The Dark Elf Trilogy: Exile

18. Double Talker


Perched in his favorite corner, across Rogues Circle from the Spitting Camel, Dondon watched as the elf, the last of the four, moved into the inn to join his friends. The halfling pulled out a little pocket mirror to check his disguise - all the dirt and scruff marks seemed in the right places; his clothes were far too large, like those a waif would pull off an unconscious drunk in an ally; and his hair was appropriately tousled and snarled, as if it hadn't been combed in years.

Dondon looked longingly to the moon and inspected his chin with his fingers. Still hairless but tingling, he thought. The halfling took a deep breath, and then another, and fought back the lycanthropic urges. In the year he had joined Rassiter's ranks, he had learned to sublimate those fiendish urges fairly well, but he hoped that he could finish his business quickly this night. The moon was especially bright.

People of the street, locals, gave an approving wink as they passed the halfling, knowing the master con artist to be on the prowl once more. With his reputation, Dondon had long become ineffective against the regulars of Calimport's streets, but those characters knew enough to keep their mouths shut about the halfling to strangers. Dondon always managed to surround himself with the toughest rogues of the city, and blowing his cover to an intended victim was a serious crime indeed!

The halfling leaned back against the corner of a building to observe as the four friends emerged from the Spitting Camel a short time later.

For Drizzt and his companions, Calimport's night proved as unnatural as the sights they had witnessed during the day. Unlike the northern cities, where nighttime activities were usually relegated to the many taverns, the bustle of Calimport's streets only increased after the sun went down.

Even the lowly peasants took on a different demeanor, suddenly mysterious and sinister.

The only section of the lane that remained uncluttered by the hordes was the area in front of the unmarked structure on the back side of the circle: the guildhouse. As in the daylight, bums sat against the building's walls on either side of its single door, but now there were two more guards farther off to either side.

"If Regis is in that place, we've got to find our way in," Catti-brie observed.

"No doubt that Regis is in there," Drizzt replied. "Our hunt should start with Entreri."

"We've come to find Regis," Catti-brie reminded him, casting a disappointed glance his way. Drizzt quickly clarified his answer to her satisfaction.

"The road to Regis lies through the assassin," he said. "Entreri has seen to that. You heard his words at the chasm of Garumn's Gorge. Entreri will not allow us to find Regis until we have dealt with him."

Catti-brie could not deny the drow's logic. When Entreri had snatched Regis from them back in Mithril Hall, he had gone to great pains to bait Drizzt into the chase, as though his capture of Regis was merely part of a game he was playing against Drizzt.

"Where to begin?" Bruenor huffed in frustration. He had expected the street to be quieter, offering them a better opportunity to scope out the task before them. He had hoped that they might even complete their business that very night.

"Right where we are," Drizzt replied, to Bruenor's amazement.

"Learn the smell of the street," the drow explained. "Watch the moves of its people and hear their sounds. Prepare your mind for what is to come."

"Time, elf!" Bruenor growled back. "Me heart tells me that Rumblebelly's liken to have a whip at his back as we stand here smelling the stinkin' street!"

"We need not seek Entreri," Wulfgar cut in, following Drizzt's line of thinking. "The assassin will find us."

Almost on cue, as if Wulfgar's statement had reminded them all of their dangerous surroundings, the four of them turned their eyes outward from their little huddle and watched the bustle of the street around them. Dark eyes peered at them from every corner; each person that ambled past cast them a sidelong glance. Calimport was not unaccustomed to strangers - it was a trading port, after all - but these four would stand out clearly on the streets of any city in the Realms. Recognizing their vulnerability, Drizzt decided to get them moving. He started off down Rogues Circle, motioning for the others to follow.

Before Wulfgar, at the tail of the forming line, had even taken a step, however, a childish voice called out to him from the shadows of the Spitting Camel.

"Hey," it beckoned, "are you looking for a hit?"

Wulfgar, not understanding, moved a bit closer and peered into the gloom. There stood Dondon, seeming a young, disheveled human boy.

"What're yer fer?" Bruenor asked, moving beside Wulfgar.

Wulfgar pointed to the corner.

"What're yer fer?" Bruenor asked again, now targeting the diminutive, shadowy figure.

"Looking for a hit?" Dondon reiterated, moving out from the gloom.

