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.

 

Jorir jumped back, away from the latest strike of the snake’s jaws. Flames licked around its body from inside the temple, and the smoke in the room was thick and cloying. Even if it hadn’t been corrupted it would have been giving them issues. As it was, he was beginning to feel a little queasy.

If only there were some way we could hurt it without jumping into its maw… But, perhaps there was one. Scale armor was flexible, after all. While the scales overlapped, they were only attached on one side. If Jorir could plant his axe under one of them, and perhaps even pry it up, that would give them an advantage. Unfortunately, the angle he would have to strike at would be nearly impossible from the ground.

Now. How to get up on its back? Their battle had not been so fierce as to dislodge convenient stone blocks from the ceiling, after all. His eye lit upon one of the doors that still hung akimbo off of one of its hinges. He hadn’t the foggiest how they were going to shut up that room again, although they plainly would have to, but right now the door could be their key to victory.

“Keep it occupied!” Jorir bellowed over his shoulder. Without looking to see who heard him, he sprinted for the wildly tilted door. It was steep, but he could do it.

Jorir’s first foot pounded against the temple door. Ahead of him, the snake’s body writhed and he felt its baleful gaze fall on him. Then it shook its head again, its eyes squeezed shut, as Jorir raced up the surface of the door.

He leapt from the top of the ramp, his axe held high, as the last beleaguered hinge gave way and the door crashed to the ground.

Jorir landed on his feet in the middle of the serpent’s back and immediately began to slip: he let one foot continue forward even as he thrust the other foot back so that in the end he sat astride the overgrown snake like a horse. Not quite how he’d intended to land, but it would suffice.

He brought his axe down in a shallow slice, aiming for the edge of one of the scales near his foot.

It caught the edge of the scale. Behind him, he heard the beast hiss in pain. Then he twisted the axe so that the scale began to separate from the body.

That was when he heard a low, rumbling noise that permeated the room. The beast he sat on seemed to be vibrating along with it… was it growling? Jorir hadn’t known snakes could do that.

It didn’t matter. He jammed his booted toe under the lifted scale and cut again with his axe. This time he was able to pry it up at a good angle. Jorir started kicking at the underside of the scale, trying to pry it free.

“Look out!” Brandir’s voice cut through the chaos.

Jorir glanced over his shoulder and saw the massive maw of the snake thrusting towards him. He dove, grabbing for the edge of the loose scale to break his fall on the way down.

It tore off in his hands. Again the snake hissed loudly in pain and threw its head up towards the ceiling.

Jorir tossed the scale aside and resettled his grip on his axe. The gap was a little higher than he might like, but it was still a gap. He leapt again, swinging his axe overhead, and planted its blade in the soft, revealed flesh. Black blood welled up from the cut and from the hundreds of small pricks where the scale had separated from the skin. He hung briefly from the axe to pull at a nearby scale, already loosened by his efforts. As he dropped back to the ground, one of Mornik’s daggers buried itself in the new-found vulnerability.

The snake thrashed its midsection. Jorir scrambled backwards, even as he saw Brandir clinging to his own axe, still embedded in the corrupted flesh of the serpent.

Brandir gave a battle cry and brought his feet up against the loosened scale. He kicked against the scale at the same moment he wrenched his axe free, launching himself into a flip to land near Gheldram. A second scale tore free of the enraged beast before them.

Then Gheldram ran forward and brought his hammer up in a ferocious upward blow. It landed considerably lower than the flesh they had revealed, but Jorir could see the scales above growing looser. Between the fire on its tail and the dvergr in front, the serpent’s fight was growing both weaker and more desperate. Now they just had to finish it before the smoke overwhelmed any of them.


A sound like a far-off explosion rumbled through the priest’s chamber. Einarr looked up, surprised, only to see the others still searching diligently. Not that they had found anything particularly out of the ordinary. If it weren’t for the black-blooded acolytes, Einarr might have mistaken this for the room of one of the priests who had married him.

They had searched the entire room. They had even turned out the drawers of the dvergr’s desk and dresser. And still, no clue as to where Runa might be kept. He was just about to order a retreat to one of the other doors when his eye once again fell upon the portrait and mirror atop the dresser.

With a growl, he grabbed the portrait and turned it over. The frame came open easily, as though it were often removed. On the back of the portrait, three words were scrawled in badly drawn runes. He wanted to laugh: without his training under Elder Melja, he would have been lost, but this was plainly the key they had been seeking.

