Runa had intended to stay away – she really had. Only, a couple hours after they left, a feeling of impending doom had fallen over her shoulders that she could not shake.
It had been simple to sneak out. The proprietress had many customers, and as she was assisting one group Runa had tossed a shawl over her arms and slipped out into the streets.
Similarly, finding the place had been easy. They had told her where they were going, after all, and she remembered well enough the path they had taken back from the Mount.
The trouble came when she was nearing the Mount itself. First there were the swarms of dvergr milling about on the streets – and while their complexions looked normal, that was no guarantee they were trustworthy – or even not hostile. As she was wondering how best to slip past them all, however, she heard the sounds of battle from further up the mountainside.
Suddenly the streets around the Mount were empty, and the swarms of dvergr split. Most of them charged uphill, plainly Jorir’s allies. The others scattered into the city. Runa left them to their own devices and started winding her way up the mountain, towards her husband and whatever doom it was that awaited him if she couldn’t make it in time.
Runa was about halfway up the back side of the Mount when the tone of the battle above changed. She heard screams – more than one ordinarily expected from a battle – and the light of Myrkheimr’s already-dim sun darkened. Her feeling of foreboding grew deeper, but she was already short of breath as she climbed. The little one was unlikely to let her move any faster, even as tiny as he still was.
She rested a hand on her still-slender stomach momentarily. Just a little farther. We have to go.
Runa was not looking forward to explaining this to Einarr – but that was better than not being able to. She didn’t even really know what it was that she was going to have to do – just that if she didn’t get up there, something terrible was going to happen.
Finally, she made it to the meadow ringed by standing stones and pressed her back against one while she caught her breath. She hadn’t noticed what was happening inside the circle – but first things first. She had to be able to breathe, and breathe calmly, if she wanted to understand her role properly.
Finally, her nerves as steeled as she could make them, Runa turned to look around the pillar hiding her from view.
The meadow was set up as a sort of bowl, with the standing stones set considerably higher than the benches and altar below. Those benches had been overturned, and all the dvergr below seemed to be on the right side. They were fighting transformed cultists and a creature she had trouble even comprehending.
Its skin was crimson. From the waist down, it was a spiny fish, and from the waist up it had the rubbery skin she had come to associate with the abominations of Malùnion on a vaguely humanoid chest. There were too many arms, though, and they were really more akin to tentacles – except they ended in crab-like claws – and the eyeless head looked as though someone had set a squid on its shoulders. Oddly, this did not set off a round of nausea – probably, she thought, because she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing.
In the sky above it was a tear, from which poured seawater at an alarming rate. Glowing eyes blinked out from behind the tear: she shuddered to think what might be lurking on the other side, just waiting for a chance to come through.
That was when lightning crackled down out of a clear sky to strike the demon dominating the field. Perhaps her premonition had been wrong: perhaps they could handle this after all. Whatever was about to happen, she could afford to sit and observe for a time.
Puny humans. You have freed me. I will reward you by letting you feed my ascension.
What was that? Something had changed, and plainly she had missed it, but she couldn’t for the life of her tell what it was.
The men were flagging, though. Even from this distance she could tell that the forces assaulting the demon were almost at the end of their strength, whereas their enemy appeared to have healed itself somehow. That she knew how to help with.
Runa straightened up and squared her shoulders, filling her lungs as deeply as she could: even up here the air smelled of smoke and blood and seawater. Then, she began to Sing, willing the strength of her voice to bring renewal and refreshment to her friends down below. I’m sorry, my love. I could not stay away: you needed me.
She knew the exact moment he realized she was there without even looking. She sang louder, her voice carrying across the amphitheater to reach her friends down below and the brave dvergr still scattered about the standing stones, tossing arrows at the monstrosity.
The arrows themselves didn’t seem to be having much of an effect, but as she watched an idea occurred to her. She darted from pillar to pillar, trying to avoid the abomination’s attention without dropping her Song. There was an archer not that far from where she had been hiding: if she could use him to send a message to Einarr, she thought they might have a chance. As she moved, she tore a scrap of cloth from her sleeve and a bit of charcoal from the amulet bag slung around her neck.
A dvergr archer stood just on the other side of the pillar from her now. She put the large plinth of stone between herself and the demon and paused to scrawl her message on the cloth. She laid a hand on the archer’s shoulder and he jumped. “Can you get this to the one in golden maille?”
The startled dvergr looked at the scrap of cloth in her hand a long moment, seemingly uncomprehending. Just when she was about to ask again, he nodded. “I can, Lady. But I can’t get the same message to the others.”
“You leave that to me.”
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