As one, the six men rushed for the flesh puppet that had been the high priest of the demigod. In rapid succession their blades slashed through his body, and the flesh puppet fell to the vines beneath their feet, in enough pieces that it was hard to tell he had once been human. The energy form that hovered behind the body of the flesh puppet seemed to pulse, and Einarr had the mental impression of a bird of prey’s screech. He held his breath.
With a sound like breaking glass, the rune circle shattered. The vines disappeared from beneath their feet. Even as he tumbled to the ground, Einarr heard Hrug scream. The sorcerer clutched his head in his hands and fell to the floor bleeding.
Einarr rolled to his feet: he seemed to still be in one piece, anyway. The others in the melee had risen to their feet again, as well – all except Thjofgrir, whose face was as waxy and ashen as a draugr’s. A fresh wave of rage rolled across Kaldr’s face, but it was gone in a moment.
A moment after that, they had no room to think about fallen comrades or even their next assault. The crackling black energy that had hovered behind the flesh-puppet like a massive octopus, freed of its binding, tossed Arring, Troa, and Naudrek across the hall in one sweep of one tentacle. A chittering sound echoed through the room: Einarr had the distinct sense that it was laughing at them.
Then another tentacle swept his side of the room, and it was all he could do to brace before he, too, was thrown halfway across the room. His shield boss rang as it struck the wall, and even over the bell-like noise he heard the wood of the shield begin to splinter. He had been wrong – utterly wrong, about everything it seemed. Had Thjofgrir truly perished for only a momentary advantage? Einarr’s lip curled in rage. He couldn’t let it end this way.
Even before the activation of the circle their blades had done something. Therefore, they just needed to hang on long enough for someone to figure out their next step.
That was going to be easier said than done. His ribs ached already, and he was pretty sure dodging one of those tentacles would be well nigh impossible. On the other hand, there was Jorir, clinging to the tentacle by his axes, currently embedded in the mass of energy they fought.
It’s not that we can’t hurt it – we have. So then…
Jorir’s axe head lost its purchase in the flailing arm and the dvergr joined Einarr against the wall. “That could have gone better.”
“Less complaining, more scheming, please!” Einarr resettled his shield and hefted Sinmora once again.
“Heh. Yes, sir!” Then the two of them were charging back towards the main body of the creature known as Malùnion.
Einarr heard Arring’s battle cry as he, too, rushed forward with his blade in hand, dashing with surprising nimbleness towards the central mass of the body.
He got a good way across the floor before one of the tentacle ends came down on his head. The blow stunned him for just a moment, and then the demigod flicked him away again. This time Arring crashed into the back of one of the pews in the temple hall. Arring had ridiculous strength, but Einarr wondered how many more times his back could take that.
Eydri’s song no longer carried through the Hall: Einarr risked a glance that direction as he hurried through a row of pews. She had crept forward and was checking on Hrug, bless her. Never mind that she was in the most danger from this thing now that it was free.
We’ll just have to keep it too busy to focus on her, then. Already, though, he felt his fatigue creeping back into his legs. No matter: this was no duel, to be halted on a whim. If they faltered, they died – and very likely the world with them.
Einarr and Jorir were still several yards distant when Naudrek and Troa reached the main body together. Naudrek’s sword found purchase and opened a gouge in the base of one of the legs, and then Troa plunged his blade deeper into the wound. It was a good idea, and they were well inside its guard.
Somehow, though, that mattered less now that it wasn’t restrained by its meat puppet or the vines. The end of the tentacle curled inward and bashed both men against its rubbery flesh. Naudrek was still blinking and half-dazed when Einarr and Jorir decided to try the same thing. Jorir chopped at the wound they had opened – and that was rapidly closing now that their blades had fallen free – and Einarr followed up by plunging Sinmora in as deeply as he could.
This seemed to annoy Malùnion, at least. The screech sounded in his head again.
Rather than try for another cut, Einarr threw Naudrek’s arm over his shoulder. Movement in his peripheral vision confirmed what he expected. He dove forward, and neither of them were caught up in the tentacle that grabbed at them.
Jorir and Troa, too, managed to evade being grabbed.
Naudrek had his feet again, so Einarr freed his arm. “Join up with Arring! We need a plan.”
His second after Jorir nodded mutely and began ducking and weaving toward where the strong man was still picking himself up off the floor. That last one must have winded him.Then Einarr gave Jorir the same instruction, and headed off himself. Dvergr and scout followed, not many paces behind. Not that they would have very long to plan: Eydri was quiet for the moment, but she was also working independently. If she determined she needed to Sing again, the rest of them would have to be ready to call its attention away again. Its acolytes actively hunted Singers, after all: why wouldn’t the thing itself?
Hi everyone. Thanks for reading!
This is what I expect to be the final book of The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen. After four, almost five, years and fourteen books, I’m ready to move on to other projects – and I’m sure Einarr is ready for me to do so, as well – if only so I stop tormenting him! Fear not, however: my intention is to start a new serial, although not a purely free one. Look for a poll or an announcement from me in the next few weeks as I firm up my ideas.
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