Author:R.A. Salvatore

“They’ll join us,” High Captain Kurth insisted to his gathered commanders.

“Lady Dahlia, perhaps,” replied one, a wizard named Furey, though he shook his head even in partial agreement. Furey served as Ship Kurth’s historian, which was no small role. “This other one, Drizzt Do’Urden …” He shook his head more forcefully.

“It’s true that he fought beside Deudermont?” Beniago asked.

“Indeed,” Furey answered. “Drizzt played no small role in the fall of the Hosttower of the Arcane.”

“Something for which we should be grateful, in the end,” Kurth said with a lighthearted chuckle.

“Indeed, in his own convoluted way he facilitated the rise of the five high captains unbridled,” Furey said. “And from what I’ve been able to garner in the old records and in the stories passed down through the decades, Drizzt tried to warn Deudermont against his course.”

“But not out of any favorability toward the high captains,” Kurth put in. “I’ve spoken with some of my elderly minions and they assure me that Drizzt Do’Urden has never been known as a friend to Ship Kurth or any other Luskan Ship.”

“Drizzt understands the power of what is,” Furey remarked, and Kurth looked at him curiously.

But Beniago caught on to the logic and added, “He realized that Deudermont would create instability, and that there were others ready to leap in and assume the power when the cloak of the Hosttower was cast aside.”

“But he hated the high captains,” said Furey.

Kurth sat back in his chair and lifted his glass of whiskey for a deep swallow as he tried to sort it all through. “Perhaps enough years have passed,” he remarked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“And we now are, after all, what is,” Beniago added.

“He’s an idealist, who served a goodly dwarf king,” Furey said. “He’s the enemy of thieves and rogues.”

“And yet he’s often seen in the company of Jarlaxle,” Beniago put in, and the others looked at him curiously. “I have friends at the Cutlass,” the assassin of Ship Kurth went on. “When Drizzt and King Bruenor were assailed in there a couple of months ago by some band of ruffians, Jarlaxle and his dwarf friend Athrogate intervened, and joined in the fray. When Drizzt and King Bruenor left Luskan soon after, Jarlaxle and Athrogate went with them.”

“You’re certain of this?” Kurth asked, and Beniago nodded. Kurth looked to Furey.

“It could be true,” the wizard admitted.

“If Drizzt will conspire with the likes of Bregan D’aerthe, what might his objections be to the practices of the high captains?”

“Because we’re not as vile as the drow?” Beniago asked with a laugh.

“Not for lack of trying, I hope,” Kurth replied, and joined in the jollity.

“And Lady Dahlia should welcome our protection,” Furey admitted.

“Then there is hope!” Kurth announced, and lifted his glass in toast. The others all did likewise, and with enthusiasm—except for Beniago, who remained caught by the improbability of Furey’s last proclamation. “Truly I would value their addition to my network.”

“We’ll be knowin’ in the morning,” remarked Klutarch, who had remained silent since their departure from the jeweler’s shop. Klutarch’s role was, after all, to be a second set of ears for Kurth.

“We’ll know their answer first,” Kurth said. “And if it’s not one we wish to hear, we’ll use Ship Rethnor’s designs on the pair to convince them further that our alliance is in their best interest—in fact, that it’s their only hope.”

“Easily enough accomplished,” Furey assured his high captain. “Though I fear we may lose a considerable number of potential recruits manning such a ruse against the drow’s blades and Dahlia’s deadly staff.”

Normally, such a lead would have prompted Beniago to offer similar assurances to Kurth, but the assassin was still caught up mulling Furey’s remark that Dahlia would welcome their protection, trying to figure out why that seemingly obvious conclusion rattled so clumsily in his thoughts. He looked up at long last to consider Kurth, Klutarch, and Furey, all plotting about where and when they might launch their phony ambush to further entice Dahlia and Drizzt.

No one in Ship Kurth knew the city better than Beniago. He should have taken the lead in the plans. He was, after all, the Ship’s assassin, the warrior who knew the shadows and the streets, the disposition of the rival ship forces, and the pulse of the City of Sails. But he couldn’t. Something bothered him. Something wasn’t quite right.

Dahlia looked down at the sleeping Drizzt Do’Urden, at the moonbeam playing on the sparkles of perspiration dotting his muscular back. She told herself that he was merely another in her long string of encounters—well-played, to be sure, but nothing extraordinary.

She told herself that, but she didn’t believe it.

There was something very different about that passionate night compared to the dozens Dahlia had experienced before, and the distinction lay in the lead-up and not merely in the act itself.

