By the time Entreri caught up to Jarlaxle and the others, they were camped on a hillock beyond Palishchuk's northern wall. From that vantage point, the growing black castle was all too clear to see.


"When I left here last it was no more than foundation stones, and seemingly for a structure much smaller than this," Mariabronne informed them in hushed tones. "Wingham named it a replica of Castle Perilous, and I fear now that he was correct."

"And you once glanced upon that awful place," Ellery said.

"Well, if none are in there, then we'll make it our halls!" roared Athrogate. "Got me some friends to be guardin' our walls!"

"Got you a habit to bring on your fall," Jarlaxle muttered under his breath, but loud enough for Athrogate to hear, which of course only brought a burst of howling laughter from the wild-eyed dwarf.

-- Advertisement --

"Good grief," said the drow.

"Only kind I'm likin'!" Athrogate said without missing a beat.

"I doubt it is uninhabited or's to stay that way for long," Pratcus put in. "I can feel the evilness emanating from the thing - a beacon call, I'm guessing, for every monster in this corner o' Vaasa."

Entreri looked over at Jarlaxle and the pair exchanged knowing glances. The strange castle, as with the similar tower they'd previously encountered, likely needed no garrison from without. That tower had nearly killed them both, had destroyed perhaps his greatest artifact in the battle. Entreri wondered how much more formidable might the castle be, for it was many times the size of that single tower.

"Whatever your feeling, good dwarf, and whatever our fears, it is of course incumbent upon us to investigate more closely," Canthan put in. "That is our course, is it not, Commander Ellery?"

Entreri caught something in the undertones of Canthan's words. A familiarity?

"Indeed, our duty seems clear to that very course," Ellery replied.

It seemed to Entreri that she was being a bit too formal with the thin wizard, a bit too standoffish.

"In the morning then," Mariabronne said. "Wingham said he would meet us here this night and he is not one to break his word."

"And so he has not," came a voice from down the hill, and the troupe turned as one to regard the old half-orc trudging up the side of the hillock, arm-in-arm with a woman whose other arm was locked with that of another half-orc, a large and hulking specimen.

Normally, Entreri would have focused on the largest of the group, for he carried himself like a warrior and was large enough to suggest that he presented a potential threat. But the assassin was not looking at that one, not at all, his eyes riveted to the woman in the middle. She seemed to drift into the light of their campfire like some apparition from a dream. Though arm-in-arm with both men flanking her, she seemed apart from them, almost ethereal. There was something familiar about her wide, flat face, about the sparkle in her eyes and the tilt of her mouth as she smiled, just a bit nervously. There was something warm about her, Entreri sensed somewhere deep inside, as if the mere sight of her had elicited memories long forgotten and still not quite grasped of a better time and a better place.

She glanced his way and was locked by his gaze. For a long moment, there seemed a tangible aura growing in the air between them.

"As promised, Mariabronne, I have brought my niece Arrayan Faylin and her escort Olgerkhan," Wingham said, breaking the momentary enchantment.

Arrayan blinked, cleared her throat, and pulled her gaze away.

"The book was lost to us for a time," Mariabronne explained to the others. "It was Arrayan who discovered it and the growth about it north of the city. It was she who first recognized this dark power and alerted the rest of us."

Entreri looked from the woman to Jarlaxle, trying hard to keep the panic out of his expression. Memories of the tower outside of Heliogabalus buried those of that distant and unreachable warmth, and the fact that the woman was somehow connected to that evil construct of the WitchKing's stung Entreri's sensibilities.

He paused and considered that sensation.

Why should he care?

The look Entreri gave to Arrayan when Wingham introduced her was not lost upon Jarlaxle.

Nor had it been lost on the large escort at Arrayan's other side, the drow noted.

Jarlaxle, too, had been caught a bit off guard when first he glanced Wingham's niece, for the attractive woman was hardly what he had expected of a half-orc. She clearly favored her human heritage far more than her orc parent or grandparent, and more than that, Jarlaxle saw a similarity in Arrayan to another woman he had known - not a human, but a halfling.

