When the last tremors of the cave-in had finally died away, the four remaining friends picked their way through the rubble and the veil of dust back to the oval chamber. Heedless of the piles of broken stone and the great cracks in the floor that threatened to swallow them up, Bruenor scrambled into the alcove, the others close on his heels.
No blood or any other sign of the two master swordsmen was anywhere to be found, just the mound of rubble covering the hole of the stonework trap.
Bruenor could see the edgings of darkness beneath the pile, and he called out to Drizzt. His reason told him, against his heart and hopes, that the drow could not hear, that the trap had taken Drizzt from him.
The tear that rimmed his eye dropped to his cheek when he spotted the lone scimitar, the magical blade that Drizzt had plundered from a dragon’s lair, resting against the ruins of the alcove. Solemnly, he picked it up and slid it into his belt.
“Alas for ye, elf,” he cried into the destruction. “Ye deserved a better end.” If the others had not been so caught up in their own reflections at that moment, they would have noticed the angry undertone to Bruenor’s mourning. In the face of the loss of his dearest and most trusted friend, and already questioning the wisdom of continuing through the halls before the tragedy, Bruenor found his grief muddled with even stronger feelings of guilt. He could not escape the part he had played in bringing about the dark elf’s fall. He remembered bitterly how he had tricked Drizzt into joining the quest, feigning his own death and promising an adventure the likes of which none of them had ever seen.
He stood now, quietly, and accepted his inner torment.
Wulfgar’s grief, was equally deep, and uncomplicated by other feelings. The barbarian had lost one of his mentors, the warrior who had transformed him from a savage, brutish warrior to a calculating and cunning fighter.
He had lost one of his truest friends. He would have followed Drizzt to the bowels of the Abyss in search of adventure. He firmly believed that the drow would one day get them into a predicament from which they could not escape, but when he was fighting beside Drizzt, or competing against his teacher, the master, he felt alive, existing on the very dangerous edge of his limits. Often Wulfgar had envisioned his own death beside the drow, a glorious finish that the bards would write and sing about long after the enemies who had slain the two friends had turned to dust in unmarked graves.
That was an end the young barbarian did not fear.
“Ye’ve found yer peace now, me friend,” Catti-brie said softly, understanding the drow’s tormented existence better than anyone. Catti-brie’s perceptions of the world were more attuned to Drizzt’s sensitive side, the private aspect of his character that his other friends could not see beneath his stoic features. It was the part of Drizzt Do’Urden that had demanded he leave Menzoberranzan and his evil race, and had forced him into a role as an outcast. Catti-brie knew the joy of the drow’s spirit, and the unavoidable pain he had suffered at the snubbings of those who could not see that spirit for the color of his skin.
She realized, too, that both the causes of good and evil had lost a champion this day, for in Entreri Catti-brie saw the mirror-image of Drizzt. The world would be better for the loss of the assassin.
But the price was too high.
Any relief that Regis might have felt at the demise of Entreri was lost in the swirling mire of his anger and sorrow. A part of the halfling had died in that alcove. No longer would he have to run – Pasha Pook would pursue him no more – but for the first time in his entire life Regis had to accept some consequences for his actions. He had joined up with Bruenor’s party knowing that Entreri would be close behind, and understanding the potential danger to his friends.
Ever the confident gambler, the thought of losing this challenge had never entered his head. Life was a game that he played hard and to the edge, and never before had he been expected to pay for his risks. If anything in the world could temper the halfling’s obsession with chance, it was this, the loss of one of his few true friends because of a risk he had chosen to take.
“Farewell, my friend,” he whispered into the rubble. Turning to Bruenor, he then said, “Where do we go? How do we get out of this terrible place?”
Regis hadn’t meant the remark as an accusation, but forced into a defensive posture by the mire of his own guilt, Bruenor took it as such and struck back. “Ye did it yerself!” he snarled at Regis. “Ye bringed the killer after us!” Bruenor took a threatening step forward, his face contorted by mounting rage and his hands whitened by the intensity of their clench.
Wulfgar, confused by this sudden pulse of anger, moved a step closer to Regis. The halfling did not back away, but made no move to defend himself, still not believing that Bruenor’s anger could be so consuming.
