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The relevant part of the Rune Knight's Fire Rune reads as follows:

When you hit a creature with an attack using a weapon, you can invoke the rune to summon fiery shackles: the target takes an extra 2d6 fire damage, and it must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be restrained for 1 minute. While restrained by the shackles, the target takes 2d6 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, banishing the shackles on a success.

I understand that effects that affect weapons don't affect unarmed strikes, and that unarmed strikes do count as melee weapon attacks - but this is a different wording than either of those, a wording that doesn't appear prior to Tasha's as far as I can tell, and it seems plausible to me that it is written to include any attack other than a spell attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW Sneak Attack does use the phrasing "The Attack must use a Finesse or a ranged weapon." But unarmed strikes are neither Finesse nor ranged. There are other similar features, though they seem to mostly have restrictions on the kind of weapon (such as Finesse, Heavy, or ranged) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10 '21 at 4:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this question about Improved Divine Smite answer yours? The answers there establish that unarmed strikes do not count as "an attack with a melee weapon" \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10 '21 at 4:34
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I think you're already using the most recent text and familiar with the rulings involved here, but because there was an errata that pretty seriously altered how the system treats Unarmed Strikes, I'll reproduce the the latest version here:

Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes.

And the Sage Advice Compendium contains an important note relevant to this discussion:

What does “melee weapon attack” mean: a melee attack with a weapon or an attack with a melee weapon?

It means a melee attack with a weapon. Similarly, “ranged weapon attack” means a ranged attack with a weapon. Some attacks count as a melee or ranged weapon attack even if a weapon isn’t involved, as specified in the text of those attacks. For example, an unarmed strike counts as a melee weapon attack, even though the attacker’s body isn’t considered a weapon.

Here’s a bit of wording minutia: we would write “melee-weapon attack” (with a hyphen) if we meant an attack with a melee weapon.

So, to your question:

The distinction between "weapon attack" and "attack with a weapon" (or "attack using a weapon" in this case, which is completely synonymous) is a rather fine distinction of language that isn't always used logically -- especially within the Player's Handbook itself, where the errata'd rules for Unarmed Strike had some potentially unintended side-effects.

For example, technically speaking, enlarge/reduce does not change the damage dealt by unarmed strikes, which makes no logical sense, and according to Sage Advice, a half-orc's Savage Attacker doesn't make your unarmed crits hit harder because your fists don't have 'weapon damage dice' even when you have an ability that makes your unarmed strike deal damage dice.

So by the rules as written in the errata, you can't use the Fire Rune with unarmed strikes: hitting with your fists is specifically not hitting with a melee weapon, though it is a "melee weapon attack".

However, I'm not sure that was actually intentional. While you do have to inscribe the rune on an object, it doesn't have to be inscribed on a weapon in order to use the flaming shackles effect, and there seems to be no balance or flavor reason that you'd need to be hitting somebody with an actual weapon to activate a rune on a shield or headband or something. If your DM wants to allow you to use a Fire Rune with your fists, there probably is no real harm to it. A lot of rules about what can or can't be done without a weapon are more for flavor than balance, and altering the flavor of you class abilities is something you should always feel free to discuss with the person running your game.

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