Don't go to Sleep

written under the screenname drekadair alias G. Songbird or Iliana Maura

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Contents
Disclaimer :: 3 Prologue :: 5 One :: 8 Two :: 15 Three :: 20 Four :: 26 Five :: 33 Six :: 41 Seven :: 48 Eight :: 52 Nine :: 58 Ten :: 65 Eleven :: 70 Twelve :: 75 Thirteen :: 82 Fourteen :: 86 Fifteen :: 92 Sixteen :: 96 Seventeen :: 101 Eighteen :: 106 Nineteen :: 115 Epilogue :: 123

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All recognizable characters and settings, namely, the Forgotten Realms, Menzoberranzan, Mithral Hall, Drizzt Do'Urdan, Jarlaxle, Catti-brie, Bruenor and Regis, among others, are the property of their respective owners, namely, Wizards of the Coast and R.A. Salvatore. No profit is being made from this work. It has been created for entertainment purposes only. The plot and all original characters are the property of the author. This work may not be duplicated except with the author's permission. Chapter titles are written in Drow. For a Drow translator, visit http://www.grey-company.org/Maerdyn/resources/translator/

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Don't go to Sleep

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Prologue Inthuul Elghinn

Ivellios Amanodel thrust his slender elven frame against the chill force of the wind. Snow flew into his face, blinding him; everything was white--white and cold. It was here somewhere, he was sure. The entrance to Mithral Hall —it had to be here! If he did find the door soon, he would freeze. “Help!” he called, hoping someone would hear. Who would hear him? Who would be out in this blizzard? “Help!” he repeated. The words were torn from his lips and flung down the mountain. The gold elf slipped on a patch of snow that somehow clung to the ground, despite the wind. He skidded down a few feet of slope, snow and rocks tumbling around him, and to his horror found his legs protruding into empty air. Clawing at the mountainside, searching for a handhold, his fingers sank into loose scree. For a moment, he thought the stones would not be enough, but then, after sliding a few more terrorfraught inches, he stopped falling. Shaking, he pulled himself back onto solid ground and crawled to the edge. Looking down, he saw he had nearly fallen over the lip of a ravine. The snow blew thick and fast, obscuring his view of the bottom, but he had no doubt it was very deep. The sides looked as smooth as cut glass. Ivellios realized there were tears in his eyes; he staggered to his feet. Was it worth all this? He might die before he could reach Drizzt Do'Urdan, and then this would all be in vain. The drow might not even be in Mithral Hall. No, a voice inside him said. You know he is in Mithral Hall. You promised yourself you would do this, before you died. You can't give up. 5

The tears of frustration froze on his face, the liquid only making the wind sting his eyes worse. He limped along the rim of the gorge, his muscles screaming with pain, knowing he was too close for safety, but too cold to care. He could no longer feel his his toes, face, or fingers, and found he was unable to care about that, either. He needed to get out of the open, to find shelter—somewhere to build a fire and wait out the storm. But he realized if he stopped, he would freeze; his determination was the only thing that kept him alive. I'm going to die, he realized. Cold finality wrapped its chill fingers around his heart. Oh, gods, I'm going to freeze up here on this wretched mountain and no one will find my corpse until the blizzard passes. It's the middle of spring, for gods' sake! Why a blizzard now? A strong gust of wind struck his side, knocking him over the edge of the gorge. As though from a great distance, he watched his feet slip off of the rock, though he could not feel them, and realized he should try to catch himself, to stop his fall. Somehow, it didn't really matter. If he was going to die up here, he may as well get it over with; at least then he wouldn't be cold. Only he wasn't falling. Ivellios blinked in surprise, cold-numbed mind trying to figure out what had happened. He stared at his feet, and slowly realized they were standing, not on air, but on a narrow ledge of stone--the beginning of a stair that led down into the ravine, so well concealed he never would have found it. As good a path as any, he thought, and a small ray of hope flickered in his heart; didn't the rumors say the Hall's door lay within a giant canyon? Slowly, he began his way down the stairs. It was steep and rough, made worse because he could barely see his feet, let alone feel them; but within the walls of the canyon he was sheltered from much of the wind and snow. The path took him to the bottom of the gorge, which was strewn with huge upright monoliths. The wind whistled eerily between their towering forms, creating a keening, mournful sound. Ivellios shuddered, reminded of banshees. Once off the path, there was no refuge against its bitter bite. He hugged the wall of the ravine, seeking shelter from the wind but finding little. The entrance was down here, he was sure—it matched every rumor or legend he had ever heard of the place. Where was it? Where was it? Oh, he was so cold! The elf began to beat his fists against the wall in frustration, sobbing hoarsely. His legs seized up beneath him and he crumpled to the ground, still uselessly striking the stone. His hand became bruised and bloody, and he gave up, drawing his enchanted sword instead. I can't take this anymore, he thought wildly. The pain, the nightmares. He drew back the sword, prepared to drive it into his heart. The hilt slammed against a wall of blue light that appeared suddenly before the gorge wall. The stone cracked and shivered, forming the clear outlines of a door, and then opened. Voices echoed from the torch-lit darkness. 6

Ivellios felt the world spin around him. His sword fell to the ground with a clang, and he slumped beside it. I found it, he thought. I found Mithral Hall. As everything went black, he felt strong dwarven hands carrying him somewhere warm.

7

One “Lueth Mzild Phuul Ele”

“You have heard of the sickness?” She had heard him coming. Of course, it was hard not to: Jarlaxle's boots could be either shockingly loud, or perfectly silent, whichever he wanted. As the mercenary approached Matron Baenre, his footsteps could be heard for yards in all direction, despite the noise of the slaves. The outlandish drow positioned himself beside Baenre's floating driftdisk, and raised one cocky eyebrow to her ancient visage. “You are referring, of course, to the mysterious sickness that harms only drow, and has no cure?” The withered matron turned her head and scowled at him. “You know what I am speaking of.” Thinking a laugh would push the notoriously foul-tempered female too far, Jarlaxle settled for a smirk. “Usstan xun,” he chuckled, “lueth usstan inbal.” Baenre's scowl deepened, and Jarlaxle suppressed another grin. The withered matron should not be alive, he reflected, still staring cockily into her face. No one in Menzoberranzan could remember a time when she had not been Matron of the first House, when she had not dominated politics throughout the entire drow city. While most dark elves remained youthful until the end of their life, Matron Baenre showed no inclinations of dying, yet appeared to be on the brink of death. Jarlaxle waited, but as Baenre seemed disinclined to further the conversation, he continued. “It is certainly what is on everyone's lips.” Again, the matron scowled, but this time Jarlaxle was sure it had 8

little to do with him, for which he was thankful. He may be the leader of Bregan D'aerthe, the exclusively male mercenary band, and hold much power with that claim, but that didn't mean he would purposefully invoke the First Matron's ire--at least, not usually. “The valzmuten call it 'Orbb's Elghinn',” Baenre spat, obviously disgusted at the thought of inferior creatures seeing weakness in their drow masters. Jarlaxle adjusted his posture and allowed a slightly ironic expression onto his face. “It would appear to be an accurate description,” he said with mock-mildness. “After all, it does only affect drow.” Baenre scowled; it was a common enough reaction to the outrageous mercenary. While most drow wore dark robes adorned with spider images or fine chainmail, and always a camouflaging piwafwi, Jarlaxle broke all the rules. In the place of mail or robes, he wore a highcut vest, revealing his firm abdominal muscles, and tight trousers that encased his legs and disappeared into the tops of his high black boots. Covering one eye—though which eye was covered changed without reason—was an eyepatch, and perched on his bald head was a floppy, wide-brimmed hat plumed with a large diatryma feather. “That's not the point,” Matron Baenre snarled. “If this doesn't stop, there will not be enough drow left to control the slaves.” Jarlaxle had to agree; certainly some drow would prove to have some sort of resistance to Orbb's Elghinn, as Baenre had named it, but would that be enough? Would that be enough to keep the slaves under control, the tunnels patrolled, the city defended? “Do you know what the symptoms are?” Baenre asked. “Of course,” the cocky mercenary replied. “Nothing happens in this city without my knowledge.” “That's why I use you,” Baenre replied sharply. “Tell them to me.” “Surely you must know them yourself,” Jarlaxle protested. “I am certainly not the only one knowledgeable of activities in the streets.” “This is not just in the streets. This is in my House; tell me.” In my house . . . so Orbb's Elghinn was within House Baenre. No doubt the matron wanted to keep track of its spread and progress. The price he could sell this bit of knowledge to other Houses for flitted through Jarlaxle's mind, but he did not dwell too long on any sums; the other Houses would be much too busy with their own problems to contemplate striking at the powerful First House. “A high fever, at first,” Jarlaxle began. “With dizziness, headaches, and a sore throat--like the common cold. From there it develops a rash, as well a cramps and pain. Toward the end, there is bleeding in the stomach.” There was a length of silence, broken only by the noise created by the slaves, as they worked to rebuild the House temple of Lloth. Only three weeks ago, the drow rogue Drizzt Do'Urdan had escaped from the House Baenre compound, with the aid of his human friend, Catti-brie Battlehammer, and his rival, the human assassin Artemis Entreri. On their way out of Menzoberranazan, they had destroyed the chapel, 9

impaling it with a massive stalactite. Jarlaxle had played a part in the threesome's escape, and so, indirectly, a role in destroying the chapel. Baenre didn't need to know that. The matron nodded, staring stonily at the toiling slaves. “It's unnatural.” “Unnatural?” Jarlaxle repeated. “Orbb's Elghinn is not natural,” Baenre snapped impatiently, as though it should be obvious. “There are no records of it ever occurring before, and it bears the marks of a magical disease.” Again, Jarlaxle had to agree; Gromph Baenre, Matron Baenre's oldest son and Archmage of the city, had said the same thing. But again, Baenre didn't need to know that. The female clenched her fists. “The matrons think that this is my fault; they think the failed high ritual has called down the wrath Lloth upon Menzoberranzan. Fools! They are all fools! I have communed with Lloth; this is not her doing.” That rocked Jarlaxle back on his heels. “Then why does she not grant the priestesses spells with which to heal the sick?” he dared to ask. The withered matron shook her head. “I do not know; she will not tell me.” “It has not been so long,” Jarlaxle reminded her. “Orbb's Elghinn only appeared after the. . . disturbance.” He felt it was not wise to mention the failed ritual in blunt terms; the first eight matrons of the city had been in attendance, expecting to see the death of the Do'Urdan rogue. Instead, they had seen Matron Baenre as a fool. “It has not been so long,” Baenre echoed, “and yet already nearly six hundred are dead.” Jarlaxle looked at the slaves laboring beneath the cruel whips of their masters, toiling for the glory of the Spider Queen and the drow. “And more are dying.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| At first the light was nothing more than a blur, a bright haze pressing itself against his eyelids. Next he became aware of warmth, oh, blessed warmth! He could hear the crackling of a fire nearby, and thick woolen blankets were tucked up to his chin. “I see ye're awake.” Ivellios slowly forced his eyes open and managed to focus them on his surroundings. He found himself lying on a four-poster bed, hung with heavy curtains to keep out drafts, though the drapes were partially pulled back now. The room was all stone, without windows, but the walls were covered with bright tapestries, and the floor scattered with cheerful carpets. The elf's feet pointed towards a blank wall; to his left was a wooden door, and to his right was the fireplace. Metal mesh curtains hung in front of it, to keep in sparks and regulate the light, but they were drawn back to let out as much heat as possible. Standing beside his head was a human woman, no taller than he, 10

with thick auburn hair tumbling across her shoulders. He was no judge of human age, but he guessed this one was still young; her brilliant blue eyes sparkled with a youth and vitality he had never seen in anyone other than an elf. Her clothes were plain and slightly travelworn, but well made; an adventurer, he guessed. “Who are you?” he asked. Briefly, he considered getting up, but was simply too warm and tired; he settled for propping himself up on his pillows instead. “Catti-brie,” the woman answered. “An' yerself?” He hesitated, but could see no need to lie. “Ivellios Amanodel.” There was a knock on the door. The woman--Catti-brie--walked over and opened it. Inside came the oddest collection of people the elf had ever seen: a red-haired dwarf wearing a helm with one horn missing, a plump, curly-haired halfling, and— —a dark elf. His hair, pure white, flowed across his shoulders in thick locks, a sharp contrast with his ebony skin. Not dark skin, but black—deep, absolute midnight. He was slightly smaller than the gold elf, his features slightly more angular, his eyes slightly larger; those eyes were also purple, a color unusual in any race. Ivellios's breath caught. Drizzt Do'Urdan, he told himself; the ranger. The one who forsake his people and their evil ways—the one you came to find. Stay calm. Don't panic. Catti-brie was making introductions. “Bruenor Battlehammer, the king o' Mithral Hall and me father; Regis the halfling, a good friend; and Drizzt Do'Urdan, a ranger o' Mielikki. This is Ivellios Amanodel.” Ivellios inclined his head, as he was unable to bow, and had the gesture returned to him, even by the drow. He had heard much about the foursome; together with one other, now dead, they had retaken Mithral Hall from a dark dragon and its duergar minions, and earned themselves the name of Companions of the Hall. These thoughts raced through his stricken mind; he was unable to tear his eyes away from the drow. Noticing, the halfling—Regis--spoke to fill the silence. “You've heard of Drizzt, haven't you?” the halfling's childlike voice sounded shrill in the elf's ear, but it snapped him out of his reverie. Regis continued. “He was the one who really defeated Akar Kessel at the Battle of Icewind Dale, and he--” The drow raised a black hand to stem Regis's stream of talk just as Ivellios found his voice. “I've heard of him,” he assured the Companions, averting his gaze from Drizzt's face, unable to bear the sight. “It's just I haven't seen a dark elf since--” he stopped abruptly, horrified at what he had almost revealed. He forced himself to meet the ranger's eyes. “I hope you're not offended.” “Not at all,” the drow answered easily. “I suppose it's better than someone trying to run you through with a blade. But you say you've seen drow before; my people aren't common on the surface.” 11

Ivellios held back a scowl. Drow almost never came to the surface except for a single reason. Couldn't the ranger figure it out for himself? Apparently not. “My tribe was attacked.” The words sounded flat and emotionless to his own ears. The drow flinched, and closed his eyes slowly, as though in great pain. “I'm sorry,” he murmured, sounding sincere. “I didn't mean to bring up any painful memories.” “It was certainly lucky you found the door,” Regis piped up, obviously changing the subject. “That snowstorm surprised everyone; it was certainly out of season.” The dwarf—Bruenor?--snorted. “'Tis the season of the elves, tha's what I say,” he grumbled. “Ye'd think the creatures'd have enough sense t' stay indoors durin' a storm, but no, they've got t' go a-wanderin' through th' snow!” Seeing Ivellios's confused look, Catti-brie explained, “Another elf came here recently. His name's Arvylyn Quenvath; he's stayin' in Settlestone. Says he's waitin' fer his cousin t' come. Yer not him, are ye?” Ivellios shook his head. “I've never heard of an Arvylyn Quenvath,” he lied. Bruenor snorted again. “Tha' means we're goin' t' have another fool elf traipsin' through th' region.” “Why were you up on the mountain in the first place?” the drow asked. He voice was nonchalant, but Ivellios was instantly on his guard. “If you were heading to Settlestone, you must have known you were offcourse.” Settlestone, an above-ground dwarven town, lay nestled at the base of Fourthspeak mountain and was inhabited by the Icewind Dale barbarians, who worked as trade negotiators for the dwarves; it was closest town. “I wasn't trying to get to Settlestone,” Ivellios explained, overcoming his revulsion of the drow enough to look him in the eyes while he spoke. “I was trying to come here. I came to warn you that there someone trying to kill you--a human male, with a magical disease.” Instantly, Catti-brie's blue eyes filled with worry. “Artemis Entreri?” Ivellios watched the drow shake his head, but had no idea who the woman was talking about. “No,” the drow said. “I don't think Entreri will be looking for me for a long time, and when--if--he does, I don't think it would be with magic.” “He used th' mask and gem th' las' time,” Bruenor rumbled. “Yes,” the drow admitted. “But he didn't use them against me— only to get close enough to actually fight me; it's the battle he wants, not my death.” He looked to Ivellios. “Are you sure? How do you know?” “Very sure,” the elf answered readily. “I was seeking the services of a wizard in Waterdeep, and I heard her talking to a man who was also seeking her talents. He wanted some sort of magical material made that would affect drow, and only drow, and kill them by making it look natural—like a sickness of some sort. The wizard asked him if he planned to go to the Underdark, but he said no, his quarry lay to the east. There 12

could be no other drow but you.” “It's happened before,” the drow said softly, his voice sad. For a moment, Ivellios thought--but no, he pushed the feelings aside. “Maybe I'll never....” his voice trailed off. “This is yer home,” Bruenor growled fiercely. “An' any who think ye don' belong kin argue with me axe!” The drow smiled, a slightly strained expression, but seeming honest enough. “Thank you.” There was a moment of awkward silence. “We brought your pack,” Regis said suddenly, changing the subject again. The halfling reached behind him and produced the travelworn satchel, and set it beside the elf's bed. “Thank you,” Ivellios replied, his pulse quickening. Pretending to be suddenly exhausted, he murmured weakly, “I don't wish to be rude, but I'm awfully tired.” “Of course,” Catti-brie said, moving towards the door. “Ye should rest. Stumpet--she's one o' th' clerics--said ye had both hypothermia an' frostbite, an' ye're not quite rid o' either yet; ye'll likely be a while in recoverin'.” The four left, leaving Ivellios to rifle franticly through his pack. He didn't think the dwarves would have searched it, but what if it had shattered, or fallen out? What if the drow had searched his bag, and found it? The dark elf had seemed too casual when he'd asked Ivellios why the elf had come--was he suspicious? It was fine. Ivellios let out a sigh of relief and allowed the pack to drop to the floor.

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Two Inthuul Jhinrae

Arvylyn Quenvath sipped his wine and struggled not to make a face. It probably wasn't bad by human standards, but then, in his opinion, human standards were much lower than those of an elf. He was sure that the mead was be good if you liked mead--which he didn't. If fact there was little about Settlestone the gold elf liked. He only wanted to go back home, and be among his kin and elven things. The town itself was built by dwarven hands, and while Arvylyn could not deny how well the buildings had stood up to time and the elements, he found the buildings so bleak and bare they almost caused him to cry. Even worse, most of those in Settlestone were humans—the Icewind Dale barbarians brought by their now-dead leader, Wulfgar--and human merchants come to trade with the dwarves. There were a scattering of others, dwarves, halflings, and elves, but none except the barbarians lived there, only stayed while doing business. The single inn, the Inn of the Dwarven Hammer, where Arvylyn sat, did booming business. Settlestone was a bit too far north for the gold elf's tastes as well. He huddled in the back corner closest to the fireplace with his cloak tight around him. Just a few days ago there had been a freak snowstorm on the mountain, which had touched Settlestone as well, covering the town with a light dusting of snow. Everyone was talking about it, the merchants complaining fiercely. It was the middle of spring, they said; there was no reason why there should be a blizzard. They muttered that if such things continued happening, they'd take their goods elsewhere. Arvylyn could not help but chuckle every time he heard such a statement. If it snowed all year round, the merchants would still come to Settlestone; Mithral 14

Hall's goods were too valuable to lose. A caravan, just arrived, moved slowly down the main road, past the Inn. Horses, wagons, hired guards and merchants ambled past, heading towards the other side of the town, where they would make camp; the leaders of the caravan might take rooms at the inn, but everyone else would be forced to sleep outside. Everyone would come to the inn to drink, though, so the innkeeper would make a great profit anyway. Arvylyn did not like the looks of the guards. They were all mercenaries, he knew, and probably half of them had been banished from at least one city, most likely for murder. All of them had the suspicious, predatory look of a tough stray dog who knew you were going to kick it, but was going to steal from your trash anyway. Savages, Arvylyn thought. The men of Settlestone were called barbarians, but men like the caravan guards were little more than ill-tamed wolves. One of them, a broad-shouldered man with lanky shoulder-length hair and a short, well-trimmed beard, glanced though the inn windows as he passed. He stopped for a second look, walking almost right up to the dirty, soot-stained glass. The other patrons in the common room did not notice, busy with their own pursuits, but Arvylyn saw. And the man saw him. The black-haired guard peered into the back corner where Arvylyn sat, as though trying to get a better look at the elf. His eyes looked black at a distance, and Arvylyn found himself unconsciously pulling deeper into the corner, until the walls stopped him from hiding any further. The man continued to stare until another guard, this one blonde, came up beside him. They spoke a few words, laughed at something, and then walked away. Arvylyn let loose the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding--and froze at the man turned back for one last look. The elf felt like a rabbit cornered by a pack of hounds. After squinting once, the man turned and kept walking; he did not turn back again. Arvylyn pushed himself further into his corner and clutched his cloak tightly around him, finding he could not stop shaking, and not knowing why. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| The headquarters of Venorik Orbb merchant band were in a small cavern leading off the main one that held Menzoberranzan proper. It was also hard to find, trapped, and well-guarded. It was very unlikely that one of Bregan D'aerthe's regular soldiers—even though they were welltrained--could find it. Luckily for Jarlaxle, he was not one of his regular soldiers. It had taken him the entire day to find the place, and a good portion of the night dodging both traps and guards, and here he was, almost at Narbondel's olath-kyorl, and he wasn't even inside yet. The mercenary glanced over his shoulder at the heat-glowing pillar in the center of Menzoberranzan that acted as a clock; it was far too 15

late to do anything tonight. He peered around the outcrop of stone behind which he was hiding. He would have one of his soldiers deliver a certain Phystus Navid'an a message, and then the two of them would arrange a meeting. In the morning. Jarlaxle smothered a yawn and headed back to his own headquarters. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Arvylyn had just managed to still his shaking--after a little over half an hour and somewhere around ten glasses of wine--when he spotted the black-haired guard and his blonde friend through the window, approaching the Inn with a large group of other men from the caravan. The elf started shaking all over again. He pushed back his chair and stood up, stumbling from fear. Why had he come to this place? Was his cousin really that important? Why did the stupid brat have to get such and irrational idea into his head and make Arvylyn chase after him, anyway? The elf took a deep breath and forced the anger away. His cousin wasn't right in the mind, he had to remember that. And who would be, after seeing what he had seen? And anyway, Arvylyn had more pressing matters on hand. The black-haired man walked into the inn, scanning the common room in the cool, composed way most fighters have, calmly taking the measure of the other men in the smoky room. Arvylyn moved hastily towards the stairs that led to the floor above, cursing both the fear and alcohol in his blood that made his feet clumsy. He strained his keen elven ears to hear if the man was saying anything. “He was over in that corner,” he heard the black-haired guard tell his friend. “I don't know where he is now.” “He's climbin' the stairs,” the blonde man replied. Arvylyn froze at the bottom step, but the blonde guard went on. “Wait, don't--he don't wanna talk to no one now, you can tell that. Let him alone; most elves is intimated by humans, anyways.” Arvylyn drew in a quick gasp of air and continued up the stairs. “Intimidated,” he heard the black-haired guard correct his friend, in an absent sort of way. The elf could feel the man's gaze boring into his back; he stumbled over the seventh step. “Let him alone,” the blonde repeated. “Fine sight that'd be: Dorian Tavares, the great fighter, chasing after some frightened elf. People'd think you was working for that Match Torren in Waterdeep.” “Yeah,” the black-haired Dorian Tavares muttered, but Arvylyn did not linger in order to hear more; he disappeared up the stairs without hesitating. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|

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She had to admit: he was really good. Any other drow, male or female, would not have been able to track the mercenary leader. Even she had been hard pressed, and she had a special tracking spell; it required a piece of the person you were tracking, which, under usual circumstances, would have meant it would not have worked on Jarlaxle--he wasn't one to leave bodily materials simply lying around. But two decades ago, she had clipped Jarlaxle with her mace, and had not been able to clean it until much later—when she had saved every drop of his blood. She knew that someday, she would have her revenge. Someday had come. It was a challenge to control herself; she knew she did not have as much patience as most drow, and was amazed that she had restrained herself for twenty years, until everything was in place. It was a challenge not to aim a spell at him, a challenge not to blow him into a million different pieces, like the gates to her House when their rival had charged through. He was so unaware, she thought angrily. So sure of himself. He could never imagine that someone had a drop of his blood, and was using it to follow him—the thought had probably never even crossed his mind. If she attacked him right now, she could catch him totally unprepared. She sighed, and forced herself to think reasonably. As cocky as he was, she knew he was not totally unprepared. If she attacked him, he could possibly get away, and she would lose the element of surprise; she would not risk that. She pushed herself away from the wall she had been leaning against, as Jarlaxle slipped into an alley, and followed him. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle ducked into an alley and began to take an elaborate, twisted route back to his headquarters; he was being followed.

