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.

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 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.

 

Einarr set his mouth as he watched the vines twine over Thjofgrir’s still form. How long had he been Kaldr’s Mate? Likely not as long as Bardr had served Father, but certainly many years more than Jorir had served Einarr. That would be a hard blow for Kaldr and for their ship. He had no room to hesitate, though, and even in the man’s death Thjofgrir had spat in their foe’s eye: until his blood watered them, the vines had not grown.

His sacrifice will not be in vain. Sinmora practically leapt out of her sheath as Einarr, too, rushed to join the fray now. As the vines grew, changing in the blink of an eye from tiny sprouts into creeping tendrils and then to prize beans and on, until they were as thick as rigging ropes, and still they grew. They quested inwards, towards the thing which should not be in their midst, and plucked at the meat-puppet’s robes and twined about its feet. Malùnion pulled it’s feet away in a strange sort of dance, trying to keep from being entwined. Einarr was abruptly reminded of the leshy, whom they had fought on the Isle of the Forgotten.

The working seemed to be taking on a life of its own, but with Hrug’s look of intense concentration Einarr was sure they would not have to worry about the vines deciding they, too, were a threat. He rushed in, and the vines he stepped on actually seemed to speed him towards the dark vortex at the center of the circle.

To his right, he saw Jorir also riding the wave of plants, looking as fiercely determined as when they’d fought back on Svartlauf, and across from him was Arring, his face contorted with the battle fury. Well, such was life.

A moment later, Kaldr leapt over the edge of the formation, his own sword held low and back to slash upwards at the beast that had just killed his best friend.

Malùnion, in spite of his best efforts, struggled against the binding of the vines now, and the face of the flesh puppet twisted even as the vines gripped his limbs more tightly.

An arrow flew past Kaldr, and this time one of the energy tendrils grew a spine. Thick black energy began dripping from the wound like blood, and the vines reached for it hungrily.

This was working, but Einarr hoped never to have to use this formation again. But his surmise had been right: evil cannot create, but it can be destroyed by creation. Now I just hope Hrug can keep control of our working. Especially since, while they still bent their wills to it, it was feeding on the blood that was shed within.

Then followed a time where everything was flailing tentacles and chopping blades. Jorir hacked the sucker off one arm. Arring nearly cleaved a second in twain. When the blood spattered on his skin, it hissed and smoked like an ember – and the vines reached for that, as well, so that Arring’s flesh underneath was pink and new. For a wonder, even then they did not try to capture Arring. Einarr could no longer see Hrug’s face to know if that was his doing.

Whether it was or not, it needed to keep happening or none of them were going to come out of this uncorrupted. Einarr, too, felt the burn of the black blood’s source – such a difference from what flowed in the veins of the cursed. This, though, was what they had gathered their fleet to do, and if they could not end the scourge here it would be a thousand years of torment on Midgardr.

Troa had rushed up to join the fray as well, his bow slung over his shoulder and his quiver empty.

Einarr felt a sudden drawing in, as though all the air had abruptly been sucked towards Malùnion. He froze. So did everyone else.

A soundless boom hit Einarr like a yardarm swinging in a storm. It knocked him off his feet and sent him flying backwards into the wall of the temple. The others, too, all went flying.

It took Einarr a moment to be able to see straight again, and when he finally blinked away the swimming picture before him he saw that the octopus arms all stood straight out from the body, as though forming some sort of perverse halo around the meat-puppet.

It had thrown them off, and it had snapped countless vines, but it had not extricated itself from the circle. Indeed, the vines that remained were growing more aggressive. I sure hope we don’t have to fight the formation in order to destroy it.

Arring loosed another battle yell and charged forward into the fray once more. One by one, the others all followed. It was visibly weakened, but not enough. Arring was batted aside once more when he came within reach. His back curled around the edge of one of the stone benches, but again the man rose to his feet.

Kaldr and Jorir dashed in at the same moment, now, and both of them nearly made it back into the fight. Kaldr dodged the flailing arms quite nimbly until he had nearly reached the circle that held their nemesis. He jumped to the side when one of the arms was coming down from over his head, however, and sprang right into the path of a second arm that knocked him, too, into one of the numerous benches scattered about the room.

