Jorir led the way into the underwater passage, wary as though he were expecting an attack from any side. The Weavess wouldn’t have sent them underwater if she didn’t have something terrible planned. In spite of himself he jumped when the shutter sprang closed behind Runa. She squeaked. Shaking their heads, they continued forward. Her lamp was flickering badly now: he hoped it lasted long enough for them to get out of this nonsense.
The hallway appeared to come to a dead end perhaps sixty feet further on. The passage had not split, however, so hopefully there was some way through he just couldn’t see. A lever up near the ceiling looked promising. “Ye see that?”
“I do. Can it really be that easy?”
Metal clanged, the sound of more shutters opening overhead, and water began to gush into the hallway.
“That answer your question?” His boots would very shortly be full of water.
“Less talking. More running.”
They splashed through the rapidly rising seawater. They would make it there in time: the only question was, what was the trick to the lever?
“At least it’s easy to float in seawater. You shouldn’t have to stand on my shoulders this time.”
Jorir grunted. “I don’t float so well, Lady. Even if I did, seawater’s like to foul the mechanism. I expect you’ll be able to handle that one, though.”
Troa and Einarr hurried down the hall, the water already deeper than their boots and threatening to freeze their knees. When they reached the lever, they only studied it a moment before Troa spoke. “Get on my shoulders.”
“This is not exactly my skillset…”
“If it’s more complicated than thumbing a catch and pulling the lever, I will trade you places. Your shoulders have taken enough abuse.”
Einarr shrugged. There wasn’t exactly a lot of time to argue. “All right.”
Troa winced as he went down on one knee in the cold water. Einarr wasted no time in vaulting on the scout’s shoulders, and then he faced the lever.
“You were right, Troa. Here goes nothing.”
Einarr pulled. There was a click followed by the grinding of stone on stone.
They waited, the water continuing to rise up Troa’s legs. Nothing else seemed to happen.
Panic rising in his gut, Einarr looked back at the lever. Now that it was down, he could see there was writing inscribed on the wall.
“There is no salvation here – for you,” he read, splashing down into the water off of the scout’s shoulders. “Something happened, though.”
“Too bad we have no way of knowing what…”
Einarr stood, staring at the dead end of the hall, wondering if this was how he was going to meet his end.
Jorir braced himself against the wall as Runa – slender, delicate, and surprisingly clumsy – stood on his shoulders. The water was as deep as his chest and climbing alarmingly. “Tell me it’s just a lever.”
“It looks like there’s some writing on the wall, but I won’t be able to read it until I pull the lever.”
“Well? What are you waiting for?”
The sound of grinding stone reached their ears and the water stopped climbing even as Runa pulled the lever.
Einarr was beginning to grow numb below the waist as the water approached that level, and he thought it was probably for the best. The rise of the water had been the only way they could measure time, and a grim measure it was.
“Troa. I know things have been difficult lately, but —”
“Shh. Hear that?”
Einarr snapped his mouth shut and listened. The sound of grinding stone reached his ears even over the noise of the rushing water. He turned a surprised look at the scout as a new current picked up in the water: one moving forward. “They did it!”
Before long, a door stood open before them and the water had drained so it only covered their boots. Einarr had only thought he was numb before, but still it was better than being up to his waist in seawater. Here and there, he saw a fish swimming along the passage with them.
Through the door they went, the water dissipating even further as the passage ahead grew wider.
Not many paces ahead, they came to a Y. A sound of wet footsteps was hurrying up from their right. Einarr turned to look, and did not even try to suppress a grin to see Runa and Jorir coming up behind them looking nearly as soaked as he was. As much as he wanted to throw his arms around Runa, certain that her path must have been just as treacherous as his own – but there was no time.
“Everyone’s alright, then?” A quick series of nods confirmed it. “In that case, we’ve already lost too much time.”
“The exit’s sure to be near at hand, if we’re out of her sadistic little maze.” Troa’s eyes were already fixed on their goal.
Runa hiked up her skirts and looked at Einarr like he was holding them up.
“Let’s go, then!”
Reunited at last, the four started to run down the third leg of the Y, the floor growing dryer as their legs grew warmer from the exertion. Where the trail before had gone steadily downward, now they moved somewhat uphill. Not surprising, given that before they had been under water, but Einarr wondered if she didn’t also hope it would slow her tired pursuers just a little longer. As expected, they could see a bright splash of daylight ahead. Einarr pushed himself faster, and the others kept pace.
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