"Now hold me up," Harold stood upon the ranger's hands and, with one hand of his own, held tightly to the wall. "Carefully, carefully... "
Even up as high as Harald could stretch his arms the arch was out of reach, and in the dim light, out of sight as well. The halfling Harold would have to climb.
The walls were old, the stone finely set, but cracks had formed and what was nothing more than a groove or line between the blocks in these giants' eyes was hold enough for the halfling to use. He pulled himself up by hand then found a foothold and pushed away from the ranger's grasp.
"Be careful," Harald called up. Harold looked down and stuck out his tongue, then went back to work and climbed. Above the arch he hung on the wall with ease and pulled a small iron spike from a loop set in his belt. It had an eyehole and through it he strung a line of rope, thin and fine, but strong, with a supple feel that did not cut or pinch the hand. He had six such spikes each held in place by a small loop along the inside of his belt. Harold gave the spike he held a kiss then placed it against a line between two blocks and said a word. "Zfiri," the spike whirred in his hand like some captured bee and burrowed in between the stones. The halfling let himself drop and gave both Gytha and his ranger friend a start, they thought he'd slipped.
The rope played down and Harold pulled himself along the inside of the arch. It felt smooth, no sign of holes or traps. He felt along its edge and at its apex he came across a latch.
"Stand back," he hissed to the pair below, "back, go back a bit down the hall."
"What is he up to?" Gytha asked. The ranger merely shrugged but took a good step back.
Harold climbed above the arch and pulled out a long thin bar shaped as an L. With slow care he slid the metal bar between the stone and metal latch then with a twist the latch popped free and the whole bottom of the arch swung loose. There must be hinges on the far side, he thought, but a rattling vibration nearly shook him from the wall. A thick set of bars came rumbling down and sparked against the stone floor. The room beyond was sealed.
Gytha and Harald both jumped back as the bars crashed with a great stuttering roar then smashed hard and loud, heavy iron meeting stone.
"What did you do?" Gytha yelled up at the thief.
"I thought as much," Harold said then with a smug look glanced down. "I knew there was a trap."
"That's just great," the ranger said, his hopes of beer now dashed. "Why did you have to trigger it!"
"Don't shout," Harold moved across the upper wall till he found his spike again. "Xo!" he said and the spike twirled out and lay still within his hand. "I will be down in a moment."
Harald grabbed the thief as soon as he came near enough and placed him on the ground like a kitten pulled from a tree.
"Watch your grip," Harold complained. "I'm no sack of ale to have my innards all squeezed out."
"Sorry," said Harald slightly abashed. "Now how are we going to get in there?"
"We are not," Gytha told them. "We've spent more time here than we have to spare."
* * *
"Telenstil!" Talberth gave the mage a shout. "Telenstil, I think we may have a problem here."
Ivo came running over at the wizard's call, but as low to the ground as the old gnome was he still smelled the smoke and looked up to see it coming in above the door. "It seems that your spell has had a greater effect than expected."
"I did not think these walls would catch," said Talberth.
"I would not have thought so either," Ivo replied stroking his beard. "That must be quite a blaze out there to burn these damp logs."
"Do you know a spell to turn this smoke aside?" Talberth asked.
"I have no handy spells for this," Ivo said. "I will get our elven friend. His work appears to be just about done."
Telenstil cut away the left supporting side; the map curled in and fell upon the floor still hanging from the right. It would be a huge roll, like a piece of some long carpet that ran down the center of a cathedral or a king's hall. Now that his work was done he looked for someone to help him with the map. To his right, along the eastern wall, the lower door was open and he could hear the sound of movement from within. A little further to the north stood Talberth and Ivo before the entranceway. They seemed concerned and turned to look at him.
"Telenstil!" Talberth called again, and motioned for him to approach.
With a sidelong look the elf left the map behind lying crumpled on the floor.
"What is wrong?" he asked.
"Look up," said Talberth pointing to the roof.
"Ahh! Yes I see," Telenstil looked at the smoke. "Move back and open up the door."
Ivo raised an eye, but backed away.
"I will need to remove the spell that holds it closed," said Talberth. "An-Ek-O," he said then stepped back. "Now?"
"Now we open up the door," said Telenstil.
"I have a spell, but it takes a bit of power. I hate to waste it just to open up a door," said Talberth.
"You two! Wizards, hrumph!" Ivo rolled his eyes. He walked to where he'd left his pack and pulled out a rope and an iron spike. The rope he knotted round the spike; removed a hand axe from his belt then went over to the door. The gnome hammered in the spike with a few hard raps then with both hands gave it several pulls. The spike held firm. "Come on, you are both tall enough to reach. Turn the handle."
Talberth reached up but did not touch the metal latch, he jerked back his hand and spit. The gob sizzled when it hit. "Whew!" he said aloud, grateful to have spared his fingers from a burn.
"Use this," said Ivo standing near. The gnome held out an empty leather pouch.
"Thanks," Talberth put the pouch over his hand then opened up the door a crack. A stream of smoke poured in. It swept up toward the roof, a dark thick haze.
"Quickly now!" said Telenstil.
Ivo and Talberth pulled upon the rope and the door swung open wide.
"Zina-Metali!" Telenstil called and threw a square-cut iron sheet, no bigger than his palm. It disappeared into the wall of smoke that poured in from the burning hall and then it filled the open space of door. A smooth iron valve, no hinge or handle showing, squeezed tight between the wooden doorframe. A tiny cloud, all that passed before the metal formed, rose in a puff and hung about the ceiling high above.
"Very impressive," said Ivo. He reached out and gave the metal wall a rap with his knuckles. It gave out a solid sounding gong. "Makes me wish my own craft was a bit more substantial at times."
"Speaking of time, I think we have a little more," said Telenstil. "But that fire may get out of control and I don't want either the map or us burnt up."
"Hear, Hear!" Ivo agreed heartily.