Up on the roof, the couple scouted the city, looking for their best route out. All around them came sounds not typical in the sleeping city: doors creaking open, footfalls on a slate roof, a sharp whistle badly disguised as the call of a night bird.
Ship Kurth had awakened.
They climbed down and sprinted from shadow to shadow across the marketplace. At first, hints of pursuit came in the same curious sounds, the footsteps and the creaking doorways, but very soon, they could hear their pursuers clearly behind them, chasing them stride for stride.
Drizzt reached into his pouch and produced the onyx figurine, calling Guenhwyvar to his side. The panther, though tired from her exploits of the previous day, didn’t growl, but took his orders and leaped off into the shadows.
A chorus of shrieks informed Drizzt and Dahlia that Guenhwyvar had greeted the minions of Ship Kurth.
By the time they made the city wall, many enemies had revealed themselves, left, right, and behind. Up on the city parapet a handful of pirates raced to guard the ladders they could use to climb the wall. Drizzt started to pull out Taulmaril, his intent clearly to shoot those enemies blocking the ladders, but Dahlia held him back.
“Do you think I trained you at the apartment balcony for no good reason?” she asked, and when Drizzt looked at her quizzically, she executed her pole vault, easily bringing herself to the eight-foot parapet, though she nearly tumbled right back down when she tried to plant her numb leg.
She dropped the staff down to Drizzt and he wasted no time in joining her. When he got up beside her, he pulled out Taulmaril and skipped an arrow along the wall to the left and to the right, driving back the closest pursuers.
Someone from the shadows below responded with an arrow that nearly hit Dahlia. Drizzt replied with a shot of his own, the lightning arrow of the Heartseeker lighting up the man’s horrified expression just an instant before it blew him to the ground.
Drizzt and Dahlia ran off into the night, just a short way to the trees, where Drizzt called forth Andahar. He pulled Dahlia up behind him, and off the unicorn thundered, hooves pounding and bells singing a teasing melody to pursuers who couldn’t hope to catch them.
They kept up a swift pace down the south road, and when Drizzt finally slowed Andahar to a brisk trot, he struck up a conversation about the road ahead, about Neverwinter Wood and their waiting adversary, Sylora Salm. It didn’t take him long to recognize that it was a one-way dialogue.
He pulled Andahar up to a walk and felt Dahlia lean more heavily against him.
He turned to look over his shoulder, to stare into Dahlia’s open, empty eyes. She slid down, rubbing her face against his shoulder, leaving a trail of vomit. Too shocked to react, Drizzt didn’t catch her before she tumbled hard from Andahar’s back. She landed heavily upon the hard ground.
Drizzt leaped down beside her, called to her frantically, cradled her head, and stared into her eyes only to realize that she was not looking back.
Small bubbles of white foam rolled out her open lips.
Chapter 7: Of Lust and Hunger
BARRABUS, HIS FEMALE PRISONER SLUNG ACROSS HIS SHOULDERS, moved around the courtyard within the walls of Neverwinter. The battle was fast ending, the defenders victorious. Out in the field behind him, however, the fight raged in full force. Though with Valindra gone and the Ashmadai caught by surprise, it had become more of a massacre than an actual battle.
The city gates swung open and those warriors freed of defensive duties moved for the portal, hungering for more blood.
“Who are these shadow warriors, Barrabus?” one voice rose above the others of the Neverwinter garrison as they poured through the gates onto the field.
Barrabus met the gaze of Jelvus Grinch. “Keep your forces within the city,” he warned. “Secure your walls and seal your gate.”
“Who are they?”
Barrabus cast him a disapproving glance and walked past into Neverwinter. He felt Jelvus Grinch’s hard stare following him every step.
“Heed my words,” Barrabus warned one last time, and he nodded only slightly when he at last heard Jelvus Grinch recalling his forces and ordering the gate closed and barred.
Barrabus moved to a pair of guards inside and near the closest structure, a barracks. He rolled the unconscious Ashmadai off his shoulder, easing her into the grasp of two soldiers nearby. “Chain her in a secure cell,” he said.
One soldier nodded, his smile revealing much—too much.
Barrabus’s sword flashed out, its tip landing against the soldier’s chin. “If you harm her in any way, I will find you,” he promised. “You will chain her and lock her cell so she cannot escape. And then you will stand guard outside that door.”
“I’m no filthy gaoler!” the man replied.
“Would you prefer to be a gaoler or a corpse, because either path is within your grasp?” asked Barrabus, quietly, evenly.
The soldier looked to his companion, who took a step away. They had just witnessed Barrabus the Gray at play on the field of battle, after all, and the whispers of his prowess had echoed across the battlefield. No one in Neverwinter was eager to witness his prowess from the perspective of an enemy.
The first soldier turned back to glare at Barrabus for just a moment, then slung the woman over his shoulder and started away, his friend in tow.
“When I seek her out, presently, if she reports any wrongdoing on your part, we will speak again,” Barrabus said.
Barrabus heard a chuckle behind him. He turned to face Jelvus Grinch.
