The Siren’s Rune—Chapter 6: Kozen
Holding Kaiden’s hand, I pulled him around with me as we explored the surrounding area. I walked with purpose: I needed to make my servant stronger.
As we turned around the corner, a scrawny disciple came into view. He was disgustingly searching through a pile of trash for some food. He gazed at us with hungry eyes.
I moved a bit to the left to increase the distance between us and the degenerate. Pulling Kaiden behind me, I slowly continued to move forward. The most important thing was to make sure that Kaiden would not be corrupted by that scrawny figure.
Only until he was no longer in view did I let out a sigh of relief and continue with my goal. My eyes darted from left to right, looking for decent disciples. They needed to be clean and fierce, but not too powerful.
So far I could defeat anyone in these outer areas of the sect without lifting a finger, but the same could not be said for Kaiden. He was still at the bottom of the food chain and needed help.
The best and quickest way to become stronger was to gain battle experience first hand.
As soon as we find a suitable disciple, I’ll let Kaiden flail by himself for a while.
I glanced at him, and his innocent expression was adorable. With wide eyes, he looked at every building, stone, and piece of trash as though it was extremely mysterious. If anyone were to see him, they would take him for a child that could be easily bullied.
I nodded inwardly; his own deep-blue eyes would help me in my search for his future opponent.
We walked, and walked, and walked…
Upon seeing the fiftieth decent disciple, I used some simple provocation. Falling for it, the disciple’s brows scrunched in anger. His hand darted to his hip, and he brandished a crude dagger. His body quickly entered a fighting stance.
Kaiden staggered a step back.
Still gripping his hand, I was ready to throw him in front of me.
The person was ready to lunge, but he suddenly leaped away and began fleeing. I had glimpsed a trace of fear in his eyes, the same fear that all the other disciples had shown.
I growled in my throat.
Do they know that I killed that Three-Star Apprentice? News shouldn’t travel that quickly.
Something appeared around the corner. My eyes flickered with delight, finding another potential training buddy for my servant. My hands twitched with excitement.
He too, ran away.
I stomped as we walked. It was a rebellion against the expectations of my royal blood, but every ungraceful step relieved my stress. It was much needed, as the hateful sun mocked me for our failings.
Each time a disciple ran, the sun’s rays seemed, with increasing strength, to beat down on my pale skin, burning it with fervor. If only my spiritual energy could protect my skin, I would be content. My body was as powerful as steel but unfortunately could not withstand sunlight.
Slowly, hope approached as our dilapidated shack came into view. I no longer cared that it was tiny, surrounded by rubble, and had to be shared.
It was my little home with beautiful shade.
I squeezed Kaiden’s hand. I wanted to say “Welcome home,” but that would sound foolish. How long have I known Kaiden and have had this shack—it was too short to even mention.
Kaiden gazed at me with his deep-blue eyes as his brows wrinkled. After a moment, he let out a single sigh and turned to walk down another path. As I stood still, his hand pulled mine, jerking me from my fantasy of having an actual home and someone to return to.
I yanked his arm for his preposterous actions.
I’m a princess! Don’t force me to bake in the sun!
He stumbled and I forcefully dragged him to our little house. His eyes were filled with shock, but I ignored it. As soon as I stepped through the doorway, the shade felt indescribably blissful against my skin. My body lingered there in comfort.
Kaiden, who was dripping in sweat, reacted first. He quickly scuttled to his cushion and collapsed like a dead cat. His hand reached lazily into his long sleeve, whereupon a light flickered. It grew larger, covering his whole body. The white light swirled around him and cleaned away his sweat and grime.
Smiling ever so faintly, he buried his head into the nonexistent softness of the flat cushion. He had completely forgotten me.
My eye twitched, and I picked up the closest object. It was an old, thick book that had already begun to smell like rotten wood.
It hit Kaiden square in the back of the head.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked, ignoring Kaiden’s angry glare. A light smile formed on my lips.
I lifted my cushion, shook it, and laid it flat on the floor. There were a few lumps, but not so many to make meditating uncomfortable. I crossed my legs in satisfaction.
“Don’t be lazy,” I said to my sluggish servant.
“Let me sleep. We pointlessly walked around for six hours. We didn’t even leave District 20.”
I opened my mouth to reprimand him—
“Good night,” he interjected.
I scoffed with a haphazard excuse. “You need exercise; you’re too scrawny.”
He did not know that I had wanted him to face life and death situations. Of course I would protect my precious servant, as I was a great princess, but he would gain nothing from knowing my plans.
