The Dark Elf Trilogy: Homeland

Chapter 29 Alone


Drizzt walked back around the stalagmite, back to the body of Masoj Hun'ett. He had had no choice but to kill his adversary; Masoj had drawn the battle lines.

That fact did little to dispel the guilt in Drizzt as he looked upon the corpse. He had killed another drow, had taken the life of one of his own people. Was he trapped, as Zaknafein had been trapped for so very many years, in a cycle of vio-lence that would know no end?

"Never again" Drizzt vowed to the corpse. "Never again will I kill a drow elf"

He turned away, disgusted, and knew as soon as heiooked back to the silent, sinister mounds of the vast draw city that he would not survive long in Menzoberranzan if he held to that promise.

A thousand possibilities whirled in Drizzt's mind as he made his way through the winding ways of Menzoberran-zan. He pushed the thoughts aside, stopped them from dull-ing his alertness. The light was general now in Narbondel; the drow day was beginning, and activity had started from every corner of the city. In the world of the surface-dwellers, the day was the safer time, when light exposed as-sassins. In Menzoberranzan's eternal darkness, the daytime of the dark elves was even more dangerous than the night. Drizzt picked his way carefully, rolling wide from the mushroom fence of the noblest houses, wherein lay House Hun'ett. He encountered no more adversaries and made the safety of the Do'Urden compound a short time later. He rushed through the gate and by the surprised soldiers with-out a word of explanation and shoved aside the guards be-low the balcony.

The house was strangely quiet; Drizzt would have ex-pected them all to be up and about with battle imminent. He gave the eerie stillness no more thought, and he cut a straight line to the training gym and Zaknafein's private quarters.

Drizzt paused outside the gym's stone door, his hand tightly clenched on the handle of the portal. What would he propose to his father? That they leave? He and Zaknafein on the perilous trails of the Underdark, fighting when they must and escaping the burdensome guilt of their existence under drow rule? Drizzt liked the thought, but he wasn't so certain now, standing before the door, that he could con-vince Zak to follow such a course. Zak could have left be-fore, at any time during the centuries of his life, but when Drizzt had asked him why he had remained, the heat had drained from the weapon master's face. Were they indeed trapped in the life offered to them by Matron Malice and her evil cohorts?

Drizzt grimaced away the worries; no sense in arguing to himself with Zak only a few steps away.

The training gym was as quiet as the rest of the house. Tho quiet. Drizzt hadn't expected Zak to be there, but some-thing more than his father was absent. The father's pres-ence, too, was gone.

Drizzt knew that something was wrong, and each step he took toward Zak's private door quickened until he was in full flight. He burst in without.a knock, not surprised to find the bed empty.

"Malice must have sent him out in search of me" Drizzt reasoned. "Damn, I have caused him trouble!" He turned to leave, but something caught his eye and held him in the room-Zak's sword belt.

Never would the weapon master have left his room, not even for functions within the safety of House Do'Urden, without his swords. "Your weapon is your most trusted companion" Zak had told Drizzt a thousand times. "Keep it ever at your side!"

"House Hun'ett?" Drizzt whispered, wondering if the rival house had magically attacked in the night, while he was out battling Alton and Masoj. The compound, though, was se. rene; surely the soldiers would have known if anything like that had occurred.

Drizzt picked up the belt for inspection. No blood, and the clasp neatly unbuckled. No enemy had torn this from Zak.

The weapon master's pouch lay beside it, also intact.

"What, then?" Drizzt asked aloud. He replaced the sword belt beside the bed, but slung the pouch across his neck, and turned, not knowing where he should go next.

He had to see about the rest of the family, he realized be- I fore he had even stepped through the door. Perhaps then this riddle about Zak would become more clear.

Dread grew out of that thought as Drizzt headed down the long and decorated corridor to the chapel anteroom.

Had Malice, or any of them, brought Zak harm? For what, purpose? The notion seemed illogical to Drizzt, but it i nagged him every step, as if some sixth sense were warning him.

There still was no sign of anyone.

The anteroom's ornate doors swung in, magically and si-lently, even as Drizzt raised his hand to knock on them. He saw the matron mother first, sitting smugly on her throne at the rear of the room, her smile inviting.

Drizzt's discomfort did not diminish when he entered.

The whole family was there: Briza, Vierna, and Maya to the sides of their matron, Rizzen and Dinin unobtrusively standing beside the left wall. The whole family. Except for Zak.

Matron Malice studied her son carefully, noting his many wounds. "I instructed you not to leave the house" she said to Drizzt, but she was not scolding him. "Where did your trav-els take you?"

"Where is Zaknafein?" Drizzt asked in reply.

"Answer the matron mother!" Briza yelled at him, her snake whip prominently displayed on her belt.

