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.

 

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

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

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

“Aye, my lord!”

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

“Sir!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Naturally. All must honor me and turn.”

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

Then Eydri’s voice carried forward into the temple.

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

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

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

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.

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.

 

Their pool of yellow light soon came to feel like an oasis in the darkening corridor they followed. At first, Einarr wondered if it was merely an illusion, but after a while it became plain that the blue flames on the ensconced torches were actually growing smaller. Was there something about the magic of Malùnion which could not stand the light of day, then? Einarr supposed it would fit. He wasn’t certain he’d ever encountered one under a clear sky.

Eventually, after long enough the inky darkness beyond their torchlight was beginning to unnerve even Einarr, a doorway shone out in front of them. There was light inside – a cold, blue-white light that was a little like looking into the sun. When the light resolved itself into an open doorway, it felt as though they all released their breath together. The moment’s relief, however, was short-lived. “Brace yourselves,” Einarr muttered. “There could be anything in there.”

Then they were moving forward again, weapons not drawn but ready. Einarr led the way through the threshold and stepped, blinking, into the chamber.

When his eyes adjusted, he saw row upon row of benches to either side, stretching forward far enough that he questioned how anyone seated at the back could make out what was going on in the front of the room. This setup was beginning to look familiar, though. “This look like a temple to you, Jorir?”

“Too much so,” he agreed.

“Svarek, Arring, Troa – you remember those beasties under the decks of the svartalfr ships?”

“Unfortunately,” Arring grunted.

“Whatever we meet here is probably going to be worse.”

Svarek groaned. Arring gave a feral-sounding growl. Troa stretched his bowstring.

“Let’s go.” Einarr drew Sinmora and picked up his pace. He had no idea what they were going to meet, but he felt far more comfortable with his blade in his hand.

The chamber was as painfully long as it first appeared, and as they moved forward it spread out from side to side, as well, so that there were multiple columns of the benches on either side, as well. And, now they could see what awaited them on the dais at the far side of the room: an altar, and a man, and a black mass that Einarr could not quite understand at this moment. The man was doing something at the altar, and the mass seemed to be reacting to it – thus, whatever was happening could be nothing good.

He started running. The last time he had been witness to a Squiddie rite, they had summoned that crab-fisted abomination. The others were hot on his heels.

An arrow whizzed past Einarr’s face. He glanced behind to see Troa lowering his bow and sprinting to catch up with the rest of them. Ahead, the priest’s chanting faltered momentarily as he clutched at his shoulder. The arrow must have struck shallowly: it was no longer affixed to the priest, although black blood now seeped into the back of his robes.

The black mass on the altar pulsed and throbbed to the priest’s chanting. Now that they were closer, it looked like nothing so much as the gathered curse energy that had bound the Isle of the Forgotten. For a moment, he wished he had Arkja, but only for a moment.

The mass was beginning to grow. Einarr heard another arrow fly: this one stuck fast in his other shoulder, but the priest hardly seemed to feel it. Rather than stumbling or crying out, he straitened his shoulders and turned around to face them. A maniacal laugh escaped his mouth, and his gaze seemed fixed somewhere above.

“Welcome, welcome!” The priest called out. The mad laughter filled his voice. “I see that our pawn led you straight to us. I am most pleased.”

Einarr slowed, his shield raised and his sword lowered. “Who are you?”

The priest’s voice became solemn suddenly. “I am Búrak, High Priest of Malúnion, and this is His temple. You are just in time.”

That really didn’t sound good. “In time for what?”

A grin split the man’s face nearly from ear to ear without touching his wide eyes. “Ascension.”

The black mass of energy began pulsing more, as though something were trying to punch through its membrane from the inside. The priest held his arms out to either side. Even as Einarr ordered his men to back off, two of the tentacle-like pods reached out and wrapped around the priest’s arms. Slowly – and yet, with alarming speed – the mass grew until it enveloped the mad priest. Purple lightning crackled around the spikes and feelers of the energy mass. Then it seemed to twist in on itself, like wringing water from a cloth.

Troa tried another shot, but it was worse than useless: the arrow burned up, head and all, in a burst of blue flames as it touched the writhing, coiling mass of corruption.

It pulsed upward once, twice, and on the third time it constricted itself down so far the energy seemed to be sucked up by the remnants of the creature inside.

