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.

Alone on the roof, Tunevec gave a helpless chuckle and shook his head. He moved to retrieve his shirt but noted a shimmering in the air before he ever got there. The half-elf paused, watching as old Mahskevic the wizard materialized into view.

"Did you please him this day?" the gray-bearded old man asked in a voice that seemed pulled out of his tight throat. Mahskevic's somewhat mocking smile, full of yellow teeth, showed that he already knew the answer.

"Le'lorinel is obsessed with that one," Tunevec answered. More so than I would ever have believed possible."

Mahskevic merely shrugged, as if that hardly mattered. "He has labored for me for more than five years, both to earn the use of my spells and to pay you well," the wizard reminded. "We searched for many months to even find you, one who seemed promising in being able to emulate the movements of this strange dark elf, Drizzt Do'Urden."

"Why waste the time, then?" the frustrated half-elf retorted. "Why do you not accompany Le'lorinel to find this wretched drow and be done with him once and for all. Far easier that would seem than this endless sparring."

Mahskevic chuckled, as if to tell Tunevec clearly that he was underestimating this rather unusual drow, whose exploits, as Le'lorinel and Mahskevic had uncovered them, were indeed remarkable. "Drizzt is known to be the friend of a dwarf named Bruenor Battlehammer," the wizard explained. "Do you know the name?"

Tunevec, putting on his gray shirt, looked to the old human and shook his head.

"King of Mithral Hall," Mahskevic explained. "Or at least, he was. I have little desire to turn a clan of wild dwarves against me - bane of all wizards, dwarves. Making an enemy of Bruenor Battlehammer does not seem to me to be an opportunity for advancement of wealth or health.

"Beyond that, I have no grudge against this Drizzt Do'Urden," Mahskevic added. "Why would I seek to destroy him?"

"Because Le'lorinel is your friend."

"Le'lorinel," Mahskevic echoed, again with that chuckle. "I am fond of him, I admit, and in trying to hold my responsibilities of friendship, I often try to convince him that his course is self-destructive folly, and nothing more."

"He will hear none of that, I am sure," said Tunevec.

"None," agreed Mahskevic. "A stubborn one is Le'lorinel Tel'e'brenequiette."

"If that is even his name," snorted Tunevec, who was in a rather foul mood, especially concerning his sparring partner." 'I to you as you to me,'" he translated, for indeed Le'lorinel's name was nothing more than a variation on a fairly common Elvish saying.

"The philosophy of respect and friendship, is it not?" asked the old wizard.

"And of revenge," Tunevec replied grimly.

Down on the tower's middle floor, alone in a small, private room, Le'lorinel pulled off the mask and slumped to sit on the bed, stewing in frustration and hatred for Drizzt Do'Urden.

"How many years will it take?" the elf asked, and finished with a small laugh, while fiddling with an onyx ring. "Centuries? It does not matter!"

Le'lorinel pulled off the ring and held it up before glittering eyes. It had taken two years of hard work to earn this item from Mahskevic. It was a magical ring, designed to hold enchantments. This one held four, the four spells Le'lorinel believed it would take to kill Drizzt Do'Urden.

Of course, Le'lorinel knew that to use these spells in the manner planned would likely result in the deaths of both combatants.

It did not matter.

As long as Drizzt Do'Urden died, Le'lorinel could enter the netherworld contented.

Part 1


It is good to be home. It is good to hear the wind of Icewind Dale, to feel its invigorating bite, like some reminder that I am alive.

That seems such a self-evident thing - that I, that we, are alive - and yet, too often, I fear, we easily forget the importance of that simple fact. It is so easy to forget that you are truly alive, or at least, to appreciate that you are truly alive, that every sunrise is yours to view and every sunset is yours to enjoy.

And all those hours in between, and all those hours after dusk, are yours to make of what you will.

It is easy to miss the possibility that every person who crosses your path can become an event and a memory, good or bad, to fill in the hours with experience instead of tedium, to break the monotony of the passing moments. Those wasted moments, those hours of sameness, of routine, are the enemy, I say, are little stretches of death within the moments of life.

Yes, it is good to be home, in the wild land of Icewind Dale, where monsters roam aplenty and rogues threaten the roads at every turn. I am more alive and more content than in many years. For too long, I struggled with the legacy of my dark past. For too long, I struggled with the reality of my longevity, that I would likely die long after Bruenor, Wulfgar, and Regis.

And Catti-brie.

What a fool I am to rue the end of her days without enjoying the days that she, that we, now have! What a fool I am to let the present slip into the past, while lamenting a potential - and only potential - future!

We are all dying, every moment that passes of every day. That is the inescapable truth of this existence. It is a truth that can paralyze us with fear, or one that can energize us with impatience, with the desire to explore and experience, with the hope - nay, the iron will! - to find a memory in every action. To be alive, under sunshine or under starlight, in weather fair or stormy. To dance every step, be they through gardens of bright flowers or through deep snows.

The young know this truth so many of the old, or even middle-aged, have forgotten. Such is the source of the anger, the jealousy, that so many exhibit toward the young. So many times have I heard the common lament, "If only I could go back to that age, knowing what I now know!" Those words amuse me profoundly, for in truth, the lament should be, "If only I could reclaim the lust and the joy I knew then!"

That is the meaning of life, I have come at last to understand, and in that understanding, I have indeed found that lust and that joy. A life of twenty years where that lust and joy, where that truth is understood might be more full than a life of centuries with head bowed and shoulders slumped.

I remember my first battle beside Wulfgar, when I led him in, against tremendous odds and mighty giants, with a huge grin and a lust for life. How strange that as I gained more to lose, I allowed that lust to diminish!

It took me this long, through some bitter losses, to recognize the folly of that reasoning. It took me this long, returned to Icewind Dale after unwittingly surrendering the Crystal Shard to Jarlaxle and completing at last (and forever, I pray) my relationship with Artemis Entreri, to wake up to the life that is mine, to appreciate the beauty around me, to seek out and not shy away from the excitement that is there to be lived.

There remain worries and fears, of course. Wulfgar is gone from us - I know not where - and I fear for his head, his heart, and his body. But I have accepted that his path was his own to choose, and that he, for the sake of all three - head, heart, and body - had to step away from us. I pray that our paths will cross again, that he will find his way home. I pray that some news of him will come to us, either calming our fears or setting us into action to recover him.

But I can be patient and convince myself of the best. For to brood upon my fears for him, I am defeating the entire purpose of my own life.

That I will not do.

There is too much beauty.

There are too many monsters and too manyrogues.

There is too much fun.

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