Tag: names that only sound cool if you don’t speak the language

7.10 – Wards

“Mind your step,” Melja warned as he entered the room.

The warning was well-taken. At first glance it seemed as though every surface of the chamber was covered in gently glowing runes in baffling configurations. Einarr stopped in his tracks, scanning the room.

Gradually, the overwhelming formations resolved themselves into more recognizeable, if not comprehensible, configurations. Concentric circles of text ringed the floor, but as he watched a path, almost like stepping stones, began to emerge.

Ah. So that’s how. Feeling more confident, Einarr stepped out onto the revealed path. Melja, several paces ahead, paused for Einarr to catch up as the Shroud continued to twitch as though in a breeze.

“This is amazing,” Einarr breathed as he caught up.

“This is necessary. The last time the Shroud was active, entire villages were consumed.”

“Why wasn’t it destroyed?”

“What makes you think they didn’t try?”

This just kept getting better. Einarr swallowed and turned his attention back to the web of wards they walked through. “So what, exactly, will we be doing here?”

“I will be checking the integrity of the keystone inscriptions. You will be adding your will to the force of the inscriptions.”

“Meaning…?”

“Touch where I tell you to, and turn your will to them, just as if you were activating one of your own inscriptions.”

“…Ah.” Einarr at least knew what that would look like. He wasn’t sure how much sense it actually made. Still, though, once they got started the work proceeded swiftly and Einarr soon discovered that what he’d thought to be senseless was actually base simplicity in practice.

Einarr’s stomach had begun to grumble by the time they left the elaborate chamber and the guard locked the door behind them.

“Don’t wait to let us know if anything changes,” Melja said.

The guard nodded seriously and said “of course,” even though the admonition was thoroughly unnecessary. As they walked back toward the village, Einarr began to feel truly silly about his fears.


He had nearly managed to forget his earlier trepidation as first days, and then weeks passed after the reinforcing of the wards.

When the alarm came, it was not from the temple but from the port town, more than a day’s hike away. A small boat had docked, and its lone occupant had demanded to know the route to the Shrouded Village. From the Headman, at the point of a flaming sword.

“This is bad,” Melja said when the messenger arrived. What followed was a scramble, near panic but not, as the alfr of the village prepared themselves to drive off this interloper.

They did not have long to wait: the questing man was bare hours behind the messenger. He rode up on a fine bay, its coat lathered and its eyes rolling wildly. The newcomer pulled up with such force that his poor horse half reared.

The man stared down imperiously at the villagers, Einarr and Melja at the fore. His eyes were as cold and blue as ice, but his wild mane of hair was black as night. “Is this the Shrouded Village?”

Melja’s voice was cold and just as proud when he answered, “It is.”

The black-haired man smirked. “Excellent. I have come to relieve you of it, by order of my master Virid, Chief of the Giants of Eldurgardr.”

“Tell your master that the alfs of the Shrouded Village sent you off with your tail between your legs, and that not even Wotan himself can order the thing’s release.”

The man laughed. “Excellent. I shall indeed tell him that the alfs fled before my Brannmerke when I present the Muspel Shroud to him.”

As the man spoke he dismounted and drew the long sword that hung at his hip. The blade burst into flames as it cleared its sheath – flames very similar to those which had been invoked in the garden several weeks prior.

“Put that thing away! You’ll kill us all,” Melja snapped.

At the same moment, Einarr was stepping forward, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt. “You’ll have to go through me, first,” he growled.

“Through… you?” He spat. “You are a nithing, a coward, a woman clad in her father’s castoffs. If you were a true man there’d be nothing left to plunder here.”

“Slanderer. Fool. If I were what you say, I’d not be here at all. Come, then, and we will prove who is man and who is nithing.” Einarr’s voice was steady and cool in the face of the other man’s insults. Sinmora cleared her shath with a gentle rasp and he readied his shield.

The villagers backed away swiftly from the impending clash. While all of them could fight at need, none of them were warriors in the way Einarr was. As swift as they were, though, it was only just fast enough.

The foreigner leapt to the fight like a wolf lunges for a kill. Reflexively Einarr brought his shield up: the blade clanged against the shield boss and flames licked its wooden edges.

Before the foreign hothead could pull back, Einarr cut forward. Sinmora bit into his opponent’s maille, but the other man only laughed.

Then the flaming sword arced through the air again, and again Einarr barely managed to bring his shield to bear. He felt the boss dent under the force of the blow, and smelled burning paint.

“So the woman has some guts after all! Make this interesting now.”

Einarr resettled his stance and spat. This was not looking good. He tried to feint right, looking for some opening he could use, some way past the man’s guard, and finding none. Sinmora was batted away. Again he tried and again recieved only mockery for his efforts. Finally the ice-eyed hothead rolled his eyes and spat again.

“Tcheh. Boring.”

The next blow shattered Einarr’s shield. The one after dented his helmet and set his ears to ringing as he dropped to his knees. “I think we know who the nithing is now, don’t we?”


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6.27 – Revenant

The dust cloud swiftly resolved itself into a whirlwind, and soon thereafter Einarr could make out the features of the revenant it followed.

The spirit’s gaunt face was twisted in rage. Einarr couldn’t have said how he knew that, as what little flesh remained hung from the bones in tatters. A rusty horned helmet sat on its brow, dirty white hair tossed about in the wind of the creature’s own passing.

Einarr settled into his fighting stance, ready to defend Runa. The creature did not appear to realize it could be seen – or, perhaps in its madness and hunger it did not realize any but the storyteller existed.

“Surely, the shade thought, this newcomer will know my name, for before my banishment I was famous indeed. And perhaps they will have word of my clan. And so the shade began to follow the newcomer.”

Einarr sidestepped into the path of the speeding revenant and their swords met in a scrape of metal.

The draugr snarled wordlessly, staring past Einarr at the woman who provoked it.

“Well what d’you know. The Hallkeeper was right,” Einarr said quietly, hoping to divert its attention so they could have a proper fight. “What is it about stories that drives you mad?”

The draugr did not seem to hear him.

“The shade followed that newcomer for years, until another soul was banished to the Isle, but in all that time there was no sign that anyone remembered his name,” Runa continued.

