For a moment Naudrek merely floated, a pained expression on his face, but he did not let go his air, and after a moment he swam on.
Then a blast of even colder water slammed into Einarr’s side. Thanks to the moment’s warning from Naudrek, he was able to keep Runa from slamming bodily into the wall at the low cost of a shock to his knees. He hardly even felt it!
Worryingly, the water was starting to feel warmer, and Runa was not looking good. She hadn’t yet let go of her air, but he didn’t want to gamble on how long that would last.
He kicked off from the wall, hoping to hurry past the cross-current. Almost immediately, though, he was shoved back toward the cave wall. He tried to turn himself to take the impact again, but this time his legs tangled in Runa’s skirts. She reached down totry to pluck them away, but Einarr could tell immediately it wouldn’t be enough.
Just then, a surge of water came from behind them. Instead of impacting the wall, Einarr found himself being pushed along by Kaldr, with Thjofgrir helping Runa.
Thank the gods. Hagall and Kaun, to warm and dry us… no. Kaun is as like to scorch us. Sol. Sun and wind is what we need. Relieved of some of the burden of pressing forward, aiding Kaldr as much as Kaldr aided him, Einarr found he had a moment to think of what to do to save them from freezing after they exited the water. But, try as he might, he could not come up with an inscription with just those two runes, not in his current state.
It was not long after they all made it past the cross-current that the water began to grow shallower once more, and soon Einarr’s head was above water and he was trudging once more up the more-noticeable slope of the tunnel floor. Behind him, he heard Runa’s initial gasp for air, followed by no small amount of coughing. He glanced over his shoulder to see that she leaned heavily on Thjofgrir’s shoulder as he pulled them both towards the shallows of the frigid water.
Einarr and Kaldr, as they too emerged, leaned on each other’s shoulders. All of them were worn thin at this point – but their coming enforced rest was a cold comfort at best. Protection. Will that make for a proper … no. What I really need is like a whirlpool of warm air. …
That line, too, led nowhere.
Everyone’s lips and fingers were blue as they all stood shivering on once-again dry rock. Moving around would generate some heat, but not enough.
“Toss your cloaks around someone else’s shoulders. Huddle up,” he managed to say through numb lips and chattering teeth. It was a wonder anyone could understand him, but they did. Einarr stepped to the middle this time and drew out a piece of very wet, very cold chalk. He chafed it between his palms a little and was gratified to see that it still left white on his hands.
“Stamp your feet or something. Move around a bit. Keep us all from freezing while I try to figure out what Master Melja would do.”
“Y-y-y-you mean we hhhhhave to keep moving?” Runa complained. “I’m… so… tired. Can’t we just huddle up like this and go to sleep?”
She had dark circles under her eyes, but otherwise her skin was the blue-white of an iceberg. She probably was legitimately exhausted, too, but…
“Not if you want to wake up again. Come on. Have some trust.”
If he could have let her draw the inscription, he would have. But he had only a fuzzy idea of how it should look, and his mind was foggy too. He started to draw.
ᛊ, for the warmth of the sun. His companions swayed in the circle around him.
ᚻ, to move the air and warm their whole bodies and dry their clothes. The rhythmic stamp of their feet assured him no one had yet succumbed, despite their long stint in the water.
He pressed his chalk to the ground, thinking to draw ᛉ, but that still seemed wrong. Kaldr groaned, a sleepy sound. Then, it hit him.
They were all exhausted, all wounded. To continue on, to reach their destination and aid their friend, they needed stamina. Rest and comfort. They needed ᛝ.
He blinked several times rapidly. He was starting to have trouble staying awake himself. “Just… a little… longer,” he told them, distantly aware that he was slurring his words. That was fine: there was only one thing he needed to do now. He pressed his fingers against the triangle of runes he had just drawn and poured his will into the enchantment.
Runa, standing in the circle as her beloved had ordered, was only half-conscious when a warm breeze began to play around her ankles. It felt warm even though it was blowing through the wet fabric of her dress, which was impressive. She blinked, re-focusing her eyes.
There, on the floor of the tunnel in the middle of the circle, a neat triangle of runes glowed with light like sunlight. Einarr sat on the floor, his back to her, his hands still touching his diagram. She took a deep breath, and realized that her fatigue no longer felt so overwhelming. She let herself relax a little, her shoulders drooping as the warm breeze brought blood back to her skin.
Then she looked more closely at Einarr. Something didn’t look right. His shoulders slumped forward, and as she dropped to her knees to put a hand to his shoulder, she realized that his mouth hung open. A sound like a muffled shriek escaped her throat, and she put a hand to her mouth.
“My lady?” Kaldr, too, sounded groggy, and like his lips were still numb. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Einarr, he’s…” She looked up at Kaldr, panic plain on her face.
“Not possible,” Naudrek said. “The runes are still going. I can feel myself drying out as we speak.”
“Yes, but look at him!”
Runa couldn’t tell if Kaldr was humoring her or genuinely alarmed as well, but the Mate knelt down beside his Lord and reached out a hand to feel for a pulse. Just then, before Kaldr could lay cold-reddened fingers against Einarr’s throat, Einarr’s shoulders heaved and he produced a tremendous snore.
“Oh.” Runa offered a wan smile by way of apology. She felt like she was normally sharper than this. Naudrek and Thjofgrir both chuckled – not, she thought, at her overreaction.
Kaldr, too, gave a thin smile. “Conscious or not, his sorcery seems to be affecting him, as well. We do not appear to be in immediate danger: likely the dvergr thought it worthwhile to give the wetting a chance to kill us, even if we happened to make it out of the water. Perhaps it would be worth our while to pause here – at least long enough for the sorcery to do its job.”
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