The Siren’s Rune—Chapter 7: Memories
Everything was fuzzy, almost a blur of shadows.
Something warm pressed against my chest while the subtle thrum of footsteps rocked my fatigued body. Soft hair tickled my nose, encouraging me to scratch it, but my arms were preoccupied. They were wrapped around someone’s neck.
Kaiden? I thought. I knew no one else who was so warm.
There was once someone else–my mother, but she had died. Assassinated. Her poisoned body had lain so softly on her bed that not a single sheet had wrinkled. Her violet eyes, once brighter than mine, had reflected light like a glazed pair of eternal beads.
I had cried, shaking and wishing her to be alive. I knew it was fruitless, but my hands had still trembled as I called her name.
I must have cried for hours until her lover found me. He too left my life…and my baby brother vanished…and so did Vaughn.
If I died here, would anyone mourn my death?
I could smell the blood dripping down my arms, but as it fell from my fingers I only felt a small tingle.
Was I going to die?
I squeezed Kaiden’s neck, and a tear must have fallen onto his skin. He pushed my body higher onto his back, saying, “It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry. You can rely on me.”
But you’re useless. You can’t help me with my revenge. The thoughts pounded my skull, worse than the metallic taste of blood.
Were these really my thoughts? I did not know. We held hands, I think. I was jealous, but jealous of what? Nothing. We never held hands.
Kaiden leaned forward, his muscles buckling from carrying someone as light as me. It was pathetic, but he continued forward. Again, the warmth of his body—I would struggle from my mother’s hold, wanting to be free. Now I craved her firm arms.
My grip tightened.
“We are almost there, Vaughn. Do you see it?” Kaiden motioned, his body nothing more than a shadow.
There was a city standing above a sea of grass.
Vaughn…why did he call me Vaughn…my name is Emelyn.
My eyelids grew heavy….
Strange sounds, they reminded me of the Appenhund language. My eyes fluttered, only to see Kaiden. No face, just blue eyes filled with worry.
There was another man, his features completely blurred. He talked to Kaiden. The boy smiled. It was pristine.
I grabbed his hand.
I don’t want to be left alone.
My grip tightened, but something told me not to. I had no reason. It was not right.
“Are you okay?” A blurred memory.
I pulled his hand. My cheek felt its warmth. His blue eyes reflected some light. A quizzical expression.
I did not like him, but that was only what I had remembered…
Something pushed against my shoulder then my neck. I slowly awoke to find a brown haired boy leaning over my body. I flinched at first, ready to strangle him, but memories surged like an endless tide.
“I can’t believe I fell asleep,” I said. I should have been meditating. Sleeping was a waste of time.
I stretched my body and sat up straight, ready for a brand new day—or was it the same day?
Kaiden knitted his brows, but said nothing.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” I said because his face was oddly pale and his skin was clammy.
He gave a pained smile. “We need to leave. It should be our first and foremost goal. This place is too dangerous.”
“You always say that: when you first met me, when we came here, and right now. I think we should stay for three obvious reasons. First, you’re pathetically weak; second, we have nowhere to go; and third, they’ll kill us if we try to leave. Never underestimate the Cowzer Sect,” I said.
They were barbaric kidnappers who never released their prey.
I smiled. “Staying here has its benefits. We can easily gather information about the mercenary guild called The Blood Wolf and hide innocently within the Appenhund borders. Then, you can train to become a skilled Runist of the Cowzer Sect—if you don’t die, that is. Afterwards, we can leave and destroy The Blood Wolf.”
It was a foolproof plan. It did not matter how powerful Kaiden became; I only wanted the company of my servant as I enacted revenge. That was a worthy cause—a bit above him, but he was decent enough.
“The Blood Wolf,” he mumbled. His eyes widened, and then he frowned. Even his eyebrows scrunched. “Is this for revenge?”
I nodded, holding back my laughter. “Of course. Nothing is as sweet as revenge.”
“Or as pointless.” His expression darkened. “Give up. You need to be sly to get your revenge. With your simple attitude, you’ll fail.”
