“We’re not going in that way,” Mornik assured them in a whisper.
“We’d have to be fools to try,” Kaldr muttered, staring up the staircase. The approach was a defender’s dream: all it lacked were enclosing walls to make it all but unassailable.
“This way.” Mornik turned back the way they came and wound them through back roads until the main entrance of the Mount was obscured by the mountain itself.
The backside of the mountain was a wide-open, rocky field. The only cover of any sort was the occasional large rock or pile of discarded stone blocks – Einarr could not guess what they had once been part of. He could not see any guards from where they stood, waiting for Mornik’s signal, but he would wager they existed – quite possibly at the perimeter, and maybe on the roof, of the temple built into the top of the mountain. And, based on what he remembered from the last time they had tangled, the sentries’ eyesight was likely to be exceptional.
“Are… you sure you can get us up this?” He asked. Mornik himself, after all, had been spotted before. Presumably on this same path they were about to attempt.
“Moderately. But if we’re to rescue the Lady and your bairn, this is the best option of a bad lot.”
Einarr hummed. But, he supposed, all they had to do was kill anyone who saw them. He rested his hand on Sinmora’s pommel and squeezed the hilt. It couldn’t be too easy, after all, or there’d be no fun at all in it. “Ready when you are.”
Runa knew it was evening only because the priest who examined her had taken to eating his dinner in front of her. As much as she would have liked more than the meager rations the damned Squiddies provided her, she had no interest in his food.
As was fitting for a creature that was no longer human… er, dvergr, rather, his meals bore very little resemblance to food – and certainly not to anything the babe was willing to eat. Even with the taste of peppermint always in her mouth, the sight of his meals turned her stomach.
A long piece of something slimy and black wriggled like a lizard’s tail as he slurped it up.
“Ugh.” That was more than enough. Maybe he was trying to get a reaction out of her, maybe not. Right at this moment, he was getting one whether he wanted it or not. “It’s rude to eat in front of a guest, you know.” Her voice was sodden with contempt.
The head Squiddie (she had no idea what other people called them, but she wasn’t going to give him the dignity of being called a priest) looked up from his bowl, surprised. “Why, my dear, you made it quite clear you didn’t care for the things I ate.”
“I don’t. The sight of it makes me nauseous. I would thank you to take your dinner elsewhere.”
“Nauseous? Is more peppermint required?”
“Most assuredly not!” She took a deep breath. “Look you. This is the second time in my life you Squiddies have put me in a cage.”
Its dvergr face twisted with anger: that was an excellent reason to keep using it, she thought.
“Only the svartalfr Squiddies more or less ignored me. So what in all the lands of Hel is it you want from me?”
“Want? What do we want from you?” The squiddie actually giggled. “You, my dear, will make an excellent vessel.”
She had to stop herself from blanching, but that wasn’t as hard as it might have been. Everything about the head squiddie irritated her. “A vessel? A vessel? I have never been so insulted.”
Instead of looking pleased by her vexation, he actually looked confused. “You should be pleased. It is not every sorceress who is chosen to become a god-vessel.”
She spat. “I come all the way to Myrkheimr, just to find that men everywhere are the same.” She was about to continue: harassing him had been netting good information. Unfortunately, that was the moment the door slammed open and one of the minor functionary Squiddies hurried in in his dvergr-suit.
“What is it?”
“Something is going on down in the town, excellency. Soggvar’s men are having trouble beating it back.”
The head squiddie (so far as she could tell) furrowed its brows. “What do you mean?”
“I mean they’re calling for the Temple Guard, and His Holiness is allowing it.”
“Ugh.” The head Squiddie set down his bowl of half-finished… whatever it was and stood to go. “You’re sure you won’t have any, my dear? It would be a shame for it to go to waste.”
She spat in his face. I was needling him… wasn’t I? Or was he needling me?
Einarr and Mornik crouched in the shadow of a rock pile, watching the movements of the patrols around the building ahead. Somehow, they had all made it across the field, apparently unnoticed. The other six were strung out in pairs, likewise taking advantage of the shadows as best they could.
The chaos in the city streets had helped with that, he thought. When they were about halfway up, a low chime had reverberated over the hill, low but unmistakable. Not too long after that, the patrols had scrambled, and afterward there seemed to be fewer of them.
Mornik said he had found a “back entrance” when he came scouting earlier – really just a secondary mine shaft that the dead shaman and the squiddies either hadn’t found or didn’t care about. After his escape earlier, however, they seemed to be watching the entrance. There were four guards patrolling this small area, and that was just the ones Einarr could see. He frowned: Even if any of them had brought a bow into the Paths of Stone (which they hadn’t – too tight) it wouldn’t have survived any better than their shields had. By the same token, he thought slinging stones was unlikely to take out one of the “squiddies” – not based on how they fought in the svartalfr compound.
A rock shifted. Einarr’s attention snapped to it – and saw Thjofgrir, looking sheepish, alongside an irritated Gheldram.
The guards heard it, too. Best use this to our advantage. As quietly as he could, he drew Sinmora and turned, pressing himself against the rocks, to face the gap between himself and Thjofgrir.
His meaning was plain: the others shifted around, so that when the guards came to investigate they would find themselves surrounded.
It was time to hunt some squid.
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