Author:R.A. Salvatore

THAT GUARD RECOGNIZED ME,” DAHLIA WHISPERED TO DRIZZT as they moved into Luskan, past the guards at the gate, all of whom continued to stare at the departing elf. One in particular wore an expression that indeed seemed more than simple lust.

“Did he? Or are you not simply a remarkable sight?” Drizzt replied. “Perhaps he recognized me.”

“If he had recognized you, it would have been of no consequence, I’m sure,” Dahlia said. “I’ve warned you I’m not welcome in Luskan.”

“Yet you did not disguise yourself.”

“My troubles here are ten years old.”

“Yet you fear being recognized.”

“Fear it? Or welcome it?”

“Perhaps you would someday deign to tell me why you expect trouble here in Luskan,” Drizzt said. “I’m curious why you’re so unwelcome here.”

“I killed a high captain,” Dahlia admitted, almost flippantly. “Borlann the Crow. Ten years ago, right before I set out with Jarlaxle and Athrogate for the mines of Gauntlgrym, I killed him.”

Drizzt couldn’t help but smile.

“Would you like to know why I killed him?” she asked.

“Does it matter?”

“Does it matter to you?”

Drizzt shook his head, and though he was a bit taken aback by the level of his disinterest over the reasons and by his instinctive sense of callousness toward anyone who would have taken the mantle of Ship Rethnor, he found he could only smile wider. “If I had my way nearly a century ago, Borlann’s father would never have been conceived, and neither he.”

“You’ve had dealings with the House of Rethnor as well, I see.”

“Kensidan, Borlann’s grandfather, murdered a dear friend of mine when Ship Rethnor and the other high captains seized power in Luskan and condemned the city to the sorry state we see today. I had no choice but to flee, though I dearly wanted to pay Kensidan back for his efforts.”

“Then perhaps I’ve settled your debt to the family of this Kensidan.”

“Only if one believes in generational responsibility, and I don’t. I know nothing of Borlann.”

“He was a high captain,” Dahlia answered. “What more is there to know? He dealt death and misery on a daily basis, and often to those undeserving.”

“I need no justification from you. Do you need it from me?”

Dahlia spat on the ground.

Drizzt stared after her as she walked to the side of the road, entering an alleyway. She pulled a small coffer from her backpack and flipped open the lid. Drizzt eased just a bit closer, and glanced both ways along the street to make sure no one paid them too much heed. From this angle, he could see the coffer was comprised of multiple compartments, one of which Dahlia had opened. She pinched the powdery ingredients within and snapped her fingers in front of her face, sending the puff of brown powder all around her.

Then she reached into a different section of the coffer and came back with a silvery hair pick. She pulled off her hat and turned her back to Drizzt, bending low and away from him and flipping her black and red braid forward.

When she came back up and turned around, Drizzt sucked in his breath. Dahlia’s woad was gone, with not a blemish marring her perfect skin. And her hair, still that remarkable black and red, was fashioned in a completely different cut, short and stylish with a sharp part, hair angling down in front to almost cover her left eye.

She closed the coffer and tucked it into her pack, put her leather hat back on her head, and walked over to Drizzt.

“Do you like it?” she asked, and the attempt at vanity from Dahlia was as jarring to the drow as the abrupt change in her looks. Her entire appearance seemed softer, less aggressive and threatening.

He considered her question, and realized that he had no easy answer. The Dahlia he had known was not unattractive. Her fighting prowess, the danger of her, her ability to convey her hatred of the high captains by spitting on the road—he couldn’t help but be intrigued. But this other side—even her posture seemed somehow more feminine to him—reminded him of the warmth he’d once known—more conventional, perhaps, but no less attractive. Perhaps the greatest tease of all was the hint that Dahlia could be tamed.

Or could she?

Would Drizzt even want to?

“I accept your silence as compliment enough,” she teased, starting away.

“If you could so easily disguise yourself then why didn’t you do it before we entered Luskan?” Drizzt asked.

Dahlia replied with a wicked grin.

“It’s not as much fun if it isn’t as dangerous,” Drizzt answered for her.

“When there’s conviction behind your complaining, perhaps then I’ll listen more attentively, Drizzt Do’Urden,” Dahlia replied. “For now, just accept that I understand the truth of your sentiments and will welcome your blades when trouble finds us.”

