The Dark Elf Trilogy: Exile

21. Where No Sun Shines


Wulfgar dodged and ducked, slipping into the midst of lines of statues or behind heavy tapestries as he went. There were simply too many of the wererats, closing in all about him, for him to even hope to escape.

He passed one corridor and saw a group of three ratmen rushing down toward him. Feigning terror, the barbarian sprinted beyond the opening, then pulled up short and put his back tight against the corner. When the ratmen rushed into the room, Wulfgar smashed them down with quick chops of Aegis-fang.

He then retraced their steps back down the passage, hoping that he might confuse the rest of his pursuers.

He came into a wide room with rows of chairs and a high ceiling - a stage area for Pook's private showings by performing troupes. A massive chandelier, thousands of candles burning within its sconces, hung above the center of the room, and marble pillars, delicately carved into the likenesses of famed heroes and exotic monsters, lined the walls. Again Wulfgar had no time to admire the decorations. He noticed only one feature in the chamber: a short staircase along one side that led up to a balcony.

Ratmen poured in from the room's numerous entrances. Wulfgar looked back over his shoulder, down the passage, but saw that it, too, was blocked. He shrugged and sprinted up the stairs, figuring that that route would at least allow him to fight off his attackers in a line rather than a crowd.

Two wererats rushed up right on his heels, but when Wulfgar made the landing and turned on them, they realized their disadvantage. The barbarian would have towered over them on even footing. Now, three steps up, his knees ran level with their eyes.

It wasn't such a bad position for offense; the wererats could poke at Wulfgar's unprotected legs. But when Aegis-fang descended in that tremendous arc, neither of the rat men could possibly slow its momentum. And on the stairs, they didn't have much room to move out of the way.

The war hammer cracked onto the skull of one ratman with enough force to break his ankles, and the other, blanching under his brown fur, leaped over the side of the staircase.

Wulfgar nearly laughed aloud. Then he saw the spears being readied.

He rushed into the balcony for the cover the railings and the chairs might provide and hoping for another exit. The wererats flooded onto the staircase in pursuit.

Wulfgar found no other doors. He shook his head, realizing that he was trapped, and slapped Aegis-fang to the ready.

What was it that Drizzt had told him about luck? That a true warrior always seemed to find the proper route - the one open path that casual observers might consider lucky?

Now Wulfgar did laugh out loud. He had killed a dragon once by dislodging an icicle above its back. He wondered what a huge chandelier with a thousand burning candles might do to a room full of ratmen.

"Tempus!" the barbarian roared to his battle god, seeking a measure of deity-inspired luck to aid his way - Drizzt did not know everything, after all! He launched Aegis-fang with all his strength, breaking into a dead run after the war hammer.

Aegis-fang twirled across the room as precisely as every throw Wulfgar had ever made with it. It blasted through the chandelier's supports, bringing a fair measure of the ceiling down with it. Ratmen scrambled and dove off to the side as the massive ball of crystal and flames exploded onto the floor.

Wulfgar, still in stride, planted a foot atop the balcony railing and leaped.

* * *

Bruenor growled and brought his axe up over his head, meaning to chop the door to the guildhouse down in a single stroke, but as the dwarf pounded through the final strides to the place, an arrow whistled over his shoulder, scorching a hole around the latch, and the door swung free.

Unable to break his momentum, Bruenor barreled through the opening and tumbled head over heels down the stairs inside, taking the two surprised guards along with him.

Dazed, Bruenor pulled himself to his knees and looked back up the stairs, to see Drizzt sprinting down five steps at a stride and Catti-brie just cresting the top to follow.

"Durn ye, girl!" the dwarf roared. "I told ye to tell me when ye was meaning to do that!"

"No time," Drizzt interrupted. He leaped the last seven steps - and clear over the kneeling dwarf - to intercept two wererats coming in on Bruenor's back.

Bruenor scooped up his helmet, plopped it back in place, and turned to join the fun, but the two wererats were long dead before the dwarf ever got back to his feet, and Drizzt was rushing away to the sounds of a larger battle farther in the complex. Bruenor offered Catti-brie his arm as she came charging past, so that he could profit from her momentum in the pursuit.

* * *

Wulfgar's huge legs brought him clear over the mess of the chandelier, and he tucked his head under his arms as he dropped into a group of ratmen, knocking them every which way. Dazed but still coherent enough to mark his direction, Wulfgar barreled through a door and stumbled into another wide chamber. An open door loomed before him, leading into yet another maze of chambers and corridors.

But Wulfgar couldn't hope to get there with a score of wererats blocking his way. He slipped over to the side of the room and put his back to a wall.

Thinking him unarmed, the ratmen rushed in, shrieking in glee. Then Aegis-fang magically returned to Wulfgar's hands and he swatted the first two aside. He looked around, searching for another dose of luck.

Not this time.

Wererats hissed at him from every side, nipping with their ravaging teeth. They didn't need Rassiter to explain the power such a giant - a wererat giant - could add to their guild.

