"Did you please the goddess?" Matron Malice asked, her question as much a threat as an inquiry. At her side, the other females of House Do'Urden, Briza, Vierna, and Maya, looked on impassively, hiding their jealousy.
"Not a single drow was slain" Dinin replied, his voice thick with the sweetness of drow evil. "We cut them and slashed them!" He drooled as his recounting of the elven slaughter brought back the lust of the moment. "Bit them and ripped them!"
"What of you?" the matron mother interrupted, more concerned with the consequences to her own family's standing than with the raid's general success.
"Five" Dinin answered proudly. "I killed five, all of them females!"
The matron's smile thrilled Dinin. Then Malice scowled as she turned her gaze on Drizzt. "And him?" she inquired, not expecting to be pleased with the answer. Malice did not doubt her youngest son's prowess with weapons, but she had come to suspect that Drizzt had too much of Zaknafein's emotional makeup to ever be an attribute in such situations.
Dinin's smile confused her. He walked over to Drizzt and draped an arm comfortably across his brother's shoulders.
"Drizzt got only one kill" Dinin began, "but it was a female child"
"Only one?" Malice growled.
From the shadows off to the side, Zaknafein listened in dismay. He wanted to shut out the elderboy Do'Urden's damning words, but they held Zak in their grip. Of all the evils Zak had ever encountered in Menzoberranzan, this surely had to be the most disappointing. Drizzt had killed a child.
"But the way he did it!" Dinin exclaimed. "He hacked her apart; sent all of Lloth's fury slicing into her twitching body! The Spider Queen must have treasured that kill above all the others"
"Only one" Matron Malice said again, her scowl hardly softening.
"He would have had two" Dinin continued. "Shar Nadal of House Maevret stole one from his blade-another female"
"Then Lloth will look with favor on House Maevret" Briza reasoned.
"No" Dinin replied. "Drizzt punished Shar Nadal for his actions. The son of House Maevret would not respond to the challenge"
The memory stuck in Drizzt's thoughts. He wished that Shar Nadal had come back at him, so he could have vented his rage more fully. Even that wish sent pangs of guilt cours-ing through Drizzt.
"Well done, my children" Malice beamed, now satisfied that both of them had acted properly in the raid. "The Spider Queen will look upon House Do'Urden with favor for this event. She will guide us to victory over this unknown house that seeks to destroy us"
Zaknafein left the audience hall with his eyes down and one hand nervously rubbing his sword's hilt. Zak remem-bered the time he had deceived Drizzt with the light bomb, when he had Drizzt defenseless and beaten. He could have spared the young innocent from his horrid fate. He could have killed Drizzt then and there, mercifully, and released him from the inevitable circumstances of life in Menzober-ranzan.
Zak paused in the long corridor and turned back to watch the chamber. Drizzt and Dinin came out then, Drizzt casting Zak a single, accusatory look and pointedly turning away down a side passage.
The gaze cut through the weapon master. "So it has come to this" Zak murmured to himself. "The youngest warrior of House Do'Urden, so full of the hate that embodies our race, has learned to despise me for what I am"
Zak thought again of that moment in the training gym, that fateful second when Drizzt's life teetered on the edge of a poised sword. It indeed would have been a merciful act to kill Drizzt at that time.
With the sting of the young drow warrior's gaze still cut-ting so keenly into his heart, Zak couldn't decide whether the deed would have been more merciful to Drizzt or to himself.
"Leave us" Matron SiNafay commanded as she swept into the small room lighted by a candle's glow. Alton gawked at the request; it was, after all, his personal room! Alton pru-dently reminded himself that SiNafay was the matron mother of the family, the absolute ruler of House Hun'ett. With a few awkward bows and apologies for his hesitation, he backed out of the room.
Masoj watched his mother cautiously as she waited for Al-ton to move away. From SiNafay's agitated tone, Masoj un-derstood the significance of her visit. Had he done something to anger his mother? Or, more likely, had Alton? When SiNafay spun back on him, her face twisted in evil glee, Masoj realized that her agitation was really excite-ment.
"House Do'Urden has erred!" she snarled. "It has lost the Spider Queen's favor!"
"How?" Masoj replied. He knew that Dinin and Drizzt had returned from a successful raid, an assault that all of the city was talking about in tones of high praise.
"I do not know the details" Matron SiNafay replied, find-ing a measure of calmness in her voice. "One of them, per-haps one of the sons, did something to displease Lloth. This was told to me by a handmaiden of the Spider Queen. It must be true!"
"Matron Malice will work quickly to correct the situation" Masoj reasoned. "How long do we have?"
"Lloth's displeasure will not be revealed to Matron Mal-ice" SiNafay replied. "Not soon. The Spider Queen knows all. She knows that we plan to attack House Do'Urden, and only an unfortunate accident will inform Matron Malice of her desperate situation before her house is crushed!
