Vali’s warning left Einarr thunderstruck: hadn’t they just passed a deadfall? “Another one?” He managed to say eventually.
“And in better repair than the one before. You’ll never make it through here carrying the lady: not sure you will anyway.”
“It’s fine. Put me down: I’ve rested enough.”
As Einarr opened his mouth to ask if she was sure, the beast’s ear-piercing chirp rang through the passage again. The sound alone was enough to dislodge some of the looser stones. Instead, he turned to Vali as Runa climbed down off his back. “Can you see where the keystones are?”
“Not well. I’ll do my best to warn you, but…”
“Fine. Let’s go!” There was no time for arguing or explanations: Einarr felt certain the creature was gaining on them with every step.
Vali looked thoughtful for a moment, then his eyes brightened as an idea occurred to him. He floated forward through the passage, and in his wake bits of stone along the walls and ceiling illuminated in the virulent green of ghost light. Every last one of these was placed such that Einarr had to dodge around it – and some of them he nearly stumbled into anyway. Einarr was as thankful for the ghost’s presence as he was shocked they had done as well as they had.
The wet sounds of the beast’s footsteps were clearly audible now, and moving quickly. And it almost certainly wouldn’t care about this deadfall, much like it hadn’t cared about the one before. There was not room to carry Runa, so he reached back and grabbed her hand. “Faster!”
He and Naudrek ran faster, pulling Runa along in their wake. When Naudrek danced around a protruding lance of stone highlighted by Vali’s ghost light, Einarr didn’t even think what he needed to do. He pulled Runa forward in a spin, as though they were dancing, and both their feet left the ground as Einarr turned so that the lance passed just above his back.
Then his feet touched the ground again, and Runa’s as well, and they were running again. It was a move that he would have to remember the next time he found himself at a Hallingdanse – although Sivid was sure to show him up almost immediately.
A moment later he heard a muffled curse from Thjofgrir, but there was no following rumble of moving stone so he must not have hit the keystone.
How are its feet still wet? We must have run a mile at least! He didn’t know where the thought came from, except that it touched on the nature of the beast: it didn’t matter, right now – and never would, if Einarr had his way. Even before this chase, none of them had been in any condition to fight a monster of the deep.
Finally, just up ahead, Einarr saw the walls of the passage grow smooth again. Thank the gods! He had to fight the urge to pour on more speed, though: he suspected Runa was already having trouble keeping her feet, and getting through the deadfall would not end their race.
He practically leaped over the last few feet and past the final glowing keystone for the deadfall and did not slow his pace. A curse from Thjofgrir made him turn his head to look: the big man had tripped and rammed his shoulder into that selfsame keystone. Ghost light clung to the arm in question, although Vali quickly extinguished it.
The walls of loose stone began to rumble, and bits of debris fell from the ceiling in thin streams.
“Run!” Einarr bellowed back, knowing that he already was.
Thjofgrir righted himself and half-stumbled back into his run, his fatigue made worse by the extreme stoop he was forced to move in. Larger, fist-sized rocks started to tumble from the ceiling, as the keystone began to slowly slide down the wall.
Further down the hall, at the very edge of what Vali’s ghost light still illuminated, a massive silver-grey rod shot out and collided with the wall ahead of it. Einarr only got a glimpse, it moved so fast, but that hastened the deadfall.
Thjofgrir propelled himself forward, trying to get out of the way of the fast-descending rubble. As he stretched out into his desperate dive, he collided with Kaldr, sending them both sprawling to the floor.
Einarr, Naudrek, and Runa all stopped in their tracks, turning to see.
The deadfall gave way and several tons of rubble came crashing to the floor of the cave. This one, evidently, had also been a deeper deadfall than the one before, as the rock nearly filled the passage behind them.
Kaldr rolled to his back and sat up. “Thjofgrir? Are you all right?”
Kaldr’s Mate looked up, a pained expression on his face. “I’m trapped. Go on: that thing’s going to burrow through this just like it did the other.”
“That just means we’ll have to hurry. Runa, catch your breath quick as you can. We’re going to need your voice.”
She nodded silently, it looked like she was already working on that.
“Now, come on. We’ve got some digging to do.”
All three standing men moved up to the fallen rock. Einarr thought it shouldn’t take them very long to dig him out, based on how the rocks had arranged themselves, provided his feet had escaped crushing.
“What are you doing?” Thjofgrir protested. “You really think I’m going to be able to walk? Run!”
“Yes, actually,” Kaldr answered, cool and unflappable as ever.
“Just hold on. We’ll have you out of there soon enough, and Runa will fix you up right away.” Einarr had already started shifting stones. They could hear the angry chirps of whatever the beast behind them was, but it sounded like this was enough rock to stymie even it, at least for a while.
Thjofgrir was only buried about halfway up his calves, and the stone was as loose as Einarr thought here on the edge of the fall. With all the strength their exhausted muscles could muster the three of them moved stone until Naudrek and Kaldr could take Thjofgrir’s arms and haul him out from underneath.
His feet were tender, but not bloodied, and while he could put no weight on his left leg, his right was fine. Runa began the Song of Healing even before he was fully upright, and if her voice sounded tired it did not diminish the strength of her Song. They started off again, Thjofgrir leaning on Kaldr’s shoulder and limping as quickly as he could. Einarr moved into the rear and they started to jog, just as the sound of tumbling stone started up again. The beast had found its way forward.
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