A Flight for Freedom

By Gerry Torbert


Cellian arrived the next morning with less of the bravado that normally accompanied him. Darmon and his cellmate had already eaten, and Eloise was off to the kitchen. Darmon sat at the edge of the stone slab and was awaiting the drow.

Cellian unlocked the manacle in the normal fashion. He looked to Darmon, asking, "What, no smart comments this morning? I expected something from you, some petulance, anything."

Darmon smiled. "Nae, master, I'm sure you've 'ad enow o' me smart-assed remarks. Ya dunna smile or laugh, so it's off ta work for me. Ya just dun' 'ave a sense o' humor - guess it's because o' yer job. I dun' wanna make ya mad, so lead the way."

Cellian harrumphed, shaking his head. "It's best you know who is the master, human. It is not that we Dulim have no sense of humor. It's that you lower beings really are not at our level, and your attempts fall short. You find the simplest things humorous. Follow me to the Castle."

"Castle? Isn't Nurmm'siss expecting me?"

Cellian stopped short in his tracks. He stared off, then turned slowly to Darmon. "Yes...the yuan-ti...he would like to see you again...good that I remembered..." They walked toward the snake-man's cave.

Darmon was surprised at Cellian's reaction. ...was it something I said, that changed his mind?...Did Nurmm'siss give him a mental suggestion, or does he have enough power to read his mind this far away?...and what's in store for me, today?... He wasn't sure what happened but decided to make the most of the day.

They approached the cave of slugs, and Darmon said, "One second, master, he wants me to bring his food." He reached in and pulled out three of the slimy, squirming slugs. One turned to bite him, but he dropped it long enough to step on its tail, pinning it down. After he grabbed all three, he stood up, ready to continue. Cellian looked at him with disgust, backing up a bit and shaking his head. "Filthy habit, eating those things. See what you've become here, Creag? A diver of filth for a slimy reptile. No wonder why I'm your better."

Darmon just smiled, the dulim's words grating his soul. "Yes, master. Filth diver it is. Let's be gone; ya don' wanna make 'im mad."

Cellian shook his head and turned. He called to the yuan-ti as they approached the entrance to his cave. After some hissing and conversation in a strange tongue, he returned and handed Darmon the torch, giving him and his companions a wide berth. "I hope you and your snake-friend enjoy each other's company," he said as he passed.

Darmon smiled. "An upgrade, I'm sure" he said as the drow walked away, not stopping to see or hear any reaction. He heard several hacks from the dark quarters as he entered. "You don'tssss...care aboutsss...the beating you willsss...get, do yousss...Darmon?" Nurmm'siss nodded in laughter and admiration for the Creag's verve. "I seesss...you remembered mysss...favorite meal...many thanksss." He snatched the slugs from Darmon and downed them with sickening ardor.

Nurmm'siss slowly walked over to the table and sat in the chair. He had to maneuver his tail to do so, but after a few moments he was comfortable. "Tell messs... Stuart... if you were to trysss... to escape this hellsss... how would do itsss?"

Darmon sat on the chair opposite the snake-man. He thought carefully before answering. ...is this a trap?... is Cellian concerned over an escape by me... I certainly haven't groveled, haven't acted like the world is over... is that what he wanted?... maybe he thinks I'm thinking about it... and why would he be using Nurmm'siss as a conduit, a spy?... don't they hate each other?... "I dunnow, exactly, master...I can see there are few guards, but I doubt they'd show themselves. Do ya think they use their mind powers ta keep us all 'ere? Or do they rely on fear, alone? I dinna give't much thought, I figured I was 'ere for the rest o' me life."

Nurm'siss hacked. "I have powersss... not read mind completely, but can sense feelingsss... you not fully trust messs... I would not eithersss... but know thissss... my people were too strongsss... when together, for dulimsss... to contain. That is whysss... I here, and othersss... are prisonerssss... like you."

Darmon nodded. He didn't know how far he could expect to trust anyone. From his earlier discussions with the yuan-ti and Eloise, he knew that there were few, if any people he could trust here. The Dulim society is based on fear, power, sadism and subterfuge. The only advantage he had here was that of being the best thrall he can be, hopefully achieving a loftier rank. That...and Dragonslayer. And he knew his sword would be under close scrutiny now, probably being pried out of its scabbard, maybe even being sold for power. But what were his options? Remain here and be beaten, or attempt an escape and be beaten? Given his propensity for averting death, it would be a long service as a slave.

