The Polyglot’s Rune—Chapter 13: Burning Flames
Vaughn scribbled a magic rune into the air. It wrapped around his wrists—an Anchor Rune.
“That’s quite pretty,” Mocha said. Her finger glowed. “Let me try too.”
She drew a half circle and a squiggly line, but then stopped. The magic vanished in a small puff of smoke. “Wait, that’s no good,” she laughed.
“Smoke?” Vaughn narrowed his eyes. He looked at me. “Don’t do anything funny. And make sure the boy doesn’t do anything strange.”
I nodded, and he placed his hands against the wagon’s floor. His foot fidgeted as he gazed at Adept Ulric.
The man was standing tall with arms crossed. Three stone runes flew from his pocket to circle his body. One stopped to his right, the other to his left, and another above his head. With a flash, they transformed, and the man grabbed the sword and shield while the crown fell onto his head. All three were minty-blue and emitted small, crystalline snowflakes.
Novice Leo, with arms raised, stood to his left while Novice Enoch, who was holding a metal pike, stood to the right.
Adept Ulric banged his sword and shield; his voice boomed. “I know you’re there. Show yourself you scumbags!”
Someone snorted, and the grass ignited. Flames roared to the sky while the crisp sound of crackling filled the air. Red ash twirled in the wind as the fire raged into a large barrier that surrounded us.
The Adept slid a foot back, readying himself for battle. His eyes darted through the flames, looking for his foes. “There!” he said, and the enchantment rune on his sword shone with a blue light. Water gushed from it, swirling and glistening in the air.
With a wave of his blade, the liquid shot forward in the shape of a giant serpent. Coordinating with him, Novice Leo released his soul rune, causing misty blue threads to encircle the summoned water. As the temperature dropped, sharp ice blades crystallized within and around the snake, giving it a tyrannical scale armor.
The serpent tore through the ground, slicing through stone and freezing grass. It clashed with the flame wall, and although it did not melt, neither did it retreat.
The man gave another swing of his sword. The water undulated and the serpent exploded with power. It pushed against the barrier, releasing steam.
The color of the flames dampened as the wall grew smaller, but before the fire vanished, a deep rumbling shook the earth. The wagon creaked beneath my feet and the black bars rattled.
Earthquake? No, it was something else.
Behind the wall, black smoke exploded from the confines of burning grass into a looming tornado. It twisted and writhed, bending towards the serpent. The two clashed head on with screeching howls.
The serpent struggled, and Novice Leo dove behind Adept Ulric, who then raised his shield. The water beast exploded into steam and shards of ice. The Adept leaned forward, bracing himself for impact, but Novice Enoch was nowhere to be seen.
Chunks of ice pushed the Adept back as his boots sunk into the ground. He did a half circle swing with his sword to gather more water. Slicing the blade upward, the water formed a spherical barrier around him and the Novice.
Within a fraction of a second, the tornado’s head came crashing down on them. It did not focus its strength to attack, but rather allowed itself to disperse across the plains.
Thick waves of black smoke surged through the area, obscuring all vision. It swamped the wagons, rocking them as it forced itself into my lungs.
My throat burned, and I coughed. The air was so heavy that I could feel the smoke’s smoothness against my skin.
Heavy objects slammed into my body. One knocked me to the side, another trapped my legs, and the last pinned my shoulder to the ground. It twisted and dug itself into my flesh, but the coldness of it dulled my nerves. There was no pain but ice.
“What happened?” I coughed, grabbing the bar with my good hand. The smell of ember burned my nose. I struggled to move. No use.
“Kaiden!” A hand touched around my chest before grabbing what held me down.
“Break you damn spear!” Vaughn grunted. He shook it more and the bar sunk deeper into my flesh.
“Help…” said a weak voice. A liquid splashed onto my face; it felt warm.
My hands quivered.
Someone yelled, roaring like a raging dragon. “Novice Enoch! I’ll have your head you traitor!”
“Oh Ulric. Do you really think you can do anything to us? Grandmaster Snow isn’t here,” a voice laughed. “Good job Novice Enoch.”
“Adept Jadeson. I didn’t expect you to actually come. It had always been your pathetic underlings.”
“Well things change. And, you know exactly what you did to deserve this.”
Adept Ulric snorted, “You’re still on about that. It wasn’t me. Go kill Hanz. It was him. He’s a true bastard.”
“Still blaming the Shade Faction? How pathetic.”
The flames raged louder. The smoke grew thicker. Yells. Clashes. Clangs.
“Kaiden! Can you hear me?” Vaughn struck my chest. “Oh, please still be alive!”
“What?” I said. “Something is pinning me down.”
“I know that!” he yelled. “Stop spacing and show some fear! It’s damn scary.”