“Ye thief!” Bruenor roared. “Ye go along picking yer way with no concern for what yer leaving behind – and yer friends pay for it!” His anger swelled with each word, again almost a separate entity from the dwarf, gaining its own momentum and strength.
His next step would have brought him right up to Regis, and his motion showed them all clearly that he meant to strike, but Wulfgar stepped between the two and halted Bruenor with an unmistakable glare.
Broken from his angry trance by the barbarian’s stern posture, Bruenor realized then what he was about to do. More than a little embarrassed, he covered his anger beneath his concern for their immediate survival and turned away to survey the remains of the room. Few, if any, of their supplies had survived the destruction. “Leave the stuff; no time for wasting!” Bruenor told the others, clearing the choked growls from his throat. “We’re to be putting this foul place far behind us!”
Wulfgar and Catti-brie scanned the rubble, searching for something that could be salvaged and not so ready to agree with Bruenor’s demands that they press on without any supplies. They quickly came to the same conclusion as the dwarf, though, and with a final salute to the ruins of the alcove, they followed Bruenor back into the corridor.
“I’m meaning to make Garumn’s Gorge afore the next rest,” Bruenor exclaimed. “So ready yerselves for a long walk.”
“And then where?” Wulfgar asked, guessing, but not liking, the answer.
“Out!” Bruenor roared. “Quick as we can!” He glared at the barbarian, daring him to argue.
“To return with the rest of your kin beside us?” Wulfgar pressed.
“Not to return,” said Bruenor. “Never to return!”
“Then Drizzt has died in vain!” Wulfgar stated bluntly. “He sacrificed his life for a vision that will never be fulfilled.”
Bruenor paused to steady himself in the face of Wulfgar’s sharp perception. He hadn’t looked at the tragedy in that cynical light, and he didn’t like the implications. “Not for nothing!” he growled at the barbarian. “A warning it is to us all to be gone from the place. Evil’s here, thick as orcs on mutton! Don’t ye smell it, boy? Don’t yer eyes and nose tell ye to be gone from here?”
“My eyes tell me of the danger,” Wulfgar replied evenly. “As often they have before. But I am a warrior and pay little heed to such warnings!”
“Then ye’re sure to be a dead warrior,” Catti-brie put in.
Wulfgar glared at her. “Drizzt came to help take back Mithril Hall, and I shall see the deed done!”
“Ye’ll die trying,” muttered Bruenor, the anger off his voice now. “We came to find me home, boy, but this is not the place. Me people once lived here, ’tis true, but the darkness that creeped into Mithril Hall has put an end to me claim on it. I’ve no wish to return once I’m clear of the stench of the place, know that in yer stubborn head. It’s for the shadows now, and the gray ones, and may the whole stinkin’ place fall in on their stinkin’ heads!”
Bruenor had said enough. He turned abruptly on his heel and stamped off down the corridor, his heavy boots pounding into the stone with uncompromising determination.
Regis and Catti-brie followed closely, and Wulfgar, after a moment to consider the dwarf’s resolve, trotted to catch up with them.
* * *
Sydney and Bok returned to the oval chamber as soon as the mage was certain the companions had left. Like the friends before her, she made her way to the ruined alcove and stood for a moment reflecting on the effect this sudden turn of events would have on her mission. She was amazed at the depth of her sorrow for the loss of Entreri, for though she didn’t fully trust the assassin and suspected that he might actually be searching for the same powerful artifact she and Dendybar sought, she had come to respect him. Could there have been a better ally when the fighting started?
Sydney didn’t have a lot of time to mourn for Entreri, for the loss of Drizzt Do’Urden conjured more immediate concerns for her own safety. Dendybar wasn’t likely to take the news lightly, and the mottled wizard’s talent at punishment was widely acknowledged in the Hosttower of the Arcane.
Bok waited for a moment, expecting some command from the mage, but when none was forthcoming, the golem stepped into the alcove and began removing the mound of rubble.
“Stop,” Sydney ordered.
Bok kept on with its chore, driven by its directive to continue its pursuit of the drow.
