He worked his scimitars in smooth, sure circular motions, bringing them through delicate and deceiving arcs. When the opportunity presented itself he stepped ahead and slashed down at a seemingly exposed shoulder with one blade. But the elf, bald head shining in the sunlight, was faster. The elf dropped a foot back and raised a long sword in a solid parry, then came forward in a straight rush, stabbing with a dirk, then stepping ahead again to thrust with the sword.
He danced in perfect harmony with the elf's fluid movements, twirling his twin scimitars defensively, each rolling down and over to ring against the thrusting sword. The elf stabbed again, mid-torso, then a third time, aiming low.
Over and down went the scimitars, the classic, double-block-low. Then up those twin weapons came as the agile, hairless elf tried to kick through the block.
The elf's kick was no more than a feint, and as the scimitars came up, the elf fell into a crouch and let fly the dagger. It sailed in before he could get the scimitars down low enough to block, before he could set his feet and dodge aside.
A perfect throw for disembowelment, the devilish dagger caught him in the belly.
* * * * * * * *
"It's Deudermont, to be sure," the crewman called, tone growing frantic. "He's caught sight of us again!"
"Bah, but he's no way to know who we are," another reminded.
"Just put us around the reef and past the jetties," Sheila Kree instructed her pilot.
Tall and thick, with arms rock-hard from years of hard labor and green eyes that showed resentment for those years, the redheaded woman stared angrily at the pursuit. The three-masted schooner forced a turn from what would certainly have proven to be a most profitable pillaging of a lightly-armed merchant ship.
"Bring us a fog to block their watchin'," the nasty pirate added, yelling at Bellany, Bloody Keel's resident sorceress.
"A fog," the sorceress huffed, shaking her head so that her raven-black hair bounced all about her shoulders.
The pirate, who more often spoke with her sword than with her tongue, simply did not understand. Bellany shrugged and began casting her strongest spell, a fireball. As she finished, she aimed the blast not at the distant, pursuing ship - which was long out of range, and which, if it was Sea Sprite, would have had no trouble repelling such an attack anyway - but at the water behind Bloody Keel.
The surf sizzled and sputtered in protest as the flames licked at it, bringing a thick steam up behind the fast-sailing ship. Sheila Kree smiled and nodded her approval. Her pilot, a heavy-set woman with a big dimpled face and a yellow smile, knew the waters around the western tip of the Spine of the World better than anyone alive. She could navigate there on the darkest of nights, using no more than the sound of the currents splashing over the reefs. Deudermont's ship wouldn't dare follow them through the dangerous waters ahead. Soon enough Bloody Keel would sail out beyond the third jetty, around the rocky bend, and into open waters if she chose, or turn even closer inland to a series of reefs and rocks - a place Sheila and her companions had come to call home.
"He's no way to know 'twas us," the crewman said again.
Sheila Kree nodded, and hoped the man was right - believed he probably was, for while Sea Sprite, a three-masted schooner, had such a unique signature of sails, Bloody Keel appeared to be just another small, unremarkable caravel. Like any other wise pirate along the Sword Coast, though, Sheila Kree had no desire to tangle with Deudermont's legendary Sea Sprite or his skilled and dangerous crew, whoever he thought she was.
And she'd heard rumors that Deudermont was looking for her, though why the famous pirate-hunter might be singling her out, she could only guess. Reflexively, the powerful woman reached back over her shoulder to feel the mark she'd had branded upon herself, the symbol of her new-found power and ambition. As with all the women serving in Kree's new sea and land group, Sheila wore the mark of the mighty warhammer she'd purchased from a fool in Luskan, the mark of Aegis-fang.
Was that, then, the source of Deudermont's sudden interest? Sheila Kree had learned a bit of the warhammer's history, had learned that its previous owner, a drunken brute named Wulfgar, was a known friend of Captain Deudermont. That was a connection, but the pirate woman couldn't be certain. Hadn't Wulfgar been tried in Luskan for attempting to murder Deudermont after all?