If Dwahvel Tiggerwillies had a human cousin, Jarlaxle mused, she would look much like Arrayan Faylin.

Perhaps that had helped to spark Entreri's obvious interest.

Jarlaxle thought the whole twist perfectly entertaining. A bit dangerous, perhaps, given the size of Arrayan's escort, but then again, Artemis Entreri could certainly take care of himself.

The drow moved to join his companion as the others settled in around the northern edge of the hilltop. Entreri was on the far side, keeping watch over the southern reaches, the short expanse of ground between the encampment and the city wall.

"A castle," Entreri muttered as Jarlaxle moved to crouch beside him. "A damned castle. Ilnezhara told you of this."

"Of course not," the drow replied.

Entreri turned his head and glared at him. "We came north to Vaasa and just happened to stumble upon something so similar to that which we had just left in Damara? An amazing coincidence, wouldn't you agree?"

"I told you that our benefactors believed there might be treasures to find," the drow innocently replied. He moved closer and lowered his voice as he added, "The appearance of the tower in the south indicated that other treasures might soon be unearthed, yes, but I told you of this."

"Treasures?" came the skeptical echo. "That is what you would call this castle?"


"You've already forgotten what we faced in that tower?"

"We won."

"We barely escaped with our lives," Entreri argued. He followed Jarlaxle's concerned glance back to the north and realized that he had to keep his voice down. "And for what gain?"

"The skull."

"For my gauntlet? Hardly a fair trade. And how do you propose we do battle with this construct now that the gauntlet is no more? Has Ilnezhara given you some item that I do not know about, or some insight?"

Jarlaxle fought very hard to keep his expression blank. The last thing he wanted to do at that moment, given the nature of Entreri's glance at Arrayan, was explain to him the connection between Herminicle the wizard, Herminicle the lich, and the tower itself.

"A sense of adventure, my friend," was all Jarlaxle said. "A grand Zhengyian artifact, a tome, perhaps, or perhaps some other clue, awaits us inside. How can we not explore that possibility?"

"A dragon's lair often contains great treasures, artifacts even, and by all reasoning such a hunt would constitute the greatest of adventures," Entreri countered with understated sarcasm. "When we are done here, perhaps our 'benefactors' will hand us maps to their distant kin. One adventurous road after another."

"It is a thought."

Entreri just shook his head slowly and turned to gaze back at the southland and the distant wall of Palishchuk.

Jarlaxle laughed and patted him on the shoulder then rose and started away.

"There are connections among our companions that we do not yet fully understand," Entreri said, causing the dark elf to pause for just a moment.

Jarlaxle was glad that his companion remained as astute and alert as ever.

"What's it about, ye skinny old lout?" Athrogate roared as he approached Canthan on the far western side of the hillock, where the wizard had set up his tent - an ordinary inverted V-shaped affair suitable for one, or perhaps for two, if they were as thin as the wizard.

"Be silent, you oaf," Canthan whispered from inside the tent. "Come in here."

Athrogate glanced around. The others seemed perfectly content and busy with their own affairs. Pratcus and Ellery worked at the fire, cooking something that smelled good, but in truth, there was no food that didn't smell good to Athrogate. On the northern end of the flat-topped hill, Arrayan and Olgerkhan sat staring off into the darkness, while across the way to the south, that damned dark elf had gone to join his swarthy friend. Mariabronne was off somewhere in the night, Athrogate knew, along with the odd half-orc Wingham.

With a shrug, the black-bearded dwarf dropped to his knees and crawled into Canthan's tent. There was no light in there, other than the distant glow of the campfire, but Athrogate needed no more than that to realize he was alone in the tent. But where had Canthan's voice come, from?

"What're ye about?" Athrogate asked.

"Be silent, fool, and come up here."

"Up?" As he moved toward the voice, Athrogate's face brushed into a rope hanging down from the apex of the tent. "Up?"

