With Pwent backtracking and leading the way, I Drizzt was sure he would soon learn the fate of I his friends, and would face his evil sister once more. The battlerager couldn't tell him much about Bruenor and the others, only that when he had been separated from them, they were being hard pressed.

The news drove Drizzt on more quickly. Images of Catti-brie, a helpless prisoner being tortured by Vierna, flitted on the edges of his consciousness. He pictured stubborn Bruenor spitting in Vierna's face - and Vierna tearing the dwarf's face off in reply.

Few chambers dotted this region. Long, narrow tunnels dominated, some wholly natural, others worked in places where the goblins apparently had decided that support was needed. The three came into a fully bricked tunnel then, long and straight, angling slightly up and with several side passages running off it. Drizzt didn't see the forms of the dark elves ahead of him, down the long, dark corridor, but when Twinkle flared suddenly, he did not doubt the sword's warning.

The fact was confirmed a moment later when a crossbow quarrel zipped from the darkness and stuck Regis in the arm. The halfling groaned; Drizzt pulled him back and dropped him safely behind the corner of a side passage they had just passed. By the time the drow had turned back to the main corridor, Pwent was in full charge, singing wildly, taking hit after hit from poisoned darts but walking through them without a concern.

Drizzt rushed after him, saw Pwent charge right past the dark hole of another side corridor, and knew instinctively that the dwarf likely had wandered into a trap.

Drizzt lost all track of the battlerager a moment later, when a quarrel shot past the distant dwarf to hit Drizzt. He looked down to it, hanging painfully from his forearm, and felt the burning tingle as Pwent's countering elixir battled the poison. Drizzt thought of slumping where he stood, of inviting his enemies to think that their poison had felled him again, an easy capture.

He couldn't abandon Pwent, though, and he was simply too angry to wait for this encounter any longer. The time had come to end the threat.

He slipped up to the dark hole of the side tunnel, kept Twinkle back a bit so it would not fully give him away. A roar of outrage exploded from up ahead, followed by a steady stream of dwarven curses, which told Drizzt that Pwent's intended victims had slipped away.

Drizzt heard a slight shuffle to the side, knew that the battlerager had piqued the curiosity of whoever was in there. He took one deep breath, mentally counted to three, and leaped around the corner, Twinkle flaring viciously. The closest drow fell back, firing a second crossbow quarrel at Drizzt that nicked his skin through a shoulder crease in his fine armor. He could only hope that Pwent's potion was strong enough to handle a second hit and took some comfort in the fact that Pwent had seemed to be hit repeatedly during his corridor charge.

Drizzt pressed the crossbowman backward in a rush, the evil drow fumbling to draw his melee weapon. He would have had the drow quickly, except that a second drow joined him, this one armed with sword and dirk. -Drizzt had come into a small, roughly circular chamber, a second exit off to his right, probably joining the main corridor somewhere farther along. Drizzt hardly registered the physical features of the room, though, hardly took note of the initial swings of battle, parrying aside his opponents' measured strikes. His eyes remained beyond them, to the back of the room, where stood Vierna and the mercenary Jarlaxle.

"You have caused me great pains, my lost brother," Vierna snarled at him, "but the reward will be worth the cost, now that you have returned to me."

Listening to her every word, the distracted Drizzt nearly let a sword slip past his defenses. He slapped it away at the last moment and came on in a flourish, scimitars swirling in a descending, crisscrossing pattern.

The dark elf soldiers worked well together, though, and they fended off the attack, countering one after the other and forcing Drizzt back on his heels.

"I do so love to watch you fight," Vierna continued, now smiling smugly, "but I cannot take the chance that you will be slain - not yet." She began a series of chants then, and Drizzt knew her impending spell would be aimed his way, probably at his mind. He gritted his teeth and accelerated the course of his battle, conjuring images of a tortured Catti-brie, putting up a wall of sheer anger.

Vierna released her spell with a glorious cry, and waves of energy rolled over Drizzt, assaulted him and told him, mind and body, to stop in place, to simply hold still and be captured.

