Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore

  “Ye got him, girl!” Bruenor cried, starting her way, but he stopped even as he turned.

  Catti-brie trembled and shook her head as if something were very wrong.

  With only that unclear warning, the gemstone exploded into a million pieces, the concussion sending Catti-brie flying backward and flinging dust and pellets around the corridor.

  And there, where Catti-brie had been, where the gem had been, stood a very shaken Thibbledorf Pwent.

  “They got prisoners,” he said to Bruenor, fighting every word. “Entreri’s caught in the Forge. And more there beside him, and a lady dwarf in the mines …”

  He stalked about a step to the left and back to the right, then dived back with startling speed and grabbed up the dazed Catti-brie by the throat.

  “Could’o’ killed ye,” he whispered to her, and he dropped her there and leaped away, becoming a bat before he ever landed. He fluttered off the way he had come.

  Catti-brie pulled herself to her feet and reached up to pat at the blood on her face—blood from the cuts of a dozen shards of the burst gemstone.

  “Me girl!” Bruenor said, rushing up to her, as did the others.

  “I’m all right,” she assured them, her gaze turning in the direction of Pwent’s retreat. “The gem was not sufficient to hold him.”

  “He’s a monster,” Regis whispered, the halfling thoroughly shaken by what he had seen in Pwent’s dead eyes.

  “Half of one, perhaps,” Catti-brie replied, and the fact that she was still alive and could reply bolstered her argument.

  “Half and more, and the bad part’s gaining,” Bruenor lamented. “Wilder than I seen him in the throne room them months ago.”

  “The curse,” Catti-brie agreed. “He cannot withstand it.”

  “They,” Drizzt whispered, and all turned to him at that unexpected word.

  “Pwent said they’ve got prisoners,” the drow explained to their curious expressions.

  “The drow got the Forge, then, from what he said and what we’re knowin’,” Bruenor agreed. “And we might be needin’ to go through them to get to Pwent again.”

  “And to free Entreri,” said Drizzt. “I’ll not leave him to the dark elves.”

  “Yeah,” Bruenor replied, hands on hips. “Figured ye’d say as much. Durn elf.”

  “We go through them, then,” said Wulfgar.

  “Think we might be warnin’ them drow that they’ll get some more o’ their kin and make it more of a fight?” Bruenor said to Drizzt. “Might only be a few hunnerd o’ them to fight.”

  Drizzt looked around at the others, all of them nodding and smiling and eager to go—even Regis.

  So be it.

  PART 4


  Words blurted out in fast reaction so oft ring true.

  They flow from the heart, and give voice to raw emotions before the speaker can thoughtfully intervene, out of tact or fear. Before the natural guards arise to self-censor, to protect the speaker from embarrassment or retribution. Before the polite filters catch the words to protect the sensibilities of others, to veil the sharp truth before it can stab.

  Bruenor calls this fast reaction “chewing from yer gut.”

  We all do it. Most try not to do it, audibly at least, and in matters of tact and etiquette, that is a good thing.

  But sometimes chewing from your gut can serve as an epiphany, an admission of sorts to that which is actually in your heart, despite the reservations one might have gained among polite company.

  So it was that day in the chambers of upper Gauntlgrym when I said that I would not leave Entreri to his drow captors. I did not doubt my course from the moment Thibbledorf Pwent revealed the situation to me. I would go to find Artemis Entreri, and I would free him—and the others, if they, too, had been taken.

  It was that simple.

  And yet, when I look back on that moment, there was nothing simple about it at all. Indeed, I find my resolution and determination truly surprising, and for two very different reasons.

  First, as my own words rang in my ears, they revealed to me something I had not admitted: that I cared for Artemis Entreri. It wasn’t just convenience that had kept me beside him, nor my own loneliness, nor my flawed desire to bring him and the others to the path of righteousness. It was because I cared, and not just for Dahlia but for Entreri as well.