17

Three Rath Uusatl Mzild

The eleventh house of Menzoberranzan was wedged into a large pocket on the northern side of the city. Its closest neighbor had also been the eleventh house of Menzoberranzan, once; that house was now scorched ruins lurking behind a shattered gate. House Nuvin had been the one to shattered those gates, and was now quite happy with its position as eleventh. It wasn't as good as being eighth, meaning Matron Yraeth would have a seat on the Council, but it was close. Yraeth was confident she would sit amongst the eight most powerful matrons of the city, and failing that, she was certain her daughter would. That is, unless another house destroyed them first; Yraeth was sure that those of her now-destroyed rival, House Kor'tath, had held similar thoughts as she. But House Nuvin was confident. It was much larger than its position would indicate, boasting nearly five hundred soldiers, six high priestesses, and some twenty common ones. They were sure of their power, confident that none below them had the strength to attack—and if any threats should appear, they would be dealt with quickly. Which was why Weapon Master Du'vess was kneeling before Matron Yraeth just as the heat began to creep up Narbondel's flanks. “Please state your report, Weapon Master,” Yraeth said softly. She had woken out of a deep Reverie, and for Du'vess's sake, what he had to say had best be very interesting. She sat ensconced in her heavy stone throne within the stark audience chamber, her daughters on either side. Du'vess swallowed hard, his eyes on the floor. When Matron 18

Yraeth spoke quietly was when he became most frightened--it was a sign of her anger. “Matron,” he croaked, throat dry. He coughed a tried again. “Matron, there was an attack upon the house during the night.” Yraeth sat forward. “An attack?” she repeated, incredulous. “An attack? And I heard nothing?” There was a pause, in which Du'vess began shaking. Icy cold and a soft as the whisper of silk, she whispered, “Explain, Weapon Master.” The male swallowed again. “Yes, Matron,” he responded swiftly, taking a moment to gather his wits. Keeping his eyes trained on the floor, he began speaking. “Apparently a small number of assassins entered the compound during the night and killed nearly a hundred soldiers before any alarms were raised. None of the assassins were captured.” Matron Yraeth's voice chilled the sweat beading on Du'vess's skin. “None were captured.” “No, Matron,” he whispered. “Did anyone manage to identify what house they were from?” “No, Matron.” His voice cracked as he went on. “There were no House insignias that could be seen; likely they weren't wearing any.” “Do you know how they got into our compound without being noticed?” Yraeth paused for effect. “I trust that it was not because of any flaw you failed to notice.” “No, Matron!” Du'vess gasped quickly. “I checked, Matron. We--I think think there is a possibility they entered by moving through a-aanother plane.” “The Shadow Plane?” Yraeth asked. “Yes, Matron--it seems very likely.” “That would mean a wizard.” “Yes, Matron.” Du'vess felt the slightest hint of heat return to his body; it seemed as though he would not be too badly punished. “See to it that our defenses are. . . fixed.” Du'vess hid a flinch at the coldness of her voice, and answered, “Yes, Matron.” He sprang to his feet and hurried toward the door leading out of the hall. Yraeth's voice stopped him. “I did not dismiss you,” she snarled. “Come back hear.” Trembling, the male returned to the foot of her throne and began to kneel. “Don't,” Yraeth snapped. “Turn around.” Feeling sick, Du'vess did as he was told. He heard the matron rise from her throne and approach him, heavy robes rustling quietly against the stone floor. A sudden pain erupted in his back. He cried out, and pitched forward, but Yraeth seized his hair and pulled him upright. Knees weak, he struggled to remain standing, and found himself staring at six snakes, all attached to the whip held in Yraeth's hand. Their head twined around him, beads of venom rolling across his skin where it dripped from their exposed fangs. The heads disappeared, then plunged again into his back. Fangs sank into his skin, releasing their poison; his muscles went taught, far 19

tighter than they were meant to go. He screamed in pain. An awful numbness spread in the wake of the agony, but it nothing to diminish the pain of the next strike. “I am greatly disappointed in you,” she hissed, her voice barely distinguishable from the noise of the snake whip. She lashed out again, and then again. Du'vess howled as the burning spread, then moaned. The pain a snake whip inflicted varied, depending on the mood of its wielder; the male could not remember Yraeth ever being this angry. “Nearly a hundred soldiers!” she berated him, striking again. “All lost because of your incompetence!” Du'vess could barely understand her words through the pain. After a final blow, she threw him to the ground, where he curled loosely onto his side, whimpering. “You have one more chance,” she snarled, her face contorted with rage. “If you fail me again, your heart will be given to Lloth. Go!” Fighting the pain in his back, Du'vess scrambled to his feet and ran as he had never run before. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Lil Valsharess Ilhar was a seedy tavern by any race's standards. Certainly Phystus Navid'an, who rarely entered taverns at all, found it repulsive. Smoke hung in the air, reducing visibility and filling his nostrils with the heady scents of many intoxicating substances. Along one wall was the bar, behind that, the kitchens. The other walls were lined with booths shielded by ragged curtains; the center was dominated by an assortment of mismatched tables and chairs. All races found in Menzoberranzan were welcome here, so long as they had coin. That, his companion had plenty of. Phystus supposed it made sense to do business here, because no one would pay attention to them. Even here, there were bound to be eyes, but less, no doubt, than would be found in a higher-end tavern or restaurant, and so fewer would make note of the extravagant mercenary trading gold for information with a gangly, nervous-looking wizard. And extravagant the mercenary was! Phystus had never imagined a drow who could dress as loudly as Jarlaxle, though the wizard had to admit the hat made a striking statement when he bowed. Even stranger, though he ought to stick out worse than a human at a nobles' masque, he managed to blend so well with his surroundings that passerby hardly seemed to notice him. A rouge's trick, Phystus thought. The unlikely pair settled themselves in a booth, leaving the curtains open to show they were waiting. A goblin slave scurried over and asked for their orders. “Wine,” Jarlaxle said promptly. “Something strong.” Both the drow and goblin looked expectantly at Phystus. “Don't be shy,” Jarlaxle urged. “I'm the one paying.” “Water,” Phystus said firmly. 20

The goblin hid a look of disgust and scrambled off to the bar. Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow. “Water? That's almost as bad as rothe milk.” Phystus squirmed uncomfortably. “I want to keep a clear head,” he lied. In truth, he rarely drank alcohol and doubted his ability to avoid making a fool of himself. The mercenary nodded, smiling. Phystus had an odd feeling Jarlaxle knew a lot more about the wizard's personality—and drinking habits--than he revealed, but the outrageous drow allowed the subject to drop. Taking a breath to gain confidence, Phystus plunged forward. “Let's get to b-business.” His voice stumbled and he silently cursed his traitorous tongue. If Jarlaxle heard the slip, he gave no sign. “Wait for our drinks.” Phystus fidgeted until the goblin returned with their glasses. At least they were clean, he noted. Jarlaxle paid the slave and sipped his wine, nodding in satisfaction. The wizard clenched his hands around his glass but did not drink. “Now,” the mercenary said, setting down his drink, “to business. You brought the book?” Phystus nodded, and Jarlaxle waited expectantly. “I expect payment,” Phystus snarled, glad his voice didn't tremble. “Ah, yes,” Jarlaxle said. He pulled—from somewhere--a pouch that rested easily in the palm of one hand, bulging with coins, and set it on the table, where it chinked softly. Phystus pocketed it, discreetly casting a quick, minor spell to make sure the gold was real. It was. The wizard reached beside him and brought up a thick book bound in rothé leather. He pushed it across the table to Jarlaxle, who opened it while simultaneously creating a pale ball of faerie fire to read by. Inside were rows of names, quantities, costs, and goods. The mercenary nodded in satisfaction and flipped quickly through the pages, until he reached the section, a little over halfway through the book, where the writing stopped. Phystus watched the outlandish drow slide one slender finger down the column listing dates, skipping quickly past those in the last month, and slowing once he reached information about shipments within the past few weeks. There hadn't been many, the wizard remembered; it had been a surprisingly slow period. Reading upside-down in the faerie fire's sickly light, he saw the only three shipments had been from the duergar, Ched Nasad, and Skullport. Jarlaxle's finger hovered over one of the rows. “Who did you get the gems from in Skullport?” he asked. The wizard scrutinized the page closer. “A human female who calls herself Medavin,” Phystus told him. “She has proven useful in the past.” Jarlaxle nodded again, then closed the book and pushed it back to its owner. Phystus longed to know what was on the mercenary leader's mind, but who was he to ask? |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| 21

Skullport, Jarlaxle mused. It seemed as though he had tracked Orbb's Elghinn to the famed underground port city, and the human Medavin. The duergar, he felt sure, would not have used a magical plague to destroy the drow, and Orbb's Elghinn had struck Ched Nasad only after it had swept through Menzoberranzan. Skullport, then. Jarlaxle picked up his drink and nursed it through a pleasant conversation with Phystus, subtly prying for information he stored away for later use. The wizard really was inexperienced.

22

Four Turuk Orbb

The sky was full of stars. An elven boy crouched among the bushes and gazed up at them, awed by the sight so beautiful it hurt. In the clearing before him, the adults of his tribe danced for the stars, and their beauty was painful, as well. The boy kept an ear cocked to the forest behind him, listening for the child who was it “it”. He thought himself very clever for hiding so close to the village; the other children playing hide-and-go-seek would never think to look for him here. There was a small cry behind him in the forest, and he figured one of the others had been found. But no, it didn't sound right. There was another cry, a girl's scream of terror. The boy's heart stumbled, then began pounding. He crouched deep into the thicket of leaves and branches, shaking. If there was something back there, attacking his friends, he should do something. Mustering his courage, he started to his feet, intending to call out to the adults, but suddenly one of his playmates ran past, screaming and tripping over her own feet in terror. Something dark bounded after her. Horrified, the boy shrank back into the cover of the bushes as he realized what her pursuer was. A drow. The dark elf caught the girl at the edge of the clearing. A fine sword gleamed in one hand, catching the light of the stars and moon and throwing it back with contempt. The drow flung out his arm, and the sword flashed silver, then red. The elven girl screamed and dropped to her knees, eyes wide but seeing nothing. Blood poured from a rent in the 23

back of her tunic. Drawing back his arm, the drow made another great slash. The fine, slender blade parted the skin of her neck, then plunged deeper, cutting through sinew, muscle and bone. The girl's head tumbled to the ground like a forgotten playing ball, bouncing once and rolling until it was stopped by the hiding boy's knee. Horrified, he could do nothing but stare at the girl's blank, still-open eyes, her mouth open in shock. Moving his terrified gaze up to the drow, he saw a great fountain of blood spout from the girl's severed neck. Even as the lifeless corpse fell to the ground, the drow slashed at it again and again, crying out in ecstasy. There was no kindness or compassion in his eyes, no life or sanity at all--just rage and bloodlust. With one final slash that rent the girl's torso nearly in half, he flung back his head and screamed with pleasure. The boy could take it no longer. He turned away from the sight, his foot nudging the girl's head as he did. Bile rising in his throat, he knelt at the base of a tree and began throwing up, tears streaming down his face. His breath came in ragged gasps between heaves, the noise seeming too-loud. A twig snapped behind him. Fearful, he looked over his shoulder to see the drow standing over him, blade raised. The elven boy gave a terrified sob, but was unable to move, transfixed by fear. His muscles tightened painfully, cramping with the force of his agony. With a wicked grin, the drow drew back his sword, preparing to plunge it home. Without warning, a blade burst through the drow's chest. Shocked, the dark elf looked down at it, his face showing almost comical surprise. Just as violently, the sword disappeared, and a gush of blood showered onto the boy's face. As the dying drow dropped to his knees, the boy could see another dark elf behind him, blade drenched in blood. Without a second thought, the second drow turned and rushed into the clearing, sword raised for an attack. The dying drow's eyes glazed. With a final gurgle, he fell forward, half atop the boy. Stunned and horrified, he could do nothing but lie beneath the rapidly cooling weight, his face covered with hot, sticky blood. From the clearing he could hear screams and shouts. Occasionally there was the clash of steel, but only rarely; there was little the surface elves could do against the bloodlust of the drow. After what seemed like an eternity, a too-still silence fell. After a long moment, he heard voices. At first his heart jumped joyfully, but then stuttered fearfully when he realized the voices were not speaking any language he had ever heard before. Peering out of the corners of his eyes, he could see booted feet standing around him--drow. He clamped his eyes shut and forced himself to lie still, hoping the drow would think him dead. There were more voices, and then the snap of a twig. Daring to open his eyes, the boy found himself alone, surrounded by nothing more than corpses. Sobbing, he staggered out from underneath the dead drow and made his way into the clearing, forcing his limbs to move even though it pained him. Dry-retching at what he saw, he ran from one corpse to 24

another, crying out names, pleading for friends and family to open their eyes. None moved or answered. Shaking, he found himself in the center of the clearing, on his knees. Agony welled inside his chest until he couldn't keep it within him any more. Flinging back his head, he began screaming, screaming, screaming... |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| “Ivellios! Ivellios Amanodel! Wake up!” Ivellios' eyes flew open, his lungs catching every time he tried to draw breath. His muscles refused to obey him, shooting pain from head to toe with every movement. Struggling to orient himself, he found a pair or purple eyes staring at him from a black face, framed by snowing white hair. A whimper escaped his lips. No! He wailed silently. No, not again! Not drow! But then his mind recognized the purple eyes, and he collapsed back against his sweat-stained pillows. However much he hated drow, he was confident Drizzt Do'Urdan would not harm him--not yet, anyway. “Ivellios, are you all right?” the drow asked anxiously. Ivellios closed his eyes again, trying to calm himself. “I was walking past your door,” Drizzt explained anxiously, “and I heard you cry out. Were you having a nightmare?” Ivellios nodded, slowly opening his yes. The room was dark, the door closed and the fire out. Drizzt's eyes glowed purple with infravision, and Ivellios had unconsciously slipped into it himself. The drow sat on the very edge of his bed. “It was about when we. . . were. . . attacked,” Ivellios explained brokenly, unsure of why he was saying it. The drow bit his lip and nodded slightly. He went to the fireplace and stirred the coals, then added another log. Soon it was blazing merrily. Ivellios was glad for the room between them; he didn't want to be near any drow so soon after waking from that dream. Drizzt stayed by the fireplace, seeing that Ivellios needed space. The gold elf pushed himself out from underneath the sheets and sat cross-legged on top of them. “It was at night,” he whispered, voice raw with pain. He wished his mouth would fall silent, but the words continued tumbling from his lips; he didn't want to share these things with a foul drow. “The other children and I were playing hide-and-go-seek when we were attacked. I was well hidden and they didn't find me. . . I was too afraid to do anything. I was the only one left. It was. . . .” his voice trailed off. He spent a long moment in silence, berating himself for letting the drow know so much about him. In the end, however, he saw how it might work to his advantage. “I don't have much left from my childhood,” he continued, his voice a little stronger. “Except for one thing.” He reached over the side of the bed and rifled through his pack for a moment, finally coming out with 25

what looked like a gem of some sort. “This.” Drizzt came closer. It was a piece of amber, with a large black spider trapped in its center. “I've never been able to tell what kind of spider it it,” Ivellios told him. “Nor has anyone else I've met. Maybe you might know--I hear the drow have a liking for spiders.” He shuddered at the thought. “I don't,” Drizzt replied, taking the gem. “Though my people worship them.” He studied the imprisoned spider for a moment. “I think this is a Turuk Orbb. It's a kind of spider that eats almost nothing but other arachnids.” His voice became puzzled. “I don't know how it came to be in the amber, though. Turuk Orbbs live only in the Underdark—praise Mielikki—and amber doesn't form there.” With a shrug, he handed the gem back. Ivellios also shrugged. “I can't tell you, either. My father had it as long as I can remember.” He hated lying about his father, but could see little other choice. He placed the gem back in his pack and looked awkward for a moment. “Ah. . . thank you for waking me up. I haven't had the nightmare in a while. I can't think of why it would have started again--” he stopped, pretending to be embarrassed. He knew Drizzt could figure out why. What else would trigger a nightmare about drow except seeing one? “I'll let you get some rest,” the drow said, almost hastily. “The clerics say you should be healthy in a few days.” He bowed once, and quietly left the room, shutting the door behind him. Ivellios said not a word, simply sank back against his pillows and grinned. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| “Perhaps Lloth is angry with us because the high ritual failed.” Matron Baenre turned slowly to face Matron K'yorl of House Oblodra, the third house of Menzoberranzan. The withered female formed a brief, silent prayer to Lloth, asking the Spider Queen to grant her patience. “And whose high ritual might you be thinking of?” Baenre asked, her voice calm and overly nice. K'yorl did not reply. The matrons of the eight highest houses of Menzoberranzan, who made up the ruling council, were gathered in the small chamber called Qu'ellarz'orl, from which came the name of the most prestigious district in the city. They came together rarely, and they had done so today for the sole purpose of discussing Orbb's Elghinn. The circular room was dominated by a large spider-shaped table. Beside each of the eight legs sat one of the Matron Mothers, all lit by comfortable glow of hundreds of candles. Spaced around the edges of the room, several braziers smoked, giving off the sickly-sweet scent of unholy incense. “I will have you know,” Baenre said, her frigid voice a chilling reminder to the other matrons of her power, “that I am still in Lloth's highest favor. I have conferred with her, and she has told me that this 26

sickness is not of her doing.” “Perhaps the Council should hold a ritual of its own,” suggested Matron Zeerith Q'Xolarrin, of the fifth house. The other matrons nodded their agreement; if they all took part in the ritual, they could be confident of where they stood in Lloth's eyes—and more to the point, where Baenre stood. “Who will provide the sacrifice?” asked the matron of the eighth house, Prid'eesoth Tuin'Tarl. Boldly, it seemed, Matron Miz're Mizzrym, of the sixth house, said, “It is the standing of Matron Baenre which we are inquiring into; she should provide the sacrifice.” Baenre scowled, but did not disagree; while Miz're Mizzrym's audacity offended her, it would be pointless to argue. Refusing to answer the matron of the sixth house, she clapped her hands sharply. Immediately, one of the common priestesses of House Baenre appeared. The matron whispered into the younger female's ear while the others at the table looked on tensely. With a deep bow, the commoner left the room. A small smile playing across her lips, Matron Baenre leaned back in her ornate seat, staring down the other matrons, paying special attention to Miz're. No one dared speak, unsure of what Baenre was about. Several minutes later, the common priestess reappeared, carrying a slim black coffer and followed by a handsome male, identified as a captain of the Baenre guard by the badge on his piwafwi. Upon entering the chamber, the male knelt near the doorway, head bowed until it touched the floor, awaiting further instructions, while the priestess reverently approached Baenre, and, bowing, presented her with the coffer. Again the commoner disappeared, though the male remained. With a snap of her fingers, Baenre extinguished the multitude of candles, leaving only the braziers to produce their sultry glow. Smiling now that they understood, the other matrons rose from the seats and stood around the table. With an impatient command, Matron Baenre called the male forward. He came obediently, though he trembled visibly. He waited before his matron, but she refused to make it easy for him. With a wicked smile, she said, “I believe you know what you should do.” The other matrons laughed gleefully, amused by the game. In infravision, the captain's face appeared deathly pale as he hoisted himself over the edge of the table and laid, shaking, in its center. With a swift glance to Baenre for permission, Miz're freed her snake whip and struck at his raised knees with a snarl. The male stifled a cry and stretched his legs straight, until he lay, utterly exposed and helpless, before the eight matrons. Together, the females began to chant, their voices combined in a low, monotonous harmony. Sweat beaded on the male's brow, as, out of 27

the corner of his eye, he saw Matron Baenre open the thin coffer. From within it, she produced the wicked sacrificial dagger. Shaped like a spider, the body and head were twisted and elongated to form the hilt, while the barbed legs dangled down to form the “blade”--more like a cage. The chant built, growing louder and stronger, finally reaching its climax as Baenre raised the knife over her head. As the voices crested, and broke, Baenre plunged the dagger deep into the male's chest. He gasped as the legs sliced through skin and bone, then screamed as the spider's legs, buried within his torso, contracted around his heart. With a vicious tug, Baenre pulled the still-beating organ free of the male's body. Horrified, he stared upward with dimming eyes as the female raised the trapped heart--his heart--above her head and screamed in ecstasy, calling out to her goddess. A small whimper escaped his throat as he shuddered, writhing helpless on the table, before releasing a low moan and finally dying. The flame within the brazier at the “head” of the spider table began to dance wildly, flickering and wavering. With a sudden surge of light, smoke, and sparks, a yochlol, a handmaiden of Lloth, appeared within the flame. Its thoughts tore into the matron's minds. Why have you summoned me? It demanded. The other matrons swayed in surprise, having not expecting something so powerful to be summoned. With a confident smirk, Baenre waved a crabbed hand at them. “My fellows,” she proclaimed to the yochlol, “do not believe that I am still in Lloth's favor. They believe I am at fault for this disease that plagues the city.” She carefully left out why they thought she was at fault, though she knew the yochlol would know anyway. Resembling nothing more than a half-melted candle, the handmaiden faced the other matrons. Lloth has nothing to do with Menzoberranzan's sickness, it bubbled. “Will the Spider Queen not aid us in curing it?” Matron Mez'Barris Barrison del'Armgo, of the second house, dared to ask. Lloth has nothing to do with it! The yochlol roared. Cowering from the sound of its mental voice, the matrons flinched again as the brazier flared once more, assaulting their eyes with light. When they had recovered, the yochlol was gone, the brazier burning low. Ghenni'tiroth, of the Faen Tlabbar, the fourth house, quickly put out the last of the coals. It the silence that followed, Baenre drew herself to her full height, confident and smug. “You see?” she gloated. “I am not at the root of this.” “Yes,” Mez'Barris sighed, defeated, “but that only leaves us with more questions.”

