Rules is Rules
By Gerry Torbert
...But is there a real truth? ...a real law, a rule, something that lies behind all of the gods, behind Heshtail, Bestra, Bel...a reason for life? ...you're asking the wrong sword, son of Eohn ...I don't have too many others to ask; certainly the souls you have must have an answer ...no, or they wouldn't be in me; I'm afraid I'm the graveyard of lost souls, a blacksmith's junk pile, except that the blacksmith can still make something of junk... now, that's just what I'm talking about; what will happen to those souls you have who have paid their penance in a purgatory--will a god with a heart take them in?... where are you taking us now, not to change the subject... Gearasdan Araich would be the next in line... oh, no, not more of your whirlwind tour of Creagland!? didn't we learn enough from the last one?... no, unfortunately...
Between the two philosophers, Darmon had more legs, so it was settled. Not everything is cut-and-dry in the life of an enchanted weapon. Darmon had read about the land of the Tavishes, and he knew he had to visit it. There was something about the place - well fortified, the best place for traders to take their wares, busy, important and bustling. But there were a few strange features as well. Being a border state that, like Earhcnoc, bore the brunt of fighting, there were rules. A lot of them. And a lot of police. He wasn't sure how he would be received. And then there was the hole...
The Connors and the Tavishes had their share of skirmishes over land, as was the case with most of the clans. But the Great Hole was different. It seemed that both clans disavowed any interest or claim over the anomaly, each one claiming the land up to it on their side but wishing for all the world that the other would take some form of responsibility over it. Surely, they could just ignore it, most thought. But those were the people who had never seen it, felt it, or explored it. Or those lost in it forever.
Topographically speaking, it didn't seem to be any different from any of the steep Creagish valleys one was likely to encounter as he trekked across the rugged landscape. But there was no outlet for water - it was completely surrounded by short mountains. It gathered rain, just like any other landform, but it never filled up. Legends fought face-to-face with logic as the stories piled up over the years: it was a doorway to one of the abyssal planes; it was a living creature; it was a haven for the undead; it was a junkpile of human souls; it was an underground feeder for a river. Of course, there was the obligatory "No one who ever entered it has come out alive" story, and there was the equally requisite "I know a man who returned," but the unknown always breeds such prose, as had the unexplained disappearance of scores of people. The thick fog that half-filled the chasm for most of the year didn't aid in any logical analysis.
Darmon made his way around Loch Brech to Battle Fort. Gearasdan Airach loomed in the background against the night sky. The bright half moon shed sufficient light to provide a stunning backdrop for the ancient castle. Although almost as large as Eahrcnoc, it was more of a keep than a castle. The walls were over thirty feet high but were surrounded by lower walls of ten feet or so, extending the castle's zone of influence over many acres to encompass lands of some of the clandom's crofter septs. These were minimally protected from invasion, but in the event of a battle the subordinate families and clans were allowed safe passage into the main building. It didn't sound like much protection but was more than other clans offered.
The Tavish governed over a dozen septs, including the Wood, Stirling, Craig, and Muir clans. As was typical of the clan system, the families would be governed by a handful of tacksmen who operated as middle managers to the Tavish clan chief, namely Osgur Tavish. The septs paid rent, paid homage to the chief of the governing clan and offered able-bodied men to serve in the military, if needed. In return, they were given protection against other clans or marauders, a system of laws and rules of trade and a strong infrastructure.
Among the Tavishes, the clan system worked well and had become very strong over the years. The crofting system grew as well, and with it grew the necessity for a strong force of government, led by the Tacksman Society and enforced by local military presence. It was a meshing of systems not unlike those of the kingdom of Farland itself.
But now wasn't the time to find out more about the clan. Night time wasn't usually a good time to enter a castle, he had found. Guards really weren't looking for anything to disrupt their lives, and anyone he would want to talk to would be asleep, anyway. He sat down under a tree along the road and took it all in. It was a good time to count stars.Dawn took a long time to arrive. It always did, it seemed. He often amused himself by thinking of conundrums or mental puzzles that helped to occupy the time. This time he committed the Duff's castle layout to memory--anything to pass the time. And if he really could have slept, the itching of his right palm would have awakened him many times over.
The first light brought the sound and movement of a living city to its feet. The gates opened slowly as Darmon feasted on a few squirrels for breakfast. City guards walked out and picked up some trash around the gates, then stretched and began to take up positions on either side of the entrance. A few farmers walked from the city, and a few walked in, but only after discussion. ...Perhaps the paranoia over the missing persons that pervaded this place is poisonous... He chuckled at the alliteration. Slayer sighed disgustedly.
