An Epic

The Hell in the Cave

By Gerry Torbert


Darmon followed the Greatwash River south through some very rugged territory. He would crawl over any kind of terrain to get away from the town of Norville. Just the thought of fighting the maddened ghost of the undead he killed earlier, who was now bent on settling the score with anyone who crossed him when alive, was enough to break most men. To Darmon, it was enough to make him brave cliffs and rocks to get away.

He followed what seemed to be a well-worn but grown-over pass ranging from a few feet to a hundred above the river. It was wide enough for a large cart and a draft of beasts of burden to comfortably use, but the weeds and some larger trees intruding on it from the sides made him think that this was a pass of olden times, unused for many years for anything but occasional foot traffic. Perhaps only used by the cursed, wandering aimlessly through the hills, looking for any way to end their suffering. . .no, that mindset would be overdramatic, pitiful. . .not the way of a Creag. . .you're right, Darmon, that's not you thinking. . . often Dragonslayer would act as a moral compass for the Creag - it was not only a good sword, but he was turning into the best of friends.

As the sun relinquished the day's work to Sulis, he heard a dull roar coming from far ahead. He knew the river knifed its way through the hills like the weapon on his back could cut through a bale of hay, and he had already seen a few falls on his way. But most were quiet until he came upon them, since he was traveling downstream. This one was particularly raucous, and he was anxious to see what caused such commotion. He guessed, as he approached the edge of the cliff, that this must be the famous Falls of Dimrune.

The edge of the cliff was interesting in itself. The water accelerated as it coursed through a gap between two banks of hard quartz rock, spilling out onto a slanted table of rock. This plateau was fairly level but dipped downstream, speeding the water even more until it flowed over the edge. Apparently the rock had broken and tipped but was caught between the hard rock of the hills to each side, holding it tight. He carefully approached the edge, looking down almost two hundred feet, where the water splashed against the sides of the rest of the gorge, beating itself into a misty froth. The edges of the gorge were almost impassable, having been eroded for eons.

He had heard of such falls, spewing water out so far that they sheltered a passable road beneath and behind them, even caves. He knew he needed to cross the river sooner or later, and the passage looked treacherous further downstream. And the path continued along the steep hill down to the foot of the falls. Someone had used it before, so he gave it a try.

He was surprised to see the path turn away from the falls and into the woods, where it ran back and forth in a series of switchbacks, quickly lowering its users to the valley floor. He followed the path as the depth of the gorge darkened his way, going through six or seven loops. As he approached the last one, he neared the falls. The roar of the water beneath him was deafening and the wind of the falling river was strong. But, as he expected, the path turned to a rock ledge six feet wide, disappearing beneath the raging veil that was the Greatwash.

He stopped for a minute, realizing how far he would drop if he slipped on the rocks of the path. He knew he would live through any fall, but there was little reason to subject himself to pain if he didn't have to. He walked back into the woods and found a few dry vines, wrapping them around a sapling until he had constructed a torch. He pulled out a flint, struck some tinder alight with his dagger, and lit the torch. He wasn't afraid of the dark, not after what he had been through, but snakes. . .he hated snakes. . .there had to be some under the falls.

The flickering light hissed from stray droplets of water and pockets of sap in the vines as he began to walk beneath the torrent. He noticed the rock had been carved back into the hillside, just as he had expected. The meager light kept him from seeing too far, but he could feel the opening stretching further than what would be expected - perhaps leading into a cave. Relieved that he didn't see any serpents, he decided to explore a little. As the wind, mist, and sound from the falls diminished, he walked into the darkness.

The cave walls were slick for the first fifty feet or so, but soon dried as he progressed. The air was typical of caves and mines - moist, chilly, and smelling of stone and rock. But he did detect something of familiarity - smoke, some type of fire. His eyes strained to see anything out of the ordinary, but the flickering of the torch made it difficult for his eyes to completely adjust to the darkness. Then he noticed something - a flickering of light to the left, the barest hint of a flame. He pushed on. The cave forked left and right, so he turned the corner to the left.

To his surprise, he spotted a campfire about thirty feet into the branch of the cave. A small fire danced about, playing light on the wall of the cave. Seated behind the fire was a small figure, that of a dark-skinned woman, cross-legged with hands resting on her knees. She chuckled - no, cackled - at the sight of the intruder. "Come forward and talk, stranger. There's plenty of fire to go around."

