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Streams of Silver 21. Silver in the Shadows
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Literature
Dec 17th, 2019

Streams of Silver 21. Silver in the Shadows

Suddenly, he found a focus in the blur of gray haze, something tangible amid the swirl of nothingness. It hovered before him and turned over slowly.

Its edges doubled and rolled apart, then rushed together again.

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He fought the dull ache in his head, the inner blackness that had consumed him and now fought to keep him in its hold. Gradually, he became aware of his arms and legs, who he was, and how he had come to be here.

In his startled awareness, the image sharpened to a crystalline focus. The tip of a jeweled dagger.

Entreri loomed above him, a dark silhouette against the backdrop of a single torch set into the wall a few yards beyond, his blade poised to strike at the first sign of resistance. Drizzt could see that the assassin, too, had been hurt in the fall, though he had obviously been the quicker to recover.

“Can you walk?” Entreri asked, and Drizzt was smart enough to know what would happen if he could not.

He nodded and moved to rise, but the dagger shot in closer.

“Not yet,” Entreri snarled. “We must first determine where we are, and where we are to go!”

Drizzt turned his concentration away from the assassin then and studied their surroundings, confident that Entreri would have already killed him if that was the assassin’s intent. They were in the mines, that much was apparent, for the walls were roughly carved stone supported by wooden columns every twenty feet or so.

“How far did we fall?” he asked the assassin, his senses telling him that they were much deeper than the room they had fought in.

Entreri shrugged. “I remember landing on hard stone after a short drop, and then sliding down a steep and twisting chute. It seemed like many moments before we finally dropped in here.” He pointed to an opening at the corner of the ceiling, where they had fallen through. “But the flow of time is different for a man thinking he is about to die, and the whole thing may have been over much more quickly than I remember.”

“Trust in your first reaction,” Drizzt suggested, “for my own perceptions tell me that we have descended a long way indeed.”

“How can we get out?”

Drizzt studied the slight grade in the floor and pointed to his right. “The slope is up to that direction,” he said.

“Then on your feet,” Entreri said, extending a hand to help the drow.

Drizzt accepted the assistance and rose cautiously and without giving any sign of a threat. He knew that Entreri’s dagger would cut him open long before he could strike a blow of his own.

Entreri knew it, too, but didn’t expect any trouble from Drizzt in their present predicament. They had shared more than an exchange of swordplay up in the alcove, and both looked upon the other with grudging respect.

“I need your eyes,” Entreri explained, though Drizzt had already figured as much. “I have found but one torch, and that will not last long enough to get me out of here. Your eyes, black elf, can find their way in the darkness. I will be close enough to feel your every move, close enough to kill you with a single thrust!” He turned the dagger over again to emphasize his point, but Drizzt understood him well enough without the visual aid.

When he got to his feet, Drizzt found that he wasn’t as badly injured as he had feared. He had twisted his ankle and knee on one leg and knew as soon as he put any weight upon it that every step would be painful. He couldn’t let on to Entreri, though. He wouldn’t be much of an asset to the assassin if he couldn’t keep up.

Entreri turned to retrieve the torch and Drizzt took a quick look at his equipment. He had seen one of his scimitars tucked into Entreri’s belt, but the other, the magical blade, was nowhere around. He felt one of his daggers still tucked into a hidden sheath in his boot, though he wasn’t sure how much it would help him against the saber and dagger of his skilled enemy. Facing Entreri with any kind of a disadvantage was a prospect reserved only for the most desperate situation.

Then, in sudden shock, Drizzt grabbed at his belt pouch, his fear intensifying when he saw that its ties were undone. Even before he had slipped his hand inside, he knew that Guenhwyvar was gone. He looked about frantically, and saw only the fallen rubble.

Noting his distress, Entreri smirked evilly under the cowl of his cloak. “We go,” he told the drow.