  I have many times circled around this realization through the years. When I learned that Artemis Entreri had become friends with Jarlaxle, I hoped that Jarlaxle would lead the man from his personal demons. I wished Entreri well, meaning that I hoped he would find a better life and a better way. That thought has often flitted about my consciousness, a quiet hope.

  But still this particular instance of chewing from my gut surprised me on this matter because of the depth it revealed of my feelings for the man.

  I had my friends with me, after all, the Companions of the Hall, the group of my dearest friends, yea, my family, the only family I had ever known. My chewed-from-the-gut proclamation that I was going after Entreri was much more than a personal declaration, because of course these beloved companions would go along with me. Presumably, it follows that I was willing to put my dearest friends, even Catti-brie, into such obvious and dire jeopardy for the sake of Artemis Entreri!

  That, I think, is no small thing, and looking at it in retrospect reveals to me much more than my desire to free Artemis Entreri.

  When I first ventured to Icewind Dale, those around me thought me a bit reckless. Even Bruenor, who leaped onto a shadow dragon’s back with a keg of flaming oil strapped to his own back, often shook his head and muttered “durned elf” at my battle antics!

  I fought as if I had nothing to lose, because in my heart and mind, I had nothing to lose. But then, so suddenly, I learned that I had so much to lose, in these friends I had come to know and love, in this woman who would be my wife.

  This is not a new revelation—indeed, I have spent the better part of a century seeking freedom from these self-imposed restraints, and indeed, I thought I had found such freedom when Bruenor, the last of my companions, passed on to Dwarfhome. Even in my great lament at his passing, I felt as if I was finally free.

  And then my friends, my family—my constraints?—returned to me. What did it mean? Surely I was glad, thrilled, overjoyed, but was I doomed to return to that place of caution I had known before?

  But in that simple chew-from-the-gut moment, my insistence that I, that we, would go and free Entreri and the others, no matter the odds, I knew without doubt that my beloved friends had not brought my emotional shackles back with them. Perhaps it was their transformation, their literal passage through death, which had bolstered my own faith and resolve and willingness to engage the adventure. Perhaps this courage stemmed from my growing acceptance that these friends had been lost to me, and so I had not reclaimed the fear that they could be lost to me.

  More likely, it was something more, something rooted in the twining of my core beliefs. In the course of events, you do what you think is right and proper, and hold faith that such a course will lead to good ends. To believe less … if this is what I truly hold in my heart and proclaim, then what a coward I would be to deny such a course out of fear, any fear, even fear for the safety of my beloved companions.

  I spoke purely on reflex to the news of Entreri’s capture, spouting the course I knew to be correct, but when I went back and examined that moment, I discovered much more about myself indeed.

  And much more about my friends, for the second revelation in that moment came with their response. They did not hesitate in the least, and indeed were eager for the fight—as eager as I. Even within Regis, there was no fear. This was the course, the correct path, and so we would walk it.

  And so we did. I have not walked this lightly in decades, since long before Catti-brie was first lost to me in the advent of the Spellplague. So many times have I strived for this freedom, wandering from Mithral Hall with Catti-brie after its
reclamation, time and again resolving to find joy.

  But this was different. This wasn’t a considered thought, a spoken determination or pledge. This was what I have been seeking, come full circle from the time when Wulfgar and I entered the lair of the verbeeg named Biggrin. This choice was without a second thought—there was a problem and so we would go and fix it, and we would go brimming with confidence in ourselves, with faith in each other.

  “Think we might be warnin’ them drow that they’ll get some more o’ their kin and make it more of a fight?” Bruenor had joked, but it almost didn’t seem like a joke at the time.

  Because we knew in our hearts that we’d prove victorious.

  Because no other outcome was acceptable.

  It was just that simple.

  Yet these were dark elves on the road ahead, a sizable number, and a band that had already managed to somehow defeat and capture Artemis Entreri and the others, and so as we began our steps, doubts crept in.

  Not doubts regarding our chosen course, but doubts about whether or not we could succeed.

  And doubts regarding how high the price might prove.

