- 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
“Such a willful child.” Immurai said, shaking off Pele’s vicious attack. He unleashed a burst of force that threw her off him and regained his footing. “How is it you inherited that trait from Hiddakko when you aren’t even her real child?”
Pele managed to save herself from a fall and put herself on guard for the demon’s next attack. “Then you are the same Crossius that took me from her.”
“Of course.” Immurai said, spreading his arms wide. “Lena Hiddakko’s research was a high priority to the Threefold Moon, as was the chaos we knew would follow once the War of Ascension was underway. If not for a regrettable clerical error that made you impossible to find after I had you taken away… well, let us say that the world would be a very different place now.” He summoned two more globes of electricity into his hands. “Today, I will correct that error and in doing so, the course of history.”
He threw both globes, which spat energy at her in blinding crackling arcs. Pele leapt back and lifted off with a single, powerful flap of her wings, only to find the globes tracking in after her. She continued backward to the wall, then dove to dodge. Both globes narrowly missed her and exploded on impact with the wall behind her.
Righting herself in air, Pele only just avoided a line of yet more lighting that poured from Immurai’s open palm. She looped to escape the sweeping assault, then trimmed her wings to drop into a shallow dive straight toward him.
Though she knew physical harm would be visited back upon her, she prayed that metaphysical harm wouldn’t—or at least, that it would hurt him more. Ru, still in the throes of agony from the link’s punishment, wouldn’t be of any help, so she wracked her brain to remember the chant and rambled her way through it as she flitted and dodged more attacks meant to stun her.
“Bright glow hidden…” She performed a wingover that let a bolt of lightning flash by within inches of her chest. “…deep within. The living soul of all things in this world.” She was forced to close her wings and drop straight down so as not to be caught by twin attacks hurled by the demon. “Lend of your essence and return it to its age-old form…”
Immurai mixed lightning forged with vin with using ere-a to manipulate the stone in the room itself. Stalactites erupted from the ceiling, seeking to obstruct her flight if not right impale her.
“…the flower of being formed of the flame of creation. Let my foes contemplate their last moments…” Two stalactite burst from above at the same time and she had to tuck her wings and arms in order to pass between them unharmed, then throw herself to the side to escape yet another bolt of lightning. “…as it blooms anew!”
With one more flap of her wings, she turned in air to face Immurai, then snapped herself forward to thrust the Razorblade of Remedy at the monster. “Habaense!” The white flower of energy exploded from her blade, expanding as the myriad white flares streaked toward their target.
Immurai had seen the attack on Bashurra through his sensor spell and dropped into a crouch, sliding swiftly in Pele’s direction. The flares from the Habaense flashed over his head and phased through the stone wall of the tower, out into the ocean, leaving the demon unharmed.
He accelerated his Slide spell, a complex admixture of vox, ere-a, and vin arrays, and then triggered a flat-topped stalagmite to burst from the floor beneath him in a place where it wouldn’t disrupt the Corscus Hije. The jutting stone propelled him into the air, where he used the unexpected dodge and burst of speed to catch Pele unawares and tackle her out of the sky.
The two crashed to the hard marble floor in a heap. Pele managed to roll on top of the demon and put Novacula Kuponya’s blade to his throat. She might have tried to end it then and there, but the sensation of cold steel against her own throat, courtesy of the Corscus Hije, made her instincts rebel. She flinched from the phantom touch and Immurai used the moment to grab the blade in his right hand—the same hand she was using the grip the hilt, and squeeze.
Distraction made her drop the sword when she felt her palm being slashed open. The moment she did, Immurai followed up by using his considerable physical strength to push her off him.
Just as he calculated, his airborne tackle had landed them within a few feet of the carved slab of chalk and his shove sent her sprawling atop it. Sitting up, he waved his hands in a swift pattern. “Ferif ro saiks.” Iron shackles formed up from the floor to snap closed on Pele’s wrists, trapping her atop the slab.
Pele let out a scream of rage and pulled herself to her knees. Try as she might, however, the shackles were stronger than their thickness suggested and anchored through the marble into the thick, basalt floor.
Heedless of Pele’s struggles, Immurai took his time rising to his feet. “You still do not see the truth, dear girl.” He said calmly. “You were never meant to be free. The hailene bred you into being through science and magic in order to find a way to empower their Emperor. Your fate was to be dissected to uncover your hidden power at best. At worst, you were to be a power source—a soul battery.”