Drizzt had no choice. He certainly couldn’t tell Entreri of the magical statue and take the risk that Guenhwyvar would once again fall into the possession of an evil master. Drizzt had rescued the great panther from that fate once, and would rather that it remained forever buried under the tons of stone than return to an unworthy master’s hands. A final mourning glance at the rubble, and he stoically accepted the loss, taking comfort that the cat lived, quite unharmed, on its own plane of existence.

The tunnel supports drifted past them with disturbing regularity, as though they were passing the same spot again and again. Drizzt sensed that the tunnel was arcing around in a wide circle as it slightly climbed. This made him even more nervous. He knew the prowess of dwarves in tunneling, especially where precious gems or metals were concerned, and he began to wonder how many miles they might have to walk before they even reached the next highest level.

Although he had less keen underground perception and was unfamiliar with dwarven ways, Entreri shared the same uneasy feelings. An hour became two and still the line of wooden supports stretched away into the blackness.

“The torch burns low,” Entreri said, breaking the silence that had surrounded them since they had started. Even their footfalls, the practiced steps of stealthy warriors, died away in the closeness of the low passage. “Perhaps the advantage will shift to you, black elf.”

Drizzt knew better. Entreri was a creature of the night as much as he, with heightened reflexes and ample experience to more than compensate for his lack of vision in the blackness. Assassins did not work under the light of the midday sun.

Without answering, Drizzt turned back to the path ahead, but as he was looking around, a sudden reflection of the torch caught his eye. He moved to the corridor wall, ignoring Entreri’s uneasy shuffle behind him, and started feeling the surface’s texture, and peered intently at it in hopes of seeing another flash. It came for just a second as Entreri shifted behind him, a flicker of silver along the wall.

“Where silver rivers run,” he muttered in disbelief.

“What?” demanded Entreri.

“Bring the torch,” was Drizzt’s only reply. He moved his hands eagerly over the wall now, seeking the evidence that would overcome his own stubborn logic and vindicate Bruenor from his suspicions that the dwarf had exaggerated the tales of Mithril Hall.

Entreri was soon beside him, curious. The torch showed it clearly: a stream of silver running along the wall, as thick as Drizzt’s forearm and shining brightly in its purity.

“Mithril,” Entreri said, gawking. “A king’s hoard!”

“But of little use to us,” Drizzt said, to diffuse their excitement. He started again down the hall, as though the lode of mithril did not impress him. Somehow he felt that Entreri should not look upon this place, that the assassin’s mere presence fouled the riches of Clan Battlehammer. Drizzt did not want to give the assassin any reason to seek these halls again. Entreri shrugged and followed.

The grade in the passageway became more apparent as they went along, and the silvery reflections of the mithril veins reappeared with enough regularity to make Drizzt wonder if Bruenor may have even understated the prosperity of his clan.

Entreri, always no more than a step behind the drow, was too intent upon watching his prisoner to take much notice of the precious metal, but he understood well the potential that surrounded him. He didn’t care much for such ventures himself, but knew that the information would prove valuable and might serve him well in future bargaining.

Before long the torch died away, but the two found that they could still see, for a dim light source was somewhere up ahead, beyond the turns of the tunnel. Even so, the assassin closed the gap between he and Drizzt, putting the dagger tip against Drizzt’s back and taking no chances of losing his only hope of escape if the light faded completely.

The glow only brightened, for its source was great indeed. The air grew warmer around them and soon they heard the grinding of distant machinery echoing down the tunnel. Entreri tightened his reins even further, grasping Drizzt’s cloak and pulling himself closer. “You are as much an intruder here as I,” he whispered. “Avoidance is ally to both of us.”

“Could the miners prove worse than the fate you offer?” Drizzt asked with a sarcastic sigh.

Entreri released the cloak and backed away. “It seems I must offer you something more to ensure your agreement,” he said.

Drizzt studied him closely, not knowing what to expect. “Every advantage is yours,” he said.

“Not so,” replied the assassin. Drizzt stood perplexed as Entreri slid his dagger back into its sheath. “I could kill you, I agree, but to what gain? I take no pleasure in killing.”

