As one, the six men rushed for the flesh puppet that had been the high priest of the demigod. In rapid succession their blades slashed through his body, and the flesh puppet fell to the vines beneath their feet, in enough pieces that it was hard to tell he had once been human. The energy form that hovered behind the body of the flesh puppet seemed to pulse, and Einarr had the mental impression of a bird of prey’s screech. He held his breath.

With a sound like breaking glass, the rune circle shattered. The vines disappeared from beneath their feet. Even as he tumbled to the ground, Einarr heard Hrug scream. The sorcerer clutched his head in his hands and fell to the floor bleeding.

Einarr rolled to his feet: he seemed to still be in one piece, anyway. The others in the melee had risen to their feet again, as well – all except Thjofgrir, whose face was as waxy and ashen as a draugr’s. A fresh wave of rage rolled across Kaldr’s face, but it was gone in a moment.

A moment after that, they had no room to think about fallen comrades or even their next assault. The crackling black energy that had hovered behind the flesh-puppet like a massive octopus, freed of its binding, tossed Arring, Troa, and Naudrek across the hall in one sweep of one tentacle. A chittering sound echoed through the room: Einarr had the distinct sense that it was laughing at them.

Then another tentacle swept his side of the room, and it was all he could do to brace before he, too, was thrown halfway across the room. His shield boss rang as it struck the wall, and even over the bell-like noise he heard the wood of the shield begin to splinter. He had been wrong – utterly wrong, about everything it seemed. Had Thjofgrir truly perished for only a momentary advantage? Einarr’s lip curled in rage. He couldn’t let it end this way.

Even before the activation of the circle their blades had done something. Therefore, they just needed to hang on long enough for someone to figure out their next step.

That was going to be easier said than done. His ribs ached already, and he was pretty sure dodging one of those tentacles would be well nigh impossible. On the other hand, there was Jorir, clinging to the tentacle by his axes, currently embedded in the mass of energy they fought.

It’s not that we can’t hurt it – we have. So then…

Jorir’s axe head lost its purchase in the flailing arm and the dvergr joined Einarr against the wall. “That could have gone better.”

“Less complaining, more scheming, please!” Einarr resettled his shield and hefted Sinmora once again.

“Heh. Yes, sir!” Then the two of them were charging back towards the main body of the creature known as Malùnion.

Einarr heard Arring’s battle cry as he, too, rushed forward with his blade in hand, dashing with surprising nimbleness towards the central mass of the body.

He got a good way across the floor before one of the tentacle ends came down on his head. The blow stunned him for just a moment, and then the demigod flicked him away again. This time Arring crashed into the back of one of the pews in the temple hall. Arring had ridiculous strength, but Einarr wondered how many more times his back could take that.

Eydri’s song no longer carried through the Hall: Einarr risked a glance that direction as he hurried through a row of pews. She had crept forward and was checking on Hrug, bless her. Never mind that she was in the most danger from this thing now that it was free.

We’ll just have to keep it too busy to focus on her, then. Already, though, he felt his fatigue creeping back into his legs. No matter: this was no duel, to be halted on a whim. If they faltered, they died – and very likely the world with them.

Einarr and Jorir were still several yards distant when Naudrek and Troa reached the main body together. Naudrek’s sword found purchase and opened a gouge in the base of one of the legs, and then Troa plunged his blade deeper into the wound. It was a good idea, and they were well inside its guard.

Somehow, though, that mattered less now that it wasn’t restrained by its meat puppet or the vines. The end of the tentacle curled inward and bashed both men against its rubbery flesh. Naudrek was still blinking and half-dazed when Einarr and Jorir decided to try the same thing. Jorir chopped at the wound they had opened – and that was rapidly closing now that their blades had fallen free – and Einarr followed up by plunging Sinmora in as deeply as he could.

This seemed to annoy Malùnion, at least. The screech sounded in his head again.

Rather than try for another cut, Einarr threw Naudrek’s arm over his shoulder. Movement in his peripheral vision confirmed what he expected. He dove forward, and neither of them were caught up in the tentacle that grabbed at them.

Jorir and Troa, too, managed to evade being grabbed.

Naudrek had his feet again, so Einarr freed his arm. “Join up with Arring! We need a plan.”

