- Soul Battery: Chapter 7 – Inner Strength and Weakness
- Soul Battery: Chapter 1 – Boar Hunt
- Soul Battery: Chapter 2 – Findant Settlement
- Soul Battery: Chapter 3 – The Family She Found
- Soul Battery: Chapter 4 – The Stone House
- Soul Battery: Chapter 5 – The City of Temples
- Soul Battery – Chapter 8 – What It Means To Fly
- Soul Battery: Chapter 6 – Freedom Forgotten, Pasts Discovered
- Soul Battery: Chapter 9 – Welcome to the Bard City
- Soul Battery: Chapter 10 – Vul Azan
- Soul Battery: Chapter 11 – Death Stalks Harpsfell
- Soul Battery: Chapter 12 – Poisoned With A Spark
- Soul Battery: Chapter 13 – Tales That Need Telling
The sun was nearing the horizon by the time Pele and Ru were done at the guard house. At least three people had taken down their accounts of events, then a man not dressed in guard’s armor asked Pele questions about Vul Azan, such as where to find him and all about his account of the first assassination attempt.
While Vul Azan hadn’t reported the earlier attack, the innkeeper had and now the guard was trying to make certain that the same man perpetrated both crimes. No one could find a connection to the ospreshrike attack but some shapeshifting on Ru’s part and the scenting ability of a dire wolf assured Pele he was the same man.
Without her supposed brother or his… Pele had no idea what Sharae was to him… along, she decided to fly to the House Gurrai compound. She took a long route, one that took her over some of the city’s many parks and gardens.
The cool air that enveloped Harpsfell, despite the powerful spellworkings that kept the natural Chordini cold at bay, usually discomfited her. At the moment, it felt brisk and freeing to finally be away from the disconcerting pair of Vul Azan and Sharae; away from having to construct sneaky questions, and away from anything that might bring the roaring dragon of her rage or the fluttery warmth she couldn’t recognize to the surface.
She felt like herself again, and with her better mood came an urge to spread it.
“Ru?” She called over the noise of the wind. The dark wizard was flying not far from her. The only indication she had he even heard her was a quizzical feeling in the link. “I just wanted to say thank you. You know, for all your help, and for going with me in the first place—even if it was a bit of a bust.”
“Nothing of it, Miss Pele. Though your so-called brother is a git who a dearly wish to see slapped about the face and head until he learns sense. And his witch was useless.”
That was as good a reaction as she was going to get from Ru, so Pele didn’t argue. There was something else she was curious about anyway. She let him have a few moments of silence before saying, “So you chose to save the cerato.”
She was expecting annoyance and frustration to fill the link as it always did when Ru was caught performing a good deed. Instead, he felt… flustered and aloof. It was different enough from the usual that she looked over to make sure the same person was there.
Despite the turmoil in the link, Ru kept his expression stony. “You would have rather I had let it fall and splatter its ruin across the Old City?”
“Of course not. I’m just… surprised you didn’t.” Now she actually was surprised. Ru was capable of good if it served some other end of his, or was expedient. Sometimes it was a reflex, like muscle memory for him to do something she would ask him to do. It reminded her of the rare times one of her fellow shock troops lived long enough to train with her a while; the bond between fellow warriors was often like that. Every time, Ru would point out his real reasons. This time he was deflecting and that raised her curiosity. “So why didn’t you? That was what made you hurt your arm, right?”
Ru waffled. Not out loud, but Pele could feel it in the link. “I didn’t think. I just did.” he lied. He didn’t even try to mask the lie in his mind, just let it out there, radiant in its falsehood.
Once again, Pele turned to look over at him. He was pointedly watching the city below them with the intensity of a hawk seeking a mouse.
“Okay…” She said, returning the favor by not masking her concern. Or her curiosity.
They flew on in silence until the House Gurrai compound appeared. It was a sprawling estate that occupied a mesa on the southwestern edge of the plateau. The manor houses and halls were built along a natural ridge formed where part of the mesa had collapsed into an evacuated magma chamber. The bowl-like crater in the center was rich with forests and fields with a lake in the center.
Pele winged around to the northern bridges and the gatehouses situated there. Out of nowhere, Ru decided to speak again. “Truthfully, Miss Pele, I am not so certain of my motives in sparing the beast. I certainly didn’t gain from it.”
“Would it insult you to suggest you did it because it was the right thing to do?”
“It would.” Ru said flatly. But some of the tension leaked out of the space between them and Pele smiled at him before dropping down before the gatehouse.
She struck the earth after a short fall, landing with knees bent and her left fist on the ground. Two women in chain mail and Gurrai livery leveled their halberds at the pair before one got a good look at them and waved for her partner to stand down.
“Pele Hiddakko?” asked the guard who recognized them. When Pele nodded, she spoke again. “The Grandmother of the Winter Willow told us that you would be around. We have orders to let you right through. The Clan is staying in Domon Hall. Follow the main ridge road until you come to a fountain shaped like a tree—it’s the largest building off that plaza.”
“Thank you.” said Pele. The guards gave brief salutes and stepped aside. The ornate, ivy-covered gates swung open as if on their own accord to allow the pair of travelers in. Only after they were through and the gates had closed behind them did Pele turn to Ru again.
“Whatever your reason, I’m glad you saved that cerato either way. I know that doesn’t count for a lot, but I just thought I should say it.”
Ru floated along slightly behind her as she set off up the ridge road. “Heh. Just don’t expect the same next time a gigantic animal falls from the sky, Miss Pele.”