It was no longer accurate to call what emerged from the energy a man, or even a human. It still had the same basic form, but the whites of its eyes had been subsumed into the swirling blue-purple marble of the iris, and its pupils glowed like a cat’s. The skin took on an obvious ash color, as though the last of the life in its veins had been traded for the corruption of Malúnion, and at the end of each finger grew a wicked-looking claw.

Power crackled around those hands now, and as he threw back his hands to laugh two things happened. First, Einarr got a look at his teeth: the needle-sharp teeth of predators everywhere. Second, he began to raise up off the ground.

The laugh had taken on an odd, echo-like sound. When he laughed, it sent chills down Einarr’s spine. When he spoke, it was as though two people spoke at once. “Rejoice, mortals,” it said. “For you have borne witness to my rebirth.”

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.

 

The knight drew back his spear and lowered himself into a guard mirroring Einarr’s. “How dare you!”

“What, don’t believe me? I’ll prove it with steel.”

Einarr could see the madness in his opponent’s eyes now. If he pushed any harder, he might go over the edge – and really, who would want that? He shut his mouth, and he and the knight circled, each looking for a weakness in the other’s guard.

Arkja was proving himself more than capable. It may have been two against one, but it was rather akin to a rat playing two cats off against each other.

Irding, too, seemed to be holding up well, keeping his opponents on their back feet by ferocity rivaling that of an actual berserker.

With Troa’s help, and the narrow passage, it was plain Einarr didn’t need to worry about Jorir, either. Einarr’s mouth curled up in a wolf’s grin.

Before the knight could take advantage of his wandering attention, Einarr shifted up out of his guard and onto the offense. He dashed forward, and even as he raised Sinmora for an overhand blow the enemy took the bait. As his shoulders tensed and twitched forward, Einarr slammed his shield down and its rim clashed loudly against the hilt of the spear. The weapon itself plowed into the ground at Einarr’s feet, and as the knight stumbled forward Einarr brought his knee up into his opponent’s nose at the same moment he brought Sinmora’s hilt down on the back of his neck. There was a dull crack and the knight fell limply to the ground.

Arkja glanced over as he saw the leader of the knights fall. Unless Einarr was mistaken, this was beginning to wear on him – and he was well aware of Irding’s endurance. He took one step more and pivoted so that he was aimed at one of the two Arkja toyed with before thrusting himself forward once more. Here, Einarr was lucky: the man had his spear arm upraised – likely trying to pin Arkja’s foot to the ground. Sinmora’s tip found the hollow under the knight’s shoulder and nearly severed the arm.

The knight screamed, but it was cut abruptly off by a slice of Arkja’s blade. Interestingly, the knights’ blood was still vibrantly red. Corrupted or not, they have affirmed themselves servants of Malúnion.

Now Einarr pointed himself in Irding’s direction: the other one Arkja fought wouldn’t last long. He charged forward once more, and just as his shield was knocking one of Irding’s two off-balance Irding buried his axe in the other’s throat. Now there was only one left, and just as he could see madness in their leader’s eye before, now Einarr could see fear. The question was if he feared their assault more than accusations of cowardice.

Apparently, the word “knight” meant something to this one: the set of his jaw changed, and he took a firmer grip on his weapon as he stared down Irding, who very deliberately did not look at Einarr.

“Be quick about it, then,” Einarr said. They had nearly won their way free of the fortress walls. The last thing they wanted to do was get bogged down here. He sheathed Sinmora and then moved to stand behind Jorir and next to Troa. “What can I do?”

“Can ye seal what we just blasted open?” Jorir asked, taking another chop at the cursed warrior currently trying to force its way through.

“Give me just a moment.” Einarr was certain that he could, at least well enough to stop their enemies. Just as he was about to begin with again, it struck him Ice wouldn’t really add anything. What he needed here was Ár, to shape the earth under the wall, and Yr to harden it into a shield. Then the only real question was how long he could maintain it, especially given how often they were calling on the runes for this assault. Just do what you can, he reminded himself, and he drew ᛃᛉ in the ground at Jorir’s feet.

“On my mark, move away from the hole. Ready? Now!”

Jorir jumped back. Einarr activated his inscription.

Immediately there was a sound like a falling boulder and the earth beneath the wall burst up to fill the hole – and froze there. Einarr released his breath and the runes, and they stayed where they were supposed to be. He nodded. “Simple inscriptions are the best.”

