Chapter 25


"Obould is Gruumsh!" Arganth Snarrl shouted at the tribe of orcs exiting the tunnel along the eastern side of one mountain. "He killed the elf demon -  all of us witnessed this great victory! He is the chosen! He will lead us to glory!"

The dozen of his comrades behind the shaman took up the chant, and those orcs coming out from their mountain homes glanced around but gradually came to similar chanting.

"He is a dangerous one," Innovindil remarked to Drizzt, the two of them crouched behind a low wall of stone off to the side. They had been listening to Arganth for some time and were both somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the orc shaman in his praise for Obould.

"He truly believes that Obould is the avatar of his vile god," Drizzt replied.

"Then he will watch his vile god die."

Innovindil hadn't turned to face Drizzt as she spoke the angry vow, but he could feel the intensity in her eyes and heart as she spat every word. He thought to point out to her that she had scolded him for just the same angry attitude not so long before, bidding him to look past his thirst for vengeance. But crouching behind and to the side of the elf, looking down at her fair profile, Drizzt could recognize the pain there. Of course she was hurting. And despite her wise words to him, that pain could slip past her guard and bring her uncharacteristic moments of weakness. Drizzt, who had recently witnessed the fall of a dear friend, could surely understand.

"The orc king has gone south with his force, but this one remains," Drizzt remarked.

"To rouse the rabble who crawl out of their mountain holes," said Innovindil.

"We cannot underestimate the importance of that," said Drizzt. "And this one is close to Obould - he may have information."

Innovindil turned around and looked up at the drow, and her expression told him that she understood his reasoning completely.

"They will likely camp within the tunnels," she said.

Drizzt looked to the east and agreed, for already the lighter blue of dawn was blossoming beyond the horizon. Also, while the new orc additions had come forth from the tunnel, they hadn't come out very far.

"They will not move off until late afternoon, likely," said Innovindil.

Drizzt scanned the area, then patted Innovindil's shoulder and motioned for her to follow him off to the side.

"Let us go underground before them and learn our way around," he explained. "We will take the shaman while he sleeps. There is much I wish to hear from that one."

* * *

The two drow moved swiftly along the tunnels, their keen eyes scanning every crevice, every jut, every uneven grade, in the darkness. Well in advance of Proffit's lumbering trolls, Kaer'lic and Tos'un paused many times and listened - and more often than not, found their scouting inhibited by the ruckus of the trolls.

_They do roll along_, Kaer'lie's fingers flashed to her partner, and she gave a disgusted shake of her face.

_Eager for dwarf blood_, came Tos'un's response. _Will Proffit be so eager to meet with dwarven fire? For the bearded folk know how to battle trolls_!

Before Kaer'lic could begin to signal her agreement, she caught a whisper of noise reverberating through the stone. Her fingers stopped abruptly, and she left one extended to signal her companion to silence, then she eased her head against the stone. Yes, there it was, unmistakably so, the march of heavy dwar-ven boots.

Tos'un came up beside her.

_Our friends again_? his fingers asked.

Kaer'lic nodded.

"A sizable force," she whispered. "Two score or more, I would guess."

_How far_? asked Tos'un's fingers.

Kaer'lic paused and listened for a moment, then shook her head.

_Not far..._ she started to sign.

_But parallel_, Tos'un's movements interrupted. _And who knows where these tunnels might intersect_?

_One thing is certain_, Kaer'lic replied, _our enemies are heading past us to the south. Back toward the Trollmoors_.

_Reinforcements for Nesme_? asked Tos'un.

Kaer'lic looked back at the stone wall, her expression doubtful.

"Ornamental, if so," she whispered. "A gesture by Mithral Hall, perhaps, to show support for their neighbors."

Sounds echoed down the corridor behind them as the trolls closed ground. The two drow looked at each other, each silently asking the same question.

"Proffit will wish to chase the dwarves down, but the diversion will cost Obould the desired pressure on the dwarves underground, perhaps for several days," reasoned Tos'un.

That possibility didn't bother Kaer'lic greatly, as she let her expression show.