"Bah!" Bruenor snorted, waving his hand. "Just a boy. Get ye gone, little one. We've no time for play!" He grabbed Wulfgar's arm and turned away.

"I can set you up," Dondon said after them.

Bruenor kept right on walking, Wulfgar beside him, but now Drizzt had stopped, noticing his companions' delay, and had heard the boy's last statement.

"Just a boy!" Bruenor explained to the drow as he approached.

"A street boy," Drizzt corrected, stepping around Bruenor and Wulfgar and starting back, "with eyes and ears that miss little.

"How can you set us up?" Drizzt whispered to Dondon while moving close to the building, out of sight of the too curious hordes.

Dondon shrugged. "There is plenty to steal; a whole bunch of merchants came in today. What are you looking for?"

Bruenor, Wulfgar, and Catti-brie took up defensive positions around Drizzt and the boy, their eyes outward to the streets but their ears trained on the suddenly interesting conversation.

Drizzt crouched low and led Dondon's gaze with his own toward the building at the end of the circle.

"Pook's house," Dondon remarked offhandedly. "Toughest house in Calimport."

"But it has a weakness," Drizzt prompted.

"They all do," Dondon replied calmly, playing perfectly the role of a cocky street survivor.

"Have you ever been in there?"

"Maybe I have."

"Have you ever seen a hundred gold pieces?"

Dondon let his eyes light up, and he purposely and pointedly shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"Get him back in the rooms," Catti-brie said. "Ye be drawing too many looks out here."

Dondon readily agreed, but he shot Drizzt a warning in the form of an icy stare and proclaimed, "I can count to a hundred!"

When they got back to the room, Drizzt and Bruenor fed Dondon a steady stream of coins while the halfling laid out the way to a secret back entrance to the guildhouse. "Even the thieves," Dondon proclaimed, "do not know of it!"

The friends gathered closely, eager for the details.

Dondon made the whole operation sound easy.

Too easy.

Drizzt rose - and turned away, hiding his chuckle from the informant. Hadn't they just been talking about Entreri making contact? Barely minutes before this enlightening boy so conveniently arrived to guide them.

"Wulfgar, take off his shoes," Drizzt said. His three friends turned to him curiously. Dondon squirmed in his chair.

"His shoes," Drizzt said again, turning back and pointing to Dondon's feet. Bruenor, so long a friend of a halfling, caught the drow's reasoning and didn't wait for Wulfgar to respond. The dwarf grabbed at Dondon's left boot and pulled it off, revealing a thick patch of foot hair - the foot of a halfling.

Dondon shrugged helplessly and sank back in his chair. The meeting was taking the exact course that Entreri had predicted.

"He said he could set us up," Catti-brie remarked sarcastically, twisting Dondon's words into a more sinister light.

"Who sent ye?" Bruenor growled.

"Entreri," Wulfgar answered for Dondon. "He works for Entreri, sent here to lead us into a trap." Wulfgar leaned over Dondon, blocking out the candlelight with his huge frame.

Bruenor pushed the barbarian aside and took his place. With his boyish looks, Wulfgar simply could not be as imposing as the pointy-nosed, red-bearded, fire-eyed dwarven fighter with the battered helm. "So, ye little sneakster," Bruenor growled into Dondon's face. "Now we deal for yer stinkin' tongue! Wag it the wrong way, and I'll be cutting it out!"

Dondon paled - he had that act down pat - and began to tremble visibly.

"Calm yerself," Catti-brie said to Bruenor, playing out a lighter role this time. "Suren ye've scared the little one enough."

Bruenor shoved her back, turning enough away from Dondon to toss her a wink. "Scared him?" the dwarf balked. He brought his axe up to his shoulder. "More than scarin' him's in me plans!"

"Wait! Wait!" Dondon begged, groveling as only a halfling could. "I was just doing what the assassin made me do, and paid me to do."

"You know Entreri?" Wulfgar asked.

"Everybody knows Entreri," Dondon replied. "And in Calimport, everybody heeds Entreri's commands!"

"Forget Entreri!" Bruenor growled in his face. "Me axe'll stop that one from hurting yerself."

"You think you can kill Entreri?" Dondon shot back, though he knew the true meaning of Bruenor's claim.

