- 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
In the next, Bromun and a detachment of hunters arrived from the rear with their wolves and bullets began to hammer into armor and shields from an adjacent rooftop. The opposing force was small, but with Ru’s destabilizing presence at the center of the enemy, they were fighting groups of three of four instead of a massed shield wall backed with polearms.
The King set his jaw. “The battle isn’t over.” This time, he didn’t go into the dramatic flourish that conjured the wheel of flames. Instead, he merely pointed the tip of it at Ru’s hulking form and let loose a narrow, but concentrated column of fire. It raked the mage’s fury shoulders and elicited an agonized bellow.
Taylin faltered at the sound and the flurry of emotions in the link. Pain didn’t translate to the master end of the link, but the associated burst of confusion, anger and desperate bargaining for that pain to end came through with perfect clarity.
Ru? How badly are you hurt?
She didn’t have time to parse the string of ancient oaths and curses that cascaded into her mind before the King charged her again and again drove her back a step. She almost stumbled and fell, which would have been fatal. Just as fatal as the jaws of the spider as its handler drove it forward from behind her.
Taylin danced to the side and ducked beneath the creature’s first legs, putting it between her and the King while earning valuable breathing space. It’d been a while since she’d been matched strength for strength in singular combat. Even her old masters had given up attempting to handle her in singular situations, save the blessed fool whose mistake led to her freedom.
She was not, however, the equal of a two ton arachnid, which proved a problem as the huge thing wheeled around at it’s handler’s behest. The ‘decoy’ mage still astride it muttered an incantation and gestured toward her.
The mystery of if he was really a wizard or not went with him to the grave as Ru, in his normal form, appeared between him and the spider’s handler and split his rib cage open with his scythe. On the return stroke, he clouted the handler in the head with the butt of the weapon, pitching him off.
Ru didn’t even glance at Taylin as he put his hand to the spider’s head and muttered to himself “Let’s see how much of a mind you have…” Whatever the answer, the monstrous creature suddenly veered past Taylin and skittered toward the battle behind her, jaws seeking the men who once rode behind it.
Taylin’s view was cleared just in time for her to see the King of Flame and Steel let loose yet another hell-storm. This one aimed at the village’s barn.
The barn where the children were being concealed.
She held her breath, fighting the feeling of helplessness as it hit the roof of the building and exploded, instantly engulfing the entire roof in flames. The rage began to boil over. The itching on her arms and back returned.
“There are children in there!” She screamed.
A serpent-swift blow struck the sword from her hand. “So my scouts said.” sneered the King, raising his sword for a death blow.
Steel struck flesh, but with a hollow, solid sound instead of a wet thump. Now was the King’s turn to widen his eyes in shock. A hand had caught his blade, and though it bled, it held tight, despite the helix of flames engulfing it. Orange-red scales covered that hand, which was tipped with three-inch, black claws.
“You.” The word was a hiss and a growl in one and when the King met his opponent’s eyes, he saw the green irises constrict around the pupil until it became a catlike slit.
Taylin tore the Eastern Brand from his grip with casual ease. It tumbled away in the dust, it’s flames guttering out. They were no longer strength for strength, and she was no longer ignoring the echoing roar of her anger.
He first swipe of those claws, the King dodge only with luck. They came heart-stoppingly close to tearing out his eyes. Then he threw himself back from her as two more desperate swipes came at his ribs and throat. He tapped the source of his strength, visualizing the pattern of it, and shifted it subtlety, just as he’d been taught. Suddenly, a portion of his strength became celerity and he found himself having an easier time dancing away from Taylin’s murderous claws.
Using that time wisely, he then reached into the only other power source he knew: That finite well within every mortal from which they summoned the strength to press on through pain and fatigue. The King was one of those born with a naturally more expansive reserve and with training and some external help, possessed a respectable reservoir suitable for using in spellwork without driving himself into a coma.
With no time for a complex pattern, he opted for simple, but effective. He formed tension, aimed it directly away, and released.
A bolt of force caught Taylin squarely in the chest and hurled her back. She rolled seemingly endlessly in the dust until she finally came to rest on her back with dizziness in her head and a new soreness in her chest. All around her, she heard the sounds of battle and, glancing aside, caught a glimpse of the rogue spider stampeding through the battle with a man dangling in its jaws by its head.
And then there were the shouts of a fire crew trying to put the barn out, or at least get the children to safety. From the urgency of the cries, it didn’t sound like they were doing well.
Closer than either the fire, or the battle, there was a sound of metal scraping the bare ground not far from her. She turned to see the King of Flame and Steel lifting the hilt of her sword on his boot, before flipping it neatly into his hand like a carnival trick.
Thus armed, he approached her with grim satisfaction in his eyes. “Even that last little trick was useless and predictable.” He mocked. “This village is going to die. And I’m sending you along into the Well of Souls ahead of them so you can greet them as they arrive; one by one.”
