The unearthly wail, its notes primal and agonized, echoed off the stone walls of the cavern complex, reverberating into the very heart of the mountain itself.

The tips of Le'lorinel's sword and dagger dipped toward the floor. The elf stopped the training session and turned to regard the room's open door and the corridor beyond, where that awful cry was still echoing.

"What is it?" Le'lorinel asked as a form rushed by. Jule Pepper, the elf, who sprinted to catch up, guessed.

Down the winding way Le'lorinel went, pursuing Jule all the way to the complex of large chambers immediately below those of Sheila Kree and her trusted, brand-wearing compatriots, and into the lair of Chogurugga and Bloog.

Le'lorinel had to dodge aside upon entering, as a huge chair sailed by to smash against the stone. Again came that terrible cry - Chogurugga's shriek. Looking past the ogress, Le'lorinel understood it to be a wail of grief.

For there, in the middle of the floor, lay the bloated body of another ogre, a young and strong one. Sheila Kree and Bellany stood over the body beside another ogre who was kneeling, its huge, ugly head resting atop the corpse. At first, Le'lorinel figured it to be Bloog, but then the elf spotted the gigantic ogre leader, looking on from the wall behind them. It didn't take Le'lorinel long to figure out that the mask of anguish that Bloog wore was far from genuine.

It occurred to Le'lorinel that Bloog might have done this.

"Bathunk! Me baby!" Chogurugga shrieked with concern very atypical for a mother ogress. "Bathunk! Bathunk!"

Sheila Kree moved to talk to the ogress, perhaps to console her, but Chogurugga went into another flailing fit at that moment, lifting a rock from the huge fire pit and hurling it to smash against the wall - not so far from the ducking Bloog, Le'lorinel noted.

"They found Bathunk's body near an outpost to the north," Bellany explained to Jule and Le'lorinel, the sorceress walking over to them. "A few were killed, it seems. That one, Pokker, thought it prudent to bring back Bathunk's body." As she explained, she pointed to the ogre kneeling over the body.

"You sound as if he shouldn't have," Jule Pepper remarked.

Bellany shrugged as if it didn't matter. "Look at the wretch," she whispered, nodding her chin toward the wild Chogurugga. "She'll likely kill half the ogres in Golden Cove or get herself killed by Bloog."

"Or by Sheila," Jule observed, for it seemed obvious that Sheila Kree was fast losing patience with the ogress.

"There is always that possibility," Bellany deadpanned.

"How did it happen?" asked Le'lorinel.

"It is not so uncommon a thing," Bellany answered. "We lose a few ogres every year, particularly in the winter. The idiots simply can't allow good judgment to get in the way of their need to squash people. The soldiers of the Spine of the World communities are veterans all, and no easy mark, even for monsters as powerful and as well-outfitted as Chogurugga's ogres."

While Bellany was answering, Le'lorinel subtly moved toward Bathunk's bloated corpse. Noting that it seemed as if Sheila had Chogurugga momentarily under control then, the elf dared move even closer, bending low to examine the body.

Le'lorinel found breathing suddenly difficult. The cuts on the body were, many, were beautifully placed and were, in many different areas, curving. Curving like the blades of a scimitar. Noting one bruise behind Bathunk's hip, the elf gently reached down and edged the corpse a bit to the side. The mark resembled the imprint of a delicately curving blade, much like the blades Le'lorinel had fashioned for Tunevec during his portrayal of a certain dark elf,

Le'lorinel looked up suddenly, trying to digest it all, recognizing clearly that no ordinary soldier had downed this mighty ogre.

The elf nearly laughed aloud then - a desire only enhanced when Le'lorinel noticed that Bloog was sniffling and wiping his eyes as if they were teary, which they most surely were not. But another roar from behind came as a clear reminder that a certain ogress might not enjoy anyone making light of this tragedy.

Le'lorinel rose quickly and walked back to Jule and Bellany, then kept right on moving out of the room, running back up the passageway to the safety of the upper level. There, the elf gasped and laughed heartily, at once thrilled and scared.

For Le'lorinel knew that Drizzt Do'Urden had done this thing, that the drow was in the area - not so far away if the ogre could carry Bathunk back in this wintry climate.

"My thanks, E'kressa," the elf whispered.

Le'lorinel's hands went instinctively for sword and dagger, then came together in front, the fingers of the right hand turning the enchanted ring about its digit on the left. After all these years, it was about to happen. After all the careful planning, the studying of Drizzt's style and technique, the training, the consultations with some of the finest swordsmen of northern Faerun to find ways to counter the drow's maneuvers. After all the costs, the years of labor to pay for the ring, the partners, the information.

