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!

The woman who stepped out of the cell Liupold opened was tall, lithe, and buxom, with black hair falling to her knees in a thick braid. She wore snug trousers and a swordfighter’s tunic, tied at the sleeves and waist, and if it weren’t for the hay clinging to hair and clothes, the smears of dirt on her face, and some new-looking tears in her clothes Einarr would not have believed her to be so recently a captive. She didn’t even have dark circles under her eyes!

“My lady,” Liupold intoned with a bow. “Let me present the Cursebreaker, Einarr son of Stigander of the longship Vidofnir; Eydri, a Singer of his acquaintance and no small skill; Naudrek, his man-at-arms; and Hrug, a sorcerer trained in the use of runes. Lord Einarr, this is her Imperial Highness, the fourth Princess Beatrix Maria Gundahar.”

Einarr had never met an Imperial princess before, although he had met a landed Thane or two in his time on the Vidofnir. He bowed, much as he would have for one of their offspring. Eydri curtsied. Naudrek bowed deeply enough to hide the blush Einarr glimpsed on his cheek, even as Hrug took a knee.

The princess gave a dismissive upward motion, which Einarr chose to interpret as haste to be out of here – a sentiment which he shared. “We can worry about formal introductions later. First we need to… was one of your men a Painter?”

The princess had noticed the charred corpse of her jailer, and she stared at it as though trying to divine who he had been before.

“No, my lady. I have received something of an education, today: runes are good for more than fortune-telling.”

“But useless in combat,” Einarr cut him off. The last thing he needed was the Empire trying to figure out a way to use rune magic in battle. It could be done, of course, given sufficient rune sorcerers with sufficient runestones, but that was not a discussion he intended to have with any Conehead, let alone one of their royals. “We should go, before that kraken can get reinforcements down her to replace its pet dog.”

She nodded. “Quite right. Have you found my things?”

Liupold shook his head. “Haven’t yet looked.”

“Well then, let’s get to it! Father will be quite cross if he has to fit me for armor again, and the spear is an heirloom.”

It took far longer than anyone among their party liked to find the princess’ – Bea’s, she finally directed them to call her – breastplate and spear. By the time Bea had asked (instructed) Eydri to help her put it on, they could all hear the sounds of the kraken’s flesh-puppets shambling above. It was only a matter of time before they found their way down.

“What can the runes do?” Liupold asked. “Can they get us out? Or even just destroy the flesh-puppets, like your little lightning setup did for the jailer?”

Einarr and Hrug shared a look. Einarr envied the other man a little for not having to explain this. “Rune magic is fundamentally an act of will. The greater the change, the larger the expenditure of will. We could probably catch several of them on fire – but not enough. And there’s no way we have enough arrows and javelins to fend them all off down here.”

“No, I suppose we don’t.”

“Is there a place we could get more? Bows, arrows, javelins, I mean.”

“Yes, there will be an armory. I think I even know where.”

“Good. Then what Hrug and I can probably do is lay runes to keep them away from the staircase long enough for us to get past them. Then all we have to do is evade the flesh-puppets long enough to reach the armory – or the exit, either one. Now that we’ve got the Princess out, there’s no reason not to burn the island, right?”

Bea answered for him when he hesitated. “None.”

“Wonderful. In that case, I have a slight preference for racing back across the island for the ship, but I will leave that to your discretion. In the meantime, Hrug, we have some runes to lay.”

While it did require some syntax, this was one of the easiest and earliest ‘spells’ Elder Melja had taught them. In the village, they used it to keep pests away from their crops. The Elder had always been cagey about whether or not it was also used to keep humans away from the village. Whether or not that was the case, it should be more than sufficient to keep the kraken’s victims from descending on their heads. While they worked, Naudrek and the oarsmen took up positions to either side of the stair, weapons ready.

After what felt like another eternity, Eydri finished buckling on Bea’s breastplate and had it adjusted to her satisfaction. Bea grabbed up her fancy metal-plated spear.

“Are we ready? I feel like the puppeteer has started to notice something amiss.”

Bea, much to Einarr’s surprise, was self-aware enough to apologize for the delay. “Let’s go,” she added, gesturing for Liupold to lead the way.

Up the stairs they raced. Those who had bows had them limbered and arrows nocked as a precaution. Those who did not prayed for room to throw a javelin should the need arise.

The flesh-puppets milled about on the floor above – none of them in the straight line leading up away from the stairs, and most of them not seeming to even realize there was a gap there. Liupold dashed down the hallway and across that intersection like a shot, the rest of the group hard on his heels.

The group of intruders had made it past three more intersections and around a bend before the kraken realized what was going on. Then there was a dull groaning from its puppets as they shambled off after their prey, as rapidly as their rotting legs could carry them.

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