She didn’t have the time to pause and consider all of that, however. Dahlia reminded herself that she had work to do, that she had alliances to smash to pieces, that she had a road to blaze before a different trail was forced upon her.

She dressed quietly, staring at Drizzt the whole time. She left her boots off, lacing them together and flipping them over her shoulder, then quietly padded to the door. She held it firmly in place as she gently lifted the staff out of its locking position. Then, with a last glance back at Drizzt, Dahlia eased the door open.

She stepped to the threshold, and seeing no one about—it was past midnight, after all—she bent low and set the end of her staff down to a spot amidst the rubble. Dahlia took a deep breath and swung herself out past the broken porch, landing lightly on the cobblestones of the empty street.

She quickly pulled her boots on, broke her staff into flails so she could more easily carry it, and ran on through the moonlit streets of sleeping Luskan.

She stood outside the small jewelry shop for quite a while, noting the sparse movements on the street, looking for any patterns she might exploit. There were a few city guards in the area, but of course, Dahlia could expect that most of them wouldn’t care at all about Ship Kurth’s jeweler. That was the way of Luskan: City guards were Ship guards, with loyalty to one high captain alone.

Using the same maneuver that had brought her into the second-story apartment above the broken porch, Dahlia was soon atop the shop’s roof. She picked her way to the apex and from there calculated the area that would be above the case of diamonds. Using her staff, she prodded the slate tiles and found, to her satisfaction, that more than a few had loosened in the harsh sea air of Luskan. Always wet, always windy, often icy, the City of Sails felt the cold ocean’s bluster keenly.

Dahlia tied off her coil of rope around the brick chimney and eased her way down to the spot. Using a two-foot section of her staff, she pried off tiles then poked at the rotten boards beneath them. Soon she’d removed enough of the roofing to poke her arms and head through the hole. She lit a candle and nodded in satisfaction when she noted that she was directly above the case. With the rope secured around her waist and looped through a metal eye-hole in her harness, she gradually released the rope and lowered herself into the room, head down.

She came to a stop just above the case and set the candle atop the glass. She had a glass-cutter and a suction cup in her pack, and was considering whether to use it or take a more straightforward route when a voice made up her mind for her.

“You so disappoint me,” Beniago remarked, coming out of the shadows at the side of the room.

Dahlia reacted as soon as the first word had left his mouth. She poked down with Kozah’s Needle in one hand, shattering the top sheet of glass on the case. At the same time, she flipped the latch on the eye-hole of her harness, freeing herself from the rope, and caught the rope enough with her free hand to spin herself over, dropping to straddle the case with one foot atop either side of its metal skeleton.

“I’ll try to do better,” she replied coolly, as if she’d expected the man all along. She went into a defensive crouch, setting her boots more firmly on the narrow rim of the case and turning her eight-foot staff slowly in her hands in front of her.

Beniago came closer, walking a zigzag path as if expecting Dahlia to throw some missile his way. Barely five strides from her, he looked at her then down at the broken case, and shook his head.

“The diamond,” he said, “offered to you by High Captain Kurth as a gift.”

“There’s no such thing as a gift.”

“Cynical, pretty lady.”

“Taught by bitter experience. Gifts have conditions.”

“And would those conditions have been such a bad thing, particularly in light of your relationship with Ship Rethnor, a formidable foe?”

“They don’t frighten me.”

“Obviously not.”

“Nor does Ship Kurth.”

“But still, I would be remiss in my duties to High Captain Kurth if I didn’t once more put forth our offer. Take your chosen diamond—”

The words had barely left his mouth when Dahlia exploded into motion. She pulled her staff into two four-foot lengths and turned them down like great pincers. With practiced control, she squeezed the velvet wrapping and the diamond between them and with a flick of her wrists, sent the stone flying up into the air in front of her. She snapped her staff back together, let go with one hand, and deftly used her free hand to redirect the stone as it descended right into her pocket. And all the time, even in the moment it took to execute the entire maneuver, Dahlia kept her gaze locked on Beniago.

The assassin showed his amusement, and perhaps amazement, with a grin and a shake of his head.

“Take your chosen diamond,” he repeated, chuckling beneath the words, “and I’ll even pay for the repair of the case—and glass is not so cheap in Luskan this time of the year! So you see? You have created a better bargain for yourself already. Join us …”


“My good lady …”


“Then I must take back the diamond.”

“Please try.”

A sword appeared in Beniago’s left hand, his jeweled dagger in his right—and for a moment, Dahlia thought that a strange combination, since her previous observations of Beniago had made her think him right-handed.

“No matter,” she whispered.