Inside the drow ranger welled a part of him, a primal and savage alter ego that he had not known since his days in the wild Underdark. He was the hunter again, free of emotions, free of mental vulnerability. He shrugged away the spell; his scimitars banged hard against his enemies' blades, hard-pressing his two opponents.

Vierna's eyes went wide with surprise. Jarlaxle, at her side, gave an undeniable snicker.

"Your Lloth-given powers will not affect me," Drizzt proclaimed. "I deny the Spider Queen!"

"You will be given to the Spider Queen!" Vierna shouted back, and she seemed to gain the upper hand once more as another drow soldier entered the chamber from the tunnel to Drizzt's right. "Kill him!" the priestess commanded. "Let the sacrifice be here and now. I'll tolerate no more blasphemy from this outcast!"

Drizzt was fighting magnificently, keeping both his enemies more on their heels than on their toes. If the third skilled soldier came in, however...

It never got to that. There came a wild roar from the tunnel on the right, and Thibbledorf Pwent, head bowed in one of his typically frantic charges, plowed through. He hit the surprised drow soldier on the side, his bent helmet spike slicing through the unfortunate elf's slender hip, tearing into his abdomen.

Pwent's powerful legs continued to drive through until he at last got tangled in the impaled drow's feet, and both combatants crashed to the floor right before a stunned Vierna.

The drow thrashed in helpless desperation as Pwent pounded him mercilessly.

Drizzt knew he had to get to his peer's side quickly, understood the danger Pwent faced with Vierna and the mercenary having open shots at him. He brought Twinkle in a flashing downward cross, deflecting both his opponents' swords to the side, and he stepped right in behind the blade, coming with his second blade at his closest opponent, the one who had hit him with the crossbow bolt and who carried no second weapon.

The arm of the other drow shot across, dirk hitting the scimitar just enough to prevent a kill. Still, Drizzt had scored a painful hit on one opponent, slicing the drow's cheek wide.

- Out came Vierna's snake-headed whip, the priestess's face an image of pure rage as she beat at the prone battlerager's back. Living snake heads darted about the battle-rager's fine armor, finding gaps through which they could bite at his thick hide.

Pwent wriggled his helmet spike free, drove a glove nail through the dying dark elf's face, then turned his attention to his newest attacker and her wicked weapon.

Snap!

A snake head got him on the shoulder. Two others nipped his neck. Pwent threw his arm up as he turned, but got bitten twice on the hand, his limb immediately going numb. He felt his potent elixir fighting back, but he hesitated, near to swooning.

Swap!

Vierna hit him again, all five snake heads finding a target on the dwarf's hand and face. Pwent regarded her a moment longer, formed his lips as if to speak out a curse, then he fell to the stone and flopped about like a grounded fish, his entire body nearly numb, his nerves and muscles unable to function in any coordinated way.

Vierna looked Drizzt's way, her eyes burning with open hatred. "Now all your pitiful friends are dead, my lost brother!" she growled, something she sincerely believed true. She advanced a step, snake whip held high, but paused at the sheer and unbridled rage that suddenly contorted her brother's features.

All your pitiful friends are dead!

The words burned in Drizzt's blood, turned his heart to stone.

All your pitiful friends are dead!

Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Bruenor, everything Drizzt Do'Urden held dear, were lost to him, taken by a heritage that he had not been able to escape.

He could hardly see his opponent's movements, though he knew his scimitars were intercepting every attack with perfection, moving in a precise blur that offered his enemies no openings.

All your pitiful friends are dead!

He was the hunter again, surviving the wilds of the Underdark. He was beyond the hunter, the warrior incarnate, fighting on perfect instinct.

A sword thrust in from the right. Drizzt's scimitar slapped down across it, driving its tip to the ground. Faster than the agile evil drow could react, Drizzt turned his blade completely over the sword and heaved high, throwing the drow back a step.

Across flashed the scimitar, severing the triceps muscles on the back of the swordsman's arm. The pained drow yelled but somehow held his weapon, though it did him no good as the scimitar came back across, squealing as it cut through the fine mesh armor, drawing a line of blood across the drow's chest.

