The Siren’s Rune—Chapter 3: Alaric the Faceless
Beyond the door was a wild forest with old trees. Their branches blotted out the sunrise, and their roots dislodged the stone pathway to the palace.
I frantically turned over the boy, whose mouth was foaming with blood, and placed my hands on his shoulders. Shifting my weight, I pinned him to the ground even though I knew that a person should not restrain someone convulsing.
However, it was more important to stop his soul from collapsing.
The last bit of his spiritual energy, the power found within all living things with soul runes, had dispersed into the air. I needed to replace it.
Taking in a deep breath, I focused my spiritual energy to my palms. It gathered into a ball, and with a thought, I willed it into the boy’s body.
His soul trembled and his soul rune, the tangible essence of the soul, went savage. White wisps lashed out from his body, draining the energy from the nearby grass.
My body grew weaker and sweat dripped down my face. I continued to force energy into the boy, but his soul rune only grew more ferocious.
“Be calm!” I willed, circulating the spiritual energy that I had left around my soul rune.
The rune activated and caught the attention of the boy’s rune. The white strands paused then slowly retreated obediently like a shy child. However, as if following my wishes was not satisfying enough, they quickly wrapped around my forearm.
My face paled.
If the rune drained some of the essence fueling my soul rune, there was a high chance that Kaiden’s soul would instantaneously shatter into pieces. The soul rune that took the essence would become tainted. It would then transform into a malevolent spirit or ghost that would haunt the nearby area.
Please back away. I wished quietly to myself.
The white soul rune coiled tighter around my arm. They grew brighter as they brushed against my skin.
My hands reflexively pushed the shaking boy against the ground, and his shoulders dug into the dirt. I grew frantic as I forcefully injected more spiritual energy into his body.
Please don’t die.
A teardrop streaked down my cheek. It surprised me; I did not know why I cared so much about this stranger. I could easily let him die. I had killed others in the past, so doing so would be no problem, but my hands trembled. I could not let go of him.
With a heave, more energy was forced into him, but I coughed up a mouthful of blood. It splattered onto Kaiden’s tattered shirt. A bit even touched his soul rune, temporarily tinting it with a red color that transformed into a pearly white.
The wisps, as though fueled with oil,grew brighter as they curled around my arm. Soon they would begin draining the essence within my body. I resisted the urge to pull away and to just let Kaiden’s soul shatter.
All or nothing.
With little spiritual energy left, I began to use my longevity and life force to save the boy. One year…Two years…Three years gone.
The boy’s soul rune loosened its grip, becoming as soft as a silk blanket. Unwilling to release me, they caressed my skin in a gentle hug while releasing small sparkles into the air. They glimmered like small stars trying to outshine the sun.
The lights danced around my body, soothing my distress in their joyous embrace. I felt my energy restore itself—no, it was the boy who gave it back to me. The sparkles slowly seeped into my skin and circulated within my body.
I slowly loosened my grip over Kaiden’s shoulders.
His convulsions came to a stop, and after spitting out a mouthful of blood, his breathing steadied. The strands of his soul rune released my arms and sullenly retreated into his body. They seemed reluctant to leave—most likely due to my soul rune.
I breathed a sigh of relief. He will live.
With the corner of my robe, I wiped away the blood on Kaiden’s mouth. He looked calm and peaceful sleeping there with a slight smile on his face. I poked his cheek to see if he would awaken.
It was warm and soft, but no reaction.
A sudden fluctuation occurred in the pocket lining my robe, causing my face to pale.
Quickly, I moved my hand and retrieved a stone rune. It was the uncommon rune that Vaughn bound with blood, but the bind had disappeared. That could only mean one of three things.
Either Vaughn died, purposefully released the bind, or teleported to a very far place. I hoped that he only released the bind. I could not imagine being left alone.
I pulled my hood closer to my face as a feeling of loneliness welled inside me. I felt so naked and scared.
“Kaiden. Kaiden,” I said. My voice grew more frantic as time passed.
To my horror, he did not awaken, soIquickly hoisted him over my shoulder. Because I was a Runist and had trained in the way of runes, my body was stronger, quicker, and more durable than a normal person’s.
Kaiden was rather light, but a pungent smell reached my nostrils. The boy reeked of blood and filth worse than a half-eaten animal. Without a second thought, I dropped him onto the ground. He landed with a thump.
I am a princess. I should not be dealing with this.
Holding my nose, I tightly grabbed his arm and dragged him through the forest. I had my priorities—risking my life to save someone I wanted to save was far different than inconveniencing myself for someone else. Being dragged through bushes and roots would not kill him. He could even say it was his payment to me for saving his life.
Bringing him with me was still a hassle, but at least I was not truly alone.
On the other side of the palace, a man waited in front of a plain stone wall. His black cloak hid his features while a coal-black crow sat on his right shoulder.