  But this is our way.

  This is our creed.

  This is the mantra of the Companions of the Hall.

  It can be no other way.

  And since we knew our course to be true, doubts could not equal regret.

  No matter the price.

  —Drizzt Do’Urden



  VEIN’S GOING DEAD,” A DIRTY DWARF MINER BY THE NAME OF MINTO Silverhammer, who claimed bloodlines from both the Battlehammer and Silverstream family trees, remarked to his fellow workers as he emerged from a side tunnel in the deepest reaches of the mines beneath Kelvin’s Cairn. “Hearin’ echoes when I tap at it, so I’m not to go much deeper afore I’m breakin’ into new tunnels.”

  “Hold yer pick, then,” said Junkular Stonebreaker, the team boss, a heavyset dwarf of many winters.

  “We’ll have a light load o’ metal then, eh Junky?” the miner replied, using the boss’s more common nickname.

  “Better that than an open run to the Underdark,” said Bellows, one of the other miners, and to accentuate his point, he leaned back on the heavy metal door that had been recently constructed to block off the main tunnel to the deeper and more expansive corridors and caverns beyond.

  “How ’bout a closed run, then?” said yet another, and the group murmured and nodded.

  This had been a long-running debate among the dwarves of Icewind Dale, Stokely Silverstream’s boys, with a constant side implication hanging over it: Gauntlgrym.

  They knew where it was, they had been there, but that ancient and hallowed homeland remained out of their grasp. Paradoxically, the journey to Gauntlgrym inspired new caution under Kelvin’s Cairn. Now Stokely and his boys had first-hand knowledge of the profound dangers lurking just outside their domain, including the devil-worshiping zealots they had found in Gauntlgrym, and including, if reports—and now King Bruenor and Drizzt—were to be believed, that a sizable number of dark elves had filtered into the region.

  “We’ll scout out beyond yer wall,” Junky assured Minto. “And get new doors in place if they’re needed. And once we got it secured, know that I’ll make sure yerself gets the breakthrough chop to the new veins.”

  “Bah!” snorted Bellows, still leaning against the iron door, and now shifting back and forth to scratch his back on one of the huge hinges that kept the portal securely in place.

  The others began to chuckle, knowing well that this would soon devolve into an argument. Breaking through a wall to another vein was considered a point of high honor, after all.

  “I telled ye a tenday ago that there be another tunnel just behind that vein!” Bellows predictably complained to Junky and Minto. “I’ll flip a gold piece against Minto for the first chop, if ye want, but—”

  His rant, and the corresponding chuckles, ended abruptly with the sharp crackle of energy, a single pop that straightened Bellows where he stood and painted his face with an incredulous expression.

  Then came a second, louder pop, followed by a resounding and continuous crackle, like the cacophony of a multitude of fireworks released into the air after the explosion of the main rocket. Poor Bellows flew forward, trailing smoke.

  The others watched his flight in stupor, then collectively looked back to the iron door just in time to see blue fingers of crackling magical energy crawling all around it, popping and singeing and cutting lines in the iron.

  “Suren to blow!” Minto cried, grabbing Junky and pulling him into the side corridor as the other dwarves scrambled.

  The tunnel shook with a tremendous explosion, and Minto watched in shock as the heavy door, as thick as a strong dwarf’s chest, went soaring past the opening of the side tunnel, clouds of dust and splinters of stone chasing it in its flight. He heard the grunt of a companion who had fled straight back along the main corridor as the door caught up to him, and a second grunt as the door crashed down—upon poor Bellows, it seemed.

  Out rushed Minto and Junky, side by side, and they didn’t turn for Bellows, but for the now-opened corridor, knowing that an enemy was upon them.

  How they gulped when they realized that enemy to be an army of dark elves.

  “Cave collapse?” a miner in an adjacent tunnel breathlessly asked his digging buddy, for the ground had shaken under their feet.

