When two bullies chase Hanna through the woods, she stumbles into a clearing. Large stone cubes covered with runes rise up from the ground, and Hanna is given a mysterious weapon. With it comes an invitation to a glorious adventure.
The bullies are going to do everything they can to take it from her. With five against one, she doesn’t stand much of a chance all alone in the woods. Now, Hanna has a major life-changing decision to make.
A clean, short read of approximately 5,400 words that teens and adults can enjoy in a single sitting. It doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, although if you enjoy reading Hanna’s story and like the idea of where it might lead, let me know.
There are a lot of fun ideas to work with and we could have a lot of fun with the characters and plot.
Start Reading Chapter 1 – Escape Attempt >>>
P.s. Here’s a playlist of fantasy songs for you to listen to while you read Rune Cubes. Enjoy!
“This really stinks! I’ve been running from those stupid lump heads almost all day. Just when I think I’ve shaken them, those bullies seem to pick up my trail again.” Hanna muttered to herself as she panted through the thick underbrush.
She was lost. Well, not completely lost. Hanna knew the general direction she needed to go to get home. But this was a lot farther than she normally wandered from her home when she was out gathering herbs for her mother. She had hidden her basket to run faster, and so those crazy boys wouldn’t scatter them around.
Hanna wiped her long, orange hair from her eyes. It had come loose in her run and she didn’t have time to tie them back at the moment. Suddenly, she ran into a clearing. The girl stopped abruptly and looked around to see where she could hide or which way to run. She listened intently for the sound of crashing underbrush that would tell her how close her pursuers were and which way they would come from.
The only sounds she heard, though, were those of the wind blowing through the leaves above her head and a few birds in the distance. The clearing stretched out before her, and the trees seemed to end. She had heard stories of the edge of the clearing and the dangers that lay beyond. But she had never come this far on her own.
A twinge of fear made her cautious and nervous, but a sense of wonder and curiosity drove her forward. Hanna wanted to see what was out there. All she had ever known was Binklaustur. This small patch of land she called home. It was sheltered between the Forest of Kirkhammur on one side and the snow capped mountains of Eyjaskullfall on the other.
She had grown up hearing fantastic tales of magic and might beyond those borders, but no one that she knew had ever ventured beyond those borders. Most of the adults she knew were terrified of what lay beyond. All except old Friorik, but everyone said he was crazy. So Hanna didn’t know if he really counted. But if they didn’t dare go out there, what hope did she have of surviving?
Still, her curiosity got the better of her, and Hanna wanted to take a peek. So she continued walking forward. Careful to listen for the sounds of the other kids pursuing her from behind. She also listened for any strange sounds that might foreshadow danger from ahead.
As she moved farther across the clearing, she realized that the opening ahead was nothing but an illusion. It was simply a small slope that made it look like the trees had disappeared. Her excitement turned to disappointment as she realized that this wasn’t the edge of the forest at all.
But as she shuffled forward, Hanna heard the sound of rumbling under her feet. Then a loud hissing at her feet. She leaped backward as several large cubes floated up from the ground before her.
Hanna stumbled backward, trying to put as much distance between her and the rectangular stones rising up into the air. Each glowed with one or more symbols carved into its side. The soft orange lines shone brightly even in the daylight. The young girl didn’t know what the runes meant, but they seemed familiar.
Her mother used runes around the house when she was working. She had taught them to Hanna over the years, but these weren’t the same symbols. One looked like it could possibly mean danger. Another might have said protection. But other than that, Hanna had no clue what they meant.
Who had put them here? What did they represent?
Hanna took another step backward and walked from one side to the other. She still kept an ear out for the sound of her tormentors behind her, but all she heard was the wind. Even the birds seemed to have fallen silent. A strange earthy scent wafted toward her in the breeze from the direction of the floating stones.
As the highest stone seemed to reach its zenith, the runes glowed brightly, and a faint humming ground through her. Hanna clenched her teeth together and could feel them vibrating. It grew stronger in her core, just below her ribs in the center of her belly.
She took another step back, but realized that something seemed to materialize in the air between the rune cubes. At first, it seemed to be only a long bit of hazy, silvery mist gathering before her.
