Homeland by R. A. Salvatore




  THE LEGEND BEGINS!

  Briza placed the newborn on the back of the spider idol and lifted the ceremonial dagger, pausing to admire its cruel workmanship. Its hilt was a spider’s body sporting eight legs, barbed so as to appear furred, but angled down to serve as blades. Briza lifted the instrument above the baby’s chest.

  “Name the child,” she implored her mother. “The Spider Queen will not accept the sacrifice until the child is named!”

  “Drizzt,” breathed Matron Malice. “The child’s name is Drizzt!”

  THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT

  Homeland

  Exile

  Sojourn

  The Crystal Shard

  Streams of Silver

  The Halfling’s Gem

  The Legacy

  Starless Night

  Siege of Darkness

  Passage to Dawn

  The Silent Blade

  The Spine of the World

  Sea of Swords

  THE HUNTER’S BLADES TRILOGY

  The Thousand Orcs

  The Lone Drow

  The Two Swords

  THE SELLSWORDS

  Servant of the Shard

  Promise of the Witch-King

  Road of the Patriarch

  October 2006

  TO MY BEST FRIEND,

  MY BROTHER,

  GARY.

  PRELUDE

  ever does a star grace this land with a poet’s light of twinkling mysteries, nor does the sun send to here its rays of warmth and life. This is the Underdark, the secret world beneath the bustling surface of the Forgotten Realms, whose sky is a ceiling of heartless stone and whose walls show the gray blandness of death in the torchlight of the foolish surface-dwellers that stumble here. This is not their world, not the world of light. Most who come here uninvited do not return.

  Those who do escape to the safety of their surface homes return changed. Their eyes have seen the shadows and the gloom, the inevitable doom of the Underdark.

  Dark corridors meander throughout the dark realm in winding courses, connecting caverns great and small, with ceilings high and low. Mounds of stone as pointed as the teeth of a sleeping dragon leer down in silent threat or rise up to block the way of intruders.

  There is a silence here, profound and foreboding, the crouched hush of a predator at work. Too often the only sound, the only reminder to travelers in the Underdark that they have not lost their sense of hearing altogether, is a distant and echoing drip of water, beating like the heart of a beast, slipping through the silent stones to the deep Underdark pools of chilled water. What lies beneath the still onyx surface of these pools one can only guess. What secrets await the brave, what horrors await the foolish, only the imagination can reveal—until the stillness is disturbed. This is the Underdark.

  There are pockets of life here, cities as great as many of those on the surface. Around any of the countless bends and turns in the gray stone a traveler might stumble suddenly into the perimeter of such a city, a stark contrast to the emptiness of the corridors. These places are not havens, though; only the foolish traveler would assume so. They are the homes of the most evil races in all the Realms, most notably the duergar, the kuo-toa, and the drow.

  In one such cavern, two miles wide and a thousand feet high, looms Menzoberranzan, a monument to the other worldly and— ultimately—deadly grace that marks the race of drow elves. Menzoberranzan is not a large city by drow standards; only twenty thousand dark elves reside there. Where, in ages past, there had been an empty cavern of roughly shaped stalactites and stalagmites now stands artistry, row after row of carved castles thrumming in a quiet glow of magic. The city is perfection of form, where not a stone has been left to its natural shape. This sense of order and control, however, is but a cruel facade, a deception hiding the chaos and vileness that rule the dark elves’ hearts. Like their cities, they are a beautiful, slender, and delicate people, with features sharp and haunting.

  Yet the drow are the rulers of this unruled world, the deadliest of the deadly, and all other races take cautious note of their passing. Beauty itself pales at the end of a dark elf’s sword. The drow are the survivors, and this is the Under-dark, the valley of death—the land of nameless nightmares.

  STATION

  tation: In all the world of the drow, there is no more important word. It is the calling of their—of our—religion, the incessant pulling of hungering heartstrings. Ambition overrides good sense and compassion is thrown away in its face, all in the name of Lolth, the Spider Queen.