“But murder does not displease you,” Drizzt retorted.

“I do as I must,” Entreri said, dismissing the biting comment under a veil of laughter.

Drizzt recognized this man all too well. Passionless and pragmatic, and undeniably skilled in the ways of dealing death. Looking at Entreri, Drizzt saw what he himself might have become if he had remained in Menzoberranzan among his similarly amoral people. Entreri epitomized the tenets of drow society, the selfish heartlessness that had driven Drizzt from the bowels of the world in outrage. He eyed the assassin squarely, detesting every inch of the man, but somehow unable to detach himself from the empathy he felt.

He had to make a stand for his principles now, he decided, just as he had those years ago in the dark city. “You do as you must,” he spat in disgust, disregarding the possible consequences. “No matter the cost.”

“No matter the cost,” Entreri echoed evenly, his self-satisfying smile distorting the insult into a compliment. “Be glad that I am so practical, Drizzt Do’Urden, else you would never have awakened from your fall.

“But enough of this worthless arguing. I have a deal to offer you that might prove of great benefit to us both.” Drizzt remained silent and gave no hints to the level of his interest.

“Do you know why I am here?” Entreri asked.

“You have come for the halfling.”

“You are in error,” replied Entreri. “Not for the halfling, but for the halfling’s pendant. He stole it from my master, though I doubt that he would have admitted as much to you.”

“I guess more than I am told,” Drizzt said, ironically leading into his next suspicion. “Your master seeks vengeance as well, does he not?”

“Perhaps,” said Entreri without a pause. “But the return of the pendant is paramount. So I offer this to, you: We shall work together to find the road back to your friends. I offer my assistance on the journey and your life in exchange for the pendant. Once we are there, persuade the halfling to surrender it to me and I shall go on my way and not return. My master retrieves his treasure and your little friend lives out the rest of his life without looking over his shoulder.”

“On your word?” Drizzt balked.

“On my actions,” Entreri retorted. He pulled the scimitar from his belt and tossed it to Drizzt. “I have no intentions of dying in these forsaken mines, drow, nor do you, I would hope.”

“How do you know I will go along with my part when we rejoin my companions?” asked Drizzt, holding the blade out before him in inspection, hardly believing the turn of events.

Entreri laughed again. “You are too honorable to put such doubts in my mind, dark elf. You will do as you agree, of that I am certain! A bargain, then?”

Drizzt had to admit the wisdom of Entreri’s words. Together, they stood a fair chance of escaping from the lower levels. Drizzt wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to find his friends, not for the price of a pendant that usually got Regis into more trouble than it was worth. “Agreed,” he said.

The passageway continued to brighten at each turn, not with flickering light, as with torches, but in a continuous glow. The noise of machinery increased proportionately and the two had to shout to each other to be understood.

Around a final bend, they came to the abrupt end of the mine, its last supports opening into a huge cavern. They moved tentatively through the supports and onto a small ledge that ran along the side of a wide gorge – the great undercity of Clan Battlehammer.

Luckily they were on the top level of the chasm, for both walls had been cut into huge steps right down to the floor, each one holding rows of the decorated doorways that had once marked the entrances to the houses of Bruenor’s kin. The steps were mostly empty now, but Drizzt, with the countless tales Bruenor had told to him, could well imagine the past glory of the place. Ten thousand dwarves, untiring in their passion for their beloved work, hammering at the mithril and singing praises to their gods.

What a sight that must have been! Dwarves scrambling from level to level to show off their latest work, a mithril item of incredible beauty and value. And yet, judging from what Drizzt knew of the dwarves in Icewind Dale, even the slightest imperfection would send the artisans scurrying back to their anvils, begging their gods for forgiveness and the gift of skill sufficient to craft a finer piece. No race in all the Realms could claim such pride in their work as the dwarves, and the folk of Clan Battlehammer were particular even by the standards of the bearded people.