His expression twisted with annoyance, yet there was also a tinge of confusion in his eyes. “Are you joking? Look at yourself. You’re smaller than me, and your pale skin makes you look deathly. Add in the blood and grime that you don’t clean off your robe and you become the spitting image of a vampire.”
“That,” I stuttered. No one had ever rebuked me, but I was unsightly. The blood, the grime, the disgusting sweat…I felt extremely embarrassed.
I forced out a few words. “You clean it up…errr…please?”
Kaiden frowned, looking down on me for my horrible lack of shame. I could sense his disappointment. It made me want to hide in a dark corner.
I stammered, “I mean…the rune you used…activate it for me?”
His staring eyes did not leave my face. Under their gaze, my mind crumbled. I had never felt so naked before in my life.
“I-I have a black core,” I said.
“I don’t know what that means.” Kaiden turned as he rose from his makeshift pillow. In the moment that his eyes left mine, I felt a heavy burden leave my chest.
He suddenly smiled, and I wanted to smack him!
A good princess does not hit her servant, I told myself.
Lucky for him, I let it slide. “It means I can’t activate most runes. You have a white core, which means you can activate any rune. However, those with white cores will only activate runes with minimum strength.
“I posses a black core, which means that I can only activate some runes. However, it also means that the amount of strength displayed by the activated rune is much more powerful than anyone else who activates it. It’s also the only reason why I could activate an epic rune despite my 1-Star Novice rank.”
Kaiden nodded from time to time, but he did not understand the underlying message in my words.
I was a useless rune caster, and so was he. In fact, with a pitch black core and a pure white core, we were the absolute worst.
“Alright, show me the stone rune,” Kaiden said with an obedient nod.
I scooted closer to his body, and his scent tingled my senses. Just like clay after a summer’s rain, his earthy scent would never cease to amaze me.
I quickly flipped the underside of my collar to reveal two small stone runes.
He leaned closer, and I felt the softness of his breath against my skin. My body trembled, and my soul rune suddenly pulsed. It seemed to resonate with his presence.
I want to hold him.
The sudden thought scared me half to death. I must have paled, or maybe I blushed crimson red.
To divert his attention, I could only grab his hand and bite the tip of his finger. While doing so, my head turned to face the other direction.
A few drops of blood fell onto the stones, binding them to him. The two pure white cores, created by the soul’s essence within his blood, shone brightly against the stones’ dark surfaces.
With a small tug from me, his hand touched the common rune. It activated, draining the last of his spiritual energy. Fortunately, it did not overdraw his power, and he only fainted.
“Nnnn.” Kaiden fell limply into my bosom.
My heart skipped a beat, and my arms pulled him closer. I was at a loss for these strange actions, but I felt extremely giddy as I burrowed my nose into his soft, brown hair. His fragrance was intoxicating.
After a few seconds, I released him and laid his head gently on his cushion.
“There, there,” I said while patting his hair. With a light smile, I returned to my side of the room.
My eyes drifted to the slumbering boy.
I tried to meditate and improve my spiritual energy, but even with my strong desire for revenge, I could not tear my thoughts from Kaiden.
A small girl tumbled over a tree root. Falling to the floor, her mud-caked legs trembled while tears streaked down her cheeks. Her satin dress was dyed in blood as her long green hair spilled to the floor.
“You got pretty far. You must be pretty lucky, but not that lucky.” The mercenary Lycan licked his lips. As he stepped forward, a twig snapped beneath his boot, and the girl shivered.
Alaric sent him a side-long glance.
“What?” Lycan shrugged, delighting in the girl’s terrified expression. “There’s nothing wrong with playing with our prey. So what if there are Grandmasters nearby. That’s why we sealed our strength.”
“Who are you with?” Alaric asked. He was not looking at Lycan, but rather the girl.
She smiled at him, and her small body stopped trembling. The blood-covered dress no longer looked out of place. It was as sinister as it should be—stained in the blood of others and worn by a witch.
The girl’s hand pushed against the ground, and she snapped to her feet.
“What gave it away?” She asked. Her upturned eyes gazed at Alaric. She tried to place his identity, but could not. Not knowing did not worry her; it only meant that he was too trivial to be known.
“Your soul rune has fused with your body.”
“Is that so? Maybe you’re wrong.” A long sword appeared unassumingly in her right hand. With a single step, she appeared next to Lycan.