His second after Jorir nodded mutely and began ducking and weaving toward where the strong man was still picking himself up off the floor. That last one must have winded him.Then Einarr gave Jorir the same instruction, and headed off himself. Dvergr and scout followed, not many paces behind. Not that they would have very long to plan: Eydri was quiet for the moment, but she was also working independently. If she determined she needed to Sing again, the rest of them would have to be ready to call its attention away again. Its acolytes actively hunted Singers, after all: why wouldn’t the thing itself?

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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 e-book 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.

 

Einarr ignored the throbbing in his temples as the last of his men gathered together around the now-silent tower. They had lost two or three handfulls of men out of the crews of two ships – more than Einarr liked, after his years wandering, but acceptable under the circumstances.

The arrows had ceased to fall some time ago: Einarr guessed that the captain of the archers had given it up for futile. That was good, because the quaking earth had begun to cause problems for Einarr’s men, as well. It was also bad, though, because those archers would almost certainly be waiting on the other side of the tower door. Because he expected an ambush inside, Einarr had inscribed a on the door, and another on the flagstones below it.

Irding took the fore, flanked by Arkja and Troa. Jorir stayed at the back with Einarr: he had made it plain his intention was to guard his liege lord. For his part, Einarr was grateful. He could not see the wound in his leg well enough to heal it properly, and healed poorly was often worse than not healed at all.

“Shields up, on my mark,” Einarr said. He took a deep breath. “Three, two one — now.”

His men brought their shields up into a wall. A heartbeat after the last rattle, he used his configuration to blast open the door ahead of them. Irding led the charge through the haze of the blast and into the tower.

The door opened into an empty antechamber. One set of stairs followed the wall up to the next floor, and across the room another led down – into what horrors, Einarr did not care to speculate.

Empty was unexpected, but the men knew what to do. About half split off to take the heights of the tower, while Einarr and Jorir went with the rest down into the depths. Probably the men heading up would get the glory of taking the leader’s head, but practically speaking Einarr would more likely be needed to deal with whatever horrors they had called into being.

As soon as the door to the second floor was opened the fighting began again, but the defenders had missed an opportunity: they hadn’t been holding the stairs here. Irding bowled over the lone archer in the door while he was still sighting his shot, and the upstairs team began pouring through.

The door heading down was barred from below. Jorir hefted his axe to begin chopping at it, but Einarr raised a hand to stop him. “The longer this takes, the more time they have to prepare a trap. Let me.”

Drawing a pair of thorns took almost no time at all, and though the thrumming in his head spiked it did not remain high after he had blown away this second door, and the front runners rushed once more through the gap.

Below, the stairway was lined with torches burning in a familiar blue flame. If Einarr had needed any further confirmation that this was the same cult that had killed Astrid and kidnapped Runa just a few short years ago, this was it.

They were vulnerable going down the stairs: there was no barrier separating the outside of the stair from the open air and the long drop to the next floor, and they were perhaps halfway down it when that floor lit up in the poisonous blue of the torchlight. “Shields up and keep moving!”

The order was likely unnecessary, but Einarr intended to spend the lives of his men dearly if he had to at all.

A moment later and the volley of arrows from below flew across empty space, burying their heads in shields and the cracks of stone. He did not hear anyone cry out: he hoped that meant no-one else had been taken in a leg.

The lighting in here was dim, and the footing on the stairway was bad, but all they had to do was weather the arrows until they reached the bottom – except that from the top of the stairs Einarr could already see that the base of the stairs was mobbed with cursed warriors. They would get in each other’s way, certainly, but they would also prevent the invaders from breaching the floor.

This time, though, he would let his men push through. He could think of nothing he could do that would not also risk them, and he was well aware that he was pushing his magic in ways he never had before. Not since Elder Melja’s winter training, and probably not then. For the moment, he slipped his chalk back into his pouch and limbered the bow he had acquired on the field above.


Serk of Sweindalr, aboard his own Björtstag, had hacked his way across to the enemy ship. As Captain, ordinarily he would hang back, but after what had happened at Kaldreik he knew he could not. It was not merely atrocities the Björtstag had witnessed there, after all – otherwise, Halla would still be with them, and still require his protection.