Jorir was somewhat more staid in his approach. He tramped forward several steps and then stopped, bracing himself for the inevitable strike. When it came, if it did not look like he could take it and keep his feet, he would sidestep and take a swing at the flailing demigod. That looked to be working, except Einarr was afraid the dvergr would be next to feel the squeeze. That meant it was his turn.

He exhaled through his nose and closed his eyes, just for a moment, focusing on Sinmora’s rhythm. When he could not just hear it, but feel it, he opened his eyes and dashed forward.

He could never afterwards say how he did it, but as he ducked and dodged and whirled and ran, somehow his feet once again found purchase on the swell of vines created by the runes. He leapt.

Einarr plunged Sinmora deep into one of the octopus’ arms and released the resonance. It rang, and for a moment Einarr’s ears rang with it, so loud was the sound of its resonance here.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Einarr had to believe that the group who ventured up the tower was having an easier time of it. At the very least they hadn’t requested backup before he judged his team ready to press on.

Similarly, he could not spare a thought for the pincered fleet out past the harbor. That there had been no word would have to be taken as hard fighting, no more. So, when Eydri and Hrug had seen to their healing and purification, and Einarr’s head had stopped throbbing quite so badly, he surveyed his men.

Some handful who had been healed needed more time to recuperate – they had been gravely injured, mostly, and the Song Magic could only speed the process so much. Those, and some other handful who were less worn down, were detailed to hold this floor and keep a watchful eye on the harbor. If anyone, friend or foe, came into the harbor they were to send a runner down after Einarr’s team. The fact that he intended to press on did not please Eydri, but even had she not healed his leg quite expertly, Einarr was their war leader. He could not lead from the back – that was not his way.

Einarr, Jorir, and Kaldr stood at the head of the expedition further into the depths. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, and Troa followed close behind. All told, they took a team of perhaps twenty down the broad ramp leading deeper into the earth.

Jorir grumbled as they rounded the first corner of the ramp. “I mislike this passage.”

Kaldr glanced down at the svartdvergr, and there was an edge of humor when he spoke. “It rather reminds me of the Paths of Stone, though. Right before we started falling into pits.”

“My point exactly.” Jorir harrumphed. “And the parts used by dvergr were cut smooth to allow for carts. What do they keep down here that can’t handle stairs?”

“I’m sure we’ll find out, probably sooner than we’d like. Be on the lookout for traps, everyone.”

A chorus of ‘aye’s echoed from behind, but it was really no louder than the tramp of twenty pairs of boots and the clink of twenty sets of maille. Still they went on. Neither Einarr nor Kaldr were happy about giving up the initiative before, so by unspoken agreement they made as much haste as they dared. Einarr strained his eyes trying to peer beyond the watery blue torchlight.

A little further down, with still no sign of a side passage – or even a room – mutters began to carry forward to his ears. The long, gloomy passage was starting to unnerve the men.

“Keep your wits about you, men. Whatever is waiting for us down below, it’s nothing we can’t deal with.” He hoped. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really do much more to lift their spirits than that.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the ramp leveled off into a broad, open cave. The floor was smooth like planed wood, but the walls and ceiling were rough like a natural cave. Three passages branched off from here – right, left, and center. “All right men, take a break. Someone mark the door we just came from. You three–” he pointed at random. “How would you like sentry duty here?”

The three shared an uneasy look, but nodded their agreement.

“Excellent, because someone needs to. Everyone else, split into teams of six. I’ll take center…” Glancing over the men stretching their shoulders and swigging water, he realized something. With a smile, he turned to Arkja. “Looks to me like your whole crew from the Island is here. Why don’t you take the right, while Kaldr and Thjofgrir take the left… Assuming, of course, that Jorir and Naudrek prefer to stick with me?”

The dvergr harrumphed as though that were obvious. Naudrek also agreed. “Indeed, I’d have insisted,” he added.

“Right. That means three more can come with me, and four go with Kaldr. When everyone’s formed up, we’ll continue.


Troa, Svarek, and Arring rounded out Einarr’s team, and he was reasonably sure as they started down the central path the only way their team could be more stalwart was if he’d taken Kaldr and Thjofgrir. Their passage wound about, and Einarr was reasonably certain they were headed generally downwards. When they were a little ways away from the central room, Jorir glanced up at him as they walked. “So, why center?”

