Author:R.A. Salvatore

“Guen, the roof!” Drizzt yelled, charging out the door. He leaped in front of Dahlia. Icingdeath slashed up high to clip a pair of the falling spears, with Twinkle following fast to clip the third, barely deflecting it.

The spear thumped down hard into the wooden decking just beside Dahlia, the shaft vibrating from the force of the strike.

Dahlia didn’t pause long enough to thank him. She dived into a roll right past Drizzt toward a pair of thugs, her weapons working furiously and seemingly independently to parry and counter their sword thrusts.

Drizzt spied Guenhwyvar leaping to the far railing. The drow winced as he heard the crunch of splintering wood, but the railing held enough for the panther to spring away, easily clearing the edge of the roof.

Drizzt charged out to join Dahlia, but then he saw a motion to his side. He dropped his blades and slipped his bow from his shoulder, drawing and setting an arrow and letting it fly in one fluid movement.

He didn’t hit the archer on a balcony across the way, but the man was too busy diving aside to make an honest return shot.

Drizzt let another arrow fly, then heard Dahlia cry out, “Leap aside!”

So he did, trusting her.

A pirate crashed down, slamming into the deck with enough force to splinter a couple of boards. He managed to force himself upright.

But Dahlia slipped away from her two opponents long enough to swipe across with a flail, shattering the poor fool’s cheek and jaw.

He dropped face down on the porch.

Drizzt ignored the fallen thug in front of him and drew a bead point blank on one of Dahlia’s opponents.

The last slanted rays of daylight shone on the pirate’s face, perfectly framing his look of sheer terror.

“Run,” Drizzt whispered. The man threw down his sword, turned, and fled.

Drizzt swung back around, letting his arrow fly at the concealed archer on the porch across the way. The missile drove into a large water barrel, punching a clean hole in its nearest side. Drizzt could barely see the opposing archer, just his face behind the bow he held atop the barrel, poised to fire.

The twist of his face, reflecting shock and most of all pain, told Drizzt that his arrow had crossed through the barrel and reached its destination.

The archer was trying to shoot—Drizzt could see that—but he couldn’t seem to let go of the bowstring. He grimaced and held his pose for a few heartbeats, then just dropped his head atop his drawn bow, the movement knocking the arrow clear.

Water poured out of the barrel in front of him.

They had to move from the exposed porch, Dahlia thought. And how could Drizzt let one of the thugs escape? She wasn’t sure which thought made her more angry.

No matter. She made short work of the other pirate, her spinning weapons eluding his defenses left and right, each turn sending a flail smashing into him. His parries hit nothing but air for quite some time, until the cumulative battering of Dahlia’s weapons took its toll at last. The poor fool just slumped to the ground, curling up and half rolling aside, where he lay groaning, apparently unaware of his surroundings.

Dahlia had no time to finish him. She turned and flicked her wrists, reverting her weapons to a pair of short staves, and then joined them into a single eight-foot staff as she neared the front railing. She thrust the staff out in front of her, planted the leading end, and leaped out into the growing twilight.

In the alleyway almost directly across from the battle-scarred porch, Therfus Handydoer watched with amusement. The top-ranking wizard in Ship Rethnor, Therfus had served the last four high captains to don the mantle of the Crow—and to don the magical cape—though the current leader, Hartouchen, didn’t possess that particular item.

“Because of you, murderess,” Therfus whispered, watching Dahlia flip her flails back into a long staff.

So much trouble, this elf woman, Therfus mused, and he thought of Borlann—he’d liked that high captain the most of all.

“I wonder, dear girl,” he whispered, though of course she couldn’t hear him, “might Hartouchen reward me more greatly if I can bring him the Cloak of the Crow along with your pretty head?”

Seeing Dahlia moving to the nearest rail and planting her staff, Therfus threw a line of lightning from his hand. Rushing the distance to Dahlia, the bolt took the form of a serpent, and just as she reached the high point of her vault, it struck with the force of thunder.