  Ascension to power in drow society is a simple process of assassination. The Spider Queen is a deity of chaos, and she and her high priestesses, the true rulers of the drow world, do not look with ill favor upon ambitious individuals wielding poisoned daggers.

  Of course, there are rules of behavior; every society must boast of these. To openly commit murder or wage war invites the pretense of justice, and penalties exacted in the name of drow justice are merciless. To stick a dagger in the back of a rival during the chaos of a larger battle or in the quiet shadows of an alley, however, is quite acceptable—even applauded. Investigation is not the forte of drow justice. No one cares enough to bother.

  Station is the way of Lolth, the ambition she bestows to further the chaos, to keep her drow “children” along their appointed course of self-imprisonment. Children? Pawns, more likely, dancing dolls for the Spider Queen, puppets on the imperceptible but impervious strands of her web. All climb the Spider Queen’s ladders; all hunt for her pleasure; and all fall to the hunters of her pleasure.

  Station is the paradox of the world of my people, the limitation of our power within the hunger for power. It is gained through treachery and invites treachery against those who gain it. Those most powerful in Menzoberranzan spend their days watching over their shoulders, defending against the daggers that would find their backs. Their deaths usually come from the front.

  —Drizzt Do’Urden

  o a surface dweller, he might have passed undetected only a foot away. The padded footfalls of his lizard mount were too light to be heard, and the pliable and perfectly crafted mesh armor that both rider and mount wore bent and creased with their movements as well as if the suits had grown over their skin.

  Dinin’s lizard trotted along in an easy but swift gait, floating over the broken floor, up the walls, and even across the long tunnel’s ceiling. Subterranean lizards, with their sticky and soft three-toed feet, were preferred mounts for just this ability to scale stone as easily as a spider. Crossing hard ground left no damning tracks in the lighted surface world, but nearly all of the creatures of the Underdark possessed infravision, the ability to see in the infrared spectrum. Footfalls left heat residue that could easily be tracked if they followed a predictable course along a corridor’s floor.

  Dinin clamped tight to his saddle as the lizard plodded along a stretch of the ceiling, then sprang out in a twisting descent to a point farther along the wall. Dinin did not want to be tracked.

  He had no light to guide him, but he needed none. He was a dark elf, a drow, an ebon-skinned cousin of those sylvan folk who danced under the stars on the world’s surface. To Dinin’s superior eyes, which translated subtle variations of heat into vivid and colorful images, the Underdark was far from a lightless place. Colors all across the spectrum swirled before him in the stone of the walls and the floor, heated by some distant fissure or hot stream. The heat of living things was the most distinctive, letting the dark elf view his enemies in details as intricate as any surface-dweller would find in brilliant daylight.

  Normally Dinin would not have left the city alone; the world of the Underdark was too dangerous for solo treks, even for a drow elf. This day was different, though. Dinin had to be certain that no unfriendly drow eyes marked his passage.


  A soft blue magical glow beyond a sculpted archway told the drow that he neared the city’s entrance, and he slowed the lizard’s pace accordingly. Few used this narrow tunnel, which opened into Tier Breche, the northern section of Menzoberranzan devoted to the Academy, and none but the mistresses and masters, the instructors of the Academy, could pass through here without attracting suspicion.

  Dinin was always nervous when he came to this point. Of the hundred tunnels that opened off the main cavern of Menzoberranzan, this one was the best guarded. Beyond the archway, twin statues of gigantic spiders sat in quiet defense. If an enemy crossed through, the spiders would animate and attack, and alarms would be sounded throughout the Academy.

  Dinin dismounted, leaving his lizard clinging comfortably to a wall at his chest level. He reached under the collar of his piwafwi, his magical, shielding cloak, and took out his neck-purse. From this Dinin produced the insignia of House Do’Urden, a spider wielding various weapons in each of its eight legs and emblazoned with the letters “DN,” for Daermon N’a’shezbaernon, the ancient and formal name of House Do’Urden.