“Open. The. Door.” Einarr read aloud, pressing a trickle of his will into the words as he was suddenly certain the priest did regularly.

There was a click, and near the headboard of the bed, a panel in the wall slid open. Kaldr gave him a flat look, and Einarr shrugged. “There had to be something. But even if our princess isn’t back there, we’re sure to find something interesting. Come on.”

Without waiting, Einarr ducked into the secret passage in the high priest’s chamber. His gut still told him this was where he would find Runa, and he was still inclined to trust it.

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.

 

Einarr hurried his crew along as best he could, but Thjofgrir’s injury was going to be an issue until Runa’s song had a chance to do its work. The beast – whatever it was – would still be slowed somewhat by the rubble in the way, but they couldn’t exactly move full speed right now, either. He had taken the rear since Kaldr was bearing Thjofgrir, but that meant he couldn’t carry Runa. He was actually impressed at how well she was maintaining her Song at this pace, but it wasn’t going to gain them any time. They needed either an exit or a hiding place, and they needed it fast. Not that he had the first clue what a hiding place would even look like in this circumstance. There had to be something he could do to slow it down, just a little more.

But, as with the rest of the paths, there was no sign of any supports holding up the ceiling, nor were there cracks in the wall he could exploit. The idea of runes flitted through his mind again, but he shook his head firmly. No runes, not unless it was absolutely critical. Not when he didn’t know what sort of magics the dvergr might turn against them.

“Hey!” Naudrek’s voice rang down the tunnel from up ahead. “I think I found something!”

With great relief, Einarr scooped Thjofgrir’s other arm across his shoulder. “We’re coming!”

Now that there were two of them carrying the other man’s weight they went faster, although still no faster than Runa could move while Singing.

Naudrek and Vali led them into a wide-open room with a narrow entrance – narrow enough that two men could effectively hold off any number of assailants, if they were fresh. None of them were anything like fresh, but still Naudrek moved to bar the door as the last of their crew staggered in. Kaldr joined him as Einarr helped Thjofgrir to sit and Runa turned her full attention to mending his injured leg.

That left Einarr and Vali to examine their momentary shelter. Einarr laid his shield by Runa’s side so there was at least a little light for her to work with. Sweat beaded her brow, although it was no warmer in this room than it had been in the passages beyond. Perhaps she was more exhausted than she let on.

As he got a good look at the room, though, he wished he had it with him. The light itself was steady, but at that distance and that angle it cast strange shadows over the multitude of carved beasts that lined the walls. He saw creatures as mundane as stags, wolves, and bears, but also coiling dragons and hideous sea creatures. There were even a few that looked not unlike tafl pieces. Each and every statue that he passed, Einarr saw that the eyes were set with some sort of faintly glowing green gem.

They had nearly completed a circuit of the room, without finding any other exit, when the beast’s incongruous chirp echoed into the room. Everyone turned to look towards the door, Thjofgrir still massaging his injured leg as Runa took a moment to rest her voice.

“How’s it feeling?” Einarr asked Thjofgrir.

“Better.” He suited action to words and pulled his boot back on. “We had another hour, I’d be right as rain.”

Einarr nodded. That was more or less what he’d expected. “Right then. Stay off it for a bit longer, I think, then go backup Kaldr and Naudrek. Runa, rest up while you can. Won’t be long. We’ll keep looking for another way out of here.”

Runa gave him a wan smile even as she drew the water skin from her belt. She raised it to her mouth and drank long and deeply.

Einarr turned his attention back to the problem at hand, but by the time he completed his circuit of the room with its eerie statues he still hadn’t found anything that looked like a way through.

Then Vali gave a quick, quiet whistle from the far side of the cavern. Einarr crossed the room at a trot, sparing a glance for his wife who still sat near where she had treated Thjofgrir. She looked less pale, he thought, although in the dim light of his shield it was difficult to be certain. Vali was still waving him on, though.

“What did you find?” he asked as he drew near the apparition. He was fairly sure he heard the familiar wet slapping footsteps of their pursuer again.

“It’s well-hidden, but I think I’ve spotted the passage.”

“Oh, thank the gods.”

“Gods, or ghosts?” Vali winked at him mischievously, then sobered again. “But really, don’t thank me yet. We still have to figure out how to get it open.”

“Show me.”

It was a door, as cleverly concealed as the one they had found initially, just before bypassing the elemental traps at the very top of the Paths. Only this one was locked – as Vali was able to confirm. Probably this was an access hatch for the poor sots sent to clean up after the fools who dared the tunnels.