Dragonslayer began to hum, almost in a tentative manner, stopping for a moment then beginning again. It was almost as if he was searching, assessing the situation, trying to find exactly of what he was cautious. "Easy, friend. . .but keep watching. . ." Darmon stopped when she talked, but slowly advanced. "Yu 'ave a lot of faith in people's character, lass, alone 'ere by yourself. Air ye lost?" He kept a sharp eye out, as an old lady in the middle of a cave in the middle of nowhere must have a backup plan, or at least, some reinforcements. . .

She laughed again. "Don't worry about me, handsome young man. Nobody wants to harm this little old lady. You're a Creag, aren't you?" She spread out her hand to gesture a welcome.

Darmon walked closer, blowing the fire from his torch. "Yea, indeed, a Creag. Headed home, in fact. This seemed to be the only way ta get across the river, an' I was a lil' curious, is all. I can leave. . ." She crossed her hands and waved them, then again motioned to a place for him to sit. "Okay, I'd like ta share a lil' fire - your generosity is appreciated." It was then that he noticed her shadow on the rocks behind her - there was none. The sword felt it too, and moved a little, in what could pass for a nervous twitch.

"I know. . .I saw it too. . .something in legends. . ." She smiled as he sat. He could see her features much clearer now - long, silvery hair; dark, but wrinkled skin; light pink eyes. She wore a long skirt, pleated and held tight with a sash, and her blouse was ruffled. Her skin wasn't nearly as wrinkled as he thought it might be, considering the wavering and trilling of her old voice. In fact it was hardly wrinkled at all. He sat carefully in a cross-legged fashion, holding his hands toward the fire. "An interesting place ta 'ave a fire, lass. Ya 'ere waitin' on someone?"

"No, not someone, but something. I like your sword, young man. Do you talk to it often?"

Darmon searched for an answer quickly, more to mask its secret than anything. But he knew he had to say something. He smiled, saying, "I talk t'a lot o' things when I'm alone, an' I've been alone a lot on this journey. We've been thru a lot lately."

She smiled again. "I'd like to see it, up close. I've never seen such a big sword."

Darmon decided to take a more assertive approach, building a little mystique into his persona. "He's shy right now, lass. I cunna get 'im oota the scabbard if I tried." He sternly stared directly into her eyes, but she didn't flinch.

"That's okay, I guess. I imagine I'm scaring him a little." She seemed a little wary of his attempt to frighten her, his maddened look, but still, she played along with his assertion that the sword was alive. She decided to ignore Dragonslayer and project a little softer attitude. "How discourteous of me. My name is Lax'Elwine. Life below is hard, and I'm afraid I fell into disfavor with other of us Drow. I have been outcast, with little place to go. I guess you might say that I'm here to pass to the next world."

..Drow!...Now I remember. . .probably a sorceress. . . "Well, milady, ya picked a good place fer it! A cave is a place of solitude, of thinkin'."

She smiled and looked away. "I sense you didn't know what I was. And that means you don't know where you are." She looked back to him. "You're in danger, young human. You're in a place that has been kept secret for a long time. You seem to be a nice man, very courteous, of high breed. You don't belong here, Mr. . ..?"

Darmon sighed. Once again he risked exposing himself. But what could this woman know about him? The Drow were so secretive that some actually doubted they existed, few had seen them, and those who did, lived to regret it. Those who stumbled upon them were taken as slaves and never seen again above ground, living out their lives in servitude and torture. As such, they scarcely could be aware of current events, themselves. And unless she was magically endowed, she wouldn't have been in touch with the outside world. But she did seem to sense the sword's powers. . ."Darmon. . .Darmon Stuart. A long way from home, I'm afraid."

But much to his surprise, the name didn't seem to register in Lax'Elwine's mind. "Well, Mr. Stuart, you shouldn't be here. There are those who. . ." She suddenly looked behind Darmon and began to gasp. The strike was vicious, knocking the Creag to the ground alongside the fire. He had the feeling of being picked up by each limb with protestations from the old lady, being carried away, deeper into the cave. . .then he fell into unconsciousness. . .not the way he wanted to sleep. . . .

It seemed like a few moments to Darmon. It also seemed, deep within his mind, like it was days. He wasn't sure. He felt the pounding in his head, and as he began to awake from the deep sleep, it swirled around him and quickly disappeared. His ability to regenerate himself wasn't limited to cuts and broken bones, so it seemed - he was able to throw off injuries of the mind as well. But he closed his eyes to slits and remained quiet and motionless, biding his time.

