Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!
An entire afternoon and evening, and more than one cask of beer (although only one of eisbock: it was rather heady) went into planning their expedition, but in the end the map was the only reliable information they had. For where the corrupted men might be, to where they might be keeping their captives, they had only extrapolations based on Einarr’s experience at the much more thoroughly developed fortress.
The next morning, after they had downed some water and some weak ale to banish their hangovers, they set back off in the expedition craft. Burkhart and Rambert actually volunteered to row for them. Einarr shook his head, understanding tinged with melancholy, as Liupold granted them the chance they sought.
No one spoke as they rowed away from the Arkona. What was there to say? Einarr stared forward, studying the island, trying to divine why here from currents of wind and water and the shape of the land. Eventually, he blew out his moustaches and shook his head. Elder Melja might be able to learn something that way, maybe, but Einarr was far too inexperienced.
Hrug, too, stared towards the island, although he suspected the other man’s thoughts were rather more focused on his own task. Eydri trailed her fingers in the water, apparently absentmindedly, although Einarr suspected she, too was lost in her own plans. He still wasn’t entirely happy about having her along. On the other hand, the battle fury reliably showed those who had succumbed to the corruption.
Finally the enforced stillness of the boat ride was at an end and the hull of the landing boat scraped against the sand of the inlet. The time for planning was over: now, there would only be action.
Rambert took the lead once they were on land, leading them up the well-worn trail to the burnt-out husk of Kettleness. That was actually rather impressive, especially since Einarr was not aware of any special preparations. The fire hardly seemed to spread at all from the confines of the village.
He paused. Was that impressive, or was that sinister? He had seen the results of enough raids to know it wasn’t normal. “Eydri? Tell me there’s some natural reason the fire didn’t spread.”
She shook her head, though. “If we were looking at a particularly dense, wet forest, or if the land was sodden with recent rain, maybe, but there didn’t seem to be any trouble lighting the pyre.”
And the first was obviously untrue. That’s what he’d been afraid of. “So the ground itself is tainted.”
“Do you hear that, Liupold?”
“Aye.” The man’s voice was as grim as the news. “Any idea how to purify it?”
“Not yet.” Vague ideas, of the sorts of things that usually would purify: fire, water, time. Blood was likely the cause and so could not be a cure. “We should avoid combat as much as we can.”
“Because of the black blood?”
“…Yes.” Einarr didn’t know that uncorrupted blood would feed the blackness, but based on what he saw when he rescued Runa… “And because I can only see two reasons they would want captives. Turning them, or as sacrifices.”
A shudder rippled through his companions. Good: they should have some idea, at least, of the horror they were about to put themselves through.
Rambert stopped at the interior edge of Kettleness. Behind them, everything that remained was black with char, and piles of ash littered the ground where the wind had blown them. Ahead of them, what had once been farmland stood, empty of animals and wild.
“What are you waiting for?” Liupold demanded.
“Sorry sir. It’s just, well… look.”
Liupold furrowed his brow and was just about to order his man forward when Einarr spotted what he had seen.
A faint shimmer hung in the air ahead of them – not white or gold, as he would expect of a mirage, but purple like a bruise and gray like the smoke from burning tar. He frowned, focusing on it: what would happen if one of them just walked into that?
A faint rasp sounded as he drew Sinmora from her sheath.
“What are you doing?”
“Dealing with the problem.” Einarr focused his will and Sinmora began to thrum in the familiar way. He had practiced, over the winter, but this would be a little different. I really hope you can just destroy this magic…
When the thrum felt right, he raised his sword overhead and cut down as though he were fighting a man. The shimmering dissipated and a whirling darkness moved over Sinmora’s blade.
Einarr swallowed hard: his throat felt thick. But, in the end, the darkness found no purchase on Sinmora’s blade and the metal returned to its usual color. He let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.
Liupold blinked. “What just happened?”
At almost the same moment, Burkhart exclaimed “That was amazing!”
In his relief, Einarr found a smile. “Good eye, Rambert.”
The oarsman grinned, perhaps also overly impressed by the sword’s performance.
Einarr sheathed his blade again. “You have no idea how surprised I was the first time this sword did that.”
The three who had joined him on Eskiborg nodded agreement. The Arkonites all looked at him expectantly, and Einarr sighed.
“I don’t know why, and I don’t really understand how, but under the right circumstances Sinmora eats magic.”
Rambert and Burkhart looked even more impressed, for some reason. Liupold, though, drew down his brows. “And there was some sort of magic hanging in the air ahead of us? Is it really all right that your sword ate magic from this island?”
“It seems to be. Wouldn’t want to test it too often, though.” All he was basing that on was the way the blade refused to change color, though, and he didn’t really want to try explaining that to Liupold. “We should get moving. The longer we tarry, the worse it is for the captives.”
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