The sword pierced through his body, and he coughed up blood. An orange mist seethed from his mouth as his last breath left him. It was sucked towards the sword and swirled around its blade. Soon, the sword glowed with a purple light, devouring Lycan’s soul.
Alaric brandished his weapon as he dashed backwards. He released the seal over his strength, causing him to jump from the Novice rank to the Adept. There was then another pop and he raised to the rank of a Three-Star Doyen.
The girl’s eyes widened, and her smile grew larger. Although he had hid his strength, she had clearly sensed that he was only a Two-Star Adept. Every rank was exponentially more powerful than the previous, but now he was somehow a Doyen.
She charged at him, eager to witness his true strength.
Her sword connected with Alaric’s blade. It drained some of his spiritual energy, but his soul was safe.
She humphed while her power exploded from her body. It repelled Alaric and knocked him into a large tree. As it splintered, many wooden shards pierced through the air, like a glass shattering against stone. The magical essence within them flew towards the girl.
Alaric coughed up blood and willed his spiritual energy to support his internal organs. He lifted his hand, steadying his control over the wooden shards. Without a rune, they would have little strength, but he only needed them to confuse her magical senses.
His eyes suddenly flickered; he felt a powerful fluctuation.
Without even thinking, he swung his body to the left, avoiding a beam of light. The wooden splinters were obliterated just by being near such a high concentration of magical energy. He hated to imagine what would have happened if he had taken the sudden attack head on.
A blue stone rune, which the girl held in front of her body, glowed brightly. It undulated with a profound amount of power as light runic wisps floated in the air. The girl aimed the stone at the mercenary for a second time.
Alaric quickly slapped the bag at his waist, causing a small stone to fly into the air. The rune rapidly enlarged into a shield that was engraved with the emblem of a wolf baring its teeth. He focused his spiritual energy into it, causing it to shine with a faint blue light.
The beam collided with the shield, pushing Alaric’s feet into the dirt. The ground quaked and collapsed.
Confident, the girl dropped her guard. At that moment, a figure appeared at her side. In his palm was a sphere of purple strands. His hand shot out, grabbing her shoulder.
The instant the two touched, the epic rune expanded around her body, encasing her in a thick binding.
She struggled, but the threads only became tighter. Her tongue clicked sharply, and she opened her delicate mouth.
A loud shriek shook the forest, piercing the ears of whoever heard it. Following the sound, a mass of yellow-green strands burst through her lips. It shot into the sky and flashed with a blinding light.
Both Alaric and the man covered their eyes. When they opened them, the girl was gone.
“Are you alright?” the man asked Alaric. A white cloak hid his features, and beneath it, dark clothes lined his muscular body. Only the flesh of his hands was visible, but a faint jade glow covered them.
“Fine.” Alaric straightened his body. He had no intention to talk to the stranger who he could clearly sense was only an Apprentice. He was afraid that if he did, he would be too curious to leave the cloaked figure alone. Before he knew it, he would be entranced in another scheme or battle.
“Was that a Manifestation?” the man asked, knowing exactly what to say to capture Alaric’s attention. His eyes stared fixedly at him, anxious to see his reaction.
“How do you know about Manifestations?” Alaric replied. He had already prepared himself mentally. If an Apprentice used an epic magic rune, one should be ready for all surprises.
“Anyone who is somebody knows about them.” The man lifted his hand to his chin. He smiled. “Alaric Beecivet.”
Alaric’s mind trembled. “How do you know my family name?”
It was the one thing he believed would never be discovered. He had made sure of it.
“I asked around, but that is besides the point.” The man shrugged as he slyly smiled. “I have been looking for you, and I am much more impressed with you than I had expected. It was a pleasant surprise.”
“And you wanted me because…?”
“My power is limited to that of an Apprentice. I can become stronger by training, but that will take a lot of time—time that I do not have.” The man looked at the back of his hand, and the jade glow vanished. He said, “They are setting things in motion. I need you to infiltrate them, gather information, and find out how they are identifying people with Divine soul runes.”
“You mean the nameless group that has been causing havoc? Why should I help you?” Alaric crossed his arms. One had to be extremely daring to reveal that much on their first meeting. This man was up to no good.
“They only call themselves We, but that’s confusing and sounds as though my mother picked it. I instantly vetoed it.” The man shook his head in disgust. “If my mother was more cooperative, I wouldn’t need you. She has a pointless vendetta against everyone. If you help, whatever you desire, just name it and you will have it.”
Alaric turned his head. After a moment his eyes drifted to Lycan’s dead body. He had never liked the man.
