- 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
Ru scanned the passage ahead of himself and Pele and scowled. “No guards. No spellworked traps.”
Pele decided not to question the disappointment she detected both in his voice and in the link. “It makes sense: he wants me here, doesn’t he? Everything outside was just to kill anyone who might help me fight back and incapacitate you.”
He floated silently for a moment, the swirl of his thoughts unreadable. Pele couldn’t help but think how eerie he looked with the glowing scars running up his arms. Nor could she ignore that they were more dim and translucent than they were when they first appeared. “If every path but this one leads to death, why did you allow the others to take the long stairs down to the dock? It is, no doubt, a deathtrap.”
“It’s a trap Kaiel knows about going in.” She pointed out. “He’s smart, Brin is good at what she does, and I’m not sure anything on Ere can stand between Rai and her child and survive. They’ll be fine.” Her grip on her swords tightened. “They’ll be fine.”
The dark mage gave her a sidelong look, paused, then nodded. “Indeed they will, Miss Pele.” Up ahead, the passage ended in the bottom landing of a staircase that would lead them to the North Tower.
“Something is scattering vox.” Ru reported as they ascended.
“I don’t know what that means.” Pele was forced to admit. Privately, she wished she was fighting her way through the soldiers again, rather than going up against a wielder of powers she only vaguely understood. To her surprise, she didn’t sense the usual spike of derision Ru usually felt when dealing with someone who didn’t appreciate magic on the same level as him.
“Vox is the motive force of Void. It is used in the construction of spells that imbue or manipulate motion in addition to creating the framework for more complex spell arrays. The pattern of this scattering allows complex casting, but would not allow incoming or outgoing spells.”
Pele didn’t say anything, she just sent him Confusion with a capital ‘C’ to get the point across.
That earned the derision she’d expected. “It means that spells cannot move objects in or out of the designated zone of scattering.”
“No one can use magic to escape.” Pele translated, partially to demonstrate how easily he could have explained it to her. “That’s fine; there’s nowhere for us to run to, not with the others still here.”
At the top of the stairs was another spartan landing with an iron-bound, wooden door facing the stairs. Ru sneered at it rather than reply to Pele’s jab at his verbosity. “Barrier spells, protective wards, and a charm to seal it in place—and yet they are all sloppily anchored to the wood itself.”
This time, he wasn’t also defending against incoming fire, and the Chaos Lance came together in only two thirds of the time it had before. The scintillating meteor plunged through the door, transforming wood and iron to wet clay and something disturbingly like bone. Beyond the slumping mess that had been the door, they saw the remnants of the spell strike a throne of granite and steel, which was transformed partially into glass. With another gesture, Ru conjured vin, blasting gobbets of the transmuted door clear of the entrance and into the room.
“I doubt he’ll be able to lock the door on us now.” Ru concluded, starting forward.
Pele nodded her approval and stepped up beside him. Together, they entered the chamber.
The place looked alien compared to the rest of the keep. Instead of the island’s native basalt, the floor was tiled in white-veined marble, and instead of bare walls or tapestries, there were silver mirrors, set at angles from one another so that they reflected each other again and again on to infinity. Aside from the once-grand throne (ruined by the remnants of the spent Chaos Lance) there was only one other feature in the room: a circular shape, like a low table, covered in orange embroidered cloth.
The air was cool, dry, and deathly still. Everything about it made Pele’s wings bristle with nerves and the scales along her arms threaten to erupt preemptively.
“Ignite.” She hissed, summoning the double-helix flames around the Eastern Brand.
“How trite.” The air ten yards ahead of them and to the right wavered and Immurai the Masked appeared amidst a swirl of snow created by a cast off akua-based veil. “Was you intention to be ‘poetic’ by bringing a weapon of my own design to bear against me?”
Ru reacted to the first flicker of motion by hurling a fireball, which the demon blocked by conjuring a diamond-shaped screen of vin and ere-a.
“None of your weapons will avail you.” Robes fluttering, Immurai slid forward over the marble floor as if it were ice until he was within reach to slam Ru in the chest with a spellwork-enhanced strike that sent the dark mage flying into the wall. Immurai slid backward, barely avoiding Pele’s retaliatory swipe with the Eastern Brand. “Not even the Rune Breaker.”
