The light no longer reached the water’s edge when the sound of wet footfalls against the stone floor of the cave began to echo behind them. Einarr wished he could be surprised, but if the monster had given up that easily he doubted the dvergr would have bound it. That it was bound to the area was almost certain: probably they were lucky they hadn’t run into it while they were swimming.

The footfalls did not seem to be gaining on them, or at least not very quickly, but Einarr could already hear a new problem from up ahead: howling wind.

What now? At this rate, he was going to start looking for deadfalls around every corner. Einarr took a deep breath, considering. The passage seemed reasonably wide here, even if it was still far too short for comfort. “Everyone hears that, right?”

Nods all around.

“Who feels like they’re in any condition to fight?”

“Well, if we have to…” Thjofgrir shrugged.

“So then it’s safe to say, even after our little impromptu nap, none of us are really in great shape?”

“That is my impression as well,” Kaldr answered.

Einarr nodded. The slapping noises had grown louder. “Then if we’re not in any condition to fight whatever that is, we need to pick up the pace. Go!”

None of them needed to be told a second time, even if Runa did still look dangerously pale under the light of his shield. Naudrek took long, loping strides even in the cramped conditions, and if Runa had to scramble to keep up she did still manage.

A long, low chirp echoed out through the tunnel behind them. Whatever it was, it sounded big. Big, and inhuman.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do to slow it down?” Naudrek asked over his shoulder.

“You want me to use more runes now? Right after my clumsy circle almost got us eaten?”

“I for one would rather handle this the old-fashioned way,” Kaldr put in. Einarr had to agree this time. He’d use them again if he had to, but if they could throw their pursuer off without it would be better.

They held no pretense of stealth, but Einarr thought the creature that pursued them was not likely tracking them by sound anyway.

As they loped along, Einarr had his eyes open for any sort of a side passage or some loose rock – anything to slow it down. The dvergr had promised them death for entering these tunnels, but what sort of prince would Einarr be if he simply accepted such a thing?

The passageway stretched on. The light from his shield only illuminated a few paces ahead of Naudrek at the pace they were keeping: they could stumble into nearly anything this way, and it was sure to be at least as deadly as the creature behind them. Einarr stretched out his arms to drag his fingers along the walls. If they could find a crack or a crevice, like the one that had led them to the hall of pits and the stairway down, perhaps they could give the monster the slip. His fingers would find an opening long before his eyes did, under these circumstances.

The frog-like chirrup echoed through the hall again. Einarr didn’t know what would make a noise like that, but he was entirely certain he did not want to meet it.

Naudrek started to quicken his pace again, but Einarr slowed him again. He could hear Runa panting behind him already. Any faster, and one of them would have to carry her – which wouldn’t actually gain them any speed. Not for the first time, he wished he’d had a good reason to insist she stay home, and take Eydri instead. Then he wouldn’t be risking his wife and his heir in this mad journey.

His fingers caught on a sharp edge.

Before he thought about it, he moved his fingers to his mouth to suck at the blood that welled up from the cut. It was nothing serious, he thought, but neither was it an actual passage they could take advantage of. And now the creature would have the scent of his blood. Brilliant move, Einarr.

He shook his head and jogged on after Naudrek. There was nothing they could do about that now, and it would stop bleeding soon enough so he could keep feeling for a side-passage.

When they came to an actual fork in the path, Einarr was delighted.

“Go about fifteen paces down one leg, then we double back and take the other,” he instructed Naudrek. They would lose some of their lead, but if he was right that the hunter could smell them it might well throw it off their trail.

Another idea struck him. “Vali – can you obscure our trail?”

“How do you mean?”

“I think it’s got our scent. Can you cover it?” He was starting to feel a little winded, himself.

The apparition frowned, floating backwards just in front of Naudrek. “I can try? I can’t say I’ve ever tried something like that before.”

“Try, then. When we start down the second fork, try to make sure it goes down the first one.”

“Sure thing, chief.” Vali winked out of sight just as Naudrek was turning them around to double back.

Einarr thought he could hear the scraping of claws against the stone. Please let this work.

It chirruped again. It was definitely closer, but still not so close that he could see it in the shield light.

As they turned, he scooped Runa up into his arms and breathed one word to them all: “Run.”

At their new, breakneck pace, they all skidded a little making the turn into the second fork of the path, but they made the turn. What’s more, they caught no glimpse of the beast on their trail.

About thirty paces down the second passage, Vali popped up in front of them again. “I’ve done what I can. It won’t fool it forever, though, and it’s going to be mad when it catches the trail again.”

Einarr paused long enough to set Runa back on her feet, and then they were moving again at Naudrek’s ground-eating lope.

“So what did you do?”

The ghost shrugged. “I made it colder? I don’t really know how to describe it. I also hid your light.”

Einarr nodded, and none of them slowed. They still had no idea how to get out of here, and the farther behind they left the beast the better.

The walls became rougher, and a little looser, when a series of chirrups echoed through the halls at ear-piercing volume, followed by the crash of stone.

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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Before Einarr put his new recruits to work, curiosity burned a question through his lips. “What was it drove everyone out of the town, anyway?”

