Chapter 16


Ad'non Kareese's long, slender fingers traced a line down over Innovindil's delicate chin, down the moon elf's birdlike neck and to the base of her throat.

"Can you feel me?" the drow teased, though he believed, of course, that the paralyzed surface elf couldn't understand his language.

"Have your way with the creature and be done with her," Donnia said from behind him.

Ad'non smiled, keeping his head turned away from his companion so that she could not see the amusement he was taking at her obvious consternation. She understood his intended action as debasement more than any real emotional connection, of course - and as she was drow herself so she was certainly going to find her own pleasures with their paralyzed playthings - but still, there sounded a bit of unmistakable agitation around the edges of her voice.

Amusing.

"If I find you soft and warm, perhaps I will keep you alive for a while, Ad'non said to Innovindil.

He watched the surface elf's eyes as he spoke and could see that they were indeed reacting to the sound of his voice and the feel of his touch. Yes, she couldn't outwardly make any movements - the drow poison had done its job well - but she understood what was happening, understood what he was about to do to her, and understood that she had no chance to get out of it.

That made it all the sweeter.

Ad'non ran his hand lower, across the female's small breasts and down over her belly. Then he stood up and stepped back. He glanced back at Donnia, who stood with her arms crossed over her chest.

"We should drag them to a different cave," he said to his companion. "Let us keep them prisoner."

"Her, perhaps," Donnia replied, indicating Innovindil. "For that one, there will be only death."

It seemed fine enough to Ad'non, and he glanced back at the female elf and grinned.

And he couldn't see her - a ball of blackness covered her and her companion.

Never to be taken completely by surprise, the two dark elves swung around, Ad'non unsheathing his swords, Donnia drawing a blade and her hand crossbow. The form behind them, by the entrance, was easily enough distinguishable. It was a drow standing calmly, standing ready, scimitars drawn.

"Traitor!" Donnia growled, and she lifted her crossbow and fired.

* * *

Drizzt trembled with rage when he first entered the cave, seeing the two elves lying flat, and the two drow standing over them. He had known of the trouble before he'd ever come in, for the calls and stomping hooves of the pegasi outside had alerted him from some distance away. Without thinking twice, the drow ranger had broken into a run, leaping down the flat rock from which he'd often observed the area, and charging between the winged horses even as the darkness globes dissipated.

So alarmed was Drizzt that he hadn't even paused long enough to bring forth Guenhwyvar.

And he faced the drow pair.

He didn't even see the movement, but he heard the distinctive click, and remembered well enough that telltale sound. The ranger spun, pulling his cloak in a wide sweep around him.

His quick defense caught the dart in the swinging cloak, but even as the dart stuck in place, the second click sounded. Drizzt spun again, but the second dart got past the flying cloak and struck him in the hip.

Almost immediately, Drizzt felt the numbing chill of the drow poison.

He staggered back toward the exit and thought to call in Guenhwyvar. He couldn't reach for his belt pouch, though, for it was all he could do to hold fast to his weapons.

"How wonderful of you to join us, Drizzt Do'Urden," said the female drow who'd shot him.

Her words, spoken in the language of his homeland, brought him drifting back across the years, brought him back to images of Menzoberranzan and his family, of House Do'Urden and Zaknafein, of Narbondel glowing with heat and the great structures of the drow palaces, stalagmite and stalactite palaces, shaped and set with sweeping balconies and decorated with multicolored accents of faerie fire.

He saw it all so clearly - the early days beside his sisters and training with the weapons masters at Melee Magthere, the school for drow warriors.

The sound of metal clinking against stone woke him up, and only then did he realize that he was leaning heavily on the wall and that he had dropped one of his blades.

"Ah, Drizzt Do'Urden, I had hoped you would put up a better fight than this," said the male drow. The sound of his voice alone told Drizzt that his enemy was steadily approaching. "I have heard so much of your prowess."

Drizzt couldn't keep his eyes open. He felt the numbness flowing through his lower extremities so that he couldn't even feel the ground beneath his feet. The only reason he was still standing, he understood through the haze that was filtering his thoughts, was because of his angle against the wall.

The poison crept in, and so did the sword-wielding drow.

Drizzt tried to fight back against the numbness, tried hard to find his center, tried hard to shake his mind clear of the cloudy disorientation.

He could not.