"Entreri can't hurt a corpse," Bruenor replied grimly. "Me axe'll beat him to yer head!"

"It is you he wants," Dondon said to Drizzt, seeking a calmer situation.

Drizzt nodded, but remained silent. Something came across as out of place in this out of place meeting.

"I choose no sides," Dondon pleaded to Bruenor, seeing no relief forthcoming from Drizzt. "I only do what I must to survive."

"And to survive now, ye're going to tell us the way in," Bruenor said. "The safe way in."

"The place is a fortress," Dondon shrugged. "No way is safe." Bruenor started slipping closer, his scowl deepening.

"But, if I had to try," the halfling blurted, "I would try through the sewers."

Bruenor looked around at his friends.

"It seems correct," Wulfgar remarked.

Drizzt studied the halfling a moment longer, searching for some clue in Dondon's darting eyes. "It is correct," the drow said at length.

"So he saved his neck," said Catti-brie, "but what are we to do with him? Take him along?"

"Ayuh," said Bruenor with a sly look. "He'll be leading!"

"No," replied Drizzt, to the amazement of his companions. "The halfling did as we bade. Let him leave."

"And go straight off to tell Entreri what has happened?" Wulfgar said.

"Entreri would not understand," Drizzt replied. He looked Dondon in the eye, giving no indication to the halfling that he had figured out his little ploy within a ploy. "Nor would he forgive."

"Me heart says we take him," Bruenor remarked.

"Let him go," Drizzt said calmly. "Trust me."

Bruenor snorted and dropped his axe to his side, grumbling as he moved to open the door. Wulfgar and Catti-brie exchanged concerned glances but stepped out of the way.

Dondon didn't hesitate, but Bruenor stepped in front of him as he reached the door. "If I see yer face again," the dwarf threatened, "or any face ye might be wearin', I'll chop ye down!"

Dondon slipped around and backed into the hall, never taking his eyes off the dangerous dwarf, then he darted down the hall, shaking his head at how perfectly Entreri had described the encounter, at how well the assassin knew those friends, particularly the drow.

Suspecting the truth about the entire encounter, Drizzt understood that Bruenor's final threat carried little weight to the wily halfling. Dondon had faced them down through both lies without the slightest hint of a slip.

But Drizzt nodded approvingly as Bruenor, still scowling, turned back into the room, for the drow also knew that the threat, if nothing else, had made Bruenor feel more secure.

On Drizzt's suggestion, they all settled down for some sleep. With the clamor of the streets, they would never be able to slip unnoticed into one of the sewer grates. But the crowds would likely thin out as the night waned and the guard changed from the dangerous rogues of evening to the peasants of the hot day.

Drizzt alone did not find sleep. He sat propped by the door of the room, listening for sounds of any approach and lulled into meditations by the rhythmic breathing of his companions. He looked down at the mask hanging around his neck. So simple a lie, and he could walk freely throughout the world.

But would he then be trapped within the web of his own deception? What freedom could he find in denying the truth about himself?

Drizzt looked over at Catti-brie, peacefully slumped in the room's single bed, and smiled. There was indeed wisdom in innocence, a vein of truth in the idealism of untainted perceptions.

He could not disappoint her.

Drizzt sensed a deepening of the outside gloom. The moon had set. He moved to the room's window and peeked out into the street. Still the night people wandered, but they were fewer now, and the night neared its end. Drizzt roused his companions; they could not afford any more delays. They stretched away their weariness, checked their gear, and moved back down to the street.

Rogues Circle was lined with several iron sewer grates that looked as though they were designed more to keep the filthy things of the sewers underground than as drains for the sudden waters of the rare but violent rainstorms that hit the city. The friends chose one in the ally beside their inn, out of the main way of the street but close enough to the guildhouse that they could probably find their underground way without too much trouble.

"The boy can lift it," Bruenor remarked, waving Wulfgar to the spot. Wulfgar bent low and grasped the iron.

"Not yet," Drizzt whispered, glancing around for suspicious eyes. He motioned Catti-brie to the end of the ally, back along Rogues Circle, and he darted off down the darker side. When he was satisfied that all was clear, he waved back to Bruenor. The dwarf looked to Catti-brie, who nodded her approval.

"Lift it, boy," Bruenor said, "and be quiet about it!"

