The Tales of Calek
A Rune Scribe’s Past
by Jacob Peppers
As one, the creatures surrounding him jerked their heads up and shuffled forward. In seconds, Osyrd had disappeared behind the teeming masses of the living dead.
Calek drew his sword and rushed at the creatures, hacking his way through the press of bodies in pursuit of Drasayurn’s ex-apprentice. The creatures surrounded him, but the midnight blade lashed out repeatedly, weaving a web of cold steel that sent the limbs of the living dead flying around him as he pressed forward.
Drasayurn reached into his pack, withdrawing more fire rocks and slinging them into the crowd where they burst into roaring flames. There are too many. Drasayurn despaired as he drew the last remaining fire rocks and tossed them into the oncoming horde.
He could no longer see Calek, so deeply had the man waded into the ranks of the living dead, but a piercing shriek of fear or pain rang out in the night, causing a shiver to chase its way up his spine. Had that been the death scream of the Kirakti? The creatures were coming from behind him now; apparently they had found a way around his trap. He let the empty bag fall to the ground as he watched death march towards him.
Suddenly, there was a surge in the roiling mass of bodies and limbs went flying as Calek fought his way back out. His shirt was ripped and torn and bloody furrows were carved into the compacted muscle of his arms and exposed torso, yet still he fought on. He wielded his sword with deadly efficiency in his right hand, but Drasayurn was startled to see that he held Osyrd’s staff in his left.
Calek bludgeoned the undead with it until finally, the smallest of openings allowed him to throw it to Drasayurn. It landed a few feet in front of him on the dusty road. “It won’t break!” Calek yelled in explanation. He tried to say more, but the masses of living dead surged toward him again and he vanished in their midst.
Drasayurn wasn’t surprised. Osyrd would have strengthened the staff with runic symbology. Still, the feel of the staff’s simple wood surface surprised him. From somewhere, he could hear Osryd shriek, “No! Kill the old man!”
He glanced nervously at the creatures, but without the power of the staff they could not be commanded, so they continued to pursue the last task they’d been set: to kill Calek. No matter how good the man was, he wouldn’t be able to hold them off much longer. Forcing himself to concentrate, Drasayurn examined the runes carved into the oak.
A section of the top of the staff was stained a deep crimson and below it he recognized the runes for “master” and “control.” The stain made it clear that Osyrd had bound the staff to himself in blood. Blood made for an easy binding, but it was also notoriously dangerous; after all, the blood established a permanent, irrevocable connection between the object of the rune and the owner. Examining the staff further, he realized that something was missing.
One of the first things any apprentice Rune Scribe learned, and one of the things he’d tried to teach Osyrd to take seriously, was the rune of preservation. It was this rune that kept a scribe’s creation safe from anything ranging from unintentional damage, to another scribe’s tampering, and it was this rune that the staff was missing. He realized then, as tears gathered in his eyes, what he had to do.
The staff suddenly felt impossibly heavy in his grip. Memories from years ago, when he took in a young, lonely boy and found a son instead flitted through his mind and his hands remained still.
A crash beside him shook him out of his paralysis He jerked his head up and saw, through a veil of misty tears, the bloody, battered form of Calek struggling to his feet, his sword still in hand. “If you’re going to do something, it’d better be soon.” he said as he wiped blood from his mouth and limped toward the creatures with a determined fatalism. The ground was littered with twice-dead corpses, but the mass of creatures seemed to continue on forever, a vision out of some dark, twisted nightmare.
Forcing off the weight of memories, Drasayurn withdrew a sharpened, carving stylus from his work robe and bent to his task. It didn’t take long. If the staff itself was a work of art, and despite the malicious intent of its creator, it held the best scribing Drasayurn had ever seen, then what he did was nothing more than doodles. Be that as it may, they were very effective doodles.
He heard the change as he finished the last line. As one, the hundreds of creatures turned inward, focusing on something-someone, in their midst. A familiar voice shouted in angry denial from somewhere within the throng, then the shouts turned to pleads of fear, and then soon, too soon, the night was pierced with the cracking, desperate shrieks of unimaginable agony as the monstrosities shuffled forward and tore into the man whom Drasayurn would have called son. It didn’t take long for the screams to be silenced.
Drasayurn didn’t know how long he sat in the dirt of the path, tears spilling from his closed eyes, before he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Calek’s face was almost unrecognizable covered, as it was, by a mask of blood. One of his arms dangled uselessly at his side at an impossible angle and he wobbled on his feet. “What... about them?” the Krute asked between sharp, pained breaths.
“They’re dead.” The scribe whispered, and in obedience to his voice all of the creatures slumped to the ground in a cacophony of rustling limbs.
They both stared at the path ahead, a path paved in death. Finally, Drasayurn spoke, “What now?”
“Now I leave.” Calek said.
Surprised, Drasayurn glanced at the Krute warrior, “You can’t be serious. What about the townspeople? They will want to thank you.”
Calek met his eyes. “We both know they wouldn’t.”
Drasayurn nodded sadly. “Then why did you do it?”
The scarred man shrugged with his one good shoulder. “This is what I was made to do.”
“But surely you should stay at least for a short time,” the scribe objected, “I mean, merciful Acindra, you can barely stand! You’ll never make it where you’re going!”
“I’ll make it.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I have to.”
“Because I don’t belong here.”
The words struck Drasayurn with painful force and he glanced back in the direction of Delska. The dead paved the way behind, and the dead paved the way ahead. No one waited on him there, in the city, only the memories, the nightmares. The respectful glances. Not loving, never that, but disinterestedly respectful. “I’m going with you.”
The scarred man raised an eyebrow. “You don’t even know where I’m going.”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t belong here either.”
Calek studied him with his searching gray eyes. Abruptly, he nodded and began limping his way through the piles of the dead.
The screams of his dying apprentice replaying in his head, Drasayurn followed. He knew that the memory of Osyrd’s desperate, screeching pleas would haunt him the rest of his life. He knew he could not outrun the memory of it. But damn if he wouldn’t give it a try.
Copyright © 2012 by Jacob Peppers