Exile by R. A. Salvatore


  ( Forgotten Realms: Dark Elf - 2 )

  Robert Anthony Salvatore

  The second in a series of premiere hardcover editions of Salvatore's classic dark elf tales.

  This stunning new release of the classic R.A. Salvatore novel continues the tale of the origins of Salvatore’s signature dark elf character Drizzt Do’Urden and is the first-ever release of this Forgotten Realms novel title in hardcover. Each title in “The Legend of Drizzt” series showcases the classic dark elf novels in new, deluxe hardcover editions. Each title will feature annotations by the author, all new cover art, and forewords written by those who have become familiar with Salvatore and Drizzt over the years.

  R. A. Salvatore



  The monster lumbered along the quiet corridors of the Underdark, its eight scaly legs occasionally scuffing the stone. It did not recoil at its own echoing sounds, fearing the revealing noise. Nor did it scurry for cover, expecting the rush of another predator. For even in the dangers of the Underdark, this creature knew only security, confident of its ability to defeat any foe. Its breath reeked of deadly poison, the hard edges of its claws dug deep gouges into solid stone, and the rows of spearlike teeth that lined its wicked maw could fear through the thickest of hides. But worst of all was the monster’s gaze, the gaze of a basilisk, which could transmutate into solid stone any living thing it fell upon.

  This creature, huge and terrible, was among the greatest of its kind. It did not know fear.

  The hunter watched the basilisk pass as he had watched it earlier that same day. The eight-legged monster was the intruder here, coming into the hunter’s domain. He had witnessed the basilisk kill several of his rothe―the small, cattlelike creatures that enhanced his table―with its poison breath, and the rest of the herd had fled blindly down the endless tunnels, perhaps never to return.

  The hunter was angry.

  He watched now as the monster trudged down the narrow passageway, just the route the hunter had suspected it would take. He slid his weapons from their sheaths, gaining confidence, as always, as soon as he felt their fine balance. The hunter had owned them since his childhood, and even after nearly three decades of almost constant use, they bore only the slightest hints of wear. Now they would be tested again.

  The hunter replaced his weapons and waited for the sound that would spur him to motion. A throaty growl stopped the basilisk in its tracks. The monster peered ahead curiously, though its poor eyes could distinguish little beyond a few feet. Again came the growl, and the basilisk hunched down, waiting for the challenger, its next victim, to spring out and die.

  Far behind, the hunter came out of his cubby, running impossibly fast along the tiny cracks and spurs in the corridor walls. In his magical cloak, his piwafwi, he was invisible against the stone, and with his agile and practiced movements, he made not a sound.

  He came impossibly silent, impossibly fast.

  The growl issued again from ahead of the basilisk but had not come any closer. The impatient monster shuffled forward, anxious to get on with the killing. When the basilisk crossed under a low archway, an impenetrable globe of absolute darkness enveloped its head and the monster stopped suddenly and took a step back, as the hunter knew it would.

  The hunter was upon it then. He leaped from the passage wall, executing three separate actions before he ever reached his mark. First he cast a simple spell, which lined the basilisk’s head in glowing blue and purple flames. Next he pulled his hood down over his face, for he did not need his eyes in battle, and against a basilisk a stray gaze could only bring him doom. Then, drawing his deadly scimitars, he landed on the monster’s back and ran up its scales to get to its head.

  The basilisk reacted as soon as the dancing flames outlined its head. They did not burn, but their outline made the monster an easy target. The basilisk spun back, but before its head had turned halfway, the first scimitar had dived into one of its eyes. The creature reared and thrashed, trying to get at the hunter. It breathed its noxious fumes and whipped its head about.

  The hunter was the faster. He kept behind the maw, out of death’s way. His second scimitar found the basilisk’s other eye, then the hunter unleashed his fury. The basilisk was the intruder; it had killed his rothe! Blow after savage blow bashed into the monster’s armored head, flecked off scales, and dived for the flesh beneath.

  The basilisk understood its peril but still believed that it would win. It had always won. If it could only get its poisonous breath in line with the furious hunter.

