E've been keeping yer eyes and ears on the elf?" Sheila Kree asked Bellany when the woman joined her in her private quarters that blustery autumn day.

"Le'lorinel is at work on Bloody Keel, attending to duties with little complaint or argument," the sorceress replied. "Just what I'd be expectin' from a spy."

Bellany shrugged, brushing back her dark hair, her expression | a dismissal of Sheila Kree's suspicions. "I have visited Le'lorinel privately and without permission. Magically, when Le'lorinel believed the room was empty. I have seen or heard nothing to make me doubt the elf's story."

"A dark elf," Sheila Kree remarked, going to the opening facing the sea, her red hair fluttering back from the whistling salty breeze that blew in. "A dark elf will seek us out, by Le'lorinel's own words." She half-turned to regard Bellany, who seemed as if she might believe anything at that moment.

"If this dark elf, this Drizzt Do'Urden, does seek us out, then we will be glad we have not disposed of that one," the sorceress reasoned.

Sheila Kree turned back to the sea, shaking her head as if it seemed impossible. "And how long should we be waitin' before decide that Le'lorinel is a spy?" she asked.

"We can not keel-haul the elf while Bloody Keel is in dock anyway," Bellany said with a chuckle, and her reasoning brightened Sheila's mood as well. "The winter will not be so long, I expect."

It wasn't the first time these two had shared such a discussion. Ever since Le'lorinel had arrived with the wild tale of a dark elf and a dwarf king coming to retrieve the warhammer, which Sheila believed she had honestly purchased from the fool Josi Puddles, the boss and her sorceress advisor had spent countless hours and endless days debating the fate of this strange elf. And on many of those days, Bellany had left Sheila thinking that Le'lorinel would likely be dead before the next dawn.

And yet, the elf remained alive.

"A visitor, boss lady," came a guttural call from the door. A half-ogre guard entered, leading a tall and willowy black-haired woman, flanked by a pair of the half-ogre's kin. Both Sheila and Bellany gawked in surprise when they noted the newcomer.

"Jule Pepper," Sheila said incredulously. "I been thinking that ye must own half the Ten-Towns by now!"

The black-haired woman, obviously bolstered by the warm tone from her former boss, shook her arms free of the two brutes flanking her and walked across the room to share a hug with Sheila and one with Bellany.

"I was doing well," the highwaywoman purred. "I had a band of reasonable strength working under me, and on a scheme that seemed fairly secure. Or so I thought, until a certain wretched drow elf and his friends showed up to end the party."

Sheila Kree and Bellany turned to each other in surprise, the pirate boss giving an amazed snort. "A dark elf?" she asked Jule. "Wouldn't happen to be one named Drizzt Do'Urden, would it?"

* * * * * * * * *

Even without the aid of wizards and clerics, without their magic spells of divination and communication, word traveled fast along the northern stretches of the Sword Coast, particularly when the news concerned the people living outside the restrictions and sensibilities of the law, and even more particularly when the hero of the hour was of a race not known for such actions. From tavern to tavern, street to street, boat to boat, and port to port went the recounting of the events at the house of Captain Deudermont, of how a mysterious drow elf and his two companions, one a great cat, throttled a theft and murder plot against the good captain's house. Few made the connection between Drizzt and Wulfgar even between Drizzt and Deudermont, though some did know that a dark elf once had sailed on Sea Sprite. It was a juicy tale bringing great interest on its own, but for the folks of the city bowels, ones who understood that such attempts against a noble and heroic citizen were rarely self-contained things, the interest was even greater. There were surely implications here that went beyond the events in the famous captain's house.

So the tale sped along the coast, and even at one point did encounter some wizardly assistance in moving it along, and so the news of the events at the house long preceded the arrival of Drizzt and Catti-brie in Luskan, and so the news spread even faster farther north.

Sheila Kree knew of the loss of Gayselle before the dark elf crossed through Luskan's southern gate.

The pirate stormed about her private rooms, overturning tables and swearing profusely. She called a pair of half-ogre sentries in so that she could yell at them and slap them, playing out her frustrations for a long, long while.

Finally, too exhausted to continue, the red-haired pirate dismissed the guards and picked up a chair so that she could fall into it, cursing still under her breath.

It made no sense to her. Who was this stupid dark elf - the same one who had foiled Jule Pepper's attempts to begin a powerful band in Ten-Towns - and how in the world did he happen to wind up at Captain Deudermont's house at the precise time to intercept Gayselle's band? Sheila Kree closed her eyes and let it all sink in.

