The tricky part was getting Runa across.
Thjofgrir had taken a running leap across the space marked out by Vali and, since none of them had been able to spot the expected ‘keyhole,’ deliberately triggered and then destroyed the hinges at the top. That was not going to win them any love from the dvergr, Einarr feared, but it had neatly solved the problem.
Once Einarr and Kaldr were both returned to the path, Thjofgrir tossed the rope across to Naudrek, and the two of them braced themselves against the walls, the rope pulled tight and tied about their waists.
Runa bit her lower lip, trying to determine the best way across. With a nod to herself, she sat on the ledge and grabbed the rope in both hands, then swung across hand-over-hand like she was hanging from a tree branch. Einarr, trying not to hold his breath, sat down with his legs over the edge to help her up when she was in reach.
Halfway across the rope, she nearly missed her grasp. Einarr felt his heart leap in his throat, but she didn’t even cry out. Instead, she swung her legs back and forth until she had the momentum to reach for it again. Moments later, he was helping her up onto the ledge and out of the way of Naudrek as he, too, leaped across.
When it was plain that they were still all in one piece, they started off down the tunnel once more, perhaps a little more warily now that they knew there were still traps to be reckoned with.
From here the trail became more complicated, with side passages and intersections showing up at irregular intervals as they walked. They kept to the left, as that had worked relatively well before, but still Einarr marked their path with chalk. They sent Vali ahead now to seek out more of the trap shutters. Now that they knew to look for them, they were easy enough to avoid, and not one of them was eager to test their luck again against those wicked spikes.
It seemed strange, honestly, that their path had not trended more steeply downward. Myrkheim was underground, after all, and he was certain there were divers that could go deeper than they already had. Not that that sort of measure meant much on a magical path, he supposed: the High Roads seemed to compress distances as you traveled along them, so that a sea voyage of weeks took only a few hours. Could it be that this path did something similar, only with elevation?
After they had avoided a large handful of those pits, they found themselves facing a dead end. The dvergr had gone to the trouble to inscribe a message on the wall ahead of them:
Think ye strong
Surviving these pratfalls?
Yet the path forward lays behind
And it is only the fool
Who outwits himself.
Einarr growled at the cheap taunt, then read it aloud. “Back we go, everyone. Much slower: I want every inch of this tunnel examined so we don’t miss our turn again.”
Back they went. The walls and floor all seemed just as solid this time through as they had initially – right up until they got to the last of the pit traps.
When they had first passed that final pit, they had all scoffed. It was like the dvergr just didn’t care by then: “oh – heh heh heh – have another pit just for fun.”
Einarr and Kaldr stood at the edge of that trap and shared a look. “What do you think?” Einarr asked, already knowing the answer.
“I think if you wanted every inch examined, we need to at least look. We know where the mechanism is now, so we should be able to lock it open almost as well as we locked it closed before.”
Einarr nodded. The first pit trap had not had any exits, but that didn’t mean the others wouldn’t. And it would go a long way toward explaining the shoddy work on hiding this one. “Once it’s open, who wants to be the first one down?”
Vali did a handstand. “What? Not going to just order me to do it?”
“Nope. Taking volunteers this time.”
“Well that’s silly of you. Once the door’s open I shouldn’t be trapped down there, and you all have to worry about those spikes. Just send me and be done with it.” From someone else, the words could have sounded petulant, but that was one expression he’d never yet seen on the ghost.
Einarr shook his head, an amused smile playing on his face. “The job is yours, then. Naudrek, Thjofgrir, if you would jam it open?”
Now that they knew where to look for the mechanism, they were not reliant on Thjofgrir’s ability to destroy the hinges. Before long, the last pit stood open before them.
It was easily a 20-foot drop to the floor, and once again the pit was filled with those unnaturally smooth, sharp stalagmites. Vali wasted no time in floating down into the bear trap, and before long they heard his otherworldly laughter floating up into their tunnel. “Cheeky bastards.”
“What did you find?”
“Stairs. Get ye down here.” Vali chuckled again.
There was still no good place to tie a rope, so Thjofgrir once again tied it about his waist and braced himself as the others slid down.
“Everyone clear?” He called down from above. Runa moved further out of the way even as she still shook her rope-burned hands.
Thjofgrir made another of his impressive leaps off the ledge. Unlike Einarr, before, he turned himself and managed to roll off his shield and his shoulder in spite of the stalagmites. Naudrek whistled, impressed.
As he had come to expect, Vali’s report was accurate, and yet left out certain rather large details – largely ones, Einarr expected, that struck him as funny. In this case, there was in fact a staircase leading down from the wall immediately under where Einarr and the rest of his team stood. The walls of that stair, in stark contrast to the walls above, were ornately carved with elaborate scrollwork over every inch. The stairs were not carved, of course, but they were narrow and steep, and evidently formed of blocks rather than cut from the living rock.
Runa, standing a little back of the entryway, reached for her herbal pack – probably after more peppermint.
Einarr’s nose twitched. “Does anyone else smell something fishy?”
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