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.

 

The sound of a great bell reverberated around the temple of Malùnion, loud enough that Einarr would have covered his ears if he hadn’t been holding on to Sinmora’s hilt for dear life.

Einarr had no idea what this was going to do, but he already knew Sinmora was not going to devour the working on the ground: the vines still bound Malùnion’s meat-puppet after all.

The vines beneath Einarr’s feet bucked wildly as their captive reeled. Sinmora had done something, anyway: the dark blood that slicked her blade as Einarr pulled it free no longer hissed and steamed, and the meat-puppet’s struggles had much of the wounded beast about them. Once more he fell to, hacking at the octopus arm in front of him, Sinmora’s power was unique, and it was powerful – powerful enough to destroy an artifact of Muspelheim, even – but he very much doubted that it was powerful enough to unravel a demigod.

Arring, too, had made it up to the body of their foe finally, and Kaldr. All three of them chopped at the body of their enemy as it flailed about. They were inside its guard – one of the most dangerous places for your enemy to be – and either it needed to protect the body of its meat puppet or it simply could not see them.

Jorir, however, was not yet inside its guard, nor was Naudrek or Troa, which meant those three received the brunt of its attack. Please let Hrug have fallen back from the edge of the circle. Between the vines and the writhing black presence of Malùnion, Einarr could not see the Rune Master. If Hrug fell, so did their working, and Einarr very much doubted there would be a chance to draw a second one.

Jorir approached from Einarr’s left, using that same slow, dogged advance that he had been before. The resonance had done what it could: Einarr side-stepped and plunged Sinmora towards the tentacle that was beating at his liege man. Once, long ago when they first discovered the existence of this cult, they had freed the Vidofnir from a cursed kraken by hacking off a tentacle, much as one would fell a large tree. Now he tried to do the same here. He chopped wildly at the tentacle, but it was so large, and its flesh so strange, it was hard to tell if he was actually making progress.

The next thing he was aware of, a second sword was swinging in rhythm with his own. Einarr glanced to the side, only to see Kaldr’s normally stoic face twisted in unaccustomed emotion as he, too, tried to spare Jorir Thjofgrir’s fate. There was nothing to be said: Einarr simply kept chopping.

The arm they chopped at raised high overhead, well out of reach. Einarr rolled to come up on the other side of it. In so doing, he got a better look at the battlefield.

Hrug stood well back of the circle that bound their foe. Naudrek, faster and nimbler than the dvergr, was chopping at an arm on the other side opposite the enraged Arring while Troa took advantage of the distraction to close the distance. Then the arm came crashing down again, and Jorir rolled to the right in order to avoid being crushed by its weight – if a mass of energy like Malùnion actually had weight. Two steps more and the dvergr was at Einarr’s side, his own axes digging into the arm that had been giving him so much trouble before.

“Glad you could make it,” Einarr managed to say.

Jorir merely grunted and chopped again.

An idea occurred to Einarr. “Buy me some time.”

With his shield hand he drew forth his chalk once more and sat to carefully draw a on the sole of each boot – Gār, the spear rune. Then he willed the runes to life, and a tiny blade extended from the center of each rune. Einarr got unsteadily back to his feet and resettled his shield and his grip on Sinmora. “Jorir – sidestep!”

Jorir threw himself two steps closer to the body of the beast, and Einarr charged straight at the tentacle that still lay on the vines that held them all up to battle it. When he reached the arm, he did not stop. Instead, he raised one foot and plunged the blade on its sole into the flesh before him like a piton. A heartbeat later, he slammed Sinmora’s blade into the arm and brought his other bladed shoe up.

His momentum was not so great that it was akin to running – more like climbing a cliff with no good handholds. Still, he kept on, dragging Sinmora through the flesh as he went and carving a line through the massive arm that went all the way across the top.

They were making decent progress and cutting the damn thing off, but not fast enough. They were all exhausted: the only reason they could fight so well was that Eydri’s magic masked their fatigue.

As he neared the top of the arm, Malùnion jerked it back up into the air. Even with his blades it was all Einarr could do not to be thrown the way Arring and Kaldr had been earlier.

Something else caught his eye, though. Just as they had before, the vines were trailing the line of blood all the way up, and into the deeper cuts that Kaldr and Jorir were working at. In fact, the area around Malùnion’s wounds seemed to be stiffening.

As the shaking stopped, Einarr rose to his feet again. “Hrug! The vines can end this!”
Then he continued on down the other side, raking Sinmora down into the wound he and Kaldr had been working on before.

Einarr once again could not see to know if it was Hrug’s doing, but a thick tendril of vine could be seen crawling along the deepest part of the incision.

Kaldr still hacked away, and his face was still raw. Einarr watched as the vines began to tighten in the wound he had cut and nodded. “We’re all inside. Make for the body of the priest,” he ordered.

Kaldr spared him a glance and a nod. “As you wish.”

Einarr didn’t wait to see what he would do: Kaldr knew his job, just as all the rest of them did. They would see to Thjofgrir once Malùnion had fallen.

 

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 set his mouth as he watched the vines twine over Thjofgrir’s still form. How long had he been Kaldr’s Mate? Likely not as long as Bardr had served Father, but certainly many years more than Jorir had served Einarr. That would be a hard blow for Kaldr and for their ship. He had no room to hesitate, though, and even in the man’s death Thjofgrir had spat in their foe’s eye: until his blood watered them, the vines had not grown.

