- 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 bladed bolt had been designed to lodge inside a target so that the attached chain could be used to hamper its movements. On impact, four serrated blades folded down from compartments behind the tip, a series of smaller barbs sprang out along the shaft, and the tip itself blossomed out into a shredding flower of hooks and blades that demolished the room’s furnishings as well as its occupants.
Upon striking the door and passing through, the tip had been pulled out of the socket, its component paths showering the room beyond with especially keen shrapnel. The tip of one of the folding blades had struck the stone floor and snapped off, ricocheting dangerously about until it struck home in something soft and unlucky.
Pele cautiously edged into the room. It was no more than fifteen feet square, and not an inch of that had gone untouched by the chaotic entrance of the bolt. Some hapless person had been in front of the door when it punched through. She couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman because the face and chest were in tatters and/or buried under broken bits of door.
A gun roared and a bullet struck the wall a foot above her head. Pele crouched, bringing both swords on guard as her eyes scanned for the threat. She found it, such as it was, in the form of a man with a thick beard, slumped against the wall beneath the room’s only window. The broken blade had pierced the leather vest he was wearing and stuck in his belly, likely lacerating his liver or a kidney. Blood flowed freely whenever he moved. Even with the light fading from his eyes, his thumb clumsily struggled to advance the five-shot carousel of his weapon. His own blood was making it too slick for him to work the mechanism.
Neither wanting to take the chance that he might yet manage another shot, nor wanting to leave him to linger in agony as the belly wound killed him, Pele picked her way over what remained of what might have been a table at one point and finished him off with a swift thrust to the heart.
While she was doing so, The door opposite the one she came through started to open. Debris and the ballista bolt’s remaining shaft were blocking it, only allowing it to swing inward a few inches, prompting the person behind it to curse and put their shoulder to it.
Pele acted quickly, vaulting over some of the larger pieces of debris and another body she hadn’t seen earlier, and reached the doors just as it was forced open.
The woman trying to enter was thickly built, with a tightly wound braid of straw-yellow hair that marked her as being from Mindeforme. She was carrying a heavy, breech-loading rifle. Pele didn’t give her a chance to use it, throwing her weight against the door and crushing the woman between it and the frame.
Formean stock was more hardy than most, however, and the woman returned the favor by pushing back. Still off balance, Pele stumbled back, almost slipping in a pool of blood and leaving enough room for her foe to push her way inside.
She still managed to bring the Eastern Brand up in time to knock the barrel of the rifle aside just as the Formean fired. The shot nearly deafened her, but she still saw the opening provided by the gun’s powerful recoil and lunged with both swords.
The Formean woman managed to bring her rifle up into the path of the Eastern Brand, but could do nothing as Novacula Kuponya sliced through her leathers and slid along her ribs. She grunted in pain, then swayed on her feet as the spellworked steel in her flesh drained her life to heal the wound.
It was a small opening, but enough of one for Pele to overbear her, finally throwing her to the ground and finishing her with a slash across the throat.
Still trying to regain her breath, Pele threw a wary glance toward the open door. It led into a long corridor dominated by a series of pulleys, gears, and chains that passed through holes cut into the floor. There were a pair of wheels studded with pegs to serve as handholds on either end of the space. Pele knew from experience that those wheels controlled the portcullis.
With no more enemies in sight, she sheathed her swords and went to the closest wheel. It would normally require one or more people operating both wheels, but with her strength, she had no doubts that she could raise the gate on her own.
The fog was starting to thin, Ru’s initial surge of energy to power his arrays finally spent. Along with it, the specters in the mists also ceased to harass Immurai’s forces.
Despite their casualties, the defenders of the keep had become fully mobilized with all squads roused to action. With the loss of nearly half of their priests and wizards in the first few chaotic moments, it was left to the more mundane warriors to regain some semblance of order.
Crossbows, bows and rifles were dug into whatever defensive positions they could find on the upper tiers, with shield walls and spears placed at the bottoms of the various stairways leading up. Those armed with close-in weapons, as well as the imoc-te vorian groups, patrolled each tier in hopes of discovering enemies still inside the walls.
Save for the tromp of boots, and the occasional growl and grunt of monsters, tense silence set in as hundreds of eyes surveyed the thinning mists for the next attack. That silence was split by the grinding of metal on stone: the portcullis was opening in fits and starts.
A handful of swordsmen broke off to charge the gate towers, but before they could reach them, they caught sight of a lone figure standing before the rising gate, waiting for it to be high enough to walk under.
In the Church of the Threefold Moon, there was no shortage of people, spirits, and gods known as heretics, but there were few that achieved the same level of loathing in Kayda’s eyes as the Vishnari Pantheon. Those who did had their names and descriptions pounded into the minds of all loyal followers as people whose demise could gain them enormous favor.
