The Polyglot’s Rune—Chapter 5: Little Brother
We rode on the giant cow, which the stout man explained was a type of magical beast. It possessed a soul rune and was capable of using other runes such as the tassels hanging from its horns. These tassels were what it used to find us. Within a mile distance, they could sense anything living that possessed a soul rune.
On the way to the Cowzer Sect, they explained everything to me, but since Vaughn could not understand what they were saying, he kept jabbing me in the side. I flinched each time, causing his eyes to glint with smugness. Out of nowhere, he spat at my face; I do not know what I did to incur his wrath.
If not for the vague notion that he did not abandon me with the mercenary, I would have shoved him off the cow.
The middle-aged woman found us comical and adorable. She said that everyone called her Matriarch Ruby for her ruby-colored core. After sending a side long glance at me, she told Vaughn to call her Big Sis Gena. This freaky woman was the second reason why I did not push him off the cow.
“The Cowzer Sect is divided by rank,” said the stout man as he waved his right hand into the air. He was called Doyen Gin. “They are based on the universal rankings of rune casters: Apprentice, Novice, Adept, Doyen, and Grandmaster. Color representation, which matches the rune system, is the same as it is throughout all schools, sects, and countries. For example, white symbolizes both the common rune and the Apprentice.
“Within each rank are five levels represented by stars. I am a 2-star Doyen, and so is Gale,” he said and motioned to the other man.
Matriarch Ruby chimed in; there was an eeriness within her voice. “Honey, don’t confuse them. You two MUST address your superiors with their ranks. It is the sect’s ironclad rule, but Vaughn, you can call me whatever you want.”
She pointed ahead. “There’s your new home.”
In the distance the Cowzer Sect loomed into view. It looked like a large town with a magnificent palace at its center. Five meter tall walls encircled its perimeter, and they appeared to be more for decoration than defense. Magical beasts and elaborate patterns were etched into its stone surface, depicting a great battle.
Directly in front of us was a gate six meters wide and six meters tall. It was embedded with six large rubies in the shape of a circle. Between the jewels, a majestic emblem of a giant cow with curling horns and powerful muscles stared at all who entered.
Vaughn gaped at it, and I could feel its red, fiery eyes shaking the recesses of my soul.
Matriarch Ruby smiled when she saw our reaction. She moved her hand forward, and patting the magical beast below her, she called out, “OPEN!”
The beast, answering her order, lifted its right foot and slammed it against the ground. A mild tremor vibrated outwards.
The emblem’s eyes and six rubies glowed with a bright light. An oppressive aura spilled out to wrap around us. A sudden gust of wind formed as the gates swung open.
The woman dramatically pointed forward. “March!”
The cow let out a hearty growl while it trotted through the entrance.
We traveled down the streets, and a group of people were gathered by the side of the road. They were dressed in all-white robes and huddled in a circle. I leaned forward to see what they were hollering about, but it was to no avail.
Feeling the footsteps of our magical beast, the group instantly quieted down.
Whatever held their attention before was forgotten as they saw Matriarch Ruby. Their eyes flooded with admiration and worship. Regaining their composure, they quickly and respectfully bowed, but still, some disciples shyly peeked up at the three riding on the beast’s head.
Eyes fleeting, they noticed the two of us on the cow’s back. A few gasped, looking us up and down. I made eye contact with one of them, and I sensed a deep jealousy. He flashed me an ugly scowl.
Vaughn, on the other hand, was loved. It did not matter if they were man or woman. All who laid sight on him were stunned by his beauty and tried to steal a closer glance.
The egotist’s chest puffed up as he expressed his dominance over the robed figures. He had found them interesting, and a wry smile formed on his lips. There was a devilish glint in his eyes as he suddenly wrapped his arms around me.
Instantly, a multitude of malicious glares fell upon me.
I became the center of hate. My face paled, and I gulped.
A scrawny boy, just like myself, crawled out from within the circle of people. His body was covered in blood and he had a broken nose. The boy looked around in confusion before quickly scuttling away.
Sweat beaded my back and I felt the egotist tighten his grip.
I am doomed. Curse your soul rune!
I covered my face with my hands. I could only hope that the group would forget about me.
“What’s the matter?” Vaughn giggled in a voice only audible to me; he found it too amusing.
“You’re the devil,” I said, shooting him a glare.
He laughed out loud, and his arms unwound from my body. He inadvertently leaned backwards, almost keeling over.