His sacrifice will not be in vain. Sinmora practically leapt out of her sheath as Einarr, too, rushed to join the fray now. As the vines grew, changing in the blink of an eye from tiny sprouts into creeping tendrils and then to prize beans and on, until they were as thick as rigging ropes, and still they grew. They quested inwards, towards the thing which should not be in their midst, and plucked at the meat-puppet’s robes and twined about its feet. Malùnion pulled it’s feet away in a strange sort of dance, trying to keep from being entwined. Einarr was abruptly reminded of the leshy, whom they had fought on the Isle of the Forgotten.

The working seemed to be taking on a life of its own, but with Hrug’s look of intense concentration Einarr was sure they would not have to worry about the vines deciding they, too, were a threat. He rushed in, and the vines he stepped on actually seemed to speed him towards the dark vortex at the center of the circle.

To his right, he saw Jorir also riding the wave of plants, looking as fiercely determined as when they’d fought back on Svartlauf, and across from him was Arring, his face contorted with the battle fury. Well, such was life.

A moment later, Kaldr leapt over the edge of the formation, his own sword held low and back to slash upwards at the beast that had just killed his best friend.

Malùnion, in spite of his best efforts, struggled against the binding of the vines now, and the face of the flesh puppet twisted even as the vines gripped his limbs more tightly.

An arrow flew past Kaldr, and this time one of the energy tendrils grew a spine. Thick black energy began dripping from the wound like blood, and the vines reached for it hungrily.

This was working, but Einarr hoped never to have to use this formation again. But his surmise had been right: evil cannot create, but it can be destroyed by creation. Now I just hope Hrug can keep control of our working. Especially since, while they still bent their wills to it, it was feeding on the blood that was shed within.

Then followed a time where everything was flailing tentacles and chopping blades. Jorir hacked the sucker off one arm. Arring nearly cleaved a second in twain. When the blood spattered on his skin, it hissed and smoked like an ember – and the vines reached for that, as well, so that Arring’s flesh underneath was pink and new. For a wonder, even then they did not try to capture Arring. Einarr could no longer see Hrug’s face to know if that was his doing.

Whether it was or not, it needed to keep happening or none of them were going to come out of this uncorrupted. Einarr, too, felt the burn of the black blood’s source – such a difference from what flowed in the veins of the cursed. This, though, was what they had gathered their fleet to do, and if they could not end the scourge here it would be a thousand years of torment on Midgardr.

Troa had rushed up to join the fray as well, his bow slung over his shoulder and his quiver empty.

Einarr felt a sudden drawing in, as though all the air had abruptly been sucked towards Malùnion. He froze. So did everyone else.

A soundless boom hit Einarr like a yardarm swinging in a storm. It knocked him off his feet and sent him flying backwards into the wall of the temple. The others, too, all went flying.

It took Einarr a moment to be able to see straight again, and when he finally blinked away the swimming picture before him he saw that the octopus arms all stood straight out from the body, as though forming some sort of perverse halo around the meat-puppet.

It had thrown them off, and it had snapped countless vines, but it had not extricated itself from the circle. Indeed, the vines that remained were growing more aggressive. I sure hope we don’t have to fight the formation in order to destroy it.

Arring loosed another battle yell and charged forward into the fray once more. One by one, the others all followed. It was visibly weakened, but not enough. Arring was batted aside once more when he came within reach. His back curled around the edge of one of the stone benches, but again the man rose to his feet.

Kaldr and Jorir dashed in at the same moment, now, and both of them nearly made it back into the fight. Kaldr dodged the flailing arms quite nimbly until he had nearly reached the circle that held their nemesis. He jumped to the side when one of the arms was coming down from over his head, however, and sprang right into the path of a second arm that knocked him, too, into one of the numerous benches scattered about the room.

Jorir was somewhat more staid in his approach. He tramped forward several steps and then stopped, bracing himself for the inevitable strike. When it came, if it did not look like he could take it and keep his feet, he would sidestep and take a swing at the flailing demigod. That looked to be working, except Einarr was afraid the dvergr would be next to feel the squeeze. That meant it was his turn.

He exhaled through his nose and closed his eyes, just for a moment, focusing on Sinmora’s rhythm. When he could not just hear it, but feel it, he opened his eyes and dashed forward.

He could never afterwards say how he did it, but as he ducked and dodged and whirled and ran, somehow his feet once again found purchase on the swell of vines created by the runes. He leapt.

Einarr plunged Sinmora deep into one of the octopus’ arms and released the resonance. It rang, and for a moment Einarr’s ears rang with it, so loud was the sound of its resonance here.

 

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.

 

Eydri, thank the gods, had seen at a glance the situation and kept herself within a few steps of the door. The acoustics in this room proved to be excellent, so while that would not help anyone who required healing it would take some of the pressure off the others.

Hrug moved in an arc to the right, tracing the path of Einarr’s circle to meet him in the middle.

The avatar on the dais chortled. “Not only more sacrifices, but Makers, too. How delicious.” It stretched out an arm, and one of the octopus arms behind it stretched as well, as though the body was no more than a puppet.

Einarr traced the next rune in his pattern. Jorir and the others began a slow approach towards the being behind so much of the trouble they had faced over the last three years, weaving back and forth in a pattern meant to look as though they meandered forward. Meanwhile, Svarek prattled on about some nonsense. Anything they could do to keep it distracted. Even better if they could keep it occupied long enough to launch the first strike.