  The two rushed out of their dig together, to find other dwarves coming out of side tunnels and into the main corridor, all looking wide-eyed, which seemed wider, given that their faces were all covered in dark dirt and torch smoke, and all looking to each other for answers.

  Another blast reverberated around them, and the group turned as one to a perpendicular main corridor.

  “Collapse!” one yelled, and they all started running—not away from the suspected area, but toward it, toward their fellow dwarves. Picks in hand, torches in hand, the gang rumbled down the side corridor. They all knew these reaches of the mines as well as they knew their own homes above, and knew, too, that they had friends in that adjacent tunnel. Several began to call out for Junky.

  Still convinced it was a collapse, the dwarves were ready to dig. As they neared the parallel main corridor, though, the flash of a lightning bolt stole that idea as surely as it stole the darkness, and then the dwarves knew the truth.

  And then the dwarves were as ready to fight, whatever enemy had come, as fully as they had been ready to dig.

  Ravel Xorlarrin grinned wickedly as the door blew asunder, yet another victim of the spell of his own creation he called the lightning web. Through this spell, he and his fellow wizards had joined their lightning energy together into one deadly stroke that obliterated the formidable barrier.

  None of them, not even Archmage Gromph had he been there, could have sundered that iron door with a single bolt. But with their energies combined, the lightning web had blown it from its jamb and sent it flying down the corridor behind it, chasing the scurrying dwarves.

  And that sight turned Ravel’s grin into open laughter.

  In went the goblin shock troops, crossing over the blasted portal to engage the few dwarves that stood to muster a defense.

  Ravel looked to Tiago, who nodded, and in response, in went the next magical barrage, a volley of fireballs falling over dwarf and goblin alike, and when the burst of flame and smoke cleared, the line of tough dwarves had held, though shakily, but no goblins remained alive.

  Ravel put a lightning bolt into the center of the dwarf line, and more pointedly, a bolt that pressed through and reached back from that point as one fleeing dwarf sprinted away down the corridor.

  Tiago kicked his lizard mount into a charge, Jearth Xorlarrin at his side, a host of running warriors at their back. As they neared the portal, Tiago and Jearth broke left and right, rolling their mounts up the side walls and slowing, allowing the drow warriors to pass them by and engage the dwarves.

p; The forces came together just inside the blasted door with a thunderous ring of metal on metal, roaring dwarves, and stomping boots. These were drow warriors, supremely skilled and trained and outfitted. They were used to winning such fights, and used to winning them in short order.

  But their opponents were dwarves of Clan Battlehammer and of Icewind Dale, hardened by the stones they mined, by the endless cold winds of the dale, and by many years of desperate fighting against all sorts of powerful enemies, from white worms to orcs to the ever-present tundra yetis. Many drow swords and spears found their marks in those early moments of battle, but no one strike felled a Battlehammer dwarf defending his home.

  “Flight! Flight!” the drow group commander yelled back to Tiago and Jearth, telling them that that runner was still on his way for reinforcements.

  The two shared a nod and sent their mounts away, riding up to the ceiling, sticky feet holding fast. Side-by-side they charged out over the battle line. They spotted the fleeing dwarf immediately, far down the corridor, and made for him, but up came a line of dwarf shovels and picks to stab at them and engage them before they had even crossed over the combatants.

  Tiago cut in front of Jearth, his shield spinning out to its full size as he swept it across, his sword going out the other way to deflect the remaining weapons.

  “Go!” he ordered his companion, and Jearth rushed past the Baenre noble, and beyond the fighting dwarves and drow.

  Jearth spurred his lizard mount into an awkward, upside-down gallop, easily outdistancing the few pursuing dwarves, and quickly closing in on the one who had fled.

  Never slowing, riding easily though he was hanging upside down from the ceiling, Jearth pulled a barbed javelin from a long quiver behind his saddle and quickly fastened a cord to the catch-weapon’s end loop. He leveled his arm to throw, taking a moment to remember that down was up and up was down, so that to account for the natural fall of the thrown weapon he had to, from his perspective, aim lower.

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