Jorir chuckled and looked about to speak, but then a groaning sound came from behind them.

Einarr turned and saw, from the middle of a road strewn with the bodies of the knights, that one of them wasn’t quite dead yet.

“You… worthless… infidel,” it growled. The voice was lower and raspier than before, Einarr thought. “Did you really think one such as I would fall to such trickery?”

“I had hoped as much, yes.” Einarr’s hand moved once again to Sinmora’s hilt, but he did not yet draw. Something was off. “You’ve lost – you, and all your men, and your pets.”

“We have lost, yes. These frail bodies could not stand before your treachery. But we are merely tools of the great god of the deeps, and he will never fall before the likes of you.”

Einarr knew with sudden, sick certainty where this was going, and if the half-dead (or, perhaps, all dead?) body before them stopped talking it would be because it no longer needed to stall. “Take it down, now!”

Already the flesh was beginning to turn gray as a draugr’s, and the shoulders began to twitch unnaturally. His team never hesitated, thank the gods, and almost as one all five of them descended on the transforming body. Not long thereafter, it lay in bloody pieces strewn across the wall road.

“Let’s go. We don’t have any time to lose.” Einarr wiped his sword on the pant leg of one of the fallen knights and trotted off, deeper into the city. The others were not far behind. None of them knew which would last longer, after all: the plug in the wall, or the attention span of the monsters outside.

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 shouldered his way forward as Einarr slipped back into the open space behind their line. I wonder how the other teams are getting on? He shook his head: there was no way to find out, and he had more important matters to hand.

In one smooth motion he slid Sinmora back into her sheath and drew a piece of chalk from his belt pouch. The simplest way to crack rock is with Isa – ice. One single downward stroke accomplished that – but then he hesitated. Isa was stasis, so by itself it wouldn’t do much. He needed something else to actually sunder the block.

Then another thought occurred to him: if they were under assault from this side, wasn’t it likely there would be more enemies on the other side of the wall? In that case…

Einarr activated first, and cold began to radiate off the stone. He could actually see the cold air falling away from it. Then he drew a and put the full force of his will into it, directing it like a hammer blow away and into the fortress.

The stone shattered like a thunderclap.

The cursed warriors pressing his team froze as though stunned by the noise. From the other side of the wall, Einarr heard shouts of surprise and pain as whoever waited there was pelted by the shattered block.

“Let’s move!” Einarr traded his chalk for his sword once again and ducked into the opening Jorir had cut before the dust had begun to clear.

When he emerged from the cloud he saw five or six men – ordinary men, so far as he could tell – sporting well-tended maille and shields made entirely of steel. If these men had the black blood, they had not yet succumbed to it. Einarr dropped into a wary guard as his companions dashed through behind him. Jorir came last and stood facing their impromptu gate, taking out the cursed ones as they tried to follow.

“Who do you serve?” Einarr demanded.

One of the men they faced laughed, but didn’t lower his guard. “I’ll ask the questions here.”

Einarr was well aware of the absurdity. “If those black-blooded men and the tentacled cats are your allies, then we are foes. But your squad appears to be in their right mind. Who do you serve?”

Now the man sneered back. “How dare you compare my men and me to animals such as those! We are of the Talon Knights, elite guard of the Holy City Cresurgh!”

“Holy – to whom?” Troa’s usual calm felt unusually tight to Einarr.

The spokesman went on as though they hadn’t said anything. “Those cats, and the animals pressing at the gates, are as pets to our order.”

Why am I not surprised? Einarr tensed, ready to strike the moment he saw a weakness.

Irding made an opening. He let loose a war cry and charged, both axes held behind himself. He chopped at the spokesman’s knees.

The knight jumped back to avoid the blow. Irding smoothly pivoted to bury one axe in the leg of a different knight.

Meanwhile, the talkative one had taken his eyes off of Einarr. Now! Einarr lunged, shield first, to shove him off-balance. As the knight stumbled, Einarr brought Sinmora down to chop at his opponent’s elbow.

Sinmora clanged off the shield. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to catch himself with one hand and bring the shield around, even with the surprise attack.

The knight, crouched over backwards, sneered at Einarr. Then there was a flash of silver, and before Einarr could react his opponent was upright again, if still crouching, and the breeze cooled a trickle of blood through a new slice in Einarr’s trousers.

“Tsk. You might almost be as good as you think you are.” A drop of blood dripped from the knight’s spear. Einarr had not realized that was what the man wielded until just that second.

