03 September, 2014

Bjarheim's Shadow, Part XX

Here it is, part 20! The story needs at least one more part, possibly two. Enjoy!

If you missed them, check out the earlier chapters of Bjarheim's Shadow:


Erik couldn’t move. Lift your damned feet! he screamed at himself, to no avail. Father Bernhard—the Shadow—whatever it was—spread his smile even wider and rose easily from the bed. “It’s such a wonderful feeling, being within this shell. Ages in the cold, buried in frost, alone in the mountains, left me in such a state.” He paced forward, stretching out his arms as if after a nap. Erik instinctively backed up, bumping into Finnar, who moved back as well. They retreated slowly down the hallway as Bernhard stepped through the door. “I so appreciate you coming here to me,” Bernhard growled. “It will make this so much easier.”

“Look out!” Ollemar shouted, as Bernhard raised his right hand and a beam of pure blackness sprang forth from it. The beam struck Erik’s shields full force. The first two shattered into golden fragments and dissipated instantly; the third cracked, and began to unravel.

Erik himself was jolted backward by the blast, though he kept his feet. Bernhard cackled and raised his left hand, but Kari shouted and leapt in front of Erik before the monster fired. The blast ripped away Kari’s shields and left her with only tatters. She stumbled back, and Erik caught her.

He didn’t want to know what would happen if one of those blasts hit them without a shield. “RUN!

The others didn’t need to be told twice. Bernhard was raising his right hand again. Erik flung an entire brace of golden ironsong projectiles at Bernhard. A black shield, completely obscuring Bernhard’s body, appeared before him, instantly absorbing each projectile as it struck.

After a moment, the shield vanished, revealing Bernhard’s psychotic grin. He cackled madly.

But it had bought them some time. Finnar, Kari, and Ollemar had already made it halfway down the hall. Now Erik stood, alone, only ten feet from the monster that had consumed Bernhard. And there was no time to weave anything new.

Bernhard raised his right hand, but then his smile faltered and he flinched. The black shield appeared again, and a swarm of projectiles careened past Erik’s head and vanished into the shield.

“Erik, run!” Kari shouted from down the hall. He’d bought them time, and now they were returning the favor. Erik sprinted, faster than he’d ever done before, away from Bernhard.

Something slammed into his back just as he reached Ollemar. Erik felt the shields behind him shattering, felt the cold sting of the Shadow’s power clawing at his back. Any stronger, and the blast would have gotten through. Finnar grabbed Erik by the torso and lifted him bodily into the air, then threw him five yards onto the landing. Kari was there in an instant, while Finnar put his back to Bernhard. The next beam hit him squarely, tearing away all three shields, but Finnar made it into the landing.

Ollemar shouted at them to get downstairs. He stepped to one side of the landing and shouted at Bernhard, then sprang aside like a grasshopper. A black beam tore through the air where he’d been standing, and punched explosively through the wall beyond, spraying the staircase with fragments of wood and plaster. Erik covered his face just in time, and came away with only some scratches on his hands.

And then they were all careening down the stairs, bruised but alive, with Bernhard’s cackling laughter following them. “We can’t fight that,” Finnar grunted as they came out into the entryway again.

“The beam can be dodged,” Ollemar said, barely maintaining his calm. “The farther we can keep from it, the easier it is to see coming.”

“Dodging’s… our only choice,” Erik said between gasps for breath. Panic had nearly seized hold of him; only the faces of his companions kept him sane. “I can’t weave shields… fast enough to block that beam of his.”

Footsteps creaked from upstairs. Finnar pushed Erik and Kari through the stone archway into the Cathedral’s dining hall. “Let’s keep on the move, then. If he can’t see us, he can’t hit us.”

“We should ambush him,” Kari said as they all ducked behind one of the dining hall’s long tables, though it was poor cover. That black beam of Bernhard’s had blasted straight through a wooden wall upstairs. Maybe stone would stop it? The bottom floor of the Cathedral had stone walls.

“Now what?” Kari said.

“I will distract him,” Ollemar said. “I am the fastest, and have the best chance of dodging him. Erik, you must make more projectiles. He wouldn’t need the shield if your missiles weren’t a danger to him.”

“Yeah, but how do we get them past the shield?” Erik started weaving; he’d done enough of these violet-and-emerald darts, wrapped tight with golden ironsong, that he barely even had to concentrate. Making one only took ten or fifteen seconds.

A thump reverberated around them as a black beam passed through the air over their heads. Kari screamed, and scuttled over to hide behind a large iron cabinet full of dishware. Ollemar vaulted out from behind the table and threw his last magical projectile at Bernhard, who stood in the entryway, smiling malevolently and casually raising a shield to absorb the missile.

Finnar glanced up over the edge of the table, then ducked down. “Get through that door,” he whispered to Erik, pointing at a wooden door, shut tight but hopefully not locked, a few yards away. Erik had no idea where it led.

“Don’t die,” Erik pleaded, and started crawling across the stone floor toward it. Finnar reached up onto the table, grabbed a heavy pewter salt cellar, and then stood and flung it across the room at Bernhard.