"Redecorating?" came a question from the doorway, and Sheila opened her eyes to see Bellany, a bemused smile on her face, standing et the door.

"Ye heard o' Gayselle?" Sheila asked.

The sorceress shrugged as if it didn't matter. "She'll not be the last we lose."

"I'm thinkin' that I'm hearing too much about a certain drow elf of late," Sheila remarked.

"Seems we have made an enemy," Bellany agreed. "How fortunate that we have been forewarned."

"Where's the elf?"

"At work on the boat, as with every day.Le'lorinel goes about any duties assigned without a word of complaint."

"There's but one focus for that one."

"A certain dark elf," Bellany agreed. "Is it time for Le'lorinel to take a higher step in our little band?"

"Time for a talk, at least," Sheila replied, and Bellany didn't have to be told twice. She turned around with a nod and headed off for the lower levels to fetch the elf, whose tale had become so much more intriguing with the return of Jule Pepper and the news of the disaster in Waterdeep.

* * * * * * * * * *

"When ye first came wandering in, I thought to kill ye dead and be done with ye," Sheila Kree remarked bluntly. The pirate nodded to her burly guards, and they rushed in close, grabbing Le'lorinel fast by the arms.

"I have not lied to you, have done nothing to deserve - " Le'lorinel started to protest.

"Oh, ye're to get what ye're deserving," Sheila Kree assured the elf. She walked over and grabbed a handful of shirt, and with a wicked grin and a sudden jerk, she tore the shirt away, stripping the elf to the waist.

The two half-ogres giggled. Sheila Kree motioned to the door at the back of the room, and the brutes dragged their captive off, through the door and into a smaller room, undecorated except for a hot fire pit near one wall and a block set at about waist height in the center.

"What are you doing?" Le'lorinel demanded in a tone that held its calm edge, despite the obvious trouble.

"It's gonna hurt," Sheila Kree promised as the half-ogres yanked the elf across the block, holding tight.

Le'lorinel struggled futilely against the powerful press.

"Now, ye tell me again about the drow elf, Drizzt Do'Urden," Sheila remarked.

"I told you everything, and honestly," Le'lorinel protested.

"Tell me again," said Sheila.

"Yes, do," came another voice, that of Bellany, who walked into the room. "Tell us about this fascinating character who has suddenly become so very important to us."

"I heard of the killings at Captain Deudermont's house,"

Le'lorinel remarked, grunting as the half-ogres pulled a bit too hard. "I warned you that Drizzt Do'Urden is a powerful enemy."

"But one ye're thinking ye can defeat," Sheila interjected.

"I have prepared for little else."

"And have ye prepared for the pain?" Sheila asked wickedly.

Le'lorinel felt an intense heat.

"I do not deserve this!" the elf protested, but the sentence faded with an agonized scream as the glowing hot metal came down hard on Le'lorinel's back.

The sickly smell of burning skin permeated the room.

"Now, ye tell us all about Drizzt Do'Urden again," Sheila Kree demanded some time later, when Le'lorinel had come back to consciousness and sensibility. "Everything, including why ye're so damned determined to see him dead."

Still held over the block, Le'lorinel stared at the pirate long and hard.

"Ah, let the fool go," Sheila told the half-ogres. "And get ye gone, both of ye!"

The pair did as they were ordered, rushing out of the room. With great effort, Le'lorinel straightened.

Bellany thrust a shirt into the elf's trembling hands. "You might want to wait a while before you try to put that on," the sorceress explained.

Le'lorinel nodded and stretched repeatedly, trying to loosen the new scars.

"I'll be wanting to hear it all," Sheila said. "Ye're owing me that, now."

Le'lorinel looked at the pirate for a moment, then craned to see the new brand, the mark of Aegis-fang, the mark of acceptance and hierarchy in Sheila's band.

Eyes narrowed threateningly, teeth gritted with rage that denied the burning agony of the brand, the elf looked back at Sheila. "Everything, and you will come to trust that I will never rest until Drizzt Do'Urden is dead, slain by my own hands."

* * * * * * * * * *

Later Sheila, Bellany, and Jule Pepper sat together in Sheila's room, digesting all that Le'lorinel had told them of Drizzt Do'Urden and his companions, who were apparently hunting Sheila in an effort to retrieve the warhammer.

"We are fortunate that Le'lorinel came to us," Bellany admitted.