“You presume much in this city, which is not yours,” Jelvus Grinch said, his burly arms crossed over his chest, and half the Neverwinter garrison standing behind him.
“She’s my prisoner, fairly taken in defense of Neverwinter,” Barrabus answered without a flinch. “It would disappoint me greatly to learn that Neverwinter would not allow me the use of a single prison cell—”
“And a pair of guards.”
“You should thank me for getting those fools out of your sight.”
Jelvus Grinch couldn’t hold his defiant pose or his stern expression. A great smile widened on his bearded face and he reached out and slapped Barrabus on the shoulder. “Well fought, Barrabus the Gray!” he cheered, and the garrison behind him erupted into a great “huzzah!” for the hero of the battle of Neverwinter.
The whole thing, of course, did nothing more than annoy and perhaps embarrass Barrabus. He was only there, after all, on behalf of Herzgo Alegni, who in turn was only there because of his master’s nefarious designs on Neverwinter, and he cared not a whit about the city or any of its inhabitants.
“I’ll interrogate my prisoner after she has sat in the darkness, and in fear, for some time,” Barrabus explained to Jelvus Grinch, and started away.
Jelvus Grinch held out an arm to stop him. “Master Barrabus,” he said politely, withdrawing the arm as the gray man fixed him with an icy stare.
“We’re fighting for our lives out here, for the very existence of Neverwinter,” Jelvus Grinch went on. “Against the forces of chaos and … insanity, it seems! Against these wretched and shriveled undead, who rise unbidden against us.”
“Not unbidden,” Barrabus assured him.
“You know!” Jelvus Grinch cleared his throat, composing himself. “You know,” he said more quietly. “You know what’s been happening here. You understand our plight … more than we do, perhaps?”
“Surely,” Barrabus corrected.
Jelvus Grinch started to laugh. Then, in front of scores of warriors and battle mages who looked to him for leadership, the first citizen of Neverwinter bowed low before Barrabus the Gray. “And that’s why we need you,” he said, coming out of the bow.
Barrabus stared at him noncommittally.
“You helped us defend the city this night. You have come to us in a dark hour and helped us carry on. Without your warning, without your blades—”
“My blades were inconsequential,” Barrabus said. “I would be dead on the field, with only minor victories to show for my efforts, had not that other force, who still battle beyond your walls, arrived.”
“And you know of them, too,” Jelvus Grinch said wryly.
Barrabus nodded. Jelvus Grinch grinned from ear to ear and held his arms out wide.
“What do you want?” Barrabus the Gray asked.
“Join us,” Jelvus Grinch replied. Behind him, many cheered again and echoed that sentiment.
“I just did.”
“No,” Jelvus Grinch replied, shaking his head emphatically. “Not just for that one battle. Join us in our efforts to give rise to a new and greater Neverwinter. Work with us, protect us.”
Barrabus the Gray laughed as if that notion was absurd.
“What tribute would you like?” Jelvus Grinch asked. “A statue?” He waved his arm out to the main market square. “A statue of Barrabus the Gray, blades in hand? A tribute to the warrior who kept watch so the new residents of Neverwinter could raise the city anew from the ashes of the cataclysm.”
“A statue?” Barrabus echoed incredulously. “You would carve me in stone?”
Jelvus Grinch held up his hands. “What man … what man of rotting flesh and blood, after all, would not aspire to achieve a measure of immortality in stone?”
“Or perhaps you might employ a medusa,” Barrabus teased, “and save your artisans for work on your buildings.” Suddenly a perfectly wonderful, perfectly cynical, perfectly wicked thought came to him. “Or your bridges,” he added.
“The Winged Wyvern Bridge,” Barrabus said.
Every head in the crowd turned to regard the distant structure, just the tips of the wyvern’s wide-spread wings visible from that vantage point.
“Yes, what of it?”
“It was not always called that,” Barrabus explained.
Jelvus Grinch looked at him curiously.
“For a brief time only,” Barrabus elaborated. “The Lord of Neverwinter renamed it in the days before the cataclysm—perhaps that’s why the angry volcano unleashed its rage on the city.”
“We know nothing of—”
“Of course you don’t,” said Barrabus. “For everyone within the city at that time was killed … everyone but one.” As he ended, he turned to face the first citizen directly, his expression explaining much.
“You?” a thoroughly confused Jelvus Grinch asked.
“I was here,” Barrabus replied. “When the volcano blew, I was in Neverwinter.”
“There were no survivors,” someone behind yelled.
“Then how do I stand before you?” Barrabus said. “I was here on that fateful day.”
In the crowd beyond came many gasps.
“Master Barrabus, you already have our gratitude,” said Jelvus Grinch. “There’s no reason—”
“I’m not lying. I was here.” He pointed down at the Winged Wyvern Bridge. “I was down there, actually, standing atop the Winged Wyvern when the first explosions rolled the ground beneath the city, when the first fireball punched into the sky. I was there when the mountain leaped from afar, charging down from the Crags, through that valley. I watched the river run gray and red with molten rock and ash. I heard the thunder of every roof being shattered by great boulders, tumbling from on high.”