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.

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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’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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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’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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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.

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.

 

“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.

 

The five humans only made it as far as the hallway filled with priestly quarters before they ran into trouble. Halfway down stood a pair of dvergr dressed like priests. The white robes with their gold trim made their complexions look ghastly and grey.

The one in the front shrieked and pointed directly at Runa. “The vessel!”

Einarr wasted no time waiting for an explanation: he drew Sinmora.

“That’s the one who kept examining me,” Runa said, then cleared her throat.

“No! Don’t Sing here.”

Runa looked askance at Einarr’s order, but an order it was.

“Remember how the svartalfrs reacted to Song magic.”

Now she nodded. Thjofgrir and Naudrek had already taken the lead, and while the two priests up ahead were more durable than your average dvergr, they were still subdued easily.

“You want ‘em alive?” Thjofgrir asked, a knee in the back of the one who had spoken.

Einarr frowned, thinking. Could someone be redeemed when they were as… corrupted as these two appeared to be? He didn’t know, but they might be worth questioning later. “Throw them in the cage. I’ll improvise a new lock.”

“Why bother?” Runa’s voice was cold. At Einarr’s raised eyebrow, she continued. “Even the Matrons don’t know how to undo this. You’re the Cursebreaker, but these dvergr took the corruption into themselves – and willingly, as near as I’ve been able to gather. You’re better off killing them than leaving an enemy like this at our backs.”

Einarr shook his head. She wasn’t wrong, but… “Do it, Thjofgrir. We have no good way to shield ourselves from the corrupted blood, so I’d rather not expose you to any more of it than I can avoid.”

Runa grumbled, but evidently didn’t have a good counterargument for that. As well she shouldn’t: last time they’d fought this cult, the Matrons had sent him off after an artifact that belonged to Wotan’s wife – and that had disappeared after they destroyed Urdr’s Weavings over Breidelstein. (Einarr was not looking forward to explaining that to Ystävä, if the alfr ever decided to collect.) Somehow, he doubted Wotan would let him “borrow” it a second time.

They locked them in the cage, only it was not so much a lock. Einarr traced a series of runes along the edge of the door, and when they began to glow the bars became red-hot. When they cooled, moments later, the runes were gone and the bars had fused together entirely.

Einarr gave his wife half a smile. “You were worried about them being left behind us? I think, somehow, we’ll be okay.”


Jorir was pleased to discover that the smoke had not spread to the floor above. As they climbed out of the choking miasma, they all began to regain their strength. He hoped that meant they had made it out in time. “Once we’ve destroyed the Squiddies,” he muttered. “I’m dragging all of you with me to a priestess of Frigg.”

Mornik coughed. He seemed to have taken the worst of it. “Suits me fine.”

“We need to keep moving.” Brandir looked nervously up and down the hall. It was odd that they hadn’t seen more acolytes: were they perhaps down in the streets, dealing with the bigger distraction?

Jorir moved up next to Brandir and took a look around as well. This would be a level for the next level of initiate, Jorir suspected, but there were only three more levels between where they were and where they had left the humans. “Well, come on. This way. We kill anything that moves, and break anything that looks like it might keep them busy, just like below.”

Gheldram chuckled drily. “Perhaps not just like below.”

“Hrmph. Perhaps.”

Unfortunately for Jorir’s team, the second level was lined with initiate quarters along the outside edges, but the features in the more spacious interior seemed largely recreational. There was a mess, and a training hall, and not much of anything else. Furthermore, this floor, too, seemed to be deserted.

Less than halfway through the floor, as Jorir judged it, he stopped. “Something’s not right here. Where is everyone?”

Gheldram, too, frowned. “You’re right. The distraction in the streets wouldn’t account for this.”

“We head back up. We’ll meet Lord Einarr’s team in the designated spot and keep it clear.”


The four dvergr found themselves crouching in the middle of the stairway up to the final floor, the one they had entered through the hidden passage, and cursing their fortunes. They could just see the floor above, and it appeared to be packed with squiddies.

“More or less what we feared,” he whispered.

“Rather. But, the more we can clear out, the fewer your human friends have to deal with, right?” Brandir looked grim, and Jorir didn’t blame him at all. That was a lot of squiddies: their best hope was that they were clustered together in groups, rather than packed that full the whole way through. He nodded in response and took a firmer grip on his axe handle. Then, without a word, he held up three fingers.

