Eydri, thank the gods, had seen at a glance the situation and kept herself within a few steps of the door. The acoustics in this room proved to be excellent, so while that would not help anyone who required healing it would take some of the pressure off the others.
Hrug moved in an arc to the right, tracing the path of Einarr’s circle to meet him in the middle.
The avatar on the dais chortled. “Not only more sacrifices, but Makers, too. How delicious.” It stretched out an arm, and one of the octopus arms behind it stretched as well, as though the body was no more than a puppet.
Einarr traced the next rune in his pattern. Jorir and the others began a slow approach towards the being behind so much of the trouble they had faced over the last three years, weaving back and forth in a pattern meant to look as though they meandered forward. Meanwhile, Svarek prattled on about some nonsense. Anything they could do to keep it distracted. Even better if they could keep it occupied long enough to launch the first strike.
Two steps on, and he knelt to trace again. The pounding of running feet once again echoed from the corridor behind Eydri: Einarr glanced over his shoulder as surreptitiously as possible: when Svarek arrived with only the sorcerers, Einarr had assumed the others would not be coming. But, such was not the case: Kaldr and Thjofgrir burst out from under the threshold. Thjofgrir gave one of his cocky grins as he saw the situation: Kaldr gave his second a nod and settled in to protect their Singer.
“There are still more of you?” The double voice of the avatar almost seemed to purr. “Lovely. But I grow tired of this endless prating.”
Einarr shuddered as he felt its eyes pass over him. He was in range. So was Hrug. If it realized what they were doing, Hrug would be the obvious first target… but so far, it had paid them no mind. Was Eydri actually out of range?
“You, there. The late-come brute. You I claim first.” One of the octopus arms shot out towards Thjofgrir. He brought up his sword to block, but the questing tentacle of energy wrapped around his chest and hoisted him high into the air. He kicked, and tried to drive his blade into the tentacle, but the blade could not cut whatever stuff it was Malùnion was made of.
“Thjofgrir!” Kaldr cried out at the same moment Troa’s bowstring twanged. Einarr could spare no attention, now that the battle was joined, to how it would go: he and Hrug had to finish their circle, otherwise they were all doomed.
Tore of the Sterkenbjorn contorted his face into something approximating a grin. Even under the effects of the Song, his men grew weary, and while they had sunk some few of the demon ships with their unnatural cargo there were still far too many ahead. As he saw the last of the Squiddies on the Sterkenbjorn go overboard, he raised his sword high and growled a battle cry. “Forward!” They could not stop now – not if any of them wanted to return home alive.
As Captain, ordinarily he would have stayed behind to guard their Singer. Ordinarily, though, they would have a Singer. Luta had fallen – indeed, she was the only one who had fallen – when the thrice-damned Squiddies set upon their ship before they’d even reached Breidelstein. And that was before they’d put in for water and found the town razed to the ground. The blood of the cultists had now painted his deck black, even under the onslaught of the storms they rode. Now it was time to paint their decks black. He hopped up on the boarding line and dashed across, glad of the chance to stretch his wings a little. He only hoped the cursed Squiddies ran out of men before the fleet did. Either way, he supposed, it would be an awesome story to tell over a horn of cider.
“Put me down, you cowardly spawn of an outlaw!” Thjofgrir still hurled imprecations, as though by main force of will he could do what his sword could not and free himself from the grasp of the octopus. Once it had him in its grip, however, it ignored him in favor of attempting to capture others of the ‘sacrifices.’ Thankfully, Thjofgrir’s misfortune was instruction to the rest of them. Rather than trying to block, even Jorir simply dodged. Still, it was only a matter of time before its bloodthirst won out over its greed.
Nearly there. He and Hrug each had only a handful of runes left to draw before they could activate their alfenring – and then they would learn whether it was good enough, or if they were, in fact, destined to be so much food for a dark god.
Thjofgrir struggled mightily to break free, but every time Einarr looked up it seemed as though the spiritual octopus held him more tightly. It was a wonder he could still breathe.
Einarr stooped again to draw his last rune. Next to him, Hrug was doing the same. Both of them had made it around behind the avatar, and if anything he looked even more horrific when you couldn’t see his meat-puppet. The head was as much squid as octopus, with shimmering scales like a sea serpent’s.
“You slimy piece of filth,” Thjofgrir said. This was followed by an audible crack and a scream. “You will never so much as see Midgard: we will end you before you take so much as a step from this room.”
Hrug and Einarr laid their hands on the edge of the circle, and the chalk lines began to grow white and green, traveling like the fire of life around their formation. When they met on the far side, tiny tendrils of vine began to grow up out of the light.
Disconcertingly, Malùnion laughed. Was it not enough? In the near silence that followed, Einarr could pick out the sound of drops of liquid striking the stone floor.
A moment later, a sword clattered to the ground inside the rune circle, and this was followed very swiftly by the dull thud of a body. Einarr stared in horror.
“Thjof!” Kaldr cried again, despair in his voice, and charged forward in spite of his self-appointed duty to Eydri.
Arring screamed a wordless rage. Einarr rose slowly to his feet and drew Sinmora.
And the tendrils of vine came to life.
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.
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