Einarr dove into a column of benches and kept low, counting on their shelter to at least keep himself from being squeezed to death. It could still crush him, right along with the benches, of course, but some cover was better than no cover here.
Naudrek was right behind him.
“So once we get to Arring, then what?”
Einarr hurried along, crouching low, and shook his head. “I don’t know. Yet.”
A tentacle slammed down into the benches just behind them, hard enough that the shockwave nearly sent them both flying.
The next one crashed down near enough to Einarr’s nose that he almost expected to feel blood trickling down the end of it. Einarr fought the urge to freeze in place: that would only lead to both he and Naudrek being crushed where they stood. Better, then, to run and hopefully shake its attention. He came to the end of a row and paused, taking his bearings, before he dashed across the aisle.
The demigod – so monstrous, even Hel herself would not claim its minions – was waiting for him. One of the giant octopus arms shot forward like a spear.
His shield broke clean in half. Had the blow come a half inch further up, his arm would have, too. He hit the ground at least twenty paces back from where he started and bounced. For a moment – but only a moment, he lay there, just trying to breathe again. Everything hurt, but he didn’t dare lay there and wallow in it.
As soon as he had a breath of wind back, he rolled to his feet and scrambled forward into the next column of benches. There he did pause for a moment: hunched over as he was, his ribs and back spasmed at the strain. When he could move again, he peeked over the top of the benches: Naudrek had nearly reached Arring – good. Kaldr and Jorir were still further out than he was, but not by much – and that only because they had circled wide to spread out the thing’s attention. Einarr grit his teeth and moved on.
A crash, very loud this time, caused Einarr to freeze once more and look up at the scene before him.
Arring was, he thought, out of the creature’s reach – for now. Which made it all the more impressive that Malùnion had bodily lifted Troa and flung him at the strong man – who caught him without so much as a grunt. Either it hit harder than it threw, or it got lucky when it sent Arring flying. Or, perhaps, unlucky, as the case may be.
He managed to avoid the monster’s attention as he dashed across the next aisle, but his ear told him his friends were not so lucky.
The squawk of Malùnion’s presence in his mind turned to a sort of chuckling sound, as though it knew it was winning. As though the time it spent bound in the vines had been worth it. And then, disturbingly, those chuckles turned to whispers in Einarr’s ear. The tone was cajoling, but the words – when there were words – were horrific. A quick glance around told him he was not the only one who heard the mental jabbering. Was that an effect of the corruption, or was it simply the way Malùnion communicated to people?
Did he really want to know?
What are we going to do? The question echoed in his mind. Always before he had managed to pull everyone through on the power of his wits and his sword, but here those were rapidly proving inadequate. The runes had failed, Eydri had all she could do keeping them all standing, and Malùnion’s wounds closed almost as fast as they could make them.
The crackling black octopus’ attacks seemed to have slackened. He once again looked around the room, this time trying to determine what had drawn its attention.
Movement, it seemed to be. Eydri was not presently Singing, but she strode across the floor with purpose. Their time to plan was over before it began. Bruised and without a shield, Einarr took Sinmora in both hands. “Don’t let it near the sorcerers!”
“Aye, sir!” Rang across the hallway from his comrades. With hardly a break in their step, lateral movement changed to forward, and all six of them raced inward, toward the foe that seemed likely to spell their doom.
Their best success against the monstrosity had come at the expense of Thjofgrir’s life. He didn’t want to accept it, but if their lifeblood could stop this thing from wreaking its havoc on the world above, Einarr thought that might be a trade worth making.
Still, the trouble remained. Thjofgrir’s death had bought them only a moment’s reprieve. How, then, did they ensure their own sacrifices would not be in vain?
Jorir, who had been closest to its main body, closed to within its guard and leapt for the main body. He planted his axe, almost at head-height for Einarr. Jorir’s momentum carried him up and over the axe handle once before he wrenched it free to land on his feet again. The blood on the axe head hissed and sizzled, as though it intended to consume the steel itself in its corruption. Einarr swore: even that small victory, gained through such hard fighting, had now disappeared. What did they have to do in order to destroy this thing?
The voice in his ear chittered at him again, whispering of how it would just be easier to accept their fate, and how Malùnion’s dominion would be a beneficent one, and there was no point in fighting a battle you knew you could not win.
That was where it was wrong, though. Einarr might have let himself be talked down that way, if not for that one idea. Even a futile battle could have merit: what else the meaning of the prophecies of Ragnarok?
A high, eerie note rose through the dark temple of the dark god before them. Einarr froze for a moment, and then his eyes sought Eydri.
She had withdrawn from where Hrug fell back towards the door, but now she stood openly in the middle of an aisle there. Einarr had never seen such an expression on her face: it was fierce like a hawk’s, and as angry as a mother bear’s. He had never heard this song before.