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 ᚷ 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.
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