“A hunch? Mostly based on the temple in Nilthiad, honestly.”

He grunted. “Thought so. Let’s see how this pans out, then.”

Not much further on, they came to a long gallery of carved and planed pillars. The inner path through the gallery was lit, but nothing past it, so that as you walked through the pillars all you could see was the road ahead of you. To either side, all that was visible beyond the pillars was inky blackness.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” Svarek started. “But, do you think your head could handle giving us one of your glowing runes? This blue flame has me on my last nerve.”

Einarr frowned. Using to create light took very little concentration. By the same token, however, he knew he was near his limits already. Would a beacon of proper light be worth the risk that he would be forced to call on the runes again? Hesitantly, he nodded. “Yes, I can manage that much, at least. I’m not sure how much more we’ll be able to see, mind you.”

“That’s fine, milord. Just so it looks a little more natural.”

Einarr drew out his piece of chalk, but Arring held up a hand. “I think we might be better off just lighting one of our ordinary torches. That way we get something to counteract the cold look of the cultists’ flames.”

Einarr nodded his assent, and Troa drew a torch from the pack he carried everywhere. Arring lit it with practiced ease, and as it flared to life the light did, somehow, start to look less watery and cold and more natural to a surface dweller.

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.

 

Einarr surveyed the landing below and frowned. That would have been a brutal fight even without everything that came before. They had, in the end, put the cursed warriors down and their knights to rout, but the toll had been heavy. “Jorir.”

“Here, my lord.”

“We hold the fortress town and the first floor, and the men are exhausted. Detail a team, as energetic as you can manage, to fetch Kaldr and the others. Meanwhile, the rest of us who can move will see to the wounded and secure this level.”

“As you wish, milord!”

Einarr nodded, already seeking out the next face he needed – Troa. They would have to divide up the work yet further, and roughly half the men down here underground were out of action.

The scout had a bloody rag tied around his arm when Einarr found him, and he looked pale. Still, though, he was both upright and active. “Troa!”

“Yes, sir!” It was a credit to the man that he was still sharp.

“I’ve sent Jorir and a few others out to bring Kaldr’s team. You take some men and gather up the wounded… over there, I think.” Einarr pointed to what looked like a defensible spot. “We’re fortifying here, for now.”

Troa’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Aye, sir!”

Truth be told, Einarr didn’t like giving up the initiative this way – but if he didn’t give his men at least a little time to rest here none of them were going to make it out alive. Now that that was dealt with, Einarr began grabbing people more or less at random. Two men he posted on the stairs up, and another two at the door to a ramp leading down – and Einarr was certain he didn’t like the look of that. Then, he took Svarek, Arkja, Naudrek and Hakon down a wide, level passage.

Before long, he heard the lapping of the sea, and the smell of brine was in the air. “I’ll lay odds that we find a harbor at the end of this,” he muttered.

Arkja chuckled. “No bet.”

“Let’s just hope its already empty?” Hakon said. “I don’t fancy taking on a whole harbor with just the five of us.”

That earned him a sharp look from Arkja, but Einarr held up his hand for peace. “There’s no cowardice in accepting your limits. That’s why we’re retrenching in the first place.”

“As you say, my lord.” Arkja’s voice was tight, but Einarr decided to let it pass. Up ahead, the watery light from the blue torches grew more intense, if not exactly brighter, and the sea-smell was definitely stronger. Einarr pressed himself against a wall and crept forward. The others followed his lead.

They needn’t have bothered creeping. What they saw would have looked very like an ordinary harbor, save for two things. First, there was no sign of daylight out over the water. Even on the svartalfr island there had been a lighter blackness marking the harbor mouth. Second, there was nothing larger than a two-man skiff still docked, and not a soul in sight.

Naudrek whistled, and in the emptiness the sound was far louder than he could have intended. “Lord Stigander must be having a rough time of it,” he said.

“You’re probably right,” Einarr agreed. “Only, where are all the dock workers?”

“I imagine that’s who we fought on the landing. Some of them, anyway,” Arkja suggested.