As he approached the gate, the guards alerted each other. One took the front, blocking the dusty road. Three shades of green mingled nicely on their kilts, as did the green-dyed tassles adorning their sporrans. ...nicely done... good camouflage... but too much of one color... "Wha' hae, lads! I've come ta visit yer fair clan. May I gain entrance?"
The sergeant of the guard, every bit as tall as Darmon but not quite as bulky, looked him over. "Hmm. Stuart, I do believe. Wha' could bring a happy farmer o' yer likes doon from th' 'ills o' heather? Air ye carryin' anything o' trade?"
Darmon smiled. The sergeant sported a well-trimmed beard nearly down to his belt – certainly not military standard, but rank does have its privileges. "Not much ta claim, sirrah. Jus' me sword, me sghain dubh, strikin' stone fer fire, stroppin' stone, a little food, some coin an' an ol' keepsake, is all. None of it's ta trade, though. Comin' back from the Deadlands, then Eahrcnoc. I'm a fighter, if ye 'adn't guessed."
"If yer goin' 'ome, ye can jus' go aroon the castle, lad. Unless ye 'ave business inside. Rules is rules."
"Ta tell ye th' truth, Sergeant, I'd like ta meet Osgur Tavish, 'imself. Ye can tell 'im Darmon Stuart, first in line, comes a' callin'."
The guards looked at each other. One looked quizzically at another, who whispered in his ear. The first promptly nodded. The sergeant stepped back and said, "Well, Darmon. It's good ta meet a 'ero o' Creagland. 'Ow's things wi' the Duff clan? Osage still terrorizin' the countryside?"
"No, afraid not. She... relinquished... her leadership, just the other day, lad. Mairead is now leader. An' things seem well."
The sergeant's eyes widened as he looked to the others. "Canna say I'll miss 'er, but that's jus' my opinion. Anyway, clan house is dead ahead. He's not an early riser, but 'ere's an inn just to the left before ya get there, good food, open. Sorry for the questioning, but 'ere's been a lot o' strange things 'appenin' aroon 'ere, for quite a while. Disappearances an' such. Canna be too careful, ya know."
Darmon nodded. "Yea, no doubt, it must be quite a problem. Tell me, do most o' the incidents center aroon th' Hole?"
The sergeant nodded. "Indeed, w'in a few miles each way. It's hurtin' th' trade - not many people want ta bring goods 'ere, else they wind up gone. No one really wants the hole, but ya can't jus' fill it up. Maybe ya could, bu', would take a century. I dunno. I'm jus' a sergeant, a guard, wha' da I know?"
Darmon placed his hand on the guard's shoulder. "Ye'r never jus' a guard, sergeant. Most important job in a castle." He pointed toward the inn. "Good food, eh? Maybe give 'im a couple o' hours? I'll let 'im know what a good job ye do here." He began to walk to the inn. ...maybe this place needs a hero... oh, no, Darmon... what are you going to do now?... not another inn... just a thought, Slayer...
Darmon sat down to a healthy breakfast of eggs whipped in melted butter and suet, heavy oatcakes dripping with butter and blackberry jam, warm milk and sizzling bacon slabs. He kept to a dark corner of the dinner hall, trying to remain incognito. He didn't need to strike up a conversation with an innkeeper or waitress, as it always seemed to be their downfall. He hadn't used up much time, though, and once he paid his bill he decided to walk around the yard to get a feel for the place.
He walked between some of the more important-looking establishments along a paved road. The buildings within the castle were of the longhouse variety, with slate roofs, stucco exterior and at least one chimney on each end. They were quaint, not unlike the individual homes in his native Slaughbaetha, but upon closer investigation, he noticed they were built of stuccoed stone, instead of finished wooden walls. If one looked closer he would see areas of repairs where trebuchet balls and catapult projectiles had smashed the walls. This castle had seen her share of fighting.
Some of the buildings were two or three full stories high, most notably what he took for the administration and guard structures. They were relatively quiet now, only a few people stirring about. Occasionally a janitor or groundskeeper could be seen sprucing the landscaping.
