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Homeland (part 1 chapter 15)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 15 On The DarkSide

  “I am Drizzt-”

  “I know who you are” replied the student mage, Drizzt's appointed tutor in Sorcere. “Your reputation precedes you. Most in all the Academy have heard of you and of your

  prowess with weapons“

  Drizzt bowed low, a bit embarrassed.

  “That skill will be of little use to you here” the mage went on. “I am to tutor you in the wizardly arts, the dark side of magic, we call them. This is a test of your mind and your heart; meager metal weapons will play no part. Magic is the true power of our people!”

  Drizzt accepted the berating without reply. He knew that the traits this young mage was boasting of were also neces-sary qualities of a true fighter. Physical attributes played only a minor role in Drizzt's style of battle. Strong will and calculated maneuvers, everything the mage apparently be- lieved only wizards could handle, won the duels that Drizzt fought.

  “I will show you many marvels in the next few months” the mage went on, “artifacts beyond your belief and spells of a power beyond your experience!”

  “May I know your name?” Drizzt asked, trying to sound somewhat impressed by the student's continued stream of self-glorification. Drizzt had already learned quite a lot about wizardry from Zaknafein, mostly of the weaknesses inherent in the class. Because of magic's usefulness in situa- tions other than battle; drow wizards were accorded a high position in the society, second to the clerics of Lloth. It was a wizard, after all, who lighted the glowing Narbondel, time clock of the city, and wizards who lighted faerie fires on the sculptures of the decorated houses.

  Zaknafein had little respect for wizards. They could kill quickly and from a distance, he had warned Drizzt, but if one could get in close to them, they had little defense against a sword.

  “Masoj” replied the mage. “Masoj Hun'ett of House Hun'ett, beginning my thirtieth and final year of study. Soon I will be recognized as a full wizard of Menzoberranzan, with all of the privileges accorded my station”

  “Greetings, then, Masoj Hun'ett” Drizzt replied. “I, too, have but a year remaining in my training at the Academy, for a fighter spends only ten years”

  “A lesser talent” Masoj was quick to remark. “Wizards study thirty years before they are even considered prac- ticed enough to go out and perform their craft”

  Again Drizzt accepted the insult graciously. He wanted to get this phase of his instruction over with, then finish out the year and be rid of the Academy altogether.

  Drizzt found his six months under Masoj's tutelage actu-ally the best of his stay at the Academy. Not that he came to care for Masoj; the budding wizard constantly sought ways to remind Drizzt of fighters' inferiority. Drizzt sensed a competition between himself and Masoj, almost as if the mage were setting him up for some future conflict. The young fighter shrugged his way through it, as he always had, and tried to get as much out of the lessons as he could.

  Drizzt found that he was quite proficient in the ways of magic. Every drow, the fighters included, possessed a de- gree of magical talent and certain innate abilities. Even drow children could conjure a globe of darkness or edge their opponents in a glowing outline of harmless colored flames. Drizzt handled these tasks easily, and in a few weeks, he could manage several cantrips and a few lesser spells.

  With the innate magical talents of the dark elves also came a resistance to magical attacks, and that is where Zaknafein had recognized the wizards' greatest weakness. A wizard could cast his most powerful spell to perfection, but if his in-tended victim was a drow elf, the wizard may well have found no results for his efforts. The surety of a well-aimed sword thrust always impressed Zaknafein, and Drizzt, after witnessing the drawbacks of drow magic during those first weeks with Masoj, began to appreciate the course of train-ing he had been given.

  He still found great enjoyment in many of the things Masoj showed him, particularly the enchanted items housed in the tower of Sorcere. Drizzt held wands and staves of incredi- ble power and went through several attack routines with a sword so heavily enchanted that his hands tingled from its touch.

  Masoj, too, watched Drizzt carefully through it all, study-

  ing the young warrior's every move, searching for some weakness that he might exploit if House Hun'ett and House Do'Urden ever did fall into the expected conflict. Several times, Masoj saw an opportunity to eliminate Drizzt, and he felt in his heart that it would be a prudent move. Matron SiNafay's instructions to him, though, had been explicit and unbending.

  Masoj's mother had secretly arranged for him to be Drizzt's tutor. This was not an unusual situation; instruction for fighters during their six months in Sorcere was always handled one-on-one by higher-level Sorcere students. When she had told Masoj of the setup, SiNafay quickly reminded him that his sessions with the young Do'Urden remained no more than a scouting mission. He was not to do anything that might even hint of the planned conflict between the two houses. Masoj was not fool enough to disobey.

  Still, there was one other wizard lurking in the shadows, who was so desperate that even the warnings of the matron mother did little to deter him.

  “My student, Masoj, has informed me of your fine prog-ress” Alton DeVir said to Drizzt one day.

