Chapter 26 LEADING WITH THEIR FACES

The sky had grayed again, threatening yet another wintry blast, but the friends, undaunted, started out from their latest resting spot full of hope and spirit, ready to do battle against whatever obstacles they might find. They were together again, and for the first time since Wulfgar’s unexpected return from the Abyss it seemed comfortable to them all. It seemed. . right.

When Wulfgar had first returned to them—in an icy cave on the Sea of Moving Ice in the midst of their raging battle against the demon Errtu—there had been elation, of course, but it had been an uncomfortable thing on many levels. It was a shock and a trial to readjust to this sudden new reality. Wulfgar had returned from the grave, and all the grief the other four friends had thought settled had suddenly been unearthed, resolution thrown aside.

Elation had led to many uncomfortable but much-needed adjustments as the friends had tried to get to know each other again. That led to disaster, to Wulfgar’s moodiness, to Wulfgar’s outrage, and to the subsequent disbanding of the Companions of the Hall. But now they were together again.

They fell into a comfortable rhythm in their determined march, with Bruenor leading the main group, plowing the trail with his sturdy body, Regis came next, noting the mountain peaks and guiding the dwarf. Then came Wulfgar, the heavy bardiche on his shoulder, using his height to scan the trail ahead and to the sides.

Catti-brie, a short distance back, brought up the rear of the four, bow in hand, on the alert and keeping track of the drow who was constantly flanking them, first on one side and then the other. Drizzt had not brought up Guenhwyvar from the Astral Plane—in fact, he had handed the figurine controlling the panther over to Catti-brie—because the longer they could wait, the more rested the great cat would be. And the drow had a feeling he would be needing Guenhwyvar before this was ended.

Soon after noon, with the band making great progress and the snow still holding back, Catti-brie noted a hand signal from Drizzt, who was ahead and to the left.

“Hold,” she whispered to Wulfgar, who relayed the command to the front.

Bruenor pulled up, breathing hard from his trudging. He lifted the axe off his back and dropped the head to the snow, leaning on the upright handle.

“Drizzt approaches,” said Wulfgar, who could easily see over the snowy berm and the drifts on the path ahead.

“Another trail,” the drow explained when he appeared above the berm. “Crossing this one and leading to the west.”

“We should go straight south from here,” Regis reminded.

Drizzt shook his head. “Not a natural trail,” he explained.

“Tracks?” asked Bruenor, seeming quite eager. “More ogries?”

“Different,” said Drizzt, and he motioned for them all to follow him.

Barely a hundred yards ahead, they came upon the second’ trail. It was a pressed area of snow cutting across their current path, moving along the sloping ground to the east. There, continuing across an expanse of deep, blown snow, the friends saw a lower area full of slush and with a bit of steam still rising from it.

“What in the Nine Hells done that?” asked Bruenor.

“Polar worm,” Drizzt explained.

Bruenor spat, Regis shivered, and Catti-brie stood a bit straighter, suddenly on her guard. They all had some experience with the dreaded remorhaz, the great polar worms. Enough experience, certainly, to know that they each had little desire to battle one again.

“No foe I wish to leave behind us,” the drow explained.

“So ye’re thinking we should go and fight the damned thing?” Bruenor asked doubtfully.

Drizzt shook his head. “We should figure out where it is, at least. Whether or not we should kill the creature will depend on many things.”

“Like how stupid we really are,” Regis muttered under his breath. Only Catti-brie, who was standing near to him, heard. She looked at him with a smile and a wink, and the halfling only shrugged.

Hardly waiting for confirmation, Drizzt rushed up to take the point. He was far ahead, creeping along the easier path carved out by the strange and powerful polar worm, a beast that could superheat its spine to vaporize snow and, the drow reminded himself, vaporize flesh. They found the great beast only a few hundred yards off the main path, down in a shallow dell, devouring the last of a mountain goat it had caught in the deep snow. The mighty creature’s back glowed from the excitement of the kill and feast.

“The beast will not bother with us,” Wulfgar remarked. “They feed only rarely and once sated, they seek no further prey.”

“True enough,” Drizzt agreed, and he led them back to the main trail.

A few light flakes were drifting through the air by that point, but Regis bade them not to worry, for in the distance he noted a peculiar mountain peak that signaled the northern tip of Minster Gorge.