Arkja shrugged, shaking his head helplessly. “Some sort of ghost, we all figured. Right up until people started keeling over, bleeding out their ears.”

Einarr looked at Runa, who shook her head. “It might still be some sort of ghost, or it might not. I’d never heard of a leshy before, either.”

He nodded. “So when everyone fled the town…?”

“Broad daylight. A group of folks in the town square all died at once when the wailing picked up, and that were the last straw.” This from one of the men Einarr had pegged as a farmer.

Einarr frowned. They would have to deal with that spirit, one way or another. He stared at the mouth of the tunnel that had led them here and set his jaw. The four of them, against some sort of malign spirit. Einarr wasn’t even sure how it would manage to kill someone by bursting their ears.

Yes, technically it wasn’t just the four of them now. Arkja might even be able to hold his own in a fight, with some capable backup. But those seven were to see about supplies, and Einarr wasn’t about to send them off without the closest thing to a warrior they had.

Which left the four of them to take on a spirit of unknown abilities, when they were really in no condition for dealing with one at all. He shook his head. “No time like the present. Runa, do you think ear plugs might work against this thing?”

“Can’t hurt to try.”

Well, it could, depending on how the creature was bursting ears, but it was the best idea he had. And it would certainly make the wailing more bearable. Thus.

Einarr was in no hurry to pour hot wax in his ears again, though. He turned his attention to one of the three farmers in Arkja’s group. He was going to have to get names soon. “Do you know where we might come by some loose cotton or wool?”

“Believe so, Lord. Me neighbor raises sheep, she does. Imagine I kin get some clean wool from there.”

“Good! See to it. Enough for all of us to plug our ears. …Don’t bother trying to hide what we’re up to.” A riot at this point seemed unlikely at best, and the attempt might earn them some goodwill. The man was already on his way off to his neighbor’s.

“There’s that accounted for. Runa, Jorir, if either of you has an idea for beating back a ghost that won’t turn into another debacle like the Allthane did, I’m all ears.”

***

The escape tunnel, dug during spare moments by Arkja beginning long before the advent of the ghost, seemed no less threatening now that they were marching towards danger, their pockets full of wool roving. Einarr was coming to the conclusion he just didn’t belong underground.

They didn’t have a plan. Einarr would have been much happier if they had. One of the hazards, though, of being on the Isle of the Forgotten was that its inhabitants had been, largely. So whatever this was they faced, neither Singer nor dwarf had ever encountered as much as a scrap of a legend.

There were two different creatures it sounded similar to, at least: a nokken, since its victims seemed to drown, or a draugr. Einarr did not like the idea that the two types of spirit shared a common source, but under the circumstances it was an idea worth entertaining. Not that he had any idea how to send an ordinary draugr back to its grave: the Allthane had been able to communicate, however removed from reality it was. He was reasonably certain most draugr couldn’t speak, though.

No, they did not have a plan. But if (and it was a mighty if) the spirit was drowning people on dry land in the middle of the day, they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr blinked and realized they were approaching the tunnel exit. He shook his head, trying to clear it, as they began the ascent up into the Salty Maid. Now was not the time to be worrying.

The streets of the town looked, if anything, even emptier in the bright light of midday. Wind whistled between the buildings and created an eddy out of sparse dried leaves.

How much time was left in the season? Was that even the same here? Einarr froze momentarily, but shook it off. Time enough to worry about that later. Focus. They had a ghost to kill – or at least drive off. And it was going to take each and every one of them to pull it off. The town square was just past the sign of the Salty Maid, and that was where the spirit had been most active.

There was one thing the victims all had in common, Arkja had been able to tell them: they had all been telling stories when they died. It didn’t seem to matter what kind of story: the wise old man sharing legends with a younger man and the fisherman boasting about his catch met the same fate.

Which explained why the wailing began when it did, at least – and why it didn’t follow them into the tunnel. And it gave them a way to draw out the spirit, although not one Einarr was happy about. Once they knew that much, though, Runa insisted.

The woman herself stood in the center of the square, looking supremely confident. “Once upon a time,” Runa intoned, her ears already stopped with wool. Einarr, Erik, and Jorir now put in their own plugs, and the world took on a muffled feel. He was glad one of them was confident, at any rate.

Even through the roving Einarr could hear the wailing begin.

“A great hero fell into ignominy and was cursed, banished to the shores of the Isle of the Forgotten.” Runa’s intonation moved slowly into the syncopated rhythm of the Song of Sight, a song to pierce the veil and strip away illusions. That Runa knew it was the only reason they thought they had a prayer.

Einarr, Jorir, and Erik moved into a circle around their Singer, their weapons in hand, as they searched for the strange spirit that had an issue with stories.

“This hero wandered the Isle alone for many years, until his shame and his solitude drove him mad. Eventually the hero died, but his shade could not rest easy.”

The wind that whistled through the streets tugged at Einarr’s beard and stood his hackles on end. That was a wind belonging to the depths of winter. Still, though, he saw nothing.

“The shade continued to wander, alone, for another long time. And then, finally, someone else found their way to the Isle’s shores.”

Something down the street, down past the Maid, stirred up a dust cloud as it raced towards the four in the square.


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Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!

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

If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, 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.