"We might perhaps find some enjoyment if the dwarf band is not so large," Tos'un went on, a smile widening on his face.

"Run along with all speed and find a place where we might cross over to the tunnels used by our enemies," Kaer'lic instructed. "Better to pursue them out to the south than to backtrack and hope to find their tunnel's exit on the cursed surface."

Tos'un gave a deferential nod, then turned to leave.

"With all care!" Kaer'lic called after him.

The drow priestess found that her own words surprised her. Were those not the words of a friend? And since when did Kaer'lic Suun Wett consider anyone a friend? Donnia and Ad'non had been her companions for years, and never once in all the trials of their journeys did she ever so dramatically warn them to take care. On several occasions she had believed one or the other dead, and never once had she wept, or even really cared, beyond her own inevitable needs. Why, then, had she just been so insistent with Tos'un?

Because she was afraid, she realized, and because she feared that she was vulnerable. And with Donnia and Ad'non off who-knew-where, Tos'un was her only real companion.

The stench of troll began to grow around her as Proffit and his band closed in, and that only reinforced for the priestess the value of her lone drow companion. She'd hardly find life tolerable without Tos'un.

For a long, long while, Kaer'lic stared at the dark tunnel down which Tos'un had disappeared, pondering that realization.

* * *

Though he had tried to become a creature of the surface, as soon as he moved deep into the gloom of the tunnels, Drizzt Do'Urden realized just how much he remained a denizen of the Underdark. Beside him, Innovindil moved with an elf's grace, but in the tunnels, it was not nearly as fluid and easy a stride as the dark elf's. In the Underdark, Drizzt was as much superior to her as she was to him in the open daylight.

They made their way across some broken ground and up into a natural chimney, branching off the main corridor of the complex. In looking at Innovindil as they set themselves, Drizzt could see her reservations. And why not? He had placed them in the center of the main corridor, and if the orcs did come in, they would surely pass that way in force and would even possibly camp in that very spot, perhaps right below the pair.

But Drizzt merely looked back to the tunnel below and hid his smile. Innovindil did not understand the level of stealth a drow in such places could achieve. She didn't understand that even if the orcs set their main encampment right below the natural chimney, the drow could slip down among them with ease.

He did look back at Innovindil then, offering her an assuring nod, and the two sat still and quiet, letting the minutes slip past.

Drizzt's sensitive eyes showed him that the gloom lessened just a bit; the heightening of morning outside, he knew. Soon after, there came the shuffling of orc feet and the procession began below them. Drizzt estimated that perhaps two dozen orcs had come in, and as they moved past, he motioned for Innovindil to hold her place, then crept down the chute, head first, spiderlike. Pausing for a moment to listen, he poked his head out into the corridor and scanned both ways. The orcs had moved deeper in, but not far. They were milling around, he could hear, likely setting their camp.

Back up he went.

"Two hours," Drizzt whispered into Innovindil's ear.

The patient elf nodded. The two settled in more comfortably, and to Drizzt's surprise, Innovindil pulled him close to her so that his head was resting comfortably against her bosom. As he relaxed, she gently stroked his long and thick white hair, and even kissed him once atop the head.

It was a comfortable place and a tender sharing, and Drizzt allowed himself to relax more than he had in a long, long while.

The two hours passed all too swiftly for him then, but he was able to pull himself from his zone of comfort and rouse the hunting instincts within. Again, he motioned to his companion to hold her place, and again, he went down the chute, head first.

The corridor was clear. Drizzt hooked strong fingers on the lip of the chimney chute, then rolled himself over, dropping silently to a standing position in the tunnel. He drew out his blades, crept along deeper into the complex, and found the orc camp soon after, set in the corridor and in a pair of small chambers to the side.

The twisting and uneven corridor offered him a plethora of vantage points as he studied his enemies. A few were awake, milling around a small cookfire, and a couple were off to the side, against the far wall, eating and talking. Beyond them was an opening, leading into a slightly higher chamber wherein several orcs snored. Across the way sat the other chamber, with more sleeping brutes. Drizzt did spot one orc dressed in a garb that seemed to mark him as a shaman, but it was not the shaman, not that Arganth creature who seemed so valuable to King Obould.