  The second foe, the growling feline foe, was upon the basilisk then, having sprung toward the flame-lined maw without fear. The great cat latched on and took no notice of the poisonous fumes, for it was a magical beast, impervious to such attacks. Panther claws dug deep lines into the basilisk’s gums, letting the monster drink of its own blood.

  Behind the huge head, the hunter struck again and again, a hundred times and more. Savagely, viciously, the scimitars slammed through the scaly armor, through the flesh, and through the skull, battering the basilisk down into the blackness of death.

  Long after the monster lay still, the pounding of the bloodied scimitars slowed.

  The hunter removed his hood and inspected the broken pile of gore at his feet and the hot stains of blood on his blades. He raised the dripping scimitars into the air and proclaimed his victory with a scream of primal exultation.

  He was the hunter and this was his home!

  When he had thrown all of his rage out in that scream, though, the hunter looked upon his companion and was ashamed. The panther’s saucer eyes judged him, even if the panther did not. The cat was the hunter’s only link to the past, to the civilized existence the hunter once had known.

  “Come, Guenhwyvar,” he whispered as he slid the scimitars back into their sheaths. He reveled in the sound of the words as he spoke them. It was the only voice he had heard for a decade. But every time he spoke now, the words seemed more foreign and came to him with difficulty. Would he lose that ability, too, as he had lost every other aspect of his former existence? This the hunter feared greatly, for without his voice, he could not summon the panther.

  He then truly would be alone.

  Down the quiet corridors of the Underdark went the hunter and his cat, making not a sound, disturbing no rubble. Together they had come to know the dangers of this hushed world. Together they had learned to survive. Despite the victory, though, the hunter wore no smile this day. He feared no foes, but was no longer certain whether his courage came from confidence or from apathy about living.

  Perhaps survival was not enough.

  Part 1.

  The Hunter

  I remember vividly the day I walked away from the city of my birth, the city of my people. All the Underdark lay before me, a life of adventure and excitement, with possibilities that lifted my heart. More than that, though, I left Menzoberranzan with the belief that I could now live my life in accordance with my principles. I had Guenhwyvar on my side and my scimitars belted on my hips. My future was my own to determine.

  But that drow, the young Drizzt Do’Urden who walked out of Menzoberranzan on that fated day; barely into my fourth decade of life, could not begin to understand the truth of time, of how its passage seemed to slow when the moments were not shared with others. In my youthful exuberance, I looked forward to several centuries of life.

  How do you measure centuries when a single hour seems a day and a single day seems a year?

  Beyond the cities of the Underdark, there is food for those who know how to find it and safety for those who know how to hide. More than anything else, though, beyond the teeming cities of the Underdark, there is solitude.

  As I became a creature of the empty tunnels, survival became
easier and more difficult all at once. I gained in the physical skills and experience necessary to live on. I could defeat almost anything that wandered into my chosen domain, and those few monsters that I could not defeat, I could surely flee or hide from. It did not take me long, however, to discover one nemesis that I could neither defeat nor flee. It followed me wherever I went―indeed, the farther I ran, the more it closed in around me. My enemy was solitude, the interminable, incessant silence of hushed corridors.

  Looking back on it these many years later; I find myself amazed and appalled at the changes I endured under such an existence. The very identity of every reasoning being is defined by the language, the communication, between that being and others around it. Without that link, I was lost. When I left Menzoberranzan, I determined that my life would be based on principles, my strength adhering to unbending beliefs. Yet after only a few months alone in the Underdark, the only purpose for my survival was my survival. I had become a creature of instinct, calculating and cunning but not thinking, not using my mind for anything more than directing the newest kill.

  Guenhwyvar saved me, I believe. The same companion that had pulled me from certain death in the clutches of monsters unnumbered rescued me from a death of emptiness―less dramatic, perhaps, but no less fatal. I found myself living for those moments―when the cat could walk by my side, when I had another living creature to hear my words, strained though they had become. In addition to every other value, Guenhwyvar became my time clock, for I knew that the cat could come forth from the Astral Plane for a half-day every other day.

