Starless Night by R. A. Salvatore




  STARLESS NIGHT

  ( The Legacy of the Drow - 2 )

  Robert Salvatore

  Robert Salvatore

  STARLESS NIGHT

  (The Legacy of the Drow — 02)

  PROLOGUE

  Drizzt ran his fingers over the intricate carvings of the panther statuette, its black onyx perfectly smooth and unmarred even in the ridged areas of the muscled neck. So much like Guenhwyvar, it looked a perfect representation. How could Drizzt bear to part with it now, fully convinced that he would never see the great panther again?

  "Farewell, Guenhwyvar," the drow ranger whispered, his expression sorrowful, almost pitiful, as he stared at the figurine. "I cannot in good conscience take you with me on this journey, for I would fear your fate more than my own." His sigh was one of sincere resignation. He and his friends had fought long and hard, and at great sacrifice, to get to this point of peace, yet Drizzt had come to know that it was a false victory. He wanted to deny it, to put Guenhwyvar back in his pouch and go blindly on, hoping for the best.

  Drizzt sighed away the momentary weakness and handed the figurine over to Regis, the halfling.

  Regis stared up at Drizzt in disbelief for a long, silent while, shocked by what the drow had told him and had demanded of him.

  "Five weeks," Drizzt reminded him.

  The halfling's cherubic, boyish features crinkled. If Drizzt did not return in five weeks, Regis was to give Guenhwyvar to Catti-brie and tell both her and King Bruenor the truth of Drizzt's departure. From the draw's dark and somber tones, Regis understood that Drizzt did not expect to return.

  On sudden inspiration, the halfling dropped the figurine to his bed and fumbled with a chain about his neck, its clasp caught in the long, curly locks of his brown hair. He finally got the thing undone and produced a pendant, dangling a large and magical ruby.

  Now Drizzt was shocked. He knew the value of Regis's gemstone and the halfling's craven love of the thing. To say that Regis was acting out of character would be an incredible understatement.

  "I cannot," Drizzt argued, pushing the stone away. "I may not return, and it would be lost…"

  "Take it!" Regis demanded sharply. "For all that you have done for me, for all of us, you surely deserve it. It's one thing to leave Guenhwyvar behind—it would be a tragedy indeed if the panther fell into the hands of your evil kin—but this is merely a magical token, no living being, and it may aid you on your journey. Take it as you take your scimitars." The halfling paused, his soft gaze locking with Drizzt's violet orbs. "My friend."

  Regis snapped his fingers suddenly, stealing the quiet moment. He rambled across the floor, his bare feet slapping on the cold stone and his nightshirt swishing about him. From a drawer he produced yet another item, a rather unremarkable mask.

  "I recovered it," he said, not wanting to reveal the whole story of how he had acquired the familiar item. In truth, Regis had gone from Mithril Hall and found Artemis Entreri hanging helplessly from a jutting stone far up the side of a ravine. Regis promptly had looted the assassin, then cut the seam of Entreri's cloak. The halfling had listened with some measure of satisfaction as the cloak, the only thing holding the battered, barely conscious man aloft, began to rip.

  Drizzt eyed the magical mask for a long time. He had taken it from the lair of a banshee more than a year before. With it, its user could change his entire appearance, could hide his identity.

  "This should help you get in and out," Regis said hopefully. Still Drizzt made no move.

  "I want you to have it' Regis insisted, misunderstanding the drowns hesitation and jerking it out toward Drizzt. Regis did not realize the significance the mask held for Drizzt Do'Urden. Drizzt had once worn it to hide his identity, because a dark elf walking the surface world was at a great disadvantage. Drizzt had come to see the mask as a lie, however useful it might be, and he simply could not bring himself to don it again, whatever the potential gain.

  Or could he? Drizzt wondered then if he could refuse the gift. If the mask could aid his cause—a cause that would likely affect those he was leaving behind—then could he in good conscience refuse to wear it?

  No, he decided at length, the mask was not that valuable to his cause. Three decades out of the city was a long time, and he was not so remarkable in appearance, not so notorious, certainly, that he would be recognized. He held out his upraised hand, denying the gift, and Regis, after one more unsuccessful try, shrugged his little shoulders, and put the mask away.

