"Look!" Telenstil exclaimed, happy to be proven right. "There, above the heap of trash, that passage should lead up to the kitchens."
"If your map is right," said Harold. "And that's a garbage chute."
"True, but it is our way out," the elf said happily.
"Oh, no..." Harold complained. "I suppose you want me to climb up."
"Not in the least," Telenstil told him. "I will have Talberth cast a spell, and Ivo, if you would, please render our friend here invisible."
"Fine, but I prefer to cast my spells away from this stench, if you don't mind," said Ivo. "The mint is quickly losing its effect."
They left the pen and moved far back into the huge and empty room. Talberth and Harald came in through the eastern arch and joined them. The old ranger had the magic chain hung across his shoulders. He let it fall with a clang to the ground, blackened links dropping snake-like to the floor.
"Careful with that!" Talberth made a quick move to grab the chain.
Harald reached out and pushed the wizard back.
"Don't," the ranger told him. "This chain is heavier than you might think." Harald sighed and stretched his arms, he gave a twist and his back went pop-pop-pop.
"Talberth did you copy that map?" asked Telenstil.
"Yes, here it is," Talberth pulled out a scroll from his sleeve but kept his eye on the magic chain. As soon as the elf took it from his hand Talberth bent down and examined the links to check if any had been damaged. Harald rolled his eyes and stepped around the mage and over to Telenstil.
"You've found a way out of here," he said.
"We will be sending the thief up with a rope," answered Telenstil.
"They think they will be sending the thief up with a rope," said Harold.
"What do you mean?" asked Telenstil.
"I'm not too happy about being sent up into the middle of their kitchen," Harold said with a sour expression on his face. "If that is even where that tunnel leads. It might bring me into the middle of a barracks room or their privy for all that map of yours can say."
"You will be invisible," Telenstil told him.
"That won't keep me from being stepped on, or worse," Harold complained.
"Harold, you are a skilled thief. I am surprised at you," said Gytha with a disappointed frown.
"I have already been stepped on once, and shot by manticores. Crushed by giants fits in as a nicely poetic touch and I do not want to give them a chance," said Harold.
"Well," said Telenstil, "I won't force you, but we do need your help."
"I'll do it," the old ranger said.
"Oh no you don't," Harold told him. "Your big feet will be heard, invisible or no. I don't like it, and this isn't fair, but I'll go act the scout and see what is really up above. You," he turned and looked up at the ranger, "you will get yourself killed, and leave us trapped down here."
"Everyone," called Telenstil, "Gather what you will take. We will need to quickly follow our brave thief if the way is clear."
They gathered their packs. The ranger wrapped the chain across his neck and over his shoulders again. They moved to the southern gateway, the smell of refuse and decay was still strong in the damp musty air. Ivo stayed back and cast his spell upon the halfling thief. Harold vanished from the room; his form wavered as if seen through shimmering waves of heat and then was gone. A rope dangled from a spot slightly above the ground, it climbed among the corrupt debris and stood beneath the gaping mouth of the garbage chute.
Talberth walked into the pen, his face screwed up into a pained and gasping visage as he inhaled the almost tangible stench, but with a choking incantation he cast his spell and the dangling rope began to rise.
* * *
Harold wrapped the scented handkerchief of Ivo's around his face like some bandit from the northlands, but still the garbage chute's smell worked its way past the residue of herbs and made the small thief clench his face, soured by the stench. The chute was long and the magic ascent not as quick as Harold would have liked, but it ended without warning, though not half too soon. A wooden board sealed off the opening, far too heavy for the small halfling to budge.
"Just great," muttered Harold. "This wasn't on your map Telenstil. What to do, what to do." The thief had several magic spikes and used them to sink the line secure into the chute's wall. He gave the rope a tug and waited for some help to climb up.
Edouard felt the line become taught and then the tugs. "He's at the top," he told the others.
"Good," said Telenstil. "Edouard, please, you and your brother, go up next, then begin to draw the rest of us up."
The scout said nothing but grabbed the rope and pulled himself up without any help; hand over hand he climbed into the dark and stinking chute. Derue held the rope and watched his brother disappear up into the gaping hole. The walls were slick, Edouard's feet slipped off when he tried to brace his leg; he had to use just the strength of arms and shoulders to raise himself. He cursed silently and felt the burn of muscles as he climbed. Finally he reached out and found the spikes set in the wall. "Thief!" he hissed. "Thief, where are you?"
"Right here," a small quiet voice whispered from nearby.
"What is this, where is the opening?" Edouard whispered back.
"Above your head," Harold's voice said from the empty space nearby. "There's a wooden board, or lid or something, but I can't lift it."
Edouard reached out and felt the rough wooden lid; he pushed it with one hand but could not exert much strength. It did not budge.
"Wait, I'll put a spike near your feet," said Harold.
"Do it quick!" Edouard hissed at the thief. "And put it so that I can use my back against this board."
Harold did not like the scout's commanding tone, but their position at the top of the shaft was awkward and he could not move the board without the mercenary's help. He set another magic spike in the wall to act as a footstep for the scout then pushed off to get safely out of the man's way.
With his shoulder against the board and his foot pushing against the spike, Edouard slowly moved the board aside. It scraped loudly across the lid of stone and a dim light came rushing in that chased away the dark. Edouard put his head above the rim and looked out across the room. All he could see were table legs, huge wooden chests and dirty sacks.
"Get down," said Harold. "Let me look around first, they may spot you."
"Bah," said Edouard. "No one is around." He pulled himself up and out onto the cold stone floor. A pair of orcs came rushing by and stood frozen with shock staring at the human who had just jumped from the garbage chute. "Oh damn," Edouard cursed and drew his sword.
"What's going on?" Harold heard the mercenary curse but did not see the orcs from where he sat on the wooden lid.