She leaped from the case, landing halfway between it and her opponent, setting her feet as she touched down perfectly to sweep her long staff out in front of her. She halted her subsequent backhand mid-swing, retracted it, and stepped forward, thrusting the staff as a spear for Beniago’s belly.

A lesser opponent might have been clipped by the swing and prodded hard by the thrust, but she got nowhere near to hitting Beniago—nor did she expect to. What Dahlia had hoped was that Beniago would slap at Kozah’s Needle with his sword perhaps, so that she could share a bit of lightning energy with her opponent, perhaps even jolting his sword from his grasp.

But Beniago not only avoided any such incidental contact, he smiled at Dahlia as if to show her that he knew what she was trying to do.

That didn’t concern Dahlia, though. Quite the opposite. She preferred her opponents capable and well-schooled. She stabbed again with the staff and jumped forward to drive Beniago back, and indeed he did retreat, but the aggressive elf warrior discovered something in that attack: Beniago had not disabled the floor traps!

The floorboards collapsed beneath Dahlia’s lead foot and only her agile reaction stopped her from sliding into the suddenly-revealed pit. Still, her foot did go in enough to tap the nearest of the many spikes within, wicked and pointed things that easily punctured the hard sole of her boot and pricked at the bottom of her foot.

She felt the slight puncture, almost immediately accompanied by a burning pain. She had no doubt that the spike was poisoned, but could only hope it hadn’t penetrated her flesh enough to deliver a killing dose.

Beniago seized the opportunity to charge forward, leading halfheartedly with his sword, and the off-balance Dahlia did well to slap it aside, though she couldn’t focus her energy enough to apply the weapon’s signature lightning blast. She did even better in her subsequent retreat, just barely avoiding the brunt of the man’s main attack with his jeweled dagger.

Dahlia fell away and turned her head, but still got scratched by the small blade. Just scratched.

And in that moment, thinking to reverse and press the man, Dahlia found out the awful truth.

She’d been barely nicked, a slight scratch across her cheek, but in that contact between Beniago’s blade and her flesh, Dahlia knew doom. True doom. She sensed her soul being pulled forth, as if the dagger drank of her very life essence. She felt the coldness of utter obliteration, the emptiness of nothingness. She felt as violated as she had on that long-ago day when Herzgo Alegni had assaulted her village and torn asunder her childhood.

She retreated as fast as she dared, not wanting to put her feet down with any weight on a floor lined with deadly traps.

And they were deadly, she knew now, for her punctured foot began to grow numb, and it took considerable concentration with each step for Dahlia to stop it from rolling under and buckling.

Beniago pursued, smiling as if his kill was surely at hand.

Dahlia forced herself through it all and shook her head against the unnerving and unholy power of that wicked dagger. She broke her long staff into two, then snapped those two four-foot lengths into flails and sent them immediately spinning, up and over and out at her pursuer.

With her wounded foot, time was against her, she feared, so she went on the attack, striding forward, lashing out with the flails one after the other. Her assassin opponent ducked and dodged left and right, and tried to keep her at bay with his long sword, all the while holding that awful dagger cocked at his side, ready to strike like a poisonous serpent. Dahlia quickly realized that Beniago was making the same mistake of so many before: He was trying to parry her spinning sticks in such a way as to cut the ties between the poles.

She launched her right-hand flail in an arcing, downward-diagonal attack, and Beniago backhand parried with his sword, forcing the blade in against the handle-pole of Dahlia’s weapon. As she followed through, Beniago slid his sword quickly up and out, hoping that the countering weight of her swing would create enough resistance for him to slice the binding tie cleanly.

But this was Kozah’s Needle, imbued with great and powerful magic, and no blade in existence had the edge to accomplish such a feat. To his great credit, Beniago was quick enough not to fall into the obvious trap, at least, retracting his blade before Dahlia could catch the swinging pole of her weapon and twist his sword from his grasp.

Instead the elf shifted her left foot forward and turned her hips, her second weapon coming in hard, driving Beniago back in full retreat.

Dahlia shadowed his every step, imagining his boot prints and filling them with her own feet.

“Well done!” Beniago congratulated after a few such rounds had him all the way back near the shadows where he’d first appeared. He’d barely finished speaking, though, when he darted out to the side, springing away and even turning his back on the pursuing Dahlia as he executed a series of darts left and right, combined with seemingly wild leaps. He jumped up onto the broken diamond case and sprang far away, and with that visual barrier between himself and Dahlia, he moved even faster, spinning sidelong in one leap so that he could disguise his landing.

Dahlia came over the case as quickly as she could manage, but there was too much room between her and Beniago now, and she couldn’t gauge his exact steps.