"We must move quickly" Matron SiNafay went on. "Within ten cycles of Narbondei, the first strike must fall! The full battle will begin soon after, before House Do'Urden can link its loss to our wrongdoing"
"What is to be their sudden loss?" Masoj prompted, think-ing, hoping, he had already guessed the answer.
His mother's words were like sweet music to his ears.
"Drizzt Do'Urden" she purred, "the favored son. Kill him Masoj rested back and clasped his slender fingers behind his head, considering the command.
"You will not fail me" SiNafay warned.
"I will not" Masoj assured her. "Drizzt, though young, is al-ready a powerful foe. His brother, a former master of Melee-Magthere, is never far from his side" He looked up at his matron mother, his eyes gleaming. "May I kill the brother, too?"
"Be cautious, my son" SiNafay replied. "Drizzt Do'Urden is your target. Concentrate your efforts toward his death.
" As you command" Masoj replied, bowing low. SiNafay liked the way her young son heeded to her de-sires without question. She started out of the room, confi-dent in Masoj's ability to perform the task.
"If Dinin Do'Urden somehow gets in the way" she said, turning back to throw Masoj a gift for his obedience, "you may kill him, too"
Masoj's expression revealed too much eagerness for the second task.
"You will not fail me!" SiNafay said again, this time in an open threat that stole some of the wind out of Masoj's filling sails. "Drizzt Do'Urden must die within ten days!"
Masoj forced any distracting thoughts of Dinin out of his mind. "Drizzt must die" he whispered over and over, long after his mother had gone. He already knew how he wanted to do it. He only had to hope that the opportunity would come soon.
The awful memory of the surface raid followed Drizzt, haunted him, as he wandered the halls of Daermon N'a'shezbaernon. He had rushed from the audience cham-ber as soon as Matron Malice had dismissed him, and had slipped away from his brother at the first opportunity, wanting only to be alone.
The images remained: the broken sparkle in the young el-ven girl's eyes as she knelt over her murdered mother's corpse; the elven woman's horrified expression, twisting in agony as ghar Nadal ripped the life from her body. The sur-face elves were there in Drizzt's thoughts; he could not dis. miss them. They walked beside Drizzt as he wandered, as real as they had been when Drizzt's raiding group had de. scended upon their joyful song.
Drizzt wondered if he would ever be alone again. Eyes down, consumed by his empty sense of loss, Drizzt c did not mark the path before him. He jumped back, startled, when he turned a corner and bumped into somebody. He stood facing Zaknafein.
"You are home" the weapon master said absently, his blank face revealing none of the tumultuous emotions swirl-ing through his mind.
Drizzt wondered if he could properly hide his own grim-ace. "For a day" he replied, equally nonchalant, though his rage with Zaknafein was no less intense. Now that Drizzt had witnessed the wrath of drow elves firsthand, Zak's re-puted deeds rang out to Drizzt as even more evil. "My patrol group goes back out at Narbondel's first light.
"So soon?" asked Zak, genuinely surprised.
"We are summoned. Drizzt replied, starting past. zat caught him by the arm. "General patrol?" he asked. "Focused" Drizzt replied." Activity in the eastern tunnels"
"So the heroes are summoned" chuckled Zak.
Drizzt did not immediately respond. Was there sarcasm in Zak's voice? Jealousy, perhaps, that Drizzt and Dinin were allowed to go out to fight, while Zak had to remain within the House Do'Urden's confines to fulfill his role as the fami-ly's fighting instructor? Was Zak's hunger for blood so great that he could not accept the duties thrust upon them all?
Zak had trained Drizzt and Dinin, had he not? And hun-dreds of others; he'd transformed them into living weapons, into murderers.
"How long will you be out?" Zak pressed, more interested in Drizzt's whereabouts.
Drizzt shrugged. "A week at the longest"
"That is good" said Zak. "I will be pleased to see you back within the walls of House Do'Orden" Drizzt didn't believe a word of it.
Zak then slapped him on the shoulder in a sudden, unex-pected movement designed to test Drizzt's reflexes. More surprised than threatened, Drizzt accepted the pat without response, not sure of his uncle's intent.
"The gym, perhaps?" asked Zak. "You and I, as it once was.
Impossible! Drizzt wanted to shout. Never again would it be as it once was. Drizzt held those thoughts to himself and nodded his assent. "I would enjoy that" he replied, secretly wondering how much satisfaction he would gain by cutting Zaknafein down. Drizzt knew the truth of his people now, and knew that he was powerless to change anything. Maybe he could make a change in his private life, though. Maybe by destroying Zaknafein, his greatest disappointment, Drizzt could remove himself from the wrongness around him.
"As would I, Zak said, the friendliness of his tone hiding his private thoughts-thoughts identical to Drizzt's.
