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The legion devil never slowed, though, and so paced her.

But Dahlia had expected that, and in her roll, she rejoined her staff into a singular unit, and when she came over, rolling only to her knees, she planted the end of that eight-foot staff in the ground beside her and held on tightly.

The legion devil’s breath blasted out as it collided with the other end of that metal pole, the tip catching it right in mid-chest. It was not a fatal blow, surely, and nothing from which the legion devil couldn’t quickly recover and still hold the advantage over the kneeling female.

Except that Kozah’s Needle wasn’t a simple metal pole, and the lightning energy that Dahlia had built up after her first release mostly remained, and the cloud that Dahlia had summoned was still above her head, teeming with energy.

A lightning bolt came down to her call, blasting into Kozah’s Needle, transferring through the metal staff and taking the weapon’s pent up energy with it. A great arc of power burst out the staff’s other end into the unwitting legion devil’s chest.

The beast flew away, ten strides or more. It landed feet first, but only for a brief moment as it continued to soar backward, crashing to the ground, sword flying from its grasp.

Dahlia leaped up and charged across. When she arrived, the legion devil was still on the ground, still jolting wildly from residual energy. In full stride, she planted the tip of Kozah’s Needle under the fiend’s chin and threw herself fully behind it, even lifting off the ground as she drove the weapon home.

She heard the crack of bone and felt the fiend go limp, though one limb or the other still twitched from the lightning.

Dahlia spun around and recognized immediately that she couldn’t get to Drizzt in time to help him.

Hadencourt had his back to the tree, and both the malebranche and Drizzt knew that the drow couldn’t exploit that to begin any type of offensive counter to the stabbing and slashing of the huge trident.

Drizzt, though, did use Hadencourt’s position to his advantage. He had one trick remaining, and now he executed it, calling upon his magical anklets to speed him. He leaped and spun to his left, daringly going right past Hadencourt, whose slash with the cumbersome trident couldn’t quite catch up to the sprinting drow. Out Drizzt went farther, and Hadencourt kept going in his turn, trident continuing its pursuit as the devil let go with his left hand and opened wide with his right, reaching far to the side like a hunting bird circling from on high.

He might have continued that turn, rolling off the tree, might have kept up to Drizzt and maintained his advantage.

But Drizzt knew better and his sly smile showed it, showed Hadencourt as surely as the thunder of hooves revealed the truth of the drow’s long and seemingly desperate dodge.

Hadencourt turned his gaze just in time to see the last speeding stride of Andahar, head down, horn in line.

The unicorn hit the malebranche at full speed and with tremendous force, rattling the tree behind Hadencourt, pinning the devil and puncturing him, the horn driving right through to hit the tree bark behind him.

Drizzt leaped forward and caught the trident’s shaft, preventing the devil from bringing it back to wound his beloved steed, but he needn’t have bothered, he realized, for there was no strength left in Hadencourt’s grip. Indeed, the malebranche simply dropped his weapon. Hadencourt stood there transfixed, arms out wide, fingers splayed open and twitching as if trying to grasp the empty air.

Andahar’s hooves continued to pound, the unicorn driving in even harder, twisting and thrashing its horned head around. The malebranche’s mouth hung open wide in a silent scream, and his eyes showed the hatred in his black heart, showed a promise to Drizzt that the battle might be over, but the war between them had just become eternal.

But to that, Drizzt, who felt more alive than he had in centuries, only returned a wide and sincere smile and taunted, “I know a balor who would join your vendetta. If you could bring yourself to align with such a creature as Errtu, I mean.”

Staring hatefully, Hadencourt melted away from the Prime Material Plane, back to his haunt in the Nine Hells.

Chapter 12: The Quiet Alliance, the Loud Consequence

JELVUS GRINCH WAS NOT A MAN TO SHY FROM A CHALLENGE. He’d risen to become one of the leading voices in Neverwinter through his toughness, his courage, and his indomitable will. But he shied away now, flinching and all but covering his head with his strong arms, for the angry reaction had caught him by surprise, a complete inversion of what he’d expected. And Herzgo Alegni was not one even stout Jelvus Grinch wanted as an enemy.

Nor did the other citizen leaders of Neverwinter, all sitting behind Jelvus, as Herzgo Alegni had commanded them.

“The Walk of Barrabus?” Alegni repeated over and over again, shaking his head and moving from a helpless grin to an outraged grimace with every syllable.

“We thought it fitting,” Jelvus Grinch dared to reply.

“I think it idiotic,” Alegni snapped back.