The snow was still light, no more than a flurry, when the five reached the trail on the side of the peak, with Minster Gorge winding away to the south before them. Regis took command, explaining the general layout of the winding run, pointing out the expected locations of sentries, left and right, and leading their gazes far, far to the south where the white-capped top of one larger mound could just be seen. Carefully, the halfling again diagrammed the place for the others, explaining the outer, ascending path running past the sea facing and around to the east on that distant mound. That path, he explained, led to at least one door set into the mound’s side.

Regis looked to Drizzt, nodded, and said, “And there is another, more secret way inside.”

“Ye thinking we’d be better splitting apart?” Bruenor asked the halfling doubtfully. He turned to aim his question at Drizzt as well, for it was obvious that Regis’s reminder had the drow deep in thought.

Drizzt hesitated. Normally, the Companions of the Hall fought together, side by side, and usually to devastating effect. But this was no normal attack for them. This time, they were going against an entrenched fortress, a place no doubt secure and well defended. If he could take the inner corridors to some behind-the-lines vantage point, he might be able to help out quite a bit.

“Let us discern our course one step at a time,” the drow finally said. “First we must deal with the sentries, if there are any.”

“There were a few when I flew by with Robillard,” said Regis. “A pair, at least, on either side of the gorge. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave.”

“Then we must take alternate paths to avoid them,” Wulfgar put in. “For if we strike at a band on one side, the band opposite will surely alert all the region before we ever get near to them.”

“Unless Catti-brie can use her bow. .” Regis started to say, but the woman was shaking her head, looking doubtfully at the expanse between the high gorge walls.

“We can not leave these potential enemies behind us,” the drow decided. “I will go to the right, while the rest of you go to the left.”

“Bah, there’s a fool’s notion,” snorted Bruenor. “Ye might be killin’ a pair o’ half-ogries, elf—might even take out a pair o’ full-ogries—but ye’d not do it in time to stop them from yelling for their friends.”

“Then we have to disguise the truth of the attack across the way,” Catti-brie said.

When the others turned to her, they found her wearing a most determined expression. The woman looked back to the north and west.

“Worm’s not hungry,” she explained. “But that don’t mean we can’t get the damn thing angry.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Ettin?” one of the half-ogre guards on the eastern rim of the gorge asked.

Scratching its lice-ridden head, the half-ogre stared in amazement as the seven-foot-tall creature approached. It sported two heads, so it seemed to be of the ettin family, but one of those heads looked more akin to a human with blond hair, and the other had the craggy, wrinkled features and thick red hair and beard of a dwarf.

“Huh?” asked the second sentry, moving to join its companion.

“Ain’t no ettins about,” the third called from the warm area beside the fire.

“Well there’s one coming,” argued the first.

And indeed, the two-headed creature was coming on fast, though it presented no weapon and was not advancing in any threatening manner. The half-ogres lifted their respective weapons anyway and called for the curious creature to halt.

It did so, just a few strides away, staring at the sentries with a pair of positively smug smiles.

“What you about?” asked one half-ogre.

“About to get outta the way!” the red-haired head exclaimed.

The half-ogres’ chins dropped considerably a moment later when the huge human—for it was indeed a human! — threw aside the blanket and the red-haired dwarf leaped off his shoulder, rolling to the left. The human, too, took off, sprinting to the right. Coming fast behind the splitting pair, bearing down on their original position, and thus bearing down on the stunned half-ogres, came a rolling line of steam.

The brutes screamed. The polar worm broke through the snow cap and reared, towering over them.

“That ain’t no ettin, ye fools!” screeched the half-ogre by the fire. With typical loyalty for its wild nature, it leaped up and ran off to the south along the ravine edge and toward the cavern complex.

Or tried to, for three strides away, a blue-streaking arrow like a bolt of lightning slammed it in the hip, staggering it. The slowed beast, limping and squealing, didn’t even see the next attack. The red-haired dwarf crashed in, body-slamming it, then chopping away with his nasty, many-notched axe. For good measure, the dwarf spun around and smashed his shield so hard into the slumping brute’s face that he left an impression of a foaming mug on the half-ogre’s cheek.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Regis heard the commotion behind him and took comfort in it as he worked his way along the side of the ravine across the way, working for handholds just below the rim, out of sight of the guards on that side. He and Drizzt had left the other three, picking their way to the western wall. Then Regis and the drow had split up, with the drow taking an inland route around the back of the sentry position. Regis, a plan in mind, had gone along the wall.