Einarr took a deep breath. Before, it had taken all of them to push open a stone door like this – only that one hadn’t been locked, or even seemed to have a catch. This one was plainly designed to open only from one side – the other one.

A continuous stream of chirps echoed through the room now, and Einarr imagined he could hear the scraping of claws over the wet smack of the beast’s footsteps. They had found their exit, but they were out of time. He drew out his chalk once more and inscribed a – Bjarkan. The Rune of Liberation.

Please let this work. He willed the rune to life.

A moment later, lances of white fire seemed to stab into his eyes and ears. For a moment, all the world was pain. And then it grew black.


Runa whipped her head around at Einarr’s unexpected scream of pain. The men at the door were ready to fight, and so was she if she had to, but she had expected danger to come from the other direction.

Einarr clutched at his head and sank to his knees – and then the shield winked out.

Runa was on her feet in a heartbeat, wondering if she could make it across the floor in the pitch darkness without falling flat on her face.

The question quickly became moot. All around the chamber, the eyes of the fantastic carved beasts began to glow, as green as ghost light.

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.

 

Kaldr took up position just inside the circle of warm air, surprised at himself for his easy agreement. Nothing he said was false, and his clothes seemed to be growing drier by the second. Only, he felt none of his usual apprehension about sorcery. Indeed, primarily what he felt was the comfort of a thick fur blanket, and drowsy.

Behind him, the others had all but collapsed to the ground, sitting around Einarr and supporting him while he slept. How restful that sleep was, given that he was somehow powering this respite of theirs, Kaldr could not guess. They, too, all looked drowsy, but that was only natural. When you went into a steam room after a long winter’s day chopping wood, or hunting, it was only natural to feel a bit drowsy.

He didn’t think much of it when Runa rested her head on Einarr’s arm and drifted off into sleep, as well. She shouldn’t even be here! She was holding up remarkably well, considering her condition and her physical… well, not really frailty, but certainly she was sheltered and soft.

The passage moving ahead was empty and dark. Kaldr roused himself and paced around the edge to look out over the water. If that connected to the open sea – which he thought it did – they could not assume it was safe. After a time, he stirred himself again and completed his circuit.

While he was walking, Vali emerged from his jar and floated, observing the others. Kaldr could admit to himself that the ghost made him uncomfortable, even though Einarr seemed to like him. He continued to pace in a circle, keeping guard around the others.

Thjofgrir yawned. He, too, looked on the verge of sleep. Naudrek had taken out a dice cup and was tossing the dice, then scooping them up without looking at them. Plainly trying to stay awake.

“Hey,” Vali said, swooping down to hover just outside Einarr’s circle. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Kaldr rolled his head and suppressed a yawn before he answered. “Better than freezing to death, isn’t it?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” The apparition seemed uncertain. Kaldr continued his slow walk around the edge of the circle. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind sitting to rest, either. Perhaps Naudrek would trade places with him?

Vali continued. “It’s just, I think his runes are being interfered with. There’s a black, sort of smoky taste to the magic.”

Kaldr stopped, blinking. “Excuse me… taste?”

“That’s right. Normally, his Lordship’s magic is kind of… apple-like? I don’t know: it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten real food to remember the taste. But it’s crisp and clear and sort of refreshing. And here there’s something else.”

Kaldr eyed the runes on the floor. Was that even possible? He did feel lethargic – but was it more lethargic than the circumstances would account for? He felt his eyelids beginning to droop and started his pacing again. “So what would you have me do?”

“Are you dry?”

Kaldr had to think over that one. “Yes,” he drawled, finally. “Everything but my feet in my boots.”

“Is the Lady dry?”

Lady Runa was, of course, sound asleep on Einarr’s shoulder. Her outer clothes looked dry, of course, but he would have to wake her up to be sure. He tried once more to shake off the lethargy as he reached out a hand to shake her shoulder. Naudrek and Thjofgrir had dozed off while he spoke with Vali.

Runa’s eyes fluttered, but she did not wake. Kaldr clasped a hand around her boot, and very carefully felt at the folds of her skirts. If she woke now, he was as good as dead.

“Mostly,” he answered the apparition.

“Okay. Good. I have a bad feeling about this, so we have two options. One: you can destroy the working. Striking out the lines should break the enchantment and wake everybody up. Two, I can consume it – but I make no promises about leaving you the light on his Lordship’s shield. It’s kind of blended in amongst the rest of it and hard to separate out.”

