Einarr blinked back to consciousness with the faces of Melja and Mira staring down at him and a strange tingling on his forehead and shield arm. He knit his brow. “What happened?”
“The fool has gone to free the Shroud!” Melja’s voice was husky, as though from shouting. “Our runes had no effect. At this rate…”
Einarr nodded, pushing himself to his feet. “I’ll not lose a second time,” he swore.
With Sinmora back in her sheath, and a new shield on his arm, Einarr set off at a jog for the temple.
Catching up with the man before he found the temple was a lost cause, Einarr was sure. That meant he would be facing the thief at the temple – hopefully before he found the vault, but Einarr would not hold his breath for that.
As Einarr jogged the trail, glad it was clearly marked, he replayed their earlier fight. It had been, he thought, like going up against Erik, except that so far as Erik was concerned, sparring was play. But even outmassed and out-reached as Einarr was, even with that magic sword, Einarr knew there had to be a way to fight the thief. He just hoped he had enough time to discover what that was.
As Einarr entered the open field surrounding the temple, he saw the thief’s horse grazing hungrily. The thief was nowhere in sight. Einarr sighed and picked up his pace: time was running out.
It was easy, unfortunately, to track the thief’s progress through the temple by the scorch marks he left on walls and floor alike. Einarr could think of no reason for those, or for the sword to be drawn in the first place. Had he been expecting guards? That seemed unlikely. The man’s wanton destruction did suggest a means under his skin, however. Those most willing to show off their swords, after all, were also said to be lacking in manhood – if not perhaps in quite the same way as those who turn to magic. Provoking the man would never be Einarr’s first choice of tactics, but under the circumstances it might be the best available.
The door to the cellar stood open. Einarr slid down the ladder, the smell of blood and burned flesh already assaulting his nose. Anger began to bubble in his stomach, and harder when he saw the body of the guard. That had been no fight: that was butchery.
Behind the body, the door to the vault also stood open. Inside, the brash man with the fiery sword strode straight towards the crimson fabric, his prize, at the center of the wards. The Shroud now snapped and cracked like a banner in high wind.
Einarr planted his feet at the threshold and drew Sinmora. He leveled his blade at the burly man. “That’s far enough.”
The thief stopped in his tracks. Then, slowly, ostentatiously casually, he rotated on one foot to face the door. He wore a smug grin like a mask. “Well. Look who’s back for more.”
“I can’t let you break that seal.”
“Like you can stop me?” He spat to the side and leered at Einarr. “You might as well just bend over and take your beating.”
“You’ll not find me so easy the second time. Now step out of that room and answer for yourself, you pig-sticker.”
“Tell me, on those cold winter nights, is it pigs or goats you turn to for comfort?”
“Say that again.”
“Did I mumble? You don’t like it, come out here and fight me properly.” The enclosed space of the cellar would level the playing field between them, at least. And with the other man hopefully not thinking clearly…
The black-haired man charged at Einarr, barrelling forward fast enough that Einarr had to skip backward to get out of the way. A quick sidestep took him out of the man’s path and left an opening. Sinmora slashed, and the man howled.
The thief gathered himself and took his sword in both hands, his eyes never leaving Einarr’s. “You’ll regret that.”
“Will I? Your swordplay makes me wonder if I wasn’t right. Has a woman ever graced your bed?”
With a wordless scream, the thief charged for Einarr yet again, his fiery blade unavoidable this time.
Einarr brought Sinmora and his shield up to guard. Sinmora seemed to pulse with power, but Einarr had no time to question that. He turned the blade aside with his shield boss, narrowly, and scrambled back around behind his opponent.
Which is why he saw the runes in the vault begin to glow with an eldritch blue light. Hel. That can’t be good. I need to finish this quickly…
Sinmora pulsed a second time as Einarr brought her up to guard against the incoming blow. Last time, it was at about this point in the fight that the man battered down Einarr’s guard.
In the instant before their blades met, Einarr saw a flash of cold blue light from inside the vault. A whirlpool of energy formed with Sinmora at the center, drawing it in, and then it was the blade itself glowing with the cold energy of the runes.
Steel clashed against steel, and ice crystals formed all up and down the length of Sinmora’s blade. Einarr nearly dropped it from cold and surprise. That white, icy energy suddenly infusing Sinmora attacked the flames running along the length of the other blade. Extinguishing them.
A heartbeat later, it was over. The thief’s blade clattered to the floor, now evidently just an ordinary long sword, as its owner stared at it in disbelief.
Einarr stared at the blade in his hand, dumbfounded. That had never happened before. There would have been stories if it had.
The thief, no longer paying any attention to his prize in the vault, also stared dumbly at the weapons. With a strangled scream, he scrambled back towards the cellar entrance.