- 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
Lookouts atop the wagons spotted them the moment they appeared and sounded the general alarm. The Clan of the White Willow swarmed to life like a hornets nest struck by a stone. Harnesses were secured to wolves. Long rifles, sized for halfling hands and strength, were distributed to scouts, who would be playing the role of sniper in the battle. The children were bundled off into the second white wagon, which was pulled out of the town center and into the barn by a pair of ponies. Whoever among the villagers who couldn’t fight was tasked with a bucket of water or dirt and pressed into fire teams.
Within a score of minutes, the advancing horde was closing within arrow shot, but the defensive positions were ready for them.
Taylin stood in the forward gap, just behind the trip lines. When the charge came, the bulk of the force would meet her first, directly after negotiating the final traps. Behind her, just over a dozen villagers, mostly teenaged boys, stood with heavy spears, backed up with nothing more than a hunting knife, or even a fish scaler. Earlier, there had been bravado and boasts about how many bandits they would kill. Now that it was setting int that the fight was very real, they grew quiet.
On either side of her were Ru and Kaiel.
The chronicler was in yet another outfit; heavy, darkly tanned duster, crimson shirt with flamboyant ruffles, and light, canvas pants the same color of the duster. He wore the same hat, the one with the metal plates, that he’d worn when they met. The rifle was back on its strap sling over one shoulder and it was joined by smaller firearms (‘six-shot pistols’ as he’d explained when she’d asked. It seemed to be another thing he couldn’t believe she didn’t know.) at his hips. His eyes were focused on the approaching line.
“Atra-co gunne!” Came a shout from one of the lookouts from her post atop one of the houses.
“They’re within range for a good rifle.” Kaiel translated for her and the others around her. The flute came out from a pocket in his duster. “I’m about to raise a screen.” He raised his voice for the benefit of the snipers stationed atop the wagons on either side of them. There were only six of them, Grandfather and Raiteria, wife of Bromun, among them.
“Wait for it to resolve, then fire at will. Archers and men with rifles first, but it you can pick out a mage, take the shot.” He placed the flute to his lips and blew out a low, throbbing tune.
On the other side of Taylin, Ru sneered. He didn’t sense any magic. There wasn’t even an attempt at using alchemy or other practical trick to produce an effect. He’d been quite correct to peg the other man as a charlatan.
Then the air began to ripple and distort like clear oil poured on glass. Still, there was no discernible magic. Ru’s sneer faded. “Odds bobs.” He muttered. It was one of the newer oaths in his repertoire; he’d learned it only two masters ago, but he liked the way it rolled off the tongue. It made Taylin give him another of her confused looks.
That expression did not last into your time?
No… I’ve heard it, but I don’t remember where…
The ripple in the air slowed and stabilized until it was only evidenced by a slight blur. At the same time, telltale wisps of smoke started to rise from the rearmost ranks of riders. Pitch arrows were being lit. Kaiel stopped playing and made the flute disappear with some mundane slight of hand before raising his own rifle.
“Fire!” He cried. Seven rifles cracked in a staggered cacophony and Ru learned what rifles did.
The first shot, he realized it was from Grandfather, went straight through the eye of an archer, killing the man instantly. Another, Kaiel’s tore cleanly through armor and ruined another man’s arm and still another, gave a female archer a stinging wound across her ribs. Raiteria’s bullet found the gut of one of the torch runners who was lighting arrows along the line.
He fell, doubled over, and accidentally ignited the saddle blanket of the next horse in line. The animal shrieked and reared, trying to get away from the flame. None of the other horses reacted.
“Why aren’t they panicking?” Ru rumbled disapprovingly. In his day, horses were skittish and fearful.
“Fear-bred.” Kaiel explained, chambering another bullet. “From birth, they’re kept in a special corral inside the spider cages. They live every second in abject terror until they’re numb to it.”
“Heh.” Ru grinned with all the malevolence in his being. “Then I will simply have to strike fear into the riders instead.” In a rush of air, he soared straight up. His cloak and robes billowed and the blade of his scythe gleamed even under the overcast sky.
That’s when he got to feel what rifles did.
The tiny chunk of lead went right through his robe and bored into his thigh until it struck and splintered bone. The flash of pain, caused him to falter. It was like being stung by an insect, but his impeccable awareness of his body; born of centuries of shape-changing, told him just how much damage had been done.
At the same time, he sharpened his senses and picked out exactly where the shot had come from. The man, astride his horse, was reaching into a bag at his side for another bullet.
Suddenly the pain and damage were forgotten. They would heal when he next changed shape anyway. Instead of tending the wound, he instead teleported. One moment, he was still high above the forward gap, the next he was six feet off the ground and less than that from the man who shot him.
The scythe swept in an upward motion, piercing through a weak point in the shooter’s armor; the armpit he exposed while reaching for his next projectile. The spellwork Ru placed on it allowed it to cleave cleanly through rib and sternum, bisecting both heart and one lung along the way. It was over so quickly that the shooter never knew Ru was there.
A scream of surprise and rage. Ru turned in the air to see the woman who had been riding beside the shooter drawing her sword. He let her, then turned the scythe to swing it downward for her head. Her sword caught it inches from splitting her scalp, but a twist allowed the curved blade to trap the sword and rip it from her one handed grasp.
Ru took one hand off the scythe’s handle and transformed it into a hammer, swinging it laterally and hard enough to both cave in her chest and launch her off the back of her horse.
Almost immediately, a spear drove into his side and its wielder tried to use it to force him to ground.
He succeeded in the Ru dismissed the scythe with a spell and became an ogre; landing heavily before sending the spear user flying with a massive backhand.
By now, the entire bandit contingent knew he was there in their ranks. Someone was sounding a charge and someone else was issuing orders to concentrate on him. Confusion reigned and the charge started off haphazardly.
Another fool with a spear charged him and he became a dire wolf, bounding over both the spear and the horse’s shoulder to lock jaws around the rider’s neck. He dragged the man screaming from his horse and worried him like an oversized rabbit until his neck snapped.
Attack. Counter. Response. Counter-response. It was a game he knew how to play and he was enjoying it. Probably too much. He shifted from a wolf and into an ankyl—the club-tailed, armor-backed form he used when he fought the hounds, and used a precise swing of his tail to send a man flying off the side of his horse with a thoroughly mangled arm.
He didn’t even care if they were dying or not. It wasn’t the point. The point was countering and humiliating them for even daring to try and meet the Rune Breaker in battle.
The sound of many bow-strings snapping reminded him that there was another, possibly more important, point to all this. He was supposed to be disrupting the attack. And that probably included the flight of flaming arrows he looked up to see arcing into the sky, set to land on the village’s dry, reed roofs.