The barbarian suddenly felt naked in his sleeveless tunic as each bite narrowly missed its mark. Wulfgar had heard enough legends concerning such creatures to understand the horrid implications of a lycanthrope's bite, and he fought with every ounce of strength he could muster.

Even with his adrenaline pumping in his terror, the big man had spent half the night in battle and had suffered many wounds, most notably the gash on his arm from the hydra, opened again by his leap from the balcony. His swipes were beginning to slow.

Normally Wulfgar would have fought to the end with a song on his lips as he racked up a pile of dead enemies at his feet and smiled in the knowledge that he had died a true warrior. But, now, knowing his cause to be hopeless, with implications much worse than death, he scanned the room for a certain method of killing himself.

Escape was impossible. Victory even more so. Wulfgar's only thought and desire at that moment was to be spared the indignity and anguish of lycanthropy.

Then Drizzt entered the room.

He came in on the back of the wererat ranks like a sudden tornado dropping onto an unprepared village. His scimitars flashed blood red in seconds, and patches of fur flew about the room. Those few ratmen in his path who managed to escape put their tails between themselves and the killer drow and fled from the room.

One wererat turned and got his sword up to parry, but Drizzt lopped off his arm at the elbow and drove a second blade through the beast's chest. Then the drow was beside his giant friend, and his appearance gave Wulfgar renewed courage and strength. Wulfgar grunted in exhilaration, catching one attacker full in the chest with Aegis-fang and driving the wretched beast right through a wall. The ratman lay, quite dead, on his back in one room, but his legs, looped at the knees through the room's newest window, twitched grotesquely for his comrades to witness.

The ratmen glanced nervously at each other for support and came at the two warriors tentatively.

If their morale was sinking, it flew away altogether a moment later, when the roaring dwarf pounded into the room, led by a volley of silver-streaking arrows that cut the rats down with unerring accuracy. For the ratmen, it was the sewer scenario all over again, where they had lost more than two-dozen of their comrades earlier that same night. They had no heart to face the four friends united, and those that could flee, did.

Those that remained had a difficult choice: hammer, blade, axe, or arrow.

* * *

Pook sat back in his great chair, watching the destruction through an image in the Taros Hoop. It did not pain the guildmaster to see wererats dying - a few well-placed bites out in the streets could replenish the supply of the wretched things - but Pook knew that the heroes cutting their way through his guild would eventually wind up in his face.

Regis, held off the ground by the seat of his pants by one of Pook's hill giant eunuchs, watched, too. The mere sight of Bruenor, whom Regis had believed killed in Mithril Hall, brought tears to the halfling's eyes. And the thought that his dearest friends had traveled the breadth of the Realms to rescue him and were now fighting for his sake as mightily as he had ever witnessed, overwhelmed him. All of them bore wounds, particularly Catti-brie and Drizzt, but all of them ignored the pain as they tore into Pook's militia. Watching them felling foes with every cut and thrust, Regis had little doubt that they would win through to get to him.

Then the halfling looked to the side of the Taros Hoop, where LaValle stood, unconcerned, his arms crossed over his chest and his pearl-tipped scepter tapping on one shoulder.

"Your followers do not fare so well, Rassiter," the guildmaster remarked. "One might even note their cowardice."

Rassiter shuffled uneasily from one foot to the other.

"Is it that you cannot hold to your part of our arrangement?"

"My guild fights mighty enemies this night," Rassiter stammered. "They...we have not been able...the fight is not yet lost!"

"Perhaps you should see to it that your rats fare better," Pook said calmly, and Rassiter did not miss the command's - the threat's - tone. He bowed low and rushed out of the chamber, slamming the door behind him.

Even the demanding guildmaster could not hold the wererats wholly responsible for the disaster at hand.

"Magnificent," he muttered as Drizzt fought off two simultaneous thrusts and sliced down both wererats with individual, yet mystically intertwined counters. "Never have I seen such grace with a blade." He paused for a moment to consider that thought. "Perhaps once."

Surprised at the revelation, Pook looked at LaValle, who nodded in accord.

"Entreri," LaValle inferred. "The resemblance is unmistakable. We know now why the assassin coaxed this group to the south."

"To fight the drow?" Pook mused. "At last, a challenge for the man without peer?"

"So it would seem."

"But, where is he, then? Why has he not made his appearance?"

"Perhaps he already has," LaValle replied grimly.

Pook paused to consider the words for a long moment; they were too unconscionable for him to believe. "Entreri beaten?" He gasped. "Entreri dead?"

The words rang like sweet music to Regis, who had watched the rivalry between the assassin and Drizzt with horror from its inception. All along, Regis had suspected that those two would fall into a duel that only one could survive. And all along, the halfling had feared for his drow friend.

The thought of Entreri gone put a new perspective on the battle at hand for Pasha Pook. Suddenly he needed Rassiter and his cohorts again; suddenly the carnage he watched through the Taros Hoop had a more direct impact on his guild's immediate power.

He leaped from his seat and ambled over to the evil device. "We must stop this," he snarled at LaValle. "Send them away to a dark place!"

The wizard grinned wickedly and shuffled off to retrieve a huge book, bound in black leather. Opening it to a marked page, LaValle walked before the Taros Hoop and began the initial chantings of an ominous incantation.

