Unless they were hungry and looking for more food.
Something touched my foot.
I leapt, ran two steps, and then fell, splattering hot wax as my candle snuffed out. Darkness rushed up to drown me. It filled up the space where my candlelight had held it back. For a moment I could not breathe, for there was darkness instead of air. I pulled my feet up into my robe, terrified that rats might leap onto them and bite my toes off. My heart was beating so hard, it shook my whole body. In the dark I sat up, shaking my burned hand and clawing the gobbets of wax from it. I looked all round but the blackness was absolute. The darkness pressed on me, a substance that I could not breathe or push away. Terror rose in me.
“Mama!” I shrieked and then suddenly the reality of her death was all around me as thick and choking as the darkness. She was gone and there was no one, no one who could rescue me. Darkness and death became the same thing to me.
“Mama! Mama, Mama, Mama!” Over and over I screamed her name because if I were in the darkness and it was death, then she must be able to come to me.
I screamed myself hoarse, and beyond hoarse into abject shaking silent terror. No one came. If anyone woke and exclaimed at my muffled cries, I did not hear it. After the initial fit passed, I huddled in a ball in the darkness, panting. At least I had warmed myself: My hair was plastered to my scalp with sweat. Only my feet and hands were still cold. I hugged my knees and then pulled my hands into my sleeves. The thudding of my own heart filled my ears. I longed to be able to better hear, for though I dreaded that I might hear the scuffling of rats I feared even more to have one come on me suddenly. Little sounds of helpless fear bubbled in my throat. With my forehead resting on the gritty floor and my chest still heaving, I shut my eyes to keep out the pressing dark.
There are many legends and customs associated with the standing stones found throughout the Six Duchies and beyond their borders. Even when the true purposes of those monoliths were forgotten, the significance remained, and thus people told tales about them and revered them. Most common were tales of careless folk, often young lovers in the tales, who wandered into those circles, leaned against the stones, and vanished. In some of the stories they return a hundred years later, to find every familiar thing vanished while they themselves are aged not a day. As part of my studies of the Skill, I have often wondered if hapless folk with a wild talent for the magic and no knowledge of how to master it had not accidentally triggered a portal and been lost forever within them. I know that I shudder when I recall my misadventure involving Skill-pillar travel between Aslevjal and Buck. I know you have read my account of it. Did no one pay heed to this warning?
And again, King Dutiful himself has had some experience of the dangers of such travel. In one instance, we emerged from a pillar that was submerged by the tide. What if it had fallen facedown on the earth? We have no idea if we would have been permanently trapped within the pillars or pushed out to suffocate underground.
Even with the recovery of many scrolls relating to the Skill, our knowledge of the pillars is incomplete. Under Chade’s leadership, maps have been drawn of standing stones within the Six Duchies, the ancient markings on those stones noted, and the condition of the stones documented. More than a few have fallen, and the markings on some of them have either weathered away or been deliberately obliterated by vandals.
So, with all respect, I advise caution on this project. I think only experienced members of a coterie should attempt these explorations. We do not know where some of those portals lead, for we do not know what location the marking corresponds to. For the ones where we do know what location each glyph indicates, I think that an exploratory party should first travel by conventional methods to each location to confirm that the receiving pillars are still standing and in good condition.
As for experiments regarding the pillars on which the markings have faded or been defaced, I question why we would attempt to use any of them. Is it worth risking a Skilled one’s life to send someone we know not where?
Letter from FitzChivalry Farseer to Skillmistress Nettle
From my earliest recollections of Chade, he had enjoyed any opportunity to inject drama into his life. From Lady Thyme to the Pocked Man, he had savored the roles he had played. Age had not decreased his love of subterfuge and disguise; instead he relished them more than ever now that he had time and resources to indulge in them fully.
Thus I never knew who I would be encountering when he sent me one of his messages to meet him. Once he had been an old peddler with a sack of gourds to sell. Another time I had entered the inn to find a singularly unattractive female minstrel mangling a tragic and romantic song, to the uproarious mockery of the inn patrons. The passage of years had, if anything, only increased his pleasure in such mummery. I knew that he would travel from Buckkeep Castle by the stone, reducing a journey of several days to a snap of the fingers. He would enter the Witness Stones not far from Buckkeep Castle and step out on top of Gallows Hill. From Gallows Hill to the taproom of the Oaken Staff was a pleasant stroll on a warm summer’s evening. Unfortunately for Chade, that night he would step out from the pillar into a sleety rain that threatened to be snow by morning.