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Drizzt stared into the glowing embers of the campfire pensively. Tiny sparks drifted lazily upward from the blaze like fiery insects united in some mesmerizing dance. The darker spaces between the glowing coals seemed like pathways, or roads... the glowing coals themselves, houses, perhaps... Houses lit from within by lantern light, or maybe from without, their glow a phosphorescence more magical than warm, like the soft beauty of the magically decorated houses in Menzoberranzan, their beautiful exteriors masking an inner ugliness…
His mind a thousand leagues away, Drizzt slowly reached out and plucked an ember from the fire. He tossed it gently from hand to hand for a moment, then closed his fingers around it.
"Kel'nar? What are you doing?"
Startled, Drizzt quickly dropped the coal back into the fire. "Zak. I didn't hear you there."
The twelve-year-old looked at him incredulously as he too squatted down by the fire. "You didn't hear me? I was trying to walk silently, but then I stepped on a twig, so I thought for sure you'd hear me."
"Perhaps my mind was elsewhere."
Drizzt raised an eyebrow at this, but then joined his son in a wry grin.
"Remember yesterday when you told me that I always need to be alert and vigilant out here?"
Drizzt met his son's eyes steadily, such mirrors of his own, and yet reflecting the innocence of a childhood that had never been Drizzt's to know. "I remember."
Zaknafein held that gaze unwaveringly. "You said even if it seems like a safe area, unexpected dangers can suddenly arise."
"Yes, I did."
"So..." the youth let his voice trail off.
Drizzt smiled ruefully. "Guenhwyvar is circling the perimeter."
"Oh, I didn't-"
"But thank you for the reminder." Twelve years old or not, Drizzt wanted his son to feel comfortable saying anything to him, and he appreciated the ease with which this interaction had taken place.
Zak smiled and looked down at his boots, picking some dried mud off of one toe. "What were you doing with the coal?" His tone was quiet and he didn't look up.
"Coal?" It was almost a challenge. Drizzt wasn't particularly eager to enter into this conversation; indeed, he had hoped Zaknafein hadn't realized just what he'd seen.
"Yes, a coal. The red-hot one you were holding in your hand." This time Zaknafein did look up.
Drizzt shifted uncomfortably, but covered the move by adding another log to the fire. He ran a hand through his stark white hair and wondered where to begin. "In Menzoberranzan," he said at last, "there is unimaginable cruelty."
"Right…?" Zak's eyes were intent on his father's face. He knew in general that most drow were evil, but thus far Kel'nar had been vague at best in his descriptions of the Underdark city of his birth.
"At the slightest whim of a priestess or a matron mother, perhaps an older sister..." Drizzt shuddered slightly at memories he did not wish to unearth. "At their slightest whim, a drow male could find himself in a dungeon, facing unspeakable tortures." He hesitated. "I...I've always tried to prepare myself."
Zaknafein looked first incredulous, then intrigued. "So, you deliberately do painful things in order to be able to tolerate more pain?"
"Not precisely. Pain threshold is one thing, and certainly there are those who increase theirs artificially, but a very high tolerance for pain is something that was forced on me at quite a young age." He shrugged. "What I practiced...practice," he amended, "is blocking out the pain by sending my mind away."
Zak looked thoughtful, but puzzled. "Sending your mind away."
"How do you do that? What do you think about?"
Cattie-brie. He didn't say it aloud. What had he thought about before, back in dark Menzoberranzan? "You think about...your happiest memories. Being in your favorite places. Doing those things you love best. Or you think about something very distracting - a complicated puzzle of logic, possibly. As long as you don't think about the pain...don't focus on it. You discipline your mind to focus entirely on something else. Perhaps you recall something lengthy that you've memorized; you try to recite it to yourself word-for-word with no mistakes...that sort of thing."
"And does that all really work?"
"To an extent."
"Wow." The youth was impressed. "Kel'nar...how often do you do that...I mean, practice it?"
Drizzt shrugged again. "Now and then." He grinned. "But only when I don't need to be vigilant."
"Yeah, I can see why!" Zak smirked. Then he leaned forward and reached for a live coal.
In a moment Drizzt's midnight-black hand shot out and clamped down on his wrist, vise-like. "I don't think so."
Zak yanked his hand free, annoyed, and crossed his arms. "Why not?" he protested, his tone fast-approaching whininess.
"Because I said so."
The twelve-year-old's eyes flashed. "That not a good enough reason!"
"Oh?" Drizzt raised an eyebrow in warning. "I am your father."
"Yeah, well-" Zak stopped himself, taking a deep breath. He knew from experience that anger would not win here - only logic. His voice much calmer, he said: "You taught us how to use weapons at a young age, because we might need it some day."
"You're teaching us how to track, and hunt."
Drizzt said nothing.
"You and mum already taught us how to make fires, and how to cook things, and how to hide...right?"
"We're learning all this stuff because it's important to know...isn't it?"
"So...how is this any different?"
"Because you're my son and I'd never deliberately see you hurt," Drizzt wanted to answer, "because I can hardly endure it when you're in pain..."
"I'd not see you hurt for no reason," he said at last.
"It's not for no reason though, is it?" Zak asked.
Zak had him there, Drizzt knew, but still he made no reply.
"Some day I might need to use this skill," Zak continued, "and we don't know if it'll be in ten harvests or if it'll be tomorrow."
Drizzt just looked at him, lavender eyes steady.
"Wouldn't it be better to start training now, than to wait until it's too late?"
Until it's too late... That did it. At last Drizzt nodded, gravely. "Very well... If you wish it."
It was all he could do not to react as Zaknafein reached for a glowing ember again.
Kel'nar = Dad