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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