Drizzt had little trouble convincing Bruenor to reverse their course and head back to the west. While the dwarf was anxious to get to Sundabar and find out what Helm might know, the possibility of valuable information less than a day away set him off and running.
As to how he had come by the information, Drizzt offered little explanation, saying only that he had met up with a lone traveler on the road to Silverymoon during the night.
Though the story sounded contrived to them, his friends, respecting his privacy and trusting him fully, did not question him about it. When they ate breakfast, though, Regis hoped that more information would be forthcoming, for the biscuits that this traveler had given to Drizzt were truly delicious and incredibly refreshing. After only a few bites, the halfling felt as if he had spent a week at rest. And the magic salve immediately healed Wulfgar’s injured leg and back, and he walked without a cane for the first time since they had left the Evermoors.
Wulfgar suspected that Drizzt’s encounter had involved someone of great importance long before the drow revealed the marvelous gifts. For the drow’s inner glow of optimism, the knowing sparkle in his eyes that reflected the indomitable spirit that had kept him going through trials that would have crushed most men, had returned, fully and dramatically. The barbarian didn’t need to know the identity of the person; he was just glad that his friend had come through the depression.
When they moved out later that morning, they seemed more a party just beginning an adventure than a road-weary band. Whistling and talking, they followed the flow of the Rauvin on its westerly course. For all of the close calls, they had come through the brutal march relatively unscathed and, it appeared, had made good progress toward their goal. The summer sun shone down upon them and all the pieces of the puzzle of Mithril Hall seemed to be within their grasp.
They could not have guessed that murderous eyes were upon them.
From the foothills north of the Rauvin, high above the travelers, the golem sensed the drow elf’s passing. Following the tug of magic spells of seeking that Dendybar had bestowed upon it, Bok soon looked down upon the band as they moved across the trail. Without hesitation the monster obeyed its directives and started out to find Sydney.
Bok tossed aside a boulder that lay in its path, then climbed over another that was too big to move, not understanding the advantages of simply walking around the stones. Bok’s path was clearly set and the monster refused to deviate from that course by an inch.
“He is a big one!” chuckled one of the guards at the post on the Rauvin when he saw Bok across the clearing. Even as the words left his mouth, though, the guard realized the impending danger – that this was no ordinary traveler!
Courageously, he rushed out to meet the golem headon, his sword drawn and his companion close behind.
Transfixed by his goal, Bok paid no heed to their warnings.
“Hold where you are!” the soldier commanded one final time as Bok covered the last few feet between them.
The golem did not know emotion, so it bore no anger toward the guards as they struck. They stood to block the way, though, and Bok swatted them aside without a second thought, the incredible force of its magically strong arms blasting through their parrying defenses and launching them through the air. Without even a pause, the golem continued on to the river and did not slow, disappearing under the rushing waters.
Alarms rang out in the city, for the soldiers at the gate across the river saw the spectacle at the guard post. The huge gates were drawn tight and secured as the Knights of Silver watched the Rauvin for the reappearance of the monster.
Bok kept its line straight across the bottom of the river, plowing through the silt and mud and easily holding its course against the mighty push of the currents. When the monster re-emerged directly across from the guard post, the knights lining the city gate gasped in disbelief but held their stations, grim-faced and weapons ready.
The gate was farther up the Rauvin from the angle of Bok’s chosen path. The golem continued on to the city wall, but didn’t alter its course to bring it to the gate.
It punched a hole in the wall and walked right through.
* * *
Entreri paced anxiously in his room at the Inn of the Wayward Sages, near the center of the city. “They should have come by now,” he snapped at Sydney, sitting on the bed and tightening the bonds that held Catti-brie.
Before Sydney could respond, a ball of flame appeared in the center of the room, not a real fire, but the image of flames, illusionary, like something burning in that particular spot on another plane. The fires writhed and transformed into the apparition of a robed man.
“Morkai!” Sydney gasped.
“My greetings,” replied the specter. “And the greetings of Dendybar the Mottled.”
