8.21 – Under Seige

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!

“Do it.”

At Einarr’s word, Liupold and Naudrek tossed the bar out of the way and scrambled back over the makeshift palisade.

No sooner had they righted themselves, javelins in hand, than the press of bodies forced open the door to reveal a writhing mass of the kraken’s flesh-puppets.

They surged into the armory, arms and weapons flailing clumsily. Each time one was struck by arrow or javelin they crumpled to the ground, inert, only to rise again moments later. The killing field slowly filled with the bodies of the puppet master’s servants.

Eydri sang even as she drew her bow, but no illusions fell from Einarr’s eyes this time. They were not monsters wearing human skin, but tools manipulated by the monster directly. He fired another arrow: this one took its target in the eye. It did not rise again.

“The eyes!” He called across the room. “Shoot the eyes!”

The point was momentarily mooted as Hrug lit off one of his fire runes in the center of a mass of the flesh-puppets. With a whoosh like the Arkona’s sea-fire cannon a fireball engulfed them and spread. More of the flesh puppets fell and did not rise again.

It wasn’t much, but Einarr would take it. Good shooting and the occasional ball of fire would get them out of here, and then they could turn this island into an ash heap. He drew back his bow.

Another eye shot, another fallen puppet. But so long as Hrug could keep cleaning them out with the occasional fireball, they could escape this without dousing themselves in corruption.

Einarr just hoped his hand would hold out. It had been a very long time since he had done this much shooting.

Hrug was exhausted. Out of all the arrows and javelins they had started with, a bare handful remained both unshot and unburnt. Rambert had a nasty looking gash on his arm from a lucky shot by one of the flesh-pupppet’s pitchforks… but that was the worst of the damage they had taken.

The armor racks they had used as a palisade were well-nigh destroyed, of course, as was the armor they had left on the racks in question. But the flesh puppets no longer surged into the armory like a tide of hungry death and for that, at least, they could be glad. Einarr wanted little so much as to collapse onto the floor and sleep for a week. Hrug must be feeling it even more, with as much rune work as they had required of him.

Liupold groaned and levered himself back up to his feet, slowly. “We should go before the puppet master decides he wants to try us again.”

“Can everyone move?” Einarr asked as he, too, staggered to his feet.

“I think so,” Rambert answered. Eydri had bandaged the gash on his arm. Einarr hoped that meant it wasn’t bad enough to Sing over, and not that it would require specialized ointments she hadn’t brought ashore.

“Then let’s get out of here. Job’s not done yet.”

With groans and mutters, the eight of them took up the last of the ammunition and moved out of the armory and back into the halls, the fatigue all but forgotten as they jogged once more for the front entrance.

What flesh puppets remained in the hallway seemed uninterested, as though, having tried their skill, the kraken was content to leave them alone. The beast was a horror of the deeps, but did it think like an animal? Had they, in fact, asserted their dominance over it sufficiently that it would show its belly?

Einarr shook his head, chuckling to himself as they moved. What did it matter, if the black, corrupted kraken acted like a submissive dog the next time they saw it? That just made its belly easier to open.

As the front gates closed with a resounding thud behind them, Einarr felt like he could breathe a little easier. According to Naudrek, Hrug had managed to lay more pieces of the array while they were in the citadel, which meant that it should nearly be complete. How he intended to complete the array, Einarr had no idea, but that was why Hrug was Melja’s best student.

They hurried back mostly the way they had come, avoiding what few flesh-puppets they saw and detouring towards the northern coast. If the Coneheads wondered why, they did not ask, and Einarr was not inclined to explain.

Striding down one of the island’s many narrow roads, Bea hustled up beside him. “Your father – he is one of your northern lords? A… chieftan?”

Einarr smirked bitterly. “By birthright, he is a Thane, yes.”

“By birthright only? Not in actuality?”

“That is… complicated.”

Bea nodded, a small frown on her almost otherworldly face. “It would be a shame to waste a talent such as yours on a raiding ship.”

Einarr gave her a sharp look, but she wasn’t done.

“My father, I’m sure, will wish to reward those responsible for my rescue. There could be any number of powerful positions available.” She seemed to see his expression now, and the shadow of refusal in his eyes. “Just think on it. We can talk more later.” The princess Beatrix dropped back to walk with Liupold again.

Einarr shook his head and picked up the pace. What did she think she was suggesting? Easy enough, though, to turn her down when they spoke next.

Finally the burnt husk of Kettleness rose into view over the desolate fields. Nothing now stood between them and the relative safety of the Arkona save a mile or so of ocean. The eight of them hurried down the path to their waiting boat.

The boat was not all that waited them in the inlet. Leaning casually against its side stood a tall, statuesque woman with black hair even longer and more lustrous than Bea’s, wearing a gleaming golden breastplate. Beside her rested her winged helmet and spear.

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