Two.

One.

When the last finger became part of Jorir’s fist, all four dvergr charged the high ground.

It never would have worked if the squiddies had been expecting it. Thankfully for Jorir and his team, none of the acolytes near the door were paying any attention to the stairway behind them – almost as if they didn’t think there could be any other groups of enemies in the Mount. Not for the first time, Jorir was glad that the corruption changed the way people functioned in some rather predictable – and stupid – ways.

The first rank of four, those closest to the door, fell without a fight, and suddenly Jorir and his team were standing where they had been, laying about themselves and destroying the corrupted dvergr as quickly as they could manage. They were halfway back to the secret passage when Jorir felt his strength beginning to flag. He supposed, after that cursed snake and all the smoke down below, that he shouldn’t be surprised, but it still rankled.

That was when some of the squiddies began to stand back up. One of them, quite nearby, had been disemboweled. When those bowels began to twist and writhe on their own, their color getting darker and darker until it was nearly black, Jorir concluded they were entirely too close. “Gheldram!”

He hardly needed to catch the man’s attention. Even as the word left his mouth, the massive hammer came down on the writhing tentacles on the floor, pulverizing them. Now Jorir felt queasy for an entirely legitimate reason.

“Quickly! We must secure the passage!”

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.

 

The patrolling guards never saw what hit them. Einarr blinked to realize there were only two who came to investigate, and those two were already down.  They continued on their way.

The passage Mornik led them down showed every sign of having been long forgotten. They passed truly massive spider’s nests and other signs of vermin as they crept down into the mountain and towards whatever horrors might lurk beneath on their way to reclaim Runa. Still, though, they moved cautiously and kept their speech to a minimum: voices carry in caves, after all, and there was no telling who might be listening on the other end.

They had not gone very far, though, before Einarr decided to risk a light. He claimed a loose stone from the ground and inscribed it with a sun rune, willing it to life very dimly – much as he had with his shield in the Paths of Stone.

From time to time they passed small branch passages, some of them no bigger than a crack in the wall, all of which appeared to have been claimed by vermin. When they heard a skitter or a squeak, it almost invariably came from down one of these passages. Little wonder they had been claimed by vermin after something like two hundred years – Jorir had never said when in the upheaval he was exiled, and now was not the time to ask.

At long last, their path led up against a stone door which did not look to have been disturbed for a very long while – although, since this was the route Mornik said he took before, looks were almost certainly deceiving here. The sneakiest of their dvergr companions, Mornik pressed his ear against the blocks that appeared to seal up the passage and listened. The others held their breath. After that seemingly breathless eternity, when Mornik was satisfied that the passage outside was clear, he put his back to the stone just off-center and pushed. Shockingly, the door swung open silently, as though it had been perfectly balanced for just such a circumstance.

Inside the habitable portion, the passages of the cult’s holy place were shockingly bright when compared with the stronghold of the svartalfrs. The walls were done in white limestone, and the fire that burned in the sconces was of the ordinary color. Einarr glanced to Jorir for an explanation, but the dvergr merely shook his head and shrugged.

It was Brandir who had the answer. “They’ve positioned themselves as the path to eternity and a way of ensuring survival through Ragnarok. They promised long-life, and cheating death, and for that their colors are white and gold,” he whispered. The fact that the same cult could have two such different faces was a puzzle to Einarr, but not a puzzle whose answer presented itself just yet.

Now that they were inside, it was time to part ways. Jorir and Brandir, and Gheldram and Mornik, were to split off and head for the outer reaches of the temple to cause yet more chaos. Meanwhile, Einarr and the other men were to seek out the priestly offices where they held their female captives.

As they parted ways, Jorir knelt before Einarr and hung his head. “My lord… forgive me. If it were not for me… for my conflicted loyalties, and my foolish obedience to a summons by a Thane no longer my own, none of you would have been captured, and Runa would not be in danger.”

Einarr smirked. “What are you bowing your head for? Rise. I knew we would have to come here someday, and you warned me what insanity we would face when we fought the svartalfrs. I knew that you were as loyal to your dvergr kith and kin as you were to me.” He offered Jorir a hand and pulled him to his feet. “As much as you are my liegeman, you are also my friend. We’ll save Runa and the babe, both. Good luck out there.”

