"Good thing it's all rolled up," Harold looked over the blackened bundle.
Telenstil flashed him an almost angry look. The elf was covered from head to feet across his front with a layer of soot. He'd protected his face with his upraised hands but his hair was grey-black and the ash rained down from it as he turned his head. He muttered a small cantrip, "Pu-Das," he said and the soot jumped from his hair and clothes and from the map as well.
"That's amazing," the halfling smiled. "It's that type of magic that has always impressed me."
Telenstil smiled as well, happy to be clean again and more than glad to see the map undamaged and free of soot. "That was an apprentice's trick, but useful. A mage cannot mend a rip or tie a knot with a lightning bolt. These small magics have their use."
"I have no liking for all the bangs and booms," Harold told him, "but many of these small magics would be handy in my trade."
"Master thief, Talberth should be back soon," said Telenstil. "It will be safest if I am alone to send the map to my queen. Please begin your search below for some means for us to escape these rooms or some better place to hide."
"Right you are, but we may need that magic dust of yours if we can find no other way through the iron bars," said Harold.
"I will be along as quick as I can manage, and I will send Talberth down to you as soon as he can," Telenstil turned and called to the old ranger. "Harald please give me a hand, this map is more your size than mine. Can you take it and move it from the hearth?"
"This little thing," the ranger laughed and hefted the map over a broad shoulder. As they left the chimney a voice called from above. "Look out below," and a pack came down quickly, but lowered on a rope.
"Talberth will not be long," said Telenstil with a cautious glance up the chimney. "Henri," he called as the halfling went to gather Gytha and Ivo.
"Yes," the cleric replied.
"Harold is going down to find some way for us to pass, please help him if you can?" asked Telenstil.
"The Blinding Light will show the way," said Henri and gestured to his servants. "Come," he commanded the pair of scouts and left the room heading for the stairs.
Telenstil had Harald leave the map inside the weapons' room and spoke to him before he left to join the others down below. "Harald, please stay and help carry the packs away from the hearth as Talberth drops them down. I will be here, but do not enter, this magic is not safe."
"Do not kill yourself over this map, my friend," Harald said.
"No, I think the risk is small, and less than we have all taken coming here, but thank you, my friend."
Telenstil half-shut the door and removed a flat case from his robe that he had taken from his pack. He touched the mirror and spoke a word to make it live, "Pu-Ha," he said and the silvered surface flowed like liquid metal.
"My queen," Telenstil spoke into the moving face, "you will not like the destruction of your gift, but this map... It shows our dark kindred's hand, as we thought it would. The giants have proved more canny than expected. I will search for more proof and do what damage that I can, but it seems possible that I, or any of our group, will not return alive from this venture."
Telenstil put the mirror down atop the map and drew a dagger from his belt. Crying aloud "Mik-Ka!" he smashed the mirror with the pommel and sent the enchanted glass flying all to bits. He took the largest pieces and placed them around the rolled-up map, then pushed some fragments beneath and laid the broken frame on top. He drew a connecting line from bit to bit with a colored stick of wax and using the power of the mirror's magic he cast a spell he did not know himself. "Mat-Kus-Ta!" he said and a silver beam shot from piece to piece. They formed a glowing web and then burst forth, the light encompassed all within and then was gone. The lines of wax were all that remained to show that either mirror or map had ever lain upon the floor.
* * *
"All done in there?" Harald asked as Telenstil left Nosnra's armory.
"Yes, the map has been sent," Telenstil looked toward the chimney and saw a pair of legs descending. Talberth floated down, the last two packs in his arms.
"The fire is still burning up there. Lots of smoke; the giants are running around the yard trying to put it out," Talberth chuckled.
"Fun for you, not so much fun for them," Harald said.
"I hope it stays that way," Talberth replied.
"Me too!" the ranger agreed wholeheartedly.
"We had best grab these packs and join the others," Telenstil picked up his own.
The ranger slung his heavy pack across his shoulder and carried two on either arm. The wizards struggled with their load, two packs each was as much as they could carry with any ease. All three brushed past the dangling hide of the manticore and headed for the stairs.
* * *
"You are right, Harold," Ivo said to the halfing. "This being carried down the stairs is undignified."
"These big folk start thinking you're a bit of baggage," Harold told the gnome. "A habit I don't want them to fall into on a regular basis."
"Harold," Gytha had come back to the stairs while Henri and the mercenary pair went on ahead. "Henri had his hirelings tell me, to tell you, that there is something wrong about the wall."
"What wall?" Harold asked. He'd checked that corridor and found nothing but the trap that sprang the iron bars.
"You had best go see. Ivo and I will come along as well. I do not care for those three." Gytha gave a nod toward the Pholtite and the scouts.