Wulfgar grasped the iron tightly and sucked in a deep, draft of air for balance. His huge arms pumped red with blood as he heaved, and a grunt escaped his lips. Even so, the grate resisted his tugging...

Wulfgar looked at Bruenor in disbelief, then redoubled his efforts, his face now flushing red. The grate groaned in protest, but came up only a few inches from the ground.

"Suren somethings holdin' it down," Bruenor said, leaning over to inspect it.

A "clink" of snapping chain was the dwarf's only warning as the grate broke free, sending Wulfgar sprawling backward. The lifting iron clipped Bruenor's forehead, knocking his helmet off and dropping him on the seat of his pants. Wulfgar, still clutching the grate, crashed heavily and loudly into the wall of the inn.

"Ye blasted, fool-headed..." Bruenor started to grumble, but Drizzt and Catti-brie, rushing to his aid, quickly reminded him of the secrecy of their mission.

"Why would they chain a sewer grate?" Catti-brie asked.

Wulfgar dusted himself off. "From the inside," he added.

"It seems that something down there wants to keep the city out."

"We shall know soon enough," Drizzt remarked. He dropped down beside the open hole, slipping his legs in. "Prepare a torch," he said. "I will summon you if all is clear."

Catti-brie caught the eager gleam in the drow's eyes and looked at him with concern.

"For Regis," Drizzt assured her, "and only for Regis." Then he was gone, into the blackness. Black like the lightless tunnels of his homeland.

The other three heard a slight splash as he touched down, then all was quiet.

Many anxious moments passed. "Put a light to the torch," Bruenor whispered to Wulfgar.

Catti-brie caught Wulfgar's arm to stop him. "Faith," she said to Bruenor.

"Too long," the dwarf muttered. "Too quiet."

Catti-brie held on to Wulfgar's arm for another second, until Drizzt's soft voice drifted up to them. "Clear," the drow said. "Come down quickly."

Bruenor took the torch from Wulfgar. "Come last," he said, "and slide the grate back behind ye. No need in tellin' the world where we went!"

* * *

The first thing the companions noticed when the torchlight entered the sewer was the chain that had held the grate down. It was fairly new, without doubt, and fastened to a locking box constructed on the sewer's wall.

"Me thinking's that we're not alone," Bruenor whispered.

Drizzt glanced around, sharing the dwarf's uneasiness. He dropped the mask from his face, a drow again in an environ suited for a drow. "I will lead," he said, "at the edge of the light. Keep ready." He padded away, picking his silent steps along the edge of the murky stream of water that rolled slowly down the center of the tunnel.

Bruenor came next with the torch, then Catti-brie and Wulfgar. The barbarian had to stoop low to keep his head clear of the slimy ceiling. Rats squeaked and scuttled away from the strange light, and darker things took silent refuge under the shield of the water. The tunnel meandered this way and that, and a maze of side passages opened up every few feet. Sounds of trickling water only worsened the confusion, leading the friends for a moment, then coming louder at their side, then louder still from across the way.

Bruenor shook the diversions clear of his thoughts, ignored the muck and the fetid stench, and concentrated on keeping his track straight behind the shadowy figure that darted in and out at the front edge of his torchlight. He turned a confusing, multicornered intersection and caught sight of the figure suddenly off to his side.

Even as he turned to follow, he realized that Drizzt still had to be up front.

"Ready!" Bruenor called, tossing the torch to a dry spot beside him and taking up his axe and shield. His alertness saved them all, for only a split second later, not one, but two cloaked forms emerged from the side tunnel, swords raised and sharp teeth gleaming under twitching whiskers.

They were man-sized, wearing the clothes of men and holding swords. In their other form, they were indeed humans and not always vile, but on the nights of the bright moon they took on their darker form, the lycanthrope side. They moved like men but were mantled with the trappings - elongated snout, bristled brown fur, and pink tail - of sewer rats.

Lining them up over the top of Bruenor's helm, Catti-brie launched the first strike. The silvery flash of her killing arrow illuminated the side tunnel like a lightning bolt, showing many more sinister figures making their way toward the friends.

A splash from behind caused Wulfgar to spin about to face a rushing gang of the ratmen. He dug his heels into the mud as well as he could and slapped Aegis-fang to a ready position.

