The wall curved and the floor began to slope. As Talberth neared the far end of the hall he'd found a passage leading down. The floor and walls showed the scratching that they'd seen in the first passage. Here though there had been no mosaic on the ground, just rough stone that provided firm footing as the decline of the slope increased.
"Do you think the orcs went this way?" asked Talberth.
"I see no signs, but picking out one set of marks among these others is impossible," said Harold.
The sloping passage sank beneath the floor of the hall as it curved near to the far end. It became a tunnel cut into the ground with walls and ceiling no wider than Talberth's outstretched arms. He could place his palm flat upon the ceiling and let the fingers of his hands brush both walls at the same time. Soon the slope leveled out and the passage crossed another, they could proceed ahead or turn to the left or to the right. Each way was dark, the walls were chipped and scarred, the floor marked by countless claws.
"Which way?" asked Talberth.
"Which way for what?" Harold replied.
He stepped between the passages into the small open area where all four ways met. Harold peered down one way, turned and checked another till he had looked into each of the passages that lay ahead.
"There is nothing, no difference that I can see. No sign of the orcs."
Talberth huffed; he'd been hoping to find something right away. Time was passing, they had little to spare; he hated to waste it marching down empty corridors.
"Blast the orcs," Talberth spat out. "Let's go to the left."
"That seems like a good choice to me," said Harold. "Straight ahead and I bet we find ourselves back in the hall with pillars. To the right and it's that pit with the openings in the side."
"I just thought left looked good," said Talberth.
Harold smiled and took a small cloth from his vest. He unwrapped a piece of coal and made a mark at the corner of the wall near the floor. "Just in case," he said.
"In case of what?" asked Talberth.
"We get lost," spoke up Little Rat.
"Correct," Harold said, pleased that the young orc knew enough to mark his trail. "I always like to know where I've been."
* * *
"How did it go?" Harald asked the two mages.
Telenstil and Ivo found the ranger sitting by the fire, he'd fed it a few dry sticks and kept it burning low.
"We are moving to the other room," said Telenstil.
The ranger raised a brow and gave the elf a quizzical look.
"As safe there as here, perhaps safer," Telenstil told him.
Harald shrugged. "I'd sooner be gone from here," he said and brushed the wounds that covered his arms. "Those gibberling pups made me lose my taste for staying."
"I hate to wake her," said Ghibelline.
"She sleeps," said Telenstil, "good. But I feel it will be better if we move down the hall. I will wake Gytha; she can sleep again in a few minutes."
"Sometimes sleep is hard to recapture," said Harald.
"I will wake her," Ghibelline volunteered.
"Then help me carry Derue," Harald told him.
"Come then, Ivo and I will start bringing the packs and the supplies," said Telenstil.
* * *
Gytha yawned and put the back of her hand to her mouth. She'd sprang awake when Ghibelline had spoken her name, but relaxed when she'd seen that it was only him, reassured that nothing was wrong by the wistful smile on his face.
"We are moving to another room," Ghibelline told her.
"That's good," she yawned again, "wake me when you're done."
"Gytha, Gytha," Ghibelline gave her shoulder a shake.
She didn't reply but rolled onto her side then pushed herself to her feet. "Which way?" she asked still half-asleep.
Ghibelline took a handful of burning sticks from the fire, they provided a feeble light. The elf had no need, but Gytha was blinded by the dark.
"This way, it's the only way," he said to her.
"Don't wake me," she mumbled.
"How far have we gone?" Talberth whispered.
"Not far, three hundred paces or so," said Harold, "Why are you whispering?" the halfling found himself whispering as well.
"I don't like this tunnel," Talberth answered.
"This?" Harold glanced around him.
"You have more room than me," Talberth reached up and braced his arm against the ceiling, "the tunnel is getting smaller. I thought so."
"Big people," Harold mumbled. "This is a thoroughfare."
"For you," Talberth replied, "but it's getting smaller."
Harold paused and walked from one side of the passage to the other and felt at the corner where the wall met the floor. He took a heavy pouch from his belt; it gave a dull clink as he undrew the string. A lead sling-bullet rolled out into the palm of his hand, Harold placed it against the corner of the wall where the claws of the gibberlings had not reached. It rocked for a moment then began to roll the way they were headed picking up speed with every revolution of the sphere. With a quick grab Harold snatched up the bullet and dropped it back within his pouch.
"It's getting narrower too," said Harold, "and we are going down, but even I don't feel it. This is cunning work; there may even be a slight curve to the passage."
"How far down have we gone?" asked Talberth.
"I can't tell," Harold glanced at the ceiling, "odd that the roof has lowered. We may be under something, another chamber or passage, a secret room maybe."
Talberth knocked on the ceiling with the knuckles of his hand, the stone rang solid.
Harold gave a laugh. "I don't think a secret room or passage would be hidden so poorly," said Harold, "not in a place that has been built with such care."
"Let's go on then, maybe the entrance is somewhere ahead," said Talberth.
"I haven't seen anything yet," Harold told the mage, "but I haven't been looking. We could double back."
Talberth thought for a moment then shook his head. "No, we don't have the time. It will slow us down too much. Keep your eyes open."
"That I've been doing, and I trust my instincts, but searching takes time," Harold said. "If I don't look, I'm not likely to find. It's either spend the time looking or miss anything there is to find."
"Which may be nothing," Talberth added. "No, no, let's see where this passage leads before we start going over every inch of the ground."
"This tunnel should lead somewhere," said Harold, "they put in a huge amount of work making it. I just hope there is something worthwhile at its end."
* * *
"She is asleep," said Ghibelline to himself. The wood elf returned to the others leaving Gytha snoring softly rolled up against the curve of the wall. They stood facing the enchanted statue of the ogre, Telenstil and Ivo were a pace back, while Harald had both hands against a granite arm and pushed. The muscles along his back and shoulders tensed into rigid lines but he couldn't shift the golem, it would not budge and inch.
"Uhh!" Harald grunted. "Too heavy for me to move."
"Solid stone," said Ivo who reached out and patted the golem's arm. "Enchanted stone."
"Is it safe?" asked Ghibelline.
"No," said Ivo then gave a chuckle at the worried look on Ghibelline's face. "Do not fear, not yet, but don't be too comfortable around it either."
"Your words do nothing to relieve me," said Ghibelline.
"Harald, has the sun set do you think?" asked Telenstil.
The ranger thought for a moment and measured the passing time with an internal sense that stone passages could not block. "It should be getting dark outside."