Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore


  ©2014 Wizards of the Coast LLC.

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  All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All Wizards of the Coast characters, character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof are property of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  Cartography by: Robert Lazzaretti

  Cover art by: Tyler Jacobson

  First Printing: March 2014

  ISBN: 978-0-7869-6511-3

  ISBN: 978-0-7869-6550-2 (ebook)

  620A6535000001 EN

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  Title Page




  Part One: Together in Darkness Chapter 1: The Seasoned Matron Baenre

  Chapter 2: Of Men and Monsters

  Chapter 3: The Festival of the Founding

  Chapter 4: Unforgiven

  Chapter 5: Huzzahs and Heigh-Hos!

  Chapter 6: D’aermon N’a’shezbaernon

  Chapter 7: Sufferance of Baenre

  Chapter 8: Spinning Dark Alleys

  Part Two: Crossing Paths and Crossing Swords Chapter 9: When the Sun Went Down

  Chapter 10: Every Day, Every Experience, Every Thrill

  Chapter 11: Pawn to Queen Four

  Chapter 12: Nets and Webs

  Chapter 13: The Cold Night Fog

  Chapter 14: So Many Moving Parts

  Part Three: The Rhyme of History Chapter 15: The Home of Homes

  Chapter 16: Resilience

  Chapter 17: The Order Within the Chaos

  Chapter 18: A Slight Taste of Revenge

  Chapter 19: Half a Monster

  Part Four: The Call of the Hero Chapter 20: When the Drow Came

  Chapter 21: A Pile of Nightcrawlers

  Chapter 22: Stokely’s Stand

  Chapter 23: The Delicate Balance

  Chapter 24: The Fighter Beside You

  Chapter 25: The Call of an Older God

  Chapter 26: Proxy War

  Chapter 27: Never Forget




  Everywhere, blood.

  It followed Doum’wielle wherever she traveled. She saw it on her silvery skin, skin that spoke of her mixed elf and drow heritage. It followed her in her dreams, each night, every night. She saw it on the footprints she left in the snow. She saw it on her keen-edged sword—yes, on the sword most of all.

  It was always there, reflected in the red edge of the sentient weapon, Khazid’hea.

  A thousand times had she stabbed that blade through her brother’s heart. His screams echoed between the beats of her every waking thought and filled her dreams, sweet music to the sensibilities of Khazid’hea.

  Her brother Teirflin had tried to stab her with that very sword, with her sword, as she slept one day. But she had been quicker.

  She had been better.

  She had been more worthy.

  She felt the blade entering his chest, easily shearing through skin and muscle and bone, reaching for his heart so that the delicious blood might flow freely.

  She could never wash that blood from her hands, but at that time, in the thralls of the weapon, with the warm words of her father whispering into her ear, she didn’t want to wash the blood from her hands.

  Perhaps Teirflin’s dying screams were music after all.

  Two, the drow’s fingers indicated, and the motion continued in the intricate silent hand-language of the cunning race, Moving stealthily.

  Tsabrak Xorlarrin, noble wizard of Menzoberranzan’s Third House, carefully considered his next move. He wasn’t comfortable out here, so far from both Menzoberranzan and Q’Xorlarrin, the new drow city his family was creating in the mines of the ancient dwarven homeland of Gauntlgrym. He was fairly sure that he knew why Matron Zeerith had sent him, particularly him, on this distant reconnoiter: Zeerith wanted to keep him far from Ravel, her son, who was a bitter rival of Tsabrak.

  And a bitter rival who had surely gained the upper hand, Tsabrak had to admit. With his successful infiltration of the ancient dwarven homeland, Ravel had become the shining faerie fire to accent the glory of House Xorlarrin—and he had done so in the company of a Baenre, no less, and with the blessing of that powerful clan. The city of Q’Xorlarrin was well on its way to becoming reality, and Ravel had played the paramount role in that development.

  The wizard’s fingers moved quickly, speaking to the point, demanding more information from the scouts. He sent them forth and headed back the other way, where his cousin Berellip, Ravel’s older sister, waited. He spotted her among the entourage, still in a small natural chamber off to the side of the underground river that had been guiding them thus far. Berellip Xorlarrin was rarely hard to find, after all. Brash and loud, she kept the inferior commoner males far away, with only her two young female attendants allowed to even address her.

  Tsabrak moved across the small room and waved those attendants away.

  “You have found them?”

  Tsabrak nodded. “Two, at least. Moving along the lower tunnels.”


  The mage shrugged. “We do not yet know. Stealthier than orcs, it would seem. Clever goblins, perhaps.”

  “I can smell the orc stench all about us,” Berellip said with obvious disgust.

  Tsabrak, again, could only shrug. They had come here, to these tunnels underneath the northern reaches of the Silver Marches, with full expectation that they would encounter many orcs. After all, up above them was the land of King Obould, the Kingdom of Many-Arrows.

  “I view your smirk as an invitation to play,” Berellip warned, her hand moving near to the hilt of her snake-headed whip.

