Author’s Note: This marks the end of Book 13. Book 14 will begin on 12/7/2021.

When the Villgås finally returned to Breidelstein harbor, almost six months after its departure, they were met by a cheering mass of people on the docks – including, this time, Stigander himself. Einarr and Runa stood on the deck as the other four men took them to their berth. When their hull tapped the dock, Einarr hopped across himself to lash their boat fast even as Thjofgrir and Jorir put the gangplank in place.

Einarr kissed his father’s hands, and then moved to the gangplank to help the women down.

First was Runa, and everyone cheered a little louder when she made her appearance on the plank. Her swollen belly was plain for all to see, and while it had caused them some difficulty on the water no-one really minded: there would be, in very short order, an heir for the Prince, and that would be as much cause for celebration in the town as their return itself.

After Runa came Jennora – also with child, as it happened. Brandir had been serious about sending his sister as Jorir’s wife, and the two had been married during the farewell feast itself. It was highly irregular, even among dvergr so far as Einarr knew, but they both seemed happy. The crowd was less certain what to think about the svartdvergr woman, but when she was joined on the plank by Jorir and she took his arm their uncertainty seemed to vanish.

They were followed swiftly by the Singer the Matrons had sent to keep an eye on Runa and her babe – as well as the rest of the crew. They had all, save Jennora, been exposed to a great deal of the black blood, after all, and the effects of its corruption could be insidious.

She also carried Vali’s jar. When the Matrons had asked for volunteers among their healers, it had been curiosity about the strange spirit that had prodded her to join them.

Eydri and Reki were there as well – Eydri looking eager, and Reki under the shade of her cloak with her usual calm demeanor. The crowd continued to cheer as Kaldr and Naudrek and Thjofgrir descended, but Stigander had claimed Einarr’s attention.

“By the gods, when did this happen?” He gestured at Runa’s belly. “Surely you didn’t -”

Einarr shook his head. “No. We had no idea until it was too late. But, according to the Matrons, all is well even after everything we went through down there. …Think you’re ready to be a grandfather?”

Stigander laughed. “More than! And let’s see, I see Jorir has returned to us as well. You’ll have to introduce me properly to his new wife… but we seem to be missing someone. Could Vali not stand the idea of a crowd?”

“That’s complicated, I’m afraid, and something best spoken of in a rather more private setting.”

“Of course, of course.” They started walking up the road towards the cliff and the Hold. “Did you have any trouble with the League?”


Two weeks after the Villgås returned to port, the winter ice hit and the bay froze over completely – they had to stop the occasional intrepid youth from trekking out on snowshoes to taunt the bones of the Weavess, it was frozen so hard.

For three months, Breidelstein was in the grip of a fierce winter, and for three months it seemed like every woman in the Hold was constantly occupied with needle and thread.

Then, on a very wet night just as the grip of the cold was beginning to break, and as snowdrops were beginning to peek out from under the thick blanket of snow, Einarr was summoned by a maidservant to Runa’s side: it was time.

Einarr raced through the Hold to get there. He arrived just in time to hear the angry wail of a newborn and see his wife’s exhausted smile. Then the midwife was holding the baby out for him to take, and the little one commanded all his attention.

“…It’s a boy?” He couldn’t guess why, but he was whispering.

Runa nodded. Einarr laughed, then noticed that his son – my son! – was shivering. Quickly, he handed him to his wife.

“How do you feel about Alfvin for a name?”

She smirked at him as she took the babe and held him to her breast. “What, so you can tweak Ystävä’s nose?”

Einarr chuckled: the thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind, although now that she mentioned it he was tempted. “No, because of the Oracle’s price.”

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“When she named me Cursebreaker, she also read my weave. For payment… she wanted my firstborn to come and study under her, since my own education was so ‘lacking.’”

“What?!”

“Not until he’s eight! We were still drifters, then: it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Runa sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have the energy to debate that now.” She smiled down at the little reddish infant snuggled against her. “Alfvin is a fine name. Between the Oracle, and Ystävä, and Melja, it’s certainly got the ring of truth to it.”

That night, Einarr was left alone to spend time with his new family.

Three weeks later, the League sent out a proclamation.

“To all the Men of the North! We, the League of Free Men, call upon our fellows in the North to join us in battle against the heretical cult responsible for sacking our cities, kidnapping our women, and corrupting our men!” Einarr read. “Representatives of our order will be arriving soon. In these desperate times, we must all band together, or one by one we will find ourselves devoured by the monstrosities of the Squid worshipers. For the sake of all we hold dear, it is time we clans of the North band together under one banner to stamp out this threat.”

Einarr looked up from the paper at his father and Kaldr, incredulous. “Surely we don’t intend to stand for this?”

His father rumbled. “No, not at all.”

“Something about that League has rubbed me the wrong way since we met them,” Einarr grumbled. “Have you contacted any of the other clans?”

“Only Hroaldr’s thus far.” Even as he spoke, Stigander was pulling out fresh paper. “But in order to counter this, we’re going to need some organization of our own.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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No matter what else he wanted to say about them, the svartdvergr knew how to throw a party.

One of the mead halls in the city had opened its doors to the Smiths and their allies, and by the time Einarr arrived with his crew it was already full to bursting and raucous with celebration. He shared a grin with Jorir, who once again stood at his side, and they crossed the threshold into the waiting feast.

He was swiftly escorted up to the bar at the head of the room by one of the dvergr already inside, and Jorir and Runa were not far behind. A cheer went up as they were thrust into the seats of honor at the head of the table. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was going on, but as he opened his mouth to confirm it he got his answer.

Someone in the crowd rang a knife against one of the silver goblets Einarr could see floating through the room.

A moment later, Gheldram hopped up on the bar – evidently the source of the ringing.

“Almost two hundred years ago, Jorir the Smith was exiled – but his exile served a purpose,” he said, and as he spoke the crowd fell silent. “We, his friends among the Smiths, tasked him to find help. Well, a little over three months ago, he finally returned, and in his wake came the promised help – the human Cursebreaker, to whom Jorir has pledged his life, and some of his most trusted allies. Tomorrow, we must say farewell to their illustrious crew – but tonight, we toast their success!”

A deafening cheer went up around the Hall, and every cup was lifted with it – even Runa’s, although she grimaced as she moved it to her lips and smelled the purifying tea that she was now drinking almost exclusively. Einarr had tasted the stuff, as well: he really couldn’t fault her reaction. On the other hand, they had the babe to think of.

When the revelers had finished their drink, they turned expectant eyes on the three who stood awkwardly at the front of the Hall.