“You think they’d waste their knights on the docks?” Naudrek asked, surprised but sincere.

“They wouldn’t have had to, unless the cursed needed to be closely watched. “ Einarr pressed his lips in thought. “They saw us coming, and they had plenty of time to station those knights on the landing. Probably the knights brought the cursed from the harbor once they launched their fleet… I don’t think we need to worry about enemies from the harbor unless Father fails.”

That was a line of thought he didn’t care to pursue under the circumstances. No-one else seemed interested, either, and silence fell for a heavy moment. “Split up,” he ordered eventually. “I’ll take Naudrek right. The rest of you go left. We’ll meet back here.”


Jorir’s team arrived only moments before Einarr’s returned from their investigation of the harbor – which had been just as empty, and just as ordinary, as it first appeared. Experience told him they would have something terrible, and they would keep it underground.

Eydri and Hrug looked tired, but as well as could be expected. Kaldr and Naudrek looked like they had seen better days, and Thjofgrir as well, but slung across Thjofgrir’s back was the unconscious Arring. He still breathed, at least: Einarr could see that much as he hurried up to greet them.

“What happened?”

“Those blasted cats is what happened,” Kaldr grumbled. “Two of them this time – two real ones, so it felt like four. Right as we were about to signal the fleet. Hrug got it off while we were fighting them, but…”

Einarr nodded understanding. “I’m glad you all made it in one piece, at least. Arring… Arring seeks to be reunited with his family.”

Kaldr raised an eyebrow. “I thought he was a bachelor.”

“Widower, I’m afraid. When the Usurper was taking over Breidelstein, his family was killed.”

Kaldr looked pained, but Einarr shook his head. “You’re not so much older than me that you had any hand in it, and it’s not really relevant just this moment. How was the situation at sea?”

“Difficult to say for sure, except that they were laying in wait for the fleet, too. I’m afraid our plan led them right onto the cultist’s anvil. The storms from the demon ships made it hard to tell what was happening, but I know they managed to clear out the ships inside the harbor.”

Einarr groaned. Fortune favor you, Father. He had no more energy he could afford to spend on that, however. He shook his head and turned to Eydri. “How is your voice? Think you can handle some healing? Hrug and I can see to purifying everyone.”

“Yes, I’ll be fine.” She looked at him, and wrinkled her brows as she studied his face. “You look pale. What has happened?”

“It’s nothing. Just an arrow in the leg and too much rune working.”

She pursed her lips. “That’s not nothing. Sit down on the step and I can at least do something about that leg.”

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 five men hurried through the fortress town at Troa’s lead, keeping to small side streets and alleys as much as they could. Still, they could not avoid all combat, and they were not the only team that ran into trouble, based on the sound of things.

The clang of battle could be distantly heard in every direction save one – the coast – and at any given intersection it could jump out at them from any direction. I’m not sure what you’re waiting on, Kaldr, but I think they’re distracted.

They cut down another pair of men in leather jerkins carrying spears and hurried on their way. It seemed as though they might cut through everyone in the fortress in their race to the center.


Kaldr, Arring, and Thjofgrir encircled Eydri and Hrug as best they could. Kaldr had moved past cursing himself for underestimating their enemy and on to the serious work of keeping the sorcerers from being eaten by the pair of doubled cats toying with them.

Eydri sang, of course – that was her function, and in another circumstance her voice might have even been pleasant. Arring and Thjofgrir accepted her aid, and Kaldr could admit he was sorely tempted. Still, he was just as glad to be accustomed to shrugging it off. Someone other than Hrug needed a clear head, after all.

One of the two cats tried to pounce on him. Kaldr scrambled out of the way even as Arring, a feral snarl fixed on his face, launched himself at its paws. The cat and its double shrieked as the strong man buried his axe in its toe up to the haft. A smaller creature would have lost the toe, or even the paw, to a blow like that, but not this one.

Arring had, however, caught its full attention, and Kaldr was grateful. He stepped up between the cat and its double.

Maybe Arring didn’t quite have its full attention. One of the tentacles lashed out toward him – which was fine. Actually, it simplified things. Kaldr sidestepped again, pivoting on one foot and wrapping his arms around the tentacle, just below the wider paw at its tip.

