Physically speaking, the figure before them was still a man – or, perhaps, some sort of giant kin, for he seemed to have grown in size by several feet. Seemed, that is, for while Einarr undoubtedly now had to look further up to see his face, his presence now seemed to fill the room. The shadow of the black mass of energy was still visible behind the old priest, only instead of questing tendrils it now seemed like the arms of a massive octopus curling behind the man who had been the (presumably) High Priest of Malùnion.

Einarr swallowed. He had no idea how to fight a god – even a demigod, as Jorir termed Malùnion. If they took out the body, would the spirit remain? He had a sinking feeling the answer was ‘yes.’ And, of his team, the only one with a prayer of affecting the spirit was him, with his already over-strained will and the runes. Presently, the god’s avatar seemed to be muttering to itself about the feeling of having a physical form.

He glanced quickly around at his companions. Troa would have an advantage in this fight, so long as the rest of them could keep its attention. Arring sought death, which made him less reliable – but there was no reason to send the strong man that would not be taken as a horrific insult. Especially since, for all his strength, he was slow. Jorir might still know more about the creatures of Malùnion than he did, but he and Naudrek had closed that gap dramatically in Nilthiad. Which left… “Svarek.”

“Aye, my lord!”

“Run back as fast as you can. Take the torch. Bring Eydri and Hrug. Kaldr and Thjofgrir, and the Forgotten warriors too if you see them. Run until your lungs burst, if you have to, but get them here. We’ll keep it busy for as long as we can. Go!”

“Sir!”

Svarek took a moment to holster his axe, and then the sound of boots pounding against pavement stones rang out behind them. That seemed to get the creature’s attention. “Ah. How quaint,” it boomed, still with that odd duplicity of voice. “I see you’ve sent your vassal to bring more sacrifices. Have no fear: I shall accept them. I shall accept all.”

Einarr could think of no circumstance in which that phrase would not be disturbing. His fingers tightened around Sinmora’s hilt. “Who – or what – are you?”

It grinned, and the old man’s lips pulled back all the way to his ears, as though his flesh were made of tree gum. “I am the ancient one. The god of the deeps, and of all the old things which have been forgotten. You are wise, young ones, to pay me homage.”

While it spoke, Einarr looked at his team and motioned to left and right. They would have a better chance against this thing if they weren’t all bunched together – and if the creature thought they had come to pay it homage, that just proved a limit on its power. Now. To keep it talking somehow.

“You are indeed mighty, oh ancient one. Why, oh ancient one, do you destroy our craftsmen and our artists?” Jorir had told him the answer to this one once, long before, but the longer it talked the more time he bought to get Hrug and Eydri in – Hrug, to draw a proper formation while the demigod was otherwise occupied, and Eydri to keep them alive. Of course, he would have to protect the Singer once she opened her mouth: the creature’s answer was already long-winded, but it did seem to confirm that the magics of making were anathema to it.

Wait – the magics of making? Einarr had never thought of it in precisely those terms before. If Malùnion was a creature that could only consume and destroy, was that perhaps the key to its own undoing? He needed more time, and the creature seemed to be winding down.

Jorir had caught on, and plied its attention with another question none of them actually cared about the answer to – except that it gave them time to think. They hunt Singers, but they produce nothing tangible. Therefore, it must be something about creativity itself, or about newness… think!

Then, as Naudrek posed a quandary to the creature – which, judging by its tone, was beginning to find their endless prattle tiresome, it hit him. Quietly, he slipped his chalk once more from his pouch and knelt to draw a rune on the stone floor.

Jorir saw the movement and looked over at Einarr: with Sinmora’s tip held upright, he made a circular motion and started slowly moving to his left.

Unfortunately, Malùnion was not quite so oblivious as that, and since he had begun to tire of the conversation his attention, too, snapped round to where Einarr was drawing a second rune. “You, insect. What do you think you’re doing?”

“When the sacrifices arrive, we must do you proper honor, mustn’t we?”

“Naturally. All must honor me and turn.”

“I was merely preparing the ground for the sacrifice.” With what he had in mind, it could well become a sacrifice, although he didn’t intend it to. And, he thought he heard the pounding of footsteps coming back up the hall behind him. He took the next few paces a little faster: once Hrug and Eydri showed up it would rapidly become obvious that something was afoot.

Then Eydri’s voice carried forward into the temple.

The creature growled and stared up at the entrance from which the sound came. “What?”

Then Svarek rushed in, with Hrug right on his heels.

“Alfenring!” Einarr shouted towards the back of the room at the one-armed mute. He hoped he understood: the man stopped in his tracks and dropped to a knee, evidently drawing runes of his own. Good. Now to defend Eydri, and inscribe the circle all the way around the creature, all while keeping everyone alive. Well, such was the life of a Cursebreaker, he supposed. He shuddered to think that he had somehow grown used to it.

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.

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