Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.

When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.

Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.

First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.

After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.

They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.

She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.

Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.

“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”

Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”

Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”

“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”

“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”


Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.

For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.

Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.

Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.

“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.

Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.

“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”

She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”

Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”

“What?!”

“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”

That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.

Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.

“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”

Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”

His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”

“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”

“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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.

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

 

Einarr knelt, his eyes half-lidded, his weight supported by Sinmora’s blade standing upright in the ground of Myrkheimr, panting. He no longer heard the sounds of battle, and the smell of charred squid had replaced the smell of seawater. Therefore, they must have won. Runa’s plan must have worked, or he was certain they would all be dead now. Only, somehow he couldn’t muster up the energy to care – or even open his eyes.

He had been at the limits of his magical ability when Runa had launched the plan – Song Magic could mask fatigue, but it could not create reserves where none remained. Which meant that he owed sacrifices to the gods, which meant he had a pressing need to procure livestock.

Pressing, but not so pressing that he had to move just yet. Which was good.

The moment he had felt the ritual being snatched away from him, he thought sure he would be snatched away with it. Instead, he was allowed to ride the flood, and now he felt as drained – and exhilarated – as though he had taken a fishing boat down a waterfall.

He opened his eyes. Runa and Jorir stood in front of him, peering at his face with no small level of concern. They were flanked by his crew and some of the other dvergr – but someone was definitely missing. Einarr offered Runa and Jorir a wan smile, but then found himself counting the faces before him.

“Brandir. Gheldram. Naudrek. Jorir. Runa. Kaldr. Thjofgrir… What happened to Mornik?”

Gheldram shook his head sadly and pointed off towards the edge of the charred circle that still contained the lifeless husk of the demon. A small form lay huddled there, on a much wetter patch of ground.

Einarr sighed and pushed to his feet. His legs trembled under him, and his first step was a stumble. Somehow, though, he made it across the empty field between where he had weathered the storm and where Mornik lay, visibly trembling and clutching his middle.

Einarr dropped to the ground beside the slender dvergr’s head, glad he had managed to reach Mornik before his legs gave out. It was plain, though, that it was too late for Mornik. His skin was as ashen as any of the cultist’s, and black blood streamed down from the corners of his mouth and from his eyes and nostrils.

Gently, Einarr rolled the dvergr over onto his back. Mornik’s eyes were glazed, and he panted against the pain of the transformation in his body.

“Did we… win?” He managed to ask.

Jorir came up beside Einarr and nodded. “We did,” he added.

The corners of Mornik’s mouth curled up into a rictus. “Good.” He coughed, and more of the black blood dribbled out of his mouth. He met Jorir’s eyes directly now and breathed one more unmistakable word. “Please…”

Jorir nodded again, once, slowly. Then he turned to look at Einarr. “My Lord – everyone – please stand back.”

It was, Einarr knew, the only way. But the fact that Mornik retained enough of his mind to ask for death would make it more difficult for Jorir, not less. “Of course.”

With great difficulty, Einarr found his feet again and half-staggered back several paces. “Runa, if you would?”

Runa took one more look at the face of the dvergr on the ground and blanched. She saw it, too. She nodded and opened her mouth to Sing once more: this time, the funereal air Einarr had last heard from her when they buried Astrid, what felt like an eternity ago.

The six of them turned, and the men all offered a respectful salute to their fallen ally. Einarr felt no small pang of guilt: if he had waited to put their plan into motion… But no. That was foolishness, and all that would have accomplished was making their enemy stronger.

Jorir drew one of the knives from Mornik’s braces and raised it high overhead. “Farewell, my friend,” he said, and plunged the knife down.

In the moment before the killing blow fell, Mornik’s eyes closed, and his mouth relaxed into what was almost a smile, as though if he had to die, he was pleased to die as himself. The body jerked a little as Jorir drove the blade home.