28

Five Brorn Melae

To his surprise, Jarlaxle found himself at home in Skullport. He shared all elves' dislike of filth and uncleanness, and had therefore steered clear of the underground city before now. However, despite its obvious differences from Menzoberranzan—it was louder, cruder, and far more diverse—he like it anyway. There was a feeling of reckless fun that could not be found in his home. The port city deep beneath Waterdeep made him feel young. The drow lounged at the bar of the Fighting Book and studied the various clientèle in the common room while sipping his limp human wine. It was full of long tables interspersed with rows of smaller ones, and an incredibly mismatched assortment of chairs. Behind him, on a shelf above the bar, a large book—the tavern's namesake—thrashed at the end of its chain. Currently, an impressive brawl engaged almost every patron in the house, though precisely what they were fighting about he wasn't sure, and was confident they weren't sure either. The bartender seemed disinclined to make any effort to stop it, which amused Jarlaxle, because such behavior simply would not be tolerated in Menzoberranzan. A human female, scantily clad, swaggered through the door. Jarlaxle studied her discreetly from under the brim of his hat. Slender, leggy, shoulder-length hair, large eyes, small, pouting mouth, and large nose—she matched the description Phystus had given him perfectly. The woman scanned the room, paying no attention to the brawl. Seeing the outrageously dressed drow, her eyes lit up with a hungry light, and she smiled suggestively. Hips swaying as she crossed the room, delicately picking her way 29

among the brawlers, she seated herself on the stool next to him. Shooting him a smile and a wink, she said to the air, “Ooh, I'm so thirsty.” Jarlaxle smiled, understanding her game. “Let me buy you a drink,” he offered, signaling to the bartender. “What would you like?” “Beer.” She faced Jarlaxle and looked him up and down, her expression mock-dark. Obligingly, the drow leaned back slightly and lifted the brim of his hat, letting her get a good look at his fine, angular features, and firm, toned muscles. “That's really sweet of you, sexy.” She reached out and ran her hand down his bare arm, caressing his black skin. “And I don't even know you.” “Then it's a good thing I know you,” Jarlaxle responded, grinning playfully. He sipped at his pathetically weak wine. “Medavin, I believe?” “You found me, love.” She scooted closer, until she was nearly sitting on his lap. Her breath was warm on his face. “Anything I can do for you?” He beer arrived, but she ignored it. “Indeed,” Jarlaxle murmured, feeling himself grow hot. If only there were females like this in Menzoberranzan! “I have some questions to ask.” Medavin pulled back slightly, though obviously not ready to give up. “Oh?” “A few weeks ago, you sold a number of gems to the Venorik Orbb merchant band in Menzoberranzan. Tell me about them.” She appeared to think for a moment, running her hands almost absently over Jarlaxle's abdomen. Unconsciously, he raised his free hand and stroked her side. “I remember that,” she purred. “That was two hundred stones from Blingdenstone. You know--the gnomes. I made a nice profit off that.” “Was there anything special about them?” “Special?” Her hands were all over his chest and back, now. “No, I don't think so. Definitely not as special as you.” Jarlaxle grinned, happy to accept her compliments—and her attentions. “How can I ever repay you for the help you've given me?” he asked playfully. Leaning close, Medavin nipped at the point of one long, slender ear. “Oh,” she breathed, “I can think of a few ways.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Councilor Firble ran a wrinkled hand over his bald head and flopped gratefully into the chair at his desk. It had been a long day. Although he was a svirfnebli, a deep gnome, one of a race famous for their love of stone, Firble had not gone on a mining expedition in years, and likely would never do so again. “Politics,” he muttered. And soon he would have to perform and unwanted duty that went with his position: contact his informant. Svirfnebli sometimes used 30

polymorph spells to spy on the drow, but there was only so much one such spy could learn. That was why Blingdenstone, the deep gnome city, had an informant in Menzoberranzan who would tell them anything for the right price. And now Blingdenstone need that informant: things were too quiet. The settled stone before the earthquake. Firble's eyes swept over his desk and focused on an unfamiliar scrap of parchment. With a word, he lit a small globe that rested in the corner of his desk, and picked up the paper. Written in fine, if slightly ornate, svirfnebli script was a short message. In three days—same time, same place. Jarlaxle. The deep gnome set the paper down and leaned back in confusion. It appeared as though his informant had contacted him first. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Weapon Master Du'vess paced the battlements with his older brother, Ikavul, the house wizard. The secondboy grimaced with every step; his back stung terribly beneath his armor. He pulled his mind away from his pain to listen to his brother's words. “With the magical defenses the other house wizards and I placed, no more assassins should be able to enter the compound through the Shadow Plane—or by any other magical means, for that matter,” Ikavul was saying. Du'vess nodded. The elderboy had explained to him the concept of the concept of the Shadow Plane, a plane through which one could travel long distances in the Prime Material Plane, while only moving short distances on the Shadow Plane. By traveling through the Shadow Plane, one could also transcend such things as gates. “I trust you have seen to the physical defenses,” Ikavul continued. Du'vess nodded again. Dropping some of his formality, Ikavul shot him a look out of the corner of his eye. “How's your back?” The Weapon Master grimaced. “How do you think? I hadn't realized she could be so angry.” “A hundred soldiers is a lot to loose without a single alarm being raised.” “It wasn't my fault!” Du'vess snarled. “I'd never heard of the Shadow Plane!” “Do you think she cares about that? If I were you, I would be very careful about keeping the compound secure.” Du'vess snorted. “Easy for you to say. You're going back to Sorcere tomorrow. Even if you weren't, you still wouldn't be charge of defenses.” Ikavul opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a sound a tiny crossbow bolt buzzed in so close it became tangled in to wizard's long white hair. The brothers dropped to the ground, thinking to keep the battlements between them and their enemies, until they 31

realized the shot had come from within the compound. Du'vess scanned the soldiers in the courtyard below him. Were the commoners attacking? Was this some sort of conspiracy? But no, most of them seemed not to have noticed anything had even happened. Out of the corner of his eye, the Weapon Master saw a drow raise tiny, one-handed crossbow, the trademark weapon of the drow, and point it in his direction. Ikavul saw as well, nudged his brother, and nodded toward the commoner. Du'vess nodded to show he saw. “Can you hit him with a spell?” “I don't think so. There's not enough time.” “We'll have to dodge—I don't know which of us he's aiming at. I'll fire back, to buy us some time, and if I don't get him, you can.” Ikavul gave a short nod of understanding, and the brothers watched out of the corner of their eyes, pretending they did not know who had fired on them. “Now!” They split, Du'vess going left and Ikavul right. The crossbow bolt stuck the stone where the weapon master had been only moments before. He pulled out a crossbow of his own, but before he could fire, another bolt slammed into the side of his neck. He yanked it out in disbelief and stared the archer--another one. “There's more than one!” he hissed to Ikavul. Du'vess fired at the first archer, who was forced to dodge aside, then quickly reloaded and fired at the second, who was caught in the middle of reloading his own weapon and took the bolt in his right eye. It was a small weapon, and it likely would not kill him, but it certainly put him out of the fight. Ikavul, finishing a hurried chant, raised his hands, lightning flashing from his fingertips. The first archer danced wildly as the bolts struck, before dropping limply to the ground. By now the commoners had noticed. There was a sudden scuffle in the middle of the courtyard, and drow broke out of the crowd and ran for the gates. Du'vess tried to raise his crossbow, but his limbs felt limp and heavy. The famous drow sleeping poison was seeping into his body. He swore weakly. Ikavul, seeing that his brother would be of no more use, launched into another spell. The running drow suddenly froze in place. Without wasting any time, the wizard hurried to him. “Hold him,” he ordered the closest soldiers. They obeyed, searching the frozen drow for concealed weapons and twisting his arms behind his backs. Ikavul released the paralysis spell, and the drow immediately began fighting to get loose. “Who are you?” the wizard demanded. Du'vess staggered up behind him, swaying unsteadily but putting up a good fight against the poison. “What is your name?” The drow only fought harder. Ikavul began casting a spell. As he finished, the drow ceased fighting and stood perfectly still, his body rigid. “Who do you work for?” the wizard asked. 32

The drow's eyes were unfocused as he answered. “Orbb—” With a cry, the common soldiers jumped back as their captive burst into flames. Within a few scant moments, there was nothing but a pile of ashes, glowing red in infravision. Ikavul swore. “Some sort of. . . spell?” Du'vess whispered. Ikavul turned to face him, and put a hand on his shoulder to steady him, simply because his brother's swaying made him dizzy. “Yes. The spell would destroy anyone who tried to reveal a secret. I should have thought of it.” He gave his brother an annoyed look. “Just give up,” he snapped. “You're not going to overcome the poison, and no one could get you an antidote before you fell asleep anyway.” Du'vess struggled to focus. “Good. . . point,” he gasped. Apparently taking his brother's advice, his eyes fluttered closed and he collapsed to the ground. Ikavul sighed and motioned to two of the soldiers. “Take him to his room and get him an antidote.” The wizard turned back to the pile of ash and swore with a vehemence that surprised even himself. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Breakfast at Mithral Hall was a cheerful affair. The mess hall was filled with long tables and low chairs which were in turn filled with food and dwarves, respectively. At the head of one table sat Bruenor, his friends on either side. When the meal was nearly half-finished, and Drizzt still had not appeared, Bruenor asked, “Where's th' elf?” Also missing their drow companion, Catti-brie looked about, as though expecting him to appear. “I'm sure he'll come,” she said. “He probably just slept late.” As if on cue, Drizzt appeared in the doorway and made his way to where the Companions sat. He took his seat and smiled. “Good morning.” “Late mornin',” Bruenor corrected. “What took ye? Rumblebelly's nearen ate all the food!” Regis squeaked in protest. “I did not!” Drizzt shrugged, seeming not quite awake. “I. . . I guess I slept in.” Catti-brie looked over to Stumpet Rakingclaw, one of the most powerful priestesses, who sat close to the Companions, and had been looking after their elven visitor. “How's Ivellios?” she asked. “Doin' fine,” Stumpet assured her. “He's been gettin' better a bit slower than I'd've thought, but gettin' better he is. I say he'll be ready t' go by th' end o' th' week.” Ignoring Catti-brie and Stumpet, Regis began to defend the amount of food he ate, but broke off when he saw Drizzt's face. The normally lustrous black skin had a dull, ashen hue. “What's wrong?” he asked, alarmed. Drizzt ran a hand through his white mane, a nervous gesture. He 33

had not touched any food. “I don't feel well,” he admitted. Catti-brie reached out and touched his forehead, then gasped. “Ye're burnin' up!” she exclaimed. “How long have ye felt like this?” “Just since this morning.” “Let me help,” Stumpet offered. Walking around Catti-brie to stand beside Drizzt, she began chanting. Once finished, she stepped back, satisfied. “There!” Drizzt paused, as though mentally checking himself over, and then shook his head. “I don't feel any better,” he said, almost apologetically. Catti-brie felt his face again. “He's still hot!” Stumpet frowned, confused. “I don't understand. That should have worked.” “Try it again,” Bruenor ordered. Before Stumpet could begin, Regis gasped. “Remember Ivellios?” he gasped. “He said a man would try to kill you with a magical disease!” The Companions and Stumpet exchanged grim, worried looks. No one felt like eating breakfast anymore. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Red sunlight poured in through Arvylyn Quenvath's west-facing window. The gold elf leaned against the sill and looked out. A thick green carpet of forest rolled away from him, gilded crimson in the low sun's light. Clouds above the horizon glowed dusky purple, brilliant orange, vibrant pink and rich blue. A flock of geese flew in a Vformations. There was a tiny noise behind him, a small scuffing sound. He turned and felt his blood run cold. “I knew you'd come,” he said quietly, trying to stay calm. “I knew you would, too,” the other replied. “I just don't understand why.” “I can't let you do it,” Arvylyn explained. “I can't let you kill him. He didn't do anything to you. You've never even seen him before!” “That doesn't matter!” the other snarled. “He is drow! There is nothing more to it than that! Drow must die!” “Give him a chance!” Arvylyn begged. “Everyone agrees he is different from his kin.” “Everyone believes lies. Drow are untrustworthy. Those who believe him are fools for falling into the trap of his lies. He is using his false front to destroy the lives of innocents.” “How can you--!” The other interrupted. “Do you know him any better than I? I think not. But, knowing you, it won't matter if you know him or not-you'll warn him anyway.” Arvylyn swallowed nervously. “I--you don't know--not necessarily--thing could--” “You know far to much,” the other interjected smoothly. “You 34

should never have come.” The gold elf tried to bolt past his unwanted visitor, but the other silently drew a dagger and drove it into his stomach. Arvylyn gasped in pain as the other pushed him back to the window and whispered in his ear. “You should never have come.”

35

Six Chathal

Councilor Firble waited at the appointed spot, his mind chasing itself in circles. What could Jarlaxle want that could cause him to initiate a meeting? Always before it had been the svirfneblin who made contact, never the drow. Cold sweat beaded on the gnome's bald head, and he mentally cataloged the small army of warriors and priests behind him, trying to keep up his confidence. The silence of the wild Underdark was shattered by the sharp click of hard shoes on stone. Firble straightened and faced the other entrance to the small cavern, waiting for Jarlaxle to appear. Sure enough, the drow mercenary entered moments later, wearing his customary plumed hat and multicolored cape. Today his eyepatch was over his right eye, but if that meant anything, Firble did not know what it was. Upon sighting the svirfnebli, a brilliant smile lit up Jarlaxle's face, and he bowed low, sweeping off his hat to accentuate the motion. Upon straightening and returning his hat to its former position, he once more beamed at the gnome. “Ah, my dear Firble! It is always a pleasure to see you.” Firble could not hold back a scowl. Of course the mercenary would say that; whenever they saw each other, the drow walked away with a much heavier purse—and the gnome left with a much lighter one. His expression only prompted a cheerful laugh from Jarlaxle. Having no patience for the mercenary's antics, Firble pressed forward. “Why have you sent for me?” Jarlaxle's smile did not waver. “Ah, my svirfnebli friend, ever are 36

you straight to the point!” Firble held his scowl. Once again, the mercenary laughed, but then, to the gnome's surprise, answered the question. “I am seeking information,” the drow explained, “about a certain shipment of precious stones.” Firble raised an eyebrow. “What has this to do with the svirfneblin?” “It came from your city.” Still unsure of the unpredictable mercenary's goal, he asked, “And what has this to do with Jarlaxle?” The mercenary laughed. “Many things have to do with Jarlaxle,” he said mysteriously. Then, seeing that Firble was not going to relent, he added, “It involves certain events in Menzoberranzan, which I am looking into.” He may as well have not said anything at all, Firble thought grumpily, but relented. “I'll need to know what the shipment was of, how large, and who it was to,” he said. In response, Jarlaxle produced a slip of paper and handed it to Firble, simultaneously producing a ball of faerie fire to hover over it. Peering at the crisp parchment in the sickly light, the gnome shook his head. “This can't be,” he said confidently. “We don't move amber in such large quantities--it's very valuable, you know. For the first time, Firble saw Jarlaxle surprised. “Indeed!” the drow exclaimed. “What of the human, then? Have you ever shipped to her?” Firble was nodding before Jarlaxle finished his question. “Of course. We did, in fact ship her a relatively large number of amber stones, just a few weeks ago--the number was hundred, I believe.” The drow's eyes were alight with intrigue, and there was a small smile play across his lips. “You have been very helpful,” he said to Firble. “As a situation like this has never arisen, we have not agreed on a payment from me to you.” Before the drow could continue, Firble cut him off. “No payment,” he said. “Not in money, at least.” Jarlaxle chuckled, but unexpectedly, he agreed easily. “You have answered my questions freely, and with little suspicion,” the drow said. “I suppose I can at least do the same for you.” Firble snorted, wondering if it was possible for any drow to be as honest as he had just been with Jarlaxle. The mercenary, seeming to divine his thoughts as usual, smiled. “What news is there from Menzoberranzan?” Firble asked. The gnome knew he had made a mistake the instant Jarlaxle's brows went up. “Why, Firble!” he exclaimed. “I never knew you were interested in mere gossip. Most amusing, by far, is Matron Zeerith Q'Xorlarrin's daughter stealing Quenthel Baenre's boy-toy--not a safe move, by anyone's standards--” Firble cut Jarlaxle off by crossing his arms over his chest and 37

glaring at the drow. Jarlaxle, apparently unable to contain himself, threw back his head and laughed, the sound echoing off the chamber walls. When he had calmed somewhat, the mercenary said, “Really, Firble, you should be far more specific in your questioning.” “If you don't know what it is I mean,” Firble huffed, “you are a greater fool than I thought.” Somehow, this seemed to sober the drow somewhat, and to Firble's shock, his next words were, “The settled ground before the earthquake.” Startled, the gnome rocked back on his heels. Always, Jarlaxle had surprised his with his perfect mastery of the svirfneblin tongue, and his understanding of their ways, but Firble could not have been more surprised if the drow had exclaimed, “Magga camara!”. Even more unsettling was how exactly those words matched his thoughts--and to hear them spoken by a drow, a deep gnome's worst enemy! There was a small, almost comforting smile playing across the mercenary's lips as he shook his head. “No, Firble,” he said softly, “there is no earthquake.” “What, then?” Firble, somewhat recovered, prompted him. “What keeps the drow city so quiet?” “Turmoil,” Jarlaxle replied simply. Firble snorted. Menzoberranzan was always in turmoil. Jarlaxle grinned. “Well, yes,” he admitted, as though Firble had spoken his thoughts aloud. “But this turmoil is larger and more dangerous than usual than normal.” The deep gnome waited, wondering if his informant would expand. Jarlaxle himself seemed to be considering whether he would do so. But finally, with another smile, he shook his head. No, the gesture said, he would not reveal any more than he already had. Unable to restrain his curiosity, Firble asked, “and what does this have to do with shipments of amber?” The drow smiled, seeming pleased with Firble's deductive skills. “I don't know,” admitted mysteriously. “That's what I'm trying to find out.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| This time it was Jarlaxle who, scantily dressed as usual, swaggered through the door of the Fighting Book. There was no brawl going this time, though that seemed to be simply because one had just finished: a multitude of males, not all of them human, lay scattered about on floorboards and shattered tables. Barmaids, unconcerned by their prone forms, weaved among the carnage, cleaning up. Medavin, leaned against the bar, with her elbows propped on its gleaming surface, seemed unaware of the wreckage behind her. She did look up from her beer, though, when Jarlaxle entered, and a suggestive grin bloomed on her face. 38

“Sugar,” she hailed him when he had drawn closer. “I'm so glad to see you again. I was afraid I would spend the rest of my life longing after you, because I would never be able to find someone who could match your skill between the sheets.” Jarlaxle smiled, accepting her compliment easily, but not really caring. He had more important matters to discuss. Without hesitating, he walked directly to her and wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. She wasted no time in twining hers around his neck, and their mouths engaged in a hungry kiss, tongues sparring eagerly. Murmuring meaningless compliments in Drow, knowing Medavin could not understand them, he began drawing her to the door. From behind the bar the bartender grunted, and Medavin paused long enough to toss him a coin for her drink. Once outside, Jarlaxle swept the human into a tiny alley, no more than four feet wide, beside the tavern, and pressed her against the wall, covering her with kisses. While she purred happily, he worked his way down her throat, occasionally biting the skin gently. When he reached the neckline of her low-cut blouse, he rested his lips there for a moment while sweeping his hands across her breasts, waist, and hips. Without changing his rhythm, he seized her wrists and pinned them above her head with one hand, while producing a dagger with another. Startled and out of breath, the human stared at him in disbelief. “What are you doing?” she demanded, all sensuality gone from her voice. “Are you mad?” Several flippant replies came to him. “Not at all,” he replied easily. “But obviously you are, for lying to a drow.” He said the words casually, with only the slightest hint of threat in them, yet their affect on the woman was drastic and immediate. What little breath she had regained left her body, and her face paled. Frightened, her eyes darted towards the entrance of the alley. Jarlaxle answered her silent thought aloud. “Good idea,” he said, dropping a globe of darkness across the opening, obscuring vision in and out, and shutting them into near darkness. The drow allowed his eyes to slip into infravision, but the human, lacking that skill, was left blind. In the darkness, Jarlaxle leaned close, putting his mouth against her ear, and laying the dagger flat against her neck. “Now,” he whispered. “Where did you get the other hundred gems?” Medavin's breath came in quick, frightened gasps. “Gems?” she panted. “I don't know what you're talking about.” “Yes, you do,” Jarlaxle said softly. “Think very carefully.” Though she was trembling with fear, the woman pressed against the drow, trying to distract him with her body. Ignoring her, he repeated his question. There was a long moment of silence, in which Medavin made no sound, save her ragged breathing. Deciding she needed more persuasion, Jarlaxle tilted the blade of the dagger slightly, so she could feel its edge. This was all she needed. “I'll tell you!” she exclaimed. “By the gods, just put the knife 39

away!” Jarlaxle drew back the knife slightly and waited for her to tell her promised tale. She spent a futile moment tugging at her wrists, trying to free herself, but realizing it was not going to happen, she leaned against the wall slightly, trying to make herself comfortable. Finding Jarlaxle's face by his single red-glowing eye, she began to talk. “That shipment from Blingdenstone, came in right?” she gasped. “A hundred stones. Just a few days later, this elf shows up, says he'll pay me to take a hundred other stones, amber like the ones from Blingdenstone, only flawed. He paid me extra to say they'd all come from Blingdenstone when I sold them.” “Flawed?” Jarlaxle echoed. Medavin nodded. “Flawed. They all had spiders in the middle, trapped in the amber, like. I thought they'd sell nicely in Menzoberranzan--you drow like spiders, right?” Jarlaxle chuckled. “Indeed. Tell me more about this elf.” The human swallowed hard. “There's nothing to tell,” she said, frightened. “He was a gold elf, but he didn't let me get a good look at him--he was very mysterious.” “Was there anything distinctive about him,” Jarlaxle pressed. “Something that might make him stand out in a crowd.” Medavin closed her eyes, though in the dark there was no way she could see anyway. “He was very intense,” she said slowly. “I'm sorry, sir —” here Jarlaxle had to suppress a jump at being addressed so-- “but I can't think of anything else. He was just very intense, almost fanatical.” She opened her eyes and sought out the only thing she could see, which was his uncovered eye. Her face was taught with fear, frightened that he would ask for more information than she had to give. Confident she was utterly blind, Jarlaxle allowed a rare frown to cross his face. He was sure she had nothing else to tell him--but what she had told him was precious little. With a sigh, he dismissed the globe of darkness, and dim light filtered back into the alley. A tiny gasp of relief escaped Medavin's lips, and Jarlaxle could not help but chuckle at that. Sliding the dagger back into his enchanted bracer, Jarlaxle released the human. Quickly regaining her dignity, she straightened her clothes and stared the drow defiantly in the face. It was strange, Jarlaxle thought: now that she did not try to make herself attractive, he found her even more appealing. The irony brought a smile to his lips. Deciding it was time to end the meeting, he swept his outrageous hat from his head and dipped into a low bow. “My thanks,” he offered, and with a click of his heels on the cobbles, he turned and disappeared.

40

Seven Venorsh

The House Nuvin soldiers crept warily through the nearly abandoned midnight streets of Menzoberranzan. They made barely a whisper as they moved, and passerby would have to look twice to be sure there was anything there at all. Their enchanted boots did not make any noise on the ground, and their piwafwis shielded the heat of their bodies. They were here to find their attackers. The patrol turned a corner and found themselves faced with an empty street. It did not simply look empty, but also felt empty, devoid of life or habitation. As one, they shifted uneasily; it stank of ambush. Without warning, strange soldiers began streaming from the surrounding buildings. Surprised and outnumbered, the House Nuvin soldiers made to retreat, but found themselves cut off from behind. The strangers, who wore no identifying signs, surrounded them on all sides. There was a dramatic pause, drow facing drow, all trembling with the excitement of coming battle, faces flushed, blades drawn, teeth bared. The pause ended. Menzoberranzan was a quiet city. The noisiest part, the Bazaar, was shrouded in spells to keep the sound from carrying. Elsewhere, loud activities simply weren't done. Even fights and battles were conducted in silence. The dying Nuvin soldiers stifled their screams and the living ones did not shout battle cries. The soldiers of House Nuvin put up a good fight, killing nearly two enemies for everyone one of their own that fell, but it was hopeless. Soon the silent street was red from the bloodheat. Bodies lay in cooling piles, and the soldiers of House Nuvin's mysterious enemy slipped away into the city. 41

Half a dozen of House Nuvin's best fighter, led by Weapon Master Du'vess, crept out of the hiding places from which they had watched the battle. They followed their enemy silently, unnoticed by their quarry. This second group moved much more quietly than the first. After all, that one had only been bait. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| This tavern was much less to Jarlaxle's liking. The wine was a little stronger, yes, but it did not come close to making up for the light. The day was drawing to a close, the sun setting, and the light fading, but to Jarlaxle's light-sensitive eyes, that didn't mean much. It didn't matter that his eyes were protected from the light by an ornament on his hat, either. He simply did not like the light. It was too revealing. Tucked away into the farthest corner, his dark skin hidden under his hat and cape, Jarlaxle studied the room, pondering his next move. He had tracked the mysterious gold elf to Waterdeep, hundreds of miles directly above Skullport, but from there it seemed he had hit a dead end. Not only was he severely limited by his heritage, but there were many more gold elves in Waterdeep than in Skullport. It was obvious he had to keep looking for the elf, since that was the only lead he had. Would he have to track down every elf that had passed through the city in the last few weeks? That would be impossible! The tavern door opened, admitting a broad band of cursed sunlight and two men into the already crowded common room. He tensed as they walked straight towards him, wondering if his heritage had been discovered, but they only took the table next to his, ordered their drinks, and began talking. From their professional and confident air, and the way the other patrons gave them a respectful berth, Jarlaxle guessed they were some sort of law enforcement. “I can't believe they're keepin' us on this case,” muttered one. He was old and grizzled, and had a large chunk missing out of his nose. “Neither can I,” groaned the other, this one younger, but already bearing a scar the length of his jaw “I mean, it's been three weeks already!” No-Nose snorted. “Ye can't solve a murder after three weeks.” Jarlaxle slid a little deeper into his shadowy corner. Definitely law enforcement. Scar-Face sighed. “I suppose we ought to go over our facts again.” “Again?” No-Nose snarled. “We're not goin' to learn anythin' more by recitin' a bunch of memorized facts.” “Maybe one of us will notice something this time,” Scar-Face protested weakly. “Besides, that's what they say is best for breaking a case.” No-Nose snorted again. “'They' are lousy paper-pushers who haven't been out in the field for so long they've forgotten what in the Nine Hells they're talkin' about. But go ahead: by all means, recite your 42

facts.” Scar-Face sipped his ale and ignored his companion's sarcasm. “Okay. A female wizard for hire by the name of Ever was killed three weeks ago in her spellshop. She kept very good records--” “For all the good that does us,” No-Nose interrupted. “What she recorded didn't do us no good.” Scar-Face continued, unperturbed. “The day she was killed, she recorded having three customers. The first was a gold elf--” Jarlaxle pricked up his ears. “--who gave no name but asked for a divination spell. After him was a human named Dorian Tavares, and he paid for a divination spell as well. The last was another gold elf named Arvylyn Quenvath, who was picking up an earlier request for a hundred and one magical gems. Written by his entry was a small note saying 'fake name'.” “It only makes sense,” No-Nose growled, “that it is was Arvylyn Quenvath--or whatever his real name is—that killed her, only we can't find no trace of him anywhere.” He pounded the table with his fist. “Anywhere!” “Well, we did manage to find that Dorian Tavares went east, as did the first elf.” “That don't matter,” snarled No-Nose. “It couldn't've been them who did it, 'cause someone else came after bother of them. Naw, it had to be that Quenvath creature—but he just disappeared off the the face of Faerûn!” Jarlaxle could not help but smile. Of course they couldn't find which way “Arvylyn Quenvath” had left the city, because he hadn't gone through any of the gate. He had gone down, to Skullport, where he had sold Medavin the one hundred gems. If this had happened three weeks ago, then the gems would have arrived in Menzoberranzan at a time that matched both the appearance of Orbb's Elghinn and the dates in the Venorik Orbb record book. But why a hundred and one? Why not a round one hundred? And why hadn't Medavin mention the extra? Unless “Arvylyn” only gave Medavin one hundred, and took the extra to someone else. Who? Drizzt Do'Urdan. The only drow who wouldn't be affected by a plague in the Underdark. Jarlaxle set his glass down on the table. He would head east—to Mithral Hall. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Arvylyn's killer paced back and forth within the stone confines of his room, ignoring his body's protests. He wished he hadn't had to kill the elf, but Arvylyn had known too much. The killer wished he could have avoided any unnecessary murders. Of course, Arvylyn had been necessary, but if only the meddlesome elf had minded his own business, he'd be alive right now. 43

Arvylyn dead, but Drizzt alive. Still, it was only a matter of time. The killer longed to slay the drow with his own hand, but he knew trying now would be foolish. Even weakened as he was, Drizzt would be by far the better fighter. But that was fine. There was plenty of time. The killer only had to wait for Orbb's Elghinn to progress.