Among these were the rare demons who had the gall and damnable luck to oppose their god and survive the deed. And the oldest and most hated of these was Zect of the Drinking Gourd.
Five sets of boots skidded to a stop as the swordsmen pondered going after whoever was raising the gates or taking their chance at gaining supreme favor in the eyes of their god.
Zect decided for them by grinning, uncorking the gourd at his hip, and raising it to take a drink. There was no one who knew who and what Zect was that didn’t know what he was capable of. Every man there was well aware that they wouldn’t stand a chance if they let the demon drink his fill.
They charged as a group, but they weren’t fast enough.
Lowering the gourd, Zect opened his mouth and sprayed a thin, slick layer of oil out over the ground and his attackers. Three of them went down immediately, slipping on the oil now covering them as well as the ground. One managed to duck under the rising portcullis and swung his blade for Zect’s unprotected torso.
His attack was contemptuously knocked aside by Zect’s off hand and the demon slammed the gourd into his face, breaking his nose.
The second man made use of the oil, dropping to his knees and sliding in hopes of stabbing Zect from below. He was put on his back by a snap kick from the demon, and sent tumbling back into one of his downed comrades.
Zect quirked a smile better suited to someone watching a good play than a man stepping into a war zone. He ducked under the gate, ignoring the swordsmen who were trying desperately to get to their feet. The oil covering them was imbued by his power to be more slick than any naturally occurring substance, and every move they made only served to coat them more thoroughly. His own steps, however, were steady and unaffected as he walked past them.
One finger tipped his hat up so that those forming a shield wall before the stairs in front of him could see his unnatural eyes beneath the brim.
“God-slaves.” He said as if the word left an unpleasant taste on his tongue. “I wonder how many of you even know what it is that you really serve.” Almost as an afterthought, he lifted his gourd in a toast, intercepting a crossbow bow aimed for his chest with it, and knocking it aside without even seeming to notice.
“Oh well,” He said with a shrug. “With Immurai and the halfling child on the line, there’s nothing for it.” Tipping his head back, he poured amber liquid into his mouth. Two more bolts and a bullet flew at him, but he slapped one bolt away and sidestepped the rest.
When he was done drinking, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked to the shield wall again, seeing the discipline warring with terror in the eyes of the warriors there. Some of them might have been convinced to abandon Kayda. But as he had said: there was nothing for it now. “Sorry.”
Zect belched up the oil, igniting it as it hit the air. A cone of flame washed over the shield wall, igniting everything that would burn among them as well as the oil covering the ground and the five swordsmen struggling in it. More bolts and bullets rained down, but Zect of the Drinking Gourd had disappeared in the conflagration.
Zect has made his entrance. Ru sent to Pele, not bothering to hide his jealousy at the carnage the demon wrought.
Back in the gate tower, Pele was dragging the shaft of the ballista bolt into the room with the portcullis’s inner mechanisms. Do you think Kaiel and Rai saw?
Unless something plucked their eyes out.
Pele hefted the shaft and stabbed it through the links of one of the chains, right where it disappeared into the ceiling, and into the wall. Good. Are you ready?
Do you honestly have to ask? I haven’t killed anyone since the warpriest.
Seizing hold of one of the wheels meant to operate the gate, Pele pulled hard, tearing it off its mounting. It would take some doing for anyone to get the gate closed after she left. Just remember that the point is distraction, we don’t need to kill all of them, just enough that we can get to Immurai.
Ru impressed upon the link an image of him smiling with malevolence. But you wouldn’t complain if they did all die yes?
Drawing the Eastern Brand, Pele headed for the door at the end of the long room, the one presumably leading to the opposite gate tower from the one she entered. Do whatever you have to, Ru.
On the second tier, a quartet of warriors; two wielding swords, one an ax, and the last a pair of long daggers, were patrolling along a statue-lined path.
“Yes, Miss Pele.”
One of the sword-wielders glanced back at the man with the daggers. “Did you say something?”
“Heh. Only this!” He said and lunged for his compatriot’s back with his daggers.
Even with so little warning, she sensed that attack coming and whirled, parrying both daggers in turn, then slapping one out of her assailant’s hand. “Hallis? Blood to ice, what’s wrong with you?”
The man she thought was Hallis looked unhappily after the dagger she’d disarmed him of. It span and clattered across the paving stones along the path. Then he looked back as the other two members of the squad took notice. He smirked at their shock as they realized that he looked like Hallis in all ways but for a pair of wolf-yellow eyes.
“I used to be a fair hand with a knife.” He complained. All three started for him, but Ru Brakar changed shape before they were within striking range. Hallis’s armor became the knobby black carapace of an adult ankyl, and the beast swung its club tail into them. Both the swordswoman and the man with the ax were thrown back with broken ribs and arms while the man with the sword was hurled back into the statue of a man in robes. His neck snapped on impact.
