"Zaknafein is out of the house?" Malice asked.
"I sent him and Rizzen to the Academy to deliver a filessage to Vierna" Briza explained. "He shan't return for many hours, not before the light of Narbondel begins its descent"
"That is good" said Malice. "You both understand your du-ties in this farce?"
Briza and Maya nodded. "I have never heard of such a de-ception" Maya remarked. "Is it necessary?"
"It was planned for another of the house" Briza answered, looking to Matron Malice for confirmation. "Nearly four centuries ago"
"Yes" agreed Malice. "The same was to be done to Zaknafein, but the unexpected death of Matron Vartha, my mother, disrupted the plans"
"That was when you became the matron mother" Maya said.
"Yes" replied Malice, "though I had not passed my first century of life and was still training in Arach. Tinilith. It was not a pleasant time in the history of House Do'Urden"
"But we survived" said Briza. "With the death of Matron Vartha, Nalfein and I became nobles of the house"
"The test on Zaknafein was never attempted" Maya rea-soned.
"Too many other duties preceded it" Malice answered.
"We will try it on Drizzt, though" said Maya.
"The punishment of House Thken'duis convinced me that this action had to be taken" said Malice.
"Yes" Briza agreed. "Did you notice Drizzt's expression throughout the execution?"
"I did" answered Maya. "He was revolted"
"Unfitting for a drow warrior" said Malice, "and so this duty is upon us. Drizzt will leave for the Academy in a short time, we must stain his hands with drow blood and steal his innocence"
"It seems a lot of trouble for a male child" Briza grumbled.
"If Drizzt cannot adhere to our ways, then why do we not simply give him to Lloth?"
"I will bear no more children!" Malice growled in re-sponse. "Every member of this family is important if we are to gain prominence in the city!" Secretly Malice hoped for another gain in converting Drizzt to the evil ways of the drow. She hated Zaknafein as much as she desired him, and turning Drizzt into a drow warrior, a true heartless drow warrior, would distress the weapon master greatly.
"On with it, then" Malice proclaimed. She clapped her hands, and a large chest walked in, supported by eight ani-mated spider legs. Behind it came a nervous goblin slave.
"Come, Byuchyuch" Malice said in a comforting tone. Anxious to please, the slave bounded up before Malice's throne and held perfectly still as the matron mother went through the incantation of a long and complicated spell.
Briza and Maya watched in admiration at their mother's skills; the little goblin's features bulged and twisted, and its skin darkened. A few minutes later, the slave had assumed the appearance of a male drow. Byuchyuch looked at its fea-tures happily, not understanding that the transformation was merely a prelude to death.
"You are a drow soldier now" Maya said to it, "and my champion. You must kill only a single, inferior fighter to take your place as a free commoner of House Do'Urden!" After ten years as an indentured servant to the wicked dark elves, the goblin was more than eager.
Malice rose and started out of the anteroom. "Come" she ordered, and her two daughters, the goblin, and the ani-mated chest fell in line behind her.
They came upon Drizzt in the practice room, polishing the razor edge of his scimitars. He leaped straight up to si-lent attention at the sight of the unexpected visitors.
"Greetings, my son" Malice said in a tone more motherly than Drizzt had ever heard. "We have a test for you this day, a simple task necessary for your acceptance into MeleeMagthere"
Maya moved before her brother. "I am the youngest, beside yourself" she declared. "Thus, I am granted the rights of challenge, which I now execute"
Drizzt stood confused. He had never heard of such a thing. Maya called the chest to her side and reverently opened the cover.
"You have your weapons and your piwafwi" she ex-plained. "Now it is time for you to don the complete outfit of a noble of House Do'Urden" From the chest she pulled out a pair of high black boots and handed them to Drizzt.
Drizzt eagerly slipped out of his normal boots and put on the new ones. They were incredibly soft, and they magically shifted and adjusted to a perfect fit on his feet. Drizzt knew the magic within them: they would allow him to move in ab-solute silence. Before he had even finished admiring them, though, Maya gave him the next gift, even more magnifi-cent.
Drizzt dropped his piwafwi to the floor as he took a set of silvery chain mail. In all the Realms, there was no armor as supple and finely crafted as drow chain mail. It weighed no more than a heavy shirt and would bend as easily as silken cloth, yet could deflect the tip of a spear as surely as dwarven-crafted plate mail.
