The Tales of Calek
A Rune Scribe’s Past
by Jacob Peppers
The Kirakti glanced around at the shop for a moment before turning back to Drasayurn, “Well?” His voice was low, and slightly hoarse, but there seemed to be no menace in it.
The stranger shrugged, “Aren’t you going to question me? Or do you prefer I start stealing your soul right now?”
Drasayurn laughed nervously, “I uh... I would prefer you didn’t.”
The scarred man nodded, waited a moment, “Then?”
“Well why are... that is, if you don’t mind, er... why are you here?”
The stranger reached a hand unconsciously up to his scarred face. “I have nowhere else to go,” He said, so quietly that Drasayurn had to strain to hear.
“Why are you not with the Kirakti, your people?”
The man clenched his fists at his sides. “They are not my people.”
Drasayurn thought it best to change the subject, “What is your name?”
“I am Calek.”
“Have you no surname?”
The ethereal gaze turned to Drasayurn, “No longer. I am Brenshada. Unfit.”
“I’ll just call you Calek if it’s all the same to you.”
The scarred man nodded and turned away. “What are all of these tools for?”
“I use them for my profession. I am a Rune Scribe.” He said the last with more than a little pride. After all, rune scribing was something very few people could do. It required a near-perfect memory, steady hands, and, of course, hours and hours of dedicated work. He suspected it was the last that kept their numbers so low.
The stranger, however, showed no sign of recognition. “So you, what? Write things for people?”
“I do more than write things,” he snapped defensively, wincing at his own brashness.
“Oh?” the stranger asked.
Drasayurn’s annoyance withered in the face of the man’s honest ignorance. “Primarily, I imbue physical objects with foreign properties, making blades that last longer before dulling or containers that keep meat and other perishable items fresh longer, that sort of thing.” He felt his face heat upon hearing his own inadequate explanation.
“Really?” the stranger asked in surprise, “Those who raised me claimed that you outlanders consort with demons that grant you magical powers. Recently, I had begun to doubt that, but perhaps they were right after all, for surely what you speak of is magic.”
Drasayurn couldn’t help the incredulous laugh that escaped him, but he quickly mastered himself when he noticed the man’s frown. “My people believe something similar of the Kirakti,” he explained quickly.
Calek nodded thoughtfully. “Yet, we...” — he winced before continuing — “they do not perform such magic. The High Priestess can perform certain miracles; true, but she is blessed by Turuk, God of the Mountains.”
Despite his fear, Drasayurn became excited. During the course of his life, he had pursued knowledge as some pursue wealth or power and here, standing before him, was a man who could tell him secrets no one knew. Of course, he could as easily decide to kill him, but he tried not to think of that. “Where do you come from?” he prompted.
Calek shook his head. “I will not speak of it. It is no longer my home; I am not worthy of mentioning it. Still, this scribing that you speak of is quite... interesting.”
“I assure you it is more than interesting,” the scribe grumbled, unable to stop himself. “In fact, my scribing is what keeps this town safe, and you’re lucky it is. With the recent troubles, no one wants to get on the bad side of Delska’s foremost Rune Scribe. If it weren’t for that, there’s no way Claude and the others would have let me take you, and you would have found yourself in irons if you were lucky and dead, if you weren’t.”
The scarred man’s pale, steel eyes looked out from the midnight hair that fell in his face and met Drasayurn’s. For several moments, he didn’t speak, and Drasayurn was sure that he’d gone too far, that the man’s sword was about to lash out and take off his fool head with no more thought than a child would give to squashing a bug. “Perhaps,” Calek said dismissively, “but more to the point, what recent troubles do you mean?”
Drasayurn let out an audible sigh of relief before he considered the man’s words. “You must be joking.”
Calek smiled wryly. “I try not to.”
“The living dead, that’s the problem!” he exclaimed. “People long buried rise up at night and attack the city, carrying people off when they can, and killing them when they can’t. For the past year, I’ve done nothing but inscribe the same Rune of Warding over and over just so that people can feel safe in their own beds!”
Calek turned with an abrupt suddenness that caused Drasayurn to recoil in surprise. “The living dead?”
Wary of the man’s sudden interest, the scribe nodded. “Err... yes.”
“Don’t you have warriors?”
“Town guards. They do what they can, but the things aren’t like me and you. Cut off an arm, and they come at you with the other. Chopping off a leg won’t even stop them.” He shuddered. “They just keep coming.
“It is possible to stop them. If you take their heads off they seem to... well to die, but it doesn’t matter: there are too many. Each night they come in droves, killing or taking anyone who isn’t safe behind rune-warded doors, and those they take come back the next day changed. The Duke simply doesn’t have enough men to deal with them.”