Kaldr yawned. Was it really as critical as all that? He reached out a hand to shake Einarr’s shoulder. He slumped over, leaning against Naudrek’s sleeping back, and snored more loudly. He appeared to be fully dry.

The sound of an oar slipping out of the water came to his ears – an oar, or a fish jumping. Kaldr had been right about the water. Vali was right: Kaldr reached out with his hand and smudged the lines of Einarr’s sorcery.

At once the warm breeze ceased to be. The passage felt even colder now that it was gone – but Kaldr already felt more awake. He met Vali’s eyes and gave a small nod of appreciation that was returned in kind.

Something splashed in the water again and Naudrek jerked himself awake. Good instincts on that one. He kept himself awake longer than any of the others, too.

“What’s going on?” He still sounded half-asleep, but Kaldr could let that go.

“Not sure. Something in the water.”

Naudrek ran a palm down his face and rose to his feet, shaking Einarr by the shoulder to rouse him. That left Kaldr free to see to Thjofgrir. If they could let the Lady sleep, however, he thought they probably should.

A little bit later, Einarr stood shoulder to shoulder with the others, peering out over the water for any sign of the source of the noise. “What happened?” he asked.

Kaldr shook his head. “Ask Vali. He explained it to me, but it didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Einarr nodded. “I did not expect that to put me out like that. Thank you for handling the watch.”

Kaldr grunted. He hadn’t exactly done anything out of the ordinary. He’d almost gotten them all killed, in fact – if it hadn’t been for Vali’s warning.. “I heard a pair of splashes. You don’t think we’d be getting draugr in here, do you?”

“Gods, I hope not. The properly buried sort were bad enough… Whatever it was, it seems to be gone now.” He turned and knelt to wake Runa. Without the influence of the magic, she woke easily.

“Wh–”

“No time,” Einarr said, cutting off her inevitable question. “We need to get moving again.”

She nodded her understanding and, with a stiffness born of fatigue, she levered herself up off the floor. “Fine. But I expect someone to tell me why I was asleep on the floor of the cave while we move.”

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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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For a moment Naudrek merely floated, a pained expression on his face, but he did not let go his air, and after a moment he swam on.

Then a blast of even colder water slammed into Einarr’s side. Thanks to the moment’s warning from Naudrek, he was able to keep Runa from slamming bodily into the wall at the low cost of a shock to his knees. He hardly even felt it!

Worryingly, the water was starting to feel warmer, and Runa was not looking good. She hadn’t yet let go of her air, but he didn’t want to gamble on how long that would last.

He kicked off from the wall, hoping to hurry past the cross-current. Almost immediately, though, he was shoved back toward the cave wall. He tried to turn himself to take the impact again, but this time his legs tangled in Runa’s skirts. She reached down totry to pluck them away, but Einarr could tell immediately it wouldn’t be enough.

Just then, a surge of water came from behind them. Instead of impacting the wall, Einarr found himself being pushed along by Kaldr, with Thjofgrir helping Runa.

Thank the gods. Hagall and Kaun, to warm and dry us… no. Kaun is as like to scorch us. Sol. Sun and wind is what we need. Relieved of some of the burden of pressing forward, aiding Kaldr as much as Kaldr aided him, Einarr found he had a moment to think of what to do to save them from freezing after they exited the water. But, try as he might, he could not come up with an inscription with just those two runes, not in his current state.

It was not long after they all made it past the cross-current that the water began to grow shallower once more, and soon Einarr’s head was above water and he was trudging once more up the more-noticeable slope of the tunnel floor. Behind him, he heard Runa’s initial gasp for air, followed by no small amount of coughing. He glanced over his shoulder to see that she leaned heavily on Thjofgrir’s shoulder as he pulled them both towards the shallows of the frigid water.

Einarr and Kaldr, as they too emerged, leaned on each other’s shoulders. All of them were worn thin at this point – but their coming enforced rest was a cold comfort at best. Protection. Will that make for a proper … no. What I really need is like a whirlpool of warm air. …

That line, too, led nowhere.

Everyone’s lips and fingers were blue as they all stood shivering on once-again dry rock. Moving around would generate some heat, but not enough.

“Toss your cloaks around someone else’s shoulders. Huddle up,” he managed to say through numb lips and chattering teeth. It was a wonder anyone could understand him, but they did. Einarr stepped to the middle this time and drew out a piece of very wet, very cold chalk. He chafed it between his palms a little and was gratified to see that it still left white on his hands.