"They was layin' on us, elf!" Bruenor shouted.

Drizzt had already come to that conclusion. At the dwarf's first shout, he had slipped farther from the torch to use the advantage of darkness. Turning a bend brought him face to face with two figures, and he guessed their sinister nature before he ever got the blue light of Twinkle high enough to see their furry brows.

The wererats, though, certainly did not expect what they found standing ready before them. Perhaps it was because they believed that their enemies were solely in the area with the torchlight, but more likely it was the black skin of a drow elf that sent them back on their heels.

Drizzt didn't miss the opportunity, slicing them down in a single flurry before they ever recovered from their shock. The drow then melted again into the blackness, seeking a back route to ambush the ambushers.

Wulfgar kept his attackers at bay with long sweeps of Aegis-fang. The hammer blew aside any wererat that ventured too near, and smashed away chunks of the muck on the sewer walls every time it completed an arc. But as the wererats came to understand the power of the mighty barbarian, and came in at him with less enthusiasm, the best that Wulfgar could accomplish was a stalemate - a deadlock that would only last as long as the energy in his huge arms.

Behind Wulfgar, Bruenor and Catti-brie fared better. Catti-brie's magical bow - loosing arrows over the dwarf's head - decimated the ranks of the approaching wererats, and those few that reached Bruenor, off-balance and ducking the deadly arrows of the woman behind him, proved easy prey for the dwarf.

But the odds were fully against the friends, and they knew that one mistake would cost them dearly.

The wererats, hissing and spitting, backed away from Wulfgar. Realizing that he had to initiate more decisive fighting, the barbarian strode forward.

The ratmen parted ranks suddenly, and down the tunnel, at the very edge of the torchlight, Wulfgar saw one of them level a heavy crossbow and fire.

Instinctively the big man flattened against the wall, and he was agile enough to get out of the missile's path, but Catti-brie, behind him and facing the other way, never saw the bolt coming.

She felt a sudden searing burst of pain, then the warmth of her blood pouring down the side of her head. Blackness swirled about the edges of her vision, and she crumbled against the wall.

* * *

Drizzt slipped through the dark passages as silently as death. He kept Twinkle sheathed, fearing its revealing light, and led the way with his other magical blade. He was in a maze, but figured that he could pick his route well enough to rejoin his friends. Every tunnel he picked, though, lit up at its other end with torchlight as still more wererats made their way to the fighting.

The darkness was certainly ample for the stealthy drow to remain concealed, but Drizzt got the uneasy feeling that his moves were being monitored, even anticipated. Dozens of passages opened up all around him, but his options came fewer and fewer as wererats appeared at every turn. The circuit to his friends was growing wider with each step, but Drizzt quickly realized that he had no choice but to go forward. Wererats had filled the main tunnel behind him, following his route.

Drizzt stopped in the shadows of one dark nook and surveyed the area about him, recounting the distance he had covered and noting the passages behind him that now flickered in torchlight. Apparently there weren't as many wererats as he had originally figured; those appearing at every turn were probably the same groups from the previous tunnels, running parallel to Drizzt and turning into each new passage as Drizzt came upon it at the other end.

But the revelation of wererat numbers came as little comfort to Drizzt. He had no doubts to his suspicions now. He was being herded.

* * *

Wulfgar turned and started toward his fallen love, his Catti-brie, but the wererats came in on him immediately.

Fury now drove the mighty barbarian. He tore into his attackers' ranks, smashing and squashing them with bone-splitting chops of his war hammer or reaching out with a bare hand to twist the neck of any who had slipped in beside him. The ratmen managed a few retreating stabs, but nicks and little wounds wouldn't slow the enraged barbarian.

He stomped on the fallen as he passed, grinding his booted heels into their dying bodies. Other wererats scrambled in terror to get out of his way.

At the end of their line, the crossbowman struggled to reload his weapon, a job made more difficult by his inability to keep his eyes off the spectacle of the approaching barbarian and made doubly difficult by his knowledge that he was the focus of the powerful man's rage.

Bruenor, with the wererat ranks dissipated in front of him, had more time to tend to Catti-brie. He bent over the young woman, his face ashen as he pulled her thick mane of auburn hair, thicker now with the wetness of her blood, from her fair face.