It roared again, and as it lifted its ancient blade to strike at the obstacle in its path Einarr glimpsed the remnants of gilt and empty sockets in the hilt of its sword, as though it had once been encrusted with jewels. Once again steel met steel, and Einarr grinned. “I don’t think so.”

Erik and Jorir were edging around to surround the creature while Runa’s story still kept it distracted.

“For a long time the shade would attach itself to every new face on the island, always hopeful that this time they would know who he had been.”

The draugr took a clumsy swing at the obstacle in its path, which Einarr easily evaded. In return, he sliced across the creature’s ribs.

Sinmora met no resistance.

Einarr’s eyes went wide and he cursed. If the spirit was insubstantial even when they could see it, what were they supposed to do to get rid of it?

The wailing picked up again with even greater intensity than they had heard before, and the whirlwind began to move of its own accord. Jorir ran two paces, launched himself into the air, and cut down into the whirlwind.

Einarr blinked in surprise. Based on everything he knew, that shouldn’t have done anything. And yet, the whirlwind seemed to have weakened. “How -?”

“Not now!” Jorir shouted before he could even finish the question. “Keep the body busy, I’ll handle this.”

Jorir seemed to have an idea – more, it seemed to be working – so with a mental shrug Einarr turned his full attention back to the humanoid figure.

Erik had moved to block its advance while Einarr was distracted. It was now gnashing its teeth at the big man, sword and axe locked in the clinch. Even with a blade that decayed, though, an axe haft was not likely to last long.

“Year after year,” Runa was saying. “More and more people found themselves cursed to be forgotten, and the shade listened to each one. Finally, though, hope turned to despair and despair grew into madness. Not one of these men had so much as heard of this great hero of the past, even as a cautionary tale. The shade, denied the one thing it craved, began to hate the very thing that would deliver it to him.”

Could Runa be telling the revenant’s story? How would she know it? Einarr loosed a primal yell as he slid under Erik’s arm and slashed up at the revenant. Its chest seemed to flicker where Sinmora otherwise would have cut, and then blade met solid blade again.

The wailing was beginning to hurt Einarr’s ears even through the wool roving. He did not think the creature was trying to burst his ears, though – its fixation was still on Runa, whose still sang her story.

Jorir continued to bleed strength from the wind at the creature’s back, but each such mighty blow appeared to sap strength from the dwarf as well as from the whirlwind. Einarr frowned even as he brought his blade up to block the draugr’s next clumsy swing. Something didn’t make sense here.

“Erik. Go help him. I’ve got this.”

“Aye, sir.” With surprising silence the big man slipped out from between the humanoid form of the revenant and Runa, leaving the Lady’s defense entirely to her intended.

The creature hardly seemed to care, except insofar as its path to the storyteller was still blocked. Einarr risked a glance over his shoulder as it pulled back for its next half-hearted blow. Was it actually trying to force its way through, or were they the ones being distracted here?

To her credit, Runa’s voice was still strong, but the woman herself stood unsteadily in the center of the square. Her face was pale, and she continued her recitation with her eyes closed. And still the wailing built.

Einarr took a step back towards her and the revenant followed without missing a beat. Runa’s Song was meant to let them see the truth of the world around them: had this thing somehow defeated it?

No, it couldn’t be. Their fight was still obstructing the creature, he was sure, or they would all be dead by now. So then, was it the noise?

“Runa! How do we shut it up?”

She shook her head and seemed to gather her strength. After a moment, her eyes opened. “Päron the Lecher, Päron the Avaricious, Päron the Vain. Hide yourself away, lest the world remember your deeds!”


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6.3 -Engimýri

Behind them lay the sandy beach they had just climbed. Ahead of them, on the other side of a good-sized meadow, lay the blackest forest Einarr had ever seen – darker and more imposing by far than the giant wood on Svartlauf. The trees were all of the ordinary size, but packed so densely it would be impossible for sun to reach the forest floor, with needles darker than the darkest fir. In that spot, a strange reluctance seized their feet and all of them paused, staring at the wood ahead of them and the cliffs beyond it.

“Something in there ought to do for a mast, anyway.” Jorir broke the silence that had fallen as they contemplated the steps ahead. “I mislike the look of that wood, though.”

Einarr and Erik both hummed in agreement, and Einarr was reasonably certain their hesitation had nothing to do with the old fisherman they had left to his nets on the beach. Einarr took a deep breath then and stepped forward. “Well, nothing for it.”

As he stepped into the grass, the ground squelched under Einarr’s boot. Well, perhaps not surprising, given the storm the night before. With a sigh, he pressed on, and the others followed. The ground grew wetter with every step, and soon the mud sucked at his boots, trying to pull them from his feet.

Runa had the worst of it: the hem of her skirt soon grew sodden as she slogged through the meadow-marsh, kicking it ahead of her with every step so it would not tangle in her legs. To her credit, she did not complain, although before long Einarr wondered if she simply did not have the breath to speak. Without a word he let the others pass him and dropped to a knee in the mud.

“My lady.”

For just a moment, he thought she would take him to task for foolishness, but evidently she thought better of it. With a breathless nod, she pinned her skirts up to her knees against Einarr’s back and wrapped her arms about his neck. As he rose he staggered a bit before he found his balance again. Now it was doubly hard to keep his boots, and every step came with the spectre of a slip that would spill both of them in the mud.

“My thanks, dear one” she had murmured in his ear as he rose. It would have been worthwhile even if she hadn’t, but the intimate words brought a smile to his face even as he trudged forward to overtake Jorir once more.

Finally, though, the land began to rise a little as they neared the forest’s edge, and dry a little as it did. They began passing the rotted stumps of deadfalls, and sometimes the gray wood itself, and soon they neared the shadow of the wood. Here they stopped again, by a stump that was merely grayed by time and not yet rotted. Runa got down, and the others all took a moment to catch their breath.

“So this is a thoroughly miserable little island,” Erik said eventually.

Irding agreed. “My thoughts exactly. I’m not sure if I hope there’s a village here or not.”

“I expect there is,” Runa mused. “But I suspect if we find it we’ll wish we hadn’t.”

