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Homeland (part 2 chapter 26)

2006-08-28 22:23

  CHAPTER 26

  LIGHTS IN THE CEILING

  Belwar ran along the walkways to get to his friend. Drizzt did not watch the svirfneblin's approach. He kneeled on the narrow bridge, looking down to the bubbling spot in the green lake where Zaknafein had fallen. The acid sputtered and rolled, the scorched hilt of a sword came up into view, then disappeared under the opaque veil of green.

  “He was there all along,' Drizzt whispered to Belwar. ”My father.'

  “A mighty chance you took, dark elf,' the burrow-warden replied. ”Magga cammara! When you put your blades away, I thought he would surely strike you down:'

  “He was there all along,' Drizzt said again. He looked up at his svirfneblin friend. ”You showed me that:'

  Belwar screwed up his face in confusion.

  “The spirit cannot be separated from the body,' Drizzt tried to explain. ”Not in life.' He looked back to the ripples in the acid lake. “And not in undeath. In my years alone in the wilds, I had lost myself, so I believed. But you showed me the truth. The heart of Drizzt was never gone from this body, and so I knew it to be true with Zaknafein.'

  “Other forces were involved this time,' remarked Belwar. ”I would not have been so certain.'

  “You did not know Zaknafein,' Drizzt retorted. He rose to his feet, the moisture rimming his lavender eyes diminished by the sincere smile that widened across his face. ”I did. Spirit, not muscles, guides a warrior's blades, and only he who was truly Zaknafein could move with such grace. The moment of crisis gave Zaknafein the strength to resist my mother's will.'

  “And you gave him the moment of crisis,' reasoned Belwar. ”Defeat Matron Malice or kill his own son.' Belwar shook his bald head and crinkled up his nose. “ Magga cammara, but you are brave, dark elf.' He shot Drizzt a wink. ”Or stupid:'

  “Neither,' replied Drizzt. ”I only trusted in Zaknafein.' He looked back to the acid lake and said no more.

  Belwar fell silent and waited patiently while Drizzt finished his private eulogy. When Drizzt finally looked away from the lake, Belwar motioned for the drow to follow and started off along the walkway. “Come,' the burrow-warden said over his shoulder. ”Witness the truth of our slain friend:'

  Drizzt thought the pech a beautiful thing, a beauty inspired by the peaceful smile that at last had found its way onto his tormented friend's face. He and Belwar said a few words, mumbled a few hopes to whatever gods might be listening, and gave Clacker to the acid lake, thinking it a preferable fate to the bellies of the carrion eaters that roamed the Underdark corridors.

  Drizzt and Belwar set off again alone, as they had been when they first departed the svirfneblin city, and arrived in Blingdenstone a few days later.

  The guards at the city's mammoth gates, though obviously thrilled, seemed confused at their return. They allowed the two companions entrance on the burrow-warden's promise that he would go straight off and inform King Schnicktick,

  “This time, he will let you stay, dark elf,' Belwar said to Drizzt. ”You beat the monster:' He left Drizzt at his house, vowing that he would return soon with welcome news.

  Drizzt wasn't so sure of any of it. Zaknafein's final warning that Matron Malice would never give up her hunt remained clearly in his thoughts, and he could not deny the truth. Much had happened in the weeks that he and Belwar had been out of Blingdenstone, but none of it, as far as Drizzt knew, diminished the very real threat to the svirfneblin city. Drizzt had only agreed to follow the Belwar back to Blingdenstone because it seemed a proper first step to the plan he had decided upon.

  “How long shall we battle, Matron Malice?” Drizzt asked the blank stone when the burrow-warden had gone. He needed to hear his reasoning spoken aloud, to convince himself beyond doubt that his decision had been a wise one. “Neither gains in the conflict, but that is the way of the drow, is it not?” Drizzt fell back onto one of the stools beside the little table and considered the truth of his words.

  “You will hunt me, to your ruin or to mine, blinded by the hatred that rules your life. There can be no forgiveness in Menzoberranzan. That would go against the edict of your foul Spider Queen.

  “And this is the Underdark, your world of shadows and gloom, but it is not all the world, Matron Malice, and I shall see how long your evil arms can reach!”

  Drizzt sat silent for many minutes, remembering his first lessons at the drow Academy. He tried to find some clue that would lead him to believe that the stories of the surface world were no more than lies. The masters' deceptions at the drow Academy had been perfected over centuries and were infallibly complete. Drizzt soon came to realize that he simply would have to trust his feelings.

  When Belwar returned, grim-faced, a few hours later, Drizzt's resolve was firm.

  “Stubborn, orc-brained . . :' the burrow-warden gnashed through his teeth as he crossed through the stone dome. Drizzt stopped him with a heartfelt laugh.

  “They will not hear of your staying!” Belwar yelled at him, trying to steal his mirth.

  “Did you truly expect otherwise?” Drizzt asked him. “My fight is not over, dear Belwar. Do you believe that my family could be so easily defeated?”

  “We will go back out,' Belwar growled, moving over to take the stool near Drizzt. ”My generous-“ the word dripped of sarcasm-”king agreed that you could remain in the city for a week. A single week!“

  “When I leave, I leave alone,' Drizzt interrupted. He pulled the onyx figurine out of his pouch and reconsidered his words. ”Almost alone!'