"Climb the rope," came a harsh whisper from above.

It seemed silly to the dwarf, for if he had stood up, his head would have lifted the tent from the ground. He had been around Canthan long enough to understand the wizard's weird ways, however, and so, with another shrug, he grasped the rope and started to climb. As soon as his bent legs lifted off the ground, Athrogate felt as if he had left the confines of the tent. Grinning mischievously, the dwarf pumped his powerful arms more urgently, hand-walking up the rope. Where he should have bumped into the solid barrier of the tent roof, he found instead a strange foggy area, a magical rift between the dimensions. He charged through and ran out of rope - it simply ended in mid-air!

Athrogate threw himself into a forward roll, landing on a soft rug. He tumbled to a sitting position and found himself in a fairly large room, perhaps a dozen feet square, and well-furnished with many plush rugs, a couple of hardwood chairs, and a small pedestal atop which sat a crystal ball. Canthan peered into the orb.

"Well," said Athrogate, "if ye was to bring such goodies as these, then why'd ye make a tent fit for a dwarf on his knees?"

Canthan waved at him with impatience, and the dwarf sighed at the dismissal of his hard-earned cleverness. He shrugged it away, stood, and walked across the soft carpet to take a seat opposite the skinny wizard.

"Naked halflings?" he asked with a lewd wink.

"Our answers, from Knellict, no less," Canthan said, once again invoking the name of the imposing wizard to steal the grin from Athrogate's smug expression.

The dwarf moved his face up to the crystal ball, staring in. His wildly distorted face filled the globe and brought a yelp from Canthan, who fell back and glowered at him.

"Ain't seein' nothing, except yerself," said Athrogate. "And ye're skinnier than e'er!"

"A wizard might look into the ball. A dwarf can only look through it."

"Then why'd ye call me up here?" Athrogate asked, settling back in the chair. He glanced around the room again, and noted a blazing hearth across the way with a pot set in it. "Got anything good for eating?"

"The citadel's spies have searched far and wide for answers," Canthan explained. "All the way to Calimport."

"Never heard of it. That a place?"

"On Faerun's far southwestern shores." Canthan said, though Athrogate was not at all impressed. "That is where our friends - and they haven't even changed their names - originated from. Well, the drow came from Menzoberranzan."

"Never heard of it, either."

"It does not matter," the wizard replied. "The two of them were in Calimport not so long ago, accompanied by many other dark elves from the Underdark."

"Heard o' that, and yep, that'd be where them dark elves come from."

"Shut up."

The dwarf sighed and shrugged.

"They tried to conquer the back streets of the city," Canthan said.

"Streets wouldn't give up, would they?"

Again, the wizard narrowed his eyes and glared at the dwarf. "They went against the thieves' guilds, which are much like our own citadel. This Jarlaxle person sought to control the cutpurses and killers of Calimport."

Athrogate considered that for a few moments, then took on a more serious expression. "Ye think they come here wanting the same thing?"

"There is no indication that they brought any allies with them, from all we've seen," explained the wizard. "Perhaps they have been humbled and understand their place among us. Perhaps not, and if not...."

"Yeah, I know, we kill 'em to death in battle," the dwarf said, seeming almost bored.

"Ellery is ready to deal with the drow."

"Bah, I can swat em both and be done with it."

Canthan came forward in a rush, his eyes wide, his expression wild. "Do not underestimate them!" he warned. "This is no ordinary duo. They have traveled the breadth of Toril, and for a drow to do so openly is no small matter."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Athrogate agreed, patting his gnarled hand in the air to calm the volatile wizard. "Take care and caution and all that. Always that."

"Unlike your typical methods."

"Ones that got me where I am." He paused and hopped up, then did a quick inspection of himself, even seeming to count his fingers. "With all me pieces intact, and what do ye know about that?"

"Shut up."

"Keep saying it."

"You forget why we came out here? Knellict sent us with a purpose."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"You just be ready," said Canthan. "If it comes to blows, then we can hope that Ellery will finish the drow. The other one is your task."

