Burned hair. Singed sleeves. Blistering skin on arms and legs and – yes – even faces. Einarr and his band rotated their way down the flaming hell of the staircase, and with every blast of flame their fatigue grew. Even Runa, much to Einarr’s shame – did not escape burns. Long before they reached a landing at the bottom, she began to Sing to maintain their stamina.
When, finally, all five of them stood on the first level ground they had come across in what felt like hours – and may have actually been – they stood for a long minute in their shell, panting and looking about the room they had come to.
It was, by all appearances, an empty room. A passage continued on some thirty feet ahead of them. The walls here, too, were carved, but where the intricate scrollwork and fanciful figures there served to conceal the nozzles of their fire traps, the carvings here were definitely martial in nature.
“Is everyone all right?” Einarr asked, knowing full well that everyone was injured, and began to lower his shield.
Thjofgrir, too, began to relax. “Well as can be expected, I think. Our shields are ruined, though.”
“Better our shields than our bodies,” Kaldr answered. His eyes still scanned the room suspiciously, and Einarr thought he saw gooseflesh on the man’s neck.
Einarr hummed in agreement. “We could all use a break,” he started to say, when a very familiar pop sounded from the opposite wall.
As one – almost – they raised their overheated, charred shields to defend against another blast. But what came their way here was not more fire.
It was javelins.
And the “almost” was Thjofgrir. His shield lagged just a heartbeat beyond the others – due to fatigue or his awkward posture or his burns, Einarr could not guess. But that heartbeat made all the difference.
Most of the javelins bounced off their shields, or even fell short. But Einarr and Naudrek both felt the heavy impact of the javelin against their shields – where it stuck. Thjofgrir cried out in pain. When Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder, he saw the big man clutching his shoulder with his sword arm. Then the man growled and brought the shield up anyway, knocking the shaft of the javelin to the side.
That was the first volley.
“Kaldr! Shield him. Naudrek – shield Runa and me. Runa, I need you to use the Healing song.” Einarr dropped his shield, the javelin still lodged fast in the wood.
Thjofgrir was already gingerly pulling at the shaft of the javelin, but not having any luck dislodging it. It didn’t take Einarr long to see why: the head of the javelin was barbed. They were angon, not mere javelins. Einarr drew his belt knife as he moved to assist and the first notes of the Song of Healing flowed over them.
That was when the second volley flew, barbed heads coming at them again from seemingly every direction.
Without thinking, Einarr turned to shield the wounded Thjofgrir with his back. He heard a curse from Naudrek, but nothing really registered beyond keeping their wounded friend alive. He brought his knife up towards Thjofgrir’s shoulder. “This is going to hurt.”
One of the angon crashed into the center of his back. The impact made him stagger, but curiously he felt no blood, and he was not impaled. The brokkrsteel. Once again, he had Jorir’s foresight to thank for his own life – but now was not the time. Without wasting another breath, he slashed across the shoulder wound with the knife, opening it up enough to extract the barbs of the angon.
Thjofgrir was going to need more than just the Song of Healing, but now that the angon was out they should be able to bandage it. It looked as though the Song was already working to stanch the flow of blood.
As quickly as he had come to aid, Einarr spun out and picked up his half-destroyed shield. It was unweildy with the javelin stuck through it, but their best hope of survival was to ignore that and fight on.
Thjofgrir still held his wound closed with his hand, but he was steadier on his feet already. They had to get out of here.
As the volley of angon finished, Einarr took a deep breath. “Run for the tunnel!”
Runa, unable to Sing and run at the same time, threw her arms about Einarr’s neck and rode on his back as they frantically tried to escape the hail of fire.
Kaldr held back, letting Naudrek move forward into the lead so that he could assist Thjofgrir – which Einarr appreciated, even as he was entirely unsurprised by it. Those two had been working together for at least a decade now.
Now that they were moving again it was a constant barrage, as though there were layers upon layers of whatever was launching these, and each one would reset itself. Einarr felt sluggish: the angon tore through Runa’s skirts, which trailed behind them like a flag, and scratched across his calf, but somehow he managed to shield both their bodies from the wicked tips. Even still, he was not that much ahead of Kaldr and Thjofgrir when he rushed through the threshold of the tunnel and stood, panting, while Runa set herself down and smoothed her skirts. She gave him a grateful smile as she continued to Sing.
Naudrek proved himself once again: as Thjofgrir and Kaldr staggered through, he thrust a long, thick cloth at Kaldr. “For the arm.”
“Be quick,” Einarr said, his breathing still coming in gasps. “The dvergr aren’t likely to have set things up to give any respite at this point.”
Kaldr did not waste any breath answering: he simply nodded his acknowledgment as he deftly tied the cloth around Thjofgrir’s shoulder. Thjofgrir tested the binding by rolling his arm – as well as the ceiling would allow – and gave his Captain a nod.
“Good.” Einarr gestured for Naudrek to lead on even as he spoke. “Runa, when you think Thjofgrir’s shoulder is put back together well enough, we could really use that other Song.”
Einarr’s legs were beginning to feel like jelly, and his arms weren’t much better, but he was plagued by the certainty that to stop now would mean death.
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