Entreri slipped back into the corner of the room, wary of the thing. Catti-brie, helpless in her bonds, sat very still.
Sydney, versed in the subtleties of conjuring, knew that the otherworldly being was under Dendybar’s control, and she was not afraid. “Why has my master bid you to come here?” she asked boldly.
“I bear news,” replied the specter. “The party you seek was turned into the Evermoors a week ago, to the south of Nesme.”
Sydney bit her lip in anticipation of the specter’s next revelation, but Morkai fell silent and waited as well.
“And where are they now?” Sydney pressed impatiently.
Morkai smiled. “Twice I have been asked, but not yet compelled!” The flames puffed again and the specter was gone.
“The Evermoors,” said Entreri. “That would explain their delay.”
Sydney nodded her agreement absently, for she had other things on her mind. “Not yet compelled,” she whispered to herself, echoing the specter’s parting words. Disturbing questions nagged at her. Why had Dendybar waited a week to send Morkai with the news? And why couldn’t the wizard have forced the specter to reveal more recent activity of the drow’s party? Sydney knew the dangers and limitations of summoning, and understood the tremendous drain of the act on a wizard’s power. Dendybar had conjured Morkai at least three times recently – once when the drow’s party had first entered Luskan, and at least twice since she and her companions had set out in pursuit. Had Dendybar abandoned all caution in his obsession with the Crystal Shard? Sydney sensed that the mottled wizard’s hold over Morkai had lessened greatly, and she hoped that Dendybar would be prudent with any future summonings, at least until he had fully rested.
“Weeks could pass before they arrive!” Entreri spat, considering the news. “If ever they do.”
“You may be right,” agreed Sydney. “They might have fallen in the moors.”
“And if they have?”
“Then we go in after them,” Sydney said without hesitation.
Entreri studied her for a few moments. “The prize you seek must be great indeed,” he said.
“I have my duty, and I shall not fail my master,” she replied sharply. “Bok will find them even if they lay at the bottom of the deepest bog!”
“We must decide our course soon,” Entreri insisted. He turned his evil glare on Catti-brie. “I grow weary of watching this one.”
“Nor do I trust her,” Sydney agreed. “Although she shall prove useful when we meet with the dwarf. Three more days we will wait. After that we go back to Nesme, and into the Evermoors if we must.”
Entreri nodded his reluctant approval of the plan. “Did you hear?” he hissed at Catti-brie. “You have three more days to live, unless your friends arrive. If they are dead in the moors, we have no need of you.”
Catti-brie showed no emotion throughout the entire conversation, determined not to let Entreri gain any advantage by learning of her weakness, or strength. She had faith that her friends were not dead. The likes of Bruenor Battlehammer and Drizzt Do’Urden were not destined to die in an unmarked grave in some desolate fen. And Catti-brie would never accept that Wulfgar was dead until the proof was irrefutable. Holding to her faith, her duty to her friends was to maintain a blank facade. She knew that she was winning her personal battle, that the paralyzing fear Entreri held over her lessened every day. She would be ready to act when the time came. She just had to make certain that Entreri and Sydney didn’t realize it.
She had noted that the labors of the road, and his new companions, were affecting the assassin. Entreri revealed more emotion, more desperation, every day to get this job over and done. Was it possible that he might make a mistake?
“It has come!” echoed a cry from the hallway, and all three started reflexively, then recognized the voice as Jierdan’s, who had been watching the Vault of Sages. A second later, the door burst in and the soldier scrambled into the room, his breathing ragged.
“The dwarf?” Sydney asked, grabbing Jierdan to steady him.
“No!” Jierdan cried. “The golem! Bok has entered Silverymoon! They have it trapped down by the west gate. A wizard was summoned.”
“Damn!” Sydney spat and she started from the room. Entreri moved to follow her, grabbing Jierdan’s arm and yanking him around, bringing them face to face.
“Stay with the girl,” the assassin ordered.