Athrogate snapped his fingers in the air.

Even with Athrogate still sitting there, Canthan started to go on, to work through a secondary plan, just in case. But he stopped short, realizing from the dwarf's smug expression that powerful Athrogate really didn't think it necessary.

In truth, and in considering the many enemies he had watched Athrogate easily dispatch, neither did Canthan.

Commander Ellery ran to the eastern edge of the hillock. To her left loomed the growing replica of Castle Perilous, Palishchuk to her right seeming diminished by the sheer grandiosity of the new construction. Before her rose the northeastern peaks of the Galenas, running north to collide with the gigantic floe of the Great Glacier. Ellery squinted and ducked lower, trying to alter the angle of the black horizon, for she caught a movement down there in the near pitch blackness.

"What was it, then?" asked Pratcus the dwarf, hustling up beside her.

Ellery shook her head and slowly pulled the axe from her the harness on her back.

Across the way, Entreri and Jarlaxle took note, too, as did Olgerkhan and Arrayan.

A form blacker than the shadows soared up at the commander, flying fast on batlike wings.

Ellery fell back with a yelp, as did Pratcus, but then, acting purely on instinct, the woman retracted her axe arm, took up the handle in both hands, and flung the weapon end-overend at her approaching assailant.

The axe hit with a dull thud and crackle, and the winged creature lurched higher into the air. Ellery ducked low as it came over her.

"Demons!" Pratcus howled when he saw the beast in the glow of their campfire, light glistening off its clawed hands and feet, and its horned, hideous head. It was humanoid with wide wings. Taller than Pratcus, but shorter than Ellery, the creature was both solid and sinewy.

"Gargoyles," Jarlaxle corrected from across the way.

The obsidian beast clawed at Ellery's axe, which she had embedded deep into its chest, dark blood flowing from either side of the sharp gash. It remained outstretched horizontally for a bit longer, but then tumbled head down and crashed and rolled across the hilltop.

Ellery was on it in a flash.

"More coming!" she yelled.

She skidded down to her knees beside the fallen gargoyle, grasped her axe in both hands, and tore it free.

Behind her, Pratcus was already spellcasting, calling on the magic of Dumathoin, the dwarf god, the Keeper of Secrets under the mountain. He finished with a great flourish, lifting his arms high and wide, and as he spoke the last syllable of the spell, a burst of brilliant light filled the air around him, as if the sun itself had risen.

And in that light, the dwarf and the others saw that Ellery's words were on the mark, for dark shapes fluttered this way and that at the edges of the glowing magic.

"So the fun begins," Entreri said to Jarlaxle.

He drew his sword and dagger and charged forward into the fray, veering as he went, though he was hardly aware of it, to move closer to the woman Arrayan.

"Form defenses!" Ellery yelled. A call from Mariabronne somewhere down the hill turned her and the others. "Tight formations!" she cried as she sprinted off to the lip of the rise, then disappeared into the night.

Entreri dipped forward into a roll as a gargoyle dived for him, the creature's hind claws slashing at the air above the assassin. He came up with a slash and clipped the gargoyle's foot before it rushed out of range.

Entreri couldn't follow, for a second was upon him, arms slapping wildly. The creature tried to come forward to bite or gore with its horn, but Entreri's sword came up and around, forcing it back and bringing both of its arms over to the assassin's left.

Entreri stepped forward and right, feinting with his dagger as he went by. The gargoyle turned to roll behind him, but the assassin switched weapons, sword to his left, dagger to his right and with a reverse grip. He stepped forward with his left foot, but dug it in and stopped short, reversing his momentum, turning back into the closing gargoyle.

A claw raked his shoulder, but it was not a serious wound. The assassin willingly traded that blow with his own, burying his dagger on a powerful backhand deep into the center of the gargoyle's chest.

For good measure, Entreri drew some of the gargoyle's life-force through his vampiric blade, and he felt the soothing warmth as his wound fast mended.