The halfling was well aware from the smirk Drizzt had given him when they’d split up, that Drizzt didn’t expect much from him in the fight, that the drow believed he was just finding a place to hide. But Regis had a very definite plan in mind, and he was almost to the spot to execute it: a wide overhang of ice and snow.

He worked his way under it, staying against the stone wall, and began chipping away at the overhang’s integrity with his small mace.

He glanced back across the gorge to see the polar worm rear again, a half-ogre thrashing about in its mouth. Regis winced in sympathy for the brute as the polar worm rolled its head back and let go of the half-ogre, rolling it over the horned head and down onto the glowing, superheated spine of the great creature. How the agonized half-ogre thrashed!

Further along, Regis spotted Bruenor, Wulfgar, and Catti-brie sprinting down to the south, getting as far away from the polar worm and the three wounded — and soon to be dead — half-ogres as possible.

The halfling paused, hearing commotion above. The guards on his side recognized the disaster across the way.

“Help!” Regis called out a moment later, and all above him went quiet.

“Help!” he called again.

He heard movement, heard the ice pack crunch a bit, and knew that one of the stupid brutes was moving out onto the overhang.

“Hey, yer little rat!” came the roar a moment later, as the half-ogre’s head poked down. The creature was obviously lying flat atop the overhang, staring at Regis incredulously and reaching for him.

“Break. . break,” Regis demanded, smacking his mace up at the ice pack with all the strength he could muster. He had to stop the pounding and dodge aside when the brute’s hand snapped at him, nearly getting him.

The half-ogre crept even lower. The ice pack creaked and groaned in protest.

“Gotcha!”

The brute’s declaration became a wail of surprise and terror as the ice pack broke free, taking the half-ogre with it down the side of the ravine.

“Do you now?” Regis asked the fast-departing beast.

“Yup,” came an unexpected response from above, and Regis slowly looked up to see the second sentry glaring down at him, spear in hand, and with Regis well within stabbing distance. The halfling thought of letting go, then, of taking his chances on a bouncing ride down the side of the ravine, but the half-ogre stiffened suddenly and hopped forward, then tried to turn but got slashed across the face. Over it went, plummeting past the halfling, and Drizzt was in its stead, lying flat and reaching down for Regis.

The halfling grabbed the offered hand, and Drizzt pulled him up.

“Five down,” said Regis, his excitement bubbling over from the victory his information had apparently delivered. “See? I had the count right. Four, maybe five—and right where I told you they would be!”

“Six,” Drizzt corrected, leading the halfling’s gaze back a ways to another brute lying dead in a widening pool of bright red blood. “You missed one.”

Regis stared at it for a moment, mouth hanging open, and, deflated, he only shrugged.

Surveying the scene, the pair quickly surmised that none of these two groups would give them any further trouble. Across the way, the three were dead, the white worm tearing at their bodies, and the two that had gone over the edge had bounced, tumbled, and fallen a long, long way. One of them was lying very still at the bottom of the gorge. The other, undoubtedly nearby its broken companion, was buried under a deep pile of snow and ice.

“Our friends went running down the edge of the ravine,” Regis explained, “but I don’t know where they went.”

“They had to move away from the gorge,” Drizzt reasoned, seeming hardly concerned. They had discussed this very possibility before bringing the white worm from its feast. The drow pointed down along the gorge to where a sizeable number of huge ogres and half-ogres were running up the ravine. The companions had hoped to dispatch these sentries without alerting the main base, but they had understood from the beginning that such might be the case—that’s why they had used the white worm.

“Come,” Drizzt bade the halfling. “We will catch up with our friends, or they with us, in due time.” He started away to the south, staying as near to the edge of the gorge as he safely could.

They heard the ogre posse pass beneath them soon after, and Drizzt veered back to the edge, then moved down a bit farther and went right over, picking his way down a less steep part of the ravine.

Regis huffed and puffed and worked hard but somehow managed to keep up. Soon, the halfling and the drow were standing on the floor of the gorge, the posse far away to the north, the mound that housed the main complex just to the south and with the cave opening quite apparent.