Drizzt glared at her and she recoiled, feeling the same bit-ter chill that Zaknafein had cast over her earlier in the night.

"I instructed you not to leave the house" Malice said again, still holding calm. "Why did you disobey me?"

"I had matters to attend" Drizzt replied, "urgent matters. I did not wish to bother you with them"

"War is upon us, my son" Matron Malice explained. "You are vulnerable out in the city by yourself. House Do'Urden cannot afford to lose you now"

"My business had to be handled alone" Drizzt answered.

"Is it completed?"

"It is"

"Then I trust that you will not disobey me again" The words came calm and even, but Drizzt understood at once the severity of the threat behind them.

"To other matters, then" Malice went on.

"Where is Zaknafein?" Drizzt dared to ask again.

Briza mumbled some curse under her breath and pulled the whip from her belt. Matron Malice threw an out-stretched hand in her direction to stay her. They needed tact, not brutality, to bring Drizzt under control at this criti-cal time. There would be ample opportunities for punish-ment after House Hun'ett was properly defeated.

"Concern yourself not with the fate of the weapon master" Malice replied. "He works for the good of House Do'Urden even as we speak-on a personal mission"

Drizzt didn't believe a word of it. Zak would never have left without his weapons. The truth hovered about Drizzt's thoughts, but he wouldn't let it in.

"Our concern is House Hun'ett" Malice went on, addressing them all. "The war's first strikes may fall this day"

"The first strikes already have fallen" Drizzt interrupted.

All eyes came back to him, to his wounds. He wanted to con-tinue the discussion about Zak but knew that he would only get himself, and Zak, if Zak was still alive, into further trou-ble. Perhaps the conversation would bring him more clues.

"You have seen battle?" Malice asked.

"You know of the Faceless One?" Drizzt asked.

"Master of the Academy" Dinin answered, "of Sorcere. have dealt with him often"

"He has been of use to us in the past" said Malice, "but no more, I believe. He is a Hun'ett, Gelroos Hun'ett"

"No" Drizzt replied. "Once he may have been, but Alton DeVir is his name. .. was his name"

"The link!" Dinin growled, suddenly comprehending.

"Gelroos was to kill Alton on the night of House DeVir's fall!

"It would seem that Alton DeVir proved the stronger" mused Malice, and all became clear to her. "Matron SiNafay Hun'ett accepted him, used him to her gain" she explained to her family. She looked back to Drizzt. "You battled with him?"

"He is dead" Drizzt answered.

Matron Malice cackled with delight.

"One less wizard to deal with" Briza remarked, replacing the whip on her belt.

"Two" Drizzt corrected, but there was no boasting in his voice. He was not proud of his actions. "Masoj Hun'ett is no more"

"My son!" Matron Malice cried. "You have brought us a great edge-in this war!" She glanced all about her family, in. fecting them, except Drizzt, with her elation. "House Hun'ett may not even choose to strike us now, knowing its disadvantage. We will not let them get away! We will destroy them this day and become the Eighth House of Menzoberranzan! Woe to the enemies of Daermon N'a'shez. baernon!

"We must move at once, my family" Malice reasoned, her hands rubbing over each other in excitement. "We cannot wait for an attack. We must take the offensive! Alton DeVir is gone now; the link that justifies this war is no more.

Surely the ruling council knew of Hun'ett's intentions, and with both her wizards dead and the element of surprise lost, Matron SiNafay will move quickly to stop the battle"

Drizzt's hand unconsciously slipped into Zak's pouch the others joined Malice in her plotting.

"Where is Zak?" Drizzt demanded again, above the cho-rus.

Silence dropped as quickly as the tumult had begun.

"He is of no concern to you, my son" Malice said to him, still keeping to her tact despite Drizzt's impudence. "You are the weapon master of House Do'Urden now. Lloth has for-given your insolence; you have no crimes weighing against you. Your career may begin anew, to glorious heights!"

Her words cut through Drizzt as surely as his own scimi-tar might. "You killed him" he whispered aloud, the truth too awful to be contained in silent thought.

The matron's face suddenly gleamed, hot with rage. "You killed him!" she shot back at Drizzt. "Your insolence de-manded repayment to the Spider Queen!"

Drizzt's tongue got all tangled up behind his teeth.

"But you live" Malice went on, relaxing again in her chair, "as the elven child lives!'

Dinin was not the only one in the room to gasp audibly.

"Yes, we know of your deception" Malice sneered. "The Spider Queen always knew. She demanded restitution!'

"You sacrificed Zaknafein?" Drizzt breathed, hardly able to get the words out of his mouth. "You gave him to that damned Spider Queen?"