Drizzt saw Dahlia’s leap out of the corner of his eye. He knew her instincts were correct. As Dahlia had finished the last of the pirate brawlers, Drizzt had noted more trouble from afar: archers lining the rooftop of the adjacent building.

“Guen!” the drow yelled. He raised Taulmaril and let fly a series of shocking arrows, sparking as they blew away large pieces of the roof’s decorative crest. “Guen!” he yelled again. “To my missiles!”

Up above him, the panther roared, and another archer shrieked in reply.

Drizzt glanced to his left, to the front edge of the porch and the vaulting Dahlia—and took in the lightning serpent.

He started to cry out, but his voice was lost in a great blast that seemed to lift the entire porch before dropping it back in place. Drizzt stumbled into the wall then tumbled through the doorway into the apartment before his legs gave out under him.

“Dahlia,” he whispered, his voice thick with pain.

He watched as she hung in midair atop her upright staff for many heartbeats. Forks of lightning arced out all around her. Slowly she descended to the porch, but she didn’t fall. Instead she staggered to her feet, holding and waving her staff as if she couldn’t let it go.

Dahlia waved the crackling staff and her hair danced wildly. She growled in defiance and denial, but her voice cracked with jolting energy and, Drizzt knew, with pain.

An arrow shot down and grazed her bare thigh, drawing a line of bright blood. She tried to turn away, but she had little control of her muscles. Jolts of electrical energy continued to arc into the air around her. Another arrow whipped past her, barely missing.

“To me!” Drizzt cried. He fell out the door, leveling Taulmaril as he went and letting a barrage of arrows fly at the adjacent rooftop. “Quickly!”

His grimace lessened a bit when he saw a black form leap from his roof to the archer’s nest.

Arrows rose up to meet the flying Guenhwyvar, most missing but one pair struck home. They did little to slow the great cat. She hit the tin roof with a scrabble of raking claws, catching a hold on the slope and charging at the scattering group.

One fleeing archer paused long enough to aim at Dahlia.

Just before his arrow left the bow, though, Drizzt’s lightning missile blew him backward, lifting him over the crest of the roof to fall to the cobblestones below.

Therfus Handydoer couldn’t see all of the unfolding battle from his angle, but he found the whole thing amusing anyway. He didn’t really care if some of the mercenary pirates, or even some of Ship Rethnor’s crew, were cut down. They were mere warriors, after all, and none of them very good ones at that.

Still, the fight was going on too long for Therfus’s liking. Too long and too loud, and that could only attract unwanted attention.

He meant to end it.

He began another spell, pausing only to wince as one of those devilish lightning arrows blasted into an archer and drove him up and over the crest of the roof.

Shaking his head, Therfus released his magic. At the last moment, he added a little touch of his own, planting a black storm cloud twenty feet in the air above the porch.

Still fighting against the jolts of energy, Dahlia heard hail drum against her leather hat before she felt its pelting sting.

A pellet slammed into her shoulder, tearing her skin so deeply she felt it crack against bone. She forced herself toward Drizzt. He stood in the cover of the doorway, driven back by the hail. Another step brought her closer to him. He reached out for her, holding his arm out despite several painful ice strikes.

Dahlia reached for him, but another jolt of energy sent her suddenly flailing. The slick porch threw her off balance and she crashed hard against the corner of the railing where it met the stairs, and slipped down to her buttocks.

More ice pelted her. She tried to get up, but she kept slipping.

More ice bashed against her.

So Dahlia threw herself down the stairs.

As she bounced and tumbled, she grabbed at the railing to try to slow her descent. At last she spilled out into the cobblestone street in a roll, but thankfully, she’d escaped the ice storm.

With great effort, she forced herself back to her feet and managed to stagger a few steps, though she didn’t really know where to go.

And then it didn’t matter, for out of every alleyway, the pirates came, brandishing swords and axes and gaff hooks.

Dahlia, still fighting simply to maintain her balance, understood she had no chance of defending herself.

Even if Drizzt reached the edge of the porch then, where the ice storm still raged, he couldn’t cut them all down in time.