“What?! No!” I clenched my fists. How dare he say that to me?! I will succeed.
I declared to him, “I will have my revenge. It’s not pointless! You don’t understand. You’re not from this world. Revenge, for anyone with strength, is everything.
“That man caused my mother’s death…and her lover’s. I was left with nothing, absolutely nothing. At the tender age of eight, I had to take care of my younger brother while I was forced to live out a life determined by my father. What I wanted to do had no meaning.”
Tears filled my eyes, but I blinked twice, doubting their existence. A drop almost spilled onto my cheek.
My fists clenched. I was weak and pathetic with only the company of a useless boy.
He was my wish—a person who could resist my soul rune—but I would rather have my revenge.
“I’m so sick of it all!” My balled hand wiped away the atrocious tears. “Only when my mother was alive did I feel like I could live my own life. That man took it all away. One day, I’ll have my revenge, but…”
My voice shallowed despite how much I willed it to be strong. I had to embrace reality.
I, not Kaiden, was useless. I was the one crying like a baby, desperately craving company.
A floodgate broke, and thoughts rushed into my mind like a raging torrent.
The calmness when I first saw him… The softness when his soul rune brushed my skin… The warmth when he carried me on his back….
My soul hummed. I needed him, but I did not dare say it was love.
“I need your help. I can’t do it with my black core. I told you before that people with black cores can only use some runes, but it’s worse than it sounds.”
I took in a deep breath, bracing myself for truth. “Out of thousands of common stone runes, I could only activate one. Through sheer luck I discovered another rune that I could use, but for the other three, I could only activate them because I inherited them from my mother. All five are not meant for fighting. I can’t do it alone. I can’t!”
I trembled, but then Kaiden placed his hand against my back. He rubbed softly, whispering, “There, there.”
My shoulders loosened, and exhaling, I said, “My soul rune is pointless. It’s more of a curse than a blessing. Without activating it, it still makes people feel attracted and drawn towards me. Do you understand what that means?”
I gazed into his eyes. He stared back at me, and I could find no fault in them. Maybe pity, but nothing more. “Do they truly like me? No, it’s a bunch of lies. Everyone loves me, but at the same time, no one does, and they never will. They never can.”
I lifted my head, wanting to hesitate, but I did not. “You’re different. My mother always said that for every rune, there is a person who is immune to it. Are you?”
Kaiden paused for a breath that was as long as an eternity. “Somewhat. It doesn’t make me like you, but it prevents me from hating you. When we first met, I should have been disgusted by you.”
My chest lightened. “Will you help me get revenge?”
He sighed, no longer meeting my gaze. “After you have your revenge, what will you do? Will you be able to continue living the life you built up for yourself, or will it vanish with the completion of your goal?”
I have no life left.
I opened my mouth, but Kaiden stopped me. “You can’t change what has already happened. Don’t chase after empty dreams. Whether it be returning to a place you can’t return to or enacting revenge, it’s all pointless. You should just give up and live the life you have now.”
His words were brutal, crushing me into the ground and mincing me into a million pieces. My heart bled. With a heavy gulp, I swallowed my disappointment and slipped back to bad habits.
I had to force him regardless of his opinion.
Suddenly, he placed his hand on my violet hair. He wryly smiled and rubbed my head. His fingers pulled my hair and tugged at the knots.
What the hell is he trying to do?
I almost whacked his hand, but then, with an annoying smile, he spoke, “That being said, helping you with your frivolous goal is completely different.”
“You’ll help me?” I asked, squashing the goofy smile that threatened to cover my face. The resulting half-smile better had looked normal.
“Yeah,” he said. “But you should teach me about this world before I change my mind. I need to get something from this deal.”
He made a dramatic pause and blinked. With that gut-wrenching smile, he added, “Just promise me that no matter what you give up for revenge, you will not toss me away. Got it?”
“Yes!” I nodded, muffling my laughter. There was no way I would force him to leave me; he would have better luck trying to escape from my clutches.
