They all covered their ears involuntarily at the creature’s angry shout. A small cascade of dirt and pebbles were dislodged from the rough ceiling here.

Naudrek dropped into a run again even as Einarr opened his mouth. Einarr stepped to the side as Runa picked up her skirts and started to follow after Naudrek. “Kaldr, Thjofgrir, this stone looks loose. Try to drop the ceiling, then catch up. Vali, see if you can’t give them a hand.”

“Sir!” Kaldr bellowed in agreement.

“Good fortune.” Then Einarr, too, ran after Naudrek.

Kaldr turned where he stood to look at the passage around them while Thjofgrir loosened up his arms. Based on the quality of the stone here, this was almost certainly intended to be a deadfall. Why it hadn’t triggered, Kaldr couldn’t guess, but he would certainly use it to his advantage. Fortune would have nothing to do with it. “Ready?”

“Let’s bust some walls.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about being used as a glorified lamp,” Vali groused, “but I’d hurry if I were you. I got a look at it before. It’s quick, and slippery, and it could get both of you in its mouth whole.”

“My thanks for the warning – and the light, however irksome that may be.” Kaldr drew his sword. “We could use the extra eyes, too, to be frank. There’s bound to be a weak spot that will send all this loose stuff tumbling down.”

Vali chuckled. “Is that all? Try over there.” He pointed to a section of the wall that looked much like any other.

Kaldr moved to inspect the section of face that Vali indicated. It did, indeed, look like all they would need to do would be to dislodge one stone in order to bring it all down. Unfortunately, that spot was right in the middle of the deadfall. If they simply knocked it loose, they would bring the trap down on their own heads, and their shields were definitely not up to a rockfall of that magnitude.

Kaldr frowned, staring at the spot. “Vali… how big is the beast?”

“Massive.”

Kaldr thought he could hear the wet footfalls behind them again – and a scratching noise, too. “Big enough it could brush the wall here without really trying?”

“Probably.”

He didn’t have time to deliberate: there was only one path forward he could see, anyway. He drew the knife from his belt and wedged it into a vertical crack in the stone. Assuming the deadfall trap was only malfunctioning and not outright jammed, their pursuer should trigger it when he brushed against the handle. He didn’t like this sort of gamble, but sometimes the odds were just against you. “Let’s go.”

“That’s all?” Thjofgrir actually sounded disappointed.

“Afraid so. We should hurry: even if this works, I don’t think it’ll stop the beast for long.” Kaldr started to trot down the passage, then paused. “Hey, Vali? Earlier, you said you made the entrance to this passage colder. I don’t suppose you could make my knife warmer?”

The apparition shook his head. “I’m a ghost, not spawn of Hel.”

Kaldr shrugged. “Too bad. We’ll just have to hope, then.” And he took off at a dead run after Einarr’s party, with Thjofgrir and Vali close behind.


Einarr heard pounding feet coming up behind him: glancing over his shoulder, it was the other three. A moment later there was another loud chirrup and the crashing of stone against stone. Troublingly, the rockfall did not seem to quiet the beast at all.

“No luck?” Einarr asked as Kaldr and the others fell in behind him. They had kept a more moderate pace, both in deference to Runa and in hopes of letting the others catch up more easily.

“Not enough, I’m afraid. I liked that knife, too.”

“We all get through this, I’ll have Jorir make you a new one, exactly how you want it.”

Kaldr snorted and said no more. No-one did: they all had focused their energy on finding a way to give it the slip.

The passage wound on for quite a while, as featureless as they had come to expect outside of the flaming stairs and the vestibule of javelins. Einarr could not yet hear the wet footsteps they knew meant the beast was approaching, but its occasional high-pitched chirp was definitely getting closer. He thought, briefly, of pulling out his Óss runestone again… but the dvergr had done something that interfered with the runes. In this place, he wasn’t certain he could trust even Wotan’s rune. Best to save those for when there was no other way, and he didn’t think they’d run out of options yet.

“See anything?” he asked Naudrek after a while, but the other man just shook his head and kept running. Runa was getting winded again: they were asking too much of her, and he feared for the child.

Einarr sighed. He felt like he’d been reliant on Vali’s strange powers too much this trip… and yet, the ghost had come along as a scout. “Vali! We need you to zip ahead. Anything strange or unusual you see – anything at all – report back.”

“Will do.” This time, at least, he didn’t look cross over the matter.

A glance over his shoulder showed Runa gamely pushing on, but she needed far more than their unexpected sleep earlier. It wouldn’t slow them appreciably at this point, so Einarr held up a hand for those behind him to wait. With no explanation whatever, he dropped to one knee.

“I beg your pardon?” Runa asked, perplexed.

“Hop on. I’ll carry you.”

A stubborn look flitted over her face, but it softened almost immediately. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Why do you think I am?”

They were coming into another area of rough rock walls and loose stone. Somehow they’d managed to avoid triggering the last one, although the beast had not been so lucky. Nothing for it but to pray…

“Wait!” Vali came zipping back, almost as quickly as he’d raced off.

Without question, the others skidded to a stop. “What is it?” Einarr asked.

“Deadfall – right over head. One wrong step from where you are and you’ll all be buried.”

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