The drow slid his scimitars away and crept closer, looking for an opportunity. Many minutes passed, but finally the camp settled down a bit more, with all but a couple of the orcs lying back and closing their eyes. Drizzt didn't hesitate. He pulled his cloak tight around him and crept in closer, moving in the shadows on the wall opposite the small cookfire - which was really no more than a few glowing embers by then. He paused just past that main area until those orcs still talking seemed more distracted, then he slipped right by them and into the small room across the way.

He saw Arganth, sleeping soundly.

Back out again, the drow reversed his movements and went back to the chimney, where he found Innovindil waiting. He considered the setup once again, then offered her his plan using short whispers, stopping often to listen and ensure that he had not alerted any nearby enemies. He considered then that perhaps he should try to teach Innovindil the drow sign language, and the thought nearly had him laughing aloud.

He had tried to teach the language to Regis once, but the halfling's stubby fingers, despite his exceptional dexterity, simply could not form the proper letters - Drizzt had explained that the movements seemed as if Regis was speaking with a lisp! He had tried to teach Catti-brie the signals as well and had succeeded to a very small degree, but even a human as clever as Catti-brie simply didn't have the necessary finger coordination. But Innovindil would possess the nimbleness, he was sure. Perhaps when they had more time together, he would show her.

"You may have trouble getting out afterward," the elf replied when Drizzt finished explaining his plan.

Drizzt was touched that her only concern seemed to be with his safety -  particularly considering that if things went accordingly, she was the one who would be pursued by most of the orcs.

They went back out into the night then, to ensure that the orc tribe that had come out of the mountains hadn't camped too close.

Then they were back into the tunnels, just around the bend from the nearest point of the orc encampment. They exchanged pats on the shoulder and nods, then Drizzt slipped ahead, mimicking his earlier movements. It took some time, for the group seated by the opposite room were stirring and arguing, but the stealthy drow finally managed to get into the chamber with Arganth and several others.

One by one, he slit their throats, leaving only the lead shaman alive.

Arganth was rudely awakened, a hand over his mouth and a scimitar tip up tight against his back.

"If you squirm in the least, I will cut out your heart," Drizzt promised, his voice merely a buzzing in the terrified shaman's ear.

He pulled Arganth back against the wall and down to the floor, shielding himself with the shaman in case any should look in. He even managed to hook a filthy blanket and pull it up over them somewhat as a further precaution.

Drizzt waited. He had told Innovindil to give him plenty of time to get the shaman nabbed.

A shriek told him that the elf had gone to work.

Outside the small chamber, orcs began to scramble all around, some running past to Drizzt's right, deeper into the tunnels but most heading the other way, or scrambling around. One came to the entryway and called out for help, but of course, none in the room moved or responded. Drizzt grabbed Arganth all the tighter and slumped lower beneath the blankets.

Another shriek outside told him that Innovindil had scored a second hit with her bow.

A few moments later, the drow wriggled his legs under him and yanked Arganth to his feet, then dragged the shaman to the door. Drizzt saw his moment and slipped out, moving to the left, deeper into the tunnels. He slipped into a side passage as soon as one presented itself, and he pulled Arganth into a sheltered cubby.

He waited once more, as the sounds in the main corridor lessened. He waited a few moments longer, then moved his prisoner back out, and managed to get past the orc encampment without seeing a living enemy. Drizzt noted that three orcs were dead in the corridor, shot down by Innovindil.

The drow and his prisoner got all the way out into the night, and only then did Drizzt release the shaman.

"If you cry out, I will cut out your throat," he promised, and he knew from the responding expression that the clever Arganth had understood every word.

"Obould will ki - " the shaman started to say, but he went silent when a scimitar's fine edge flashed up against his throat.

"Yes . . . Obould," Drizzt replied. "We will speak about Obould at length, I promise you."

"I will tell you nothing!"