The bird with its red eyes glared at the wall. It waited for a passage to open and a princess to appear.
Time flowed. Its eyes grew redder, and its feathers became blacker. A dark aura thickened itself around the crow. Soon it smoldered the surrounding light.
The mysterious man reached into his pocket and pulled out a black stone with purple lines. With a flip of the wrist, the rune pulsed and expanded to create a sphere around the man and bird. Their vision blurred, and the strokes blocked all view of the pair.
The bird screeched, and the two were gone.
When I heard a scream in the direction of the palace, I crouched low. I inched behind some bushes and put down Kaiden.
So the slaughter is beginning, I thought as I listened to blood-curdling yells.
My brows furrowed. As the Royal Oracle, Vaughn gave no reason why the so-called chosen had to be killed. He just said it must be done, so the palace servants, guards, and Runists were slaying them.
Was it to prevent the other kingdoms from getting a hold of them? Or, was his foresight incomplete?
My eyes drifted towards the chosen Kaiden, who if I had left back there, would be dead.
He was still unconscious, sleeping peacefully. However, his arm, the one that I used to drag him, had dislocated and swelled. It reminded me how weak a normal person was. I sighed.
Good thing he’s unconscious.
I grabbed his arm and forcefully popped it back into his shoulder. I probably tore a bunch of tendons and muscles, but it did not matter.
I circulated some spiritual energy to the tip of my finger. Moving my finger, I left a faint trail in the air. It slowly formed a simple, common rune. With one last stroke, the rune flashed and covered the boy’s shoulder.
The swelling swiftly disappeared, and his arm became as good as new. I admired my work, doubting that he would ever discover that I had wrecked his shoulder.
The rune that I had cast was a weak magic usually used to heal minor scrapes and bruises. Being extremely skilled with this specific rune, I could use it to mend broken bones, torn muscles, and even heal severe cuts.
Vaughn had been amazed by me when I cast it to heal a broken leg. I smiled, remembering his shocked expression that day. His eyes were as big as melons.
Kaiden stirred, muttering a foreign word beneath his breath. He seemed happy, and I assumed he was dreaming about home.
I placed my hand against his chest which gently raised and lowered as he breathed. I lightly shook him.
He smacked his lips without showing any inclination to wake up.
I pressed my mouth close to his ear. I whispered, “Kaiden.”
“Kaiden,” I said a little louder.
The boy still did not respond, so, letting out a sigh, I rotated my spiritual energy. It activated my soul rune. I whispered once more into his ear.
“Kaiden,” I said, violently shaking him.
His eyes opened, and his expression soured as he remembered where he was. He growled at me in frustration, and although I did not show it, I was extremely happy that my soul rune did not make him do something weird, such as kiss me.
That would be gross, but for some reason, I felt a little disappointed.
“You’re finally awake,” I said quietly. “Stand up. We need to get out of here.”
Kaiden slowly raised his head. He looked around the forest, and the sunrise attracted his attention like a toy to a child. He stared at it with with wide eyes, forgetting what I had just said.
As I was about to jab him, I heard a frantic yell echo throughout the forest. The branches shivered and the birds took to the sky.
I pushed Kaiden to the dirt. Laying against him, I hastily covered his mouth with my hand.
I peered through the bushes, but the branches blocked my view. I heard a few twigs snapping, someone whimpering in pain, and footsteps running in our direction.
“Please, no I–” a person said, but his head plopped to the ground before he completed his plea.
“Weak,” the chaser said. His voice sounded rugged.
I held my breath in fear.
I could not sense the man’s spiritual energy, meaning that he was either a normal person or far more powerful than I was. I wished the former, but he was most likely the latter.
“Is that all these Gnudeerians have? Pathetic,” he said.
In a direct clash, I would lose. My grip tightened over Kaiden.
A shadow leaped over us, landing heavily on the ground with tattered, mud-caked boots. He pushed back his brown cloak with his extremely muscular arms. They were so big that they were gross.
His face was just as bad. An ugly scar streaked down his forehead, across his nose, and through his cheek. If he was not so muscular and rogue-looking, he might barely pass as handsome.
I felt a little sorry for him.
“You two are worse,” the man said with a disgusting snort. Around his body three stone runes circled like celestial beings. They filled me with a deep jealousy. Only powerful Runists could emit spiritual energy thick enough to levitate bound stone runes.
He plucked one of the stones from the air, and a large battle-ax appeared in his hands. The materialized weapon was circled by a blue enchantment rune that glowed softly beneath the shadows of the trees.
My eyes widened.
This guy is rich for a commoner!
