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Homeland (part 2 chapter 20)

2006-08-28 22:23

  CHAPTER 20

  FATHER, MY FATHER

  How many lies had Matron Malice told him? What truth could Drizzt ever find in the web of deceptions that marked drow society? His father had not been sacrificed to the Spider Queen! Zaknafein was here, fighting before him, wielding his swords as finely as Drizzt had ever seen.

  “What is it?” Belwar demanded.

  “The drow warrior,' Drizzt was barely able to whisper.

  “From your city, dark elf?'” Belwar asked. “Sent after you?”

  “From Menzoberranzan,' Drizzt replied. Belwar waited for more information, but Drizzt was too enthralled by Zak's appearance to go into much detail.

  “We must go,' the burrow-warden said at length.

  “Quickly,' agreed Clacker, returning to his friends. The hook horror's voice sounded more controlled now, as though the mere appearance of Clacker's friends had aided his pech side in its continuing internal struggle. ”The mind flayers are organizing defenses. Many slaves are down:'

  Drizzt spun out of the reach of Belwar's pick-hand. “No,' he said firmly. ”I'll not leave him!“

  “Magga cammara, dark elf!” Belwar shouted at him. “Who is it?”

  “Zaknafein Do'Urden,' Drizzt yelled back, more than matching the burrow-warden's rising ire. Drizzt's volume dropped considerably as he finished the thought, though, and he nearly choked on the words, ”My father.'

  By the time Belwar and Clacker exchanged disbelieving stares, Drizzt was gone, running to and then up the wide stairway. Atop it, the spirit-wraith stood among a mound of victims, mind flayers and slaves alike, who had found the great

  misfortune of getting in his way. Farther along the higher tier, several illithids had taken flight from the undead monster.

  Zaknafein started to pursue them, for they were running toward the stone castle, following the course the spirit-wraith had determined from the beginning. A thousand magical alarms sounded within the spirit-wraith, though, and abruptly turned him back to the stair.

  Drizzt was coming. Zin-carla's moment of fulfillment, the purpose of Zaknafein's animation, at last had arrived!

  “Weapon master!” Drizzt cried, springing up lightly to stand by his father's side. The younger drow bubbled with elation, not realizing the truth of the monster standing before him. When Drizzt got near Zak, though, he sensed that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the strange light in the spirit-wraith's eyes that slowed Drizzt's rush. Perhaps it was the fact that Zaknafein did not return his joyful call.

  A moment later, it was the downward slice of a sword.

  Drizzt somehow managed to get a blocking scimitar up in time. Confused, he still believed that Zaknafein simply had not recognized him.

  “Father!” he shouted. “I am Drizzt!”

  One sword dived ahead, while the second started in a wide slice, then rushed suddenly toward Drizzt's side. Matching the spirit -wraith's speed, Drizzt came down with one scimitar to parry the first attack and sliced across with the other to foil the second.

  “Who are you?” Drizzt demanded desperately, furiously.

  A flurry of blows came straight in. Drizzt worked frantically to keep them at bay, but then Zaknafein came across with a backhand and managed to sweep both of Drizzt's blades out to the same side. The spirit-wraith's second sword followed closely, a cut aimed straight at Drizzt's heart, one that Drizzt could not possibly block.

  Back down at the bottom of the stairway, Belwar and Clacker cried out, thinking their friend doomed.

  Zaknafein's moment of victory was stolen from him, though, by the instincts of the hunter. Drizzt sprang to the side ahead of the plunging blade, then twisted and ducked under Zaknafein's deadly cut. The sword nicked him under his jawbone, leaving a painful gash. When Drizzt completed his roll and found his footing despite the angles of the stair, he showed no sign of acknowledging the

  injury. When Drizzt again faced his father's imposter, simmering fires burned in his lavender eyes.

  Drizzt's agility amazed even his friends, who had seen him before in battle. Zaknafein rushed out immediately after completing his swing, but Drizzt was up and ready before the spirit-wraith caught up to him.

  “Who are you?” Drizzt demanded again. This time his voice was deathly calm. “What are you?”

  The spirit-wraith snarled and charged recklessly. Believing beyond any doubt that this was not Zaknafein, Drizzt did not miss the opening. He rushed back toward his original position, knocked a sword aside, and slipped a scimitar through as he passed his charging adversary. Drizzt's blade cut through the fine mesh armor and dug deeply into Zaknafein's lung, a wound that would have stopped any mortal opponent.

  But Zaknafein did not stop. The spirit-wraith did not draw breath and did not feel pain. Zak turned back on Drizzt and flashed a smile so evil that it would have made Matron Malice stand up and applaud.

  Back now on the top step of the stairway, Drizzt stood wide-eyed in amazement. He saw the gruesome wound and saw, against all possibility, Zaknafein steadily advancing, not even flinching.

