some hollow platitudes and then sit back and observe until she got a better feel for things. Still another considered letting go of her reservations entirely and welcoming the strange girl.
Instead, she deflected that situation entirely. “Brin, when you were talking about this place I had no idea it would be so…” Opulent? Luxurious? Amazing? “…nice.”
She blamed the failure of her vocabulary on who she was still being forced to just assume was Layaka. The girl seemed taken aback by the sight of her, which given her stature, was not surprising. However this Layaka wasn’t taken aback like Partha’s caricature of her would have been. No, this girl tensed and observed, watching to see if the tall, sword bearing hailene who just walked in was dangerous or not.
It was a point in her favor as far as Pele was concerned. Not only because that was a reaction she could respect, but also because no one, not Brin, or Rai, and not some demonic minion, had warned her how imposing Pele was.
Brin noticed the look too and hastily swallowed whatever it was she’d been chewing. “Oh, Pele!” No stumbling, no pause to remember; Brin had taken her name change more easily than even Kaiel had. The two men filed in behind them, and Brin quickly added: “Kaiel! I’d like you to meet Layaka.”
“Heh.” Ru leered at the pointed snub and was about to say something when Pele shot him a stern warning in the link that made him glower but keep his tongue.
That same threat-assessing stare swept over them and locked on Ru, slowly traveling down until she was pointedly watching how he hovered. Her eyes widened and she licked her lips tentatively, one hand fiddling with the Denaiian icon hanging from her neck.
“This is Ru Brakar.” Pele said, unsure how or if she could introduce him further without putting undo stress on her. “Another of our traveling companions.”
Slowly, as if worried that the motion might give one of them an opening to attack her, Layaka inclined her head to each of them in turn. “Evening.” She said, trying to sound formal. “Brin said that you already knew what all’s happening—why she came and got me from the stables?”
“Then you know that we cannot and will not trust you.” Ru said, making his voice as rough and demonic as it was when he first appeared before Pele.
Layaka made a visible effort not to flinch, but she did tighten her grip on the icon. “I’ve been told everything. All about how the damned bandits’ god is really a demon, about how they used my face to spy on you. It’s not my place to argue.” She finally lowered her eyes, “All I know—all I care about is that they killed everybody left back at Idarian. And I won’t get a chance to pay it back.”
Pele looked to Brin. “She won’t?”
“She won’t.” Brin answered firmly. “Let’s be honest here: there’s not a lot of chance that the five of us are all going to come back from Nhan Raduul and we’re all skilled with weapons and magic.”
“I’m skilled!” Layaka said with the tired anger of someone who had been making the same argument for hours. “Get me an ax and I can fight almost as well as anyone back at…at Idarian.” Her eyes fell again, focused on the table in front of her. She took a deep, measured breath and forced herself to continue, “I can shoot a bow too.”
Pele regarded the girl quietly, at the same time observing Raiteria out of the corner of her eye. The halfling woman was uncharacteristically quiet and it wasn’t hard to guess why; Layaka wanted to fight for her family just as much as Rai did. But Brin was right: the girl wouldn’t last matched against the kinds of thing Immurai had already shown himself capable of mustering, much less what he would have waiting in reserve.
She took a moment to unbuckle the custom scabbard for Dottir Logi, leaning the big sword against the table before pulling out the seat across from Layaka and sitting down. Like seemingly all the chairs in the lodge, it hadn’t been chosen with hailene or ang’hailene in mind. Its high back forcing her to fan her wings out until they were brushing the neighboring chairs before she was something even approaching comfortable.
After much shifting to get herself settled, Pele clasped her hands in front of her on the table and caught the younger woman’s gaze with her own. “You don’t know me.” she began, voice level, but kind, “And you’ve got just as much reason to trust me as I do you, all things considered. Still, I am imploring you to believe us when we say that while this is your fight and you have every bit as much reason to want Immurai dead as the rest of us, every right to want the blow that ends him to come from your hands… you can’t.
“You know what Immurai’s forces did to your home, but that’s not the half of what he’s capable of. He attacked Daire City itself, came into a gathering hosted by the King and protected by his elite guards, and slaughtered hundreds, including…” There was one death that stuck with her the most there, but his memory would have meant nothing to Layaka, “…including King Solgrum himself.”
At this, Layaka gasped. “The King? But he has—”
“An army, yes.” said Pele. “We fought alongside that army later against a demon serving Immurai and we very nearly failed against him. The entire army of Solgrum; the ones who survived the attack on the city at least; and they barely defeated one of Immurai’s lessers. Are you starting to see now?”