The sudden appearance of a multi-ton beast that was most certainly not one of their own didn’t go unnoticed by those stationed on the tier above, and several bullets bounced off his back. Ru replied to this by turning in their direction and shifting again.
His expanding mass filled the path, toppling statues and sending a few of them over the edge of to crash down upon anyone unlucky enough to be below. The lashing tail and unfolding wings of a great, black dragon knocked over nearby trellises and planters, and a horned head turned toward the gunmen, spewing flames at those who dared fire upon him.
Bellows from inhuman throats stole his attention, and he found three imoc-te vorian lumbering down the path toward him, a handler in heavy iron armor following behind them. The gargantuan beasts ran with ape-like gaits, using their knuckles to keep themselves upright despite top-heavy bodies. None of them showed any hesitation charging a dragon many times their size.
Ru shifted the end of his tail into a serrated black blade and thrust it cleanly through the lead creature, then whipped the appendage to send it up in a long arc that ended in it colliding with the wall hard enough to shatter a section of stone on impact.
The other two didn’t even notice its fate, howling as they threw themselves upon Ru, barrel-sized fists hammering dragon scales until some of them began to split under the assault. Ru let out his own bellow, more from shock than pain, then turned his fire breath on them full force.
Rai cinched the strap holding her rifle to her back tight as the roar of a dragon reverberated through the forest. “We’re late.” she observed, wriggling around so that she was facing Kaiel on the branch.
The chronicler was hunched over an open scroll. The spell diagram upon it, drawn in fading ink, was so densely crowded onto the page that the vellum looked completely black at first glance and Kaiel had donned a set of reading glasses Rai never saw him use before to examine it.
“My fault.” He muttered, only half listening. “I’ve only ever done this spell once before in training and it was from a full-sized diagram—the kind you hang on a wall because no one is going to carry a ten-foot sheet of parchment.”
Raiteria nodded, impatient, but understanding. She was still marveling at the fact that he even had the scroll in his personal library. Teleportation was strictly regulated in most civilized places in the world except for easily traceable telegates, which could be countered via a number of simple methods. True teleportation, even the basic line-of-sight spells, were seen as too easily exploited and dangerous for anyone not strictly beholden to a major school of magic or other powerful organization to be allowed to dabble in.
The Bardic College certainly counted there, and the antique scroll had made its way into Kaiel’s hands by way of a great many contacts and favors.
“Almost ready.” He promised.
Again, Rai nodded and checked her gear again. Along with her ammunition, she had her kukri sheathed at her hip alongside a pair of throwing daggers. Her chain was carefully coiled over her shoulder with the spiked ends hanging freely under her arm. Including the rifle, that was all she was taking with her; having stored everything else in the House. Every extra bit of weight would only slow her down and hurt her chances.
Kaiel didn’t seem to share her belief, having selected a long light blue duster made of heavy canvas to wear over a set of hunter’s leathers and a light chain shirt. His sword belt, which housed his arming sword on his right hip and a holster for a six-shot pistol on the left, was also hung with two scroll cases. Next to the cases hung a half-flute, and a hunting knife. He also carried a leather satchel slung over his left shoulder. Rai offered up prayers to both Pandemos and Sylph that he didn’t slow her down.
With no warning, Kaiel nodded once and rolled the scroll up again, slipping it back into one of the cases on his belt before raising himself up on his knees. His eyes fixed on a point on the second tier, on the opposite side of the compound from where Ru was wreaking havoc as a dragon.
In times gone past, it had likely been built as a private place for contemplation and relaxation. Only one path led to it and tall hedgerows blocked the upper tier from seeing it. Only someone looking down on it from the ridge or walls, or a gardener assigned to tend it would even know it was there. The shaggy, unkempt appearance of the hedgerows and crumbling benches suggested that the latter hadn’t been an issue in years.
“Alright.” He said carefully, mind focused on keeping the spell’s pattern in place in his head, “We’re ready. Come here and try not to move or make a sound until I’m done.” Raiteria swallowed and did as she was told, stepping into what in other circumstance might have been an embrace with the chronicler.
Kaiel wrapped his arms around her, holding tightly, and then began to speak.
The Word was not a language so much as the essence of language, the basis of communication. Every sound-based language was constructed of phonemes, and it was the core of bardic philosophy that those phonemes were really just pieces hewn from a singular ur-concept from which all meaning derived—The Word, which was the mental counterpart to The Song, which was the resonance shared between all things by virtue of existing in a physical sense.
It was the Word that spilled out of Kaiel’s mouth now, and Rai felt like she was just on the edge of understanding as the sound began to vibrate across her skin, penetrating into her muscles and finally sinking into her marrow. Intellectually, from what Kaiel had told her, she knew it was bending the discarnate energy that he commanded to act like vox to form the teleportation array, but she felt as if she was feeling the entire universe telling every cell of her being: Go. There.