Two steps on, and he knelt to trace again. The pounding of running feet once again echoed from the corridor behind Eydri: Einarr glanced over his shoulder as surreptitiously as possible: when Svarek arrived with only the sorcerers, Einarr had assumed the others would not be coming. But, such was not the case: Kaldr and Thjofgrir burst out from under the threshold. Thjofgrir gave one of his cocky grins as he saw the situation: Kaldr gave his second a nod and settled in to protect their Singer.

“There are still more of you?” The double voice of the avatar almost seemed to purr. “Lovely. But I grow tired of this endless prating.”

Einarr shuddered as he felt its eyes pass over him. He was in range. So was Hrug. If it realized what they were doing, Hrug would be the obvious first target… but so far, it had paid them no mind. Was Eydri actually out of range?

“You, there. The late-come brute. You I claim first.” One of the octopus arms shot out towards Thjofgrir. He brought up his sword to block, but the questing tentacle of energy wrapped around his chest and hoisted him high into the air. He kicked, and tried to drive his blade into the tentacle, but the blade could not cut whatever stuff it was Malùnion was made of.

“Thjofgrir!” Kaldr cried out at the same moment Troa’s bowstring twanged. Einarr could spare no attention, now that the battle was joined, to how it would go: he and Hrug had to finish their circle, otherwise they were all doomed.


Tore of the Sterkenbjorn contorted his face into something approximating a grin. Even under the effects of the Song, his men grew weary, and while they had sunk some few of the demon ships with their unnatural cargo there were still far too many ahead. As he saw the last of the Squiddies on the Sterkenbjorn go overboard, he raised his sword high and growled a battle cry. “Forward!” They could not stop now – not if any of them wanted to return home alive.

As Captain, ordinarily he would have stayed behind to guard their Singer. Ordinarily, though, they would have a Singer. Luta had fallen – indeed, she was the only one who had fallen – when the thrice-damned Squiddies set upon their ship before they’d even reached Breidelstein. And that was before they’d put in for water and found the town razed to the ground. The blood of the cultists had now painted his deck black, even under the onslaught of the storms they rode. Now it was time to paint their decks black. He hopped up on the boarding line and dashed across, glad of the chance to stretch his wings a little. He only hoped the cursed Squiddies ran out of men before the fleet did. Either way, he supposed, it would be an awesome story to tell over a horn of cider.


“Put me down, you cowardly spawn of an outlaw!” Thjofgrir still hurled imprecations, as though by main force of will he could do what his sword could not and free himself from the grasp of the octopus. Once it had him in its grip, however, it ignored him in favor of attempting to capture others of the ‘sacrifices.’ Thankfully, Thjofgrir’s misfortune was instruction to the rest of them. Rather than trying to block, even Jorir simply dodged. Still, it was only a matter of time before its bloodthirst won out over its greed.

Nearly there. He and Hrug each had only a handful of runes left to draw before they could activate their alfenring – and then they would learn whether it was good enough, or if they were, in fact, destined to be so much food for a dark god.

Thjofgrir struggled mightily to break free, but every time Einarr looked up it seemed as though the spiritual octopus held him more tightly. It was a wonder he could still breathe.

Einarr stooped again to draw his last rune. Next to him, Hrug was doing the same. Both of them had made it around behind the avatar, and if anything he looked even more horrific when you couldn’t see his meat-puppet. The head was as much squid as octopus, with shimmering scales like a sea serpent’s.

“You slimy piece of filth,” Thjofgrir said. This was followed by an audible crack and a scream. “You will never so much as see Midgard: we will end you before you take so much as a step from this room.”

Hrug and Einarr laid their hands on the edge of the circle, and the chalk lines began to grow white and green, traveling like the fire of life around their formation. When they met on the far side, tiny tendrils of vine began to grow up out of the light.

Disconcertingly, Malùnion laughed. Was it not enough? In the near silence that followed, Einarr could pick out the sound of drops of liquid striking the stone floor.

A moment later, a sword clattered to the ground inside the rune circle, and this was followed very swiftly by the dull thud of a body. Einarr stared in horror.

“Thjof!” Kaldr cried again, despair in his voice, and charged forward in spite of his self-appointed duty to Eydri.

Arring screamed a wordless rage. Einarr rose slowly to his feet and drew Sinmora.

And the tendrils of vine came to life.

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 ignored the throbbing in his temples as the last of his men gathered together around the now-silent tower. They had lost two or three handfulls of men out of the crews of two ships – more than Einarr liked, after his years wandering, but acceptable under the circumstances.

The arrows had ceased to fall some time ago: Einarr guessed that the captain of the archers had given it up for futile. That was good, because the quaking earth had begun to cause problems for Einarr’s men, as well. It was also bad, though, because those archers would almost certainly be waiting on the other side of the tower door. Because he expected an ambush inside, Einarr had inscribed a on the door, and another on the flagstones below it.

Irding took the fore, flanked by Arkja and Troa. Jorir stayed at the back with Einarr: he had made it plain his intention was to guard his liege lord. For his part, Einarr was grateful. He could not see the wound in his leg well enough to heal it properly, and healed poorly was often worse than not healed at all.

“Shields up, on my mark,” Einarr said. He took a deep breath. “Three, two one — now.”

His men brought their shields up into a wall. A heartbeat after the last rattle, he used his configuration to blast open the door ahead of them. Irding led the charge through the haze of the blast and into the tower.

The door opened into an empty antechamber. One set of stairs followed the wall up to the next floor, and across the room another led down – into what horrors, Einarr did not care to speculate.