"I beg to differ." The scimitar went in even tighter. "I don't think that you want to die."

At that, Arganth put on a weird smile and, surprisingly, pressed even tighter against the blade.

"Gruumsh is with me!" he proclaimed, and he suddenly threw himself forward.

But Drizzt was quicker, retracting the scimitar and bringing his other one from its sheath and across, pommel leading. It smacked against Arganth's skull, and he crumbled to the ground. He tried to move and tried to cry out, but Drizzt hit him again, and again, until he went very still.

Cursing under his breath, Drizzt slipped his blades away and scooped the shaman up over his shoulder, then ran off into the night.

He was relieved to find Innovindil back at their cave, as they had arranged. Her expression didn't change a bit as the drow dumped the unconscious shaman at her feet.

"You killed three in the cave," he told her.

"And several more outside," she answered, and she looked up at him grimly. "I would have killed them all had their pursuit been more dogged."

Drizzt let it go; he didn't want to raise Innovindil's ire at that time. He methodically went about tying up Arganth, then dragged the shaman to the wall and propped him into a sitting position.

"He will give us the information we need to avenge Tarathiel," Drizzt said.

His mention of the dead elf brought a pained grimace to fair Innovindil.

"And to help defeat this scourge of orcs," she did manage to reply, her voice soft, almost breaking.

"Of course," Drizzt said, offering a smile.

Arganth stirred a bit, and Drizzt kicked him hard in the shin. It was time to talk.

* * *

"The Nesme dogs are scattered," said one of Proffit's heads.

"And running," added the other.

"And hiding," they both said together.

Kaer'lic looked from one to the other and back again, trying not to let on how unsettling it truly was in dealing with that ugly, two-headed beast.

"Perhaps the dwarves seek them," the drow replied.

"Then we follow dwarves," said Proffit's first head.

"And kill them," the second added.

"And squish them," the first put in.

"And eat them," they both decided.

"Just a small group of trolls should stay for eating dwarves and Nesme dogs," the first head explained. "The rest go on to start the fight inside Mithral Hall."

Kaer'lic hid her grimace.

"But there were scores and scores of dwarves, perhaps," she replied. "A formidable force. We would be foolish to underestimate them."

"Hmm," the troll's heads pondered.

"Better that we all follow the dwarves out to the south," Kaer'lic reasoned. "Let us eat well, then turn back for Mithral Hall."

"But Obould...."

"Is not here," Kaer'lic interrupted. "Nor has he begun to pressure Mithral Hall in any real way. We have time to finish this band of dwarves and the Nesme dogs, then turn back and begin the war inside Mithral Hall."

For a moment, the drow considered explaining to Proffit that Obould was using him, was throwing his trolls into the fray inside the Clan Battlehammer tunnels knowing full well that their losses would be horrendous and without any real plan to come in support from the upper gates. The drow resisted the temptation, though, realizing that an angry two-headed troll would be likely to strike out at anything convenient - including a lone drow priestess. Besides, as much as Kaer'lic was becoming wary of Obould, she didn't think the pressure on Clan Battlehammer would be a bad thing. And if a few score trolls got slaughtered in the process, where would be the loss?

Proffit started to respond - to agree, Kaer'lic knew - but he stopped short as another figure came into sight, trotting easily down the passageway.

"We can rotate over to the tunnel the dwarves used not too far from here," Tos'un explained to them. "The joining corridor will be tight for our friends, but they will get through."

He looked at the gigantic Proffit as he said that, and his expression was less than complimentary.

Of course, the dim-witted troll didn't catch the subtle look.

"Off we go then," Kaer'lic remarked. "We'll follow them right out and, hopefully, to the Nesme refugees, and..." she paused and looked over at Tos'un, "we'll eat well."

Her drow companion screwed up his face with disgust, but both of Proffit's heads were laughing, and both of his toothy mouths were drooling.

_Such a thoroughly disgusting creature_, Kaer'lic signaled to Tos'un. _But useful indeed in angering Obould_.

Tos'un's answer came in the sudden flash of nimble fingers. _A worthy cause, then_.

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