“Hmm... where do they come from, and where do they go when they leave?”
Drasayurn shrugged. He’d thought long and hard about that same question over the past year. “I only know that when they come, they come from the southern woods,” he answered wearily, “The duke has sent out trackers, but none have returned.”
“Why do they not bar the southern gate?”
Drasayurn laughed bitterly, “They tried. The gate is nothing but kindling now. The creatures are incredibly strong, many times stronger than you or me. They actually used trees as battering rams if you can believe that, several of them would just gather around one and rip it out of the ground; no mean trick, that. They didn’t even stop when we dumped boiling oil on their heads and set them on fire. They just kept coming, wearing those blasted blank expressions and battering at the gate until their muscles burned and their skin sloughed off in heaps.”
“I see.” Calek said. “Do they take certain people or head to a particular area when they come?”
“They roam all over the city, until a few hours before daylight and then they leave.” Drasayurn heaved a frustrated sigh.
Calek nodded. “Well, it’s clear that they have a master, some reasoning, thinking person who is controlling them somehow.”
“Why would you say that?” Drasayurn asked. In truth, the thought was close to some he’d had himself, but he was surprised to hear the man come up with it so quickly.
“It’s simple enough. It’s not some sort of infection or it would have spread. Besides, I don’t think that the living dead would think of using tools such as battering rams on their own. My guess is that someone has a score to settle. Does your Duke have any enemies?”
Drasayurn laughed, “Many, in fact. The Duke is a hard, cold man, with an unwavering sense of... justice.”
“How many of these creatures are there?”
Drasayurn sighed. “Hundreds... thousands... who knows?”
Calek closed his eyes in thought. Several awkward moments passed as Drasayurn fidgeted restlessly. Finally, the Kirakti opened his eyes. His stony gaze met the scribe’s and he nodded. “Very well, I will help you.”
“Er... help me?”
“Yes. Tonight, I’ll follow them. I suspect that they’ll lead me back to their master.”
“Weren’t you listening?” Drasayurn balked, “I just told you that the Duke has sent trackers after them before. None of the men have returned.”
“I heard you.”
Drasayurn stared incredulously. Did the man have a death wish? Even if his theory was right, and they were led by one man or woman, what chances did he have of making it to him? It was ridiculous. “I’ll go with you,” a voice said, and the Rune Scribe’s eyes widened as he realized that it was his own.
Calek shook his head. “It would be better if you didn’t.”
“I have to,” Drasayurn said, knowing it was true as he said it. “I sit here, hour after hour, day after day, inscribing my runes, but still they come. I am doing nothing more than slowing the inevitable. The food stores are running low because traders don’t dare come into the area anymore. The price of bread has tripled in the last year. At night, people have to worry about being maimed and killed by monsters, and in the day they have to worry about how to feed their children.
“Yes,” he nodded, “I’m coming with you whether you like it or not. My wife is buried in these hills, stranger. I will not see her like this. I won’t,” he finished, surprised by the hot fury in his own voice.
He expected the warrior to argue, to point out that Drasayurn was an old man, and that the trip would be difficult and dangerous. He expected the man to threaten or laugh, so he was surprised when Calek merely nodded. “Very well. We leave tonight.” He glanced around, “Do you have somewhere to rest? I have traveled for many days and I am weary.”
Drasayurn nodded, speechless, and pointed to a room at the back of the shop. He’d always kept a simple bunk there for the nights when he was too tired to head home. Since his wife died, he spent more nights at his shop than his house if there was no reason to go home.
Without a word, the Kirakti headed through the door he’d indicated, closing it behind him.
And where am I going to sleep? Drasayurn wondered, but wisely kept the thought to himself. He didn’t go to sleep immediately. If he was really going to go with Calek, there were things he needed to do first.
As he worked, he wondered, not for the first time, why he had remained in Delska for so long. When he was young, he’d turned down an appointment as his Majesty Incarda’s High Rune Scribe to move to Delska with his Awna. It was a choice he never regretted, but when his wife had passed into the Great Watcher’s arms five summers ago, he had realized that the people of Delska were not his people; they never had been. They were kind enough, true, but it was the type of kindness one showed to a priest or a monarch. He had their respect, but he would never have their friendship.
Shaking off his melancholy, he started grabbing the tools he would need. No, he would not rest yet. There were things to be done. Besides, he had made his name as a scholar not an adventurer, and he knew that sleep, ever a fickle beast, wouldn’t come for the asking.
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Copyright © 2012 by Jacob Peppers