Shadows boiled out of the non-existent corners of the world and Rai couldn’t tell if they were covering her or everything else. Either way, everything dissolved into black and profound silence. Her heart may have beat once before everything came back, slamming into place like set-pieces on a stage. Silence was replaced by crackling flames, thudding boots, crumbling stone, and the screams of monsters.
Kaiel let go and fell back on his haunches, sucking in a long breath. “All in one piece?”
“Please don’t tell me it was possible I wouldn’t be.” Rai glared at him while patting herself down to make sure she was.
“Just a precaution.” He assured her and got to his feet. They were in the secluded spot they were aiming for. Grass and other plants had forced themselves up between the paving stones until some of those were overturned or completely covered over in vegetation. In addition to the crumbling benches they’d seen from the ridge, there was also a shallow pool now choked with stagnant rain water and algae.
Kaiel cast a look up to the wall. The ballista crews were all too focused on getting Ru in their sights to notice the two of them, but there was no reason to risk someone spotting them by accident. “Let’s get moving. Brin will probably be at the top by now and Pele won’t be far behind.” He didn’t bother guessing what kind of schedule Ru or Zect might follow.
“Right.” said Rai, slipping the chain off her shoulder and readying it for combat. “Try and keep low. We don’t want to be spotted by something nasty.”
Pele hurried through the second gate tower. Evidently, Rai had spotted the sniper stationed there and fired one of her timer rounds through the window. While the spellworked screen over the window might have ruined her aim, it didn’t matter when she was firing an explosive into an enclosed space. Two of the people inside where merely unconscious and badly injured; the third was unidentifiable. Pele found herself agreeing with whoever made the laws in Rivenport to outlaw such weaponry.
The second door led out onto the wall, and she arrived just in time to see the nearest ballista crew locking down their capstans, the weapon sighted on its target: Ru. There was no time to think. The roaring in her head took her over, and before she knew it, she had folded her wings and was barging toward them.
One of the crewmen got his sword out and parried her swing with the Eastern Brand. It meant nothing, as her enormous strength and momentum only meant that he was tossed hard against one of the capstans by the blow, with a broken back instead of a split belly.
It was all for naught, however, as the man in the traces pulled the firing lever, losing the bolt before she even struck. With the same symphony of mechanical precision as she’d heard before, the bolt flew free, trailing the chain behind.
Pele didn’t watch it fly. Her rage demanded to be slaked and the one who fired the bolt was going to be on the receiving and of it. Kicking aside the paralyzed but still breathing man before her, she leapt onto the gunnery platform, Her wings flared out, scales began to grow rampant along her arms, and her pupils narrowed to catlike slits while a familiar flame stoked in her belly.
Pain registered in the link. Not hers, but Ru’s. Unsurprisingly, he himself didn’t broadcast agony; only anger and spite. That was all the warning she got before the chain still linking ballista and bolt suddenly paid out to its fullest and then entire ballista—crossbow and firing platform—was heaved mightily off the side of the wall.
The ancient stone railing was no match for the strength of Ru in his draconic form, and the ballista plowed through it, the wood cracking and bursting apart as it went. For a brief, dizzying moment, Pele was thrown against the man she was trying to kill, her chest hitting his shoulder hard enough to drive the wind out of her. Then she was tumbling freely in air with no way of knowing which way was up and where the ballista was.
The link had turned to a cold, cruel point of steel in her head and she heard the unholy screams of a dragon in pain as the spell exacted due punishment upon Ru for his actions. However much she wanted to end his pain, however, she knew she needed to survive the fall first.
She flared out her wings, trying to right herself, but she only managed to slow her fall by a small margin before it ended in a thick wall of hedges. Branches tore at her skin and snapped under her weight until she finally broke through the brush and landed hard on her stomach, face down on a stone walk.
In the hazy confusion following the fall, she wondered why the groans escaping her were so guttural. It took a moment more to realize that the sounds weren’t coming from her and weren’t groans at all. They were harsh exhalations from something much larger than herself.
Many things larger than herself.
Pushing her pain to the back of her mind as well as Ru’s questioning whether or not she was alright, Pele forced herself onto her knees. Somehow, she’d kept hold of both swords through the whole ordeal, at the cost of skinning her knuckles and Novacula Kuponya’s hilt digging into her palm.
Opening her eyes, she saw exactly what she was worried she would: she’d landed on a path just twenty yards behind a patrol of three imoc-te vorian. The man with them, hooded and robed in black with silver piping, had turned to see what the commotion was, holding a hand up to halt the monsters at his command.
When he saw that the person lying on the stones was an intruder, he spoke in a language Pele didn’t know and pointed. The three imoc-te vorian roared and charged.
Pele issued a silent apology to Ru: ending his punishment would have to wait.