“Stamp your feet or something. Move around a bit. Keep us all from freezing while I try to figure out what Master Melja would do.”

“Y-y-y-you mean we hhhhhave to keep moving?” Runa complained. “I’m… so… tired. Can’t we just huddle up like this and go to sleep?”

She had dark circles under her eyes, but otherwise her skin was the blue-white of an iceberg. She probably was legitimately exhausted, too, but…

“Not if you want to wake up again. Come on. Have some trust.”

If he could have let her draw the inscription, he would have. But he had only a fuzzy idea of how it should look, and his mind was foggy too. He started to draw.

, for the warmth of the sun. His companions swayed in the circle around him.

, to move the air and warm their whole bodies and dry their clothes. The rhythmic stamp of their feet assured him no one had yet succumbed, despite their long stint in the water.

He pressed his chalk to the ground, thinking to draw , but that still seemed wrong. Kaldr groaned, a sleepy sound. Then, it hit him.

They were all exhausted, all wounded. To continue on, to reach their destination and aid their friend, they needed stamina. Rest and comfort. They needed .

He blinked several times rapidly. He was starting to have trouble staying awake himself. “Just… a little… longer,” he told them, distantly aware that he was slurring his words. That was fine: there was only one thing he needed to do now. He pressed his fingers against the triangle of runes he had just drawn and poured his will into the enchantment.


Runa, standing in the circle as her beloved had ordered, was only half-conscious when a warm breeze began to play around her ankles. It felt warm even though it was blowing through the wet fabric of her dress, which was impressive. She blinked, re-focusing her eyes.

There, on the floor of the tunnel in the middle of the circle, a neat triangle of runes glowed with light like sunlight. Einarr sat on the floor, his back to her, his hands still touching his diagram. She took a deep breath, and realized that her fatigue no longer felt so overwhelming. She let herself relax a little, her shoulders drooping as the warm breeze brought blood back to her skin.

Then she looked more closely at Einarr. Something didn’t look right. His shoulders slumped forward, and as she dropped to her knees to put a hand to his shoulder, she realized that his mouth hung open. A sound like a muffled shriek escaped her throat, and she put a hand to her mouth.

“My lady?” Kaldr, too, sounded groggy, and like his lips were still numb. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Einarr, he’s…” She looked up at Kaldr, panic plain on her face.

“Not possible,” Naudrek said. “The runes are still going. I can feel myself drying out as we speak.”

“Yes, but look at him!”

Runa couldn’t tell if Kaldr was humoring her or genuinely alarmed as well, but the Mate knelt down beside his Lord and reached out a hand to feel for a pulse. Just then, before Kaldr could lay cold-reddened fingers against Einarr’s throat, Einarr’s shoulders heaved and he produced a tremendous snore.

“Oh.” Runa offered a wan smile by way of apology. She felt like she was normally sharper than this. Naudrek and Thjofgrir both chuckled – not, she thought, at her overreaction.

Kaldr, too, gave a thin smile. “Conscious or not, his sorcery seems to be affecting him, as well. We do not appear to be in immediate danger: likely the dvergr thought it worthwhile to give the wetting a chance to kill us, even if we happened to make it out of the water. Perhaps it would be worth our while to pause here – at least long enough for the sorcery to do its job.”

Next

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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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Abruptly, Kaldr gave a violent shake of his head. “No. None of these. There’s something we’re missing – there has to be.”

“Why’s that?” Thjofgrir asked without looking up from the lines of runes on the floor.

“Because the dwarves use these tunnels. There has to be another door, one that’s hard to find if you’re not a dvergr.”

Einarr nodded, glad that Kaldr had realized and wondering why he, himself, had not. “You’re right, there must be. Runa, do you remember any more of that tale?”

“What t… oh. Sif’s golden hair.”

“Right.”

“Let me think on it.” Once again she began to hum to herself. Einarr had no idea if there was actually magic in the tune or if it was a simple mnemonic, but either way, with a little patience, it usually turned up the information she was looking for.

Loki dvergr-friend
Was gifted knowledge
Of the true path
Beyond all artifice

And so he laughed
To see the choice
Laid before the unwary…

“Sorry. Not sure how much that actually helps here.”

Everyone frowned, considering. At last, Einarr let out a sigh.

“Not helpful after all?” Runa asked, looking far more upset than that would warrant.

“No, not that. I think I can find it… just it’s a trick I don’t like using.”

“More magic?” Kaldr raised an eyebrow, exasperated.