The mist began to solidify and darken. Thinner at the top. Then widening a short way down, it seemed to remain the same width for a while until finally, widening even more at the very bottom. Hanna could make out the faint glow of runes running horizontally down the center. It almost looked like the blade of a sword.
Hanna was familiar with the weapon. Her father was a warrior. He had even taught her some basic techniques. She didn’t seem to take well to the blade, as her three brothers had. Even her sister handled the blade well. Baldur always told her it was important that she learn how to defend herself.
Her face burned slightly as she reflected on the memory of his words. As if somehow, he had known that Hanna would be chased around the woods by bigger, meaner bullies like the Jokull and Jakob, the Bragi brothers. Hanna wished she had listened to him back then and paid more attention to his lessons.
Baldur said that Hanna had developed her footwork and defensive techniques well. Yet he found her lacking in her offensive maneuvers. He finally let her drop her training with him so she could follow her mother around the woods. She always stayed close to Ingum, so no one ever bothered her like they did now.
But after her mother’s accident several months earlier, Ingum had been restricted in her movements. She had improved and could walk again, but only for a short distance. That meant that Hanna had to collect the herbs and plants that her mother needed around the house.
When the Bragi brothers found Hanna alone in the woods, they made life miserable for her. They were younger than her, but physically, they were bigger and stronger. But almost everyone her age was, since Hanna had always been small and slim for her age. She had been born premature and her parents hadn’t thought she would survive.
They almost gave up on her and left her in the woods so they wouldn’t hear her cries. But Friorik had found her and taken her back to them. They said he growled and muttered at them when they tried to push her away. So they fed her and kept her around, even though they didn’t expect her to make it.
Friorik had sat outside their house for days to make sure they didn’t abandon her again. He came in several times a day to check on her and confirm that they were feeding her. At first, Baldur was upset about it, but relented. Eventually, he was pleased the child lived.
It had horrified Hanna to hear the story for the first time and realize how close she had come to dying, but that was the way it was among her people. So, she never gave it much thought, even when her parents brought it up. Usually, it was an excuse to cover for her weakness or failures. Other times it was to gloat over some small victory and brag about how far she had come.
Jakob and Jokull found Hanna alone in the woods and made life miserable for her. The poor girl’s parents shrugged it off as if it was part of the burden of having a child born so small and weak. Sometimes, her brothers would go along with her, when Hanna’s father could spare them from other work. But as usual, Hanna had to sneak around in the woods alone as she searched for the items on her mother’s list.
Her older sister never went along, though. Elisabet was engaged to the shopkeeper’s son, so she spent her days working in the store. Which meant that once again, poor Hanna was alone in the woods, trying to lie low. The Bragi brothers weren’t the only ones who made life difficult, but they were generally the ones who instigated those who picked on Hanna.
The sight of the half-formed sword triggered these memories and thoughts, causing a swirl of emotion within her. If she had her own sword to defend herself from these tyrants who made her life miserable, Hanna might stand a chance against them. Not that she wanted to kill them. Even so, having a weapon of her own would make them respect her like people did her father.
Hanna watched as the shape before her continued to solidify and take shape in front of her. It was definitely a sword. The blade was there. All the way down to the hilt. However, there was no handle for her to reach out and grab.
The blade continued to spin horizontally before her. The letters down the center glowed brighter than ever. Inviting her to reach out and take it. Hanna felt like the sword was offering itself to her. Urging her to own it.
She reached out a trembling finger to touch it. Careful to brush her fingers down the flat section of the weapon between the edge of the blade and the glowing letters. The spin made it difficult. She kept jerking her fingers back after each tentative stroke of her finger.
Hanna wanted to touch the runes, to sense if they felt hot or not, but she knew better. Ingum had taught her that the letters carried power of their own. It could be dangerous to touch a run without knowing its meaning or purpose.
The girl let her hand trail farther down the blade until she reached the hilt. As her fingers slipped down past it, she could feel the handle, even though she couldn’t see anything. The blade stopped spinning and connected with her palm. Hanna felt a shock shoot through her body into the ground and a wave of numbness flood through her arms and legs.