Drizzt flipped the blade over in his hand in the blink of an eye, and the scimitar flashed back the other way, high. He flipped it again and sent it back a fourth time, and the only reason he missed the mark was that the head that had been his intended target was already flying free.

All the while, the scimitar in Drizzt's other hand had parried the other opponent's attacks.

Vierna gasped, as did the remaining soldier facing Drizzt, and Drizzt would have fallen over him just as easily. He saw Jarlaxle's arm pumping, though, from beyond the opening left by the fallen opponent.

Drizzt's next dance was pure and furious desperation. His first scimitar rang out with a metallic impact. Twinkle came across and batted a second dagger aside.

It was over in a mere second, five daggers knocked away by a dark elf that hadn't even consciously seen them coming.

Jarlaxle fell back on his heels, then began to circle, laughing all the while, amazed and thrilled by the stunning display and the continuing battle.

Drizzt's troubles were not ended, though, for Vierna, crying for Lloth to be with her, leaped ahead to lend support to the soldier, and her snake-headed whip presented more problems by far than had the dead drow soldier's single sword.

* * * * *

Regis huddled back into as small a ball as he could manage when he saw the dark shapes drifting silently past the opening of the side passage. The halfling relaxed when the group had passed, was daring enough to crawl nearer to the entrance and use his infravision to try to discern if these were more evil dark elves.

Those red-glowing eyes gave him away; a sixth soldier was moving behind the first group.

Regis fell back with a squeak. He grabbed a rock in his plump little hand and held it out before him. A pitiful weapon indeed against the likes of a drow elf!

The dark elf considered the halfling and the tunnel all about Regis, carefully, then entered, coming in cautiously. A smile widened as he came to realize Regis's apparent helplessness.

"Already wounded?" he asked in the Common tongue.

It took Regis a moment to sort through the heavy and unfamiliar accent. He lifted the rock threateningly as the drow edged in close, kneeling to Regis's level and holding a long and cruel sword in one hand, a dagger in the other.

The drow laughed aloud. "You will strike me down with your pebble?" he taunted, and he moved his arms out wide, presenting Regis an easy opening for his chest. "Hit me, then, little halfling. Amuse me before my dagger digs a fine line across your throat."

Regis, trembling, moved the rock in a jerking motion, as though he meant to take the drow up on the offer. It was the halfling's other hand which shot forward, though, the hand holding Artemis Entreri's dropped dagger.

The jewels in the deadly blade flared appreciatively, as though the weapon had a life and a hunger of its own, when it ripped past the fine mesh armor and sank deeply into the startled dark elf's soft skin.

Regis blinked in amazement at how easily the dagger had penetrated. It seemed as though his opponent wore thin parchment instead of metallic chain mail. The half-ling's hand was nearly thrown from the weapon hilt as a surge of power coursed through the dagger, into his arm. The drow tried to respond, and Regis would have had no defense if he had brought either weapon to bear.

But the drow did not, for some reason could not. His eyes remained wide in shock, his body jerked spasmodically, and it seemed to Regis as if his very life force was being stolen away. His own mouth agape, Regis stared into the most profound expression of horror he had ever seen.

More vital energy surged up the halfling's arm; he heard the drow's weapons fall to the stone. Regis could think only of old tales his papa had told him of frightening night creatures. He felt as he imagined a vampire must feel when feeding on the blood of its victims, felt a perverse warmth wash over him.

His wounds were on the mend!

The drow victim slumped lifelessly to the stone. Regis sat staring blankly at the magical dagger. He shuddered many times, recalling vividly each occasion when he had nearly felt that weapon's wicked sting.

* * * * *

The two drow moved silently but swiftly through the winding tunnels that would bring them to Vierna and Jarlaxle. They were confident they had outdistanced the outrageous dwarf, did not know that Pwent had sidetracked and had gotten to Vierna first.

Nor did they know that another dwarf had entered the tunnels, a red-bearded dwarf whose teary eyes promised death to any enemy he stumbled upon.