  “You will await my return,” Dinin whispered to the lizard as he waved the insignia before it. As with all the drow houses, the insignia of House Do’Urden held several magical dweomers, one of which gave family members absolute control over the house pets. The lizard would obey unfailingly, holding its position as though it were rooted to the stone, even if a scurry rat, its favorite morsel, napped a few feet from its maw.

  Dinin took a deep breath and gingerly stepped to the archway. He could see the spiders leering down at him from their fifteen-foot height. He was a drow of the city, not an enemy, and could pass through any other tunnel unconcerned, but the Academy was an unpredictable place; Dinin had heard that the spiders often refused entry—viciously—even to uninvited drow.

  He could not be delayed by fears and possibilities, Dinin reminded himself. His business was of the utmost importance to his family’s battle plans. Looking straight ahead, away from the towering spiders he strode between them and onto the floor of Tier Breche.

  He moved to the side and paused, first to be certain that no one lurked nearby, and to admire the sweeping view of Menzoberranzan. No one, drow or other wise, had ever looked out from this spot without a sense of wonder at the drow city. Tier Breche was the highest point on the floor of the two-mile cavern, affording a panoramic view to the rest of Menzoberranzan. The cubby of the Academy was narrow, holding only the three structures that comprised the drow school: Arach-Tinilith, the spider-shaped school of Lolth; Sorcere, the gracefully curving, many-spired tower of wizardry; and Melee-Magthere, the somewhat plain pyramidal structure where male fighters learned their trade.

  Beyond Tier Breche, through the ornate stalagmite columns that marked the entrance to the Academy, the cavern dropped away quickly and spread wide, going far beyond Dinin’s line of vision to either side and farther back than his keen eyes could possibly see. The colors of Menzoberranzan were threefold to the sensitive eyes of the drow. Heat patterns from various fissures and hot springs swirled about the entire cavern. Purple and red, bright yellow and subtle blue, crossed and merged, climbed the walls and stalagmite mounds, or ran off singularly in cutting lines against the backdrop of dim gray stone. More confined than these generalized and natural gradations of color in the infrared spectrum were the regions of intense magic, like the spiders Dinin had walked between, virtually glowing with energy. Finally there were the actual lights of the city, faerie fire and highlighted sculptures on the houses. The drow were proud of the beauty of their designs, and especially ornate columns or perfectly crafted gargoyles were almost always limned in permanent magical lights.

  Even from this distance Dinin could make out House Baenre, First House of Menzoberranzan. It encompassed twenty stalagmite pillars and half again that number of gigantic stalactites. House Baenre had existed for five thousand years, since the founding of Menzoberranzan, and in that time the work to perfect the house’s art had never ceased. Practically every inch of the immense structure glowed in faerie fire, blue at the outlying towers and brilliant purple at the huge central dome.

  The sharp light of candles, foreign to the Underdark, glared through some of the windows of the distant houses. Only clerics or wizards would light the fires, Dinin knew, as necessary pains in their world of scrolls and parchments.

  This was Menzoberranzan, the city of drow. Twenty thousand dark elves lived there, twenty thousand soldiers in the army of evil.

  A wicked smile spread across Dinin’s thin lips when he thought of some of those soldiers who would fall this night.

  Dinin studied Narbondel, the huge central pillar that served as the timeclock of Menzoberranzan. Narbondel was the only way the drow had to mark the passage of time in a world that otherwise knew no days and no seasons. At the end of each day, the city’s appointed Archmage cast his magical fires into the base of the stone pillar. There the spell lingered throughout the cycle—a full day on the surface—and gradually spread its warmth up the structure of Narbondel until the whole of it glowed red in the infrared spectrum. The pillar was fully dark now, cooled since the dweomer’s fires had expired. The wizard was even now at the base, Dinin reasoned, ready to begin the cycle anew.

  It was midnight, the appointed hour.

  Dinin moved away from the spiders and the tunnel exit and crept along the side of Tier Breche, seeking the “shadows” of heat patterns in the wall, which would effectively hide the distinct outline of his own body temperature. He came at last to Sorcere, the school of wizardry and slipped into the narrow alley between the tower’s curving base and Tier Breche’s outer wall.