44

Eight Thalack'vel

“I think you're fussing too much. It's just a small fever.” “You know what Ivellios said,” Catti-brie said sternly. “Remember the assassin? It may start as a fever, but it might get worse.” “Not that you should worry,” Regis added quickly. “Not worry,” Bruenor grumbled sarcastically. “Why in th' Nine Hells would he want t' do that?” The Companions sat around Drizzt's bed, where he lay resting. Stumpet, still confused over the failure of her healing spell, had advised him to take bedrest. The others, unable to think of anything better, agreed. Drizzt, on the other hand, felt horribly trapped, confined not just to his room, but to his bed. But there was nothing to be done, so he took it with his regular stoicism. “How much worse will it get?” Regis wondered aloud. “I mean, what is it going to do?” “It will get much worse,” said an unfamiliar—almost--voice. “In fact, it will kill him.” The Companions, including Drizzt, leapt to their feet and faced the shadows near the doorway. There stood the strangest drow any of them had ever seen: bald, with a wide-brimmed purple-plumed hat, shimmering cape, and high-cut vest. Regis squealed and fell back in fear; Bruenor fumbled for his axe; Catti-brie narrowed her eyes in anger; Drizzt's eyes widened in surprise. Jarlaxle patted the air with his hand, a soothing gesture, while smiling. “Calm down.” He held his arms out wide. “See? I'm weaponless.” “Right,” Catti-brie growled. 45

The drow's smile increased tenfold. “Ah, my lovely Catti-brie.” He stepped forward and tried to kiss her hand, but she pulled away from him, remembering when, after she had followed Drizzt to Menzoberranzan, the mercenary had captured her, and professed to be enraptured by her beauty. As much as she disliked the drow, she had to admit that he had not taken advantage of her helplessness. “What do you mean?” Drizzt demanded. “What do you know about this?” “You should lie down,” the mercenary suggested. “You really are ill. And please, all of you, sit.” None did, until Jarlaxle came over and sat on the edge of Drizzt's bed, across from Drizzt, who sat, but did not lie down. Suspiciously, the others followed his example, save Bruenor. Unaffected, Jarlaxle swept off his hat and held it in his lap. “What you have fallen ill with,” he explained to Drizzt, “is a mysterious illness that had been dubbed 'Orbb's Elghinn', because it affects only drow.” “Spider's bane,” Drizzt translated for the others. “Then it's not from the assassin!” Regis blurted. “Yeah, but if it ain't from the assassin, how'd he get it?” Bruenor asked. “He hasn't been 'round any dark elves for a while.” “I could have gotten it when I was in Menzoberranzan,” Drizzt said, referring to when he had foolishly returned to his homeland, thinking to end the drow threat to Mithral Hall be giving himself up to his people. But Jarlaxle shook his head. “It had not appeared when you were in Menzoberranzan. It apparently made its debut only a few weeks ago. Many drow are of the opinion the Baenre's failed high ritual is the cause of it.” Here he smiled at Catti-brie, as it had been she who dislodged the stalactite that destroyed the chapel. “However,” he continued, “I have information that is was magically created to destroy drow. Perhaps this is your assassin?” “That's a good possibility,” Catti-brie agreed, forcing aside her dislike of amorous drow, “but how did Drizzt get it? The only stranger that's recently come t' Mithral Hall's Ivellios Amanodel—a gold elf—and he's the one who warned us about th' assassin!” “That doesn't necessarily mean anything,” Jarlaxle countered. “Orbb's Elghinn can pass from drow to drow—so don't touch me,” he added to Drizzt, “but it first came to Menzoberranzan in the form of gems. You haven't been touching any amber with spider's trapped inside, have you.” Catti-brie watched, not understand, as surprise and confusion crossed Drizzt's face. “Yes,” he admitted. “But—that would mean Ivellios was the one!” “Durn liein' elf,” Bruenor growled, hands tightening around the shaft of his axe. “I don't know about this Ivellios Amanodel,” Jarlaxle interjected, “but my trail led me to an elf named Arvylyn Quenvath. Do you know 46

that name?” “Yes,” Catti-brie answered, utterly confused. “He's staying in Settlestone, at the inn. He said he's waiting for his cousin.” “Is Ivellios his cousin?” “He says he's not--but if he's lied about the stones, there's no reason why he wouldn't lie about Arvylyn.” “Then who did it?” Drizzt asked, confused. “Are the two working together? Arvylyn is the one who made the jewels, but Ivellios is the one who used them to infect me, but he doesn't want to be connected to Arvylyn--” he trailed off, confused. Jarlaxle smiled—almost indulgently, Catti-brie thought. “It's good you left Menzoberranzan,” the mercenary laughed. “You have no head for intrigue.” Without warning, he rose to his feet and returned his hat to his head. “You must excuse me, but have other business to attend to.” “Wouldn't have anythin' to' do with an elf in Settlestone, would it?” Bruenor asked sarcastically. Jarlaxle looked shocked. “What makes you think that?” he demanded, as though offended. Then he smiled. “Swear you won't hurt anyone,” Drizzt commanded. Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow and smiled mockingly, but Drizzt continued. “I'm serious, Jarlaxle. Swear that you won't harm anyone unless they try to harm you first—and mean it when you say it.” Jarlaxle's smile faded as he studied Drizzt for long moment. At last he said, “I swear, Drizzt—and I really do mean it.” He started for the door, but just as he was stepping through he paused and looked back. “You're a lot like your father,” he told the other drow. “He would be proud of you.” Again he started to leave, but he stopped one last time. “Oh, and Drizzt—don't go to sleep; the disease spreads faster when one is sleeping.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Weapon Master Du'vess and his small patrol silently shadowed his House's mysterious attackers. They wove a twisted path through only the emptiest streets and lanes. There was so little movement that Du'vess began to wonder if the streets knew something he didn't. The silence, usually comforting, pressed down on him, smothering him. He swallowed hard and struggled to keep his mind focused on his task. His thoughts kept wandering. His heart pounded with an unknown terror. What was there to be afraid of? The attackers didn't even know they were being followed! He knew his patrol was totally silent, totally concealed. They were the best his house had, and they would not fail. He simply had to trust to their skill. Adrenaline raced through his veins; his senses screamed of danger in ways they never had before; his body shook. Something was wrong. The terror—there was nothing else to 47

explain it. His whole body ached with a silent warning. Turn back! Turn back! A silent voice screamed inside him. But the thought of his matron's whip kept him going forward, against his better judgment. A cry came from his left. He whirled, drawing his sword, and swore as soon as he saw the problem. A force equal in numbers to his own was emerging out of the shadows, and the force he had been following turned back and began attacking, as well. An ambush, he moaned inwardly. They knew we here all along. Or maybe they set a trap just in case. It doesn't matter, he thought bitterly. We're going to die anyway. Du'vess considered whether to tell his soldiers to run or stand and fight. Of course, that didn't matter either. They'd die no matter what. He laughed bitterly and ran through an enemy soldier that had managed to break through his own meager ranks. The weapon master laughed again, a fey look entering his eyes. There may not be any hope, but by Lloth, he would make them pay! |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle's stalker paced back and forth within her room. She did not like it when he left the city, especially not for such long periods of time. Did he know? Had he caught wind of her plan somehow? Would he come back? It would be just like him to totally abandon Menzoberranzan. No, she corrected herself firmly. It wouldn't be. He would never really leave Menzoberranzan; it was his home. He had Bregan D'aerthe to tie him down, and he wouldn't leave his band. He would come back. She licked her thin lips eagerly. And when he did. . . . |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Dorian Tavares sat at bar of the Inn of the Dwarven Hammer, a mug of ale cradled in his hands. It had been frothing when he had first gotten it--nearly half an hour ago; he hadn't taken a sip yet. The human could see his reflection dimly in the amber surface. He wasn't frowning, just . . . contemplative. He had a lot to think about. His reason for coming to Settlestone--and Mithral Hall—tugged at his mind. Dorian was an orphan. He didn't know how his parents had died, and neither did the elves who adopted him. They said they just found him, and had never told him much else. When Dorian was old enough, they allowed him to wander far from home. It was then he learned how lucky he was the usually aloof elves had taken him in the first place. But no matter how far he wandered, Dorian always returned to his elven home. Those were the happy times, when all the elves teased him about how much he had changed, and there was good food, and good friends, and stories told. . . . They were the only family he had. He made human friends on his travels, but they were nothing like his family. His adopted mother, with her soft hand that would bandage his small cuts when he was young. His 48

father, who taught him the craft of the forest and the sword. His older brother, serious beyond his years, and his little brother, born the year Dorian turned twenty. All that had changed when he returned to his home forest to find nothing, no one. Nothing but corpses marked by fine elven blades. At first he had thought other elves, but no, elves did not attack one another. It was a long time before he remember the stories he had heard as a child: “go to bed bed or the dark elves will get you!” and the more serious talk of the elders: “there was a drow raid on a tribe north of here.” After that, however, it had not taken him long to decide on his next course of action. He would have revenge. If that meant traveling to the Underdark, so be it. If that meant murdering every dark elf male, female, and babe, he would do so with relish. His little brother, little more than a year, still just a babe by elven standards, had been sliced into more than a dozen pieces. Dorian had only identified his remains because his head was mostly intact. He swore over his adopted brother's mangled body that the black scum would pay. No matter the cost.

49

Nine Abbils

Despite the urgency of his mission, Jarlaxle could not help but stop and gaze at the stars; they were beautiful. In the Academy, the drow school, he had been taught that everything about the surface was terrible and evil. Certainly, Jarlaxle had since learned better. In fact, he could sympathize with Drizzt's choice to leave the Underdark; Jarlaxle himself would, if he were strong enough to sever his ties with Menzoberranzan. The sound of voices brought him out of his reverie. He stood in the darkness behind Settlestone's only in, concealed within the shadow it cast in the many lamps festooning the street. There were many people crowded inside, all of them foreigners. He guessed the barbarians who lived in the town took their drink in the massive hall, half stone and half hide, which dominated the center of the town. Shaking his bald head to clear his thoughts, the mercenary trotted to the back wall of the inn and peered through one of its brightly lit windows, paned as it was in expensive glass. He found himself looking into the kitchen, where a middle-aged human woman, a little chubby but still showing hints of the beauty she must have once possessed, was preparing food. A doorway in the side of the room led to the space behind the bar, and through that doorway Jarlaxle could catch a glimpse of the crowded common room. A man about the same age as the woman, tall and well built— though showing the beginnings of a paunch--entered the kitchen. His air of humble importance led Jarlaxle to presume he was the keeper of the inn. The two exchanged words—inaudible over the general noise—and the woman walked through the door into the common room, where she 50

was lost from sight. Seizing the moment, Jarlaxle silently opened the inn's back door and stepped inside. The innkeeper had his back to the door and did not see the mercenary enter. Jarlaxle cleared his throat to get the man's attention. “Please excuse me, good sir,” he said, “but could you spare a moment?” The man started a little, surprised at the voice, and turned. As soon as he spotted the speaker, the blood drained from his face and he put a hand on the counter behind him for support. His eyes darted nervously to the door leading to the bar, but seemingly without moving, Jarlaxle had positioned himself beside that door, blocking any chance of escape while still being able to keep an eye on the room beyond. Pretending as though he didn't notice the man's obvious terror, Jarlaxle said, “Could you, perhaps, tell me which room a certain patron is in?” Shaking, the man nodded. Jarlaxle beamed at him. “I'm looking for a gold elf, named Arvylyn Quenvath,” he told the innkeeper. “Second floor,” the man gasped. “Red door, third on the left.” Jarlaxle thanked him with another broad smile, and turned to leave through the back door. “Wait!” the man called, apparently finding some source of courage. It diminished greatly when Jarlaxle turned to regard him, but he continued on nonetheless. “Ye-ye can't b-b-be k-killin' my patrons!” The drow gave him a sweet smile, causing the human to go pale. “Unfortunately, I am under a solemn oath not to harm anyone unless threatened first,” he explained. “And unless the gold elf has a great deal more courage than you, I don't believe I'll be in any danger.” Without looking over his shoulder, Jarlaxle slipped back into the night. He paused for a moment to look at the stars again, taking comfort in their beauty and calming his nerves. Logically, he knew that drow elves—his own people –were evil, and surface elves good, and that everything he learned at the Academy was lies. Logically, he also knew the first lessons learned were the ones that went deepest, but that didn't mean they were correct. Logically, he knew he had no reason to hate Arvylyn Quenvath, unless he was guilty of creating Orbb's Elghinn. If only his emotions would listen to logic. Peering up at the top windows, Jarlaxle selected one that was dark end levitated up to it. Letting is eyes slip into the infrared spectrum, he searched the room beyond for people. Finding none, he turned his attention to the window itself. There was a latch, but it was on the inside, and he didn't want to alert anyone by breaking the glass. Instead, he called on the magic of one of his rings, which allowed him to open a short-distance portal. Awkwardly, he slid through the magical opening-his innate powers of levitation did not allow him to move sideways--and appeared inside the room he had been looking into. Padding silently across the bare wood, careful to avoid the simple 51

furniture scattered about, Jarlaxle reached the door and laid his ear against it. He could hear the sound of reveling downstairs, and someone snoring in the room across from the one he was in, but otherwise all was silent. He slowly eased open the door. To his right was the top of the stairs, and stretching away to his left was a long hallway, lit every few feet by thin white candles that flickered in the occasional draft. The floor was wood, but a long narrow carpet ran the length of the hall. At regular intervals were doors leading into individual rooms. No two doors were the same color, which helped light what otherwise might have been a claustrophobic space. Jarlaxle counted doors and approached the red one the innkeeper had specified. In front of the door he paused, considering his entry. He could teleport inside, and present himself dramatically, or he could simply knock. Jarlaxle's natural flamboyant attitude urged him to teleport, but a slightly more pragmatic side held him back. He didn't think it would be necessary to torture information out of the elf, but if Jarlaxle wished to simply talk to him, jumping out of the shadows was not an option. He would have to knock. The drow raised his hand a rapped three times on the door with his knuckles, then waited. And waited. After a while he knocked again, and again there was no reply. Maybe he's downstairs Jarlaxle thought, in which case he would wait for the elf to come up. He absentmindedly turned the doorknob with his left hand while producing a tiny silver key with the other. The key would unlock any door, but to his surprise, the door wasn't locked at all, and opened easily. Suspicious, Jarlaxle produced a dagger from his bracer and quickly pushed the door open all the way, then jumped to the side. Nothing happened. Not frightened, but very cautious, the cagey mercenary slowly entered the room, pulling the door most of the way closed behind him so as not to catch the attention of anyone passing by. The room was almost exactly like the one he had entered through, a window facing the door, and against the other two walls, a bed facing a wardrobe. A square table centered the room. The room looked empty, and felt so empty Jarlaxle did not even bother to check in the infrared spectrum. There was no one here. But if Arvylyn had left, why hadn't he locked the door behind him? Was confident no one here would try to steal from him? Jarlaxle questions were answered as he slowly walked around the table. Slumped against the wall beneath the window was the body of Arvylyn Quenvath. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Say'evett and Coss'tul of Bregan D'aerthe crouched on the rooftop of a building, looking down of the corpse-strewn street. Most of the other drow of their high rank did not go “out in the field” anymore, but 52

Say'evett and Coss'tul enjoyed scouting and investigating; it was how they had become such good friends. As much as friends as anyone in Menzoberranzan could be. Sometimes, they thought--though they never talked about it--more than anyone in Menzoberranzan could be. The bodies were soldiers of House Nuvin, though who their attackers were no one in Bregan D'aerthe yet knew. Very faintly, the two drow could make out the heat trail the victors had made while leaving, and also a second trail, as though another group had followed the mysterious attackers. “Bait,” Coss'tul reasoned aloud. “House Nuvin sent some soldiers out as bait, and a second group followed their attackers.” Say'evett nodded his agreement. “But did the attackers know they were being followed?” the other drow asked. Coss'tul grinned. “Let's find out.” The two levitated down from the rooftop and began carefully following the trail of the two groups. They did not speak, nor did they use the silent drow handcode. Years together had formed and understanding that some would say bordered on telepathic. Each one knew what the other was planned, and how they could best complement it. After an hour or so, the trail began to grow stronger, telling them they were catching up. They increased their pace but heightened their caution. After only ten additional minutes of tracking, Say'evett stopped and glanced at where he knew Coss'tul was--though he couldn't see him-on the other side of the wide avenue. The other drow stopped as well, also sensing the ambush laid before them. It really wasn't an ambush, they realized, but a hunting party. The “ambushers” whom Say'evett and Coss'tul felt sure were House Nuvin's mysterious attackers, were slowly making their way down the street, searching as they went. They knew someone was following them, and that they were close by. The two friends waited on the their respective sides, patiently, as the searchers drew closer. Finally, Say'evett decided they were close enough. Reaching to his belt, he unhooked a flask that hung there and downed its contents in a single swallow. Tossing aside the empty container, he rose to his feet, drew his weapons, and charged into the middle of the avenue. Coss'tul met him halfway. They spun and set themselves, back to back. There were dozens of tiny “click”'s from all around as the searchers fired their tiny hand crossbows, the bolts laced with the famed drow sleeping poison. Say'evett estimated that at least half a dozen sank into his skin, but as much as he longed to pull them out—especially the ones buried in his face--he knew he had to remain on guard. The potion he had quaffed would protect his from the poison, and he knew Coss'tul was similarly protected. Realizing their tactic wouldn't work, the hunters appeared, 53

rushing from the sides of the street, weapons drawn. Just before he was forced to engage, Coss'tul raised his hand to his mouth and whispered a few words to a ring on his left hand. Then their enemies were upon them and he was fighting for his life. Say'evett scanned the enemy force. There were nearly a dozen, he estimated, and was greatly surprised by the size of the force. Drow rarely moved in such large numbers. He had no time to puzzle over it. He was quickly fighting three drow directly, and those behind the first row occasionally stuck around their fully engaged companions. He was on the defensive immediately, his two swords whipping back and forth in a skillful flurry that would have made Jarlaxle proud. He managed to slip one of his blades through the defenses of the drow directly in front of him, slitting his opponent's throat wide. That same sword promptly whipped back to fend off the attacks of the drow on his right, while the drow on his left, surprised at his companion's sudden death, let his defenses slip just long enough for Say'evett to score a hit on his forearm. But the move cost him, for the opponent on his right used his distraction to aim a blow at Say'evett's head. He turned his face aside at the last moment, but the keen blade left a deep furrow through his cheek. His back pressed against Say'evett's, Coss'tul was in an even more desperate situation. He was up against four drow, and towards the back of the press he spotted a drow with a heavy, two-handed crossbow that did not need any poison to kill. Coss'tul sucked in his stomach as a thrust from the side came in; the blade skipped of his fine chainmail. He silently swore as the other three drow continued to attack. Unlike Say'evett behind him, he was not coordinated enough to work his sword and dagger separately. Glancing again at the crossbowman, Coss'tul brought his blades out wide, sweeping aside the weapons of the drow on his far left and middle right. His opponent in the middle and to the left, overjoyed at the opening, thrust both of his weapons in low. So intent was he on the attack that he did not notice Coss'tul's foot, kicking him in the side and pushing into line with the bolt the crossbowman had just fired. Coss'tul's victory was short-lived, though, as the drow on his far right repeated his earlier thrust, and this time the blade slid unobstructed into the mercenary's lung. Coss'tul gasped and dropped his sword, clutching at his side with his right hand. Say'evett, sensing his pain, half-glanced over his should for a split second. “Coss'tul!” he cried. “Are you hurt?” “Bad,” the other drow gasped. He attempted at weak thrust at the drow on his left, which was quickly defeated, and was forced to dodge a slash from his right. Another attack was coming from the left, and another from the drow directly before him, and he knew there was no way he could block either. Suddenly, the attacker on his left started, standing rigidly erect, his mouth open wide in shock. He blinked once, moaned, and dropped to the ground. Behind him stood a tall drow, one Coss'tul recognized as a 54

member of Bregan D'aerthe. The new drow leapt in front of Coss'tul and began fighting. Two more Bregan D'aerthe mercenaries were with him, and along with Say'evett, the four managed to send the attacking drow running. Coss'tul slumped to the ground, gasping for breath and coughing up blood. There were hands on his sides and shoulders: Say'evett, helping him sit upright so he could breathe more easily. Say'evett looked to the tall drow. “Do you have anything to help him?” The tall drow glanced at Coss'tul in a disinterested way. “He's only one soldier.” Say'evett narrowed his eyes. “This 'one soldier' is likely your superior, and hand-picked by Jarlaxle.” The tall drow did not seem impressed. “Every member of Bregan D'aerthe is hand-picked by Jarlaxle.” “Which makes us all valuable,” Say'evett countered. “Which is why we are ordered to look after other members. Why else did you answer our call?” After a moment's consideration, the tall drow motioned for one of his companions, who pulled a small clear bottle out of his belt pouch and handed it to Say'evett. The kneeling drow unstopped it and poured the blue liquid down Coss'tul's throat. The wounded drow, barely conscious, managed to swallow, shuddered once, then lay still. For a heart-pounding moment, Say'evett wondered if the potion hadn't worked, or had been too late, but then Coss'tul's eyes opened. Taking a deep breath, he slowly stood, using Say'evett's arm to help him up. His gaze gaze fell on the tall drow, and he gaze humorous smile. “Took you long enough.”

