The tunnel shrank some more but was still higher than Talberth's head and wide enough for him to pass with ease. The halfling and the young orc noticed the shrinking walls though the ceiling was high enough above that it just seemed far away. Level floors that sloped imperceptibly began to drop then plateau out into a landing. Three times the passage sank down and evened out; it was lower by twice a tall man's height when they reached its end. Three doors blocked their way; they were set in the curving walls of the chamber, a half circle with a rounded roof. One door was iron, it bled with rust, sheets of metal peeled from its surface, parchment thin, layered deep, a pile of dust and flakes was thick before it. There was a second door of stone, above it the roof had cracked and water fell in slow droplets streaming down across its face like tears. Long fangs of rock had formed above the door; a hard crust followed the path of the drops, white and glistening, patterned like the veins which ran over a drunkard's nose. Water pooled at its base, a shallow depression worn into the stone of the floor. The third door was made of wood, dry and hard as rock. The timbers had cracked and iron rivets were half forced from where they had been hammered in. An axe head with a splintered haft was half buried near the metal latch. The handle was bent, the metal green with age and scarred perhaps by the axe-blade or another like it. The wood near to the handle was gashed, splinters showed where the blows had taken feeble bites from the ancient boards.
"We've found something here," said Harald. "Should we go on?"
"We can try a door," Talberth walked into the room.
The halfling gave out a yell, high and loud. Harald pushed the young orc back but could do nothing for the mage. Iron bars came down; they clanged against the stone and seemed to sink into the rock.
"Don't touch them!" Harald yelled again.
Talberth spun around, the metal snapped down before him, so close that the wooshing air whistled past his face.
"Don't move," Harald said, "don't touch anything."
* * *
"What did I do?" Talberth yelled to the halfling. "Harold, get me out of here!"
"Don't move, don't move," Harold told him. "Keep calm." the halfling waved his hands at the mage with quick excited gestures.
"Don't move! What if that triggers something!" shouted Talberth.
"You're more likely to trigger something else if you move," said Harold. "Look at the floor."
Talberth glanced down then back at Harold. "What am I supposed to see?"
"There are no marks on the floor," Harold said, "Look at the hall; the floor is scratched to bits. Something kept those monsters from this room; there must be some way to raise those bars."
"Maybe they went through those doors," said Talberth. He glanced over his shoulder at the three doors behind him.
"Don't move!" Harold snapped. "I don't trust those doors."
"Don't move, don't move, is that all you have to say," Talberth complained. "Get me out of here!" Talberth reached out and grabbed hold of the bars.
Harold shouted and backed away, he ran into Little Rat who stood close behind him. A blinding flash exploded before his eyes, a coil of lightning seemed to jump between the bars and lashed Talberth as if with the tail of a dragon. The mage flew across the room, his body crashed against the door of stone and passed through as if it was not there.
"Talberth!" Harold yelled half-blinded by a purple afterglow that pulsed within his eyes. The bars slid back up into the ceiling, so smooth and quick that seemed to disappear as the mage had done.
* * *