The runes flickered on the floating cubes before her. The air seemed to sizzle and hiss. Hanna’s ears popped as the dark sword came out of the air and fell to the side. Instinctively, she pulled it back up toward her for a better look. Hanna could see the handle now in her hand.
It felt connected to her. Part of her. As if somehow it was an extension of her body. It was a strange sensation, yet at the same time felt natural, as if it had been made for her.
Hanna stood there, breathing heavily. The echoes of a silent blast continued to reverberate through her body. She could feel the rise and fall of the same silent hum in her bones as it matched the slow flickering of the light from the runes. It almost felt as if they had connected to her pulse and her breathing. The runes got brighter with each inhalation, and then dimmed slowly when she breathed out. At the same time, it felt as if each beat of her heart caused the runes to brighten for a brief instant.
She felt as if the sword connected her to the floating runes. Hanna tried to let go of the sword to see what happened, but she was unable to unwrap her fingers from the handle. It spooked her, and she shook her hand to get rid of the sword. It remained stuck in her palm.
Panic flooded through Hanna’s mind and body as she tried to pry her fingers open with the help of her other hand. But the buzz shooting through her body only intensified the more she tried to get rid of it. She finally paused to catch her breath and stood there, panting. The buzzing seemed to diminish and slow down.
Another misty figure began to take shape before her. It was much bigger than the sword. Hanna backed away. There was no way she was going to touch this thing. If she got stuck to it, movement might be impossible. But she continued to watch it carefully.
The form grew larger until it was almost the size of her father. Perhaps even a little larger. It stood tall and dark, with a hood over its head. Hanna heard the sound of whispering around her. Soft at first, but steadily growing louder as the figure standing there began to solidify.
“Welcome, young man. You alone have been chosen from among your people to carry Swift Saber, The Mystery of the Empty Void. As you prepare to set out on the adventure of a lifetime, know that victory is not guaranteed. Many before you have tried and failed. Actually, come to think of it, all of them have failed, because, well, frankly, none have succeeded. But fear not. Great adventure lies before you as you set out across the land to defeat the Two-Faced Titan. You will face grave danger. If you are successful, however, you shall reap glorious rewards. Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to head north till you come to Akstrond. There you must present yourself at the gates as the Bearer of Swift Saber and Defender of Akstrond. Then you will receive further instruction.”
Hanna’s head spun as she tried to shake the saber loose. She had given up trying to pry it loose with her free hand. So, she held onto her wrist while trying to force her fingers to loosen their grip on the handle.
“No, I don’t accept this mission,” she cried out. “And I’m not a young man. I’m just a girl. Let me go.”
“We found her,” Hanna overheard one of the Bragi brothers shout. “I think she’s over this way.”
She groaned in frustration and scanned the area for a place to hide as the crashing in the underbrush grew louder. Hanna scampered toward a bit of growth to her right, but she knew it wasn’t thick enough to hide her completely.
Fortunately, the hooded figure in the center of the clearing took all of their attention. Both Jakob and his brother stood there in awe, surrounded by three other boys.
“What is that?” Jakob asked in a quiet voice.
He took a few steps forward, closer into the clearing. The other boys crowded in behind him.
“Who are you?” Jakob asked with a trembling voice, even though he tried to hide it.
The hooded figure turned its head slowly in the boy’s direction from where it had been watching Hanna.
“I am the guardian of Swift Saber. It is best if you leave this clearing before you get hurt. The bearer has already been chosen,” it said in a menacing voice.
“That’s not fair,” Jakob whined in his typical, bratty voice that was used to having his way. “I should be the bearer. I am strong and courageous. Make me the bearer of this Swift Saber.”
The boy paused and looked around the clearing. His eyes lit up when he saw Hanna crouched in the bushes. A wicked grin split his face. Hanna sighed. She knew the boys wouldn’t harm her physically, but they did everything they could to make her life miserable.
Hanna wished she were strong enough to defend herself. More than that, she wished her parents would protect her from these bullies. But there were old traditions. The strong were allowed to push the weaker ones around. Somehow, they thought it would toughen up those who were weak and frail, but Hanna knew better. It was just some dumb rule made up by those who were stronger and tougher to get what they wanted from everyone else.