* * *

Bruenor was first out of the room, searching for a likely route to Regis - and for more wererats to chop down. He stormed along a short corridor and kicked open a door, finding, not wererats, but two very surprised human thieves. Holding a measure of mercy in his battle-hardened heart - after all, he was the invader - Bruenor held back his twitching axe hand and shield-slammed the two rogues to the ground. He then rushed back out into the corridor and fell in line with the rest of his friends.

"Watch yer right!" Catti-brie cried out, noting some movement behind a tapestry near the front of the line, beside Wulfgar. The barbarian pulled the heavy tapestry down with a single heave, revealing a tiny man, barely more than a halfling, crouched and poised to spring. Exposed, the little thief quickly lost his heart for the fight and just shrugged apologetically as Wulfgar slapped his puny dagger away.

Wulfgar caught him up by the back of the neck, hoisting the little man into the air and putting his nose to the thief's. "What manner are you?" Wulfgar scowled. "Man or rat?"

"Not a rat!" the terrified thief shrieked. He spat on the ground to emphasize his point. "Not a rat!"

"Regis?" Wulfgar demanded. "You know of him?"

The thief nodded eagerly.

"Where can I find Regis?" Wulfgar roared, his bellow draining the blood from the thief's face.

"Up," the little man squeaked. "Pook's rooms. All the way up." Acting solely on instinct for survival, and having no real intentions to do anything but get away from the monstrous barbarian, the thief slipped one hand to a hidden dagger tucked in the back of his belt.

Bad judgment.

Drizzt slapped a scimitar against the thief's arm, exposing the move to Wulfgar.

Wulfgar used the little man to open the next door.

Again the chase was on. Wererats darted in and out of the shadows to the sides of the four companions, but few stood to face them. Those that did wound up in their path more often by accident than design!

More doors splintered and more rooms emptied, and a few minutes later, a stairway came into view. Broad and lavishly carpeted, with ornate banisters of shining hardwood, it could only be the ascent to the chambers of Pasha Pook.

Bruenor roared in glee and charged on. Wulfgar and Catti-brie eagerly followed. Drizzt hesitated and looked around, suddenly fearful.

Drow elves were magical creatures by nature, and Drizzt now sensed a strange and dangerous tingle, the beginnings of a spell aimed at him. He saw the walls and floor around him waver suddenly, as if they had become somehow less tangible.

Then he understood. He had traveled the Planes before, as companion to Guenhwyvar, his magical cat, and he knew now that someone, or something, was pulling him from his place on the Prime Material Plane. He looked ahead to see Bruenor and the others now similarly confused.

"Join hands!" the drow cried, rushing to get to his friends before the dweomer banished them all.

* * *

In hopeless horror, Regis watched his friends huddle together. Then the scene in the Taros hoop shifted from the lower levels of the guildhouse to a darker place, a place of smoke and shadows, of ghouls and demons.

A place where no sun shined.

"No!" the halfling cried out, realizing the wizard's intent. LaValle paid him no heed, and Pook only snickered at him. Seconds later, Regis saw his friends in their huddle again, this time in the swirling smoke of the dark plane.

Pook leaned heavily on his walking stick and laughed. "How I love to foil hopes!" he said to his wizard. "Once more you prove your inestimable worth to me, my precious LaValle!"

Regis watched as his friends turned back to back in a pitiful attempt at defense. Already, dark shapes swooped about them or hovered over them, beings of great power and great evil.

Regis dropped his eyes, unable to watch.

"Oh, do not look away, little thief," Pook laughed at him. "Watch their deaths and be happy for them, for I assure you that the pain they are about to suffer will not compare to the torments I have planned for you."

Regis, hating the man and hating himself for putting his friends in such a predicament, snapped a vile glare at Pook. They had come for him. They had crossed the world for him. They had battled Artemis Entreri and a host of were-rats, and most probably many other adversaries. All of it had been for him.

"Damn you," Regis spat, suddenly no longer afraid. He swung himself down and bit the eunuch hard on the inner thigh. The giant shrieked in pain and loosened his grip, dropping Regis to the floor.

The halfling hit the ground running. He crossed before Pook, kicking out the walking stick the guildmaster was using for support, while very deftly slipping a hand into Pook's pocket to retrieve a certain statuette. He then went on to LaValle.

The wizard had more time to react and had already begun a quick spell when Regis came at him, but the halfling proved the quicker. He leaped up, putting two fingers into La Valle's eyes, disrupting the spell, and sending the wizard stumbling backward.

As the wizard struggled to hold his balance, Regis jerked the pearl-tipped scepter away and ran up to the front of the Taros Hoop. He glanced around at the room a final time, wondering if he might find an easier way.

Pook dominated the vision. His face blood red and locked into a grimace, the guildmaster had recovered from the attack and now twirled his walking stick as a weapon, which Regis knew from experience to be deadly.

"Please give me this one," Regis whispered to whatever god might be listening. He gritted his teeth and ducked his head, lurching forward and letting the scepter lead him into the Taros Hoop.

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