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The floorboards collapsed beneath Dahlia’s lead foot and only her agile reaction stopped her from sliding into the suddenly-revealed pit. Still, her foot did go in enough to tap the nearest of the many spikes within, wicked and pointed things that easily punctured the hard sole of her boot and pricked at the bottom of her foot.

She felt the slight puncture, almost immediately accompanied by a burning pain. She had no doubt that the spike was poisoned, but could only hope it hadn’t penetrated her flesh enough to deliver a killing dose.

Beniago seized the opportunity to charge forward, leading halfheartedly with his sword, and the off-balance Dahlia did well to slap it aside, though she couldn’t focus her energy enough to apply the weapon’s signature lightning blast. She did even better in her subsequent retreat, just barely avoiding the brunt of the man’s main attack with his jeweled dagger.

Dahlia fell away and turned her head, but still got scratched by the small blade. Just scratched.

And in that moment, thinking to reverse and press the man, Dahlia found out the awful truth.

She’d been barely nicked, a slight scratch across her cheek, but in that contact between Beniago’s blade and her flesh, Dahlia knew doom. True doom. She sensed her soul being pulled forth, as if the dagger drank of her very life essence. She felt the coldness of utter obliteration, the emptiness of nothingness. She felt as violated as she had on that long-ago day when Herzgo Alegni had assaulted her village and torn asunder her childhood.

She retreated as fast as she dared, not wanting to put her feet down with any weight on a floor lined with deadly traps.

And they were deadly, she knew now, for her punctured foot began to grow numb, and it took considerable concentration with each step for Dahlia to stop it from rolling under and buckling.

Beniago pursued, smiling as if his kill was surely at hand.

Dahlia forced herself through it all and shook her head against the unnerving and unholy power of that wicked dagger. She broke her long staff into two, then snapped those two four-foot lengths into flails and sent them immediately spinning, up and over and out at her pursuer.

With her wounded foot, time was against her, she feared, so she went on the attack, striding forward, lashing out with the flails one after the other. Her assassin opponent ducked and dodged left and right, and tried to keep her at bay with his long sword, all the while holding that awful dagger cocked at his side, ready to strike like a poisonous serpent. Dahlia quickly realized that Beniago was making the same mistake of so many before: He was trying to parry her spinning sticks in such a way as to cut the ties between the poles.

She launched her right-hand flail in an arcing, downward-diagonal attack, and Beniago backhand parried with his sword, forcing the blade in against the handle-pole of Dahlia’s weapon. As she followed through, Beniago slid his sword quickly up and out, hoping that the countering weight of her swing would create enough resistance for him to slice the binding tie cleanly.

But this was Kozah’s Needle, imbued with great and powerful magic, and no blade in existence had the edge to accomplish such a feat. To his great credit, Beniago was quick enough not to fall into the obvious trap, at least, retracting his blade before Dahlia could catch the swinging pole of her weapon and twist his sword from his grasp.

Instead the elf shifted her left foot forward and turned her hips, her second weapon coming in hard, driving Beniago back in full retreat.

Dahlia shadowed his every step, imagining his boot prints and filling them with her own feet.

“Well done!” Beniago congratulated after a few such rounds had him all the way back near the shadows where he’d first appeared. He’d barely finished speaking, though, when he darted out to the side, springing away and even turning his back on the pursuing Dahlia as he executed a series of darts left and right, combined with seemingly wild leaps. He jumped up onto the broken diamond case and sprang far away, and with that visual barrier between himself and Dahlia, he moved even faster, spinning sidelong in one leap so that he could disguise his landing.

Dahlia came over the case as quickly as she could manage, but there was too much room between her and Beniago now, and she couldn’t gauge his exact steps.

“Have you discerned the pattern of the floor traps?” Beniago teased. “But wait, how could you, since there’s no pattern?”

As he continued to laugh at her, the woman glanced, ever so slightly, over her shoulder, back at the broken case and the hanging rope. Her punctured foot throbbed, and the burning sensation began creeping up her leg.

Beniago grinned, apparently catching on to her distressed look, and he moved into position to intercept should she try to escape up the rope.

“You disappoint me,” he said. “You would leave our well-fought battle?”

“Well fought?” Dahlia echoed. “On this field of your choosing? In this place of devilish traps, which you know and I do not?”

“You will learn it soon enough,” Beniago taunted her, and Dahlia came on then fiercely.

Beniago had moved, seemingly inadvertently, to a place where she could get at him over floorboards she’d already tread.

Her flails worked in wide circles, diagonally, her momentum growing, and Beniago didn’t retreat. He fell lower into a crouch, blades ready to defend. Dahlia flipped a forward somersault, just to hide her attack angles, and landed in a full sprint at the man.

Or tried to.

The floorboards were no longer solid, no longer safe, and as Dahlia touched down, a board beneath her boot gave way. She managed to hold her footing and felt no sting of a spike this time, and hoped she’d passed it by quickly enough.

