Neverwinter by R. A. Salvatore

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  Prologue: The Year of the Reborn Hero (1463 DR)

  DAHLIA’S LIPS CURLED INTO A SMILE AS SHE WATCHED THE DARK elf dance. Stripped to the waist, Drizzt Do’Urden moved through his attack and defense routines, sometimes slowly and sometimes with blinding speed. His scimitars spun gracefully, deceptively delicate, then darted with sudden, straightforward power. They could strike from any tangent, stabbing often at unexpected angles, and more than once, Dahlia found herself startled and blinking at a clever twist or turn.

  She had fought beside Drizzt on the road to Gauntlgrym and inside the dwarven complex, so she thought she had come to understand the extent of his martial prowess. But now, on this moonlit night, she could truly appreciate the grace and coordination of his movements and reminded herself that such perfection in battle didn’t come easily.

  She marveled at the drow at work, at his slim form, his tight muscles so apparent, and so appealing.

  He was always on the balls of his feet, never on his heels, she noted, and his every turn ended in alignment and balance. She noted, too, that Drizzt’s neck did not strain with his sudden stabs and swings. So many lumbering human warriors kept all their power up high, above their shoulders, and so their strength seemed to increase in proportion to the decrease of their balance and swiftness.

  But not Drizzt.

  His neck was loose, his shoulders nimble. His strength came from his belly and the muscles lining the sides of his ribs. How many opponents, Dahlia wondered, had been comforted by the drow’s slim neck and flat shoulders, by his apparent lack of strength, only to have their weapons smacked from their hands or cut in half by the power of his blows? His blades hummed with amazing speed as he fell deeper into his dance, but weight, balance, and strength hid behind every cut and thrust.

  Dahlia’s hand instinctively went up to her right ear, empty now of diamond studs, and her smile widened further. Had she at last found the lover who would end her pain?

  Drizzt was sweating, his dark skin glistening in the moonlight. He stabbed out to the right with both blades in a parallel thrust, but deftly turned his feet opposite the attack and flashed away to the left, using his upper body turn to gain momentum for a somersault, one that landed him back on his feet. A mere heartbeat later, he slid down to his knees as if forced low by some imaginary blade coming in from the right. A blue-glowing scimitar stabbed up that way, then Drizzt was moving again, back on his feet so smoothly Dahlia hadn’t even noticed the transition.

  The elf woman licked her smiling lips.

  “I can ride him,” Dahlia insisted. “I’m a skilled horseman. ”

  “Andahar isn’t a horse,” Drizzt replied from his seat on the unicorn’s back. The drow reached down to offer his hand to Dahlia once more. Still she resisted.

  “Or are you afraid that Andahar will come to prefer me?” she replied.

  “It wouldn’t matter. I have the whistle. ”

  “I could take that whistle. ”

  “You could try. ” With that, Drizzt retracted his hand, shrugged, and clucked softly, starting Andahar into a slow trot. They had only gone a single stride, though, before Dahlia planted the end of her eight-foot staff and vaulted up onto the unicorn’s back behind the drow.

  “Why do you think I need your hand, drow?” she asked. “Why do you believe I need anything from you?”

  Drizzt kicked the mighty steed into a faster canter, tugging Andahar’s flowing white mane around to steer the unicorn through the brush.

  “We’ll break early for a midday meal, and make the road soon after,” Drizzt said.

  “And then?”

  “North,” Drizzt answered, “to Port Llast, perhaps Luskan, to learn what we may. ”

  From his tone and posture it was obvious he expected an argument. Dahlia had expressed her eagerness to go south to Neverwinter Wood, where she could be rid of the Thayan wizard Sylora Salm and her Dread Ring.

  Surprisingly, though, Dahlia didn’t object. “Luskan, then,” she agreed. “But with all speed, then just as fast back to the south. I’ll let Sylora Salm gnash her teeth in dismay over the failure of the primordial, but not for long. ”

  “And then we’ll kill her,” Drizzt said, as much a question as a statement.

  “Second thoughts?” Dahlia asked.

  Drizzt steered Andahar toward a copse of trees then, and brought the unicorn back to a slow trot. “I said I wouldn’t join you in a quest merely for revenge. ”

  “Sylora isn’t finished here,” Dahlia said. “She will seek to again free the primordial—raining catastrophe on the North to fuel her Dread Ring—and you think all I seek is revenge?”

  Drizzt pulled Andahar to a sudden stop and slowly looked back to stare straight into Dahlia’s blue eyes. “I said that if it was no more than your personal quest for revenge, I wouldn’t join you. ”

  Dahlia grinned at him, the movement causing the intricate blue and purple dots of the woad on her face to form the hint of an image of a hunting cat poised to strike. Drizzt couldn’t miss it, and his expression reflected his intrigue. Dahlia tilted her head to the right, then swayed it back left, and the drow blinked in amazement. In the woman’s movement, the cat seemed to spring.

  And with Drizzt still obviously mesmerized, Dahlia leaned forward and brushed his lips with her own.

  It took several heartbeats, but that at last seemed to break the spell and the dark elf leaned away from her, staring at her with puzzlement.