Einarr sighed. It was his turn now, apparently. “My friends! I’m afraid we all got off to a bit of a rough start, but since the battle on the Mount I have found no fault with dvergr hospitality! Alas, it is past time we returned home to Breidelstein: there are many matters which require our attention, and I fear we cannot proceed directly there. And so, on our last night here, I thank you on behalf of all of us for your hospitality and your courage – and I regret to inform you all that, after some little discussion, my good man Jorir will be returning to the surface world with us.”

There were, from around the room, scattered noises of disappointment.

Jorir raised his glass in the air, catching everyone’s attention. “None of that now, you hear? When I first swore to the Cursebreaker, I marveled at my own words, but he has come to earn every one, and then some. I may, someday, return to Myrkheimr and Nilthiad, but if I do it will be because my Lord and his Lady have long since departed. It has been… good to be back, but although we have reclaimed it from the clutches of the Squiddies, and I look forward to the return of Nilthiad’s glory, my place is above.”

This pronouncement was met with a rather mixed reaction: some jeered, jokingly, others laughed, others still sounded disappointed.

That was when Brandir came forward, out of the crowd, leading a female dvergr Einarr did not recognize. She looked bashful, but not timid, and based on the expression on Brandir’s face Einarr wondered how much of this was his idea.

Brandir cleared his throat and gave a sidelong look to the woman. “After… much discussion, my darling sister has convinced me it would not be good to allow you to leave alone, as though you were once again an exile in disgrace. And she has graciously put herself forward, if you will have her, to be your companion and your wife.”

Jorir looked completely poleaxed – as well he might. And Einarr had thought Runa forward at times! Still, he laughed and clapped his liegeman on the shoulder.

Jorir recovered himself and shot a look, half of shock, half of outrage, at his friend. “I… am not opposed, in principle.” He cleared his throat and glanced at the rest of the room. “But perhaps in front of the crowd is not the best place to discuss this?”

The three dvergr went off together back into the crowd, and Einarr turned around to smile at his chuckling wife. “Think there’s enough room on the Villgås for two more people?”

“I think we’ll manage.”


Einarr and the rest of his crew met at the Nilthiad entrance to the Paths of Stone at dvergr dawn the next day, feeling only a little hungover from their revelries the night before. Runa once again carried Vali’s jar. Idly, Einarr wondered if he might have woken up again had someone thought to bring him to the battle on the Mount. There was, of course, no real way to know at this point… and even if he had, there was a lingering question of whether or not he would still be himself. At least they shouldn’t find themselves in need of a scout on their return journey, and they could ask the Matrons when they stopped what to do about their ghostly companion.

Unlike the previous night’s feast, there was not a great crowd to see them off, which suited all of their number well enough. Jorir was the last to arrive, with the rather pretty (even by human standards) Jennora in tow. “Are we all set?” He asked, a bit gruffly.

“You know your way through the Paths, right? I’d really rather not fight my way back up them if that’s all the same to you.”

Jennora looked amused. Jorir harrumphed. “Do I know the way? Of course I do. So does Jennora, should it come to that. If that’s all we’re waiting on, we should get going. Even without all the booby traps, it’s a long hike up.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

Please note, we are drawing close to the end of book 13. There’s one, or perhaps as many as 2, more chapters, and then we will be entering our usual month-long break. We are also nearing the end of the series: I expect there to be one, or perhaps two, books dealing with the cult and the League up above.

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Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.

 

That priest wouldn’t have come alone, or even just with a single attendant. Einarr and his companions clattered up the stairs, abandoning all pretense of stealth in favor of speed. When they emerged into the hallway, however, they found themselves in the middle of a swarm of grey-skinned acolytes. The passage was packed almost too tightly to fight. Probably the priest had been unsure what was happening, and they awaited some sort of signal. They didn’t get their signal, but they got something “better:” fresh meat.

With a shout, the acolytes fell upon Einarr and his friends. Down the hallway, over the clamor of their own fight, Einarr could just make out the sounds of another battle going on. That must be Jorir, Einarr thought. He turned to face the sound of the other battle and lashed out at the closest dvergr in his path. “This way!”

It had been a long time since Einarr found himself in this sort of a scrum, but not so long that he had missed it. He found, however, that the rhythm which had served him so well against the svartalfrs on his way to the docks in their fortress, and against the revenants of the Althane, once again worked to his advantage here.

He stood shoulder to shoulder with Naudrek and Thjofgrir and Kaldr, with Runa protected in the middle, and they made their way, step by hacking step, slowly towards their dvergr friends and the exit where they had agreed to meet.

The trouble with this sort of extreme close-quarters fighting was that it was slow, and over time you were certain to become injured. If you let it go on too long, it could become death by a thousand cuts. This was compounded by the fact that every time they struck an enemy they had no way to shield themselves from the corrupting black blood. Einarr already began to feel unwell, although he could not say for certain if it was only in his own mind. Thankfully, with their ring of blades, Runa was not being exposed. Also thankfully, Einarr was much stronger than the last time he had faced a wave of enemies such as this.

After what felt like hours, but couldn’t have been, they reached the place where Jorir and his kin stood with their backs to the secret passage, securing the way out.

The dvergr looked awful. They were splattered with quantities of the black blood and covered in small slashes besides. Their eyes were bloodshot. Mornik, standing behind the other three, struggled to suppress a cough. Jorir’s face brightened when he saw Einarr and his crew cut their way through the last rank of enemies to join them.

“Get inside!” Einarr ordered. “We’ll close the door behind us!”

“Thank you!” Jorir gasped, and the four dwarves blocking the entrance backed further up into it. Runa was next, followed by Einarr and Kaldr, and then with a final slash Thjofgrir kicked the support and the door fell closed behind them. A shriek of pain and rage came from the other side: Einarr guessed that the heavy stone door had caught one of them.

The closed-off passageway suddenly seemed very quiet, compared to the bedlam they had just left. Einarr took a deep breath. “Everyone in one piece?”

“More or less.” Gheldram offered a wan, wry smile.

“What happened to you guys?”

“One o’ their cursed beasts,” Brandir spat. “And then, in spite of everything, I’ll swear ta ye that all the acolytes here were in that damned hallway.”

“You didn’t see anyone down there?” Kaldr was incredulous.

“Just a snake as thought we were mice,” Jorir answered. “And only that after I decided to apply a little fire to the situation.”

Mornik coughed, underscoring the point.

In spite of himself, Einarr snapped. “Then where in Hel’s lair is that shaman?”

Jorir shook his head. “I think I know where we’ll find him… but if we go tonight, we’ll only kill ourselves. Even assuming he would be there at this time of night.”