He then surged forward, taking advantage of her over-extension to land a similar strike to the one he used on Ru to her ribs. Pele was thrown off her feet, landing in a combat roll aided by her wings several feet away.
Immurai spread his arms and a block of solid basalt rose up from the floor to block the room’s only exit. That done, he brought both hands together as if praying. The clap of his thin desiccated hands meeting seemed to set something in motion. Faint light began to show through the veins in the marble, outlining a gigantic spell diagram. A phantom wind caught up the cloth covering the object in the center of the room and threw it off, revealing an intricately carved slab of chalk.
The eyes of the demon’s mask narrowed and the glow within them brightened. “And so begins the ascension of Immurai the Masked.”
“What can you tell me about Matasume the Wind?” Kaiel asked. He and Zect were making their way down the spiral stair leading down to the keep’s dock. The torches along the passage had all been snuffed, forcing Kaiel to conjure a dim mage light even though it might give away their approach.
Zect grunted non-noncommittally. “Not a great deal more than you. She was after my time. I know that she was an elf noble at the end of Draconic Control, and that even then, she was both a vin and a ferif master.”
“That explains those filaments.” said Kaiel. “Conjuring ferif like that is delicate work, especially doing so on the fly. I was hoping they were just part of her—something that could be destroyed. If she can simply conjure it again…”
“This is why I question your strategy.” said Zect, “The only hope we have of destroying her is to throw everything at her at once. Splitting up is the worst thing we can do.”
Kaiel shook his head. “No, I still think this is the best idea. I’m the only one with much chance of detecting her filaments and you’re tough enough to survive them a while. If we simply tried to overwhelm her, she would decimate us. Out best chance is…” He halted, holding up a hand to tell Zect to do the same. “Speaking of…”
“What?” Zect squinted into the dim. It took him a moment, but then he saw it: a red line, gleaming wetly as it hang suspended in the air. Blood. Blood clinging to a nearly invisible strand of metal strung across the stairway. “Blood to ice, I almost blundered into that. How did you know it was there.”
The chronicler knelt, bringing his light down to the stairs, which proved to be sprayed with blood as well. “Her filaments are taunt lines—just like the strings of a lute or violin. When any air moves over them, they vibrate, creating a distinctive tone. As a student of the bardic college, I know sound, and believe me, after it nearly killed me the first time, I will never forget the sound of these things.” He frowned. “Someone’s been down here before us.”
“They didn’t get very far.” Zect said dryly.
Kaiel took a step back and got out his flute. “If we don’t want to join them, we’ll have to keep a sharp eye out—or ear in my case.”
Putting the flute to his lips, he played a high note that was out of range of the untrained ear, varying it slowly until the filament began to vibrate in time with it. Once that happened, it was simply a matter of channeling discarnate energy into the patterns of sound. Such a small, delicate thing as Matasume’s filament simply vibrated so hard that it flew apart into metallic dust.
Zect gave him an approving nod. “The power of the bards never ceases to impress me, Chronicler Arunsteadeles. I see you joining the ranks of the loremen very soon if you survive this.”
Dim light glinting off the silver half-flute defined the curve of Kaiel’s mouth as he offered the demon a tight, serious smile. “We’re walking together into what most people would call certain death; that makes us familiar enough that you can just call me Kaiel.” The demon nodded and they continued down the winding stair.
Blood slicked the stone as they descended, becoming more plentiful with every metal thread Kaiel located and destroyed along the way. Here and there, they found evidence of the carnage that must have taken place: pieces of clothing—mostly Kimean servant’s livery—an arm, cut off just above the elbow, several fingers, and tatters of unidentifiable flesh. Anyone who had been killed by the traps tumbled down the stairs into those laid further down, getting slashed apart even further. The stench of death grew thicker as they descended.
Eventually, light appeared at the bottom, revealing the last few, free-standing twists of the stairs descending to the floor. Looking down through the open space in the stairwell, they saw at least half a dozen mutilated bodies piled up at the bottom, all in servant’s clothes—at least those that were still recognizable.
Once more, Kaiel silently called for a halt. Putting away his flute, he drew his sword and pistol. Zect took the opportunity to fill his mouth with oil from his gourd. Looking to one another, they both counted to three in their heads before nodding as one. Go.