“Are you ready?” Drizzt asked Regis.

The halfling swallowed hard, not so thrilled about moving off with the dangerous Drizzt alone. He far preferred having Bruenor and Wulfgar standing strong before him and having Catti-brie covering him with that deadly bow of hers, but it was obvious that Drizzt wasn’t about to let this opportunity to get right inside the enemies’ lair go by.

“Lead on,” Regis heard himself saying, though he could hardly believe the words as they came out of his mouth.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The four leaders of Sheila Kree’s band all came out of their rooms together, hearing the shouts from below and from outside the mound complex.

“Chogurugga dispatched a group to investigate,” Bellany informed the others. The sorceress’s room faced north, the direction of the tumult, and included a door to the outside landing.

“Ye go and do the same,” Sheila Kree told her. “Get yer scrying pool up and see what’s coming against us.”

“I heard yells about a white worm,” the sorceress replied.

Sheila Kree shook her head, her fiery red hair flying wildly. “Too convenient,” she muttered as she ran out of the room and down the curving, sloping passage leading to Chogurugga and Bloog’s chamber, with Jule Pepper right behind her.

Le’lorinel made no move, though, just stood in the corridor, nodding knowingly.

“Is it the drow?” Bellany asked.

The elf smiled and retreated back into the private room, shutting the door.

Standing alone in the common area, Bellany just shook her head and took a deep breath and considered the possibilities if it turned out to be Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of the Hall who were now coming against them. The sorceress hoped it was indeed a white worm that had caused the commotion, whatever the cost of driving the monster away.

She went back into her chamber and set up for some divining spells, thinking to look out over the troubled area to the north and to look in on Morik, just to check on where his loyalties might truly lie.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

A few moments later, Le’lorinel slipped back out and headed down the same way Sheila and Jule had gone.

Chogurugga’s chamber was in complete chaos, with the ogress’s two large attendants rushing around, strapping on armor pieces and hoisting heavy weapons. Chogurugga stood quietly on the side of the room in front of an opened wardrobe, its shelves filled with potion bottles. Chogurugga mulled them over one at a time, pocketing some and separating the others into two bunches.

At the back of the room, Bloog remained in the hammock, the ogre’s huge legs hanging over, one on either side. If Bloog was the slightest bit worried by the commotion, the lazy brute didn’t show it.

Le’lorinel went to him. “He will find you,” the elf warned. “It was foreseen that the drow would come for the warhammer.”

“Drow?” the big ogre asked. “No damn drow. White worm.”

“Perhaps,” Le’lorinel replied with a shrug and a look that told Bloog implicitly that the elf hardly believed all the commotion was being caused by such a creature as that.

“Drow?” the ogre asked, and Bloog suddenly seemed a bit less cock-sure.

“He will find you.”

“Bloog crunch him down!” the ogre shouted, rising, or at least trying to, though the movement nearly spilled him out of the unsteady hammock. “No take Bloog’s new hammer! Crunch him down!”

“Crunch who?” Chogurugga called from across the way, and the ogress scowled, seeing Le’lorinel close to Bloog.

“Not as easy as that, mighty Bloog,” the elf explained, pointedly taking no note of ugly Chogurugga. “Come, my friend. I will show you how to best defeat the dark elf.”

Bloog looked from Le’lorinel to his scowling mate, then back to the delicate elf. With an expression that told Le’lorinel he was as interested in angering Chogurugga as he was in learning what he might about the drow, the giant ogre pulled himself out of the hammock and hoisted Aegis-fang to his shoulder. The mighty weapon was dwarfed by the creature’s sheer bulk and muscle that it looked more like a carpenter’s hammer.

With a final glance to Chogurugga, just to make sure the volatile ogress wasn’t preparing a charge, Le’lorinel led Bloog out of the room and back up the ramp, going to the northern end of the next level and knocking hard on Bellany’s door.

“What is he doing up here?” the sorceress asked when she answered the knock a few minutes later. “Sheila would not approve.”

“What have you learned?” Le’lorinel asked.

A cloud passed over Bellany’s face. “More than a white worm,” she confirmed. “I have seen a dwarf and a large man moving close to our position, running hard.”

“Bruenor Battlehammer and Wulfgar, likely,” Le’lorinel replied. “What of the drow?”

Bellany shrugged and shook her head.