“And to you.”

The two clasped hands, and then the party split – Einarr and his company heading off to the left, Jorir and his to the right.

There would be no hiding for their group: if they encountered cultists, the only thing they could do would be to kill them quickly. For that reason, Einarr was very glad to see that the ceilings had been built far taller here than in most dvergr architecture, to the point that they could actually all stand up straight. He preferred not to think too closely on why they might have done that, however: the only answer he got was of a she-troll, dead on the ground, and suddenly no longer a troll but a human woman. He shuddered as they rounded a corner.

“What is it?” Kaldr kept his voice low.

“Just… if the squiddies here are as… creative as the svartalfr ones, know that the creature you’re fighting may not be the creature you think you’re fighting.”

He glanced over long enough to see a troubled look on Kaldr’s face: just as well. It had been a terrible thing to be surprised by.

Mornik had given them a general idea of which way to go: after this passage, there would be another to their right, which would bring them into a long hallway lined with widely-spaced doors. Behind these doors were their female captives.

Around that third corner they practically collided with the first patrol they had seen since they entered the secret passage. Einarr didn’t think: he reacted. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sinmora was out of her sheathe and embedded in the dvergr’s belly. Black blood oozed around the crossguard. He gave the blade a twist to free it and sprang back before the corrupted blood could reach his hands.

As quickly as he dispatched that one, the other members of the patrol had not been caught quite so off-guard. One of them was occupied in holding off Thjofgrir’s powerful blows, while the last was dancing circles around Kaldr and Naudrek. Well. I can probably do something about that. He may have been preternaturally quick, but he still didn’t have eyes in the back of his head. Einarr swung Sinmora at the back of his legs, and while Sinmora bit deep it did not go down.

That was when eyes did, in fact, open on the back of its head.

“Aah!” Einarr turned his shout of horror into strength for his attack as he stabbed at the dvergr guardsman’s head. In the same moment, Kaldr and Naudrek buried their blades in its sides and it collapsed to the floor. Now all that was left was the one Thjofgrir fought.

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.

 

Hi, Everyone! Allene here. We’re going to try something special with book 8, assuming I don’t exhaust myself in the process. In an effort to get my rankings higher on TWF and RRL, I’m aiming to post two chapters/day for the next two weeks (so, 28 chapters in 2 weeks, or what will probably be most of the book), and then go straight into book 9 when it’s done. Wish me luck!

In the morning, whether by excellent foresight or an excess of caution, Captain Kormund ordered that they continue rowing under sail, as the wind remained favorable. He also doubled the watch off their stern. No-one seemed surprised, and if there was grumbling about all the rowing, it was directed at the accursed Imperials who seemed intent on running the Eikthyrnir to ground.

Indeed, come midmorning, a shimmer on the horizon swiftly resolved itself into the all-too-familiar shape of an Imperial dromon under full sail. Another round of cursing traveled around the deck of the ship, and some of the men muttered darkly about effeminate Imperial magicians and enslaved spirits.

Captain Kormund had a whispered conference of rather fierce intensity, and then an order was given that really got the sailors talking.

They dropped the sea anchor and furled the sail. Evidently, the Captain intended to wait for the other ship and confront them directly.

The men readied for boarding. Some of the rasher of their number likely looked forward to taking the fight to their pursuers. Most of them, however, were not so angry as to forget what happened the last time they tried to fight this ship.

The dromon accepted the invitation. Over the next several hours, they watched the ship grow incrementally closer. As it did, two things became plain. First, the ship itself did shine, although in the full light of day it was harder to tell. Second, the nearer the ship drew the harder it was to be angry about it and the easier it was to admit, at least to oneself, that they were afraid of it. Like hiding in a hunting blind while a giant bear searched for berries above your head, as Vold had described it. Naudrek and Hrug looked at Einarr, and he could see in their faces the very thing he was thinking.

Finally, the dromon, too, dropped its sea anchor. They were within hailing distance, if only just. Captain Kormund strode to the bulwark and called across.

“Hail, enemy ship of the Order of the Valkyrie! You are within Clan waters, pursuing a vessel on peaceful errand. If you do not break off we will be forced to seek an alliance against you.”

