They were well into the midnight watch, and shadows cast by the fire flickering in the hearth sent shadows dancing over the walls. Hrug grunted and jostled Einarr with an elbow. Dutifully, but without much hope, Einarr turned to look, expecting just another false alarm.
Something slid through the smoke and down into the firelight. For just an instant, Einarr thought he saw red.
The color only lasted a moment, but now Einarr could see something moving even after it was out of the light. He nodded for Hrug as he shifted to face the fluttering Shroud, unsure if the man saw. Either way, he reset his grip on Sinmora’s handle even as he brought the blade back up to guard.
Naudrek moved around, as well, and now the three men formed a line watching the movement of deeper darkness through the room. If it knew they watched, it gave no sign.
Einarr focused his will on Sinmora, feeling for the humming vibration that he thought meant he was close to awakening its power, even as he followed the Shroud’s path through the room (for there was no mistaking it for anything but the Shroud).
Still the thing ignored them. It was headed for the side of the room where the trestle tables never were, where the proprietress put down rugs that kept down the mud and made the hallingdanse, which she actively encouraged, treacherous sport indeed.
Carefully, Einarr stepped forward, followed a moment later by his two unexpected allies. They, more than anything, made him feel that this was possible tonight. Thus it was that as they stalked toward their apparently unwary prey, a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
As they approached, Naudrek took hold of a long candlestick and held it up like one would a brand.
The Shroud began to glow with a light the color of molten rock, casting the entirety of the hall in an evil red light. The temperature of the room seemed to grow noticeably hotter, to the point where sweat began to bead on Einarr’s forehead almost immediately.
That was the moment the Shroud abruptly changed direction, zipping back toward the three who had thought themselves unnoticed.
Naudrek thrust forward with the candlestick, and as it momentarily tangled itself around the would-be brand Einarr saw that there were no tears to be seen in its fabric. A moment of fear pulsed behind his ears, followed quickly by the resolve to end this here, and Sinmora began to hum.
The Shroud untangled itself from the candlestick to reveal a half-melted, burning candle. Hrug gave a wordless yell and slashed at the delicate-looking material, only to have the artifact wrap itself around the blade. Soon after Hrug’s yell changed in timber from defiance to pain as the sword flashed white hot. The guard melted against his hand and fused to the hilt, which glowed red even through the leather bindings. The smell of burned flesh rose like smoke. Eldritch fire began to climb up Hrug’s arm and the man screamed again.
Einarr did not think, he merely acted. Fast as lightning, Sinmora cleaved through Hrug’s arm at the elbow. The forearm was ash before it hit the floor.
Hrug staggered backward, clutching at the stump of his arm, his face grown pale and his eyes and mouth open wide in a silent scream.
“No!” Naudrek screamed.
Einarr ripped the hem from his tunic. Hrug would still die, if Einarr didn’t move quickly, and that was something he could not allow. The man had stepped up to help with no thought of reward. The malign red light in the room faded as Einarr wrapped the tourniquet just above the cut he himself had caused. Someone caught Hrug as he began to collapse and lowered him gently to the floor – Naudrek, Einarr saw.
The rest of the hall was beginning to rouse itself, now, in response to the commotion.
One of the sailors who had turned their backs on Einarr before demanded “What goes on here?”
“The Muspel Shroud was here. Someone call for an herb-witch!”
“The Shroud…” Naudrek muttered, his voice full of hate.
“We’ve still got one more chance.”
“It got away. Up through the smoke hole.”
“We know where it’s going. He will live, and he will have vengeance.”
The other man grunted.
“Is someone going for a healer?” Einarr asked the room. The owner had stumbled out, bleary-eyed and somehow even more rumpled than when Einarr had first met her. “This man needs an herb-witch, or a Singer.”
The owner shouted out a name, and a boy some years younger than Einarr appeared from the loft – one of her sons, he guessed – and slipped out the door. “He’ll have one. Shroud gone?”
The owner nodded, then turned and went back in to her bed closet.
Einarr looked to Naudrek, who was checking his friend’s body over for other injuries. “We should go after it.”
With only a little reluctance the other man agreed. “You will be avenged,” he muttered to the fallen Hrug. “Follow me.”
The two of them stepped out into the moonlight streets of the docks district and Einarr was struck once again by how large Eskiborg was. Naudrek took off at a jog, and Einarr followed. Not many minutes later, they passed the boy from the Pot leading a rather bleary-looking middle-aged woman going the other way.
Naudrek did not lead them to the broad, main street that cut through the city like a sword, but rather deeper into the twisty, narrow streets of the Docks district. Before long the only thing Einarr was certain of was that they headed generally east, toward the water’s edge, where the Bjorn floated, awaiting both its stowaway and the pursuers.
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