For once, she wished she had paid more attention to her father’s sword lessons. She envied her brothers, who were outperforming manual labor that would strengthen them. Following her mother and collecting herbs had done little to strengthen her slim, frail body.
Jakob reached down and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. His sweaty palm slipped on her collar and he jammed his hand down harder, grabbing a bunch of hair to make sure she complied. His eyes widened when he saw the saber in her hand. Another wicked grin split his face.
“Give me the sword,” he demanded, holding out his hand.
Hanna meekly reached out the hand holding the saber. She didn’t mind letting him have it. The saber was pretty and glowed, but she had little use for it other than that.
“I wouldn’t recommend you touch that,” the tall, dark man said quietly. “The bearer has been chosen. It is theirs until they complete the adventure. Or they die.”
Jakob glared at the hooded man defiantly before reaching out to grab the saber. He grabbed Swift Saber about halfway down the blade and immediately leaped back with a howl as if he had been seared with extreme heat. Jakob shook his hand and ran around in a small circle before falling to his knees.
“What did you do, you stupid runt!” he screamed at her when he finally looked up.
He held his hand in pain as he stood to his feet. “I’m going to teach you not to mess with someone like me. I’m gonna burn your face off with that thing.”
Hanna took a step back, but continued to hold the saber out toward him. She realized she should probably use the weapon to defend herself against him. But that might actually make things worse, and she did want to be rid of the sticky thing.
Jakob strode forward till he was in her face. Then he twisted his body, so she was behind him. The boy threw his arm over hers to take possession of the saber.
“As I said,” the hooded man said once again. “I really wouldn’t recommend you do that.”
His words only made the stubborn boy even more defiant as Jakob wrapped his hands around Hanna’s on the handle to avoid touching the burning blade. He gave a hard tug up. But of course, the saber was still glued to Hanna’s hand. Jakob’s hand slipped up to the hilt, where he yelped in pain when it got close to the blade again.
He must have jerked away faster because the boy didn’t seem to be in as much pain as previously. Jakob swiveled back and grabbed the handle below Hanna’s fist firmly with one hand. Then the boy slid a few fingers just above the top of her fist so that he wasn’t touching the hilt of the saber.
This time, instead of trying to pull the weapon up out of her hand, Jakob pulled the saber toward him. And, of course, he could not yank it free. The other boys quickly gathered around him, as if to help him. Jakob strained to tear the saber from Hanna. Several of the other boys reached around him to pull on his arms. His brother even wrapped their arms around Jakob’s chest to get a solid grip on him and help pull.
Unfortunately for one of Jakob’s friends, his hand slipped from someone’s sweaty arm. His hand slid up to the blade, where he singed his palms and forearm. He hopped off, hollering and jumping around, shaking his hands.
Hanna did everything to let go. She strained against them, but they weren’t strong enough to pull it from her. One by one they let go. Finally, it was just Jakob and his brother pulling on Hanna. Jakob lost his grip on the handle of the saber and both boys went flying backward onto the ground.
Jokull rolled out from under his brother and ran at Hanna. He rolled his shoulder down and hit her in the midsection. She pulled back, but didn’t have time to dodge or duck. She took a direct hit. It forced her back a step, but that was the extent of her damage. Jokull grunted and looked at her in surprise while he rubbed his sore shoulder.
Then he came in for another attack. He wrapped his arms around her midsection and tried to shove her back to the ground. But she stood solidly in place. Jokull grunted as he pushed and pulled to rock Hanna off her feet.
The boy stood up, panting. He brushed his hands off on his shirt and then moved around her with his fists up as if he were going to punch her. She pointed the saber in the direction of his throat and pushed the tip closer to him. Jokull flinched away from the blade, but continued to circle her. Finally, he threw his arms down and sighed in frustration.
He and Jakob looked at each other. Then, as if on cue, they both charged Hanna from opposite sides. They pushed and strained, but Hanna just stood there. To her, it felt as if they weren’t applying any pressure at all. She quickly tired of them standing with their arms wrapped around her, so she placed the saber lightly on the backs of their necks. The brothers screamed at the searing pain and let go of her immediately.
Hanna looked over at the hooded man, who continued to watch her. She seemed to sense the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips. She started to ask him a question, but before she could get it out of her mouth, Jokull charged the hooded man. He swirled his cloak and lifted them up into the air.