  Only after my ordeal had ended did I realize how critical that one-quarter of my time actually was. Without Guenhwyvar; I would not have found the resolve to continue. I would never have maintained the strength to survive.

  Even when Guenhwyvar stood beside me, I found myself growing more and more ambivalent toward the fighting. I was secretly hoping that some denizen of the Underdark would prove stronger than I. Could the pain of tooth or talon be greater than the emptiness and the silence?

  I think not.

  Drizzt Do’Urden

  Chapter 1.

  Anniversary Present

  Matron Malice Do’Urden shifted uneasily on the stone throne in the small and darkened anteroom to the great chapel of House Do’Urden. For the dark elves, who measured time’s passage in decades, this was a day to be marked in the annals of Malice’s house, the tenth anniversary of the ongoing covert conflict between the Do’Urden family and House Hun’ett. Matron Malice, never one to miss a celebration, had a special present prepared for her enemies.

  Briza Do’Urden, Malice’s eldest daughter, a large and powerful drow female, paced about the anteroom anxiously, a not uncommon sight. “It should be finished by now,” she grumbled as she kicked a small three-legged stool. It skidded and tumbled, chipping away a piece of mushroom-stem seat.

  “Patience, my daughter,” Malice replied somewhat recriminatory, though she shared Briza’s sentiments. “Jarlaxle is a careful one.” Briza turned away at the mention of the outrageous mercenary and moved to the room’s ornately carved stone doors. Malice did not miss the significance of her daughter’s actions.

  “You do not approve of Jarlaxle and his band,” the matron mother stated flatly.

  “They are houseless rogues,” Briza spat in response, still not turning to face her mother. “There is no place in Menzoberranzan for houseless rogues. They disrupt the natural order of our society. And they are males!”

  “They serve us well,” Malice reminded her. Briza wanted to argue about the extreme cost of hiring the mercenary band, but she wisely held her tongue. She and Malice had been at odds almost continually since the start of the Do’Urden-Hun’ett war.

  “Without Bregan D’aerthe, we could not take action against our enemies,” Malice continued. “Using the mercenaries, the houseless rogues, as you have named them, allows us to wage war without implicating our house as the perpetrator.”

  “Then why not be done with it?” Briza demanded, spinning back toward the throne. “We kill a few of Hun’ett’s soldiers, they kill a few of ours. And all the while, both houses continue to recruit replacements! It will not end! The only winners in the conflict are the mercenaries of Bregan D’aerthe―and whatever band Matron SiNafay Hun’ett has hired―feeding off the coffers of both houses!”

  “Watch your tone, my daughter,” Malice growled as an angry reminder. “You are addressing a matron mother.”

  Briza turned away again. “We should have attacked House Hun’ett immediately, on the night Zaknafein was sacrificed,” she dared to grumble.

  “You forget the actions of your youngest brother on that night,” Malice replied evenly.

  But the matron mother was wrong. If she lived a thousand more years, Briza would not forget Drizzt’s actions on the night he had forsaken his family. Trained by Zaknafein, Malice’s favorite lover and reputably the finest weapon master in all of Menzoberranzan, Drizzt had achieved a level of fighting ability far beyond the drow norm. But Zak had also given Drizzt the troublesome and blasphemous attitudes that Lloth, the Spider Queen deity of the dark elves, would not tolerate. Finally, Drizzt’s sacrilegious ways had invoked Lloth’s wrath, and the Spider Queen, in turn, had demanded his death.

  Matron Malice, impressed by Drizzt’s potential as a warrior, had acted boldly on Drizzt’s behalf and had given Zaknafein’s heart to Lloth to compensate for Drizzt’s sins. She forgave Drizzt in the hope that without Zaknafein’s influences he would amend his ways and replace the deposed weapon master.

