Tag: Nothing strange about that jar at all

6.37 – Haunts

The five Vidofnings and Runa now ringed the chamber that grew steadily colder – cold enough, now, that the water from his breath caught in the hairs of his beard. Could enough to redden their noses and fingers, soon. At the center of the room, a purple-black cloud of energy writhed. Between Einarr and this cloud stood Arkja, inviting the tendril that reached tentatively in his direction.

Einarr shifted his stance, his hand on Sinmora’s hilt waiting to draw. After Arkja volunteered, Runa had given him the seed of a plan. Now, if only it worked.

The dark energy had nearly reached brave – whatever he might say about himself – Arkja. Now Runa opened herself to the energy, just as he had. Truth be told, Einarr was still against this, but he had been overruled. She was the only other one who had not come into direct contact with the black blood.

The tendril seemed to pause then, sniffing at Arkja as though it were a hound. Even as the first tendril paused, though, a second emerged, headed for Runa – and somewhat more eagerly. Because she was a Singer? Einarr could only guess. The mass at the center, though, looked just the same as it had at the beginning.

Jorir was next, once the tendril had nearly reached Runa, and once again the earlier arms paused, as though considering their target. Did this mean it could only move one such tentacle at a time? That would be a lucky chance, if so.

More importantly, the center was beginning to appear somehow thin. Where before it had the appearance of an impenetrable roiling cloud, now it was more akin to a thick fog.

Next was Erik and either it began to sense something amiss or it was not sure it liked Erik as a potential host. Hesitant or not, however, still it sent out the questing energy tendril, and now the central cloud was visibly decreased. Einarr thought he could see something small and solid floating in the center of it.

Now it was Irding’s turn. At first, all seemed to be going according to plan. Einarr’s hand tightened on Sinmora’s hilt, waiting for his moment.

Then, without warning, the energy in all of the tentacles but one surged backwards, through the central core and out into the one remaining tendril: the one facing Runa. That one surged forward, towards its chosen target.

Einarr’s scream of denial moved his feet faster than he had ever though possible. In that same heartbeat Sinmora flashed from her sheath.

He could still see the black orb at the cloud’s heart. As his feet closed the distance between him and the orb he brought Sinmora up and swung.

With a crack he felt his blade strike crystal, and a thousand tiny shards rained down to the stone at his feet. Without the orb to anchor it, most of the power dissipated.

But he had not been fast enough to stop all of it. The whites of Runa’s eyes turned momentarily black even as they rolled up inside her head. She slumped to the ground.

“No!” Once again Einarr raced forward, this time skidding to a stop on his knees next to the unconscious Singer. “No no no. This is why I didn’t want you in the circle. Don’t do this…”

Einarr trailed off as he finally realized that they were no longer alone in the room. There, over by the strange jar that seemed to be somehow attached to him, stood a man of about Stigander’s age, cracking his neck and stretching his limbs as though he had been long confined.

Einarr gathered Runa’s limp form protectively against himself. The others closed ranks ahead of him, still leaving a clear view of the stranger in their midst.

“By the gods, it’s good to be able to manifest again,” the stranger said to no-one in particular.

“Who are you,” Einarr demanded. “And how did you get here?”

The stranger turned to look curiously at the six of them, as though noticing them for the first time. “Oh. Hello. Name’s Vali. As for how I got here… Well, that gets a little complicated. The short answer is, I’m stuck with the jar… What’s the matter with your lady friend?”

“Up until just a moment ago there was a large quantity of curse energy gathered here,” Jorir began, but got no further.

“I know. It’s why I’m out of the jar.”

Einarr rolled his eyes. “Some of it got in her.”

Vali nodded. “Ah, I see. Here: I can take care of that for you.”

“And I should trust you with her – why?”

“I already owe you my freedom twice over, man. Do you need more than that?”

Einarr glanced down. Runa was breathing heavily and her eyelids fluttered. He looked back up at the stranger in their midst, still suspicious.

“Good gods, man, where do you think the rest of the energy went? It’s why I’m standing here before you, rather than still stuck in that blasted jar. I can get the corruption out of her without any issue at all, and use it myself.”

Einarr glanced once more down at Runa, then sighed and relaxed his grip on her. “I’m afraid I have no choice. Fine. But if she comes to harm by your hand…”

“Never fear,” Vali said, somewhat more gently now. “I’ve no intention of interfering in another man’s love story.”

The stranger bent down and his fingertips brushed Runa’s brow. A moment later, her breathing calmed, and her eyes fluttered open. They looked normal. As she stood, Einarr inclined his head to him.

“You have my thanks. ”

Vali grinned. “It was the least I could do. You, after all, rescued me from that dreadful little island I was stuck on, and you let me free of my jar for the first time in absolute ages.  I can’t wait to live it up a little – well, so to speak. So, where to next?”


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6.36 – The Plan

Einarr and his companions stood gathered outside the hidden chamber in the river cave. Before them, inside, a glowing purple cloud of magical energy hung in midair. If they wanted off this island, they had to get rid of it. If they wanted to get out of here alive, they had to be very careful about it.