Empty was unexpected, but the men knew what to do. About half split off to take the heights of the tower, while Einarr and Jorir went with the rest down into the depths. Probably the men heading up would get the glory of taking the leader’s head, but practically speaking Einarr would more likely be needed to deal with whatever horrors they had called into being.

As soon as the door to the second floor was opened the fighting began again, but the defenders had missed an opportunity: they hadn’t been holding the stairs here. Irding bowled over the lone archer in the door while he was still sighting his shot, and the upstairs team began pouring through.

The door heading down was barred from below. Jorir hefted his axe to begin chopping at it, but Einarr raised a hand to stop him. “The longer this takes, the more time they have to prepare a trap. Let me.”

Drawing a pair of thorns took almost no time at all, and though the thrumming in his head spiked it did not remain high after he had blown away this second door, and the front runners rushed once more through the gap.

Below, the stairway was lined with torches burning in a familiar blue flame. If Einarr had needed any further confirmation that this was the same cult that had killed Astrid and kidnapped Runa just a few short years ago, this was it.

They were vulnerable going down the stairs: there was no barrier separating the outside of the stair from the open air and the long drop to the next floor, and they were perhaps halfway down it when that floor lit up in the poisonous blue of the torchlight. “Shields up and keep moving!”

The order was likely unnecessary, but Einarr intended to spend the lives of his men dearly if he had to at all.

A moment later and the volley of arrows from below flew across empty space, burying their heads in shields and the cracks of stone. He did not hear anyone cry out: he hoped that meant no-one else had been taken in a leg.

The lighting in here was dim, and the footing on the stairway was bad, but all they had to do was weather the arrows until they reached the bottom – except that from the top of the stairs Einarr could already see that the base of the stairs was mobbed with cursed warriors. They would get in each other’s way, certainly, but they would also prevent the invaders from breaching the floor.

This time, though, he would let his men push through. He could think of nothing he could do that would not also risk them, and he was well aware that he was pushing his magic in ways he never had before. Not since Elder Melja’s winter training, and probably not then. For the moment, he slipped his chalk back into his pouch and limbered the bow he had acquired on the field above.


Serk of Sweindalr, aboard his own Björtstag, had hacked his way across to the enemy ship. As Captain, ordinarily he would hang back, but after what had happened at Kaldreik he knew he could not. It was not merely atrocities the Björtstag had witnessed there, after all – otherwise, Halla would still be with them, and still require his protection.

A gang of cursed warriors was clustering around the mast: that didn’t look good. With a roar of borrowed fury, he charged into them and struck about with his sword. The cursed warriors, with their sickly gray skin and their mad eyes, scattered under the onslaught. Einarr of Breidelstein had alluded to monsters aboard these ships, and Serk intended to see that they had no chance to free such a creature.

A screech sounded from the deck behind him, and one of the mad-eyed warriors ceased even to appear human. In place of his arms he grew squid tentacles, and his head became a massive beak still somehow covered in eyes. Serk’s mouth curled into a rictus grin: had it been one of those, then, that did for his Halla? He charged again, and in one mighty blow he severed its transformed head from its once-human body.

He would have vengeance for his bride on the cultists of Malúnion.

 

 

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.

 

The fiery arrow was not, by itself, enough to finish off the abomination, but the way that fire spread over its body Einarr didn’t think it would last much longer, and its flailing was very shortly going to put his team in danger. He raised his voice and cupped a hand to his mouth. “Jorir! Everyone to me!”

Then he turned his attention back to the field. Whether the team fighting at the edges of the field heard him or not, they were not trying to fall back – which was good. He was about to send some reinforcements. With five teams on the field, they still only had twenty men – counting himself – and at least that many cursed warriors. That wasn’t even counting their Talon Knight handlers.

One of the teams of the cursed was hurrying across the field directly toward him, heedless of the arrows that still stubbornly fell like rain in spite of the tower’s instability.

There’s one thing I can do, anyway. Einarr quickly drew and called lightning down on their heads. That stopped the knights in their metal armor and most of the cursed warriors. Between holding the half-burned abomination in place and shaking up the tower archers, all this magic was starting to give Einarr a headache – not enough to stop him, yet, but he was definitely not used to fighting this way.

Jorir and the eleven remaining men who had been trying to take down the monstrosity surrounded Einarr and Irding now, forming a circle of steel around them. Irding looked grateful not to have to block arrows for the moment. A moment later they were joined by the late-come team on the field.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder to his liege lord. “Now what?”

Einarr glanced his men over and nodded to himself. Down five men was probably the best he could hope for, under the circumstances. “I want one, or maybe two men to cover me. Until I can get some proper healing on my leg, I’ll only be a hindrance in hand to hand, but I can still use runes. The rest of you divide up: one group goes for the fight on the edge of the field, the other one takes on those guys.”

He pointed across the field at the group of enemies that was picking its way across the field toward them. “I’ll back everyone up as best I can. Mind the tower: I don’t know how much more shaking it can take, and whoever they have up there is damnably determined.”

“Aye, sir!” several of the men answered at once. Arkja already led about five of them over to the struggling team on the side: with the three they had left, that should suffice.

Jorir set his feet and looked at Irding. “I’ll cover Lord Einarr. You’re better on the offense.”

That earned the dvergr a rakish grin. “You’re right about that. Thanks for the breather, though.”

Einarr glanced around at the field of battle: the arrowfall from the tower had nearly ceased, but Einarr didn’t dare let up on his earth circle yet. Then he looked at Jorir: the dvergr was spattered all over with the abomination’s black blood.

“We have a moment. Let me do something about that.”