Kaiel went first, bolting down the remaining stairs. He anticipated the hum and hiss of approaching filaments and threw up his shield to intercept. Three lines distorted the kite-shield barrier, so thin that they could only be seen by the ripples it sent along it as they very slowly began to slice through it.
With Matasume occupied, Zect jumped down the center well of the stairs, landing in a crouch in the pile of bodies. He didn’t even straighten up before spitting a cone of fire at Matasume, igniting her robes and causing her to snap open her fans to protect her face.
Kaiel too threw himself off the stairs, landing awkwardly and slipping at the pooling blood among the dead servants. He silently hoped that they would be able to put their spirits to rest when everything was over and Motsey was safe.
Above, his shield failed and the three strands won through, carving deep lines in the stone wall along the stairs.
Quickly righting himself, Kaiel found himself faced with exactly what he’d hoped still remained from the old plans of the keep: the storage rooms. He pelted toward them at full speed, hoping that Zect would keep the demoness busy for just a few minutes more.
Pele couldn’t summon enough akua to create a single drop of water, nor the smallest iota of any other energy. She suspected now that that had something to do with whatever her mother had done to make her the Soul Battery.
This did not mean she was ignorant about spellworking. Months of living and traveling with Kaiel and Ru had taught her the basics about the energies, the patterns, and the core principle of ‘do one thing to make this other thing happen’. It wasn’t that hard to grasp and she was a good study at any rate.
Even if she were completely pig-simple when it came to magic, however, she would have been able to grasp that large spell arrays like the one forming on the floor under her feet were bad things when being cast by enemies (or Ru). To that end, she didn’t hesitate to launch herself at Immurai, lashing out with both swords in an effort to disrupt whatever he was setting in motion.
The demon dodged the flames of the Eastern Brand utilizing the same ‘sliding preternaturally fast along the floor’ technique he employed before. He surprised her then, by sliding forward and thrusting his left arm into the path of Novacula Kuponya. The Razorblade of Remedy bit into the dry flesh, but in the same moment, Pele felt a shock got up her own left arm, as if a blade was cutting into it.
Caught off guard, she failed to stop her fingers from twitching reflexively and lost her grip on the flaming sword. The Eastern Brand clattered out of her grasp onto the floor.
Immurai reacted by calling ball lightning into his palm and sending arcs of electricity into her. The pain drove her back, and Immurai stood tall, straightening his robes imperiously. “The Corscus Hije.” He gloated. “It blesses you with the ability to share my pain. It serves to dissuade you from struggling while I unlock the conduit to the well of souls hidden inside you.”
He slipped sideways just as a scythe blade split the air at the same level as his neck. “Ah-ah-ah, Ru.” The demon chided. “The Corscus Hije is also to keep you in line.” When Ru’s only reply was a stream of clear acid, the demon only dodged far enough so that when he raised his arm, his bony elbow was still caught in the spray.
Pele, who was trying to shake off the previous shock, hissed in pain as the spell visited that injury on her in turn. The link acted instantly, iron needles appearing out of the air and ramming themselves hard into Ru’s spine. He choked off a scream as the resultant agony of his punishment drove him to his knees.
Nonplussed by the suffering around him, Immurai recreated the ball lighting and released it to float free. It began unleashing electrical arcs at Pele on its own without his direction, forcing Pele to fly to avoid them. Meanwhile Immurai calmly bent and lifted the Eastern Brand.
“Ah, Dottir Logi.” he mused, admiring the weapon, “Such a useful tool—much like her intended wielder. A pity Tanner, King of Flame and Steel, is dead. But then, I have moved on to larger things. Now she will be of use making sure that the Rune Breaker doesn’t interfere.”
He swung the burning blade around so that it was pointed behind him, then slid backward at speed. He caught up Ru, still being wracked by the link, driving the blade through his chest and dragged him along the smooth floor until they reached the wall—where he drove the sword into the mirror hanging there and the basalt wall behind it. Then he stepped away, turning to admire how neatly he had pinned Ru to the wall.
“Oh how I wish I could smell my sword’s flames eternally burning your flesh, Rune Breaker.” Immurai mused. “Once this mask is off, my first act as a deity will be to breathe deeply.”