“Because of what the old man said?” Einarr wasn’t sure the old man wasn’t crazy, but as the Oracle had made abundantly clear there were some definite gaps in his education.

“Quite right.”

“Don’t take this amiss, Lady Runa,” Irding said. “But… I always thought the Isle of the Forgotten was just a bedtime story.”

Jorir actually laughed. “Can’t blame that’un on the Cap’n, milady.”

“Everything you’ve seen,” she grumbled, “and I still hear protests of just a story. Just! Have the Singers kept the lore for nothing?”

“Not nothing, surely.” This was going to blow up fast if Einarr didn’t calm her down. “But since not one of us seems to know what we’re in for…?”

“Bah. Fine.” Runa looked a little mollified, at least. “Basically, the Isle of the Forgotten is the opposite of Valhalla, only apparently you don’t have to die to get there.”

Erik scratched his head. “I thought that was Hel…”

Now it was Runa’s turn to laugh. “Hardly. Those who are taken by Hel can still be remembered, even if not well thought of. The Isle of the Forgotten? That’s where nobodies go. Those who waste their lives, with no deeds at all to speak of – or those who run afoul of certain powerful entities.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Yes, I understand that this is my fault. Can we drop it and move on with getting out of here?”

“If we can.” Runa met his eyes there, and the look did nothing to soften her words. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no way off the Isle.”

For the second time that morning time seemed to freeze for Einarr as another’s words hung in the air before him. Could he really have brought such a terrible fate on their heads? Not just theirs, but everyone waiting for them, as well?

Jorir cleared his throat and the spell was broken.

“If landing here is a curse, then plainly I must find a way to break it. That is, apparently, what I do.”

“Let us hope so.”

Only at this point did he break eye contact with his betrothed, when the contest of wills had been agreed a draw. “Now then. I think we’ve sat around talking long enough, don’t you?”

Murmurs of agreement spread around the other sailors, and they once again turned to face the forest. Somehow it felt just as black up close as it had from across the marsh. The difference was, from here they could see scars on trees and earth alike, as though some great battle had taken place here, and recently.

“Let’s find what we need and get out of here,” Jorir grumbled. “I’d rather beg the old man for another night’s lodging than stay in there if I don’t have to.”


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5.17 – Stenjätte

With a wordless shout of rage, Erik came hurtling back into the fray. It wasn’t just his own skin on the line, now that Irding had joined the fight, and that meant losing simply wasn’t an option.

Was it really in the first place? His conscience muttered in the Captain’s voice and fell silent as Erik brought his axe down not on the ankle, which seemed no less sturdy for the whittling it had taken, but instead on the haft of the golem’s blade. A crack ran along the stone haft from Erik’s blow, too slender to have enough strength in rigid rock as it would have in either wood or steel.

“Oh, jolly good. At last you’re getting serious.” The golem actually seemed to smile at that. Erik couldn’t tell if it wanted to lose or if it just wanted a challenge: either way, he had no intention of swimming back, one-armed or otherwise.

Not that it gave him time to ponder the question. The stenjätte yanked its axe up from where it had wedged into the floor and brought it up to its shoulder. Irding leaped over its head to avoid the blow.

A heartbeat later the golem swung again, paying no heed to the fragile state of his weapon. Erik had to jump to avoid being caught by the wide sweep that covered most of the room.

He landed on the bit of the stenjätte’s axe and grinned at his opponent. Now it was a dance, and while Erik couldn’t hope to keep up with Sivid, Einarr, or even the Captain at the hallingdanse he was no slouch.

The golem gave his axe a toss to turn its blade the other way: Erik’s backflip landed him in the middle of the second side and the crack in the handle grew. Then it rotated the blade to face upwards.

Erik, feeling cheeky, ran up the slope of the bit and balanced on the edge. Then it was the stenjätte’s turn to grin.

Erik’s cheeky grin turned to wide-eyed shock as the golem swung upward with both hands. Irding cursed as the space where he stood to harry it from above became a vise of shoulder and ear.

At the top of the swing Erik realized he was headed in an arc for the floor. He had two choices, and one of them was surely fatal. Erik launched himself to the side as the axe came down towards the floor again.

The axe bit plowed into the stone of the floor, throwing up shards and dust, and the sound of the blow was followed by a mighty crack as the stenjätte’s axe handle shattered.

Their opponent laughed. When it straightened, it held the broken axe handle the way one would hold a club.

“Wonderful! I say, if you keep this up perhaps I shall let you keep your arms to swim home.”

“How generous.” Irding spat as though to punctuate his thoughts on said generosity.

“Well I can’t very well just let you pass. You haven’t defeated me yet. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you’re just about out of tricks.”

Erik shook dust from his hair, his wind mostly recovered. “If you think that means anything, you don’t know humans very well.”

The golem laughed again. “Wonderful spirit. All right then, try your utmost. Perhaps you’ll be the mortals to surprise me.”

Erik dropped back into a fighting posture. “Well, Irding, any ideas to take its head?”

“Not sure it would care about that, either. You nearly hacked off its foot and it didn’t even slow down. Someone made the thing: there has to be something keeping it moving.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Erik frowned. “So, some source of magic? Runes, maybe, or something that glows?”

“Maybe?”

“I can hear your plotting, you know. It won’t help.”

Erik grunted. “I’ll buy time. You see if you can spot anything it might be.”

He saw Irding nod from the corner of his eye and charged back into the fight. Let’s see if disarming him the rest of the way will work…

Lacking the weight of the stone axe head, the golem was faster than before. Erik dashed in only to be driven back by quick swings of the broken handle.

He sidestepped another pair of swings before bringing his trusty, probably ruined, axe down again on the slender haft. Chips crumbled off the end, but Erik still had no desire to feel its bite.

“Any luck?” He called, dodging another jab and knocking another several inches off the stone rod.

“Give me a minute!”

“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”

“That-” Erik brought his axe down hard on the haft, breaking off several more inches of crumbling stone. “Remains to be seen.”

“It really doesn’t, I’m afraid.” The golem swung again at Erik, who threw himself into a roll to avoid the blow. “You are right, I have a key, but you’ll not find it about the room.”

Erik sprang up from his roll as the wind from the club passed overhead, just a moment too late to get another strike in on it. “Oh? Since you’re feeling so generous, then, where is it?”

