8.27 – Empire and Clan

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In spite of their victory, a somber mood hung over the Arkona as it turned northward once more. Too many lives had been lost at Hohenwerth, and not just in battle. Einarr retreated to a quiet corner with Eydri and his men. It would be better, he thought, to give the men of the Order their space, at least for this night.

As the four of them sat quietly, discussing their plans for the coming summer and what they were likely to expect once they finally caught up with Stigander, the sound of boots tapping on the deck boards sounded behind Hrug. All of them looked up.

“Mind if I join you?” Beatrix asked. “I’m not part of the crew here, either.”

“I would imagine not.” Einarr would be surprised if she were a part of any crew, except maybe as a figurehead leader. But, it was that kind of…

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8.26 – Inferno

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So far as Einarr was aware, they had only one piece of business left on Hohenwerth. It seemed a shame, to Einarr’s way of thinking, that such a fertile piece of land should be put to flame – but the alternative meant leaving a pocket of corruption to fester like an open wound. It was bad enough that the svartalfr fortress in Clan waters still existed: for something like that to spring up in Imperial territory would be a disaster.

After roasting the black kraken alive, the Arkona’s stores of sea fire were no more. They still had more mundane means of setting things alight, however, and these they applied. The landing crew that had taken the bodies of the fallen to shore moved inland had one other task, and after the bodies were prepared they loaded packs of torches on their backs and moved inland.

When offered, Einarr…

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8.25 – Fire Ship

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“Launch!” Liupold’s order echoed over the surface of the water.

Hrug willed the wind to life in the fire ship’s sails, and as it sailed past Einarr turned to watch Burkhart. The man stalked the deck of the ship, lighting the carefully placed torches. For just a moment, Einarr saw his face clearly. The man’s expression was one of pure hatred.

Keep your head. Don’t try anything stupid. Just ram the thing and abandon ship. Einarr could well imagine someone in Burkhart’s shoes doing something stupid in the name of vengeance and glory. The man had no family left, after all, and in times such as those men tend to wonder what they have to lose. Only, in this instance, there was a high probability of a fate worse than death.

Einarr could see Burkhart’s figure move to take the tiller just as his form became indistinct. The boat veered…

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8.24 – Bait

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Bea was looking at him expectantly. What she’d told him before? …Oh. Einarr shook his head no.

“You really should. Talent like yours is wasted as a raider, and if power is what you’re after Father can grant you more than you could ever hope to gain as thane over some tiny island.”

“That’s not – ”

“Not power? Is it wealth, then, or a beautiful bride? Not all of my Father’s daughters are married, after all, or even promised…” She trailed off, as though expecting him to take some sort of a hint from that.

“I’m sorry… Bea. I just… haven’t had time to think about it.” It was at least a partial lie. He had dismissed it out of hand when she first mentioned it and moved on to the task at hand. But what was she trying to get at with the nonsense about brides? “Perhaps we…

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8.22 – Hrist

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The landing boat that waited to take the eight of them back to the Arkona was not unattended. Leaning casually against the side of the boat, as though she had been out for a casual stroll, stood a woman who looked remarkably like an older Bea, only if possible more unearthly beautiful.

Einarr subconsciously slowed, his feet dragging to a stop, even as Captain Liupold and Bea hurried forward. The two oarsmen hung back with Einarr and his companions – not, he thought, out of any great trepidation at the woman’s presence, but out of respect for rank.

“Lady Hrist, you’re back,” Liupold said, taking a knee about ten paces in front of where the woman lounged.

…No. Einarr took a closer look. Her hair was a different color, and she wore trousers instead of the impossible skirt armor, but breastplate, helmet and spear alone should have been enough for…

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8.23 – Tying a Net

Sorry, this one is out of sequence. Please read 8.22 Hrist, which is the next post, then return to this. Thanks!

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“So now what do we do?”

Bea’s question was so eager and innocent that, for a moment, no-one could answer. An honest-to-goodness Valkyrie descends, throws down a gauntlet, and then retreats, all while the castle burns around their ears, and she dismisses it with a casual wave of her hand?

Eventually, Einarr found his voice. “First, we make sure Hrug’s plan doesn’t require us to come back here again. It doesn’t, right?”

The mute sorcerer thought for a long moment before nodding in the affirmative.

“Are you sure?” He was certain the man had not had a chance to complete an array. Where was the rest of it going to go?

Hrug’s nod was more certain this time. Einarr would not insult the man by questioning him farther: if he said his plan for the island was complete, it would be. “Very well. In that case, I would like to…

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8.21 – Under Seige

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“Do it.”

At Einarr’s word, Liupold and Naudrek tossed the bar out of the way and scrambled back over the makeshift palisade.

No sooner had they righted themselves, javelins in hand, than the press of bodies forced open the door to reveal a writhing mass of the kraken’s flesh-puppets.

They surged into the armory, arms and weapons flailing clumsily. Each time one was struck by arrow or javelin they crumpled to the ground, inert, only to rise again moments later. The killing field slowly filled with the bodies of the puppet master’s servants.

Eydri sang even as she drew her bow, but no illusions fell from Einarr’s eyes this time. They were not monsters wearing human skin, but tools manipulated by the monster directly. He fired another arrow: this one took its target in the eye. It did not rise again.

“The eyes!” He called across the room. “Shoot the…

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8.20 – Armory

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The trick with the runes gave them a chance to get out of the dungeon, but they could only do it once. There simply wasn’t time, while dodging the flesh-puppets of a creature whose attention was only now coming to focus on them. Even if there had been time, Einarr was not at all certain it would work against the full attention of the undersea horror.

Liupold led them down corridor after corridor, more than once making a hasty turn when something shambled into their path. By the time they reached the top of the second set of stairs, each and every one of them was out of breath.

“Where to now?” Einarr asked.

With a quick glance around, Liupold pointed, but they had hardly started down that hallway when a pack of the flesh-puppets appeared ahead of them.

Three turns later, when they were once again facing the exit…

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8.19 – Imperial Princess

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The woman who stepped out of the cell Liupold opened was tall, lithe, and buxom, with black hair falling to her knees in a thick braid. She wore snug trousers and a swordfighter’s tunic, tied at the sleeves and waist, and if it weren’t for the hay clinging to hair and clothes, the smears of dirt on her face, and some new-looking tears in her clothes Einarr would not have believed her to be so recently a captive. She didn’t even have dark circles under her eyes!

“My lady,” Liupold intoned with a bow. “Let me present the Cursebreaker, Einarr son of Stigander of the longship Vidofnir; Eydri, a Singer of his acquaintance and no small skill; Naudrek, his man-at-arms; and Hrug, a sorcerer trained in the use of runes. Lord Einarr, this is her Imperial Highness, the fourth Princess Beatrix Maria Gundahar.”

Einarr had never met an Imperial…

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8.18 – Jailbreak

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The jailer stood in the center of the guard room like a bulldog, as though at any minute he expected intruders to burst in. He also looked significantly healthier than the flesh-puppets they had seen elsewhere in the citadel. He was still alive, plainly, although probably not, Einarr thought, the first to succumb.

Not that he could still be mistaken for human anymore, either, though. His eyes were pupil-less red orbs, and his skin was darker than a human’s should be. He had hands, still, and stood with his thumbs tucked into the belt of his trousers… but where one expects to see fingers, there were octopus-like tentacles.

The Kraken evidently doesn’t do subtle. “I think we’ve been noticed,” Einarr whispered. “Eydri, if we stop our ears, do you think a lullaby would work on him?”

Her face was pale as she stared at the abomination. “How should I know?”…

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