The very moment that he had resisted my soul rune, there was no escaping me.
I am the daughter of a tyrant. No one should expect anything else.
“Who’s Vaughn?” Kaiden poured water onto the flame. He had atrocious timing.
My spirits whittled. How did he know that I lied?
“Fine. I’ll leave it be.” He shrugged.
I opened my mouth to come clean, but then I turned, hiding my face. I could not do it. I lied. “He’s someone I look up to, so I took his name.”
“What do you know about the Cowzer Sect?” he asked, changing the topic. “Tell me everything about the common knowledge of your world including locations, organizations, geography, and runes. Wait, no. I won’t remember anything if you tell me it all at once.”
I laughed at him; he was finally showing interest in my world. I gave him the simplest of basics that any commoner would know. I slowly lost myself as each word flowed from my tongue.
“In this world, everything is dominated by the kingdoms, sects, and guilds who posses the most strength in runes. Power is best achieved by bringing together powerful individuals because the strength of soul runes is likely to depend on one’s parents. They call this someone’s bloodline.
“The four main kingdoms of the continent of Haven include Appenhund in Haven’s northeast extending south to the Crystal Mountains, Beecivet to the east and including the Royal Geysers, Gnudeer to the southwest, and Hartebeest beyond the Crystal Mountains.”
I continued, forcing myself to tell him about a topic I did not want to breach.
“Each kingdom is ruled by a royal family who possesses an extremely pure bloodline. It’s so powerful that people call its wielders blue bloods. The kingdoms, which have their own schools to train Runists, encourage students who have strong soul runes to marry each other. Those who don’t make the cut must either choose to leave or to never marry anyone with a higher rank.”
Of course, there was a lot more to bloodlines than what I had told him. He did not need to know it.
I continued, “Sects are much like schools, but instead of fostering bloodlines by controlling marrying prospects, they follow the motto, ‘Survival of the strong and the weeding of the weak.’ Anyone is allowed to kill anyone else.
“The Cowzer Sect is notorious for being extremely fierce and bloody. I hear that they pit their inner disciples of their top five districts against each other. It will be hard for you to survive. Matriarch Ruby is especially violent. She’s fierce and strong, and although she is the weakest of Cowzer’s eight Grandmasters, she does whatever she wants. Her looks are plain, but her charisma is admirable.”
“Vaughn.” Kaiden raised an eyebrow. “We met her. She was the middle-aged woman.”
“What middle-aged woman? She’s like 500 years old, but looks young and in the prime of life.” Or so I had heard.
Tilting his head, he paused. “The one who found us.”
My memories were crystal clear. There was no woman.
“The one who rode on the giant magical beast that looked like a cow, two men were with her, she hugged you…do you remember?” Kaiden asked.
There was no cow either. “None of that happened. I was with you the whole time. We warped to a nearby place, and at the time, my arm was severely bleeding. I tried to cast a rune to heal it, but I failed due to exhaustion. As I lost more blood, my consciousness started fading in and out.
“Worried, you carried me on your back to what you thought was the closest village. It ended up being the Cowzer Sect—I don’t know what you were thinking, but you found someone to help me. Afterwards, he tossed us into this shack.”
He sighed, “That’s not what happened.”
“You’re crazy.” A dream? Or did he hit his head when he had fainted? No, I was there.
“Then–” he rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you remember seeing a brown rune?”
“Brown runes don’t exist,” I said; he had definitely hit his head when I was not looking. “There are only white, green, blue, purple, and orange runes in existence. Don’t ask about your crimson colored rune strokes; they’re a mystery to the world.”
“But what if they do exist?” He smiled. “Imagine a humongous rune with brown, pulsing threads invading your mind.
“You know nothing,” I laughed. “Only soul runes are massive, but yours should be colored white, the same color as your core. Once you officially reach the rank of Apprentice, you’ll be able to see it.”
“That reminds me.” I smiled, anticipating his curiosity. “You still don’t know why everyone places so much importance on powerful soul runes. Do you want to know why?”