The low rumbling sound that was the golem’s laughter sounded again. “I thought you’d never ask. It’s right here.”

A circle of runes began to glow yellow on its chest. Erik could see no way up there. Irding had managed, once, but Erik wasn’t certain he could reach the golem’s heart from its shoulder. Not without taking a fall. Erik cursed. I should have kept at his foot. Knock him over, get the heart.

“Why are you telling us this?”

“Master created me to challenge those who attempt his tower millenia ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper challenge? Hit my key, if you can!” The golem swung again, this time at Irding. The boy – man – sprawled flat on the floor just ahead of the club.

“By all the conventions of duelling, we beat you when your axe broke.”

“But I exist to fight! So, come!” The golem swung at Erik again.

Rather than dodge, Erik took a deep breath and braced himself. As the improvised club sailed towards his chest, he wrapped both arms around it even as it knocked the breath from his lungs. Probably broke a rib or two. He clung there, desperately gasping for air, as the club continued to sail through the air.

His trajectory changed: Erik scrabbled up the club towards the golem’s arm and once again narrowly avoided being slammed into the floor.

“I say, you are quite heavy. This is not a proper way of fighting.”

Erik roared as he neared the stenjätte’s shoulder. “I’m not a proper man!”

He gathered his legs under himself, staring at the runes that still glowed over where a man’s heart should be. Won’t hurt worse than the wolf’s bite. He launched himself, axe pulled back and ready to strike, across the golem’s chest. When Erik buried his blade in the center of the rune circle, he thought he saw a look of gratitude pass the golem’s face. Then he curled himself into a ball, ready to roll with the fall.

Right up until he collided not with hard stone but with the body of the only other person in the room.


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5.16 – Floor Three

On the far side of the second room full of fairy lights, the four humans in the party sat on the steps recovering their wind. Einarr’s bleeding had stopped as soon as he was awake, although his tongue felt swollen and tender in his mouth. Irding claimed he was fine, but both his eyes were fiercely bloodshot. So long as he could see, though, Einarr would leave it be.

“So that was the trap, then.” Erik mused. “Use the first floor to put us off our guards, and then sucker punch us the second time around.”

“Seems so,” Einarr answered. “And if you don’t survive the changes in the memory, that’s it. If we’re all ready, we should get moving again. No telling what all else awaits us, and we need that relic.”

Runa took a deep breath and pushed to her feet.“Let’s go, then. Irding, you’re sure you can see all right?”

“I’ve got a monster of a headache, but I can see. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“What was your memory, anyway?” Einarr had trouble imagining what could have caused that sort of eye injury without actually destroying the eyes.

“The pox that killed my mother. She started getting nosebleeds, then hacking blood, and then it got to her eyes and ears. Didn’t last long after that. Not sure how I was supposed to win my way free of it.”

“Maybe you weren’t.” Erik also stood, frowning, and then they were climbing again.

The staircase curved steeply upwards, still lit by the now-ominous seeming fairy lights. Eventually it came to a landing blocked by a door, nearly identical to the ones below. It lacked only the runes. With a shrug, Einarr opened the door. As he stepped through, a flash of light nearly blinded him.

***

Erik and Irding, bringing up the rear, frowned as they saw their companions step through the door and seemingly disappear. “Be careful, son.”

Irding hummed. “Not sure you get to call me that, Erik. I’m going in.”

With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Erik followed. Irding wouldn’t have sought him out if he hadn’t wanted to know him, right?

A flash of light brought tears to his eyes that he had to blink away. When he could see again, he was in a circular room with no door. In the center of the room stood a stenjätte in the form of an idealized warrior, bare-chested and leaning on the handle of a massive battle-axe. And then it began to talk in a voice as hard as stone.

“I say, good day to you sirs. It seems as though you had sufficient wisdom to face your pasts, but not to turn around and avoid my test. Very good, then.”

Erik and Irding looked at each other, nonplussed.

“The task is simple. You must best me in combat. Should you win, you may rejoin your companions and go on your way. Should you lose, I will tear off your arm and toss you into the monster-infested sea below – good luck swimming home. Come at me, singly or together – your choice, but know that you each only get one chance at me.”

Erik smiled a cocky grin, swinging his axe up to rest on his shoulder. “Stand back and let yer pabbi show you how it’s done.”

“Are you insane?” Irding started to protest, but got no farther before the stenjätte answered.

“Very good, then. Here, I’m feeling generous. Go ahead and take the first blow.”

Erik cocked and eyebrow, but shrugged. “As you wish.”

He circled the golem, limbering up his arm as he studied his foe, looking for any chink in its rock-hard defense. There! He surged forward, bringing his axe around in an upward swing toward the back of the stenjätte’s knee. A flake of stone crumbled and fell to the floor as dust.

“And so it begins with a scratch. Very well, then.” It pivoted on its two massive feet and brought its own axe down towards Erik.

He leapt forward, barely avoiding the blow that would have surely crushed his head. You idiot. What do you think you’re doing? Too late now… At least Erik knew that his axe could cut the thing, however shallowly. If he could not bite deep, then, he would just have to bite often and hope his stamina held out. Erik pressed his lips into a line.

He spun out of the reach of another deadly blow and ran in close to bring his axe down in a mighty blow on the stenjätte’s ankle. A slightly larger chip of stone fell away. That just might work. Erik kept close to the golem’s legs, at least keeping it from landing a solid blow on his head. Slowly, blow by blow, the stenjätte’s ankles grew thinner.

It was not going to be enough. Erik didn’t fight this way: when he chopped, his enemies fell. Now is face felt hot and he could not catch his breath. Even if he could have matched the stamina of a golem, however, his axe was beginning to dull. Just. Keep. Going!

The heavy crash of the giant’s axe into the tiles sent shrapnel flying into Erik’s back and he howled in pain. He’d felt worse, but only once – when the fimbulvulf had nearly taken his leg, this last spring. The force of the blow sent him three steps forward.

And then the golem stumbled, his foot landing where Erik had been standing just seconds before. Erik looked up: on its shoulders, his legs wrapped about its neck, was Irding. His son brought his own axe down on its head – to no more effect than Erik’s blade alone, of course, but between the two of them…

Erik set about his task with renewed vigor. Bad enough that his son had needed to jump in to save him: he couldn’t very well just let Irding finish the job. Erik let loose a war cry.