"In a week, then" Drizzt said, and he pulled away, unable to continue the encounter with the drow who once had been his dearest friend, and who, Drizzt had come to learn, was truly as devious and evil as the rest of his kin.
"Please, my matron" Alton whimpered, "it is my right. I beg of you!"
"Rest easy, foolish DeVir" SiNafay replied, and there was pity in her voice, an emotion seldom felt and almost never revealed.
"I have waited-"
"The time is almost upon you" SiNafay countered, her tone growing more threatening. "You have tried for this one before?'
Alton's grotesque gawk brought a smile to SiNafay's face.
Yes, she said, "I know of your bungled attempt on Drizzt Do'Urden's life. If Masoj had not arrived, the young warrior would probably have slain you?'
"I would have destroyed him!" Alton growled. SiNafay did not argue the point. "Perhaps you would have won" she said, "only to be exposed as a murderous impos-ter, with the wrath of all of Menzoberranzan hanging over your head!"
"I did not care?'
"You would have cared, I promise you!" Matron SiNafay sneered. "You would have forfeited your chance to claim a greater revenge. 1rust in me, Alton DeVir. Your-our-victory is at hand?'
"Masoj will kill Drizzt, and maybe Dinin" Alton grumbled.
"There are other Do'Urdens awaiting the fell hand of Al-ton DeVir" Matron SiNafay promised. "High priestesses?' Alton could not dismiss the disappointment he felt at not being allowed to go after Drizzt. He badly wanted to kill that one. Drizzt had brought him embarrassment that day in his chambers at Sorcere; the young draw should have died quickly and quietly. Alton wanted to make up for that mis-take.
Alton also could not ignore the promise that Matron SiNa-fay had just made to him. The thought of killing one or more of the high priestesses of House Do'Urden did not displease him at all.
The pillowy softness of the plush bed, so different from the rest of the hard stone world of Menzoberranzan, of. fered Drizzt no relief from the pain. Another ghost had reared up to overwhelm even the images of carnage on the surface: the specter of Zaknafein.
Dinin and Vierna had told Drizzt the truth of the weapon master, of Zak's role in the fall of House DeVir, and of how Zak so enjoyed slaughtering other drow-other drow who had done nothing to wrong him or deserve his wrath.
So Zaknafein, too, took part in this evil game of drow life, the endless quest to please the Spider Queer.
" As I so pleased her on the surface?" Drizzt couldn't help but mumble, the sarcasm of the spoken words bringing him some small measure of comfort.
The comfort Drizzt felt in saving the life of the elven child seemed such a minor act against the overwhelming wrongs his raiding group had exacted on her people. Matron Mal. ice, his mother, had so enjoyed hearing the bloody recount. ing. Drizzt remembered the elven child's horror at the sight of her dead mother. Would he, or any dark elf, be so devas. tated if they looked upon such a sight. Unlikely, he thought.
Drizzt hardly shared a loving bond with Malice, and most draw would be too engaged in measuring the consequences of their mother's death to their own station to feel any sense of loss.
Would Malice have cared if either Drizzt or Dinin had fallen in the raid? Again Drizzt knew the answer. All that Malice cared about was how the raid affected her own base of power. She had reveled in the notion that her children had pleased her evil goddess.
What favor would Uoth show to House Do'Urden if she knew the truth of Drizzt's actions? Drizzt had no way to measure how much, if any, interest the Spider Queen had taken in the raid. Lloth remained a mystery to him, one he had no desire to explore. Would she be enraged if she knew the truth of the raid? Or if she knew the truth of Drizzt's thoughts at this moment?
Drizzt shuddered to think of the punishments he might be bringing upon himself, but he had already firmly de-cided upon his course of action, whatever the conse-quences. He would return to House Do'Urden in a week. He would go then to the practice gym for a reunion with his old teacher.
He would kill Zaknafein in a week.
Caught up in the emotions of a dangerous and heartfelt decision, Zaknafein hardly heard the biting scrape as he ran the whetstone along his sword's gleaming edge.
The weapon had to be perfect, with no jags or burrs. This deed had to be executed without malice or anger.
A clean blow, and Zak would rid himself of the demons of his own failures, hide himself once again within the sanctu-ary of his private chambers, his secret world. A clean blow, and he would do what he should have done a decade before.
"If only I had found the strength then; he lamented. "How much grief might I have spared Drizzt? How much pain did his days at the Academy bring to him, that he is so very changed?" The words rang hollow in the empty room. They were just words, useless now, for Zak had already decided that Drizzt was out of reason's reach. Drizzt was a drow warrior, with all of the wicked connotations carried in such a title.
The choice was gone to Zaknafein if he wished to hold any pretense of value to his wretched existence. This time, he could not stay his sword. He had to kill Drizzt.