Even if Guenhwyvar leaped down, in all her roaring fury, by the time the pirates even realized their peril, many would already have finished her.

Dahlia resigned herself to death.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Drizzt had barely crossed the threshold in pursuit of Dahlia when the pelting ice drove him back.

With a growl he threw up the hood of his cloak and leaped out once more, but the slick ice sent him sliding to the middle of the porch, unable to turn and get to the stairs.

He yelled for Guenhwyvar. He put up Taulmaril and began launching arrows once more.

A pellet of ice smacked him hard and dropped him to his knees, so he continued to shoot from his knees. He searched for the wizard—if he could just get a shot at the wizard!

He looked up at the adjacent roof for Guenhwyvar. An archer was in view, desperately trying to set an arrow as another form, a woman, came running across the rooftop, brandishing a long knife. She barreled into the archer, her leading arm sweeping aside his bow, her knife striking hard.

Drizzt could have shot her down, but was she an enemy or an ally?

He lowered the bow and threw himself into a slide to the railing overlooking the street, overlooking Dahlia, overlooking the thugs closing in on her.

He could only yell out for her. He lifted his bow and tried to decide which one of these killers he would stop.

And, by default, which of the others he would allow to get to Dahlia.

Therfus Handydoer laughed a bit as he watched the scene unfolding in front of him, the female elf tumbling out into the streets, still staggering foolishly from his lightning serpent.

He knew the drow was trapped in his area of icy punishment. He’d defeated the feared Dahlia and her drow companion so easily! He almost pitied warriors.

Almost, but how might he pity one foolish enough to lift a sword when a spell was so much more powerful?

It occurred to him to finish Dahlia then, to take the kill as his own before the surrounding thugs could close in, and so he began to whisper his next spell.

The tip of a deadly dagger came in tight against his throat.

“This is not your time to kill, son of Ship Rethnor,” a quiet voice intoned. “Is it your time to die?”

Therfus’s mind whirled. How could he escape this? For a brief moment, his sneering contempt for those who chose the blade over the spell was shaken.

“You would kill the noble second of a high captain?” he asked, hoping his station would save him where his spells obviously could not.

The man behind him snorted.

“Do you not understand that significance?” a suddenly defiant Therfus said with strength returned to his voice. “I am a noble second!”

“As am I.”

Therfus managed to turn his gaze down to the dagger, along its silvery blade to the beautifully jeweled and distinctive hilt. Suddenly he understood.

“Beniago of Ship Kurth!” he declared. The recognition of his would-be killer brought as much relief as fear, particularly since he knew the reputation of that deadly dagger.

The knife moved away from his throat and the assassin shoved him a step forward. Therfus wheeled around. “This is no business of Closeguard Isle!”

“Obviously, we disagree.”

“You walk on dangerous ground, son of Ship Kurth.”

He meant to finish with an imposing point of his long and crooked finger, but as he reached out, the ground jolted with such force that it was all Therfus could do to hold his footing. Even Beniago, so graceful and feline in his movements, lurched forward.

Anger rose up to bury Dahlia’s fear—anger that her end would come at the hands of such peasants, anger that she couldn’t explore this relationship with a companion who, at long last, might prove worthy of her, anger that Sylora Salm would outlive her.

And anger that Kozah’s Needle, her powerful staff, had eaten the lightning serpent and was apparently multiplying its power and dumping that power back into Dahlia in a debilitating way. She wanted to throw the staff aside, but she couldn’t begin to release her grip on it.

But there was one thing she could do, she realized.

As her attackers closed in, she drove the end of Kozah’s Needle down hard upon the cobblestones and bade the staff to release its energy.

An explosion of lightning lifted her up, the ground itself rolling, turning large stones free of their settings and hurling the pirates into the air.

Drizzt yelled for Dahlia as the porch above her came tumbling down. Dahlia couldn’t turn to look. She felt the energy flowing through her, focusing through her staff, releasing into the ground. Like a great exhale, the lightning energy drained her as it departed, so fully consuming her every thought that she was hardly aware of the devastation around her.