The dark elves turned a bend into the tunnel that would get them to the side room, parallel to the main tunnel. They saw the short but wide form of the dwarf swing about, just a few strides ahead of them, and charge in fearlessly, wildly.

The three opponents intertwined in a confused jumble, Bruenor shield-rushing with abandon, whipping his many-notched axe about him blindly.

"Ye killed me boy!" the dwarf bellowed, and though neither of his opponents could understand the Common tongue, they could discern Bruenor's rage clearly enough. One of the drow regained his footing and slipped his sword over the emblazoned shield, scoring a hit on the dwarf's shoulder that should have stolen the strength from that arm.

If Bruenor even knew he had been hit, he did not show it.

"Me boy!" he growled, slapping aside the other drow's sword with a powerful swipe of his heavy axe. The drow replaced the sword with his second sword, again pressing the dwarf. But Bruenor accepted the hit, didn't even flinch, his thoughts purely aimed for the kill.

He chopped his axe in a low swoop. The drow hopped the blade, but Bruenor stopped the swing and turned it about. The drow tried to hop a second time as soon as he landed, but Bruenor's movement was too quick, the dwarf jerking the axe around the drow's ankle and heaving with all his strength, taking the drow from his feet.

The other dark elf came over the dwarf, trying to shield his downed companion. His sword slashed across, scarring Bruenor's face, blinding the dwarf in one eye. Again Bruenor ignored the searing agony, bulled ahead within striking distance.

"Me boy!" he cried again, and he chopped down with all his strength, his axe blade cracking through the scrambling drow's spine.

Bruenor threw his shield up just in time to stop a sword thrust from the standing drow. Off balance and shuffling backward, the dwarf tugged repeatedly, finally tearing the weapon free.

* * * * *

Snake heads seemed to work independently of each other, assaulting Drizzt from different angles, snapping and coiling to snap again. Spurred on by the sight of Vierna fighting beside him, the male drow pressed Drizzt as well, sword and dirk working furiously, that he might score the kill for the priestess, for the glory of the wicked Spider Queen.

Drizzt kept his composure throughout the assault, worked his scimitars and his feet in harmony to block or dodge, and to keep his opponents, particularly Vierna, back from him.

He knew he was in trouble, though, especially when he noticed Jarlaxle, the devious mercenary, circling behind, finding an opening between Vierna and the male soldier. Drizzt expected another series of flying daggers, did not honestly know how he would escape their bite this time with Vierna's whip demanding his attention.

His fears doubled when he saw the mercenary point out at him, not with a dagger, but a wand.

"A pity, Drizzt Do'Urden," the mercenary said. "I would give many lives to own a warrior of your skills." He began to chant in the drow tongue. Drizzt tried to go to the side, but Vierna and the other drow worked him hard, kept him in line.

There came a flash, a lightning bolt, beginning just ahead of the ducking Vierna and the drow soldier. But there came, too, just as the mercenary uttered the triggering words, a flying black form, from behind Drizzt, that clipped the drow ranger's shoulder as it leaped past him and flew through the opening between Vierna and her male ally.

Guenhwyvar took the blast full force, absorbed the energy of the lightning bolt before it ever got started. The panther soared through its magical force, slamming into the surprised mercenary and driving him to the stone.

The sudden flash, the sudden appearance of the panther, did not distract the veteran Drizzt. Nor did Vierna, so filled with hatred, so obsessed with this kill, turn her attention from the furious battle. The other drow, though, squinted at the sudden flash and turned his head for an instant to look over his shoulder.

In that instant, when the drow turned back to the battle, he found Twinkle's deadly point already passing through his armor and reaching for his heart.

* * * * *

The flash had lasted no more than a split second, and it hadn't brought too much light into the main corridor beyond the entrance of the side chamber, but in that split second, Catti-brie, crouched farther down the hall to watch Guenhwyvar's progress, saw the slender forms of the approaching dark elf band.