Einarr watched as Jorir calmly removed the glove from that hand and dropped it on the body, then turned and walked back toward them. Einarr did not miss, though, that he never looked up.

As Jorir crossed their line of vigil,  Einarr came to a decision. “Tonight, we will feast our victory and toast the fallen. Tomorrow we will take stock, of what was lost and what remains, and on the third day we will thank the gods.” Then a thought occurred to him and he turned to Brandir. “There… are still priests of the real gods here, aren’t there?”

That broke the tension. Brandir chuckled as he answered in the affirmative, and the seven of them all limped away from the field of battle, Einarr leaning heavily on his liege man’s shoulder.


The Thane’s body was never found. On the other hand, on the top of the standing stone where the high priest of the mad cult had stood, there was a black smear that suggested he had been wiped away in the same torrent of magic that had finally ended the demon beast. It wasn’t proof, but it was sufficient for the dvergr of Nilthiad to convene a Thing and appoint a new Thane.

They went back, while they were taking stock, to examine the husk of the demon beast – Runa thought it might, in some way, be related to the Imperial god Phorcys. It was thoroughly blackened, but rather than char, which would have a tendency to smudge or crumble at a touch, it seemed to have been turned to stone somehow. Not that anyone could explain how, save by Einarr’s strange experience when the circle was active. It was, they thought, yet one more reason to give thanks to the gods: char would spread, and there was no way to know if it would have been cleansed of its corruption.

Finally, after a full week working with the surviving dvergr of Nilthiad, it was time to go. The summer wore on, and even with Jorir’s help it would take them most of a month to reach Breidelstein again – and Runa was already beginning to show. The dvergr, however, were not about to let them go without a proper sendoff: Brandir arranged for another, smaller, feast for the next night, and despite Einarr’s restless feet they were obliged to attend.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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To say that Einarr was surprised when an arrow stuck in the ground by his boot was putting it mildly: none of the dvergr, thus far, had come so close to striking an ally. Then he noticed the strip of linen tied just ahead of the fletching. He looked up: Runa, he saw, was hurrying between two sets of standing stones, even though her Song had not slackened. Einarr smiled: at some point in the last year, Runa had toughened up.

The shadow of a claw fell over his eyes. Einarr grabbed the arrow and rolled out of the way. Once he was outside the monstrosity’s reach he untied the cloth. On it, hastily scrawled in charcoal, was a simple runic circle. At several points around that circle, she had drawn crude arrows. It was an ambitious idea, but the dvergr were good enough shots it just might work.

Einarr dashed back into the fray, deliberately brushing past Kaldr to pass him the crude plan Runa had drawn up. At the same time, he called out, “Jorir! On me!”

His liege-man obeyed with alacrity, and if the new movements of the “puny” humans caused the demon any concern at all, they could not tell. Certainly, it did not seem to slacken its onslaught.

As Naudrek slipped in to face it head-on, a pair of knives flew through the air to plant themselves in its chest. One tentacle moved to brush them away, much as one might swat at a biting fly.

Please let Runa be right.


Runa stood panting, her hands on her knees after she had jogged a lap around the outside of the sacrificial field. It was probably no worse than anything she had done through the paths of stone, but she felt as though the little one was less happy about it – perhaps that was simply an increased awareness on her part. At any rate, it was done, and she watched with pleasure as the archers placed their arrows with precision to rival any human sharpshooter.

Down below, Einarr seemed to have gotten the right idea as well. Which meant that she needed to get her breath back: they were going to have need of her Song again, and rather rapidly.

Only now was the demon beginning to discover the trap it had allowed to be drawn around it. Runa only hoped her understanding of the runes was correct enough.

Einarr, if he could ever bring himself to admit it, had a better understanding of the runes than she ever would – but he was, first and foremost, a warrior, not a sorcerer. He simply didn’t put much thought into this power that he had gone to so much trouble to learn. But that was okay; she could be creative enough for both of them.