Now only the very floor of the chasm bustled in activity, for, hundreds of feet below them and stretching off in either direction, loomed the central forges of Mithril Hall, furnaces hot enough to melt the hard metal from the mined stone. Even at this height Drizzt and Entreri felt the searing heat, and the intensity of the light made them squint. Scores of squat workers darted about, pushing barrows of ore or fuel for the fires. Duergar, Drizzt assumed, though he couldn’t see them clearly in the glare from this height.

Just a few feet to the right of the tunnel exit, a wide, gently arching ramp spiraled down to the next lower step. To the left, the ledge moved on along the wall, narrow and not designed for casual passage, but farther down its course, Drizzt could see the black silhouette of a bridge arching across the chasm.

Entreri motioned him back into the tunnel. “The bridge seems our best route,” the assassin said. “But I am wary of moving out across the ledge with so many about.”

“We have little choice,” Drizzt reasoned. “We could backtrack and search for some of the side corridors that we passed, but I believe them to be no more than extensions of the mine complex and I doubt that they would lead us back even this far.”

“We must go on,” Entreri agreed. “Perhaps the noise and glare will provide us ample cover.” Without further delay, he slipped out onto the ledge and began making his way to the dark outline of the chasm bridge, Drizzt right behind.

Although the ledge was no more than two feet wide at any point and much narrower than that at most, the nimble fighters had no trouble navigating it. Soon they stood before the bridge, a narrow walk of stone arching over the bustle below.

Creeping low, they moved out easily. When they crossed the midpoint and began the descent down the back half of the arch, they saw a wider ledge running along the chasm’s other wall. At the end of the bridge loomed a tunnel, torchlit like the ones they had left on the upper level. To the left of the entrance, several small shapes, Duergar, stood huddled in conversation, taking no notice of the area. Entreri looked back at Drizzt with a sneaky smile and pointed to the tunnel.

As silent as cats and invisible in the shadows, they crossed into the tunnel, the group of Duergar oblivious to their passing.

Wooden supports rolled past the two easily now as they took up a swift gait, leaving the undercity far behind. Roughhewn walls gave them plenty of shadowy protection in the torchlight, and as the noise of the workers behind them dimmed to a distant murmur they relaxed a bit and began looking ahead to the prospect of meeting back up with the others.

They turned a bend in the tunnel and nearly ran over a lone Duergar sentry.

“What’re yer fer?” the sentry barked, mithril broadsword gleaming with each flicker of the torchlight. His armor, too, chain mail, helm, and shining shield, were of the precious metal, a king’s treasure to outfit a single soldier!

Drizzt passed his companion and motioned for Entreri to hold back. He didn’t want a trail of bodies to follow their escape route. The assassin understood that the black elf might have some luck in dealing with this other denizen of the underworld. Not wanting to let on that he was human, and possibly hinder the credibility of whatever story Drizzt had concocted, he hitched his cloak up over his face.

The sentry jumped back a step, his eyes wide in amazement when he recognized Drizzt as a drow. Drizzt scowled at him and did not reply.

“Er…what might ye be doin’ in the mines?” the Duergar asked, rephrasing both his question and tone politely.

“Walking,” Drizzt replied coldly, still feigning anger at the gruff greeting he had initially received.

“And…uh…who might ye be?” stuttered the guard.

Entreri studied the gray dwarf’s obvious terror of Drizzt. It appeared that the drow carried even more fearful respect among the races of the underworld than among the surface dwellers. The assassin made a mental note of this, determined to deal with Drizzt even more cautiously in the future.

“I am Drizzt Do’Urden, of the house of Daermon N’a’shezbaernon, ninth family of the throne to Menzoberranzan,” Drizzt said, seeing no reason to lie.

“Greetings!” cried the sentry, overly anxious to gain the favor of the stranger. “Mucknuggle, I be, of Clan Bukbukken.” He bowed low, his gray beard sweeping the floor. “Not often do we greet guests in the mines. Be it someone ye seek? Or something that I could be helpin’ ye with?”

