- 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
There were only two beds in the suite, so the rest of the group stayed in the artifact house. After more than a week of Kaiel and Ru’s tinkering, there were three partially furnished rooms on the second floor and the main room had become more hospitable. It was furnished in a comfortable mishmash of Kaiel’s favored Harpsfell style and whatever trappings Ru found worthy from down through his many centuries.
The following days were filled with activity that kept them apart as a group for much of the day, but Raiteria made sure everyone came together for the evening meal through sheer persistence that even Ru seemed loathe to resist. She and Brin gathered the supplies, from rations to illegal ammunition for Rai and Kaiel’s firearms and alchemical concoctions that could be inhaled to reduce sea-sickness.
Kaiel split his days between University Island and the docks, with occasional forays to the Historic Society’s Cartographer and lunches with his mother, sometimes accompanied by Brin. His work turned up fairly detailed maps of Nhan Raduul from the last time foreigners were openly welcome to the Kimean Isles; some forty years prior. He also purchased assorted spell diagrams he thought might be helpful.
Ru spent most of his time working on the House with a near religious zeal. In the evenings after dinner, he retired from the suite and disappeared, masking the link so that Pele couldn’t tell what he was doing. Every night he returned irate, shaken, and sullen. Occasionally he was melancholy instead, but refused to speak on it. Once, when he fell asleep seemingly out of sheer mental exhaustion from his nightly excursions, Pele was subjected to glimpses of memories of Gloryfall, Seth, and Gand in happier times.
While still on her guard about the strangers who had taken her in, Layaka slowly warmed to them. She joined in idle discussions at the dinner table and even shared some now-bittersweet stories from her life at Idarian Homestead. Where her true talent lay was with the animals. Gaddigan tried to bite her once or twice, only to receive a sharp strike on the nose and an excoriation from the girl until he learned that being difficult with her was just as much a losing proposition as doing so with Pele.
As for Pele, she did bits and pieces of everything. She boarded a hansom with Rai and Brin to the southernmost island in the Cacophonies in search of illicit alchemists who made explosive rounds for rifles, and trolled the docks alongside Kaiel in search of a captain willing to even get them close to Kimean waters. She went with Layaka down to the stables to help exercise the mounts and learned proper care for Gaddigan from the girl. One morning, she even asked Ru again to try and teach her some basic spells. This ended in another failure as she found herself unable to get even a sense of the well of power Ru insisted was inside all beings.
What she didn’t do was try reading further into the journal of Lena Hiddakko. Once Kaiel informed her that it wouldn’t help her learn to harness whatever power being a Soul Battery entailed, she realized that the only value it held was giving her insight into who her mother was as a person. Thus far, that insight had not been welcome and Pele lost her stomach for it.
Curiosity and hope that later pages might improve her opinion of Lena Hiddakko lingered, but she quashed it by filling her days with other, more worthy activities.
Three days after their arrival in Rivenport, Kaiel informed the others over dinner that he had found their ship. A whaler, the Immaculate Raptor, was in port to sell its latest catch and would be returning to its berth in Rizen in two day’s time. The captain and her crew had no love for the Kimeans and had already made arrangements with another party to sail through the disputed waters near Nhan Raduul; presumably for a raid on one of its neighbors.
Apparently private Rizeni and Novish raids into the northern Kimean islands weren’t uncommon. They were either missions of vengeance for Kimean raiders who kidnapped people from ships and coastal towns to serve as experimental test subjects in their master’s labs, or rescue missions mounted to recover the loved ones of people wealthy enough to muster a counter-raid.
Whatever the reason, the Raptor‘s crew had no qualms about taking on some more coin to deliver one more group with the intent to do violence on Kimean soil. After some brief discussion over how close to Nhan Raduul the whaler was likely to get them and what size skiff they needed to buy in order to transfer themselves from the ship to the island, Kaiel went to tell the captain she had a deal.
It wasn’t exactly raining on the morning they arrived at the docks. Just an aggressive, invasive kind of mist that drifted in through every available opening of their clothes, and stung the skin with its comparative cool. Pele was especially miserable in the weather and constantly tugged her specially cut oilskin poncho around herself, adjusting the hood and folding her wings in close to her body. More than once, she glanced beside her in borderline jealousy at Layaka.
