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 trick with the runes gave them a chance to get out of the dungeon, but they could only do it once. There simply wasn’t time, while dodging the flesh-puppets of a creature whose attention was only now coming to focus on them. Even if there had been time, Einarr was not at all certain it would work against the full attention of the undersea horror.

Liupold led them down corridor after corridor, more than once making a hasty turn when something shambled into their path. By the time they reached the top of the second set of stairs, each and every one of them was out of breath.

“Where to now?” Einarr asked.

With a quick glance around, Liupold pointed, but they had hardly started down that hallway when a pack of the flesh-puppets appeared ahead of them.

Three turns later, when they were once again facing the exit, it happened again.

And again.

“I think it knows where we’re trying to go,” Naudrek offered.

“I think you’re right. Well, I guess that means we have to do this the hard way.”

Liupold nodded again and took off down the corridor to their left. Whatever the puppet master had expected, this wasn’t it. Once again, the shambling horde was reduced to chasing the much-faster living humans.

It couldn’t last forever. The puppetmaster had enough eyes to see through that it was only a matter of time until he could redirect his flesh-puppets to block the way to the armory. Liupold picked up the pace, and everyone else stayed with him.

Another flight of stairs. Rambert hurled a javelin at one of the puppets that was getting a little too close behind them. Einarr could hear more closing in from the sides.

“Up there!” Liupold pointed forward at a large, heavy door just as a pair of the flesh-puppets shambled in front of it. Only two, though. Einarr and Naudrek brought up their bows, aimed, and fired. Two puppets sprouted arrows and fell forward, inert. Moments later, Liupold led them in hurdling over the bodies.

Einarr turned his shoulder to ram the door open without stopping. Naudrek, Hrug, and the oarsmen followed suit as Liupold and the women scrambled out of the way.

Already the kraken was beginning to reassert control over the fallen peasants, but the door creaked open on its hinges under the combined force of five charging warriors.

Moments later, they had all scrambled inside. With that same drawn-out creak, they shoved the door closed behind them, and then Bea dropped the heavy wooden bar with a bang.

Einarr, the first to recover his breath, took in the room with a glance. If the door could be barred, there were probably other entrances from higher up in the citadel. “Bea, Hrug, Rambert. Go check for other ways out of here. Bar them if you can.”

The princess gave him a long, appraising look but did not object.

“Burkhart, gather up all of the arrows and javelins you can find. All of them. Liupold, Naudrek, let’s see if we can’t make this room a little more defensible. I bet we can pile up some of those racks into a nice, defensible wall we can shoot through.”

Liupold, too, gave him a long look, although his seemed oddly more annoyed than Bea’s had. Still, he didn’t seem inclined to dispute the call, so while the others were making sure they had weapons and didn’t get attacked from behind, the three of them set up a wall inside the armory, outside the sweep of the door but curving around to meet the walls of the room on either side. The closest thing to a killing field they could come up with.

The flesh puppets were trying to force the door, but it seemed they could afford a moment’s rest. Einarr flopped down on the floor and began inspecting his bow. It would very shortly be seeing heavy use.

“You’re a natural at this, aren’t you,” Liupold said, sitting next to him. It wasn’t a question.

“What, taking charge?” Einarr shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that. My grandfather was Thane over the clans of Breidelstein. Father knows he never will be, not with as long as its taken us to reclaim our throne. My whole life he’s been preparing me, first for captaincy, then for thanehood.”

Liupold nodded. “He’s taught you well, but I think he had a good student. Even the princess didn’t hesitate when you took charge.”

Einarr shrugged again. “Just because she’s not likely to ever inherit doesn’t mean she’s got soup for brains. It needed to be done, and it was better if we did the grunt-work.”

“I’ll not deny it.” Liupold exhaled a deep breath and stood again. “We should get the ammunition racks set. We’re going to have to unbar that door if we ever want to get out of here.”

Einarr heaved a breath himself, then followed suit. The sooner they could bust free of this castle, the sooner they could torch the island and turn their full attention to the kraken.

Einarr was reluctantly impressed: the bar had started to crack. They all gathered around the outside of the wall, bows in hand and plenty of javelins and arrows in easy reach. Even Eydri had a bow.

Bea stood by the pulley that would raise the bar and let the flesh-puppets surge forward. Hrug had also prepared a number of fire runes as a last defense. The idea of setting the castle on fire around their ears did not appeal, but neither did the idea of a never-ending surge of flesh-puppets. The arrows that had taken down the ones in the hall, before, had not hit anything vital. That suggested to Einarr that the kraken’s control over its puppets was tenuous. But by the same token, he didn’t think reasserting control had taken much effort, either.

“Are we ready?” Bea called.

A series of affirmations came from around their perimeter. “Do it,” Einarr answered after everyone else had called in.

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