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Chapter 16: What Goes Up

We spent a couple hours fruitlessly banging our heads against the problem (metaphorically speaking, of course) without much success, and in the end decided to just sleep on it.  We headed back out to near the mouth of the cave, and I found that none of the wards had regenerated themselves yet.  That didn’t prove that they wouldn’t overnight, though.

We pitched the tent, and I noticed that Aylwyn did indeed lay down face-down.  I hadn’t realized that the night before.  It was another long night for me, about the same as the night before, and I got about the same amount of sleep as before, which is to say not nearly enough.

The next morning I felt even worse than the last one.  I awoke feeling sore, weary… and grungy.  It had been two days here on this mountain, with no opportunity to bathe.  Yuck.  And yet, I felt kind of excited.  “Aylwyn,” I murmured quietly, because I couldn’t see if she was awake yet or not.

“Hmmm?”

“I think I know how to deal with the rocks.”

“Again?” she asked wearily, rolling onto her side to face me in the dim light of morning.  I noticed she had one hand against the ground, angling herself a little to keep her weight off her wing when she lay like that.

“No, I think this one will actually work.”  I got out of the tent and started looking around, just outside the mouth of the cave.

The paladin followed, looking at me curiously.  “Are you searching for something?”

“Pebbles,” I said, reaching down to collect a few.  “Here, help me gather some.”

She gave me a quizzical look, but crouched down and picked up a few of her own.  “Why do we need pebbles?”

“To test my theory.  You see, all of those large rocks are floating high in the air… but the treasure isn’t.”

“You think that the spell is such that small things will not float?” she asked, catching on.  I nodded.  “But what about the dragon bones?”

“The theory’s not perfect,” I shrugged.  “Maybe the spell has an exception for them, or something.  But I think that in general, small things–or lightweight things–aren’t affected by the levitation spells.  But before we act on my idea, we should probably test it.”

She laughed softly.  “By throwing pebbles into the chamber and seeing if they rise.”

“Exactly.”

We gathered up a few handfuls, then headed back down the tunnel, carefully testing for wards again at my insistence.  There had been five before, and we found the first four active again, which is what I’d been worried about.

I deactivated each of them, and we headed deeper, watching carefully to try and find where the fifth one was.  It had been very close to the opening to the treasure chamber, but the further we went, the more frustrated we became.  We couldn’t locate it, and it had looked like something particularly deadly if triggered.

Finally, I threw up my hands in frustration as the tunnel began to widen.  “Ryell is toying with us,” I said.

“You think the fifth ward is gone?”

I nodded slowly.  “As a child, I attended an academy for youngsters.  They called it the High School, because it was set upon a hill.”  OK, I was embellishing a little, but it made for a better story.  “One day, a handful of youths decided to play a practical joke.  They brought three full-grown swine into the main building and released them in the hallway, letting them run wild.  They had taken ink and drawn on the sides of the pigs the numbers 1, 3, and 4.  It took the staff of the High School about two hours to round the three up and get them out… but then they spent most of the rest of the day frantically searching for the one numbered 2 before realizing that was all part of the joke.”

“A rather cruel joke to play,” she said with a frown.

I nodded.  “Cruel, but effective when what you want is to distract someone and waste their time.”  And it did get us to waste our time: even suspecting that the trap wasn’t there didn’t mean it was safe to not watch out for it.  But eventually we made it to the treasure chamber, and proceeded to test my theory.  We tossed in pebbles one at a time, or in groups.  We tossed them low and hurled them high up at the roof of the cave.  But no matter what we did, every last one of them came falling back down to the ground.

Aylwyn looked over at me.  “It seems your theory holds true.  So what do we do with it?”

“Well, if an ordinary person walked in there, they’d be levitated up into the air and be helpless.  They’d be stuck up there, and probably starve to death.  If I walked in, all the rocks would fall down around me.  But if you walked in there… you’d be levitated, and be able to move around while up in the air.”

She nodded. “True…”

“And we know that large rocks float, and small rocks fall.  So the real question remaining is, do you have any way of turning large rocks into small ones?  Such as perhaps using a flaming sword to chop them apart, or even make them explode?”  I was going out on a limb here a little.  I had no idea what her angel-sword could or could not do.  For all I knew, trying to strike a rock with it would cause it to go CLANG and bounce off in a flash of sparks, just like a normal sword.  But I was betting that all the flashiness wasn’t just for show.

Unfortunately, she looked at me like I’d just grown a second head or something.  “That was your plan?  I use my sword to make the rocks… explode?

“That won’t work?” I asked.  “What about just cutting them apart?”

“That might actually work,” she said, “but it would take days.”  Well, at least I wasn’t completely wrong about what her sword could do.  “However…” She looked up.  “Here, we don’t float.  The spells only begin several feet into the chamber.”  She looked up again, considering.  “Stand back.”

