A clicking sound, like a knife being stropped, sounded twice and abruptly the tunnel was plunged into darkness. Runa froze in her tracks, blinking, her eyes straining for any light. “Einarr?”
She disliked how tremulous her voice sounded just there, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She cleared her throat and called again. “Einarr? Kaldr?”
Nothing, and still she could not see. She wasn’t certain why she expected there would be any light, but it didn’t keep her from wishing.
“Lady Runa, did you see what happened?” Thjofgrir asked from behind her.
She took a deep breath, calming her breath if not her nerves. “I’m afraid not. Vali? Can you tell what happened?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t see it personally, but I think I can guess. Sit tight: I’ll be right back.”
He can see in this? …Of course he can, what am I thinking. “All right. We’re not going anywhere like this.” Runa folded her legs under herself and crossed her arms. She’d known as soon as it was mentioned that bringing Vali along would be worthwhile, but she hadn’t had any idea just how worthwhile.
Vali’s faint luminescence walked forward over the surface of the tunnel. When he got to about where Einarr had been standing when the light went out, Runa could at last see clearly that there was no-one there – Vali’s faint silvery glow painted the walls a bluish color in the empty passage. He examined the walls and the ceiling around him, and then began to sink down into the floor – taking, of course, the light with him.
He stopped when the floor was up to his shins, as though he was wading in the ocean. “Hm. Best not do that, I think.”
“Why? What’s there?”
“Another one of those dwarven barriers. I could push through, but there’s no telling if I could get back again. But I’m sure now: There’s a trap door here, on a shutter. Einarr and Kaldr are down below.”
Panic began to rise in Runa’s throat, but she swallowed it hard. That would do no-one any good. So now what do we do?
Einarr landed hard on his feet and groaned – his knees were greatly displeased by that landing, but it ensured he did not impale himself or shatter anything. Rising on still-vibrating legs, he had a look around.
The floor was littered with unnaturally sharp stalagmites – almost certainly dvergr work, although he could not see how. Halfway across the room, Kaldr stood, evidently examining the wall before him. Einarr made his way through the stalagmites to where his Mate stood. “So how bad does it look?”
Kaldr looked over his shoulder at Einarr, his face expressionless. “Not great.”
Einarr didn’t have to go much further to see what the issue was. “Did they polish these walls?”
“Looks like it.”
That meant, unless they could figure out a way to keep the trap above open long enough to get up a rope and across to the other side, they were stuck down here, separated from the rest of the group. Unless the others decided to drop down here, which… Einarr really hoped they didn’t. “Let’s have a look around. Maybe there’s a passage out of here.”
Runa took another deep breath, clamping down on the sudden wave of fear that swept over her. She’d known she might get overly emotional when she was expecting, but she hadn’t expected it to be quite this soon. Calm yourself. You’ve gotten through worse with him. Then she opened her eyes and looked straight at Vali. “So they have it warded. We really should have expected as much. Can you mark out the edges of the trap for us? Or maybe find the mechanism?” Even if this could be done with magic, mechanically made much more sense.
Vali frowned. “I’ll try.”
All the lore said that a ghost should, if nothing else, be able to spread their essence around like that, and she already knew he could glow when he wanted to. Whether or not there would be a mechanism to find on the top of the trap was, of course, an entirely other question.
Vali moved about over the area of floor Einarr and Kaldr had disappeared through, searching carefully for cracks or something obviously mechanical. Finally, after far too many minutes, three lines appeared in the floor. Two of them cut horizontally across the floor from wall to wall. The third went straight between the midpoints of those two lines.
Naudrek, peering over Runa’s shoulder, whistled. “That’s the trap door?”
“That’s the trap,” Vali confirmed.
“Not even a ledge around the outside. How do the dvergr get past it?”
“My guess is,” Runa answered, “they don’t. Kaldr was right up above: the dvergr almost certainly have a series of secret passages only they know how to find. …If they do have to pass this, though, I expect they have some sort of key to disable the shutter.”
“Great!” Thjofgrir, further back, sounded enthused. “Then all we need to do is -”
“What? Find the keyhole? And if we do, even if we can figure out how to disable it, Einarr and Kaldr are both down there!” Deep breath, Runa. He didn’t mean any harm.
“Bah,” Thjofgrir almost sounded like he was laughing. “Getting those two out of there is the easy part, once we find a keyhole. You leave that part to me.”
Einarr blew through his mustache in consternation. He and Kaldr sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by stalagmites that could easily pierce their feet through their boots if they tried to climb, and waited. There was, quite literally, nothing else to do. There were no exits. There were no hand-holds, nor anything to loop a rope over. Even if there were, the ceiling was at least sixty feet up. Their one hope lay with Runa.
Einarr looked up. That was the sound he’d heard as the floor opened up beneath his feet.
Only this time, it was followed by a pair of very loud bangs.
The shutters did not close again. Far above, he could just see the outline of Thjofgrir leaning over the edge of the trap door. There was no mistaking the grin in his voice, though. “You two need a hand?”
The end of a rope danced in front of Einarr’s eyes.
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