Chapter 23: In The End
Drizzt Do'Urden took a single step. The cold stone of the cavern floor held unyielding below his foot. Another step. The young drow ground his teeth in determination and stepped forward yet again. His physical wounds to a lesser being would seem dire, but to a trained drow warrior were merely an inconvenience, and to one of Drizzt's stature, barely worth mentioning. The truly painful wounds were spiritual. As a drow elf, Drizzt understood that many violent, malicious, nasty deeds were part of the fabric of Menzoberranzan, but even a thick filter of logic and detachment could not protect the adolescent's pure soul from the pain of his actions, and those of his family. Surely Faen Tlabbar had indeed attacked first, and he was glad that they had been defeated, but at what cost, he could not refrain from asking himself, again and again in his head. He took another step.
Tear tracks streaked down his face, long since dried up, but carved through the dust that caked Drizzt's countenance. All thoughts of mourning had been pushed to one side, though thoughts of bitter anger could not be prevented. Guenhwyvar, his trusty, pure companion, possibly lost forever, crushed under a stalactite dropped by the power of Lloth through the chapel ceiling of his family's enemies. His own innocence, possibly lost forever, drowned in the blood of drow elves slain in their own home by his blade. His love for his family, flawed, cruel, and dangerous, and yet the only home he had ever known, possibly lost forever, by their single-minded quest for power, and the willingness to sacrifice their own for sufficient gain, for without Vierna's late, late hint of warning, Drizzt knew he would have been crushed as surely as the priestesses of Faen Tlabbar beneath that stalactite. And yet, Drizzt took another step, supple leather sole making contact once again with unyielding stone.
The Do'Urden compound was a chaotic mess of celebration, drinking, fornication, and good-natured (as much as anything among the drow could be good-natured) fighting. The compound's defenders had weathered the storm, and with Narbondel now truly on the rise, there was no danger of a renewed assault. The forces of Faen Tlabbar lucky enough to have survived the Do'Urden counter-assault and the indiscriminate killing by their own wizards had either fled into the shadows of the Menzoberranzan night or turned themselves in, to slowly be reintroduced over the coming years as members of House Do'Urden. But not so in the inner sanctum of the compound, the Do'Urden Throne Room, where were located the nobles of House Do'Urden.
Zaknafein Do'Urden, Weapon Master of House Do'Urden, Daermon N'a'shezbaernon, almost universally agreed to be the most fearsome warrior in all of Menzoberranzan, and by extension most likely anywhere in Faerun, lay on a low couch, dark skin ashen, forehead creased in pain, and stripped completely from his armour, modesty protected only by thin undergarments. Hovering above him, speaking rapid prayers to Lloth, the Spider Queen, long white hair tied back in a ponytail, was Vierna Do'Urden, second daughter of the Matron Mother. She had been healing him now for the better part of an hour, watching and waiting, observing the room.
At the moment that Do'Urden won the battle, Matron Malice had led the high priestesses of House Do'Urden in a powerful ritual, using the moment of distraction of Faen Tlabbar's clerics to cast the dweomer that collapsed a stalactite through the ceiling of the Faen Tlabbar chapel. With the deaths of their most powerful priestesses, Faen Tlabbar's forces had been fighting a lost cause, and the battle was swiftly resolved. But not without cost for the victors. Within moments, Berg'inyon Baenre, thirdboy of the First House, had burst through the doors with the limp body of Zaknafein in his arms, and Vierna had leapt up to heal him, drawing a look of disdain from Briza, the eldest of the Do'Urden sisters, and of cunning understanding from Maya, the youngest. Moments later, Matron Malice had slumped in her chair, unconscious. Quick as a flash, Briza had been at her side, ready to finish the job, and just as quick had Berg'inyon been opposite, hands on the hilts of his two swords, eyes daring her to make the next move. The Baenre could read the room, and was well aware that the Do'Urdens who had brought him here, and upon whose protection he was reliant in order to return home, were not on Briza's side of this fight. And so the standoff had continued, as Dinin had entered the room and gone to stand beside Briza, sword and dagger never even sheathed, and as Nalfein, the house wizard and Vice-Chancellor of Sorcere had entered the room, closing the heavy double doors behind him.
All totalled, there were thirteen beings arrayed around the throne room, almost all with faces ready to kill. Matron Malice lay slumped in her throne, breathing shallowly, far from consciousness. To her right hand side Briza stood, pouches of poisons and snake-headed whip ready for any eventuality. Slightly behind her stood Dinin, sword and dagger unsheathed, and to his side Maya had pulled up a chair, sitting languidly, a mace lain across her lap, and snake-headed whip clipped to her belt. The three nobles were backed by four lesser priestesses, watching calmly yet ready to join the fight on the side of the eldest daughter.
Across from Briza stood Berg'inyon Baenre, hands on hilts, seemingly almost spring-loaded in his desire to strike, yet perfectly contained, knowing that his side did not hold the advantage. Far behind him stood Nalfein, fingering a wand and smirking, eyes locked with Dinin, watching the secondboy with a cool gaze, seemingly indifferent to, or ignorant of, their disadvantage in able-bodied combatants. To his left were Zaknafein on the squat settee, stabilized yet incapable of motion, and Vierna, praying constantly to Lloth for healing powers yet eyes focused on the room. And behind them, perched on a small ottoman, jeweled dagger in hand, coiled like a snake about to strike, a small, human boy. Artemis Enteri looked out at the room with flat, grey eyes, promising death to anyone who stood against him. And so they watched, and waited, all poised for action, yet no-one willing to make the first move.
Step. Step. Step.
The slow trudging continued, when all of a sudden adamantine gates began to fill Drizzt's vision, despite his eyes trained almost vertically to the floor. Looking up for the first time on his journey, Drizzt observed the raucous celebrations, and immediately took to the skies, clambering swiftly up onto the fence and then taking to the rooftops. His eyes scanned for Zaknafein, for Nalfein, for Artemis, but they were nowhere to be found. Panic gripped him, cold around his chest, and he moved quickly to the main house. Vierna or Matron Malice, he was sure, would know their whereabouts, if they had managed to survive. He strode through the corridors at a rapid clip, breath coming heavier now but his mind sharper and clearer, all grief and bitterness pushed to one side in his single-minded quest. Before long he stopped, in front of the closed great double doors of the Throne Room. He loosened his scimitars in their sheaths. A hand slipped into a pouch, retrieving a small ceramic globe. Drizzt's other hand slipped through the door handle and pulled.
The hinges made less than a hint of a sound, and yet all eyes turned to the Do'Urden thirdboy. One heartbeat passed, then another, and by the third heartbeat, violet eyes had scanned the entire room. The situation was clear to Drizzt, and ten quick strides took him to his mother's throne, where he stooped, and gathered the petite Matron into his arms. Another quick stride took him out of range of Briza, and Berg'inyon followed, stepping carefully backward, eyes never leaving Dinin and Briza. Maya scowled, but didn't move, as Briza and Dinin did likewise. No-one was foolish enough to believe that they could defeat both thirdboys and their assorted allies, regardless of the wounds they carried. And so they retreated, Drizzt carrying Matron Malice, and Nalfein and Artemis carrying Zaknafein's couch like a stretcher, eagle-eyed Berg'inyon covering their retreat. Before long the motley band entered the Weapons Hall, dropping the thick adamantine bar behind them to bolt the door.
Author's Note: This is the end of Thirdboy, but not by far the end of the story. This is the first, and shortest, part of a trilogy in three parts. The first chapter of the second part, Heirs of the Underdark, has been posted, and that will continue this tale.