"Now perhaps we have found a true plaything, Ad'non," he heard the drow female remark from somewhere so very, very distant.

"Too dangerous is this one, my dear Donnia," the male argued. "He dies quickly."

"As you will..."

Her voice trailed away, and it seemed to Drizzt as if he was falling far away, into a pit of blackness from which there could be no escape.

* * *

Wulfgar lay on the stone, peering down, trying to discern the best angle of approach toward the ledge where Taulmaril balanced precariously.

Behind him, Catti-brie tied a rope around her waist and checked the length of the cord.

"The devilish sword almost had me enthralled," the woman admitted as Wulfgar turned around and sat up facing her. "I've not felt its call so insistently in many months."

"Because you are tired," Wulfgar replied. "We're all tired. How many times have our enemies come at us? A dozen? They give us no rest."

"Just hit the damned thing with a rock, send it tumbling to the floor, and go get it," said Torgar, coming over with Shingles McRuff beside him.

Both of them were limping, and Shingles was holding one arm protectively close against his side.

"We've tried," Wulfgar replied.

"How is Pikel?" Catti-brie asked. "And Pwent?"

"Pwent's hopping mad," Shingles replied.

"Nothing new there," the woman remarked.

"And Pikel's said nothing but 'oooo' since he lost the arm," Shingles added. "I'm thinking it'll take him a bit afore he's used to it. Banak sent him down to Mithral Hall for better tending."

"He'll live, though, and that's more than many can say," added Torgar.

"Well, be quick about getting yer bow," Shingles said. "Might that we'll all be going inside the hall soon enough." He glanced back over his shoulder toward the distant ridge and the giants. "We can hold firm so far, as long as we're not stupid enough to chase the damned orcs back in range of the brutes. But they're bringin' up big logs and building giant-sized catapults. Once them things are throwing, we'll be fast out o' here."

Wulfgar and Catti-brie exchanged concerned looks, for neither had any answer to that logic.

"Banak would've called for the retreat to begin already," said Torgar, "except now we've got a force set west of Keeper's Dale, and he knows that if he surrenders this ground, they'll have the dickens getting back to the gate, since they'd be crossing the dale right under giant fire."

Again the two humans exchanged a concerned look. Their enemies had gained a huge tactical advantage, one that would drive the dwarves from the area, and yes, back into Mithral Hall. That much seemed certain.

What did that mean for all the other towns nearby?

What did that mean for Mithral Hall, with no surface trade and no way to get out in numbers sufficient to take back the land?

And for Wulfgar and Catti-brie, there remained one more nagging problem.

If they were forced back underground, what did it mean for Drizzt Do'Urden? Would he ever be able to find his way back to them?

* * *

He saw Zaknafein falling into the acid pit.

He saw Ellifain falling against the wall.

He saw Bruenor falling atop a tower.

He felt the keen sting of each loss, the pain and the anger, and he did not push them away. No, Drizzt embraced them, called those emotions to him, basked in them and heightened them.

He imagined Regis being torn apart by orcs.

He imagined Wulfgar falling amidst a bloody sea of enemy spears.

He imagined Catti-brie, down and helpless, surrounded by enemies, bleeding from a hundred wounds.

He imagined, and those conjured images blended with the very real and painful images he had known in his life, the visions of sorrow and despair, the scenes of his life that had brought him to a place of emotional darkness.

He felt the Hunter rising within him. All the images ran together then, one long line of pain and loss and sorrow and regret, and most of all, of pure rage.

A sword stabbed in at Drizzt's left side, but the ring of metal on metal sounded clearly, a warning bell to his two attackers that their poison could not defeat the Hunter. For across came the backhand slash of a scimitar, in the blink of an astonished drow eye, whipping up and around in an instant to catch the thrusting sword and turn it up and out.

The second sword followed, predictably low, but even in anticipation of the coming blade and given the attack angle, the defender seemingly had no practical chance of either snapping down his first scimitar or of getting to his second, which lay on the floor.

But he was the Hunter, and not only did that first scimitar blade come back down, rapping the sword and driving it out to the right out in front of him as he turned, but the Hunter fell into a crouch with the parry, scooping up the fallen Twinkle. As he came up fast, blades working in perfect harmony, the retrieved scimitar came in and over the sword and rode it out even more.

That first scimitar reversed and snapped back up, hard, ringing the first sword again.