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Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

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 Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

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5.7 – A Borrowed Boat

When Einarr and his team ventured forth the next morning most of East Port was still asleep, such that even on the busier docks the sound of the ocean lapping the shore and the call of sea birds dominated the air as they approached the shed where Sor kept his fishing boats. He and his men were up and about, of course, and this little section of the sleepy little town had the bustle of a much larger settlement.

Looking about, Einarr spotted a man of Trabbi’s approximate stature and age coiling a rope about his forearm. “Excuse me! Are you the owner?”

“Depends. Who’s asking?”

“Name’s Einarr, of the Vidofnir. The head of the Conclave of Singers told me you’d have a boat I could use.”

The man swore as though this were an old annoyance. “She did, did she? Wish she’d ask me if I’ve got one available first. What sort of terrible water does she want to send one of my boats into this time?”

“East. I’m guessing there’s some sort of reef, because she said a longship would have trouble.”

Sor grumbled. “Well at least that’s better than the last group she sent out on a quest. I won’t have to worry about kalalintu destroying my boat this time, or an unexpected bit of whitewater. Fine. I’ll have one ready for you at the evening tide.”

“My thanks. We will be ready.”

Sor harrumphed and went back to his work, grumbling about demanding women being a tax on their sons. Einarr’s mouth twisted in a half-smile as they made their way back to the public hall. Now if only he had a better idea what to prepare for.

***

True to his word, Sor had one of his fishing boats set aside and waiting for the five of them as the sun was brushing the horizon behind them. Einarr thought it might well have been the worst of his fleet: the fabric of the sail hung soddenly, although the deck was dry, and the railing made it look as though the ship had seen battle. His disappointment must have shown: Sor snorted.

“She’ll get you where you need to go, and back, if you take proper care of her. If you don’t take proper care of her, I’ll have to ask that you replace my boat – unless you can convince my dearest mother at the Conclave to do so.”

Einarr raised an eyebrow. Not terribly hospitable of him, but it began to sound as though the crone took advantage of him regularly. Anyone’s patience might wear thin after a few years of that. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The other man grunted. “Good. I’ve left you a net, since it sounds as though you don’t know how far east you need to sail. And, good luck, whatever this is they’ve sent you haring off to find.”

“My thanks, again. I suspect we will need it.”

Only now did Sor turn his eye to the rest of his party. When his eyes landed on Runa, they narrowed. “A Singer? You did bring a cask or three of mead, then, for the throat?”

Runa stepped forward, her shoulders square and her hands folded in front of her. “I assure you I am prepared for whatever harm might befall my voice.”

The man grunted. “Well, she’s all yours, then. And remember: I want her back in one piece!”

“Of course.” Einarr repressed his own sigh of annoyance until after Sor had moved off to deal with his actual work for the evening. “All aboard. Let’s not miss the tide.”

Painted on the side of the boat in the Imperial script was the name Gestrisni: when Einarr noticed it, he chuckled. The man’s hospitality was, indeed, just about worn out to judge by the state of the boat.

The sky had begun to darken, although the sun had not yet disappeared from the sky, when the Gestrisni plied out of the harbor with Erik and Irding at the oars and Einarr on the tiller.

It was not until they were safely out of harbor and the wind had caught the heavy sail that Erik leaned on his oar and looked expectantly at Einarr. “So. Last time we stole a magic necklace from a jotün, you made a friend and I almost lost my leg. What are we after this time?”

Einarr combed fingers through his hair, glad of the darkness to obscure his face. It still sounded strange to him. “Frigg’s distaff.”

Father and son both chuckled to hear that.

“Laugh now. According to the Conclave, it will cleanse us of the cult’s corruption… and it sounds like it can break the curse on Breidelstein, too.”

“Well, if that ain’t something.” Erik smoothed his hand over his beard. “Still seems like a mighty strange thing to ask for.”

“You’re not wrong. To make matters more interesting, remember that the tower we’re headed for is the nest of Huginn and Muninn.”

Runa moved a half-step closer to her betrothed and twined her fingers in his. The others cursed.

“We’re stealing from Wotan?” Irding jumped to his feet as it finally clicked.

“Afraid so.”

“The item we need belongs to Frigg, however, and our cause is worthy. My hope is that she will stay his hand for us.” Runa answered, her voice low.

“We might also wish to hope she does so quickly enough. He knows seithir and he’s a berserker. One wrong move and we’re screwed.” Jorir’s head was tilted back, looking at the moon.

“Rather.” Erik drew the word out dryly.

“My thoughts exactly, I’m afraid.” Einarr stepped in before this could become a fight. “But according to the Conclave, the distaff is necessary to prevent us from turning into abominations like we were fighting before. The black blood is corrupting, they said. I will risk calling down the wrath of Wotan on my head to save our crew and the Brunnings any day.”

Jorir hummed. “Never said I disagreed. Just if we’d known we might have had a better idea what to prepare for.”

“We’re looking at a tower likely to be filled with magical traps, riddles, and other trickery. What is there to prepare other than ensuring we have a Singer of our own?” Einarr shook his head. “But if the quest were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. Right?”

Erik laughed. Soon, the others joined him, and the Gestrisni sailed off into the night.


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3.9 – Investigation

The screams of terror from off in the distance brought Einarr out of his half-doze immediately. Almost before he knew it he was back on his feet, pulling on his chain shirt and reaching for his sword.

He was not the only one. From all over the ship he saw bodies moving about. Stigander lit a torch and watched, his lips pursed. He didn’t try to stop them, though, only ordered caution. With grunts of assent, the fifteen who rousted themselves to investigate vaulted back out of the Vidofnir.

Stigander stopped Einarr a moment after he left the deck and thrust a torch into his hand. “You’ll want this. You have a spare?”

“I do.”

Stigander nodded and stepped back from the railing as Einarr dropped to the sand below.

