Telenstil coughed. He'd wrapped a wet cloth around his nose and mouth to help keep out the smoke, but the wind had turned and the thick clouds blew south across the packs lying on the roof. The last pack he had to drag, what was light to Harald was heavy to any normal man or elf. The map still floated near the chimney top. The rain beat down, Telenstil was loathe to bring the map out from its safe, dry, place beneath the covering stone, but it would not float forever. He could cast another spell, but to use so many within such a short space of time, it bothered him. He left it where it was and used his ring; the last such use till another day at least had passed, and dropped down slow to the chimney hearth.
"Telenstil!" Talberth called. He rushed over to greet the elven mage.
"Is all well, everyone ready?" asked Telenstil. "We should depart in haste."
"Harold is wounded, but Gytha healed the worst of it," reported Talberth.
"I'm fine," the halfling said. "Telenstil, there is treasure below, maybe more of what you search for..."
"You've seen such?" the mage asked with a trace of suspicion and looked the halfling in the eye.
"Well... no, but I have seen the glint of gold, and a trap beyond what these giants are likely to have set. Put both together and it spells some other hand than Nosnra's. Protecting what, I ask?" Harold said, he spoke quickly and with an excited rising voice. "That wall of yours will hold," he nodded toward the sealed door, "give me another chance... and a little help to slay the manticores..."
"Manticores!" Telenstil almost laughed but the thief was serious and the elf respected his skill.
"Just a few, and iron bars, heavy but nothing more," Harold explained. "There is something there that we should find."
"No. We will return. This map, it is too important to be lost," Telenstil said loud enough for all to hear. "I have bad news. The wards that I have set are gone. The giants must have found the cave."
"What!" came a shout, the mercenary scouts both exclaimed as one.
"My horse!" Gytha cried. The ranger shook his head and Ivo frowned. Henri stepped back and cleared his head. He took a moment to commune with his jealous god.
"I set a ward as well," said Talberth, "and a trap among my things."
"They are all gone off, I do not doubt," Telenstil shook his head. "Another reason for us to leave as quick as we can."
"No, no, " Harold spoke up. "We should stay and find this treasure. We can hide. Will they search for us here, or think we have fled once more? Telenstil, you have means to return this map, some spell, I have seen such in Greyhawk that the city wizards use. Tell me you do?"
The elf stood silent for a moment. "Yes, but it is not a spell that I have mastered. I can send the map back, and one or two of us if any would like to go, but it will cost us our means of talking to our leaders, and an item of great power that I have been only loaned."
"Come, come," the halfling cajoled, "isn't the map worth the sacrifice?"
"What say you all?" asked Telenstil. "Shall we stay? Do any wish to go? Harold's points are true. This map is what I came to find, what those who sent us hoped to see. Our supplies are gone. Our work will only grow more difficult from here," he paused and no one spoke. "I think we need to send the map back, our job here is not quite done, and I see no other way to keep it safe. But tell me what you think."
* * *
The wolves all howled. Nosnra walked slowly back to the steading with Engenulf's lifeless body in his arms. Behind him the subdued warriors made no sound. They did not rush, but marched home in silent respect. The quickest two of Nosnra's clan had been sent out, running at a steady pace for Karnash's land, Nosnra's cousin who had a hall further up into the hills. Nosnra's mind was blank, he felt as if the ground beneath his feet had dropped away and now he walked upon a cloud. The land had changed as well, these fields which he had run and played upon in his youth, Engenulf always at his side, this land no longer felt the same.
* * *
"I say send the map away," Ivo spoke up first. "I will stay. These giants are the enemies of my kind. I will collect a debt that's owed before I leave."
"Yes, that's the spirit," Harold clapped the gnome upon his back. Ivo rolled his eyes.
"Stay," the ranger said. "I came to fight these giants, not run away."
"If the map is delivered safe my duke will be pleased, but I will not abandon those who are my companions," Gytha looked at all those gathered round. "I will stay if any others stay. Send the map back safe, most certainly, but let us do as master Ivo says. I would deal with them as they have dealt with mine."
"Talberth, what of you?" asked Telenstil.
The tall wizard remained silent, he stared at his shoes and only after a moment's thought did he look up. "Stay, yes stay. But I did not think they could find the cave. I do not know how simple hiding here will be."
"Edouard, Derue, what do you wish to do." Telenstil turned to the silent pair.
"We go or stay as our employer commands," said Edouard. "Good Master Henri, we have sworn to serve."
"Where is Henri?" asked Harold looking around.
"I am here," spoke up Henri in a strident tone. He stepped from the doorway of the smaller room which contained the stairs. "These giants have done as you have said," He spoke to Telenstil, ignoring all the rest who stood nearby. "They have desecrated that place which I had blessed in the True God's name. The map does not interest me, but my superior so commands that any information found should be returned quickly and safe. These giants are beyond the True God's grace. I will smite them down," he nearly yelled, his voice shook with anger and contempt. "They are not fit to walk the Oerth; I will cast them into the outer dark."
Harold would have cheered, he was happy to have the whole group stay but the haughty cleric's angry words did not encourage mirth or glad replies.
"Then let us fetch the map and be on our way," said Talberth. "That iron wall keeps out the smoke and flames but it will bring the giants down upon this room."
"Talberth, can you ascend and collect the packs, I will bring the map down and send it to my queen," Telenstil did not wait for a reply but went to the chimney and lowered the rolled map down. It drifted slowly as a feather for most of the flue's length then twenty feet above the ground the magic faded fast, the bundle dropped and sent out a dark choking cloud of soot.
"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."