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.

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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.

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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.