A gang of cursed warriors was clustering around the mast: that didn’t look good. With a roar of borrowed fury, he charged into them and struck about with his sword. The cursed warriors, with their sickly gray skin and their mad eyes, scattered under the onslaught. Einarr of Breidelstein had alluded to monsters aboard these ships, and Serk intended to see that they had no chance to free such a creature.

A screech sounded from the deck behind him, and one of the mad-eyed warriors ceased even to appear human. In place of his arms he grew squid tentacles, and his head became a massive beak still somehow covered in eyes. Serk’s mouth curled into a rictus grin: had it been one of those, then, that did for his Halla? He charged again, and in one mighty blow he severed its transformed head from its once-human body.

He would have vengeance for his bride on the cultists of Malúnion.

 

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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 e-book 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 monstrosity croaked, loud enough to make Einarr’s ears ring. It had been the right call to leave Hrug above – indeed, it had been by far the best way to signal the fleet – but Einarr was not half the sorcerer the mute was. His men leapt at the winged blob again. He heard a whumpf, followed by the crack of stone and a thud. Another man down.

The formation before him, he thought, would work. Or, he hoped it would buy them enough time to destroy the abomination, anyway. He placed his fingers on the edge of the circle and willed it to capture the creature before them.

He could see, although he didn’t think anyone else could, the threads of energy racing along the ground, pooling under the creature’s feet that currently hovered about five inches off the ground. Einarr bit his lip, intent on the goal. If the abomination touched the ground with so much as a toe or a wingtip, they had it.

The pool of magic grew larger, and as it did Einarr noticed a pillar of ice beginning to form in its center. Unusual, but I’ll take it.

The monster-bird bobbed down just a hair farther than it usually did. The ice brushed its claw, and the freezing threads of the magic began climbing up its body.

Hastily, the abomination rose, but the cold that had a hold of its foot continued to spread over its body. It was caught now, no matter how much it struggled. Sinmora practically leaped into Einarr’s hand as he rushed to join the fray.

The creature fought mightily against the forces trying to pin it to the earth. It might have managed to break free, too, if not for the twelve men it also had to fend off if it wanted to survive this. The soothing rune didn’t seem to be having much of an effect: perhaps calm was contrary to its nature? Or, perhaps, the fact that it was under attack prevented the rune from fully taking hold.

A fourth team was running into the killing field, now, in a fighting retreat from a squad of cursed warriors and their knightly commander. Godsdammit.

He still had control of his formation, but if he divided his mind that way he risked loosing the abomination. On the other hand, it was already weakened. If they brought it down, they could turn their full attention to other matters. The challenge was in finding its actual vitals.

He plunged Sinmora deep into the body of the beast, between a wing and an eye. It shrieked – a sound just as hideous as its croak – and stabbed back at him with a beak.

Einarr dodged, using the momentum of a turn to extract his blade. A gout of black blood spurted forth, hissing where it came in contact with the pool of magic.

He felt that like a buzzing in his brain. Oops. Einarr put a stop in the flow. It was either that, cutting off the amount of will he could feed into the seal, or risk exposing his mind directly to the corruption.

Jorir planted an axe behind the wing he had just chopped at, and it fell twitching to the ground. Now Einarr found himself faced with a deep wound, and while it bled profusely it was not spurting at either of them. Once more he plunged Sinmora into the beast’s side, and once more it shrieked and writhed.

Someone on its other side drove home his own mighty blow, and the abomination flapped harder. The ward still held, however, and its struggles seemed to be faltering.

That was when flaming arrows began raining down into the killing field from the arrow slits in the fortress tower.


War drums beat in time from every ship in the fleet, now, and the water below rippled in time with the rhythm calling the sailors to fight. Erik knew even a seasoned warrior should be anxious about a battle like this, with enemies both before and behind and each one of them a match for any ship of the fleet, but it was not fear that made his heart pump and his blood race. The defiled would attempt to swarm them under, and the defiled would be destroyed, he was sure. Any who fell today earned their place in Valhalla.

Not that he intended to fall. And he truly hoped that between the Singers and their two Rune masters they could avoid losing anyone to the corruption. But today – today would be a battle the skalds would sing of for ages upon ages.

Sivid’s boat floated next to the Vidofnir. Erik looked in that direction and grinned, certain that his friend would be too busy to see and not caring. His shield was set, and the weight of his axe in his hand felt good, and that was what mattered.

