Einarr’s scream was followed quickly by Runa’s as the light shifted from one, central source of dim white light to a diffuse green. Kaldr spun on his heels, only to see his Prince collapsing to the floor, and the Lady racing across to where he fell.
“What happened?” he called across as he returned his attention to the hall beyond. The beast was far too close for comfort.
“I don’t know!” It was Vali who answered: Kaldr assumed the Lady was examining Einarr. “We finally found the door, but there didn’t seem to be any way to open it from this side. So Einarr drew Bjarkan, and then… this.” Disconcertingly, he cackled.
Kaldr tightened his grip on his sword. This could get very bad, very fast.
Not much light reached the passage, but what did was just enough to prove they were out of time. A fleshy-looking white rod impacted with the wall, just at the edge of what Kaldr could see, and then vanished again.
“Runa? Is he all right?”
“He’ll be fine, I think. The backlash knocked him out, but -”
The beast’s chirrup, from down the hall, sounded more like the hunting cry of a wyrm at this distance. Whatever it was, there wouldn’t be much choice but to fight it.
“But his breathing is normal. I’m not sure… no! Damn these dvergr! It’s the statues!”
An unnerving giggle echoed through the chambers, plainly from the apparition.
“Explain. Quickly.” Kaldr took a step back from the doorway so that he would be half-hidden by the stone and motioned for Thjofgrir and Naudrek to do the same. It was starting to sound like Vali would be little help here.
“Sculpting is the Art of Defense. It basically cancels static magic.”
Thunderous footsteps sounded in the hall, far too close to the door.
“It’s not great for me, either, but I’ll do what I can.”
Kaldr met eyes with Thjofgrir. The other man gave a familiar wry grin. Naudrek looked grim as he limbered his shoulders and neck. They were in for the fight of their lives, but it looked like they were all up for it.
The noise reverberated so loudly Kaldr worried it would bring down the ceiling on them, dvergr work or no. Then it stuck its head inside, even as a glowing green mist rose up around them all. Are you trying to help us or not, Vali? Even if he was, Kaldr wasn’t certain how helpful thick fog was going to be here.
The beast’s head was shaped like a snake’s, but instead of dry scales here they saw moist, slimy-looking skin and gill slits, like a fish might have. Between the cheeks and the gills, little tentacles writhed like worms in a frill around its head.
“Now!” Kaldr shouted, unnecessarily. Thjofgrir was already in motion, his blade held in both hands and his shield still slung over his shoulder. It hissed as blood welled up from the cut, but even from this angle Kaldr could tell it was just a shallow strike.
The creature’s head had fit through the door, but it was having to fight to get its shoulders in. Kaldr lunged forward and cut at the gills. Its skin felt preternaturally tough, though, so even though he knew it to be a solid hit, it too merely welled with a thin line of blood.
Naudrek, in the center, saw both of these blows glance off the beast’s slimy flesh. He stood a moment longer, studying the creature. Then, with a nod to himself, he took a step back and then leaped onto its nose, sword-tip first.
The beast let out another of its shockingly loud chirps and shook its head, this way and that, trying to shake off the prey that had stuck its nose. Well. It didn’t like that.
Kaldr was up next to its neck, now, even as its first four-toed leg was wriggling through. Each of those toes had claws as long as a dagger, and likely just as sharp.
The eerie, mad laughter echoed through the room again, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The fog no longer seemed to glow in and of itself, but rather little balls of what he could only term ghost fire hung in the air around the beast’s head. Kaldr could see it squinting against the light, sideways membranes squeezing to cover most of the eye.
There was something strangely familiar about the form of this beast, but Kaldr did not have time to dwell on it. He stabbed his sword forward, straight into the gills.
It hissed and tried to close its gills around his sword.
He hopped back. Too hasty. What else might work?
Then the beast got its second leg in. Now that its shoulders were through the door, there was very little to bar the slimy creature from getting to all of them. Very little, save for the four of them. Kaldr had to do better than that.
Naudrek had gained his footing again, just long enough to retrieve his sword from its nose and plunge it down again. It hissed and reared up, trying to dislodge the offending creature on the ceiling. While it was stretched up on its toes, Kaldr hacked at them.
This time, his blow did what he expected it to, and three of the beast’s webbed toes were sheared off.
That got its attention. It twisted its head around and bit at Kaldr.
Naudrek, still on its nose, drew out his sword again and stabbed at the inside of the jaw, just behind the row of sharp, needle-like teeth. Amazingly, he did not lose his sword to its bite.
And that was when Vali, the apparition bound to a jar, began to wail.
Kaldr was only aware of it at first as a prickling on the back of his neck and a feeling of deep unease, even above fighting this monstrosity that had been chasing them for who knows how long through these accursed tunnels. But then the feeling of unease grew until it felt like the room was vibrating with it, and with the hollow rage of a spirit forever bound to – what?
Even the hungry beast seemed to shiver at the sound – right up until Thjofgrir took its other foreleg at the knee. Now it lay, half inside their only sanctuary, on its chest, hissing and chirping and biting around itself left and right. Kaldr almost felt sorry for it: it was now down two legs. They would have to kill it, if they could.
That was the moment that Runa began to Sing.
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