"I can fit between," said Harold.
"No, it's too dangerous," Gytha declared. She looked at the huge bars set so close that a youth could not squeeze through. Not so a halfling pared down by hard travel and poor fare. Harold showed her what he meant, with a sideways step he fit between the bars and only had to hold his breath and pull his stomach in.
"See," he said standing on the other side and holding out both hands. "No problem."
"Harold," Gytha warned, "Come back here! This is no time to play a foolish game."
"I'm hurt," he said. "You doubt my skill." Harold approached the bars and whispered to both Gytha and the ranger. "What have we come here for? I will be quick and who else can find out what lies ahead?"
"We should go back," Gytha said half-heartedly.
"I may be smaller than your young brothers Gytha but I am older than I look, older than your father no doubt. You humans live so short a span." The halfling sadly smiled. "I have thieved for longer than you have lived, in Greyhawk, greatest city on the Oerth, I learned my craft and paid my dues in many ways. I have faced a wizard's wrath and merchants' guards and wards and traps a dozen times a dozen. These clumsy backwards giants would not cause a raw apprentice a moment's worry. I will be right back."
Gytha did not say a word, she hadn't had the chance, before Harold turned away and slowly crept across the floor. As he had checked the hall, he checked this room. Sliding careful hands along each square of stone he made a slow advance.
'This would never do,' he thought. He pulled a pouch from inside his vest and poured a handful of silver dust out upon the floor. "Lat!" he said and a magic wind that he could not feel blew the dust out across the room. He saw no sign that the dust had worked, perhaps that nomad shaman had traded him a bag of silver ash, but Harold doubted that. Those idolaters of cats were cruel but seldom lied, and when they did they lied like children in an artless way.
Far out against the western wall a sparkling point of light had caught his eye. He'd seen it from the open door, now blocked by the fallen iron bars. From where he stood the light caught a dozen sparkling things apparently fallen and lying on the ground. Now they shined with a silver nimbus dancing back and forth from point to point. A trap, the magic bag of dust just told him what he had known since he first saw the glimmer from the open door.
"What children these giants are," Harold tsk'd and began to jog across the empty floor. "No one but another giant would fall for a trap like..."
Something skimmed past his head then another object sparked against the stone and made him jump aside. To the south a set of iron bars like those that he had released and now blocked the eastern door kept a pack of howling manticores at bay. They shrieked an almost human tongue and spat with anger then barked as they threw themselves against the bars that kept them from the halfling whose flesh they craved. Their barbed tails swung back and forth and like an expert with sling and stone they sent long needle spikes flying through the air.
* * *
Nosnra swayed, he nearly fell; all around him lay unconscious bodies of his fallen warriors. The howling of the magic spell increased and in a flash of blue the cave collapsed. The forces had proved more than stone and rock could bear. A wave of of air, speckled with a glowing line of sparkling blue, rolled out. It washed across the clearing and crested high above the chieftain's head. He leaned into the wind and let his body rest against its strength. His hair blew back and its color bleached away, Nosnra screamed, his mouth opened wide, the flesh across his face rippled but any sound he made could not fight free and died unsounded behind his tongue.
* * *
"Yee!" Harold screeched and rolled across the floor. A stinging pain slapped him against the leg. He sprinted for the eastern arch, a half dozen spikes caught him as he ran, three cut all to close, one struck the leather vest he wore and barely scratched his skin, but two sunk deep into his arm. He groaned, and another spike caught him in the leg.
"Harold!" Gytha yelled.
The ranger grabbed the bars and heaved; the massive portcullis did not budge.
* * *
"What did you find?" Ivo asked the mercenary pair.
"Nothing," said Edouard.
"A waste of time," chimed in Derue.
"That giant chief's armory, nothing but swords longer than I am tall and shields big as a wagon bed."
"Some nice fur hides," Edouard said, "but it seems we will be busy carrying that," he pointed to the map that Talberth and Telenstil were busy rolling up.
Talberth puffed as he hefted the rolled map from off the floor. "This thing must weigh a ton," he said to Telenstil.
"You are out of shape. You spend too much time in books," the elf had a wiry strength and moved the rolled map aside with ease.
"Show off," Talberth mumbled when Telenstil had walked on by.
"Ivo," Telenstil said to the gnome, "Time to retrieve our wayward thief." The elven mage looked toward the hidden door left open along the western wall. "I will secure this in the fireplace," he tapped the rolled up map. "No need to put another hole in Nosnra's roof."