This is the first chapter of the Rune Mage sequel, CHAOS MAGE, which will be posted in the same book as Book 1. To read Book 1, click here. This will contain spoilers for Book 1.
Chapter 1: The Execution
“We now bring forward Kristen Harred for execution for the following crimes: attempted genocide, misuse of magic, and treason.”
Seiren’s hand found Madeleine’s in the dark and curled her fingers into her sister’s. There was a moment of apprehensive murmuring from the few present in the isolated chamber at the far back of the Council of Mages. The twins sat at the back, out of sight and out of earshot. Filtered sunlight shone through the darkened windows. Guards tugged Seiren and Madeleine’s mother through the double doors, her wrists still fastened in chains imbued with nullifying magic. Her usually neat plait was undone and she was covered in dirt and scratches. She walked with a limp, a far cry from the pristine, tidy look Seiren remembered.
Seiren reminded herself of reality, of her mother’s true agenda. She wanted to sacrifice the entire country to revive celestial magic for her own gain. All the fond memories Seiren had of her could never negate that. But still, Seiren couldn’t help but wonder: if she’d tried harder to convince her mother to do good and to understand the people she thought so little of, perhaps the outcome could have been different. Perhaps she didn’t have to watch her own mother be subject to an advanced indigo rune that would put her brain to sleep permanently before her body shut down, all before a small crowd of people wishing her dead. Seiren had been lost to the dark, immersed in unethical experiments, and it took huge, unrelenting efforts from those close to her to bring her back to light. Seiren could have tried harder, pushed further, been firmer.
“We were there,” Madeleine whispered, as if sensing Seiren’s thoughts. She probably could still tell Seiren’s mind, having spent six years attached to and powered by her twin as a soul tethered to a stone. Madeleine squeezed Seiren’s hand with reassurance. “She planned everything. If she could, she would have killed all of us. Don’t forget Maura, Loren, Tesla… and all the citizens in Benover caught in that circle back then.”
But she didn’t kill us. Seiren couldn’t help but remember there were many chances Kristen could have finished her off but hadn’t. When Seiren was caught in Benover after deserting her post in Acrise, Kristen exiled her instead of keeping her in the sacrificial circle. When Seiren finally confronted her in the king’s chamber in this very building, Kristen offered her a chance to join her side. Even from the very beginning, when Jarsdel attacked their Finberry home when she and Madeleine were just twelve years old, Kristen could have eradicated all the evidence by killing Seiren just as Jarsdel had killed their father and Madeleine. But Kristen let her live — and Seiren’s survival was the sole reason why Kristen walked to her execution now.
“In just under two months, I’ll be starting at King’s. An eighth year there, can you imagine?” Despite the light voice, Madeleine almost crushed Seiren’s fingers. “I expected to fail the probationary mage exam — I just hadn’t had any practical experience, you know? And because of your sentence and you being in Cliffe for the past few months, I have nobody to practise it with.”
Her words sped up. Her hand was damp in Seiren’s.
“But maybe with your six months being up soon, we can do it again. Practise, I mean. I can do the sketches and stuff but my body still doesn’t always do what I want it to do and it’s awkward explaining it to anyone else. And you can study with me so you can prepare to climb that king’s mage ladder—”
“You’re nervous, too, Maddy.”
Madeleine broke off and took in a shuddering breath.
“She’s our mother, Seiren,” she said in a tiny voice.
“She’s foregone all motherly rights when she left us for dead six years ago.”
Seiren stared ahead, blinking back tears. Madeleine’s hand still trembled. There were about twenty or so people present: half of them mages, the other half senior members of the military who had survived the Battle of Benover. At the front stood Kommora Haigh, the mastermind behind Kristen’s downfall, waiting for Kristen’s entourage to bring her forward. With her arms crossed over her chest, the royal blue king’s mage cloak made Kommora’s portly, grey-haired figure more formidable, if that were even possible. Her severe gaze was unyielding and fixed on the bent head of Kristen. Bellamy Southwark, the mage who openly opposed King Pollin and the previous generation of king’s mages by recruiting state mages to rebel against the system, stood beside Kommora. He also wore a king’s mage cloak. The greys at his temples appeared to have spread further throughout his dark hair since Seiren had seen him at her own trial.