Drizzt thought for a moment. If his friends had survived the cave-in, and he had to go on his hopes that they had, they would be making for Garumn’s Gorge. “My business here is complete,” he told the Duergar. “I am satisfied.”

Mucknuggle looked at him curiously. “Satisfied?”

“Your people have delved too deep,” Drizzt explained. “You have disturbed one of our tunnels with your digging. Thus we have come to investigate this complex, to ensure that it is not again inhabited by enemies of the drow. I have seen your forges, gray one, you should be proud.”

The sentry straightened his belt and sucked in his belly. Clan Bukbukken was indeed proud of its setup, though they had in truth stolen the entire operation from Clan Battlehammer. “And ye’re satisfied, ye say. Then where might ye be headin’ now, Drizzt Do’Urden? T’see the boss?”

“Who would I seek if I were?”

“Ain’t ye not heared o’ Shimmergloom?” answered Mucknuggle with a knowing chuckle. “The Drake o’ Darkness, he be, black as black and fiercer than a pinstuck demon! Don’t know ‘ow he’ll take to drow elves in his mines, but we’ll be seein’!”

“I think not,” replied Drizzt. “I have learned all that I came to learn, and now my trail leads home. I shan’t disturb Shimmergloom, nor any of your hospitable clan again.”

“Me thinkin’s that ye’re goin’ to the boss,” said Mucknuggle, drawing more courage from Drizzt’s politeness and from the mention of his mighty leader’s name. He folded his gnarly arms across his chest, the mithril sword resting most visibly on the shining shield.

Drizzt resumed his scowl and poked a finger into the fabric under his cloak, pointing in the Duergar’s direction. Mucknuggle noted the move, as did Entreri, and the assassin nearly fell back in confusion at the reaction of the Duergar. A noticeable ashen pall came over Mucknuggle’s already gray features and he stood perfectly still, not even daring to draw breath.

“My trail leads home,” Drizzt said again.

“Home, it do!” cried Mucknuggle. “Mighten I be of some help in findin’ the way? The tunnels get rightly mixed up back that way.”

Why not? Drizzt thought, figuring their chances would be better if they at least knew the quickest route. “A chasm,” he told Mucknuggle. “In the time before Clan Bukbukken, we heard it named as Garumn’s Gorge.”

“Shimmergloom’s Run it is now,” Mucknuggle corrected. “The left tunnel at the next fork,” he offered, pointing down the hallway. “And a straight run from there.”

Drizzt didn’t like the sound of the gorge’s new name. He wondered what monster his friends might find waiting for them if they reached the gorge. Not wanting to waste any more time, he nodded to Mucknuggle and walked past. The Duergar was all too willing to let him by without further conversation, stepping, as far aside as he could.

Entreri looked back at Mucknuggle as they passed and saw him wiping nervous sweat from his brow. “We should have killed him,” he told Drizzt when they were safely away. “He will bring his kin after us.”

“No faster than a dead body, or a missing sentry would have set off a general alarm,” replied Drizzt. “Perhaps a few will come to confirm his tale, but at least we now know the way out. He would not have dared to lie to me, in fear that my inquiry was just a test of the truth of his words. My people have been known to kill for such lies.”

“What did you do to him?” Entreri asked.

Drizzt couldn’t help but chuckle at the ironic benefits of his people’s sinister reputation. He poked the finger under the fabric of his cloak again. “Envision a crossbow small enough to fit into your pocket,” he explained. “Would it not make such an impression when pointed at a target? The drow are well known for such crossbows.”

“But how deadly could so small a bolt prove against a suit of mithril?” Entreri asked, still not understanding why the threat had been so effective.

“Ah, but the poison,” Drizzt smirked, moving away down the corridor.

Entreri stopped and grinned at the obvious logic. How devious and merciless the drow must be to command so powerful a reaction to so simple a threat! It seemed that their deadly reputation was not an exaggeration.

Entreri found that he was beginning to admire these black elves.

