Beatrix lunged, taking a mighty swipe with her sword around the curve of the stair at the guards who pursued them up it. The dull thud of a blade striking home was followed by the clattering of maille dropping to the floor as the man wearing it fell. She turned her head just enough to glance over her shoulder. “Keep going! I can hold the stair.”

The Singers all exchanged worried glances. Eydri opened her mouth to protest, but Runa cut her off.

“No. She’s right. She can hold this stair by herself, probably for a good long time… although I’d be happier if we could lend support.”

“What, with that barbaric battle chant? No, thanks. Clear us a path.”

The second of the guards had made his way up to his partner’s body. A longsword swung clumsily up around the curve, as though he was having trouble with his footing. He might well be, between the blood and the bulk of the body itself. Bea swatted it handily away.


Reki gave a quick nod of acknowledgement before dashing up the stairs after her fellow Singers. Runa lingered a moment longer, meeting the other girl’s eyes, before she, too, nodded and hurried up the stairs.

Bea, meanwhile, tightened her grip on her sword, wishing she hadn’t left her spear on the Arkona even as she was glad she had. The sword, after all, had only come with her by chance. A spear would not have, and she’d have been as disarmed as the others.

Hurry, she mentally urged. If the guards below were thinking, one of them would have alerted the tower. She did not hear alarm bells, though, which suggested that had not been the case. Therefore, if the others could find them an escape…

The second guard seemed to have found his footing again. Once more his longsword flashed around the corner. This time, Bea slammed her sword down on his elbow. Subtle. She let out an exasperated sigh as the man screamed in pain. Not that she could blame him, really – but who needs alarm bells when your guards will scream to wake the dead? She took two steps forward and clubbed the back of his head with her hilt.

The other two were hard on his heels. Bea sliced at the knees of the one in front before scrambling back up the steps to just past the landing. They had seen her, which was no bad thing. Now she needed to give a little ground. So long as they still thought they could catch her themselves, they would not call for help. And if they called for help, things would get very bad, very fast.

The sound of a heavy boot on the stair behind her made her turn, her first foot on the stair after the landing, to see the first of the remaining pair rounding the bend. She took two steps up backwards, her blade held steady before her.

Urdr’s guard leered at her as he prowled forward. Amazing, the confidence he still had after seeing his friends defeated so handily. He must be discounting the advantage of the stairway because of how much trouble she’d had in his mistress’ workroom.

The man made a testing swipe at her feet. Bea raised her foot and brought it down on the flat of the blade before meeting his eyes with a savage grin.

Before he could react, she shifted all her weight to the foot that pinned his sword and kicked him in the nose, hard enough she could hear the bone snap.

Now rage burned in his eyes, even as he clapped one hand over his broken and suddenly bleeding nose. He stood there, reeling, for only a moment, but that was long enough. He wasn’t out of the fight, not by a long shot: Bea brought her sword around in a two-handed grip to take the man’s head and his hand all at once.

The body had not hit the ground before she was backing farther up the stairs, her attention already locked on the one remaining guard. This one seemed a little smarter – or at the very least, less cocksure. It amounted to the same thing.

Above, she heard a door swing shut. Good.

The sound of fighting echoed up the stairway behind them. Truth be told, Reki still hesitated to leave Bea by herself… but Runa was quite right about the stairs, and those who had seen all agreed the princess was a formidable fighter. Don’t worry. Just go.

There was no real landing at the top of the stairs, merely a door. Why there should have been a landing in the center of the flight, Reki could not guess, but now she was left standing a step below the door she had to get through, with no way of knowing what waited on the other side. She frowned.

The lower levels of this tower held the dungeon: of that, she was reasonably certain. The third floor had the Weavess’ grisly workroom: would the floor above that be storage, or a war room? She carefully rested her ear against the wood, hoping for some glimmer of answer, and heard nothing.

With a deep breath, prepared to launch the Raptor Method again if she had to, Reki pushed open the door to the next floor.

The staircase opened into a long, broad hallway, with a single door along the right hand side, and several smaller doors along the left. For the moment, she saw no people, so she stepped up onto the rugs of the hallway. Motioning behind her towards the left, Reki moved towards that single door on the right. They needed a place to regroup – briefly – before they could make another attempt on the ‘Weaving of Inevitable Victory.’ But there was no reason they shouldn’t try to learn a little more while they were at it.

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