Releasing the rope as it swung out, Hilde yanked it back and snagged the next chain. If nothing else was to come of this exercise, she was getting really good at this. She pulled the rope towards her, and grabbed the chain, once more setting the hook on the edge of the chute behind her. She settled in, and pulled on the chain, expecting a fair amount of resistance. There was almost none, however, and the chain began to rattle through the pulley in the roof as it came up out of the acid on the other side.
Belynda began hollering, and waving her arms over her head. “STOP STOP STOP WE HAVE THE WRONG END!” she screamed. Cinder perked her ears up, and sat up on her haunches to see what was happening. Just below the surface of the acid pool, connected to the end of the chain that Hilde was pulling up, was a large spherical counter-weight carved out of rock. Belynda let out a sigh of relief that the weight hadn’t gone so far up that the chain in Hilde’s hand didn’t weigh more than it did, and cause it to run all the way up to the ceiling. Getting a hold of it then would be very problematic, but at least it wasn’t as bad as if the chain ran all the way through the pulley and into the acid.
Very gingerly, Hilde let go of the chain, and they watched it swing slowly through the acid as it settled back into place. “Ok,” muttered Hilde, “the third time is a charm.” She retrieved the hook, and began the process all over again, this time aiming for the length attached to the rock weight.
She snagged ahold of it easily, and drew the chain to herself just as she had before. Once the hook was secured, she braced herself, and gave a tug. The slack on the other side began to tighten up, acid dripping from the links as they came up out of the pool. Finally, she encountered serious weight, and took another deep breath before continuing.
Pulling with all of her might, Hilde couldn’t budge the chain. Belynda called for her to wait a second, and cast the incantation that she had tried earlier. Feeling the power of the magic on her, and coursing through her body, Hilde leaned back and heaved as hard as she could. The pulley creaked, but there was a movement far below the acid. A gigantic air bubble popped up in the center of the pool, and it startled everyone. Belynda let out a little gasp, and Hilde pulled for all she was worth. Her own adrenaline was kicking in now, and she snarled as she pulled on the chain, her hands clenched with all of the power of a rampaging ogre. More air bubbles began to gurgle up, and then a small whirlpool began to form in the acid. The pool was beginning to drain.
“Stay at it!” yelled Belynda enthusiastically, jumping up and down as she watched the pool level drop. As the level continued to fall, it was easier for Hilde to pull up on the chain more. She felt her muscles beginning to wane as she heaved again, using every ounce of strength she had. There was a very muffled clunking sound, and the whirlpool became quite large, as all of the acid spun crazily around in a mesmerizing, deadly fashion. The magic began to wear off, and Hilde couldn’t maintain her grip anymore. She loosened her hold, but the chain didn’t pull away from her. She must have opened something far enough to have locked it in place.
Even before the acid had drained from the forge pit, Belynda began contemplating their next move. The walls and floor and everything that had been in this pit was covered in acid residue. The floor of the pit wasn’t completely smooth, either, so puddles of acid remained and would have to be avoided. The stairs going down into the pit were the first hurdle.
Hilde worked on getting down off of the forge, while Belynda raced about looking for material to use to make their passage beyond this point. She found a large supply of burlap type tarpaulins, and she began to collect them and lay them out. She started at the stairs next to the forge Hilde was trying to get off of, rolling the tarps down the stairs to allow her to tread them safely. She continued this, going to the end of each unrolled covering and then rolling another one out. She could only carry one at a time, and so she kept running back to fetch more of the bulky, heavy cloth coverings. By the time Hilde had dropped safely off of the gold chute at the top edge of the pit, Belynda had made them a crudely carpeted path to where there was another sealed door.
There were four doors in the floor of the circular forge pit. One large one in the center, the one that Hilde had opened and drained the acid into. Then there was one next to each of the forges, also with an array of dangling chains. One was to open and close each hatch. The others, presumably, served some other function they had yet to discover. These chains were all coated in acid, of course, having been submerged in the pool. Hilde wrapped a hefty wad of the burlap around her hands and with a “here goes nothing” sort of sigh, grabbed the door release chain and pulled the hatch open. It did so readily, and Belynda looked into the open trapdoor.
Down in the depths of the circular shaft was nothing but darkness, punctuated at regular intervals by lights that seemed to be coming from horizontal shafts that branched out from the vertical one they were staring into. It was Belynda that first observed that these other corridors went in almost every direction except towards the slag shaft in the middle of the forge pit. That was a very promising fact. It meant that wherever the acid had gone, it wasn’t going to impede them as they delved down into this part of the mine.
Belynda helped Hilde get back into her armor, and then they gathered up their equipment. Belynda looked at the chains next to the open pit, and with a shrug, tugged on one of them with her hand wrapped in burlap. There was a solid click, deep in the ground below them, and they could hear deep clicking sounds as if a drawbridge were being lowered. The ticking remained a constant, and peering into the shaft, Belynda said “The lights are going out, starting at the bottom.” She looked at Hilde. “I would guess that there is a platform of some sort being raised, and there isn’t enough space between it and the walls to allow light to pass by.” The xvart looked back into the hole. “You have to admire that kind of craftsmanship.” She said with a little whistle. “This whole thing is a giant machine, and it must have been somebody’s life work.”
Hilde was impressed as well, but she wanted to get on with the adventure. Whatever might be haunting these depths, or just lurking ominously, probably didn’t appreciate the skill of the dwarven miners any more than she did. But if this mine was ever going to be returned to full function, she would have to make sure it was safe, from top to bottom.