He folded his arms into his sleeves, pausing the wiggle an unhappy finger through the acid-burned hole over one of his elbows before starting to walk around her. Light without discernible coloration began to emanate from within the carved patterns at the far edges of the chalk slab.
“What you are losing is of no concern. What you want is of no concern.” Immurai continued. “For you were never meant to have or want anything. You exist only to give others power—to give me power.”
Pele wasn’t listening. Even if she cared to, the roaring in her head was too loud. Scales were growing rampant over her body. She fought it down because naked strength wasn’t going to help her; not yet.
Ru? She quested in the link for him, hoping the punishment had subsided enough for his mind to be back in working order.
The answer came slowly. He’d never given her such a weary, groggy feeling in the link as he did when he replied, Yes, Miss Pele?
I can’t break free. The ritual is starting. You have to kill him.
Another long pause. The link shuddered under conflicting emotions, most of them alien coming from Ru. Killing him will kill you.
Pele lessened her struggle against the chains. She knew it was true. And as much as she raged earlier against Issacor’s sacrifice and Percival’s attempted one, she couldn’t see another way out of this one. I-I know.
She could almost feel Ru’s labored breath through their connection. He was using unprecedented amounts of power and concentration just keeping Dottir Logi from destroying his organs as it burned within him. Do you really want to die here today? Kneeling before a demon?
No. She replied instantly, then slumped. That Immurai was still telling her how worthless she was and the glowing patterns in the chalk were steadily marching toward her didn’t help. But I don’t see another way.
The link swarmed with more emotion and Ru was too weak and distracted to block them from her.
What if I do not want you to die?
The shock must have shown on Pele’s face, because Immurai noticed and took it for something else. “Yes, now you see clearly, don’t you? There was never any hope in this fight except that which I allowed. All to break your will and make it all the easier to tap into the power deep inside you.”
The dragon in her head seized on Pele’s distraction to take over. “Shut your mouth, worm.” She snarled out, punctuating it by spitting a glob of burning gel into the demon’s face.
Immurai shrieked and reared back from her using his sleeve to try and wipe the flames from his mask, but only succeeding in spreading the fire to his clothing. In desperation, he tore the sleeve completely off his robe and hurled it away before conjuring a blast of water to extinguish his mask.
“Wretched beast!” His tone was no longer calm as he stormed back to Pele and clouted her across the temple with the back of his hand. “What did that accomplish other than making the process more painful than it needed to be?!”
Behind him, Ru’s eyes fluttered open, then hardened into a glare. His lips split into his old, cruel grin. He’d sensed something in that moment—or rather it was what he didn’t sense. “Heh.”
You were right before, Miss Pele. He told her in the link. You have done everything in your power to give me freedom. To make me a person. Never in five thousand years have I found a master who did such a thing. Never in five thousand more will I find another. Therefore, for the first time, I refuse to let this master die—not for the link’s mandates, but for myself. Order me to slay Immurai the Masked.
Pele shook her head, wondering if the blow to the head had scrambled her senses. But if you kill him, I’ll die. I already told you that.
Think about what just happened.
Another blow from Immurai made Pele’s world wobbled, but she set her mind to replaying the last few minutes. The fire, the dragon, the vicious retaliation… Her eyes widened. The fire. The fire that burned Immurai and not herself. Because she had yet to discover a flame that could burn her. Because she was the genetic daughter of the red dragon Agmar.
And Immurai wasn’t.
“Do it.” She said, forgetting to speak only in her mind.
Immurai paused, hand raised to strike her again. “What?”
It has to be an order, Miss Pele. Said Ru. I am too hurt to do it on my own—I need the link to force me beyond my limits.
Pele raised her head to meet the glow behind the slits in Immurai’s mask. She smiled a bloody smile just so he knew what was happening too late. “Ru, I order you to kill Immurai the Masked.”
“Yes, Miss Pele.” Ru said, letting the unbridled satisfaction at carrying out that order flood the link. He reached up and caught the split blade of Dottir Logi between the heels of his hands. The flames blistered them hideously, but the link forced him through the pain as, inch by inch, he pushed the sword out of the wall and out of himself.
In a moment, the flaming sword clattered to the marble alongside Ru, who collapsed to the cold stone. The link, however, refused to let him lay still: there was an order to carry out. He was already drawing on flaer as he scrambled to his feet.