55

Ten Elggur

Jarlaxle was not one for swearing. He did not shout, or snarl, or rage over Arvylyn Quenvath's body. He did not do anything save bite his lip and narrow his eyes. Someone had killed Arvylyn Quenvath. The mercenary was aware that he was unknowledgeable when it came to the workings of the surface world, but after decades of unraveling assassinations for high-paying matrons in Menzoberranzan, he felt confident he knew why this murder had been committed. Arvylyn had known something. Jarlaxle searched the room, checking in the wardrobe, around the bed, and on the table. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed, which confirmed his suspicion that this had not been robbery. There were some other reasons, perhaps, that could explain the elf's death,but what were the chances that the very elf Jarlaxle had come to question was murdered in his own room? Jarlaxle did not believe in coincidences. The drow checked the door. The lock had not been forced, so whoever had come in had either picked the lock or entered by magical means—or been admitted by Arvylyn himself. He examined the body as well, finding that the elf had been stabbed through the heart, and, by the expression on his face, he'd seen the blade coming. The weapon itself was missing. His arms appeared as though he'd held them out, as though to either ward off his attacker or beg for understanding. Still puzzled, Jarlaxle checked the body more thoroughly, looking for more clues. There might be— 56

The mercenary halted his search abruptly, and rubbed one of the rings on his left hand, a plain iron band. It was warm to the touch, and was glowing softly. The ring was a device his lieutenants could use to call him if he was needed urgently but not available. Something was happening back in Menzoberranzan that required his attention. Thinking quickly, Jarlaxle pushed the door open a little more, so that it might draw attention, then opened the window and levitated gently to the ground outside. He needed to get back to Menzoberranzan soon, but also felt he needed to notify Drizzt and his friends. Unlike the semi-leisurely trip down the mountain, the return trip was hurried, running uphill and panting for air as the steep slope stole his breath. Several times he considered using a teleportation spell, but his quantity of those was limited and he decided against it. Reaching the stone beside where the knew the entrance was, he used a swatch of black cloth tucked into the band of his hat to create a hole in the side of the mountain, and slipped through it. The dwarves within, standing guard on either side of the doorway, did not even notice another shadow among those created by the ever-burning torches. The door to Drizzt's room opened just before the mercenary reached it, and Catti-brie stepped out. Honestly startled (something he hadn't been in a while), Jarlaxle took a quick step back into the flickering darkness to compose himself and start the meeting on his own terms. “My dear and beautiful woman,” he spouted, stepping out behind her. She whirled and faced him, surprise etched on her exquisite face. “Yer back,” she said, not sounding happy. “Not for long,” Jarlaxle informed her, smiling inwardly. Ah, how much he enjoyed this one! “I have urgent business to attend to.” “Then why come back here?” “I need to tell you,” he said, losing his cheerful facade, “that Arvylyn Quenvath is dead.” “You said you wouldn't kill him!” the young woman exclaimed. An involuntary chuckle slipped through the mercenary's lips. “Not by me,” he explained. “I know not who did it, but I haven't time to find out now.” “What business—” Catti-brie began, but Jarlaxle had already turned away. Quickly muttering a word to one of the wands tucked into his belt, he created a portal that would take him back to Menzoberranzan, and stepped through before the woman could finish her sentence. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| “So who could it be?” The Companions of the Hall were seated around a table in the Dwarven Hammer, discussing Arvylyn Quenvath. Early in the evening, patrons were just starting to trickle in.” “The most likely seems Geo Vitz,” Regis said. “Though it's a shame we couldn't see the body before they buried it. If we'd seen 57

whether he had his ears or not, then we'd know if it was her.” “I just can't believe that,” Catti-brie muttered in disgust. “Imagin' werkin' fer a man who pays gold fer elf ears. That's sick.” Bruenor rumbled in agreement. “Who else?” Drizzt pressed. The others had thought it best if he remained in bed, but after only a few days indoors he'd begun to feel claustrophobic, and had insisted he was well enough to go with them. After a day of questioning the people of Settlestone, he felt more tired than he ought to, but otherwise alright. “Nuthin' much important,” Bruenor said, gulping his ale. “A few little things--a coupla men who lost a bet to him.” “Nothing to kill over.” “Nope.” The drow sighed and ran his fingers through his thick mane of white hair. He'd hoped someone might notice something new when they went over their facts, but nothing appeared to have popped up. “And there's that Tavares man,” Regis reminded them. Catti-brie crinkled her forehead, trying to remember. She and Regis had been working together, and Bruenor with Drizzt. “Yeah, him,” she recalled. “But no one's seen him all day.” “Who's he?” Bruenor asked. The woman shrugged. “A mercenary, from what we could tell. One o' th' caravan guards. People said he'd been payin' extra close attention t' th' elf. That was all, though.” “The person who killed Arvylyn is probably the one who infected Drizzt,” Regis said. “I don't think any of these people did that, except maybe Tavares.” Drizzt shrugged. “We have nothing else to go on. We may as well question Geo Vitz. Even if she didn't kill Arvylyn, she was probably watching him, and she may have noticed someone else who was paying him undue attention.” Catti-brie glanced around the inn, which was beginning to fill up. “Where is she, anyway?” Regis nodded toward the bar. “Over there. She's the blonde.” Drizzt looked in the direction the halfling had indicated. Seated at the bar was a tall, well-shaped woman with honey-colored hair, naturally twisted into a magnificent waist-length mass of ringlets. She sat at an angle to the bar, one elbow resting on its polished length, staring out over the common room. Her eyes were a stunning forget-me-not blue, set in a beautiful, curving face. The woman quickly felt the Companions' eyes on her, and she turned to look at them. As soon as she saw Drizzt, her face lit up with a brilliant smile that forced the drow, his eyes accustomed to darkness, to squint. Catti-brie was staring enviously at her hair. Geo Vitz, if that was who the woman was, paid for her drink and swaggered out of the Inn. The Companions exchanged glances and followed. Outside, there were quite a few people on the street, a mix of 58

barbarians and merchants, but Geo's blonde hair was nowhere to be seen. “Right,” Drizzt said at once. “Ye're sure?” Bruenor questioned. The drow nodded. He'd watched the bounty hunter as she'd gotten up, and seen that she stepped out with her right foot, indicating she was right-handed. “She might be trying to throw us off,” Regis suggested. Catti-brie shook her head. “No,” she explained. “She wanted to be followed.” The Companions started down the street, but they had barely reached the edge of the Inn when they caught a flash of gold between the Dwarven Hammer and the building beside it. Looking quickly, Drizzt spotted Geo's foot disappearing around the back of the inn. The others followed him without question, except for Regis, who muttered something about insanity and needing new friends. The four drew their weapons, even Regis, who clutched his small mace. At the back corner of the building, Catti-brie reached out a hand to stop the drow. “Someone else should go first,” she whispered. “I'm healthy enough to--” Drizzt began to protest, thinking Cattibrie was afraid he was too ill to fight properly. The woman shook her head. “That's not it,” she said quietly. The other's gathered closer to hear. “Geo's a bounty hunter. She works fer a man who pays money fer elf ears, an' very large amounts fer th' ears o' dark elves. It wasn't us she wanted t' follow her, but ye.” Drizzt agreed with her logic, but didn't see how that would change him leading. He thought Catti-brie, of all people, would understand how it felt to be stifled by the protectiveness of those around —after similar feelings had cost Wulfgar his life. Regis echoed Catti-brie's line of thinking. “If someone else went around the corner first, it might throw her off, and possibly prevent a fight.” “Now what good would come o' that?” Bruenor snorted, but he fell back and allowed Catti-brie to take the lead. The drow was right on Catti-brie's heels as she rounded the corner. There was an open space between the back of the Inn and the first trees; no other buildings stood behind it, save a small outhouse. At first, Drizzt thought the place was deserted, but then he caught a flash to his right. Geo Vitz rushed from the shadows of the back doorway, brilliant smile on her face and sword in hand.

59

Eleven Jalbol

Weapon Master Du'vess stifled a groan as he regained consciousness. There was a deep gash along his upper arm, a hole punched straight through the side of his cheek, and a shallow groove along his side. The most painful of his injuries was the back of his head, which had slammed against the stone when he fell. One of the attackers had stabbed at his face, and the combination of surprise and pain had caused him to lose his balance. His opponent had promptly tried to follow up, but all he was able to do was knock Du'vess to the ground before another warrior had taken the Weapon Master's place. They probably thought I was dead, he thought, struggling to sit up. A wave of pain and nausea overwhelmed him, and he fell back, propped up on one elbow. His vision went black, shot with red and purple stars. I don't blame them, he added mentally. I feel dead. After he had recovered a little, Du'vess looked around, though he did not try to sit up again. He had not been out too long, because there were still a few wisps of heat in the bodies of his dead soldiers. With a little thrill of satisfaction, he saw that the number of dead enemies was almost equal to that of his own dead, an amazing feat. Not that that helps me much he reminded himself. In fact, it didn't seem like much would help him. The chances that he would be able to make his way back to House Nuvin were incredibly small, and even if he did, Matron Yraeth would kill for failing. Things looked very hopeless. First things first, Du'vess told himself, pushing away the grim realities. I've got to get up before I can do anything— It was just the slightest sound, the smallest sound that told 60

Du'vess's keen ears that someone was approaching. As quickly as he dared, he dropped himself back to the street and flipped his shielding piwafwi over himself, hoping it would dim hit his heat signature and cause him to appear as cool as his dead companions. From under a fold of the cloak, Du'vess watches as group of five drow approached cautiously. They seemed confident that there was no one about, and very interested in the remains of the battle. They did not step among the cluster of bodies, but stood outside it, discussing something in the intricate drow handcode. The Weapon Master could make out only occasional snatches of what they were saying, but it seemed as though they investigating the scene. Had someone sent them to gain more information about the two forces that had fought? Du'vess wished he could see more. One of the drow, a surprisingly tall one, turned away from the group and surveyed the battlefield. For a moment, Du'vess's heart pounded as the other met his eyes. He thought for sure he had been seen, but the drow continued his scan. Du'vess allowed himself a small breath. Apparently satisfied, the tall drow turned back to his companions and said something with his hands. One of the others nodded, and they spoke a little more, but they had turned so Du'vess saw none of it. Then, as though they had reached a decision, they turned and began picking their way through the corpses. Du'vess shut his eyes so the others wouldn't see their tell-tale glow, instead gauging their progress by the sound of their soft footfalls. To his horror, they gathered around him and stopped. He was sure they hadn't realized he was alive, but he felt so helpless, lying on the ground with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he felt the cold edge of a blade slip under his cloak and press against the skin of his neck “We know you're not dead,” one of the drow said. Du'vess held very still, hoping they would think he had lost consciousness. “An we know you're not unconscious,” the drow added dryly. It was no use. Du'vess opened his eyes. The tall drow stood beside his head, but the one holding the sword was a different drow. His eyes glowed a very dark red, a sharp contrast with the others' bright ruby. “Who are you?” asked another drow, coming to stand beside the dark-eyed one. He had several cowlicks which caused his hair to twist and curl unusually. “Weapon Master Du'vess Nuvin, of House Nu'asav-kor, eleventh house of Menzoberranzan.” Du'vess drew strength from his claim. He was from a powerful house; these strange drow would not dare to kill him. Unless they are with your mysterious attackers, he reminded himself. The dark-eyed drow exchanged glances with his cowlicked companion. What that look meant, Du'vess could not tell. “I am Coss'tul, of Bregan D'aerthe,” the dark-eyed one told Du'vess. “We would like some questions answered.” 61

|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Catti-brie brought her sword, which she had claimed in Menzoberranzan, up in a fast parry that was so powerful it knocked the other woman back. Geo recovered quickly, and come on again. Again, Catti-brie parried, and before the bounty hunter could launch another attack, she came on with one of her own, nicking Geo's hand and forcing her to drop her sword. The woman jumped back, smile gone. It returned quickly, though, as soon as she caught sight of Drizzt. Quickly, she scooped up her blade and started forward. Catti-brie tried to disarm her again, but the other woman, simply parried the attack and stepped past her to launch a blow at Drizzt. The drow parried her attack with Twinkle, then went into a blur of motion, snapping his scimitars at impossible angles, forcing Geo to react in impossible ways, bending her limbs at queer angles to either parry or dodge each attack. Changing tactics suddenly, Drizzt focused on her blade, striking it with blow after blow, meaning to numb her hand and force her to drop the sword. He had barely hit half a dozen times when all the muscles in his arms and hands seized up, sending an incredible wave of agony through him. His scimitars fell to the ground and he fell back. Geo did not question her good fortune, coming on hard. This time it was Bruenor that intercepted her. Coming in from the side, she didn't even notice the short dwarf until he cut her legs out from underneath her with the backside of his axe. She fell hard on the ground, and before she could attempt to get back to her feet, Catti-brie was standing in front of her, blade at her neck. “Drop the sword,” she said grimly. Geo flung aside her blade and cursed. “Damn you! Do you know how much he'd bring me?” She pointed at Drizzt. “A thousand gold and ear!” Bruenor growled dangerously and shifted his axe, but Geo did not seem to get the point. “Good things Match Torren doesn't pay for dwarf ears,” she snapped at him. “I wouldn't make any money 'cause they'd be to ugly to go after.” Ignoring the bounty hunter, Catti-brie glanced back at Drizzt. He was leaning against the side of the Inn, confused. The pain had passed as quickly as it had come, leaving only a quiet ache behind. The drow rubbed his arms. Hadn't Jarlaxle said one of the symptoms of Orbb's Elghinn was cramps? “Well?” Geo demanded after only a second of silence. “What do you want?” Not very patient, Drizzt observed dryly. Equally impatient, Bruenor stomped right up to the woman's face. “Did yerself kill th' elf Arvylyn Quenvath?” To the Companions' surprise, the bounty hunter started laughing. “Didn't you see the body?” 62

She looked around at them. “I guess not. Well, he had both his ears, though that's only 'cause they wouldn't let me cut 'em off the body. No sense in wasting money.” Drizzt grimaced in distaste and saw Catti-brie do the same. “What about Arzeld Zouch and Machester Sossun?” Regis asked. “What about them?” Geo seemed to remember suddenly. “Oh, yeah. Them. They lost a bet with the elf, but they'd never kill him for it, if that's what you think. Cowards both.” “Is there anyone else who might have killed Arvylyn?” Drizzt pressed. Geo appeared to think for a moment, not seeming at all trouble with sitting on the ground with a sword at her throat. “You might see about that guy--Dorian Tavares.” “No one's seen him,” Catti-brie told her. “Oh, really?” The bounty hunter looked surprised. “You might look for his friend, then. He's a blonde-haired guy, by the name of Ubagne or something strange like that.” Drizzt nodded and picked up his scimitars, relieved that his arms did not cramp again. “Thank you for you help.” “Are you sure I can't have your ears?” Geo pleaded to Drizzt, getting to her feet as Catti-brie pulled the sword away. “Match Torren's all the way in Waterdeep, he'll never know didn't actually kill you.” Drizzt shook his head firmly. “No.”

63

Twelve Melae

Jarlaxle stepped out of Mithral Hall's flickering dimness and into the true darkness of his office in Menzoberranzan. There was a moment of dizzy disorientation, but the mercenary, used to such travel, shook it off easily. Allowing his eyes to slip into the infrared spectrum, he found one of his lieutenants, Say'evett, seated in one of the chairs across from him. Seating himself in his comfortable chair and propping his feet up on the desk, Jarlaxle made a quick survey of the wavy-haired drow across from him, trying to see exactly how urgent this news was. Say'evett, usually lighthearted and with a good sense of humor, wore a grim look that spelled out trouble. “Well?” Jarlaxle prompted. “We've been attacked,” Say'evett said simply. The mercenary rocked back in his chair, considering his lieutenant's words before he asked any more questions. Attacked?! Say'evett elaborated before Jarlaxle could say anything. “There have been attacks on two of our patrols. In the first, all of the patrol was killed. We though it might have been some sort of mistake, but we had barely begin an investigation when the other one happened. The patrol managed to escape, though they were sorely wounded and one died of his injuries. They were able to describe their attackers.” “Who were they?” “We don't know,” Say'evett replied, frustration and anger showing in his face. “We think they might be the same unidentified attackers that entered the House Nuvin compound last week.” 64

Jarlaxle pulled off his hat and ran a hand over his bald head, considering the implications. Bregan D'aerthe had been in the pay of House Nuvin when it destroyed House Kor'tath. Might one of the survivors be seeking revenge? The mercenary wanted to scoff at the notion—no one thought of seeking revenge against Bregan D'aerthe--but it was a reasonable motive, and could not be dismissed. “What do we know about them?” Jarlaxle asked. “For a fact? Nothing,” Say'evett told him. “But there are rumors about another mercenary band, Orbb wun lil Veldrin. The rumors say they are being paid to attack us.” “Eliek would like that,” Jarlaxle mused aloud. He knew the leader of Veldrin; Eliek, had, in fact, attended the Academy with him. Eliek was a fiery, impatient drow, surprisingly large, who couldn't hold his liquor but drank heavily anyway. He was subtle enough to survive, but when Jarlaxle compared the rival mercenary to himself, he had to hold back laughter. Veldrin was much younger than Bregan D'aerthe, having begun only thirty years ago, but Eliek seemed to think that he and Jarlaxle were equal opponents. Yes, he would love a reason to attack his greatest rival. “We found the remains of House Nuvin patrol, as well,” Say'evett added. “Apparently they set some soldiers as bait, and Veldrin—if it is them--took it. Then a waiting patrol, led by the House Weapon Master, followed. Unfortunately, the attackers turned the surprise back on them.” “Were there any survivors?” “One. The Weapon Master. We still have him if you wish to question him yourself.” “I might. But first I want you to begin an investigation into the Nuvin-Kor'tath conflict.” Say'evett looked puzzled. “But, sir—that was twenty years ago, and besides, Bregan D'aerthe was involved; we know what happened.” “I realize that,” the mercenary replied patiently. “I wish to know if there were any possible survivors of House Kor'tath.” The other drow began to speak, but a look of realization crossed his face and he fell silent. “As for the attacks,” Jarlaxle continued, “I want an investigation into them, as well. We need to know if Veldrin is really behind this, and if it is, who's paying. No soldiers are to leave the compound unless under orders, and all other assignments are to be put on hold.” Say'evett nodded and left. Jarlaxle leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. He lover irony, chaos, and intrigue, but he would not stand to have his band in danger. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| She watched as a Bregan D'aerthe soldier levitated down from the lip of the Clawrift and entered the mercenary compound--coming back after in from assignment, no doubt. She grinned. Although Jarlaxle's move presented less targets, it simply got the band out of the way while she destroyed House Nuvin. 65

Bregan D'aerthe would fall in good time--and when it did, it would be all the sweeter for waiting. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| “They what?” Ikavul Nuvin swallowed nervously. With the death of his younger brother, Matron Yraeth had called the wizard back from his place at the Academy. What little the wizard had forgotten of his matron's tones of speech were quickly remembered. Like, for example, what it meant when she spoke softly. “They refused, Matron.” “They refused.” Her voice was flat, and very calm. “Just like that-they refused?” “Not just that, Matron,” the wizard hurried to explain. “They sent their apologies—” “I do not care about their apologies,” Yraeth hissed. “I care about the fact that you obviously did not present my offer properly.” Ikavul felt sweat trickling down his face. He knelt before Matron Yraeth's throne, dwarfed by the massive audience room. Looming above him on her throne, Yraeth was flanked by her daughters, though Ikavul, not daring to look up, could see nothing of her. “Please, Matron,” he begged. “I told them what you instructed me to. They told me Bregan D'aerthe simply was not accepting any offers at this time. It seems as though they are turning everyone away.” There was a rustle of cloth above him. Daring to look up, the wizard saw Yraeth sit back on her throne and cup her narrow chin in one slender palm. “Are they spread too thin?” she mused aloud. “Or has something else come up?” She shook her head, dismissing the thoughts. “As it apparently was not your fault Bregan D'aerthe turned down my offer, you will not be punished. However,” she continued, frowning at Ikavul's sigh of relief, “I will expect you to find someone else to aid us.” From beside the throne, Ikavul's oldest sister spoke up. “If I may add a suggestion,” she said, “Orbb wun lil Veldrin is reputed to be a find mercenary band—certainly not as good as Bregan D'aerthe, but not as expensive, either.” “You might choose to look there,” Yraeth finished, ever demanding the last word. “You are dismissed.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Coss'tul slunk through the “shadows” of Menzoberranzan, out on another patrol. With him were two soldiers, Orvess and Laquar. It was a large group, compared to what Coss'tul was used to--just Say'evett and himself. He disliked the size and felt strangely lonely without Say'evett. This was no general patrol, but focused. The plan was simple, which was just the way Coss'tul liked it: they were to find the enemy. Not 66

their base, not a large number of soldiers, but simply find and capture one of their enemies. Information gathered from the House Nuvin Weapon Master indicated the Veldrin soldiers used a spell that would destroy any member who tried to talk, but Jarlaxle, ever confident, was undeterred. But Coss'tul did not need to worry about any of that. He simply needed a capture. After only half an hour of aimless wandering--meant to seem purposeful--Coss'tul felt something following him. He glanced at the two with him, who nodded to show they felt it too. The lieutenant quickly began to search for a place to attack. They were in Eastmyr, the section of the city that held non-drow and less fortunate dark elves. Unlike the classier districts, there was more crowding, more filth, and more places to hide. Coss'tul caught sight of an abandoned building and led his patrol towards it. The building had once been an inn of some sorts, and was a lavish three stories high. Dust coated the interior, darkening the heat signatures—and therefore shapes—of objects, making it difficult to see. There were some small signs of habitation, which Coss'tul put down to escaped slaves, or something similar—likely goblins; he was not worried they would attack him. In some places holes had been broken through the exterior walls. Thinking quickly, the drow split up his patrol, assigning Laquar to the second floor and Orvess to the third. He took the first for himself, quickly scouting the area and finding it deserted. By the time the others returned, having found their regions similarly devoid of life, Coss'tul could feel that the enemy was close. Using the handcode to give directions, he concealed himself behind what had once been a desk-cumcounter, and ordered the others to act similarly. Absolute silence pressed on Coss'tul's ears. The dust tickled his nose and he held back a sneeze, trying to keep his breathing soft so he could hear the Veldrin soldiers coming. He wished he had the sleepfighting potion with him now; he would need it. The minutes dragged on; where were they? There. A tiny sound. So small, yet so revealing. It came from one of the gaping holes; someone was trying to come in. Pulling the tiny crossbow from his belt and readying it, Coss'tul listened again for the noise, his muscles tight. He would have one chance, one shot. If he missed, he would not have time to shoot again before this drow's companions fired on him. One shot. Springing his muscles, Coss'tul leapt from behind the counter and fired. There was a tiny click from his crossbow, and the sleep-poisoned dart sped across the room. He had no time to see if it hit before he ducked back down. Not even a second later, there were answering clicks from the opposing soldiers. Coss'tul counted—four. There was a thud as the soldier he had fired at dropped to the ground, asleep. Five total, then. There were two more clicks as Coss'tul's companions also fired. One missed; he heard it strike something wooden. The other must have 67

hit, because there was a quiet oath, and then the sound of someone sliding down a wall. Three left. Even odds. A sound caught Coss'tul's attention, directly on the other side of the counter. He snapped out his sword and dagger and skittered to the side just as a drow rolled over the top of the counter and landed beside him. It was one of the strangest battles Coss'tul had ever fought. Both stayed in a crouch, because to stand would be to expose one to the enemy's archers. The patrol leader quickly found both his legs and back aching. He didn't know about the other drow, but he wasn't sure how long he could keep this up. He would have to do something drastic. The sound of battle came from his left, where Coss'tul knew Laquar was. It sounded fast and desperate, and from the number of parries, it seemed as though there were two ganged up on one. There was silence from where Orvess was supposed to be. Taking a risk he knew could cost him his life, Coss'tul began working his way around his opponent. The other drow, even though he had no idea what Coss'tul was attempting to do, tried his best to stop him anyway. Panting, Coss'tul finally reached the right position. He began working his opponent's blades high, then suddenly snapped his down and drove them, barely and inch apart, at the other drow's belly. His opponent snapped his blades down in the only parry, the cross-down. As he enemy's blades were occupied, Coss'tul turned his shoulder and slammed bodily into the other drow, knocking them both from behind the counter and into the open. Quickly separating himself from the winded drow, Coss'tul leapt to his feet. If the two-on-one battle to his left was both Laquar and Orvess on one enemy, he was doomed, because unless the third Veldrin soldier was already dead, he would have his crossbow trained on Coss'tul. There was a click. Coss'tul dodged instantly to the side, but the dart was aimed at his former opponent, who was just rising to his feet. The other drow stared in horror at the quarrel in his wrist, then slumped, unconscious. Pausing only a moment to catch his breath, Coss'tul rushed to aid his companion. Orvess, his forearm bleeding heavily, battled the two remaining drow. Laquar, putting away his crossbow, appeared beside Coss'tul, and together they finished the fight. “There are two two still alive,” Orvess panted, referring to the two put to sleep at the beginning of the battle. “Three,” Laquar corrected, counting the one he had just shot. “And we need only one.” “Pick one and kill the others,” Coss'tul ordered. “We'll bring his back with us for Jarlaxle.” “The bodies?” Orvess asked. “Leave them,” Coss'tul replied. “Veldrin won't care.”