The tentacle thrashed about in the air, and for a moment it was all Kaldr could do to hang on. He needed to get down to the cat’s back, but if he loosened his grip now he would just go flying – probably into a tree. For just a moment the tentacle stopped more or less upright, and Kaldr got a look at the city below: smoke rose from multiple locations. Their land raiders had encountered resistance earlier than they’d hoped… and substantial resistance, at that. He loosened his grip just enough to start sliding down the tentacle. “Hrug! Light it up!”

The cat thrashed its tentacle madly and Kaldr nearly lost his hold before he could stop his slide. This isn’t working. He pressed himself against the clammy flesh and risked letting go with one hand. So far, so good, although momentum was not his ally at the moment.

Somehow, Kaldr managed to get his free hand to the knife they all carried at their belts – usually used for eating. He suspected this one would need a good long time in a fire before he’d be willing to trust it with food again. When his hand closed on the hilt, he jerked it free of its sheath and plunged it into the tentacle. Greasy black blood welled up around the blade — the cat yowled and thrashed harder. Abruptly it brought its other tentacle into play, scraping the injured one along the bottom of the other tentacle. Trying to scrape Kaldr off.

That slowed the thrashing enough, however. Glancing down, Kaldr confirmed that he was dangling above its shoulders. He pulled his knife free and sheathed it, allowing the black blood to flow faster, and hung on for dear life with only his legs. Only for a moment, however. As soon as his sword was free of its scabbard, he let go.

Kaldr fell, sword-first, ten feet down to land on the creature’s back, between its shoulder blades. A third time it screamed as the longsword plunged deep into its vitals. It reeled, and Kaldr was now faced with the problem of staying on. The signal still hadn’t gone up: he risked a glance toward the others.

Arring still divided this one’s attention, although unless Kaldr missed his guess the strong man was wounded now. Thjofgrir was also fighting hard, trying to keep the other beast from getting past him and to the sorcerers. He, too, looked as though he had seen better days. The real trouble was, Thjofgrir by himself was not enough to keep the other cat away from Eydri and Hrug. It was damnably intelligent, too. It had noticed that they were defending the woman and the one-handed man, and had begun more or less ignoring Thjofgrir.

Hrug, bless the man, had become a sorcerer because it was the option least offensive to his pride. He remained a warrior at heart, even if his weapons now were symbols traced on the ground. The signal had not gone up because all his attention was focused on the barrier he had erected around the two of them – hastily, Kaldr expected, as they had been taken completely unawares by the beasts. That was why the signal had not yet gone up. Well. Let’s see if I can do something about that.

Kaldr wrenched his blade free of the cat’s back and plunged it deep once more at the same moment Arring buried his axe in its jaw.

It swayed again, and lifted its head as though to yowl to the heavens. Then all the strength seemed to go out of its mighty legs and it collapsed to the ground. It didn’t even twitch. I must have pierced its heart.

He was covered in the black blood, but for the moment that didn’t matter. He pulled his sword free and ran down the head toward the sorcerers. “Arring! Help Thjofgrir! I’ll cover them.”

The man’s answering growl was more animal than human. Once Eydri had sung them down out of the rage, he would have to have a talk with the man.

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.

 

Einarr staggered to his feet, trying desperately to catch his breath. Thankfully, the others seemed to have the cat well in hand – for now, anyway. He watched as they ducked and weaved around the creature, taking their shots as they came. Thankfully, too, Sinmora had done more than just devour its double. It was favoring the injured foot heavily: probably, soon they would have to worry about the beast trying to run away. Which meant Einarr really needed to get his sword back.

He could breathe again: that was sufficient. Einarr raised his shield and barreled back into the fight. Kaldr, on his left, acknowledged him with a glance.

“Cover me.” Einarr ducked his head and ran on, shield first, to get closer to the big cat’s paw. The trouble, of course, would be getting close enough to knock the blade free without getting stepped on: the beast was easily as big as a fimbulvulf.

It growled, and Einarr heard its tentacles whip out at the others. He was being ignored, and for now that was fine. For just a moment, the injured paw touched the ground.