Jorir harrumphed. “Get us both, then. This spot won’t stay calm for long, I don’t think.”

“Would we really want it to?” Einarr dashed off the purification inscription he and Hrug had come up with after they landed. A moment later, he felt he could breathe easier at least.

The larger group under Irding was clashing with the Talon Knight team half-way across the field now. But, by the same token, more of Einarr’s men were arriving, in good order – and significantly faster than the enemy knights could replenish their number. Very soon, he thought, they would be able to push into the tower and take the fortress itself.


Water sluiced over the deck of the Vidofnir, washing away the black blood of the cultists and the red blood of Stigander’s raiders almost as fast as they could spill it. This was no raid like the one that took his Astrid – oh, no. Neither was it a hastily assembled chase, where the cult ships had been caught off-guard as Vidofnir and Skudbrun fled their stronghold. No, the leadership of the city had seen this battle well enough in advance that they had ships and crews at the ready, so that the trap they thought they had laid for the corrupting priests of Malúnion became instead a trap for them. Stigander, part of the circle guarding Reki from the onslaught of those who hated the clean magics of song and word and art, chopped with his own sword against the cursed. For all that the fleet was beset he could tell that they gave as good as they got. He could worry about the source of their knowledge later.

The anvil, within the harbor, had been neatly smashed, although the burning wreckage still prevented the fleet from entering the harbor en masse. That was fine: it meant that the fleet could focus on the real threat – the demon ships, with their merged, swirling squall above and their black horrors beneath the decks.

Another warrior with the gray pallor of the cursed charged at his circle, trying to break free to end Reki’s battle-fury. Calmly, Stigander raised his shield and caught the blade on its boss, then ran the warrior cleanly through with his own sword. Yet more black blood spurted out on his feet: he was glad he had left Astrid’s rabbit-skin boots at home for this journey. These would have to be burned when all was said and done.

A moment of quiet aboard the Vidofnir gave him enough time to take a breath and assess. They had cleared the cursed from their decks, and the spear-wielding elites, as well, but outside of those who guarded their Singer his own crew had already boarded the enemy ship. That was a perilous place to be, true, but it was also exactly where they belonged. Stigander raised his horn to his lips and blew. All up and down the line, he heard answers from those Captains as were in a position to give one. About half, he judged. Not good enough yet.

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.

 

The monstrosity croaked, loud enough to make Einarr’s ears ring. It had been the right call to leave Hrug above – indeed, it had been by far the best way to signal the fleet – but Einarr was not half the sorcerer the mute was. His men leapt at the winged blob again. He heard a whumpf, followed by the crack of stone and a thud. Another man down.

The formation before him, he thought, would work. Or, he hoped it would buy them enough time to destroy the abomination, anyway. He placed his fingers on the edge of the circle and willed it to capture the creature before them.

He could see, although he didn’t think anyone else could, the threads of energy racing along the ground, pooling under the creature’s feet that currently hovered about five inches off the ground. Einarr bit his lip, intent on the goal. If the abomination touched the ground with so much as a toe or a wingtip, they had it.

The pool of magic grew larger, and as it did Einarr noticed a pillar of ice beginning to form in its center. Unusual, but I’ll take it.

The monster-bird bobbed down just a hair farther than it usually did. The ice brushed its claw, and the freezing threads of the magic began climbing up its body.

Hastily, the abomination rose, but the cold that had a hold of its foot continued to spread over its body. It was caught now, no matter how much it struggled. Sinmora practically leaped into Einarr’s hand as he rushed to join the fray.

The creature fought mightily against the forces trying to pin it to the earth. It might have managed to break free, too, if not for the twelve men it also had to fend off if it wanted to survive this. The soothing rune didn’t seem to be having much of an effect: perhaps calm was contrary to its nature? Or, perhaps, the fact that it was under attack prevented the rune from fully taking hold.

A fourth team was running into the killing field, now, in a fighting retreat from a squad of cursed warriors and their knightly commander. Godsdammit.

He still had control of his formation, but if he divided his mind that way he risked loosing the abomination. On the other hand, it was already weakened. If they brought it down, they could turn their full attention to other matters. The challenge was in finding its actual vitals.

He plunged Sinmora deep into the body of the beast, between a wing and an eye. It shrieked – a sound just as hideous as its croak – and stabbed back at him with a beak.

Einarr dodged, using the momentum of a turn to extract his blade. A gout of black blood spurted forth, hissing where it came in contact with the pool of magic.

He felt that like a buzzing in his brain. Oops. Einarr put a stop in the flow. It was either that, cutting off the amount of will he could feed into the seal, or risk exposing his mind directly to the corruption.

Jorir planted an axe behind the wing he had just chopped at, and it fell twitching to the ground. Now Einarr found himself faced with a deep wound, and while it bled profusely it was not spurting at either of them. Once more he plunged Sinmora into the beast’s side, and once more it shrieked and writhed.

Someone on its other side drove home his own mighty blow, and the abomination flapped harder. The ward still held, however, and its struggles seemed to be faltering.

That was when flaming arrows began raining down into the killing field from the arrow slits in the fortress tower.


War drums beat in time from every ship in the fleet, now, and the water below rippled in time with the rhythm calling the sailors to fight. Erik knew even a seasoned warrior should be anxious about a battle like this, with enemies both before and behind and each one of them a match for any ship of the fleet, but it was not fear that made his heart pump and his blood race. The defiled would attempt to swarm them under, and the defiled would be destroyed, he was sure. Any who fell today earned their place in Valhalla.