“More magic. When we were chasing down Urdr through her tunnels, Troa and I had to seek out a hidden door like this.” He took his shield off his arm and rested it on the floor by their notes. “Someone toss a cloak over that, mostly. I don’t want to blind myself.”

While they did that, he drew out a piece of chalk and his runestone of ᚫ. He didn’t activate it right away, but stood looking at it pensively until the light was dim. Right. Just as he had done in the tunnel with Troa, Einarr willed the runestone to enhance his sight.

Just as happened last summer, the dim light shining forth from underneath Thjofgrir’s cloak was nearly blindingly bright, and he dared not do more than glance at the obvious, rune-marked doors with their multi-colored flames. He turned his back to them and found that he now looked directly at the passage they had entered through. From the middle of the room, he saw details that he wouldn’t expect to see unless he was right next to the wall. Nothing jumped out at him yet, but he hadn’t really expected it to. He walked towards the far wall of the chamber until every tiny divot in the surface of the stone was plain before his eyes. Then he turned and began walking towards the trap doors, examining every inch of the wall as he went.

As he neared the obvious doors he found he had to squint against the light. They were lined up, one right next to the other, so he walked from the outer edge of ᛃ, on one end, to the outer edge of ᛁ on the other. Fitting, he thought, that ᛇ – dreams – should be in the middle of ᚲ (fire) and ᚻ (air).

He had gone three quarters of the way around the room before he spotted what appeared to be a cunningly made seam in the wall. Even with his currently enhanced vision (which was beginning to give him a headache) he almost couldn’t see it. But, no natural crack would be so regular, or such a perfect arch.

If anything, the hidden doorway was even lower than the obvious ones – if the tunnel was similarly low, Thjofgrir might not be the only one reduced to crawling down on hands and knees. He tapped on the wall with his knuckle, but if it was hollow he could not hear well enough to tell. And there’s simply no way I’m going to try getting this stone to enhance my hearing. In theory, the rune of Wisdom could, for the same reason it could enhance his vision… but he worried about the state of his ears afterwords, if every sound were magnified the way this tiny bit of light was.

“I found it.”

Even as he spoke, he traced the chalk around the outside of the almost-invisible seam.

“You’re sure?” Vali asked.

“As sure as I can be. I’ll finish my circuit, just to verify there’s nothing else.”

There was nothing else, at least so far as he could see. Einarr closed his eyes and let go of the vision enhancement. “Please uncover my shield now.”

“Yes, sir,” Thjofgrir answered. It sounded almost automatic: here was a man who would be lost without a boat to tend. When Einarr opened his eyes and turned around, the big man was settling his cloak back around his shoulders.

“As you might expect of dwarven artistry, there is hardly even a seam to be found, let alone a catch or hinges. I presume we’re all agreed, though, that we need to get it open?”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow again. “Need you even ask?”

“Good. Then come on. Whatever else this door is, it’s solid.”

They spent far more time than Einarr truly liked prodding and shoving at the great stone door concealed in the rock before them. Finally, all four of the living men put their shoulders to it at once.

The door ground slowly open.

Inside, the passage continued. narrower but (thankfully) no shorter than the initial path that placed them before the doors. The floor was just as smooth, and the walls just as plainly carved out. Einarr paused a moment before entering, feeling oddly hesitant. Did I miss something? He shook his head. “Are we ready?”

Kaldr nodded and stepped forward, ready to be the point leader.

“Thjofgrir, you’re our rear guard again …No turning back now.” Einarr gestured, and Kaldr stooped to enter the hidden passage. Einarr followed with the light.

The path now traveled distinctly downward, although not so steeply they wished for stairs. Before long, the path turned gently back around on itself, as though the path were built with small carts in mind. Which, when Einarr thought of it, would make a great deal of sense, given their abilities as craftsmen and the demand among men for dwarven goods. Even now, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was missing something important.

Above them, unseen because their enforced stooping would not allow them to look up, small thorn runes illuminated as they passed.

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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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Einarr raised the chisel to the wall and gently tapped it with the hilt of his belt knife. As he drew the vertical line he focused on the defensive aspects of the rune. “We seek” tap “A dvergr friend” tap tap “Who is lost” tap. “We come,” he said, starting on the outward angle, “to aid him in his quest.”

As he connected the outer angle of the , Einarr dropped the chisel as though it had burned him and straightened so that he stood entirely within his ward. He gripped Runa’s hand, waiting for the trap to spring.

And waiting.

He shared a perplexed look with Runa, then took another look around them.