As he withdrew and turned again, Entreri let fly a backhand with his sword as well, creasing the creature's face and sending it crashing to the ground. He completed the spin, bringing his hands together, and when he righted himself, he had his weapons back in their more comfortable positions, Charon's Claw in his right, jeweled dagger in his left.

Entreri glanced right to see Arrayan, Olgerkhan, and the dwarf Pratcus formed into a solid defensive triangle, then back to the left where Jarlaxle crouched and pumped his arm, sending a stream of daggers at a gargoyle as it flew past. The creature pulled up, wings wide to catch the air. It hovered for a second, accepting another stinging hit, then pivoted in mid-air and dived hard at the drow.

Jarlaxle met Entreri's glance for just a second, offered an exaggerated wink, then created a globe of darkness, completely obscuring his form and the area around him.

Entreri couldn't help but wince as the gargoyle dived into it full speed.

Any thoughts he had of going to his friend were short-lived, though, and he instinctively dropped and rolled, slashing his sword to fend another of the horned creatures.

Still another was on the ground and charging at him, its limp telling him that it was the same one he had earlier slashed.

Entreri bent his knees and lifted his hips from the ground, arching his back. With a snap of his finely-toned muscles, he flipped himself up to his feet, and met the charge with a sidelong swipe that forced the gargoyle to pull up short.

The second dropped behind him, but the assassin was not caught off guard. He turned as the creature landed, dagger thrusting - not with any chance to hit, but merely to keep the gargoyle back a stride.

Over and around went his sword, right to left, then back left to right, and in that second roll, he had the gargoyle's eyes and arms following the blade. Back went the sword the other way again, and the gargoyle had to twist even more off balance.

Entreri let the blade go all the way over until its tip was straight down. He turned with it and under it, lifting it and the gargoyle's arms high. Again the creature tried to twist away, but Entreri's movement had leaned him in at the creature. He let himself fall at the gargoyle, thrusting his dagger into the creature's side as he went.

The assassin easily regained his balance, using the weight of the gargoyle to steady his fall. He tore his dagger free as he spun back to face the second, pursuing gargoyle.

Across came the sword, and the gargoyle leaped high, wings beating, to get above it. Entreri let the sword's opaque black ash flow and he went forward as the gargoyle passed over him. He ducked low under the ash wall and waved the sword back behind him to create a second one.

Even as the gargoyles turned together to consider the puzzle, Entreri burst forth through the veil, sword stabbing right, dagger thrusting left. He cut fast to the right, where he had scored a hit, and came in with a dagger stab to the creature's gut, followed by a half-turn that allowed him to bash the howling gargoyle's face with the pommel of Charon's Claw. He reversed his grip on the dagger as he pulled it free then jabbed it back once, twice, thrice, into the wounded beast.

He leaped forward as if to meet the second gargoyle, his ruse forcing the creature to break its momentum, but Entreri stopped short and whirled, his sword coming across at shoulder level to take the head from the wounded beast.

Entreri let himself fall over backward, timing it perfectly with the renewed approach of the second, which leaped above him as it charged past.

Up he stabbed with his sword, gashing the gargoyle beside the knee, and he rolled back, coming up to his feet behind the creature as it struggled to turn around.

Too slow.

Entreri took the thing in its kidney with his dagger, and the gargoyle howled and leaped away, spinning as it went.

But the assassin was right there with it, Charon's Claw coming across low-to-high. The gargoyle tried to block and lost an arm for the effort.

It hardly noticed that, however, for the assassin pressed in, his dagger scoring a hit on the gargoyle's hip. Entreri hooked and tugged as he fast retracted, dropping his left foot far back and pulling the gargoyle forward just a bit.

Close enough for Charon's Claw. Across came the assassin's right hand, the mighty sword creasing the gargoyle from face to wounded hip.

It shrieked, an unearthly sound indeed, and stumbled back a step, then another. It tried to beat its wings to lift away, but it was too late for that, and with a confused look at the assassin, it fell over dead.

