Chapter 7: Espionage
Needless to say, Matron Malice had not been happy when Drizzt had responded to her summons in the Throne Room. While the silver mine was one of the least lucrative of the Do'Urden holdings, and kobolds could be replaced, though not necessarily cheaply, the first blow in the shadow war between House Do'Urden and their enemies had been definitively struck against the Seventh House. Drizzt left the Throne Room with his ears ringing, feeling lucky not to have his back stinging from Briza's many-headed snake whip. He felt a certain shame, partially that he had failed so early in his task, but more-so that he had been so focused on espionage and clever schemes that he had overlooked the most basic tenet of drow life - that if nobody is watching, it's not a crime. He should have been more prepared for an attack, done more to convince any outside observers that the Do'Urden properties were well guarded, that an attack would be noticed, and commented on, if not outright prevented.
By the time he made it back to the War Room, he was in a foul mood, and he opened the door to complete silence from his co-conspirators. "Khazra," he snapped, "I need you now. The rest of you, by the time I get back you'd better have found something I can use or you had best get on excellent terms with the Spider Queen." It was a testament to his rage that he managed to say all this in a manner that actually intimidated the drow elves, used to far worse from the Do'Urden priestesses and nobles. Artemis merely grinned at his patron, knowing Drizzt much better than the room's other occupants. Drizzt would never truly punish one of his underlings for something outside their control, but the speech was good motivation for the drow.
Khazra followed Drizzt from the room. The thirdboy motioned to one of the benches lining the Weapons Hall, and the two drow sat. "I'm not completely familiar," Drizzt began, "with all of the arts of wizards, but I'm given to understand that you are particularly skilled in scrying. I need to check up on all of our holdings, and, honestly, I need to do it yesterday. What can you do?"
Khazra considered for a moment, stroking his jawline with his thumb. "All of the holdings, thirdboy? That could be tricky. While I can cast the dweomer, it takes preparation and time, and I don't know how much of either we have. I can only view a single destination with each casting, and it grows more difficult if I have no metaphysical connection to the location, such as having visited, or having a token from the location. Perhaps if I could scry those locations from which we have a token first, then those that I have visited, followed by those furthest from Menzoberranzan, and we could send out actual scouts to the remaining locations, beginning with those nearest."
Drizzt nodded in response to the suggestion. Khazra could be arrogant, but the wizard was a logical thinker and a good planner, as well as possessing invaluable skills. In the warlike society of the drow, it was more usual for wizards to focus in spells of great destructive capacity, though wizards capable of espionage, such as Khazra, were highly valuable, perhaps even more valuable in some cases. "Very well, Khazra, let's put a list together. I will talk to Zaknafein and see if we can borrow some scouts."
And so they did. Zaknafein was overjoyed to see his protege, though he had little time to spare for the younger drow. If possible, he had under-estimated the task of returning the Do'Urden forces to fighting fitness. They would do, of course, but Zaknafein preferred not to settle for anything less than perfection, especially not with the lives of his family, and his own life on the line. So he dispatched a group of young warriors, all within their first two centuries of life, to assist the Do'Urden thirdboy, and returned to the task of teaching old, lazy, selfish warriors to fight as a single, efficient, enthusiastic unit.
Three hooded figures drew hand-crossbows from the folds of their piwafwis, the motion almost indiscernible in the warm stone tunnels of the Underdark. Drizzt and his two diminutive companions, the human child Artemis and the drow warrior Ghazryn, crept slowly towards the final bend in the tunnel, where they would come into view of one of House Do'Urden's many rothe farms. While the expectation was that they would round the bend to the sight of kobold slaves tending the great Underdark cattle as they grazed on the fields of mushrooms, they had to exercise caution nonetheless. Just because no-one outside of House Do'Urden should even know of this farm's existence was no reason to believe that they didn't, and certainly no reason not to take precautions.
This was one of the closest Do'Urden holdings to the great city of Menzoberranzan, yet it had still taken them an hour to arrive here since their hasty exit from the Do'Urden compound. Drizzt, Ghazryn, and Artemis had been the smallest group to leave, with Zayana and Yalael each leading a group of Zaknafein's soldiers to check on their own targets. The remainder of the soldiers provided by the Weapons Master remained with Khazra, to act as runners should anything be revealed by his scrying, or reinforcements for the other groups if necessary.