* * *
"That rope in the chimney should make them think we've escaped," said Talberth as they dropped down the stairs.
"Maybe," said Harald, "but they'll search down here as well."
"When the fire is out it will not take them long to knock down that iron wall," said Telenstil, "but I do not believe that these stairs lead nowhere."
"Maybe we would have been better off escaping and coming back," Talberth said morosely.
"Do not be so glum," Telenstil told the downcast mage. "It would be worse if we were caught out in the fields or along some hillside. This will be for the best, and I have some idea of what lies below."
"Your mapmaker?" asked Talberth.
"Yes," Telenstil admitted to the failings of his source of information. "My mapmaker proved to be turned about, but it was he who first spoke of that map, and that alone is worth all our efforts."
"Is that map worth our lives?" Talberth did not wait for an answer but hopped down the final stairs and looked about the empty passage.
"Where have they gotten to?" Harald dropped the last of the packs and pointed down the hall. "That arch and those bars are at the end down there."
"Well they can carry their own packs from here," said Talberth dropping the packs he carried to the floor with a grateful sigh.
The hall was long and dark, though a glowing square of light could be seen where Harald pointed at its far northern end.
"If this is all there is then these giants will make short work of us here."
"This corridor does not seem to offer much in the way of hiding places," said Telenstil. "Come then, let us find the others and a better place."
"To die?" asked Talberth,
"To hide," Telenstil replied, "perhaps to fight. Dying is not among my plans."
* * *
"What is wrong with this wall?" Harold asked the cleric.
Henri did not even look down at him. "Thief, this wall conceals a door, this I know, but the lock must be opened or destroyed before I can pass through."
"What! Let me see," Harold bent and ran his hands across the ground, then along the edges that the cleric Henri pointed to. He still didn't see a door among the stones, but then he felt a small groove along the wall. This was no magic door, but hidden with great skill. "This is no giant's work," Harold said. "Yes, there is a door. Where is this lock?"
Henri pointed far above the halfling's head.
"I thought as much," said Harold. "Edouard, you will have to lift me up."
"Alright then," Edouard bent down and put the halfling on his shoulders like a child being lifted up to see over a crowd. Even standing on his toes Harold still could not reach the lock.
"You will have to get me higher up," he said.
"Derue, your sword." Edouard commanded. "No, leave it in the sheath. We'll make a shelf out of it to hold up the halfling."
"Right," muttered Derue. He gave the thief a glare, but just a glance, then put his false face back on again.
The two brothers held up the sword as high as their arms could reach. Harold climbed from Edouard's shoulder and balanced atop the sheathed blade.
"That's better," he said to himself.
"What?" Edouard called up to him.
"This will work out fine," Harold called back, and with a few deft clicks and turns of steel wire and pick he opened the lock. "All done. You can let me down now."
"That was quick," Edouard said as he lowered the halfing to the floor.
"It was nothing," Harold said with pride. "But that is not the work of giants. That lock was dwarven work, but flawed."
"How is it flawed?" asked Ivo.
"It's finely made and has a few subtle tricks, but any thief can see that the tumblers are notched. My guide wire fell right into place and the pick turned them like a key," Harold laughed. "This lock was made to be opened."
"By design do you think? Could it be a trap?" questioned Ivo.
"I see no sign, but I did not see this door either," Harold told him. "I will have to climb to the top and check."
"We waste time," Henri complained. "Stand back. The cleric pointed toward the door. A white burning light passed through it and left no trace except for glowing spots dancing before their eyes. "The door is safe. Edouard, please open it."
The scout blinked several times and rubbed his eyes, then leapt quickly to obey. He looked about him but could find no handle. "How?" he asked the Pholtite priest.
"Push against it near the lock," suggested Harold as Henri looked on and said nothing but projected a sense of anger and exasperation at all around him.
Edouard stretched and pushed at the door. It made a clicking sound and then opened from some pressure with a slight whisper of escaping air.
"That door was sealed tight," said Harold. "That air is stale."
"Look!" Gytha called and pointed to a glowing square of floor. Henri's white light had found something after all. "A trap."
"Obviously," Henri said with some contempt.
"Is that it?" Harold wondered aloud. He edged his way across the wall and around the glowing square. "There is room for us to pass, but do you think I should trigger this trap?"
"No," said Gytha. "The last time you ended up blocking off the other room."
"It could have a spell or some infernal mechanism that would be released when the trap is sprung," Ivo warned.
"Henri," Harold said to the cleric. "What does your spell say to you?"
Henri sniffed at such familiarity, "The trap is revealed, that should be enough. Only a fool needs to stick his hand into a hornets' nest to see if they will sting."