Bolts of luminescent green flared from Arrayan's fingers, burning into a charging gargoyle. One after another, her magically-created missiles reached out and seared the creature, and with each, its steps toward her became more unsteady.

Still, watching the woman, Pratcus feared that the gargoyle would rush over her. He shook the sight away - she would have to hold!  -  and continued his magical casting, leaping toward Olgerkhan as he did battle with two of the creatures, his heavy club smashing at their reaching, clawed hands. Bluish magic flowed from Pratcus and into the large half-orc. Healing energy stemmed the flow of blood from a wound the half-orc had suffered in the first exchange.

A shout from the side turned the dwarf on his heel, just in time to see the gargoyle collide with Arrayan, both going down in a heap. The dwarf leaped in and slugged the gargoyle in the back of its horned head with his mailed fist. He knew even as he connected that Arrayan's missiles had already finished the job, though. He grabbed the dead thing's shoulders and yanked it off the woman, then took Arrayan's hand and tugged her to her feet.

Blood ran freely from Arrayan's broken nose, but the dwarf had no time for that at the moment. He turned and began his spellcasting, and Arrayan did, too, though her arcane chant was slurred by the blood in her mouth.

Her missiles fired first, reaching out and swerving to either side of Olgerkhan to alternately slam the creatures he was frantically battling.

"Close your eyes!" Pratcus yelled an instant before his spell went off.

A burst of brilliant light filled the area around the battle, and Olgerkhan and both gargoyles recoiled in horrified surprise. Before the large half-orc or Arrayan could question the dwarf's tactic, however, the purpose became apparent, for the gargoyle to Olgerkhan's left began flailing helplessly at the air, obviously blinded.

Olgerkhan went for the one on the right instead. He swiped his heavy club across in front of him. As it went out far to the left, he let go with his trailing hand. He rolled the club under his left arm as he continued his swing, bringing it in behind his back, where he caught it again with his right. He rolled the weapon over so that its butt was sticking out before him, recaptured it closer to the leading edge with his left hand, and thrust if forward into the midsection of the leaping gargoyle as he, too, strode ahead.

The devastating impact doubled the gargoyle over, and Olgerkhan stepped away fast and slid his club back so that both his hands were on its handle again. With a roar, the brutish half-orc brought it in a great overhand swipe that cracked against the back of the gargoyle's head and drove it face down to the ground.

Olgerkhan went for the second gargoyle, and Pratcus was already casting another healing spell for the warrior, when Arrayan yelped and flew forward, hit hard by the head butt of yet another diving creature.

Pratcus turned his attention to the gargoyle standing at his side, of course, but not before noting that Olgerkhan, too, arched his back in sudden pain, though nothing had hit him there. With no time to sort through the puzzle, the dwarf launched a sidelong swipe with his small mace.

The gargoyle caught it by the handle, just under the spiked head, but that was exactly what the dwarf had expected. Pratcus's muscled legs uncoiled, launching him into the creature, and he let fly a left jab that crunched the gargoyle squarely in the face. That, not the mace, was Pratcus's preferred method of attack, for he wore heavy metal gauntlets powerfully enchanted for battle.

The dwarf continued to bore in, pressing his face into the gargoyle's chest. He let go of his mace and began driving his fists one after another into the gargoyle's midsection, each heavy blow bringing forth a gasping growl and lifting the gargoyle from the ground.

Beside him, Arrayan re-oriented herself to the battle.

A heavy thump brought her attention to Olgerkhan, his club sending the blind gargoyle into a sidelong spin, so brutal was the blow.

Arrayan caught movement out of the corner of her eye and grabbed at her pouch where she kept her spellcasting ingredients. She waved her hand and called forth her magic, and the air above and to the side of Olgerkhan filled with stringy, weblike strands. Arrayan had nothing upon which to set her web, so it didn't stop the descent of the gargoyle, but by the time the creature hit the ground between her and Olgerkhan, it was all tangled and fighting furiously to pull free of the sticky filaments.