Burned hands fumbled to grasp the hilt of the flaming sword as he steadied himself and began to chant. “I draw in the flame of the sky, the eternally burning sun that sends its heat across the Void.”
Immurai turned, trying to regain his composure so as to counter whatever Ru was trying to do.
Pele saw this and renewed her struggle to break the chains. At the same time, the dragon in her head had returned, snarling and snapping its rage at Immurai and his many crimes against her. This time, the litany was something Pele couldn’t resist. Immurai the Masked had stolen her from her mother, kidnapped her adoptive nephew, caused the death of Issacor and hundreds more at Daire City and Idarian homestead, tried to kill the people she loved most, put her back in chains, and as a final affront to instinctive, draconic pride—was now threatening something that was hers.
The anger she felt when Bashurra grabbed her was like a spark compared to the supernova that kindled in her as the part of her that was Agmar’s daughter raged at all that Immurai had done to her. Pele couldn’t disagree, especially the part of her that mourned the safe, enjoyable life she’d been forced to abandon to chase after his machinations.
The transformation was faster than it had been at Idarian Homestead, because Pele wasn’t resisting it in any way. The scales swept over her body; her teeth and nails lengthened; and her wings and feet reconfigured in an instant.
Unleashing a beastly roar, Pele once more plied her strength against the chains binding her. The chains themselves held, but this time, the floor failed under the might of a dragon, breaking apart until she pulled the chains free. Still howling with anger, she whipped one of them at Immurai, wrapping it around his neck. Though phantom links bit into her own scaly flesh, she yanked the demon back toward her and away from Ru, who was still chanting.
“I draw upon the flame of the land, and the deep molten bones that support the world.” intoned Ru. Unlike before, he wasn’t forming the flame in his own hands, but channeling it into Dottir Logi—an artifact designed to allow the King of Flame and Steel to amplify his fire spells.
“I pour their heat into the flame of my own passions: the fury I kindle against all those who would array against me. Destroying heat that consumes all things, I summon thee and cast thee forth.” The double helix of fire around Dottir Logi flared blue then white and the blades themselves began to glow as more flaer than had even been channeled into it filled its spell arrays and amplification matrices.
The danger was clear to Immurai and he rounded on Pele desperately grasping for the chain to dispel it. The moment he did, however, a clawed hand closed around his mask and lifted him up off the floor. He himself had picked a location that prevented teleportation, and without contact with stone, he couldn’t Slide, couldn’t escape fast enough. He scratched at the arm holding him up, hoary nails scrabbling uselessly on hard scales.
Ru, aided by the link, raised the burning sword and swung it skyward, flinging the scintillating ball of flame toward the ceiling. “Sublime Fireball, burn it all!”
The fireball created its own wind as it drew air into its core. Amplified heat rolled out from it and flashed the surrounding stone ceiling from molten to gaseous to plasma before pulling it too into its center. A miniature star swelled into being above them, becoming a descending curtain of all-consuming flame.
Immurai was reduced to frantic shrieks as he tried in vain to break free of Pele’s grip on his mask.
Pele pulled him down, close to her face and spoke in a low growl. “For the people of Idarian Homestead. For the people of Daire City. For Motsey. For Layaka. For Issacor.” She hefted him up into the approaching fire; the white heat reflecting in her green eyes. “For me.”
Greedy flames tore into the demon, turning the screaming monster to ash even as he kicked and struggled to escape. The dread demon Immurai the Masked was swept away in a flurry of glowing motes along with his bid for divinity.
Ru slumped to the floor, sword still gripped in his burnt hands. With no more order to carry out, he barely had the strength to sit up. He still managed to catch Pele’s eye and give her a defiant, contented smirk before the fire fell over him as well.
“Careful.” Brin admonished as yet another metal filament dissolved under Kaiel’s sonic assault, causing Motsey’s cage to shift.
The chronicler used his sleeve to mop sweat from his face. “I think there are enough strands clear of the door to get it open now.”
“It looks simple enough.” Brin said, examining the iron lock built into the cage. She touched a finger to the keyhole. “Reflair, into the lock.”
White mist boiled out of the reliquary and drifted across her chest, up her arm and finally flowed into the keyhole. There were some spirits that were skilled with delicate work and could have picked almost any purely mechanical locks, no matter how complex. Reflair was not one of them, and it took several minutes of violently rattling around inside of it before she finally managed to open the relatively basic one in question.