He stumbled to the side. “Ember-something, dissolve these bars. You’re ice tainted, aren’t you?”
Vaughn growled, “I’ll heal you, just get rid of the freaking spears.”
“Can’t.” Liquid splashed onto my lips, and I tasted its metallic tang. My body froze, wanting to yell and scream.
Flashing lights…pools of blood…rushing figures…glowing plasma…
“Kaiden!” A hand smeared the blood. Blood. I was drenched in blood.
“Get rid of the spears. Destroy them. Abolish.” A thick liquid. No color, and Vaughn. Someone called Vaughn was by my side. I calmed.
The cage, I wanted to destroy it. My fists clenched and I took a deep breath.
“Get back,” Mocha coughed. “I’ll obliterate it.”
Like a wave, amber strands dispersed the surrounding black smoke and formed a web-like cocoon. Mocha, towering close to me, was at its center.
My eyes widened.
Spears were piercing through her body, and blood trickled from her once pale blue eyes. Her irises shone with a deep amber that matched her stained robe like the colors of a flame. She should have been dead, but the fervor within her gaze told otherwise.
Blue flames wisped from her skin and robe. Burning nothing, they were as ethereal as forgotten spirits and grew larger with each shallow breath.
Vaughn stumbled. “Shit, too much!”
He looked at me with furrowed brows. His lips quivered in fear, but without pause, he covered my body.
The ringing in my ears sent them bleeding. I tried to cover them, but Vaughn gripped me tighter.
“Damn it!” he grunted.
I choked on the scorching heat while the bar piercing through my shoulder began to dissolve. The wooden floor beneath me creaked and crackled. Soon, we fell through, plopping onto the dirt.
The bars vanished, the wagons crumbled, the wood burned, the grass blackened…
“Emberfell!” A voice roared followed by the loud clang of clashing blades. “Damn you fuckers.”
“You shouldn’t look away.”
Vaughn coughed madly, blood seeping from the corner of his mouth. His violet eyes were duller than normal and soot covered his face. I could feel his haggard breath against my skin. I slowly moved him off my body, but he weakly grabbed my shoulder, using it to stay upright.
By my side, Mocha was convulsing, and with each twist, blood splashed. Wherever it touched, a flick of amber would burst into flame. A bit landed on my skin, and I flinched, feeling the sting of burning flesh.
“Mocha.” I crawled closer, holding back the pain.
“Stay away from him.” Vaughn tugged my robe, his voice weak. “His soul is collapsing.”
“How do we stop it?”
“Stop being so stupid. You can’t do anything.”
“But you can,” I said. My teeth clenched. “This…this happened to me. Didn’t it?”
A drop of blood touched my cheek, yet I savored it as punishment for my uselessness.
“Let’s hope he dies before his soul explodes.” Vaughn stood up.
“How can you be so cruel?”
He looked away, his head downcast. “It’s better that way. I can’t help him.”
I watched the girl flail as amber threads circled her writhing body. I could do nothing; my fists clenched. How could I be so pathetic?
Suddenly, the collars around the other captives glowed. The people scrambled to their feet. Smiles of relief covered their faces, and they turned a blind eye to the suffering Mocha. Insensitive bastards.
“We’re finally free,” they laughed, tearing the collars from their necks.
“Looks like that other guy died,” Vaughn stated, ignoring Mocha. With a smile, he sent the group a quick glare as he relished in their fear.
“Run,” a person said. His trembling legs struggled beneath his body and stumbled over stones. The others followed him, but froze upon reaching the wall of smoke.
A man wearing a blue Adept’s robe exited the thick smokescreen. Freckles covered his skin, and his brown hair was covered in soot. With a wave of his hand, the smoke grabbed the Apprentices, pulling them behind him.
He looked at us then Mocha. He smiled at the sight of her convulsions. “Worthless,” he said, and he jumped into the black cloud. It undulated, forming a nearly solid wall.
Vaughn grabbed my arm. “Hurry, the boy is going to blow.”
I struggled, resisting his grip. I can’t give up. My gaze remained fixed on the girl. She was so young and small.
She can’t die, not like the two I had killed. I strained my muscles to resist Vaughn. Not another death.
He slapped me on the cheek, holding nothing back. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you fool!”
I lowered my head, and he dragged me with what little strength he had left. I wanted to stay but could not. It made me feel hollow. Completely hollow.
Ash, stones, grass, embers. The scenery slid below my feet as we abandoned Mocha. The slave collars lay sprawled across the ground like a heap of trash. They were disgusting things, enchantment runes that read “Soul Bind.” My fists clenched, and I bit my lip, holding back a tear.
Why was this world so messed up?