Always before, when Einarr had faced a ghost, there had been some physical aspect to be dealt with, and he had been able to leave the metaphysical to the Singers. But the look he saw on Runa’s face was not one of confidence. And while the wheels were turning, what sort of man would he be if he left it all to her, anyway.

Which left Einarr with the problem of how to get rid of a cloud of magical energy. He thought, if he wanted to, he could take that energy into himself and grow stronger. He even thought he could purify the energy properly…

Einarr shook his head. That way lay madness, and probably his own death. Based on what the old man had said, that was the very same trap he had fallen into, who knows how long ago.

“I think…” he paused, considering his realization. “I think it wants me to use it.”

“Are you telling me that thing’s alive?” Horror warred with incredulity in Jorir’s voice.

“Sort of? Crudely.”

“That doesn’t help us as much as you might think, dear heart,” Runa breathed.

“But it helps us a little? More than I expected.”

Runa hummed. Her eyes twitched back and forth, though, and Einarr was sure she was on the verge of an idea. Then her face relaxed and she breathed a sigh. Runa shook her head. “No, sorry. That won’t work.”

“What won’t work?” Jorir stood stock still, staring at the cloud of energy. Of all of them, he was the second most likely to come up with a strategy.

“Like with the revenant before – draw it out with something it wants, then cut it down when it takes the bait. But the only thing we know it wants…” She trailed off, but no-one needed to guess at why.

Jorir nodded. “Far too big a risk. Far too big.”

A throat cleared behind them, and Arkja’s voice sounded tentatively behind them. “Now, I don’t know what all’s going on with you, why you think it can’t touch you without killing you, but is there a reason I can’t do it?”

The Vidofnings and Runa all shared a look. Erik shrugged. Irding began to puff himself up, getting ready to put himself up as a candidate too.

“Irding, I think you took almost as much of the black blood as I did. Let’s not test the limits of the Matrons’ purification, shall we?”

The other young man shifted his shoulders, visibly deflating, but said nothing. Einarr turned his attention to the newcomer.

“Not long ago, the Lady Runa was kidnapped by some svartalfr cultists. When we did battle with them, they all had black, corrupted blood. So did the monsters in their holds. Some men who were exposed to less than we were have already died of it, or worse. So Arkja, if you think your will is strong enough to resist the corruption, I’m willing to let you try.”

Arkja touched his forelock in acknowledgement. If the man had landed here as a result of cowardice, like he said, then Einarr was inclined to let him try to redeem himself, even if only in his own eyes.

“That still leaves the question of how to destroy the cloud once it makes itself vulnerable.”

Jorir harrumphed. “That’s assuming it does leave itself open when its trying to take you over.”

Erik hummed. “Are we sure it’s going to try to take over whoever absorbs it?”

“Yes.” Einarr could answer that without hesitation. “This is the concentrated curse energy that Guthbrandr took into himself in life. Right now it’s almost as though there’s a voice, whispering in my ear, trying to convince me to make his same error. It wants to be able to act again.”

As though in response, lightning flashed within the roiling purple mass. It may have been his imagination, but Einarr thought he heard a rumble of thunder.

“So no, I don’t know that it will be vulnerable while it’s in the process of possessing someone. I’m also sure I don’t have any better ideas, and this whole Cursebreaking thing seems to be a matter of following my hunches. So, Arkja, if you’re willing, I’m inclined to try it. Unless someone else has a better idea?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Great. Now if we do this right, it should dissipate before any harm comes to Arkja. But how do we do that, and what do we do if that fails?”

***

Arkja stood nervously in front of the chamber door. The others were arrayed around the room, Einarr standing just behind him. Everyone’s weapons were drawn – everyone’s save for Arkja’s, of course.

“All right. Whenever you’re ready, just inhale deeply, like you’re trying to suck it in. And picture yourself breathing it in like smoke while you do.” Einarr took half a step back and stood with his feet shoulder-width apart. As he adjusted his stance, his leg brushed against something, and he heard the scraping sound of ceramic against stone. He glanced down to see a very familiar looking clay jar sitting by his feet, as though it had been there the whole time. Einarr shrugged uncomfortably, trying not to let it disturb his focus. Strange enough that it would appear on their boat on these shores: it had never before appeared off of the deck of whatever ship Einarr was currently traveling in.

Arkja stared intently at his foe. In his shoes, Einarr would have to screw up his courage, as well. The air in the chamber grew chill, and the cloud of purple energy extended a tendril towards Arkja.


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3.31 – A Full Hold

In spite of their exhaustion and soaked feet – and trousers – Einarr’s crew was in high spirits as they returned to the Vidofnir late that morning. The sun said it was nearly midday: as they stepped out of the marsh and onto the sandbar Einarr exchanged a look with Reki. They’d been luckier than any of them had any right to expect. A chuckle rose up from his chest.

Reki opened her mouth as though to say something, but then closed it again. With a sigh she, too, started to laugh, and soon the men were talking and laughing with the ebullience of relief.