She put an arrow into the air and used its silvery light to discern the dark elves' exact positions. Her face locked in a merciless grimace and the battered young woman rose behind the arrow's silvery wake to steadily begin stalking her enemies, knocking another arrow as she went.

Vengeance for Wulfgar dominated her every thought. She knew no fear, did not even flinch as she heard the expected reply from handcrossbows. Two quarrels stung her.

Another arrow went off, this one catching a dark elf in the shoulder and hurling him to the floor. Before its streaking light had dissipated, Catti-brie fired a third, this one screeching like a banshee as it careened off the worked tunnel's stone walls.

Still the young woman walked on. She knew the dark elves could see her every step, while she caught only silhouetted glimpses of the elves as her arrows streaked past.

Instinct told her to put an arrow up high, and she smiled grimly as it connected with a levitating drow, catching him squarely in the face as he rose, blowing his head apart. The force of the blow spun the body over, and it hung, motionless, in midair.

Catti-brie did not see her next arrow go off, and only then did she realize that the dark elves had put a globe of darkness over her. How foolish! she thought, for now they could not see her as she could not see them.

Still she walked, out of the globe, firing again, killing another of her enemies.

A crossbow quarrel hit the side of her face, scraped painfully against her jawbone.

Catti-brie walked on, jaw set, teeth gritted tightly. She saw the red-glowing eyes of the remaining two drow closing on her fast, knew that they had drawn swords and charged. She put the bow up, using their eyes as beacons.

A globe of darkness fell over her.

Terror welled up inside the young woman, but she fought it back stubbornly, her expression not changing. She knew she had only moments before a drow sword plunged through her. Her mind recalled the last positions in which she had seen her enemies, showed her the angles for her shot.

She put another arrow up, heard the slightest scuffle ahead and to the left, turned, and fired. Then she loosed a third and a fourth, using no guidance beyond her instinct, hoping that she might at least wound the charging dark elves and slow their progress. She fell flat to the floor and fired sidelong, then winced as her arrow soared away in the blackness, apparently not connecting.

Instincts guiding her still, Catti-brie rolled to her back and fired above her, heard a dull thump, then a sharp crack as the missile drove through a floating drow and into the ceiling. Chunks of rubble fell from above, and Catti-brie covered up.

She remained in a defensive position for a long while, expecting the ceiling to fall on her, expecting a dark elf to rush up and slash her apart.

* * * * *

He got his sword near the dwarf far more often than the dwarf's bulky axe came near to hitting him, but the lone drow facing Bruenor knew he could not win, could not stop this enraged enemy. He called upon his innate magic and lined Bruenor with blue-glowing, harmless flames -  faerie fire, it was called - distinctively outlining the dwarf's form and presenting the drow with an easier target.

Bruenor didn't even flinch.

The drow came with a vicious, straightforward thrust that forced the dwarf back on his heels, then turned and fled, thinking to put a few feet between him and his enemy, then turn and drop a darkness globe over the dwarf.

Bruenor didn't try to match the drow's long strides. He brought his axe in, clasped it in both hands, and pulled it back over his head.

"Me boy!" the dwarf yelled with all his rage, and with all his strength he hurled the axe, end over end. It was a daring move, a move offered by the desperation of a father who had lost his child. Bruenor's axe would not return to him as Aegis-fang had to Wulfgar. If the axe did not hit the mark...

It caught the drow just as he was turning the corner back into the winding side tunnel, diving into his hip and back and hurling him across the way to collide with the opposite corner. He tried to recover, wriggled about on the floor for a few moments, searching for his lost sword and air to breathe.

As his hand neared the hilt of his fallen weapon, a dwarven boot slammed down atop it, crushing the fingers.

Bruenor considered the angle of the sticking axe and the gush of blood pouring all about the weapon's blade. "Ye're dead," he said coldly to the dark elf, and he tore the weapon free with a sickening crackle.

The drow heard the words distantly, but his mind had shut down by that time, his thoughts flowing away from him as surely as was his life's blood.

