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“It’s true that he fought beside Deudermont?” Beniago asked.

“Indeed,” Furey answered. “Drizzt played no small role in the fall of the Hosttower of the Arcane.”

“Something for which we should be grateful, in the end,” Kurth said with a lighthearted chuckle.

“Indeed, in his own convoluted way he facilitated the rise of the five high captains unbridled,” Furey said. “And from what I’ve been able to garner in the old records and in the stories passed down through the decades, Drizzt tried to warn Deudermont against his course.”

“But not out of any favorability toward the high captains,” Kurth put in. “I’ve spoken with some of my elderly minions and they assure me that Drizzt Do’Urden has never been known as a friend to Ship Kurth or any other Luskan Ship.”

“Drizzt understands the power of what is,” Furey remarked, and Kurth looked at him curiously.

But Beniago caught on to the logic and added, “He realized that Deudermont would create instability, and that there were others ready to leap in and assume the power when the cloak of the Hosttower was cast aside.”

“But he hated the high captains,” said Furey.

Kurth sat back in his chair and lifted his glass of whiskey for a deep swallow as he tried to sort it all through. “Perhaps enough years have passed,” he remarked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“And we now are, after all, what is,” Beniago added.

“He’s an idealist, who served a goodly dwarf king,” Furey said. “He’s the enemy of thieves and rogues.”

“And yet he’s often seen in the company of Jarlaxle,” Beniago put in, and the others looked at him curiously. “I have friends at the Cutlass,” the assassin of Ship Kurth went on. “When Drizzt and King Bruenor were assailed in there a couple of months ago by some band of ruffians, Jarlaxle and his dwarf friend Athrogate intervened, and joined in the fray. When Drizzt and King Bruenor left Luskan soon after, Jarlaxle and Athrogate went with them.”

“You’re certain of this?” Kurth asked, and Beniago nodded. Kurth looked to Furey.

“It could be true,” the wizard admitted.

“If Drizzt will conspire with the likes of Bregan D’aerthe, what might his objections be to the practices of the high captains?”

“Because we’re not as vile as the drow?” Beniago asked with a laugh.

“Not for lack of trying, I hope,” Kurth replied, and joined in the jollity.

“And Lady Dahlia should welcome our protection,” Furey admitted.

“Then there is hope!” Kurth announced, and lifted his glass in toast. The others all did likewise, and with enthusiasm—except for Beniago, who remained caught by the improbability of Furey’s last proclamation. “Truly I would value their addition to my network.”

“We’ll be knowin’ in the morning,” remarked Klutarch, who had remained silent since their departure from the jeweler’s shop. Klutarch’s role was, after all, to be a second set of ears for Kurth.

“We’ll know their answer first,” Kurth said. “And if it’s not one we wish to hear, we’ll use Ship Rethnor’s designs on the pair to convince them further that our alliance is in their best interest—in fact, that it’s their only hope.”

“Easily enough accomplished,” Furey assured his high captain. “Though I fear we may lose a considerable number of potential recruits manning such a ruse against the drow’s blades and Dahlia’s deadly staff.”

Normally, such a lead would have prompted Beniago to offer similar assurances to Kurth, but the assassin was still caught up mulling Furey’s remark that Dahlia would welcome their protection, trying to figure out why that seemingly obvious conclusion rattled so clumsily in his thoughts. He looked up at long last to consider Kurth, Klutarch, and Furey, all plotting about where and when they might launch their phony ambush to further entice Dahlia and Drizzt.

No one in Ship Kurth knew the city better than Beniago. He should have taken the lead in the plans. He was, after all, the Ship’s assassin, the warrior who knew the shadows and the streets, the disposition of the rival ship forces, and the pulse of the City of Sails. But he couldn’t. Something bothered him. Something wasn’t quite right.

Dahlia looked down at the sleeping Drizzt Do’Urden, at the moonbeam playing on the sparkles of perspiration dotting his muscular back. She told herself that he was merely another in her long string of encounters—well-played, to be sure, but nothing extraordinary.

She told herself that, but she didn’t believe it.

There was something very different about that passionate night compared to the dozens Dahlia had experienced before, and the distinction lay in the lead-up and not merely in the act itself.

She didn’t have the time to pause and consider all of that, however. Dahlia reminded herself that she had work to do, that she had alliances to smash to pieces, that she had a road to blaze before a different trail was forced upon her.

She dressed quietly, staring at Drizzt the whole time. She left her boots off, lacing them together and flipping them over her shoulder, then quietly padded to the door. She held it firmly in place as she gently lifted the staff out of its locking position. Then, with a last glance back at Drizzt, Dahlia eased the door open.

She stepped to the threshold, and seeing no one about—it was past midnight, after all—she bent low and set the end of her staff down to a spot amidst the rubble. Dahlia took a deep breath and swung herself out past the broken porch, landing lightly on the cobblestones of the empty street.