And so the attacker, Ad'non, stood helpless, swords out wide to either side, two deadly scimitars inside them.

A sudden and brutal ending, or so it would have been for the surprised Ad'non, had not his companion come in then hard at the Hunter's back. A sudden jerk shoved Ad'non's blades out even more, and he had to step back to hold any sort of defensive position. But he needed no defense at that moment, for the Hunter spun away from him, blades cutting the air in a protective weave before him as he turned left to right.

Donnia squealed at the surprising deflection of her sword, but the skilled female warrior followed the flow of the scimitars and quick-stepped in behind for a dagger thrust.

The Hunter's hip was already moving, keeping him out of reach.

And Drizzt spun again, defeating Ad'non's double-thrust, scimitars rolling up and across, hitting the swords a dozen times in rapid succession before he continued around, the whirling blades forcing that dirk back, then driving hard against Donnia's sword once more.

The Hunter continued to spin, rolling blades striking one side and the other, always coming around at the exact angle to intercept, as if the lone drow was anticipating each attack, as if he was seeing it before it ever began.

His attackers were not novices, though, and they had fought together many, many times. They kept opposite each other and kept their attacks coordinated - and they were expending far less energy than the spinning drow defender. Still, as they struck and leaped back, every thrust, high or low, left or right, was met by the ringing impact of a perfectly aimed scimitar.

Then, suddenly, the twirl stopped, and the pair attacked, but the Hunter went back around the other way. Again came the ring of metal on metal, two scimitars striking hard against three swords.

That spin ended almost immediately, though, leaving the Hunter sidelong to both attackers.

In came Ad'non, double-thrust high.

The Hunter ducked below it and stabbed for the male's knees, then leaped straight up over Donnia's slashing sword as Ad'non retracted. Drizzt landed in a fast step toward Ad'non, snapping his scimitars up in a cross between Ad'non's leveled blades, stabbing them high until his arms crossed and the hilts caught at the blade, then snapping them out across again, out wide, nearly tearing the swords from Ad'non's grasp.

Ad'non threw himself backward, but so did the Hunter, leaping into a backward somersault right above and over the stabbing sword of Donnia. He landed lightly, still backstepping.

As he crossed over, defeating her attack, the dexterous Donnia flipped her dirk in her hand and whipped it at his chest.

But the defending drow's right scimitar snapped up to cleanly block, and before the deflected dirk could bounce away, the left-hand scimitar locked up under it, pinning it against the first blade for just a moment before slashing back to the left, redirecting the dirk into a swift flight at his retreating adversary. Ad'non desperately dived back and around but got clipped across the cheek as he tumbled away.

Donnia pressed the attack, drawing a whip from her belt as she thrust ahead with her sword.

That sword thrust never got close, as the Hunter's right reversed down and around, turning it, then lifting it as the left hand came back in, striking it again, lifting it higher. The right scimitar climbed that parrying ladder in turn, knocking it still higher.

Donnia accepted the blocks with only a minimal attempt to break free, for her second hand worked perfectly then, sending the whip in a teasing forward slide, then snapping it suddenly for the Hunter's face.

A scimitar picked it off, but it did not cut the enchanted whip, and the same magic that prevented the tear also reacted to Donnia's willful call, the living tentacle wrapping fast around the blade.

Her eyes blazing with apparent victory, the female yanked the scimitar free. She was surprised at how easily she got it from the strong drow - only until she realized that he had let it go, turning as he did and pulling his cloak from around his neck.

Ad'non came in hard from the side, but the Hunter quick-stepped ahead and to the opposite side, moving around Donnia to use her as a screen. As he went, he brought his cloak up above his head in a spin, and as Donnia snapped the whip, so he launched the cloak.

She felt her whip crack hard against his shoulder and got wrapped about the head by the flying cloak in return - which she accepted as more than an even trade.

Until she felt the sudden sting at the side of her neck, and she realized that her dart was hanging in that cloak and that the vicious and sneaky warrior had angled the throw perfectly to get its poisoned tip near to her.

With a shriek, the female fell back and threw aside the garment.

One scimitar against two swords, the Hunter still slapped and parried perfectly, never letting Ad'non get close to hitting. He backstepped as he parried, swiftly working his way in perfect balance to his lost scimitar.