The farm girl didn’t even have the hood of her own cloak up as she led the two fear-bred pack mules the group would be taking with them. Her own eyes gleamed with wonder as she took in the unfamiliar nautical sights around them.
Rivenport’s main docks took up most of the southernmost point of the city on the large natural island called The Grand Shore. The island’s interior was taken up by warehouses, importers, and trading posts while the main bridge leaving off it led directly into the heart of the Cacophonies for the convenience of the many sailors who would no doubt be on shore leave at any given time.
All round them, ships of every size and design presented themselves, along with the exotic cargoes being loaded and unloaded. From one boxy wooden vessel with a covered hull and vast square sails, a team of dark skinned elves drove a half dozen white bats the size of horses down the gangplank, the animals walking clumsily on their wings. A hulking caravel crewed by pale humans with skin that held an almost blue tint was offloading open crates filled with potted flowers with glittering white petals stained with blood-colored speckles.
On one moored barge, teams of young men and boys were setting to work, hacking at the corpse of an enormous whale. The beast’s skull was covered by a thick carapace or dark bone like a helm, which extended all the way to its mid back. It took Pele a moment to recognize the shape as a smaller version of the same structure that formed the dome in the Silver Hammer Lodge’s lobby.
“A shield whale.” Kaiel said as if sensing the question forming in both her and Layaka’s minds. “The Raptor brought in another earlier this week. They’re extremely aggressive and extremely valuable here in south Novrom. The leather is resilient and waterproof, the oil is a potent alchemical base, and the bones—especially the ‘shield’ that grows over their head and back—is prized in architecture.
“The meat is foul though.” Brin said, making a face.
“I think Albuk’s uses it for their ‘beef’.” Kaiel chuckled, giving her a fond smile.
“Nothing is as bad as Albuk’s beef.” said Rai, “Besides, the way they cook it in Rizen is really good. They shred it and mix it with peppers, snap peas and those thin wheat noodles, then fry it hot in wheyweed whey. The sauce tastes like Cylla wine if it was savory.”
“Let’s not talk about food.” Brin moaned, “We’re looking at a week and a half of sea rations. There probably won’t even be enough fresh water for Albuk’s.” She turned to wink at Layaka,” Another reason you’re lucky not to be going.”
Layaka only grunted a reply. She’d argued her own usefulness in the battle several times, but Brin and Pele had put up a united front against it. Staying in Rivenport to tend the animals was, for her, a foregone conclusion; but that didn’t mean she enjoyed being reminded of it.
“There it is.” Kaiel said, pointing up ahead of them, “The Immaculate Raptor.”
The ship he was pointing to as of a design that was sparsely represented at the docks; one Pele was completely unfamiliar with. It had only three masts, which would have been too few for a ship of its size even if the hull hadn’t been constructed of overlapping iron plates, and because of that extra weight, it rode low in the water.
Iron hinges and clasps attached the ribs of a whale to its sides so that when they were fully extended, they could be raised and lowered, trapping creatures or even smaller ships at broadsides. The skull of a shield whale, somewhat larger than the creature being butchered further up the docks, formed the bow, its lower jaw skimming the waterline and adding its dynamic shape to the craft’s profile.
Instead of a wheel and tiller at the forecastle, there was a turret mounted with what looked like overgrown rifles that were integrated with a nest of copper pipes and flanges that plunged down into the bowels of the ship. As they drew closer, Pele could make out what looked like three screws, each twice the size of a horse, mounted to a rack at the aft of the ship. The rack was articulated, lifting the screws and iron planes that sat to either side of them and served as rudders out of the water for maintenance while at dock.
The Immaculate Raptor was the very image of an ocean-going predator at rest, just waiting for its masters to take it out hunting once more.
There was a woman sitting on top of one of the man-sized bollards that secured the Raptor in place, lazily paging through a dime novel with the woodcut of a giant boar menacing three armored figures on horseback on the cover. Months, possibly years at sea had tanned her skin, but there was still the slight bluish tint of a Chordini about her lips and palms.
When the group was a few yards from her, she closed the book, set it atop the bollard beside her, and leapt down into their path. “You’re the first here. I reckon you’re Chronicler Arunsteadeles and his party, come to board?”
“We are.” said Kaiel with a slight bow, “I’ve spoken to your captain and I have the other half of her asking price.”
