Chapter 1: Soul Rune
Candles lined the interior of the stone room, and their flickering light gave definition to a set of intricate lines that pulsed with an orange glow.
My flowing blood seeped into the crevices, causing the lines to wiggle. I reached out with my right hand and touched one. My finger smeared the blood, smoldering the orange light, but the line reformed brighter and stronger than before. Its enchantment captured what little thoughts I had left, and I drifted to the past—but I couldn’t remember. I didn’t want to.
I jerked back my hand as a soft, delicate warmth pervaded my body. It inched through me, and when it reached my diaphragm, I felt a vibration that originated from my stomach yet not my stomach. Maybe it was my soul.
Warmth exploded forth. The cuts in my arms closed and the wound in my side healed. My pulse strengthened; the dizziness faded.
I placed my palms against the stone floor—the blood was sticky—I pushed up.
“You healed him? Waste of time. We’re going to kill him with the others,” an old voice rang. Its sound made my heart clench and tremble. I gasped for air and turned my head, ignoring the throbbing pain.
“Sorry, habit,” answered a cloaked man. He sat to the right, and his voice was far younger than the old man’s. It even contained a tinge of embarrassment.
A savage clench.
I gripped my throat and coughed, but the two were apathetic. Their foreign words continued to bash at my heart and resound within my head, yet the pain began to fade.
“Bring him to the others.” The old man waved his hand.
“Should I give him a translation rune?”
“Let the guards deal with it.”
The throbbing stopped, and after one more cough I released my throat. My mind cleared, pain replaced by a blissful tingle.
Their words, I wanted to hear more. It was like music dancing through my body, each note pulling at my emotions and washing away my pain. On the surface the melody had no meaning, but it was so deep that it possessed a universal will—a will that could be understood.
Hearing unknown words yet understanding, it was utterly addicting.
“Hurry up,” the old man snapped. “The sun will rise in an hour, and stay vigilant. They might have discovered our plans.”
With a nod the figure on the right stood up and approached me. A meter away he stopped, bowed, and pointed towards a wooden door. He extended his other hand, palm face up.
I took it, and he hauled me up and led me to the door.
As we stepped through, the old man issued another command. It wasn’t to us, but to whom, I didn’t know. There was no one else in the room.
“Clean up this filthy blood and send in Princess Emelyn.”
Then the door shut, leaving us in a dim hallway. Our shoes clacked against the stone floor as we walked to the other end where another door rested.
The cloaked man brushed back his sleeve, lifted up his hand, and waved his finger. A glowing trail was left behind in its wake and eventually formed some ancient rune within the air. The white strokes seemed to wiggle to life.
My head buzzed. The rune meant “hall” but not quite. There was something different about it.
The symbol flashed and the wooden door creaked open, its hinges buckling under its weight. Behind the door stood two guards, attentive and stoic, but something was off.
My stomach churned and I thought I saw shadows swirl around the thinner guard. As I blinked a single time, my mind grew fuzzy then clear.
I sensed a spark of admiration in the guards’ eyes—whatever that meant—and it was directed at the cloaked man. They nodded to him, and the man silently pushed me forward before leaving.
“Sir, come this way,” said the burly guard, but I sensed arrogance within his voice. Or was I biased?
He continued, “We will bring you to the other chosen. May I ask for this honorable one’s name?”
I remained silent.
After a decent pause the other guard, whose voice was dignified yet amiable, said, “Maybe he doesn’t have a translation rune. Either they forgot, ran out, or they’ve grown lazy.”
“So the little dirtbag can’t understand me. Good. I’m sick of acting nice to all these annoying parasites.” The burly guard smiled. “Go die in a hole.”
“We still need to give him one,” the other sighed. “Follow the Oracle. And we need to check his soul rune.”
“Who cares! He’s going to die anyway. Let’s just throw him in with the other idiots. The quicker, the better.” The burly guard puffed his chest.
“I’ll give him mine.”
“Quick, take him away!” The burly guard waved his hand at me, hiding no disgust despite his fake smile. “His blue eyes are driving me nuts. Later I’m going to gouge them out and feed them to the wolves.”
“Fine. We’ll forgo checking his soul rune.” The other guard shrugged. “But you’re paying for my translation rune.”
The thinner guard reached into his bag and pulled out a small black stone. It had the word “translation” etched into its surface and at its center was a pebble-sized drop of purple liquid. The color swirled; I felt myself being drawn closer.
The guard placed his thumb over the center, and the droplet vanished. A small depression was left in its place, and the guard grabbed my hand and wiped some blood onto it. The liquid coalesced into the cavity, filling it with a deep red, but the color faded. It paled to a light red, then a faint pink. Soon, it was white. Pure blinding white.
“Ha! White core!” said the burly guard, mocking me. The language of his voice sounded normal…did the stone cause it?
The thinner guard flashed him a glare, and he took the hint. With a few nods the burly guard added, “That’s great. One day, you’ll be a hero. Good luck.” He chuckled at his own words.
“Follow me, good sir,” said the other guard as he ushered me to another door. He dropped the stone into my hand. “That’s a type of stone rune called a translation rune. It translates other people’s words into a language that you can understand but not the other way around. It’s of the lowest grade but still costs quite a bit…”
Behind the door was a room with a lush red carpet, a table, and three chairs. The stone walls were empty, but there was a crackling fireplace in the corner. A single broom leaned against its mantel.
“…common, uncommon, rare, epic,…”
We walked through the room to another door and another hallway. It was the same as the previous: a long hall with four doors. Our steps even echoed in the same manner as before.
Eventually the guard slipped into a monotone.
“…After the six grades are the four rune types. They are stone, enchantment, magic, and soul. A stone rune is a rune on a stone…”
I nodded to the guard, and he continued his explanation. He must have explained it a million times before, and his students must have hated him. Or maybe he hated them:
“…An enchantment rune is an item with an enchantment rune, and a bunch of enchantment runes make a formation, but a few enchantment runes could still be an enchantment rune…”
He droned on, and we entered the next room. It had the same furniture as the previous, and we used it as a hallway. Time slowly passed; I found it harder to understand the man’s words.
“…The soul rune is the most important rune and everyone has one. It’s your very essence given to you by Nature. When you stepped onto this plane, it should have awakened…”
Another boring hallway, and I lost my patience. My thoughts wandered.
‘Runes seem like magic, but instead of chants and potions they use ancient script. But what would my soul rune say? Would it be a small description emphasizing how little I matter?’
And here we were again:
A lush red carpet, a table, three chairs, a fireplace, a broom… It was all the same. Only the placement was different. A long dark hall. Same.
There was something evil about this place. It could be lurking behind the walls, ready to jump out and eat me at any moment. Or maybe it was the furniture and that red lush carpet. They said that they were going to kill us, whoever “us” were, and I didn’t doubt it.
But this was my question: ‘Should I just die or should I run?’
“…and so you are here, a chosen to help save this kingdom from evil. Your soul rune is as powerful as the blue bloods. Make good use of it.”
The guard stopped in front of another door, but this time, he didn’t open it. He lifted his left index finger and drew a white rune into the air. A common magic rune.
The door swung open, revealing a large room with about three dozen people under the age of twenty-five.
“These are your fellow chosen,” the guard said. “Feel free to mingle and after half an hour someone will come and explain things.”
Nodding, I replied, “Thanks.”
The guard froze, and I felt his eyes flash with surprise. The world was screwing with my brain; eyes don’t flash with surprise. ‘Or do they?’
My heart stopped.
The guard smiled. It was faint, but he did smile, and a sly one at that.
‘What language did I just speak?’