Layaka did. Her expression, the dark set to her eyes, the gnawing on the inside of her cheek to keep from spewing a stream of expletives, said as much.
Something in Pele responded to that expression, that brokenness that ought not to have been possible for a person so young. It made her act without thinking.
Her hand moved across the table, deftly avoided a plate of fried fish, and closed over Layaka’s own.
Other parts of her railed at the touch, especially when she initiated it herself, but warmth muted them and she didn’t let got as she willed the girl to meet her eyes again.
When they were finally eye to eye, she spoke again. “You can’t go. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have your revenge. I can be your proxy. I’ll be your hand, thrusting my blade into that monster’s chest.”
The moment hung in the air. Pele didn’t move, refusing to say another word until Layaka responded. The others seemed to respect that, if only for being stunned at the new timbre to her voice when she swore that vow.
It took a moment for Layaka to process the offer, and once she did, her face hardened. Turning her hand so that she made the clasp of hands into a more formal shake, she said: “Alright. You can be my hand. But I want you to promise me one thing: that he hears my name as he dies. That he knows I’m part of his ashing fate.”
Pele nodded as they released one another’s hands. “There are many names that need to be in his ears when the end comes.”
Two small hands clapping together broke the strange tension in the room. Rai had found her voice again. “Well said, T…Pele! Though you’re going to have to be quite fast: I’ve got a special bullet I’ve dedicated to Immurai’s heart.”
“You’ll have to shoot through the claws and fangs and spikes I intend to pierce through every diseased ounce of his flesh.” Ru said, now pointedly ignoring Layaka.
Kaiel pulled out the chair next to Pele and across from Brin, offering her a teasing smile. “I suppose the Baratta and Reflair are thirsty for demon blood as well.”
A small smile of her own played at Brin’s lips as some of the stress of the day melted from her. “Reflair is always ready for a fight. It’s why she stays with me; I always find one.” She cocked her head, “But are you saying that you won’t be aiming for Immurai?”
He leaned back a bit, nodded to Layaka, who was looking from one member of the group to the other with keen interest now that they were openly and confidently discussing murdering the demon whose power Pele had just outlined so eloquently. “Everyone else seems to have his fate well in hand. I think I’ll concern myself with Matasume. She did flay my legs you know, and it’s a bigger puzzle how to defeat those filaments of hers.”
With a nod to Raiteria, he added: “Plus, once we’re on Nhan Raduul, part of my attention will be on locating Motsey. The spell for that requires no small amount of concentration.”
It wasn’t quite happiness that spread over Rai’s face, but it might have been called comfort in a small measure. “There’s a spell for that?”
“Several in fact.” said Kaiel. “But this one is the most reliable. I’ve been around Motsey enough by now that with a bit of a memory charm, I can recall his heartbeat. Every heartbeat is unique and synchs with a part of the Song. The spell I have in mind can search an area for that same heartbeat. While the range is only a few hundred yards, it won’t be fooled if Immurai attempts to use another imposter.”
Layaka flinched. “They do that often?”
“That he did it once is enough reason for me to take it into account.” said Kaiel.
Seeing clouds of doubt starting to form in the girl’s eyes, Brin cleared her throat loudly. “Listen everyone, we had a long journey and face a longer one ahead of us, so I put a bit of coin into buying us a feast.” She gestured to the laden table that had gone ignored in favor of the more pressing issue of Layaka. “We don’t know how quickly we might find passage, so we might be leaving tomorrow for all we know. I suggest we all have one last good meal before a week and a half of hard tack and rum.”
Pele’s hunger reasserted itself at the reminder. There was indeed a plentiful and varied selection set upon the table. Unsurprisingly, Rivenport’s chief staple was provided by the river and the sea. There were fish cooked in more ways than Pele knew were possible: from steamed and fried, to minced and mixed with chopped vegetables, or in raw slices served on pillowy wheat biscuits. Alongside the fish were prawns as long as her fingers, battered in breadcrumbs and fried golden or grilled and served on skewers, as well as boiled crab and octopus cooked in as many ways as the fish. Slabs of what Brin explained was the meat of shield whales were served braised in a tangy sauce.
Beyond the fruits of the sea, there were medleys of vegetables, some of which Pele didn’t have names for, boiled and steamed and raw in salads, or rendered into consumees. Skewers of tiny potatoes, pearl onions, and slices of onion were arranged around a deep red sauce meant for dipping, and red rings of something Pele couldn’t identify floated in thick cream peppered with finely diced greenery.
