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Homeland (part 2 chapter 4)

2006-08-28 22:23


  Flight From The Hunter

  Drizzt gave no thought at all to his actions as he went about his daily routines over the next few days. He would survive, he knew. The hunter would have it no other way. But the rising price of that survival struck a deep and discordant note in the heart of Drizzt Do'Urden.

  If the constant rituals of the day warded away the pain, Drizzt found himself unprotected at day's end. The encounter with his siblings haunted him, stayed in his thoughts as vividly as if it were recurring every night. Inevitably, Drizzt awoke terrified and alone, engulfed by the monsters of his dreams. He understood-and the knowledge heightened his helplessness-that no swordplay, however dazzling, could hope to defeat them.

  Drizzt did not fear that his mother would continue her quest to capture and punish him, though he knew beyond any doubt that she certainly would. This was his world, far different from Menzoberranzan's winding avenues, with ways that the drow living in the city could not begin to understand. Out in the wilds, Drizzt held confidence that he could survive against whatever nemeses Matron Malice sent after him.

  Drizzt also had managed to release himself from the overwhelming guilt of his actions against Briza. He rationalized that it was his siblings who had forced the dangerous encounter, and it was Briza, in trying to cast a spell, who had initiated the combat. Still, Drizzt realized that he would spend many days finding answers to the questions his actions had raised concerning the nature of his character. Had he become this savage and merciless hunter because of the harsh conditions imposed on him? Or was this hunter an expression of the being Drizzt had been all along? They were not questions that Drizzt would easily answer, but, at this time, they were not foremost among his thoughts.

  The thing that Drizzt could not dismiss about the encounter with his siblings was the sound of their voices, the melody of spoken words that he could understand and respond to. In all of his recollections of those few moments with Briza and Dinin, the words, not the blows, stood out most clearly. Drizzt clung to them desperately, listening to them over and over again in his mind and dreading the day when they would fade away. Then, though he might remember them, he would no longer hear them.

  He would be alone again.

  Drizzt pulled the onyx figurine out of his pocket for the first time since Guenhwyvar had drifted away from him. He placed it on the stone before him and looked at his wall scratches to determine just how long it had been since he had last summoned the panther. Immediately, Drizzt realized the futility of that approach. When was the last time he had scratched that wall? And what use were the markings anyway? How could Drizzt be certain of his count even if he dutifully notched the mark after every one of his sleep periods?

  “Time is something of that other world,' Drizzt mumbled, his tone clearly a lament. He lifted his dagger toward the stone, an act of denial against his own proclamation.

  “What does it matter?” Drizzt asked rhetorically, and he dropped the dagger to the ground. The ring as it struck the stone sent a shiver along Drizzt's spine, as though it was a bell signaling his surrender.

  His breathing came hard. Sweat beaded on his ebony brow, and his hands felt suddenly cold. All around him, the walls of his cave, the close stone that had sheltered him for years against the ever-encroaching dangers of the Underdark, now pressed in on him. He imagined leering faces in the lines of cracks and the shapes of rocks. The faces mocked him and laughed at him, belittling his stubborn pride.

  He turned to flee but stumbled on a stone and fell to the ground. He scraped a knee in the process and tore yet another hole in his tattered piwafwi. Drizzt

  hardly cared for his knee or his cloak when he looked back to the stumbling stone, for another fact assailed him, leaving him in utter confusion.

  The hunter had tripped. For the first time in more than a decade, the hunter had tripped!

  “Guenhwyvar!” Drizzt cried frantically. “Come to me! Oh, please, my Guenhwyvar!”

  He didn't know if the panther would respond. After their last less-than-friendly parting, Drizzt couldn't be certain that Guenhwyvar would ever walk by his side again. Drizzt clawed his way toward the figurine, every inch seeming a tedious fight in the weakness of his despair.

  Presently the swirling mist appeared. The panther would not desert its master, would not hold lasting judgment against the drow who had been its friend.

  Drizzt relaxed as the mist took form, using the sight of it to block the evil hallucinations in the stones. Soon Guenhwyvar was sitting beside him and casually licking at one great paw. Drizzt locked the panther's saucer eyes in a stare and saw no judgment there. It was just Guenhwyvar, his friend and his salvation.