  Drizzt left without another word. Many hours remained before dawn; torches burned low in the upper levels of Mithril Hall, and few dwarves stirred. It seemed perfectly quiet, perfectly peaceful.

  The dark elf's slender fingers, lightly touching, making not a sound, traced the grain of a wooden door. He had no desire to disturb the person within, though he doubted that her sleep was very restful. Every night, Drizzt wanted to go to her and comfort her, and yet he had not, for he knew that his words would do little to soothe Catti-brie's grief. Like so many other nights when he had stood by this door, a watchful, helpless guardian, the ranger ended up padding down the stone corridor, filtering through the shadows of low-dancing torches, his toe-heel step making not a whisper of sound.

  With only a short pause at another door, the door of his dearest dwarven friend, Drizzt soon crossed out of the living areas. He came into the formal gathering places, where the king of Mithril Hall entertained visiting emissaries. A couple of dwarves—Dagna's troops probably—were about in here, but they heard and saw nothing of the draw's silent passing.

  Drizzt paused again as he came to the entrance of the Hall of Dumathoin, wherein the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer kept their most precious items. He knew that he should continue, get out of the place before the clan began to stir, but he could not ignore the emotions pulling at his heartstrings. He hadn't come to this hallowed hall in the two weeks since his drow kin had been driven away, but he knew that he would never forgive himself if he didn't take at least one look.

  The mighty warhammer, Aegis-fang, rested on a pillar at the center of the adorned hall, the place of highest honor. It seemed fitting, for to Drizzt's violet eyes, Aegis-fang far outshone all the other artifacts: the shining suits of mail, the great axes and helms of heroes long dead, the anvil of a legendary smith. Drizzt smiled at the notion that this warhammer hadn't even been wielded by a dwarf. It had been the weapon of Wulfgar, Drizzt's friend, who had willingly given his life so that the others of the tight band might survive.

  Drizzt stared long and hard at the mighty weapon, at the gleaming mithril head, unscratched despite the many vicious battles the hammer had seen and showing the perfectly etched sigils of the dwarven god Dumathoin. The draw's gaze drifted down the item, settling on the dried blood on its dark adamantite handle. Bruenor, so stubborn, hadn't allowed that blood to be cleaned away.

  Memories of Wulfgar, of fighting beside the tall and strong, golden-haired and golden-skinned man flooded through the drow, weakening his knees and his resolve. In his mind, Drizzt looked again into Wulfgar's clear eyes, the icy blue of the northern sky and always filled with an excited sparkle. Wulfgar had been just a boy, his spirit undaunted by the harsh realities of a brutal world.

  Just a boy, but one who had willingly sacrificed everything, a song on his lips, for those he called his friends.

  "Farewell," Drizzt whispered, and he was gone, running this time, though no more loudly than he had walked before. In a few seconds, he crossed onto a balcony and down a flight of stairs, into a wide and high chamber. He crossed under the watchful eyes of Mithril Hall's eight kings, their likenesses cut into the stone wall. The last of the busts, that of King Bruenor Battlehammer, was the most striking. Bruenor's visage was stem, a grim look intensified by a deep scar run
ning from his forehead to his jawbone, and with his right eye gone.

  More than Bruenor's eye had been wounded, Drizzt knew. More than that dwarvish body, rock tough and resilient, had been scarred. Bruenor's soul was the part most pained, slashed by the loss of a boy he had called his son. Was the dwarf as resilient in spirit as in body? Drizzt knew not the answer. At that moment, staring at Bruenor's scarred face, Drizzt felt that he should stay, should sit beside his friend and help heal the wounds.

  It was a passing thought. What wounds might still come to the dwarf? Drizzt reminded himself. To the dwarf and to all his remaining friends?

  Catti-brie tossed and squirmed, reliving that fateful moment, as she did every night—at least, every night that exhaustion allowed her to find sleep. She heard Wulfgar's song to Tempus, his god of battle, saw the serene look in the mighty barbarian's eye, the look that denied the obvious agony, the look that allowed him to chop up at the loose stone ceiling, though blocks of heavy granite had begun to tumble all about him.

