The three of them stood in front of what was very plainly a magical gateway, wondering how they’d missed it until they were right on top of it. Each stone of the arch was carved with a single rune, which glowed faintly. Beside the door, written in Imperial script, was a small plaque, with a plainly magical chisel hanging beside it. “Draw here the Thorn rune and state your intention,” he read.
From behind them, Kaldr cursed loudly. Einarr spun on his heel, startled, but the light did not reach far enough to show what the matter was. The question was answered momentarily, however. As Kaldr walked into the ring of the rune-light on Einarr’s shield, he was still rubbing his forehead even as he scowled at his companions.
“That was truly a wonderful experience, my lord. Thank you for calling me down a dark ice tunnel with no light of my own so that I could bash my head on the ceiling.”
“Sorry, Kaldr. My fault,” Einarr said, stifling a laugh at himself. He wasn’t usually that stupid, but Kaldr would assume he was the one being laughed at. His Mate just hummed.
“At any rate,” he went on. “I think we’ve finally found our entrance.”
“So we have.” Kaldr grunted, rubbing again at the red welt on his forehead. “I don’t like how low that doorway is.”
“That descent’s going to be mighty uncomfortable if that’s all the taller the passage is,” Thjofgrir agreed. He was taller than any of them.
Einarr sighed. “I can’t disagree. But what choice do we have? Come on. Let’s build a cairn outside the cave entrance and go get the others. We’ll pack up the camp and move it right outside in the morning, and start down after that.”
“You wouldn’t rather wait for morning?” Vali asked.
Thjofgrir shrugged. “Once we’re underground, what difference will it make?”
Runa insisted it was important that they start fresh in the morning, so that they could more easily tell one day from the next. Even though she was the one who recommended the delay, however, she,too, chafed at it. Thus, the sun was newly risen on the day after they moved their camp when all six of them together stepped from the barren wasteland under the ice, creeping through the crevice and into the cavern that held the entrance to Myrkheim.
Much as Einarr had, Runa peered at the inscription on the stones of the arch. “Draw here the thorn rune and state your intention,” she read aloud in a thoughtful tone. “It’s plainly after a password.”
“I’m not so sure.” Einarr quickly stepped between Runa and the plinth. “The Thorn rune invokes defense, true… but it also signals danger. The dwarves don’t want humans on their roads, remember? This is probably a trap.”
“You think there’s another entrance in here?” Kaldr asked.
“It can’t hurt to look. If one of us does have to inscribe a Thorn, at the very least I should be able to ward us against it, though.”
Runa raised her eyebrows. “Even while maintaining the light and the ward on the Villgås?”
Einarr smiled. “Of course. The light requires almost no thought at all, and the ward on the ship is tied to all of us.” He did not think he would be able to maintain such a shield for long, but he somehow doubted that would be an issue.
After a careful search, they did find one other door. It, too, was trapped – and somehow Einarr did not think that the svartdvergr had to navigate such traps every time they came to the surface or returned to Myrkheim. Try as they might, however, what remained were two doors. On the first, in order to even open the door, one had to inscribe a rune likely to do significant damage to themselves. In front of the second, the floor rang hollowly under Naudrek’s boots. Probably, if the door was opened incautiously, a trap door would drop open beneath the feet of whoever was standing there. If it weren’t for Runa, Einarr would have preferred to take his chances with the trap door.
With a sigh, they all returned toe the obviously magical, obviously trapped door. For a long moment, they all stood staring at it, and then Einarr drew out a stick of chalk to begin his simple shield ward – one that would simply absorb the impact of an attack, much like his physical shield would.
“Wait a moment.” Thjofgrir held up a hand. “Not one of us has actually tried to open this door without carving anything, have we?”
Einarr shook his head.
“Vali, can you pop through to see if it’s actually locked?”
The ghost shook his head. “The door is sealed to me, as it is now. I suspect something to do with the runes on the arch.”
The big man shrugged and, before anyone could call out a warning, reached out a hand. Lightning arced from the wood of the door to Thjofgrir’s fingers and he pulled the hand back with a yelp.
“That went better than it could have.” Runa’s voice was downright tart, but Einarr nodded in agreement.
“Sorry, Thjofgrir. It was worth a shot, but that would have been a careless mistake for the dvergr to make. Come join us: this shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes to draw.”
By the light from his glowing shield, the ward he provided wound up not only simple but rather crude. Elder Melja would not approve, but it was the best he could manage. “Stand inside the circle, everyone. I’ll carve the thorn.”
“My lord —” Kaldr objected.
“Inscribing a rune in a permanent way like this can drain a man’s vitality – I expect that chisel will ensure that it does. If any of us is going to bear that burden, it should be me. I, after all, have a much better idea of my own limits than any of the rest of you.”
“As you say, my lord.”
With no little hesitation, Einarr lifted the chisel from where it hung on the plinth. This was no Muspel Shroud in terms of power, but it felt just as malign. “I will begin.”
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