Not that he intended to fall. And he truly hoped that between the Singers and their two Rune masters they could avoid losing anyone to the corruption. But today – today would be a battle the skalds would sing of for ages upon ages.

Sivid’s boat floated next to the Vidofnir. Erik looked in that direction and grinned, certain that his friend would be too busy to see and not caring. His shield was set, and the weight of his axe in his hand felt good, and that was what mattered.

“Archers! Ready!” Bardr’s voice rang over the deck, echoed by the Mates up and down their line.

The fwoosh of fire went up in a line behind Erik as one of the deckhands lit the arrowheads. This, too, was done all up and down the line.

“Aim!”

From the corner of his eye, Erik could see the line of archers amidships on the other boats, all raise their bows in a wave.

“Fire!”

The archers loosed, and a wave of flaming arrows flew forward into the black storm approaching from the open sea. Perhaps a third as many flew towards the harbor – the surer shot, but also the less critical one. The black storm ships were the more fearsome by far. Erik remembered well what they kept belowdecks in those ships. Of the arrows that flew into the storm, perhaps half found their target. He was gratified to see more than one sail go up in flames: that would ease their load somewhat.

He found himself bouncing on his toes, waiting for the toss of boarding lines. Well, fine: he hadn’t been in a proper sea battle since they re-took Breidelstein. Fighting on land didn’t have quite the same thrill to it.

Then he looked up and abruptly realized the enemy was returning fire. The answering wave of flame was hard to look away from.

Bardr noticed at the same moment he did. “Shields!”

Almost as one, they raised their shields into a wall, protecting not only themselves but the archers behind as well. Getting close, now.

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.

 

Stigander lowered his glass and sighed. The fortress was burning, and he hadn’t seen a signal yet. That was very shortly going to become moot, however, judging by the commotion on the docks. At least the blockade was already set up. He didn’t even look over his shoulder before he gave the order, certain that Bardr was where Stigander expected. “We can’t wait any longer. Something must have happened to the lookout. Signal the others.”

“Aye, sir.”

Before long the crack of sails could be heard over the fleet once more as the longships closed their circle, trapping the squiddies in their own jar. Or, at least, that was the idea. They hadn’t seen any of the black storm clouds that had marked the monsters in the svartlalfr ships’ holds – not yet, anyway. That might change when they actually put out to sea.

He raised his glass again. Something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.


A wide open field was all that stood between Einarr’s team and the keep at the center of the fortress. It looked empty, but when Troa rose to begin their dash across the open space Einarr put a hand on his shoulder. “Something’s wrong.”

Movement caught his eye from partway around the killing field. It was another team – and Einarr had no way to stop them. He bit his tongue to keep from crying out. That would not help them, and it would give away their position. Then, he let out a long breath. “Be prepared to move on my mark,” he whispered.

“But you just said -” Irding protested. That earned him a sharp look.

“I know what I said. Situation changed.”

The other team stopped and threw up their arms, as though they were suddenly being buffeted by wind – a wind which Einarr soon felt, too. An unearthly screech filled the air, like the unholy fusion of a raven and a whale. He looked up.

A chill ran down his spine. It was like a hundred birds all sharing one body, with eyes and beaks and wings and legs jutting out at impossible angles and improbable locations. There was no earthly reason it should have been able to fly. And Einarr had seen it before.

It was the beast whose crew had willingly sacrificed themselves to its appetite when it became clear they had lost. It had crawled forth from the wreckage of their hold, a writhing and bubbling blob, and taken on the shape Einarr still could not fully grasp now that it was before him again.

“Oh. Hel.”


Stigander frowned as he stared at the ships now running across the waves toward the blockade, bristling with oars and, he was certain, both blades and arrows to match. This all looked as he expected it to, but there was an insistent tug on his heart whispering that something was about to go very wrong.

A black shadow passed overhead. He looked up to see a massive, multi-winged bird tearing through the sky toward the fortress. Alarm rose in his belly, but not enough to drown out the nagging anxiety. What am I missing?

A crack of thunder from out at sea made him jump. When he turned around, suddenly he understood.

The open sea behind them roiled with the heavy winds stirred up by the black clouds overhead – black as the clouds that bore the Grendel, what felt like ages ago, and her sister ships on the svartalfr island. And there, between storm clouds and churning sea, were twice as many ships as sailed from the harbor. Now he understood what his instincts had been trying to tell him.

They had sailed the entire fleet into a trap, and now they were caught between the hammer and the anvil. Part of him wished he had Kaldr to hand, but the man’s genius was more suited for the laying of traps like these, rather than escaping them. Indeed, that is almost exactly what they had been trying to do.

“Bardr, do you see what I see?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

“Good. Sound the horns: battle is joined.” This was not the day he intended to die, but if it came it would be an acceptable one.


Irding cursed a blue streak. It seemed he recognized the monster, too. Troa, grim-faced, limbered his bow.

“I’m down to about ten arrows.”

Einarr nodded. “Irding, Arkja, Jorir, do what you can to divide its attention. Troa, take your shots, but don’t waste them. I’ll see if I can’t pin it down somehow.” Damned if I know how, though.

Jorir cleared his throat. “With all due respect, milord, if you will be doing a working, I will be covering you.”

Einarr nodded at the dvergr. “Thank you. Now let’s go. That’s going to be too much for five men alone.”

The other team had the bright idea to scatter: Einarr approved. No matter how big it was, it only had one body and it was blessedly free of tentacles. He was dimly aware of an arrow flying towards the monstrosity, and of one eye closing, but Einarr’s attention was focused inward. As he ran, he drew his chalk from his pouch.