“Thanks. I try.” Einarr did not take his eyes off the rising knight. That was faster than he’d ever heard of a man being. Was it Malúnion’s power, or was he just that good? Arkja had drawn his blade, as well, and he and Irding each fought two of these Talon Knights while Einarr dueled their leader. Meanwhile, Jorir and Troa were still busy trying to keep the cursed warriors from coming through and overwhelming them. I need to end this quickly. “Holy City, huh? So, is everyone here a damn Squiddie?”

The semi-permanent sneer on the man’s face twisted into a snarl. “Watch your tongue!”

Einarr had to fend off three strikes in quick succession. He turned the spear on the first one and side-stepped the second, but the third put a second tear in his pant leg. Still, Einarr was satisfied. The knight was an excellent warrior, but he was easily nettled. He thought he saw how to break past his guard, too, but he wanted to test it again before he committed.

“Talon knights? Don’t you mean tentacle knights?”

As hoped, that provoked another flurry of stabs from the knight’s spear. And, as Einarr thought, when in the middle of one of those flurries, the man dropped his shield. Not very far, and not for very long, but it would be enough. He dropped into a low stance, Sinmora held up and back, as though he were going to try his shield charge again. “Real question, though, Squid knight. How many of those cursed warriors used to be knights like you?”

The knight’s face reddened at the appellation of ‘squid knight.’ He might not even have heard the question. This time he abandoned defense entirely and stabbed for Einarr’s belly.

Einarr sidestepped. The tip of his spear caught in the brokkrsteel maille and snapped. The knight stumbled forward, and Einarr brought Sinmora down. The knight had been moving just a little too quickly, though, and so rather than striking the knight’s head from his shoulders it clashed against the back of his silvered armor. Some of the silvering flaked off: underneath, it was black as coal.

“Holy City, my foot. Malúnion is nothing more than a minion of Hel, and before this day is through you will know it personally!”

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.

 

When dawn broke, the water outside their little cove roiled, as though it were teeming with something just beneath the surface. Almost certainly something horrific, under the circumstances. There would be no getting a small boat through, and while they might be able to get one ship through, the cost was far steeper than either Captain was willing to bear – especially when Kaldr, knowing that he would be tasked with their strategy, had a handful of pigeons aboard. It was not a perfect solution, but it would save them a useless fight.

It also changed their strategy entirely. Since the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were already on the inside, so to speak, they would go with a two-pronged assault. When they had enough information to draw a reasonable map of the shore, they sent a copy of that by pigeon, with instructions to get in place but wait their attack on a signal from shore.

Stigander sent a response from the Vidofnir – “Understood and underway. Monsters here, too.”

Great. Well, it’s no fun if it’s easy, right? After all this time, Einarr wasn’t really sure he believed that anymore. He handed the note to Kaldr. “Troa!”

“Yes, lord?”

“How many scout groups do we have out right now?”

“Four, sir.”

“Good. Send four men after them, let them know we’ll be taking part in a ground assault and to focus on approaches and defenses from landward.” Einarr frowned, thinking, as Troa hurried off to handle the matter.

“Jorir?”

The dvergr had been heading out toward the edges of camp, probably to assist in fortifying their position. He stopped and turned when Einarr called for him. “Aye?”

“I’ll help with the fortifications here. Give Kaldr a hand with the assault plans – this sort of planning isn’t really my strong suit.”

“As you wish.” Jorir looked amused, and Einarr couldn’t really blame him. How often, after all, had his ‘plans’ been nothing more than dumb luck and the willingness to seize it?

Their camp was screened from the water by a barrier of trees and brush they had left in place for just such a purpose, but should one of the patrol ships become curious they could still be in trouble. Especially since there was only so much one could do to hide a ship on the beach. What could be done had been done the day before: right now, they were busy building fortifications to protect their encampment from anything that happened upon them from the landward side. Einarr grabbed a sharpened post and added it to the palisade.

He was just beginning to work up a good sweat when, further down the line, someone sounded the alarm. “Draugr! Draugr!”

He let go of the post he was steadying and hurried toward the site of the alarm. It was almost certainly not a draugr, but it might perhaps be a fully corrupted enemy scout.