She straightened, taking a deep breath. It looked like they were just about ready, down below, and at the moment Einarr activated that circle they were all going to need all the strength they could get.

She began to Sing.


Just as Einarr was plunging Sinmora into the sea-soaked ground to form the final rune in the circle he heard Runa’s voice once again lifted in Song. That meant that not only was she ready, so was the outer ring of the circle. Grimly, he stabbed down at the earth one final time, closing the merkstave Bjarkan.

Runa’s inscription was simple. Hrug would probably tell them it was crude. Melja would probably outline all the ways it could go wrong. Einarr, in the moment, was aware of this, but it did not matter. If it worked – and he thought it would – it would strike the water pouring through the rift with a lightning bolt while binding everything within the circle to the mass of seawater behind the tear.
“Listen up, you overgrown lobster,” Einarr bellowed, as much to warn his allies as to taunt the thing. “You’re no god, and I’m nobody’s food.”

Then, his feet firmly outside the circle of arrows, he closed his eyes and poured his will into the inscription they had just created together.

They were, at that moment, in the favor of the gods. Einarr felt the power surging through him and into the ground at his feet: it was almost frighteningly strong, as though he were not the one – or perhaps merely the only one – feeding in his will. He sprang further back, certain that, even as he was the catalyst for the working, he could be caught up in it as well.

The water that poured forth from the rift seemed to freeze in place. There was no crackle-boom of a lightning strike. Instead, the water and the soaked ground beneath the demon began to steam, and then to bubble, and then, finally, to glow as though with the light of the sun.

Sol. Of course.

The demon looked about itself in panic, as the full extent of the strange mortal magic its playthings had been working became known to it. But, too late. As it struck out, trying to grab at anything within reach, its crab-like claws rebounded again and again off an invisible barrier.

Now came the moment of truth, and the one thing Einarr had been least sure of: would the binding return them all to whichever hellish domain birthed them, or would it bind open the tear in reality that the cadaverous priest had created?

The demon was convulsing now, as though pinned by Mjolnir itself. Einarr held his breath, watching and praying as only rarely he did. If this did not work, not only was Breidelstein doomed – since its future would fall here, in one single blow – but Nilthiad and perhaps all of Myrkheimr would join the domain of the monstrosity before them.

Slowly, the water that hung still in space between the rift and the ground began to flow backward, into the tear. The light seemed to travel into that other realm, as well, and Einarr caught glimpses of tails and backs, as the denizens of that realm fled the power of the sun.

The demon before them was not so fortunate. Its crimson skin slowly shriveled and blackened under the influence of , until all that was left was the mummified body of some creature that should not exist.

The tear in the sky slowly knit itself back together, and as the magic faded the silence over the Holy Mount of the Temple of Malùnion was deafening. The surviving dvergr stared about, looking from one to another of their number, stunned.

Further in, near the epicenter of the destruction, Einarr the Cursebreaker dropped to his knees.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

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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Jorir and Thjofgrir both cursed, one from either side of where Einarr stood, now soaking wet with seawater. Hacking this thing to bits was evidently not the way to banish it back to the other side of that rift. Only, Einarr was the only sorcerer they had, and he was well aware of his fast-approaching limits.

There was only one thing to be done, though. “Keep going! Just try not to cut any more bits off. Something’s bound to change if we take out the priest!”

The priest had never looked terribly healthy to Einarr, although he knew that the faithful of Malùnion often had greater stamina than their appearance would otherwise suggest. Still, one spindly old dvergr man? He couldn’t have that much strength remaining to him – could he?

Einarr took two steps back and pushed his will into Sol again, drawing another, larger lightning bolt to strike the abomination. He thought he heard sizzling this time, and the creature reeled.

“Einarr!” Thjofgrir called. “Can you do that again?”

“Once or twice.” Einarr kept his eyes glued to their foe.

“Great! On my word, give it another one!”