Runa put a hand gently on Einarr’s arm – careful to avoid the inky splatters. “He’s right, Einarr. Not one of us is in any condition to fight right now. We need a quiet place to recover.”

Einarr looked at the delicate fingers that somehow deigned to reach for him, not quite comprehending at first. “You’re right, of course. Brandir, if we get back to the bathhouse, will they let us rest there again?”

After a long moment’s thought, he nodded. “She’s dependable. I can lead the way, but… we’re going to need you big folk to make sure we all make it in one piece. That beast nearly did us in.”

“It would be an honor.”


Their infiltration had taken long enough that the unrest in the streets had mostly calmed by the time they left the temple district, but it seemed to have taken its toll on the Thane’s men as much as it did on the uncorrupted dvergr. The streets were deserted, and they did not pass a single lighted window. They moved as quickly and as quietly as they could, but by the end of it Gheldram was supporting Mornik – the smaller dvergr seemed to have taken the worst of it.

When they arrived at the familiar bathhouse, Einarr thought for a moment the proprietress was going to turn them away. That is, until she caught sight of Mornik. Based on her reaction, Einarr thought they might be more than simply friends.

Once she spotted him, she clapped both hands to her mouth in a familiar gesture of shock and ushered the party of nine into the baths. She cast a sidelong look at Runa as she passed, but when Runa twined her arm about Einarr’s she was evidently satisfied.

“Have you a stock of medicinal herbs?” Runa asked as the last of the men stumbled into the bathing room.

“Some, yes. Why? What happened to them?”

Runa just shook her head, even as she scribbled a list of herbs on a scrap of paper from her pack. “Can you get me these? As much as you can, please.”

The dvergr woman lowered her brows as she read the list. “Aye, I have some of these. Some others I might be able to find in the market on the morrow – if you’ve the coin for them. These are all…”

“Purifiers, yes. I’ll gladly pay for what you can provide. As much as you can bring, please.”

The proprietress nodded slowly. “Since it’s for Mornik. Give me a few minutes, I’ll fetch some from my stores.”

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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.

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Without another word, the eight men – four dvergr, four humans – slipped out into the hall to follow Gheldram. In silence they crept through the halls of the dungeon until they reached the storeroom, where they set to searching for the belongings of the humans.

“I had half expected you to have… company by the time we got there,” Jorir admitted to Einarr.

“It was threatened, as you heard. I don’t know why they never came to torture us, but I’m not about to complain. …Is there any–”

“Ah! I found the maille.” Gheldram exclaimed. “Looks like they hadn’t decided what to do with it yet.”

“Even the Brokkrsteel?” Jorir’s jaw dropped.

“Even the Brokkrsteel. Come see!”

Einarr clenched his jaw and tried not to sigh as he followed his rescuers over to the haphazard stash of human-sized gear. The one who had picked the locks – Mornik? – moved over to stand and listen at the door.

The clink of chains sounded in Einarr’s ears as the maille in question slid over his head. He only had to pull a few hairs free. “We can’t leave yet,” he said as he settled it on his shoulders.

“Whyever not?”

“We don’t have everyone.”

Einarr watched Jorir’s expression as he clearly counted in his head the faces he’d seen. “You mean you didn’t lose anyone in the Paths?”

“Not one, although it was a near thing a time or two.”

Jorir nodded slowly. “So then we’re missing Eydri? Anyone else?”

“Not Eydri. Runa. Runa, and Vali. She had his jar.”

Jorir cursed – loudly and roundly. The one who could have been Jorir’s relation clapped a hand over his mouth.

“The lass’ll not be here, I’m afraid,” Brandir said, his tone much more measured. “They don’t catch a lot of women, but the few they do go off for… special treatment.”

Einarr blanched.

“Hurry up. We can’t do a damned thing about it standing around here.”

The dvergr at the door gave a low, rising whistle. “Someone’s awake. Hurry it up!”

“Blast. That was less time than expected.”

“Jennora did warn us,” Gheldram muttered.

Einarr glanced around at his companions. “We’re ready.”

Kaldr, Naudrek, and Thjofgrir nodded their silent agreement, and the party of eight slipped back out into the dungeon halls.

They had only gone a couple of turnings before a shout came from behind them. Someone, it seemed, had already discovered their empty cell.

The dvergr started running, but Einarr and the other humans were right behind. They abandoned all pretense at stealth – eight people, charging down stone corridors, will be noisy under any circumstances. Einarr wished they could go faster, but in the twisting corridors of the dvergr dungeon it simply was not possible. Hang on, Runa.

“There they are!” The cry came from a cross-tunnel.

“Just a little more!” Gheldram called back from the lead. Einarr racked his brain, but he could not think of anything he could do with the runestones in his pocket that would throw the Thane’s men off their track.

Mornik had an idea. Einarr saw him throw some sort of powder into one of the torches as he passed, and it began to emit a thick, choking smoke.

When they made it out of the dungeon halls, they saw the courtyard in an uproar. It seemed as though everyone came out of their stupor at once – which seemed very odd, for a sleeping drug. There was no time to consider why, though: Jorir and Brandir looked both ways, then at each other, and nodded before taking off to their left.

Thankfully, the interior of Thane Soggvar’s hold was far smaller than the inside of either the svartalfr ring fort or Raenshold. They only had to dodge one more group of guards before they found themselves in a dim lane, the wall to their left, and what Einarr would call a thrall’s door just ahead.

“Halt!” The cry came from ahead of them, just beyond the thrall’s door. Einarr gripped Sinmora’s hilt, ready to draw.

“Wait. Not here.” Jorir whispered, holding out an arm to block his liege lord’s path.

Before Einarr could ask for an explanation, it became apparent. Even as their enemies were charging forward, Gheldram was coiling a large weighted rope about his arm. He gave a sudden dash forward and cast his net.

Their enemies tangled themselves quite satisfactorily, although there was no time to appreciate his handiwork. Mornik had quite literally kicked open the door. Naudrek and Thjofgrir led the way through.

“That won’t hold them for long,” Brandir said, slightly winded, as he pushed the door closed behind him. “This way. There is a place prepared.”


Runa’s back ached, and it had nothing to do with the babe. She sat up off the hard stone slab the dvergr acolyte had lain her on – again. She must have undergone these examinations a dozen times just since she’d awakened, and every time was the same. A pair of svartdvergr in pale robes would carry her – against her every protest, and even if she offered to walk, which she had tried once or twice – into this room. There was the slab, and a window with a terrible view, and they would tie weights on her arms and legs to keep her from leaving. Then another dvergr, this one plainly a priest, would enter and check her over, as though he were inspecting livestock, and then leave. If she moved an inch before he left, he would lash her across her back. She had tested this, too.