Sinmora was out of her sheath and in hand when he arrived. He had been right about one thing, at least: it was certainly not draugr. However, unless Einarr was very much mistaken, there was a full crew’s worth of corrupted scouts shambling towards their camp. They had been too slow: now they had to fight well and fight hard, or all their efforts at stealth would be for naught.

“To arms!” Einarr gave the order and plunged into the fray. Behind him, the call was taken up even as more of their crewmen drew steel and fell to.

One of the corrupted warriors caught his attention – larger and fiercer than the others, and roaring about himself like some sort of berserker. Without putting any conscious thought into it, Einarr began fighting his way over to the big one. The farther he moved, the more of the black blood spattered over him. After this, I don’t care how much attention it draws, we’re putting a purification circle on the camp itself.

As he reached the berserker, greeting it by slamming Sinmora into its shield, he realized Jorir was by his side. While Einarr kept the berserker’s attention, Jorir circled around behind it and buried his axe in its hamstrings – taking no small dose of the corrupted blood himself in the process.

“Thanks,” Einarr said, taking a moment to catch his breath. “Any idea how they found us?”

The dvergr slashed at another corrupted warrior who came within reach and harrumphed. “I’ll give you one guess.”

The cat. “I was afraid of that.”

Unfortunately for the corrupted warriors of the cult, a sizable number of Einarr and Kaldr’s men were veterans – if not of fighting cultists, then of several wars. A single crew’s worth of men, even with the enhanced strength and fortitude that came with the corruption and madness, did not make for an impressive battle. It did, however, prove that they could not afford to stay still any longer.

As the rest of the crew was looking about, taking stock of where the battle had struck hardest, Einarr knew what they had to do. “Pack up, move out! Hrug, you’re with me. We’ll let the others handle our things. We’ve all been in contact with the black blood now, so you and I have some work to do.”


Einarr kept Jorir, Kaldr, Hrug, and Naudrek in his team. Since there was no more camp to guard – only a few men to keep watch over their boats – Eydri went with Arkja to send word to the scouts and refresh their spirits. Einarr intended for them to return to the place where they had observed the fortress from the other night: it was a good vantage point to observe the lay of the land, and defensible by itself – provided, of course, that the same scouts who had just wrecked their camp had not infested it, as well.

As they moved, Einarr spoke quietly with Kaldr. “Once we’re emplaced again, we’ll need to move quickly. There’s only so fast the ships can get around, true, but coordinating on the ground will take some time as well… and I fear there may be more cats like the one that still troubles us.”

Kaldr nodded. “Of course, milord. You think the cat is what led them to us?”

“Indirectly, perhaps, but I suspect so, yes. So does Jorir.”

“That makes us all agreed, then. I will do what I can, but my chief constraint will be the speed at which we can get the scout reports.”

“I understand. Do what you can.”

 

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.

 

Hastily, they reformed into a circle. A single giant cat was bad enough, especially since they could count on it being corrupted. But two?

“They must be mates,” Troa gasped as he ducked a tentacle.

“You think?” Thjofgrir cut at the tentacle as it withdrew, with no apparent effect.

“Otherwise they’d be fighting each other, I think.”

Based on the farm cats Einarr had encountered, he expected that was right. A paw swiped at him, and he narrowly dodged all but the edge of it. The new welt on his sword hand shouldn’t interfere too much with his grip, he hoped. “Not sure that helps us.”

“It most assuredly does not.” Kaldr sidestepped as the other beast took a swipe at him.

The cats started circling again, taking a tentative swipe now and then with paw or tentacle. Einarr, watching them as they watched him, had a thought.

“Troa,” he muttered in the comparative quiet. “Ready your bow. When I give the word, Jorir and I will take one. Kaldr, you and Thjofgrir take the other. Troa, take your shots as you can.”

“Aye, sir,” echoed around their huddle.

They shifted around so that Troa stood in the center. Einarr heard the distinctive sound of stretching a bow string.

“Ready,” Troa whispered.

“On my mark.” Einarr watched as the cats circled, testing them, waiting for the key moment. “Now!”

Einarr and Jorir charged.

Kaldr and Thjofgrir charged in the opposite direction.

Troa’s bowstring twanged.

Einarr took a flying leap towards the monster’s shoulder, hoping to injure the tentacle as well as the leg.

While he was still in the air, Jorir made a mighty chop against the creature’s foreleg. It danced back, but Jorir froze. Einarr brought Sinmora straight down into the base of the creature’s neck. It should have been a killing blow.