Brin pulled the door open and let Raiteria rush past her to get to Motsey. With tears streaming down her cheeks, the nir-lumos woman gently lifted the sleeping child out of his prison. He was breathing steadily, but didn’t stir at being moved.
Sensing her worries, Kaiel touched her arm. “I checked him out while I was searching the cage for booby traps.” He explained, “He’s been poisoned, but it’s the same kind as Partha used on Rale back in Daire City. The ship’s medical stores will have what I need to wake him up, and if not, it should be out of his system before the end of tomorrow.”
Clutching the sleeping boy to her chest, Raiteria could no longer hold herself up for all the raw emotion surging in her. She sank onto the dock until she was sitting, still weeping. “Thank you.” She said, followed by rapid-fire words in the halfling tongue.
Kaiel took it upon himself to translate. “Thank you so much. You are all my family. There is nothing else I can do to repay what you’ve returned.” His own eyes were damp, watching the pair reunited.
Brin pressed her hands to her face as her eyes also burned. She remembered her own mother as well as how Raiteria helped her find Layaka in Rivenport. “There’s nothing you have to thank us for.” She replied, “But I would be proud to be your sister.”
For his part, Zect just tipped the brim of his hat farther down over his eyes and stood back. A demon, no matter how noble, had no business in the scene before him.
From somewhere up above, a hollow boom rocked the keep all the way down to the cavern they were standing in. A wave of stifling heat rolled in from the cave mouth, interrupting the emotional reunion.
“Ru.” muttered Kaiel, instantly knowing that somehow, some way, the dark mage was behind what was happening. “Everyone, get back!” He helped Brin to her feet and together, the whole group fled for the back of the cavern where the open door of the house was waiting.
Behind them, the first drops of molten rock began to sleet down, sending up tiny plumes of steam as they struck the ocean. The sleet soon became a downpour as what used to be the top of the keep’s North Tower fell to earth in a super-heated rain. No larger explosion followed the initial one, and after five minutes, the stone rain abated, and Kaiel and Brin left Raiteria and Motsey in Zect’s care to see what was going on.
Steam rose from the ocean as larger chunks of hot rocks boiled it from below, filling the air in the cavern with humid, tropical air. Eerie silence permeated everything as the pair crept nearer to the dock.
Then the steam swirled with the wind of powerful wings and what looked like a hellish angel landed heavily on the end of the dock.
Most of her armor and the clothing beneath it had burned away, leaving her only in a chain shirt, which glowed with the heat of a forge. Her body was covered with slowly-receding red scales, and he wings twitched and spasmed as the muscles in them struggled to return to their original shape.
Cradled in her arms was a smoldering, naked corpse clutching with one hand a sword that glowed with an inner heat just as the angel’s chain shirt was.
“Pele?” Brin’s voice came out strangled with shock.
Green eyes looked up at them, the pupils slowly returning to roundness from previously being in the shape of a cat’s slitted one. “You’re alive.” She sighed with a smile. “Motsey?”
“Where he belongs.” assured Kaiel, “With Raiteria in the House.”
Pele smiled, but that dissolved into a sorrowful mask almost instantly. “Kaiel? I think Ru needs to be healed. He’s hurt. Badly.”
The chronicler and the contractor looked at one another. By silent accord, Kaiel was elected to speak. “Pele? I’m… not so sure there’s anything left to heal.”
She shook her head violently, the motion making the burnt body in her arms make scratching, crackling noises. “No. There is. The link… it won’t let him die. He can’t die, Kaiel, but he needs healing.”
“Pele…” Kaiel said, heart sinking for her and for the monster who had traveled with them for so long. “He’s burnt down to almost a skeleton. It would take the power of a god to bring him back from that.”
Again, Pele started to shake her head, then paused as if listening. For a moment she looked annoyed, then amused. “He says to tell you: ‘I always knew you were a charlatan’.”
“What does that mean?” Brin asked, but Kaiel had frozen where he stood. Pele would never say something so crass to him, even if it was in the midst of lashing out at him in grief. Which meant… He leaned closer to the smoldering corpse.
A blistered eyelid peeled open, revealing a baleful, golden eye. The ruined man’s chest heaved, pulling air into roasted lungs. “Heh.” he wheezed out a laugh and force the hand not holding Dottir Logi to move, using all the strength left in him to toss a golden mask at the chronicler’s feet.