  Catti-brie saw Wulfgar's garish wounds, the white of bone, his skin ripped away from his ribs by the sharklike teeth of the yochlol, an evil, extradimensional beast, an ugly lump of waxy flesh that resembled a half-melted candle.

  The roar as the ceiling dropped over her love brought Catti-brie up in her bed, sitting in the darkness, her thick auburn hair matted to her face by cold sweat. She took a long moment to control her breathing, told herself repeatedly that it was a dream, a terrible memory, but ultimately, an event that had passed. The torchlight outlining her door comforted and calmed her.

  She wore only a light slip, and her thrashing had knocked her blankets away. Goose bumps rose on her arms, and she shivered, cold and damp and miserable. She roughly retrieved the thickest of her covers and pulled them tightly to her neck, then lay flat on her back, staring up into the darkness.

  Something was wrong. She sensed that something was out of place.

  Rationally, the young woman told herself that she was imagining things, that her dreams had unnerved her. The world was not right for Catti-brie, far from right, but she told herself forcefully that she was in Mithril Hall, surrounded by an army of friends.

  She told herself that she was imagining things.

  Drizzt was a long way from Mithril Hall when the sun came up. He didn't sit and enjoy the dawn this day, as was his custom. He hardly looked at the rising sun, for it seemed to him now a false hope of things that could not be. When the initial glare had diminished, the drow looked out to the south and east, far across the mountains, and remembered.

  His hand went to his neck, to the hypnotic ruby pendant Regis had given him. He knew how much Regis relied on this gem, loved it, and considered again the halfling's sacrifice, the sacrifice of a true friend. Drizzt had known true friendship; his life had been rich since he had walked into a forlorn land called Icewind Dale and met Bruenor Battlehammer and his adopted daughter, Catti-brie. It pained Drizzt to think that he might never again see any of them.

  The drow was glad to have the magical pendant, though, an item that might allow him to get answers and return to his friends, but he held more than a little guilt for his decision to tell Regis of his departure. That choice seemed a weakness to Drizzt, a need to rely on friends who, at this dark time, had little to give. He could rationalize it, though, as a necessary safeguard for the friends he would leave behind. He had instructed Regis to tell Bruenor the truth in five weeks, so that, in case Drizzt's journey proved unsuccessful, Clan Battlehammer would at least have time to prepare for the darkness that might yet come.

  It was a logical act, but Drizzt had to admit that he had told Regis because of his own need, because he had to tell someone.

  And what of the magical mask? he wondered. Had he been weak in refusing that, too? The powerful item might have aided Drizzt and, thus, aided his friends, but he had not the strength to wear it, to even touch it.

  Doubts floated all about the drow, hovered in the air before his eyes, mocking him. Drizzt sighed and rubbed the ruby between his slender black hands. For all his prowess with the blade, for all his dedication to principles, for all his ranger stoicism, Drizzt Do'Urden needed his friends. He glanced back toward Mithril Hall and wondered, for his own sake, if he had chosen rightly in undertaking this quest privately and secretly.

  Part 1 DUTY BOUND

  No race in all the Realms better understands the word vengeance than the draw. Vengeance is their dessert at their daily table, the sweetness they taste upon their smirking lips as though it was the ultimate delicious pleasure. And so hungering did the drow come for me. I cannot escape the anger and the guilt I feel for the loss of Wulfgar, for the pains the enemies of my dark past have brought to the friends I hold so dear. Whenever I look into Catti-brie's fair face, I see a profound and everlasting sadness that should not be there, a burden that has no place in the sparkling eyes of a child.

  Similarly wounded, I have no words to comfort her and doubt that there are any words that might bring solace. It is my course, then, that I must continue to protect my friends. I have come to realize that I must look beyond my own sense of loss for Wulfgar, beyond the immediate sadness that has taken hold of the dwarves of Mithril Hall and the hardy men of Settlestone.