He walked through this area and came upon the trade center. Smaller houses with a covered lean-to at the side housed blacksmiths, now beginning to stoke the fires of their handiwork. A few farmers pushed carts of fish and vegetables toward some of the open-air kiosks, a few bartering over the worth of their goods. At one set of stables, a rancher stood while the buyer looked over a prime example of the highland "coos" - short, furry cows with long horns and bangs covering their entire faces.
Several peat farmers plied their blocks of moss. The sulphury odor of the fires permeated the morning air as some fishermen threw their fresh kippers over the poles to be smoked. A morning at the market - there was nothing quite like it in Creagland.
Darmon finally made the rounds and returned to the clan house. He turned the corner to the front, only to notice an older man making his way down the front steps to pick up a pair of boots from the porch. Dressed in a house robe and nightcap, he had the appearance of a crotchety old bloke, partly awake and mad as hell at whatever part that was. He bent over and slapped the boots to break the pieces of clay that had dried on them.
"What say, sir! Is the clan Father awake yet?" Darmon's smile was pleasant but barely scratched the tough surface of the old man's face.
"Only half, ya don' wanna wake the other half. Too early. Want ta speak to 'im, ya wait another hour. Rules is rules." He looked up to see Darmon staring down at him. "A Stuart? Guards let ya in, eh? What business ya want wi' 'im?"
"Name's Darmon Stuart, sir. Son of Eohn. Nephew of Uilliam. When's Osgar wake?"
The older man looked at him through bushy eyebrows that appeared just as willing to weigh his lids closed and send him back to dreamland as anything else. He reached up and grasped a handful of unkempt beard, smoothing it out downward and giving it a twirl at the end. He hocked and spit to the side; snorted and blew his nose, one nostril after the other to the air; scratched his long, matted chest hair; belched; farted; and walked to the water pump. He bent over and held his head under the pump, dousing his mane with a few charges of cold water. He stood up and shook his head, sending a torrent of water in every direction. A grin crept across his face, then a chuckle. "Well, yer still here, after all that. Can't clean myself in front o' the ol' lady, so morning is my time, if ya know wha' I mean. Ye found 'im - I'm awake now. Come on inside, first-in-line. We'll swap a few about Old Uilliam - he's an ol' friend, ya know."
Darmon followed him to the front door. Osgur turned to him as he led the way through the door. "Boots off, leave 'em outside, lad. Rules is rules."
The two men made their way through the hall to the main meeting room. Although large, it wasn't as imposing as the main room at the Duff castle, although the walls were lined with paintings of ancestors and their favorite weapons. They moved off to the side to the dining room, which was much smaller, reminding Darmon of that of a home, rather than that of royalty. Osgur asked him what he'd like for breakfast and Darmon asked for tea and a simple plate of bread and jam, having already eaten. Osgur motioned to a chair and Darmon sat as the older man dropped his robe and threw on his kilt, which was hanging over another chair. Everything about Osgur's mannerisms made him seem a gruff man who had seen a lot of the world and kept his distance from courtesies and protocol. Just Darmon's kind of guy.
Osgur sat across from him over a rather narrow table, hardly the type one would expect to see in an important castle. Naked except for his skirt, he scratched the forest of voluminous chest hair hiding many battle scars, and began the conversation. "Well, Darmon. Ya dunna remember 'is, but I visited yer castle when ye were jus' a young pup. Yer uncle an' I fought in the Civil Wars, alongside yer pap. We'd get together once in a while and go huntin' game. Good man, he is. I guess ya haven't heard much aboot things lately, bein' away for a while. Heard ya gave a good account o' yersef at the Deadlands. Quite a battle, eh?"
Both men dug in as the bread and jam arrived. "Yea, ye might say 'at. Had a lot o' Dwarves, Anarians an' Creags, we made a whole company. We did well, but the Farlandish troops are a machine, what with their discipline an' their war wizards. Sent Vornoth quite a dinner!"
Both men laughed at the imagery. The discourse continued, Osgur telling stories of the Civil War and of his uncle's bravery, of how Uilliam had once saved his neck in the war. Darmon noticed that his sentences often tailed off at the end, as if he was reminiscing, or perhaps trying to forget problems he now had. After a while, the discussion turned to the situations in Creagland.
"So, ya say yer jus' passin' thru, Darmon. Have ye heard anything aboot yer homeland?"
"Jus' something aboot Faugas takin' over the reins, Uncle Uilliam takin' sick. Been tryin' ta get home, but I always seem ta get sidetracked, like a donkey cart wi' one short wheel. Don't understand it all."
