For a long moment, darkness and silence held sway. Einarr strained his eyes and his ears, but no light seeped into this cavern from above, and the only sound that reached his ears was the occasional plink of a drop of water falling into a pool below. Finally he heard the distinctive scrape of a fire striker. In the moment before the first spark died without catching, he thought he saw a skeletal figure poised to strike.
Sinmora rasped from her scabbard. He held his blade outstretched, on guard.
The striker sounded again. Again, the torch did not catch. Again, he saw his enemy. Caught, this time, a hint of cloth that suggested it might be the captain he had nearly tripped over earlier.
Now two strikers sounded. He hoped he wasn’t the only one to have seen the apparition… hoped this was not the thing that had killed the freeboaters.
A torch caught and flared to life. Einarr blinked: the skeleton now once again lay prone on the ground, its fingers clutching its neck. Confused, he looked over at Jorir as he sheathed his sword. The dwarf’s hand was on his axe handle, but he had not drawn.
“Tell me you saw that, too,” he muttered.
The dwarf nodded once. “Probably no one else, though. Not in that light.”
Einarr nodded, then strode forward, once again stepping over the cadaver as though it wasn’t there. Jorir, however, was not as forgiving: he stopped long enough to smash the brittle skull with the back of his axe.
“What was that about?” Odvir’s confusion was audible in his voice.
“Never leave an enemy on the field behind you.” Jorir’s answer was flat.
“An… enemy?” It was Irding’s turn to sound skeptical now.
“Aye. An enemy. Surely you’ve not forgotten why svartdvergers are such good miners, have you?” Jorir pointed at his eye. “While you’re remembering that, best remember that the dead walk on this island. Some of them may have ears.”
Einarr could not quite repress a smile when he heard a series of gulps behind him. “Let’s get back to that boat.”
Einarr came to the end of the steep passage they had followed down and stopped, staring, at the panel that once again barred their way. Even from this side it appeared to be solid stone, but that wasn’t truly the problem. The problem was the slope they stood on, and the smoothness of the stone under their feet.
“Almost makes you wish we had Arring with us, doesn’t it?”
Erik, at least, chuckled.
“Right. Well. There has to be some way to move it from this side, or there wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly so much gold down there.”
Jorir hummed. “Floor near the walls is like to have more traction than in the center.”
“Here’s hoping it’s enough.” Einarr stepped over to the corner, looking for any break between the hanging slab and the wall that they might be able to use for leverage. He scuffed a boot against the ground under his feet. “Mm. Maybe. No place to put a lever even if we had one, though.”
He paused a moment, considering . “Fjorkar, take the other side. Everyone else, brace us. Erik, Geiti, you fall in last. You’ll have the best footing of any of us here.”
“Aye, sir!” The response to this was somewhat more enthusiastic than the situation warranted, but he could understand wanting to be back in the sea air after the oppressiveness of the cave.
Einarr blew in his hands and rubbed his palms together for grip as he stepped up to take his place against the slab. “Put your backs into it! Ready?”
Fjorkar leaned in on the other side, and the rest of the team moved in to brace the two of them and lend their own strength.
“On three! One, two, now!” His “now” became a shout of exertion as he dug in feet, shoulders, and hands to try to lift the massive stone slab on its hinge.
A crack of light appeared at their feet. Einarr pulled his back foot forward and pushed against the ground. It bought them another inch.
Einarr saw from the corner of his eye that Jorir had slipped out of the formation and stepped toward the center of the passage. His eyes were intent on that crack of light at the floor, and he stood braced.
“What… are you… doing?” Erik grunted.
“Get me six more inches,” was all the dwarf replied.
Six?! Einarr had to trust his liege man, though. “One inch… at a time…”
A pair of hands moved from bracing Einarr to plant themselves on the stone. For an alarming moment, it seemed as though his boots would slip back, but then some little of the pressure from the slab was taken from Einarr’s shoulders. He gathered strength in his legs and gave another shove.
Fjorkar, too, was redoubling his effort, and one of the men on that corner had the same idea.
After what felt like an excruciatingly long time, the gap between the wall and the floor was large enough for Jorir to make his move. The svartdverger dashed forward into the gap, lowering his head to catch the stone on his shoulders.
The momentum from his dash pressed up against the stone slab. Einarr nearly lost his footing as the door swung upwards, until Jorir stood upright, bearing the weight of the stone on his shoulders and hands.
The rest of the team wasted no time scrambling out through the four-foot gap. Einarr, Erik, Fjoirkar, and Geiti were the last to pass through.
“You two. Go on through, hold it open for the rest of us.”
Erik grunted and motioned for Geiti to follow. He had to get down on his knees to get through that gap, but stood and grasped the edge once he was clear.
Now Einarr glanced over at the other two. “On my mark, we all three dash through at once. Get clear quick, or someone’s like to lose a hand. Ready?”
Fjorkar nodded. From his position, all Jorir could really do was grunt. Einarr decided that had to be assent.
“Mark!” He bent his knees and sprang forward. A moment later, the slab fell closed with a thunderous crack.