The Long Retreat No. 59

Sif spun and screamed as leaves and twigs showered over her. The monsters looked her straight in the eye, and she scrambled backward, slipping and falling. Then, she felt a tugging at her mind, and suddenly, she saw the true shape of things—felt the weave of the world, the twisted creatures in front of her, and the anger of the forest at this intrusion on its peace.

She could work with that.


Hrothgar skidded to a stop and spun on his heel. The ontr brought their weapons down toward his son, but checked their swings halfway through. Briefly, their brutish faces seemed almost confused. In the space of a heartbeat, their expressions turned to terror. Their armor flowed over them like quicksilver, twisting around them in vinelike tendrils. The sound of bones snapping echoed through the clearing, and the monsters howled in agony: a noise to haunt a man’s dreams for the rest of his life.

He heard Falthejn shout, “We need to leave!” The diviner snatched his pack as he went past, grabbed Sif by the arm, and slipped out of the way as the ontr, entombed in their living armor, stomped toward the dropoff and their comrades. Alfhilde, freeing the axe from an ontlig corpse, was close behind, shouldering her pack and picking up Jakob. “The other pack, Hrothgar!” she shouted over the baby’s wail.

Hrothgar shook his head, tearing his eyes off of the armored figures just as they reached the mass of ontr climbing the hillside. The screams behind him suggested he’d done so just in time. Taking his pack and Sif’s, he followed the others, fleeing madly down the hill, while the howls and shrieks of dying ontr behind them split the silence of the night.

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