“Yeah, Jasna can be like that, sometimes,” Petra said, as Justin hefted her from the pit. She patted his hand, then joined the other girl in the corner by the bookshelf, picking through what few papers were left in readable condition.
“You might want to wipe a little more at your cheeks,” Katarin whispered, as he hauled her over the edge. “It won’t do for Jasna to see you crying.”
“I’m not--” the young man said. He sniffed, wiping at his eyes again.
Brynne just clucked her tongue at him, shaking her head. She helped him haul up his armor and pack, which she’d secured to the line before she climbed from the pit.
No sooner had the rope been pulled up over the edge of the pit, than the strange, thrumming hum floated through the air again, and the floor winked back into being outside the small room. Brynne prodded at it with her staff, then slapped it with her hand, finally stepping out into the hallway and jumping up and down.
The thrum began again, and the two carved representations of Silva spoke their command again. Brynne immediately dropped to one knee, and raised her hand, looking rather embarrassed as she closed her fist and rapped at the empty air of the archway.
To everyone’s surprise, three ghostly knocks echoed through the small room.
Yellow-orange light flickered from the corner of the room, and Jasna gave a triumphant cry. The lantern sputtered to light, the glow streaked where the glass had cracked in the fall.
“Ah ha! It wasn’t completely broken,” she said.
Justin and Petra both shied away from the girl, their cloaks and trousers still damp with oil.
One after the other, the girls wiped the drying blood from their pendants, and the stones went dark.
The corridor split just past the office, continuing ahead, or branching off to their left.
“Rustling from both directions,” Petra whispered, with a worried frown. Her hand strayed to her hair.
“We’ll go left,” Jasna said, and started down the side corridor.
“Yeah, she can be like that,” Justin said, as passed Petra to follow the other girl.
Perhaps ten paces down the hallway, they came to another carving. As before, its stone-like eyes opened, and then its mouth began to move. The thrumming hum filled the air, barely heard above the odd, spidery tongue the bas-relief spoke. The girls each heard the meaning, echoing in their minds.
“If it is the knowledge that you yearn
Then enter here to learn.
If you journey here to teach,
Please remember not to preach.”
Justin dropped to one knee, and Petra giggled.
“On your feet,” Brynne said. “I don’t think this one is trapped.”
Jasna gave the door behind them a dark look. “It said something about learning. That’s certainly a trap.”
“Only to those who can’t sit still for a lesson or two,” Katarin said. She lifted the latch on the door, and pushed, bumping into the panels.
“It’s stuck,” she said.
Justin stepped up next to her, giving the door a push of his own.
“Swollen in the frame,” he said. “This happens at the castle all the time in damp weather. This long winter has been terrible on the guards’ shoulder spaulders.” To illustrate his point, he slammed his shoulder into the door, staggering into the room when the door popped free of the frame.
He caught himself against a rickety desk, one of several lining the length of the room.
“See? I told you,” Jasna said. “This is a classroom if I ever saw one.”
“I’m amazed you know what one looks like, as often as you skip your lessons,” Brynne said.
The smaller girl snapped her mouth shut, blushing.
“Some people just aren’t cut out for this kind of learning,” Petra said, poking through the clutter along the floor. She fished out a thin square of slate, blowing it off, and coughing at the dust that billowed into the air. “Druid Misha’s lessons aren’t so… orderly.” She wrinkled her nose, though if it was in disdain for the four rows of desks or the dust in the air was difficult to tell.
Petra set the square of slate down on one of the desks, making her way over to the door on the far wall.
“Do you hear that?” she asked. She leaned against the door, pressing her ear to the wood.
They all heard, distantly, a muffled shout, and familiar clattering of metal that could only be armor of some sort. Petra reached for the door’s latch.
“No!” Justin called. “It might not be safe.” He glanced over to Jasna. “Let me go first.”
The girl backed away from the door, two short sticks appearing as if by magic in her hands. Jasna moved in beside the door, opposite the hinges, the gleaming dagger held low against her leg.
Katarin stepped behind the young man, her fingers spread, as if she were going to play a game of ryadkyiv. She drew several deep breaths, her shoulders relaxing, and her blue eyes went distant. She nodded.
Brynne stood beside the weaver, raising her quarterstaff to waist-height, projecting it before the both of them. She nodded her own readiness to Jasna.
“Go!” Jasna hissed, and Justin threw open the door, bringing his sword up in a high guard as he charged into the room beyond.