Einarr smirked. Technically, Thjofgrir had no right to order him around – but the battlefield was hardly the place for the shouting of plans. “Ready when you are!”

Einarr’s attention was once again consumed by the battle before them, as the demon fended off their blows and struck out all at once. For several minutes, Einarr was occupied primarily with dodging and striking. It lashed its tail back and forth furiously – putting Einarr, strangely, in mind of a horse trying to buck an unwanted rider.

Einarr became certain he knew what Thjofgrir’s plan was when not just the fish tail but also the humanoid back of the demon began to writhe. It arched and twisted, as though something were crawling on its back.

When Thjofgrir shouted “Now!” Einarr was ready. But it was at that moment Einarr realized the flaw in Thjofgrir’s plan. If he called down the lightning now it would strike Thjofgrir as well as the demon before them. But, he thought there was another way to make it work.

Rather than striking the crimson beast before them, Einarr called down his lightning upon Thjofgrir’s blade. The hilt wrapping should protect Thjofgrir, but the demon beast would have no such guard. The lightning struck home as Thjofgrir’s blade plunged into the creature’s neck.

If he was startled by the change in plan he had no time to show it before black blood welled around the new wound and twin screams echoed over the battlefield once more.

Einarr looked up towards the top of the standing stone where he knew the priest and the thane both stood. It could have been his imagination, but he thought he saw a single flailing arm and a spurt of blood. Could have been, but he didn’t think it was. Thjofgrir leaped to the ground from where he had stood on the demon’s shoulder, and blood still flowed from the wound he had made. Not quickly, but enough to prove that he had not been fully healed by the last of the priest’s life.

A thrashing in his peripheral vision brought Einarr back to the moment. The severed tentacle was in the process of growing what looked like a chest, and it had writhed far closer than Einarr was comfortable with. He brought Sinmora down hard on the half-formed chest and the thing stopped moving – at least for now.

“Now! Before it can recover!” Einarr dashed in close to its scaly body and hacked at it with Sinmora. If it wasn’t recovering any longer, all they had to do was endure long enough to bring it down. A tree can be felled by a skinning knife, after all, if the wielder is stubborn enough.

A low rumble issued from the monstrosity’s chest, and Einarr could not tell if it was a growl of annoyance or of amusement. What could possibly be amusing, though?

The abomination twisted around in a circle, sweeping its full-size claw along the ground and scooping up the bodies of the fallen – friend and foe alike. Then it threw its head back and poured the corpses down its gullet.

As it swallowed, Einarr saw its wounds begin to heal once again. Then it threw its arms down and its shoulders moved up and down to the pulsation of its roar.

That almost had to be laughter. Einarr slashed at its belly again, wracking his brain to try and figure out what the thing could find so funny.

Puny humans. You have freed me. I will reward you by letting you feed my ascension. The voice reverberated in Einarr’s mind. He was reasonably certain the others heard it, as well.

Oh. That would certainly be a reason to laugh, Einarr supposed. He wished, momentarily, that he had Hrug or Eydri along – either of them, he would have been willing to risk at this fight, where he could not have risked Runa. And either of them would have brought knowledge and firepower that they desperately needed. Their strength was nearly spent, and yet their foe…

A wordless melody carried over the field of battle and Einarr felt his strength returning to him. The melody seemed familiar: were there Singers among the dvergr, too?

There almost have to be, he told himself.

The giant crimson man-fish didn’t seem to care about the sudden music: it struck down with one massive claw at Kaldr, who rolled expertly out of the way.

Jorir, behind him, had a look of annoyed relief on his face as he buried his axe in its stomach once more. Then the tune shifted and all became clear to Einarr once more.

Out from behind one of the standing stones, well out of reach of the altar or the abomination, stepped the figure of a human woman with hair the color of spun flax. Einarr’s mouth went dry and now panic rose in his gorge. She knew why she had to stay away – had even agreed to it. And now, if Einarr didn’t finish this creature quickly (and bloodlessly!) he risked not only himself and his wife, but also the future of Breidelstein!

