Wulfgar," Regis said again, when no one reacted at all to his first remark.
The halfling looked around to the others, trying to read their expressions. Catti-brie's was easy enough to discern. The woman looked like she could be pushed over by a gentle breeze, looked frozen in shock at the realization that Wulfgar was again standing before her.
Drizzt appeared much more composed, and it seemed to Regis as if the perceptive drow was consciously studying Wulfgar's every move, that he was trying to get some honest gauge as to who this man standing before him truly was. The Wulfgar of their earlier days, or the one who had slapped Catti-brie?
As for Bruenor, Regis wasn't sure if the dwarf wanted to run up and hug the man or run up and throttle him. Bruenor was trembling - though out of surprise, rage, or simple amazement, the halfling couldn't tell.
And Wulfgar, too, seemed to be trying to read some hint of the truth of Bruenor's expression and posture. The barbarian, his stern gaze never leaving the crusty and sour look of Bruenor Battlehammer, gave a deferential nod the halfling's way.
"We have been looking for you," Drizzt remarked. "All the way to Waterdeep and back."
Wulfgar nodded, his expression holding steady, as if he feared to change it.
"It may be that Wulfgar has been looking for Wulfgar, as well," Robillard interjected. The wizard arced an eyebrow when Drizzt turned to regard him directly.
"Well, we found you - or you found us," said Regis.
"But ye think ye found yerself?" Bruenor asked, a healthy skepticism in his tone.
Wulfgar's lips tightened to thin lines, his jaw clenching tightly. He wanted to cry out that he had - he prayed that he had. He looked to them all in turn, wanting to explode into a wild rush that would gather them all up in his arms.
But there he found a wall, as fluid and shifting as the smoke of Errtu's Abyss, and yet through which his emotions seemed not to be able to pass.
"Once again, it seems that I am in your debt," the barbarian managed to say, a perfectly stupid change of subject, he knew.
"Delly told us of your heroics," Robillard was quick to add. "All of us are grateful, needless to say. Never before has anyone so boldly gone against the house of Deudermont. I assure you that the perpetrators have brought the scorn of the Lords of Waterdeep upon those they represented."
The grand statement was diminished somewhat by the knowledge of all in the audience that the Lords of Waterdeep would not likely come to the north in search of those missing conspirators. The Lords of Waterdeep, like the lords of almost every large city, were better at making proclamations than at carrying through with action.
"Perhaps we can exact that vengeance for the Lords of Waterdeep, and for Captain Deudermont as well," Drizzt offered with a sly expression turned Robillard's way. "We hunt for Sheila Kree, and it was she who perpetrated the attack on the captain's house."
"I have delivered Wulfgar to you to join in that hunt."
Again all eyes fell over the huge barbarian, and again, his lips thinned with the tension. Drizzt saw it clearly and understood that this was not the time to burst the dam that was holding back Wulfgar's, and thus all of their feelings. The drow turned to regard Catti-brie, and the fact that she didn't blink for several long moments told him much about her fragile state of mind.
"But what of Robillard?" the dark elf asked suddenly, thinking to deflect, or at least delay the forthcoming flood. "Will he not use his talents to aid us?"
That caught the wizard off guard, and his eyes widened. "He already did!" he protested, but the weakness of the argument was reflected in his tone.
Drizzt nodded, accepting that. "And he can do so much more, and with ease."
"My place is with Captain Deudermont and Sea Sprite, who are already at sea hunting pirates, and were, in fact, in pursuit of one such vessel even as I flew off to collect Wulfgar," Robillard explained, but the drow's smile only widened.
"Your magical talents allow you to search far and wide in a short time," Drizzt explained. "We know the approximate location of our prey, but with the ups and downs of the snow-covered mountains, they could be just beyond the next rise without our ever knowing it."
"My skills have been honed for shipboard battles, Master Do'Urden," Robillard replied.
"All we ask of you is aid in locating the pirate clan, if they are, as we believe, holed up on the southwestern edge of the mountains. Certainly if they've put their ship into winter port, they're near the water. How much more area can you scout, and how much grander the vantage point, with enchantments of flying and the like?"
Robillard thought the words over for a few moments, brought a hand up, and rubbed the back of his neck. "The mountains are vast," he countered.
"We believe we know the general direction," Drizzt answered.
Robillard paused a bit longer, then nodded his head. "I will search out a very specific region, giving you just this one afternoon," he said. "Then I must return to my duties aboard Sect Sprite. We've a pirate in chase that I'll not let flee."
"Fair enough," Drizzt said with a nod.
"I will take one of you with me," the wizard said. He glanced around, his gaze fast settling on Regis, who was by far the lightest of the group. "You," he said, pointing to the halfling. "You will ride with me on the search, learn what you may, then guide your friends back to the pirates."
Regis agreed without the slightest hesitation, and Drizzt and Catti-brie looked at each other with continued surprise.
The preparations were swift indeed, with Robillard gathering up one of the empty packs and bidding Regis to follow him outside. He warned the halfling to don more layers of clothing to battle the cold winds and the great chill up high, then cast an enchantment upon himself.
"Do you know the region Drizzt spoke of?" he asked.
Regis nodded and the wizard cast a second spell, this one over the halfling, shrinking him down considerably in size. Robillard plucked the halfling up and set him in place in the open pack, and off the pair flew, into the bright daylight.
"Quarterling?" Bruenor asked with a chuckle.
"Lookin' more like an eighthling," Catti-brie answered, and the two laughed.
