Robert Salvatore: STARLESS NIGHT

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    STARLESS NIGHT
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"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 running 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?

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