So what was Runa doing here?

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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 ebook 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.

 

Movement caught Einarr’s eye from down below. Something was headed his way, and it bore only a vague resemblance to a man. It wasn’t going to make it in time to keep him from testing his stone, though.

He gripped the carved bit of shale and willed lightning to strike the two figures standing atop the standing stone.

Sure enough, lightning crackled down out of the clear sky. But, at the last moment, it arced away, and the crimson flesh of the monstrosity glowed and steamed. It hissed and turned its eyeless head to look directly at Einarr.

That… could have gone better. With a shrug, Einarr shoved the shale back into his pouch and gripped Sinmora’s hilt in both hands. If the only way to end this fight was to end the monstrosity on the ground, then he supposed that was what he would have to do.

The smaller abomination was close enough now that he could see nauseatingly familiar details: whatever the corruption turned people into, it seemed to have no particular need for a head. Once again, there were tentacles sprouting out of its neck, and even the fingers that gripped its axe haft looked black and rubbery and boneless.

This was going to be a slaughter – and this time, there would be no Örlögnir to claim to save them all. Thank the gods Runa isn’t here.

He charged the approaching abomination and chopped down into what was once a shoulder. The bonelessness was real: his blade sheared through flesh and muscle with no real resistance. Now on the ground before him were two halves of what had once been a dvergr, twitching but apparently out of the fight. Einarr vaulted over the remains without slowing. His test had taken him out of the melee, which could easily turn into a costly mistake.

As he approached he discovered that it wasn’t just steam radiating off the beast’s body: he could smell charred flesh, although he could not see any. Had even that wound on the monster, absorbed on behalf of its master, rebounded on the priest?

He was just outside the creature’s reach when a thought occurred to him. Why should he keep his runestones in his pouch? He could use them at need if he simply tucked them into the wrapping about his wrists. Abruptly he sprang back. Taking cover for a moment, he tucked ᛉ and ᛊ into the bindings around his right wrist.

He was about to add ᚨ when something large and heavy crashed into the bench he sheltered behind. He threw himself out of the way, clutching the mouth of his pouch closed with one hand while the other kept its hold on Sinmora.

The bench shattered. Chunks of stone flew in all directions, some large enough to crack skulls. Einarr felt two of the smaller ones bounce off the back of his maille – that was going to leave a bruise. In one swift motion, he tied his pouch closed again.

One of the giant red claws was pulling back from where it had landed. A shadow flew across the ground, about the same size as the withdrawing claw. Einarr dived again, coming out on the other side of the shadow. Once again the creature narrowly missed him.

Einarr threw his will into holding up an Yr shield even as he raced in towards the gigantic red tail on the sodden ground. The smell of salt and rotting fish assailed his nose.

More tentacles beat at him as he ran, but bounced harmlessly off the shield. The more he was hit, however, the harder he found it to focus on the shield.

When Einarr was within ten paces of the crimson horror, he let his Yr shield drop and instead willed the Sol stone to life. This time, however, he didn’t bother targeting the priest. Once again lightning crackled, and the creature hissed under the onslaught.

Einarr had almost managed to tune out the priest’s shrieks as its pet stole its vitality. That one, however, echoed across the field. Einarr wasn’t certain what would happen when the monster finished devouring its master’s life, but he was certain they would find out soon.

The plate-sized scales on its fish-like tail flared after the lightning had faded. Einarr was just in range: he lunged forward and thrust Sinmora into the exposed flesh. From the corner of his eye, it looked like the others had taken advantage of the exposure, as well. Black blood spurted out towards them and muddied the water at their feet.

A crab-clawed tentacle struck down towards Einarr’s position. Before he could react, Jorir had launched himself into the air. With an aerial somersault that Einarr honestly envied, Jorir brought the blade of his axe down on the tentacle.