Einarr tried to think who controlled this area, between the ruins of Langavik and the svartalfr stronghold. Did the thane over Langavik still care? Or had he ceded control to the cult?

“Hail, pirate scum!” Came the reply from the other ship, spoken just as coolly as Kromund’s initial call. Predictably, a dull roar of protest rose up off the deck of the Eikthyrnir.

“We have reason to believe that you will soon be in contact with those responsible for unleashing a curse of corruption upon the peoples of Langtoft and Southwaite, and that they have among their number those capable of ending this affliction.”

Einarr froze. None of the cultists had gotten away, that he knew of, so how…?

“Our information suggests that one of their number may be aboard your ship. If this is so, we will gladly accept him as a guest on the Arkona, but we must still ask that you guide us to those we seek.”

The Captain, to his credit, did not hesitate. “We refuse. I say again, return to your port and leave us be.”

“We refuse. We cannot and will not abandon these people to such a fate. Moreover, the Order holds that responsibility for this curse rests with the Clans, as its origin, which we have just yesterday visited, is within Clan waters.”

Einarr bit off a curse.

“Then it seems we are at an impasse. I had hoped to avoid fighting…”

“You are welcome to try.”

“Wait.” Einarr stepped forward. “I know only one way of ending that curse, and it is bloodshed. If you wish to stop it in its tracks, then burn Langtoft and Southwaite to the ground. Leave none alive, and pray you do not have one of the horrors in the region.”

“You are the one Hrist spoke of?”

“Perhaps. It is true that last summer my father’s ship pursued some kidnappers into the island we just left, and as we escaped we did battle with the svartalfr cultists who lived beneath it. Some of the elder Singers were able to cleanse us of the corruption, but only with the aid of a divine artifact.”

“Then we would ask you to finish what you started, and cleanse these islands of the plague you released upon them, and bring with you the artifact.”

“I cannot go with you.” So long as one of those horrific creatures that had escaped the cultists’ hulls was not in the area, burning it to the ground was still the surest way to ensure it did not spread. “I can warn you not to let the black blood touch you, and I can sincerely wish you the best of luck eradicating the corruption, but it is not me you need, nor any of the Vidofnings. Only the stomach to do what is needed, and the knowledge that those with the black blood are no longer men but monsters.”

There was a long pause from the dromon. “Hrist assures me that your presence will be necessary on the archipelago, and wishes me to mention a… black kraken.”

Now he blanched. “I had hoped that thing would die of its wounds. It was all we could do to keep it from destroying our ship.”

“We would follow you to speak with your father, whatever you say.”

Einarr sighed. “He will tell you what I have told you, and at that point you will be farther from the afflicted towns. But-” and he turned to Captain Kormund. “It is true that the horror of the black kraken would likely still be bound in the hull of a demon-ship called Grendel if we had not fought them there.”

The captain’s nostrils widened momentarily, then he nodded. “Very well. We will escort you as far as this man’s port. But if you do not wish to invite further attack, I recommend sailing in our wake. It may be wise to run up your white flag, if you have such a thing.”


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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 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 volley of arrows flew in a flaming arc from the Vidofnir across to the enemy vessel. At the peak of that arc, the crew brought their axes down into the deck boards. Not one of them missed, despite the fact that they all seemed to be crowded around the mast – in the area the Grendelings had actively avoided traversing.

Time seemed to slow for Einarr as the last of their flaming arrows buried themselves in the damaged deck of the enemy vessel. Moments later, the enemy crew was gone, vanished into the maw of the creature that replaced them. Einarr had a far better view of the monstrosity this time than the one on board the Grendel: he wished he hadn’t.

The first thing he saw was the crimson beak that shot upward – not the beak of a seabird, but of a massive squid – once again far more massive than should have been able to fit beneath the deck of a longship. Then the beak retracted and in its place climbed a curtain of tentacles that writhed in the rain.

Fear was not an emotion the Vidofnings were accustomed to, in the main. However, as the wall of webbed flesh climbed the mast and rose up toward the clouds, farther than even the tales told of kraken could hope to reach, there was not a man among them but felt a cold shiver of dread up their spine.