Jierdan glared at him. “She is your problem.”
Entreri easily could have killed the soldier right there, Catti-brie noted, hoping that Jierdan had read the assassin’s deadly look as clearly as she.
“Do as you are told!” Sydney screamed at Jierdan, ending further argument. She and Entreri left, the assassin slamming the door behind them.
“He would have killed you,” Catti-brie told Jierdan when Entreri and Sydney had gone. “You know that.”
“Silence,” Jierdan growled. “I’ve had enough of your vile words!” He approached her threateningly, fists clenched at his sides.
“Strike me, then,” Catti-brie challenged, knowing that even if he did, his code as a soldier would not allow him to continue such an assault on a helpless foe. “Although in truth I be yer only friend on this cursed road!”
Jierdan stopped his advance. “Friend?” he balked.
“As close as ye’ll find out here,” Catti-brie replied. “Ye’re a prisoner here suren as I be.” She recognized the vulnerability of this proud man, who had been reduced to servitude by the arrogance of Sydney and Entreri, and drove her point home hard. “They mean to kill ye, ye know that now, and even if ye escape the blade, yell have nowhere to go. Ye’ve abandoned yer fellows in Luskan, and the wizard in the tower’d put ye to a bad end if ye ever went back there, anyway!”
Jierdan tensed in frustrated rage, but did not lash out.
“Me friends are close by,” Catti-brie continued despite the warning signs. “They be living still, I know, and we’ll be meeting them any day. That’ll be our time, soldier, to live or to die. For meself, I see a chance. Whether me friends win or I be bargained over, me life’ll be me own. But for yerself, the road looks dark indeed! If me friends win, they’ll cut ye down, and if yer mates win…” She let the grim possibilities hang unspoken for a few moments to let Jierdan weigh them fully.
“When they get what they seek, they’ll need ye no more,” she said grimly. She noted his trembling, not of fear, but of rage, and pushed him past the edge of control. “They may let ye live,” she said, snidely. “Might that they be needin’ a lackey!”
He did strike her then, just once, and recoiled.
Catti-brie accepted the blow without complaint, even smiling through the pain, though she was careful to hide her satisfaction. Jierdan’s loss of self-restraint proved to her that the continual disrespect Sydney, and especially Entreri, had shown for him had fueled the flames of discontent to the verge of explosion.
She knew, too, that when Entreri returned and saw the bruise Jierdan had given her, those fires would burn even brighter.
* * *
Sydney and Entreri rushed through the streets of Silverymoon, following the obvious sounds of commotion. When they reached the wall, they found Bok encapsulated in a sphere of glowing green lights. Riderless horses paced about to the groans of a dozen injured soldiers, and one old man, the wizard, stood before the globe of light, scratching his beard and studying the trapped golem. A Knight of Silver of considerable rank stood impatiently beside him, twitching nervously and clasping the pommel of his sheathed sword tightly.
“Destroy the thing and be done with it,” Sydney heard the knight say to the wizard.
“Oh, no!” exclaimed the wizard. “But it is marvelous!”
“Do you mean to hold it here forever?” the knight snapped back. “Just look around – “
“Your pardon, good sirs,” Sydney interrupted. “I am Sydney, of the Hosttower of the Arcane in Luskan. Perhaps I may be of some help.”
“Well met,” said the wizard. “I am Mizzen of the Second School of Knowledge. Know you the possessor of this magnificent creature?”
“Bok is mine,” she admitted.
The knight stared at her, amazed that a woman, or anyone for that matter, controlled the monster that had knocked aside some of his finest warriors and taken down a section of the city wall. “The price shall be high, Sydney of Luskan,” he snarled.
“The Hosttower shall make amends,” she agreed. “Now would you release the golem to my control?” she asked the wizard. “Bok will obey me.”
“Nay!” snapped the knight. “I’ll not have the thing turned loose again.”
“Calm, Gavin,” Mizzen said to him. He turned to Sydney. “I should like to study the golem, if I may. Truly the finest construction I have ever witnessed, with strength beyond the expectations of the books of creation.”