But, once they had finished with their nonsense, she was allowed to sit up until the dvergr came to carry her back to her cage.

They had not done anything else to her – not that she could tell – and she was certain the babe still lived. They laced all her food with peppermint now – even the meat.

This was entirely too much like how the priests of Malúnion had treated her.

The dvergr entered the room again, surely to carry her back to the cage – cage! – they locked her in. “Well. Faster than usual today.” She did not bother to hide her scorn. It was the least they deserved. “What’s it to be today? Staring at the walls again?”

The acolytes ignored her tart words. She wasn’t entirely certain they even heard them, although they seemed to understand the priest’s words well enough. One of them grabbed her bare ankles, and the other took her roughly under her arms. Briefly she thought about struggling, but the last time she’d done that she’d been unceremoniously dropped on her tail and dragged back to the cage by her ankles.

She glared daggers at Vali’s jar, sitting inert in a corner of the room where she was bound, as the key turned in the lock. Naturally, he wouldn’t wake up, not even to let her vent, let alone to investigate.

Someone was going to pay. And it wasn’t going to be the ghost.

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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.

 

Consciousness returned slowly to Einarr, and when it did it was made more uncertain by the dearth of light. But, he could feel his body again. Everything ached, except his head. His head felt like someone had driven spikes into his temples. Even still, he was aware of the hair that felt plastered across his forehead.

Cold metal bands encircled his wrists. He must be in chains, because he could tell his arms were dangling from those bands. He deliberately blinked his eyes. After a few moments, he saw that there was light: dim and red like a torch or a campfire, but light. He tried to raise his head to look around, but fresh stabs of pain shot down his neck and he groaned.

“Einarr?” Kaldr’s voice sounded from out of the darkness. “Einarr, is that you?”

“Unfortunately,” he croaked. His throat was parched, but he highly doubted anyone could move enough to give him a drink. “What happened?”

Kaldr tried to answer, but the sound came out strangled and he fell to coughing. Einarr was definitely not the only one bound like this, then.

Naudrek cleared his throat. “Those creepy statues around the room killed your rune – and a bunch of other things. You passed out – the Lady called it backlash. Vali went mad – we haven’t the foggiest why. The rest of us killed the beast – biggest salamander you ever did see, and you know what one of the guards called it? Fluffy.” Naudrek paused to clear his throat again, rather more forcefully this time.

“So then…?”

Kaldr took up the tale. “So after the beast finally goes down we have to find another way to open that accursed door. Meanwhile, Vali’s still wailing fit to break a heart – or a mind. For a minute back there, it sounded like he might manage. He shut up once we got the jar out of the room, at least. So we start down the hallway on the other side of the door.”

“Haven’t gone very far,” Thjofgrir started as Kaldr coughed again. Had anyone had a drink since they were captured?” “Haven’t gone very far when the world starts going fuzzy. Next thing I know we’re all on the floor, and there’s these creatures coming at us with chains – I’d call them dvergr, but they had big bug eyes and a long nose.”

“That’s the last thing I saw, too,” Kaldr confirmed. “Then the world went black. Next thing I know, we’re here.”

Einarr wanted to cry. All of that, and still they were caught by the dvergr? “Is Runa here?”

Silence.

“So, no. Fine. Does anyone know how long we’ve been here?”

“It’s hard to say, Captain,” Naudrek answered. “They’ve fed us three times – if you want to call it that. They don’t seem to care much what condition we’re in so long as we’re alive, though.”

“I see.” He saw rather more than he wanted to see, honestly. Runa was missing, and either Vali was with her or he was somehow asleep again. And Jorir had said, back before they infiltrated the svartalfr cave, that his own home had fallen under the sway of that same cult. He did not care to probe too deeply what fate might await them if they couldn’t get out of this dungeon. Just as bad were all the things they could intend for Runa – or have already done to her. To her, and to the babe. He growled.

“Fine. So somehow we need to break out of this, find Runa, and find Jorir. Then we need to go back up those thrice-cursed tunnels, get in our boat, and wash our hands of this place. Sound about right?”

Noises of agreement came from around their cell.

“So. What have we tried so far?”

The only answer was the rattle of chains. Was someone shaking their head?

“It’s like the shackles were fitted for us specifically – there’s not an inch of give there. The chains are looped over a hook overhead, but we only know that because they let us down when they feed us – and that by a hook from outside the cell.” Einarr thought he heard a note of despair in Kaldr’s calm voice. “None of us has been able to manage it ourselves. Something about the leg irons is keeping us all stuck sitting, too, never mind that it’s our ankles bound.”

Einarr frowned. The dvergr were known for elevating their smithing into an art – did that mean it was an Art? He snorted: on the subject of unknowables, that was low on the priority tree. “I had a bit of chalk still in my pocket when the backlash knocked me out, but I don’t have enough play to lower my arms. Does anyone else?”

“I’m afraid not,” Naudrek answered to more clinking.

Einarr swore. This was looking worse and worse: just how paranoid were these svartdvergr? “So our best hope is for Jorir to learn we’re here and decide to free us. Once he knows we’re here, I’m certain he’ll do everything in his power to ensure we’re freed… but I suppose until that happens we just have to trust in the Norns.” Now he sighed. “I don’t suppose they’ve given any of you a clue what they plan to do to us? Surely they don’t intend to hold us here forever?”

“No, not forever,” Thjofgrir answered, black humor heavy in his voice. “Just until they decide to execute us.”

Einarr opened his mouth to swear again, but then the enormity of what they faced hit him as hard as the ache in his muscles had. He groaned and slumped back against the wall. “All right. So when was the last time they fed you… and please tell me they bring water.”

“Oh, aye, there’s water. It’s warm, and it tastes worse than it smells, but it wets your throat for a little.” Naudrek gave a bitter chuckle. “And I haven’t the foggiest when they fed us last, or when they’ll feed us again. It’s never enough to fill you up, so your belly just settles into a constant dull ache.”

“The guard has changed twice since the last time they brought their …porridge,” Kaldr answered. “I’ve been counting the passage of boots in the hall. So we should be getting some respite before too long.”

Einarr nodded, not really thinking about whether or not they could see him. When the guard came to feed them – whenever that was – he would try to palm the chalk he remembered having in his pocket. Hopefully it would still be there. Hopefully, too, he would actually be able to help their situation then.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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.