68

Thirteen Chath lueth Shanaal

Fire. Fire and ice and broken glass. Ah, Mielikki, it hurt! Fire and ice and broken glass, poured across his skin, forced through his veins, and dribbled down his throat. He tried to move, but that only made it worse, only brought new agony to his body. Ah, Mielikki! Drizzt opened his eyes hesitantly, but the low light seared his vision and even that small motion pained him. He clamped his eyes shut, by the more violent movement sent tiny needles of torture through his face. A low whimper escaped his lips. Someone knocked on his door. The booming noise sounded incredibly loud in his ears, and he winced, which just made him hurt more. He struggled to sit up. Pain hit him like a physical blow, and he swayed. Blackness swarmed his vision, but after a moment it cleared and he made another painfully small movement. Another soft cry was torn from his mouth. At last he managed to haul himself upright, propped against his pillows. There was another knock, but he did not have the energy to call out. Possibly his tongue would cramp if he tried. The person knocked a third time before pushing open the door. It was Catti-brie, wearing a concerned expression on her face. As soon as she saw Drizzt, slumped weakly against the pile of pillows, his eyes shut in exhaustion and pain, she rushed over to his side. “Drizzt!” she called. “Are ye alright? Drizzt!” The drow tried to speak, but found he was unable to make a sound. His throat hurt abysmally. He tried again. “I'm. . . well . . . I'm not exactly. . . fine, am I?” He forced his eyes open and managed a painful 69

smile. Catti-brie bit her lip and gathered her brows in worry. “Don' move,” she ordered. “Don' try t' get up or anythin'. I'll send fer Lady Alustrial. I'm sure she can do somethin', an' in th' mean time, I'll have Stumpet take care o' ye.” “Are you going to look for Tavares?” Drizzt asked weakly. “Yeah, but ye're t' have nothin' t' do with it,” she said firmly. “Ye just rest.” she got up to leave at the doorway she paused and looked back at Drizzt, but he had already closed his eyes. She shut the door softly behind her. Once she had gone, Drizzt flicked his eyes open again, but holding the lids up was too much for him and let them fall closed. Fear wormed its way into his stomach, worsening the nausea that already dwelt there. How long did it take for Orbb's Elghinn to kill? Jarlaxle hadn't said. Maybe he didn't know. What if the ranger were to die today? Drizzt had spent his entire life in danger, fighting for survival, but had never felt death so close, nor had he ever been so helpless to fight it. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle found Coss'tul waiting for him in his office. The darkeyed drow had a certain sleekly satisfied air about him that he only wore when had a truly important piece of information to report. Jarlaxle settled himself behind his desk and indicated a chair across from him. Coss'tul sank delicately into the heavily padded seat and waited for Jarlaxle to prompt him. When he had been given leave to speak, he launched into his report with the brisk efficiency that had first drawn Jarlaxle to him. “I and two others succeeded in capturing a Veldrin soldier, sir. One of our wizards managed to destroy the secrecy spell laid on him, and he agreed to turn spy. His name is Ugrae, and he confirmed that Veldrin is being paid by princess Minet, who is the last surviving noble of House Kor'tath.” Jarlaxle nodded. He himself had been personally involved in the battle between House Nuvin and House Kor'tath, and had found himself fighting the princess. She was a good fighter, but when she had realized that she could not defeat the mercenary, she had run. Although he had never been able to confirm it, Jarlaxle had always been suspicious that she had somehow survived the attack. “Have you been able to find princess Minet?” Jarlaxle asked. Coss'tul shook his head. “No, sir. We haven't been able to find any more Veldrin soldiers, either, let alone their base. They've done a good job of hiding.” “Yes, I suppose they have. Does our friend Ugrae know the location of their base?” “He didn't want to tell us.” Coss'tul looked eagerly to Jarlaxle. “With your permission, sir, we'll begin questioning him.” 70

Jarlaxle waved his hand in a negligent gesture. “By all means, go ahead.” Coss'tul grinned, bobbed his head in a short bow, and excused himself. Once he was gone, Jarlaxle let out a harsh sigh and leaned back. He had no doubt his soldiers could extract the location of Veldrin's base from Ugrae, but what would Jarlaxle do with that information? He did not like open warfare. He could use the knowledge to turn the table, put Bregan D'aerthe on the offensive, but how effective would that be? Jarlaxle thought ruefully to a time back in the Academy when Eliek had drunk himself into unconsciousness. The mercenary had a chance to kill his rival then, but he hadn't taken it. Now he wished he had; it would saved him much trouble. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Catti-brie sat on one of her favorite perches outside Mithral Hall. From her spot on the mountain, she could see for miles around: thickly wooded forest as far as the eye could see, mountains of either side, and Settlestone below. The freak snowstorm that had nearly killed Ivellios Amanodel had passed and spring weather had returned, melting nearly all of the snow. Only a few patched stubbornly stuck to the cool shadows. What if Drizzt died? It was not a thought Catti-brie had ever considered. When Cattibrie was just a young girl, Drizzt had come to Icewind Dale, alone, friendless, and homeless. She had befriended him, and that friendship had lasted all these years. What if it ended today? She had sent a messenger to Lady Alustrial in Silverymoon, easily the most knowledgeable person in the northland. If anyone could help Drizzt, it was Alustrial, but what if she couldn't? What if her knowledge and skill were not enough? What he died before she could even arrive? Catti-brie tried to force these morbid thoughts from her mind, but they refused to budge. All her life she had felt invincible, untouchable, confident no one could harm her, or any of her friends. If someone told her, “you could be killed”, she acknowledged their concern and went ahead anyway. Death was not something real to her, just a meaningless word. What was death? Death did not touch her. But then Wulfgar had died, killed by the yochlol in the tunnels below Mithral Hall. Then she had learned what death was, and that it really could touch her. What if it touched her again? What if Drizzt died today?

71

Fourteen Ogglin

“Another one?” “Yes, sir. It was in Braeryn. There was one casualty; the other soldier managed to escape.” Jarlaxle pulled of his wide-brimmed hat and ran a hand over his bald head, more than a little frustrated. He had hoped the precautions he had ordered would reduce the number of attacks on his soldiers, but it didn't seem to be working. In fact, the number seemed to have increased. It was as though Eliek knew of his every move. The mercenary silently cursed himself. Why hadn't he thought of it sooner? “Check for spies,” he ordered Say'evett, who stood on the other side of his desk. “Especially the Veldrin turncoat; he might be a double agent. You know what to do if you find one.” Say'evett gave a short bow and turned to leave. When Ugrae— much more agreeable after his interrogation—had been ordered to spy of Veldrin, Bregan D'aerthe was not overly concerned that their spy might be unearthed, as Eliek simply killed any spies he found. On the other hand, a spy found in Bregan D'aerthe would be fed false information, laying a trail of confusion for their enemy. Noticing something about the way the other drow moved, Jarlaxle brought him up short. “Say'evett,” he called. “Are you well?” Say'evett hesitated before turning around, and when he did, there were traces of a well-concealed fear on his face. “No,” he said softly, fixing his gaze on the wall several inches above Jarlaxle's hat. “No, sir. I have Orbb's Elghinn.” 72

The mercenary leader worked hard to keep his emotions off his face, though from the tightening of Say'evett's jaw, he saw he had not done a good enough job. The other drow didn't want pity, he knew. “Shouldn't you be resting?” Jarlaxle inquired. Fear flickered across his lieutenant's face; Jarlaxle did not even want to know what sort of stress he was under, that could cause the normally professional drow to reveal so much. “If all of those ill rested, sir, there wouldn't be enough soldiers to perform the basic duties within the compound, let alone the special patrols.” As Jarlaxle's expression began to darken, he quickly added, “Those who are very sick have taken to bedrest, and only those who are not ill at all are patrolling in the city.” “Yes,” Jarlaxle said slowly, more to show he understood than in real response; he already knew those statistics, but having been reminded of them, he realized something should be done. A quarantine? The thought forced him to suppress a shudder. He had seen the drow dying of Orbb's Elghinn, writhing in pain and screaming when they were unable to hold the agony inside them anymore, and finally cast forcefully into death with a froth of blood on their lips. To confine all of the ill together, to force them to remain in the presence of those endless screams, all the while knowing that they, too, would soon reach that point of agony, when they no longer cared what sort of noises they made. . . . No, not quarantine. But something had to be done to check the spread. “Make sure all those already infected wear sort of marker,” he finally told Say'evett, “so that others know not to touch them.” “Yes, sir.” Without any hesitation, clearly relieved to leave his leader's presence, Say'evett left Jarlaxle's office. When he was gone, Jarlaxle returned his hat to his bald head, but promptly took it off again. “One week,” he said aloud, calculating from Say'evett's condition how long he had left. “He has one week, and by Lloth, somehow I will find a cure before that week is gone.” |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| The pain had gotten a little better as the day progressed, but Drizzt still couldn't move without all the muscles involved cramping. He tried to use his time to think through the mystery of where Orbb's Elghinn had come from. According to Jarlaxle, an elf going by the name Arvylyn Quenvath had bought a hundred and one “diseased” gems from a wizard in Waterdeep, then taken them to Skullport and sold them to Medavin, making sure they would be shipped to Menzoberranzan. Then Arvylyn had gone east to Settlestone, claiming to be waiting for his cousin. Now he was dead. Ivellios Amanodel had nearly died to warn Drizzt that a human was going to do this. That human seemed most likely to be Dorian Tavares, who had disappeared. But Ivellios was the one who infected Drizzt. Had he meant to? Was it an accident? Were he and Arvylyn 73

working together? His head throbbed and he closed his eyes against the firelight. Someone knocked at the door. “Come in,” Drizzt called weakly. Raising his voice caused the muscled in his abdomen to tighten painfully, and even his lips and tongue ached. He longed for relief from the pain. Stumpet Rakingclaw poked her head into the room. “There's a man here,” she informed the drow. “He's come t' see ye, but since ye're so ill I thought ye might not be wantin' t' see him--an' he's got a shifty look about him.” Drizzt thought for a moment. A man? Was this, then, Dorian Tavares? Was this the one who had created Orbb's Elghinn? Were they the same? “Let him in,” Drizzt said at last. Stumpet raised her bushy eyebrows but did not comment. Her head disappeared for a moment, and then was replaced by the form of a human. He was tall and wide-shouldered, his body powerful. His hair, reaching to his shoulder, had slightly stringy look to it, as though it had not been washed in a while, and was dusky black, as was his neatly trimmed beard. His clothes were simple, and might once have been fine, but were now so travel-worn it was difficult to tell, though Drizzt thought they looked of elvish make. His skin was weathered and darkened by sun, with a number of lines around the eyes and mouth, though he did not appear to be old. Dark, almost black eyes met Drizzt's. The man cleared his throat awkwardly and settled himself in the chair beside Drizzt's bed. “My name's Dorian Tavares,” he said. His voice, though hoarse, was clear and cultured, bearing signs of a good education. An old scar cut its way across his throat; the wound must have stolen his voice. “I've heard that since you've forsaken your people's ways, you dislike speaking about your homeland,” Tavares continued. “I hope that I do not bring up any painful memories, but I need some questions answered. “About Menzoberranzan?” Drizzt asked, surprised. His suspicions about Tavares were immediately dispelled; this was not what a man who wanted his dead would ask. But why did he want to know about the Underdark? Tavares gave a short nod. “Why?” Drizzt pressed. “For what purpose would you use this information?” “Revenge.” The single word, spoken bluntly, rocked Drizzt. But as he studied the man closer, his surprise slipped away. A look of anger and hate, heavily concealed, coated the man's face, and Drizzt realized it was aimed, indirectly, at him. The man had lost something to the drow, and looking at one, even one who had forsaken his people, produced negative emotions. As well, there was a look of burning fervor, and old hate about to be brought to a close. 74

Revenge, indeed. “You would travel to the city of the drow?” Drizzt inquired. “You would kill yourself?” Tavares' chin lifted in defiance and pride. “I would not be killed. I would do the killing.” “Don't be so sure,” Drizzt shot back. “Have you ever seen drow? Have you seen them fight?” A sick, tired fear settled into his stomach; he did not want this man to throw his life away. “I know my abilities,” Tavares insisted. “And I know theirs. You would never even reach Menzoberranzan; you would die in the passages of the Underdark before you even saw the city.” The human's jaw tightened. “You claim you have abandoned your people,” he snarled, “but one would think you were protecting your kin.” “I am protecting you!” Drizzt snapped. “What would you accomplish? You might kill a handful of drow, but what would that do for you?” The man's face was contorted in rage, but Drizzt did not let his speak. “Let me guess--your kin were killed by drow. And now--” “Yes!” Tavares howled. “Yes, my kin!” He glared at Drizzt, apparently desperate to be understood. “I wasn't there--do you know what that means to me? I was not there to protect them, to fight with them, or to die beside them. All I saw was the aftermath.” His eyes were glazed and distance now. Feeling helpless, almost embarrassed at being shown this stranger's grief, Drizzt said nothing as the man continued. “My brother—little Mikel. He was not even a year, and they did not spare him. I saw his face, and tried to find the rest of him, but gods help me, I couldn't find all of him.” He stared at Drizzt with griefstricken eyes, tears leaking into his beard. “The bastards sliced him into pieces, and I could not even find half of him!” With this, he buried his head into his knees, struggling to control his sobs. Drizzt sat in silence, feeling sick and remembering his own raid, when he had saved an elven child. There had been no Drizzt Do'Urdan to save this man's brother from a grizzly death. When the man's grief had somewhat subsided, Drizzt said softly, “I ask you not to do this. Were you to even reach Menzoberranzan, you would never find the ones who did the deed. You might be able to kill a handful of drow, but that would be nothing compared with the thousands left in the city. You would only throw your life away.” “What, then?” Tavares demanded, angry once more. “Do you expect me to live with my family's death unavenged?” “They're not dead,” was the ranger's quiet reply. The man's rage faltered. “What?” “They're not dead,” Drizzt repeated. “As long as you remember them, they still live, are still alive, inside you. If you forget them, or die without reason, then they really will be gone.” For a long moment Tavares sat in stunned silence, staring at 75

Drizzt. The drow said nothing, and only returned the man's gaze. “Thank you,” the man said finally, if a little stiffly, “for your wise words. I will think about this.” Before Drizzt could make a reply, and without saying anything more himself, Dorian Tavares left the room, shutting the door gently behind him.

76

Fifteen Dalninuk

The male had not told Matron Yraeth his name, and had cleverly sidestepped her questions on that matter until she gave up—not a common occurrence. He had knelt when he first entered her audience chamber, but had risen without her permission. He spoke with a bland voice that covered his arrogance and defiance, and, all in all, she found him distinctly annoying. Still, he had information she needed badly. “But you have discovered the nature of our attackers,” Yraeth stated more than asked. Not only had he avoided questions concerning his name, he had also danced around answering any other sort of inquiry she made. It was very tempting to free her snake whip and beat him into submission, but that would be foolish. “So we believe,” he replied tonelessly. Everything about him was the same as his voice: bland. Matron Yraeth was sure that, should she meet with the male regularly for a decade, she still would not recognize him in a crowd. “Then what is their nature?!” Yraeth felt her voice rising into a shriek. She wanted to kill this male! After an hour of interviewing him, she had gained nothing useful! Futilely, she wished she could have gained the service of Bregan D'aerthe; Jarlaxle would never allow his soldiers to behave this way. Orbb wun lil Veldrin was a different matter. The male seemed to realize he was walking a fine line--and was about to step onto the wrong side. “We do not know much,” he said quickly. “What information we have leads us to believe they are not from Menzoberranzan. There is a possibility they are allied with the faeries. Matron Yraeth narrowed her eyes. Faeries? No drow would ally 77

herself with faeries, the surface elves were the drow's greatest enemies! But the lie detector spell she used told her the male was not lying. Either he was telling the truth, or he thought he was telling the truth--and was simply repeating what he was told to say. Still, who else was she to trust? She had no other information to depend on. None of her House spies had been able to discover anything at all, which, she supposed, would make sense if her attackers were based outside the city. But House Nuvin had no ties outside Menzoberranzan; what would someone located outside the city want with them? The numbers, she thought, do not add up. “Do you have any more information to give me?” Yraeth demanded of the male. “No, matron,” the male replied in his bland voice. Yraeth fumed. An hour of her time spent interviewing a mere boy, who, when finally convinced to talk, needed less than a minute to make his report. “Get out of my sight, then!” the matron growled. Seemingly unconcerned by her outburst, the male bowed calmly and walked out of the chamber. Yraeth balled her hands into fists and pounded them against the arms of her stone throne, then just as suddenly clasped them nervously in her lap. She had learned nothing, she realized. The male had told her there were faeries, but her gut instinct--and her logic--told her she was being fed lies. A question nagged at her. What did the mercenary band stand to gain by keeping the truth from her? A terrible thought bloomed in her mind. Was Orbb wun lil Veldrin her attacker? |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle wished he could have coaxed Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, into the headquarters of Bregan D'aerthe, but, he reflected, perhaps it was better that he was in the mage's study. This way, Gromph felt like he was in control, and would feel less threatened. Hopefully, that would make him more agreeable. The Baenre son reclined haughtily in his heavily cushioned chair, studying the mercenary, who sat facing him. Jarlaxle silently cursed the wizard, who understood that he had something Jarlaxle wanted. Jarlaxle simply hoped he could get it without irrevocably damaging his coffers. “Bregan D'aerthe is almost exclusively male, is it not?” Gromph continued to study Jarlaxle, a quirk that could have been the beginnings of a smile playing at the corners of his lips. The mercenary did not bother to reply; it was rhetorical question. “Then you, of all people, must understand the frustrations of being a male in a city ruled by females.” The wizard sat forward. “Things could change.” Jarlaxle blew a quiet sigh and leaned back, moving his gaze from Gromph to the lavishly furnished study, keeping his expression neutral 78

while he though. He had expected resistance from Gromph, but not like this. “You would distribute the slowing agent to the males of the city, and let the females die while you worked to find a cure?” The archmage smiled. “It would certainly alter the city hierarchy, would it not?” The mercenary raised an eyebrow. “Surely you understand how impractical that is? The females would likely manage to get ahold of the agent anyway, and even if your plan worked, the city would die out, over time, without any females to. . .” he paused, searching for words. “. . . breed with.” Gromph's smile did not diminish. “I have already thought of these things, my friend.” “But have you thought of this?” Jarlaxle retorted. “The city faces an enemy. The enemy attacks both male and female, and gives no regard to age or rank. We must unite to face Orbb's Elghinn, otherwise Menzoberranzan will be no more. I understand your feelings; I, too, am male, and I acutely feel the restrictions of my station. But now is not the time for the action you propose.” The archmage studied him for a long moment, grin erased. At last he rose and walked to a cluttered table that stood several paces from his chair. From among the other bric-a-brac that crowded the smooth top, he fished out a small, crystalline bottle, no taller than the palm of his hand, and as wide as his thumb. He handed it to Jarlaxle. The mercenary took it and inspected it curiously. “The bottle is filled with the slowing agent,” Gromph explained. “It will never empty. A tablespoon is all that is needed to slow the disease. It does not, however, completely stop its march, nor does it stop the sick from being contagious.” Jarlaxle looked expectantly to Gromph, waiting. At last, with a scowl, the wizard said, “And I will inform Matron Baenre of the agent, and allow her to distribute it city-wide.” The mercenary flashed his smile and dipped into an ornate bow, sweeping off his hat. “My thanks to you, Archmage,” he said. Then, deciding it wouldn't hurt to throw a tidbit the Baenre's way, he added, “Perhaps once this is over, we could discuss the city hierarchy in more detail. . . brother.” Gromph smiled, obviously pleased with his progress and thinking the mercenary's form of address was affectionate, and no more. Jarlaxle returned his grin, but his was more ironic. If only Gromph knew how true that single word was.

79

Sixteen Zha'linth

She slipped silently through the stone corridors, as only a drow could. If she still had favor with Lloth she would be able to accomplish her mission must faster, but as a houseless rogue the Spider Queen did not grant her any blessings. Today would change that, she was sure. For a House under attack, its security was pathetically lax. Already deep into the complex, only four guards had spotted her, and she had disposed of them quietly. Her business here would be finished before their bodies were found. Then, she could move on to Jarlaxle. She sneered at the sight of House Nuvin's throne room doors. They were paltry compared to those of her House. In fact, she found everything about House Nuvin weak and worthless when compared to the former might of her own House. There were guards on either side of the door, elite female warriors. She loosed the tiny, hand-held crossbow from her belt and aimed at the one on the right. As she released the bolt, she dropped a globe of darkness on the other guard. Startled, the hit one opened her mouth to cry out, but her attacker was on her, with her mace drawn. She swung swiftly at the guards side, was parried, then simply slammed against the guard with her shield, knocking the other female to the ground. Stunned, and feeling the poison's affect, the guard stayed down. Leaping back to her feet, the attacker rushed the globe of darkness, knowing the second guard wouldn't be in it but her wanting her to think she did. Sure enough, the guard fired with her own hand crossbow. The attacker blocker with her shield, waded in, and crouched 80

low to swing at the guards feet. The guard skipped back and brought her morning star down in an overhead arc. The attacker raised her shield as she straightened, blocking the blow and bringing herself level with the guard. She lashed out with her mace, but the attack was nothing more than a distraction as she hooked her foot around the guard's ankle. The guard was thrown off-balance, and before she could recover, the attacker shattered her attacking arm. The attacker struck again, to the side of the head, and the guard dropped to the ground with a wet thud, blood pooling around her. With a cold smile, she stepped to the doors, and flung them open. Matron Yraeth sat on her throne at the other end of the chamber. Her daughters stood around her, but there was no one else in the room. She smiled as she heard their conversation, quickly cut off as she entered the room: they were talking about her attacks. She met Yraeth's eyes, and was pleased to see the blood drain out of the other female's face. “No,” the matron stammered, standing in shock. “No, you're dead!” She flung her head back and laughed. Not in her wildest dreams had she imagined revenge would be so sweet! The sound echoes throughout the room. “Oh, but I'm not,” she purred, stalking toward the cluster of females. “I'm not dead. You thought you'd won, Yraeth, but you should have known you could never really defeat us. You should have known you could not destroy House Kor'tath.” The oldest daughter began to chant. The attacker laughed again, and in one smooth motion freed a dagger from its sheath and threw it the length of the room. The priestess' spell ended in a gurgle. “I am Minet Kor'tath,” she cried. “Oldest daughter of Hurra'ge Kor'tath. And you—” her voice dropped to a hiss, “--are dead.” She broke into a sprint, bolting the length of the room. Yraeth still had two daughters, and one joined the matron in a spell while the other produced an enchanted throwing spider. She flung it at Minet, who caught the weapon with her shield, but the spider began boring through it and she was forced to throw the piece of armor aside. The daughter scrabbled for another spider, but Minet got to her first and caved in her skill with a single blow. The other two had almost finished their chanting. Minet slammed against Yraeth, using her whole body as a tool to break the matron's concentration, and attacked her daughter. The female managed to get and arm up to shield her face, but the mace splintered the limb. The daughter dropped to the floor, crying out in pain. Minet kicked her in the head, stunning her, and then struck her once, twice, and then a third time in the chest, drawing a scream each time. Leaving the female writhing in a growing pool of her own blood, Minet turned to the matron. Yraeth was just climbing to her feet, dazed, when Minet hit her again, knocking her back down. Before the matron could recover, Minet bound and gagged her, then sat back and waited for the other female to 81

recover her wits. When Minet was sure Yraeth was fully conscious, the Kor'tath daughter produced another dagger, this one with a cruel, jagged edge. She ran it along Yraeth's jaw, drawing a line of blood that burned in the infrared spectrum. “I've spent so many years,” Minet purred, “fantasizing over what I would do to you.” She leaned close, their faces only inches apart. “Now it's time to make those fantasies real.” Yraeth tried to scream something around the gag, thrashing in a futile attempt to escape. Minet only laughed and brought the dagger down again. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Drizzt had discovered that the pain was worst when he first woke. At that time, the pain was so bad that the slightest of movements, even the drawing of a breath, caused his muscles to cramp. But the motion of cramping caused more muscles to do the same, and soon his entire body would be taut with pain. After a while, he was able to do small things, like sitting up very slowly, or feeding himself, or staggering over to use the chamber pot. But every day, the pain became worse, and he was afraid of how long it would be before he could not do even those simplest of tasks. Dark red blotches spread across his body, almost invisible against the ebony of his skin. They itched terribly, but it hurt to scratch them. Drizzt sometimes slipped into a fevered daze for hours, and would come out to see Catti-brie or Bruenor or Regis beside him, worry on their faces. He was delusional, they told him, and nothing they did could wake or calm him. He woke from one of these fits to see Lady Alustrial beside him. Her silver hair flowed over her shoulders like water, and her eyes were filled with kindness and compassion. She wore a gown of fine silk and a band of silver circled her head. Drizzt blinked several times, to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, then struggled to sit up. He grimaced with pain and slumped back, then tried again. Alustrial held out her hand to stop him. “Peace,” she said in a voice like flowing water. “You need rest.” The drow struggled to form a smile. “That's what everyone keeps telling me,” he whispered. He was shocked at how weak his voice was. What he didn't add was the fear that he would end his life resting, end his life lying in a bed. He had always imagined himself dying in battle, but now he would meet his end by an enemy he was unable to fight, an enemy that left him a weak invalid. “I have been doing some research and experiments,” Lady Alustrial told him. “I think I will be able to create a cure, but from what we know, you have only two weeks left. It's not enough time for me to find the cure.” “Ah, but that's where I come in.” 82

Alustrial actually jumped, but she quickly recovered herself and rose to face the speaker. Drizzt tried once again to sit up, but failed. Jarlaxle, holding his plumed hat in both hands, emerged seemingly from nowhere. Drizzt had always found that Jarlaxle's eyepatch made it more difficult to read the mercenary's face, and he might have been imaging it, but it seemed to the ranger that Jarlaxle was a little tired, a little stressed. “My dear lady,” Jarlaxle spouted to Alustrial, bowing deeply. “You beauty astounds me! Surely your name is equally lovely!” Uncertain, Alustrial glanced to Drizzt to see what he made of the strange drow. “His name is Jarlaxle,” Drizzt explained. “He is a mercenary in Menzoberranzan, and our. . . ally.” To Jarlaxle, he said, “this is Lady Alustrial, ruler of Silverymoon, one of the greatest cities in the north.” Jarlaxle bowed again. “It my great pleasure to meet you,” he said with a smile, “and I’m sure that it will be your pleasure to hear that I have the time you need.” “Unless you carry time in a bottle,” Alustrial remarked, with just the faintest hint of acid in her voice, “I don’t see how you can help.” Jarlaxle's smile widened into a grin, and he produced a tiny crystalline vial, which he presented to Alustrial. “This,” he explained, “is time in a bottle.” As Alustrial took the bottle, disbelief on her face, the mercenary went on. “It is a potion that will slow the progress of Orbb's Elghinn. Drizzt may have two weeks now, but a tablespoon from that bottle will give him four. Hopefully, that will be enough time for you.” Lady Alustrial studied the bottle more closely now, and her features shifted to hope. “Yes,” she murmured. “Yes it will.” Her expression hardened and she looked back at Jarlaxle. “What do you want for it?” “The cure,” Jarlaxle said simply. “When you have discovered it, you will give me the formula so I can take it to Menzoberranzan.” “Some might consider the world a better place without drow.” “And some might consider allowing an entire city of dark elves to die murder.” “Not the dark elves,” Alustrial snorted. “No,” Jarlaxle agreed amiably. “But someone like you? I would think so.” This caused Alustrial to smile softly, but Drizzt could not tell what she was thinking as she nodded. “I'll give you the cure,” she consented. “Then you’ll have to excuse me,” Jarlaxle begged with a bow. “I have other very important business to attend to.” “You seem in a hurry,” Drizzt called after him. The mercenary paused. “There’s been fighting,” he explained shortly, “between Bregan D'aerthe and another band. Orbb's Elghinn is not helping the matter.” Puzzled, Drizzt commented, “I never heard of such a thing 83

happening. It must not be common.” “No,” Jarlaxle said, a trouble look on his face. “No, it's not.”