Jorir ran across, under its belly, and chopped at one of the hind legs. Here, too, the injured paw touched down for just a moment, as though to steady the massive body.

Einarr readied himself. If he timed it just right, he thought he could grab Sinmora during one of these momentary shifts.

The great cat danced about, taking cut after cut – and inflicting several of its own, to be sure. It was also starting to backpedal: there could not be much time before it decided there were tastier morsels elsewhere.

When Thjofgrir’s blade cut deep into the other foreleg, Einarr saw his best chance. As the claws touched the earth once more, he dashed forward. His hand closed on Sinmora’s hilt, his grip somehow firm in spite of the earlier wound. Einarr pulled.

The monstrous cat screamed.

It wheeled on its hind leg and dashed off into the forest, its double popping back into existence before it was fully out of sight.

The others gathered around Einarr. For a moment, they all stood watching its flight through the forest. Finally, Einarr took a deep breath. “Is everyone all right?”

“I think, my lord, we should be asking you that,” Jorir grumbled.

“A little sore, is all. Was anyone else wounded, though? And how bloody are you? A proper purification is probably beyond me, but I’m certain I could manage a stop gap until we return to camp.”

“It didn’t touch me,” Troa answered. “But I suspect it would be wise for you four.”

Twenty minutes later, after Einarr traced a purifying rune on each of them (including Troa), they too were running off into the forest, on the trail of the strange cat they hoped would lead them to the Hold.


Ordinarily, a cat would be difficult to track, especially at night. Ordinarily, however, that cat would not be wounded, bleeding, and bigger than a horse.

As dawn broke, the five men crouched in the underbrush on a ridge north of the rather imposing fortress maintained by the priesthood of Malúnion. Below, the fortress walls stretched upward at least three stories. The early morning sun made the walls glow like pale gold, and the tower in their center thrust toward the sky like a spear of the gods. Below, within the walls, a town was waking up in shadow.

Kaldr gave a low whistle. “Did those maniacs really build this?”

Jorir grunted. “Unlikely, I think, unless they brought in my kin to do it. But I expect this place was like Nilthiad – conquered from within.”

Einarr contemplated venturing down the ridge and exploring the fortress himself. His legs twitched, but before he could stand Kaldr spoke again.

“We should head back to camp. Now that we know where to send our teams, scouts will be better equipped to get the information we need.”

Reluctantly, Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. And this will give us a leg up on plotting our strategy.” Just because Kaldr was right didn’t mean he had to like it.

Their trek cross-country back to their camp was far less eventful than the nighttime journey had been, although it did provide them a better opportunity to study the lay of the land. From the ridge, the land sloped steadily downward toward the shore where the boats were beached. The forest was mixed evergreen and seasonal, and if Einarr was any judge, he thought it looked unusually healthy – especially if it had creatures such as that cat hunting it. He took a cutting of some berry bushes as they walked by, with the intention of having them inspected by Eydri and Hrug.

When they strolled back into camp around mid-morning, they were greeted by a great deal of hustle and the anxious faces of their subordinates. Eydri stormed up to them, with Naudrek right behind. “There you are! What happened to you?”

Einarr gave a lopsided grin. “The biggest cat you ever saw, and the location of the Hold.”

“Bah. Oh, by the gods, you look terrible. Hrug set up a purification circle down by the water if anyone needs it.”

“Thank you, Eydri. I think we’ll take advantage of that. Troa, will you see to it they know where to find the fortress before you come down?”

“Of course, sir.”

As much as Einarr would have preferred to rest, now was not the time. The rest of the day was spent gathered over the makeshift table the guard crew had put together, making plans based on the charts as they knew it – and as they grew to know it over the course of the day, as scouting parties filled in the gaps of their knowledge.

One party reported that, while the beast was likely corrupted by the cult, it may not actually have been kept by the cult: they found a cave on the northeast side of the island that fairly reeked of cat – and had blood spatters just outside the entrance. They had not ventured into the cave to confirm any of this, of course, and Einarr gave his pardon for that immediately. He wouldn’t have either, under the circumstances – although it might become necessary to put the beast down before they began their assault on the island. If all went well, he thought, he and Kaldr should have a strategy and a message for the fleet early the next morning.

 

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.