“Have you discerned the pattern of the floor traps?” Beniago teased. “But wait, how could you, since there’s no pattern?”

As he continued to laugh at her, the woman glanced, ever so slightly, over her shoulder, back at the broken case and the hanging rope. Her punctured foot throbbed, and the burning sensation began creeping up her leg.

Beniago grinned, apparently catching on to her distressed look, and he moved into position to intercept should she try to escape up the rope.

“You disappoint me,” he said. “You would leave our well-fought battle?”

“Well fought?” Dahlia echoed. “On this field of your choosing? In this place of devilish traps, which you know and I do not?”

“You will learn it soon enough,” Beniago taunted her, and Dahlia came on then fiercely.

Beniago had moved, seemingly inadvertently, to a place where she could get at him over floorboards she’d already tread.

Her flails worked in wide circles, diagonally, her momentum growing, and Beniago didn’t retreat. He fell lower into a crouch, blades ready to defend. Dahlia flipped a forward somersault, just to hide her attack angles, and landed in a full sprint at the man.

Or tried to.

The floorboards were no longer solid, no longer safe, and as Dahlia touched down, a board beneath her boot gave way. She managed to hold her footing and felt no sting of a spike this time, and hoped she’d passed it by quickly enough.

But something lashed out at her, whipping at her trailing ankle and wrapping around it. Unable to stop, she wrenched her hip and knee, and went down hard.

And Beniago was moving as well, leaping back up to the case, towering over her and coming down hard from on high.

Dahlia rolled to her back and kicked up with her free foot, and untangled her flails to ward away the assassin’s blades, particularly that awful dagger. She had no choice now and unloaded Kozah’s Needle’s pent up lightning energy with each connection, buying herself time by forcing Beniago back and away, stinging him with sharp crackles of power.

She tried to get her free foot under her, but the leathery lash snaring her trailing foot more than held her, it was dragging her! She heard a grinding sound from the displaced floorboard behind her.

“It’s not too late, Lady,” Beniago said, his teeth chattering with Kozah’s Needle’s residual energy. “Ship Kurth desires your services.”

Dahlia threw herself into a sitting position and grabbed at the lash, to find that the obviously magical cord had wrapped over upon itself, knotting around her ankle. She thought to go for her small knife, but her instinct told her that her meager utility blade would be of no use against the tendril. She flipped the end of one flail up high and snapped her wrist hard, flipping it and driving it straight down. She released lightning energy as it connected on the floorboard and blew a clean hole with the force and the magic, sinking the pole deeply into the wood. She threw herself against that pole, gripping and pulling for all her life.

But the gears of the trap kept turning, kept dragging her. She wriggled her foot, trying to extricate it from the boot. Her arms stretched out inexorably from her body, and she hadn’t the strength to resist the pull.

Her arms stretched above her head as she stubbornly held on to her anchoring flail pole. She wriggled and jerked her foot every which way. Her frustration mounted—she almost had her foot free when Beniago’s dagger flashed in front of her eyes.

“Last chance, Dahlia,” he said, the blade poised to strike and with Dahlia having no way to prevent it.

So Lady Dahlia did the only thing she could: She spat in his face.

With a growl of protest, Beniago slashed that awful knife toward the woman’s extended arms, and Dahlia instinctively recoiled, letting go.

“The pit take you then!” the assassin said, and there seemed as much regret in his tone as anger.

As if on cue, the grinding stopped.

Dahlia didn’t waste a heartbeat in rolling around and up to her knees, facing the assassin, her remaining flail whipping wildly as if she expected him to come charging in.

He didn’t, though, apparently too perplexed by the failure of the trap.

The riddle was soon answered as a dark form moved out from the side of the room, from the same area where Beniago had first appeared. The newcomer didn’t waste a word of introduction, just came out hard and fast, curving blades leading the way in a mesmerizing, dizzying dance.

Beniago turned and fled. He reached into a pouch and pulled forth some small ceramic globes and began throwing them down with each step. They hit and exploded with brilliant, blinding flashes, one after another, allowing Beniago to get to the door and out into the street.

Drizzt lost ground with each blinding flash-bomb. As Beniago shouldered his way out, the drow swung around and rushed to Dahlia. He leaped past her and drove Twinkle down hard on the magical lash, severing it cleanly.

He reached for Dahlia, but she didn’t take his offered hand. She leaped to her feet and kicked away the remaining length of enchanted tendril then strode indignantly to her planted flail and pulled it free of the floorboard. Her proud demeanor took a bit of a misstep, though, as she moved toward the broken display, for she stumbled on her now fully numb foot and burning leg, and nearly pitched headlong into the case.