The levity didn't seem to sink in to Wulfgar, nor to Drizzt who, now that the business with Robillard was out of the way, understood that it was time for them to deal with a much more profound issue, one they certainly could not ignore if they were to walk off together into danger with any hope of succeeding.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He saw the world as a bird might, soaring past below him as the wizard climbed higher and higher into the sky, finding wind currents that took them generally and swiftly in the desired direction, south and to the sea.
At first, Regis considered how vulnerable they were up there, black spots against a blue sky, but as they soared on the halfling lost himself in the experience. He watched the rolling landscape, coming over one ridge of a mountain, the ground beyond falling away so fast it took the halfling's breath away. He spotted a herd of deer below and took comfort in their tiny appearance, for if they were that small, barely distinguishable black spots, then how small he and Robillard must seem from the ground. How easy for them to be mistaken for a bird, Regis realized, especially given the wizard's trailing, flowing cape.
Of course, the sudden realization of how high they truly were soon incited other fears in Regis, and he grabbed on tightly to the wizard's shoulders.
"Lessen your pinching grasp!" Robillard shouted against the wind, and Regis complied, just a tiny bit.
Soon the pair were out over cold waters, and Robillard brought them down somewhat, beneath the line of the mountaintops. Below, white water thrashed over many looming rocks and waves thundered against the stony shore, a war that had been raging for millennia. Though they were lower in the sky, Regis couldn't help but tighten his grip again,
A thin line of smoke ahead alerted the pair to a campfire and Robillard immediately swooped back in toward shore, cutting up behind the closest peaks in an attempt to use them as a shield against the eyes of any potential sentries. To the halfling's surprise and relief, the wizard set down on a bare patch of stone.
"I must renew the spell of flying," Robillard explained, "and enact a couple more." The wizard fumbled in his pouch for various components, then began his spellcasting. A few seconds later, he disappeared.
Regis gave a little squeak of surprise and alarm.
"I am right here," Robillard's voice explained.
The halfling heard him begin casting again - the same spell, Regis recognized - and a moment later Regis was invisible too.
"You will have to feel your way back into my pack as soon as I am done renewing the spell of flying," the wizard's voice explained, and he began casting again.
Soon the pair were airborne once more, and though he knew logically that he was safer because he was invisible, Regis felt far less secure simply because he couldn't see the wizard supporting him in his flight. He clung with all his might as Robillard zoomed them around the mountains, finding lower passes that led in the general direction of the smoke they'd seen. Soon that smoke was back in sight yet again, only this time the pair were flying in from the northwest instead of the southwest.
As they approached, they came to see that it was indeed sentries. There was a pair of them, one a rough-looking human and the other a huge, muscled brute - a short ogre perhaps, or a creature of mixed human and ogre blood. The two huddled over a meager fire on a high ridge, rubbing their hands and hardly paying attention to their obvious duty overlooking a winding pass in a gorge just beyond their position.
"The prisoners we captured mentioned a gorge," Regis said to the wizard, loudly enough for Robillard to hear.
In response, Robillard swooped to the north and followed the ridge up to the end of the long gorge. Then he swung around and flew the halfling down the descending, swerving line of the ravine. It had obviously once been a riverbed that wound down toward the sea between two long walls of steep stone, two, maybe three hundred feet tall. The base was no more than a hundred feet wide at its widest point, the expanse widening as the walls rose so that from cliff top to cliff top was several hundred feet across in many locations.
They passed the position of the two sentries and noted another pair across the way, but the wizard didn't slow long enough for Regis to get a good look at this second duo.
Down the wizard and his unenthusiastic passenger went, soaring along, the gorge walls rolling past at a pace that had the poor halfling's thoughts whirling. Robillard spotted yet another ogre-looking sentry, but the halfling, too dizzy from the ride, didn't even look up to acknowledge the wizard's sighting.
The gorge rolled along for more than a thousand feet, and as they rounded one last bend, the pair came in sight of the wind-whipped sea. To the right, the ground broke away into various piles of boulders and outcroppings - a jagged, blasted terrain. To the left, at the base of the gorge, loomed a large mound perhaps four or five hundred feet high. There were openings along its rocky side, including a fairly large cave at ground level.
Robillard went past this, out to the sea, then turned a swift left to encircle the south side of the mound. Many great rocks dotted the seascape, a veritable maze of stone and danger for any ships that might dare it. Other mounds jutted out even more than this one all about the coast, further obscuring it from any seafaring eyes.
And there, in the south facing at sea level, loomed a cave large enough for a masted ship to enter.
Robillard went past it, rising as he continued to circle. Both he and Regis noted a pathway then, beginning to the side of the ocean level cavern and rising as it encircled the mountain to the east.
Climbing up past the eastern face, the pair saw one door, and could easily imagine others along that often-shielded trail.
Robillard went up over the eastern face, continuing back to the north and cutting back down into the gorge. To the halfling's surprise and trepidation, the wizard put down at the base of the mound, right beside the cave opening, which was large enough for a pair of wagons to drive through side by side.
The wizard held onto the invisible halfling, pulling him along into the cave. They heard the gruff banter of three ogres as soon as they went in.
"There might be a better way into the complex for yourself and the drow," the wizard suggested in a whisper.
The halfling nearly jumped in the air at the sound of the voice right beside him. Regis composed himself quickly enough not to squeal out and alert the guards.
"Stay here," Robillard whispered, and he was gone.