The final turn approached, and Drizzt drew his piwafwi tighter around himself, tugging the hood low to obscure his violet eyes.
Any drow could tell you that peering around a corner was a bad idea, exposing yourself to an enemy before you are ready to strike, so Drizzt, Ghazryn, and Artemis rounded the corner at a run. Drizzt took the turn just in time to see a thunderous bolt of lightning explode into existence, fired by a tall figure, hooded and gloved but clothed in the garb of a wizard. The bolt struck the magically-reinforced gate of the rothe farm, blasting it open, and the figure motioned forward a small horde of goblinoids to charge through the opening, wielding sharp-tipped spears. The wizard, or at least that was what Drizzt assumed he was, catching sight of the rapidly approaching Do'Urdens, then wiggled his fingers and fled the scene, moving supernaturally quickly.
Drizzt had to make a quick decision. The smoldering gate to the rothe farm was starting to catch the nearby mushrooms on fire, and he had no doubt that the goblinoid attackers were on a mission to slaughter as many of House Do'Urden's precious rothe as possible. But the wizard was clearly the leader, and might be able to provide some insight into the identity of their attackers, or even better, proof. "Ghazryn," the thirdboy yelled, not slowing his charge, "after the wizard!" The stunted drow was the quickest of the three, and even as he swerved to vector towards the wizard's trail, Drizzt slipped an onyx figurine from his pocket, tossing it to the ground, to be retrieved later. "Come, Guenwhyvar," the drow warrior commanded, and in a swirl of mist the astral panther appeared, leaping into action, tearing after Ghazryn in the chase without needing instruction.
Drizzt and Artemis made it to the ruined gate moments before the horde of goblinoids, and Drizzt ducked low into a fighting crouch, hand-crossbow stowed and scimitars out. "Artemis!" he yelled, "I've got this, put out the fire and then protect the rothe!" His human bodyguard looked at him queerly, but complied without a word. Then Drizzt knew nothing but the battle. Spear points dove in from all angles, the reach of the longer weapon far exceeding what his own scimitars could do as the various goblinoids, mostly goblins but with a smattering of hobgoblins and bugbears, surrounded him, anticipating an easy kill due to their superior numbers. They were all surprised as Drizzt exploded into motion at the last possible moment, driving spearpoints wide with a controlled spin of body and scimitars together, then lashing out at unprotected legs, knees, and arms of his opponents. Drizzt's scimitars danced as he cut, thrust, parried, and whirled, hood of his piwafwi flying back to release his long white hair and reveal blazing violet eyes. Goblinoids fell around him with harrowing screams but nonetheless Drizzt was pressed back by weight of numbers, goblins stepping forward over the bodies of their erstwhile fellows, cruel spears diving and nipping at the drow elf as he retreated, stepping further and further back through the gate.
Though he barely had time to think, Drizzt was gratified to see that the fungal growth on the cavern floor was no longer alight. Stepping nimbly and quickly he earned some distance from his attackers, noting that most of the weaker goblins were lying, dead or crippled, harmlessly out of action. Facing him remained mostly hobgoblins and bugbears, approaching more cautiously now that they had seen his skills in action against their weaker brethren. Yet there still remained a certain sense of arrogance and security in numbers as they advanced on the panting drow, and Drizzt didn't blame he hadn't been wounded, Drizzt was breathing heavily, and his scimitars, usually so light in his hands, felt more like crude iron than finely-wrought adamantine. His chain-mail armour had taken a few glancing blows, protecting him from inconvenient, though hardly life-threatening nicks and cuts, and individual links were scored in places. But Drizzt looked up at the advancing enemies defiantly, a sneer on his face.
They attacked with speed now, coordinated attacks, two or three stepping forward at a time, then retreating before Drizzt could land a blow in retaliation, wearing him down with attrition. Or at least, that seemed to be the plan. In reality, every time three stepped forward, one did not make it back, falling to the keen blades of the drow. A trail of bodies now signalled the path to Drizzt, but the drow elf was slowing down more and more, while his enemies were still fresh. A scimitar missed its parry, and Drizzt cried out as a spear point sliced through his chain mail and into the flesh of his hip, stumbling backwards and going to one knee as his leg buckled. Only a reflexive parry with crossed blades above his head prevented another spear from driving deep into his chest, and the remaining goblinoids surged forward en masse, led by the largest of the bugbears, howling a war cry.