The pursuit came faster than they had expected, despite their swift pace. The stamp of boots sounded loudly and then disappeared, only to reappear at the next turn even closer than before. Side-passages, Drizzt and Entreri both understood, cursing every turn in their own twisting tunnel. Finally, when their pursuers were nearly upon them, Drizzt stopped the assassin.

“Just a few,” he said, picking out each individual footfall.

“The group from the ledge,” Entreri surmised. “Let us make a stand. But be quick, there are more behind them, no doubt!” The excited light that came into the assassin’s eyes seemed dreadfully familiar to Drizzt.

He didn’t have time to ponder the unpleasant implications. He shook them from his head, regaining full concentration for the business at hand, then pulled the hidden dagger out of his boot – no time for secrets from Entreri now – and found a shadowed recess on the tunnel wall. Entreri did likewise, positioning himself a few feet farther down from the drow and across the corridor.

Seconds passed slowly with only the faint shuffle of boots. Both companions held their breath and waited patiently, knowing that they had not been passed by.

Suddenly the sound multiplied as the Duergar came rushing out of a secret door and into the main tunnel.

“Can’t be far now!” Drizzt and Entreri heard one of them say.

“The drake’ll be feedin’ us well fer this catch!” hooted another.

All clad in shining mail and wielding mithril weapons, they rounded the last bend and came into sight of the hidden companions.

Drizzt looked at the dull steel of his scimitar and considered how precise his strikes must be against armor of mithril. A resigned sigh escaped him as he wished that he now held his magical weapon.

Entreri saw the problem, too, and knew that they had to somehow balance the odds. Quickly he pulled a pouch of coins from his belt and hurled it farther down the corridor. It sailed through the gloom and clunked into the wall where the tunnel twisted again.

The Duergar band straightened as one. “Just ahead!” one of them cried, and they bent low to the stone and charged for the next bend. Between the waiting drow and assassin.

The shadows exploded into movement and fell over the stunned gray dwarves. Drizzt and Entreri struck together, seizing the moment of best advantage, when the first of the band had reached the assassin and the last was passing Drizzt.

The Duergar shrieked in surprised horror. Daggers, saber, and scimitar danced all about them in a flurry of flashing death, poking at the seams of their armor, seeking an opening through the unyielding metal. When they found one, they drove the point home with merciless efficiency.

By the time the Duergar recovered from the initial shock of the attack, two lay dead at the drow’s feet, a third at Entreri’s, and yet another stumbled away, holding his belly in with a blood-soaked hand.

“Back to back!” Entreri shouted, and Drizzt, thinking the same strategy, had already begun quick-stepping his way through the disorganized dwarves. Entreri took another one down just as they came together, the unfortunate Duergar looking over its shoulder at the approaching drow just long enough for the jeweled dagger to slip through the seam at the base of its helmet.

Then they were together, back against back, twirling in the wake of each other’s cloak and maneuvering their weapons in blurred movements so similar that the three remaining Duergar hesitated before their attack to sort out where one enemy ended and the other began.

With cries to Shimmergloom, their godlike ruler, they came on anyway.

Drizzt scored a series of hits at once that should have felled his opponent, but the armor was of tougher stuff than the steel scimitar and his thrusts were turned aside. Entreri, too, had trouble finding an opening to poke through against the mithril mail and shields.

Drizzt turned one shoulder in and let the other fall away from his companion. Entreri understood and followed the drow’s lead, dipping around right behind him.

Gradually their circling gained momentum, as synchronous as practiced dancers, and the Duergar did not even try to keep up. Opponents changed continually, the drow and Entreri coming around to parry away the sword or axe that the other had blocked on the last swing. They let the rhythm hold for a few turns, allowed the Duergar to fall into the patterns of their dance, and then, Drizzt still leading, stuttered their steps, and even reversed the flow.

The three Duergar, evenly spaced about the pair, did not know which direction would bring the next attack.