Darmon sighed and looked Nrum'siss in the eyes, as best he could - they were far apart. "Master, ya remember me talkin' aboot Dragonslayer? He has certain powers...na' exactly sure wha' they are, mind ya... but powers... an' 'e seems ta change... if I could get me 'ands on 'im, well... "

The yuan-ti nodded in understanding. "Thought so whensss... described himsss... might have powersss... over sorcerer?"

"He might. It's 'ard ta tell, since 'e changes. Heard tell once a sword takes on the soul of a willin' person it kills... maybe 'at's it... someone in the Cursed Crater, a good person trapped there... but with the 'elp o' me sword, an' your powers, maybe...?" He looked quizzically at his master.

"Mustsss... get me out of cavesss.... first... need an implement, an sss... of great meaning, of great historysss... of greater evil or goodsss... than that of sorcerer... "

Darmon thought for a moment, then a light flashed in his mind. He stood up, reaching around in the small pocket he had sewn in his kilt - if only they forgot to search me completely - he felt the rough surface and smiled at Nurmm'siss. "I think I 'ave wha' you're lookin' for, me yuan-ti friend..." He pulled the tooth out of its enclosure and held it up for him to see. "...the tooth of a dragon!"

The wide-set reptilian eyes of Nurmm'siss opened wider, and what would pass among other of his kind for a smile crept across his lips. "Exactly whatsss... I was looking forsss... Let me ssssee it..." He held his hand out.

Darmon started to give it to him, but stopped. ...how do I know... can I trust him... what's to prevent him from taking it away, or leaving me behind?... "Let's just talk aboot it first, master. Neither of us wanna rush inta anything yet...we've got time..."

Nurmm'siss glared, his eyes afire with indignation, real or faked, it was hard to tell. "You foolishsss... human! Yousss... do not trust me? I couldsss... kill you and take itsss... away in an instantsss..."

Darmon gritted his teeth. "You should know by now, master, that ya canna kill me. I'll simply come back ta life. An' who's ta say the tooth'll work for anyone but me? Who's ta say Dragonslayer will respond ta you, either? Seems we got a situation o' mutual trust, 'ere. Ya know ya can trust me, 'cause ya just 'ave ta turn me in ta Cellian, an' the game's over."

"Three things can 'appen. Ya just take the tooth an' if it works, then yer free - at least, free from this cave - ya canna be sure it'll get ya all the way oot. Or if it dunna work, you'll be a slave for the rest o' yer life. Either way, I'm a slave an'll die a slave. Or the other way. We get outa 'ere usin' the tooth, we get ta the sorcerer, kill 'em an' get free. Both o' us. An' I get the tooth back. We go our separate ways."

Nurm'siss hissed, his tail twitching nervously. He slammed a fist on the table and reared back his head, growling a deep-throated roar. As his tantrum subsided, he began to breathe heavily, getting better control of his temper. He didn't want to admit it to himself, but this human was right, at least for now. "And whatsss... is the third thingsss... human?"

Darmon breathed a little easier. "The third thing, master, is I walk out o' this cave, throw this damn tooth in wi' the slugs and you never see either o' us, again. I'll get out, in time. I just gotta get wi'in distance o' the sword. You'll never 'ave the opportunity."

The yuan-ti slammed his fist down again. But his "smile" came back. "You aresss... good negotiatorsss... Darmon... seemsss... we both have sssomething we need... but I can deal too... I will keep toothsss... when we get to outsidesss... only way this worksss... "

It was Darmon's turn to fume. But he had little with which to bargain, other than what he already said. And what if the tooth had been the source of his troubles so far? Might Tanarus come after the new owner? The thought amused him, so much that he couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Okay, Nurmm'siss - no more of this 'master' stuff - we're on equal terms now. A bond among humans is their handshake." He held out his hand.

Nurmm'siss looked at his hand and nodded. "Among yuant-tisss... it is handshakesss... in blood..." He turned his right hand over and pricked his palm with a claw of his left. He then held his left out to Darmon, who raked his hand across the claw. They clasped. Darmon felt the snake blood burn as it coursed into his veins. The reptilian felt the human blood, as well. "It isss... finishedsss... Darmon. Let us beginsss... "

"Na sa fast, friend. I 'ave some more plannin' ta do. There are some people I'd like ta get out o' 'ere wi' us. There's a lot o' Creags 'ere, an'...Eloise...me room mate. Give me 'till tomorrow. You've been 'ere long enou, another day won't hurt."