There was some commotion to the right of which he was becoming aware. Several creatures, very dark of skin with long white hair, were attempting to remove his sword from the scabbard which was taken from him. They were pulling and grunting, two on the hilt and two on the leather casing, another directing the futile work. They spoke in a twisted language, sounding much like Elven, but sibilant, with sounds an Elf would never make.

After a while, they switched sides, another elf joining them, taking rests between attempts. Darmon held back a chuckle. . .You can't force Dragonslayer to do what he doesn't want to, you foul creatures. . .

He was tied to a table, his arms and legs roped to the surface. The bindings were tight, of the kind that easily slipped tighter as you struggled. But they were still rough enough that he couldn't coax them looser by letting off on the pressure. They seemed to know what they were doing.

A slightly taller elf entered the room. Dressed in robes and a thick, perversely curved and twisted belt, a hood covering what silvery hair wasn't flowing over his shoulders, he grabbed the attention of two of the elves facing him. They snapped to attention, motioning to the others to cease their work. The robed figure began waving his arms, directing the others, scolding them and chasing them from the room. He reached inside his robe and produced several glass vials of liquid, placing them on the nearby table. He turned to Darmon.

He adderessed the Creag in a think, slurring accent that made Darmon's skin crawl. "You can open your eyes, Darmon of the Stuarts. You're not fooling me. And pull all you want on the ropes. You're not going anywhere, not just yet." His accent was strange, alien. He rested his hands on the table, peering into his eyes.

Darmon opened his eyes to see a middle-aged Drow, an albino, with reddish eyes and very light, thin skin. He could almost see blood vessels beneath his skin. The wizard chuckled. "Thought you might never be heard of here, eh? I know all, I see all, if only through the eyes of my birds and animals. So, how does it feel to be cursed? You haven't seen a curse like you'll see here, Creag."

Darmon was determined not to let the sorcerer see him sweat, not to let him hear him swallow. "I'll let Tanarus know he's second-rate, next time I see 'im, laddie. I'm sure he'll be 'appy ta 'ear it." He smiled at the man, and for the first time, he noticed his surroundings - a natural opening, a cave, complete with gharish stalactites and continual drips of milky water from their tips. He raised his head enough to see around him.

"Oh, we have a smart one. You'll be fun to break," he hissed. "I don't know what your crime was, what your curse is, but I'm sure you'll wish for it to return, in a few days, once we break your spirit. I always did feel you northern humans were a little more of a challenge. Yes, look around you. This will be your home from now on, fool." He turned to the table, returning with one of the vials. "Don't worry, this won't hurt. . ." he said, as he uncorked the bottle ". . .and I won't pour it down your throat. It only needs to touch your skin, so don't pull away, I'll spill it, and that will make me very unhappy. It took a lot of snake bile to make this."

He poured some of the yellow liquid on Darmon's arm. He began to feel it sinking deeply into his arm, then creeping up to his chest, his legs, his head-and it burned, burned horribly. The Drow had lied, and by the evil smile on the albino's face, he realized the elf was enjoying his pain. "Now, just go back to sleep, Darmon. You'll wake up as Kax'stuart, which is your slave name. We'll let you keep part of your name." Darmon felt the wave of sleep overwhelm him. . . .

Darmon awoke with mixed feelings. He had just enjoyed the first sleep for many days, although he knew it was induced at the hands of the sorcerer. On he other hand, he was a slave. A heavy steel manacle on his left wrist attested to that fact. It was latched and pinned, and the pins were bent to assure that he couldn't get free. He awoke on a rock table, the manacle being roped to an iron ring set into its corner. He looked about him - he was in a stark, dark cave, with little more than a single torch to give him light. He had been allowed to keep his clothes - perhaps his captors realized that he would be a more effective slave if protected from the elements - but his prized possession, Dragonslayer, was no where to be found. He had expected so, it being a fascinating souvenir for the evil Drow.

He felt empty. He guessed that would be the best way to describe it. He tried to rememeber the events that led him to his predicament, and was surprised that he could recall everything, even up to the sorcerer's last words. At least they hadn't taken that from me. . . Or maybe they simply didn't have the ability to do so. Either way, he knew it might be the only weapon he would have. He didn't intend to stay there long. . .