Entreri, practically reading the drow’s every thought by this point, saw the possibilities. As he moved away from one particularly confused dwarf, he feigned a reversed attack, freezing the Duergar just long enough for Drizzt, coming in from the other side, to find an opening.

“Take him!” the assassin cried in victory.

The scimitar did its work.

Now they were two against two. They stopped the dance and faced off evenly.

Drizzt swooped about his smaller foe with a sudden leap and shuffle along the wall. The Duergar, intent on the killing blades of the drow, hadn’t noticed Drizzt’s third weapon join the fray.

The gray dwarf’s surprise was only surmounted by his anticipation of the coming fatal blow when Drizzt’s trailing cloak floated in and fell over him, enshrouding him in a blackness that would only deepen into the void of death.

Contrary to Drizzt’s graceful technique, Entreri worked with sudden fury, tying up his dwarf with undercuts and lightning-fast counters, always aimed at the weapon hand. The gray dwarf understood the tactic as his fingers began to numb under the nicks of several minor hits.

The Duergar overcompensated, turning his shield in to protect the vulnerable hand.

Exactly as Entreri had expected. He rolled around opposite the movement of his opponent, finding the back of the shield, and a seam in the mithril armor just beneath the shoulder. The assassin’s dagger drove in furiously, taking a lung and hurling the Duergar to the stone floor. The gray dwarf lay there, hunched up on one elbow, and gasped out his final breaths.

Drizzt approached the final dwarf, the one who had been wounded in the initial attack, leaning against the wall only a few yards away, torchlight reflecting grotesque red off the pool of blood below him. The dwarf still had fight in him. He raised his broadsword to meet the drow.

It was Mucknuggle, Drizzt saw, and a silent plea of mercy came into the drow’s mind and took the fiery glow from his eyes.

A shiny object, glittering in the hues of a dozen distinct gemstones, spun by Drizzt and ended his internal debate.

Entreri’s dagger buried deep into Mucknuggle’s eye.

The dwarf didn’t even fall, so clean was the blow. He just held his position, leaning against the stone. But now the blood pool was fed from two wounds.

Drizzt stopped himself cold in rage and did not even flinch as the assassin walked coolly by to retrieve the weapon.

Entreri pulled the dagger out roughly then turned to face Drizzt as Mucknuggle tumbled down to splash in the blood.

“Four to four,” the assassin growled. “You did not believe that I would let you get the upper count?”

Drizzt did not reply, nor blink.

Both felt the sweat in their palms as they clutched their weapons, a pull upon them to complete what they had started in the alcove above.

So alike, yet so dramatically different.

The rage at Mucknuggle’s death did not play upon Drizzt at that moment, no more than to further confirm his feelings about his vile companion. The longing he held to kill Entreri went far deeper than the anger he might hold for any of the assassin’s foul deeds. Killing Entreri would mean killing the darker side of himself, Drizzt believed, for he could have been as this man. This was the test of his worth, a confrontation against what he might have become. If he had remained among his kin, and often were the times that he considered his decision to leave their ways and their dark city a feeble attempt to distort the very order of nature, his own dagger would have found Mucknuggle’s eye.

Entreri looked upon Drizzt with equal disdain. What potential he saw in the drow! But tempered by an intolerable weakness. Perhaps in his heart the assassin was actually envious for the capacity for love and compassion that he recognized in Drizzt. So much akin to him, Drizzt only accentuated the reality of his own emotional void.

Even if those feelings were truly within, they would never gain a perch high enough to influence Artemis Entreri. He had spent his life building himself into an instrument for killing, and no shred of light could ever cut through that callous barrier of darkness. He meant to prove, to himself and to the drow, that the true fighter has no place for weakness.

They were closer now, though neither of them knew which one had moved, as if unseen forces were acting upon them. Weapons twitched in anticipation, each waiting for the other to show his hand.

Each wanting the other to be the first to yield to their common desire, the ultimate challenge of the tenets of their existence.

The stamp of booted feet broke the spell.

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