Another hissing growl emerged from her. She hated this man more than almost anyone she’d ever met. He was a vile, terrible thing and she would not let someone like him be the end of her. Not now that she was free and certainly not if it meant that he would go on to kill the Clan of the Winter Willow or the people they’d risked their lives to protect. Even unarmed, she’d find a way to survive, or at least buy time for someone to put a blade or a bullet in him.
When the killing blow came, she rolled to the side, allowing it to chop crudely into the dust where she’d previously lay. And she didn’t stop there; as the King moved to strike again, she rocked her shoulders and hips and kept moving. Twice more, the razor sword cut only dust and earth instead of the flesh it sought.
Then something hard and painful jabbed into the small of her back, completely breaking her momentum. She warded off the next blow with her arm. Her scales saved her from having her muscles severed, but this time the King had leverage, and the magically honed steel laid the back of her arm open from elbow to mid-wrist.
Pain blossomed, and through the haze, time seemed to stretch and distort. Taylin’s mind wandered, and in wandering, she suddenly realized what it was that jabbed her in the back. The Eastern Brand.
Again living up to her name, she took stock of what she had and what she needed to do to make use of it. Before the King could take his next swing, she pushed off the ground with all her might and put her strength behind a hard kick to his solar plexus. By then, he had time to put himself back to full strength, but it was still unexpected enough to send him back a few staggering steps.
It was all she required. One more time, she rolled over, arching her back to give her room to grab the King’s sword as she did. By the time he recovered, she was on her knees, raising the sword in a solid block against his overhand swing. With his leverage and her strength, mitigated as it was by her injury, they were, for a moment matched.
Then Taylin grinned at him again. The same smile she offered Ru in the cavern just before she managed to find a way out without giving an order, except this time, there was no mirth or playful cleverness in it. There was, instead, a clear declaration that she knew exactly when and how he would die.
The twin tongues of flame once more raced along the length of Dóttir Logi, the Eastern Brand. But more importantly, it spat its cascade of sparks at the point of contact with other metal. The sparks didn’t ignite the King’s expensive leathers, but all they had to do was take him off his guard for a second.
They did, and in that second, Taylin forced both swords up and out of the way with one arm. And with her good arm, she drove five black talons into his chest. Four punctured his lungs. Her thumb speared his heart.
The King of Flame and Steel grunted, groaned, and heaved pink froth up from his lungs. He was already dead, he just didn’t comprehend it yet.
Taylin drove to her feet and in doing so threw him down on his back, sheathing the still-burning Eastern Brand in its former wielder’s body and three inches into the earth beneath him. Then, without another thought toward him, she turned and ran for the barn, which was still in flames.
Smoke and flame filled the large space of the barn just as much as the shouts of the fire crews and the screams of panicked animals.
As if by some sick joke, the human villagers were rushing about, trying to shoo out what little livestock they had, while the halfling guards assigned to the barn were left to try and pull the creche wagon to safety.
It was difficult going, as fallen spars from the roof littered the floor and fouled the wagon wheels. One of the guards already had a broken hand from where he rushed to clear debris from ahead of the wheels, only to have them roll over his hand in the process.
Broken hand or not, every member of the clan knew that their children were worth more than their own lives. It was the way of the nir-lumos way. So he continued clearing, only with his good hand this time and a bit more cautiously than before.
Into this chaos charged Taylin. The death of the King of Flame and Steel has sated her rage, and this reflected in the fact that by the time she entered the barn, the scales and talons had once again receded. Her shoulder and arm still oozed blood though, and the smoke irritated those wounds as badly as it stung her eyes.
“Yarate! Yara!” She shouted as she made her way past mounds of burning hay and around scurrying villagers with pails of water and zero hope at containing the blaze. She didn’t even recognize that she was no longer speaking a language anyone around her understood. The only thing on her mind was that she was not going to allow any of those children to suffer or die because she didn’t finish with the King in time.
She reached the wagon and instantly saw the problem; even four nir-lumos working together to try and pull a wagon simply didn’t have the leverage to get it over bumps as big as the fallen spars and farm implements at any reasonable speed and of the four guards, only two were actually pulling.
The ceiling groaned ominously above and she decided that now was not the time for politeness. Stepping into the traces, she simply reached down and lifted the pair trying to pull the wagon out of the way. This, of course invited them to hurl curses at her in their own language. One even drew his kurki before they both saw her reach down and loop the leads around both her wounded and good arms.
The moment they understood, the curses became encouragement and both men and the guard with the broken hand hurried around to the back in order to help by pushing.
The five combined got the creche wagon, with its precious cargo rolling at speed, thudding freely over the broken spars and tool handles on it’s way to the wide open doors of the barn. But before it got there, one of the main beams gave way, and the multi-ton timber came crashing down toward the wagon and its entourage.