Someone from the other team charged forward and grabbed hold of one of its taloned legs. That… could be brilliant, or it could be his end, or both.

When he was about halfway across the field, Einarr stopped. This should be close enough without making Jorir’s job any harder. Movement caught his eye: a third team had reached the field and was running in to assist. Good. It took a whole ship just to drive one of these things off last time… I wish I could leave this to Hrug.

He started to draw his rune circle on the paving stones. He would need Isa, he was certain, but he very much doubted he had the will to turn the monster into a block of ice, even with the binding circle. An upside-down Yr would turn a ward inward, to keep whatever was inside from getting out, although if he wasn’t careful he would keep his men from dealing with it that way. Wynn could be used to calm it – that would definitely be useful.

Someone from one of the other teams screamed, and when the sound abruptly cut off Einarr knew it had been his death scream. He nearly activated the circle right then, but bit his lip. He had to think carefully, even now: there would only be one chance at this, so he had to do it right.

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.

 

After three days of sneaking and scouting and planning, Troa reported that the rest of the fleet had been spotted off the southern coast. That meant two things: there was only so much time before the Squiddies moved, and they needed to move first.

At dawn on the fourth day since they abandoned their initial camp, the crews of the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf crept towards the fortress below in small teams. Each team had a variation on the same goal: enter the fortress, cause mayhem, and open the way for the main assault of the fleet. They were all aware of the giant cats that seemed to be in two places at once and the not-men who had assaulted the camp. They had been warned of other abominations they might face. No-one expected this to be pretty or easy.

Kaldr remained on the ridge, along with Thjofgrir, Eydri, Hrug, and Arring. Their task was to observe the taking of the fortress from the outside and send up a signal for the waiting fleet.

Einarr’s team was filled with old, familiar faces. Jorir, of course, who guarded his liege lord like a hound guards its master. Then Irding, and Arkja, and Troa. Einarr wished he could have brought Vali along, but they had not yet found a way to reawaken the ghost from his jar.

As they crouched in the bushes, a narrow stretch of open ground all that separated them from the fortress walls, Einarr found himself wishing for a great deal more time. “It looks to me like the best way in would be underground,” he muttered.

Jorir, at his side, harrumphed. “You’re starting to think like a dvergr. I don’t agree, though.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow and waited for his liege man to go on.

“That is old masonry. You can tell by how weathered it is. It looks as though they’ve kept it free of moss, but I wager it wouldn’t be hard to just slide a block free. The difficulty comes in knowing who – or what – is on the other side.”

That didn’t sound terribly easy to Einarr. Perhaps there was a dvergr trick to it? “Wouldn’t that take a long time and be noisy? I think we may just have to go looking for a thrall’s gate.”

Troa shook his head. “We’ve circled this fortress twice. There aren’t any.”

“No…! Then how do they get rid of…?”

“I suggest everyone avoid swimming in the harbor.”

Jorir, though, was still studying the wall. “No, I can do it. But I’ll need the rest of you on lookout while I do.”

Einarr didn’t see many other choices at this point. There weren’t likely to be crowds they could hide in, after all. He nodded, their course now set. “Arkja, how are you with a bow? Think you can keep up with Troa?”

“I’ll do my best, milord.”

“Good. See that you do. Irding, you and I will patrol a perimeter – make sure nothing sneaks up on us from down here. Troa, Arkja, take care of anyone too observant on the wall.”

When they were certain the coast was clear, Jorir dashed across the killing field. His maille didn’t even clink. A moment later, the sound of metal tapping stone reached their ears. An initial glance made it look as though Jorir were right: if they could give him time to work, he could open the hole they needed.

“Now it’s on us. Good fortune, everyone.”

Hours passed. Other than Jorir’s persistent tapping on the wall, they heard nothing but the occasional trill of birdsong. Certainly there were no more of the cats yet – and it had been big enough, it would have had trouble maneuvering inside city walls. As the sun neared its zenith, Einarr fancied he could see a sliver of light in the crack Jorir was introducing into the wall. That was also when he heard the sounds of struggle from Irding’s direction. Einarr spun on his heel to go assist, but even as he did, two bowstrings twanged and quiet settled around them once more. He returned to his own patrol, only to find himself face to face with one of the not-men.

A strangled cry of surprise leapt from his throat, but his body was faster. Sinmora came to hand and beheaded the monster. He stood still a long moment, waiting to be sure it wasn’t going to get back up in spite of everything. And that was when he heard a cry of surprise from Arkja and Troa, whose attention was focused on the walls and who were encumbered by their bows. This time Einarr did run.

He reached the two scouts at the same moment Irding did. They were backing towards Jorir and the wall and firing as they went. Their arrows, however, appeared to be doing nothing to the handful of not-men who approached with blades drawn. Einarr cursed. Obviously, they had been spotted some time ago: this was obviously an ambush. He lowered Sinmora and charged at one who was about to bury his axe in Troa’s arm. The worry that their entire plan was foiled put fire in his blood.

Irding put himself between Arkja and a cursed warrior wielding a pair of hunting knives.

The initial surge out of the forest had been only a handful, but Einarr could see movement in the shadows already. With two strikes he took the legs out from under the axe man in front of him and then, on the back swing, buried his blade in its chest. Irding dispatched the knife wielder with similar speed, but it would do them little good.

“Jorir? Are you nearly done?”

“Aye. One good blast would open it now.”