There was also cheese, from soft varietals that needed to be kept in bowls, to hard wax encased wheels. And at the center of the table was a Trull egg, roasted in a cocoon of ground beef mixed with grain and still more vegetables.
Raiteria passed around plates; smooth, glazed clay with the outline of a hammer painted in the center, and everyone began to help themselves. The conversation turned to provisions they would need for the trip and the landing at Nhan Raduul, or theorycraft as to what they might face there.
Theorycraft was all it was. None of them had ever fought an entrenched Kaydan demon, not even Ru. And none of them had set foot on any one of the Kimean Isles. It was nothing new to Pele; the hailene never gave briefings to their slaves, only sent them on ahead to absorb arrows and spells, hoping that the survivors of the first wave would do some damage before being struck down.
Such tactics made Pele a rarity in one more respect: she was a veteran of those shock squads when the most experienced ang’hailene after her had survived only three engagements. She’d seen twenty-nine, not counting supply raids and hunting expeditions, by the time she escaped. She remained quiet, holding herself back from eating as ravenously as she wanted, while she listened to the others lay out what they imagined they might be facing and imagined how she might play into each scenario.
“You seem to be content as a proxy to a great many people.” Ru interrupted her imaginings. He’d taken the seat to her right and where she was holding herself back, he was not. At least three crabs lay torn asunder and sucked dry of anything edible on his plate, next to a pile of empty skewers and uneaten biscuits that hadn’t been to his liking and bereft of the fish or octopus that had been. There was a bowl of mashed yellow squash in his hand when she looked over at him, which was rapidly emptying. “This girl, and Raiteria… and myself. You intend to represent all of us at the killing blow?”
“Somehow, I imagine you’ll still want to do the honors yourself.” She said, taking a bite out of a fried prawn.
“Heh. Indeed. My intention is to use his preoccupation with you, the Soul Battery, to catch him off guard.”
“Then why call me your proxy?”
Ru helped himself to a cheese half the size of his fist and took a bite of it, the link pulsing as the considered his answer. When he finally swallowed, he said, “Because a dead Immurai is a higher priority to me than a dead Immurai at my hands. My desire is to see him suffer and fail no matter what I have to do to achieve that.”
“Even if it brings you immense pain.” She lowered her voice so the others wouldn’t hear. It wasn’t a question, just a statement of truth. “I know, Ru. And… I won’t fight you on it. It’s your choice and your revenge. Just don’t think that I’ll be happy being connected to you while you do it.”
He actually paused in his gorging, a forkful of the egg roast poised inches from his mouth. Indecision moved in the link like expert fingers across harp strings. He took the egg into his mouth, chomping down hard enough on the fork that Pele thought he might bend the metal. The harp of indecision played a sour chord. “All I ask of you is that you do not allow yourself to be distracted by it.”
Pele started to protest, but he cut her off, gesturing with his fork. “We are both well aware that your altruism is your great weakness. It has led to you making hasty and inadvisable decisions in the past. I remind you of the danger you put yourself in rescuing Percival Cloudherd.”
He spoke at volume, turning their semi-private conversation public.
“That’s a foolish thing to say, old man.” Kaiel shook his head while dipping rice from a bowl onto his plate. “If she hadn’t gone after Cloudherd and hadn’t set off his grenades, we likely wouldn’t have defeated Bashurra.”
“Bashurra?” Layaka asked, “Bashurra the Crevasse? The Ogre of Tactics? That’s storyspinner stuff, isn’t it?”
Ru showed her entirely too many sharp teeth, “Heh. Now he is.”
“Pele blew off half his head with grenades.” said Raiteria, who only knew the tale second hand, but had already adopted it as one of her favorite.
“The army helped.” Pele said, suddenly a shade embarrassed at hearing her exploits being told as if they were part of a dime novel. “And Ru. And none of it would have mattered if Brin hadn’t sealed his access to nekras, or if you hadn’t lured him out in the first place, Rai.”
Incredulity was writ large on Layaka’s face, baiting the others into telling her the whole tale, starting with the battle with the King of Flame and Steel.
Ru, on the other hand, settled back in his chair with a finger bowl full of apples in a thick, sugary sauce. His mission of diverting the conversation done, he did very little to mask his own feeling of great pride from the link. That smugness was shattered by Pele directing her thoughts at him.
Don’t think this is over. I felt part of what happened to you before. You would have passed out or maybe died if it hadn’t been for…
I am not the same man who needed Gloryfall then. And you are not Gloryfall. Ru retorted and cut off the connection.