Rare runes were worth a fortune, about one thousand Mora Stones. A family could live off a single Mora Stone for half year. There was even an elaborate wolf etched into the blade’s surface, probably adding another hundred Mora Stones. The wolf had bared fangs and looked somewhat familiar…
“Crap,” I cursed as realization dawned on me. I quickly jumped away. “A rare enchantment ax with the emblem of a wolf…you must be a mercenary from the Appenhund Kingdom.”
“You’re pretty sharp,” the man laughed. He readied for battle, but did not release nor circulate his spiritual energy. “Too bad you won’t live long. The one in the strange blood-covered clothes, I’ll be taking you.”
I narrowed my eyes.
Is this guy looking down on me, or is his power sealed to avoid detection?
Reaching to my side, I grabbed for the small dagger that I always hid in the sash around my dress.
My face darkened. I was disguised in a common peddler’s robe and did not have my weapon—nor was I wearing my favorite dress.
I swiftly jumped away from the man to increase the distance between us.
My spiritual energy circulated as I frantically began to cast a magic rune. I had drawn this rune many times in my life and had used it to sneak around the palace. I smiled; I never expected to be able to use it so soon in a battle.
“Completely disarmed, and you still dare to try to fight me?” The man bellowed in laughter. “Since I like you, I’ll let you die slowly.”
He pushed off the ground, heel sinking into the dirt and quickly shortening the gap between us. His eyes were aflame with blood lust, and a smile was on his face.
I swore at myself. My soul rune, which could passively mess with a person’s state of being, was fueling his battle spirit. There was no telling how he would react. He might rape my dead body or torture me to death.
This is my first true battle, and my soul rune is still trying to screw with me. Can’t it ever give me a break?
The man happily swung his ax at me, but quickly crouching, I leaped to the right. With my shoulder to the mercenary, I placed my palm against a tree. Simultaneously, my right hand’s magic rune came to completion.
The white rune swiftly expanded and slipped over my wrist like a silver bangle. I felt a pull from the energy residing in nature. It was more formally known as magical energy and could be controlled through runes.
This rune, called an Anchor Rune, allowed me to attach my spiritual energy to the magical energy in nature. With it, I could grip onto anything and prevent it from temporarily pulling or piercing through the magical bond. I could also use it to slide against a surface.
The only downside was that the Anchor Rune could only bond spiritual energy that I circulated through its strokes, the bangle around my wrist.
I focused my mind, willing the Anchor Rune to duplicate itself. It formed on my other three limbs as runic tattoos, but the original was still the most powerful.
I pushed some spiritual energy to my left wrist, activating the runic tattoo. A disk of glowing magic appeared beneath my palm. It fused with the magical energy within the tree and secured my hand to its trunk.
I pushed myself forward, allowing the disk to slide around the tree with my body. Despite moving in a circular path, no force was lost.
I straightened my leg and, releasing the anchor, went in for a flying kick.
The mercenary was caught off guard by my swift movements, but he still managed to counterattack by twisting his body. In his hands, the battle-ax swung upwards in an arch.
The blade made contact with my boot. It triggered another magical disk, which I had readied before hand.
My foot anchored onto the ax, preventing it from cutting through my skin. I quickly released the bond and allowed myself to be thrown backwards.
I gracefully flipped through the air like a swan ready for war. A gust of wind blew my hood onto my shoulders. I took in a deep breath and calmed my pumping blood.
With a clear mind, I rapidly circulated my spiritual energy. It surged within my body and transformed into a cyclone that I could barely control. Quite a bit of energy leaked from my body, but I forced what I could to the center of my right hand.
I need to end this as soon as possible while he still underestimates me. This mercenary is not even being serious. If my guess is correct, this man should be Lycan the Cruel. Only he would be so boisterous during a fight.
A faint light, which threatened to disperse, appeared on my finger tip. With it I began to carefully cast the most powerful rune at my disposal.
The mercenary’s laughter abruptly stopped. He said indifferently, “I’ve never seen that rune be used in that way. The timing and control was so perfect that my ax couldn’t pierce you. However, seeing how my weapon is still intact, it’s not an attack rune. Looks like you’ve only got mobility and magic control going for you.”
The mercenary licked his lips, becoming unruly once again. He gave me a wry smile.
“I wonder how many times you can pull it off before I mangle that gorgeous face of yours.”
The magical energy around the man’s body twisted as one of his stone runes began glowing. Kicking against the ground, he charged at me with increased speed.
I moved to the side, yet the blade grazed my arm. I clenched my teeth and continued to cast the rune. As I did, I imbued it with spiritual energy that passed through the Anchor Rune’s bangle.
My attention was completely focused on casting the rune and dodging the mercenary’s blows. I cannot remember how many ax strikes grazed against my left arm nor how many times I anchored myself against a tree, a root, or even the ground.
Wherever I connected with the Anchor Rune, I left a small strand of my spiritual energy. I could feel their locations as light touches within my mind. I imbued the feelings into the magic rune that I was casting.