“Stop!” Sydney said again, this time with more conviction. “The drow is dead, you stupid thing!” The blunt statement forced her own acceptance of the fact and set her thoughts into motion. Bok did stop and turn to her, and she waited a moment to sort out the best course of action.
“We will go after the others,” she said offhandedly, as much trying to enlighten her own thoughts with the statement as to redirect the golem. “Yes, perhaps, if we deliver the dwarf and the other companions to Dendybar he will forgive our stupidity in allowing the drow to die.”
She looked to the golem, but of course its expression had not changed to offer any encouragement.
“It should have been you in the alcove,” Sydney muttered, her sarcasm wasted on the thing. “Entreri could at least offer some suggestions. But no matter, I have decided. We shall follow the others and find the time when we might take them. They will tell us what we need to know about the Crystal Shard!”
Bok remained motionless, awaiting her signal. Even with its most basic of thought patterns, the golem understood that Sydney best knew how they could complete their mission.
* * *
The companions moved through huge caverns, more natural formations than dwarf-carved stone. High ceilings and walls stretched out into the blackness, beyond the glow of the torches, leaving the friends dreadfully aware of their vulnerability. They kept close together as they marched, imagining a host of gray dwarves watching them from the unlit reaches of the caverns, or expecting some horrid creature to swoop down upon them from the darkness above.
The ever-present sound of dripping water paced them with its rhythm, its “plip, plop” echoing through every hall, accentuating the emptiness of the place.
Bruenor remembered this section of the complex well, and found himself once again deluged by long-forgotten images of his past. These were the Halls of Gathering, where all of Clan Battlehammer would come together to hear the words of King Garumn, or to meet with important visitors. Battle plans were laid here, and strategies set for commerce with the outside world. Even the youngest dwarves were present at the meetings, and Bruenor recalled fondly the many times he had sat beside his father, Bangor, behind his grandfather, King Garumn, with Bangor pointing out the king’s techniques for capturing the audience, and instructing the young Bruenor in the arts of leadership that he would one day need.
The day he became King of Mithril Hall.
The solitude of the caverns weighed heavily on the dwarf, who had heard them ring out in the common cheering and chanting of ten-thousand dwarves. Even if he were to return with all of the remaining members of the clan, they would fill only a tiny corner of one chamber.
“Too many gone,” Bruenor said into the emptiness, his soft whisper louder than he had intended in the echoing stillness. Catti-brie and Wulfgar, concerned for the dwarf and scrutinizing his every action, noted the remark and could easily enough guess the memories and emotions that had prompted it. They looked to each other and Catti-brie could see that the edge of Wulfgar’s anger at the dwarf had dissipated in a rush of sympathy.
Hall after great hall loomed up with only short corridors connecting them. Turns and side exits broke off every few feet, but Bruenor felt confident that he knew the way to the gorge. He knew, too, that anyone below would have heard the crashing of the stonework trap and would be coming to investigate. This section of the upper level, unlike the areas they had left behind, had many connecting passages to the lower levels. Wulfgar doused the torch and Bruenor led them on under the protective dimness of the gloom.
Their caution soon proved prudent, for as they entered yet another immense cavern, Regis grabbed Bruenor by the shoulder, stopping him, and motioned for all of them to be silent. Bruenor almost burst out in rage, but saw at once the sincere look of dread on Regis’s face.
His hearing sharpened by years of listening for the click of a lock’s tumblers, the halfling had picked out a sound in the distance other than the dripping of water. A moment later, the others caught it, too, and soon they identified it as the marching steps, of many booted feet. Bruenor took them into a dark recess where they watched and waited.
They never saw the passing host clearly enough to count its numbers or identify its members, but they could tell by the number of torches crossing the far end of the cavern that they were outnumbered by at least ten to one, and they could guess the nature of the marchers.
“Gray ones, or me mother’s a friend of orcs,” Bruenor grumbled. He looked at Wulfgar to see if the barbarian had any further complaints about his decision to leave Mithril Hall.
Wulfgar accepted the stare with a conceding nod. “How far to Garumn’s Gorge?” he asked, fast becoming as resigned to leaving as the others. He still felt as though he was deserting Drizzt, but he understood the wisdom of Bruenor’s choice. It grew obvious now that if they remained, Drizzt Do’Urden would not be the only one of them to die in Mithril Hall.