Jokull charged straight through him as if the man were air. He ran straight into the center of the rune cubes. And that’s where everything went wrong. Even though Hanna couldn’t see anything between the stones, Jokull’s body crumpled.
Read Chapter 7 – Ixa >>>
It looked as if he had run straight into a brick wall. Hanna caught a glimpse of soft blue light emanating from the rune cubes when he slammed into whatever was there. She noticed that both the runes on the stones and the saber flashed blue as well.
Jakob screamed at the hooded man as he moved forward to grab his brother’s feet. He yelled for Jokull to get up as he smacked his brother’s face. Jokull lay on the ground, unmoving. His friends gathered around nervously while keeping a wary eye on the ghost man to the side.
After several tense minutes as Jakob pleaded with his brother to wake up, Jokull finally groaned and opened his eyes. The boys all breathed a collective sigh of relief when Jokull struggled to sit up. Hanna couldn’t see any blood, as if he had cracked his head open. Nevertheless, he looked like he had taken a good blow to the skull.
He stood shakily to his feet and grunted when he straightened to his full height. He seemed to breathe shallowly and quickly, as if it were hard for him to gulp down air. Jokull looked around with a blank stare, as if the blow still stunned him. He took a wobbly step forward, and Jakob had to catch him to keep him from falling.
“He’ll be fine,” the ghostly, hooded man said with a light chuckle. “He’s just been stunned from a nice shock to his unprotected core. Take him home and let him rest for a day or two. He’ll be as good as new. Give him a little Thyrorolac Cutiterol. If you don’t have any in these parts, just have his mother make him some Imperial Toothward Tea.”
Jakob glowered at him and said, “You just wait till we get back here with my father. Then you’ll see what’s good for you.”
The hooded man cringed back and shook. He really looked frightened. “Oh! Scary. Daddy’s coming,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t worry, child. I’ll be long gone before you come back with your daddy. Just remember that I did warn you not to mess around with the Bearer of the Saber. As they absorb the saber’s power, he will only become more and more powerful to complete his mission.”
“The Bearer of the Saber is a girl,” Jakob growled. Then he turned to glare at Hanna. “Better watch your back. I’m gonna get you later.”
The boys turned to leave and helped Jokull hobble slowly back into the woods. The hooded man sighed and turned to look at Hanna.
“Hm! Yes, I guess the boy was right. You are a girl. First time that’s ever happened. Strange. I wonder what’s going to happen now. I’ve never had a female bear the saber. It’s always been a male, and generally an adult male at that. You must be what? Twelve years old?”
Hanna scowled and pulled herself up to her full height. “I’m fifteen. And how do I let go of this sword?”
“It’s not a sword, little lady,” the hooded man sighed. “It’s a saber. And there’s really nothing you can do till your body finishes absorbing its power.”
The man floated over toward her and patted her on the head with a gentle smile.
“So, why don’t you sit down here for a minute until the Swift Saber processes you. You can ask me any questions that you have and tell me a bit about yourself while you’re at it.”
Hanna glared at him for a second. Then realized there wasn’t much she could do for now, so she let out a long sigh. The girl sat down in the grass cross-legged. The large, hooded man sat down in front of her with an enormous smile, as if waiting for her to say something first.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
It was the first thing that popped into her head.
“Oh, yes. An excellent question indeed. I suppose you’ll need to know that to call on me now that we are attached through the weapon. Forgive my manners. It has been a long time indeed since someone wielded Swift Saber.”
He paused as if lost in thought.
“Well, the first man who bore the saber called me Ixahasbatherishards. Loosely translated, it means something like The Crazy Dude With The Dark Grey Cloak. So, I suppose you could just call me Ixa if you like. Each Bearer of Swift Saber called me some variation of that in their own mother tongue. You could call me whatever you want. Just let me know what suits you. Or what you think suits me best. I can insert that in my system so that I know you are referring to me. What would you like to call me?”
The girl shrugged and said, “Ixa is fine. Although as soon as this sword comes out of my hand, I’m leaving it here and going home. You’ll have to find someone else to bear it for you. A man, I guess.”