The woman smiled a slightly off kilter smile, her eyes never quite focusing on Kaiel’s face. “That’s what I heard. Mon Sulus Kime is right popular this season. What’s your reason for headin’ there? Raiders take a bard off at ship and the College wants to make the island lords pay? Or is it personal?”
Kaiel shook his head. “Our business is our own or the captain’s—if she asks. Until then, we’d rather keep our peace.”
Her smile only grew larger. “Another assassination then.” Before Kaiel could argue, she span in place, gesturing toward the gangplank. “Up you go then. Gertan will probably be waitn’ at the top to take you and your coin to the captain.” Then over her shoulder, she added more darkly, “Good luck to ya then.”
There was a moment where it looked like Kaiel was going to try and dissuade the sailor from her fancies, but with a small groan, he just started up the gangplank.
Pele moved up behind him quickly. “Assassination? Does that mean one of the other passengers is an assassin?”
“She didn’t say anyone was going on an assassination this time.” he said, waving it off. “Your average whaler skirts Kimean waters four or five times a year—it’s not much of a surprise to hear they’ve picked up one or two assassins sent to—ah-ha—dispatch one of the Kimean lords. There are many of people that would sleep a lot better with fewer of those tyrants in the world. Not that I’m aware of any attempt ever being successful.”
“The woman’s obviously more than a little touched in the head.” said Rai, who had ducked under Pele’s wing to walk up the gangplank beside her. “Probably imagines everyone that comes aboard is an assassin—even the whales.”
At the top of the gangplank, there was a dwarf waiting for them. Like the clerk at the Silver Hammer, she wasn’t the kind of dwarf Pele was used to, but that was where the similarities ended. Her head was shaved bald, displaying elaborate, looping tattoos, and her eyebrows, while bushy, had been clipped. Instead of a beard, she had great mutton chops, which she’d braided into neat rows that trailed down to her chest. Said chest was bound up by strips of linen and covered by a leather vest that she wore open. Like everyone else in view now that they were level with the main deck, she wore pants made of sailcloth, in her case dyed deep blue, though age and wear had faded it back to white in places.
She regarded them with a level eye for a long moment before nodding and allowing them to actually board. Her only reaction to them was silence until everyone, including the mules, were aboard. “Captain Sangua extends her hospitality to the Chronicler and his people.” She jabbed a stubby thumb into her own chest. “I’m Gertan Neversundered, outcast of the House Neversundered of the Troubled Passes Clan, Captain Sangua’s first mate and chief harpooner.”
Kaiel started to introduce himself, but Gertan wasn’t done. “Passengers or no, paying or no, there’s rules aboard the Immaculate Raptor and you’re invited to follow them or I’ll drop you in the ocean myself.”
“Is that a threat that everyone who works on a boat makes?” Ru grumbled.
Gertan gave him a cold look, but continued, gesturing to the mules. “First, you take care of your own animals. You feed them, you exercise them below decks, and you muck their stalls. They are not to come above decks unless you’re debarking. Any animal that becomes a burden becomes the next day’s fresh meat, got it?”
Most of the group nodded, but Layaka, who was only aboard to get the mules settled, scowled at the threat.
“Speaking of meat,” Gertan added, “The chickens below decks ain’t for meat, they’re for eggs. Any of them goes missing, there’s going to be a problem ‘less you can lay eggs.”
A spark of amusement flickered in the link. Pele glanced over at Ru. You can’t… can you? She was really hoping the answer was ‘no’.
Considering the many other things I have been ordered to do down through the centuries, the answer is a surprising ‘no’, Miss Pele. He replied, not bothering to hid the malicious glee he was feeling at giving it a try just to spite the dwarf.
Gertan turned just enough so she could point toward the forecastle. “See that hatch there?” Immaculate Raptor’s forecastle was more like a modestly sized building than any forecastle Pele had seen, and it was divided into three distinct structures: two smaller wooden ones with normal looking doors to the left and right of a much larger one made of wood paneled with steel plates of an even higher quality than the iron plates making up the hull. The hatch in question was a wheel operated contraption built into that.
“None of you are to even be seen near that hatch. It goes down to the boiler and she’s tetchy as it is without some land bound ape knocking the pipes or unseating the energist. Won’t be me that staves your head in, that’d be Rendral’s baby. He’s a good hand with spell work and can work up more nasty than I can think of.”
Interest sparked instantly in the link and Ru started looking around for anyone he might suspect was a fellow spellcaster.