Matriarch Ruby delighted in his antics. She exclaimed, “That’s the way to do it!”
She too started laughing, and with another pat, she ushered the cow to move faster.
A blast of wind pushed me back, and my face turned unsightly. I grabbed haphazardly onto the cow’s shaggy hair and held on for dear life. I lowered my body, reducing the amount of air resistance the best I could.
Apart from the billows rushing into my ears, I heard Matriarch Ruby burst louder with laughter. She was having the time of her life and made it her goal to make sure everyone in the Cowzer Sect knew it.
Behind me Vaughn grunted with frustration. He had slipped back and nearly fallen off the cow, but he had grabbed onto an armor strap at the last second. Despite hanging on for dear life, he vented his anger. He kicked the silver plate of armor that hung around the beast’s upper thigh.
A loud bang sounded out, and Vaughn paled. His face scrunched up in an unsightly manner as he bit into his lower lip and held back the pain.
Matriarch Ruby’s laughter grew louder.
“Here we are,” she laughed, trying to get a hold of herself.
The cow suddenly stopped moving, flinging me forward by a few feet.
The surrounding area was desolate and riddled with rubble. We were far away from the center of the sect and close to the outer walls. All the nearby buildings lacked luster and were very small in size. Some disciples peaked out from cracked windows, but they did not dare to exit their dilapidated homes.
With a heave Doyen Gin dismounted the magical beast and used a rune to pull us down with him. Vaughn landed lightly and elegantly on his feet, but with a painful thump I fell onto the ground like an old, beaten up knapsack.
“Bye-bye Vaughn!” said Matriarch Ruby with a motherly smile. “Take good care of yourself.”
With a light wave of the hand, she swiftly charged away with Doyen Gale.
The stout man, furrowing his brows, looked angrily at us. He blamed us for being ditched by the matriarch. Lifting his hand up, he pointed to an unoccupied shack.
He curtly said, “That’s where you live. Killing and stealing is allowed, but trespassing into someone else’s home is punishable by death.”
Paying no more heed to us, Doyen Gin chased after the giant cow. With each step his boots dug into the ground, and he launched himself meters at a time. His speed was shocking, and within seconds he caught up to Doyen Gale and Matriarch Ruby.
With him gone, murmuring voices rose up among the rubble. It sounded of desperation and agony, sending a shiver down my spine. I hurriedly grabbed Vaughn and headed into our shack.
The door slammed shut behind us.
“We need to get out of here,” I said. I was at my wits end. Matriarch Ruby scared me to the core with her motherly, yet explosively violent demeanor. She was like a blood-craving dragon taking care of little pets. Her rambunctious laughter only added to the image of her insanity.
Vaughn shrugged with little care, but his frown displayed his worry.
“Too late for that,” he said. “Where are we, and what do they plan to do with us? I hope you put your language skills to some actual use.”
“We’re somewhere near Avocet, Appenhund,” I responded.
His eyes went wide, and he grabbed onto my collar. “Please tell me we are not at the Cowzer Sect! Why did those mercenaries send us here?!”
I scratched my head. “They didn’t. I changed the location of the rune Alaric cast.”
“What?!” He stared in disbelief. “You have a lot of explaining to do, but first…”
Vaughn looked around the room. There were two flat pillows laying on the grime covered floor. Next to them was a white robe, some clothes, and a small bag.
Limping over, Vaughn picked up the clothes and took a sniff. Disgust covered his face, but he seemed content.
“I am going to change, so get out,” he said, pointing towards the door. “And, don’t EVER say that man’s name in front of me ever again.”
I refused to leave the safety of the shack. “I’m not leaving.”
“Get out!” he said.
“Shouldn’t you be worried if someone discovers that you don’t speak the Appenhund language?” I asked, fully aware that there was a stone rune socketed into the door. It prevented people outside of the sack from listening or peeping in.
Oblivious of the rune, he whispered with pleading eyes, “Please.”
I felt a sharp pang in my heart, and I cursed at his soul rune. I knew it was affecting my emotions, but I refused to give in to it. He had caused a crazed mob to eye me with hate.
Shaking my head, I sat down in a corner of the room. “I’m not leaving.”
“Don’t look,” he said resolutely.
“Why would I?” I crooked my head to look at him.
“Because–” he stopped himself. His gaze drifted away from me.