“Archers! Ready!” Bardr’s voice rang over the deck, echoed by the Mates up and down their line.

The fwoosh of fire went up in a line behind Erik as one of the deckhands lit the arrowheads. This, too, was done all up and down the line.

“Aim!”

From the corner of his eye, Erik could see the line of archers amidships on the other boats, all raise their bows in a wave.

“Fire!”

The archers loosed, and a wave of flaming arrows flew forward into the black storm approaching from the open sea. Perhaps a third as many flew towards the harbor – the surer shot, but also the less critical one. The black storm ships were the more fearsome by far. Erik remembered well what they kept belowdecks in those ships. Of the arrows that flew into the storm, perhaps half found their target. He was gratified to see more than one sail go up in flames: that would ease their load somewhat.

He found himself bouncing on his toes, waiting for the toss of boarding lines. Well, fine: he hadn’t been in a proper sea battle since they re-took Breidelstein. Fighting on land didn’t have quite the same thrill to it.

Then he looked up and abruptly realized the enemy was returning fire. The answering wave of flame was hard to look away from.

Bardr noticed at the same moment he did. “Shields!”

Almost as one, they raised their shields into a wall, protecting not only themselves but the archers behind as well. Getting close, now.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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 e-book 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.

 

Stigander lowered his glass and sighed. The fortress was burning, and he hadn’t seen a signal yet. That was very shortly going to become moot, however, judging by the commotion on the docks. At least the blockade was already set up. He didn’t even look over his shoulder before he gave the order, certain that Bardr was where Stigander expected. “We can’t wait any longer. Something must have happened to the lookout. Signal the others.”

“Aye, sir.”

Before long the crack of sails could be heard over the fleet once more as the longships closed their circle, trapping the squiddies in their own jar. Or, at least, that was the idea. They hadn’t seen any of the black storm clouds that had marked the monsters in the svartlalfr ships’ holds – not yet, anyway. That might change when they actually put out to sea.

He raised his glass again. Something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.


A wide open field was all that stood between Einarr’s team and the keep at the center of the fortress. It looked empty, but when Troa rose to begin their dash across the open space Einarr put a hand on his shoulder. “Something’s wrong.”

Movement caught his eye from partway around the killing field. It was another team – and Einarr had no way to stop them. He bit his tongue to keep from crying out. That would not help them, and it would give away their position. Then, he let out a long breath. “Be prepared to move on my mark,” he whispered.

“But you just said -” Irding protested. That earned him a sharp look.

“I know what I said. Situation changed.”

The other team stopped and threw up their arms, as though they were suddenly being buffeted by wind – a wind which Einarr soon felt, too. An unearthly screech filled the air, like the unholy fusion of a raven and a whale. He looked up.

A chill ran down his spine. It was like a hundred birds all sharing one body, with eyes and beaks and wings and legs jutting out at impossible angles and improbable locations. There was no earthly reason it should have been able to fly. And Einarr had seen it before.

It was the beast whose crew had willingly sacrificed themselves to its appetite when it became clear they had lost. It had crawled forth from the wreckage of their hold, a writhing and bubbling blob, and taken on the shape Einarr still could not fully grasp now that it was before him again.

“Oh. Hel.”


Stigander frowned as he stared at the ships now running across the waves toward the blockade, bristling with oars and, he was certain, both blades and arrows to match. This all looked as he expected it to, but there was an insistent tug on his heart whispering that something was about to go very wrong.

A black shadow passed overhead. He looked up to see a massive, multi-winged bird tearing through the sky toward the fortress. Alarm rose in his belly, but not enough to drown out the nagging anxiety. What am I missing?

A crack of thunder from out at sea made him jump. When he turned around, suddenly he understood.

The open sea behind them roiled with the heavy winds stirred up by the black clouds overhead – black as the clouds that bore the Grendel, what felt like ages ago, and her sister ships on the svartalfr island. And there, between storm clouds and churning sea, were twice as many ships as sailed from the harbor. Now he understood what his instincts had been trying to tell him.

They had sailed the entire fleet into a trap, and now they were caught between the hammer and the anvil. Part of him wished he had Kaldr to hand, but the man’s genius was more suited for the laying of traps like these, rather than escaping them. Indeed, that is almost exactly what they had been trying to do.

