The air was filled with a musky smell, Ivo's large nose twitched but his mind was deep within the stone. Dwarves could feel the weight of the hammer, the edge of the chisel, the grain of the wedge used to split the stone just by touching the seams between the blocks, or so it was said. Gnomes became part of the oerth, looked out from the stones. They saw the hammer as it struck, felt the crack as the rock split and the great loss as the one was broken into the many.
It was long ago that the stone before him had been cut and set. Ivo saw it as a swift flash, the years streaming backward in darkness till there was a brief explosion of light and movement, a stirring across its surface. The touch of passing hands, the drum of feet, it felt like the brush of an insect's wing. Then there was the rending, the shock of separation and back into the memory of a larger whole and timeless unhurried being.
"This place is old..." Ivo said aloud. He laughed, all that he had felt, a thousand years at least summed up into so small a word as old. "It has been empty for a very long time."
"Ivo," the thief called back to him, "we've cleared a path; can you cast that spell?"
"Spell? Ah yes," Ivo brought his mind back to the present and away from the ageless rock. "Light, we need some light. Hand me that torch."
The halfling complied and watched with interest as the gnome cast his spell.
"Hey!" said Little Rat. "Light coming, look!" he pointed back the way they'd come.
"That doesn't look like a torch," said Harold. "It must be a magic light."
The ranger watched the glimmer slowly approach. "Maybe a lantern," Harold thought aloud.
The gnome only half listened to them as he worked his spell. His hand traced a pattern on the wood and he mouthed the gnomish words that sent the magic forth. Light blazed from the torch's end twice as bright as it would have shone from a rag soaked in burning pitch. Harold shielded his eyes and reached out but the ranger plucked the torch from Ivo's hand and held it high above his head.
The light shined down and lit the hallway bright as day.
"It looks like Talberth and the orcs," said Harald.
"Do you see the others?" asked Ivo. It's hard to tell from here."
Harald peered down the hall, he tried to see past the young mage but there was no light beyond the glow on Talberth's chest. "I can't see, maybe they are coming after."
* * *
She breathed out and let the blessed water fall from its cup, pouring it out over Derue's wounded form. Time slowed to a crawl, the water shone like a stream of jewels, the light from the small fire she'd set nearby catching the droplets as they fell. There was a prayer in her mind, she'd thought it before the first word passed her lips and then she was above it all looking down. Her sight was beyond her body, outside of it but she was still inside. She felt the muscles in her hand as she turned the cup, the beating of her heart; she heard the stillness around her disturbed only by the harsh rasps of breath coming from Derue.
The droplets fell, one almost struck Derue but a shell of hellish red appeared around the scout. The water smoked and vanished in a flash of steam. A dozen droplets followed, they burnt like golden fire and ate the shield like hot water over ice. The red became a mouth, a serpent's head; the falling water lashed it with a hammer blow. The snake rose and twisted, the water formed into a rod, a gnarled cudgel. The fanged mouth reared back, the cudgel made of light smashed down, both splintered into a hundred fragments gleaming red and gold.
* * *
A fragment of light, a swirling spark of red meshed with gold shot toward her. Gytha recoiled but her body was down below, she had no eyes to blink, she was only spirit detached and formless. Time had slowed, the falling of the water, the battle between the serpent and the power of the saint, and the shower of gleaming sparks, they had moved like a falling leaf on a windless day. Time returned, the burning ember, the shard of evil and good came rushing up, it struck and she was seeing through her eyes again. A dozen fiery splinters stung her arms and face, the cup fell forgotten from her hand and she stumbled back, a small cry of shock and pain escaped her lips.
"Gytha!" Telenstil exclaimed, he had been watching her, standing back by Ghibelline who lay unconscious, healing as he slept.
Gytha clenched her hands and cleared her head. All her senses came flooding back, for an eternal moment she had been both spirit and flesh, now she had returned to just her purely mortal guise. There was a shock, a tingling that ran through her hands and feet as if lightning had struck nearby.
"Are you hurt?" Telenstil asked. He was by her side, she had stood frozen while he approached, but to her no time had passed. The moment that time had stretched and slowed had snapped back, she lost a few seconds in recompense.
"I'm fine," she said in a quavering voice. "Fine," Gytha pulled her shoulders back and squared them, steadied her voice and willed strength back into her limbs. "Now I must heal him."