I froze, and my feet, not keeping up with Vaughn, stumbled. I crashed to the ground and stones scraped my knees, slashed my skin, and dug into my flesh. It burned, but the adrenaline of pumping blood muddled my brain. I could save her!
“Get up!” Vaughn yelled. He dropped to his knee and knelt by my side. His shaking hands gripped my shoulders while his wrists were still covered by a faint Anchor Rune.
He was going to hate me.
I slapped his hand, forced it against the ground, and willed with my mind. A soft pulse originated within the pit of my stomach and shot through my chest, arm, and wrist. As it reached my palm, the energy seeped into Vaughn’s Anchor Rune.
It activated, latching him to the ground.
“What the–” He yanked, but he remained stuck. His face paled. “Kaiden!”
I sprinted from him and scooped up three slave collars with my good hand. My throat burned and my shoulder bled, but I did not look back. Behind me I heard an angry string of curses pushing against the wind.
Mocha had stopped flailing, but her body still twisted and bent into strange shapes. Amber threads continuously seeped from her body to invade the area and burn the air.
I wiped the slave collars against my bleeding knees, not sure if they needed to be bound. I weaved my hand through the girl’s soul rune, trying my best not to touch it.
Careful. A bead of sweat dripped down my chin, and the first collar snapped around her neck. The amber threads struggled less, and I slowly placed the other two around her arms. Her soul rune wriggled, still resisting the soul bind.
“Fuse,” I commanded, and the three collars lit with a white light. Her soul rune stopped moving, but it did not return to her body.
“You fucking bastard! If you live, I’m going to mince you into a million pieces,” Vaughn yelled, breaking through his Anchor Rune. He scrambled to his feet with newfound strength.
“Slave Collar!” I pointed. “I need another one.”
“Idiot!” he yelled, but he still swooped one into his hand. He was fast despite his pale complexion, and in a moment he was by my side.
I took the collar from him, ignoring his angry scowl.
He grabbed my body from behind—no, he hugged me. His arms trembled, and he whispered something into my ear, but I gave it no heed.
I inhaled a deep breath and held it. The last collar clasped around Mocha’s ankle. Her soul rune undulated and retreated into her body. Only until the last strand vanish did I let out a sigh of relief.
“Bastard.” Vaughn gripped me tighter. It was painful.
“Heal him please?”
He glared, but still released my body. With a snort he cast Mend on the girl. Seven times.
“Ther-” Vaughn’s eyes widened, and he dove, pushing me to the ground.
No! I struggled from Vaughn’s embrace, and a burst of flames like that of a roaring dragon soared to the sky. It set the world aflame and ember fell to the earth.
An invisible liquid, most likely some form of magical energy released by Vaughn, protected me. I watched the amber flames rage within an arms reach. As quickly as they had been born, they died.
Vaughn’s arms released me, and I scrambled to Mocha.
She lay there, covered in ash, but her body was not burned or charred. Watching her chest rise and lower, I relaxed with a smile. The only problem was that–
Vaughn slammed my face into the ground. Ash and dirt entered my mouth, and I coughed at its bitter taste.
“Don’t look. He’s a she,” Vaughn said, further digging my head into the charred earth.
If you were actually a guy, you shouldn’t be looking either.
Escaping his grasp, I wiped the filth from my mouth and diverted my gaze. Mocha coughed, and I smiled; I had done something right.
The black smoke slowly receded, and I listened to what was left of the fight. There were still clashes, clangs, and curses. Their voices were distant, and closing my eyes, I strained my ears to listen.
“Grandmaster Snow will make you guys pay, especially you Flameheart. Even if he dies, he’ll take you down with him,” said Adept Ulric.
“An eye for an eye. You got what was coming–” clang! “–you should stop resisting and let my Novices leave before you piss me off. If I joined in the fray, you’d be dead.”
“I already told you. It wasn’t us.”
“Like hell we would believe that.” Someone snapped their fingers.
Adept Ulric coughed. “Why don’t you–”
“Believe you? Who else would cause our disciples to disappear other than the Hail Faction?”
“Ask Enoch. He knows it wasn’t us.”
“I don’t know everything,” Novice Enoch said. “I don’t watch you like a hawk, and they’re not the only ones who vanished.”
Adept Ulric snorted, “Are you inferring that I–”
“That’s enough talking. We’re leaving. Our goal here is done. A tooth for a tooth. Emberfell is dead. Adept Jadeson, let him keep the stupid Cowzer Apprentices.”
“Got it,” someone replied. He added, “Not even his soul is left. Collapsed then kaboom. It’s a pity that Grandmaster Snow didn’t let him join the Blaze Faction. He had the perfect soul rune.”
I felt a sudden warmth against my lips.