"Ye thinking that the elf can beat the drow?" Sheila asked with a doubtful snort. "Damn drow. Never seen one. Never wanted to."

"I have no idea whether Le'lorinel has any chance at all against this dark elf or not," Bellany honestly answered. "I do know that the elf s hatred for Drizzt is genuine and deep, and whatever the odds, we can expect Le'lorinel to lead the charge if Drizzt Do'Urden comes against us. That alone is a benefit." As she finished, she turned a leading gaze over Jule Pepper, the only one of them to ever encounter Drizzt and his friends.

"I would hesitate to ever bet against that group," Jule said. "Their teamwork is impeccable, wrought of years fighting together, and each of them, even the runt halfling, is formidable."

"What o' these other ones, then?" the obviously nervous pirate leader asked. "What o' Bruenor the dwarf king? Think he'll bring an army against us?"

Neither Jule nor Bellany had any way of knowing. "Le'lorinel told us much," the sorceress said, "but the information is far from complete."

"In my encounter with them in Icewind Dale, the dwarf worked with his friends, but with no support from his clan whatsoever," Jule interjected. "If Bruenor knows the power of your band, though, he might decide to rouse the fury of Clan Battle-hammer."

"And?" Sheila asked.

"Then we sail, winter storm or no," Bellany was quick to reply. Sheila started to scold her but noted that Jule was nodding her agreement, and in truth, the icy waters of the northern Sword

Coast in winter seemed insignificant against the threat of an army of hostile dwarves.

"When Wulfgar was in Luskan, he was known to be working for Arumn Gardpeck at the Cutlass," Jule, who had been in Luskan in those days, offered.

" 'Twas Arumn's fool friend who selled me the warhammer," Sheila remarked.

"But his running companion was an old friend of mine," Jule went on. "A shadowy little thief known as Morik the Rogue."

Sheila and Bellany looked to each other and nodded. Sheila had heard of Morik, though not in any detail. Bellany, though, knew the man fairly well, or had known him, at least, back in her days as an apprentice at the Hosttower of the Arcane. She looked to Jule, considered what she personally knew of lusty Morik, and understood what the beautiful, sensuous woman likely meant by the phrase "an old friend."

"Oh, by the gods," Sheila Kree huffed a few moments later, her head sagging as so many things suddenly became clear to her.

Both of her companions looked at her curiously.

"Deudermont's chasing us," Sheila Kree explained. "What'd'ye think he's looking for?"

"Do we know that he's looking for anything at all?" Bellany replied, but she slowed down as she finished the sentence, as if starting to catch on.

"And now Drizzt and his girlfriend are waiting for us at Deudermont's house," Sheila went on.

"So Deudermont is after Aegis-fang, as well," reasoned Jule Pepper. "It's all connected. But Wulfgar is not - or at least was not - with Drizzt and the others from Icewind Dale, so . . ."

"Wulfgar might be with Deudermont," Bellany finished.

"I'll be paying Josi Puddles back for this, don't ye doubt," Sheila said grimly, settling back in her seat.

"We know not where Wulfgar might be," Jule Pepper put in. "We do know that Deudermont will not likely be sailing anywhere north of Waterdeep for the next season, so if Wulfgar is with Deudermont. . ."

She stopped as Sheila growled and leaped up from her seat, pounding a fist into an open palm. "We're not knowing enough to make any choices," she grumbled. "We're needing to learn more."

An uncomfortable silence followed, at last broken by Jule Pepper. "Morik," the woman said.

Bellany and Sheila looked at her curiously.

"Morik the Rogue, as well-connected as any rogue on Luskan's streets," Bellany explained. "And with a previous interest in Wulfgar, as you just said. He will have some answers for us, perhaps."

Sheila thought it over for a moment. "Bring him to me," she ordered Bellany, whose magical powers could take her quickly to Luskan, despite the season.

Bellany nodded, and without a word she rose and left the room.

"Dark elves and war-hammers," Sheila Kree remarked when she and Jule were alone. "A mysterious and beautiful elf visitor . . ."

"Exotic, if not beautiful," Jule agreed. "And I admit I do like the look. Especially the black mask."

Sheila Kree laughed at the craziness of it all and shook her head vigorously, her wild red hair flying all about. "If Le'lorinel survives this, then I'll be naming an elf among me commanders," she explained.

"A most mysterious and beautiful and exotic elf," Jule agreed with a laugh. "Though perhaps a bit crazy."

Sheila considered her with an incredulous expression. "Ain't we all?"

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