When it had all died away, Dahlia stood calmly, a solitary figure, her eyes closed, holding Kozah’s Needle upright as it continued to throw the occasional spark.

Eventually, she was able to open her eyes. Some of the pirates crawled, others squirmed, one grasped an ankle he’d painfully turned in his fall.

None of them seemed to hold any further interest in Dahlia, unless it was in getting as far away from her as quickly as possible.

To the side lay the ruined porch, a dark form curled under a pile of splintered wood.

“By the gods,” Therfus mumbled, staring dumbfounded below.

“I offer you the chance to flee this place,” Beniago said.

“In the name of Kurth?” the wizard snapped back at him.

“In any name you please.”

“Do you know who this is?” the wizard spat.

“A mercenary of Bregan D’aerthe, I assume,” Beniago replied, and his grin showed that he was well aware that he was taunting Therfus.

“Not him, the female,” Therfus stated flatly.

“We know.”

“Then you know of Dahlia’s history with my Ship. She’s a murderess, and Borlann Rethnor her victim!”

Beniago nodded.

“She murdered my friend! My captain!” Therfus said with a growl. “You would deny me this retribution?”

Beniago brandished that terrible jeweled dagger, and given the reputation of both the blade and the assassin holding it, Therfus understood well the depth of that threat. Beniago could stab him before he could begin to defend, physically or magically, and with that blade, it would only take one wound to kill him.

Therfus glanced all around. He heard the black panther and followed the sound of the roar to the roof, where new warriors—men serving Kurth, no doubt—had taken control.

He looked back to Beniago and his knife.

“Closeguard Isle will pay for this outrage,” Therfus promised as he took several quick steps away from the assassin. “This is a grave betrayal, I warn!”

Beniago merely shrugged.

Dahlia heard Guenhwyvar land behind her as she charged to the porch rubble. She batted aside one loose board before Drizzt began to pull himself up from the wreckage.

He glanced behind her and suddenly stopped moving.

“Stand easy, Guen,” he whispered.

The panther issued a low growl in response.

Dahlia slowly turned around.

A group of men stood in front of her, all holding bows, save one who leveled a wand in Dahlia’s direction.

“Keep your cat at bay,” the warlock with the wand warned.

“Yes, do,” added a tall man in a dark cloak, walking out of the alleyway directly across from the fallen porch. “I am Beniago,” he explained with a low bow. “Your presence is requested at Ship Kurth, forthwith.”

“And I suppose I would have no choice in the matter?” Drizzt asked.

“It would seem not,” Beniago replied.

“Better than Ship Rethnor,” Dahlia said to Drizzt.

Drizzt stared at her hard, his scowl placing blame for this turn of events on Dahlia’s pretty shoulders. But his anger couldn’t withstand Beniago’s next remark.

“You’re both wanted,” he said.

Drizzt studied Beniago carefully. He’d never met this one, but the man’s easy posture warned him that he was no novice with the blade. He and Dahlia were certainly and undeniably caught.

Still, Drizzt looked for weakness, for some seam in the leather armor, for some option should the need arise.

His scan ended at the man’s belt, at the hilt of that distinctive blade. Memories of a distant past flooded Drizzt’s thoughts.

It couldn’t be the same blade, the drow told himself.

But the enemy he’d known who had carried such a dagger had likely been in Luskan, with Jarlaxle, perhaps even at the time of his death.

It was possible.

“Forthwith,” Beniago repeated, forcefully drawing Drizzt from his contemplation. The drow looked up at the tall man, almost expecting to see an old enemy standing in front of him. But this man was taller, lighter skinned, with curly red hair … and a hundred years too young!

Beniago motioned to Drizzt to follow Dahlia, who had moved several steps away. He did so, with a grin on his face.

Perhaps one of the problems of living so long a life, he mused, was the jumble of memories—too many memories!—which inevitably found their way to his consciousness at the slightest provocation. He glanced again at the dagger and laughed at himself, certain now that it was a different blade.

But only because it had to be. The world had moved on.

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