Chapter 12

Jowy had spent enough time in Greenhill. He needed to be on his way, even - no, especially after seeing Jillia at the library.

He didn’t like moving without more planning than he had, but there was little choice. He had no real guarantee that one of the Runes he needed to take would remain in Greenhill long, and alone among the five, its disappearance would not attract the attention of the authorities. He couldn’t allow it to leave the city again.

Unfortunately, that meant he had to go out into a storm that any sensible person, Bearer or no, would have avoided. In a purely selfish sense, he wished he’d already found the True Water Rune or the True Wind Rune. More practically, the True Lightning Rune would have prevented the very real possibility of his death.

“The chances of that aren’t even worth considering,” he told himself, probably for about the sixth time. Being struck by lightning would be an ignominious end for the Bearer. He hoped Leknaat’s prophecy had taken that into account.

An enemy, no matter how dangerous, didn’t really frighten Jowy. But something purely random, something he couldn’t fight no matter what he did? He shuddered.

Mercifully, his goal wasn’t too far from his own inn. Slipping out the window had been easy, as, despite the driving rain and constant lightning, had been the back-alley journey from it. Hopefully, the rest would go as smoothly.

He looked up at the building he was standing next to. It was similar enough to his own inn to be its twin, but he could feel a powerful magic in the area. “This should be the place.”

He vaulted onto a windowsill, smooth and silent as a cat.

He’d left his weapons behind this time. They were bulky, and he had no intention of fighting the present owner of the Rune he was searching for. If he had to, though, he had little doubt that he would do well enough unarmed.

His magical senses, honed by years of carrying a True Rune and facing magical enemies, let him probe the room he was crouched outside of without opening the window. The feeling of magic which had drawn him to the building wasn’t particularly strong in the room.

Not this one, then.

He probably could have jumped the gap between the windowsills. He could also have fallen, making enough noise to alert anyone in the area. Since he was in no great hurry, he climbed across the rough brick wall. It was practically a ladder, since the mortar had worn away from between most of the bricks.

The next two windows were no better. Had he made a mistake? There was more than a little variation in the power of the True Runes. If this one was especially potent, like the Soul Eater or the Beast Rune, it might be a building or more away and still radiate as strongly as it did.

He tried the fourth and final window.

“Found you,” he whispered. He lowered his hand to the window’s lock and concentrated for a moment. Heat radiating from his hand melted the heavy iron enough that he could pull it free without a sound.

He eased the window open, wincing as it creaked. He hadn’t woken the room’s occupant, though. He slipped through the curtains and looked around.

The room was a mess. For a moment, he thought he might be too late, that someone else had beaten him to his quarry, and been less delicate about it. But the more he looked, the more it seemed that the room just hadn’t been cleaned for too long. Besides, if the loud snoring of the man lying on the bed was any indication, no violence had been done here.

He stepped over a pair of trousers that seemed to have permanently become a part of the floor and instead managed to put his foot on a fallen mug. He pulled back before his weight shattered it.

He could see what he’d come for, hanging on the far wall. Its jeweled scabbard was the only thing in the entire room which was clean.

Seeing and reaching were two different things, however. It took him several minutes to get to the other side of the room without stepping on anything loud. Thankfully, one creaky floorboard hadn’t awoken the room’s occupant.

At last, his hand closed around the hilt of the True Rune. He gingerly pulled it from its scabbard and looked it over.

“Viktor!” it shouted, “I’m being stolen!”

Damn! “Be quiet!” Jowy hissed, trying to clap his hand over the Star Dragon Sword’s mouth. It didn’t seem to help.

“Heeeeelp!” the sword yelled. It tried to struggle free from Jowy’s grasp, but he held on tightly.

He turned to the bed. He’d hoped to avoid a conflict, but...

But Viktor was still asleep.

“Wake up, you imbecile!” cried the Star Dragon Sword, throwing itself toward the bed.

Jowy slipped on a pair of bone dice lying on a loose shirt. Holding on to the hilt of the sword, he managed to keep himself from falling. He lunged for the window, but his footing wasn’t good enough and he nearly fell again.

“Let go of me!” the sword said, spinning in midair so that its immobile face was looking at Jowy.

“No.” Jowy threw himself at the window again.

The sword flew upwards, dragging him with it. He managed to grab hold of the windowsill with one hand. The sword sent a painful jolt of electricity into his hand. It was practically screaming now. “Let go! Viktor, wake up!”

How anyone could sleep through the racket, Jowy couldn’t imagine. Somehow, though, the sword’s owner managed. He rolled over and mumbled something.

“I heard that!” the sword yelled.

Jowy yanked on it, sending it flying through the curtain. Then it yanked back, and he followed it.

The fall would have been extremely painful. Fortunately, the wildly struggling sword kept him from taking the full brunt of it. By the time he landed, Jowy had both hands around the hilt of the sword.

“I’ll get you for this, thief,” it said matter-of-factly. “Not tonight, perhaps, but all humans have to sleep. Wouldn’t it be easier to just let me go?”

Jowy fixed it with a glare. He took one of his hands off the hilt and pulled his glove off with his teeth. The sword tried to break free. He tightened his grip.

He put his bare hand on the blade. For an instant, more electricity flowed into him, but he held fast. The flow stopped.

“Oh,” said the sword. “It’s you.”

“Yes,” Jowy said, sighing. “It’s me.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so, oh Bearer?”

He couldn’t quite decide how the sword could look annoyed without moving its face, but it did so. “Would you have believed me?” he asked.

“A distinct point.”

“Will you try to get away again?” he asked.

“Me?” It was even better at looking innocent than it was at looking annoyed. “I wouldn’t dream of it, my dear Bearer. Why, I’ve waited quite some time for you to show up. Ten thousand years already? Where has the time gone? Ah, well, you’re here now. You’re obviously missing several of the True Runes, though. How very disappointing. And I never expected it would be you of all people. Honestly, you lost a war. Some qualification that is. The standards of destined deliverers certainly have gone downhill. But, I must make do, I suppose. You’ve talked to Leknaat, of course, or you wouldn’t be here. Charming woman, but not very crafty. Her sister had more potential, I think, but you never can tell - look how that turned out. At least I’ve been delivered from that dreadful existence. Honestly, a legendary sword like me deserves a destined hero for a master, not some bulky no-talent mercenary. I suppose I’ll miss the big lug, though, in the way one misses a bad cold. Not that I have colds, but one hears things, oh yes one does.”

Jowy blinked.

The sword looked at him. “Well, what are you waiting for? We do have work to do, you know.”

Maybe he should have saved this Rune for last.