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Homeland (part 2 chapter 21)

2006-08-28 22:23

  CHAPTER 21

  LOST AND FOUND

  “Praise Lloth,” Matron Malice stammered, sensing the distant elation of her spirit-wraith. “He has Drizzt!” The matron mother snapped her gaze to one side, then the other, and her three daughters backed away at the sheer power of the emotions contorting her visage.

  “Zaknafein has found your brother!”

  Maya and Vierna smiled at each other, glad that this whole ordeal might finally be coming to a conclusion. Since the enactment of Zin-carla, the normal and necessary routines of House Do'Urden had virtually ceased, and every day their nervous mother had turned further and further inward, absorbed by the spirit-wraith's hunt.

  Across the anteroom, Briza's smile would have shown a different light to any who took the time to notice, an almost disappointed light.

  Fortunately for the first-born daughter, Matron Malice was too absorbed by distant events to take note. The matron mother fell deeper into her meditative trance, savoring every morsel of rage the spirit-wraith threw out, in the knowledge that her blasphemous son was on the receiving end of that anger. Malice's breathing came in excited gasps as Zaknafein and Drizzt played through their sword fight, then the matron mother nearly lost her breath altogether.

  Something had stopped Zaknafein.

  “No!” Malice screamed, leaping out of her decorated throne. She glanced around, looking for someone to strike or something to throw. “No!” she cried again. “It cannot be!”

  “Drizzt has escaped?” Briza asked, trying to keep the smugness out of her voice. Malice's subsequent glare told Briza that her tone might have revealed too much of her thoughts.

  “Is the spirit-wraith destroyed?” Maya cried in sincere distress.

  “Not destroyed, Malice replied, an obvious tremor in her usually firm voice. ”But once more, your brother runs free!“

  “Zin-carla has not yet failed,' Vierna reasoned, trying to console her excited mother.

  “The spirit-wraith is very close,' Maya added, picking up Vierna's cue.

  Malice dropped back into her seat and wiped the sweat out of her eyes. “Leave me,” she commanded her daughters, not wanting them to observe her in such a

  sorry state. Zin-carla was stealing her life away, Malice knew, for every thought, every hope, of her existence hinged on the spirit-wraith's success.

  When the others had gone, Malice lit a candle and took out a tiny, precious mirror. What a wretched thing she had become in the last few weeks. She had hardly eaten, and deep lines of worry creased her formerly glass-smooth, ebony skin. By appearances, Matron Malice had aged more in the last few weeks than in the century before that. “I will become as Matron Baenre,' she whispered in disgust, ”withered and ugly:' For perhaps the very first time in her long life, Malice began to wonder of the value of her continual quest for power and the merciless Spider Queen's favor. The thoughts disappeared as quickly as they had come, though. Matron Malice had gone too far for such silly regrets. By her strength and devotion, Malice had taken her house to the status of a ruling family and had secured a seat for herself on the prestigious ruling council.

  She remained on the verge of despair, though, nearly broken by the strains of the last years. Again she wiped the sweat from her eyes and looked into the little mirror.

  What a wretched thing she had become.

  Drizzt had done this to her, she reminded herself. Her youngest son's actions had angered the Spider Queen, his sacrilege had put Malice on the edge of doom.

  “Get him, my spirit-wraith,' Malice whispered with a sneer. At that moment of anger, she hardly cared what future the Spider Queen would layout for her.

  More than anything else in all the world, Matron Malice Do'Urden wanted Drizzt dead.

  They ran through the winding tunnels blindly, hoping that no monsters would rear up suddenly before them. With the danger so very real at their backs, the three companions could not afford the usual caution.

  Hours passed and still they ran. Belwar, older than his friends and with little legs working two strides for every one of Drizzt's and three strides for each of Clacker's, tired first, but that didn't slow the group. Clacker hoisted the burrow-warden onto a shoulder and ran on.