“Fall back! All hands – to oars!” Stigander’s order rang loud and clear across the deck of the Vidofnir. The helmsman threw his weight against the rudder even as the back line of archers fought to turn the sail. Despite the mass of writhing flesh that now tore through their sail to perch at the top of the mast, the enemy ship seemed stable for now.

The thing on top of it was another matter. Einarr could not tear his eyes away as he slung his bow over his shoulder: he would have to deal with the string later. If there was one thing to be glad of as he lunged for the end of an oar, it was that Jorir had just sharpened his blade. He threw his back into rowing while the new monstrosity twitched and writhed, sprouting feathered wings in nonsensical locations at impossible angles.

Stigander’s cadence was harsh and rapid, and slowly the Vidofnir began to pull away from the cultist’s vessel. The mass of wings and tentacles perched atop the mast twitched and writhed, until Einarr thought he could see its beak poking out through the top. A groaning of wood suggested that the mast would not hold out much longer – although it was hard to tell if the mast would go before the burning deck or not.

The creature beat its wings and the groaning became a cracking, somehow still audible over the sound of wind through the thing’s feathers. Three more convulsive wing beats brought the monstrosity fully into the air, and as its tentacles released the mast the shattered wood tumbled down into the sea.

Stigander’s cadence had ceased at some point during all this as every eye aboard the Vidofnir was drawn to the abomination that now, somehow, flew overhead. Part of Einarr thought they had wasted their last volley on the ship that now foundered not a hundred yards away from their port bow… not that he thought shooting that thing would do any good.

The monstrosity turned a ponderous circle in the air and flapped off back the way they had come. A moment later, Einarr heard the Brunning’s war cry, which still did not manage to drown out the thunder-clap of a reinforced keel tearing through the clinks of the last enemy’s bow or the tooth-grating keening that came from below its deck.

“Stand down.” Stigander was audibly weary, as well he might be at this stage of a battle. Down by a third of her crew, battle-scarred, and out of ammunition, the Vidofnir was out of the fight… but if Captain Kragnir couldn’t manage a single enemy vessel on his own, he deserved to lose.

***

As boarding actions go, the Skudbrun’s had been straightforward. Robbed of whatever it was that had been below their deck before the Brunning charge had broken its cage, the warriors aboard the last of the cultish vessels folded quickly. When Stigander brought the Vidofnir alongside the Skudbrun, Kragnir was in the midst of branding the surrendered as thralls.

“…You sure that’s wise?” Stigander called across.

“Perhaps not,” Kragnir answered, his words accentuated by the sizzle of flesh. “But it is Correct.”

Jorir made a disapproving noise from farther back in the ship – too far back, Einarr was sure, for the Brunnings to hear. Probably it was, in fact, very unwise to even think of these warriors as men any longer. On the other hand, when one’s enemies became no longer human, but merely beasts… well, that way lay depravity. Einarr shook his head.

“What kept you?” Kragnir had turned, now, and moved to face Stigander on the Vidofnir.

“An old grudge and a difficult fight.” Stigander shook his head. “Our little ruse failed to deceive the Grendel.”

Boots on deck stopped next to where Einarr stood, and an elbow reached out to jostle him. “’An I were you, I’d not let the Lady on board with all those so-called prisoners,” Jorir whispered.

Einarr nodded, slowly. He would not fault the truth of his own eyes, although he could not blame the other Captain for his reluctance: even still, those sailors had forsaken their humanity. “I have an idea.”

He found Reki and Runa both amidships, treating the wounded among their number. Einarr cleared his throat to catch their attention: Runa beamed at him even as she kept singing, but when Reki looked at him with her albino eyes it was jarring in a way it had not been since she came aboard. Still he beckoned her over.

“What is it?” she croaked.

He offered her his water skin as small consolation for requiring her voice further. “Captain Kragnir is taking prisoners off one of the boats.”

Reki’s grimace could have frozen the rapidly calming sea around them, but she took a swig of the proffered water.

“I thought I recalled you wanting to pay a visit to the Singer’s conclave, though, and I believe Runa is still expected there…”

Reki nodded, taking another swig before wiping her mouth on the back of her arm. “I’ll have a word with the Captain. Good thinking.”

She took two steps towards the two Captains, paused, and then thrust the water skin back at his chest.


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