At the front of the watching crowd, the remaining three in king’s mages cloaks were Willem Dankworth, Colm Hatman — two faces she somewhat recognised in the aftermath of the Battle of Benover — and Marya Bonneville. Although Seiren had been out of the capital for a good five months, Madeleine had kept her updated. The council had been rebuilt. Acrise’s defences were stronger than ever, with two mages’ defensive runes being applied and switched biannually to maintain integrity. Zor Jarsdel, the only remaining alive king’s mage out of the original five, bar Kristen, had been trialled a few weeks after Seiren and sentenced to permanent imprisonment, pending decision on the venue.
They hadn’t seen Rowan, Seiren’s old tutor, however. After the funeral when the chaos had settled in Benover, Seiren would initially see him standing for hours at the graves of Loren, his best friend, and Maura and Edgard Woodbead, his sister and father. He’d suffered the greatest loss out of them all. Just when he’d found his strength again after losing Loren, just when he’d mended his ruined relationship with Maura after he’d indirectly caused the death of her fiance years ago, and just when he saw his father again after Edgard Woodbead’s humiliating banishment to Teirrin — he lost them all.
Who wouldn’t be broken by that?
Although Seiren would never admit it, she missed him. She missed his lighthearted voice, the way those piercing, trademark blue-green Woodbead eyes would twinkle when he made a jibe at her, and when he seemed the most relaxed person in the world in the face of adversity. Although his remarks drove her up the wall, his absence was certainly noted. When her sentence was over, she’d hoped to visit him at the Woodbead family home in Sarre. She didn’t know what she could say that would help — experience told her anything she said would likely just make it worse — but it felt right to see his face.
Kristen reached the front of the chamber. The guards spread out, keeping firm hands on the nullifying ties.
“I’ll waste no time for pleasantries, Harred,” said Kommora in a brisk voice. In her hand was a slip of paper, likely containing the mind death rune. “You’ve managed to make the trials drag on by not confessing to anything, but we got your guilty ass in the end. Every breath you’re taking is another debt to humanity.”
“I was doing what I thought was right,” whispered Kristen. Seiren’s chest tightened.
“I can tell when you’re lying. Every time. You know why? Your mouth moves.” Kommora’s lips curled. “Any last words?”
“Keep my daughters safe, please.”
Kommora hesitated. Seiren blinked. Beside her, Madeleine broke into audible sobs. Seiren turned, reassuring words at the back of her throat.
When she touched Madeleine, an explosion from the outside shook the entire chamber. Surprised yells filled the air. The windows shattered, spraying glass shards everywhere. Clouds of debris showered from the ceiling, where black cracks snaked across like lightning. Smoke rushed in like water from an opened dam, drowning the audience. The explosions continued in a chain reaction, rocking the entire building. Seiren fell off her chair, the shudders shooting through her body. Madeleine screamed, throwing herself over Seiren to shield her.
Kommora tried to shout instructions over the cacophony, but the echo of the explosions coupled with the dense smoke made communication impossible.
A last explosion rocked Seiren to her very core. She knew the sound as well as she knew her own self. The faint hiss before an earth-shuddering boom, crackling through the air, combined with the flakes of paint raining around her: this was the same explosion set off in her Finberry home the night Zor Jarsdel killed her father and Madeleine.
Her ears rang. The world swam in and out of focus. Madeleine’s face floated before her, brown eyes wide with concern, her lips, fuller and wider than Seiren’s, moving without a sound. She shook Seiren. Her thoughts were so slow, as if she’d been struck with an indigo rune.
Pain exploded across her cheek. Seiren’s head snapped to the left. She blinked and sucked in a gasping breath. The world had gone dark.
“Are you all right?” Madeleine was in her face again, hands gripping her shoulders. Seiren could barely make out her features.
Madeleine released the last of her burst, dropping the earth shelter she’d built around them. A shattered chunk of ceiling lay in pieces around them. Groaning bodies lay everywhere.