"You fight with two weapons" Maya said, "and therefore need no shield. But put your scimitars in this; it is more fit-ting to a drow noble" She handed Drizzt a black leather belt, its clasp a huge emerald and its two scabbards richly decorated in jewels and gemstones.
"Prepare yourself" Malice said to Drizzt. "The gifts must be earned" As Drizzt started to don the outfit, Malice moved beside the altered goblin, which stood nervously in the growing realization that its fight would be no simple task.
"When you kill him, the items will be yours" Malice prom-ised. The goblin's smile returned tenfold; it could not com-prehend that it had no chance against Drizzt.
When Drizzt again fastened his piwafwi around his neck, Maya introduced the phony drow soldier. "This is Byuchyuch" she said, "my champion. You must defeat him to earn the gifts. . . and your proper place in the family"
Never doubting his abilities, and thinking the contest to be a simple sparring match, Drizzt readily agreed. "Let it be-gin, then" he said, drawing his scimitars from their lavish sheaths.
Malice gave Byuchyuch a comforting nod, and the goblin took up the sword and shield that Maya had provided and moved right in at Drizzt.
Drizzt began slowly, trying to take a measure of his oppo-nent before attempting any daring offensive strikes. In only a moment, though, Drizzt realized how badly Byuchyuch handled the sword and shield. Not knowing the truth of the creature's identity, Drizzt could hardly believe that a drow would show such ineptitude with weapons. He wondered if Byuchyuch was baiting him, and with that thought, contin-ued his cautious approach.
After a few more moments of Byuchyuch's wild and off-balanced swings, however, Drizzt felt compelled to take the initiative. He slapped one scimitar against Byuchyuch's shield. The goblin-drow responded with a lumbering thrust, and Drizzt slapped its sword from its hand with his free blade and executed a simple twist that brought the scimitar's tip to a halt against the hollow of Byuchyuch's chest.
"Too easy" Drizzt muttered under his breath.
But the true test had only begun.
On cue, Briza cast a mind-numbing spell on the goblin, freezing it in its helpless position. Still aware of its predica-ment, Byuchyuch tried to dive away, but Briza's spell held it still.
"Finish the strike" Malice said to Drizzt. Drizzt looked at his scimitar, then to Malice, unable to believe what he was hearing.
"Maya's champion must be killed" Briza snarled.
"I cannot-" Drizzt began.
"Kill!" Malice roared, and this time the word carried the weight of a magical command.
"Thrust!" Briza likewise commanded.
Drizzt felt their words compelling his hand to action.
Thoroughly disgusted with the thought of murdering a helpless foe, he concentrated with all of his mental strength to resist. While he managed to deny the commands for a few seconds, Drizzt found that he could not pull the weapon away.
"Kill!" Malice screamed.
"Strike!" yelled Briza.
It went on for several more agonizing seconds. Sweat beaded on Drizzt's brow. Then the young drow's willpower broke. His scimitar slipped quickly between Byuchyuch's ribs and found the unfortunate creature's heart. Briza re-leased Byuchyuch from her holding spell then, to let Drizzt see the agony on the phony drow's face and hear the gur-gles as the dying Byuchyuch slipped to the floor. Drizzt could not find his breath as he stared at his blood-stained weapon.
It was Maya's turn to act. She clipped Drizzt on the shoul-der with her mace, knocking him to the floor.
"You killed my champion!" she growled. "Now you must fight me!"
Drizzt rolled back to his feet, away from the enraged fe-male. He had no intention of fighting, but before he could even drop his weapons, Malice read his thoughts and warned, "If you do not fight, Maya will kill you!"
"This is not the way" Drizzt protested, but his words were lost in the ring of adamantite as he parried a heavy blow with one scimitar.
He was now into it, whether he liked it or not. Maya was a skilled fighter-all females spent many hours training with weapons-and she was stronger than Drizzt. But Drizzt was Zak's son, the prime student, and when he admitted to him-self that he had no way out of this predicament, he came in at Maya's mace and shield with every cunning maneuver he had been taught.
Scimitars weaved and dipped in a dance that awed Briza and Maya. Malice hardly noticed, caught in the midst of yet another mighty spell. Malice never doubted that Drizzt could defeat his sister, and she had incorporated her expec-tations into the plan.