The writhing arm was sheared in two. The half that was still attached to the monster flailed about in midair, spraying blood everywhere, while the other half dropped, headed right for Einarr’s head.

There was nowhere to dodge. Mentally, he was beginning to feel drained, but there was no other way. He threw his arms up over his head and willed the Yr shield back to life.

The still-writhing severed claw impacted the shield and slid down, smearing the shield with the corrupted blood and obscuring Einarr’s vision.

That blood was going to be troublesome… but maybe not as bad as it could have been. The ground at his feet was soft and wet, after all. Einarr got down on one knee and traced another rune – Lögr.

Perhaps it was a measure of his fatigue, or perhaps it was because he stood right next to an abomination from the deeps, but that didn’t quite have the effect he expected. He had wanted to sluice off the top of his shield, so he could drop it without worry. Instead, he called forth a gout of water from the rift that still hovered in midair, blasting off not only his shield but also hitting the monster itself with enough strength to push it back.

As the water pressure fell, Einarr shrugged and let his shield drop as well. That was unexpected, but helpful at least.

Only, the creature’s tentacled arm seemed to have grown back. Worse, the claw which had been lopped off seemed to be trying to grow a new body, like some bizarre relative of a starfish.

Well, Hel. Now what?

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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 ebook 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.

 

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: 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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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 ebook 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.

 

“This way,” Jorir said and turned to lead them all further up the mountain.

Einarr turned to look back at the chaos they left in their wake. It had taken some real effort to ensure the acolytes hadn’t taken out a batch lot of dvergr whose only crime was in keeping to the true gods. Mornik – and a few others – had done an excellent job not only freeing them but arming them as they prepared Einarr for his dramatic ‘escape.’ Mornik himself, still evidently not quite recovered, had donned the robes of one of the fallen acolytes. Thus disguised, he had led Einarr out before the high priest could become too suspicious.

Now, their dvergr allies from the outside were holding their own against the circle of corrupted dvergr they faced. With some degree of confidence, Einarr returned his attention to follow his liegeman up the mountain. Everything behind them was well in hand.

As they left the battleground, Einarr turned once more to observe the fight behind them. Once again, the dvergr of Nilthiad stood up for their own defense to allow the Cursebreaker and his friends to do what they had come for. The defenders were on their back foot: in the center of the field, strewn with benches, Einarr could see that the greatest number of the fallen bore the gray skin of the acolytes or the crest of the Thane on their armor – or both.

“Vyssiní kyvernítis tou váthous!” A deep voice boomed over the field. Below, everyone froze. Kaldr and the others all turned to look, as well.

“Pigí káthe gnósis,” it intoned. Down below, the combatants began to move again, but the flow of the battle had changed. The men of the cult fought with renewed ferocity, and the ordinary men of the town were stalled in place.

“Ton opoíon ta plokámia katapioún óla ta prágmata!”

“No,” Jorir breathed, taking a step up next to Einarr.

“You recognize that voice?”

“Kráken-patéras ton nychión!” The cultists’ desperation and ferocity seemed to grow with every word the echoing voice spoke.

“Kraken?” Thjofgrir’s alarm was reasonable: Einarr had caught that word, too.

Jorir nodded. “Ever since we saw the Oracle, I’ve heard that voice in my sleep – regularly. That’s the high priest.”

“Me to sýmfonó sou se kaló!”

“We need to get back down there.” Einarr started back down the hill. He would not falter, and he would not allow more of his allies to fall like that. Kaldr and Naudrek took up places at either shoulder, and the others were only a pace behind.

“Desmévomai gia séna!” The voice echoed over the field, and Einarr felt the frigid depths of Hel in its reverberation. He rested his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.

“Vgeíte éxo kai pníxte tous anáxious…” The air itself seemed to tremble. Something was coming, and the cultists below had a good idea what. Their desperation put him in mind of the cultists who abandoned ship when they fought the svartalfr, just before the horrors that powered their vessel broke free.