  “My apologies, Priestess,” Tsabrak said, and he bowed deferentially. This one did so love to put that whip to its painful work on the flesh of drow males. “I was merely wondering if a goblin tribe taken as prisoners would suffice upon our return to Q’Xorlarrin.”

  “You still believe that we were sent out here to secure slaves?”

  “Partly,” the wizard answered honestly. “I know of other reasons why I might be moved aside for the present. I am not certain, however, why you would be so removed in this time of great upheaval and glory for the House.”

  “Because Matron Zeerith determined it,” the priestess answered through tight lips.

  Tsabrak bowed again, confirming that such an answer was, of course, all that he needed or deserved. She closely guarded her thoughts, as was often her way, and Tsabrak could only accept it for what it was. He and Berellip had spoken many times of the purpose of their mission, in conversations where Berellip had been far more open, and even critical of Matron Zeerith. But such was the nature of Berellip
Xorlarrin that she could simply, stubbornly, pretend that those previous discussions had never taken place.

  “It was not only Matron Zeerith who determined our course and the composition of our troupe,” he boldly remarked.

  “You do not know this.”

  “I have known Archmage Gromph Baenre for two centuries. His hand is in this.”

  Berellip’s face grew very tight, and she muttered, “Baenre’s hand is in everything,” a clear reference to Tiago Baenre, the First House’s official escort to Ravel’s mission that had conquered Gauntlgrym. Berellip had made no secret to Tsabrak of her distaste for the brash young noble warrior in the early days of their journey east.

  Berellip’s scorn for Tiago came as no surprise to Tsabrak. He knew Tiago fairly well, and the young warrior’s propensity to forego the station afforded mere males and to throw the weight of House Baenre behind his imperial attitude was well-documented among the lesser Houses in Menzoberranzan. Besides, rumors whispered that Tiago would soon wed Saribel Xorlarrin, Berellip’s younger, and by all accounts and all measures, inferior sister, having chosen her above Berellip. No doubt, Tsabrak realized, Berellip thought much the same of Saribel as she did of Ravel.

  “What business would the archmage have with us out here?” Berellip asked, despite her smug superiority. “He would bid Matron Zeerith to send a high priestess and a master of Sorcere off on an errand to collect simple slaves?”

  “There is more,” Tsabrak said with confidence. He reminded her of a previous conversation by continuing, “The Spider Queen is pleased with our journey, so you have assured me.”

  He held his breath as he finished, expecting Berellip to lash out at him, but was pleasantly surprised when she simply nodded and said, “Something larger is afoot. We will know when Matron Zeerith determines that we should know.”

  “Or when Archmage Gromph determines it,” Tsabrak dared to say, and Berellip’s eyes flashed with anger.

  He was quite relieved then, at that very moment, when his scouts returned, rushing into the side chamber.

  “Not goblins,” one reported, clearly excited.

  “Drow,” said the other.

  “Drow?” Berellip asked. She and Tsabrak exchanged looks. There were no drow cities out here that either knew of.

  Perhaps we will soon find our answers, Tsabrak’s fingers silently flashed to his cousin, the mage taking care to keep the signal out of sight of the scouts and others in the room.

  The two lithe figures sat on a ledge, halfway up an underground cliff face. Water poured from the tunnel opening above them, diving down to an underground lake below. Despite the narrow and seemingly precarious perch in the meager light of a few scattered lichens, neither shifted around nor clenched uncomfortably.

  “Why must we ascend this cliff?” asked the woman, Doum’wielle, the younger of the elves. She hauled up the rope from below. She had to speak loudly to be heard over the sound of the falling, splashing water, which made the other, older figure, her father, wish that he had properly instructed her in the ways of drow sign language. “I thought our plan was to descend through the Underdark,” Doum’wielle added sarcastically.

  The darker-skinned drow at her side took a bite of an Underdark mushroom, then looked at it distastefully. “This is the path I took when I left my home,” he answered.

  The young elf woman, half-drow, half-moon elf, leaned out a bit from the ledge and twirled the grapnel end of the rope, preparing to throw. She stopped mid-swing and stared at her companion incredulously.

  “That was a hundred years ago,” she reminded. “How can you remember the path you took?”

  He tossed the rest of the mushroom from the ledge, gingerly stood, one leg showing garish wounds, and wiped his hands on his breeches. “I always knew I would return some day.”

  The woman spun the rope once more and let fly, the grapnel disappearing into the black hole of the tunnel entrance above.

  “So I never let myself forget the way,” he said as she tested the grip of the grapnel. “Although the waterfall wasn’t here last time.”

  “Well, that’s promising,” she quipped and began to climb.

  Her father watched her with pride. He noted the sword she carried sheathed on her hip, his sword, Khazid’hea, the Cutter, a sentient and powerful blade known for driving its weaker wielders into savage madness. His daughter was gaining control of the bloodthirsty weapon. No small feat, he knew from painful personal experience.