“If they have come, then so has Drizzt Do’Urden,” Le’lorinel insisted. “The fight out there is likely a diversion. Look closer!”

Bellany scowled at the elf, but Le’lorinel didn’t back down.

“Drizzt Do’Urden might already be in the complex,” the elf added.

That took the anger off of Bellany’s face, and she moved back into her room and shut the door. A moment later, Le’lorinel heard her casting a spell and watched with a smile as the wood on Bellany’s door seemed to swell a bit, fitting the portal tightly into the jamb.

Fighting hard not to laugh out loud, as much on the edge of nerves as ever before, Le’lorinel motioned for Bloog to follow and moved to a different door.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Regis put his cherubic face up against the stone and didn’t dare to breathe. He heard the rumble of the next pair of brutes, along with the snarl of a more human voice, as they came past his and Drizzt’s position, heading up the gorge to check on their companions.

The halfling took some comfort in the fact that Drizzt was hiding right beside him—until he managed to turn his face that way to find that the drow was gone.

Panic welled in Regis. He could heard the cursing trio of enemies right behind him.

“Too bloody cold to be chasin’ shadows!” the human snarled.

“Big wormie,” said one of the ogres.

“And that makes it better?” the human asked sarcastically. “Leave the ugly thing alone, and it’ll slither away!”

“Big worm killeded Bonko!” the other ogre said indignantly.

The human started to respond—likely to dismiss the importance of a dead ogre, Regis realized, but apparently he thought the better of it and just cursed under his breath.

They went right past the halfling’s position, and if they’d come any closer, they surely would have brushed right against Regis’s rear end.

The halfling didn’t breathe easier until their voices had faded considerably, and still he stood there in the shadows, hugging the wall.

“Regis,” came a whisper, and he looked up to see Drizzt on a ledge above him. “Come along and be quick. It’s clear into the cave.”

Mustering all the courage he could find, the halfling scrambled up, taking the drow’s offered hand. The pair skittered along the thin ridge, behind a wall of blocking boulders to the corner of the large cave.

Drizzt peeked around, then skittered in, pulling Regis along behind him.

The cave narrowed into a tunnel soon after, running level and branching in two or three places. The air was smoky, with torches lining the walls at irregular intervals, their dancing flames illuminating the place with wildly elongating and shrinking shadows.

“This way,” Regis said, slipping past the drow at one fork, and moving down to the left. He tried to recall everything Robillard had told him about the place, for the wizard had done a thorough scan of the area and had even found his way up into the complex a bit.

The ground sloped down in some places, up in others, though the pair were generally descending. They came through darker rooms where there was no torchlight, and other chambers filled with stalagmites breaking up the trail, and with stalactites leering down at them threateningly from above. Many shelves lined the walls, rolling back to marvelous rock formations or with sheets of water-smoothed rock that seemed to be flowing. Many smaller tunnels ran off at every conceivable angle.

Soon Regis slowed, the sound of guttural voices becoming audible ahead of them. The halfling turned on Drizzt, an alarmed expression on his face. He pointed ahead emphatically, to where the corridor circled left and back to the right, ascending gradually.

Drizzt caught the signal and motioned for Regis to wait a moment, then slipped ahead into the shadows, moving with such grace, speed, and silence that Regis blinked many times, wondering if his friend had just simply disappeared. As soon as his amazement diminished, though, the halfling remembered where he was and took note of the fact that he was now alone. He quickly skittered into the shadows off to the side.

The drow returned a short while later, to Regis’s profound relief, and with a smile that showed he had found the desired area. Drizzt led him around a bend and up a short incline, then up a few steps that were part natural, part carved, into a chamber that widened off to the left along a broken, rocky plateau about chest high to the drow.

The voices were much closer now, just up ahead and around the next bend. Drizzt leaped up to the left, then reached back and pulled Regis up beside him.

“Lots of loose stone,” the drow quietly explained. “Take great care.”

They inched across the wider area, staying as tight to the wall as possible until they came to one area cleared of stony debris. Drizzt bent down against the wall there and stuck his hand into a small alcove, pulling it back out and rubbing his fingers together.

Regis nodded knowingly. Ash. This was a natural chimney, the one Robillard had described to him on the flight back to the friends, the one he had subsequently described to Drizzt.