“An hour to the last passage,” Bruenor answered. “Another hour, no more, from there.”
The host of gray dwarves soon cleared the cavern and the companions started off again, using even more caution and dreading each shuffling footfall that thumped the floor harder than intended.
His memories coming clearer with each passing step, Bruenor knew exactly where they were, and made for the most direct path to the gorge, meaning to be out of the halls as quickly as possible. After many minutes of walking, though, he came across a side passage that he simply could not pass by. Every delay was a risk, he knew, but the temptation emanating from the room at the end of this short corridor was too great for him to ignore. He had to discover how far the despoilment of Mithril Hall had gone; he had to learn if the most treasured room of the upper level had survived.
The friends followed him without question and soon found themselves standing before a tall, ornate metal door inscribed with the hammer of Moradin, the greatest of the dwarven gods, and a series of runes beneath it. Bruenor’s heavy breathing belied his calmness.
“Herein lie the gifts of our friends,” Bruenor read solemnly, “and the craftings of our kin. Know ye as ye enter this hallowed hall that ye look upon the heritage of Clan Battlehammer. Friends be welcome, thieves beware!” Bruenor turned to his companions, beads of nervous sweat on his brow. “The Hall of Dumathoin,” he explained.
“Two hundred years of your enemies in the halls,” Wulfgar reasoned. “Surely it has been pillaged.”
“Not so,” said Bruenor. “The door is magicked and would not open for enemies of the clan. A hundred traps are inside to take the skin from a gray one who was to get through!” He glared at Regis, his gray eyes narrowed in a stern warning. “Watch to yer own hands, Rumblebelly. Mighten be that a trap won’t know ye to be a friendly thief!”
The advice seemed sound enough for Regis to ignore the dwarf’s biting sarcasm. Unconsciously admitting the truth of Bruenor’s words, the halfling slipped his hands into his pockets.
“Fetch a torch from the wall,” Bruenor told Wulfgar. “Me thoughts tell me that no lights burn within.”
Before Wulfgar even returned to them, Bruenor began opening the huge door. It swung easily under the push of the hands of a friend, swinging wide into a short corridor that ended in a heavy black curtain. A pendulum blade hung ominously in the center of the passage, a pile of bones beneath it.
“Thieving dog,” Bruenor chuckled with grim satisfaction. He stepped by the blade and moved to the curtain, waiting for all of his friends to join him before he entered the chamber.
Bruenor paused, mustering the courage to open the last barrier to the hall, sweat glistening on all the friends’ faces now as the dwarf’s anxiety swept through them.
With a determined grunt, Bruenor pulled the curtain aside. “Behold the Hall of Duma – ” he began, but the words stuck in his throat as soon as he looked beyond the opening. Of all the destruction they had witnessed in the halls, none was more complete than this. Mounds of stone littered the floor. Pedestals that had once held the finest works of the clan lay broken apart, and others had been trampled into dust.
Bruenor stumbled in blindly, his hands shaking and a great scream of outrage lumped in his throat. He knew before he even looked upon the entirety of the chamber that the destruction was complete.
“How?” Bruenor gasped. Even as he asked, though, he saw the huge hole in the wall. Not a tunnel carved, around the blocking door, but a gash in the stone, as though some incredible ram had blasted through.
“What power could have done such a thing?” Wulfgar asked, following the line of the dwarf’s stare to the hole.
Bruenor moved over, searching for some clue, Catti-brie and Wulfgar with him. Regis headed the other way, just to see if anything of value remained.
Catti-brie caught a rainbowlike glitter on the floor and moved to what she thought was a puddle of some dark liquid. Bending close, though, she realized that it wasn’t liquid at all, but a scale, blacker than the blackest night and nearly the size of a man. Wulfgar and Bruenor rushed to her side at the sound of her gasp.
“Dragon!” Wulfgar blurted, recognizing the distinctive shape. He grasped the thing by its edge and hoisted it upright to better inspect it. Then he and Catti-brie turned to Bruenor to see if he had any knowledge of such a monster.
The dwarf’s wide-eyed, terror-stricken stare answered their question before it was asked.
