The light no longer reached the water’s edge when the sound of wet footfalls against the stone floor of the cave began to echo behind them. Einarr wished he could be surprised, but if the monster had given up that easily he doubted the dvergr would have bound it. That it was bound to the area was almost certain: probably they were lucky they hadn’t run into it while they were swimming.

The footfalls did not seem to be gaining on them, or at least not very quickly, but Einarr could already hear a new problem from up ahead: howling wind.

What now? At this rate, he was going to start looking for deadfalls around every corner. Einarr took a deep breath, considering. The passage seemed reasonably wide here, even if it was still far too short for comfort. “Everyone hears that, right?”

Nods all around.

“Who feels like they’re in any condition to fight?”

“Well, if we have to…” Thjofgrir shrugged.

“So then it’s safe to say, even after our little impromptu nap, none of us are really in great shape?”

“That is my impression as well,” Kaldr answered.

Einarr nodded. The slapping noises had grown louder. “Then if we’re not in any condition to fight whatever that is, we need to pick up the pace. Go!”

None of them needed to be told a second time, even if Runa did still look dangerously pale under the light of his shield. Naudrek took long, loping strides even in the cramped conditions, and if Runa had to scramble to keep up she did still manage.

A long, low chirp echoed out through the tunnel behind them. Whatever it was, it sounded big. Big, and inhuman.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do to slow it down?” Naudrek asked over his shoulder.

“You want me to use more runes now? Right after my clumsy circle almost got us eaten?”

“I for one would rather handle this the old-fashioned way,” Kaldr put in. Einarr had to agree this time. He’d use them again if he had to, but if they could throw their pursuer off without it would be better.

They held no pretense of stealth, but Einarr thought the creature that pursued them was not likely tracking them by sound anyway.

As they loped along, Einarr had his eyes open for any sort of a side passage or some loose rock – anything to slow it down. The dvergr had promised them death for entering these tunnels, but what sort of prince would Einarr be if he simply accepted such a thing?

The passageway stretched on. The light from his shield only illuminated a few paces ahead of Naudrek at the pace they were keeping: they could stumble into nearly anything this way, and it was sure to be at least as deadly as the creature behind them. Einarr stretched out his arms to drag his fingers along the walls. If they could find a crack or a crevice, like the one that had led them to the hall of pits and the stairway down, perhaps they could give the monster the slip. His fingers would find an opening long before his eyes did, under these circumstances.

The frog-like chirrup echoed through the hall again. Einarr didn’t know what would make a noise like that, but he was entirely certain he did not want to meet it.

Naudrek started to quicken his pace again, but Einarr slowed him again. He could hear Runa panting behind him already. Any faster, and one of them would have to carry her – which wouldn’t actually gain them any speed. Not for the first time, he wished he’d had a good reason to insist she stay home, and take Eydri instead. Then he wouldn’t be risking his wife and his heir in this mad journey.

His fingers caught on a sharp edge.

Before he thought about it, he moved his fingers to his mouth to suck at the blood that welled up from the cut. It was nothing serious, he thought, but neither was it an actual passage they could take advantage of. And now the creature would have the scent of his blood. Brilliant move, Einarr.

He shook his head and jogged on after Naudrek. There was nothing they could do about that now, and it would stop bleeding soon enough so he could keep feeling for a side-passage.

When they came to an actual fork in the path, Einarr was delighted.

“Go about fifteen paces down one leg, then we double back and take the other,” he instructed Naudrek. They would lose some of their lead, but if he was right that the hunter could smell them it might well throw it off their trail.

Another idea struck him. “Vali – can you obscure our trail?”

“How do you mean?”

“I think it’s got our scent. Can you cover it?” He was starting to feel a little winded, himself.

The apparition frowned, floating backwards just in front of Naudrek. “I can try? I can’t say I’ve ever tried something like that before.”

“Try, then. When we start down the second fork, try to make sure it goes down the first one.”

“Sure thing, chief.” Vali winked out of sight just as Naudrek was turning them around to double back.

Einarr thought he could hear the scraping of claws against the stone. Please let this work.

It chirruped again. It was definitely closer, but still not so close that he could see it in the shield light.

As they turned, he scooped Runa up into his arms and breathed one word to them all: “Run.”

At their new, breakneck pace, they all skidded a little making the turn into the second fork of the path, but they made the turn. What’s more, they caught no glimpse of the beast on their trail.

About thirty paces down the second passage, Vali popped up in front of them again. “I’ve done what I can. It won’t fool it forever, though, and it’s going to be mad when it catches the trail again.”

Einarr paused long enough to set Runa back on her feet, and then they were moving again at Naudrek’s ground-eating lope.

“So what did you do?”