Seiren struggled to get up with her legs of jelly. Hannans? The stench of the smoke made breathing impossible. Her eyes streamed with tears, blinded. She clutched Madeleine and they hobbled to the front as the last of the explosions died down. Through the haze and rushing of bodies, dark shapes floated at the spot Kristen and Kommora stood just before the explosion. Blood thumped in Seiren’s eardrums. She’d wondered if Kristen would pull off something like this, but didn’t imagine it would actually happen. Just as Kristen faked her death six years ago, she could pull a similar stunt. Being shackled with nullifying ties and having no means of accessing celestial energy were not obstacles.
“She’s gone,” Madeleine whispered.
Seiren’s knees buckled. Madeleine held her up. The debris began to settle. The chamber was in ruins. The darkened stained glass windows that had stood tall and proud in columns along the wall stared like empty eye sockets. Smoke crept out of the rubble and glass shards lying on the ground, amidst groaning bodies. A chunk of collapsed wall looked out onto the private courtyard where bodies of guards lay motionless on the grass. Kommora sat propped up against the knee of a soldier with dirt streaked across his vomit-green uniform. Southwark knelt before her, muttering out of Seiren’s earshot.
When Seiren moved closer, it was obvious Kommora was injured. Her face, the premature wrinkles having deepened since Seiren last saw her at the funeral for the fallen at the battle of Benover, was pale and sweaty and winced repeatedly as she dragged chalk across the floor in front of her with a hand still as a statue despite the pain she was in. She flicked her finger and groaned.
The rune pulsed out light and swept across the ground. Several outlines of runes appeared, the details filling in with every pulse of energy from Kommora’s tracker rune. The rest of the mages stood in the peripheries, firing magic at the walls.
“If you’re too sensitive for this, Nithercott, go home,” Kommora’s voice didn’t waver. Her eyes remained trained on the rune. Seiren said nothing, watching the complex design of the rune at work. It was a violet rune, but the design was so intricate even her memory took time to cement it. “Hm, you thinking what I’m thinking, Southwark?”
“Yes.” Southwark grimaced, straightening up. “You need to go the hospital.”
“I’m talking about this, dumb-ass.”
“I see this. It’s definitely rune magic. But you need to go to the hos—”
“If you don’t shut up about a hospital, I’ll send you there mysel—” Her words were swallowed by a coughing fit, which didn’t stop until she wheezed.
“But how?” Seiren rasped. “Kristen had nullifying ties around her. And I took her magic away.”
“Because I knew she would pull a stunt like this.” Kommora grimaced and stood up, her face black as thunder despite the pallor. Liore, her aide, rushed forward and supported her under one arm and Southwark got the other. She jerked her chin at the trail of runes towards the hole in the wall. “But I didn’t think they could overwhelm fifty guards outside and a room full of mages. These runes are—”
“Kristen’s own creations,” Seiren said. She slid her arm off Madeleine to take a closer look at one of the hidden runes Kommora’s had brought up. The pattern — she’d drawn exactly that same one six years ago when she’d attempted to blast Zor Jarsdel. “Her runes… and her magic.”
“But I thought you said she can no longer utilise celestial energy,” Southwark said, aghast.
“She can’t. Not after last January.” Kommora looked murderous despite the trembling legs.
“She… planned this?”
“Impossible. There is no way information about her execution could have been leaked outside of the council. We kept it hush-hush because something like this could happen.”
“You’re not chasing after them?” Seiren demanded. Kommora closed her eyes momentarily. Seiren half expected her to keel over, but then Kommora’s nostrils flared.
“Unfortunately, as king’s mages, our initial priority is the safety of our own. It was just about all we can do to suppress the remaining explosive runes so the place doesn’t cave in on us. So, no, we don’t have those bastards yet.” Kommora jerked her head at the mages standing not far away, heaving a shuddering breath, looking like she’d like to wring some necks. Sweat trickled down the side of her face. “But not for long. Kristen Harred won’t be getting away again. When I find our leak, I’m going to ram a chair so far up his ass, he’ll be picking splinters from between his teeth for weeks.”
Did you like it? Who do you think got Kristen away? Be sure to vote and leave a comment! Chapter 1 will be available on Wattpad on 1st March 2018, with the next update on 6th March. Updates are Tuesdays and Fridays!