Catti-brie looked up at him through stunned eyes. "But an inch more, and me life'd be at its end," she said with a wink and a smile.

Bruenor scrambled to inspect the wound, and found, to his relief, that his daughter was correct in her observations. The quarrel had gouged her wickedly, but it was only a grazing shot.

"I'm all right," Catti-brie insisted, starting to rise.

Bruenor held her down. "Not yet," he whispered.

"The fight's not done," Catti-brie replied, still trying to plant her feet under her. Bruenor led her gaze down the tunnel, to Wulfgar and the bodies piling all about him.

"There's our chance," he chuckled. "Let the boy think ye're down."

Catti-brie bit her lip in astonishment of the scene. A dozen ratmen were down and still Wulfgar pounded through, his hammer tearing away those unfortunates who couldn't flee out of his way.

Then a noise from the other direction turned Catti-brie away. With her bow down, the wererats from the front had returned.

"They're mine," Bruenor told her. "Keep yerself down!"

"If ye get into trouble - "

"If I need ye, then be there," Bruenor agreed, "but for now, keep yerself down! Give the boy something to fight for!"

* * *

Drizzt tried to double back along his route, but the ratmen quickly closed off all of the tunnels. Soon his options had been cut down to one, a wide, dry side passage moving in the opposite direction from where he had hoped to go.

The ratmen were closing on him fast, and in the main tunnel he would have to fight them off from several different directions. He slipped into the passage and flattened against the wall.

Two ratmen shuffled up to the tunnel entrance and peered into the gloom, calling a third, with a torch, to join them. The light they found was not the yellow flicker of a torch, but a sudden line of blue as Twinkle came free of its scabbard. Drizzt was upon them before they could raise their weapons in defense, thrusting a blade clean through one wererat's chest and spinning his second blade in an arc across the other's neck.

The torchlight enveloped them as they fell, leaving the drow standing there, revealed, both his blades dripping blood. The nearest wererats shrieked; some even dropped their weapons and ran, but more of them came up, blocking all of the tunnel entrances in the area, and the advantage of sheer numbers soon gave the ratmen a measure of confidence. Slowly, looking to each other for support with every step, they closed in on Drizzt.

Drizzt considered rushing a single group, hoping to cut through their ranks and be out of the ring of the trap, but the ratmen were at least two deep at every passage, three or even four deep at some. Even with his skill and agility, Drizzt could never get through them fast enough to avoid attacks at his back.

He darted back into the side passage and summoned a globe of darkness inside its entrance, then he sprinted beyond the area of the globe to take up a ready position just behind it.

The ratmen, quickening their charge as Drizzt disappeared back into the tunnel, stopped short when they turned into the area of unbreakable darkness. At first, they thought that their torches must have gone out, but so deep was the gloom that they soon realized the truth of the drow's spell. They regrouped out in the main tunnel, then came back in, cautiously.

Even Drizzt, with his night eyes, could not see into the pitch blackness of his spell, but positioned clear of the other side, he did make out a sword tip, and then another, leading the two front ratmen down the passage. They hadn't even broken from the darkness when the drow struck, slapping their swords away and reversing the angle of his cuts to drive his scimitars up the lengths of their arms and into their bodies. Their agonized screams sent the other ratmen scrambling back out into the main corridor, and gave Drizzt another moment to consider his position.

* * *

The crossbowman knew his time was up when the last two of his companions shoved him aside in their desperate flight from the enraged giant. He at last fumbled the quarrel back into position and brought his bow to bear.

But Wulfgar was too close. The barbarian grabbed the crossbow as it swung about and tore it from the wererat's hands with such ferocity that it broke apart when it slammed into the wall. The wererat meant to flee, but the sheer intensity of Wulfgar's glare froze him in place. He watched, horrified, as Wulfgar clasped Aegis-fang in both hands.

Wulfgar's strike was impossibly fast. The wererat never comprehended that the death blow had even begun. He only felt a sudden explosion on top of his head.

The ground rushed up to meet him; he was dead before he ever splatted into the muck. Wulfgar, his eyes rimmed with tears, hammered on the wretched creature viciously until its body was no more than a lump of undefinable waste.

Spattered with blood and muck and black water, Wulfgar finally slumped back against the wall. As he released himself from the consuming rage, he heard the fighting behind and spun to find Bruenor beating back two of the ratmen, with several more lined up behind them.