“Speaking of which,” Gertan folded her arms, a grim smile showing just how much she enjoyed this part of the speech. “You’re guests, not nobility. On here, everyone on the crew down to the boy that empties the privies outranks you. They tell you to get out of their way, you do it. They tell you to lend a hand, you do it—and if we get into a spot of hurt with pirates or raiders, you best put your hands in for the fight.”
She took in the group again, from the over-sized hailene with one two-handed sword on her back and another at her hip, another woman with a spear over her shoulder, and the bearded man with the looks of a hungry lions, and admitted, “Don’t suppose that last part’ll be a problem. Now, you,” She stabbed a sausage-like finger toward Kaiel, “You’re the one that made the deal with the captain, come with me and she’ll take the rest of the coin you owe. As for the rest of you, I’ll have Solias show you where to go.”
After scanning the deck in search of the sailor she was looking for, she evidently found him on the rigging and bellowed his name.
This drew Pele’s eyes to the people on the rigging and for a moment, she wasn’t sure they were all people. Two of the sailors swarming the rigging might have been said to be doing so literally. They were roughly man-shaped, but their bodies were covered with a carpet of coarse black hair, and they had two extra smaller sets of arms beneath the usual pair.
One of them turned his head nearly one hundred and eighty degrees to see who was calling, revealing that for all that his face was mostly humanoid, his eyes were round, black orbs with a row of three smaller ones above each where eyebrows would be. He was every inch of him, a humanoid spider.
No one else seemed surprised or disturbed by his appearance, so Pele bit her tongue as he leapt down easily twenty feet to the deck without effort or sign of injury before crossing the deck to them. As he walked, he changed. It wasn’t the instantaneous transition Ru went through, but the slow, smooth alterations the mercenary Tal Esrin used when invoking his heritage as a dragonsired.
The two smaller arms seemed to wither away, retracting into his sides while the excess hair melted back into subtly gray skin, though enough remained to stand out against it. His larger eyes changed shape and became the kind Pele was accustomed to, and the smaller three seemed to wink closed, leaving behind only unruly brows.
Pele almost gasped—the sailor Solias was of the same race as the artist she met at Haumea’s shrine!
Solias brushed down his rough canvas shirt, partially covering the carefully cut holes made for his extra arms. “Visitors? Gertan, for me, you’re too kind.” He gave the dwarf a brilliant smile that was met with a grunt and an eye roll. Stepping forward, he spread his arms in welcome. “I am Solias Whithin, or as some aboard the Immaculate Raptor call me, The Ambassador. Captain Sangua has gifted me with the charge of seeing to the needs of our passengers.” He flicked a hand and a nastily curved dagger appeared in it. Still smiling genially, he scrapped the edge of the thing against a cheek as if he was shaving, “And to enforce the rules dear Gertan just made you aware of.”
He grinned at the raised brow. “You are not the only one who trained at the College.” He looked pointedly at the crest Kaiel was wearing as a cloak clasp, “Loreman in training. Best of luck.”
“My thanks.” Kaiel said, “Tell me, what does a whaler need with a…” He couldn’t guess what the other man’s bardic vocation was by context and so left it hanging in air.
Solias smiled, “I never completed a path. I was on my second walkabout for the Loreman path myself when Captain Sangua offered me more coin and travel than I would have likely earned as a negotiator who washed out as a Loreman. As for what use she has for me—what use doesn’t she have for me? Harbormasters, other captains, supply merchants, our buyers: all of them are much easier to do business with, given proper plying. And in between, I deal with any passengers we pick up on return trips.”
Behind him, Gertan cleared her throat.
“Ah. Right.” He chuckled and held a hand out to the rest of the group, “Shall we? I’ll show you down to the animal pens first, then to your quarters.” After taking a moment to count them, he added, “They might be a bit cramped with so many of you, plus the other passengers we’re taking on.”
“Heh.” Ru sneered. “Any size room you offer us will be palatial.”
With that odd comment hanging in the air, Solias gestured for everyone but Kaiel to follow him.
Gertan led Kaiel to one of the non-hatch doors in a forecastle and down a set of iron stairs into a short hallway with a ‘T’ intersection. Kaiel was instantly aware of the hum and rumble of the boiler above and marveled at how the heat didn’t leech into the compartment beneath it.
