The creature shrieked, and even as Einarr thought his eardrums would burst he found his feet unfrozen from the ground. Hadn’t he just been running? The nightmare before them coiled its tail in a puddle of seawater as it launched out about itself, striking anything that came within reach and devouring it, if it happened to be flesh.
“This has to be the priest’s doing! Where is he?” Einarr demanded.
Jorir shook his head, looking desperate. “I don’t know! I’d thought they’d have made for the inside of the temple, but they must be around here somewhere.”
“There!” Kaldr pointed to the top of one of the standing stones that surrounded the sacrificial field. On top of it stood the forms of two dvergr – one dressed in white, the other in furs.
“How did they get up there? No, never mind, don’t answer. How do we get up there?” Einarr didn’t really expect an answer: he was already moving down toward the field again. The answer was probably carved into the stone they stood on.
The field was very soon empty, save for the monster before them and the bodies of the fallen. When Einarr and his companions reached the field they did not bother trying to take on the crab-clawed beast itself. Rather, they turned to the side, headed for the standing stone where Thane Soggvar and the high priest of Malùnion stood, thinking themselves out of harm’s way.
Now that they were closer, Einarr could see just how huge this creature from the deeps was. It towered even over the standing stones, which themselves towered over Einarr and his companions.
He had no idea what they were supposed to do about that thing. At this moment, he merely hoped that if they took out the one who called it, it too would vanish.
Einarr felt its malign intent settle on his own shoulders. Just then there was a cackle from up above.
“Yes! Struggle! Your fears will only whet its appetite.”
Einarr glanced over towards the horror. What in the world are we supposed to do about that?
It was moving closer. They were going to have to figure out something, and fast, or they too would end up in the demon’s gullet. Still, the cackling above continued. Einarr looked to Jorir, who shook his head. He could not find how the thane and the priest had climbed the stone.
Einarr thrust a hand into the pouch at his belt and fingered his two new runestones. Would his own paltry will have any effect on a creature of this nature, though?
“Scatter!” He ordered. He was certain it wanted him, although he wasn’t certain why, and this way if the runestones failed, he at least wouldn’t take anyone down with him.
Kaldr and Thjofgrir dashed off to the left. If Einarr knew Kaldr, and he thought he did by this point, he would be aiming to circle around behind the thing. Naudrek and Mornik headed right. Good: with a three-pronged approach, they should at least be able to divide its attention long enough to accomplish… something.
Jorir, his shoulders set in a way that Einarr hadn’t seen since their battle below the Jotunhall, grasped the haft of his axe in both hands and stood a half-pace in front of Einarr. He opened his mouth to object, but then shook his head. Something about Jorir’s stance said he wouldn’t win that argument, and they both had more critical matters to attend to.
The nightmare was moving towards them. Einarr wished he had access to Runa’s lore: perhaps she would know what to call this thing.
“Any ideas?” He said, keeping his voice low. He didn’t rightly know how the thing was tracking him, but it plainly was.
Jorir shrugged. “Haven’t yet met a monster good steel couldn’t answer for. Not sure we have another choice but to try.”
Einarr’s mind rebelled to see a creature with a fish’s tail and a squid’s head slithering across the ground like a snake.
“I was afraid of that.”
One gigantic, serrated red claw shot towards them. Reflexively, Einarr willed a shield into being, and his Yr stone responded.
A sheet of white light radiated outward from where Einarr’s rune shield stopped the claw in mid-air. The tentacle behind the claw wobbled like jelly, as boneless as it first appeared.
They stood frozen like that for a long moment, Einarr’s will straining against the strength of his opponent’s arm. He could feel his brow growing damp: ᛉ was sufficient, so long as his will could hold out.
Abruptly, the creature shrieked and recoiled back, as though something had struck it in a sensitive place. Movement caught Einarr’s eye from across the open-air temple. It was hard to be sure, but he thought he saw a dvergr standing on top of another stone over there – a dvergr with a bow, no less.
An echo of the monster’s shriek interrupted the mad cackling from above. Well. That’s interesting. I wonder if it works both ways? “I have an idea. Keep it busy for a second – but don’t die.”
Jorir grunted in response. Good enough. Now Einarr just needed to get to a place where he could see the dvergr at the top of the stone. As he ran, he pulled the other new stone from his pouch.
Einarr had only gone a few paces before he heard the battle cries of his friends as they rushed in to beat against its body. He turned as he slowed, peering upwards. It looked as though Thjofgrir had already landed a palpable hit on its tail: a long streak of oozing black marred the crimson scales – although not for long. Even as he positioned himself, he saw the wound knitting back together.
If there was one benefit of joining battle with the creature, it was that the priest’s mad laughter had ceased. Not that his cries of pain were much better. It seemed the priest had little tolerance for the pain he was absorbing from his summoned beast.
This is going to make his day a whole lot worse, Einarr thought, rubbing his thumb over the surface of his one directly offensive runestone.
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