“You bitch!” Vaughn yelled, tackling Mocha to the ground.
She was blushing and giggling. “He really does blank at times.”
“How dare you steal a kiss! I will gut you alive.” Vaughn pushed Mocha’s back against the ash-covered floor. He was only wearing a sleeveless shirt and trousers.
As for his robe, Mocha was wearing it without the rune that obscured her gender. Her amber eyes glittered against its white folds, not willing to return to their original color. Her skin, too, seemed a couple shades darker.
“Are you jealous?” she laughed. Her arms wrapped Vaughn’s neck, and her dirt-covered cheeks blushed against his.
I raised a brow at the two celebrating their survival.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, you lowly commoner!” The egotist tried pushing her away, but his weak body barely put up a fight.
Mocha kissed him, and the more he struggled, the more she forced herself against him. Her cheeks blushed like blooming roses.
I looked away.
“How are those Apprentices still alive?” I jumped at a man’s voice.
He was gazing at us in a fiery red coat and brown shorts. As he stood their barefooted, he emanated a frightening aura and blended into his surroundings. His every movement kindled the embers that struggled to live across the muddy, scarred plains. Without his loud voice, the flames would have already sputtered to death.
Adept Ulric leaned over, heaving blood from his mouth as he watched us from the corner of his eye. Seeing Mocha, his gaze flickered, but he forced himself to appear pained. He bent lower to hide his head.
Apart from the man with the coat, three men and woman surrounded him. One of them, Novice Enoch, grinned. Without recognizing Mocha, he said, “The purple haired one is a Novice, and according to Leo, is one of the three True Purities.”
“Purities?” The man with the coat raised a brow. It was only for a split second, but his voice quivered. “Let’s leave before Grandmaster Snow returns. It would be bad if he gets here before Blaze.”
The other two men, an Adept and Novice, watched Mocha kiss Vaughn. Their brows were furrowed as though they could sense something strange. As for the pair in question, they were still foolishly unaware of their watchers.
The red-headed woman, who was also a Novice, turned her head away and blushed as her thoughts wandered elsewhere.
I gaped. Vaughn wouldn’t…at this distance…no, impossible. I glared at the two rambunctious children.
And Vaughn called me the fool.
Sweat dripped from my forehead. Biting my tongue, I faced the five watchers. After a moment the man in the coat shrugged and turned to leave. The other three, tearing their eyes from Vaughn, followed him in silence. The woman gave one last glance.
Her eyes met mine and she smiled. Then, they left.
The freed Apprentices shivered, not daring to move.
“You two are fools,” I said. Vaughn pushed against Mocha, but she only laughed louder and hugged tighter.
He growled in his throat. “Let go of me you whore. You’re a complete cockroach. Poked full of holes, exploded, and almost had your soul collapse. How the hell are you still alive, and with so much energy!”
“It’s all because of you.” She smooched his cheek. “Love trumps all, even death.”
“Kaiden, this is your fault. Do something about this roach,” Vaughn said, his face distorted in disgust.
I turned my head and looked at Adept Ulric. He was currently sitting with his legs crossed. Meditating?
“He’s so cute staring off into space. Vaughn, if you really don’t want my love, that’s fine. My savior can have it. He has nice blue eyes.” Releasing him, Mocha stretched towards me.
“Don’t you dare!” The egotist pushed her to the ground. My brows raised, and he initiated a kiss.
So he is gay.
Mocha turned cherry red and wrapped her arms around Vaughn’s neck. Her fingers sifted through his hair as she pulled his head closer.
“Guh! Enough!” Vaughn pried himself from her embrace. He shivered.
“You’re so cute when you’re shy and jealous,” Mocha said. She inched closer to me.
“Don’t you dare move, you cockroach.” Vaughn balled his hands into fists, and his teeth ground against each other.
“I won’t,” Mocha said, sitting obediently.
He released a heavy sigh and dropped his guard.
Mocha lunged at me, and although I pulled back, she licked my bottom lip. Her devilish eyes flicked to the side, observing Vaughn’s every action.
He gaped, and then his expression turned to one of hate. His teeth clenched, his brows scrunched, his violet eyes burst into flame… He gulped and cowered.
“What do you think you’re doing, you little bastard.” Adept Ulric glared, casting a shadow as he stood behind my back. His eyes burned my very soul and froze my body.
“I-I-” I could not speak.
“So you saw that?” Mocha rubbed the back of her neck. She wore an embarrassed smile. “It was nothing Dad, really.”
His gaze intensified.
“I’m alive, and he saved me.”
After a pause, the Adept snorted. “I’ll let you live. For now.”
“You better do what he says.” Vaughn grinned.
Whose side are you on? You don’t even know what he said.