Einarr blinked in surprise as his blade met no resistance. His vision clouded momentarily as his head went through where the cat’s neck should have been. Then the ground was rushing up uncomfortably fast, and it was all Einarr could do to land on his feet. He was still a young man, but his knees groaned. He rose slowly to his feet and looked at Jorir. “Did you just see that?”

The dvergr nodded, then hefted his axe again. “We’d best go give the others a hand.”

Jorir was moving even as he spoke, and Einarr did not wait for him to finish, either.

Kaldr and Thjofgrir looked to be having a harder time of it – and no surprise. Einarr charged in again, this time aiming to hamstring the beast that was most assuredly real. He nodded to Troa as he ran past: the scout had seen it, too – and possibly an arrow pass through the double, as well.

“Hey!” Thjofgrir tried to object when Jorir batted a tentacle away from him.

“Not real,” Jorir answered the unstated.

“Don’t take your eyes off this one,” Einarr added. “If it has the cunning of a hound, it will try to confuse us again.”

The fight redoubled, then. Einarr dove under its belly, raking Sinmora along the soft flesh there.

The cat screamed. He’d drawn blood, evidently, but it was only a flesh wound. Which, on further reflection, he thought he should be grateful for: had he gutted it then and there, he most assuredly would have been doused in its blood.

No sooner had he regained his feet than it lashed out at him with one of its tentacles. This time, the wide pad at the end grabbed hold of his middle and squeezed.

Troa and Kaldr converged on the tentacle at almost the same moment. Kaldr’s blade embedded itself in the squid-like tentacle that had grabbed hold of his prince, followed by two arrows in quick succession. Blood sprayed: it was hard to tell for certain in the light of Einarr’s shield, but the stench was foul – more like a swamp than like iron.

The cat leapt over their heads and across the clearing to stand once again near its double – which, despite having no-one attacking it, still bled from the tentacle that had nearly been severed and a belly wound. Einarr blinked, already uncertain which was which despite the fact that they had only just moved.

Kaldr and Jorir exchanged a look. Thjofgrir sighed dramatically.

Troa fired off two arrows in rapid succession, one at each beast. “Left, milord.”

“My thanks.” Einarr raised Sinmora and charged once more into the fight. The handle seemed to pulse in his hand in time with his heartbeat. Glancing down, he saw that it was not merely a welt on his hand: it bled, and the dark red of his blood mixed with the deeper darkness of the monster’s. Hel and damnation. There were purifying rituals: he would worry later.

Sinmora’s pulsing reminded him of something, though. There was nothing saying it would work, of course, but it couldn’t hurt to try. The double was obviously magical, after all. He focused, and the blade itself began to pulse. Einarr thought he could actually hear the chiming of bells in tune with the pulsation. Once again he launched himself into the air, aiming for the beast’s shoulder. This time, though, he faced a giant paw sweeping around to smack him out of the air.

Einarr twisted around and brought Sinmora’s edge down, not on the shoulder of the great cat, but on its toe. It screamed again, and again blood spurted from out of the deep gouge he had cut in its paw. He thought his twist had carried him away from the worst of the blood spray, at least.

Sinmora gave a much larger pulse, and an audible chime, and then the double winked out of existence.

Then the cat yanked its injured paw back, and the momentum sent Einarr flying backward. His flight was stopped by the trunk of a massive pine tree – thankfully with no branches to impale him. He grunted involuntarily.

That was when he realized Sinmora was still embedded in its paw.

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins 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 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.

 

Along the shore of the inlet stood a grove of trees that hung out over the water. To its left, a stretch of sand glowed in the moonlight: they could hardly ask for a better location to go ashore and conceal the boats.

Once the Heidrun and the Lúmskulf were camouflaged by the trees, the twin crews made a cold camp. About twenty men stayed behind to guard the ships and ensure all was in readiness. Everyone else formed into teams to search the island. Then, they were off. Probably there was no cause for haste, given the protections they had seen on the islands during their approach. By the same token, however, sooner or later someone was going to spot the fleet sitting at anchor, and at that point their situation would grow significantly worse.

Einarr was moving in a group with Jorir, Kaldr, Thjofgrir, and Troa: Eydri had been disappointed, but her knowledge was more likely to be valuable with the ships than scouting. The forest at night was disorienting at best, although in other circumstances – and with the right company – it could have been pretty. The oak branches swayed in a breeze that never reached the forest floor, causing the dappled patches of moonlight and shadow to shift unpredictably.