“I am sorry,” Sydney answered, “but my time is short. I have many roads yet to travel. Name the price of the damage wrought by the golem and I shall relay it to my master, on my word as a member of the Hosttower.”
“You’ll pay now,” argued the guard.
Again Mizzen silenced him. “Excuse Gavin’s anger,” he said to Sydney. He surveyed the area. “Perhaps we might strike a bargain. None seem to have been seriously injured.”
“Three men have been carried away!” Gavin rebutted. “And at least one horse is lame and will have to be destroyed!”
Mizzen waved his hand as if to belittle the claims. “They will heal,” he said. “They will heal. And the wall needed repairs anyway.” He looked at Sydney and scratched his beard again. “Here is my offer, and a fairer one you’ll not hear! Give me the golem for one night, just one, and I shall amend the damage it has wreaked. Just one night.”
“And you’ll not disassemble Bok,” Sydney stated.
“Not even the head?” Mizzen begged.
“Not even the head,” Sydney insisted. “And I shall come for the golem at the first light of dawn.”
Mizzen scratched his beard again. “A marvellous work,” he mumbled, peering into the magical prison. “Agreed!”
“If that monster – ” Gavin began angrily.
“Oh, where is your sense of adventure, Gavin?” Mizzen shot back before the knight could even finish his warning. “Remember the precepts of our town, man. We are here to learn. If you only understood the potential of such a creation!”
They started away from Sydney, paying her no more mind, the wizard still rambling into Gavin’s ear. Entreri slipped from the shadows of a nearby building to Sydney’s side.
“Why did the thing come?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “There can be only one answer.”
“Yes,” she said. “Bok must have followed them into the city.”
“Unlikely,” reasoned Entreri, “though the golem might have seen them. If Bok came crashing through behind the drow and his valiant friends, they would have been down here at the battle, helping to fend it off.”
“Then they might be out there still.”
“Or perhaps they were leaving the city when Bok saw them,” said Entreri. “I will make inquiries with the guards at the gate. Fear not, our prey is close at hand!”
They arrived back at the room a couple of hours later. From the guards at the gate they had learned of the drow’s party being turned away and now they were anxious to retrieve Bok and be on their way.
Sydney started a string of instructions to Jierdan concerning their departure in the morning, but what grabbed Entreri’s immediate attention was Catti-brie’s bruised eye. He moved over to check her bonds and, satisfied that they were intact, spun on Jierdan with his dagger drawn.
Sydney, quickly surmising the situation, cut him off. “Not now!” she demanded. “Our rewards are at hand. We cannot afford this!”
Entreri chuckled evilly and slid the dagger away. “We will yet discuss this,” he promised Jierdan with a snarl. “Do not touch the girl again.”
Perfect, Catti-brie thought. From Jierdan’s perspective, the assassin might as well have said outright that he meant to kill him.
More fuel for the flames.
* * *
When she retrieved the golem from Mizzen the next morning, Sydney’s suspicions that Bok had seen the drow’s party were confirmed. They set out from Silverymoon at once, Bok leading them down the same trail Bruenor and his friends had taken the morning before.
Like the previous party, they, too, were watched.
Alustriel, brushed her flowing hair from her fair face, catching the morning sun in her green eyes as she looked down upon the band with growing curiosity. The lady had learned from the gatekeepers that someone had been inquiring about the dark elf.
She couldn’t yet figure out what part this new group leaving Silverymoon played in the quest, but she suspected that they were up to no good. Alustriel had sated her own thirst for adventure many years before, but she wished now that she could somehow aid the drow and his friends on their noble mission. Affairs of state pressed in on her, though, and she had no time for such diversions. She considered for a moment dispatching a patrol to capture this second party, so that she could learn its intentions. Then she turned back to her city, reminding herself that she was just a minor player in the search for Mithril Hall. She could only trust in the abilities of Drizzt Do’Urden and his friends.