This was truly a no man’s land. To the south lay the Great Wood of Tavast, to the west, the empty plains of Ostrobothnia. Among the sparse pine and birch trees, the company had made their camp, near the vast ruin they were supposed to be excavating. It was the end of August, and it seemed like the sun had died. Every day, a grey gloom hung over the miserable wood and the diggers.
Anttoni Robertinpoika was tired. Sure, whoever had sponsored this particular expedition had paid them well, even without including his salary from the Academy of Turku. Still, it was the fourth week of the dig, and there seemed to be no end in sight. And the nights were getting colder.
The Wild was never really his element. He was a city lad, born and bred. Of course, the newly minted position of Expedition Head at the archeological institute at the Academy fitted him well, since it was a steady job and most of the time, he didn’t have to travel too far.
Darkness was setting, so he made his way over to the great pit the digging team had dug, telling them to call it a night. Walking straight to the big tent where dinner was served, he helped himself to a mug of bitter, not really feeling hungry. The bitter did help, but not much.
Hardestadt, the actual archeologist on the expedition approached him, his hands still covered in dirt.
“Might I have a word with you, Anttoni? Outside.” Anttoni shrugged and walked outside. No stars were in sight.
“So Anttoni, did you ever wonder about this particular dig?”
“Not particulary. Someone pays, we dig. I do hate this place, though. It’s like this wood was abandoned before the God was Forgotten.”
Hardestadt snorted. “Ever been on a dig where you are escorted by fifty dragoons, paid for by the Lords of War? Those elven bastards. I’d bet you that they’re the ones funding this. And I don’t like this.”
“Why?” Anttoni asked.
“Well. Most of the time when we dig, we have something in mind. For instance, are these rocks actually a wall from an Old Empire-era building, which might mean something, historically. This time around, we got a map. A map that says there’s a vault somewhere in this particular bit of ruin. To me, it feels more like a looting expedition. And there’s the thing with the dragoons.”
“Oh by — Anttoni, you are sometimes too thick. Why would we have fifty dragoons around the dig if there wasn’t something dangerous down there? There’s no one living in these lands, and we do not need fifty dragoons to deal with an orc raid or an owlbear. This is what bothers me.”
“All right, Hardestadt. I get it. And I do agree now. It’s this damned place that makes me feel like I can’t think at all. As Expedition Head, I’d say we do like this: lets give it until the end of the week, if we find nothing — which by now I hope we don’t — we bugger off back to the coast and head back to the Academy. It’s not as if we ever paid a refund.”
Hardestadt nodded and grabbed the mug of bitter and took a swig. “Yes, let’s do that.”
It was the last day of the dig. Anttoni was sitting on a large stone, shivering from the cold, looking down into the pit. So far, his prognosis had been true. The only thing they had found next to the old ruined wall that seemed to go deep into the earth was rubble. Hardestadt was down in the pit, supervising the diggers with a pipe in his hand. Anttoni drifted off into thought for a bit. Shutting this down was, by all means, justifiable. There wasn’t enough provisions anyway to continue, and the Academy did want to turn a profit with these sponsored digs. Then he heard a sound.
“Oh, bugger.” said Hardestadt. Anttoni looked down again and froze.
A part of the wall had collapsed, revealing a large stone slab of green stone. Into the green stone, someone had cut a relief. It portrayed a large creature with far too many arms and legs and eyes, rising out from a crack in the earth. It seemed like it was moving, ever so slowly.
One of the dragoons saw it and shouted to the other dragoons. The long elven captain spoke.
“All right, open that up.” Her tone was, to put it mildly, extremely worrying.
“No. I know what that is.” said Hardestadt, who was backing away.
“Very well. We will do it ourselves.” When she said this, the dragoons started unslinging their muskets, cocking them in a manner that didn’t leave much to debate. “You, stay here.”
Hardestadt didn’t pay her much mind, but quickly ascended a ladder out of the pit and jogged to Anttoni. The diggers seemed confused at this turn of events.
“Anttoni. We need to run.”
“But… The dig? We don’t have provisions. We don’t have horses, the dragoons are guarding them.” Anttoni blubbered, confused.
“Don’t matter. As soon as the elves don’t look our way, we take off. I fear you’ll find out soon why.” Hardestadt turned away, muttering something while looking at the sky.
There was a crack from the pit. Hardestadt took off running, running full tilt into the woods. A scream made Anttoni turn his head for a briefest moment, and he strongly wished that he didn’t. He saw a metal-colored wave engulf the elf captain, a thing that seemed to consist mostly of blades and eyes. He ran.
He soon caught up with Hardestadt who was steadily running towards the west. They heard more screams.
“What in the world was that?” Anttoni yelled, even if his lungs felt like bursting.
“There’s no name for them! A Weapon of the Old Enemy!” Hardestadt shouted.
“Indeed! Now shut up and keep running!”
And so they ran, over hills, streams and bogs. Every time they hazarded to look behind them, they saw that the thing was following them at a steady pace. Pure panic kept them from stopping, even if Anttoni felt like he wanted to just die from the exhaustion, but he couldn’t stop running.
Finally, the run ended. Their path was cut by a steep gorge. And the thing from the pit was still following them, they could hear the trees snapping like twigs in it’s path.
“Guess this is it then.” Hardestadt said. Anttoni tried to nod since he was too exhausted to speak. His lungs and legs felt like they had been set on dragon-fire. He tried to collect his thoughts but made no headway. He was going to die, either at the bottom of that gorge, or by whatever thing the monster would do to him.
Suddenly, a great flapping of wings. Anttoni felt himself being seized by large claws and hoisted into the air. If he wasn’t too exhausted to do so, he would have remembered that he had a fear of heights. Maybe a minute later, he heard Hardestadt shout.
“I didn’t think it was going to work! The Eagles came when I called! A Norseman woman taught me the spell!” Anttoni waved his hand in response. He was out of breath and out of things to say, for once in his life. He heard the Eagles sing, and with the song of the Eagles driving away the terror of the monster, he fell asleep, carried west by the easterly wind under the Eagle’s wings.