Sheila Kree shrugged it all away a short while later, as Bloody Keel worked dangerously through the myriad of rocks and reefs to the secret, sheltered Golden Cove. Despite the expert piloting, Bloody Keel connected more than once on a jagged shelf, and by the time they entered the bay, the caravel was listing to port.
No matter, though, for in this pirate cove, surrounded by towering walls of jagged rock, Sheila and her crew had the means to repair the ship. They took Bloody Keel into a large cave, the bottom of a system of tunnels and caverns that climbed through this easternmost point of the Spine of the World, natural tunnels now smoky from torches lining the walls, and rocky caverns made comfortable by the plunder of what was fast becoming the most successful pirate band anywhere along the northern reaches of the Sword Coast.
The small-framed, black-haired sorceress gave a sigh. She likely knew that with her magic she'd be doing most of the work on these latest repairs.
"Damn that Deudermont!" Bellany remarked.
"Damn our own cowardice, ye mean," one smelly sea dog remarked as he walked by.
Sheila Kree stepped in front of the grumbling man, sneered at him, and decked him with a right cross to the jaw.
"I didn't think he even saw us," the prone man protested, looking up at the red-haired pirate with an expression of sheer terror.
If one of the female crew of Bloody Keel crossed Sheila, they'd likely get a beating, but if one of the men stepped too far over the vicious pirate's line, he'd likely find out how the ship got its name. Keel-hauling was one of Sheila Kree's favorite games, after all.
Sheila Kree let the dog crawl away, her thoughts more focused on the latest appearance of Deudermont. She had to admit it was possible that Sea Sprite hadn't really even seen them, and likely, if Deudermont and his crew had spotted the distant sails of Bloody Keel, they didn't know the ship's true identity.
But Sheila Kree would remain cautious where Captain Deudermont was concerned. If the captain and his skilled crew were indeed determined to find her, then let it be here, at Golden Cove, the rocky fortress Sheila Kree and her crew shared with a formidable clan of ogres.
* * * * * * * *
The dagger struck him squarely - and bounced harmlessly to the floor.
"Drizzt Do'Urden would never have fallen for such a feint!" Le'lorinel, the bald-headed elf, grumbled in a high and melodic voice. His eyes, blue flecked with gold, shone with dangerous intensity from behind the black mask that Le'lorinel always wore. With a snap of the wrist, the sword went back into its scabbard. "If he did, he would have been quick enough a'foot to avoid the throw, or quick enough a'hand to get a scimitar back down for a block," the elf finished with a huff.
"I am not Drizzt Do'Urden," the half-elf, Tunevec, said simply. He moved to the side of the roof and leaned heavily against a crenellation, trying to catch his breath.
"Mahskevic enchanted you with magical haste to compensate," the elf replied, retrieving the dagger and adjusting his sleeveless light brown tunic.
Tunevec snorted at his opponent. "You do not even know how Drizzt Do'Urden fights," he reminded. "Truly! Have you ever seen him in battle? Have you ever watched the movements - impossible movements, I say! - that you so readily attribute to him?"
If Le'lorinel was impressed by the reasoning, it did not show. "The tales of his fighting style and prowess are common in the northland."
"Common, and likely exaggerated," Tunevec reminded.
Le'lorinel's bald head was shaking before Tunevec finished the statement, for the elf had many times detailed the prowess of Drizzt to his half-elf sparring partner.
"I pay you well for your participation in these training sessions," Le'lorinel said. "You would do well to consider every word I have told you about Drizzt Do'Urden to be the truth and to emulate his fighting style to the best of your meager abilities."
Tunevec, who was naked to the waist, toweled off his thin and muscular frame. He held the towel out to Le'lorinel, who just looked at him with contempt, which was usual after such a failure. The elf walked past, right to the trapdoor that led down to the top floor of the tower.
"Your enchantment of stoneskin is likely used up," the elf said with obvious disgust.