He didn't know what was in store for him. He sensed that, for the time being, he had better play along with them. He didn't know where he was in relation to the surface, and he wasn't sure how to get back to Dragonslayer. And he was hungry.

Almost on cue, a rag-attired, dirty slave entered the cave. At least she seemed to be a slave - the same type of bracelet was on her left wrist. She held a pot of what must pass for food here - root vegetables, mushrooms, some bread, a few pieces of an unidentifiable meat and an earthen jug of water. She scarcely lifted her eyes toward him as she placed the food in front of him on the cold, hard table. "I am Kax'Eloise. You and I are to share this cave. And this food. I am told your name is Kax'Stuart." She began to eat, pushed the pot toward him, then looked away. "I am told I will be showing you to your job, and how to live here, how to address them, and so on."

Eloise continued to eat, and Darmon grabbed a root, more for appearance and conversation than anything else. She looked as though she hadn't cleaned herself up for a while. While she didn't appear starved, one could tell that she had been working long, hard hours for the Drow. The softness of her skin was gone, replaced by well-toned muscle, the type of physique not common among young maidens, one of which he assumed her to be. "Eloise, I. . ."

"It's Kax'Eloise, sir. That is my slave name. We are not to address each other any other way. It's one of the things you must learn here."

"Okay, lass, if it makes ya feel more comfortable, 'Kax'Eloise', it is. Ya dun 'ave ta call me 'Sir', though. It's Darmon, when they're na' aroond."

She stopped eating and for the first time, looked up into his eyes. "Darmon. . .Darmon Stuart? It is you, then! You, who killed Gark'A'ahs, the Terror of the Land! I thought you might be. . .your story is well-known to me! But how could such a warrior as you. . .?"

Darmon sighed, then smiled. ". . .get captured? Good question, lass. Guess I 'ave a soft spot in me 'eart, an' I got meself way-laid, ya might say. . .'ow aboot you?"

Kax'Eloise smiled. It was a sorrowful smile, but a smile, nonetheless. "It was a raid. They appeared on the outskirts of town and took a dozen of us, or so. There wasn't much we could do. . ." Her eyes fell once again.

Darmon smiled, placing the accent. "My guess is the town of Buchaille, right, lass?"

She smiled a little, looking back to him. "Eat, slayer of dragons, less I eat it all. Yes, my name was Eloise Caembuhl." She talked as she gathered more from the pot, motioning to Darmon to eat his fill. And then she continued to talk, as if she hadn't had the chance to talk to anyone for a long time. Darmon told her of Uilliam and James Caembuhl, who turned out to be her cousin, and their heroics at Borderhold and the Deadlands. They finished the food and talked for another hour about home and those she knew here who were from Creagland.

After a lull in the conversation, Darmon asked, "Ya said somethin' aboot the proper way ta address these. . .drow. . .an' some otha things I've gotta look oot for."

"Yes, there are things we have to consider when talking to them. If you want to stay in their good favor, and stay alive, you have to call them 'Master', at least, that's what I found. Our 'owner' is Idrin of the House of Cirianne. She's a powerful drow and uses every chance to show off her power. She'll torture you in front of others or have those under her beat you, just for fun, or just to prove how important she is. It's the way of the drow, I'm afraid. I've been horribly beaten several times, just for looking at her. We just do what they want, at all times, anything. . ." She looked up at Darmon, sorrow on her face. ". . .anything. . ." She looked back down, tears wellin in her eyes.

Darmon's fists clenched. "Damn it. Is there any way ya' can get this manacle off me, lass? I'm not aboot ta stan' aside an'. . ."

"No, Darmon. You can't resist them. The liquid they gave you - it's in your body now, and you can't get rid of it. They just have to think of you, and you'll be made to do whatever they want. . .you have no choice. You may think you have a choice now, but you won't when they get near. And they'll just beat you or the other one harder, longer. They have ways. . ." She looked down, tears beginning to well. ". . .their torture is the type that won't kill you, they won't let it. The last thing they want to do is to lose a good slave. Their power stems from the number of slaves they have. They just keep on. . ." She began to cry.

Darmon held her close to him. "Dun' think o' it, Eloise. Jus' think o' the night, when ya can be here, away from 'em." He held her for a while, while she let it all out. "But, one thing, lass. . .I can't let 'em knu who I am. They knu I'm cursed, as I have been ever since I killed Gark'A'ahs, but they canna even knu that I'm the one who killed her. That old sorcerer may knu, but I canna take the chance. Can ya du that for me, Eloise?"