 

This marks the final chapter of Book 12: Einarr and the Paths of Stone. As I have developed a habit of taking a month off between books, Book 13 will begin on 8/3/2021.

Kaldr and Runa set to work, searching every surface with their fingers, hunting for some way to unlatch that door from this side.

When Vali’s keening dissolved briefly into a mad cackle, their search grew more desperate. Kaldr thought he began to understand Runa’s concern for the ghost. This was wreaking havoc on his own mind: what must be happening to Vali’s?

Across the room, the others staggered back to their feet. Evidently, the brief lapse in the keening allowed them to pull their heads together a little. Kaldr wished that had worked for him: instead, he now felt lonely and spooked. Naudrek, still clutching the side of his head, came up beside him. “What are you looking for?”

“A switch. A lever. A button. Something that could open the way.”

Without another word, Naudrek joined the hunt, followed shortly by Thjofgrir.

Then the unearthly green of the statues’ eyes began to flash – not all at once, but one at a time, as though the apparition’s keening was not enough, and now it needed some new outlet for the madness embodied by that sound. One by one, around and around the circle went the flash of ghost light, and always getting faster. Kaldr found it quite disorienting.

Thjofgrir stopped in the middle of examining a statue to clap both hands over his ears. “Runa!” he bellowed. “Can’t you do something to calm him down?”

Kaldr couldn’t see her reaction, but he was not at all surprised to hear the answer.

“You want to put us all to sleep again? He’ll hit the resonance too fast.”

“Found it!” Naudrek cried from the other side of the room. His words were accompanied by an audible click.

Oh, thank the gods. He could see the seam in the wall that marked the edge of the door now, and it was slowly creeping outwards. Who has the jar?

Runa did, still. Somehow. That was good. Kaldr hurried over to her. “Get the jar through the door as soon as it opens. I’ll get him.”

She nodded her agreement, looking almost frantic. Probably even her training couldn’t fully block out the effects of a mad ghost’s wail.

Kaldr looked down at his Prince. Runa had said he was all right, but his face was pale and a thin line of dried blood traced down his cheeks from each nostril. The backlash from all these statues must have been tremendous. I wonder how it would work to carry a little carving with me. Just to be safe…

He knew his reaction to magic was not entirely rational, just as Lord Stigander’s reflexive dislike for the runes was not. He didn’t especially care, however: magic still failed, and relying on it left you weak when it did. This was the most solid proof he could ask for on that account.

He settled Einarr’s weight over his shoulder as Naudrek threw his weight into pulling the door fully open. Thjofgrir went through first, and then Runa carried the jar outside the ring of carved stone beasts.

Abruptly, the keening stopped and the flashing brightness of the circle vanished.

Vali was nowhere to be seen.

Kaldr shook his head. If Vali hadn’t retreated into the jar after it left the circle of beasts, there was really nothing he could do about it. He, too, went through the door and into another passage very like the one now blocked by the corpse of an enormous salamander. He might be mistaken, but he thought this one, finally, had a slight upward slope to the floor.

The door began to swing closed on its own as Naudrek crossed the threshold. As the light from the statues began to be blocked by the closing door, Kaldr gave a deep sigh and turned to study the passage before them as best he could. That it looked straight and mostly level was a hindrance, not a help.

The door closed behind them with a shockingly loud thud and the passage was plunged into complete blackness.

“We should be on our way out,” Kaldr said into the darkness. “Was anyone injured during that last fight?” He himself had suffered no few minor bruises and scrapes, and he was certain he would pay for them later, but right now that was not what mattered.

“My foot still aches,” Thjofgrir answered. “But I fought on it. I can damn well walk on it.”

Kaldr nodded to himself. That was not unexpected. Once they were free of these thrice-cursed tunnels, they would have to do some more permanent medicine on that leg. “What about you, Naudrek?”

“Little shaken up, is all. Never would have guessed we’d see Vali do something like that.”

“Hmm.” Naudrek wasn’t wrong, but at the same time, Kaldr couldn’t help thinking he, in particular, should have been warier of the apparition. “All right, then. Shaken or no, there’s not a lot we can do about anything until we get some light – and somehow I doubt any of our torches survived our wetting earlier. Forward, now, easy as she goes.”

As they moved forward, step by cautious step, Kaldr found his eyes beginning to grow accustomed to the darkness. At the very least, he began to be able to make out silhouettes, areas of gray among the black. Perhaps there was some sort of luminescent mushroom that grew down here? He didn’t question it.

Not much further on, he was surprised to realize he was panting. Well, it had been a very long journey down these passages. He was briefly tempted to ask Runa for a bit of aid, but she was probably having a harder time than any of them – and with him carrying Einarr, there was really no one who could help.

His legs started to feel weak, and his hands grew rapidly numb. Nothing for it. Press on. You’ll feel better once we’re out again.

He felt Einarr start to slide off his back. He tried to adjust his grip, but his arms wouldn’t respond. They can’t be that numb…

He heard a thud from behind him, as of a body falling limply to the stone floor, but he could not guess if it was Naudrek’s or Einarr’s. Then his own knees began to buckle. He couldn’t understand where this weakness was coming from.

The light ahead increased. His vision wavered in and out, but he could have sworn he saw an approaching troop of monsters, all about the size of a dvergr. Only, instead of a human head, these had the big round eyes and long nose of a terrifying insect.

The clank of chains rang in his ears, and he knew no more.

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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.

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For the first time in a very long time, Kaldr saw the red haze of the battle fury pressing at the edges of his vision. It was a mark of just how exhausted he was that he contemplated accepting it, just this once. When he realized that, he physically shook his head to shake it off. One of them, at least, had to keep his wits about him. Thjofgrir was quite plainly in its grip, as was Naudrek. They must have (reasonably) assumed he would play the Captain here.

He fought off the Song as hard as he fought off the enormous, wounded salamander.

The beast shot its tongue toward where Runa stood over Einarr. All three of them lunged at once to slash at the exposed flesh. For a wonder, their blades bit deep.

The salamander – he was reasonably certain that’s what he was looking at, overgrown though it was – reared back and shrieked in pain, as inhuman a sound as Kaldr had ever heard. Salamander blood splashed everywhere.

He turned his attention back to its gills: the shot would be tricky, but he felt certain it would be the best way to injure the beast.

In and out he darted, trying with every lunge to stab deep within the beast’s gills. Even at full strength, with all of them fighting and fresh, this would have been a difficult fight. Here, their Captain was down, Vali was keening most unpleasantly, and even a quick glance at Runa showed the strain she was under.