The rest of Osgur's meal arrived and he dug in. After a few bites, he cleared his throat and looked at the tall fighter across from him, this time with a more serious nature. "I never did trust a magic man. Probably why we lost the war. Damn sorcerers banded together and went against us. Can't prove it, but seemed like it. Don't totally trust any of 'em, Darmon. They got ways... yeah, ways... "
He tailed off again. Darmon thought it would be pushing him, but he had to say something about it. "Ya seem like ya got a lot on yer mind, Osgur. I heard there've been disappearances a lot lately, from the Hole. Is 'at right?"
Osgur sighed, dipping his bread into the eggs and bringing it to his mouth. He stopped and frowned, putting it back down to the plate. "Good eye, laddie. One after another, good people, all of 'em. Jus' gone, like 'at. Strange things 'ave always 'appened near the blamed thing, but more now than ever. Connor's 'ave lost more than we. Everyone knows 'ow dangerous it is, but ya never know how far away ya have ta stay, if ya know what I mean."
Darmon pushed the bread away from him and began drumming his fingers on the table. He unconsciously scratched his right palm, then something came to him. ...I hope you're not thinking of... damn, you are... least I can do for good people... besides, I may have an edge... you always think you do, Darmon... "Osgur, I think I can 'elp ya... but I need some things."
"Oh, you've done enou, for all the people o' Creagland, Darmon. Besides, ya dunna know what yer getting' inta. We'll pull through, we'll figure it out. Has ta be highwaymen, yea, that's it."
Darmon leaned over the table. "Come on, Osgur. Ya know 'at ain't true. No highwaymen would ever do 'at - not their style. Yer lookin' at somethin' bigger than you an' me. I got a hunch. An' some experience wi' things 'at are bigger 'an you an' me. Jus' let me look at it all."
Osgur sighed and looked into his eyes. He could see something, a glint he had seen in those of Darmon's uncle, many years ago. He knew he had to agree to it. "Alright, Darmon. But I ain't gonna let ya go alone. Rules is rules. I'll give ya a company o' men. I'm not aboot ta tell yer uncle I let somethin' 'appen to ya."
Darmon scratched his palm, this time itching much worse. "I'll need torches, lighters, enough rope to get in there. Lotsa rope. 'An it…" he paused, wondering if he should say it, "...it has to be at night. Tonight."
Osgur sighed and stood up. "Okay, lad, but be careful. I'll have my men drag ya outa there at the least sign of trouble. Rules is rules."
Darmon stood and shook his hand. "Takes three hours or so, I believe. I'll be leavin' in the afternoon. 'Ave 'em meet me at the gates. I'll figure 'is out, one way or another." ...what do you mean, 'another'... you'll see...
Darmon argued with his sword through the morning and part of the afternoon. One of the soldiers attached to the excursion mentioned to him of his seeming preoccupation with something, but he dismissed it with the excuse that he had to plan his strategy. The detail arrived at the gates with a dozen hundred-foot skeins of rope and armfuls of torches, just as he had asked. The leader of the detail was none other than the gate sergeant, who smiled at Darmon as he approached the half-dozen men. "Well, hero, looks as if ya jus' cannae keep away from action. 'Ope ya got a few tricks up yer sleeve!"
Darmon, busy testing the rope's strength, looked up. "Oh, 'ello, sergeant. If 'is problem is what I think, I won't need any tricks. If not, no I don't. But I always think o' somethin'."
The sergeant chuckled. "I believe ya, brotha. Name's Thomas Stirling. Jus' remember, we're under orders ta yank ya if ya give us the sign. Rules is..."
"...Rules, yea, I know." Darmon shook his hand. "'Bout time, Thomas, wouldn't ya say?" They mounted and trotted through the gates as the sun descended.
Darmon was relieved to see that there wasn't much dew in the air, and therefore little fog in the hole. The detail had just spent several hours on horseback, relating tales and planning their strategy. They could only go over signals, such as tugs on the rope, because Darmon really didn't know what he would find. But he knew that whatever lay in the chasm, he had an edge.
The hole itself was massive. In the early evening, one could barely see the opposite ridge with what remained of the setting sun. The stars offered some illumination, but clouds obscured the moon. It was an ominous sight, making Darmon think it must have been a volcano at one time. The group circled part of the hole until they found what Darmon thought would be the shortest distance to where the slope of the opening suddenly steepened to nearly vertical.