Le'lorinel could hardly draw breath. Drizzt was near. It had to have been that dangerous dark elf who had felled Bathunk.

The elf stalked about the room then went out into the corridor, stalking past Bellany's room and Sheila's, to the end of the hall and the small chamber where Jule Pepper had set up for the winter.

The three women arrived a few moments later, shaking their heads and making off-color jokes about Chogurugga's antics, with Sheila Kree doing a fair imitation of the crazed ogress.

"Quite an exit," Bellany remarked. "You missed the grandest show of all."

"Poor Chogurugga," said Jule with a grin.

"Poor Bloog, ye mean," Sheila was quick to correct, and the three had a laugh.

"All right, ye best be telling me what ye're knowing about it," Sheila said to Le'lorinel when the elf didn't join in the mirth, when the elf didn't crack the slightest of smiles, intensity burning behind those blue and gold orbs.

"I was here when Bathunk was killed, obviously," Le'lorinel reminded.

Bellany was the first to laugh. "You know something," the sorceress said. "As soon as you went to Bathunk's corpse . . ."

"Ye think it was that damned drow who did it to Bathunk," Sheila Kree reasoned.

Le'lorinel didn't answer, other than to keep a perfectly straight, perfectly grim countenance.

"Ye do!"

"The mountains are a big place, with many dangerous adversaries," Jule Pepper put in. "There are thousands who could have done this to the foolish young ogre."

Before Le'lorinel could counter, Bellany said, "Hmm," and walked out in front of the other two, one delicate hand up against her pursed lips. "But you saw the wounds," the sorceress reasoned.

"Curving wounds, like the cuts of a scimitar," Le'lorinel confirmed

"A sword will cut a wound like that if the target's falling when he gets it," Sheila put in. "The wounds don't tell ye as much as ye think."

"They tell me all I need to know," Le'lorinel replied.

"They were well placed," Jule reasoned. "No novice swordsman cut down Bathunk.

"And I know Chogurugga gave him many of the potions you delivered to her," she added to Bellany.

That made even Sheila lift her eyebrows in surprise. Bathunk was no ordinary ogre. He was huge, strong, and well trained, and some of those potions were formidable enhancements.

"It was Drizzt," Le'lorinel stated with confidence. "He is nearby and likely on his way to us."

"So said the diviner who delivered you here," said Bellany, who knew the story well.

"E'kressa the gnome. He sent me to find the mark of Aegis-fang, for that mark would bring Drizzt Do'Urden."

Jule and Bellany looked to each other, then turned to regard Sheila Kree, who was standing with her head down, deep in thought.

"Could've been the soldiers at the tower," the pirate leader said at length, "Could've been reinforcements from one of the smaller villages. Could've been a wandering band of heroes, or even other monsters, trying to claim the prize the ogres had taken."

"Could've been Drizzt Do'Urden," interjected Jule, who had firsthand experience with the dangerous drow and his heroic friends.

Sheila looked at the tall, willowy woman and nodded, then turned her gaze over Le'lorinel. "Ye ready for him - if it is him and if he is coming this way?"

The elf stood straight and tall, head back, chest out proudly. "I have prepared for nothing else in many years."

"If he can take down Bathunk, he'll be a tough fight, don't ye doubt," the pirate leader added.

"We will all be there to aid in the cause," Bellany pointed out, but Le'lorinel didn't seem thrilled at that prospect.

"I know him as well as he knows himself," the elf explained. "If Drizzt Do'Urden comes to us, then he will die."

"At the end of your blade," Bellany said with a grin.

"Or at the end of his own," the ever-cryptic Le'lorinel replied.

"Then we'll be hoping that it's Drizzit," Sheila agreed. "But ye canno' be knowing. The towers in the mountains are well guarded. Many o' Chogurugga's kinfolk've been killed in going against them, or just in working the roads. Too many soldiers about and too many hero-minded adventurers. Ye canno' be knowing it's Drizzt or anyone else."

Le'lorinel let it go at that. Let Sheila think whatever Sheila wanted to think.

Le'lorinel, though, heard again the words of E'kressa.

Le'lorinel knew that it was Drizzt, and Le'lorinel was ready. Nothing else - not Sheila, not Drizzt's friends, not the ogres - mattered. Copyright 2016 - 2023