* * * * *

Vierna did not relent as her companion fell dead, showed no signs that she cared at all for the battle's sudden turn. Drizzt's stomach turned at the sight of his sister, her features locked in the hatred that the Spider Queen so often fostered, a rage beyond reason, beyond consciousness and conscience.

Drizzt did not let his ambivalence affect his swordplay, though, not after Vierna had proclaimed his friends dead. He hit the snapping snake heads often, but couldn't seem to connect solidly enough to seriously damage any.

One got its fangs into his arm. Drizzt felt the numbing tingle and whipped his other blade across to sever the thing.

The movement left his opposite flank open, though, and a second head got him on the shoulder. A third came in for the side of his face.

His backhand slash took the nearest viper's head and drove the other attacking snake away.

Vierna's whip had only three heads remaining, but the hits had staggered Drizzt. He rocked back a few steps, found some support in the solid wall along the side of the entryway. He looked to his shoulder, horrified to see the severed head of the snake still holding fast, its fangs deeply embedded.

Only then did Drizzt notice the familiar silver flashes of Taulmaril, Catti-brie's bow. Guenhwyvar was alive and about; Catti-brie was out in the hall, fighting; and, from somewhere far down the other corridor, the one along the right-hand side of the small chamber, Drizzt heard the unmistakable roar of Bruenor Battlehammer's litany of rage.

"Me boy!"

"You said they were dead," Drizzt remarked to Vierna. He steadied himself against the wall.

"They do not matter!" Vierna yelled back at him, obviously as amazed as Drizzt by the revelation. "You are all that matters, you and the glories your death will bring me!" She launched herself forward at her wounded brother, three snake heads leading the way.

Drizzt had found his strength again, had found it in the presence of his friends, in the knowledge that they, too, were involved in this fight and would need him to win.

Instead of lashing out or swiping across, Drizzt let then snake heads come to him. He got bit again, twice, but Twinkle split one viper's rushing head down the middle, leaving its torn body writhing uselessly.

Drizzt kicked off the wall, driving Vierna back in surprise. He worked his blades fast and hard, aiming always for the snakes of Vierna's whip, though more than once he felt as if he could have slipped through his sister's defenses and scored a hit on her body.

Another snake head dropped to the floor.

Vierna came across with the decimated whip, but a scimitar sliced deeply into her forearm before she could snap the remaining snake head forward. The weapon flew to the floor. The writhing snake became a lifeless thong as soon as the whip left Vierna's hand.

Vierna hissed - she seemed an animal - at Drizzt, her empty hands grasping the air repeatedly.

Drizzt did not immediately advance, did not have to, for Twinkle's deadly tip was poised only inches from his sister's vulnerable breast.

Vierna's hand twitched toward her belt, where twin maces, carved in intricate runes of spiderwebs, awaited. Drizzt could well guess the power of those weapons, and he knew firsthand from his days in Menzoberranzan Vierna's skill in using them.

"Do not," he ordered, indicating the weapons.

"We were both trained by Zaknafein," Vierna reminded him, and the mention of his father stung Drizzt. "Do you fear to find out who best learned the many lessons?"

"We were both sired by Zaknafein," Drizzt retorted, tapping Vierna's hand away from her belt with Twinkle's furiously glowing blade. "Do not continue this and dishonor him. There is a better way, my sister, a light you cannot know."

Vierna's cackling laughter mocked him. Did he really believe he could reform her, a priestess of Lloth?

"Do not!" Drizzt commanded more forcefully as Vierna's hand again inched toward the nearest mace.

She lurched for it. Twinkle plunged through her breast, through her heart, its bloody tip coming out her back.

Drizzt was right against her then, holding her arms in tight, supporting her as her legs failed her.

They stared at each other, unblinking, as Vierna slowly slumped to the floor. Gone was her rage, her obsession, replaced by a look of serenity, a rare expression on the face of a drow.

"I am sorry," was all Drizzt could quietly mouth.

Vierna shook her head, refusing any apology. To Drizzt, it seemed as if that buried part of her that was Zaknafein Do'Urden's daughter approved of this ending.

Vierna's eyes then closed forever.



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