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Homeland (part 1 chapter 28)

2006-08-28 22:09

  Chapter 28 Rightful Owner

  How long had it been? An hour? Two? Masoj paced the length of the gap between the two stalagmite mounds just a few feet from the entrance to the tunnel that Drizzt, and then Guenhwyvar, had taken. “The cat should have re-turned by now” the wizard grumbled, at the end of his pa. tience.

  Relief flooded through his face a moment later, when Guenhwyvar's great black head peered around the edge of the tunnel, behind one of the displacer beast statue guard. ians. The fur around the cat's maw was conspicuously wet with fresh blood.

  “It is done?” Masoj asked, barely able to contain a shout of elation. “Drizzt Do'Urden is dead?”

  “Hardly” came the reply. Drizzt, for all his idealism, had to admit a tinge of pleasure as a cloud of dread cooled the elated fires in the sinister wizard's cheeks.

  “What is this, Guenhwyvar?” Masoj demanded. “Do as I bid you! Kill him now!”

  Guenhwyvar stared blankly at Masoj, then lay at Drizzt's feet.

  “You admit your attempt on my life?” Drizzt asked. Masoj measured the distance to his adversary-ten feet. He might be able to get off one spell. Perhaps. Masoj had seen Drizzt move, quick and sure, and had little desire to . chance the attack if he could find another way out of this predicament. Drizzt had not yet drawn a weapon, though the young warrior's hands rested easily across the hilts of his deadly blades.

  “I understand” Drizzt continued calmly. “House Hun'ett and House Do'Urden are to battle”

  “How did you know?” Masoj blurted without thinking, too shocked by the revelation to consider that Drizzt might merely be goading him into a larger admission.

  “I know much but care little” Drizzt replied. “House Hun'ett wishes to wage war against my family. For what rea-son, I cannot guess”

  “For the vengeance of House DeVir!” came a reply from a different direction.

  Alton, standing on the side of a stalagmite mound, looked down at Drizzt.

  A smile spread over Masoj's face. The odds had so quickly changed.

  “House Hun'ett cares not at all for House DeVir” Drizzt re- plied, still composed in the face of this new development. “I have learned enough of the ways of our people to know that the fate of one house is not the concern of another”

  “But it is my concern” Alton cried, and he threw back the cowl of his hood, revealing the hideous face, scarred by acid for the sake of a disguise. “I am Alton DeVir, lone survivor of House DeVir! House Do'Urden will die for its crimes against my family, starting with you”

  “I was not even born when the battle took place” Drizzt protested.

  “Of little consequence!” Alton snarled. “You are a Do'Ur-den, a filthy Do'Urden. That is all that matters” Masoj tossed the onyx figurine to the ground. “Guenhwy-var!” he commanded. “Be gone!”

  The cat looked over its shoulder to Drizzt, who nodded his approval.

  “Be gone!” Masoj cried again. “I am your master! You can-not disobey me!”

  “You do not own the cat” Drizzt said calmly.

  “Who does, then?” Masoj snapped. “You?”

  “Guenhwyvar” Drizzt replied. “Only Guenhwyvar. I would think that a wizard would have a better understand-ing of the magic around him”

  With a low growl that might have been a mocking laugh, Guenhwyvar loped across the stone to the figurine and dis-sipated into smoky nothingness.

  The cat walked down the length of the planar tunnel, to-ward its home in the Astral Plane. Ever before had

  Guenhwyvar been anxious to make this journey, to escape the foul commands of its drow masters. This time, though, the cat hesitated with every stride, looking back over its shoulder to the dot of darkness that was Menzoberranzan.

  “Will you deal?” Drizzt offered.

  “You are in no position to bargain” Alton laughed, draw-ing out the slender wand that Matron SiNafay had given him.

  Masoj cut him short. “Wait” he said. “Perhaps Drizzt will prove valuable to our struggle against House Do'Urden” He eyed the young warrior directly. “You will betray your fam-ily?”

  “Hardly” Drizzt snickered. “ As I have already said to you, I care little for the coming conflict. Let House Hun'ett and House Do'Urden both be damned, as surely they will! My concerns are personal”

  “You must have something to offer us in exchange for your gain” Masoj explained. “Otherwise, what bargain can you hope to make?”

  “I do have something to give to you in return” Drizzt re- plied, his voice calm, “your lives” Masoj and Alton looked to each other and laughed aloud, but there was a trace of nervousness in their chuckles.

