The Long Retreat No. 57

An ontling pulled itself up over the edge, dirt clodded between its claws, and let out a hissing scream as it threw itself at Falthejn. The diviner moved, snakelike, and the ontling fell a yard past him, blood soaking into the dirt. Sif flinched at the smell of it. Alfhilde stepped over the corpse and took up a fighting stance next to Falthejn, just in time: more ontr climbed over the edge. The two of them moved forward, and Sif lost track of the fight.

Next to her, Hrothgar sat up suddenly. Sif jumped. Hrothgar rubbed at his eyes, and said, “What—?” Interrupting himself, he snatched the hatchet from its place between his bedroll and Alfhilde’s, and sprang to his feet.


Falthejn didn’t really enjoy fighting for his life in any circumstances, but he did find it a little more tolerable when he had someone on his side, and doubly so someone who knew how to fight along a diviner. Alfhilde fell into the latter category. She recognized that tunnel vision, in this case, was an asset—all she had to do was keep fighting her way forward, and as long as she didn’t back up into the diviner’s way, Falthejn would take care of the rest.

The diviner moved on instinct, or rather, on foresight so well developed it might as well have been instinct. The magic flowed through him. From behind him came a meaty thwock as Alfhilde sunk her axe into an ontr skull. He spun, extending his sword arm and taking the legs off of an ontling taking a swing at Alfhilde’s exposed side. At the same time, he stretched out his back leg to trip an ontling circling behind him. Deftly, he flipped his sword backward to stab it. Through the hilt, he felt the resistance as the sword bit deeply, then the loosening as it pushed fully through the ontling’s chest. Leaving the sword embedded there for a moment, he swept his hand to his boot and up again, and his knife appeared in the throat of an ontling aiming a crude-looking bow from a dozen yards away. The beast lost its grip, and the arrow sang just past Falthejn’s ear to embed itself in the eye of an ontling raising an axe behind him. He caught the weapon as its bearer fell, took his sword from the still-standing ontling in which he had left it, and—

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