Nurmm'siss nodded a little, then a smile of realization crept over his features. "Ahhh... female humansss... Darmon in... mating think... Not too many, Darmon. We can't dragsss... a lot of people with usss... it may draw attentionsss."

"Agreed. Will find a way ta get'em in one place at the right time. An', do ya know the way oot? Maybe one o' them do."

"Yessss... let's plan for resssst... of the day."

The unlikely allies spent the rest of the day working on plans for which they had no real basis. The tooth couldn't be field-tested, they both surmised, since it might alert the sorcerer to a disturbance in the flow of energy, according to Nurmm'siss. And Darmon wasn't sure he could wrest the sword from the magician, if it was even there. But they whiled the day away with speculative plans. Cellian arrived his normally obstinate self.

"Are you ready to leave, slave? Move now, pig, I do not have time to wait. Have you had your fun with him, yuan-ti?"

Nurmm'siss bristled. "Bringsss... pig back tomorrowsss... have some more torturesss... to administer. He talks too muchsss..."

"Yes. I will bring...him...back..." Cellian was entranced once again. Darmon shook his head in wonder. He smiled at Nurmm'siss and, as Cellian turned, he reached into his kilt and tossed the tooth toward the yuan-ti with a smile. He caught it, nodding. It was safer there, in the cave. Darmon hoped his trust was well-founded.

The two walked down the pathway. Darmon looked at his right palm, where he had shook the hand of the reptile. It itched, more so than normal healing had in the past. As they came upon the slug cave, Cellian gave the entrance a wide berth as one of the slugs tried to climb out of the lip of the rock. "Put that thing back in the cave, pig!" Cellian looked pale as the slug reached out toward him.

"Not afraid of a little bug, are ye, master?" Darmon kicked it back inside with his boot. "They dunna seem ta 'ave a lot o' love for ye, do they?"

Cellian seemed to shudder a little as he walked farther, away from it. "We do not get along with the vermin, that is all. One more reason we keep you pigs alive - to take care of the filthy things." Darmon watched as the slug, rolling back from the walkway, hissed and bared its teeth - not at him, but at Cellian. He filed a thought away in his mind for future reference.

Darmon thought he'd strike up a conversation with the drow. "Say, master, why is it ya keep the yuan-ti in caves? Didn't ya make the race wha' they are? Wouldn't they be a formidable asset in battle?"

Cellian sighed and continued walking. "Why would you want to know, cretin? What could a lower being such as you care?"

"Seems I'll be 'ere a long time, just wanted ta know a lil' aboot the people I'll be livin' wi' is all."

Cellian drew back his whip and prepared to deliver a vicious lashing to Darmon, but then a clouded look came over his eyes and he seemed to think better of it. "Well, if you must know, they are disruptive. When more than one get together, they double..." He caught himself saying something he didn't want to. "...never mind. They are distractions. They are people, but lower than us, since we made them. They are beneath our concern. But they are your masters as well, so you will do as they say."

"Yes, master." Darmon smiled inwardly as they approached his cave. ...afraid of slugs, wary of yuan-ti...a lot of angst here...good to know... Eloise had food ready for the both of them, and Cellian clamped Darmon into his cuff. He left in a huff.

The Creags ate their dinner, and Darmon was the first to speak. "Eloise, do you know the way to the sorcerer's cave?"

She looked at him strangely. "Yes, we bring him food. Why do you..."

Darmon broke in. "And the pathway to the waterfall, do you know how to get there?"

She stopped. "Yes, why?"

Darmon continued. "And other Creags - do you know where they are?"

"Yes, Darmon, but why? What does it matter? We can't..."

"Look, don't talk aboot it now, lass. I want ya ta get as many of our people together as possible. I need ya ta be at 'is cave tomorrow, two hours past when I leave. Find an excuse, anything."

"What are you talking about, Darmon? You know we can't escape! They'll torture us, rape us, kill us, anything they want when they catch us! How do you expect...?"

"Look. Eloise, ya trust me, duncha? I 'ave a plan. Let's just say there are others who wanna get oota 'ere, not jus' 'umans. But ya canna let 'em know why they're meetin' there - can ya do 'at, lass?"

Eloise looked downward. "Y-y-esss...I guess so. I could... use the excuse of... a heavy load of food, or something. But..."

Darmon lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. "Eloise, we can stay 'ere an' lead a life o' 'ell, if ya want. Or we can try. Isn't it worth the attempt?"