House Gurrai had generously provided the whole of Domon Hall and its staff for the Clan of the Winter Willow. Just as they had on the Forgotten Freedom, the nir-lumos spread out and took over rooms as they saw fit, as if the hall and its rooms were merely a huge set of interconnected wagons.
It took Pele nearly an hour to find the third floor parlor where Rai, Bromun and the kids were having dinner with Brin and Kaiel.
Motsey, as was his knack, spotted her first. “Aunt Pele!” He squealed and bolted from his seat, a half-eaten roll still clutched in his little fist. The roll ended up crushed against Pele’s pant leg as he hugged her.
“Glad to see I was missed.” Pele said, bending down to scoop up Motsey and then Rale, who had been just a few steps behind him. She hugged them both and gave them a kiss on the forehead before looking over their heads to the others. “So I guess Loreman Ridsekes went back to the Bardic College?”
“Back home to the Galvanic Quarter, he said.” Kaiel replied from his seat on a black upholstered settee with Brin. “Though I wouldn’t put it past him to be out tapping his sources to find out more about this Vul Azan.”
Pele found an ottoman to sit on and balanced the children on her knees. “I’m surprised you’re not out doing the same.” The day had been a long one and she hadn’t had anything to eat beyond a steamed bun purchased from a vendor outside of the guard house. The spread on the table: a basket of hot rolls, a cauldron of what looked like a creamy chicken and dumpling stew, a huge bowl of green salad with slices of vegetables she wasn’t even familiar with, and a platter of sliced apples, pears, strawberries and grapes with clotted cream made her jaws work unconsciously.
The chronicler reached over to the table set between them all and picked up a wine glass to take a sip. “I would have been, but I was worried about you—I stayed with the Clan because they would be first to hear if something happened.”
Rai was sharing a large leather arm chair with Bromun. “Speaking of which, what happened? And where is Ru?”
“He’s off challenging Grandfather and Layaka to another game of Stones and Ashes, I think.” said Pele, though she couldn’t be sure; the Rune Breaker had abandoned the hunt for Rai and the others early on. He said that was his intent, but he was muffling his end of the link, so she couldn’t figure out what he was up to.
“As for what happened with Vul Azan… it’s a long story.”
She said the last part with a tired sigh, but as she sat there, looking from Brin and Kaiel, Bromun and Raiteria, and finally to Motsey and Rale on her knees, the weariness of the day lifted and she found herself smiling again. “…one I’d love to share as soon as I fix myself a plate.”
The sun had been down for several hours and the House staff had lit mage-lights both inside and out on the plazas and streets connecting the halls and manors when Kaiel finally took his leave of Domon Hall.
Stepping out onto the vast stone porch, the chronicler drew his cloak around him to protect against the rapidly cooling air. He reached the steps leading down to the fountain plaza, but paused at the top of them.
“And might I ask why you’re lurking out here, old man?”
Ru emerged from the shadows, floating soundlessly over the seamless granite slab that made up the floor of the porch. He had his hands tucked into the sleeves of his robe, but made no effort to protect his face and neck from the cold. “I was waiting for you. Hedging my bets that you wouldn’t dally in Brin’s bed.”
“You’re softening. You actually called her by name.” Kaiel remarked, not bothering to turn and face the Rune Breaker. “So what can I do for you, Ru?”
The dark wizard let out a long, low breath that would have sounded like a growl to someone who didn’t know the man. To Kaiel, it was just the unhappy sound Ru tended to make, particularly when maneuvered into admitting he was wrong about something.
For long minutes, he didn’t speak and Kaiel was content to leave him to it. Whatever this was all building to promised to be worth his while.
Finally, Ru let out a groan as if forcing himself to utter the words and declared, “We need to talk. About Miss Pele.”
Far away and days later, a tall, lithe figure ascended a set of creaking wooden stairs into an attic. Even with autumn waning, it was sweltering beneath the eaves of the southern Rizeni bakery where the meeting was taking place.
Directly across from the stairs, boxes of spare utensils and pans had been pushed aside to make room for a low table and a pair of large, plush cushions. Atop one of these sat a large muscular man of Calleni extraction, his skin bronze and his frame more than capable despite the large belly exposed by his open vest and shirt.
“You summoned me?” A female voice rasped.
The big Calleni nodded. “Indeed. Sit.”
The woman ghosted across the floor and sank onto the empty cushion across from the Calleni. Once she was comfortable, the man let out a small sigh. “You have heard the news out of Harpsfell, yes? About Laifas Korel?”
She nodded and made a quick sign to Pandemos meant to pray good fortune for the departed. “I have. I trained him a few weeks in poisons. He didn’t take to it, but he tried his best. It’s a shame we lost him. But… isn’t that the way of things? Not every initiate survives their first mission. Sometimes death finds them instead.”
“This…” the man said, reaching up to stroke his beard. “This is different. We made a mistake. I made a mistake. Neither Laifas, nor any initiate should have been sent after this target. And now he is dead for my folly.”
“You’ll be paying a blood price to his family?”
“Aye. But there’s more. Laifas didn’t die on his mission. He was captured by the guard… and then died in his cell.”
“What?” the lithe woman recoiled from the revelation. “Slain in prison?”
The man nodded. “And the guards in Harpsfell have no idea how it happened. But I have a very good idea. I believe his target is the kind who would certainly take vengeance rather than let justice—or the truth—prevail. That is why I summoned you.”
She nodded and one slim hand traveled down to her hip to caress a peculiar scabbard holding a sickle. “I see. Then I am to travel to Harpsfell?”
“…And complete Laifas Korel’s mission: Red Son of the Hueruk Tribe, Vul Azan pur Agmar.”
End Children of Agmar