“Bardr, do you see what I see?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

“Good. Sound the horns: battle is joined.” This was not the day he intended to die, but if it came it would be an acceptable one.


Irding cursed a blue streak. It seemed he recognized the monster, too. Troa, grim-faced, limbered his bow.

“I’m down to about ten arrows.”

Einarr nodded. “Irding, Arkja, Jorir, do what you can to divide its attention. Troa, take your shots, but don’t waste them. I’ll see if I can’t pin it down somehow.” Damned if I know how, though.

Jorir cleared his throat. “With all due respect, milord, if you will be doing a working, I will be covering you.”

Einarr nodded at the dvergr. “Thank you. Now let’s go. That’s going to be too much for five men alone.”

The other team had the bright idea to scatter: Einarr approved. No matter how big it was, it only had one body and it was blessedly free of tentacles. He was dimly aware of an arrow flying towards the monstrosity, and of one eye closing, but Einarr’s attention was focused inward. As he ran, he drew his chalk from his pouch.

Someone from the other team charged forward and grabbed hold of one of its taloned legs. That… could be brilliant, or it could be his end, or both.

When he was about halfway across the field, Einarr stopped. This should be close enough without making Jorir’s job any harder. Movement caught his eye: a third team had reached the field and was running in to assist. Good. It took a whole ship just to drive one of these things off last time… I wish I could leave this to Hrug.

He started to draw his rune circle on the paving stones. He would need Isa, he was certain, but he very much doubted he had the will to turn the monster into a block of ice, even with the binding circle. An upside-down Yr would turn a ward inward, to keep whatever was inside from getting out, although if he wasn’t careful he would keep his men from dealing with it that way. Wynn could be used to calm it – that would definitely be useful.

Someone from one of the other teams screamed, and when the sound abruptly cut off Einarr knew it had been his death scream. He nearly activated the circle right then, but bit his lip. He had to think carefully, even now: there would only be one chance at this, so he had to do it right.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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 e-book 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 knight drew back his spear and lowered himself into a guard mirroring Einarr’s. “How dare you!”

“What, don’t believe me? I’ll prove it with steel.”

Einarr could see the madness in his opponent’s eyes now. If he pushed any harder, he might go over the edge – and really, who would want that? He shut his mouth, and he and the knight circled, each looking for a weakness in the other’s guard.

Arkja was proving himself more than capable. It may have been two against one, but it was rather akin to a rat playing two cats off against each other.

Irding, too, seemed to be holding up well, keeping his opponents on their back feet by ferocity rivaling that of an actual berserker.

With Troa’s help, and the narrow passage, it was plain Einarr didn’t need to worry about Jorir, either. Einarr’s mouth curled up in a wolf’s grin.

Before the knight could take advantage of his wandering attention, Einarr shifted up out of his guard and onto the offense. He dashed forward, and even as he raised Sinmora for an overhand blow the enemy took the bait. As his shoulders tensed and twitched forward, Einarr slammed his shield down and its rim clashed loudly against the hilt of the spear. The weapon itself plowed into the ground at Einarr’s feet, and as the knight stumbled forward Einarr brought his knee up into his opponent’s nose at the same moment he brought Sinmora’s hilt down on the back of his neck. There was a dull crack and the knight fell limply to the ground.

Arkja glanced over as he saw the leader of the knights fall. Unless Einarr was mistaken, this was beginning to wear on him – and he was well aware of Irding’s endurance. He took one step more and pivoted so that he was aimed at one of the two Arkja toyed with before thrusting himself forward once more. Here, Einarr was lucky: the man had his spear arm upraised – likely trying to pin Arkja’s foot to the ground. Sinmora’s tip found the hollow under the knight’s shoulder and nearly severed the arm.

The knight screamed, but it was cut abruptly off by a slice of Arkja’s blade. Interestingly, the knights’ blood was still vibrantly red. Corrupted or not, they have affirmed themselves servants of Malúnion.

Now Einarr pointed himself in Irding’s direction: the other one Arkja fought wouldn’t last long. He charged forward once more, and just as his shield was knocking one of Irding’s two off-balance Irding buried his axe in the other’s throat. Now there was only one left, and just as he could see madness in their leader’s eye before, now Einarr could see fear. The question was if he feared their assault more than accusations of cowardice.

