Runebinder (The Runebinder Chronicles #1)

Runebinder (The Runebinder Chronicles #1)

Alex R. Kahler




    “And with our greed, a great sin was born unto this world

and like Eve to the apple

that sin shall consume us.”

    —Caius 8:22

2 P.R. (Post-Resurrection)


IT WAS NOT the clean kill he had hoped for.

Tenn raced across the cornfield. Rain seeped through his leather coat and mud squelched up his boots, but he focused on the shadow darting in front of him. Everything else dulled to gray and black and pounding heartbeats.

Gray and black...and red. Too much red.

If he didn’t hurry, that red would damn them all.

His prey staggered. Fell. A moment later he dropped to its side, dagger in hand. He didn’t want to kill. He didn’t want his hands stained red again. But those wants didn’t stop him from slicing through its warm, heaving neck.

The buck twitched.

Tenn kept a hand on the deer’s flank as its lifeblood throbbed between his fingers. It wouldn’t be right to look away, to let the poor creature die alone and cold.

Alone and cold, alone and cold, how many have died alone and cold?

The Sphere of Water raged within his gut. It wanted to revel in the blood. It wanted to drown in red. But he pushed the thoughts and the power away. Now wasn’t the time to give in, either to his own weakness or to that glorious strength. His stomach knotted when the deer’s rolling eye found his. He almost laughed from revulsion; years ago, he’d been a vegetarian.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered as the deer spasmed and fell still. Not that it mattered. Not that those apologies ever mattered—not to the dying, not to the dead. Apologies didn’t change the world he lived in, and it didn’t change the deeds he’d done.

“Shit.” Katherine stopped beside him. “That’s a lot of blood.”

Tenn glanced up to her and Michael. Their breath came out in clouds, their forms bare shadows in the gloom. He opened his mouth, but the words got caught in his throat.

Three years of killing, three years of bloodshed, and it still turned his stomach. He swallowed and looked away, washing the blood off in a puddle before sliding his dagger back in his boot. Three years of blood on his hands. Three years...

“I thought you said you were a clean shot,” Katherine said, turning back to Michael.

Tenn stood. The Sphere of Water still raged, still begged for control. He pushed it farther down. The longer he refused its call, the worse it got.

Michael stepped forward, his shoulders hunched and a bow held loose in hand. He was built like a linebacker, but right then, he looked like a puppy caught pissing on a Persian rug. Five arrows jutted from the deer’s hide, and another half dozen were scattered throughout the field.

“I am,” Michael said. His words didn’t hold much conviction as he gestured to his throat. “Usually. It’s just been a while since I had to shoot without magic.”

Katherine ignored him. There wasn’t time for apologies. She pulled a set of nylon cords from her backpack and handed one to Tenn.

She wrapped one cord around the buck’s neck while Tenn tied its hindquarters. Her movements were smooth, well-practiced—her hands were used to dealing with the dead. Like Tenn, she was eighteen. Unlike Tenn, she didn’t seem bothered by the buck’s sightless glare.

She nudged him. “You okay?”

He nodded, but his nerves were on edge, and the Sphere of Water pulsed in his stomach like a wound. One that desperately wanted to be touched, inflamed. Over a week had passed since he’d been allowed to open to that energy center, that source of pain and power, and like a neglected child, it sat there and wept and begged to be noticed. But they had their orders: no magic. Not until the enemy army arrived.

They needed that tenuous element of surprise.

“We need to hurry,” he said. “They’re going to smell the blood.” He turned to Michael. “And if that happens, it’s all on your head.”

Had they met before the Resurrection, Michael probably would have shoved Tenn’s head into the school toilet just for making eye contact. The guy was a nineteen-year-old tank, with broad shoulders and short brown hair and tattoos from eye to shin. His face was a plane of white scars and black ink. Tenn, on the other hand, was tall and lithe—years of using Water had crafted him a swimmer’s build rather than the hulking muscle granted by Earth. He hadn’t been at all athletic before being attuned. He’d been a nerd at best, and Michael was clearly used to being respected.

But now, when Tenn spoke, Michael didn’t refute. To Michael, at least, Tenn was a superior. The Resurrection had changed almost everything for the worse; this little leveling of the playing field was about the only perk.

Together, they dragged the deer toward the highway. Tenn kept his eyes trained on the fields. He didn’t want to see the way the deer’s head lolled to one side, its tongue curled out and its eyes wide with static fear.

“We should be okay,” Michael said, his voice cutting through the rain like rumbling thunder. “I mean, rain dilutes blood, right? And there’s no way anything could hear it through the storm.”

“Just shut up and keep your eyes open,” Katherine replied.

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