He wasn’t going to make it in time. “Retreat!” The word tore from his throat. He didn’t know if anyone below heard him or not: the cultists were pushing back, and their allies were in danger of a rout.

“Me tis skoteinés sou alítheies!”

For just a moment, the world seemed to freeze around them. Then it was as though the air itself split in two. Right above the altar, a tear seemed to open in reality, and on the other side of it they could see the blue-black of the deep sea.

Morale broke, then, in the combatants down below. All of the combatants. Those who bore the Thane’s sigil and those who wore the robes of the Acolytes screamed. Some of them dropped to their knees, clutching their heads.

The uncorrupted dvergr simply broke and ran, but since the cultists were no longer even trying to fight them their rout was merely an escape.

Einarr felt sick to his stomach – and very glad Runa waited on them at the bathhouse, about as far from the chaos here as it was possible to be in Nilthiad – when several of the acolytes on their knees began to transform. Their skin went from ashen all the way to the sickly dark green he remembered from the corrupted beasts he had fought before. Some of them sprouted extra limbs, the tentacles appearing in a burst of black blood. Others’ heads morphed to resemble squid. Briefly, Einarr wondered if one of them had transformed in public at some point, given their name among outsiders.

He had very little time for the spectacle on the ground, however. Despite the inky darkness of the other side of the rift, he could see the shadow of a creature. It was either growing larger or getting closer, and he couldn’t tell which.

When a claw, crimson as a cooked lobster’s, pushed through and took hold of the edge of the rift, Einarr became certain it was getting closer: nothing became that massive that quickly.

The edge of the claw was jagged, and he could see it tearing the rift wider as it pulled the rest of its body forward. Before long, a second claw attached itself to the other side of the rift, and the creature began to emerge. The arms attached to those claws were more like squid tentacles, but just as red as the claws themselves.

Einarr began to run. From the sound of footsteps behind him, the others were as well.

Before long the head emerged. It seemed to look about the field of battle around itself, but that should have been impossible: neither eyes nor eye sockets were visible. It opened its beak, mouth tentacles writhing around it, and let loose a shriek like nothing Einarr had heard before.

It didn’t seem possible that they were so far away from the altar, but no matter how much they ran they never seemed to close the distance.

Now that its head was free the shoulders followed soon after, and the rest of its body slipped from the rift like some sort of perverse birthing. The creature that loomed before them, dominating the field, was a crimson-scaled fish from the waist down, covered in spines. Its torso was vaguely human and hugely muscled, and the two main clawed tentacles were not the only ones it possessed. It shrieked again and lashed out, scooping up friend and foe alike into its monstrous maw.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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 ebook 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.

 

A week passed, and Einarr’s sacrifice made no difference in the number of people brought in by the Thane’s men. No one who went in ever came out. But, at the end of the week, the “auspicious day” was set. Those who remained on the outside would be ready in plenty of time.

When the day arrived, the allied dvergr took up their axes and their maille and took up position around the field of sacrifice on the back side of the Holy Mount. Jorir went alone, as though he were attending the event, armed as was his right – but perhaps carrying a little more than one might ordinarily expect.

He needed to be here, both for the sake of subverting the vision and to ensure Einarr was not unarmed when the time came. He felt wildly out of place as he approached the front row of benches before the altar. He was the only dvergr there who did not bear the gray complexion of those corrupted by Malùnion. Still, although it made his skin crawl, he took up a position near the front and sat, ignoring those around him.

It seemed like they were kept waiting for hours more, although it couldn’t have been. Jorir was disturbed to realize how many had fallen to the Squid. When the trickle of observers finally stopped, a pair of acolytes in white robes bearing golden censers filled with foul incense came up the center aisle. Behind them walked the cadaverous shaman of Jorir’s vision, and behind him was Thane Soggvar. The Thane took his place in front of the benches for his men while the shaman, his trusted advisor, climbed up to the altar itself and turned to address his captive audience.