A new message had appeared on the plinth. “Dvergr quests are for dvergr alone. Turn back, ye who are no kin of ours, or know that ye have been warned: all who come this way without dvergr blood will perish.”

Then the door opened with an audible click. Beyond it, the passage lay in deep shadow.

Einarr did not need to look at his companions to know their resolve: he could feel it. He set his jaw and stepped forward, out of his useless ward and into the passage ahead. There was simply no other option: they would return with Jorir or not at all.

Inside, the path traveled in a plumb line forward, with only a slight downward angle. Irritatingly, it was scaled for dwarves. Even Runa had to stoop to avoid bashing her head against the uneven ceiling: Thjofgrir was nearly bent double until he went to his hands and knees. Thankfully, it was also wide enough for dwarves to pass easily, two or perhaps three abreast, so Einarr and his companions adopted a defensive posture. Einarr and Kaldr took the lead, to make the best use of the light that still glowed from Einarr’s shield. Naudrek and a grumbling Thjofgrir were on the rearguard, while Runa and Vali kept to the middle.

Abruptly, after they had gone at least two hundred yards down the abnormally straight tunnel, their path turned hard to the right and they found themselves in a much broader chamber with five doors. Each door bore a pattern of runes on the lintel, just as the door outside had – although none of them had a plinth with a chisel.

Einarr took in the room with a glance. “Well, nothing for it. Split up, and let’s each examine a door. Give a shout if anything looks promising. Otherwise, we’ll all come back to the center after a half of an hour. Agreed?”

Thjofgrir took a look around the room as well before sitting down cross-legged. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay on watch here in the middle.”

Einarr couldn’t really fault the man: the ceiling, after all, was no higher here than it had been in the passage. “Excellent, thank you,” he said. There was no harm in allowing the man his pretext, at least for the moment. Einarr just hoped they wouldn’t have to fight on their way down.

A few minutes later, as they were all split up and examining their respective doors, Runa’s voice carried across the room. “Einarr? What do you make of these lintel runes?”

Einarr shook his head, though. “They’re plainly some sort of ward. Beyond that, without seeing any of the circle they’re a part of? Hrug might have been able to tell you, but I can’t. Why?”

“Just I wondered if they might be able to give us some warning of what we’ll find beyond them. If the svartdvergr Thane is using traps to kill interlopers in here, perhaps if we took some time to understand the traps we could mitigate them.”

He hated to stop moving and take the time, but… Einarr nodded. “Not a bad plan at all. Thjofgrir, if I gave you some chalk, could you copy down the runes from there?”

“I can’t read them…”

“You don’t need to. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t. That way you can’t accidentally activate something that will kill us all.”

The tall man grunted. “Give me the chalk, then. I’ll do what I can.”


At the end of the half-hour, all that had really been determined was that each and every door was locked, and Thjofgrir had terrible handwriting. Five minutes after that, Einarr had adeptly corrected the copied runes so that they were legible. He and Runa stood staring down at the copies.

“There’s a definite pattern here,” he mused.

“If I was trying to draw a picture of resonance, I’d use a pattern like this, I think,” Runa added.

“Interesting. Okay. Most of these runes are there to amplify the effect or constrain the timing – for defense, naturally. See the thorn there, and the yr. Which means that the traps are set by… these runes. The centerpiece, I should have guessed. I see fire, ice, air, and earth… what in the world?” The centerpiece on the last door was the eiwaz – the dream rune. “Let’s not go there.”

“Whyever not?” Thjofgrir asked.

“That’s the rune for the yew tree and for dreams. Each and every one of these wards is probably going to try to kill us. How would you kill someone with dreams?”

“Ah.” Kaldr shuddered.

“Exactly. There might be a way to evade these traps, but I don’t yet know how… Which element are we most interested in chancing?”

Runa peered over his shoulder. “You know, when you write them out that way, it almost looks like a message. ‘Which end do you wish: Burning, Freezing, Choking, Crushing, or Madness?”

Silence settled over the group as they pondered those words.

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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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The three of them stood in front of what was very plainly a magical gateway, wondering how they’d missed it until they were right on top of it. Each stone of the arch was carved with a single rune, which glowed faintly. Beside the door, written in Imperial script, was a small plaque, with a plainly magical chisel hanging beside it. “Draw here the Thorn rune and state your intention,” he read.

From behind them, Kaldr cursed loudly. Einarr spun on his heel, startled, but the light did not reach far enough to show what the matter was. The question was answered momentarily, however. As Kaldr walked into the ring of the rune-light on Einarr’s shield, he was still rubbing his forehead even as he scowled at his companions.

