To their credit, Utgar’s warriors did not immediately submit. Two thirds of them rushed Orm on the spot. Utgar simply stayed where he was, knowing that to attack was complete suicide.
However, Orm did not move. Instead, his soldiers closed in before him, and cut down the first few prisoners who reached them. The others staggered to a halt as their companions fell, some dead on the spot, others crying out in agony as blood sprouted from them.
Orm took a step forwards, and the prisoners backed away. Three prisoners launched themselves at Orm, uttering cries of futility, but the soldiers rose up into the air and cut them down easily. Two dropped, dead. The third was flung against the wall, where he was motionless. Utgar recognized Taelord.
“Runa, no!” Utgar cried as his daughter ran at the soldiers. The one nearest her, laughing, knocked her aside with his shield, and then knelt, his knee in the small of her back, keeping her down.
At the sight of their fallen brothers, the prisoners gave up. Utgar saw the fire go out of their eyes, and one by one, they knelt on the ground, admitting defeat. The soldiers approached them and held their blades to their throats.
“I respect good warriors,” Orm said, his voice echoing in the room like ominous thunder. He stepped forward, his cloak swaying from side to side as he walked. Each footstep resounded in the circular room, and behind Utgar, the wellspring seemed to flicker with each impact.
“You have all proven yourself worthy of a warrior’s death,” Orm said. “For that reason, you will be taken to your homes, and given a quick execution.” He stopped in front of Utgar. “Let it not be said that I am not merciful.”
Utgar rose, until he was standing right in front of Orm. He could feel the Valkyrie’s hot breath on his face, and he realized for the first time just how tall Orm truly was. He was a full head and shoulders above Utgar.
“I take it you are the leader of these fighters?” Orm rumbled.
“I am,” Utgar said, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
Orm looked down at him. “I am willing to give even you a quick death, if you first renounce any hope of escape, publicly, before all who know you. Let them hear that it is an impossibility, from the mouth of one who tried, and learned the truth.”
Utgar was silent, but bowed his head. What could he do? He had been foolish to think that there was a chance. And now he had led those who had listened to him, to their deaths.
“Kneel,” Orm said quietly.
Orm drew his sword, a long weapon with a wide blade, with a hilt long enough for two hands. The steel had webs of white scattered across it, forged into the metal. He placed the flat of the blade on Utgar’s shoulder.
“Bow,” he said, his voice even softer.
And Utgar bowed his head. But as he did so, he saw Runa on the edge of his vision. She was still lying on the floor, the soldier still keeping her down with his knee. She was looking at him, and as he bowed, he saw a single tear run down her cheek.
“You are defeated,” Orm said, his voice echoing in the empty chamber. “You will always be defeated. We are your captors, your caretakers, your… gods. You cannot win against us.”
“Maybe,” Utgar said. He didn’t move, but he felt Orm and every other soldier look at him. He looked up. Orm was watching him with a dangerous expression. “Maybe we can’t win,” Utgar said, looking into Orm’s eyes. “But you aren’t gods.”
And then he grabbed Orm’s sword by the blade, ignoring it as it sliced across his hands, and wrenched it out of the Valkyrie’s grasp.
“You—” Orm thundered, but Utgar whirled the blade around, and promptly sank it to the hilt in Orm’s chest. The steel seemed to have no difficulty going through Orm’s armor.
There was a moment of silence, during which Orm mouthed silently. And then he fell to the floor.
Utgar leapt to his feet, and turned to his warriors. “You are the sons of Migol!” he cried. “Fight!”
And instantly all was chaos. The prisoners slapped away the blades held against their throats, and lunged at the soldiers above them. Soldiers flew across the room, trying to help their comrades. And at the wellspring’s edge, Orm, somehow only wounded, rose to his feet. Utgar launched himself at him.
Utgar expected that being run through by a sword was usually deadly, but then Orm was a Valkyrie. He pulled his sword out of his own body, and swung it at Utgar. Utgar ducked, and finding no unarmored part on the front of Orm, swung his leg around and kicked the Valkyrie behind the knees. Orm fell forwards, his sword flying out of his grasp, and Utgar caught it.
Meanwhile, the sons of Migol were living up to the name of their ancestor. Unarmed and wearing no armor, they continued to punch, kick, and even bite all the soldiers they could, regardless of what wounds they received in the process.
In a quick glance, Utgar saw that Runa was amongst them, despite her wings, fighting a soldier along with Taelord. She kept diving at the soldier’s legs, tripping him up, and Taelord kept trying to get the sword. The soldier was obviously very well trained, because neither Runa nor Taelord were very successful, but at least he had no time to strike back at either of them.
Across the wellspring chamber, similar battles were being fought. Once more, the fire of freedom was in the eyes of the prisoners, and they fought without restraint, knowing that nothing awaited them but death if they lost.
The soldiers, however, did not fear death. They were immortal. They did, however, fear pain, and that was why they were unwilling to fight as Utgar’s warriors were. They remained cautious, and this gave the prisoners hope.
Meanwhile, Utgar swung Orm’s sword at its former owner’s head. Orm raised his hand, but Utgar, sensing that something bad was coming, changed the trajectory of the blade at the last moment, and lopped the hand cleanly off. Orm fell to the ground with a terrible cry, cradling his bleeding stump. Blood splattered all across his armor.
Utgar very much did not want to kill Orm. If he did, the Valkyrie would return at some point, at his full strength. They could lose the wellspring. So he did the first thing which came to him, and swung the flat of the blade against Orm’s head. Orm of course had a helmet, but he seemed stunned by the blow, so Utgar swung again. And again. And again. Finally Orm keeled over, completely unconscious, blood trickling from under his helmet.
Meanwhile, the commander who had spoken to Utgar in the tent, and who had taken him to Orm’s fortress, was present amongst the soldiers, and was currently engaged in fighting two prisoners at once. He was close to Utgar, and Utgar heard him snarl between blows: “Lay down your weapons, blood-skins. You cannot defeat me.”
Utgar raised Orm’s blade over his head, the metal dripping with its owner’s blood. He filled his lungs with air, and shouted so that the whole chamber reverberated with his cry: “No. YOU cannot defeat US!”
A great cheer went up from the prisoners still left standing. The soldiers, seeing Utgar holding Orm’s blade, and their Valkyrie lying still upon the floor, as one stopped fighting, and fled.
“Bar the door!” Utgar shouted quickly, for many of the prisoners had begun to chase the soldiers. They quickly ran back inside the wellspring chamber, and stood against the door. There seemed to be no bar or lock. More magic.
The remaining prisoners picked up the few weapons which had been dropped by the fleeing soldiers. Utgar saw Runa pick up a blade and study it cautiously.
Still holding Orm’s blade, Utgar turned back to the wellspring. He pulled the sword back, and then thrust it at the clear waters with all of his might. The moment before the sword touched the water, Utgar felt it stop dead in his hands. A sphere of pure light lit up, a dome of magic surrounding the wellspring. Orm’s sword vibrated, and the white lines within it glowed like the depths of a fire. Utgar held onto the sword tightly, and pushed once more.
Instantly, the dome of magic evaporated with a report which echoed painfully in the circular room. Utgar dropped the blade, knelt at the water’s edge, and dipped his trembling hand into its cool waters.
The barrier was gone. Utgar cupped his hands, brought the water to his lips, and drank deeply. The water burned like fire running down his throat, and lodged in his chest, where it burned, fierce and hot.
Utgar stood, and faced his warriors. “And now,” he said, “Let us free our brothers beyond these walls.”