Jorir was struck once again by how unfortunate the choice to paint themselves as representatives of the light was: the white cloth and the gold trim rendered their sickness starker by contrast. Skin, which ordinarily would have seemed ashen, now looked as gray as the grave, and the shaman’s eyes were pools of blackness.

The shaman raised bony hands towards his captive audience and a smile floated over his sunken features. “Rejoice, my children,” he called out over the crowd. Jorir thought he could see knees shaking under the shaman’s robes, but the voice was as strong and clear as ever.

“Rejoice, for the day of salvation is at hand! For today we will purge from our ranks the unbelievers, and we will offer a sacrifice which will please our Lord most greatly. The Cursebreaker himself has offered his body to us!”

The audience was silent. The shaman went on in that vein for quite some time. Jorir found himself tuning him out just to maintain focus on the task before him. Had Jorir listened, he would have grown far too angry to have stuck with the plan.

When it felt like the shaman was finishing up, the first words that caught Jorir’s ears were “…And soon we will move south and take the lands of the földvergr – lands which should rightfully have been ours! – And we will unite all dvergr as we should have been from the beginning. Rejoice, for our salvation is nigh!”

The shaman waved his hand, and one of the acolytes struck a large chime that stood by the side of the stage.

“Bring forth the unclean, that their blood may feed our God!”

Jorir caught himself holding his breath. This was the true test. Would they, in fact, bring out Lord Einarr first, so that no more dvergr had to die? Or would he be forced to sit and watch as some of his kin were slaughtered in the name of this horror?

There was a long pause where nothing happened. Jorir saw annoyance flash on the old shaman’s face, and he started to motion the acolyte again.

Before the chime could ring a second time, however, a familiar-looking dvergr strode out. Behind him, in chains, walked the proud figure of Einarr, and Jorir felt he could breathe again. He could guess at what the delay was in the Squiddies’ pageant, but it didn’t matter.

The familiar-looking dvergr kept marching across the dais until the chains attached to Einarr’s cuffs pulled tight. Einarr had stopped, directly in front of the stone slab where they intended to slit his throat, and turned to face those in attendance. Jorir studied his face, but if Einarr had spotted him he made no sign of it.

“It is true that am here today to provide your salvation, but I warn you: it may not be as enjoyable a spectacle as you were expecting. In fact, I suspect you will find the entire experience rather unpleasant.” He raised his bound hands in front of his chest and, with one swift motion, jerked his arms down and to his sides. The shackles fell away, and even from where he sat Jorir could not tell if they had been unlocked or broken.

There was no time to speculate. In the next instant, he was on his feet and rushing the dais. Chaos erupted on the edges of the assembly as arrows rained down on the heads of those who were meant to be there.

Mornik, from his position closer to the edge of the stage, took the chain he still held and lashed the nearest acolyte with the shackles. The robed figure dropped like a stone.

Jorir pulled Einarr’s brokkrsteel maille out from where he carried it under his cloak, buckled to the shoulders of his own maille, and held it out to him. “I am glad to see you are well, milord.”

“Me, too.” Einarr grinned at him as he took the maille and pulled it over his head. Jorir already had Sinmora ready.

Einarr threw the baldric over his shoulder.

Kaldr, Naudrek, and Thjofgrir all rushed onto the stage now from their places with the ambushers. Brandir and Gheldram were both leading the assault on the assembly, and would not be joining them here.

“Is everything ready?” Einarr asked, freeing the ends of his hair from the maille.

“Hours ago,” Thjofgrir drawled. Naudrek chuckled, and even Jorir was forced to agree.

Now freed of his burdens, Jorir drew his own axe. “Let’s go, then.”

“Where are the Thane and the Priest?” Kaldr asked.

Jorir could think of very few directions they could have even tried to escape. The question was, which one was most likely? Then he shook his head: he knew where they were headed. “This way.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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