“You’re walking with purpose,” Drizzt said, thinking it wise to change the subject. “Pray tell where you’re leading me.”

“Pray tell me why you brought me here. My course would’ve been south, to Neverwinter Wood, remember?”

“There are questions I need to answer first.”

“To see if Jarlaxle survived,” Dahlia replied, catching Drizzt by such surprise that he stopped walking, and had to scramble to catch up.

“It’s obvious,” she said when he neared. “Your affection for him, I mean.”

“He is helpful,” was all Drizzt would admit.

“He is dead,” Dahlia said. “We both saw him fall, and witnessed the explosive fury of the primordial right behind.”

Drizzt wasn’t sure of that, of course, since he’d known Jarlaxle as the ultimate survivor of many seemingly impossible escapes, but he could only shrug against Dahlia’s assertion.

“I would know, too, of the power of Bregan D’aerthe in Luskan,” he said.

“Diminished,” Dahlia replied without hesitation. “It had weakened considerably those ten years ago, and it’s unlikely the drow have expanded once more in the City of Sails. What’s left here for them?”

“That’s what I hope to learn.”

“You seek Jarlaxle,” Dahlia teased, “because you care.”

Drizzt didn’t deny it.

Dahlia walked past him out into the middle of the street and motioned toward an inn across the way. “Seeing all of those decrepit farms and famished farmers has spurred my appetite,” she said without looking back at Drizzt.

The drow stood there watching her back as she walked away from him and toward the inn. She’d made that statement for his benefit, he knew, just to remind him that they were not alike, to remind him that she had an understanding of the world that was different—and greater—than his own.

He kept thinking that Dahlia would glance back toward him when she noticed he wasn’t following her.

She didn’t.

By the time Drizzt entered the inn, Dahlia was already seated at a table and talking to one of the serving girls. There weren’t many patrons in the inn at this early hour, but those who were, mostly male, focused on the exotic Dahlia. Even when Drizzt entered, he garnered no more than a quick glance from any of the men.

Dahlia waved the serving girl away as Drizzt approached.

“Did you think, perhaps, that I would wish a meal as well?” Drizzt asked.

Dahlia laughed at him. “I expected your sympathies for the poor farmer folk would force your belly to grumble for days to come. So that you might properly sob for them, I mean.”

“Why would you say such a thing?”

Dahlia laughed again and looked away.

Drizzt heaved a sigh and started to stand, thinking he’d go to the bar and buy a meal, but before he’d even stepped away from his chair, the serving girl returned, bearing two bowls of steaming stew.

Dahlia motioned for him to sit, her expression conciliatory, and at last more serious.

“It troubled you to see those farms,” she said a few moments later, the bowls of stew in front of them, Drizzt stirring his with his spoon.

“What would you have me say?”

“I would have you admit the truth.”

Drizzt looked up and stared at her. “I’ve always known Luskan to be a city of ruffians. I’ve always found many of the customs here, such as the Prisoner’s Carnival, distasteful, and I realized when Captain Deudermont fell that Luskan would know even darker times. But yes, it pains me to see it. To see the helplessness of the commoners trapped in plays of power and a reality made more harsh by the proliferation of pirates and thugs.”

“Is that what pains you?” Dahlia asked, and her tone hinted at some clever insight, which drew Drizzt’s gaze once more. “Or is it that you cannot make things right? Is it their helplessness or your own that troubles you so?”

“Do you seek to enlighten me or to taunt me?”

Dahlia laughed and took a bite of stew.

Drizzt did likewise and tried to keep his attention focused on the others in the common room—folks who watched him and Dahlia quite intently. He took note of one woman leaving in a hurry, though she tried to appear casual in her departure, and of another man who slowly walked to the exit and never stopped staring at the pair, particularly Dahlia.

By the time they had at last left the inn, midday had long passed and the sun was halfway to the horizon. Once more, Dahlia took up the lead.

“How many eyes are upon us now, I wonder?” Drizzt asked, the first words they had spoken since their pre-meal conversation.


“On you,” the drow clarified. “Do you believe it’s your beauty that attracts such attention, or your history here?”

While her appearance had changed fairly dramatically with her hairstyle and skin alterations, this was so obviously still Dahlia, the one and only Dahlia. Anyone who had ever met Dahlia, Drizzt knew, would not be fooled by such cosmetic changes, nor would anyone who had ever met Dahlia likely forget her.