Its predicament only worsened when a second gargoyle flew past Arrayan, tumbling down at the entangled one's feet and tripping it up. Right behind that battered form came Pratcus, howling his battle cry.

And Olgerkhan was there, too, driving his club down with heavy chops that shattered gargoyle bone.

Those chops quickly diminished, though, and Pratcus turned to question the large half-orc. The words stuck in the dwarf's mouth, however, when he realized that Olgerkhan was gasping for breath, exhausted and struggling.

The dwarf eyed him with curiosity, not quite understanding. The warrior had suffered no serious hits, and the fight had barely begun.

Shaking his head, Pratcus could only turn and look for something else to hit.

Entreri wondered why he even bothered to stand up again after yet another roll beneath the reaching claws of a diving gargoyle. He also wondered why in the Nine Hells the warrior dwarf and the thin wizard hadn't yet joined the fray. He figured that would soon enough be remedied, in any case, as a gargoyle swept down into the wizard's small tent, tearing through the fabric with abandon.

But the two were not in there.

Entreri's eyes narrowed as the tent fell away, leaving the gargoyle standing confused before a rope hanging in midair. The gargoyle tugged then climbed. Its head and shoulders disappeared into an extra-dimensional pocket.

There was a brilliant flash of flame, and the decapitated body of the gargoyle tumbled to the ground. Out of thin air leaped Athrogate, one of his morning stars smoking.

"Give me the boys and yerself fights the girls," he roared. "For everyone knows there's claws in them curls! Bwahaha!"

Entreri prayed that a dozen gargoyles would throttle the little beast.

A pair seemed as if they would do exactly that, soaring down fast, but the dwarf's spinning morning stars kept them at bay, and a searing bolt of lightning flashed out from the extra-dimensional pocket.

From across the way, Entreri marked that lightning blast clearly, for so intense was the power that the gargoyles were incinerated and thrown away. He saw Canthan's face peeking out above the rope, and he knew then that the frail-looking wizard was not one to be taken lightly.

A third gargoyle, on the ground, charged at the dwarf, who howled and charged right back. The creature came in and snapped its head forward to gore with its horn, but Athrogate leaped and similarly head-butted, forcing an impact with the creature's forehead before it could bring the horn in line.

Dwarf and gargoyle bounced back, both standing staring at each other, and seeming as if on shaky legs.

Athrogate yelled, "Bwahaha!" again, snorted and launched a wad of spit into the gargoyle's face.

"Mark ye with spit so I know where to hit!" he cried.

The dwarf went into a sudden spin, coming around with a leading morning star that crunched against the stunned gargoyle's face. The creature's head snapped back. Its arms out wide, the gargoyle arched its back and stared up at the dark sky.

Athrogate twisted his torso as he continued his spin so that his arms were on the diagonal, and his second morning star's spiked head came in on the gargoyle descending from on high.

The creature jolted down and seemed to bounce, and it appeared as if it would just fall over.

The dwarf was taking no chances, though, or was just enjoying it all too much. He put the weapons in tighter alternating spins above his head, slamming the gargoyle several times, driving it back, back, until he finally just let the dead thing fall to the ground.

"Bwahaha!" the dwarf yelled as he charged in the direction of Pratcus and the two half-orcs.

He cut back suddenly, though, his heavy boots digging ruts in the ground.

Entreri shook his head and started the same way, but he pulled up as the dwarf halted and turned around. He knew what had gotten Athrogate's attention, and a lump appeared in his throat as he watched a quartet of gargoyles diving at the drow's globe of darkness.

"Jarlaxle!" he cried.

The assassin winced as the gargoyles disappeared into the impenetrable shadow.

Howls and screams, shrieks of pain and bloodthirsty hunger, erupted from within.

Entreri found it hard to breathe.

"Get there, dwarf," he heard himself whispering.

-- Advertisement --