She looked up at him and nodded. They held each other closely through the night. Darmon watched as Eloise slept. His sleeplessness had returned.

"Get up, lousy slaves! The day is half gone!" The yells down the hallway echoed almost as one continuous alarm. Eloise had leapt from Darmon's arms to a standing position by the table by the time the drow reached their cave. Rather tall for a drow, he bid her a good morning with the end of a whip, stinging her leg and eliciting a yelp of pain. Darmon, forgetting where he was, sat upright and pushed off toward the front, his left arm holding him from completely clearing the table. He slipped on the well-worn floor and ended in a sprawled position, his arm keeping him from the floor.

The drow, taking this for a movement of servitude rather than an attempted attack, laughed and began whipping the Creag. Darmon winced once, but tempered himself to the anticipation of the subsequent strikes, showing little pain.

Apparently, the lack of reaction stirred the drow into a frenzy, causing him to beat the man harder. Eloise pleaded, but to no avail. Red streaks of blood issued forth from Darmon's back and legs as he bore the pain inwardly, with nary a movement. The drow's face flushed in anger, as his slave's resistance was robbing him of his masochismic pleasures. But the harder he tried to make him cry out in pain, the harder Darmon steeled himself. After several dozen strikes, the drow stopped, his frail body sweating with the exertion. Darmon resisted the urge to smile.

"That is. . .your first lesson, Creag pig! When I. . .say to get up, you. . .stand and face. . .me!" The drow panted, his alien accent thick with the exertion. "You will address me. . .as Master Cellian from now on. . .do you. . .understand?"

Darmon calmly answered, "Yes, Master Cellian. I shall obey your wish." The pain he felt as he uttered the words, laden with subservience, far exceeded the minor inconvenience of the beating. "If you will kindly release my bindings, I shall be happy to begin my work for you."

He didn't know where the words were coming from. He thought at first it was the best thing to do to prevent any beating Eloise may suffer, since he believed that any resistance would be dealt with by punishing her. As a freedom-loving Creag, his first reaction would have been to grab the whip and kill his captor. But he truly didn't want to react. Eloise was right - the yellow bile he was given had sapped him of his desire to leave. He could think about it, he could wish it, but he couldn't leave.

Cellian grabbed Darmon's left hand and placed his ring against the manacle. It released almost instantly, and the drow stepped back, warily. Darmon rubbed his wrist, now chaffed and bleeding. Cellian pointed to Eloise. "You - in the kitchen. And take this pot and the mug, with you." He turned to Darmon. "You, follow me. Five steps behind me, no closer. You will learn what work is. Move, slave."

Cellian's words tore at Darmon, like knives in his heart. Any other man, any other time, he would have broken his skull. But he couldn't. He simply had to follow him, to do as he said. They walked through the hall, other slaves coming out from their own chambers. Some but not all were human. There were a few orcs, an occasional goblin, even a few dwarves. He recognized an Anarian, wearing the remnants of furs and boots. Another was a Creag dressed in a kilt. He noticed a few Gaelics, a few Farlandish soldiers - all with a stare in their eyes, as if their very wills were taken from them. And indeed they were, if they had been given the same elixir.

Cellian spoke a few words to other drow slavemasters as he passed them. They wound their way down the hallway, descending stone steps to a larger cavern. Strange dwarves worked in this cave, wheeling stone and rocks back and forth on wheelborrows, through an adit at the far side. The dwarves were wearing tattered clothes and sported short beards, unlike the ones on the surface, who take great pains to perfect their looks and facial hair. Loking closer, he could see their faces - they were less pleasant than those he had come to know, never smiling, often yelling and screaming instructions. They were maniacally focused on their jobs, which seemed to be related to the caves themselves. He followed Cellian on the path toward the far entrance.

Halfway there, he bumped into one of the dwarves who was wheeling a large rock, which fell off of the barrow. "Watch where yer goin', human pig!" the dwarf said.