  “Thank you, Master Faceless One” Drizzt replied hesi-tantly, more than a little intimidated that a master of Sor-cere had invited him to a private audience.

  “How do you perceive magic, young warrior?” Alton asked. “Has Masoj impressed you?”

  Drizzt didn't know how to respond. Truly, magic had not impressed him as a profession, but he did not want to insult a master of the craft. “I find the art beyond my abilities” he said tactfully. “For others, it seems a powerful course, but i believe my talents are more closely linked to the sword”

  “Could your weapons defeat one of magical power?” Al-ton snarled. He quickly bit back the sneer, trying not to tip off his intent.

  Drizzt shrugged. “Each has its place in battle” he replied.

  “Who could say which is the mightier? As with every com-bat, it would depend upon the individuals engaged”

  “Well, what of yourself?” Alton teased. “First in your class, I have heard, year after year. 'The masters of Melee-Magthere speak highly of your talents”

  Again Drizzt found himself flushed with embarrassment. More than that, though, he was curious as to why a master and student of Sorcere seemed to know so much about him.

  “Could you stand against one of magical powers?” asked Alton. “Against a master of Sorcere, perhaps?”

  “I do not-” Drizzt began, but Alton was too enmeshed in his own ranting to hear him.

  “Let us learn!” the Faceless One cried. He drew out a thin wand and promptly loosed a bolt of lightning at Drizzt. Drizzt was down into a dive before the wand even dis-charged. The lightning bolt sundered the door to Alton's highest chamber and bounced about the adjoining room, breaking items and scorching the walls.

  Drizzt came rolling back to his feet at the side of the room, his scimitars drawn and ready. He still was unsure of this master's intent.

  “How many can you dodge?” Alton teased, waving the wand in a threatening circle. “What of the other spells I have at my disposal-those that attack the mind, not the body?”

  Drizzt tried to understand the purpose of this lesson and the part he was meant to play in it. Was he supposed to at-tack this master?

  “These are not practice blades” he warned, holding his weapons out toward Alton.

  Another bolt roared in, forcing Drizzt to dodge back to his original position. “Does this seem like practice to you, fool-ish Do'Urden?” Alton growled. “Do you know who I am?” Alton's time of revenge had come-damn the orders of Matron SiNafay!

  Just as Alton was about to reveal the truth to Drizzt, a dark form slammed into the master's back, knocking him to

  the floor. He tried to squirm away but found himself help-lessly pinned by a huge black panther. Drizzt lowered the tips of his blades; he was at a loss to understand any of this.

  “Enough, Guenhwyvar!” came a call from behind Alton. Looking past the fallen master and the cat, Drizzt saw Masoj enter the room.

  The panther sprang away from Alton obediently and moved to rejoin its master. It paused on its way, to consider Drizzt, who stood ready in the middle of the room. So enchanted was Drizzt with the beast, the graceful flow of its rippling muscles and the intelligence in its saucer eyes, that he paid little attention to the master who had just at- tacked him, though Alton, unhurt, was back to his feet and obviously upset.

  “My pet” Masoj explained. Drizzt watched in amazement as Masoj dismissed the cat back to its own plane of existence by sending its corporeal form back into the magical onyx statuette he held in his hand.

  “Where did you get such a companion?” Drizzt asked.

  “Never underestimate the powers of magic” Masoj re-plied, dropping the figurine into a deep pocket. His beaming smile became a scowl as he looked to Alton.

  Drizzt, too, glanced at the faceless master. That a stu-dent had dared to attack a master seemed impossibly odd to the young fighter. This situation grew more puzzling each minute.

  Alton knew that he had overstepped his bounds, and that he would have to pay a high price for his foolishness if he could not find some way out of this predicament.

  “Have you learned your lesson this day?” Masoj asked Drizzt, though Alton realized that the question was also di-rected his way.

  Drizzt shook his head. “I am not certain of the point of all this” he answered honestly.

  “A display of the weakness of magic” Masoj explained, try-

  ing to disguise the truth of the encounter, “to show you the disadvantage caused by the necessary intensity of a casting wizard; to show you the vulnerability of a mage obsessed-” he eyed Alton directly at this point-“with spellcasting. The complete vulnerability when a wizard's intended prey be-comes his overriding concern”

  Drizzt recognized the lie for what it was, but he could not understand the motives behind this day's events. Why would a master of Sorcere attack him so? Why would Ma-soj, still just a student, risk so much to come to his defense?

  “Let us bother the master no more” Masoj said, hoping to deflect Drizzt's curiosity further. “Come with me now to our practice hall. 1 will show you more of Guenhwyvar, my mag-ical pet”

  Drizzt looked to Alton, wondering what the unpredicta- ble master would do next.