Righting his way up through the layers of pain going through him, Ru opened his eyes and glared. “That mask will come off when you’re dead. And I will hang it up as a trophy.”
“Doubtful.” replied Immurai. “My plans proceed apace.”
An arc of electricity flashed past him, presaging the strong arm that closed over his arm. “Your plan forgot something.” Pele said, her voice a snarl. Before Immurai could react, she hauled on his arm, pivoted, and slammed him so forcefully against the wall that had he been human, his spine would have snapped.
Pele wasn’t human either, so though the impact rattled up her backbone, it didn’t do enough damage to fell her. She followed up by a fist to his center that made her cough and a crashing uppercut that caused her to bite the inside of her cheek. “What if I don’t care if it hurts me… as long as it hurts you?”
Matasume slashed her fans through the air, calling up a blast of wind that extinguished her burning robes. Where charred silk was burned away, dull, animated clay in the vague shape of a woman was left uncovered.
“Zect.” She said with a sneer in her voice. “You would have done well to either join my love… or to have remained uninvolved in his affairs.”
Smirking, Zect tipped up the brim of his hat. “He’s the one that involved me. That he was fool enough to think that I, who rebelled against one evil master, would bend my knee to another, isn’t my fault.”
“How dare you.” Hissed Matasume. She waved her fans, calling up a whirlwind which she set against the other demon, slamming him back against the wall and pinning him here. “My love is the greatest creation of the Threefold Moon—the only one to surpass Lord Kayda. You are unworthy to even speak of him!”
Zect strained against the incredible wind to bring his hands up in front of him, finally managing the slam a fist into his palm, completing the gesture for a counter-working of vin that canceled out Matasume’s hastily conjured wind. “Someone seems angry. Anger sometimes makes you stronger—but it never makes you better in a fight.”
A trio of flechettes plunged into his shoulder, dripping thick , yellow poison. He turned to find their origin and found Partha standing at the near end of the dock. Amet was balanced on one arm, and three fresh flechettes were in the opposite hand. Behind her, suspended above the end of the dock in a web of Matasume’s filaments, was an iron cage housing a small, unconscious form—Motsey.
Partha had a smile on her face that bespoke cruelty and violence. “I happen to agree.” She said coolly. “Killing should never be about passion; only business. Though that doesn’t mean you can’t take pride in your work. Enjoy your last moments… Zect was it?”
The demon smiled right back at her as he reached up and pulled the flechettes out of his arm. “Indeed. That would be Zect of the Drinking Gourd. Demon. As in: ‘immune to poison’.” He cast the projectiles aside with contempt, enjoying watching the woman switch to a defensive stance. “And you would be?”
“She would be not your primary concern.” Matasume raised her fans, conjuring six filaments to send at him. A pillar of white mist rose up in front of her just as she was about to launch them, and from its core came a brilliant flash of light that caused her to shriek and fall back, blinded.
The pillar immediately collapsed and flowed back to its source: a reliquary hanging around the neck of…
“Brin. I was so hoping you would survive this far.” Partha said. She didn’t allow Zect to leave her line of sight, but still shot the spirit docent a lewd look as Brin and Kaiel charged up from the rows of storage area doors. “I’ll make you a deal: you can have the boy… if we can take another back together.”
She smirked at the change in Kaiel’s expression. “Of course, the bard will have to go.” With that, she threw her flechettes at Kaiel. Once more, the chronicler erected his shield, catching the flying blades in air. But they were just a diversion, as right after, Amet swooped in over the shield and streaked toward him, metal wings set to rend.
Kaiel parried the bio-mechanical bird creature with his sword and fired a shot into it, which ricocheted off its steel hide. “Keep to the plan!” He shouted as Brin started to come to his aide. She hesitated, but then caught sight of Motsey in the cage behind Partha. She nodded to him and charged the old soldier, whirling the Barratta overhead.
Shrieking, Amet swept into the air again, and Kaiel couldn’t fully parry its next dive, allowing the bird to open a sizable gash in his forearm. It turned in air to make another pass, only to be batted away by the flat of Kaiel’s blade. Once some space was open, the chronicler had his flute out, transforming it into the fell-light bow. Thought the creature was more mechanism than meat, a single arrow from the bow was enough to knock it down, where a single stomp of his boots finished it off.