  How many miles they had covered they could not know when they at last broke for their first rest. Drizzt, silent and melancholy through all the trek, took up a guard position at the entrance to the small alcove they had chosen as a

  temporary camp. Recognizing his drow friend's deep pain, Belwar moved over to offer comfort.

  “Not what you expected, dark elf?” the burrow-warden asked softly. With no answer forthcoming, but with Drizzt obviously needing to talk, Belwar pressed on. “The drow in the cavern you knew. Did you claim that he was your father?”

  Drizzt snapped an angry glare on the svirfneblin, but his visage softened considerably when he took the moment to realize Belwar's concern.

  “Zaknafein,' Drizzt explained. ”Zaknafein Do'Urden, my father and mentor. It was he who trained me with the blade and who instructed me in all my life. Zaknafein was my only friend in Menzoberranzan, the only drow I have ever known who shared my beliefs:'

  “He meant to kill you,' Belwar stated flatly. Drizzt winced, and the burrow-warden quickly tried to offer him some hope. ”Did he not recognize you, perhaps?“

  “He was my father,' Drizzt said again, ”my closest companion for two decades:'

  “Then why, dark elf?”

  “That was not Zaknafein,' replied Drizzt. ”Zaknafein is dead, sacrificed by my mother to the Spider Queen:'

  “Magga cammara,' Belwar whispered, horrified at the revelation concerning Drizzt's parents. The straightforwardness with which Drizzt explained the heinous deed led the burrow-warden to believe that Malice's sacrifice was not so very unusual in the drow city. A shudder coursed through Belwar's spine, but he sublimated his revulsion for the sake of his tormented friend.

  “I do not yet know what monster Matron Malice has put in Zaknafein's guise,' Drizzt went on, not even noticing Belwar's discomfort.

  “A formidable foe, whatever it may be,' the deep gnome remarked.

  That was exactly what troubled Drizzt. The drow warrior he had battled in the illithid cavern moved with the precision and unmistakable style of Zaknafein Do'Urden.

  Drizzt's rationale could deny that Zaknafein would turn against him, but his heart told him that the monster he had crossed swords with was indeed his father.

  “How did it end?” Drizzt asked after a long pause.

  Belwar looked at him curiously.

  “The fight,' Drizzt explained. ”I remember the illithid but nothing more:'

  Belwar shrugged and looked to Clacker. “ Ask him,' the burrow-warden replied. ”A stone wall appeared between you and your enemies, but how it got there I can only guess:'

  Clacker heard the conversation and moved over to his friends. “I put it there,” he said, his voice still perfectly clear.

  “Powers of a pech?” Belwar asked. The deep gnome knew the reputation of pech powers with the stone, but not in enough detail to fully understand what Clacker had done.

  “We are a peaceful race,' Clacker began, realizing that this might be his only chance to tell his friends of his people. He remained more pechlike than he had since the polymorph, but already he felt the base urges of a hook horror creeping back in. ”We desire only to work the stone. It is our calling and our love. And with this symbiosis with the earth comes a measure of power. The stones speak to us and aid us in our toils:'

  Drizzt looked wryly at Belwar. “Like the earth elemental you once raised against me:'

  Belwar snorted an embarrassed laugh.

  “No,' Clacker said soberly, determined not to get sidetracked. ”Deep gnomes, too, can call upon the powers of the earth, but theirs is a different relationship. The svirfnebli's love of the earth is only one of their varied definitions of happiness:' Clacker looked away from his companions, to the rock wall. “Pech are brothers with the earth. It aids us as we aid it, out of affection:'

  “You speak of the earth as though it is some sentient being,' Drizzt remarked, not sarcastically, just out of curiosity.

  “It is, dark elf,' replied Belwar, imagining Clacker as he must have appeared before his encounter with the wizard, ”for those who can hear it:'

  Clacker's huge beaked head nodded in accord.