  Drizzt curled his legs under him, sprang out to the cat, and wrapped the muscled neck in a tight and desperate embrace. Guenhwyvar accepted the hold without response, wiggling loose only enough to continue the paw-licking. If the cat, in its otherworldly intelligence, understood the importance of that hug, it offered no outward signs.

  Restlessness marked Drizzt's next days. He kept on the move, running the circuits of the tunnels around his sanctuary. Matron Malice was after him, he continually reminded himself. He could not afford any holes in his defenses.

  Deep inside himself, beyond the rationalizations, Drizzt knew the truth of his movements. He could offer himself the excuse of patrolling, but he had, in fact, taken flight. He ran from the voices and the walls of his small cave. He ran from Drizzt Do'Urden and back toward the hunter.

  Gradually, his routes took a wider course, often keeping him from his cave for many days at a stretch. Secretly, Drizzt hoped for an encounter with a powerful foe. He needed a tangible reminder of the necessity of his primal existence, a battle against some horrid monster that would place him in a mode of purely instinctive survival.

  What Drizzt found instead one day was the vibration of a distant tapping on the wall, the rhythmical, measured tap of a miner's pick.

  Drizzt leaned back against the wall and carefully considered his next move. He knew where the sound would lead him, he was in the same tunnels that he had wandered when he went in search of his lost rothe, the same tunnels where he had encountered the svirfneblin mining party a few weeks before. At that time, Drizzt could not admit it to himself, but it was no simple coincidence that he had happened into this region again. His subconscious had brought him to hear the tapping of the svirfneblin hammers, and, more particularly, to hear the laughter and chatter of the deep gnomes' voices.

  Now Drizzt, leaning heavily against a wall, truly was torn. He knew that going to spy on the svirfneblin miners would only bring him more torment, that in hearing their voices he would become even more vulnerable to the pangs of loneliness. The deep gnomes surely would go back to their city, and Drizzt again would be left empty and alone.

  But Drizzt had come to hear the tapping, and now it vibrated in the stone, beckoning him with a pull too great to ignore. His better judgment fought the urges that pulled him toward that sound, but his decision had been made even as he had taken the first steps into this region. He berated himself for his foolishness, shook his head in denial. In spite of his conscious reasoning, his legs were moving, carrying him toward the rhythmic sound of the tapping pickaxes.

  The alert instincts of the hunter argued against remaining near the miners even as Drizzt looked down from a high ledge upon the group of svirfnebli. But Drizzt did not leave. For several days, as far as he could measure, he stayed in the vicinity of the deep gnome miners, catching bits of their conversations wherever he could, watching them at work and at play. .

  When the inevitable day came that the miners began to pack up their wagons, Drizzt understood the depth of his folly. He had been weak in coming to the deep gnomes, he had denied the brutal truth of his existence. Now he would have to go back to his dark and empty hole, all the more lonely for the memories of the last few days.

  The wagons rolled out of sight down the tunnels toward the svirfneblin city. Drizzt took the first steps back toward his sanctuary, the moss-covered cave with the fast-running stream and the myconid-tended mushroom grove.

  In all the centuries of life he had left to live, Drizzt Do'Urden would never look upon that place again.

  He did not later remember when his direction had turned, it had not been a conscious decision. Something pulled at him-the lingering rumble of the ore-filled

  wagons perhaps-and only when Drizzt heard the slam of Blingdenstone's great outer doors did he realize what he meant to do.

  “Guenhwyvar,' Drizzt whispered to the figurine, and he flinched at the disturbing volume of his own voice. The svirfneblin guards on the wide staircase were engaged in a conversation of their own, though, and Drizzt was quite safe.

  The gray mist swirled around the statuette and the panther came to its master's call. Guenhwyvar's ears flattened and the panther sniffed around cautiously, trying to resolve the unfamiliar setting.

  Drizzt took a deep breath and forced the words from his mouth. “I wanted to say good-bye to you, my friend,' he whispered. Guenhwyvar's ears came up straight, and the pupils of the cat's shining yellow eyes widened then narrowed again as Guenhwyvar took a quick study of Drizzt.

