R. Salvatore: Night of the Hunter

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R. Salvatore Night of the Hunter
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    Night of the Hunter
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    Английский
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R. A. Salvatore


Night of the Hunter

PROLOGUE


So much blood.

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.”

“Orcs?”

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.

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