A few trees dotted the upper slope, and one of them appeared to be sturdy enough to anchor the rope. They dismounted and tied off at the top, lugging the ropes and torches over the edge to the tree. One sentry stayed at the top, in case... just in case. They arrived at the tree and Darmon packed the torches and strikers in the folds of his great kilt. He lit one of them and wrapped the rope around his waist, preparing to back down the slope.
The sergeant walked over to him. "Be careful, Darmon. Watch yer step - ya can't see much, even with the torch. Don't try ta be a he.. never mind. Just be careful."
Darmon smiled as he began his descent. "I'll take care, Thomas. I dunna know wha' I'm lookin' for, but I'll know when I see it..." He didn't sound convincing, giving the sergeant a strange feeling. He certainly didn't want to lose Creagland's greatest hero, not on his guard. And he didn't want to have to tell Osgur...
Darmon had had a blacksmith forge a two-foot figure eight out of iron during the day and had run his belt through it. He ran the rope around his waist and coursed it through each of the loops of the clip, allowing him to control his descent with one hand. The knots where the ropes were joined would make it through the clip with a little work, but still offer some resistance, providing a safety hold. He approached the edge of the steeper hole and held the torch over it, but the fog was thicker about fifty feet down, so he couldn't gage the depth. He picked up a loose rock and tossed it over the edge... one... two... three... four...'click'... four hundred feet down... at least there's a bottom... good sign, eh, Slayer?... the only good sign is when we leave...
Darmon inwardly chuckled at the weapon's attitude. Some would brand it cowardice, but Darmon knew better. He called it laziness. The sword had made good accounts of himself over these past months, saving Darmon's bacon more than once. Maybe it was just a case of incomplete confidence in his master.
Four knots had passed. Given the hundred feet or so between the tree and the edge, he knew he had a hundred feet to go, but to what? The sound of the rock wasn't that of a glancing blow. He could have heard the sound of the rock hitting a shelf, not a full bottom. He decided to shelf the doubts and suspicions - they clouded his mind, and he didn't need that.
The sides of the hole were slippery, as some minor streams and seeps kept them wet. But he noticed that there were definite steps, or small handholds almost custom-built into the sides, much like basaltic columns. He had climbed some of these types of cliffs before. Could that be the way whatever, or whoever leaves this hole, gets out?
The layer of fog didn't last too long. It thinned out to provide him with a torchlight view of what appeared to be a defined bottom--at least water. The shimmering surface loomed only twenty feet below, but seemed to be a ditch or stream, as it didn't run from side to side. He was relieved, not because he couldn't swim, but he needed good, dry torches.
He dropped into a ditch of ankle-deep water. He looked in all directions, moving the torch around to shed light and reduce the shadows. The shaft opened into an arch along the path of the ditch, and standing still he could see the slow flow of the water into one arch. He thought this might be the best direction to start, so he gave the rope four quick tugs, the sign that everything was safe. A pause with two more tugs indicated he would need about two hours to look around.
He hadn't noticed until now, but his right hand burned with a powerful itch. He started to dismiss it as rope-burn, but realized it wasn't going to go away soon. ...just as I thought, Slayer... what do you mean?... an old friend is about to appear...
Darmon held the torch out in front of him as he began to walk through the six-foot high arch. It didn't open into a chamber, but the top dipped down a foot and stayed that height as he walked stooped over for a while. The reflection of the torch on the sides of the passage, then on the water, shimmered in the same pattern for what he thought was about a hundred feet. But he became aware of another source of light. He held the torch behind his back, but could still see light glimmering off the surface of the water. He walked further, as quietly as possible. The thoughts of another drow cave came to mind, and was reinforced by Slayer's emotions. ...no, friend, I know what this is...
He came into an opening. The passageway climbed vertically into a twenty foot high room. The water continued to the left, leaving a set of steps to the right. At the top was the source of light - torchlight, several of them, flickering. He snuffed out his torch and quietly began to climb the steps.
Darmon reached the top and his suspicions were proven true. He peered over the edge of the top step to see several dozen yuan-ti, some of them milling about the room, some sitting in a group along the left wall. The cave spread out fifty feet in each direction, thirty feet high. The sound of their archaic language filled the air as they discussed things in an animated manner. Darmon thought for a second or two, and thinking the Creagish equivalent of "Oh, what the hell," he climbed the remaining steps and cleared his throat. His hand burned with irritation.