“Don’t you think I’m beautiful?” Dahlia asked with a fake pout. “I am wounded.” She stopped abruptly and offered Drizzt a warm smile. “Don’t you like my disguise?”

There was a softness to her now that seemed almost magical. Her hair was more cute than seductive, and her face carried a soft glow and an innocence without the magical woad. Perhaps it was the warm afternoon light, the sun sending a warm glowing line across the waters off the Sword Coast. In that glow, Dahlia seemed unblemished, gentle and warm, through and through. It took all of Drizzt’s willpower to refrain from kissing her.

“You invite trouble,” he heard himself say.

“I’m disguised to avoid exactly that.”

Drizzt shook his head with every word. “You’re hardly disguised, and were not at all when we came through Luskan’s gate. If you truly wished to avoid trouble, you would’ve changed your appearance much more profoundly back out there, in the farmlands.”

“Am I to spend all of my days in hiding, then?”

“Has Dahlia ever spent a single day in hiding?” Drizzt asked lightheartedly.

Dahlia winced, and Drizzt recognized that he’d hit on some painful memory, yet another unknown facet of this elf.

“Come,” she said, and she walked away swiftly.

When Drizzt caught up to her, he found her expression very tight and closed, and so he said no more.

From a far corner of the tavern, two assassins watched the couple depart, one rolling a dagger eagerly in his grimy hands under cover of the table.

“Are ye sure it’s her then?” asked a skinny fellow with a face full of black stubble and one eye no more than a dull white orb.

“Aye, Boofie, I saw her come through the gate, I did,” answered the dagger-roller, Tolston Rethnor, the same guard who had watched Dahlia enter Luskan’s gate earlier in the day.

“Hartouchen’s to be paying well for she what killed his father,” said Boofie McLaddin, referring to the new high captain of Ship Rethnor, the heir of Borlann the Crow. “But so’s his anger to be great if we’re starting a fight with them damned drow elves over a mistake.”

“It’s her, I tell ye,” Tolston insisted. “She’s even got that staff. I’m not to forget Borlann’s lady friend—none who seen Dahlia forget Dahlia!”

“Half the reward, ye say?”


“Well I’m wanting half o’ th’ other half, too.” When Tolston balked, Boofie went on, “Ye thinking just the two of us to fight them then? After what ye been telling me o’ Dahlia all the way here? She killed yer uncle to death, hey? And he was the boss, and got there by killing all them what stood afore him, hey? I’m to bring in me boys, a whole bunch and a wizard besides. They’ll be wanting their cut.”

“They’ll be buying Hartouchen’s gratitude,” said Tolston.

“That and a finger o’ silver’ll get me a meal,” Boofie replied. “And I ain’t thinking much o’ the gratitude when me belly’s growling. Half and half o’ th’ other half, or go and kill ’em yerself, Tolston Rethnor, and then hope yer bravery puts ye in line for Hartouchen’s seat. More likely, though, I’m thinking yer foolishness will just get yer ripped body buried in the family crypt, and a few might call ye brave, but most’ll name ye as stupid.”

“Half and half o’ th’ other half,” Tolston agreed. “But get yer crew quick afore others figure out that Dahlia’s back in Luskan.”

Upon the tavern’s staircase, not far from Tolston and Boofie, a small girl—by all appearances a human child—played with a wooden doll and only glanced up as Drizzt and Dahlia left the tavern.

Then she went back to talking to her doll, though her words were aimed more directly at the wizard she knew to be watching her in his crystal ball, and with the high captain of Ship Rethnor beside him, most likely.

Dahlia moved with purpose and kept up her pace across the city. Sometime later, she turned down a side street, her swift strides soon bringing them to an unremarkable two-story building.

“Jarlaxle and Athrogate made their Luskan home on the second floor,” she explained. “There’s a stair behind the building and a separate entrance there.”

She started around the building, but Drizzt hesitated.

“Perhaps we should find the landowner to inquire—”

“If you had rented a house to the likes of Jarlaxle and he was late in returning, would you be quick to throw wide its doors and rent it out to another?” Dahlia interrupted.