“All right, Father, your turn,” Einarr called as they approached the ship.

Stigander studied the approaching group, looking for any sign of new injury and finding none. “Welcome back. Everything’s in order?”

“The Allthane lies buried in the frozen deep. And none too soon, either.”

Stigander nodded. “All right, you lot! On your feet. The faster we load the hold, the sooner we can get off this stinking rock.”

The rest of the Vidofnings pulled themselves over the side of the boat with far less alacrity than was their custom, the fatigue of the night before still showing in the eyes and shoulders of all of them. That few hours’ rest they had claimed while the rites were conducted had not been enough, and everyone knew it. Still, though, as the two strings of Vidofnings crossed paths there were congratulatory gestures all around.

Einarr locked hands with his father as they crossed paths, almost as though they intended to arm wrestle.

“Good job out there.”

Einarr nodded. “Take your time with the portage. Don’t think we’re getting out of here before morning anyway.”

Stigander barked a laugh. “You sound like Bardr.”

“Good! That means I might be on to something.”

Now they both laughed, and clapping each other’s shoulders continued on – Stigander to the treasure hold, and Einarr to the deck of the Vidofnir. When he pulled himself up, he saw that Snorli had remained behind, stirring a cauldron over the ship’s hearth that smelled distinctly of mulled mead.

“You are a lifesaver, man!” Einarr grinned at their cook.

“Gotta stay warm while you dry off somehow, right?” Snorli returned the smile without looking away from the horn he was ladling into. “This is the second cask I’ve opened since last night.”

“And we thank you for both of them. You haven’t seen the haul down there: we won’t need to worry about our resupplies the rest of the season.”

“Good.” Snorli handed the steaming horn to Troa, who had arrived just before Einarr. “Certainly you lot deserve the treat. It’s been ages since we’ve had a fight like that.”

Einarr grunted in agreement. A moment later he, too, had a hot drink in hand and was striding across the deck towards his bedroll. He groaned as he folded grateful legs under him to sit, cross-legged, on the blanket.

“All right, lads. We’ve to keep a lookout… but I’ll be buggered if there’s anything else alive on this rock. Boti, you up for first watch?”

The scout shrugged. Thus far he didn’t seem to have suffered any worse than a headache and a bad goose egg from his knock on the head. “Sure. Someone’s gotta.”

“Thanks. The rest of you…” He turned, then, as he realized what it was he saw from the corner of his eye. “Why is there a jar on my pillow?”

“It was in the cache you found before. Odvir thought you must’ve liked it, since ceramic doesn’t really sell…”

The jar did look familiar, with its Imperial-style painting that had somehow weathered the centuries unchipped, but Einarr shook his head. “There was an ivory tafl set that I wanted, but this… this is just a jar.”

He took a drink of his mead, still staring at the strange jar. I could have sworn I threw that away back then… Einarr shrugged, and turned to the nearest man remaining. He thrust his horn toward the other man. “Hold this for a second.”

Einarr pushed himself up on protesting legs and sore feet. When he picked the jar up, it felt warm to the touch – even accounting for the horn full of hot mead he’d just had clasped in his hands. Odd. He shrugged again and moved aft, towards the sea.

“May the waves carry you to someone who actually has a use for you,” he muttered. Einarr pulled his arm back all the way, twisting for extra force, and pitched the jar as far as he could out toward the open ocean. Even Snorli did no more than shrug. Ceramic was a dicey thing to keep on a longship, as vulnerable in the hold as on deck.

***

An hour passed before the larger group of Vidofnings began to return with sacks full of gold from the ancient horde, and then Einarr and his companions were moving again, stowing the gold in every spare crevice they could find underneath the deck boards. The way people were moving, no one would be up for rowing without a full night’s rest.

Stigander and Erik, to no one’s surprise, carried the largest loads slung over their shoulders as though it was nothing, and their two sacks filled the Vidofnir until she was nearly fit to burst.

“Much still left down there?”

“We didn’t even get half of it,” Erik laughed.

Einarr shook his head. “Maybe now we know why they wrecked?”

“Maybe.” Bardr sounded less amused. “Let’s just hope we’re not too heavy to get out of here.”

Vidofnir’s nimble enough. I’m sure we’ll manage.”

“You mean like we did on our way in, where we almost got a rock through our hull? We’ll be lower in the water now. A lot lower.”

“I think we all decided that was a risk we were willing to take, wasn’t it?” Einarr looked levelly at his father’s first Mate. This plan had been his idea in the first place, after all.

Bardr just grunted, acknowledging that fact as well as his misgivings.

“Long as we all get some proper rest tonight we’ll be fine.” Erik stepped in: Einarr wasn’t sure he was as reassuring as he wanted to be.

“I’m… sure you’re right.” Bardr didn’t sound convinced, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one argued about at this point in a raid.

“’Course I’m right!” Erik laughed and clapped the Mate on his shoulder so hard he nearly stumbled. “Pretty sure that’s why the Captain keeps me around.”


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