“Blacker than the black,” Bruenor whispered, speaking again the most common words of that fateful day those two hundred years ago. “Me father told me of the thing,” he explained to Wulfgar and Catti-brie. “A demon-spawned dragon, he called it, a darkness blacker than the black. ‘Twas not the gray ones that routed us – we would’ve fought them head on to the last. The dragon of darkness took our numbers and drove us from the halls. Not one in ten remained to stand against its foul hordes in the smaller halls at th’ other end.”
A hot draft of air from the hole reminded them that it probably connected to the lower halls, and the dragon’s lair.
“Let’s be leaving,” Catti-brie suggested, “afore the beast gets a notion that we’re here.”
Regis then cried out from the other side of the chamber. The friends rushed to him, not knowing if he had stumbled upon treasure or danger.
They found him crouched beside a pile of stone, peering into a gap in the blocks.
He held up a silver-shafted arrow. “I found it in there,” he explained. “And there’s something more – a bow, I think.”
Wulfgar moved the torch closer to the gap and they all saw clearly the curving arc that could only be the wood of a longbow, and the silvery shine of a bowstring. Wulfgar grasped the wood and tugged lightly, expecting it to break apart in his hands under the enormous weight of the stone.
But it held firmly, even against a pull of all his strength. He looked around at the stones, seeking the best course to free the weapon.
Regis, meanwhile, had found something more, a golden plaque wedged in another crack in the pile. He managed to slip it free and brought it into the torchlight to read its carved runes.
” ‘Taulmaril the Heartseeker,’ ” he read. ” ‘Gift of – ‘ “
“Anariel, Sister of Faerun,” Bruenor finished without even looking at the plaque. He nodded in recognition to Catti-brie’s questioning glance.
“Free the bow, boy,” he told Wulfgar. “Suren it might be put to a better use than this.”
Wulfgar had already discerned the structure of the pile and started lifting away specific blocks at once. Soon Catti-brie was able to wiggle the longbow free, but she saw something else beyond its nook in the pile and asked Wulfgar to keep digging.
While the muscled barbarian pushed aside more stones, the others marveled at the beauty of the bow. Its wood hadn’t even been scratched by the stones and the deep finish of its polish returned with a single brush of the hand. Catti-brie strung it easily and held it up, feeling its solid and even draw.
“Test it,” Regis offered, handing her the silver arrow.
Catti-brie couldn’t resist. She fitted the arrow to the silvery string and drew it back, meaning only to try its fit and not intending to fire.
“A quiver!” Wulfgar called, lifting the last of the stones. “And more of the silver arrows.”
Bruenor pointed into the blackness and nodded. Catti-brie didn’t hesitate.
A streaking tail of silver followed the whistling missile as it soared into the darkness, ending its flight abruptly with a crack. They all rushed after it, sensing something beyond the ordinary. They found the arrow easily, for it was buried halfway to its fletches in the wall!
All about its point of entry, the stone had been scorched, and even tugging with all of his might, Wulfgar couldn’t budge the arrow an inch.
“Not to fret,” said Regis, counting the arrows in the quiver that Wulfgar held. “There are nineteen…twenty more!” He backed away, stunned. The others looked at him in confusion.
“Nineteen, there were,” Regis explained. “My count was true.”
Wulfgar, not understanding, quickly counted the arrows. “Twenty,” he said.
“Twenty now,” Regis answered. “But nineteen when I first counted.”
“So the quiver holds some magic, too,” Catti-brie surmised. “A mighty gift, indeed, the Lady Anariel gave to the clan!”
“What more might we find in the ruins of this place?” Regis asked, rubbing his hands together.
“No more,” Bruenor answered gruffly. “We’re for leaving, and not a word of arguin’ from ye!”
Regis knew with a look at the other two that he had no support against the dwarf, so he shrugged helplessly and followed them back through the curtain and into the corridor.
“The gorge!” Bruenor declared, starting them off again.
* * *
“Hold, Bok,” Sydney whispered when the companions’ torchlight re-entered the corridor a short distance ahead of them.
“Not yet,” she said, an anticipating smile widening across her dust-streaked face. “We shall find a better time!”