A strange look flickered across his face when she said the word sword. Ixa started to correct her, but then grinned.
“It’s a saber, but you’re just calling it a sword to spite me. You won’t get off that easily. Sorry, my dear. There isn’t anything that says you can’t be the bearer just because you aren’t a man. Although you are a lady, that doesn’t exempt you from completing the mission. It’s yours till death do you part.”
Hanna sat there pensively for a few seconds as she pondered his words thoughtfully. She was good at thinking before she spoke. Her mother constantly reminded her to weigh her words carefully, for she said something. That was probably just because Hanna had a sharp tongue. She often said things she later regretted. But her mother’s constant reminder had ingrained positive habits over the years.
She still felt the strange buzz of the saber thing vibrating deep in her bones. Hanna felt a strange sense of mental focus and physical strength greater than ever before. It wasn’t a bad feeling. She actually enjoyed it.
“So, let’s say I do leave and go on this adventure, as you call it, what happens when I reach the city of Akstrond.”
Ixa immediately leaped to his feet and clapped his hands excitedly. “Oh, I can’t tell you that. The mystery is part of the adventure. You will only be told that when you arrive at the city gates with the sword in your hands.”
Although, the word feet was used loosely as he jumped around, because Hanna noticed that the strange, ghostly man didn’t have any. She definitely wanted to run home and leave him behind as soon as possible.
“Well, I don’t want to throw a bucket of cold water on your plans, Ixa. But I’m too young to go off on my own. My parents will never let me leave.”
She shrugged and tried to look sad. Hoping he would accept her excuse and give up in defeat. Hanna felt the saber loosen in her hand. She could wiggle the tips of her fingers. Then she felt the middle of her fingers began to loosen. And finally, her fingers all wiggled freely.
The saber almost dropped to the ground, but she managed to hang on to it. She leaped excitedly to her feet as well. Only for a different reason. She lunged forward around the hopping, hooded Ixa and threw the saber through the rune cubes. It disappeared.
Hanna stood there for a few seconds in shock. She hadn’t actually expected it to fade away like that. She had half-expected it to bounce back onto the ground or worse yet, land back in her hand. The girl spun toward Ixa to see how he would react. He looked disappointed, almost sad even. But he didn’t yell at her or try to stop her as she backed away to run home.
Ixa sighed heavily. Then raised his hand to wave at her when she glanced back.
“It’s for the best,” Hanna yelled back at him. “If no one else survived the adventure before, I’m sure I wouldn’t either. It’s better you find someone else who has a higher chance of success.”
Hanna turned back to the woods as she shouted these last words. Still walking quickly to get away from Ixa before he changed his mind and chased her down. Somewhere between a step and a twist, her foot caught on a gnarled root. Hanna spun down, face first, into the leaves and twigs.
She came up gasping for air while spluttering dirt and foliage from her mouth with half a mushroom still stuck onto the bridge of her nose. She brushed it away and glanced back at Ixa. For a moment, she thought it might be his influence to keep her from fleeing.
The figure still stood there silently. She couldn’t see his face under the dark hood. Hanna also noticed that the rune cubes were no longer behind him. They must have slipped back down to where they came from.
Hanna kept walking. Still glancing over her shoulder every few steps. Then she looked back again, and he was gone. She paused for a moment. Disappointment flooded through her. For a brief instant, Hanna had almost hoped that he would come after her. Forcing her to head off on this adventure. She could have had an excuse for her parents if they chased her down.
She shook her head. Shocked at her own thoughts. Did she really want to go? Alone into the forbidden wilderness beyond the forest. Then she thought of the comfort of her home. Her soft bed. Hot food. Mother’s warm embrace.
Nah. Hanna knew she would be much better off here in Binklaustur.
“Hope you find a good man to bear your saber!” Hanna shouted back into the clearing. “You might want to try Steinn Asmundur. He would probably make a good Bearer for Swift Saber.”
Hanna blushed when she said it. He was strong and cute. She wouldn’t mind heading off on an adventure with him, though. Then she turned to run home and left the empty clearing behind.
“Goodbye, Ixa, and the best adventure I never had,” Hanna said with one last glance over her shoulder.