Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore

  It was all too much for Berellip and she went to her private chambers and tumbled down upon a pile of large pillows, seeking respite. She lay on her back, staring up at the webbing canopy of her bed, noting the designs in the intricate strands and letting them take her thoughts back to the chapel. What might she do to make the place more presentable to Matron Zeerith? To mitigate the rage she knew would be directed her way?

  No, not her way, she decided, for she would blame Ravel for all of this. It would be a tricky proposition, she realized, for by doing so, she would also be implicating Tiago Baenre, and it was never a good thing to speak ill of a Baenre.

  She would reveal Ravel’s spying on Gromph—yes! This tragedy fell squarely on his shoulders. Ravel had found the apostate, so he had believed, and Ravel had taken the soldiers, leaving Q’Xorlarrin vulnerable, above Berellip’s protests.

  The priestess nodded as her plan unfolded in her thoughts. She would have to take care to absolve Tiago—if she did it correctly, she might even find Tiago on her side in this conflict, as he, too, tried to deflect blame onto others.

  They would all try to deflect blame. That was the way of the drow, after all.

  Berellip knew that she had to do so not only with her mother but with the archmage, surely. Gromph had taken a particular interest in this Dahlia creature, and now she was gone.

  With that thought in mind, Berellip pictured the darthiir in the webbing, only in the strands of her own canopy. Perhaps she could find a replacement among the slaves they had brought back, she thought. Was Gromph done with Dahlia? Were they all? If so, another body up there might suffice, for how would they know the truth of the newer sacrifice?

  The image above her became clearer, and nearer, and Berellip blinked as she realized that it was not an image in her mind’s eye but an actual person up there. For a heartbeat, she thought of Dahlia and wondered if a handmaiden of Lolth had somehow saved the prisoner and hung her here for Berellip to find.

  But it was not Dahlia, she realized as that form broke through the webbing and dropped upon her, as she recognized it as a man, and human, and one she knew.

  Yes, Artemis Entreri made sure that Berellip saw his face and looked into his eyes as he deftly kicked aside her snake-headed scourge before she could awaken the serpents. And he made sure that those eyes were the last thing this witch ever saw before a fine drow sword cut her throat, ear-to-ear.

  Entreri rolled off the pillows to his feet. “For Dahlia,” he whispered.

  He wiped the sword on the pillows and stripped the fine and valuable robes from the priestess, and was pleased to find that she wore a king’s treasure worth of jewelry.

  Now he could leave.

  Tsabrak Xorlarrin at last came to the mouth of the deep cave and looked out from his mountain perch over the lands of the Silver Marches, over the kingdom of Many-Arrows. He squinted against the glare of the fiery ball in the sky, the infernal sun.

  “Why would we deign to wage war in this wretched place?” Andzrel Baenre asked, moving up beside the Xorlarrin mage.

  “Were it like this, I would agree,” was all that Tsabrak would answer, and he chuckled knowingly.

  “Set the guards,” he instructed the Baenre weapons master. “Protect this place, protect me, at all cost!”

  Andzrel narrowed his eyes, surprised that a mere Xorlarrin would speak to him in such a manner. For a moment, he harbored the notion of drawing his sword.

  But then came a command from behind him, and in a voice he surely knew.

  “Do,” said Gromph, and Andzrel spun around to see the archmage, along with Tos’un Armgo and his half-darthiir daughter.

  The weapons master bowed and rushed away.

  “I thought you had vowed not to witness this,” Tsabrak dared remark to Gromph.

  The archmage shrugged as if it hardly mattered, and indeed, given the prize he and his sister had found and now kept in the extra-dimensional mansion in the anteroom of the primordial chamber of Q’Xorlarrin, it did not.

  Gromph moved back into the shadows, taking the Armgo duo with him, and there they watched as Tsabrak began his long incantation. Heartbeats became an hour, hours became a day, and still he chanted.