  “Why did you do that?” he asked in a voice that seemed hard to find.

  “Because I don’t believe you,” she replied.

  Drizzt cocked his head curiously, and when he started to protest, Dahlia put a finger over his lips to silence him.

  “Don’t be a fool, drow,” she said with a wicked grin. “Don’t deny me my fantasy out of some chivalrous notion of the importance of truth. ”

  Drizzt just looked confused, and that made Dahlia laugh aloud at him. Finally he surrendered and turned back, urging Andahar into motion once more.

  Andahar didn’t tire through the rest of the day and long into the night. Unlike Guenhwyvar, the magical unicorn could be summoned at any time, and could remain for as long as Drizzt needed him. But also unlike the panther, Andahar could be wounded, if not outright slain, and such wounds would take as long to heal as those of a mortal creature. So Drizzt took care to involve Andahar in as few battles as necessary, and only rarely kept the unicorn around when danger was afoot.

  They had hoped to make Port Llast that night, but the weather turned foul and it was not to be. They set their camp under an overhang of rock on a high bluff some distance from the road, but in sight of it. Chill rain poured down, and an occasional streak of lightning split the sky. Drizzt managed to get a campfire burning, though it stayed low and sputtering. Whenever the wind swirled, both he and Dahlia found themselves coughing in the smoke.

  But still, it was not so bad for Drizzt. How could it be? He was on the road again, and with the promise of adventure awaiting him at every turn. The road was filled with danger, the forests full of wild things, and the land untamed. Even the cities ahead, first Port Llast then Luskan, would keep him on his edge, would keep his hands in easy reach of his blades.

  He sat with his back against the stone and stole glances at Dahlia as she ate, as she paced, as she stretched her road-weary muscles. … She was out near the front edge of the overhang, her back to him, the swirls of rain catching her just a bit. She stood on her toes and peered into the distance, her diagonally-cut skirt riding up high and affording Drizzt a long look at her shapely legs.

  The drow smiled and shook his head. She knew he was watching her. Dahlia played a game, like the kiss when she sat behind him on Andahar,
or the way in which she’d wrapped her arms around him for the hard ride.

  “Douse the fire. ” Dahlia glanced at him over her shoulder.

  Drizzt’s smile disappeared and he stared at her curiously.

  “We’re not alone. ”

  With a single slide of his boot, Drizzt pushed a mound of dirt that had been strategically placed for just this purpose and killed the flames. He scrambled to his feet and stared into the rain, but saw nothing. Dahlia reached her arm out in front of him and guided his gaze.

  A torch’s glow flickered from behind distant trees, down along the road.

  “They’re moving,” Dahlia said.

  “Along the road, at night, in this deluge?”

  “Highwaymen … or soldiers of some warlord or another,” Dahlia reasoned. “Or some monstrous group, perhaps. ”

  “Perhaps it’s only a merchant caravan seeking shelter?”

  Dahlia shook her head. “What merchant would so imperil his wagon or his team by moving along a muddy and unstable road in the dark? If he broke a wheel or hobbled his horse, it would likely prove fatal. ”

  “Unless they’re fleeing from trouble already found,” said Drizzt, and he scooped up his weapon belt.

  “You intend to go out to them?” Dahlia asked in an almost mocking tone.

  Drizzt looked at her as if the answer was, or should be, obvious.

  “To right all the wrongs of the world, Drizzt Do’Urden?” she asked. “Is that your purpose for being? Is that the only motivation that drives you?”

  “You would not aid a helpless innocent?”

  “I don’t know, and I highly doubt that’s what we see on the road below,” Dahlia countered. She gave a little laugh, and Drizzt knew he was being mocked. “That’s all there is for you? Black and white, right and wrong?”

  “There’s a profound difference between right and wrong,” Drizzt replied grimly, and he strapped on his weapons.

  “Of course, but isn’t there more to the world?”

  Drizzt paused, but only for a heartbeat before he produced the onyx feline figurine and called Guenhwyvar to his side. “A light on the road,” he explained to the panther. “Find it, watch it. ” With a low growl, the panther leaped away, disappearing into the night.

  “Don’t you believe that there are instances where both sides believe they’re right?”

  “Remind me to tell you the tale of King Obould Many-Arrows some day,” Drizzt replied and walked past Dahlia. “For now I’m going to learn what I may. Are you joining me?”

  Dahlia shrugged. “Of course,” she replied. “Perhaps we’ll find a good fight. ”

  “Perhaps we’ll rescue an innocent merchant,” Drizzt countered.

  “Perhaps we’ll rescue the ill-gotten booty from an undeserving, self-appointed lord,” Dahlia said as soon as the drow turned away.

  Drizzt didn’t look back at her. He didn’t want her to see the unintentional grin her unrelenting sarcasm had brought to his face. He didn’t want to give her that satisfaction.

  He moved swiftly down the rise and into the trees, pushing himself hard because he wanted to push Dahlia even harder. With his magical anklets speeding his stride, he knew she couldn’t pace him. So every now and then he slowed just enough to make her think she was catching up. Long before he neared the road, however, he was only guessing as to how far behind Dahlia might be, if she was still behind him at all.

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