Einarr growled as he caught another cursed warrior’s axe on his shield and answered it with a sword to its belly. He didn’t want to draw that much attention if he could avoid it. “And without one?”

“I break up the stone with my axes. Not great on the blades.”

And probably another hour’s worth of work. The not-men were coming out into the killing field in greater numbers now. Soon, it wouldn’t matter if they hadn’t notified anyone inside: this fight would be plain for all to see. “Fine. Trade me places.”

 

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 staggered to his feet, trying desperately to catch his breath. Thankfully, the others seemed to have the cat well in hand – for now, anyway. He watched as they ducked and weaved around the creature, taking their shots as they came. Thankfully, too, Sinmora had done more than just devour its double. It was favoring the injured foot heavily: probably, soon they would have to worry about the beast trying to run away. Which meant Einarr really needed to get his sword back.

He could breathe again: that was sufficient. Einarr raised his shield and barreled back into the fight. Kaldr, on his left, acknowledged him with a glance.

“Cover me.” Einarr ducked his head and ran on, shield first, to get closer to the big cat’s paw. The trouble, of course, would be getting close enough to knock the blade free without getting stepped on: the beast was easily as big as a fimbulvulf.

It growled, and Einarr heard its tentacles whip out at the others. He was being ignored, and for now that was fine. For just a moment, the injured paw touched the ground.

Jorir ran across, under its belly, and chopped at one of the hind legs. Here, too, the injured paw touched down for just a moment, as though to steady the massive body.

Einarr readied himself. If he timed it just right, he thought he could grab Sinmora during one of these momentary shifts.

The great cat danced about, taking cut after cut – and inflicting several of its own, to be sure. It was also starting to backpedal: there could not be much time before it decided there were tastier morsels elsewhere.

When Thjofgrir’s blade cut deep into the other foreleg, Einarr saw his best chance. As the claws touched the earth once more, he dashed forward. His hand closed on Sinmora’s hilt, his grip somehow firm in spite of the earlier wound. Einarr pulled.

The monstrous cat screamed.

It wheeled on its hind leg and dashed off into the forest, its double popping back into existence before it was fully out of sight.

The others gathered around Einarr. For a moment, they all stood watching its flight through the forest. Finally, Einarr took a deep breath. “Is everyone all right?”

“I think, my lord, we should be asking you that,” Jorir grumbled.

“A little sore, is all. Was anyone else wounded, though? And how bloody are you? A proper purification is probably beyond me, but I’m certain I could manage a stop gap until we return to camp.”

“It didn’t touch me,” Troa answered. “But I suspect it would be wise for you four.”

Twenty minutes later, after Einarr traced a purifying rune on each of them (including Troa), they too were running off into the forest, on the trail of the strange cat they hoped would lead them to the Hold.


Ordinarily, a cat would be difficult to track, especially at night. Ordinarily, however, that cat would not be wounded, bleeding, and bigger than a horse.

As dawn broke, the five men crouched in the underbrush on a ridge north of the rather imposing fortress maintained by the priesthood of Malúnion. Below, the fortress walls stretched upward at least three stories. The early morning sun made the walls glow like pale gold, and the tower in their center thrust toward the sky like a spear of the gods. Below, within the walls, a town was waking up in shadow.

Kaldr gave a low whistle. “Did those maniacs really build this?”

Jorir grunted. “Unlikely, I think, unless they brought in my kin to do it. But I expect this place was like Nilthiad – conquered from within.”

Einarr contemplated venturing down the ridge and exploring the fortress himself. His legs twitched, but before he could stand Kaldr spoke again.

“We should head back to camp. Now that we know where to send our teams, scouts will be better equipped to get the information we need.”

Reluctantly, Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. And this will give us a leg up on plotting our strategy.” Just because Kaldr was right didn’t mean he had to like it.

Their trek cross-country back to their camp was far less eventful than the nighttime journey had been, although it did provide them a better opportunity to study the lay of the land. From the ridge, the land sloped steadily downward toward the shore where the boats were beached. The forest was mixed evergreen and seasonal, and if Einarr was any judge, he thought it looked unusually healthy – especially if it had creatures such as that cat hunting it. He took a cutting of some berry bushes as they walked by, with the intention of having them inspected by Eydri and Hrug.

When they strolled back into camp around mid-morning, they were greeted by a great deal of hustle and the anxious faces of their subordinates. Eydri stormed up to them, with Naudrek right behind. “There you are! What happened to you?”

Einarr gave a lopsided grin. “The biggest cat you ever saw, and the location of the Hold.”

“Bah. Oh, by the gods, you look terrible. Hrug set up a purification circle down by the water if anyone needs it.”

“Thank you, Eydri. I think we’ll take advantage of that. Troa, will you see to it they know where to find the fortress before you come down?”

“Of course, sir.”

As much as Einarr would have preferred to rest, now was not the time. The rest of the day was spent gathered over the makeshift table the guard crew had put together, making plans based on the charts as they knew it – and as they grew to know it over the course of the day, as scouting parties filled in the gaps of their knowledge.

One party reported that, while the beast was likely corrupted by the cult, it may not actually have been kept by the cult: they found a cave on the northeast side of the island that fairly reeked of cat – and had blood spatters just outside the entrance. They had not ventured into the cave to confirm any of this, of course, and Einarr gave his pardon for that immediately. He wouldn’t have either, under the circumstances – although it might become necessary to put the beast down before they began their assault on the island. If all went well, he thought, he and Kaldr should have a strategy and a message for the fleet early the next morning.

 

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.