Erik had reached the door, but hadn’t yet reached up to try and open it. He could see the possessed priest through gaps in the tables. Either Bernhard—the Shadow—had never expected such an attack, or did not fear it, because he did not raise his shield. Instead he laughed as the salt cellar sailed through the air, flinging white grains in every direction as it spun.

Then the sound of his laughter cut off, replaced by an “oof” as it struck him in the chest. He stumbled back, caroming off the archway and taking a moment to steady himself. But his smile returned. “Destroy this body if you wish,” he shouted at them. “I will simply take another. Perhaps one of yours!”

Erik glanced up at the wall beside the door. There was a scorch mark where that last beam had struck, but the stone was otherwise undamaged. Finnar had told him to get through the door, but… they couldn’t defeat the Shadow if they split up. They had to stay together, work together. Could Bernhard make more than one shield at a time? What if they attacked him from opposite directions at once? What if… “Da! Throw again!” Erik shouted, weaving another projectile in record time and holding it up for Finnar to see.

Finnar nodded, and scanned for more ammunition. There was nothing so massive as the salt cellar remaining on the table he crouched behind, and there was an open gap between that table and the next one. Finnar was not fast; Bernhard would have a clear shot.

Ollemar had heard Erik’s call, though. He’d alighted atop a table across the room, and slipped his staff through the loop of a breadbasket sitting on it. It was woven of wooden slats, and would weigh almost nothing, but Erik didn’t need it to be a weapon. He just needed a distraction.

The Brandrinn snapped his staff up, flinging the basket toward Bernhard. This time, the Shadow-possessed priest was ready, and blasted the basket out of the air with his black beam. Erik stood and hurled one of his own magical projectiles right at that exact moment.

The Shadow saw the projectile coming and raised its shield, a fraction of a second too late. Erik’s missile slipped in past the edge of the shield and clipped Bernhard’s arm. A crystalline ringing overlain with a nails-on-glass shriek filled the air, and a cloud of purplish gas erupted from where Bernhard had been struck.

“He’s wounded!” Erik shouted to the others, in case it wasn’t obvious. Bernhard screamed, and stumbled forward into the room, raising both hands and spraying his black beams around at random. The air became icily cold; Erik frantically pushed at the door behind him and slipped through into what looked like the larder. The walls here were stone as well; as long as he stayed out of the doorway, he’d be safe from the beams of shadow.

But what of the others? He couldn’t cower in here, and there was no other door out. There were narrow slit windows on the wall, admitting light, but too narrow to slip through. Maybe he could widen them, using his magic, given enough time…

No. It was time to stop running. Erik wove a half-dozen golden missiles, hoping beyond hope that the others weren’t dead, hoping they’d be able to hold off Bernhard for just a few more seconds. The noise of stone being scorched and wooden tables being blasted to smithereens stopped abruptly, though now Erik heard the telltale crackling of flames. Smoke began to sting his nose.

There was no more time to waste. Erik leapt into the doorway and ran into the dining hall, hurling two of his magical projectiles forward before he could even see anything. Bernhard was still more or less where he’d stood, but he had his shield out. Erik’s first missile went wide, while the second connected, dissolving into the blackness. One of the tables, the one Finnar had been hiding behind, was on fire, and he didn’t see Finnar anywhere. Kari was still crouching behind the iron dish cabinet, while Ollemar had somehow made his way up to the ceiling and was now perched atop a swinging chandelier that had been partly blasted away.

“Get outside!” Erik shouted, and threw another missile at Bernhard. Three left. Bernhard raised the shield again, easily blocking the projectile, but he seemed slower somehow. The purple miasma erupting from his arm had abated somewhat, but the wound looked horrific, a tangled black mass of flesh and… tendrils of some kind, perhaps the Shadow trying to claw its way out. The other priests had only had the little mass of blackness in their throats, while Bernhard’s very veins had been infiltrated by the loathsome Shadow.

And each time Erik attacked him, Bernhard went on the defensive for a few moments. He had to make the most of that. Erik ran to Kari and grabbed her hand. He half expected her to be terrified, but no; she was furious. But she had no way to attack Bernhard from here, so she’d had to cower behind the cabinet. It too had been scorched by Bernhard’s beams, and the glass front had completely shattered, but the main structure of it was intact.

Bernhard growled from across the room and raised his hand. Erik flung another missile at him, interrupting Bernhard’s attack and forcing him to raise his shield again. “We’ve got to get outside! Where’s Da?”

Kari pointed overhead. There was a window there, also shattered, but now that Erik looked at it, he realized it hadn’t been from Bernhard. Finnar must have leapt through it. Leaving us behind? Erik recoiled from the thought. His father, bailing out on them?

There must have been a reason. Erik shook his head. They had to get outside. He threw a fifth bolt at Bernhard, rocking the priest back on his heels again. “Climb, now!” Erik shouted, pushing Kari upward. She took the hint and clawed her way up the side of the cabinet, finding any foothold she could in the immense stone bricks of the Cathedral’s wall.