84

Seventeen Ahlu

Jarlaxle’s mind buzzed anxiously as he left Drizzt’s sickroom; he rubbed his temples in an attempt to ease the pressure, to no avail. Instead, an ache spread across the dome of his bald head and settled at the very back, where it throbbed in time with his pulse. With a groan, the mercenary raised his hand and whispered the trigger-word for one of his rings, while envisioning a certain spot in Menzoberranzan. Changing his mind at the last minute, he turned his thoughts instead towards one of the many tunnels in the Underdark, one that was a particular repository of magical power, and therefore especially easy to portal to. There was a brief, nauseating swirl of magical energy, and then the dwarven-hewed stone of Mithral Hall was replaced by the cooler, more natural rock of the Underdark. A brief glance around him showed the drow there was nothing living nearby: he was still within the patrol range of the Academy students. The unending silence, broken only by the occasional drip of water, soothed Jarlaxle’s frayed nerves. He ran his mind over the recent events, trying to sort through them. Drizzt’s comment came back to him: “You seem in a hurry.” Did it stand out that much? The mercenary certainly hoped not; if a fevered invalid could tell something was wrong, how much could Eliek and his Veldrin spies see? Jarlaxle passed a hand across his face and began walking towards Menzoberranzan, letting the rhythm of his feet calm his body. It had been so long since he was in such a disadvantaged situation. In fact, he was unsure as to what to do at all. Obviously, the 85

threat from Veldrin had to be stopped; but how? They were being hired by Minet Kor’tath--eliminating her seemed logical. But with Bregan D’aerthe’s resources so diminished by Orbb's Elghinn, finding her could be a difficult task, and one conquered too late. Besides the point, Jarlaxle wasn’t sure killing the Kor’tath daughter would cause Eliek to cease the attacks; the mercenary was confident that his “peer” had been itching for an excuse to do just what he was doing now. Attack Veldrin before they cold attack him? The idea was preposterous, but Jarlaxle filed it away as a last resort. With a quarter of Bregan D'aerthe's soldiers incapacitated, and more falling ill with every cycle of Narbondel, open warfare was a risky proposition, and the matrons of the city would be sure to frown upon it. Maybe-Jarlaxle didn’t slow his pace, or give any other indication he was on his guard, but mentally tensed, sensing someone nearby. Without paying any particular attention to his surroundings, he had covered nearly all of the ground to Menzoberranzan, and was approaching the main entrance to the city, though it had yet to come into view. He listened closely, but could hear nothing. Still. . . . There was a blur of motion to his left. Reacting on instinct, the mercenary jumped straight back, and smiled as a mace swung through the space he had just occupied. He made some room between himself and his attacker, and leaned casually against the far tunnel wall. The other drow stepped out from a small crevice, his armor disguising most of the telltale heat-traces he would have otherwise left behind. Mentally cataloging his inventory of defenses, Jarlaxle cocked an eyebrow at the stranger. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” The other drow curled back his lips in a snarl. “Save the talk, Jarlaxle. If I wanted a conversation, I’d find someone better at it than you.” The mercenary made several swift mental notes: that the speaker was, in fact, female, and that she obviously knew somethings about him; that she knew he thought of himself as a good conversationalist—and therefore would be vulnerable to insults about that skill—showed she had not met him unprepared. Of course, her insult only made him smile. “I’m shocked,” Jarlaxle retorted, feigning surprise. “Not only have you attacked me, but you have also insulted me! That’s no way to go about a first meeting.” The female took a step closer, her features taut and angry. “This is no first meeting, Jarlaxle of Bregan D'aerthe.” As her heat-outlined features clarified with nearness, Jarlaxle realized with a jolt that it was no first meeting. The proud, aristocratic features of Minet Kor’tath resolved in his vision. “Indeed,” he said mildly, trying to hide his surprise. “It would appear it’s not.” Unable to think of anything else to do, he swept of his hat and made an ornate bow, making sure he could still defend himself if she tried to attack. She made no move, so when the mercenary had straightened, he asked, “What brings you here to the wilds?” The former noble bared her teeth in an animal snarl. “I’m here for 86

you, iblith!” Jarlaxle anticipated her first attack easily, a straight rush with her mace swinging in from the right. The mercenary dodged easily, and countered with a stream of daggers from his bracers. Minet caught several with her shield, dodged some, and batted away the others before she closed the distance between them and Jarlaxle was forced to once again slip away. Minet hissed in anger. “Rath’arg!” she spat. “Why don’t you hold still? Are you afraid of being caught between my mace and the hard stone wall, your bones shattered and blood spilt? Are you afraid of what I will do to your soul once I have destroyed you and House Nuvin and regained the favor of the Spider Queen?” Jarlaxle smirked and took another step back. “Afraid? No, but it is high on my list of things to avoid.” The female growled, and rushed him again, in the same manner as before. Jarlaxle tried to move back, also as before, but at the last moment Minet changed the angle of her attack, and trapping Jarlaxle against the wall. He cursed himself for underestimating her, and dropped to all fours to avoid her blow--the tunnel wall curved in towards the ceiling and there was no room to go up. Minet’s mace clanged loudly off the wall, and the mercenary felt several hot sparks land on the exposed skin at the back of his neck. Not waiting for the female’s next move, Jarlaxle caught a dagger from his bracer and slashed at Minet’s ankles. She jumped up to avoid the blade, but angled herself forward. It took Jarlaxle precious second to realize what she had done. He scrambled forward, away from the wall, but Minet and her shield crashed on him from above before he had moved a foot. The air was blasted from his lungs and he was flattened against the ground, the former priestess on top of him, grinding the roundel of her shield into his unarmored back. The mercenary rolled, pushing Minet off him and shoving her back against the wall. She tried to find her feet, but Jarlaxle thrust out with the dagger in his hand, and smiled grimly when he felt it slide through armor and skin. She cried out, and swung her mace wildly at his head; he evaded it easily and regained his feet. She staggered upright, leaning heavily against the wall for support. Jarlaxle readied the dagger in his hand, but before he could throw, she snarled, “This isn’t over, iblith.” He caught a word she murmured, and knowing it was a trigger word he threw the dagger, but it only clanged against empty stone; Minet had gone. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| “Nothing.” The Companions were gathered in Drizzt’s sickroom, looking downcast and worried. Drizzt lay propped against his pillows, his face a sickly gray and his eyes closed in pain. Bruenor looked angry, Catti-brie frustrated, and Regis frightened. Lady Alustrial sat beside Drizzt’s bed. “Nothing at all?” 87

Catti-brie shook her head tiredly. “Nothin’. We can’t find anythin’ at all tha’ would point us towards whoever killed Arvylyn Quenvath.” Regis counted off on his fingers. “He made no enemies, no one followed him, no one knew of him. . . nothing.” Alustrial furrowed her brow. “You’re sure it wasn’t something random, like a robbery?” Bruenor snorted. “Nothin’ was stolen, or taken; not a thin’ even touched!” “What about Ivellios?” Regis asked suddenly. The Companions looked at him curiously; Drizzt opened his eyes. The halfling fidgeted but kept talking. “Well, he comes saying he’s warning Drizzt--but he’s got the gem that infects him in the first place. And he says he doesn’t know Arvylyn Quenvath--but he could be lying about that, too.” Drizzt closed his eyes again. “His family was killed by dark elves, he said.” The drow paused, and shook his head sadly. “I’m so sorry for him. I don’t want him to be the one who did this.” There was a moment of silence, then Catti-brie spoke up. “I’ll talk t’ him.” “Alone?” Bruenor asked, alarmed. The woman shrugged her shoulders. “He says he’s ill; maybe he’s not, maybe he is, but there’s no reason fer all o’ us t’ be botherin’ him.” She rose to her feet and walked out of the door, and no one saw the way she touched the hilt of her sword, as though to assure herself that it was there.

88

Eighteen Harl'il'cikin ulu elghinn

For the first few second, Jarlaxle did not realize what he was hearing; all his soldiers had been trained both how to use it and what to do when it was heard; but no one, not even Jarlaxle himself, had ever really expected to hear it. The alarm. The low sound moaned through the stone wall of the Clawrift compound, almost more felt than heard. The mercenary sat at his desk, feet still propped on its smooth surface, and observed his own reactions with a strange sense of detachment; his heart stuttered inside his chest, and for a long, long moment his lungs did not draw any air. Someone burst through the door without knocking. Jarlaxle sucked in a breath and chased the spots from eyes, wishing he could do the same with the fear rising in his breast. “We’re under attack!” the other drow cried. It was Say'evett, Jarlaxle noted without any interest; he seemed caught between wild panic and uncaring apathy; the combination frightened the small part of him that clung to sanity. “Yes, I’d heard the alarms,” the mercenary leader commented. He was amazed at how casual, even dryly humorous, his voice sounded. As though acting of its own accord, his body swung out of his chair and walked around his desk. Outside the door, he found his personal guard had gathered, as they were ordered to do if the compound was ever attacked. Unsure of what to do, Jarlaxle studied their faces, trying to seem as though he were confident and in control. The drow who looked back 89

at him showed fear and uncertainty across their faces, reflecting the emotions he himself felt; he wasn’t sure whether that made him feel better or worse. “Down,” he said at last. “Down to the Phalar.” The Phalar was the deepest level of the Clawrift compound, and the most defensible. Full of traps, labyrinths, and places to set ambushes, it was the place Jarlaxle had planned to retreat to if the compound should ever be under attack. There was, in fact, another office within the Phalar, much smaller than his regular one. The entire level was covered with dust; the only reason why someone should go down there being to check that the traps were still set or replenish things like potions and poisons, which grew weaker with age. Jarlaxle sneezed as he settled into the chair, grimacing at the dust that coated his clothing. There was no one else in the room, for the moment, and he took the opportunity to run through his thoughts. The hesitation he had displayed, not to mention both the panic and the apathy, disturbed him. But then, he had never really imagined that anything like this would happen; he couldn’t really be blamed. Over the next hour, reports filtered through, spies and scouts returning from the battle. The attackers were, as Jarlaxle had expected, Veldrin soldiers; from the reports of their numbers, the mercenary leader suspected Eliek had turned out his entire band for the attack. Several times, Jarlaxle could hear fighting from where he sat, but it always faded away and never drew closer; the enemy soldiers were attacking in groups of ten or twenty, easily crushed by Bregan D'aerthe whenever one managed to reach the Phalar. After many nerve-wracking minutes, Say'evett burst through the door, grinning. “They're out of the compound!” he exulted. “There's still fighting, but it’s all on the streets now; the compound is closed and is being searched.” Jarlaxle grinned, then flung back his head and laughed out of pure joy; Say'evett joined him. The mercenary rose to his feet and began to head back towards his main office. “Send orders to make sure none of the Veldrin soldiers live, unless they join our ranks; they know where out compound is, and we can’t allow them to spread that knowledge.” Say'evett, still grinning, gave a short bow and started away. Jarlaxle's personal guard gathered around him, and they began their silent trek back to the upper levels. They encountered a few scattered groups of enemy soldiers, who either died or came over, but more often found other Bregan D'aerthe members, cleansing the compound of any attackers still left. There was a lull, during which no drow of either side were spotted, and the group moved on unmolested. Jarlaxle was just beginning to think they might reach the main level without any serious damage when there was a signal from the point. Enemy force, came the message, coded in flashes of heat-light. Very large. 90

Before any return message could be sent, the “very large” force came into view, the main body of it attacking head-on, while others ambushed from the ceiling or walls. An oath burst from Jarlaxle's lips. He was safe within the center of his guards, but the Veldrin soldiers outnumbered his own; it was not going to be a pretty fight. There was no more time for speculation; the two forces collided with a clash of mithral and steel. At first there was no sound from the drow themselves; then, as the fighters had time to wound each other, grunts and small cries of pain rose up. Small screams were quickly smothered by blood-warmed metal. Whenever the chance arose, Jarlaxle used his magical bracers to cut down the enemy soldiers. It was a difficult task; much of the area was covered by globes of darkness, and the the mercenary was not fond of striking his own troops. Nonetheless, many of the Veldrin soldiers fell to his daggers, and his Bregan D'aerthe guards sent up small cheers every time. Lost in the heat of battle, Jarlaxle had taken little notice of how his own force had fared, besides to notice who was winning. Now he paused, and realized with a shock that his guards had been over halved: they had gone from a little over fifty to barely twenty. Still, they had killed the enemies at a ratio of two to one: the Veldrin force had started at eighty, and was now only thirty. Jarlaxle grinned with pride and renewed his attack. With the mercenary leader’s murderous daggers, the enemy ranks diminished swiftly; they were unable to reach Jarlaxle, but he could easily hit them, especially with less of his own soldiers to get in the way. First one, then the rest, dropped their weapons and folded their arms across their chest, the Underdark symbol of surrender. There was a small movement off to his right; Jarlaxle glanced over and spotted Minet Kor’tath leaning casually against the stone within a crevice. Several thoughts rushed through his mind at once, the foremost being to simply notify his soldiers and let them kill her. Reconsidering, he touched the brim of his hat with his fingertips and smiled, waiting to see what her reaction would be. I told you this was not over, she said in the silent drow hand-speech. Her face was hard and unsmiling. Making sure none of his soldiers were watching him, Jarlaxle signed back. You play a fruitless game; what do you think to win from it? Your head. Jarlaxle only raised an eyebrow. All of this, for my head? Or did you simply want the hat? Minet’s jaws clenched, and her eyes narrowed. You betrayed my family, her fingers snapped. You played both sides and my House was destroyed because of it! Both of the mercenary’s eyebrows were raised. That is the drow way, he countered. You shouldn’t take it personally. A wicked grin blossomed on her face; Jarlaxle did not like what the change in expression implied. Then you won’t take it personally, she 91

purred, amazing the mercenary with how sensuous her hands could be, if I tell you I was the one who suggested to Matron Malice Do’Urdan that she sacrifice Zaknafein? Jarlaxle’s hands stuttered. What? Her smile widened, obviously knowing she had him trapped. Send your soldiers away, and I’ll tell you. The mercenary hesitated; he knew she wanted to get him alone so she could kill him and revenge her family, hopefully thereby regaining the favor of the Spider Queen. He knew that, and knew that everything she said was simply bait, trying to get him alone. But the bait was too tempting; he had to know. “Help search the compound and ensure that it’s clear,” Jarlaxle ordered his captain, a very small, but lightning-quick male with a dark scar across his face. “When you’re sure that all the attackers are neutralized, help with the fighting in the streets, if there still is any, or whatever else you feel is necessary. I have business to attend to.” The captain looked confused, but bowed anyway. “Yes, sir.” Jarlaxle mimicked Minet’s pose on the other side of the passage until his guards were out of sight. “You were saying?” he asked. Minet laughed. “I was saying nothing. Matron Malice and I were good friends, it’s true, but I certainly had nothing to do with your precious Zaknafein's death.” “I know a lot about it, though,” she continued. “Maybe you’d like to hear.” A strange sort of anger had filled the mercenary, and he bared his teeth in a predatory smile. Minet took a startled step back. “Maybe I would,” he purred, pretending, for her sake, to be considering her offer. His expression hardened quickly. “Or maybe I wouldn’t” He produced a dagger from his bracer, and threw it at her face. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Catti-brie took a deep breath and knocked softly on Ivellios Amanodel's door. For a moment nothing happened, and she glanced around her, taking in one of the lesser-used sections of Mithral Hall, reserved for visitors. She knocked again, but got no reply. Had he left? She tried the doorknob and found it unlocked. A strange feeling of deja vu washed over her--that she had done this before, and something bad had come of it--but she pushed open the door anyway. Her gaze flew to the window--but there wasn’t a window there. What are ye thinkin’? She chided herself. Ye’re underground! She shook her head to clear it and finally saw Ivellios, standing in the middle of the room with his sword bared. Startled, the woman took a step back. “What are ye doin’?” she cried. 92

Calmly, the elf answered, “I’m going to kill myself.” Thoughts tumbled aimlessly through the woman’s mind. “Why?” she demanded at last. Ivellios flung back his head and laughed madly. “Why?” he echoed. “This is why!” With speed to almost rival Drizzt's, the elf lunged at Catti-brie, his sword extended. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Minet simply batted away the blade with her mace, and before Jarlaxle could produce another, she used her sword arm to throw something on the ground. It shattered, and the mercenary instinctively produced a globe of darkness, thinking the object contained a light spell. To his surprise, no light appeared—but neither did any darkness. Not a light spell, he realized with a silent curse, an anti-magic spell; all his charms and defenses were useless, while Minet, no longer able to call on Lloth, would only lose her innate abilities. She grinned at him. “Weren’t expecting that, were you?” she taunted. Her tease about Zak had angered him, and he was in no mood to play games. Silently thanking whatever god was listening that he had chosen to wear his swords today, he drew the fine blades and settled into a relaxed fighting stance. “A warrior!” Minet laughed. “Why, I half expected you to be a wizard under all those charms. Ah, well; it only makes my job a little harder.” “So cheerful now,” Jarlaxle returned. “Does that mean you were afraid before you used your spell? I wouldn’t think that I am any diminished, if I were you.” Minet did not falter. “If you think you’re going to cow me into giving up, think again; I won’t flee from you.” Jarlaxle feigned an unconcerned shrug. “I don’t see why you shouldn’t. You mother did; I would think those things run in families.” The former noble gave an inarticulate cry of rage and rushed the mercenary. Thinking of Zak, Jarlaxle only grinned and held his ground. Her first strike had too much force to stop, so he caught it with his left blade while predictably moving forward with his right. She blocked with her shield and swung her mace again. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Catti-brie drew her sword and fell back several more steps, passing into the corridor. Ivellios's lunge brought him into the doorway, where he paused. “What are ye doin'?” Catti-brie demanded again, bringing her sword up in front of her. The elf gave a low chuckle. “Arvylyn asked that, as well,” he said, 93

as though to himself. “But then, you’ve all been tricked by the same person, and in the same way; it only makes sense that you’d ask the same questions.” Catti-brie’s eyes widened. “Ye killed Arvylyn!” she gasped. “Why?” Ivellios shrugged, as though it meant nothing. “He would have warned the drow.” “The drow--” Catti-brie’s sword dipped as the full implications of what he was saying his her. Not missing the opening, Ivellios dived forward. Something angry stirred beneath Catti-brie’s stomach. Instead of retreating, she parried his strike and waded forward, forcing him back into the room. Keeping within the doorway, she fixed a cold glare on the elf. “You created a magical illness to kill drow--and especially Drizzt--and killed Arvylyn Quenvath to keep him from spreading that knowledge.” Ivellios returned her stare without flinching. “You really don’t understand, do you?” he asked, only somewhat mockingly. “You really believe that Drizzt Do'Urdan is a 'good drow'.” He shook his head in pity. “You’re wrong. There is no such thing as a good drow.” “No,” Catti-brie retorted, with equal confidence. “Ye’re wrong. Ye simply refuse t' see what’s right in front o' ye.” The elf raised an eyebrow. “What’s right in front of me is you,” he snarled. “A foolish girl who has been tricked by the most evil race on Toril.” The woman opened her mouth to reply, but Ivellios was done with words; he stepped forward and slashed at her face. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle ducked easily under the blow, and aimed one of his own, high at her face, which she instinctively covered with her shield. While her eyes were hidden, he stepped lightly to the side and thrust at her legs. Anticipating his move, she tried to step out of the way, but was too slow; the tip of his sword pierced her right knee. She cried out and fell, but at the last moment threw her weight on top of him. Jarlaxle rolled to the side, but he didn’t see her mace, and its spiked head crashed into his ribs. An involuntary cry of pain was torn from his lips, and he collapsed on the floor beside Minet. She grinned hatefully at him, a grin of half-victory, of victory that comes with death. “I won,” she gasped. Jarlaxle could feel the strength bleeding out of his body, his chest could not lift to breathe and sharp pains lanced through his lungs. I’m dying, he thought, and for some reason his mind found memories of Zak: Zak being so serious, so grim, yet sometimes, when it was just him and 94

Jarlaxle, he would smile and laugh. Zak, so quiet and dependable, always there for him in a way no drow ever had been before. No, he thought. No, I won’t let her win. One of his swords was still in his hand; where the other had gone, he didn’t know. He lifted the sword, feeling his entire torso cry out in protest, and raised it over Minet. Seeing what he was doing, she tried to move away, but when she shifted her injured leg she screamed in pain. Trembling with effort, Jarlaxle plunged the sword through her heart. The last light of life dying in her eyes, she stared uncomprehending into his face. “That’s for taunting Zak,” he snarled. The priestess’s eyes glazed over, her body went slack. The strength left Jarlaxle's body in a rush, and sagged against the bloody stone floor, feeling in his pouches for his healing orb. At last he found it, but as he pulled it out, someone’s heat-shadow fell over him. “I was hoping the elg’caress would do the job for me,” a male voice said. “But it appears I’ll have to finish it.” The orb was kicked out of his hands, and Jarlaxle watched helplessly as it sailed across the corridor and landed—but did not break —against the far wall. Unable to turn and look at the speaker, Jarlaxle was forced to stay where he was, lying slightly curled on his side, facing the body of Minet Kor’tath. The speaker walked partially around Jarlaxle, until he was standing above the mercenary’s head. There was a pause, during which Jarlaxle watched bright red blood trickle from his ribs and drip silently onto the stone. Then a booted foot struck his shoulder, turning him roughly onto his back. He tried not to make any noise, but a groan escaped his unwilling lips. He found himself looking up into the haughty face of Eliek, leader of Orbb wun lil Veldrin. His fellow mercenary leader sneered down at him. “Not so mighty now, are we?” Eliek laughed. “Strange,” Jarlaxle gasped. “But you seem to be the one who’s lost his band.” Eliek's expression soured, and he stomped his foot down, hard, on Jarlaxle's ribs. Something snapped, and gave, and the lower left side of his chest collapsed. Breathing seemed to bring in little air and much pain, and he began coughing on the blood leaking from within his lungs. A spasm wracked his body; pain forced him to scream, but lack of air reduced him to whimpering. “You’re pathetic,” Eliek spat, and drew his sword. “I should have done this a long time.” He slowly brought the blade to rest in the hollow of Jarlaxle's throat. Unable to stop coughing, Jarlaxle involuntarily scraped his throat back and forth across the edge, drawing irregular patches of blood. Eliek leaned over Jarlaxle's face and whispered, “It ends here.”