Suddenly, the war cry was cut off as a jeweled dagger ended it at the source, twirling end over end to lodge itself into the bugbear's meaty throat. With a mighty effort, Drizzt threw himself backwards into a roll as Artemis leaped over him, taking the fight back to the enemy. The sudden shift in momentum from the new arrival sent the enemies into full retreat, scrambling to get away from the pale-skinned avenger. But retreat was not enough, as one by one, they felt their energy drained from their bodies, leaving them too weak to move, as Artemis caught up with them, newly retrieved dagger in hand. Finally, all the assailants were out of commission, and Artemis returned to his patron's side.
Drizzt groaned as he tried to stand, and, with the help of his bodyguard-cum-apprentice, hobbled to his feet. He felt a cool metal hilt pressed into his hand, and looked questioningly at the young human. Artemis led him to the nearest downed enemy, still breathing, though barely, and moved Drizzt's hand, holding the jeweled dagger, closer to the unfortunate hobgoblin, causing the point of the dagger to pierce the hobgoblin's skin. All of a sudden, Drizzt felt a rush of power, and watched, horrified, as the life-force of the hobgoblin drained away, all the while feeling his own body begin to repair itself, and his mind become less clouded by fatigue. Within moments the hobgoblin was dead, and Drizzt let his hand fall open, before turning away and retching, spilling the contents of his stomach across the ground. Without turning to face his young protege, he murmured, "Never again, Artemis. Never again. Not unless I'm about to die. You can use that weapon, but it is not for me." Drizzt had killed before, had tortured before, and these things weighed on his conscience, though lightly, as they were never for himself, only to protect his family, his house. But the feeling of power, the feeling of superiority, that the jeweled dagger had given him as it had stolen the life-force of a helpless enemy, that had sickened him. He would live the life of a drow warrior, but he would not do that.
It had only taken a few minutes for Drizzt and Artemis to round up the kobold slaves who tended the rothe and put them to work repairing the fence, and also guarding the goblinoids who still lived from the attacking force. Drizzt wanted to interrogate them, though he doubted mere iblith would have any worthwhile information, but there was no time for that now. The drow and the human stopped briefly to retrieve an onyx statue from the tunnel floor, then turned, silently following the tracks of an unknown wizard, a drow warrior, and an astral panther.
For nigh on an hour they ran, moving as quickly as possible while staying alert to both tracks and the general dangers of the Underdark, until finally, in a cavern miles from Menzoberranzan, they caught up to Ghazryn and Guenhwyvar, the panther growling softly while the diminutive warrior sat, ferociously sharpening his daggers. Even in their fine physical shape, Drizzt and Artemis were breathing heavily, and the keen senses of their erstwhile companions easily picked up their arrival.
"The bastard escaped," spat Gharzryn, the moment Drizzt came within earshot. "He was quick, for a wizard, long fucking legs, and plenty of dweomers to help move things along." He continued sharpening his daggers, the whetstone scraping with unholy shrieks against the adamantine blades. "I hate wizards," the Do'Urden warrior continued, scowling darkly. Guenhwyvar merely stretched out on the cold stone, front paws forward, back arched in a stretch, and purred deeply as Drizzt dropped a lazy hand to scratch her head, rumbling the walls of the cavern.
Drizzt shook his head furiously, enraged that he hadn't gone after the wizard himself. Ghazryn was speedy, but only in bursts, his diminutive stature working against him in long chases, where Drizzt's lean body, tall for a drow elf, was built for long chases. The information they could have got from capturing the enemy leader would have far outweighed a few rothe and kobold slaves. Inwardly, he seethed, but outwardly, he projected calm.
"There's more to do," he spoke, after a moment to collect himself. "We still don't know what the situation is elsewhere. We might be needed. Guenhwyvar, lead us home," he commanded the astral panther, whose preternatural senses extended to sense of direction. Drizzt himself had rarely left the city, and would be completely lost in these tunnels, were it not for his companion. With a mighty bound, the panther took off, leaving the two drow and their human companion to hurry after her, following the panther through the cold tunnels of the Underdark back towards the great city of the drow.