He said, “Gnudeer’s Royal Oracle can identify people with Divine soul runes.”
“It doesn’t add up.” The man kicked Lycan’s boot after noticing Alaric’s gaze. “There should be another way. My baby brother can identify them, but he is as uncooperative as my mother. So, will you help us?”
“It is a simple yes or no question. You have no reason to refuse,” the man said.
“I have no reason to say yes.”
“Sure you do. Revenge, you have always craved it. We can help you.”
Alaric smiled. “You really did your research, but then you would know that I like going solo.”
“I can tell you who did it.” The man stared intently at Alaric.
“I already know who did it,” Alaric laughed. “If I wasn’t smart enough to find out something as obvious as that, then you would not be asking for my help.”
“Then why is he still alive?”
Alaric scoffed. “If I had tried, I would have lost everything that I had left.”
“So you are sentimental. I had heard that you would sacrifice anything for revenge, and in the past, you had.”
“And you are a grown man who complains about his mother,” Alaric said, feeling quite peeved. He remembered the mistake he had made in the past.
He could not recall the reason for his revenge, only the pain of nearly losing the most precious person in his life. Never had he felt so alone and afraid. He would not make that mistake again.
The cloaked man shook his head. “So you won’t help us.”
“I didn’t say that. What exactly can you get me?”
“Anything.” The man smiled. “Just name your price.”
“I want the rest of the Beecivet family killed, and the head of Gnudeer’s Fourth Prince, Thomson Gnudeer. When I leave the Continent of Haven, I want to be in a place of good standing,” Alaric said.
He added, “And of course, I want revenge.”
The man nodded. “A good standing is as good as done just by helping us. The execution will need to be put off until later. As for your nephew, that would be impossible. He has already crossed through the destroyed Planar-Replacement Rune. He cannot be brought back unless the rune is restored and his replacement willingly steps onto it.”
“He didn’t cross through,” Alaric shook his head. “I saw him, but he got away.”
“Is that so,” the man said. Once again, he lifted his hand up to his chin. He smiled. “Then we are a step ahead of them. This whole charade was to send him and his Divine soul rune far, far away.”
“What do you mean?” Alaric asked.
The man chuckled. “If you think Manifestations are the only secrets of the soul rune and inner soul, you have a lot of learning to do. I bet you didn’t know that three people are born with Divine soul runes in each of eight specific regions, including the Continent of Haven. It occurs once every thousand years at roughly the same time, give or take eight years.”
Smiling, the man looked at Alaric’s pensive expression. He had peaked his curiosity, and he knew that, second only to revenge, Alaric the Faceless loved information.
“The last birthing was twenty years ago, so you need to find Haven’s third person before they do,” the man instructed. “If not, then you need to kill that person and help us uncover the rest of their plans. They were systematic in the other regions, but they have begun to act strangely as soon as they came here. We need you to fill in the gaps.”
“Are you telling me this because you have no plans to kill Thomson?” Alaric narrowed his eyes. He knew exactly what the man was doing. He was dangling a carrot in front of him, but the man was shamelessly bad at it.
Or possibly, Alaric thought, he was extremely deceptive.
“This is why we need you,” the man said. “You are sharp despite being so young and inexperienced. I am still waiting for your response: Yes or No?”
“I’ll help, but I have the final say as to whether or not I assassinate someone. Most importantly, we are making an Oath of Runes. Breaking it will strip one of their soul rune, and as such, one’s whole identity,” Alaric said.
He pulled out a small dagger and made incisions into his left hand. He formed a circle with four lines through it, three horizontal and one vertical.
The man took the blade from him and repeated the inscription on his hand.
The two men held their left fists in front of their chests. They squeezed and a thin line of blood poured onto the ground, followed by two strands from their soul runes—one purple and the other pink. The nearby magical essence rumbled as it swirled around their bodies.
It knew their oath without hearing their words. It did not need to; the oath was already written within their hearts.
When the last drop of blood fell, everything became silent for the two men. The strands returned to their bodies, followed by the blood. The symbols vanished. No one would be able to discover that they had made an Oath of Runes.
“It’s done,” the man said with a smile. He held out his right hand. “It’s great to have you on the team.”
“Just to be clear, I already lost the last thing that I had left. If you don’t complete your side of the deal, you are going to have more to worry about than breaking an Oath of Runes.” Alaric grabbed the man’s hand. His eyes flickered with killing intent.
“I thought so,” the man chuckled. His smile grew larger. “My mother calls me Kozen.”