  “Give me the figurine, Masoj” Drizzt continued, un-daunted. “Guenhwyvar never belonged to you and will serve you no more”

  Masoj stopped laughing.

  “In return” Drizzt went on before the wizard could reply,

  “I will leave House Do'Urden and not take part in the battle”

  “Corpses do not fight” Alton sneered.

  “I will take another Do'Urden with me” Drizzt spat at him.

  “ A weapon master. Surely House Hun'ett will have gained an advantage if both Drizzt and Zaknafein-”

  “Silence!” Masoj screamed. “The cat is mine! I do not need any bargains from a pitiful Do'Urden! You are dead, fool, and House Do'Urden's weapon master will follow you to your grave!”

  “Guenhwyvar is free!” Drizzt growled.

  The scimitars came out in Drizzt's hands. He had never re-ally fought a wizard before, let alone two, but he remem-bered vividly from past encounters the sting of their spells. Masoj had already begun to cast, but of more concern was Alton, out of quick reach and pointing that slender wand.

  Before Drizzt ever decided his course of action, the issue was settled for him. A cloud of smoke engulfed Masoj and he fell back, his spell disrupted with the shock. Guenhwyvar was back.

  Alton was out of Drizzt's reach. Drizzt could not hope to get to the wizard before the wand went off, but to Guenhwyvar's streamlined feline muscles, the distance was not so great. Hind legs tamped a footing and snapped, launching the hunting panther through the air.

  Alton brought the wand to bear on this new nemesis in time and released a mighty bolt, scorching Guenhwyvar's chest. Greater strength than a single bolt, though, would be needed to deter the ferocious panther. Stunned but still fighting, Guenhwyvar slammed into the faceless wizard, dropping him off the back side of the stalagmite mound. The lightning bolt's flash stunned Drizzt as well, but he continued to pursue Masoj and could only hope that Guenhwyvar had survived. He rushed around the base of the other stalagmite mound and came face-to-face with Ma- soj, once again in the act of spellcasting. Drizzt didn't slow; he ducked his head and barreled into his opponent, his scimitars leading the way.

  He slipped right through his opponent-right through the image of his opponent!

  Drizzt crashed heavily into the stone and rolled aside, try-ing to escape the magical attack he knew was coming.

  This time, Masoj, standing fully thirty feet behind the pro-jection of his image, was taking no chances with a miss. He launched a volley of magical missiles of energy that veered unerringly to intercept the dodging fighter. They slammed into Drizzt, jolting him, bruising him under his skin.

  But Drizzt was able to shake away the numbing pain and regain his footing. He knew where the real Masoj was stand- ing now and had no intention of letting the trickster out of sight again.

  A dagger in his hand, Masoj watched Drizzt's stalking ap-proach.

  Drizzt didn't understand. Why wasn't the wizard prepar-ing another spell? The fall had reopened the wound in Drizzt's shoulder, and the magical bolts had torn his side and a leg. The wounds were not serious, though, and Masoj had no chance against him in physical combat.

  The wizard stood before him, unconcerned, dagger drawn and a wicked smile on his face.

  Face down on the hard stone, Alton felt the warmth of his own blood running freely between the melted holes that were his eyes. The cat was higher up the side of the mound, not yet fully recovered from the lightning bolt.

  Alton forced himself up and raised his wand for a second strike. …… but the wand had snapped in half.

  Frantically Alton recovered the other piece and held it up before his disbelieving eyes. Guenhwyvar was coming again, but Alton didn't notice.

  The glowing ends of the wand, a power building within the magical stick, enthralled him. “You cannot do that” Al- ton whispered in protest.

  Guenhwyvar leaped just as the broken wand exploded.

  A ball of fire roared up into Menzoberranzan's night, chunks of rubble rocketed off the great cavern's eastern wall and ceiling, and both Drizzt and Masoj were knocked from their feet.

  “Now Guenhwyvar belongs to no one}' Masoj sneered, tossing the figurine to the ground.

  “No DeVir remains to claim vengeance on House Do'Ur-den” Drizzt growled back, his anger holding off his despair. Masoj became the focus of that anger, and the wizard's

  mocking laughter led Drizzt toward him in a furious rush.

  Just as Drizzt got in range, Masoj snapped his fingers and was gone.

  “Invisible” Drizzt roared, slicing futilely at the empty air before him. His exertions took the edge from his blind rage and he realized that Masoj was no longer in front of him.