“That was truly a wonderful experience, my lord. Thank you for calling me down a dark ice tunnel with no light of my own so that I could bash my head on the ceiling.”

“Sorry, Kaldr. My fault,” Einarr said, stifling a laugh at himself. He wasn’t usually that stupid, but Kaldr would assume he was the one being laughed at. His Mate just hummed.

“At any rate,” he went on. “I think we’ve finally found our entrance.”

“So we have.” Kaldr grunted, rubbing again at the red welt on his forehead. “I don’t like how low that doorway is.”

“That descent’s going to be mighty uncomfortable if that’s all the taller the passage is,” Thjofgrir agreed. He was taller than any of them.

Einarr sighed. “I can’t disagree. But what choice do we have? Come on. Let’s build a cairn outside the cave entrance and go get the others. We’ll pack up the camp and move it right outside in the morning, and start down after that.”

“You wouldn’t rather wait for morning?” Vali asked.

Thjofgrir shrugged. “Once we’re underground, what difference will it make?”


Runa insisted it was important that they start fresh in the morning, so that they could more easily tell one day from the next. Even though she was the one who recommended the delay, however, she,too, chafed at it. Thus, the sun was newly risen on the day after they moved their camp when all six of them together stepped from the barren wasteland under the ice, creeping through the crevice and into the cavern that held the entrance to Myrkheim.

Much as Einarr had, Runa peered at the inscription on the stones of the arch. “Draw here the thorn rune and state your intention,” she read aloud in a thoughtful tone. “It’s plainly after a password.”

“I’m not so sure.” Einarr quickly stepped between Runa and the plinth. “The Thorn rune invokes defense, true… but it also signals danger. The dwarves don’t want humans on their roads, remember? This is probably a trap.”

“You think there’s another entrance in here?” Kaldr asked.

“It can’t hurt to look. If one of us does have to inscribe a Thorn, at the very least I should be able to ward us against it, though.”

Runa raised her eyebrows. “Even while maintaining the light and the ward on the Villgås?”

Einarr smiled. “Of course. The light requires almost no thought at all, and the ward on the ship is tied to all of us.” He did not think he would be able to maintain such a shield for long, but he somehow doubted that would be an issue.

After a careful search, they did find one other door. It, too, was trapped – and somehow Einarr did not think that the svartdvergr had to navigate such traps every time they came to the surface or returned to Myrkheim. Try as they might, however, what remained were two doors. On the first, in order to even open the door, one had to inscribe a rune likely to do significant damage to themselves. In front of the second, the floor rang hollowly under Naudrek’s boots. Probably, if the door was opened incautiously, a trap door would drop open beneath the feet of whoever was standing there. If it weren’t for Runa, Einarr would have preferred to take his chances with the trap door.

With a sigh, they all returned toe the obviously magical, obviously trapped door. For a long moment, they all stood staring at it, and then Einarr drew out a stick of chalk to begin his simple shield ward – one that would simply absorb the impact of an attack, much like his physical shield would.

“Wait a moment.” Thjofgrir held up a hand. “Not one of us has actually tried to open this door without carving anything, have we?”

Einarr shook his head.

“Vali, can you pop through to see if it’s actually locked?”

The ghost shook his head. “The door is sealed to me, as it is now. I suspect something to do with the runes on the arch.”

The big man shrugged and, before anyone could call out a warning, reached out a hand. Lightning arced from the wood of the door to Thjofgrir’s fingers and he pulled the hand back with a yelp.

“That went better than it could have.” Runa’s voice was downright tart, but Einarr nodded in agreement.

“Sorry, Thjofgrir. It was worth a shot, but that would have been a careless mistake for the dvergr to make. Come join us: this shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes to draw.”

By the light from his glowing shield, the ward he provided wound up not only simple but rather crude. Elder Melja would not approve, but it was the best he could manage. “Stand inside the circle, everyone. I’ll carve the thorn.”

“My lord —” Kaldr objected.

“Inscribing a rune in a permanent way like this can drain a man’s vitality – I expect that chisel will ensure that it does. If any of us is going to bear that burden, it should be me. I, after all, have a much better idea of my own limits than any of the rest of you.”

“As you say, my lord.”

With no little hesitation, Einarr lifted the chisel from where it hung on the plinth. This was no Muspel Shroud in terms of power, but it felt just as malign. “I will begin.”

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.