  “Do go” Alton said calmly, knowing the facade Masoj had begun would be his only way around the wrath of his adopted matron mother. “I am confident that this day's les- son was learned” he said, his eyes on Masoj.

  Drizzt glanced back to Masoj, then back to Alton again. He let it go at that. He wanted to learn more of Guen-hwyvar.

  When Masoj had Drizzt back in the privacy of the tutor's own room, he took out the polished onyx figurine in the form of a panther and called Guenhwyvar back to his side. The mage breathed easier after he had introduced Drizzt to the cat, for Drizzt spoke no more about the incident with Alton.

  Never before had Drizzt encountered such a wonderful magical item. He sensed a strength in Guenhwyvar, a dig- nity, that belied the beast's enchanted nature. Truly, the cat's sleek muscles and graceful moves epitomized the hunt-ing qualities drow elves so dearly desired. Just by watching Guenhwyvar's movements, Drizzt believed, he could im-prove his own techniques.

  Masoj let them play together and spar together for hours, grateful that Guenhwyvar could help him smooth over any

  damage that foolish Alton had done.

  Drizzt had already put his meeting with the faceless mon- ter far behind him.

  “Matron SiNafay would not understand” Masoj warned Alton when they were alone later that day.

  “You will tell her” Alton reasoned matter-of-factly. So frus-trated was he with his failure to kill Drizzt that he hardly cared.

  Masoj shook his head. “She need not know”

  A suspicious smile found its way across Alton's disfigured face. “What do you want?” he asked coyly. “Your tenure here is almost at its end. What more might a master do for Masoj?”

  “Nothing” Masoj replied. “I want nothing from you”

  “Then why?” Alton demanded. “I desire no debts follow. ing my paths. This incident is to be done with here and now!”

  “It is done” Masoj replied. Alton didn't seem convinced.

  “What could I gain from telling Matron SiNafay of your foolish actions?” Masoj reasoned. “Likely, she would kill you, and then the coming war with House Do'Urden would have no basis. You are the link we need to justify the attack. I de-sire this battle; I'll not risk it for the little pleasure I might find in your tortured demise”

  “I was foolish” Alton admitted, more somberly. “I had not planned to kill Drizzt when I summoned him here, just to watch him and learn of him, so that I might savor more when the time to kill him finally arrived. Seeing him before me, though, seeing a cursed Do'Urden standing unpro-tected before me . . . !”

  “I understand” said Masoj sincerely. “I have had those same feelings when looking upon that one”

  “You have no grudge against House Do'Urden”

  “Not the house” Masoj explained, “that one! I have watched him for nearly a decade, studied his movements and his attitudes”

  “You like not what you see?” Alton asked, a hopeful tone in his voice.

  “He does not belong” Masoj replied grimly. “After six months by his side, I feel I know him less now than I ever did. He displays no ambition, yet has emerged victorious from his class's grand melee nine years in a row. It's unprec-edented! His grasp of magic is strong; he could have been a wizard, a very powerful wizard, if he had chosen that course of study”

  Masoj clenched his fist, searching for the words to convey his true emotions about Drizzt. “It is all too easy for him” he snarled. “There is no sacrifice in Drizzt's actions, no scars for the great gains he makes in his chosen profession”

  “He is gifted” Alton remarked, “but he trains as hard as any I have ever seen, by all accounts”

  “That is not the problem” Masoj groaned in frustration.

  There was something less tangible about Drizzt Do'Urden's character that truly irked the young Hun'ett. He couldn't recognize it now, because he had never witnessed it in any dark elf before, and because it was so very foreign to his own makeup. What bothered Masoj-and many other stu- dents and masters-was the fact that Drizzt excelled in all the fighting skills the drow elves most treasured but hadn't given up his passion in return. Drizzt had not paid the price that the rest of the drow children were made to sacrifice long before they had even entered the Academy.

  “It is not important” Masoj said after several fruitless min- utes of contemplation. “I will learn more of the young Do'Urden in time”

  “His tutelage under you was finished, I had thought” said Alton. “He goes to Arach- Tinilith for the final six months of his training-quite inaccessible to you”

  “We both graduate after those six months” Masoj ex-plained. “We will share our indenture time in the patrol

  forces together“

  “Many will share that time” Alton reminded him. “Dozens of groups patrol the corridors of the region. You may never even see Drizzt in all the years of your term”

  “I already have arranged for us to serve in the same group” replied Masoj. He reached into his pocket and pro-duced the onyx figurine of the magical panther.

  “A mutual agreement between yourself and the young Do'Urden” Alton reasoned with a complimentary smile.

  “It appears that Drizzt has become quite fond of my pet” Masoj chuckled.

  “Too fond?” Alton warned. “You should watch your back for scimitars”

  Masoj laughed aloud. “Perhaps our friend, Do'Urden, should watch his back for panther claws!”

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