“Okay, all clear,” Ryel called up in a low voice, shouldering her bow. “Lower me a ways.”
“They’re all gone?” called Arkmar, letting out a few more feet of rope. From the top of the forehead he could only see the thin yet curiously strong elf rope running straight down the sloping rock to the eyebrow. Then it went over, and a foot or two below that hung Ryel. He had no idea what might lie below that.
“Lower me down another foot,” Ryel hissed. “Don’t ask stupid questions.”
“Hey!” he called back gruffly.
Ryel pulled herself up the rope just enough to peek over the brow. “Look,” she said, “they’re all dead and gone, but there may be more, so please don’t talk, is that all right?” Then she disappeared from his view again for a moment. Then she reappeared, hissed, “Two more feet please,” and disappeared again.
The rope dropped her jerkily, six inches, a foot, eighteen inches, two feet. There. Argh. She was still a foot or so above the optimal position. Ryel stole a glance upward, then stole a glance around, then opted to give it a try from here. Her dangling status didn’t allow her a lot of ability to observe the lower slopes, but though she could see no one right below her, she was pretty sure there was at least one more party on the way.
The pupil was quite dilated—the gods must have some good drugs, thought Ryel—so it was ten or twelve feet across. But most of it was covered in a glass of some sort. It was hard to tell if it was opaque or transparent. In the very middle, there was a hole perhaps two feet across. Ryel was trying to reach into this hole, but the angle was not very good. She was just about to call for another two feet of rope when she heard a throat being cleared below her.
Ryel didn’t look. She knew what she would see. But she was in one of her in for a penny, in for a pound positions. She flipped upside down, the rope around her waist, the line held between her knees and her boots. Yes. This would do.
The throat was cleared again.
“Halloo, Ryel, my love,” came a man’s voice.
“Can we talk later, Thaeron?” Ryel replied, still not looking, her arm all the way up into the hole. “I’m busy, as you can plainly see.”
“That’s what I want to talk about, Ryel,” said Thaeron. “You left me in the bed with my hands tied up, that was most impolite. But then you also stole something, did you not?”
“I stole several things,” she replied, not looking still. She put her arm in as far as she possibly could and felt around, ready at any moment for it to be attacked by ravenous millipedes. “You’re a thief, Thaeron,” she said as she struggled, in the voice of someone explaining something simple to a simpleton. “Stealing from a thief is within the rules.”
“So is giving up what you’re about to pull out, Ryel,” said Thaeron. “I could hit you from here, don’t think I couldn’t.”
“I think you’re unlikely to,” she replied. “You’re not a great archer.”
“Not with an arrow. With a knife throw. You know I throw knives.”
Now she gave him a look. “Hit me with a knife? Up here? You’re nuts. You couldn’t accurately hit this high over your head. Forget about it.”
“The thing is,” said Thaeron, “I don’t want to come up there and get the thing myself. So I need you to get it out, and then you may drop both it and the other you took. I will let you keep the ruby.”
“Very nice of you,” said Ryel, going back to work. She found she had at least three inches more arm she could jam in the pupil. There was junk in there: it felt like leaf litter mixed with sand and flakes of rock. She pulled out a handful of it, checked for bronze thingies, and tossed it behind her.
“Ack. Ryel! You did that on purpose.”
“No, I was just lucky,” she said. She reached in again and this time—millipedes. She had always disliked millipedes. There had been these giant ones when she was a child, some evil brood of Sauron or something, and she had never gotten over them even though everyone told her they were harmless. She pulled her arm out and shook three or four of them off her, then three or four more.
“Get out of the way, dickhead,” she replied. “More is coming.” She reached in, gagging, and pulled out another wad. But this time, at the heart of the wad, Ryel felt something in her hand. She shook the wad out.
“You had better come up with something soon,” said Thaeron, “or I am coming up there, and you do not want to make me do that. Ryel, what’s that in your hand?”
“Nothing,” she said, wondering how to get Arkwad’s attention. It seemed to have wandered: she was probably lucky he hadn’t completely let go the rope.
“Ryel. Just now, here is what I would like you to do. Reach into your bag, it’s just over your shoulder, and pull out the piece you stole from me. And drop it. Ryel?”
“No,” said Ryel with a pout. Something was going on up there: she slipped down a bit, then felt the rope pull taut again.
“Now, Ryel,” Thaeron insisted.
“No,” she repeated. The rope went up a quarter of an inch, then dropped three inches.
“Fine,” said Thaeron. She heard him grunt, and heard a whirring whine, and a moment later a cheap but sharp little dagger hit the pupil three feet above her, missing the rope by one inch.
“Stop that!” said Ryel. “Or you’ll never—!”
“You have it,” said Thaeron. “All I need is to bring you down to my level.” He grunted and threw again, and this time missed to the other side by half an inch.
“Arkmar,” Ryel called.
“One more should do it,” said Thaeron, “and it won’t matter if—!”
Ryel reached in with her other arm and snagged a big handful of leaves and pine needles and flakes and a number of millipedes and centipedes, along with a few beetles and spiders, and hurled it at her tormentor.
“Oh, just keep that up,” said Thaeron. He grunted.
Arkmar’s voice came to them from above, in an unhappy cry. He added, “Hang on elf girlie!” She pulled herself about two feet up the rope—and took the third knife in her left wrist. Then she was pulled loose from the eye and out into empty air.
She looked down. Thaeron was turning to follow her progress through space, but he slipped and fell and tumbled away down the steep smooth rock: she never did see how far. She looked up: there was Arkmar, twenty feet of rope above her, grinning and waving with his one free hand. The rope was still tied about his waist, and the huge gentle talons of the biggest nightgaunt Ryel ever hoped to see gripped him under the armpits as it carried him, and his elvish friend, away from all that.