"I would watch how I spoke of Queen Lloth" Malice warned. "Forget Zaknafein. He is not your concern. Look to your own life, my warrior son. All glories are offered to you, a station of honor!'

Drizzt was indeed looking to his own life at that moment; at the proposed path that offered him a life of battle, a life of killing drow.

"You have no options" Malice said to him, seeing his in-ward struggle. "I offer to you now your life. In exchange, you must do as 1 bid, as Zaknafein once did!'

"You kept your bargain with him" Drizzt spat sarcasti-cally.

"I did!" Matron Malice protested. "Zaknafein went will-ingly to the altar, for your sake!"

Her words stung Drizzt for only a moment. He would not accept the guilt for Zaknafein's death! He had followed the only course he could, on the surface against the elves and here in the evil city.

"My offer is a good one" Malice said. "I give it here, before all the family. Both of us will benefit from the agreement, . . . Weapon Master?"

A smile spread across Drizzt's face when he looked into Matron Malice's cold eyes, a grin that Mal~ce took as accept-ance.

"Weapon master?" Drizzt echoed. "Not likely"

Again Malice misunderstood. "I have seen you in battle"

she argued. " wizards! You underestimate yourself"

Drizzt nearly laughed aloud at the irony of her words.

She thought he would fail where Zaknafein had failed, would fall into her trap as the former weapon master had fallen, never to climb back out. "It is you who underestimate me, Malice" Drizzt said with threatening calm.

"Matron!" Briza demanded, but she held back, seeing that Drizzt and everyone else was ignoring her as the drama played out.

"You ask me to serve your evil designs" Drizzt continued.

He knew but didn't care that all of them were nerYously fin. gering weapons or preparing spells, were waiting for the proper moment to strike the blasphemous fool dead. Those childhood memories of the agony of snake whips reminded him of the punishment for his actions. Drizzt's fingers closed around a circular object, adding to his courage, though he would have contii1ued in any case.

"They are a lie, as our-no, your-people are a lie!"

"Your skin is as dark as mine" Malice reminded him. "You are a drow, though you have never learned what that means!"

"Oh, I do know what it means"

"Then act by the rules!" Matron Malice demanded.

"Your rules?" Drizzt growled back. "But your rules are a damned lie as well, as great a lie as that filthy spider you claim as a deity!"

"Insolent slug!" Briza cried, raising her snake whip.

Drizzt struck first. He pulled the object, the tiny ceramic globe, from Zaknafein's pouch.

"A true god damn you all!" he cried as he slammed the ball to the stone floor. He snapped his eyes shut as the pebble within the ball, enchanted by a powerful light-emanating dweomer, exploded into the room and erupted into his kin's sensitive eyes. "And damn that Spider Queen as well!"

Malice reeled backward, taking her great throne right over in a heavy crash to the hard stone. Cries of agony and rage came from every corner of the room as the sudden light bored into the stunned drow. Finally Vierna managed to launch a countering spell and returned the room to its customary gloom.

"Get him!" Malice growled, still trying to shake off the heavy fall. "I want him dead!"

The others had hardly recovered enough to heed to her commands, and Dmzt was already out of the house.

Carried on the silent winds of the Astral Plane, the call came. The entity of the panther stood up, ignoring its pains, and took note of the voice, a familiar, comforting voice.

The cat was off, then, running with all its heart and strength to answer the summons of its new master.

A short while later, Drizzt crept out of a little tunnel, Guenhwyvar at his side, and moved through the courtyard of the Academy to look down upon Menzoberranzan for the last time.

"What place is this" Drizzt asked the cat quietly, "that I call home? These are my people, by skin and by heritage, but I am no kin to them. They are lost and ever will be.

"How many others are like me, I wonder?" Drizzt whis-pered, taking one final look. "Doomed souls, as was Zakna-fein, poor Zak. 1 do this for him, Guenhwyvar; I leave as he could not. His life has been my lesson, a dark scroll etched by the heavy price exacted by Matron Malice's evil prom-ises.

"Good-bye, ZakJ" he cried, his voice rising in final defi. ance. "My father. 'Dike heart, as do I, that when we meet again, in a life after this, it will surely not be in the hellfire our kin are doomed to endure!"

Drizzt motioned the cat back into the tunnel, the entrance to the untamed Underdark. Watching the cat's easy move-ments, Drizzt realized again how fortunate he was to have found a companion of like spirit, a true friend. The way would not be easy for him and Guenhwyvar beyond the guarded borders of Menzoberranzan. They would be un. protected and alone-though better off, by Drizzt's estimation-more than they Bver could be amid the eVilness of the draw.

Drizzt stepped into the tunnel behind Guenhwyvar and left Menzoberranzan behind.

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