The drow went in first, bending his body perfectly to slide up the narrow hole. Before he could even consider the course before him, before he could even pause to muster his courage, Regis heard the sound of many voices moving along the corridor back behind him.

In he went, into the absolute darkness, sliding his hands and finding holds, blindly propelling himself up behind the drow.

For Drizzt, it was suddenly as if he were back in the Underdark, back in the realm of the hunter, were all his senses had to be on the very edge of perfection if he was to have any chance of survival. He heard so many sounds then: the distant dripping of water; a grating of stone on stone; shouts from below and in the distance, leaking through cracks in the stone. He could feel that noise in his sensitive fingertips as he continued his climb, slowing only because he understood that Regis couldn’t possibly keep up. Drizzt, a creature of the Underdark where natural chutes were common, where even a halfling’s fine night vision would be perfectly useless, could move up this narrow chute as quickly as Regis could trot through a starlit meadow.

The drow marveled in the texture of the stone, feeling the life of this mound, once teeming with rushing water. The smoothness of the edges made the ascent more comfortable, and the walls were uneven enough so that the smoothness didn’t much adversely affect climbing.

He moved along, silently, alertly.

“Drizzt,” he heard whispered below, and he understood that Regis had come to an impasse.

The drow backed down, finally lowering his leg so that Regis could grab on.

“I should have stayed with the others,” the halfling whispered when he at last got over the troublesome rise.

“Nonsense,” the drow answered. “Feel the life of the mountain about you. We will find a way to be useful to our friends here, perhaps pivotal.”

“We do not even know if the fight will come in here.”

“Even if it does not, our enemies will not expect us in here, behind them. Come along.”

And so they went, higher and higher inside the mountain. Soon they heard the booming voices of huge humanoids, growing louder and louder as they ascended.

A short, slightly descending tunnel branched off the chute, with some heat rising, and the booming voices coming in loud and clear with it.

Drizzt waited for Regis to get up level with him in this wider area, then he moved along the side passage, coming to an opening above the low-burning embers of a wide hearth.

The opening of that hearth was somewhat higher than the bottom of the angling tunnel, so Drizzt could see into the huge room beyond, where three ogres, one an exotic, violet-skinned female, were rushing around, strapping on belts and testing weapons.

To the side of the room, Drizzt clearly marked another well-worn passage, sloping upward. The drow backed up to where Regis was waiting.

“Up,” he whispered.

He paused and pulled off his waterskin, wetted the top of his shirt and pulled it over the bottom half of his face to ward off the smoke. Helping Regis do likewise, Drizzt started away.

Barely thirty feet higher, the pair came to a hub of sorts. The main chute continued upward, but five side chambers broke off at various heights and angles, with heat and some smoke coming back at the pair. Also, these side tunnels were obviously hand cut, and fashioned by smaller hands than those of an ogre.

Drizzt motioned for Regis to slowly follow, then crept along the tunnel he figured was heading most directly to the north.

The fire in this hearth was burning brighter, though fortunately the wood was not very wet and not much smoke was coming up. Also, the angle of the chimney to the hearth was steeper, and so Drizzt could not see into the room beyond.

The drow spent a moment tying his long hair back and wetting it, then he knelt, took a deep breath, and went over head first, creeping like a spider down the side of the chute until he could poke his face out under the top lip of the hearth, the flames burning not far below him and with sparks rising up and stinging him.

This room appeared very different from the chamber of the ogres below. It was full of fine furniture and carpets, and with a lavish bed. A door stood across the way, partly opened and leading into another room. Drizzt couldn’t make out much in there, but he did discern a few tables, covered with equipment like one might see in an alchemical workshop. Also, across that second room loomed another door, heavier in appearance, and with daylight creeping in around it.

Now he was intrigued, but out of time, for he had to retreat from the intense heat.

He got back to Regis at the hub and described what he had seen.

“We should go outside and try to spot the others,” the halfling suggested, and Drizzt was nodding his agreement when they heard a loud voice echo along one of the other side passages.

“Bloog crunch! No take Bloog’s new hammer!”

Off went the drow, Regis following right behind. They came to another steep chute at another hearth, this one hardly burning. Drizzt inverted and poked his head down.