But something lashed out at her, whipping at her trailing ankle and wrapping around it. Unable to stop, she wrenched her hip and knee, and went down hard.

And Beniago was moving as well, leaping back up to the case, towering over her and coming down hard from on high.

Dahlia rolled to her back and kicked up with her free foot, and untangled her flails to ward away the assassin’s blades, particularly that awful dagger. She had no choice now and unloaded Kozah’s Needle’s pent up lightning energy with each connection, buying herself time by forcing Beniago back and away, stinging him with sharp crackles of power.

She tried to get her free foot under her, but the leathery lash snaring her trailing foot more than held her, it was dragging her! She heard a grinding sound from the displaced floorboard behind her.

“It’s not too late, Lady,” Beniago said, his teeth chattering with Kozah’s Needle’s residual energy. “Ship Kurth desires your services.”

Dahlia threw herself into a sitting position and grabbed at the lash, to find that the obviously magical cord had wrapped over upon itself, knotting around her ankle. She thought to go for her small knife, but her instinct told her that her meager utility blade would be of no use against the tendril. She flipped the end of one flail up high and snapped her wrist hard, flipping it and driving it straight down. She released lightning energy as it connected on the floorboard and blew a clean hole with the force and the magic, sinking the pole deeply into the wood. She threw herself against that pole, gripping and pulling for all her life.

But the gears of the trap kept turning, kept dragging her. She wriggled her foot, trying to extricate it from the boot. Her arms stretched out inexorably from her body, and she hadn’t the strength to resist the pull.

Her arms stretched above her head as she stubbornly held on to her anchoring flail pole. She wriggled and jerked her foot every which way. Her frustration mounted—she almost had her foot free when Beniago’s dagger flashed in front of her eyes.

“Last chance, Dahlia,” he said, the blade poised to strike and with Dahlia having no way to prevent it.

So Lady Dahlia did the only thing she could: She spat in his face.

With a growl of protest, Beniago slashed that awful knife toward the woman’s extended arms, and Dahlia instinctively recoiled, letting go.

“The pit take you then!” the assassin said, and there seemed as much regret in his tone as anger.

As if on cue, the grinding stopped.

Dahlia didn’t waste a heartbeat in rolling around and up to her knees, facing the assassin, her remaining flail whipping wildly as if she expected him to come charging in.

He didn’t, though, apparently too perplexed by the failure of the trap.

The riddle was soon answered as a dark form moved out from the side of the room, from the same area where Beniago had first appeared. The newcomer didn’t waste a word of introduction, just came out hard and fast, curving blades leading the way in a mesmerizing, dizzying dance.

Beniago turned and fled. He reached into a pouch and pulled forth some small ceramic globes and began throwing them down with each step. They hit and exploded with brilliant, blinding flashes, one after another, allowing Beniago to get to the door and out into the street.

Drizzt lost ground with each blinding flash-bomb. As Beniago shouldered his way out, the drow swung around and rushed to Dahlia. He leaped past her and drove Twinkle down hard on the magical lash, severing it cleanly.

He reached for Dahlia, but she didn’t take his offered hand. She leaped to her feet and kicked away the remaining length of enchanted tendril then strode indignantly to her planted flail and pulled it free of the floorboard. Her proud demeanor took a bit of a misstep, though, as she moved toward the broken display, for she stumbled on her now fully numb foot and burning leg, and nearly pitched headlong into the case.

Drizzt was right beside her, propping her.

She cast him a hateful look and pulled away, and indeed, Drizzt fell back a step, caught by surprise.

“I’m sorry,” Dahlia said, shaking her head against the wounded expression on her lover’s face. She reached out for him and tugged him to her. “I feel so much the fool,” she whispered into his ear as she hugged him tightly.

“Let us be gone,” Drizzt replied. “Don’t underestimate these people.” He reached for the rope hanging over the broken case.

“Without securing enough treasure for our life outside the city?” Dahlia quipped, and Drizzt turned back on her, his expression hard.

“Why, are you afraid of these foolish high captains and their scalawag armies?” she asked with feigned surprise.

Drizzt spent a long while digesting that, his expression moving to an inquisitive one, prying into Dahlia to discern her intent. The elf also noted a flicker of pain on the drow’s strong features, a revelation and a reminder to her—he was saying, clearly but without words, that he’d fought these men before, their ancestors at least, and to great loss and pain.

Dahlia didn’t want to push it any further. Drizzt’s pain resonated with her and she found, to her surprise, that she didn’t want to inflict any more on him.

“I had a plan to escape the lash,” she said, taking the rope from Drizzt and lifting herself up to the top of the case, and trying, unsuccessfully, to hide her unease as she planted her wounded foot on the metal rim. “I would have escaped, and Beniago would have dropped into the pit.”

Drizzt nodded, but obviously only to grant Dahlia her pride.

“I straightened my leg and felt the grip of the lash lessen,” the elf explained. She hooked her flails into her belt and began to climb. “When Beniago came back at me, I would’ve moved to the pit, freeing my foot.” She left it at that, for even in her ears, her words sounded inane.