  In return, though, the ungrateful Drizzt had betrayed them all, had run off into the Underdark―an act that had not only robbed House Do’Urden of its only potential remaining weapon master, but also had placed Matron Malice and the rest of the Do’Urden family out of Lloth’s favor. In the disastrous end of all their efforts, House Do’Urden had lost its premier weapon master, the favor of Lloth, and its would-be weapon master. It had not been a good day.

  Luckily, House Hun’ett had suffered similar woes on that same day, losing both its wizards in a botched attempt to assassinate Drizzt. With both houses weakened and in Lloth’s disfavor, the expected war had been turned into a calculated series of covert raids.

  Briza would never forget.

  A knock on the anteroom door startled Briza and her mother from their private memories of that fateful time.

  The door swung open, and Dinin, the elderboy of the house, walked in.

  “Greetings, Matron Mother,” he said in appropriate manner and dipping into a low bow. Dinin wanted his news to be a surprise, but the grin that found its way onto his face revealed everything.

  “Jarlaxle has returned!” Malice snarled in glee. Dinin turned toward the open door, and the mercenary, waiting patiently in the corridor, strode in. Briza, ever amazed at the rogue’s unusual mannerisms, shook her head as Jarlaxle walked past her. Nearly every dark elf in Menzoberranzan dressed in a quiet and practical manner, in robes adorned with the symbols of the Spider Queen or in supple chain-link armor under the folds of a magical and camouflaging piwafwi cloak.

  Jarlaxle, arrogant and brash, followed few of the customs of Menzoberranzan’s inhabitants. He was most certainly not the norm of drow society and he flaunted the differences openly, brazenly. He wore not a cloak nor a robe, but a shimmering cape that showed every color of the spectrum both in the glow of light and in the infrared spectrum of heat-sensing eyes. The cape’s magic could only be guessed, but those closest to the mercenary leader indicated that it was very valuable indeed.

  Jarlaxle’s vest was sleeveless and cut so high that his slender and tightly muscled stomach was open for all to view. He kept a patch over one eye, though careful observers would understand it as ornamental, for Jarlaxle often shifted it from one eye to the other.

  “My dear Briza,” Jarlaxle said over his shoulder, noting the high priestess’s disdainful interest in his appearance. He spun about and bowed low, sweeping off the wide-brimmed
hat―another oddity, and even more so since the hat was overly plumed in the monstrous feathers of a diatryma, a gigantic Underdark bird―as he stooped.

  Briza huffed and turned away at the sight of the mercenary’s dipping head. Drow elves wore their thick white hair as a mantle of their station, each cut designed to reveal rank and house affiliation. Jarlaxle the rogue wore no hair at all, and from Briza’s angle, his clean-shaven head appeared as a ball of pressed onyx.

  Jarlaxle laughed quietly at the continuing disapproval of the eldest Do’Urden daughter and turned back toward Matron Malice, his ample jewelry tinkling and his hard and shiny boots clumping with every step. Briza took note of this as well, for she knew that those boots, and that jewelry, only seemed to make noise when Jarlaxle wished them to do so.

  “It is done?” Matron Malice asked before the mercenary could even begin to offer a proper greeting.

  “My dear Matron Malice,” Jarlaxle replied with a pained sigh, knowing that he could get away with the informalities in light of his grand news. “Did you doubt me? Surely I am wounded to my heart.”

  Malice leaped from her throne, her fist clenched in victory. “Dipree Hun’ett is dead!” she proclaimed. “The first noble victim of the war!”

  “You forget Masoj Hun’ett,” remarked Briza, “slain by Drizzt ten years ago. And Zaknafein Do’Urden,” Briza had to add, against her better judgment, “killed by your own hand.”

  “Zaknafein was not noble by birth.” Malice sneered at her impertinent daughter. Briza’s words stung Malice nonetheless. Malice had decided to sacrifice Zaknafein in Drizzt’s stead against Briza’s recommendations.

  Jarlaxle cleared his throat to deflect the growing tension. The mercenary knew that he had to finish his business and be out of House Do’Urden as quickly as possible. Already he knew―though the Do’Urdens did not―that the appointed hour drew near. “There is the matter of my payment,” he reminded Malice.

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