Kaldr was panting furiously as the three of them fought off the beast. He wasn’t sure any longer whether or not it mattered if he kept his wits: there was nothing to this fight except to cut and retreat.

Then the very air around them began to vibrate, thrumming in his ears. He spared another glance across the room at Runa.

Her eyes were squeezed shut, and her mouth open wide, but the tone of her voice was shifting subtly downwards, as though intending to twine with Vali’s mad keening.

He hoped she was doing that on purpose, whatever it was. The throbbing of the air in his ears grew worse, until even the beast became distracted by the noise. It thrashed its head this way and that, like a dog with a bee in its ear. Then, it tried to scoot backwards out of the room the same way it had wriggled in. As it did so, it flared its gills.

Kaldr reacted. He lunged for the opening with all his strength, plunging his sword into the exposed inner flesh of the beast’s neck. Blood spurted out around his blade and the salamander began to thrash in earnest.

Naudrek jumped nimbly out of the way before it could slam him against the wall with its head. Thjofgrir took a different approach.

Still under the effects of Runa’s Song, Thjofgrir jumped up to land on the wildly shaking head. Deliberately, one step at a time, he walked up its slimy nose until he stood right beside the beast’s eye. Then, with a scream of Song-fueled rage, he drove his sword point home just behind its eye. With a shudder, the salamander collapsed to the floor and ceased moving.

Runa’s Song shifted, and Kaldr no longer felt the red mist of rage pulsing at his mind. The keening, however, modulated with it, so that the thrumming in the air never ceased. And now, without the battle fury to distract him, Kaldr became aware of something else pulsing at the edges of his mind.

Now it was his turn to shudder, him and the other two who had been doing the actual work of fighting the beast. Suddenly he was a small boy again, alone and hiding in the corner while pabbi railed drunkenly at his mother over… nothing, so far as Kaldr could tell. Some seithir had worked her magic on him, again, and convinced him to give her all his coin. Mother didn’t deserve that, but he knew better than to help. The man’s temper couldn’t abide that.

That memory was followed by a rush of raw emotion, so strong even Kaldr felt himself sinking to his knees. Fear. Anger. Loneliness. Pain, too, but nearly subsumed by the others.

His shoulders shuddering, he turned bleary eyes to the others. Coming down off the battle fury, as they were, it seemed to be hitting them harder. The green light of the statues’ eyes reflected wetly off of Thjofgrir’s cheeks where he knelt, staring silently towards the ceiling.

Naudrek had curled up into a ball on the floor.

And Runa was no longer Singing.

Wait. If she’s not Singing, then where is that thrumming coming from? He didn’t know much about Song magic, but he had heard enough ordinary music to be familiar with the effect. So then, was Vali causing all of this by himself? Kaldr forced himself to his feet under the inhuman, almost physical weight of loneliness that was bearing down on him. He stumbled towards the Singer and nearly choked when he tried to speak. “Runa?”

“We’ve got to get the jar out of here!” Her voice sounded wet with tears, as well. Interesting: he had rarely known Singers to be affected by other Songs.

“How?” It came out as a wail, but how much of the despair was his own he could not guess.

“I don’t know!” She inhaled loudly, a deep, sobbing, shuddering breath. “I can try to give you strength to burst it.”

Kaldr shook his head. That would take too long, he expected. Damn that apparition. The throbbing keening echoing through the room made it almost impossible to think, though. “There’s got to be… some sort of emergency catch. In case one of their own gets trapped.”

He spared a look for Einarr. He was probably the happiest among them, peacefully unconscious and unaware of the havoc around them. Sadly, they could not knock themselves unconscious to escape this, not without handing themselves to the tender mercies of the dvergr. “Help me search?”

“But…” Runa glanced worriedly between Einarr and Kaldr. Pregnant women were often overly emotional. She must have a will of iron to be holding together even this well under the onslaught.

“I think he’ll be fine on his own. We, on the other hand…”

He could just see her nod, one hand at her face. When she rose, it was unsteady. “You’re right, of course. And who knows what will happen to poor Vali after this…”

Kaldr stared. In this situation, it was the ghost she worried about?

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading! 

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.

 

Einarr’s scream was followed quickly by Runa’s as the light shifted from one, central source of dim white light to a diffuse green. Kaldr spun on his heels, only to see his Prince collapsing to the floor, and the Lady racing across to where he fell.

“What happened?” he called across as he returned his attention to the hall beyond. The beast was far too close for comfort.

“I don’t know!” It was Vali who answered: Kaldr assumed the Lady was examining Einarr. “We finally found the door, but there didn’t seem to be any way to open it from this side. So Einarr drew Bjarkan, and then… this.” Disconcertingly, he cackled.

Kaldr tightened his grip on his sword. This could get very bad, very fast.

Not much light reached the passage, but what did was just enough to prove they were out of time. A fleshy-looking white rod impacted with the wall, just at the edge of what Kaldr could see, and then vanished again.

“Runa? Is he all right?”

“He’ll be fine, I think. The backlash knocked him out, but -”

The beast’s chirrup, from down the hall, sounded more like the hunting cry of a wyrm at this distance. Whatever it was, there wouldn’t be much choice but to fight it.

“But?”

“But his breathing is normal. I’m not sure… no! Damn these dvergr! It’s the statues!”

An unnerving giggle echoed through the chambers, plainly from the apparition.

“Explain. Quickly.” Kaldr took a step back from the doorway so that he would be half-hidden by the stone and motioned for Thjofgrir and Naudrek to do the same. It was starting to sound like Vali would be little help here.

“Sculpting is the Art of Defense. It basically cancels static magic.”

Thunderous footsteps sounded in the hall, far too close to the door.

“It’s not great for me, either, but I’ll do what I can.”

Kaldr met eyes with Thjofgrir. The other man gave a familiar wry grin. Naudrek looked grim as he limbered his shoulders and neck. They were in for the fight of their lives, but it looked like they were all up for it.

Kree-ee-ee!

The noise reverberated so loudly Kaldr worried it would bring down the ceiling on them, dvergr work or no. Then it stuck its head inside, even as a glowing green mist rose up around them all. Are you trying to help us or not, Vali? Even if he was, Kaldr wasn’t certain how helpful thick fog was going to be here.

The beast’s head was shaped like a snake’s, but instead of dry scales here they saw moist, slimy-looking skin and gill slits, like a fish might have. Between the cheeks and the gills, little tentacles writhed like worms in a frill around its head.

“Now!” Kaldr shouted, unnecessarily. Thjofgrir was already in motion, his blade held in both hands and his shield still slung over his shoulder. It hissed as blood welled up from the cut, but even from this angle Kaldr could tell it was just a shallow strike.