They huddled together. Eloise slept fitfully, Darmon not at all. He thought to blame it on the constant itching of his palm, which concerned him. He thought long and hard about all that he had asked of her and her punishment if this didn't work out. He felt quite an attachment to this strong young lass.

When he thought it was about time for the arrival of his tormentor, he awakened Eloise and sent her for breakfast. Cellian arrived just after she returned and unlocked his bindings. Darmon said little, following him out the entrance. He looked back to Eloise, expecting to see a frightened little girl. But instead a stoic, brave woman nodded and smiled as he left. He promised, right there and then, to get her out.

He stopped to gather food for his companion. Once Cellian had left with his threats and bravado, he turned to Nurmm'siss. "Is everything still on?"

"Yesss, Darmon...Have you madesss... the plans you wished?"

"Yea, friend. We should wait for two hours, as that'll be the time the slaves will be feedin' the wizard. Ther'll be plenty o' distractions." He continued to scratch his right hand. They passed some of the time talking about life on the surface and their people, but Darmon excused himself for a few minutes and walked down the pathway past the slug cave. As it was mid-morning, he expected to see very few people in the hallways.

He came upon a cave that was uninhabited at the time. He carefully entered it and found what he was looking for - a rope. Darmon returned to Nurmm'siss. "It's for effect. The best way to get ye to the sorcerer's cave is ta explain that 'e wants ta experiment on ya. We can't expect ta find the hallways completely bare." Nurmm'siss nodded. "Good thinkingsss..."

When they passed what seemed to be the right amount of time, Darmon stood and picked up a flimsy rug at the entrance and, balling it up. "What isss... that for, Darmonsss?"

Darmon lughed a little. "You may like 'is, Nurmm'siss. Did ya know that slugs absolutely hate Dulim, with a passion?"

The yuan-ti hacked a few times, nodding his head. "Exquisssite..."

It was time for the test. Darmon threw the rope over his shoulder and walked through the entrance, and Nurmm'siss took the tooth out of the folds in his clothing. He looked at it and concentrated. A faint glow appeared around the rim of the cave's entranceway, and he stepped through. Darmon turned and began walking down the pathway. He stopped to gather a half-dozen of the squirming mollusks. The slower yuan-ti caught up, dipping his neck into the cave to grab a few of his own. Darmon walked farther down the path - he hoped he had heard that sound for the last time.

Darmon stopped long enough to tie a slip knot in the rope and loop it around the yuan-ti's neck. "Still got the tooth, friend?" "Yesss..."

They made their way down the path to a wye, where Nurm'siss motioned to the right. As they turned, their first test was upon them. Walking toward them were two dulim guards, replete with thin swords and war gauntlets. Darmon pulled briskly on the rope. The two guards looked at one another and stood blocking their way.

Darmon addressed the guards. "Looks like it's the end for this one, masters. The sorcerer called an' wants 'im for...experiments... 'e says." He looked to the yuan-ti and pulled tightly on the rope. "Come on, snake, we canna keep 'im waitin'!"

The first guard stepped forward. "Wait, slave, under whose authority are you taking him? This is not normal transfer policy!" He glared as he raised his sword to Darmon's chest. Go ahead, dark elf, use it...I've about had it with you little bastards...

But with a slight hum from Nurm'siss, behind him, he suddenly found words. "Nar'Gilgalian, of the House of Haram. This one's dangerous, masters, an' 'e didn't wanna waste good Dulim guards on someone of his power...me guess is 'e feels I'm dispensible," he said with a sigh.

The second guard stepped forward. "This is ridiculous! He would not do such a..." but suddenly a glazed look appeared in his eyes..."Yes, this makes sense. Carry on, human pig, and take your slimy friend with you." Darmon nodded and they both moved to the side. Nurm'siss growled as they passed, but a quick snap of the rope by Darmon kept him at bay. The guards made a hasty retreat down the corridor.

Darmon smiled at the reptilian. "Thanks for the direction. I wasn't sure 'ow to handle 'em. Your powers are impressive. An', I'm sorry if I pulled to 'ard on the rope."

Nurm'siss hacked and nodded. "You are verysss... calm and collected insss... such situations, Darmonsss... a good fighter, yourselfsss... but let us make hastesss... they may return. And don't worrysss... about the rope - you'll scarcely hurtsss... me... it looksss... more realisticsss..."

They continued along the walkway, relieved that they didn't run into any more confrontations. Soon they came upon a widening in the openings and an intersection of several pathways. Nearby there were several slaves walking about, trying their best to appear to be busy. A few looked up when they saw the two walking along and gave wide berth to them. Eloise was just leaving the larger of the caverns, and upon seeing Darmon, nodded and walked away from them, carrying some plates and a pitcher.