  “In case……:' Drizzt continued. ”I cannot live out there anymore, Guenhwyvar. I fear I am losing everything that gives meaning to life. I fear I am losing my self. He glanced back over his shoulder at the ascending stairway to Blingdenstone. “And that is more precious to me than my life. Can you understand, Guenhwyvar? I need more, more than simple survival. I need a life defined by more than the savage instincts of this creature I have become:'

  Drizzt slumped back against the passageway's stone wall. His words sounded so logical and simple, yet he knew that every step up that stair to the deep gnome city would be a trial of his courage and his convictions. He remembered the day he'd stood on the ledge outside Blingdenstone's great doors. As much as he wanted to, Drizzt could not bring himself to follow the deep gnomes in. He was fully caught in a very real paralysis that had gripped him and held him firmly when he thought of rushing through the portals into the deep gnome city.

  “You have rarely judged me, my friend,' Drizzt said to the panther. ”And in those times, always you have judged me fairly. Can you understand, Guenhwyvar? In the next few moments, we may become lost from each other forever. Can you understand why I must do this?“

  Guenhwyvar padded over to Drizzt's side and nuzzled its great feline head into the drow's ribs.

  “My friend,' Drizzt whispered into the cat's ear. ”Go back now before I lose my courage. Go back to your home and hope that we shall meet again:' Guenhwyvar turned away obediently and paced to the figurine. The transition seemed too fast to Drizzt this time, then only the figurine remained. Drizzt scooped it up and considered it. He considered again the risk before him.

  Then, driven by the same subconscious needs that had brought him this far, Drizzt rushed to the stair and started up. Above him, the deep gnome conversation had ceased, apparently the guards sensed that someone or something was approaching.

  But the svirfneblin guards' surprise was no less when a drow elf walked over the top of the staircase and onto the landing before the doors of their city.

  Drizzt crossed his arms over his chest, a defenseless gesture that the drow elves took as a signal of truce. Drizzt could only hope that the svirfnebli were familiar with the motion, for his mere appearance had absolutely unnerved the guards. They fell over each other, scrambling around the small landing, some rushing to protect the doors to the city, others surrounding Drizzt within a ring of weapon tips, and still others rushing frantically to the stairs and down a few, trying to see if this dark elf was just the first of an entire drow war party.

  One svirfneblin, the leader of the guard contingent and apparently looking for some explanation, barked out a series of pointed demands at Drizzt. Drizzt shrugged helplessly, and the half-dozen deep gnomes around him jumped back a cautious step at his innocuous movement.

  The svirfneblin spoke again, more loudly, and jabbed the very sharp point of his iron spear in Drizzt's direction. Drizzt could not begin to understand or respond to the foreign tongue. Very slowly and in obvious view, he slid one hand down over his stomach to the clasp of his belt buckle. The deep gnome leader's hands wrung tightly over the shaft of his weapon as he watched the dark elf's every movement.

  A flick of Drizzt's wrist released the clasp and his scimitars clanged loudly on the stone floor.

  The svirfnebli jumped in unison, then recovered quickly and came in on him. On a single word from the leader of the group, two of the guards dropped their weapons and began a complete, and not overly gentle, search of the intruder. Drizzt flinched when they found the dagger he had kept in his boot. He thought himself stupid for forgetting the weapon and not revealing it openly from the beginning.

  A moment later, when one of the svirfnebli reached into the deepest pocket of Drizzt's piwafwi and pulled out the onyx figurine, Drizzt flinched even more.

  Instinctively, Drizzt reached for the panther, a pleading expression on his face.

  He received the butt end of a spear in the back for his efforts. Deep gnomes were not an evil race, but they held no love for dark elves. The svirfnebli had survived for centuries untold in the Underdark with few allies but many enemies,

  and they ever ranked the drow elves as foremost among the latter. Since the founding of the ancient city of Blingdenstone, the majority of all of the many svirfnebli who had been killed in the wilds had fallen at the ends of drow weapons.

  Now, inexplicably, one of these same dark elves had walked right up to their city doors and willingly surrendered his weapons.

  The deep gnomes bound Drizzt's hands tightly behind his back, and four of the guards kept their weapon tips resting on him, ready to drive them home at Drizzt's slightest threatening movement. The remaining guards returned from their search of the stairway, reporting no other drow elves anywhere in the vicinity. The leader remained suspicious, though, and he posted guards at various strategic positions, then motioned to the two deep gnomes waiting at the city's doors.

  The massive portals parted, and Drizzt was led in. He could only hope in that moment of fear and excitement that he had left the hunter out in the wilds of the Underdark.

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