The dust cloud swiftly resolved itself into a whirlwind, and soon thereafter Einarr could make out the features of the revenant it followed.
The spirit’s gaunt face was twisted in rage. Einarr couldn’t have said how he knew that, as what little flesh remained hung from the bones in tatters. A rusty horned helmet sat on its brow, dirty white hair tossed about in the wind of the creature’s own passing.
Einarr settled into his fighting stance, ready to defend Runa. The creature did not appear to realize it could be seen – or, perhaps in its madness and hunger it did not realize any but the storyteller existed.
“Surely, the shade thought, this newcomer will know my name, for before my banishment I was famous indeed. And perhaps they will have word of my clan. And so the shade began to follow the newcomer.”
Einarr sidestepped into the path of the speeding revenant and their swords met in a scrape of metal.
The draugr snarled wordlessly, staring past Einarr at the woman who provoked it.
“Well what d’you know. The Hallkeeper was right,” Einarr said quietly, hoping to divert its attention so they could have a proper fight. “What is it about stories that drives you mad?”
The draugr did not seem to hear him.
“The shade followed that newcomer for years, until another soul was banished to the Isle, but in all that time there was no sign that anyone remembered his name,” Runa continued.
It roared again, and as it lifted its ancient blade to strike at the obstacle in its path Einarr glimpsed the remnants of gilt and empty sockets in the hilt of its sword, as though it had once been encrusted with jewels. Once again steel met steel, and Einarr grinned. “I don’t think so.”
Erik and Jorir were edging around to surround the creature while Runa’s story still kept it distracted.
“For a long time the shade would attach itself to every new face on the island, always hopeful that this time they would know who he had been.”
The draugr took a clumsy swing at the obstacle in its path, which Einarr easily evaded. In return, he sliced across the creature’s ribs.
Sinmora met no resistance.
Einarr’s eyes went wide and he cursed. If the spirit was insubstantial even when they could see it, what were they supposed to do to get rid of it?
The wailing picked up again with even greater intensity than they had heard before, and the whirlwind began to move of its own accord. Jorir ran two paces, launched himself into the air, and cut down into the whirlwind.
Einarr blinked in surprise. Based on everything he knew, that shouldn’t have done anything. And yet, the whirlwind seemed to have weakened. “How -?”
“Not now!” Jorir shouted before he could even finish the question. “Keep the body busy, I’ll handle this.”
Jorir seemed to have an idea – more, it seemed to be working – so with a mental shrug Einarr turned his full attention back to the humanoid figure.
Erik had moved to block its advance while Einarr was distracted. It was now gnashing its teeth at the big man, sword and axe locked in the clinch. Even with a blade that decayed, though, an axe haft was not likely to last long.
“Year after year,” Runa was saying. “More and more people found themselves cursed to be forgotten, and the shade listened to each one. Finally, though, hope turned to despair and despair grew into madness. Not one of these men had so much as heard of this great hero of the past, even as a cautionary tale. The shade, denied the one thing it craved, began to hate the very thing that would deliver it to him.”
Could Runa be telling the revenant’s story? How would she know it? Einarr loosed a primal yell as he slid under Erik’s arm and slashed up at the revenant. Its chest seemed to flicker where Sinmora otherwise would have cut, and then blade met solid blade again.
The wailing was beginning to hurt Einarr’s ears even through the wool roving. He did not think the creature was trying to burst his ears, though – its fixation was still on Runa, whose still sang her story.
Jorir continued to bleed strength from the wind at the creature’s back, but each such mighty blow appeared to sap strength from the dwarf as well as from the whirlwind. Einarr frowned even as he brought his blade up to block the draugr’s next clumsy swing. Something didn’t make sense here.
“Erik. Go help him. I’ve got this.”
“Aye, sir.” With surprising silence the big man slipped out from between the humanoid form of the revenant and Runa, leaving the Lady’s defense entirely to her intended.
The creature hardly seemed to care, except insofar as its path to the storyteller was still blocked. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder as it pulled back for its next half-hearted blow. Was it actually trying to force its way through, or were they the ones being distracted here?
To her credit, Runa’s voice was still strong, but the woman herself stood unsteadily in the center of the square. Her face was pale, and she continued her recitation with her eyes closed. And still the wailing built.
Einarr took a step back towards her and the revenant followed without missing a beat. Runa’s Song was meant to let them see the truth of the world around them: had this thing somehow defeated it?
No, it couldn’t be. Their fight was still obstructing the creature, he was sure, or they would all be dead by now. So then, was it the noise?
“Runa! How do we shut it up?”
She shook her head and seemed to gather her strength. After a moment, her eyes opened. “Päron the Lecher, Päron the Avaricious, Päron the Vain. Hide yourself away, lest the world remember your deeds!”
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