  But Tsabrak did not move, other than his mouth, standing perfectly still as if rooted to the stone beneath his feet, his arms uplifted and stretching forward, just under the lip of the cave’s front roof, and up toward the sky.

  The sun rose in the east, and still he chanted, and that infernal ball of discomfort had just reached its zenith when at last the call of Tsabrak was answered.

  Black tendrils pulsed up out of the stone and into the Xorlarrin wizard’s form, and ran up around and within him to his reaching fingers, then shot forth up into the sky.

  And so it went, hour after hour, the daylight dimming with a roiling gray overcast, shrouding the western sun as it found the horizon.

  Through the night, Tsabrak chanted, and the tendrils of the Underdark poured forth, and when the sun rose the next morning, it seemed a meager thing, and the land barely brightened, and those surface dwellers of the Silver Marches, orcs and elves, dwarves and humans alike, all battened their homes, expecting a terrific storm.

  But no storm came, for these were not rain clouds, surely.

  Through the day, Tsabrak chanted, and Gromph departed to a call from Methil that Matron Zeerith had arrived in Q’Xorlarrin.

  The archmage had seen enough, after all, and indeed he was humbled by the power he had witnessed. Not the power of Tsabrak, he knew, for that one was merely a conduit, and indeed might not even survive this spellcasting. But the power of the Spider Queen as she reached into the realm of the Arcane, as she tried to claim supremacy.

  As she stole the daylight of the region called the Silver Marches, preparing the battlefield for her drow minions.

  The power of the Darkening, Gromph understood, and all the world would take note, and all the world would be afraid.

  Matron Zeerith clearly was in a foul mood. Her weapons master was dead, slain in the cold north. Her eldest daughter, the First Priestess of her House, of her fledgling city, was dead, murdered in her own bed.

  More than half the drider force she had sent here with her children had been slain, and nearly two-score of her House, including priestesses and wizards.

  Oh, they had a sizable number of dwarf slaves in return, but that hardly mitigated the losses.

  And the chapel!

  Matron Zeerith had been told that it would be the shining jewel of her precious city, a place of solemn and god-like power that would serve her craftsmen well and please Lady Lolth.

  She looked upon it now, webs hanging in tatters, rubble around the room and collapsed across the way, and with uninvited guests waiting for her.

  The sight of Matron Mother Quenthel and Gromph standing beside the altar block did not improve Zeerith’s mood. They were here to judge her, she figured, and to tell her how her children had failed the Spider Queen.

  Likely, she thought, they were here to absorb Q’Xorlarrin into House Baenre’s widening web.

  A third figure was with them, a delicate woman standing atop the altar block in fabulous spidery robes. She had her back to Zeerith as the matron approached, her black hair bobbed around her shoulders—and shot with streaks of red, Matron Zeerith noted, much like the stone.

  As Zeerith neared, the woman, the elf, turned around to look down at her from on high.

  “Darthiir!” Matron Zeerith cried incredulously.

  “Do you not recognize her, Matron Zeerith?” the matron mother asked. “You have heard the name of Dahlia many times, I expect.”

  “Upon the sacred altar stone, Matron Mother?” Zeerith asked. “Are we to sacrifice this wretched creature, then? Pray let me hold the blade!”

  “Speak with respect to a fellow matron, Matron Zeerith Q’Xorlarrin,” the matron mother advised, and as the words registered, a stupefied Zeerith stared at Quenthel.

  Gromph began to laugh, and that only added to
the tension and discord of confused Zeerith.

  Matron Mother Quenthel turned to the archmage and bade him to explain, to introduce the elf woman standing atop the sacred stone.

  Gromph stepped over and bowed respectfully to Matron Zeerith, then swept his arm back out to Dahlia. “Behold Matron Do’Urden,” he explained, “of Daermon N’a’shezbaernon, the Eighth House of Menzoberranzan.”



  R. A. Salvatore, Night of the Hunter

  (Series: Companions Codex # 1)




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