The creature’s head had fit through the door, but it was having to fight to get its shoulders in. Kaldr lunged forward and cut at the gills. Its skin felt preternaturally tough, though, so even though he knew it to be a solid hit, it too merely welled with a thin line of blood.

Naudrek, in the center, saw both of these blows glance off the beast’s slimy flesh. He stood a moment longer, studying the creature. Then, with a nod to himself, he took a step back and then leaped onto its nose, sword-tip first.

The beast let out another of its shockingly loud chirps and shook its head, this way and that, trying to shake off the prey that had stuck its nose. Well. It didn’t like that.

Kaldr was up next to its neck, now, even as its first four-toed leg was wriggling through. Each of those toes had claws as long as a dagger, and likely just as sharp.

The eerie, mad laughter echoed through the room again, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The fog no longer seemed to glow in and of itself, but rather little balls of what he could only term ghost fire hung in the air around the beast’s head. Kaldr could see it squinting against the light, sideways membranes squeezing to cover most of the eye.

There was something strangely familiar about the form of this beast, but Kaldr did not have time to dwell on it. He stabbed his sword forward, straight into the gills.

It hissed and tried to close its gills around his sword.

He hopped back. Too hasty. What else might work?

Then the beast got its second leg in. Now that its shoulders were through the door, there was very little to bar the slimy creature from getting to all of them. Very little, save for the four of them. Kaldr had to do better than that.

Naudrek had gained his footing again, just long enough to retrieve his sword from its nose and plunge it down again. It hissed and reared up, trying to dislodge the offending creature on the ceiling. While it was stretched up on its toes, Kaldr hacked at them.

This time, his blow did what he expected it to, and three of the beast’s webbed toes were sheared off.

That got its attention. It twisted its head around and bit at Kaldr.

Naudrek, still on its nose, drew out his sword again and stabbed at the inside of the jaw, just behind the row of sharp, needle-like teeth. Amazingly, he did not lose his sword to its bite.

And that was when Vali, the apparition bound to a jar, began to wail.

Kaldr was only aware of it at first as a prickling on the back of his neck and a feeling of deep unease, even above fighting this monstrosity that had been chasing them for who knows how long through these accursed tunnels. But then the feeling of unease grew until it felt like the room was vibrating with it, and with the hollow rage of a spirit forever bound to – what?

Even the hungry beast seemed to shiver at the sound – right up until Thjofgrir took its other foreleg at the knee. Now it lay, half inside their only sanctuary, on its chest, hissing and chirping and biting around itself left and right. Kaldr almost felt sorry for it: it was now down two legs. They would have to kill it, if they could.

That was the moment that Runa began to Sing.

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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.

 

Einarr hurried his crew along as best he could, but Thjofgrir’s injury was going to be an issue until Runa’s song had a chance to do its work. The beast – whatever it was – would still be slowed somewhat by the rubble in the way, but they couldn’t exactly move full speed right now, either. He had taken the rear since Kaldr was bearing Thjofgrir, but that meant he couldn’t carry Runa. He was actually impressed at how well she was maintaining her Song at this pace, but it wasn’t going to gain them any time. They needed either an exit or a hiding place, and they needed it fast. Not that he had the first clue what a hiding place would even look like in this circumstance. There had to be something he could do to slow it down, just a little more.

But, as with the rest of the paths, there was no sign of any supports holding up the ceiling, nor were there cracks in the wall he could exploit. The idea of runes flitted through his mind again, but he shook his head firmly. No runes, not unless it was absolutely critical. Not when he didn’t know what sort of magics the dvergr might turn against them.

“Hey!” Naudrek’s voice rang down the tunnel from up ahead. “I think I found something!”

With great relief, Einarr scooped Thjofgrir’s other arm across his shoulder. “We’re coming!”

Now that there were two of them carrying the other man’s weight they went faster, although still no faster than Runa could move while Singing.

Naudrek and Vali led them into a wide-open room with a narrow entrance – narrow enough that two men could effectively hold off any number of assailants, if they were fresh. None of them were anything like fresh, but still Naudrek moved to bar the door as the last of their crew staggered in. Kaldr joined him as Einarr helped Thjofgrir to sit and Runa turned her full attention to mending his injured leg.

That left Einarr and Vali to examine their momentary shelter. Einarr laid his shield by Runa’s side so there was at least a little light for her to work with. Sweat beaded her brow, although it was no warmer in this room than it had been in the passages beyond. Perhaps she was more exhausted than she let on.

As he got a good look at the room, though, he wished he had it with him. The light itself was steady, but at that distance and that angle it cast strange shadows over the multitude of carved beasts that lined the walls. He saw creatures as mundane as stags, wolves, and bears, but also coiling dragons and hideous sea creatures. There were even a few that looked not unlike tafl pieces. Each and every statue that he passed, Einarr saw that the eyes were set with some sort of faintly glowing green gem.

They had nearly completed a circuit of the room, without finding any other exit, when the beast’s incongruous chirp echoed into the room. Everyone turned to look towards the door, Thjofgrir still massaging his injured leg as Runa took a moment to rest her voice.

“How’s it feeling?” Einarr asked Thjofgrir.

“Better.” He suited action to words and pulled his boot back on. “We had another hour, I’d be right as rain.”

Einarr nodded. That was more or less what he’d expected. “Right then. Stay off it for a bit longer, I think, then go backup Kaldr and Naudrek. Runa, rest up while you can. Won’t be long. We’ll keep looking for another way out of here.”

Runa gave him a wan smile even as she drew the water skin from her belt. She raised it to her mouth and drank long and deeply.

Einarr turned his attention back to the problem at hand, but by the time he completed his circuit of the room with its eerie statues he still hadn’t found anything that looked like a way through.

Then Vali gave a quick, quiet whistle from the far side of the cavern. Einarr crossed the room at a trot, sparing a glance for his wife who still sat near where she had treated Thjofgrir. She looked less pale, he thought, although in the dim light of his shield it was difficult to be certain. Vali was still waving him on, though.

“What did you find?” he asked as he drew near the apparition. He was fairly sure he heard the familiar wet slapping footsteps of their pursuer again.

“It’s well-hidden, but I think I’ve spotted the passage.”

“Oh, thank the gods.”

“Gods, or ghosts?” Vali winked at him mischievously, then sobered again. “But really, don’t thank me yet. We still have to figure out how to get it open.”

“Show me.”