  “We had this argument before, dark elf,' Belwar reminded him.

  “That was different!'

  “Was it?” retorted the burrow-warden. “Will you survive any better alone in the wilds of the Underdark now than you did before? Have you forgotten the burdens of loneliness?”

  “I'll not be in the Underdark,' Drizzt replied.

  “Back to your homeland you mean to go?” Belwar cried, leaping to his feet and sending his stool skidding across the stone.

  “No, never!” Drizzt laughed. “Never will I return to Menzoberranzan, unless it is at the end of Matron Malice's chains!'

  The burrow-warden retrieved his seat and eased back into it, curious.

  “Neither will I remain in the Underdark,' Drizzt explained. ”This is Malice's world, more fitting to the dark heart of a true drow!'

  Belwar began to understand, but he couldn't believe what he was hearing. “What are you saying'!” he demanded. “Where do you mean to go?”

  “The surface,' Drizzt replied evenly. Belwar leaped up again, sending his stone stool bouncing even farther across the floor.

  “I was up there once,' Drizzt continued, undaunted by the reaction. He calmed the svirfneblin with a determined gaze.

  “I partook of a drow massacre. Only the actions of my companions bring pain to my memories of that journey. The scents of the wide world and the cool feel of the wind bring no dread to my heart!'

  “The surface,' Belwar muttered, his head lowered and his voice almost a groan. ”Magga cammara. Never did I plan to travel there-it is not the place of a svirfneblin!' Belwar pounded the table suddenly and looked up, a determined smile on his face. “But if Drizzt will go, then Belwar will go by his side!”

  “Drizzt will go alone,' the drow replied. ”As you just said, the surface is not the place of a svirfneblin:'

  “Nor a drow,' the deep gnome added pointedly.

  “I do not fit the usual expectations of drow,' Drizzt retorted. ”My heart is not their heart, and their home is not mine. How far must I walk through the endless tunnels to be free of my family's hatred? And if, in fleeing Menzoberranzan, I chance upon another of the great dark elf cities, Ched Nasad or some similar place, will those drow, too, take up the hunt to fulfill the Spider Queen's desires that I be slain? No, Belwar, I will find no peace in the close ceilings of this world. You, I fear, would never be content removed from the stone of the Underdark. Your place is here, a place of deserved honor among your people:'

  Belwar sat quietly for a long time, digesting all that Drizzt had said. He would follow Drizzt willingly if Drizzt desired it so, but he truly did not wish to leave the Underdark. Belwar could raise no argument against Drizzt's desires to go. A dark elf would find many trials up on the surface, Belwar knew, but would they outweigh the pains Drizzt would ever experience in the Underdark?

  Belwar reached into a deep pocket and took out the light-giving brooch. “Take this, dark elf,' he said softly, flipping it to Drizzt, ”and do not forget me:'

  “Never for a single day in all the centuries of my future,' Drizzt promised. ”Never once:'

  The week passed all too quickly for Belwar, who was reluctant to see his friend go. The burrow-warden knew that he would never look upon Drizzt again, but he knew also that Drizzt's decision was a sound one. As a friend, Belwar took it upon himself to see that Drizzt had the best chance of success. He took the drow to the finest provisioners in all of Blingdenstone and paid for the supplies out of his own pocket. Belwar then procured an even greater gift for Drizzt. Deep gnomes had traveled to the surface on occasion, and King Schnicktick possessed several copies of rough maps leading out of the Underdark tunnels.

  “The journey will take you many weeks,' Belwar said to Drizzt when he handed him the rolled parchment, ”but I fear that never would you find your way at all without this:'

  Drizzt's hands trembled as he unrolled the map. It was true, he now dared to believe. He was indeed going to the surface. He wanted to tell Belwar at that moment to come along, how could he say good-bye to so dear a friend?

  But principles had carried Drizzt this far in his travels, and principles demanded that he not be selfish now.

  He walked out of Blingdenstone the next day, promising Belwar that if he ever came this way again, he would return to visit. Both of them knew he would never return.

  Miles and days passed uneventfully. Sometimes Drizzt held the magical brooch Belwar had given to him high, sometimes he walked in the quiet darkness. Whether coincidence or kind fate, he met no monsters along the course laid out on the rough map. Few things had changed in the Underdark, and though the parchment was old, even ancient, the trail was easily followed.

  Shortly after breaking camp on his thirty-third day out of Blingdenstone, Drizzt felt a lightening of the air, a sensation of that cold and vast wind he so vividly remembered.

  He pulled the onyx figurine from his pouch and summoned Guenhwyvar to his side. Together they walked on anxiously, expecting the ceiling to disappear around every bend.

  They came into a small cave, and the darkness beyond the distant archway was not nearly as gloomy as the darkness behind them. Drizzt held his breath and led Guenhwyvar out.

  Stars twinkled through the broken clouds of the night sky, the moon's silvery light splayed out in a duller glow behind one large cloud, and the wind howled a mountain song. Drizzt was high up in the Realms, perched on the side of a tall mountain in the midst of a mighty range.

  He minded not at all the bite of the breeze, but stood very still for a long time and watched the meandering clouds pass him on their slow aerial trek to the moon.

  Guenhwyvar stood beside him, unjudging, and Drizzt knew the panther always would.

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