***

When they arrived, silence reigned. The freeboaters’ ship could have been just another derelict on the shore. Einarr could not catch even a hint of movement from the deck, although the soft glow spoke of a lit lamp. Cautiously, he approached, torch held high out in front of their band. Weapons littered the sand around their feet. Many of them were still sheathed.

And then he noticed the smell, not of battle but of death – of bile and blood and waste that spoke of fear. He stepped forward again and the torchlight revealed an arm lying on blood-stained sand.

The body laying near that severed arm wore a chain shirt. Even sprawled in undignified death, his shield was slung over his shoulder. A raid?

The bodies they found were all similarly equipped, although all wounded differently. “Looks like we’d have been in for a rude awakening in the morning,” Einarr muttered.

“Can you really fault them?” Erik grumbled. “Plain as day their boat’s done for.”

Einarr nodded, his attention still on the body at his feet. He crouched down for a better look: what could have taken the man’s arm off? He sighed and shook his head: there were still kalalintu on the island, but they weren’t typically of a mind to dismember their prey, or to leave perfectly good food laying on the beach like this. The island wasn’t that big: could there be a bear?

He shook his head. A bear made no sense, and would have left tracks on the sand.  The only ones he saw were human. Standing, Einarr looked around the beach. Other dark lumps, that at first he had taken for bits of flotsam or rocks, now suggested strewn corpses. He shuddered. “Let’s have a look on deck. Maybe we’ll find something there.”

He picked his way around the fallen warriors littering the sand over to the side of the boat and handed the torch to the next behind him. He had a feeling he knew what he was going to find, but pulled himself onto the deck of the freeboater’s ship anyway. He took the torch back to allow the rest to join him and turned to survey the damage.

The deck was all but deserted. Einarr paced slowly back towards the stern as a stream of footfalls fell on wood behind him. A few embers glowed in the hearth around a heavy iron pot. Here and there he saw a blanket or a pair of boots laid out to dry, but no more corpses.

Not until the torchlight touched the very back of the aftcastle, that was. Einarr stopped, staring. Four men, one of whom appeared to be the man who had so roundly rejected their offer of aid.

The mens’ faces were sallow and drawn, almost as though they had been desiccated, their eyes frozen open so wide they might not have had eyelids any longer. There was not a drop of blood to be seen in the torchlight. If Einarr hadn’t known better, he’d have guessed they had been rotting here for months.

The screams echoed again in his mind: the sound matched the expression he saw on these faces. “It’s as though… they died of fear,” he mused.

A grunt answered from over his shoulder. “But what could do that to a group like this?” Irding’s voice was breathy.

“You know the answer to that as well as I do.” Einarr pressed his lips into a thin line. He sighed, and then turned to face the rest of the group. “Anyone else find anything?”

No-one answered. Einarr couldn’t tell if that was because they’d come to the same conclusions he had, or if they couldn’t quite process what they’d seen. It had been a very long day, after all. “In that case, we should get back. It seems as though there’s nothing left to save here anyway.”

When he handed the torch back out of the boat, Einarr happened to look back toward the aftcastle. It could have been the light, he supposed, but it seemed like he saw a sickly greenish glow coming from where the bodies had lain.

He shook his head and vaulted back to the ground, his boots landing hard in the blood-stained sand. Once he’d retaken the light he set a demanding pace back toward the Vidofnir and the protection of Reki’s tired voice.

***

“We have returned, Father!” Einarr announced from the shore in the shadow of the Vidofnir.

Stigander’s head popped over the side of their boat and he nodded. He, too, seemed to glow, but it was with the warm light of fire. “Come aboard.”

The men who had gone to investigate did so with perhaps more relief than any of them would care to admit to, at least under ordinary circumstances. For a time they all stood in silence, enjoying the warmth and light coming from their own hearth while their Captain studied their faces.

“Well?” He asked finally.

Einarr met his father’s eye with a level gaze of his own. “The villagers were right.”


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3.7 – Battles’ End

The quick man had at the end not been quick enough, and the enemy leader wasted a precious moment in shock. The first man still stared in horror at the blade protruding from his chest when Arring lunged past him and the blade of his axe took off the enemy leader’s arm at the elbow.

“It’s not too late to retreat,” he growled. The other man’s answer was to let his ally slide from the blade, but his face had gone pale.

“Have it your way.” Arring brought his back foot forward and kicked, hard. The enemy leader went flying again, even as the crack of bone said his chest was caved in. Tveir.

Now he turned. Snorli faced three men, but after Arring he was the man on watch best equipped to deal with that. Haki, though, looked like he might be in some trouble. The man stood watching his opponents, panting, as they circled him the way wolves might circle a deer.

Arring let loose another battle roar and bulled forward at the nearest of the two. It was enough to distract the man from Haki, and then axe met long sword in the bind.

His new opponent snarled, and Arring met it with a feral grin before sliding inside the man’s guard to cut at his knee.

His opponent’s leg buckled with the force of the blow and he howled. Another of the assault squad dashed by him to catch his wounded comrade under the shoulder.

They’re retreating? At least they know when they’re beaten. Arring was inclined to let them go. Some of the others started to pursue.

“Stand down. Our job is here. If they come back we can beat them like the curs they are.”

***

Einarr lunged toward a kalalintu that had come just within reach and nearly tripped over the carcass of one of its fellows. Reki’s battle chant had become a song of Endurance he knew not how long ago, and he was fairly certain it was the only reason any of them could still fight. Sinmora slashed across its back and the creature crumpled. How many is that now?

When the fury had faded he had been relieved to see that they had broken away from the cliff face the creatures were trying to drive them off of – but somehow it felt like there were always more kalalintu.

Except… did he hear them any more? The sea-bird shrieks had blurred and been forgotten ages ago, but now they actually seemed to be gone. Einarr looked up: they stood in the center of a field littered with bodies, not all of them monsters. Sinmora nearly dropped from his hand. He cleaned it on a feathered wing and sheathed his blade before he could lose hold of it.

The kalalintu that wing had belonged to had fallen across the body of Henir. Of the thirty men who had gone to seek their fortune, six had fallen to the bloody birds, and the rational voice in his head whispered that they had been fortunate to lose so few. Still he could not look away. When Henir fell, the arrow he had not had a chance to fire remained stuck to the string.