“I won’t look,” I said and turned to face the wall. Such a spoiled kid…
Vaughn silently changed behind me. I wished he would hurry up, but in my impatience I peeked at him.
My eyes widened, and feeling like a fool, my cheeks blushed. I quickly diverted my gaze.
Why didn’t I notice before?
I had glimpsed two small breasts. Shame welled up inside me, and I purposefully hit my head against the wall. I distracted myself with other thoughts. It was difficult, but not impossible.
A bath would be amazing…. My tattered clothes smelled foul while my hair clumped with blood. My pants were caked in mud, and I longed to be clean.
“I’m done,” Vaughn said, and I assumed that he preferred male pronouns over female.
On his body, he wore the long white robe the sect gave us, but he had torn off the sleeves and thrown them away. The robe hung loosely over him, hiding his body shape. His feminine beauty, however, seemed purer with him dressed in simple, white clothes. He emitted a princely aura.
It crushed me knowing that such a young, gorgeous woman did not like men. It took all my strength not to blush and stare. I mentally slapped myself to push away my thoughts.
Standing up, I grabbed the other pile of clothes and pulled them closer to me. With a faint smile, I pretended to be ignorant of his gender. I tore off my foul shirt in front of him.
“What are you doing?” He gaped. His cheeks flushed red, but before I could respond, he ran outside.
My smile grew larger in victory and triumph over the egotist.
This is going to be fun….
I changed into my new outfit, and it surprised me how well it fit. The white robe draped perfectly on my body, but the sleeves extended past the ends of my fingers. Over my left chest, there was a small embroidered emblem of the cow that was engraved on the front gates. Below it were the words “District 20.”
In the robe’s left sleeve, I noticed a small enchantment rune that I assumed controlled the robe’s size. It danced around like a little firefly looking for a home. Near the bottom of the sleeve was a white stone rune that read “Clean.”
I rubbed a bit of dried blood from my hands onto the rune. My white core appeared, and the rune shone brightly until the light dulled into nothingness.
I curiously poked at the stone, causing it to radiate even brighter than before. Some energy drained from my body, making me feel sluggish.
The white light traveled from the stone onto me. It moved around my left arm and flickered its way across my whole body. Wherever it touched, the dirt and blood vanished.
With a small stutter, the light reached the ends of my body and retreated back into my left sleeve before disappearing. The whole process made me feel completely clean and satisfied. Even a sweet fragrance wafted into my nose.
Magic is amazing. I stared with wonder at the small rune.
Plumping down, I sat against the wall to wait for the egotist. A few minutes passed, but he did not return. It worried me a bit, but I knew that if he encountered trouble, he could escape with his fancy footwork.
Tired, I reached for my pillow. There was a hard, clunky object beneath it.
“What’s this?” I said, lifting up the pillow.
I grabbed a black object, a tattered book titled Cowzer Sect Basics, and carefully brushed away some grime. With my finger I traced over the gold lettering that protruded from its cover.
The book’s spine peeled back in protest as I slowly opened it.
The first chapter contained an introduction describing the history and founder of the sect, someone by the name of Kozen Cowzer. Thinking it useful, I read through it, but I found the story boring. It sounded too much like a cliché fantasy novel.
A commoner falls in love with a princess, trains in the way of runes to become stronger, kills some evil magical beasts, travels throughout the world, and blah blah blah…. The king finally gives him his daughter, and he marries her. Together they start the Cowzer sect and live happily ever after.
“It’s probably all made up,” I said. Flipping to another seemingly important section, I continued to read.
1. Killing is fair game.
2. Stealing is fair game.
3. Lying is fair game.
4. Cheating is fair game.
101. Enacting punishment for any of the above is valorous.
102. Not surviving is punishable by death.
103. Trespassing is the greatest taboo.
Other than the last three, reading the rules proved nothing more than demonstrate Kozen Cowzer’s twisted moral views. Rule 101 seemed out of place, and I could not help but laugh at rule number 102. Its irony reminded me of my dad’s jokes.
With a smile, I flipped to a random page.
The Cowzer Sect is divided into 20 districts. Those with the lowest rank and talent are placed in the outreaches of the sect until they join one of the top five districts, which are the factions lead by the original five leaders of the Cowzer Sect.
Each district has at least one Adept overseeing it, and although one may go to any class offered by the sect, each district possesses its own school of learning led by the said Adept.
My eyes widened. This seemed important.