  “Get away” Belwar cried from the bottom of the stairs. An ogre rushed at the deep gnome, but Clacker intercepted and immediately crushed the thing's head in a claw.

  “We must leave,' Clacker said to Belwar, the clarity of his voice turning the burrow-warden on his heel.

  Belwar could see it clearly in the hook horror's eyes, in that critical moment, Clacker was more a pech than he had been since before the wizard's polymorph spell. “The stones tell me of illithids gathering within the castle,' Clacker explained, and the deep gnome was not surprised that Clacker had heard the voices of the stones. ”The illithids will rush out soon,' Clacker continued, “to the certain demise of every slave left in the cavern'”

  Belwar did not doubt a word of it, but to the svirfneblin, loyalty far outweighed personal safety. “We cannot leave the drow,' he replied through clenched teeth.

  Clacker nodded in full agreement and charged out to chase away a group of gray dwarves that had come too close.

  “Run, dark elf!” Belwar cried. “We have no time!” Drizzt didn't hear his svirfneblin friend. He focused on the approaching weapon master, the monster impersonating his father, even as Zaknafein focused on him. Of all the many evils perpetrated by Matron Malice, none, by Drizzt's estimation, were greater than this abomination. Malice somehow had perverted the one thing in Drizzt's world that had given him pleasure. Drizzt had believed Zaknafein dead, and that thought was painful enough.

  But now this.

  It was more than the young drow could bear. He wanted to fight this monster with all his heart and soul, and the spirit-wraith, created for no other reason than this very battle, wholly concurred.

  Neither noticed the illithid descending from the darkness above, farther back on the platform, behind Zaknafein.

  “Come, monster of Matron Malice,' Drizzt growled, sliding his weapons together. ”Come and feel my blades.'

  Zaknafein paused only a few steps away and flashed his wicked smile again. The swords came up and the spirit-wraith took another step.

  Fwoop!

  The illithid's blast rolled over both of them. Zaknafein remained unaffected, but Drizzt caught the force fully. Darkness rolled over him, his eyelids drooped with undeniable weight. He heard his scimitars fall to the stone, but he was beyond any other comprehension. Zaknafein snarled in gleeful victory, banged his swords together, and stepped toward the falling drow.

  Belwar screamed, but it was Clacker's monstrous cry of protest that sounded loudest, rising above the din of the battle-filled cavern. Everything Clacker had ever known as a pech rushed back to him when he saw the drow who had befriended him fall, doomed. That pech identity surged back more keenly, perhaps, than Clacker had even known in his former life.

  Zaknafein lunged, seeing his helpless victim in range, but then smashed headfirst into a stone wall that had appeared from nothingness. The spirit-wraith bounced back, his eyes wide in frustration. He clawed at the wall and pounded on it, but it was quite real and sturdy. The stone blocked Zaknafein fully from the stairway and his intended prey.

  Back down the stairway, Belwar turned his stunned gaze on Clacker. The svirfneblin had heard that some pech could conjure such stone walls. “Did you. . . ?” the burrow-warden gasped.

  The pech in a hook horror's body did not pause long enough to answer. Clacker leaped the stairs four at a stride and gently hoisted Drizzt in his huge arms. He even thought to retrieve the drow's scimitars, then came pounding back down the flight.

  “Run” Clacker commanded the burrow-warden. “For all of your life, run, Belwar Dissengulp!”

  The deep gnome, scratching his head with his pickaxe-hand, did indeed run. Clacker cleared a wide path to the cavern's rear exit-none dared stand before his enraged charge-and the burrow-warden, with his short svirfneblin legs, one of which was sprained, had a difficult time keeping up.

  Back up the stairs, behind the wall, Zaknafein could only assume that the floating illithid, the same one that had blasted Drizzt, had blocked his charge. Zaknafein whirled about on the monster and screamed in sheer hatred.

  Fwoop! Another blast came.

  Zaknafein leaped up and sliced off both of the illithid's feet with a single stroke. The illithid levitated higher, sending mental cries of anguish and distress to its companions.

  Zaknafein couldn't reach the thing, and with other illithids rushing in from every angle, the spirit-wraith didn't have time to enact his own levitation spell. Zaknafein blamed this illithid for his failure, he would not let it escape. He hurled a sword as precisely as any spear.

  The illithid looked down at Zaknafein in disbelief, then to the blade buried half to the hilt in its chest and knew that its life was at an end.

  Mind flayers rushed toward Zaknafein, firing their stunning blasts as they came. The spirit-wraith had only one sword remaining, but he smashed his opponents down anyway, venting his frustrations on their ugly octopus heads.

  Drizzt had escaped. . . for now.

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