The Tales of Calek
A Rune Scribe’s Past
by Jacob Peppers
Staring at his mistake, Drasayurn ran a hand through his thinning gray hair. The shouts of anger grew louder outside of his shop; it was as if everyone had gone mad. The noise had been going on for several minutes, but he’d been so intent on his work that he’d paid it little attention until, finally, the commotion had affected his concentration, causing him to make a small error in his work.
Stunned, he laid the plaque down on his work bench, placing into a waiting bucket of water the thin rod of heated metal he’d been using as an inscription tool. He removed the thick, padded gloves he’d been wearing and sighed as he stared at the plaque.
In itself it was nothing special; a simple square of wood no thicker than a finger-joint. What would have made it special — what he was paid to provide — was the half-finished rune of warding etched into its surface. When hung from the door of a home or business, the rune would deny entry to any intruder that might try to break into the building.
Though the rune itself was a complex weave of precisely drawn lines and angles, he regretted the fact that, given the growing demands of the past year, it was one he could practically do in his sleep. That was assuming, of course, that he could have the peace and quiet necessary to concentrate. The smallest mistake in the juncture of lines and curves would be enough to weaken the rune’s effectiveness and create unintended, possibly dangerous results.
True, many of his fellow rune scribes wouldn’t be bothered by the slight imperfection. In fact, even with the error, the plaque would perform better than any made by his contemporaries, barring entrance to all but the most powerful of creatures, but Drasayurn Rayen was a man who strived for perfection in all things, and he would not — could not — allow a piece of sub-par quality to leave his shop.
His former apprentice, Osyrd Beledant had often complained about his impossible standards. He’d claimed that the runes would still work, even if they weren’t perfect, and that there weren’t more than a handful of people in the entire land of Indadren that would even recognize the difference.
He was right on both counts, of course, but Drasayurn would not budge. To him, the fact that his customers wouldn’t know the difference made it all the more important that he do each job properly. His apprentice had not agreed.
Osyrd had been an orphan of thirteen summers then, having lost both his parents to the plague, and — when he’d made the effort — had shown a potential skill to rival Drasayurn’s finest work. The problem was that he so rarely bothered to try. What’s more, he’d shown an unhealthy appetite for the malfeasant runes, something that Drasayurn adamantly warned him against. Tampering with such runes was forbidden.
When Osyrd had refused to give it up, Drasayurn had been forced, regretfully, to end the boy’s apprenticeship. That had been more than ten years ago. His wife had still been alive then. Suddenly, and despite the fact that he was only a man of forty-eight summers, he felt very, very old.
He had come to love the blonde-haired, fair-skinned Osyrd like a son in those two years. Even when he’d been forced to stop teaching him, he’d offered the boy a permanent home, hoping against hope that he’d agree.
Osyrd had refused, as Drasayurn had known he would. He’d stormed from the shop full of wounded pride, disappearing down the street, leaving only the sting of his angry words behind him. That had been the last Drasayurn had ever seen of the boy. He’d never taken another apprentice after that. After all, the people of the city of Delska didn’t pay him for pots that usually kept water cool or for flameless lanterns that sometimes worked.
Rising from his wooden stool and tearing his eyes away from the discarded plaque in disgust, Drasayurn glanced around at his small workshop. Various scrolls and tomes were stacked haphazardly on several shelves. Styluses created out of materials ranging from animal bones to different types of woods and metals were hung against the wall.
It was a small room, he thought, in which to live out one’s life with nothing but the tools of his trade to keep him company. The shouts from outside came to an abrupt halt and the sudden quiet made a cold shiver chase down his spine.
He swallowed; suddenly unsure whether he wanted to know what was happening outside. Since the creatures — he wasn’t prepared to think of them as people — had begun to appear, rising from graves where loved ones had laid them to rest and attacking in the night, the townspeople of Delska had been understandably on edge, prepared to resort to violence at a moment’s notice.
As he headed toward the door of his shop, he reflected that, regretfully, this was not the first mob that had formed as a product of the recent troubles. Seeing a loved one’s face, decayed and ravaged from months or years spent in the grave, did strange things to a man. Seeing that same face as it gorged on the flesh of a living person did unimaginable things.
The citizens had been told that the familiar faces were not who they remembered, they knew that the creatures killed indiscriminately, yet each night a few more people came up missing or dead. Apparently, the thought of having their loved ones returned to them was too strong to resist. Thinking of his lovely wife Awna, who he’d buried years ago, Drasayurn understood.
* * *
He hesitantly opened the door of the shop. He winced as sunlight lanced into eyes that had grown accustomed to the low-lit gloom of his shop. A young man stood in the street surrounded by fifteen or twenty onlookers. The light brown cloak he wore was covered in dust. His hood was pulled down, but the lank, pitch black hair that hung down his face and the gray eyes, so pale that they appeared almost white, left no doubt as to what he was.
