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’s head swam, although he could feel the hard ground beneath it. The crackle of a nearby campfire was unmistakeable. The last thing he remembered was etching an ᚱ into some birch bark to keep for later use. What… happened? Where am I?

He blinked, and at first all he saw was a brownish blur. When he opened his eyes again, though, his vision was clear. That brown blur was the glow of firelight on the branches of an ash, and beyond that the starry field of night. Einarr groaned.

“Awake, are you?” The creaking voice of an old woman broke the stillness. “I’d begun to wonder if your foolishness had actually killed you.”

With another groan, Einarr pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted at the source of the voice. “What do you mean?”

The woman who sat across the fire from him in a colorless cloak appeared ancient – older, even, than the oldest of the Matrons on Breidhaugr. Old enough that Einarr was surprised to see her out in the forest at all.

“What I mean,” the crone said. “Is that the village alfs never should have let you out of their sight. What were you thinking, carving all those runestones?”

Einarr blinked at her, a little confused. “You mean those chips? I thought they’d be useful…”

“Not much use if you’ve so much of your life tied up in them they kill you. You’re a novice, and a human to boot. There’s no way your soul could support more than a handful.”

Einarr sat all the way up. For just a campfire, the light seemed awfully bright to his eyes right then. “What do you mean?”

The old woman with her drawn features snorted. “Wise enough to listen to your elders, at any rate. Did your alfr master tell you, properly, what the limits of rune magic are?”

“The Runemaster requires time, primarily. Time to inscribe the proper runes for his purpose.”

The crone nodded. “That’s right, so far as it goes. He didn’t mention runestones?”

Einarr shook his head. “I’ve only a few months with them. I only really wanted to learn how to read them. Probably he decided there wasn’t time to teach me.”

She snorted again. “Not quite, I suspect. Runestones are an advanced technique. Not because they’re particularly difficult: any fool can inscribe a rune and make it last. But every one you make ties up a portion of your life energy. With the number you had on you, you’re lucky I found you.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, for that. How long was I out?”

“It’s been a day and a half since I destroyed them for you. As for how long you’d been out before that, I really couldn’t say.”

Einarr blanched. “More than a day… since you destroyed them?”

“That’s right – and a good thing you put them on wood, too. If you’d been fool enough to carve them in stone, this old woman wouldn’t have been able to break them. That’s the only way to reclaim the bits of your spirit, after all.”

“I see.” He did, actually: his eyes finally felt like they were back to normal. “How do you know so much?”

The crone cackled. “You’re not the first over-extended student of the runes this old Singer has seen. Not on this island.”

“Wait, hold on. You’re a Singer?”

“I was, in my youth. Voice is gone, now, but it didn’t take my mind with it.” She laughed again.

Einarr nodded slowly, considering. “You have my thanks for the rescue. Tell me, did you move me from where I was found?”

“You give these old bones a good deal of credit, young man. We are not far off the path where I found you, in a little clearing not many others know. In the morning, you are free to go about your business – although if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get back to that village and bow your neck to Elder Melja. Tell him Geiti sent you scampering back, and if he doesn’t want to lose more students he should stop hiding ‘dangerous’ information.”

Einarr couldn’t keep a small smile off of his face. “I’ll be sure to tell him that when I return. But I can’t go back immediately.”

The crone resettled herself on the ground, leaning forward a bit with interest. “And what, then, has a young novice wandering about like a toddler just finding his feet?”

I think I deserved that one? “The Shroud has been freed.”

“Good gods, man, what are you doing out here? Get back to the village, let the Runemasters handle it.”

“The Runemasters can’t handle it if they can’t find it. I’m trying to make sure they know where to look.”

“And why, praytell, did they let a novice take on that job?”

He sighed. “Forgive me, grandmother Geiti. I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Einarr, only son of Stigander, the son of Raen of Breidlestein. Wandering prince, veteran raider, no meagre hunter, and the named Cursebreaker besides.”

“Well well well. Now I have even more questions. But, they will wait. It is late, and you are still recovering your strength. Sleep now, and we will speak more in the morning.”

And so Einarr laid his head back down on the bare earth to stare at the stars and the light flickering on the branches above. Sleep eluded him, and he was uncertain if that was because his life energy was returning to him – he felt stronger almost by the minute – or if it was because even here he could not escape his Calling. Eventually, though, he must have dropped off, because when next he opened his eyes the sky was the pale blue of early morning. The smell of berried porridge clung to the morning air. When he sat up, the ancient Singer offered him a toothless smile and a wooden bowl.


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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 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.