"I have told you, slave, I do not want any more food! You slaves have been bothering me all morning! Begone, or I will roast the skin from your miserable bones!" The voice boomed from within as Darmon and Nurm'siss crept closer. The others kept their distance. Darmon nodded to them, motioning them to stay back.

Darmon peered around the corner just as the magician turned around. He took a few steps in, peering around the room for his sword. The mage turned toward what he believed would be yet another slave. "I told you...YOU!" He reached into a pocket in his robe. At that time, Nurmm'siss entered the portal. The sorcerer recoiled at the sight. "You fool! Do you realize what you have done? This is the most powerful of Yuan-ti! You have doomed us all, you included!" He lunged for his staff, which was leaning against the table at the rear of the room.

Darmon saw the sword. There, above the mage's head, on the shelf, rested the leather scabbard and the weapon. It had begun to hum and vibrate, dancing around as if on fire. The magician grabbed his staff as he noticed the movement. But in an instant, the sword lifted from the shelf and streaked across the room, as if of its own accord. Amazingly, it turned a full half circle and came to rest in Darmon's steel-like grip.

The sorcerer turned and aimed his staff at Darmon. It was too late for the Creag to pull his sword from the leather, but it was also too late for the fireball just springing from the globe at the end of the stick to begin its path toward the fighter. There stood Nurmm'siss, holding in front of him the mass of enameled bone that was the dragon's tooth. A powerful blast of icy, cold air shot forth, breaking the fireball into harmless sparkles that fell to the floor of the cave.

But the sorcerer had been hardened by battle. He never missed a step, and he reached once again to the shelf for a leather pouch. He didn't have the time or the balance to withdraw the staff, however. Dragonslayer's first strike cleaved his arm in half, leaving the mage holding a short stick while the globe crashed to the floor, dissolving into a mist of pink smoke.

Nurmm'siss strode forward, placing a hand on Darmon's shoulder. "Leavesss... this one, you havesss... work to do outsidesss..." Darmon spun and ran out the entrance. The snake-man shoved the tooth toward the drow and said a few words of forgotten lore. A blast of sound smashed against the robed figure, who rolled to the ground.

Outside, Darmon turned the corner to see a force of half a dozen drow guards. He turned to see his fellow slaves, hurrying away from the magician's cave. He turned back. The first guard held his gauntlet upright toward him. As he twisted his wrist back, Darmon saw a twisted mass of knives springing from the metal glove toward his face. But Dragonslayer saw the projectiles far quicker. With a life of its own, the sword sliced through the air, scattering the metal shards along the floor of the cave. Darmon felt the palm of his right hand itch ferociously. A darkness overcame his visage, from his hair to his chin. He looked at his attackers with the face of a demon.

The sorcerer stood up, his hand in the second pouch. "Aha, the tooth! I searched him all over for it! I don't know how I could have missed it. Give it to me, Nurmm'siss, and I promise you I will spare your life. You and I could be a powerful team!" As he said those words, he pulled his hand out and threw some dust at the eyes of the yuan-ti. The reptilian reared his head backward in blindness. A smile crept across the conjurer's face.

Dragonslayer's second slice sheared the heads from two of the guards. The rest stopped in awe of the power of the weapon, their jaws dropping as the sword began to sing in a very high-pitched "voice." It hummed and began to emit its own light. The head of the first drow landed directly on the shoulders of the second, twisted a quarter of the way around in a ghastly manner, almost as if it belonged there. The second drow reached up to find a head on his shoulders, but then slumped to the ground. Darmon let out a laugh that curled the hairs on the rest of the guards.

Nurmm'siss fumbled around, grasping blindly at anything he could reach. He felt the wall with one hand and steadied himself. The sorcerer reached for a small lump of clay on the shelf. "Now, slimy creature, go to the hell that eagerly awaits you!" He crushed the clay into dust and tossed it toward the yuan-ti, blowing on it as it flew across the room. The dust particles began to howl in tongues, tiny faces appearing on each lump.

Darmon reached down and picked up the sack of slugs. As the guards overcame their shock at the ease with which he dispatched their brethren, they began to approach him again. But he flung the slimy creatures at them, unfurling the rug. The screeching of the slugs and the screams of the drow filled the air, bringing still another hideous laugh and smile to Darmon.