The top five districts are governed by the Cowzer, Tempest, Blaze, Hail, and Shade Factions. Each posses their own history and rune specialization. The five stand as equals, and members of these districts are recruited from the other fifteen districts.
The section abruptly ended, filling me with disappointment. How does recruitment work? What do the factions specialize in? Where are they? The book filled me with more questions than answers.
Skipping to the very last pages, I found a folded piece of paper that someone slipped into the book. It was relatively new and contained a poor drawing of a map of the Cowzer Sect.
Districts 1-4 were in the very center while the other 16 districts were randomly scattered about. Their organization confused me, as District 20 was bordered by District 13 to the west, District 12 to the northeast, and District 17 to the east. To the south of District 20 was the wall surrounding the sect.
In the southeast corner of District 20, a single shack was drawn in red, labeled with “You are here.” There were no other roads, streets, or buildings depicted, but there was a vague sketch of the surrounding topography outside of the sect.
There was a bang against the door, and it swung open. Vaughn stepped inside, wearing an angry scowl on his face. He disdained the fresh blood that covered his white robe.
With an angry humph, he tossed five little bags to his side of the room. They clanged against the wall.
“What a pain! Those insects can’t even tell the difference between a Razorback Kitten and a Titan Bull. They weren’t even rich.”
I’ve never heard of those animals….
He looked at me; his eyes filled with rage. “You have some explaining to do.”
Stammering, I said, “We’re in District 20…. Rule number 102 says that dying is punishable by death…. There are five factions….”
As I listed random facts, the egotist’s glare became fiercer and fiercer. Soon, he discontentedly shook his head with disgust.
I continued, “There’s a stick figure on the map…”
“Pointless,” he said, cutting off my explanations. “You said that you changed the location of the warp rune.”
I nodded. “I added another stroke to Crane and changed it to Avocet.”
Vaughn cocked his head; there was a cloud of confusion then a flash of understanding.
He stomped his foot against the floor, reprimanding me.
“Never put another stroke through someone else’s magic rune. If a fake rune is created, a one-sided magic backlash will kill you and leave the caster unharmed. If you’re lucky, it will create an actual rune and some random effect will appear. However, there is a high chance it will still kill you.”
“So,” he continued. “What about the rune you used to open the door to the palace’s forest? Who gave you that rune; I didn’t even know it, and I lived there all my life.”
So he must be a prince or princess—that explains his big ego.
I scratched my head, trying to come up with an answer to his question. Even I was confused by it.
“It’s like writing,” I said, slowly forming my words. “I knew the word, so I wrote it.”
He stared blankly at me as though trying to process what I had said. “What did you just say?”
“I wrote it?” I said, matching his blank stare. “Is there something wrong with that?”
He blinked a few times. “People don’t just ‘write’ something. A specific rune must be carefully memorized and duplicated while the person’s soul resonates with the original essence of the rune.”
His complicated words reminded me of something…What was it? I racked my brain to recall it.
“Didn’t you say that runes are based on the callings of the soul and the breath of the earth?”
“Then,” I said, “isn’t that a lot like a written language if the earth and soul could talk?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said, shaking his head. He sighed. “But, I suppose you aren’t so useless after all.”
So you did think I was useless.
He swiftly grabbed my arm and dragged me from the confinements of our small shack. No matter how much I pulled, I could not budge him in the least.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
He halted his footsteps and turned his head to look at me. His smile looked so angelic that it contained an enchanting charm. It made my mind go hazy, but I quickly slapped myself mentally.
Curse your soul rune! It’s the onslaught of trouble and lies!
My expression went sour.
Vaughn’s smile grew larger and his eyes sparkled. “We are going to train. You must become stronger and become accustomed with the ways of this world. One day you will help me get revenge and find Vaughn.”
“Vaughn?” I asked. It must be the name of a very close friend.
His smile dropped, and he looked away with shocking speed. With one hand still holding onto my arm, he continued to drag me away. Without a second thought, he entered his role of being mute and refused to talk.
I left him be; he seemed so childish with his simple, straightforward personality. I imagined that if I had a little brother, he would be just like Vaughn.
Tilting my head up, I looked at the sky. No clouds were in sight to diminish its blue beauty.
It’s funny—my one wish came true after I had left my world. I wanted a younger sibling, and now I have someone childish and egotistical to look after. He shall be my new little brother.
For Vaughn I will become stronger. Others may laugh at my silly devotion, but they wouldn’t understand.