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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