Troa led the way, with Jorir right behind him: the svartdvergr couldn’t quite match the scout for stealth, but he more than made up for it with his dvergr senses. Einarr came next, flanked by Kaldr and Thjofgrir – neither of whom, he thought, would actually be any better if it came to a fight in these circumstances. But, no matter.

They had gone perhaps an hour into the forest, drawing ever farther away from their ships and the other search crews, when a low, groaning rumble made Einarr’s ears strain. “Shh!”

Everyone froze. The sound came again.

“Beast, or tree?”

Troa glanced up at the branches overhead. Their sway did not seem to have changed. “Beast, I think.”

Kaldr grunted in agreement: Einarr saw his shield shift on his shoulder. “Has anyone spotted any tracks?”

Jorir shook his head. “Not yet – not in this light. Even dvergr have trouble tracking beasts under the moon.”

“We’ll just have to keep going, then. Keep your wits.”

He was certain the admonishment was unnecessary, on one level, but on another it was critical. They moved on, and as they went Einarr found it more natural to rest his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.

A peculiar, not entirely pleasant odor crossed his nose. Einarr sniffed, then had to stifle a cough. “I think we’ve entered its territory,” he whispered.

“Aye, we have,” Jorir agreed. “Come look at this.”

It was hard to make out in the dark, but there, plain as day, were marks from claws being dragged through the dirt. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks feline to me.”

“Based on the scratches in the trees, maybe,” Troa mused. “Only, I’ve never heard of a cat that big before.”

“Nor I,” Einarr answered. “But we have to remember who we’re dealing with here. I fought a Singer who had been turned into a Troll: making a cat five times its normal size shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Thjofgrir sniffed then, and chuckled. “If that’s a cat, best check your boots. Someone just stepped in cat shit.”

Einarr’s eyes went wide, and suddenly he was glad no-one could see his face. He cursed, perhaps more loudly than he should have. “Privy or no privy, a giant cat’s hunting ground is no place to be at night. We should move on.”

“Of course, sir.” Thjofgrir’s voice was still amused: Einarr hadn’t hidden anything.

The growl sounded again, closer this time. Now Einarr smiled in spite of himself. “So, funny thing about cat shit. It can cover our scents.”


“Tromping through cat excrement will cover our trail, you say?” Kaldr asked, his shield up and his sword drawn.

“It should have! I’m rusty, but I’m not that rusty.”

“Lord Einarr is right.” Troa’s voice was calm, but his posture was just as tense as everyone else’s. “When hunting alone, it is considered wise to scent yourself with the waste of the creature you hunt.”

At the edge of the clearing where they now stood shoulder to shoulder, they could see a pair of giant green cat eyes glowing from the shadow of the forest.

Thjofgrir, incongruously, belly-laughed and banged his blade against his shield. “Nothing like a fight to get the blood pumping. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it will be tasty.”

“Not likely.” Einarr steadied his stance and glanced down at Jorir, on his right. Sure enough, the dvergr was already steady as a rock, waiting for the beast to pounce.

“More likely it’s some sort of corrupted horror. Not that we’ll be able to tell in this light.”

“My lord,” Jorir rumbled, never looking away from where the cat crouched. “If I may, now might be an excellent time for a little light. I will cover you while you inscribe.”

Einarr frowned. They were out in the open, on the one hand, and any light he made would be a beacon to their enemies. On the other hand, this cat was the only other creature they had seen all night, and lighting their footing would help tilt the odds of this fight. “All right.”

Einarr stepped back. Jorir stepped over. Neither of these actions had finished when the cat leapt out of the clearing, clearly sensing a weakness. Tentacles lashed at Jorir and at Troa, at either end of the line, and the black-striped face snarled even as it swiped at Kaldr.

Jorir, to his credit, chopped at the tentacle that had swiped for him without a second’s hesitation.

Einarr finished drawing the light rune on his shield and activated it. Then he glanced off to his side and realized: there were two of them.

The beasts snarled again, weirdly in sync, and flinched back from the sudden brightness. If there were two of them, though… “Form a circle!”

“A what? Why?” Kaldr slashed at the beast’s face with his sword, buying himself enough space to glance over and back at Einarr. “By all the gods, where did that one come from?”

 

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

So begins 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.

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