Petra was bent double, stretched like wax. Cold water fell on her like heavy rain. It ran along her back, arms, legs, and up her nose. The clatter of the water gave the impression of vast space, a space as dark as death.
Her coat and backpack were rucked up around her shoulders, so that the top of her pack was behind her head. The blood roared in her ears. Her eyes bulged, but she could see nothing. When she struggled, the darkness turned—or she turned in the darkness. She bumped into something yielding.
She fought terror and went still. In a moment she understood her awful predicament—she was hanging under the snowmelt cascade, suspended by her belt.
Memory limped back: the glimpse into the chasm by torchlight, Otger pinned under a jugger’s arm, and that big one fumbling at her hook. The hook flashing by overhead, propelled by the spring of its silken cord. Then the wind whistling in her ears, a jerk like a punch to the gut. The hook must had flown right across the chasm, then caught on something. Now she was dangling under whatever it had caught on.
Spinning and bouncing gently, she groped around herself. An arm’s length away was a wall of wet iron. But something was heaped between her and the wall. Her hands slid over cold, slippery gunk, which clung to her fingers. Mud. Backside first, she had thudded into the comb of snowmelt mud that had built up along the severed edge of the next floor down, on the far side of the rift. Fortunately for her backside, the mud was softer than Karlward iron.
Any movement might cause the spinner’s catch to fail. But she couldn’t just hang there like laundry in the rain. With slow contortions, she pushed down on the top of the mud pile to raise her torso. Abruptly, her belt slid up under her ribs. The one that Otger had cracked screamed mutely. The water coursing down her face tasted of iron.
Petra gulped the bitter, metallic stuff. Some went down the wrong way. She coughed and snorted, jiggling at the end of the hook line like a dying fish.
Then, metal screeched above and she dropped an inch.
With a convulsion, she dug a hand and foot into the mud, then squeezed herself sideways against the iron wall. The pull on her belt abruptly ceased. Her hip dropped into the mud, her sword hilt pressing into her. Only her fingers and the toe of one boot buried in the mud kept her from sliding off.
Something big fell past her—whatever the hook had caught on. She knew it by the huff of disturbed air and a fading moan. She braced for the wrench that would tear her from the ledge and down into the bowels of Karlward.
Instead, there came a little tug at her belt, and the hook swung free in the darkness below.
Petra got slowly to her feet, then reeled it up.
The ledge on which she stood was no broader than her shoulders, and the heaped, clay-like mud sloped dangerously from the wall to the edge. She knew of no way off but down. Panic tightened a vice on her throat. Standing with her heels in the mud, her backpack and palms pressed to the wall, she held her breath, closed her eyes, and concentrated on the memory of that brief glimpse by torchlight.
The ledge had once been part of the floor of a room—a room with an exit. That exit doorway must be about five yards along the ledge from where she stood. But her glimpse of the door’s frame had been so brief, she couldn’t remember if the door was open.
Her pack threatened to overbalance her. She shrugged it off and let it rest in the mud with a strap looped around her wrist. Her only torch was in that pack, along with everything else she had left.
Then she inched sideways, her back to the wall, leaning to scrape footholds in the gunk with her knife, blinking water from eyes that saw nothing. She pulled the pack along after her. The waterfall roared and battered her head. It wasn’t as cold as the lake water had been, but it was cold enough. She was losing the feeling in her hands and feet. Her teeth began to chatter.
At last the edge of the doorframe barred the way. By then, her movements were growing clumsy. She had to get out of this waterfall before her strength failed and she slipped off the ledge. She snaked her arm around the frame. Her fingers found a slot on the inner side, a slot for the kind of door that slid inside the wall. Beyond the slot, her groping hand found emptiness.
Her sodden pack would have to go through first. Shaking from cold and effort, she lifted it, then swung it gently around the frame, into the unseen passage.
The pack struck something unexpected. Its strap slipped between stiff fingers and it fell into the depths, taking with it her toothbrush and spare clothes, her spyglass, her last torch, Genna’s book, and the precious Drakhorn waymap.
Of course, this doorframe still had a door in it. Somehow, though the slot was empty, the door was closed.
Petra let loose a scream of rage and misery, laid the back of her head against the iron, and stood shaking. Snowmelt and tears ran down her cheeks.