There stood an ogre, a gigantic, ugly, and angry beast, swinging Aegis-fang easily at the end of one arm. Behind it, talking to the ogre in soothing tones, stood a slender elf swordsman.

Without even waiting for Regis, the drow flipped himself over to the fireplace, straddling the embers for a moment, then boldly striding out into the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The three friends ran along the ridge at full speed, veering away from the lip when they heard the ruckus of ogre reinforcements charging out from the mound below. They had to veer even farther from the straight path when a second group of beasts came off the mound above the ridgeline, charging up through the snow.

“Probably many more within,” Catti-brie remarked.

“More the reason to go!” snarled Bruenor.

“Drizzt and Regis are likely already nearing the place, if not already in,” Wulfgar added.

The woman, bow in hand, motioned forward.

“Ye gonna call up that cat?” Bruenor asked.

Catti-brie glanced at her belt, where she had set the figurine of Guenhwyvar. “As we near,” she answered. Bruenor only nodded, trusting her implicitly, and rushed off after Wulfgar.

Up ahead, Wulfgar ducked suddenly as another ogre leaped off the mound, across a short ravine to the sloping ridgeline, the brute coming at him with a great swing of a heavy club.

Easily dodging, Wulfgar kicked out and slashed, cutting a deep gash in back of the brute’s shoulder. The ogre started to turn, but then lurched wildly as Bruenor came in hard, smashing his axe through the brute’s kneecap.

Down it went, howling.

“Finish it, girl!” Bruenor demanded, running past, running for the mound. The dwarf skittered to a stop, though, foiled by the ravine separating the mound from the slope, which was too far across for him to jump.

Then Bruenor had to dive to the side as a rock sailed at him from a position along the side of that mound, just up above him.

Wulfgar came past, roaring “Tempus!” and making the leap across the ravine. The barbarian crashed along some rocks, but settled himself quickly onto a narrow trail winding its way up along the steep slope.

“Should’ve thrown me first,” Bruenor grumbled, and he dived aside again as another rock crashed by.

The dwarf did pick out a path that would get him to the winding trail, but he knew he would be far behind Wulfgar by that point. “Girl! I need ye!” he howled.

He turned back to see the fallen ogre shudder again as another arrow buried itself deep into its skull.

Catti-brie rushed up, falling to one knee and setting off a stream of arrows at the concealed rock-thrower. The brute popped up once more, rock high over its head, but it fell away as an arrow sizzled past.

Catti-brie and Bruenor heard the roars of battle as Wulfgar reached the brute. Off ran the dwarf, while Catti-brie dropped the onyx figurine to the ground, called for the cat, then put her bow right back to work. For on a ledge high above Wulfgar’s position, a new threat had arrived, a group of archers firing bows instead of hurling boulders.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Is it them?” Morik the Rogue asked, pushing against the unyielding door of Bellany’s private chambers. He looked up at the swelled wood and understood that the sorceress had magically sealed it. “Bellany?”

In response, the door seemed to exhale and shrink to normal size, and Morik crept through.

“Bellany?”

“I believe your friend and his companions have come to retrieve the warhammer,” came a voice from right in front of Morik. He nearly jumped out of his boots, for he could not see the woman standing before him.

“Wizards,” he muttered as he settled down. “Where is Sheila Kree?”

There came no answer.

“Did you just shrug?” the rogue surmised.

Bellany’s ensuing giggle told him she had.

“What of you, then?” Morik asked. “Are you to hide up here, or join in the fray?”

“Sheila instructed me to divine the source of the commotion, and so I have,” the invisible sorceress answered.

A smile widened on Morik’s face. He understood well what Bellany’s cryptic answer meant. She was waiting to see who would win out before deciding her course. The rogue’s respect for the sorceress heightened considerably at that moment.

“Have you another such enchantment?” he asked. “For me?”

Bellany was spellcasting before he ever finished the question. In a few moments Morik, too, vanished from sight.

“A minor enchantment only,” Bellany explained. “It will not last for long.”

“Long enough for me to find a dark hole to hide in,” Morik answered, but he ended short, hearing sounds from outside, farther down the mountainside.

“They are fighting out along the trail,” the sorceress explained.

A moment later, Bellany heard the creak from the other room and saw an increase in light as Morik moved through the outer door. The sorceress went to the side of the room, then heard a cry of surprise from across the way—from Le’lorinel’s room.

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