It was a good point, Drizzt had to admit, and so he shrugged and followed the elf around the back and up the wooden staircase to a porch and the back door. Dahlia fumbled with it for a bit, obviously seeking any traps the clever drow mercenary might have left in place. Finding nothing, she stepped back and motioned to Drizzt.

“Because there might well be magical traps that you could not detect,” he reasoned, and she didn’t disavow him of his line of thinking.

Drizzt moved up and gripped the doorknob, then gave a twist—it wasn’t locked—and he pushed it open. Daylight spilled into the small apartment, a place of sparse furnishings and even fewer supplies.

“No one has been in here for some time,” Drizzt said, glancing around. There was a plate on the table, but it was covered in dust.

“Not since Jarlaxle and Athrogate fell in Gauntlgrym,” Dahlia replied. “Could we have expected any differently?”

Drizzt’s dark face grew very tight.

“You thought they might somehow have escaped,” Dahlia remarked.

“Jarlaxle is known for such things.”

“You hoped they had escaped.”

“Is that an accusation? What a sorry friend I would be …”

“A friend?” Dahlia asked, and she didn’t hide her amusement in the least. “Drizzt Do’Urden a friend to Jarlaxle? So at last you admit it! How does that comport with those tenets that guide your life?”

“I’ve shared many adventures with Jarlaxle,” Drizzt replied. “And he has proven to be … surprising.”

“At the least,” Dahlia said, still grinning. “But that’s all in the past now. He’s dead, as we saw.”

“I never argued otherwise.”

“Not with me,” Dahlia replied.

“Not with anyone.”

“Not with Drizzt?” She paused and let that hang in the air for a few moments, clearly enjoying Drizzt’s obvious consternation. “You knew we wouldn’t find him, despite your hopes to the contrary. You owed your friend that much, at least. But take heart, for coming here has not been totally in vain.” She pointed to the plate on the table. “We know now that Bregan D’aerthe’s power in Luskan has waned greatly, for surely they would’ve come here to investigate their missing associate.”

“We don’t know that they haven’t come here. They are excellent at their craft—they might be watching us at this very—”

He stopped and cocked an ear.

Dahlia heard it, too, a slight creak like a footfall on an old wooden stair. She slipped silently toward the door. Drizzt pulled an object from his belt pouch and whispered something she couldn’t hear. She crouched at the side of the door and cracked it open then fell back fast.

A spinning hammer hit the door with great force and knocked it open wide.

Dahlia broke her staff into flails and moved to exit, thinking to strike before the next missile could come her way, but she fell back again as something flew at her from behind. Six hundred pounds of angry panther soared past and out the door. She didn’t yell out, but her eyes opened wide indeed.

But not as wide as the eyes of the two pirates who had the misfortune of leaping to block the doorway at that very moment.

Guenhwyvar sent them flying with hardly a break in her momentum. She skidded out onto the porch, her claws digging in deeply to slow her slide.

Dahlia went out right behind her. She broke fast to the left, away from the stairs, and straight at one of the pirates Guenhwyvar had sent flying. Half over the railing, the man somehow managed to catch himself and come around with a fairly balanced and powerful swing of his sword.

At the last instant, Dahlia managed to duck under the blow. Inside his reach for the moment, she sent her flails out and around, striking him hard in the ribs from left and right. He grunted but kept fighting, retracting his blade for a second strike, but with a deft snap of her wrist, Dahlia sent her left hand up, smacking the pirate’s wrist hard with the handle of her weapon. The man yelped, his arm going out wide, but not too far. The momentum of the strike sent the top pole flipping over the pirate’s arm.

Dahlia wasted no time in driving her weapon hand straight down, the cord tethering the poles twisting the pirate’s arm as the flail’s initial momentum battled the reverse tug.

Dahlia went down into a low crouch. When the flail flipped back hard, freeing the man’s sword arm, Dahlia leaped high into the air and spun in a soaring circle kick. Her hard boot crunched against the pirate’s jaw, snapping his head back and to the side, and Dahlia didn’t disengage, extending her leg farther, driving him back and over the rail.

He tried to grab at her, and when that failed, to slash at her. But it was too late. He dropped the dozen feet to the cobblestones below.

Dahlia landed and spun into a defensive crouch, expecting an attack. And indeed several came at her, but not from across the porch—not from the porch at all but from the roof. A trio of spears flew down.

Dahlia couldn’t see them in time to dodge.