- Rune Breaker: Chapter 1 – The Bargain is Struck
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 2 – The Clever Girl
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 3 – A Paradise in the Future
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 4 – Clan of the Winter Willow
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 5 – Spell-worked Water, Alchemical Food
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 6 – Waste Not Want Not
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 7 – Battlelines
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 8 – Filling the Gap
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 9 – The King of Flame and Steel
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 10 – Recovery
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 11 – Sisters, Brothers
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 12 – Her Most Beauteous Wings
Without a word, he gestured with his free hand and caused a flame to leap from the fire and spread into a perfectly rectangular area a few feet to a side. The new fire burned with such intensity that the core flames turned blue and deeply comforting waves of heat struck Taylin where she was sitting.
The earth beneath dried, cracked, melted and fused, at which point Ru dismissed his working and sent all the heat created from it back into the original fire, which flared white once before calming. Satisfied with his newly forged and cooled work surface, Ru sat the stringer down and Freed one fish from the line. His fingers became impossibly long, sharp talons and with smooth, practiced strokes began the process of scaling them.
Taylin watched in silence. It was almost hypnotic how much grace the Rune Breaker, the supposed most powerful weapon of all time, prepared his meal.
He scaled them all at once and disposed of the detritus in the fire. By that time, the fish were dead, so it was less of a horrific act when his arm became a cleaver; a miniature version of the one he’d so recently used to nearly split a hound in twain; and lopped the heads off. And just as quickly, the talons were back to aid in filleting and boning.
The entire act almost passed entirely in silence. Almost. For Ru then nearly committed a cardinal sin in Taylin’s mind: he attempted to discard the innards and heads.
“Don’t waste those!” She said with utmost urgency the second she realized that the remains were headed for the fire.
Ru’s reaction, felt through the link, told her that he’d nearly forgotten she was there. His eyes snapped in her direction, his gore covered hand poised above the fire, allowing the meat to start to cook. At first, his expression showed surprise, and then annoyance at having his efforts interrupted.
What? He didn’t even waste the breath to speak.
“You can’t throw away the insides.” She said urgently as the fatty fishes’ innards began to sizzle. “There’s a lot of good meat there.”
Ru huffed indignantly. “I will not reduce myself to devouring organs. Especially not piscine tripe.” A bit of fat popped in his hand, forcing him to transform the appendage into something with the consistency of petrified wood to avoid pain.
Later, Taylin would assure herself that she did it to keep him from getting hurt, not to protect the precious meat from overcooking. It wouldn’t be the first time she lied to herself.
With speed honed on the battlefield, she reached through the fire and grabbed the mass of cooked meat from his hand. In pulling it back, it passed through the center of the heat, setting off a small grease fire. She didn’t even notice as she instinctively shoved the captured prize into her mouth.
Eating in a relaxed manner with Kaiel hadn’t set off her instincts, panicking over wasted food had. The first rule she remembered learning on the ships: if you’ve managed to take food, it goes into your mouth, lest someone takes it back.
Ru had no intentions of taking the smoldering detritus back. Even if he did, he would have forgotten after watching her put a flaming hunk of meat in her mouth and swallow it in one gulp. He stared hard at her for a moment and liked to imagine that he willed into existence the sudden look of embarrassment that fell over her face like the final curtain of a play.
“Didn’t the chronicler feed you already?” He finally asked.
She looked, if it were possible, more embarrassed. “I didn’t to make him feel bad, but not enough. We… well, I guess it’s just ‘I’ now, had to eat a lot more than normal. They said we ran hot.”
“More so now that you’ve swallowed flame.” Ru said dryly, but his amusement was clear in the link. “Was that entirely necessary?”
“Waste not, want not.” She replied instantly. It had never been clear where she’d gotten that phrase from; every other soldier and valet abroad the ships attributed it to her if they themselves recalled at all. Not that it mattered; a valuable phrase was valuable no matter who said it.
“Is that why you have that bundle of rags beside you?” Ru asked offhandedly. He held out his right hand and the scythe from earlier appeared in a flash of eye-confusing black light.
“No… well yes.” She babbled, her earlier self debate flooding back. “I can wash the blood out, and maybe someday I’ll learn to sew and then I can wear them again. But until then, I can put them under my head when I sleep.”
Ru gave the handles of the farm implement a contemptuous look and snapped both off. Leaning the scythe on his shoulder, he thrust the point of one of the new ‘stakes’ into the end of a fillet and held it over the fire. “Or.” He suggested in a bored tone, “You can order me to use magic to clean and repair them. I can even improve them.”
“No.” She said firmly. “And… just stop trying to make me, please. Don’t you understand that I don’t want to make you do things you don’t want to do? Why do you even want to me to?” Ru winced as inspiration struck her. “And don’t say it’s because you’re not a person. Weapons don’t need to eat.”