  “Svirfnebli can hear the earth's distant song, he said. ”Pech can speak to it directly:'

  This was all quite beyond Drizzt's understanding. He knew the sincerity in his companions' words, but drow elves were not nearly as connected to the rocks of the Underdark as the svirfnebli and the pech. Still, if Drizzt needed any proof of

  what Belwar and Clacker were hinting at, he had only to recall his battle against Belwar's earth elemental that decade ago, or imagine the wall that had somehow appeared out of nowhere to block his enemies in the illithid cavern.

  “What do the stones tell you now?” Drizzt asked Clacker. “Have we outdistanced our enemies?”

  Clacker moved over and put his ear to the wall. “The words are vague now,' he said with obvious lament in his voice. His companions understood the connotation of his tone. The earth was speaking no less clearly, it was Clacker's hearing, impeded by the impending return of the hook horror, that had begun to fade.

  “I hear no others in pursuit,' Clacker went on, ”but I am not so sure as to trust my ears:' He snarled suddenly, spun away, and walked back to the far side of the alcove.

  Drizzt and Belwar exchanged concerned looks, then moved to follow.

  “What is it?” the burrow-warden dared to ask the hook horror, though he could guess readily enough.

  “I am falling,' Clacker replied, and the grating that had returned to his voice only emphasized the point. ”In the illithid cavern, I was pech-more pech than ever before. I was pech in narrow focus. I was the earth.' Belwar and Drizzt seemed not to understand.

  “The wow-wall,' Clacker tried to explain. ”Bringing up such a wall is a task that only a g-g-group of pech elders could accomplish, working together through painstaking rituals:' Clacker paused and shook his head violently, as though he was trying to throw out the hook horror side. He slammed a heavy claw into the wall and forced himself to continue. “Yet I did it. I became the stone and merely lifted my hand to block Drizzt's enemies!”

  “And now it is leaving,' Drizzt said softly. ”The pech is falling away from your grasp once again, buried under the instincts of a hook horror:'

  Clacker looked away and again banged a hook against the wall in reply. Something in the motion brought him comfort, and he repeated it, over and over, rhythmically tapping as if trying to hold on to a piece of his former self.

  Drizzt and Belwar walked out of the alcove and back into the corridor to give their giant friend his privacy. A short time later, they noticed that the tapping had ceased, and Clacker stuck his head out, his huge, birdlike eyes filled with sorrow. His stuttered words sent shivers through the spines of his friends, for they found that they could not deny his logic or his desire.

  “P-please k-k-kill me!'

  PART 5

  SPIRIT

  Spirit. It cannot be broken and it cannot be stolen away. A victim in the throes of despair might feel otherwise, and certainly the victim's “master” would like to believe it so. But in truth, the spirit remains, sometimes buried but never fully removed.

  That is the false assumption of Zin-carla and the danger of such sentient animation. The priestesses, I have come to learn, claim it as the highest gift of the Spider Queen deity who rules the drow. I think not. Better to call Zin-carla Lloth's greatest lie.

  The physical powers of the body cannot be separated from the rationale of the mind and the emotions of the heart. They are one and the same, a compilation of a singular being. It is in the harmony of these three-body, mind, and heart-that we find spirit.

  How many tyrants have tried? How many rulers have sought to reduce their subjects to simple, unthinking instruments of profit and gain? They steal the loves, the religions, of their people, they seek to steal the spirit.

  Ultimately and inevitably, they fail. This I must believe. If the flame of the spirit's candle is extinguished, there is only death, and the tyrant finds no gain in a kingdom littered with corpses.

  But it is a resilient thing, this flame of spirit, indomitable and ever-striving. In some, at least, it will survive, to the tyrant's demise.

  Where, then, was Zaknafein, my father, when he set out purposefully to destroy me? Where was I in my years alone in the wilds, when this hunter that I had become blinded my heart and guided my sword hand often against my conscious wishes?

  We both were there all along, I came to know, buried but never stolen.

  Spirit. In every language in all the Realms, surface and Underdark, in every time and every place, the word has a ring of strength and determination. It is the

  hero's strength, the mother's resilience, and the poor man's arm. It cannot be broken, and it cannot be taken away.

  This I must believe.

  -Drizzt Do'Urden

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