Apparently, the word “knight” meant something to this one: the set of his jaw changed, and he took a firmer grip on his weapon as he stared down Irding, who very deliberately did not look at Einarr.

“Be quick about it, then,” Einarr said. They had nearly won their way free of the fortress walls. The last thing they wanted to do was get bogged down here. He sheathed Sinmora and then moved to stand behind Jorir and next to Troa. “What can I do?”

“Can ye seal what we just blasted open?” Jorir asked, taking another chop at the cursed warrior currently trying to force its way through.

“Give me just a moment.” Einarr was certain that he could, at least well enough to stop their enemies. Just as he was about to begin with again, it struck him Ice wouldn’t really add anything. What he needed here was Ár, to shape the earth under the wall, and Yr to harden it into a shield. Then the only real question was how long he could maintain it, especially given how often they were calling on the runes for this assault. Just do what you can, he reminded himself, and he drew ᛃᛉ in the ground at Jorir’s feet.

“On my mark, move away from the hole. Ready? Now!”

Jorir jumped back. Einarr activated his inscription.

Immediately there was a sound like a falling boulder and the earth beneath the wall burst up to fill the hole – and froze there. Einarr released his breath and the runes, and they stayed where they were supposed to be. He nodded. “Simple inscriptions are the best.”

Jorir chuckled and looked about to speak, but then a groaning sound came from behind them.

Einarr turned and saw, from the middle of a road strewn with the bodies of the knights, that one of them wasn’t quite dead yet.

“You… worthless… infidel,” it growled. The voice was lower and raspier than before, Einarr thought. “Did you really think one such as I would fall to such trickery?”

“I had hoped as much, yes.” Einarr’s hand moved once again to Sinmora’s hilt, but he did not yet draw. Something was off. “You’ve lost – you, and all your men, and your pets.”

“We have lost, yes. These frail bodies could not stand before your treachery. But we are merely tools of the great god of the deeps, and he will never fall before the likes of you.”

Einarr knew with sudden, sick certainty where this was going, and if the half-dead (or, perhaps, all dead?) body before them stopped talking it would be because it no longer needed to stall. “Take it down, now!”

Already the flesh was beginning to turn gray as a draugr’s, and the shoulders began to twitch unnaturally. His team never hesitated, thank the gods, and almost as one all five of them descended on the transforming body. Not long thereafter, it lay in bloody pieces strewn across the wall road.

“Let’s go. We don’t have any time to lose.” Einarr wiped his sword on the pant leg of one of the fallen knights and trotted off, deeper into the city. The others were not far behind. None of them knew which would last longer, after all: the plug in the wall, or the attention span of the monsters outside.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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 e-book 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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Please let Runa be right.


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

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

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

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

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

She began to Sing.


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

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

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

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

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

Sol. Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

If you like what you read, it would really mean a lot to me if you clicked through to Top Web Fiction and voted for Einarr there. It’s a visibility boost in the ever-growing genre of web fiction, and that helps me out a lot. There’s no sign-up, and votes refresh every 7 days.

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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

 

Runa had intended to stay away – she really had. Only, a couple hours after they left, a feeling of impending doom had fallen over her shoulders that she could not shake.

It had been simple to sneak out. The proprietress had many customers, and as she was assisting one group Runa had tossed a shawl over her arms and slipped out into the streets.

Similarly, finding the place had been easy. They had told her where they were going, after all, and she remembered well enough the path they had taken back from the Mount.

The trouble came when she was nearing the Mount itself. First there were the swarms of dvergr milling about on the streets – and while their complexions looked normal, that was no guarantee they were trustworthy – or even not hostile. As she was wondering how best to slip past them all, however, she heard the sounds of battle from further up the mountainside.

Suddenly the streets around the Mount were empty, and the swarms of dvergr split. Most of them charged uphill, plainly Jorir’s allies. The others scattered into the city. Runa left them to their own devices and started winding her way up the mountain, towards her husband and whatever doom it was that awaited him if she couldn’t make it in time.