Glaring his defiance, he took the now cooked fillet off the fire, seared but not fully cooked, and took a large bite. “I enjoy eating. That doesn’t mean I need to eat.”
“That doesn’t feel like the truth.” She countered.
A small growl rumbled in his throat. Damn the link, and damn her unusual sensitivity to it. “I wouldn’t need it normally. However, when my power was critically drained in sustaining your torpor as well as facing what both the charlatan and the halfling elder tell me was the power of a god. I do not know how long I will need to regain my full strength; this has never happened before.”
He went back to work, searing the other fillets. Taylin watched in silence, trying not to see and smell the cooking meat, but finding herself entranced by it all the same. To keep her mind off it, she continued her argument.
“Maybe you aren’t a person. I don’t understand magic well enough to say. But you thin, you feel, you eat… I assume you sleep. I don’t see why I shouldn’t treat you as one anyway.”
“Because I’m not.” he said harshly, punctuating the sentence by tearing off a hunk of fillet with his eat and chewing savagely. He felt her hunger quite keenly when he did that, could tell that if he left some space between himself and the seared morsels, she’d move to take one. “If you want me to give you any of this, you know what you must do.” He said cruelly.
Taylin cringed and withdrew into herself. “Stop that!” She snapped. Then another stroke of genius cut through the link like finely honed blade. A faint guilt followed, by her face settled into a self satisfied smirk. “Fine. If you want an order, Ru, I will give you one.”
Winning didn’t exactly make Ru happy, or even relieved. This was the natural order of things, the start of a natural progression; a dance whose steps he knew well. But something told him that it wasn’t going to be that easy. He wasn’t going to like this.
Still, he turned his baleful gaze on her and waited, chewing on a piece of fish as he did.
It took her longer to steel herself against her own guilt than even she expected. But it needed to be done, not only to stop Ru’s attempts to force her into giving him orders, but to make it clear to him that she had no intention of doing it.
“I know that there are some things you have to do because of the link.” She started, “And that can’t be helped. But I don’t want to be your master. I’d like to be your friend though.” She ignored his scoffing, plunging ahead. “So here’s the order: I order you to not try and trick or force me to give you orders. And I order you to only do things for me if the link makes you, or because you actually want to do it; no assuming something I ask is an order. Understand?”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth, then the cold movement of the command array filled the link, like bolts sliding home in a lock. Ru weathered it with stoic banality, but his mind was working in overdrive. He wondered if she knew exactly what she’d done; broke quashing his act of rebellion while asserting his freedom. She’d also vastly limited the link’s own operations; it now required an explicit orders instead of interpreted ones; a small thing until one was in a situation where they didn’t have the time to say ‘I order you’.
“Yes, Miss Taylin.” He finally acknowledged the orders.
“Good.” She said, sounding as if she’d just laid aside a great burden. “Now… would you be kind enough to give me a piece of that fish? I am still a little hungry…”
The ‘a little’ part of that was a lie. Ru could tell. But she wasn’t starving to death at the moment and it wasn’t an order, so…
“No.” He said curtly and was shocked to see her smile. It wasn’t just a fake one either, it carried over in the link too.
“Good.” She leaned back on her hands and looked up at the sky. “It worked.”
He snarled a little at her and stood up, keeping the scythe leaned across both shoulders. “I need to find a whetstone if this will be of any use tomorrow.”
When he returned twenty minutes later, he wasn’t at all surprised to find that the remaining fish was gone. Taylin was lying on her side, watching the fire with her old clothes folded into a crude pillow beneath her head. He didn’t say a word, only say down and began to remake the scythe blade with effort and spellwork. The hissing sound of stone on metal filled the air for more than an hour.
Finally, the weariness that had been dogging him since he awakened in the chamber after putting Taylin to sleep finally caught up to him. It wasn’t necessarily a need to sleep, only to rest and be comfortable. Just as he now needed food to regain energy, so to did he need periods of inactivity to conserve it.
Reluctantly, he sat the scythe aside, making a note to himself to later smooth out the splintery knobs where he snapped off the handles. Then he shifted into a form in which he could make himself comfortable. He wasn’t in that form long before a tire voice questioned it.
“Ru?” Taylin asked, shifting her position slightly to make sure she saw what she thought she was seeing. “Why are you a cat?”
A cat can make himself comfortable anywhere, Miss Taylin. The gray and white splotched tom with familiar, yellow eyes, flicked a notched ear and sprawled before the fire.
“Oh.” She lay back down and closed her eyes. “Ru? Can I ask a favor?”
By your own order, I don’t have to fulfill it. He replied smugly.
“I know. That’s why I’m asking.”
“Could you make the fire extra hot like you did before?”
He hmm’d mentally at this. It was such a small and useless thing that was no effort on his part. So he responded in the affirmative.
Sleep, Miss Taylin. I’ll tend the fire.