Jorir shouldered his way forward as Einarr slipped back into the open space behind their line. I wonder how the other teams are getting on? He shook his head: there was no way to find out, and he had more important matters to hand.

In one smooth motion he slid Sinmora back into her sheath and drew a piece of chalk from his belt pouch. The simplest way to crack rock is with Isa – ice. One single downward stroke accomplished that – but then he hesitated. Isa was stasis, so by itself it wouldn’t do much. He needed something else to actually sunder the block.

Then another thought occurred to him: if they were under assault from this side, wasn’t it likely there would be more enemies on the other side of the wall? In that case…

Einarr activated first, and cold began to radiate off the stone. He could actually see the cold air falling away from it. Then he drew a and put the full force of his will into it, directing it like a hammer blow away and into the fortress.

The stone shattered like a thunderclap.

The cursed warriors pressing his team froze as though stunned by the noise. From the other side of the wall, Einarr heard shouts of surprise and pain as whoever waited there was pelted by the shattered block.

“Let’s move!” Einarr traded his chalk for his sword once again and ducked into the opening Jorir had cut before the dust had begun to clear.

When he emerged from the cloud he saw five or six men – ordinary men, so far as he could tell – sporting well-tended maille and shields made entirely of steel. If these men had the black blood, they had not yet succumbed to it. Einarr dropped into a wary guard as his companions dashed through behind him. Jorir came last and stood facing their impromptu gate, taking out the cursed ones as they tried to follow.

“Who do you serve?” Einarr demanded.

One of the men they faced laughed, but didn’t lower his guard. “I’ll ask the questions here.”

Einarr was well aware of the absurdity. “If those black-blooded men and the tentacled cats are your allies, then we are foes. But your squad appears to be in their right mind. Who do you serve?”

Now the man sneered back. “How dare you compare my men and me to animals such as those! We are of the Talon Knights, elite guard of the Holy City Cresurgh!”

“Holy – to whom?” Troa’s usual calm felt unusually tight to Einarr.

The spokesman went on as though they hadn’t said anything. “Those cats, and the animals pressing at the gates, are as pets to our order.”

Why am I not surprised? Einarr tensed, ready to strike the moment he saw a weakness.

Irding made an opening. He let loose a war cry and charged, both axes held behind himself. He chopped at the spokesman’s knees.

The knight jumped back to avoid the blow. Irding smoothly pivoted to bury one axe in the leg of a different knight.

Meanwhile, the talkative one had taken his eyes off of Einarr. Now! Einarr lunged, shield first, to shove him off-balance. As the knight stumbled, Einarr brought Sinmora down to chop at his opponent’s elbow.

Sinmora clanged off the shield. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to catch himself with one hand and bring the shield around, even with the surprise attack.

The knight, crouched over backwards, sneered at Einarr. Then there was a flash of silver, and before Einarr could react his opponent was upright again, if still crouching, and the breeze cooled a trickle of blood through a new slice in Einarr’s trousers.

“Tsk. You might almost be as good as you think you are.” A drop of blood dripped from the knight’s spear. Einarr had not realized that was what the man wielded until just that second.

“Thanks. I try.” Einarr did not take his eyes off the rising knight. That was faster than he’d ever heard of a man being. Was it Malúnion’s power, or was he just that good? Arkja had drawn his blade, as well, and he and Irding each fought two of these Talon Knights while Einarr dueled their leader. Meanwhile, Jorir and Troa were still busy trying to keep the cursed warriors from coming through and overwhelming them. I need to end this quickly. “Holy City, huh? So, is everyone here a damn Squiddie?”

The semi-permanent sneer on the man’s face twisted into a snarl. “Watch your tongue!”

Einarr had to fend off three strikes in quick succession. He turned the spear on the first one and side-stepped the second, but the third put a second tear in his pant leg. Still, Einarr was satisfied. The knight was an excellent warrior, but he was easily nettled. He thought he saw how to break past his guard, too, but he wanted to test it again before he committed.

“Talon knights? Don’t you mean tentacle knights?”

As hoped, that provoked another flurry of stabs from the knight’s spear. And, as Einarr thought, when in the middle of one of those flurries, the man dropped his shield. Not very far, and not for very long, but it would be enough. He dropped into a low stance, Sinmora held up and back, as though he were going to try his shield charge again. “Real question, though, Squid knight. How many of those cursed warriors used to be knights like you?”

The knight’s face reddened at the appellation of ‘squid knight.’ He might not even have heard the question. This time he abandoned defense entirely and stabbed for Einarr’s belly.

Einarr sidestepped. The tip of his spear caught in the brokkrsteel maille and snapped. The knight stumbled forward, and Einarr brought Sinmora down. The knight had been moving just a little too quickly, though, and so rather than striking the knight’s head from his shoulders it clashed against the back of his silvered armor. Some of the silvering flaked off: underneath, it was black as coal.

“Holy City, my foot. Malúnion is nothing more than a minion of Hel, and before this day is through you will know it personally!”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon. Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr e-book through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

 

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