She quickly pulled her boots on, broke her staff into flails so she could more easily carry it, and ran on through the moonlit streets of sleeping Luskan.

She stood outside the small jewelry shop for quite a while, noting the sparse movements on the street, looking for any patterns she might exploit. There were a few city guards in the area, but of course, Dahlia could expect that most of them wouldn’t care at all about Ship Kurth’s jeweler. That was the way of Luskan: City guards were Ship guards, with loyalty to one high captain alone.

Using the same maneuver that had brought her into the second-story apartment above the broken porch, Dahlia was soon atop the shop’s roof. She picked her way to the apex and from there calculated the area that would be above the case of diamonds. Using her staff, she prodded the slate tiles and found, to her satisfaction, that more than a few had loosened in the harsh sea air of Luskan. Always wet, always windy, often icy, the City of Sails felt the cold ocean’s bluster keenly.

Dahlia tied off her coil of rope around the brick chimney and eased her way down to the spot. Using a two-foot section of her staff, she pried off tiles then poked at the rotten boards beneath them. Soon she’d removed enough of the roofing to poke her arms and head through the hole. She lit a candle and nodded in satisfaction when she noted that she was directly above the case. With the rope secured around her waist and looped through a metal eye-hole in her harness, she gradually released the rope and lowered herself into the room, head down.

She came to a stop just above the case and set the candle atop the glass. She had a glass-cutter and a suction cup in her pack, and was considering whether to use it or take a more straightforward route when a voice made up her mind for her.

“You so disappoint me,” Beniago remarked, coming out of the shadows at the side of the room.

Dahlia reacted as soon as the first word had left his mouth. She poked down with Kozah’s Needle in one hand, shattering the top sheet of glass on the case. At the same time, she flipped the latch on the eye-hole of her harness, freeing herself from the rope, and caught the rope enough with her free hand to spin herself over, dropping to straddle the case with one foot atop either side of its metal skeleton.

“I’ll try to do better,” she replied coolly, as if she’d expected the man all along. She went into a defensive crouch, setting her boots more firmly on the narrow rim of the case and turning her eight-foot staff slowly in her hands in front of her.

Beniago came closer, walking a zigzag path as if expecting Dahlia to throw some missile his way. Barely five strides from her, he looked at her then down at the broken case, and shook his head.

“The diamond,” he said, “offered to you by High Captain Kurth as a gift.”

“There’s no such thing as a gift.”

“Cynical, pretty lady.”

“Taught by bitter experience. Gifts have conditions.”

“And would those conditions have been such a bad thing, particularly in light of your relationship with Ship Rethnor, a formidable foe?”

“They don’t frighten me.”

“Obviously not.”

“Nor does Ship Kurth.”

“But still, I would be remiss in my duties to High Captain Kurth if I didn’t once more put forth our offer. Take your chosen diamond—”

The words had barely left his mouth when Dahlia exploded into motion. She pulled her staff into two four-foot lengths and turned them down like great pincers. With practiced control, she squeezed the velvet wrapping and the diamond between them and with a flick of her wrists, sent the stone flying up into the air in front of her. She snapped her staff back together, let go with one hand, and deftly used her free hand to redirect the stone as it descended right into her pocket. And all the time, even in the moment it took to execute the entire maneuver, Dahlia kept her gaze locked on Beniago.

The assassin showed his amusement, and perhaps amazement, with a grin and a shake of his head.

“Take your chosen diamond,” he repeated, chuckling beneath the words, “and I’ll even pay for the repair of the case—and glass is not so cheap in Luskan this time of the year! So you see? You have created a better bargain for yourself already. Join us …”


“My good lady …”


“Then I must take back the diamond.”

“Please try.”

A sword appeared in Beniago’s left hand, his jeweled dagger in his right—and for a moment, Dahlia thought that a strange combination, since her previous observations of Beniago had made her think him right-handed.

“No matter,” she whispered.

She leaped from the case, landing halfway between it and her opponent, setting her feet as she touched down perfectly to sweep her long staff out in front of her. She halted her subsequent backhand mid-swing, retracted it, and stepped forward, thrusting the staff as a spear for Beniago’s belly.

A lesser opponent might have been clipped by the swing and prodded hard by the thrust, but she got nowhere near to hitting Beniago—nor did she expect to. What Dahlia had hoped was that Beniago would slap at Kozah’s Needle with his sword perhaps, so that she could share a bit of lightning energy with her opponent, perhaps even jolting his sword from his grasp.

But Beniago not only avoided any such incidental contact, he smiled at Dahlia as if to show her that he knew what she was trying to do.

That didn’t concern Dahlia, though. Quite the opposite. She preferred her opponents capable and well-schooled. She stabbed again with the staff and jumped forward to drive Beniago back, and indeed he did retreat, but the aggressive elf warrior discovered something in that attack: Beniago had not disabled the floor traps!