  She wasn’t halfway up to the tunnel when he jumped onto the fine, strong elven cord, his sinewy arms propelling him upward quickly behind her. He had nearly made the ledge as she rolled herself over it, turning to offer him a hand, which he took and scrambled over.

  She said something to him, but he didn’t hear her. Not then. Not when he was looking at a line of approaching enemies, arms extended, hand crossbows leveled his way.

  Standing in the mouth of the tunnel opposite the waterfall, the same course his prey had taken, Tsabrak Xorlarrin watched the pair ascend the cliff face from across the underground lake. He had found them quite easily, and with his considerable magical abilities, had trailed them closely, and indeed with a wide smile (though it could not be viewed, since he was under the enchantment of invisibility), for he was fairly certain that he knew this wayward drow.

  He wondered what Berellip Xorlarrin would do when she discovered this one’s identity as a once-favored son of Menzoberranzan’s Second House, the greatest rival family of House Xorlarrin.

  “Tread cautiously, witch,” he whispered, his words buried beneath the din of the waterfall. He could have used one of his spells to magically send a word of warning to Berellip’s ambush group, and indeed, he almost began the spell.

  But he changed his mind and smiled wider, and wider still when he heard the female cry out and saw a flash of lightning just within the tunnel entrance.

  As a precaution, Tsabrak moved to the base of the cliff, noting two solid anchor points, stalagmites, as he began to cast a spell.

  Pops and crackles sounded above the rush of water as Doum’wielle’s lightning sheet intercepted the incoming hand crossbow bolts. Their momentum stolen, they fell harmlessly to the ground.

  “To my side!” she cried to her father, but she needn’t have bothered, for the veteran warrior was already moving to that very spot, sliding in beside her up against the tunnel wall. Like her, he clearly had no desire to battle the incoming warriors with his back to a cliff ledge.

  He drew out his two swords, she her one.

  She only held one blade, for Khazid’hea would not allow a sister weapon, would not share in the glory of the kill.

  Three drow males swept in before the pair. They kept their backs to the rushing river, with practiced coordination, one sliding, one leaping, another running in to defend his comrades, and all three with two swords drawn. The sliding drow popped right to his feet in front of Doum’wielle’s father with a double-up cross of his blades, driving his opponent’s swords up high.

  The leaping, somersaulting drow landed beside him, and before the drow had even touched down, he stabbed one blade out toward Doum’wielle and one out at her father. And with the third drow coming in hard at her and demanding a double parry, Doum’wielle only barely avoided being stabbed in the face.

  “Do not kill!” her father cried, though whether he was speaking to her, or imploring their enemies, she could not tell. Nor would she have followed the command in any case, her sword thirsting for blood, demanding blood … any blood. She swept Khazid’hea across with a powerful backhand, taking her attacker’s two swords aside. He rolled his trailing blade as she rolled Khazid’hea, both stabbing out.

  Doum’wielle couldn’t retreat with the wall against her back. But her strike drove her opponent back so that his sword, too, could not reach her. One against one, and with Khazid’hea in hand, she was certain she could defeat this formidable warrior.

  But she wasn’t one against one, and neither was her father. The drow cen
tering the trio of enemies worked his blades independently, left and right, stabbing at both between the twirl of counters and parries.

  No! Khazid’hea screamed in her thoughts as it sensed her intentions.

  The demand of the sword carried little weight, though, for Doum’wielle’s movements were driven by desperate need, not choice. The young half-drow battle-mage stabbed straight ahead, swept her blade out to deflect a strike from the centering enemy, then stabbed ahead again, driving her immediate opponent back.

  She timed his retreat perfectly with the release of magic, a spell that sent him skidding into the river on the slippery stones. He thrashed and cried out, and was caught by the current and washed past his companions and out over the ledge.

  “No!” her father cried at her, but for far different reasons than had the sword she held. Khazid’hea’s cry was in denial of her use of magic, she understood, for the sword wanted all the glory and all the blood. Her father, however, apparently still thought that they could find the time to barter and diffuse the situation—a notion Doum’wielle thought all the more ridiculous because of the mocking response of Khazid’hea in her mind.

  Noting that other enemies were near at hand and closing fast, Doum’wielle turned fast on the second drow in line, thinking to drive him into the enemy facing her father.

  But this time, he proved the quicker, and as she advanced he leaped back and leaped high, one hand going to a brooch on his cloak tie, his House insignia. The magic of that jewelry brought forth a spell of levitation, and the drow floated out across the underground river.

  Doum’wielle thought to pursue, but Khazid’hea drove her forward instead, sensing the vulnerability of the third in line, who was already entangled with her father. That enemy turned to meet her rush, and managed to partially deflect her leading strike.

  Partially, but the devilish Khazid’hea got through, and so easily pierced his fine drow chain mail, and so beautifully slid into his skin. A look of delicious horror on his face, the drow threw himself backward, and flew from the ledge into the open air of the vast chamber beyond.

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