The nearest yuan-ti swung his head around. "Narg-iss Hachtoo! Mootesssse!" He approached Darmon, grasping a sword from his belt. Darmon was no mathematical genius, but he could calculate his odds at this point. They couldn't kill him, but eating him... that would keep him from regenerating, for sure. Something in his mind, in his body, made him raise his right hand, facing his palm toward his aggressor.
The yuan-ti stopped in his tracks. He stared at the palm as the others gathered around him. "Nyawwww...moot gamnash ikto yuan-ti...gamnash ikto yuan-ti... gamnash yuan-ti..." Suddenly Darmon's mind was filled with words, seemingly coming from his hand, down his arm, to his head. "...no, human's blood is Yuan-ti..." Red light glowed from Darmon's hand, pulsing with each of his now-accelerated heartbeats. "Ookgas im mootessse?" ...what is your name, human?... Somehow, Darmon answered, "Darmon Stuart, of Nurmm'siss."
The snake-man thrust his sword back into his belt. He spoke through Darmon's hand again. "You have shared blood. You are welcome. I am egg of Nurmm'siss. He is long gone, thought to be slave of Dulim. Where did you see him?"
"He was my master, as were the Drow. We became friends. We helped each other escape. I went to the surface, he went to the caves. We were near the great falls. We joined and killed many Drow escaping."
"Is he safe?"
"Yes. He was kept in a room by a Dulim magic man. He passed the time reading books and becoming wise. He is a good friend."
The yuan-ti looked to each other and nodded. Darmon felt at home with these creatures. They were at once evil yet magnificent. He could sense that their power was great - they gave off an aura that he could feel, even five feet away. Dragonslayer felt it too - he pulsed and glowed, but was not afraid or aggressive. They gave him the impression of potential greatness, but they possessed an innate evil that was part of their psychological makeup, no, maybe their souls. Either way, they seemed to be cursed, probably from their birth, from the left-over genes of the Drow themselves. He knew what it was like to be cursed.
"Falls, yes, we know of. That mean he is with Ooloon Eckt, passageway to their caves closed now, Dulim cut passageways into, cut them from us. He safe, but long way. I Gloom'ozsss. You Creag, Darmonstuart?"
"Yes, Gloom'ozss. Maybe you will find another pass to connect to Ooloon Eckt. There are many in these mountains. I wish you well in your attempt. I hate the Drow."
They nodded again. "Why come here, to Glargah Eckt? We could kill, eat you."
"I cannot die, Gloom'ozss. It is my curse, from Tanarus. So I have no fear. But other Creags are afraid. Many of them have been disappearing for many nights and days. Most are good people, with families and children of their own. Their own eggs, Gloom'ozss. And it has come from this around the Great Hole. I came to find out what is happening."
Gloom'ozss looked to his companions. They spoke a few words in their psionic thought-speak which were only audible to Darmon as a low hum. Slayer could feel the power but appeared confused as well. Darmon had heard of these powers - they tied into the natural resonance of the electromagnetic aura that surrounds all living beings. It was almost a soul-to-soul method of speech. The yuan-ti were bred with some magical abilities, but this is one they had evolved themselves, on which the Drow never counted.
After a few minutes, Gloom'ozss nodded and turned to the Creag. "Yes, you know now. Yuan-ti have to eat, as everyone. Only take few, and only as need. Mootesse easy food to kill, but not much to eat. Must live. Now know Nurmm'siss is alive, will find passageways and move. But must stay here until find way to Ooloon Eckt, and we must still eat until leave." The others nodded readily. Darmon could see they were hungry again.
"How did ya get the 'umans, wi'oot gettin' caught, Gloom'ozss?"
"We pay for food, with gold we find. Man with long face fur bring humans for gold."
Darmon swooned just thinking about it. The very same man who helped him here, Sergeant Thomas Stirling, selling flesh for gold. Things were beginning to unravel. Slayer agreed.
"Let me think for a few minutes. I may be able to..." He was interrupted by a splashing sound from the path toward the hole. He turned, only to hear the sound continue. It was the sound of four hundred feet of good, strong rope, snaking its way down the hole, splashing into the water at the bottom of the Great Hole. He ran to the entrance, re-lighting his torch. He was stopped as he almost tripped over a pile of rope. He returned to Glargah Eckt.
"Sorry, friends. Good news is, may 'ave a way to fix our problem. Bad news is I may be a while gettin' oot o' 'ere."