He swallowed the gorge that threatened to rise and strode over to where Jorir stood tying a bandage for Irding. This made eleven men they had lost so far this summer, between the Valkyries and the kalalintu. Most summers they lost none. “How is he?”

“Well enough, I wager, but we’ll need to watch him for fever. More importantly -”

“What about you?”

Jorir snorted. “I was bloody worthless in that fight, right up until Fari over there hadn’t any more use for that brace of knives he carried. But I’m not wounded. You, though, you look like you’ve been through hell.”

Henir and Fari. They’d been like brothers. At least they would sup with the gods together. “I’ve had better days. …Father. Erik.”

The others were joining them in ones and twos, picking their way across the battlefield.

“Einarr. These things seem awfully tough compared to the flocks this spring to you?”

He nodded. “Smarter, too. Makes me wonder what else we’re up against.”

“Wonder later.” Stigander looked around and sighed. “For right now, we need to get our men down from here and build a proper pyre for those as need it.”

“Yes, sir,” came the unanimous reply.

“I don’t think they’ll try for us again after that thrashing we gave them, but let’s all be a little quicker when someone tells you to cover your ears, got it?”

A chorus of aye’s answered Stigander, and they went to work carting the bodies of the fallen down the narrow trail that had led them to their end in the first place. It was awkward work, but with three men to a body they still had enough people for an honor guard both before and behind their procession.

Down on the beach, Irding and Svarek were dispatched to alert the watch and the repair crews, respectively, of what had occurred. The rest of them, meanwhile, were to gather wood and what funeral goods they could find from about the beach. It was far from ideal, but better a poor funeral than none at all.

His arms half-full of wood, Einarr’s gathering took him over near his liege-man. “What think you, Jorir? Are we going to find anything here that’s worth all this?”

“Find something? Sure. Whether or not its worth what we pay for it, well, only time will tell.”

“Ah, here’s something.” Einarr brushed the sand away from the lid of a half-buried trunk with his free hand, then thought better of it and set down the wood he’d gathered. “Help me dig this out, will you?”

The trunk the two uncovered appeared to have once belonged to a Singer, or perhaps an entire troupe of Singers, and was filled with all manner of instruments and jewelry. Einarr shared a look with Jorir: this should make a fine funerary offering.


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3.6 – By Man & Monster Beset

The chatter of kalalintu from above rattled Einarr’s nerves. They were starting to feint at diving, trying to keep their prey from escaping, nudging them ever closer to the ledge. Not good. “Henir!”

The blond man snapped his head around and Einarr tossed his bow back to him. The archer wasted no time nocking another arrow. He studied the sky, looking for a promising target.

The others had woken up by now. Some of them stuffed their ears, just in case one of the creatures began to sing again. Everyone drew arms.

Another kalalintu dived for the Vidofnings, and Henir took the shot. His arrow caught its shoulder and the wing collapsed, sending the creature tumbling to the ground where the rest of the crew could make short work of it.

Arrows soared. More found their marks than not, based on the furor above, but it hardly seemed enough. Einarr stood poised, his shield hand empty, Sinmora ready. Step by step, circle by circle, he saw the plateau ledge growing nearer.

A kalalintu dived over his head. Einarr leapt, reaching with his free hand to catch its silver-scaled tail. It flapped harder, its powerful wings nearly strong enough to pull Einarr off his feet. He dug his heels in and threw his weight backward.

The kalalintu rotated around its tail to pummel Einarr with its gigantic wings and he was forced to lower his head. Still he swung Sinmora around in a blind arc. His blade bit flesh, but not deeply.

A moment later, the creature shrieked in his face and the wings let up for a moment. Einarr risked a glance up and saw Jorir pulling his axe from the creature’s side.

Now the kalalintu’s attention was divided between the human grasping its tail and the dwarf, and now both men struck out at the same moment. Sinmora slashed across its breast in a wicked backhand at the same moment that Jorir embedded his axe in its belly. The creature fell to the ground.

“Thanks. Was that your count or mine?”

Jorir laughed. “You kidding? That shallow cut o’ yours wouldn’t kill a dog.”

“And you’d never have got a chance at it if I wasn’t keeping it busy.” He was already watching the sky again, looking for another opportunity.

“You mean if you hadn’t pulled it down on your head? You’re lucky you don’t have a beak in your skull. Call it a tie?”

Einarr grunted in response. All around them now the kalalintu were swooping down to beat at the Vidofnings, as though Einarr’s catch had triggered a rage in them.

Reki’s voice rose above the din. Finally! Einarr felt the red haze of the battle fury stirring and he roared a challenge at the circling monsters above.

***

Arring had volunteered for the first watch not because he was uneager to see the island, but because the freeboaters had left an uneasiness in his breast. He thought most of the others were the same: they were unusually vigilant today, even for men of the Vidofnir.

Hours passed in this way, as near as Arring could tell in the overcast. Once someone from the repair crew returned, to measure again the chink in the hull Einarr had found, but otherwise all was quiet.

This circuit began as uneventfully as all the rest. Only, when he approached the prow to look out at the highest point, men were moving further up the beach. None of them Vidofnings. He gave a low whistle to alert the rest of his men.

Arring swung down out of the Vidofnir to land lightly in the sand below. “What ho, gents,” he called to the men who now swaggered down the beach towards him.

“Our Cap’n has reconsidered yer most generous offer of assistance.” The man spoke from the head of the oncoming party. His voice was oily. “We’ve been sent to see to it.”

“Have you now. Well I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. Our Captain gave strict orders to see to the repair of our ship first, and since they’ve not yet returned with materials your boat will simply have to wait.”

“Ah, good sir, I think you mistake my meaning.” Their spokesman dry-washed his hands.

Arring sighed and muttered, “I think I am not the one who has made a mistake.” Raising his voice again, he continued. “And how might that be?”

The freeboaters did not deign to answer except by the scrape of steel and the roar of a battle-cry.

“Hop to, men!” There were only ten of them on watch, and perhaps twenty of the freeboaters come to capture the Vidofnir. With a feral snarl, he hefted his axe.

His companions boiled out of the Vidofnir to join him on the sand, join him in the charge up the beach toward those who would rob them of all they had.