Cellian turned immediately, bringing the whip down on Darmon with a vengeance. Darmon dropped to one knee, only to feel the sting from another from behind. He turned to see another drawf, an evil scowl on his face, literally frothing at the mouth as he began to beat the Creag. As the two took turns, Darmon looked down to his previous wounds, those across his chest and on his thighs. But, as he expected, he didn't see any evidence of the previous beatings. . . .daytime is night here underground, and night, day. . .that may be important. . . Soon, Cellian became tired again and stopped. The dwarf seemed willing to continue but stopped as well.

Darmon stood up, blood weeping from his many wounds. He turned to the fallen rock, which the other dwarf was having difficulty lifting. He bent over, using his abilities as a heavy athlete, easily picked it up and placed it on the wheelbarrow. He turned to him, saying, "Many pardons, sir. I am clumsy." He returned to Cellian.

The drow looked him over. "You're different, aren't you, Creag? You're either really stupid, or" . . .really dangerous, he thought. . . "never mind. Don't let it happen again." He looked at the wounds, which seemed to be closing as he watched. He ignored it, turning toward the entrance. "Come now, watch the others."

Darmon followed the drow along the path. He seethed beneath the surface. . . .just one time..that's all I'd need to twist his spindly neck in two...him, and the dwarf. . .every one of them. But he realized that his time would come. . .or at least he would have an edge if things ever change.

The path led into what appeared to be an unbelievably huge cave. Stalactites hung from the roof which was probably two hundred feet above the floor. The lights from the torches barely illuminated their roots. But what they lit near the floor was almost as impressive. Dwarves were hard at work building a castle. At least, those he thought were dwarves. Those on the surface were nowhere near as tough or evil as these little gray-skinned people. They were bringing stalagmites from the floor to the first chamber, chopping them carefully with picks to form them into building blocks and wheeling the blocks back into the main chamber. The sides of the castle were built using these blocks, mortared into place very carefully and artistically to appear as a living building.

He remembered now, from stories told in his youth - the Duergar - dwarves twisted by some magical artifact, living underground, turned evil by its power. They sometimes lived in the same areas as the Drow, often maintaining an easy alliance, for the dark elves needed them for their amazing abilities to work with rock and mortar and their keen eye for perfection and art. He imagined what the castle would look like when completed - one of the corner towers was approaching a large stalactite now, and would appear as if it formed directly beneath its mate above.

As they approached the work zone, Cellian stopped, holding his hand up in a haughty manner, as if he was a military officer stopping a company. "Stand here, human pig, and wait for me. Try not to get in the way." He walked over to a dwarf and began talking, occasionally pointing toward Darmon. The dwarf looked to him as well, and they both eventually walked over to him. The dwarf said with a sneer, "So, ya wanna work for me, eh?" He hauled his fist back and hit Darmon as hard as he could in the stomach.

But the Creag had seen it coming, and he tightened muscles long ago hardened in battle and on the farms. The dwarf's blow bounced him back a few inches, but he stood, smiling. The dwarf grabbed his wrist and arm in obvious pain. He stepped back and looked to Cellian. "This one'll do, Cellian. Be back for him at the end of the day."

Cellian nodded and walked past Darmon, stopping to look his possession in the eyes. "You're a tough one, Kax'Stuart. You won't be for long. They all start out that way. Don't try anything stupid." He walked on.

The dwarf stepped in front of Darmon as the drow walked away. "What'd he say, slave?"

Darmon smiled. "I think he loves me."

The gray-skinned dwarf scowled, until a smile crept over his face. "I'm Ul'Thalim, slave. You're a tough one. Don't push that one too far, or he'll give you worse than you'll ever be able ta take. You take your orders from me while you're here. Help unload those blocks," he said, pointing to a line of wheelbarrows, ". . .and don't break a single one, or you'll be tortured. Hell, you'll be tortured anyway, but don't break 'em. Lunch in a couple of hours. You'll be well fed, 'cause we need strong slaves. And. . .thanks for the laugh - we don't get many down here. Git ta work."

Darmon nodded and began to turn away. "Just a minute, slave. . .didn't they beat you back there?"

Darmon nodded. "I seem to recall something like that, master. Why?"

Ul'Thalim looked at the wounds, which were finishing their healing right before his eyes. "Uh. . .nothin'. . .git ta work." He watched as Darmon turned to the barrow line.

Darmon worked the rest of the day, or night, helping to unload blocks of stalagmites and stacking them, seething with hatred for Cellian. His hate drove him on, but his distaste for his environment and predicament pushed him even harder. He had a hearty lunch and continued, making quite an impression on Ul'Thalim and the other duergar. He was "promoted" to a position of hauling the blocks to the work area, where they were carefully inspected and fine-tuned with hand tools to fit in exactly the right place to continue the unbroken lines of the stalagmite city.