Meanwhile, Brin closed with Partha, knocking a thrown flechette aside before aiming a brutal slash for the poisoner’s throat. “I met the real Layaka.” She informed the old man in a young woman’s body.
Partha barked a laugh and drew a pair of short swords to block Brin’s attacks. “There’s actually a real Layaka? And she’s alive? Now there’s a surprise. Does this one fawn over you as a hero too? Does she call you ‘Miss Brin’?” For the last part, Partha slipped into the innocent, girlish voice she’d used while traveling with Brin.
The reply was a brutal stab that would have easily split Partha’s sternum if the old soldier hadn’t redirected the Barratta’s path with both swords. Noting Brin’s over-extension, she dropped down and hooked a leg behind Brin’s, tripping the other woman onto her back.
“Anger might make you stronger,” She mocked, “But it never makes you better in a fight.” Flourishing her swords, she went in for a double slash to Brin’s throat, only to be blocked by the spear’s haft. Brin then kicked her in the stomach, sending her stumbling back.
Leaping to her feet, Brin focused on Motsey. The boy and his cage weren’t so far away anymore. All that stood between her and repaying Raiteria’s kindness in Rivenport was Partha. But Partha was a highly trained warrior. If she wasn’t trying to humiliate Brin, the fight would have been over already.
On the other hand, Partha was not the most skilled fighter Brin knew. “Reflair.” She said, slipping on guard with her spear. “Into me.”
The mist rose from the reliquary and poured into her mouth and nose. Power suffused her, but already she felt near-to-bursting with it. She’d been merged with Reflair for too long for her level of skill already and she wouldn’t be able to hold it for long… not that she needed that long.
“Barratta!” It wasn’t her, it was Reflair in her body, but the spirit knew what her intent was and was more than happy to oblige.
Partha deflected blow after rapid-fire blow as Reflair launched a flurry of thrusts in her direction. She managed to remain unharmed, but was losing ground quickly. Desperate, Partha parried hard, forcing the spear far out of line for the next blow, the head ringing off the bars of the cage. She used the time purchased to rear back for a powerful swipe she hoped would disrupt the high-speed attack…
Only to have her hand severed above the wrist by an overhanging filament. There wasn’t even any time for Partha to realize what happened; pain and shock threw off her defense and the next thrust of the Barratta punched right through her leathers and into her belly.
Both she and Brin gasped; Partha in surprise and agony, Brin as she exhaled Reflair’s possessing mist. With a one last, unhappy look at the face of what she once thought was a girl who needed her, Brin heaved Partha’s body off the dock and into the ocean.
Back in the cavern, Matasume was still blinking back spots, but she could still make out Kaiel. “Enough of this.”
“I agree.” Zect slammed a fist into her side, then brought up his other hand and stripped one of the fans out of her hands. “I’m tired of both you and your beloved. But as I can only help put an end to one of you…” He aimed an uppercut for her head, but she flew backward, deeper into the area where the storage vaults were located.
She didn’t notice that there was one too many doors, or that one was carved with a vivid scene of bird and insect life flitting about in vines and leaves. Nor did she noticed that said door was open.
The gunshot rang out, painfully loud in the cavern, and Matasume bucked forward. The round’s impact shattered a hole in her back the size of a fist. She turned to find the attacker only for another fist-sized hole to be punched in the hollow of her neck.
The demoness snapped open her remaining fan as she saw the shadow of a halfling duck back onto the open door. “I do not die so easily.” Had she not paused to boast about her durability, she might have heard the clockwork ticking, echoing inside her hollow body.
As it was, she was starting forward to avenge her injuries when twin explosions consumed her, obliterating her body in a blast of concussive force, scorched silk, and scattering bits of inert clay.
When the debris had settled, Raiteria emerged cautiously from the house where she and Brin had been waiting while Kaiel and Zect provided a distraction. She still had one last timer round chambered, but there didn’t look to be a need: Matasume’s remains smoldered quietly on the cavern floor, whatever motive force that drove the demon was gone.
Raiteria didn’t pause to gloat over her fallen foe; the scattered, burnt pieces spoke for themselves. They gave a testament to what fate waited for anyone who touched a nir-lumos child without permission. Clay chunks crunched under her feet as she headed off in search of her son.