It was a door, as cleverly concealed as the one they had found initially, just before bypassing the elemental traps at the very top of the Paths. Only this one was locked – as Vali was able to confirm. Probably this was an access hatch for the poor sots sent to clean up after the fools who dared the tunnels.

Einarr took a deep breath. Before, it had taken all of them to push open a stone door like this – only that one hadn’t been locked, or even seemed to have a catch. This one was plainly designed to open only from one side – the other one.

A continuous stream of chirps echoed through the room now, and Einarr imagined he could hear the scraping of claws over the wet smack of the beast’s footsteps. They had found their exit, but they were out of time. He drew out his chalk once more and inscribed a – Bjarkan. The Rune of Liberation.

Please let this work. He willed the rune to life.

A moment later, lances of white fire seemed to stab into his eyes and ears. For a moment, all the world was pain. And then it grew black.


Runa whipped her head around at Einarr’s unexpected scream of pain. The men at the door were ready to fight, and so was she if she had to, but she had expected danger to come from the other direction.

Einarr clutched at his head and sank to his knees – and then the shield winked out.

Runa was on her feet in a heartbeat, wondering if she could make it across the floor in the pitch darkness without falling flat on her face.

The question quickly became moot. All around the chamber, the eyes of the fantastic carved beasts began to glow, as green as ghost light.

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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.

 

Vali’s warning left Einarr thunderstruck: hadn’t they just passed a deadfall? “Another one?” He managed to say eventually.

“And in better repair than the one before. You’ll never make it through here carrying the lady: not sure you will anyway.”

“It’s fine. Put me down: I’ve rested enough.”

As Einarr opened his mouth to ask if she was sure, the beast’s ear-piercing chirp rang through the passage again. The sound alone was enough to dislodge some of the looser stones. Instead, he turned to Vali as Runa climbed down off his back. “Can you see where the keystones are?”

“Not well. I’ll do my best to warn you, but…”

“Fine. Let’s go!” There was no time for arguing or explanations: Einarr felt certain the creature was gaining on them with every step.

Vali looked thoughtful for a moment, then his eyes brightened as an idea occurred to him. He floated forward through the passage, and in his wake bits of stone along the walls and ceiling illuminated in the virulent green of ghost light. Every last one of these was placed such that Einarr had to dodge around it – and some of them he nearly stumbled into anyway. Einarr was as thankful for the ghost’s presence as he was shocked they had done as well as they had.

The wet sounds of the beast’s footsteps were clearly audible now, and moving quickly. And it almost certainly wouldn’t care about this deadfall, much like it hadn’t cared about the one before. There was not room to carry Runa, so he reached back and grabbed her hand. “Faster!”

He and Naudrek ran faster, pulling Runa along in their wake. When Naudrek danced around a protruding lance of stone highlighted by Vali’s ghost light, Einarr didn’t even think what he needed to do. He pulled Runa forward in a spin, as though they were dancing, and both their feet left the ground as Einarr turned so that the lance passed just above his back.

Then his feet touched the ground again, and Runa’s as well, and they were running again. It was a move that he would have to remember the next time he found himself at a Hallingdanse – although Sivid was sure to show him up almost immediately.

A moment later he heard a muffled curse from Thjofgrir, but there was no following rumble of moving stone so he must not have hit the keystone.

How are its feet still wet? We must have run a mile at least! He didn’t know where the thought came from, except that it touched on the nature of the beast: it didn’t matter, right now – and never would, if Einarr had his way. Even before this chase, none of them had been in any condition to fight a monster of the deep.

Finally, just up ahead, Einarr saw the walls of the passage grow smooth again. Thank the gods! He had to fight the urge to pour on more speed, though: he suspected Runa was already having trouble keeping her feet, and getting through the deadfall would not end their race.

He practically leaped over the last few feet and past the final glowing keystone for the deadfall and did not slow his pace. A curse from Thjofgrir made him turn his head to look: the big man had tripped and rammed his shoulder into that selfsame keystone. Ghost light clung to the arm in question, although Vali quickly extinguished it.

The walls of loose stone began to rumble, and bits of debris fell from the ceiling in thin streams.

“Run!” Einarr bellowed back, knowing that he already was.

Thjofgrir righted himself and half-stumbled back into his run, his fatigue made worse by the extreme stoop he was forced to move in. Larger, fist-sized rocks started to tumble from the ceiling, as the keystone began to slowly slide down the wall.

Further down the hall, at the very edge of what Vali’s ghost light still illuminated, a massive silver-grey rod shot out and collided with the wall ahead of it. Einarr only got a glimpse, it moved so fast, but that hastened the deadfall.

Thjofgrir propelled himself forward, trying to get out of the way of the fast-descending rubble. As he stretched out into his desperate dive, he collided with Kaldr, sending them both sprawling to the floor.

Einarr, Naudrek, and Runa all stopped in their tracks, turning to see.

The deadfall gave way and several tons of rubble came crashing to the floor of the cave. This one, evidently, had also been a deeper deadfall than the one before, as the rock nearly filled the passage behind them.

Kaldr rolled to his back and sat up. “Thjofgrir? Are you all right?”

Kaldr’s Mate looked up, a pained expression on his face. “I’m trapped. Go on: that thing’s going to burrow through this just like it did the other.”

“That just means we’ll have to hurry. Runa, catch your breath quick as you can. We’re going to need your voice.”

She nodded silently, it looked like she was already working on that.

“Now, come on. We’ve got some digging to do.”

All three standing men moved up to the fallen rock. Einarr thought it shouldn’t take them very long to dig him out, based on how the rocks had arranged themselves, provided his feet had escaped crushing.

“What are you doing?” Thjofgrir protested. “You really think I’m going to be able to walk? Run!”

“Yes, actually,” Kaldr answered, cool and unflappable as ever.

“Just hold on. We’ll have you out of there soon enough, and Runa will fix you up right away.” Einarr had already started shifting stones. They could hear the angry chirps of whatever the beast behind them was, but it sounded like this was enough rock to stymie even it, at least for a while.

Thjofgrir was only buried about halfway up his calves, and the stone was as loose as Einarr thought here on the edge of the fall. With all the strength their exhausted muscles could muster the three of them moved stone until Naudrek and Kaldr could take Thjofgrir’s arms and haul him out from underneath.

His feet were tender, but not bloodied, and while he could put no weight on his left leg, his right was fine. Runa began the Song of Healing even before he was fully upright, and if her voice sounded tired it did not diminish the strength of her Song. They started off again, Thjofgrir leaning on Kaldr’s shoulder and limping as quickly as he could. Einarr moved into the rear and they started to jog, just as the sound of tumbling stone started up again. The beast had found its way forward.

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