I took a few steps back, hoping she wasn’t about to do something dangerous again!

The angel stepped forward, into the latticework of levitation spells that she had assured me was there.  She gasped softly and raised her arms as she began to float up off the floor, spreading her wings to help her balance.  The spell pushed her up until she was about ready to bump her head against a large boulder, but she put her hands up over her head and pushed herself away just enough that she was able to move around to the side of it.  Then she placed her hands on the side of the rock, flexed her wings, and pushed.

It took a few wing-beats, but the stone reached the edge of the magic and came crashing down to the ground.  I was glad I’d stepped back, because it rolled over towards me before settling against the wall of the chamber.

“Wow,” I said, grinning up at her.  “That’s actually pretty impressive.”

“It will take me some time to clear enough of these away that you can safely demolish the magic.” she said.  “And the ones I bring down will almost certainly block the tunnel.  I suggest you go back to the tent to wait.  When I’m done, I’ll cut a path through… with my sword.”  There was a hint of a mocking inflection in her tone for that last bit.

I shook my head.  “I’ll stay safely back, but I’m not going so far back that you’d be trapped if one of the wards becomes active again in the meantime.”  I took my pack off and got out some trail rations and a waterskin for her.  “Here, take these.”

“Thank you.”  She spread her wings and moved off the edge of the magic lattice, drifting back down to the ground next to me to reclaim the provisions.  After looking up, then back at me, she sighed.  “This is likely to take a few hours.”

I nodded and went down the tunnel a ways, sitting against the wall and just resting, since there really wasn’t much I could do to contribute for the moment.  Almost made me wish I’d brought along a book to read.

A few hours of mostly-boredom-punctuated-by-the-occasional-crashing-rock later, I heard a new sound coming from the now-blocked tunnel, a hissing sound, almost like water being thrown on hot metal, but with a harsher, shrill edge to it.  After a few minutes of the harsh sounds, a line of flame burned through the boulders blocking the tunnel, slowly slicing down through the big, heavy rock until the thing cracked and split in half.

It took a bit more cutting before Aylwyn was able to walk through.  She opened her hand and the sword just sort of… burned out I guess is the best way to describe it.  Like a lighter when you let go of the button.  She was a bit of a mess, all sweaty everywhere, with her robe stained with stone dust in several spots, her long hair all messy and wild.  She was still breathing heavily after all the exertion.

She looked incredibly hot, even more so than usual.  I saw her, and I suddenly wanted nothing more than to walk over there, push her up against the nearest wall, and–

I was on my feet and moving before I realized what a horrible idea that would be.  So I turned just a little so I’d end up standing beside her instead of running straight into her and pretended like nothing had happened.  I looked over her work, with rocks strewn all over the ground in the entryway.  I could climb over them easily enough to get in, but getting back out carrying heavy stuff… that would be trickier.  I looked up and saw that the ceiling was basically clear of floating rocks, towards our end at least.  It would still make a big mess when it all came down, but it should be safe to trigger the trap now.

Aylwyn seemed to be thinking the same thing.  “Walk to the treasure,” she said. “Don’t bother looking up, but be alert.  I’ll be looking up, and when I say run, you immediately turn and run back here.”

That was a bit nerve-wracking, but I did it, walking slowly, breathing deeply, every muscle on high alert.  There wouldn’t even be an ominous rumbling or anything; just Aylwyn’s word that I had to turn and run.  Even with most of the rocks cleared away from directly overhead, falling rocks could still bounce and roll and pose a great deal of hazard to me, and so here I was, betting my life that my reflexes, and hers, would be quick en–

“Run!”

I turned and sprinted.

Rocks crashed behind me.

The floor shook.

My foot came down on some loose pebbles, and I flailed my arms wildly, then began to fall, face-first, right towards a big rock.

Strong arms caught me, pulled me up onto my feet again, and I found myself quite unexpectedly pressed up against Aylwyn.  Honestly, I’m a bit surprised I didn’t bowl her over. She’s bigger and heavier than me, but not by all that much, and I was moving pretty fast.  But instead I came to a pretty quick stop and got the wind knocked out of me a little, and didn’t bash my head in on a big, hard stone.

After a few seconds of gasping and panting, I stepped back, a little bit embarrassed.  “Thanks,” I whispered breathlessly.

She kept a firm grip on my arm until she saw I was steady, then let me go and nodded.  “Of course.”  Then I turned and looked at the chamber.  There were big boulders strewn all over, and the treasure and the dragon’s bones had been scattered–but somehow, none of them looked to actually be broken.

I looked back at Aylwyn.  “We’re going to have to move these, aren’t we?”  Those rocks weren’t a lethal hazard anymore, but they were still big and heavy and in the way.

She nodded. “Let’s get to work.”

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