The guards retreated. All but a seventh one. Cellian. His reckless run toward Darmon stopped too late - he was within reach of the sword. A quick stab and twist carved a four-inch hole in the drow's chest. Blood spewed everywhere, drenching Darmon himself. The Creag's palm was afire with the blood of a Yuan-ti. With a quick pull of the weapon, Cellian's heart popped out to hang from a few yet-unsevered veins, still pumping as it hung from his chest. The drow looked down at his ill-placed organ, then slowly raised his gaze toward his erstwhile slave. Darmon laughed, saying, "See, no sense of humor!" and he kicked his tormentor's jerking body from his sword. Dragonslayer hummed again, this time as it rejected the demonic souls of the Dulim.

Nurmm'siss could feel the faces of the death-dust approaching him. Instinctively, he held out the tooth and recited an ancient phrase, long forgotten, many times forbidden. He would be thankful that his eyes were shut from the previous attack. A blast of pure light energy threw the particles back toward the magician, who was engulfed in searing energy. He had no further thoughts, nor made further sounds. He disappeared in a wisp of smoke and a pile of dust. The reptile then staggered from the cave into the walkway, his vision clearing.

Darmon grabbed his arm and began running up the passageway with him in tow. "I've got you, friend. We 'ave ta get movin', they'll have reinforcements. Eloise, do we know where ta go?" She replied, "This way, Darmon" from down the hallway.

Nurmm'siss hurried toward the front of the mass of humanity. "Darmonsss... take care of guardsss... meet at fallsss." Darmon brought up the rear, but no one seemed to follow. As he trotted behind them, he looked over his shoulder. Apparently, the demise of the others was enough to prevent the forming of much of a posse.

The yuan-ti strode forward, leading the rest. A few other guards came out of secret passageways and entrances, but were cut down quickly by the gaping maw of the snake-man or by his slashing tail. Darmon looked again to the rear, this time spying a dozen or so drow, hurrying after their escaped possessions. "Better hurry, we 'ave company!"

The roar of the falls became louder now. A few drow came from side pathways, but Darmon cut them down easily as he passed. As he approached the intersection, he saw the fire and the strange woman. "I thought you'd never return, Darmon Stuart. What took you so long?" She smiled.

"Still waitin'? It's not been borin', for sure. You'll not have ta wait long, lass. They're comin' after us now."

She looked back down the walkway. "Take me with you, Darmon Stuart. I need to end my time away from here." Darmon hesitated for an instant, then extended his hand. "Keep up with us, lady!"

Nurmm'siss stopped at the intersection by the falls and directed traffic toward the rushing water. The slaves made it past him and turned to the torrent, making their way across, where Darmon should have gone, days before. The Creag stopped as he approached the yuan-ti.

"Thisss... is where I go nowsss..." he said, as he pointed back, further into the cave. "Mysss... people are thisss... way. It has been, how would Darmon say, entertainingsss... in the leasss. I thank you, friendsss... as do my people."

Darmon shook his hand, this time without the blood. "Many thanks, Nurmm'siss. Maybe we'll meet again some day, as friends, once again." The yuan-ti reached out with his other hand, returning the tooth to its rightful owner.

"Something in your bloodsss... I want to give thisss... back..."

Darmon grasped the tooth with his other hand. "Something in yours makes me take it." They turned and ran their separate ways.

The group made it to the west side of the falls and followed the path through the night. After a few miles, they rested. Darmon sat up a camp in a secluded grove and took first watch. The slaves huddled near each other to save body warmth, since Darmon forbade the use of a telltale fire. He walked over a hill that afforded a good view of everything. He didn't feel sleepy in the least - at least it was comforting to know some things hadn't changed.

In the morning he returned. The strange lady was standing over Eloise. He approached them and noticed something was wrong. She threw back her hood and her head began to swirl in a mixture of yellow and white light. Darmon ran to Eloise. "Nooo!! Get away from her!"

Tanarus backed up slowly. "Thought you'd be free from me, Creag? Never..." Darmon reached to his back, pulled Dragonslayer free and with one motion sliced the strange woman from left clavicle to mid-right thigh. The hideous laugh echoed down the grove as what remained of an ancient drow woman slumped to the ground. Darmon sank to his knees, sobbing over the dried form of Eloise.

The other ex-slaves gathered around. One of them touched Darmon's shoulder. "We'll take her 'ome, Darmon. Is there anything you want us ta tell your family?" Darmon shook his head. He rose, gathered himself and began his sorrowful walk to Zel City.