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?”

“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.

Kree-ee-ee!

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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Over the course of a week the seas plied by the whalers of Attilsund and, now, the Vidofnir grew colder, until it felt more like they were out early in the spring rather than the middle of summer. That they had not yet seen floating ice did not reassure Einarr about the lack of icebergs in the area.

No ice did not mean no thing, however. Occasionally, through the fog off to the east, he thought he saw the shadow of a ship. When he mentioned it to Bardr, the man nodded and doubled the watch.

The move from calm seas to rough waters was just as gradual. They were a week and a half out from Attilsund when they started doing battle with the sail, and a few days beyond that the currents grew mischievous.

The mysterious ship was closer, when it appeared again, although still too far to make out its banner. The Vidofnir assumed a battle footing until they once again lost sight of their shadow

Svarek was tasked with helping Sivid watch the sounding line, just as Irding joined Erik wrestling the sail. The sea was wearing them down, and their target had not yet come into view through the mist that always seemed to obscure the horizon line. And they whale these waters?

On the thirteenth day, a dark shape seemed to rise in the mist out on the horizon. “Land ho!” came the cry from the forecastle.

“Ready oars!” Stigander ordered.

One hour passed, then another, before they felt the waters begin to tug at their boat in earnest and the sounders called a warning. “Hard starboard!”

The oarsmen put their backs into the turn. A moment later a gust of wind puffed into the sail and chilled their necks. Then the true challenge began.

Einarr’s forearms bulged as he fought with his oar, his ears straining for orders from Captain or sounding line. The Vidofnir pitched underfoot. He could be grateful, at least, that there was no rain to slick the deck.

For what felt like hours they fought their way past hidden shoals and unpredictable winds. Now Einarr saw ice when he looked up and, when he had a moment to breathe and looked behind them, their shadow, following the same approach to the ship-barrow that the Vidofnir had plied. “Looks like we’ve got competition, boys!”

Their shadow-ship bore a blue and white sail, and still they were too far to make out the creature on their banner.

“Let ‘em come!” Erik’s laughter was met with cheers from elsewhere on deck.

“Let’s see if they’ve got the guts for what comes next.” Stigander crossed his arms and stared dead ahead. “Mind your oars! Prepare to retract on my word!”

“Aye, sir!” The Chute was ahead where, based on the sea charts and their best reckoning, the safest route forward would take them up a narrow channel between two large rocks jutting up out of the sea.

Stigander took his time getting the Vidofnir lined up to shoot the gap.

A cold wind filled their sail. “Row for all you’re worth, boys!”

They put their backs into it, unsure even now if the channel would be wide enough for their ship, hoping momentum might carry them through a tight squeeze.

The cliffs drew up rapidly on either side. As the cock’s head of the Vidofnir entered the shadow of the rocks they seemed to loom overhead.

“Oars in!”

With one practiced motion and the clatter of wood striking wood, the oarsmen stowed their oars.

“I want half of you on battle footing. Be on the lookout for kalalintu, or any hostile movements from the ship that’s tailing us. The rest of you stay put in case we have to pole off the rocks.”

Einarr moved to battle footing, feeling only a little bad for those who were too slow to escape oar watch. He wasn’t likely to shiver less than they, and while the possibility of a kalalintu attack was a real danger, they didn’t exactly stir the blood.

“Portside nudge.”

His father’s voice echoed twice as loud off the water’s surface and the rock walls, even over the whistling wind, and Einarr started. Calm down. We’ll make it.

The gobbling screech of kalalintu floated down the chasm to his ears, but the winged fish remained out of sight. Einarr glanced up: the sky had shaded from blue to silver since they’d entered the chute.

“Starboard nudge.”

Einarr managed not to jump that time. The wind seemed to be dying down, though, and he thought he heard the tell-tale creaking of wood from off behind them. It seemed odd, though, that he could not see them now.

He blinked. It wasn’t just the sky that had gone grey: the cliff ledges far above were shrouded with haze, as well as anything more than about a hundred feet forward or back of the Vidofnir. It seemed to have gotten colder, as well: when he exhaled, he could see his breath.

A low muttering rose around the deck of the Vidofnir as the others noticed this as well. Einarr thought he heard some of the men praying forgiveness from the ancestors for what they were about to do. Not that it was likely to do much good. Well. If it came down to it, they could sacrifice some of whatever they found to grant the shipwrecked spirits a proper rest. But first, they had to make it through the chute to the isle of wrecks.

The Vidofnir rocked and wood ground against stone.


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