Following that maneuver, Ad'non increased his attack, even went into a sudden and furious charge.

The Hunter leaped aside, to Ad'non's left, and the skilled killer redirected his left-hand blade out immediately, and when it got slapped aside, he followed with a thrust of the right.

That, too, was parried, and the Hunter turned inside both, putting his back to Ad'non. A quick double-pump of his arm brought his scimitar forward and back twice, brought its pommel hard into Ad'non's face - twice.

Staggered, the drow stumbled backward, his blades working furiously in desperate defense. They hit only air, though, and a look of abject terror flashed across the drow's face.

Except that the Hunter hadn't pursued. Instead, he'd turned and sprinted for his lost scimitar.

A globe of darkness covered him as he reached the blade, and he responded with one of his own, right where he remembered the female to be.

Grabbing up the scimitar, he went out furiously, diving into a roll, then charged right through the second globe, his own globe, sliding in low, blades working all around.

He came out to find the female sprinting across toward the male, who had warm blood trickling down his face.

Unafraid, the Hunter stalked in.

"Together and to the sides," the Hunter heard the male say, and Ad'non started to the left.

And the female felt at the side of her neck, a look of panic on her face.

The Hunter covered her in blue-glowing flames, harmless faerie fire that marked her as a clearer target.

As Ad'non charged, she turned and ran.

They worked their blades so quickly that the ring sounded as one long call. Ad'non stabbed with one sword then the other and got hit with a double-block left and a double-block right, each of his attacks being picked off by not one, but both of the Hunter's scimitars.

A slash across hit nothing but air as the Hunter ducked. A thrust flew freely as the Hunter deftly turned, and that blade got smacked hard on the retraction, nearly tearing it free of Ad'non's grasp.

"Donnia!" he screamed.

He growled and worked his own blades magnificently as a sudden series of diagonal slashes, tap-tapping each scimitar just enough to make it slide past him harmlessly. So fast did those scimitars come, though, that Ad'non was forced to steadily retreat and couldn't begin to think of any possible counters.

But those blades did gradually slow, leaving a slip of an opening.

One that Ad'non leaped through, offering a devastating double-thrust low.

Amazingly, the scimitars somehow fell into the only possible defense, double-cross-down, which left the two at a draw for that particular routine, so Ad'non thought. For Ad'non Kareese was not of Menzoberranzan and did not know that his foe, Drizzt' Do'Urden, had long-ago found the solution for the routine-end.

With amazing dexterity and balance, the Hunter's foot came up right between the crossed scimitars and smashed Ad'non squarely in the face, sending him staggering backward yet again.

He tried to mount a defense, but the scimitars led the way, batting his swords aside, and as he slammed hard against the wall, he could not block the diving, curved blade.

It hit him squarely in the chest, and he screamed.

And the Hunter growled, thinking the fight at its end.

But the scimitar did not penetrate! Nor did its sister blade score a mortal wound as it came in hard against Ad'non's side. Oh yes, the two blades had hurt the drow warrior, but neither had found its way in for the kill.

And suddenly, the Hunter was off-balance, was caught by surprise.

Across came a sword, knocking both scimitars aside, and the Hunter went into a spin, right-to-left. But Ad'non went to his right behind him, pressing the attack, forcing him to run past or get skewered.

But there was a wall there, Ad'non knew, and he smiled, for the devilish drow renegade had nowhere to go. In Ad'non charged, both blades going for the kill.

But the Hunter was not there.

Ad'non's blades clipped the bare stone, and he stopped suddenly, eyes wide.

"O cunning Drizzt," he said as he figured out that Drizzt had gone right over him, running up the wall and flipping a back somersault to stand behind him.

The scimitar came slashing across just above Ad'non's shoulder, cleanly lopping off his head.

Drizzt glanced across the way to the two paralyzed elves and even started toward them, just a step. But then, his anger far from sated, the Hunter ran out of the cave and off into the night. He paused and glanced around and saw the blue glow of his faerie fire along a slope to the west. His eyes cast determinedly as if set in stone, the Hunter drew forth his onyx figurine and called to Guenhwyvar.

The blue glow still showed when the great panther materialized beside him, and Drizzt pointed it out.

"Catch her, Guen," the drow instructed. "Catch her and hold her for me." With a growl, the panther charged off into the night, gaining great expanses with every mighty leap.

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