Arring’s first blow caught the enemy leader in the stomach and sent him flying back. Two of the enemies were bowled over by his passing. Impressively, he stood again, blood dripping from beneath his chain shirt. Ein?

…No. Credit for guts, though. Rather than limping back away from the fight to observe, the spokesman rushed back into the fray. Then another man had engaged with Arring and he found he had little attention to spare. The man was quick enough he might have given Sivid a run for his money.

Arring’s strength counted for little against a man who could dodge like an adder. Still, he managed to block most of the man’s blows, although those which got through stung ferociously.

In a moment when their axes were in the bind Arring caught movement from the corner of his eye: something rushing towards them. He side-stepped, bringing his opponent’s back in between himself and the onrushing figure of the enemy leader. With the quick man still off-balance, Arring knocked him backwards with a shoulder, right onto his allies’ sword.

Ein.


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3.5 – Between Wind & Water

“What’s this?” Erik paused to look back at Einarr.

“Stop and listen a minute. Hear that?”

After a moment, a growl came from low in Erik’s throat. “Better us than the repair crew.”

Einarr nodded and pushed forward. Father and Bardr, at least, needed to know, and the rest probably should as well. Jorir, at minimum. Everyone whose attention he caught he gestured at his ear. Listen.

Stigander was near the front of the group, paused near a somewhat less rotted-looking ship than most of the others on this section of beach.

“Father,” Einarr said from behind the man’s shoulder. When Stigander’s only response was a turned head and a raised eyebrow, he continued. “We’re approaching the kalalintu flock.”

“You’re sure?”

“Erik heard them, too.”

Stigander nodded. “Spread the word that every man is to have his cotton balls to hand.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Once you’re done, get back up here to the front. We need your eyes.”

Half of a grin turned up one side of his mouth. “Understood.”

***

Einarr combed through the dross within another of the rotted hulks they had passed, cotton balls tucked into the cuffs of his gloves. Thus far, it had yielded a barrel of ancient vinegar that may once have been mead and a handful of silver combs and ladies’ jewelry. Valuable, certainly, but nothing like what they were hoping to stumble into. He dusted off his palms against his trousers and was just about to leave the wreck when he stopped.

Something didn’t sound right. Einarr hurriedly pulled the wads of cotton from their place at his wrists and jammed them in his ears.

Outside, nothing appeared to have changed. His fellow Vidofnings combed other wrecks in much the same state as the one he had just left, with evidently similar results. He reached to pull out one of his ear plugs but stopped. The boat he had just left had not had a masthead when he went in. Now it’s shadow seemed to display a great winged serpent. His hand crept toward Sinmora’s hilt.

From behind him and above, the low gobbling chatter than one expects of seabirds became a haunting, ethereal trill as the shadow’s source opened its beak.

“Cover your ears!”

Some of the Vidofnings, accustomed to Stigander’s tone of command, acted before they realized the source of the order was Einarr. Others, startled, looked up to see what was going on. Their eyes widened and they scrambled for the cotton wads they had tucked about themselves, but too late. Even those who had obeyed reflexively were not all safe: some of them fumbled their cotton balls, others were simply too slow.

In every case, the result was the same: the relaxation of the face into a dull, vacant expression. Horror clutched at Einarr’s throat when he realized that Reki was among them. How are we supposed to dispel this if our Singer is out?

He turned around and drew Sinmora with a hiss of steel, but the kalalintu that had been in hiding now flapped ten feet above the ground.

Jorir, Bardr, Erik, and Stigander were looking about as frantically as he, hoping someone had shown the sense to bring a bow. The few who had, though, were already wandering dumbly after the monstrosity that would feast on their bones if they were incautious.

Jorir seemed to have an idea. He put a finger to his lips for silence and then tapped at his temple, hoping they would take the hint. The dwarf’s face went slack and his shoulders relaxed and he began to trudge up the beach, in pursuit of the song.

Clever! Einarr followed suit, his sword held loosely, as he followed after the kalalintu flapping slowly away from the beach. As the shore became rocky soil he risked a glance over his shoulder. He then had to suppress a smile when he saw that all of them had caught on to Jorir’s pantomime.

The band of entranced sailors trudged on towards a large plateau of rock that dominated its surroundings. As they drew closer, the sound of the flock grew clearer. The people of Attilsund claimed they had little trouble with kalalintu in this area, but the flock sounded no smaller than any of the ones they had fought on their way to Svartlauf. His grip tightened on the hilt of his blade, only for a moment. Well, not for long.

Finally their aerial guide stopped moving forward, flapping in lazy circles over the top of the plateau. It’s song still filtered through the cotton balls, tempting Einarr to sleep. At least with his ears stopped it was bearable. There was only one way up for the sailors, and that was a narrow trail switch-backing up the shallowest path.

Einarr swallowed. They would be vulnerable on that path, and there were only five of them who might be able to stop one of the birds who decided they didn’t want to wait for dinner. His eyes darted between the backs of the men just ahead of him. With as high up as the thing was, he might be able to go unnoticed while borrowing a bow.

Ah, he has one. With a little careful maneuvering, Einarr managed to position himself behind Henir as their mob started up the narrow path. Getting it from him without being seen would be a little trickier, but so long as there was a moment when the circling kalalintu couldn’t see him… Now.

Einarr slipped the bow off Henir’s shoulder and onto his own in a moment when the plateau’s ledge blocked the view of the still-singing creature. He reached out for the man’s quiver just as Henir stepped back out of the shade of the plateau. Hastily, Einarr dropped his hand and took on the vacant expression again.

Slowly they filed up to the top of the plateau, where most of the Vidofnings stood milling about like sheep under the influence of the kalalintu’s song. All around them were haystack nests filled with silvery eggs, being watched over jealously by some of the flock.

About half of the kalalintu took to the air. The singing one continued to fly in small circles above the heads of its captives. The rest formed a larger ring in eerie silence and flew in counterpoint to their singer.

Einarr snatched an arrow from Henir’s quiver and fired it at the singer above. The arrow flew true, and the song broke off with a startled squawk.

Tcheh. He’d hoped to drop one, but ending the song was the critical thing. Even now his fellows were blinking back to full consciousness as the circling kalalintu launched into raucous chatter.


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