95

Nineteen Nin udos harl'il'cikin ulu elghinn

Catti-brie brought up her sword vertically, point down, to block the elf’s blow. Their swords rang out loudly, sound rebounding as it beat against the stone walls, looking for an escape. Not waiting, she turned her hand, circling her blade around his and pushing his out of the way, then stabbing straight ahead. He leaned away from the attack, but kept his footing, and returned her exact strike. She parried, but instead of disconnecting their sword she stepped forward and slid her blade down his until they met, hilt to hilt. Bracing with her left hand, she pushed back against the elf with all her strength. Unprepared, he stumbled backwards and was temporarily open to her strikes. She slashed at his face, but her aim was off and she only caught his left shoulder. Recovering, she thrust forward, but the elf had regained his balance and parried the blow. There was a lull in the fight; the opponents circled each other, blades raised. “Ye’re doin' this because yer family was killed by drow,” Catti-brie stated more than asked. “My family was slaughtered by drow,” Ivellios corrected angrily. “As was everyone else I had ever known!” The woman matched his fury. “Did Drizzt do tha’? Was he one o’ those who attacked yer family?” When the elf made no immediate reply, she plunged on. “No! He wasn’t! Always has Drizzt Do'Urdan been maligned fer th’ color o’ his skin—skin he can’t change, else he would!” “Change for the sole purpose of deceiving more, and destroying 96

more,” Ivellios spat back. “Decivin’ who?” Catti-brie demanded. “Destroyin’ who? Name one who kin prove tha’ Drizzt has done him harm, an’ maybe I’ll listen t’ what ye have t’ say!” “I can’t,” the elf laughed. “They’re all dead--dead like he, and all the rest of his evil kin will be!” “Lady Alustrial's found a cure,” Catti-brie lied, flinging out the words to shake the elf’s confidence. “She’s found a cure an’ right now Drizzt’s gettin’ stronger!” Please let it be true, she begged whatever gods would hear. Please, let it be true. Emotions tumbled across the Ivellios's slender elven features: disbelief, anger, fear, and something else—hope? Anger won out, and a snarl twisted his lips. “You lie,” he hissed, and lunged forward. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Eliek's fine blade dived straight into Jarlaxle's face. He had heard that your life flashed before your eyes in such a situation, or that you felt the weight of divine justice on you soul as all of you evil deeds were tallied. All Jarlaxle could think was, no. No; I can’t die like this, on my back at a lesser drow’s feet. I just can’t. But it seemed he could. Another blade appeared before his eyes, and intercepted Eliek’s. The sound of metal on metal scraped across Jarlaxle's ears; the rush of body-heat left him temporarily disoriented. His sight and hearing cleared slowly; he trembled with pain and the sweet knowledge that he was alive. The sound of fighting came from his left. Slowly, he turned his head that way and was shocked to see Say'evett battling Eliek; it was his lieutenant who had saved him. Emotions pummeled his mind, but he forced them away and focused on the healing orb, lying only a few yards away. It may as well have been a mile, the mercenary thought, but he turned himself over onto his side and began to crawl towards the orb. Moving any section of his body brought almost unbearable pain to his torso; he breath came irregular and bloody, or not at all. Thinking it would be less painful, he tried to climb onto all fours, but the pain drove him back to the floor, whimpering and involuntarily curling; when the worst of the agony had past he was forced to drag his shattered ribs across the stone, inch by tortuous inch. The fighting continued to his left, but he was unable to spare it any thoughts. Several times there were low grunts of pain, and once a brief spate of talking, but his world had narrowed down the pain in his body and the ground between him and the orb. An hour seemed to pass, during which Jarlaxle could not tell if he had covered any ground or not. His head swam, and his heart beat 97

unevenly; blood loss, some small part of his mind noted. He looked at the ground in front of him and was surprised to see his healing orb lying there. When had he reached it? He couldn’t remember. Jarlaxle reached out to pick it up, but his arms refused to move. Slowly, he slid all the way onto the stone floor, unable to move or hold himself up any longer. Something that might have been a sob or a laugh escaped his bloody mouth; he’d made it this far, but now he was unable to finish it. Zak, he told himself. Think of Zak. He tried to summon up memories, but only think of his friend tied to House Do'Urdan's spider alter, a gaping hole in his chest where his heart should be. The thought did not even stir up anger, simply despair that dragged the mercenary farther down, all the way into the stone. His blood spilled cross the surface until both his body and the rock were warmed equally: warmer than stone should be, but cooler than a living body. Jarlaxle closed his eyes and felt his heart stutter inside him. He imagined pulling it out and placing it inside of Zak, filling the cavity in his friend’s chest. Zak’s eyes opened. “What are you doing?” the Weapon Master demanded. The mercenary opened his mouth to answer, but only blood came out. It dripped across his lips and filled his mouth with its salty metallic flavor. It didn’t taste bad, but it made him tired. He laid his head down on the stone and began to sleep. Zak was right next to him; there was no longer a hole in his chest. “Get up, Jarlaxle,” he ordered. When the mercenary made no move to obey, he grabbed the other’s shoulder and shook him roughly. “Get up!” Jarlaxle groaned in pain and pressed himself against the rock. It softened underneath him and he began to sink into its cool depths, but Zak held onto his shoulder and pulled him back out. “You can’t do this, Jarlaxle,” the Weapons Master snapped. “You can’t just give up.” Stone clung to him and tried to pull him back down. Why? He asked, without moving his lips. “Someone will need you,” Zak said grimly. “You know him already, and he’ll need you in the future. You must be there for him. Besides—” a small smile touched his thin lips “—at least one of us needs to stay alive.” Alright, Jarlaxle thought, but as soon as he decided he would live, the task seemed too hard. He opened his eyes and stared in despair at the healing orb, only five inches from his face, then looked up at Zak, who knelt above him. “You can do it,” was all he offered. Slowly, Jarlaxle inched his hand towards the orb. One fingertip touched its cool glass surface, than another. His bloody lips formed the words to activate it, and his one working lung pushed a little air through his throat, made a little sound with which to use the magic. Sweet, sweet relief flowed up his arm. It was small at first—just enough to strengthen him, so he could wrap his whole hand around the 98

orb. Then he pushed himself up onto his elbows, and began to heal his chest. That took longer than he expected; the healing orb could only do so much, and he was forced to straighten broken bones, and remove two from his crushed lung. But with every second he felt stronger. There was a cry from one of the fighting drow. Jarlaxle looked over quickly, just in time to watch Say'evett stagger back against one of the walls; his eyes met Jarlaxle's for a brief second, but then he closed them, pain in his face. His arms came up to wrap around his midriff, and he slowly slid down the wall until his legs were folded in front of him; a bright red smear marked his passage along the stone. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Catti-brie blocked, and the next few moments were pure instinct: parry, parry, slash, parry, thrust, all faster than her mind could follow. A small corner of her mind noted that Ivellios was not nearly as good as Drizzt; but then, neither was she. One of the elf’s thrusts slipped through her defenses and sank into her her stomach. It went no deeper than an inch, but she sucked a pained breath through her clenched teeth. When the opponents broke apart, Ivellios held up his sword with a cruel grin, showing her its bloody tip. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| His wounds were only partially healed, but there was no time to finish. Spotting his swords, Jarlaxle snatched them up and rushed at Eliek. He made no sound, but the other mercenary noticed him anyway, and turned to meet the attack. Their swords clashed; the sound echoed within the stone corridor, and Say'evett groaned. The sound spurred Jarlaxle and he gave himself over to his instincts, let his body fight without his mind getting in the way. His body, however, was still badly wounded. He could feel halfhealed flesh part and tear within him; he tried to keep fighting anyway, but was simply unable to force his body to do what pained it. He found himself pushed on the offensive. Several times he tried to activate his magical defenses, but Minet's anti-magic spell was still in place. He guessed where his healing orb lay was outside the anti-magic zone, and tried to push the fight in that direction, but Eliek seemed to have come to the same conclusion and refused to be moved. He almost laughed as he realized that Eliek was pushing his weapons high; he had always been bad at the cross-down at the Academy, and Eliek seemed to remember that; it did not seemed to have crossed the other mercenary's mind that Jarlaxle might had improved. Behind him, Say'evett groaned. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|

99

Slowly, Catti-brie was boxed into a corner of the room. She felt panic rising in her, and pushed it down, knowing it wouldn’t help her. Nonetheless, she began offering wild prayers to the gods, begging that someone would come down the hallway and help her; no one did. The elf slashed low at her foot; afraid to give anymore ground, Catti-brie dropped her sword low to intercept. When she did, Ivellios slammed his boot atop her blade, pinning it there for precious second while he swung his own sword back at her neck. There was nothing she could do. Suddenly his face spasmed with pain. His arm twitched violently, and the sword fell away. He staggered back, doubled over in intense agony. Catti-brie’s mind leapt to a stunning conclusion. “Spider’s Bane,” she gasped. “Ye have it—but—it only affects drow!” He looked up at her, pain etched in every line of his face, as she had so often seen it in Drizzt's. “I’ve always had it,” he panted. “Ever since the drow murdered my family. When it was time to pay them back, I returned their coinage.” Catti-brie found herself shaking with the revelation. “You don’t have to do this,” she cried. “Lady Alustrial can help ye! Listen t’ reason— Drizzt has never done anyone harm but other drow. He’s not like the rest o’ them, he hates them as much as ye do. Please, Ivellios!” For a moment indecision wavered in his features, but then his face hardened. “No,” he said. “I made my choice a long time ago, and I’ll hold to it.” He threw himself forward. Catti-brie angled her sword as both a parry and an attack; it would have been easy for him to defeat the move, but at the last moment, his muscles betrayed him. Her sword plunged through his heart, slicing out of his back, slick with life-blood. For a moment their eyes met, his full of despair, hers full of sorrow and shock. Then he sagged to the floor, and his eyes were empty. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| As Jarlaxle had known he would, Eliek dropped his blades and plunged them forward, side by side: the double-thrust low. As required, the mercenary leader brought his own blades down in an X, the only parry for such an attack. But as their blade met, a something sparked in Jarlaxle's mind, something very faint but there nonetheless, like the memory of something he had heard a long time ago. Without thinking, he did what that small spark urged him to do. As his swords touched Eliek’s Jarlaxle snapped his booted foot between the hilts of his swords, and slammed it into his opponent’s face. Eliek staggered back, dropping one sword so he could bring his free hand to cradle his shattered nose. Jarlaxle laughed, low and feral, 100

and advanced. The other mercenary, realizing his mistake, raised his remaining sword in a token defense. Jarlaxle only laughed again, batted aside the offending sword, and plunged his own deep into his opponent’s heart. Eliek looked at Jarlaxle with wide, disbelieving eyes. His mind still full of thoughts of Zak, Jarlaxle only laughed, and leaned his face close to that of his rival and whispered. “You lose.” Slowly, the dying drow slid off Jarlaxle's sword, and collapsed limply on the floor. There was a groan, and belatedly, the mercenary remembered Say'evett. He moved to retrieve his healing sphere, but there was a weak voice from behind him. “No, sir. There’s not. . . time.” Jarlaxle knelt beside Say'evett, feeling strangely helpless. Not knowing what else to do, he reached out and cradled his dying lieutenant in his arms, feeling the weak rise and fall of Say'evett’s chest. “Tell Coss'tul,” Say'evett whispered. “Tell him. . . ah. . . but he’ll know. . . . It doesn’t matter.” A shudder coursed through his body, and then he lay still. Jarlaxle reached out a hand and closed his former soldier’s eyes, feeling a strange weight in his heart. It’s only because of Zak, he told himself. Thinking about him, and then seeing another drow who was close to you die, is causing you to react more strongly than the situation calls for. As though the death of his friend had summoned him, Coss'tul appeared at the end of the corridor. His dark eyes saw the body in Jarlaxle arms; a strangled cry was torn from his throat, and he broke into a run, sprinting over the distance. He knelt beside Jarlaxle, who passed him the body of his friend without saying a word. For a moment, Coss'tul simply held held Say'evett’s cooling form, rocking back and forth, low moans issuing from his throat. Jarlaxle didn’t know what to do; he had never seen a drow mourn at all, let alone this strongly. After a while, Coss'tul looked up. “Which sword?” he asked quietly. Jarlaxle pointed wordlessly at Eliek’s bloody sword, lying where the dead mercenary had dropped it. Coss'tul laid the body of his friend gently on the stone floor, retrieved the sword, and then returned to Jarlaxle. Coss'tul offered the blade hilt-first to his leader, both sorrow and serenity in his eyes. “Do you know what I want?” He asked; his voice was no more than a whisper. Unable to find his voice--and not sure why--Jarlaxle accepted the sword. Coss'tul knelt, and drew Say'evett’s head into lap. He looked expectantly to Jarlaxle. Rising to his feet, Jarlaxle met Coss'tul’s eyes. “Thank for your service,” he finally managed to say. Coss'tul nodded, and Jarlaxle drew back his arm and sank the blade through Coss'tul’s heart. The drow slumped over the body of his friend, his blood spilling across the stone, but there was a smile across his face. 101

Epilogue L'elen

“No.” Jarlaxle allowed himself a sigh. “Lady Alustrial,” he said, trying to keep his patience, “We have been over this before, and you agreed.” “I’ve been thinking,” Alustrial countered. To Jarlaxle's ears she sounded torn, and he didn’t think it would take much to sway her. Still, it frustrated him, and his patience ran short these days. “Perhaps,” she continued. “Ivellios Amanodel had the right idea. The drow are an evil race; no one would weep if they were to disappear.” “If they were to die, you mean.” Alustrial made no reply. “They would if Drizzt did,” Jarlaxle pressed. Alustrial raised an eyebrow. “Are all drow like Drizzt?” “Of course not!” Jarlaxle scoffed. “But some are. Are you willing to kill those that are different for the sake of killing those that are the same?” The Lady of Silverymoon narrowed her eyes. “You don’t believe any of what you’re saying,” she stated. “So why do you say it?” Jarlaxle couldn’t help but laugh; he tried to hide the pain it caused him. “I don’t believe it, that’s true,” he admitted. “But I wish for neither myself nor my race to die. Is there something wrong with shaping my arguments so that they appeal to you?” Alustrial settled herself on the edge of Drizzt's bed; the ranger was no longer in it, having already been dosed by Alustrial with the Orbb's Elghinn cure, and was celebrating his health outside. Jarlaxle was sprawled in a cushioned chair. 102

“You’re right, I suppose,” she sighed. “I just wish. . . .” she shook her head sadly. “That there was a way to sort the different from the same,” Jarlaxle finished, smiling slightly to lighten his serious words. Alustrial gave him an odd look. “Yes.” Jarlaxle reached up to remove his hat, but halfway there his arm tightened; cramps spread through his body, shooting pain that emptied his mind of everything recognizably sane. It seemed to last for and eternity, during which he was aware of attempting to curl into a ball, as though that would in some way ease his pain. After an undefinable length of time, he became aware of a whimpering noise; a few moments later he realized he was the one making them. There was a touch on his body, a sensation so different from the pain that he clung to it like a lifeline, using it to hang on to his sanity. Something brushed against his lips. Focusing on that feeling, he realized someone was holding a cup to his mouth, and urging him to drink. His survival instincts kicked in, and he pushed away from the vessel. That small movement drove him deeper into his pain, until something--he had no idea what--pulled him out again. Trembling and gasping, he found himself looking into the concerned face of Lady Alustrial. Somehow he had fallen to the floor, with his back pressed against the legs of the chair and his knees drawn up against his chest. Alustrial knelt beside him, holding a small glass cup. “Are you alright?” she asked. A slightly wild laugh burst from Jarlaxle lips. When it had subsided, he managed to gasp out, “No.” Alustrial offered the glass to him. “Here,” she said. “It’s the cure for the Spider’s Bane.” Gratefully, Jarlaxle reached out a trembling hand, but could barely hold the cup; Alustrial was forced to wrap her fingers around his. The liquid was perfectly clear, and poured sweet and cool down his throat. After a moment, his body ceased trembling, and he was able to sit up. “Thank you,” he murmured; he could feel an embarrassed flush spread across his face, and hoped his dark skin would hide the color. When was the last time he had been so helpless? His silent question was meant to be rhetorical, but his mind answered anyway. With Zak, his traitorous brain supplied. Jarlaxle pushed aside the thought and heaved himself to his feet. The room twirled drunkenly around him, and he staggered. Alustrial caught his arm and supported him until his surroundings stabilized. “Thank you,” he mumbled again, straightening himself and rearranging his hat and vest. Silence stretched between them, and the drow grasped at something to say; nothing came to his mind. “I see,” Alustrial said at last, very softly. Her face and voice indicated she had been following a personal train of thought. From a fold in her cream-colored robes she produced a vial the size of Jarlaxle's clenched fist, and a folded sheet of parchment. She handed both to the 103

drow. “Here,” she said simply. “In the flask is more of the cure, and the parchment contains directions on how to reproduce it. I will ask,” she added in a more severe tone, “that you do distribute this to everyone, and that you charge nothing for it; it would be unfair to allow only the rich to have access.” A grin spread across Jarlaxle's dark face. “But,” he protested laughingly. “Doing so would allow more drow to die, would it not? And is that not what you wanted?” Alustrial frowned, but after a moment her expression lightened and she smiled. “Take care, Jarlaxle of Menzoberranzan.” She turned to leave, but the drow stopped her. “Wait,” he said. “Your payment.” She shook her head, her silver mane shimmering in the candlelight. “There’s no need for that. Drizzt is safe, and that is payment enough.” Jarlaxle paused, studying her. Normally he would not argue if someone refused his payment--though he could think of few who would. And yet.... “At least accept this.” The drow dropped the flask and parchment into his belt pouch, and removed another item from within. He held it out to the Lady of Silverymoon. She stretched out her hand and he dropped it into her palm: a heavy ruby, flawless and perfectly cut, the length of her forefinger and width of her pinky's length. It glowed in the muted light of the room. She immediately tried to hand it back, but Jarlaxle refused. “It’s no ordinary gem,” he explained. “If at any time you need the aid of me or Bregan D'aerthe, simply use that; I will get the message.” Unsure of what to say, Alustrial looked at the massive ruby in her palm for a few moments. When she looked up, the mercenary was gone. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Drizzt heard the dwarf and the halfling long before Catti-brie did, and Guenwhyvar long before him. The three sat on the sun-warmed rocks of Fourthspeak, watching the sun sink lower in the west. Behind them, Bruenor and Regis scrambled up the steep path. Panting, Regis leaned against Catti-brie’s boulder. “It’s beautiful,” he gasped. No one answered; there was no need to. A peace settled over the five of them, something that went far beyond words. Regis and Bruenor perched themselves on their own rocks. “I find it ironic,” Drizzt said eventually, “That my life was saved by a drow who would seem undoubtedly evil—and yet he did so without any motive besides good intentions.” There was a long pause after his comment, the Companions soaking up both his words and the beauty of the view. The sun, dipping low over the horizon, had taken refuge behind a shield of clouds, keeping 104

its direct rays out of the Companion’s eyes, but nonetheless painting the landscape below them with crimsons, corals, and shades of rose. The tip of each tree was highlighted by a kiss of pure gold, as was the top of the half-finished Hengorot, in Settlestone below. The clouds lingered overhead, dyed with vibrant shades that grew gradually cooler, until they disappeared into the deep blue of the eastern horizon, where the first bold stars were visible. “Somehow. . .” Catti-brie paused, then began again. “Somehow, I don’t think Jarlaxle is truly evil, even though he may act that way. He is certainly not good, but his actions have proved he is very much unlike the rest of his people.” She half-expected a gruff disagreement from Bruenor, but none came; it seemed as though he agreed with her. “And how ironic,” Regis commented, “that while Jarlaxle the 'evil' drow did good, Ivellios the 'good' elf caused evil. There was pain in Catti-brie’s voice when she spoke again. “I don’t think he meant to do evil,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. “The attack on his family, and spending the rest of his life with that illness—he must have been insane. But he thought he was doing the right thing.” “Yes,” Drizzt asked rhetorically, “but does that mean he really did do the right thing, simply because of his intentions? And did Jarlaxle, not necessarily meaning well, do well nonetheless? Or was it evil, simply because that was what was in his mind?” Darkness fell like a shroud around them, slowly muting the sunset until all that was left to be seen was the moon, a flaming icy crescent, and the stars, burning bravely around her. |^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^|^| Jarlaxle left the comfortable darkness of the cave and stepped out into the last dying light of the sun. Relatively dim as that light was, most of his kin would have been blinded by it. The mercenary, protected by one of the many enchantment on his hat, was immune. He sat gingerly on one of the nearby rocks, and slowly pulled his wide-brimmed hat from his head. Pain hammered at the back of eyes, and he instinctively snapped his eyelids shut. Light, tinted red through his skin, reached his eyes, but it was not as painful and he was able to stand it. The light had lessened considerably when he was finally able to open his eyes again, but it still stung terribly. Nonetheless, he forced himself to keep them open, and he forced himself to remember. Years ago, he and Zak had stood beside a similar cave, on a similar mountain, and watched the sun rise. It was one of the last memories Jarlaxle had of his friend—after that time, business had kept them apart, and when it brought them together, the situation was often tense. Tears trickled down the drow’s face, and he knew not all of them 105

were from the sun. What had brought all of these thoughts of Zak to the surface? It couldn’t have been Minet’s taunt--he had endured far worse things said about Zak, and even managed to work professionally with Matron Malice, Zak’s killer. Was it spending so much time with Drizzt, who looked so much like his father? But Jarlaxle had seen Drizzt before. Maybe he would never know, the mercenary thought sadly. He would certainly never understand why Zak had given up his life for Drizzt. He himself would give up a great many things for someone he felt was valuable enough, but his life was not among them. Say'evett had given his life for Jarlaxle. That confused the mercenary; his soldiers were loyal, it was true, but he did not think--or expect--any of them would go to such lengths to defend their leader. Most drow would have waited, to see how strong Jarlaxle's opponent was, and joined in only if both necessary and safe. Say'evett must have either charged straight into the battle, without any thought to his own safety, or else hung back and watched to see if Jarlaxle needed any assistance--in which case he would have known Eliek was beyond his skill. And Jarlaxle had held Say'evett in his dying moments. He had known Say'evett had Orbb's Elghinn, and yet he had touched the sick drow anyway. Why? Wrapped in memories, Jarlaxle allowed his mind to mull over Coss'tul’s death. After sorting through the events, he could logically tell himself Coss'tul had wanted to die because he could not stand to live without his friend. But Jarlaxle could not understand the feelings himself; there was no way he would do the same. Zak, he thought mournfully. You would understand; you would be able to explain it to me. The mercenary remembered the apparition of Zak he had seen while dying, and that, too, he was unable to explain to himself. A few rays of light slipped below the horizon, but it hardly made a difference to the drow’s light traumatized eyes. He closed them, and a few more tears slipped through his pale eyelashes. He stayed long after the sun had disappeared, and the stars had flickered into existence. It was not until a chill snowflake landed on the bare skin of his head that he finally slipped back underground. Looking over his shoulder, he saw more white flakes—he had no idea what they were—flutter to the ground, where they began to collect. Low heavy clouds heaved themselves across the night sky’s smooth black surface, and poured out their snowy load over the mountains; a blizzard was coming.

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