There was a door at the top of the ‘T’, presumably leading into the rest of the below decks areas. Down the hall, there was one door on either side and one at the end, this one made of heavier wood and girded with iron bands. It stood partially open.
“Visitor for you, Cap’n.” Gertan said with a formal air.
“Send him in.” replied a voice that invoked authority regardless of actual rank.
Gertan pushed the door open and ushered Kaiel forward. The room was larger than most shipboard quarters, but that wasn’t saying much. He could cover the distance to the far wall in four or five large steps. The furnishings were mostly simple too: a round wooden table that might have seated five with high stools instead of proper chairs, a small writing desk in one corner, a rather nice mahogany armchair with leather cushions pulled up to it, and a bed that was really a very large sea chest with a thick padded mattress and linens laid out on top of it. What looked like a tall floor-to-ceiling wardrobe in the corner opposite the desk was really a private privy.
Sitting in the armchair, writing something on a sheet of parchment, was Captain LeJean Sangua herself. Rizeni by birth and by port of origin, she had darker skin than the Tresolmi elves or Brin’s illusory disguise. Her nose was pointed, her lips full, and her chin strong. Like a pirate captain from the most outrageous of dime novels, she wore her ebon hair in sausage curls, but only long enough to brush her shoulders as it spilled from beneath her broad-brimmed hat of brown leather.
Her shirt was cotton, dyed scarlet and worn beneath a brown wool greatcoat; her trousers matched the coat. A belt holding a scabbard for an arming sword and a six-shot pistol hung from the back of the chair.
“Ah, Mister Arunsteadeles.” She said rising to greet her guest with a casually presented hand. It was as if he were an old friend instead of a paying customer. “You’re quite a bit earlier than I expected. I like to meet the passengers as they come on deck if I can.”
Kaiel took the offered hand and shook it in the Rizeni fashion for business ventures: three pumps, the seller’s thumb pressed firmly beneath the buyer’s. “My thanks for taking us on, Captain. We’ll be little trouble to you and yours, I can assure you.”
“No more trouble than skirting eye-shot of Nhan Raduul.” Captain Sangua said pointedly.
Her tone made Kaiel’s curiosity prick at him. “You’ve learned something more of it?”
The Captain nodded. “I’ve been talking to other captains here in port who make the vengeance runs like we do, had my crew talk to other crew. Nhan Raduul isn’t really Kimean—it doesn’t belong to anyone officially and for years no one’s paid attention to it.”
“Until now.” Kaiel guessed.
“Until now.” Captain Sangua echoed him. “The keep’s walls are fully manned now, but by most accounts, with brand new ballista emplacements and the town on the island has been fully turned out for fishing. The estimates I’ve gotten say that either Nhan Raduul is trading, or they’re feeding between two and three hundred additional people.”
Kaiel pursed his lips. They expected Immurai to fortify his position, but that expectation involved magical traps and other subterfuge along with a few elite cadres. On one hand, that many Kaydans serving Immurai in his rebellion suggested heavy schisms in the Church of the Threefold Moon. On the other, it made it much more difficult to infiltrate the keep.
After some thought, he asked, “Any sea defenses?”
“Aside from the ballistae? None I’ve heard of. No warships, no blockade at all. Strange that.” Sangua said, a concerned look crossing her face.
Because Immurai wanted Pele to reach the island, Kaiel realized. The small army on hand would be there to kill anyone she brought with her, as well as distract Ru and his bloodlust. He would have to use their time on the water to reformulate his plan on how to get in and rescue Motsey.
Sangua noticed his expressions changing and frowned. “We haven’t pulled up the anchor yet, Mr. Arunsteadeles. There is still time to back away from this if you aren’t ready.”
“There is still time to refuse us passage.” Kaiel countered gently.
She shrugged, “As you said: no sea defenses. You original proposal is still mostly safe for us: we sail past the island, just out of eye-shot and send you out on a longboat. I’ll give you two days, but after that, we can’t wait for you.”
From inside his cloak, Kaiel produced a purse full of full-marks. “Then it looks like we have an accord, Captain. I am happy to be doing business with you.”
Sangua took the purse and with her other hand, initiated another business-like handshake. “You as well, Chronicler. I am always happy to help stab at Mon Sulus Kime’s eyes.”
“…his eyes were round, black orbs…”
Son, I am disappoint.
In my defense, their eyes actually are spheres.