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Ryel stood there thinking things through. She couldn’t tell the dwarf priest that she, a mere elf maiden, was going to try and save the bacon of one of the Iron Kindred on quest to recover stolen relics of the Dwarves. Durin’s folk could be so persnickety about stuff like that. It didn’t even matter that the priest might have no relation to or knowledge of Durin the Deathless. Durin the Deathless was not even Deathless of course; he had died on a number of occasions.

And because she could not dishonor the House, or the Kindred, or Arkmar, or something or other, by offering to help (she, a mere elf maiden), she also could not go opening that disturbingly decorated manhole and jumping in. The priest would know what she was about and it would be a Dishonor that Could Not be Borne. What the priest would do in such a situation Ryel had no idea, but she was sure there was some absolutely necessary course of action, even at, or preferably at, the risk of losing his own life, Arkmar’s life and, well, the heck with Ryel’s life, it didn’t count for that much anyway.

So she gave him just one sympathetic over the shoulder smile and headed off down a side street. A few blocks away, she found an armorer, not a dwarf but a burly human of the local stock, not a dreamer but perhaps the great great great grandchild of dreamers. She bought a few things: a decent helmet, some heavy rope with a couple of nice hefty block and tackle sets, and half a dozen very special arrows, tipped with a film of silver. Ghasts loved gold like they loved blood. But silver, not so much. Perhaps they were evolutionarily related to werewolves.

“You going someplace dangerous,” observed the human armorer.

“Isn’t everyone who comes in here?”

“You going Beneath,” he said. “You need good sword.”

“Okay,” said Ryel, knowing that he was just trying to make a sale, but knowing also that he was right. “What sort of good sword do you think I need?”

“One like this,” said the armorer. He turned around and pulled a long, closed box off the top shelf. “Lookie.” He set it down on the table he used for a sales counter and, with a mild flourish, pulled the top off.

Ryel looked in. She allowed herself to go oooh. “May I?” she asked. He smiled and gestured to go ahead. She took it out, her left hand on the hilt, her right hand near the tip. She held it up, then swished it with her left hand, then flipped it in the air to her right and made a theatrical thrust. “Nice balance,” she said. “Nice weight. But it doesn’t seem—how shall I say this?”

“Give,” he said. She gave. He took the handle in his left hand, then switched it to his right with the slightest of flips. Then he raised it over his head and brought it down on the box, which shattered into kindling. “Don’t need box if you buy sword,” he said, grinning.

“No, you don’t need the box,” she said. “How much?”

“Five hundred gold.”

“Five hundred? You joke. One hundred.”


“Let’s just settle at three and call it quits,” said Ryel. “I hope you don’t think I carry three hundred gold pieces with me at all times. How’s your gem assessment skills?”

“Show.” Ryel pulled out a nice big ruby she had taken from someone she had killed who had deserved it. But by the same token, Ryel was not terribly attached to the thing. The big guy held it to the light, laughed and shook his head. “One hundred, three hundred, five hundred, who knows?” he said. “Is a deal.”

“Excellent,” said Ryel, taking the sword. “No need for a scabbard, I’ll be using it straight away. Any good entrances to Beneath around here?”

“Sure. Down my back stairs.”


“Oh yah. Get plenty customer come up that way. Come, elf girlie!”

Ryel followed the armorer human back behind his table and into his back room, full of arms and armor in half repair and tools of all sorts. There were at least three hot little fires going, two of them maintaining molten metal in pots. She could have spent hours poking around in there. Instead, she followed him on through a sort of kitchen and down steps that looked carven from the native igneous rock. At the bottom there was a large landing, a square stone-walled room with a low stone ceiling and a single large well-built and well-bolted door. The armorer peeked through a peep hole, then flipped the deadbolt and pulled the door open. Beyond, a stairway that looked like it had been carved out of rock by drunks with pickaxes wound steeply and crookedly down into a darkness that could properly be described as Stygian.

“Bell,” he said pointing to a cute little steel bell on a bit of rope, hanging from a prong driven into the rock next to the door. “Ring ring ring. Three little rings. I will hear and come.”

“You can hear this?”

“Sure,” he said. “High end hearing not affected too much yet.”

“And the ghasts and gugs and stuff?”

“Gugs not fit in passage to here. Ghasts—they hate bell.”

“Oh kay,” said Ryel. “Well, thanks. If I come back alive, I’ll have a dwarf with me. Maybe I’ll buy him something.”