And behind the dwarf, Catti-brie lay still against the wall. The sight refueled Wulfgar's fire. "Tempus!" he roared to his god of battle, and he pounded through the muck, back down the tunnel. The wererats facing Bruenor tripped over themselves trying to get away, giving the dwarf the opportunity to cut down two more of them - he was happy to oblige. They fled back into the maze of tunnels.

Wulfgar meant to pursue them, to hunt each of them down and vent his vengeance, but Catti-brie rose to intercept him. She leaped into his chest as he skidded in surprise, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him more passionately than he had ever imagined he could be kissed.

He held her at arm's length, gawking and stuttering in confusion until a joyful smile spread wide and took all other emotions out of his face. Then he hugged her back for another kiss.

Bruenor pulled them apart. "The elf?" he reminded them. He scooped up the torch, now half-covered with mud and burning low, and led them off down the tunnel.

They didn't dare turn into one of the many side passages, for fear of getting lost. The main corridor was the swiftest route, wherever it might take them, and they could only hope to catch a glimpse or hear a sound that would direct them to Drizzt.

Instead they found a door.

"The guild?" Catti-brie whispered.

"What else could it be?" Wulfgar replied. "Only a thieves' house would keep a door to the sewers."

* * *

Above the door, in a secret cubby, Entreri eyed the three friends curiously. He had known that something was amiss when the wererats had begun to gather in the sewers earlier that night. Entreri had hoped they would move out into the city, but it had soon become apparent that the wererats meant to stay.

Then these three showed up at the door without the drow.

Entreri put his chin in his palm and considered his next course of action.

* * *

Bruenor studied the door curiously. On it, at about eye level for a human, was nailed a small wooden box. Having no time to play with riddles, the dwarf boldly reached up and tore the box free, bringing it down and peeking over its rim.

The dwarf's face twisted with even more confusion when he saw inside. He shrugged and held the box out to Wulfgar and Catti-brie.

Wulfgar was not so confused. He had seen a similar item before, back on the docks of Baldur's Gate. Another gift from Artemis Entreri - another halfling's finger.

"Assassin!" he roared, and he slammed his shoulder into the door. It broke free of its hinges, and Wulfgar stumbled into the room beyond, holding the door out in front of him. Before he could even toss it aside, he heard the crash behind him and realized how foolish the move had been. He had fallen right into Entreri's trap.

A portcullis had dropped in the entranceway, separating him from Bruenor and Catti-brie.

* * *

The tips of long spears led the wererats back through Drizzt's globe of darkness. The drow still managed to take one of the lead ratmen down, but he was backed up by the press of the group that followed. He gave ground freely, fighting off their thrusts and jabs with defensive swordwork. Whenever he saw an opening, he was quick enough to strike a blade home.

Then a singular odor overwhelmed even the stench of the sewer. A syrupy sweet smell that rekindled distant memories in the drow. The ratmen pressed him on even harder, as if the scent had renewed their desire to fight.

Drizzt remembered. In Menzoberranzan, the city of his birth, some drow elves had kept as pets creatures that exuded such an odor. Sundews, these monstrous beasts were called, lumpy masses of raglike, sticky tendrils that simply engulfed and dissolved anything that came too near.

Now Drizzt fought for every step. He had indeed been herded, to face a horrid death or perhaps to be captured, for the sundew devoured its victims so very slowly, and certain liquids could break its hold.

Drizzt felt a flutter and glanced back over his shoulder. The sundew was barely ten feet away, already reaching out with a hundred sticky fingers.

Drizzt's scimitars weaved and dove, spun and cut, in as magnificent a dance as he had ever fought. One wererat was hit fifteen times before it even realized that the first blow had struck home.

But there were simply too many of the ratmen for Drizzt to hold his ground, and the sight of the sundew urged them on bravely.

Drizzt felt the tickle of the flicking tendrils only inches from his back. He had no room to maneuver now; the spears would surely drive him into the monster.

Drizzt smiled, and the eager fires burned brighter in his eyes. "Is this how it ends?" he whispered aloud. The sudden burst of his laughter startled the wererats.

With Twinkle leading the way, Drizzt spun on his heels and dove at the heart of the sundew.

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