  By Catti-brie's account of that fateful fight, the creature Wulfgar battled was a yochlol, a handmaiden of Lloth. With that grim information, I must look beyond the immediate sorrow and consider that the sadness I fear is still to come.

  I do not understand all the chaotic games of the Spider Queen—I doubt that even the evil high priestesses know the foul creature's true designs—but there lies in a yochlol's presence a significance that even I, the worst of the drow religious students, cannot miss. The handmaiden's appearance revealed that the hunt was sanctified by the Spider Queen. And the fact that the yochlol intervened in the fighting does not bode well for the future of Mithril Hall.

  It is all supposition, of course. I know not that my sister Vierna acted in concert with any of Menzoberranzan's other dark pouters, or that, with Vierna's death, the death of my last relative, my link to the city of drow would ever again be explored.

  When I look into Catti-brie's eyes, when I look upon Bruenor's horrid scars, I am reminded that hopeful supposition is a feeble and dangerous thing. My evil kin have taken one friend from me.

  They will take no more.

  I can find no answers in Mithril Hall, will never know for certain if the dark elves hunger still for vengeance, unless another force from Menzoberranzan comes to the surface to claim the bounty on my head. With this truth bending low my shoulders, how could I ever travel to Silverymoon, or to any other nearby town, resuming my normal lifestyle? How could I sleep in peace while holding within my heart the very real fear that the dark elves might soon return and once more imperil my friends?

  The apparent serenity of Mithril Hall, the brooding quiet, will show me nothing of the future designs of the drow. Yet, for the sake of my friends, I must know those dark intentions. I fear that there remains only one place for me to look.

  Wulfgar gave his life so that his friends might live. In good conscience, could my own sacrifice be any less?

  Chapter 1 THE AMBITIOUS ONE

  The mercenary leaned against the pillar anchoring the wide stairway of Tier Breche, on the northern side of the great cavern that housed Menzoberranzan, the city of drow. Jarlaxle removed his wide-brimmed hat and ran a hand over the smooth skin of his bald head as he muttered a few curses under his breath.

  Many tights were on in the city. Torches flickered in the high windows of houses carved from natural stalagmite formations. Lights in the drow city! Many of the elaborate structures had long been decorated by the soft glow of faerie fire, mostly purple and blue hues, but this was different.

  Jarlaxle shifted to the side and winced as his weight came upon his recently wounded leg. Triel Baenre herself, the matron mistress of Arach-Tinilith, among the highest-ranking priestesses in the city, had tended the wound, but
Jarlaxle suspected that the wicked priestess had purposely left the job unfinished, had left a bit of the pain to remind the mercenary of his failure in recapturing the renegade Drizzt Do'Urden.

  "The glow wounds my eyes," came a sarcastic remark from behind. Jarlaxle turned to see Matron Baenre's oldest daughter, that same Triel. She was shorter than most drow, nearly a foot shorter than Jarlaxle, but she carried herself with undeniable dignity and poise. Jarlaxle understood her powers (and her volatile temperament) better than most, and he certainly treated the diminutive female with the greatest caution.

  Staring, glaring, out over the city with squinting eyes, she moved beside him. "Curse the glow," she muttered.

  "It is by your matron's command," Jarlaxle reminded her. His one good eye avoided her gaze; the other lay beneath a patch of shadow, which was tied behind his head. He replaced his great hat, pulling it low in front as he tried to hide his smirk at her resulting grimace.

  Triel was not happy with her mother. Jarlaxle had known that since the moment Matron Baenre had begun to hint at her plans. Triel was possibly the most fanatic of the Spider Queen's priestesses and would not go against Matron Baenre, the first matron mother of the city—not unless Lloth instructed her to.

  "Come along," the priestess growled. She turned and made her way across Tier Breche to the largest and most ornate of the drow Academy's three buildings, a huge structure shaped to resemble a gigantic spider.

  Jarlaxle pointedly groaned as he moved, and lost ground with every limping step. His attempt to solicit a bit more healing magic was not successful, though, for Triel merely paused at the doorway to the great structure and waited for him with a patience that was more than a bit out of character, Jarlaxle knew, for Triel never waited for anything.

 
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