The thief’s fiery sword, flaming no longer, fell to the floor with a clatter as the man backed towards the cellar ladder. The man’s eyes were wide, and it was like he couldn’t tell what was most horrifying.

Einarr, though, was too stunned to pursue. Sinmora still shone with the magic it had stolen… from… the wards!

Einarr spun on his heel even as the thief screamed. A red blur whipped past Einarr to the sound of feet racing up the rungs of the ladder. The glow of runes from within the vault was gone. The cellar was now lit only by the icy cold light emanating from Sinmora. The vault was empty.

Einarr now raced up the ladder, Sinmora’s hilt still clutched in his hand. At that moment, two thoughts warred for dominance in his head: where is the Shroud and what just happened?

At the top of the ladder Einarr stopped, trying to spot the thief. He shouldn’t have been that far ahead, but Einarr could neither see nor hear any trace of him.

Frowning, Einarr ran for the exit. He didn’t know where the thief had gone, but it didn’t much matter now. The Muspel Shroud was loose, and if even half what Melja had told him was accurate they were in trouble.

The bay was gone. Einarr had no way of knowing if it was being run into the ground or if it had fallen victim to the Shroud. He sheathed his sword and ran for the village.

Einarr arrived on the outskirts of the village, red-faced and winded, an hour later. Melja demanded, before he had caught his breath, “Did you stop him?”

Einarr shook his head. “I mean, yes, but it didn’t matter. My sword -”

He was interrupted by a long wail from his teacher. “What do you mean, it didn’t matter?”

“My sword… it’s never done anything like this before! My sword ate the wards, and then used that to put out his sword!” He drew Sinmora to show them the blade, still unnaturally cold and glowing faintly even in daylight.

“So the Shroud is free, for the first time in generations,” Melja moaned again, but then seemed to really see the blade held out before him. “What did you say?”

“Sinmora. Always before, she wasn’t magical at all. Then today, fighting that thief, it was like she sucked in all the power from the wards. It put out his sword, but…”

“But it cost us the ward.” The man sighed, then cursed. “You plainly didn’t expect your sword to start pulling power. There’s no point in casting stones. Let’s just… find the thing and lock it back down.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Einarr paused, trying to recall what all he’d been told. “Um, how was it caught the first time?”

“My great-great grandfather set a trap for it.” Melja sighed again. “But, so far as we can tell, he never told anyone how he trapped it. My grandfather said he thought something about the trap was shameful.”

Einarr grimaced. That gave him an unfortunate idea of what might have been involved. “Let’s see if we can’t come up with a cleaner method, then. Surely, as its guardians for so long, there are records of what it can do?”

Melja nodded, suddenly looking very tired. “This way.”

No-one ever saw the thief – or his horse – again. Within the village, it was assumed they fell to the Shroud.

Einarr, closeted away with the dusty scrolls of the Runemasters, quickly grew frustrated. Always before he could consult a Singer, and even if they did not know they could extrapolate. Here, it seemed that the records were all either far too precise or hopelessly vague.

By noon on the second day after the attack, he was fed up. “This is not where I belong here. I’m going to go out and look for the thing, so that hopefully once you have an answer we can just use it.”

Melja looked up from his scroll from under his brows. “That impatience will be the death of you one day, if you’re not careful.”

Einarr snorted. “But not, I think, today. I am not a scholar, Melja, and all my progress with the runes isn’t going to change that. But I am a decent hunter.”

“Suit yourself.”

With a nod of thanks, Einarr excused himself. The clean air outside refreshed his mood immediately, and the clear sky and bright sun made it hard to remember that there was an intelligent piece of cloth on the island, looking for its next prey. What in the name of all the gods am I doing with my life?

He shook his head, shaking off the wry impression that had been haunting him all summer, it seemed. The Shroud had either kept to the forest thus far, or bypassed the village that had for so long been set to watch over its prison. The port, however, was an equally poor place to try to pick up its track: too far away, and likely too large.

Luckily, the local chief maintained a hunting lodge not far from the Shrouded village that he was known to frequent, and when he was not there personally there were some few hired hands who lived there to maintain it. If anyone would have noticed something amiss, it would be a professional hunter. With a spring in his step and his good elven cloak over his shoulders, Einarr set out across the forest.

Now all that was necessary was for Melja or Mira to find something – anything – that could help them defeat the damnable thing.

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