Runa was about halfway up the back side of the Mount when the tone of the battle above changed. She heard screams – more than one ordinarily expected from a battle – and the light of Myrkheimr’s already-dim sun darkened. Her feeling of foreboding grew deeper, but she was already short of breath as she climbed. The little one was unlikely to let her move any faster, even as tiny as he still was.

She rested a hand on her still-slender stomach momentarily. Just a little farther. We have to go.

Runa was not looking forward to explaining this to Einarr – but that was better than not being able to. She didn’t even really know what it was that she was going to have to do – just that if she didn’t get up there, something terrible was going to happen.

Finally, she made it to the meadow ringed by standing stones and pressed her back against one while she caught her breath. She hadn’t noticed what was happening inside the circle – but first things first. She had to be able to breathe, and breathe calmly, if she wanted to understand her role properly.

Finally, her nerves as steeled as she could make them, Runa turned to look around the pillar hiding her from view.

The meadow was set up as a sort of bowl, with the standing stones set considerably higher than the benches and altar below. Those benches had been overturned, and all the dvergr below seemed to be on the right side. They were fighting transformed cultists and a creature she had trouble even comprehending.

Its skin was crimson. From the waist down, it was a spiny fish, and from the waist up it had the rubbery skin she had come to associate with the abominations of Malùnion on a vaguely humanoid chest. There were too many arms, though, and they were really more akin to tentacles – except they ended in crab-like claws – and the eyeless head looked as though someone had set a squid on its shoulders. Oddly, this did not set off a round of nausea – probably, she thought, because she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing.

In the sky above it was a tear, from which poured seawater at an alarming rate. Glowing eyes blinked out from behind the tear: she shuddered to think what might be lurking on the other side, just waiting for a chance to come through.

That was when lightning crackled down out of a clear sky to strike the demon dominating the field. Perhaps her premonition had been wrong: perhaps they could handle this after all. Whatever was about to happen, she could afford to sit and observe for a time.

Puny humans. You have freed me. I will reward you by letting you feed my ascension.

What was that? Something had changed, and plainly she had missed it, but she couldn’t for the life of her tell what it was.

The men were flagging, though. Even from this distance she could tell that the forces assaulting the demon were almost at the end of their strength, whereas their enemy appeared to have healed itself somehow. That she knew how to help with.

Runa straightened up and squared her shoulders, filling her lungs as deeply as she could: even up here the air smelled of smoke and blood and seawater. Then, she began to Sing, willing the strength of her voice to bring renewal and refreshment to her friends down below. I’m sorry, my love. I could not stay away: you needed me.

She knew the exact moment he realized she was there without even looking. She sang louder, her voice carrying across the amphitheater to reach her friends down below and the brave dvergr still scattered about the standing stones, tossing arrows at the monstrosity.

The arrows themselves didn’t seem to be having much of an effect, but as she watched an idea occurred to her. She darted from pillar to pillar, trying to avoid the abomination’s attention without dropping her Song. There was an archer not that far from where she had been hiding: if she could use him to send a message to Einarr, she thought they might have a chance. As she moved, she tore a scrap of cloth from her sleeve and a bit of charcoal from the amulet bag slung around her neck.

A dvergr archer stood just on the other side of the pillar from her now. She put the large plinth of stone between herself and the demon and paused to scrawl her message on the cloth. She laid a hand on the archer’s shoulder and he jumped. “Can you get this to the one in golden maille?”

The startled dvergr looked at the scrap of cloth in her hand a long moment, seemingly uncomprehending. Just when she was about to ask again, he nodded. “I can, Lady. But I can’t get the same message to the others.”

“You leave that to me.”

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.

 

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?

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.

 

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?

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 creature shrieked, and even as Einarr thought his eardrums would burst he found his feet unfrozen from the ground. Hadn’t he just been running? The nightmare before them coiled its tail in a puddle of seawater as it launched out about itself, striking anything that came within reach and devouring it, if it happened to be flesh.

“This has to be the priest’s doing! Where is he?” Einarr demanded.

Jorir shook his head, looking desperate. “I don’t know! I’d thought they’d have made for the inside of the temple, but they must be around here somewhere.”

“There!” Kaldr pointed to the top of one of the standing stones that surrounded the sacrificial field. On top of it stood the forms of two dvergr – one dressed in white, the other in furs.

