“This way,” Jorir said and turned to lead them all further up the mountain.
Einarr turned to look back at the chaos they left in their wake. It had taken some real effort to ensure the acolytes hadn’t taken out a batch lot of dvergr whose only crime was in keeping to the true gods. Mornik – and a few others – had done an excellent job not only freeing them but arming them as they prepared Einarr for his dramatic ‘escape.’ Mornik himself, still evidently not quite recovered, had donned the robes of one of the fallen acolytes. Thus disguised, he had led Einarr out before the high priest could become too suspicious.
Now, their dvergr allies from the outside were holding their own against the circle of corrupted dvergr they faced. With some degree of confidence, Einarr returned his attention to follow his liegeman up the mountain. Everything behind them was well in hand.
As they left the battleground, Einarr turned once more to observe the fight behind them. Once again, the dvergr of Nilthiad stood up for their own defense to allow the Cursebreaker and his friends to do what they had come for. The defenders were on their back foot: in the center of the field, strewn with benches, Einarr could see that the greatest number of the fallen bore the gray skin of the acolytes or the crest of the Thane on their armor – or both.
“Vyssiní kyvernítis tou váthous!” A deep voice boomed over the field. Below, everyone froze. Kaldr and the others all turned to look, as well.
“Pigí káthe gnósis,” it intoned. Down below, the combatants began to move again, but the flow of the battle had changed. The men of the cult fought with renewed ferocity, and the ordinary men of the town were stalled in place.
“Ton opoíon ta plokámia katapioún óla ta prágmata!”
“No,” Jorir breathed, taking a step up next to Einarr.
“You recognize that voice?”
“Kráken-patéras ton nychión!” The cultists’ desperation and ferocity seemed to grow with every word the echoing voice spoke.
“Kraken?” Thjofgrir’s alarm was reasonable: Einarr had caught that word, too.
Jorir nodded. “Ever since we saw the Oracle, I’ve heard that voice in my sleep – regularly. That’s the high priest.”
“Me to sýmfonó sou se kaló!”
“We need to get back down there.” Einarr started back down the hill. He would not falter, and he would not allow more of his allies to fall like that. Kaldr and Naudrek took up places at either shoulder, and the others were only a pace behind.
“Desmévomai gia séna!” The voice echoed over the field, and Einarr felt the frigid depths of Hel in its reverberation. He rested his hand on Sinmora’s hilt.
“Vgeíte éxo kai pníxte tous anáxious…” The air itself seemed to tremble. Something was coming, and the cultists below had a good idea what. Their desperation put him in mind of the cultists who abandoned ship when they fought the svartalfr, just before the horrors that powered their vessel broke free.
He wasn’t going to make it in time. “Retreat!” The word tore from his throat. He didn’t know if anyone below heard him or not: the cultists were pushing back, and their allies were in danger of a rout.
“Me tis skoteinés sou alítheies!”
For just a moment, the world seemed to freeze around them. Then it was as though the air itself split in two. Right above the altar, a tear seemed to open in reality, and on the other side of it they could see the blue-black of the deep sea.
Morale broke, then, in the combatants down below. All of the combatants. Those who bore the Thane’s sigil and those who wore the robes of the Acolytes screamed. Some of them dropped to their knees, clutching their heads.
The uncorrupted dvergr simply broke and ran, but since the cultists were no longer even trying to fight them their rout was merely an escape.
Einarr felt sick to his stomach – and very glad Runa waited on them at the bathhouse, about as far from the chaos here as it was possible to be in Nilthiad – when several of the acolytes on their knees began to transform. Their skin went from ashen all the way to the sickly dark green he remembered from the corrupted beasts he had fought before. Some of them sprouted extra limbs, the tentacles appearing in a burst of black blood. Others’ heads morphed to resemble squid. Briefly, Einarr wondered if one of them had transformed in public at some point, given their name among outsiders.
He had very little time for the spectacle on the ground, however. Despite the inky darkness of the other side of the rift, he could see the shadow of a creature. It was either growing larger or getting closer, and he couldn’t tell which.
When a claw, crimson as a cooked lobster’s, pushed through and took hold of the edge of the rift, Einarr became certain it was getting closer: nothing became that massive that quickly.
The edge of the claw was jagged, and he could see it tearing the rift wider as it pulled the rest of its body forward. Before long, a second claw attached itself to the other side of the rift, and the creature began to emerge. The arms attached to those claws were more like squid tentacles, but just as red as the claws themselves.
Einarr began to run. From the sound of footsteps behind him, the others were as well.
Before long the head emerged. It seemed to look about the field of battle around itself, but that should have been impossible: neither eyes nor eye sockets were visible. It opened its beak, mouth tentacles writhing around it, and let loose a shriek like nothing Einarr had heard before.
It didn’t seem possible that they were so far away from the altar, but no matter how much they ran they never seemed to close the distance.
Now that its head was free the shoulders followed soon after, and the rest of its body slipped from the rift like some sort of perverse birthing. The creature that loomed before them, dominating the field, was a crimson-scaled fish from the waist down, covered in spines. Its torso was vaguely human and hugely muscled, and the two main clawed tentacles were not the only ones it possessed. It shrieked again and lashed out, scooping up friend and foe alike into its monstrous maw.
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