  How foolish he must seem to the wizard. How vulnerable!

  Drizzt crouched to listen. He sensed a distant chanting from up above, on the cavern wall.

  Drizzt's instincts told him to dive to the side, but his new understanding of wizards told him that Masoj would antici-pate such a move. Drizzt feigned to the left and heard the climactic words of the building spell. As the lightning blast thundered harmlessly to the side, Drizzt sprinted straight ahead, hoping his vision would return in time for him to get to the wizard.

  “Damn you!” Masoj cried, understanding the feint as soon as he had errantly fired. Rage became terror in the next in-stant, as Masoj caught sight of Drizzt, sprinting across the stone, leaping the rubble, and crossing the sides of the mounds with all the grace of a hunting cat.

  Masoj fumbled in his pockets for the components to his next spell. He had to be quick. He was fully twenty feet from the cavern floor, perched on a narrow ledge, but Drizzt was moving fast, impossibly fast!

  The ground beneath him did not register in Drizzt's con- scious thoughts. The cavern wall would have seemed un-climbable to him in a more rational state, but now he gave it not a care. Guenhwyvar was lost to him. Guenhwyvar was gone.

  That wicked wizard on the ledge, that embodiment of de- monic evil, had caused it. Drizzt sprang to the wall, found one hand free-he must have discarded one scimitar-and caught a tenuous hold. It wasn't enough for a rational drow, but Drizzt's mind ignored the protests of the muscles in his straining fingers. He had only ten feet to go.

  Another volley of energy bolts thudded into Drizzt, ham-mering the top of his head in rapid succession.

  “How many spells remain, wizard?” he heard himself defi-antly cry as he ignored the pain.

  Masoj fell back when Drizzt looked up at him, when the burning light of those lavender orbs fell upon him like a pro- nouncement of doom. He had seen Drizzt in battle many times, and the sight of the fighting young warrior had haunted him through all the planning of this assassination. But Masoj had never seen Drizzt enraged before. If he had, he never would have agreed to try to kill Drizzt. If he had, he would have told Matron SiNafay to go sit on a stalag-mite.

  What spell was next? What spell could slow the monster that was Drizzt Do'Urden?

  A hand, glowing with the heat of anger, grabbed the lip of the ledge. Masoj stomped on it with the heel of his boot. The fingers were broken-the wizard knew that the fingers were broken-but Drizzt, impossibly, was up beside him and the blade of a scimitar was through the wizard's ribs.

  “The fingers are broken!” the dying mage gasped in pro- test.

  Drizzt looked down at his hand and realized the pain for the first time. “Perhaps” he said absently, “but they will heal”

  Drizzt, limping, found his other scimitar and cautiously picked his way over the rubble of one of the mounds. Fight- ing the fear within his broken heart, he forced himself to peer over the crest at the destruction. The back side of the mound glowed eerily in the residual heat, a beacon for the awakening city.

  So much for stealth. .

  Pieces of Alton DeVir lay scattered at the bottom, around the wizard's smoldering robes. “Have you found peace, Faceless One?” Drizzt whispered, exhaling the last of his an- ger. He remembered the assault Alton had launched against

  him those years ago in the Academy. The faceless master and Masoj had explained it away as a test for a budding war-rior.

  “How long you have carried your hate” Drizzt muttered at the blasted bits of corpse.

  But Alton DeVir was not his concern now. He scanned the rest of the rubble, looking for some clue to GuenhwyYar's fate, not certain how a magical creature would fare in such a disaster. Not a sign of the cat remained, nothing that would even hmt that GuenhwyYar had ever been there.

  Drizzt consciously reminded himself that there was no hope, but the anxious spring in his steps mocked his stern visage. He rushed back down the mound and around the other stalagmite, where Masoj and he had been when the wand exploded. He spotted the onyx figurine immediately.

  He lifted it gently in his hands. It was warm, as though it, too, had been caught in the blast, and Drizzt could sense that its magic had diminished. Drizzt wanted to call the cat, then, but he didn't dare, knowing that the travel between the planes heavily taxed GuenhwyYar. If the cat had been in-jured, Drizzt figured that it would be better to give it some time to recuperate.

  “Oh, Guenhwyvar” he moaned, “my friend, my brave friend” He dropped the figurine into his pocket.

  He could only hope that Guenhwyvar had survived.

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