Erik only had one missile left. Ollemar was still up on the chandelier, his staff held out before him. He’d woven a faint emerald missile with his Brandrinn magic, but it wouldn’t be even a fraction as powerful as Erik’s bolts. It might not hurt Bernhard at all, even if it could get past his shield.

There had to be a way to buy time. Erik could climb out the window, but how would Ollemar escape? Erik could keep Bernhard off-balance, but more than a few seconds and Bernhard would be able to get off another shot. He was going to have to try something else.

“You want to kill me?” Erik screamed, stepping out from behind the cabinet, presenting a clear target. “Why? What did we ever do to you? What did my family, my city, my people ever do to you to make us deserve this?”

Bernhard had been about to raise his hand again, but paused. The shadowy tentacles writhing through the skin on his upper arm wiggled more intensely as he laughed. “Boy, what do you know of the world? Beyond the sky, there is nothing but blackness. Your pinprick of a world is an offense to the great dark, and I will see it undone!”

Erik walked steadily toward Bernhard until only a stone’s throw separated them. “You haven’t succeeded before now,” he said. “And you never will!”

“FOOL!” Bernhard roared. “I—”

Erik did not wait for Bernhard—the Shadow—to finish. He sprinted toward Bernhard, holding his ironsong missile high. He wasn’t going to throw it this time.

Bernhard cut off with a growl, and raised his shield. Erik didn’t know what would happen if he touched it, but he remembered Aiar. For Aiar, he thought, and swung his missile at Bernhard’s face, arcing it over the top of the shield.

The shield vanished before he connected, because Ollemar’s staff cracked Bernhard on the side of the head right at that moment. He screamed, and Erik plunged his last weapon into Bernhard’s skull.

The very air itself shook, as if a gong the size of a mountain had been rung by a hammer the size of a city. The shriek that accompanied it froze Erik’s bones. All this he perceived in the fraction of a second before Father Bernhard exploded, a wave of black and purple and gold and green and violet all tangled together, coruscating outward. Erik was flung through the air and crashed painfully into an upturned trestle table.

The sound vanished. Erik breathed hard, aching all over, wondering what was broken. He slowly drew himself into a sitting position, and though he had scrapes and pains aplenty, he could still move. He blinked tears and dust out of his eyes, and looked up.

Floating in the center of the room was a grotesque, distorted humanoid shape, twice as tall as any man he’d ever seen, but made entirely of black shadow and whorls of purple gas. Two fiery embers burned in its head, ghastly eyes that Erik thought would burn right through him if he stared too long.


Erik wasn’t waiting around to discover what that meant. He ran for the door as the air in the room seemed to freeze solid behind him. What was that thing? What had they unleashed? Was that the very Shadow itself? How could it possibly be stopped?

He’d been inside the Cathedral so long that the sunlight outside seared his eyes. He blinked away the pain, while stepping toward what seemed like some kind of black mass ahead of him—

It was Bjarheim.

As his vision cleared, Erik realized that hundreds of people stood around the great square at the heart of the city. He recognized some of them, but there were more people here than he’d ever seen gathered at one time. They were still streaming into the square, in fact, clogging the open space before the Cathedral.

At the front of the crowd, Kari stood over Finnar, who was propped up on his elbows. One of his feet was burned black—no, not burned. So that’s why he fled. It was the Shadow’s corruption, the same thing they’d seen in Aiar, before he…

“Da!” Erik screamed, and ran forward. He collapsed on the ground next to his father. “What happened?”

“Inside,” Finnar huffed, his breath labored. “When he went mad. One of the beams grazed my foot.”

Ollemar came loping up beside Erik, looking none the worse for wear. He gasped sharply when he saw Finnar’s blackened foot. “Better that than his heart,” the Brandrinn said. “Cut it off, now, and he may yet live.”

An ominous groaning sound came from behind them. Erik looked back at the Cathedral, as the Shadow creature pushed forth through its doors, cracking them off their hinges. The wood splintered and charred, then dissolved into dust. “YOU HAVE BROUGHT ME MUCH TO FEED UPON,” the creature shouted across the square. “I WILL DEVOUR YOU LAST, LITTLE HUMAN.”

Erik expected the crowd to panic and scream, but they did not. There was a hardness in the eyes of those around him. “Get him to a healer and get that foot off,” one of the folk said, a tall, pale old woman. A couple of other folks lurched forward and helped Finnar to his good foot, taking care to avoid touching the other one. The old woman looked down at Erik. “Tell us what to do, son. Tell us how to fight it.”

Erik watched his father go for a moment, then resolutely turned back to face the Shadow. It floated ten feet off the ground, and its body had begun to slowly extrude black tendrils.

Whatever the people of Bjarheim had gone through in their long slumber, now they were ready to fight. Erik knew his magic could hurt the Shadow, but what could he do against that monstrosity?

The people of Bjarheim couldn’t weave magic. The methar of the fae, the Brandrinn’s Seed. But…

Erik stood tall and squarely faced the Shadow. “We will sing.