One side of his face was scarred in looping, concentric whorls, so severe that for an instant Drasayurn was sure that he was one of the risen dead. But it was daytime, the scribe consoled himself, and the creatures only came out at night. Still, he drew little comfort from the fact. He knew what the man must be.
The ghostly eyes, darkly tanned skin, and hair as black as night identified him clearly. He was one of the Kirakti, the mountain people. They appeared out of nowhere from time to time, leaving only blood and death behind them. That and, on rare occasions, a pitifully few survivors, half-mad with grief and shock.
War parties had been sent out to find them many times, but they always vanished into the mountains once their bloody work was done, and despite exhaustive searches, no trace of them or their whereabouts could be found.
Apparently, the mob had decided that, despite the stories they’d no doubt heard, they need not fear one lone Kirakti. One man, the bravest or dumbest of them — Drasayurn couldn’t decide which — lay unconscious at the feet of the Kirakti warrior.
One of the stranger’s hands had drifted behind him, toward a scabbard so black that it seemed to swallow the sunlight. His expression betrayed no concern for the angry mob that surrounded him.
Sensing that something terrible was about to happen, Drasayurn hurried forward. “Excuse me! What’s going on here?” he shouted as he ventured into the street.
“Mayster Rayen.” Drasayurn had to force his eyes away from the cool, predatory gaze of the stranger. He turned to see the familiar hollowed features of Claude. The man’s face was flushed, no doubt from another early start at the tavern, but his eyes were wide and wild. He jerked his head in a quick bow before continuing, “This man’s a Kirakti!” He shouted the last as he pointed an accusatory finger at the lone warrior. Those gathered grumbled their agreement.
Drasayurn glanced first from the crowd, and then to the lone Krute’s pale, measuring stare. Wringing his hands, he turned back to Claude, “Well, yes. I can see that Claude, so what of it?”
The man’s thin features twisted in confusion for a moment, “Well... well, he’s a Kirakti!” he sputtered.
Drasayurn wiped the sweat from his forehead with a sleeve of his robe. “Yes, yes you’ve mentioned that, and he’s what? Bullying the lot of you, no doubt? Called you out for a good fight, did he? Him against twenty just to get his day started right, is that it?”
Several in the crowd had the good grace to look ashamed. They looked at their feet, or at each other, refusing to meet Drasayurn’s gaze. Oblivious, Claude bulled on. “The missus told me that she’d seen him walking through the market just like, well, just like he belonged there!”
“And how else was he supposed to walk through the market, Claude? Like he didn’t belong? Would you mind showing me what exactly that looks like?”
The hollow-faced man rubbed at his brown, scruff of a beard a moment before responding, “Well... well he ain’t s’pose to walk through the market, that’s what! Master Rayen, you know as well as anybody what the Kirakti do! Everybody knows they have relations with demons and my wife’s second cousin said a bunch of ’em attacked their village, killing and stealing and drinking blood and the like! I figure their eyes are like that ’cause the demons they made a deal with done sucked all the life out of ’em!”
Drasayurn nodded thoughtfully, “So, Claude, how much blood have you seen this Kirakti drink?”
Finally, abashed, the thin man noticed that the fight had already gone out of the others. His gaze dropped to the ground and he nodded.
“Well, then,” Drasayurn continued, pushing the advantage while he had it, “how about the rest of you?” No one spoke, “None of you? No demonic rituals? No blood-drinking or killing? Then why don’t all of you go home.” He glanced meaningfully at the setting sun, “Darkness will be here in another hour or two. I suppose we all have other things to worry us just now.”
Most of the crowd dispersed, hurrying back to their homes at the mention of the impending darkness, but Claude and a few of the men stayed. “I ain’t gonna leave till I know why this demon-lover is here! I won’t have him sneaking in my house at night and taking my wife or one of the little ones for one of his damned rituals!” The other men nodded their agreement, still avoiding the scribe’s gaze.
Drasayurn sighed. It was as if they were determined to be killed. He glanced at the scarred man, saw that he’d raised one eyebrow as if in question, and swallowed again. “How about I take him in and interrogate him myself?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to scream at his own stupidity.
“Well...” Claude’s face bunched up in thought. “Well, Master Rayen, I figure if we knew it was you that’d be alright. We know you’ll always do right by us, but” — he leaned in conspiratorially — “do you think it’s safe?”
Drasayurn glanced back to the scarred man, and though his expression was the same, his eyes seemed to twinkle with amusement. “I’m sure it’ll be perfectly safe.” He answered, with more confidence than he felt. “You folks go on home now. I’ll see to this.”
The men agreed and set off to their homes, and after a few moments Drasayurn stood alone in the street with a member of the race who had haunted his nightmares when he was young. “This way please,” he said, gesturing to his shop. He wasn’t sure whether to be happy or not when the man silently complied. He followed the stranger into his shop and jumped as the door closed shut behind him with ringing finality.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Jacob Peppers