A few more evasions and the energy within my body became harder to control. Although almost depleted, it threatened to spill from my body. Blood dripped down my left arm, flowing to the tips of my fingers and dropping to the floor. The more I lost, the weaker I became.
Hang in there. Just a little more.
I bit into my bottom lip.
The mercenary swung towards my head. I crouched then dashed to the left before realizing my mistake. With his strength, the man could easily dash towards me and chop through my body with his ax, but he did not.
Instead, he twisted his body and made an outreaching strike. Slicing through my robe, it only lightly cut my left leg. He laughed, seemingly having fun playing with me.
Ever since the beginning, Lycan never took this fight seriously. He really lived up to his reputation; he enjoyed slowly cornering his prey while giving them a slight hope of survival.
I’ll make sure you regret it.
When he had made his last strike, the mercenary had stopped moving in the exact location where I wanted him to stand.
I smiled, completing my cast.
My magic rune activated, growing to the size of about a meter in diameter. It was purple, an epic rune passed on to me by my mother. It carried my only chance of beating this mercenary.
My opponent’s face paled in shock.
“Impossible,” he said with a frown. Even with his vast experience, he could not push down his own arrogance.
I felt a tugging sensation as the rune pulled at the spiritual energy that I left around the forest with the Anchor Rune.
Alone, this epic magic rune, called a Chain Rune, was virtually useless. It would only materialize a bunch of translucent chains. However, by fusing the rune with my Anchor Rune, I could viciously connect the chains to anyplace temporarily infected by my spiritual energy.
“Die!” I said, releasing the chains. They overtaxed the power of my soul and devoured my remaining strength. I resisted the urge to cough up blood.
The purple chains, as though desperate, shot forward like hungry snakes and struck like lightning. I had named my custom technique Dancing Prison, and this forest was the best place to display its might.
More than fifty pierced into the surrounding trees and roots, leaving no room for escape. Thirteen shot towards the mercenary.
Startled, Lycan quickly threw his ax into the air. He might have had a hunch that my Anchor Rune determined the target of the attack, but he was too rushed to remember all locations.
Among the chains that aimed for his ax, one continued forward despite the tossing of his weapon. It aimed for the tree behind the man, my true goal.
It pierced through his thick thigh as the other chains destroyed his rune weapon. The man let out a grunt of pain.
That will teach you to never underestimate me.
I victoriously pulled my hood over my head, but underneath I quietly spat out a few mouthfuls of blood. My vision blurred and so did my focus. It took all my will to not topple over.
Someone scuttled over to my side, startling me before I remembered who it could be.
Kaiden? Didn’t he run away?
He seemed to be shivering in fear like a small mouse—or maybe it was my imagination.
“Buck up; he can’t do anything to us with that leg of his,” I said, trying to sound reliable.
“Run!” The boy abruptly grabbed my robe. Although he was weak because he was not a Runist, I nearly fell over due to his light tug.
Kaiden’s sudden voice pounded in my head. “We need to get away while we still can!”
I wanted to tell him to shut up, but my mind spun with the images of trees and leaves and branches and shadows…I wished it would stop.
A man’s figure holding a sword appeared from a blur of trees. I squinted, something about him seemed familiar.
My eyes widened.
I relaxed my guard and almost allowed myself to slip into unconsciousness.
“Alaric,” the mercenary said. The name resounded in my head, masking over the words that followed.
The greatest spy and assassin of the Appenhund Kingdom?! The one who…NO it can’t be!
I felt my body and mind tremble. I choked out a few words.
“Alaric the Faceless?!” I said.
He still looked like a blur, but I made out a slight nod. Then, something strange happened; I heard twigs snapping and odd pops. Before I knew it, Mikey’s figure changed into someone else’s.
The man standing before me was the devil! He had vicious claws and blood-red eyes.
There was no doubting his identity. Only the soul rune of Alaric the Faceless could create such a transformation.
“W-What had you done to Mike?” I asked, knowing full well of his fate. Death.
Alaric’s every word sounded crystal clear in this blurry world. They pounded at my soul. “You mean the guard I impersonated? I killed him a long time ago. Years, in fact.”
“T-Then my mother?” Tears streaked down my cheeks; my mind was in shambles. Vaughn had already divined that it was Alaric the Faceless who assassinated her, but I thought I needed to hear it from the assassin.
Words flowed from Alaric’s mouth like vile poison. They were too indistinct to understand, but one phrase crushed my mind, echoing viciously to shatter my heart.
I admit it.
I admit it.
I admit it.
A massive fluctuation of spiritual energy snapped me into attention.
A giant blue rune towered over me. I recognized it as a Warp Rune, but I did not know its destination.
So much for my short-lived freedom….
A sudden red stroke streaked through the rune, rippling the magical essence within the air.
We warped away to a place that I did not know.