  “Student or master?” came the expected whisper.

  “Only a master may walk out-of-house in Tier Breche in the black death of Narbondel,” Dinin responded.

  A heavily robed figure moved around the arc of the structure to stand before Dinin. The stranger remained in the customary posture of a master of the drow Academy, his arms out before him and bent at the elbows, his hands tight together, one on top of the other in front of his chest.

  That pose was the only thing about this one that seemed normal to Dinin. “Greetings, Faceless One,” he signaled in the silent hand code of the drow, a language as detailed as the spoken word. The quiver of Dinin’s hands belied his calm face, though, for the sight of this wizard put him as far on the edge of his nerves as he had ever been.

  “Secondboy Do’Urden,” the wizard replied in the gestured code. “Have you my payment?”

  “You will be compensated,” Dinin signaled pointedly, regaining his composure in the first swelling bubbles of his temper. “Do you dare to doubt the promise of Malice Do’Urden, Matron Mother of Daermon N’a’shezbaernon, Tenth House of Menzoberranzan?”

  The Faceless One slumped back, knowing he had erred. “My apologies, Secondboy of House Do’Urden,” he answered, dropping to one knee in a gesture of surrender. Since he had entered this conspiracy, the wizard had feared that his impatience might cost him his life. He had been caught in the violent throes of one of his own magical experiments, the tragedy melting away all of his facial features and leaving behind a blank hot spot of white and green goo. Matron Malice Do’Urden, reputedly as skilled as anyone in all the vast city in mixing potions and salves, had offered him a sliver of hope that he could not pass by.

  No pity found its way into Dinin’s callous heart, but House Do’Urden needed the wizard. “You will get your salve,” Dinin promised calmly, “when Alton DeVir is dead.”

  “Of course,” the wizard agreed. “This night?”

  Dinin crossed his arms and considered the question. Matron Malice had instructed him that Alton DeVir should die even as their families’ battle commenced. That scenario now seemed too clean, too easy, to Dinin. The Faceless One did not miss the sparkle that suddenly brightened the scarlet glow in the young Do’Urden’s heat-sensing eyes.

  “Wait for Narbondel’s light to approach i
ts zenith,” Dinin replied, his hands working through the signals excitedly and his grimace seeming more of a twisted grin.

  “Should the doomed boy know of his house’s fate before he dies?” the wizard asked, guessing the wicked intentions behind Dinin’s instructions.

  “As the killing blow falls,” answered Dinin. “Let Alton DeVir die without hope.”

  Dinin retrieved his mount and sped off down the empty corridors, finding an intersecting route that would take him in through a different entrance to the city proper. He came in along the eastern end of the great cavern, Menzoberranzan’s produce section, where no drow families would see that he had been outside the city limits and where only a few unremarkable stalagmite pillars rose up from the flat stone. Dinin spurred his mount along the banks of Donigarten, the city’s small pond with its moss-covered island that housed a fair-sized herd of cattle-like creatures called rothe. A hundred goblins and orcs looked up from their herding and fishing duties to mark the drow soldier’s swift passage. Knowing their restrictions as slaves, they took care not to look Dinin in the eye.

  Dinin would have paid them no heed anyway. He was too consumed by the urgency of the moment. He kicked his lizard to even greater speeds when he again was on the flat and curving avenues between the glowing drow castles. He moved toward the south-central region of the city, toward the grove of giant mushrooms that marked the section of the finest houses in Menzoberranzan.

  As he came around one blind turn, he nearly ran over a group of four wandering bugbears. The giant hairy goblin things paused a moment to consider the drow, then moved slowly but purposefully out of his way.

  The bugbears recognized him as a member of House Do’Urden, Dinin knew. He was a noble, a son of a high priestess, and his surname, Do’Urden, was the name of his house. Of the twenty thousand dark elves in Menzoberranzan, only a thousand or so were nobles, actually the children of the sixty-seven recognized families of the city. The rest were common soldiers.

 
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