Drizzt's moves were all defensive as he continued to hope for some semblance of sanity to come over his mother, and that this whole thing would be stopped. He wanted to back Maya up, cause her to stumble, and end the fight by putting her in a helpless position. Drizzt had to believe that Briza and Malice would not compel him to kill Maya as he had killed Byuchyuch.
Finally, Maya did slip. She threw her shield out to deflect an arcing scimitar but became overbalanced in the block, and her arm went wide. Drizzt's other blade knifed in, only to nick at Maya's breast and force her back.
Malice's spell caught the weapon in midthrust.
The blood-stained adamantite blade writhed to life and Drizzt found himself holding the tail of a serpent, a fanged viper that turned back against him!
The enchanted snake spat its venom in Drizzt's eyes, blinding him, then he felt the pain of Briza's whip. All six snake heads of the awful weapon bit into Drizzt's back, tear-ing through his new armor and jolting him in excruciating pain. He crumbled down into a curled position, helpless as Briza snapped the whip in, again and again.
"Never strike at a drow female!" she screamed as she beat Drizzt into unconsciousness.
An hour later, Drizzt opened his eyes. He was in his bed, Matron Malice standing over him. The high priestess had tended to his wounds, but the sting remained, a vivid re-minder of the lesson. But it was not nearly as vivid as the blood that still stained Drizzt's scimitar.
"The armor will be replaced" Malice said to him. "You are a drow warrior now. You have earned it" She turned and walked out of the room, leaving Drizzt to his pain and his fallen innocence.
"Do not send him" Zak argued as emphatically as he dared. He stared up at Matron Malice, the smug queen on her high throne of stone and black velvet. As always, Briza and Maya stood obediently by her sides.
"He is a drow fighter" Malice replied, her tone still controlled. "He must go to the Academy. It is our way"
Zak looked around helplessly. He hated this place, the chapel anteroom, with its sculptures of the Spider Queen leering down at him from every angle, and with Malice sitting-towering-above him from her seat of power.
Zak shook the images away and regained his courage, re-minding himself that this time he had something worth ar-guing about.
"Do not send him!" he growled. "They will ruin him!" Matron Malice's hands clenched down on the rock arms of her great chair.
"Already Drizzt is more skilled than half of those in the Academy" Zak continued quickly, before the matron's an-ger burst forth. "Allow me two more years, and I will make him the finest swordsman in all of Menzoberranzan!"
Malice eased back on her seat. From what she had seen of her son's progress, she could not deny the possibilities of Zak's claim. "He goes" she said calmly. "There is more to the making of a drow warrior than skill with weapons. Drizzt has other lessons he must learn"
"Lessons of treachery?" Zak spat, too angry to care about the consequences. Drizzt had told him what Malice and her evil daughters had done that day, and Zak was wise enough to understand their actions. Their "lesson" had nearly broken the boy, and had, perhaps, forever stolen from Drizzt the ideals he held so dear. Drizzt would find his morals and principles harder to cling to now that the pedestal of purity had been knocked out from under him"
"Watch your tongue, Zaknafein" Matron Malice warned.
"I fight with passion!" the weapon master snapped. "That is why I win. Your son, too, fights with passion-do not let the conforming ways of the Academy take that from him!"
"Leave us" Malice instructed her daughters. Maya bowed and rushed out through the door. Briza followed more slowly, pausing to cast a suspicious eye upon Zak. Zak didn't return the glare, but he entertained a fantasy concerning his sword and Briza's smug smile.
"Zaknafein" Malice began, again coming forward in her chair. "I have tolerated your blasphemous beliefs through these many years because of your skill with weapons. You have taught my soldiers well, and your love of killing drow, particularly clerics of the Spider Queen, has aided the as-cent of House Do'Urden. I am not, and have not been, un-grateful.
"But I warn you now, one final time, that Drizzt is my son, not his sire's! He will go to the Academy and learn what he must to take his place as a prince of House Do'Urden. If you interfere with what must be, Zaknafein, I will no longer turn my eyes from your actions! Your heart will be given to Lloth"
Zak stamped his heels on the floor and snapped a short bow of his head, then spun about and departed, trying to find some option in this dark and hopeless picture. As he made his way through the main corridor, he again heard in his mind the screams of the dying children of House DeVir, children who never got the chance to witness the evils of the drow Academy. Perhaps they were better off dead.