“How did they get up there? No, never mind, don’t answer. How do we get up there?” Einarr didn’t really expect an answer: he was already moving down toward the field again. The answer was probably carved into the stone they stood on.

The field was very soon empty, save for the monster before them and the bodies of the fallen. When Einarr and his companions reached the field they did not bother trying to take on the crab-clawed beast itself. Rather, they turned to the side, headed for the standing stone where Thane Soggvar and the high priest of Malùnion stood, thinking themselves out of harm’s way.

Now that they were closer, Einarr could see just how huge this creature from the deeps was. It towered even over the standing stones, which themselves towered over Einarr and his companions.

He had no idea what they were supposed to do about that thing. At this moment, he merely hoped that if they took out the one who called it, it too would vanish.

Einarr felt its malign intent settle on his own shoulders. Just then there was a cackle from up above.

“Yes! Struggle! Your fears will only whet its appetite.”

Einarr glanced over towards the horror. What in the world are we supposed to do about that?

It was moving closer. They were going to have to figure out something, and fast, or they too would end up in the demon’s gullet. Still, the cackling above continued. Einarr looked to Jorir, who shook his head. He could not find how the thane and the priest had climbed the stone.

Einarr thrust a hand into the pouch at his belt and fingered his two new runestones. Would his own paltry will have any effect on a creature of this nature, though?

“Scatter!” He ordered. He was certain it wanted him, although he wasn’t certain why, and this way if the runestones failed, he at least wouldn’t take anyone down with him.

Kaldr and Thjofgrir dashed off to the left. If Einarr knew Kaldr, and he thought he did by this point, he would be aiming to circle around behind the thing. Naudrek and Mornik headed right. Good: with a three-pronged approach, they should at least be able to divide its attention long enough to accomplish… something.

Jorir, his shoulders set in a way that Einarr hadn’t seen since their battle below the Jotunhall, grasped the haft of his axe in both hands and stood a half-pace in front of Einarr. He opened his mouth to object, but then shook his head. Something about Jorir’s stance said he wouldn’t win that argument, and they both had more critical matters to attend to.

The nightmare was moving towards them. Einarr wished he had access to Runa’s lore: perhaps she would know what to call this thing.

“Any ideas?” He said, keeping his voice low. He didn’t rightly know how the thing was tracking him, but it plainly was.

Jorir shrugged. “Haven’t yet met a monster good steel couldn’t answer for. Not sure we have another choice but to try.”

Einarr’s mind rebelled to see a creature with a fish’s tail and a squid’s head slithering across the ground like a snake.

“I was afraid of that.”

One gigantic, serrated red claw shot towards them. Reflexively, Einarr willed a shield into being, and his Yr stone responded.

A sheet of white light radiated outward from where Einarr’s rune shield stopped the claw in mid-air. The tentacle behind the claw wobbled like jelly, as boneless as it first appeared.

They stood frozen like that for a long moment, Einarr’s will straining against the strength of his opponent’s arm. He could feel his brow growing damp: was sufficient, so long as his will could hold out.

Abruptly, the creature shrieked and recoiled back, as though something had struck it in a sensitive place. Movement caught Einarr’s eye from across the open-air temple. It was hard to be sure, but he thought he saw a dvergr standing on top of another stone over there – a dvergr with a bow, no less.

An echo of the monster’s shriek interrupted the mad cackling from above. Well. That’s interesting. I wonder if it works both ways? “I have an idea. Keep it busy for a second – but don’t die.”

Jorir grunted in response. Good enough. Now Einarr just needed to get to a place where he could see the dvergr at the top of the stone. As he ran, he pulled the other new stone from his pouch.

Einarr had only gone a few paces before he heard the battle cries of his friends as they rushed in to beat against its body. He turned as he slowed, peering upwards. It looked as though Thjofgrir had already landed a palpable hit on its tail: a long streak of oozing black marred the crimson scales – although not for long. Even as he positioned himself, he saw the wound knitting back together.

If there was one benefit of joining battle with the creature, it was that the priest’s mad laughter had ceased. Not that his cries of pain were much better. It seemed the priest had little tolerance for the pain he was absorbing from his summoned beast.

This is going to make his day a whole lot worse, Einarr thought, rubbing his thumb over the surface of his one directly offensive runestone.

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