The day continued with no further breaks. As what seemed to him a full day passed, he spotted Cellian approaching through the entrance tunnel. After a short conversation with the duergar, he was motioned down to them. "Well, pig, how do you like your first day of work?" he asked.

Darmon shot his smile toward the drow. "It was good, master. We got a lot o' work done. A little exercise is good for ye."

Cellian frowned. "What do you mean, 'ye'. You think I don't do any work?" He pulled back his whip again, obviously frustrated at his failed attempts to make a sniveling coward out of this mountain of muscle. But Ul'Thalim caught his arm before he could strike.

"Easy, Cellian. He's a good worker, an' I don't want him marked up. I want him fresh for tomorrow. We moved more block today than any other day I can remember."

The drow pulled his arm back and stepped up to face the evil dwarf. "You'll hear from Idrin herself for this outrage! You dwarf scum may not touch a drow!"

The duergar scowled. "You fool! Wait 'till I tell them you're the one holding the castle up! You should take this as a compliment - you brought the best slave we've found for a long time down here!"

A chuckle stopped them both. They turned to see Darmon, surrounded by half a dozen duergar workers and a few drow, gathered around and watching the proceedings with great interest. Cellian stomped as he turned away from the duergar, walking toward Darmon and past him. "Come now, pig. Five steps behind. No food for you tonight." He walked briskly out the entrance, slave in tow.

As they entered the cave, Cellian motioned to the table. Darmon sat on the edge while the drow draped the manacle over his wrist, placed his ring on it and snapped it shut. "I've gut ta get me one 'o those rings, lad." Cellian flashed him a glowering glance, stepped back and raised his whip, but Darmon just smiled. "Now, little elf, whot gud'ya think that'll du ya? Ya seen a'ready how I eat pain. Duncha think it's aboot time we talk business? I can make ya an important being aroon' 'ere, lad!"

Cellian stopped. "Just what are you babbling about, human? What can you do for me?" He laughed evilly and prepared to deal some more punishment.

Darmon stood and held his arms out to the side. "Ya see any scars, any welts, mon? Certainly, you'll get yer share 'o gold for puttin' me in a betta place than jus' movin' rock! You benefit, I benefit, everyone's 'appy."

Cellian crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Hmmm. . .yes, I do believe I have the perfect job for you. Somewhere you'll have little to do, and you'll be out of my hair for a while. A fellow who might appreciate your special skills. Yes, I think you'll do just fine."

Darmon smiled. "Now, 'at's the spirit, lad! Once I get known as the best slave ya got, you'll go places! What's this fella like? I'll wanna look me best!"

Cellian chuckled. "His name is Nurmm'siss. He's a yuan-ti. You'll get along just fine. All you have to do is attend to him. Think you can do that?"

"Ta be sure, laddie. I'll be ready in the mornin'."

Cellian was still chuckling as he left. Soon, Eloise entered with some food hidden beneath her dress. "How did it go today, Darmon?"

"Oh, the usual, lass - get beat, do some work, get beat again, so on. An' you?"

"About the same. I brought you some food. The first day, they make you go without eating. You'll need food for tomorrow - the second day is usually tough."

"Not so. Cellian and I struck a deal. I'll be someone's personal assistant, or so."

Eloise looked startled. "Really? Whose?"

"Something called a yuan-ti, guy by the name 'o Numis or Numsy or somethin'."

Eloise looked pale. "Not him! Very few ever see him! And those who've been assigned to him usually come back beaten and battered every day! You've been tricked, Darmon!"

The Creag sighed. "Wouldn't be the first time, lass," he said, remembering the old lady in the entrance to this hell. "But I've been beaten a'fore. See any welts?"

Eloise looked and, to her astonishment, she saw none. "Well, I hope you have as much luck with this one. Just be careful."

Darmon smiled again. "Dunna wairy for me, lass. As long as 'es not a snake or somethin' like 'at. I 'ave a deathly fear 'o snakes. . ."

Eloise stared at him. "Darmon, do you know what a yuan-ti is?"

Darmon looked worried. "No, lass, what is he?"

Eloise lowered her head. "They are hideous half snake abominations. You've seen nothing like them."