Drizzt was right beside her, propping her.

She cast him a hateful look and pulled away, and indeed, Drizzt fell back a step, caught by surprise.

“I’m sorry,” Dahlia said, shaking her head against the wounded expression on her lover’s face. She reached out for him and tugged him to her. “I feel so much the fool,” she whispered into his ear as she hugged him tightly.

“Let us be gone,” Drizzt replied. “Don’t underestimate these people.” He reached for the rope hanging over the broken case.

“Without securing enough treasure for our life outside the city?” Dahlia quipped, and Drizzt turned back on her, his expression hard.

“Why, are you afraid of these foolish high captains and their scalawag armies?” she asked with feigned surprise.

Drizzt spent a long while digesting that, his expression moving to an inquisitive one, prying into Dahlia to discern her intent. The elf also noted a flicker of pain on the drow’s strong features, a revelation and a reminder to her—he was saying, clearly but without words, that he’d fought these men before, their ancestors at least, and to great loss and pain.

Dahlia didn’t want to push it any further. Drizzt’s pain resonated with her and she found, to her surprise, that she didn’t want to inflict any more on him.

“I had a plan to escape the lash,” she said, taking the rope from Drizzt and lifting herself up to the top of the case, and trying, unsuccessfully, to hide her unease as she planted her wounded foot on the metal rim. “I would have escaped, and Beniago would have dropped into the pit.”

Drizzt nodded, but obviously only to grant Dahlia her pride.

“I straightened my leg and felt the grip of the lash lessen,” the elf explained. She hooked her flails into her belt and began to climb. “When Beniago came back at me, I would’ve moved to the pit, freeing my foot.” She left it at that, for even in her ears, her words sounded inane.

Up on the roof, the couple scouted the city, looking for their best route out. All around them came sounds not typical in the sleeping city: doors creaking open, footfalls on a slate roof, a sharp whistle badly disguised as the call of a night bird.

Ship Kurth had awakened.

They climbed down and sprinted from shadow to shadow across the marketplace. At first, hints of pursuit came in the same curious sounds, the footsteps and the creaking doorways, but very soon, they could hear their pursuers clearly behind them, chasing them stride for stride.

Drizzt reached into his pouch and produced the onyx figurine, calling Guenhwyvar to his side. The panther, though tired from her exploits of the previous day, didn’t growl, but took his orders and leaped off into the shadows.

A chorus of shrieks informed Drizzt and Dahlia that Guenhwyvar had greeted the minions of Ship Kurth.

By the time they made the city wall, many enemies had revealed themselves, left, right, and behind. Up on the city parapet a handful of pirates raced to guard the ladders they could use to climb the wall. Drizzt started to pull out Taulmaril, his intent clearly to shoot those enemies blocking the ladders, but Dahlia held him back.

“Do you think I trained you at the apartment balcony for no good reason?” she asked, and when Drizzt looked at her quizzically, she executed her pole vault, easily bringing herself to the eight-foot parapet, though she nearly tumbled right back down when she tried to plant her numb leg.

She dropped the staff down to Drizzt and he wasted no time in joining her. When he got up beside her, he pulled out Taulmaril and skipped an arrow along the wall to the left and to the right, driving back the closest pursuers.

Someone from the shadows below responded with an arrow that nearly hit Dahlia. Drizzt replied with a shot of his own, the lightning arrow of the Heartseeker lighting up the man’s horrified expression just an instant before it blew him to the ground.

Drizzt and Dahlia ran off into the night, just a short way to the trees, where Drizzt called forth Andahar. He pulled Dahlia up behind him, and off the unicorn thundered, hooves pounding and bells singing a teasing melody to pursuers who couldn’t hope to catch them.

They kept up a swift pace down the south road, and when Drizzt finally slowed Andahar to a brisk trot, he struck up a conversation about the road ahead, about Neverwinter Wood and their waiting adversary, Sylora Salm. It didn’t take him long to recognize that it was a one-way dialogue.

He pulled Andahar up to a walk and felt Dahlia lean more heavily against him.

He turned to look over his shoulder, to stare into Dahlia’s open, empty eyes. She slid down, rubbing her face against his shoulder, leaving a trail of vomit. Too shocked to react, Drizzt didn’t catch her before she tumbled hard from Andahar’s back. She landed heavily upon the hard ground.

Drizzt leaped down beside her, called to her frantically, cradled her head, and stared into her eyes only to realize that she was not looking back.

Small bubbles of white foam rolled out her open lips.

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