The ghost shrugged. “I made it colder? I don’t really know how to describe it. I also hid your light.”

Einarr nodded, and none of them slowed. They still had no idea how to get out of here, and the farther behind they left the beast the better.

The walls became rougher, and a little looser, when a series of chirrups echoed through the halls at ear-piercing volume, followed by the crash of stone.

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.

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For the first time since they’d landed here in the middle of that terrible storm, Einarr could see the night sky. He had thought, of course, that by seeing the stars they would be able to guess where in the sea they had been taken. It was not to be.

In other circumstances, he would have loved being able to show this sky to Runa. The moon was a brilliant silver orb, and all around it shone more stars than any man could hope to count, so brightly that the sky itself seemed a shimmery blue rather than black. But the sight that was so beautifully vibrant above also proved that they were in no place Einarr could even guess at. He could not see a single constellation that might help point their way home.

He shared his watch with Jorir, but while the dwarf knew herb-craft better than Einarr expected any man of the clans to he had made plain he was no navigator. The stars were beyond his ken. Still, however, for the best that Runa watched with Erik. He was the best fighter of the four of them, but also the most reckless. Einarr heaved a sigh: that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“What’s on yer mind?” Jorir asked from his perch at the top of the rise.

“Where are we?”

“The Isle of the Forgotten, we’ve been told. I think the Lady might be better equipped to tell you that than I.” Jorir did him the courtesy of not feigning ignorance of the question, at least.

“You’ve never seen a sky like this before either, then.”

“Never. Although…” As his voice trailed off, Einarr heard the sound of a body sliding down a grassy slope, and then the dwarf’s footsteps approached. “If we’re tryin’ ta avoid the attention of a troll, now might not be the moment to talk about this.”

Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. My turn on the rise?”

“If you would.”

Off in the distance, further along the trail they had been following, there was a great crash of stone cracking against stone. Einarr cracked a wry smile, knowing nobody else would see it. “It seems I was right.”

“Quite. It also seems as though your troll is hunting elsewhere.”

“For now. Perhaps.” With a nod to himself, Einarr bent over and half-crawled up the slope of the hill. At the top, he stretched out on his stomach to make a less obvious target for anyone who happened to be looking. Or throwing.

Another crash, this one from the way they had come. What was it doing? Einarr knit his brow: the only answers that occurred to him were ones he definitely did not like – ones that suggested this troll was far more clever than ordinary. He would move them if he thought they were in danger of being hit by a flying rock, or if it seemed like the creature was otherwise close to finding them, but he’d meant what he told Runa. If it came down to it, the four of them could probably defeat the troll, or at least drive it off. But there would be a price, and probably a heavy one, and he needed them all in good health to get out of here.

Over the course of the rest of his watch, Einarr listened as the stones narrowed gradually in on their location. While they came nearer, he still didn’t think the troll knew where they were. He sat up to begin scooting down the slope.

A blast of earth and rocks pelted him from behind, throwing him forward into a tumble down the hill. A curse escaped his lips as he somersaulted down the slope: “Shit!”

Erik and Runa were already up by the time he regained his feet, and Jorir was tossing his pack over a shoulder. It hardly seemed necessary, but Einarr gave his order anyway. “Run!”

No-one tried to argue. Erik threw his baldric over a shoulder and took off. Runa and Jorir were right behind. Was this proof that the troll knew where they were, and would soon be on top of them? No, and it was also possible that by running they had given themselves away, much like a grouse in the woods. It was also possible, probable even, that the next stone would have landed in the middle of their camp.

The rocky trail shone silver in the starlight. They raced for it, stones exploding from the ground around them as they went. Einarr took the lead. They would be more visible on the path. He turned alongside it, hoping the others would follow suit.

The ground beneath his feet was rough and stone-pocked, and would have been even without the troll’s attentions. Einarr was forced to slow after the third time his ankle turned under him and threatened to send him crashing to the ground.

The trail was leading them closer to the ridge. Einarr paled but did not slow as he realized the trap they were in – how the troll hunted. They could not leave the path, as they had no other way to find the village. But the path was no safe haven, not here. Auna had warned them, but he had not understood. He set his jaw and ran faster.

Ahead of him, the ground shook, although it was not the sound of stone on stone that assaulted Einarr’s ears this time. He raised his head and pulled up out of his headlong run to stop. They could run no farther, for there, on the trail ahead of them, stood a man the size of a bear that made the huldrekall look handsome. Its skin appeared dark grey in the starlight, and its broad, drooping nose obscured the rotted mouth from which fetid breath blew. Long shanks of lank black hair hung from its head and blended with the black skin it had draped itself with.

The troll had found them.

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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 Smashwords, 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.