“Barrabus the Gray’s work in the assault inspired us,” Jelvus said.

“And all of it was choreographed by … me,” said Alegni, poking his finger against his own massive chest. “Have you so soon forgotten the role I played? Go out,” he bade the man, pointing to Neverwinter’s gate. “Go among the scar of battle and view the many bodies cleaved fully in half. Only one blade on that field was mighty enough to do that, and only one arm strong enough to wield that blade.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Jelvus Grinch. “And your actions are neither unknown nor unappreciated.”

“I will find my name attached to some great structure in Neverwinter?”

“If you wish, of course. A market square, perhaps.”

“That bridge,” Alegni insisted.

“Bridge? The Walk of Barrabus?”

“Never speak that name again,” Alegni replied, calmly, too calmly, the threat obvious and undeniable. “Once it was called the Winged Wyvern Bridge, then, too briefly in the days before the cataclysm, the Herzgo Alegni Bridge.”

Jelvus Grinch’s face screwed up with surprise. Few alive knew of that brief moment of Neverwinter lore.

“Yes,” Alegni explained, “because the Lord of Neverwinter in the day of the cataclysm knew well the friendship and alliance of Herzgo Alegni, and he was so grateful for my service to his city that he changed the name of Neverwinter’s most notable and famous structure. I didn’t immediately explain this indiscretion to you. It’s a new day in Neverwinter, and so I decided to show my value to you who have come here to rebuild. Barrabus the Gray is my man, who serves at my pleasure and my suffrage. A man I can kill with merely a thought. He came to you because I sent him to you, and of no accord of his own. Do you understand that?”

Jelvus Grinch swallowed hard and nodded.

“He’s my man, not his own,” said Alegni. “If I tell him to kill himself, he will kill himself. If I tell him to kill you, you will be dead. Do you understand?”

Another hard swallow preceded the next nod.

“I command a sizable Shadovar force,” the tiefling said, lifting his gaze from poor Jelvus Grinch to address all of the gathering. “You have met our wretched enemies, these Thayans and their ghoulish minions with ghoulish designs. I alone can protect you from the withering fingers of Szass Tam, and I will do so.”

He paused and turned his glare back to Jelvus Grinch directly, and finished with a simple edict, “The Herzgo Alegni Bridge.”

“A bright day will dawn for this land in a time of darkness,” came a voice from the gathering, and all eyes turned to see a disarmingly comely woman with curly red hair and a warm and open face.

Several others whispered, “The Forest Sentinel,” with great reverence, prompting Alegni to regard this innocuous-looking woman more carefully.

“We have hoped and prayed that one would stand above, and lead us to banish the old evil and open a path to new horizons,” the woman, Arunika, went on. “Are you that one, Herzgo Alegni?”

Herzgo Alegni straightened and his massive chest swelled with confidence that he was indeed, or surely could be.

“The Herzgo Alegni Bridge!” another man from the gallery shouted, and many others chimed in their agreement.

Alegni looked to Jelvus Grinch, who eagerly nodded.

The Netherese lord paced around, basking in the glow of approval, then assured them all, “Szass Tam’s agents will be driven from this land at the end of my sword. Your city will thrive again. I’ll see to that, but on your lives, you will not forget my role.”

It started as a small clap, a single set of hands—the red-haired woman’s hands, Alegni noted, this one they had called the Forest Sentinel—then joined by a second, and within a few heartbeats, the leaders of Neverwinter called out for Herzgo Alegni with a full-throated “huzzah!”

Jestry stood in the firelit chamber, naked and sweating, covered in hot oil. He didn’t cry out in pain, for the aboleth was in his mind and wouldn’t allow him to feel that pain. The creature chased down every sensation of pain before it could come to fruition, numbing Jestry, distracting him, keeping him in a state of emptiness.

These mental bindings were much easier, after all.

Not far from Jestry, a cauldron hissed and bubbled. A pair of gray dwarves hustled around it, stoking the flames, pouring in more oil. A third dwarf slave, wearing thick gloves and carrying long tongs, scrambled up and down a small ladder near the cauldron, reaching in to pull forth the treated, leathery strips.

Whenever the dwarf caught one, he jumped down from the ladder and ran to Jestry—there was no time to tarry and let the umber hulk hide cool. He set one end of the long strip against the naked man, right where the last one had ended, and tightly wrapped it around his body, pulling hard with each turn.

The oil beneath the treated strap sizzled, Jestry’s skin bubbled and burst as he melded with the enchanted and magically treated leather.

“It will heighten his resistance to lightning energy,” the slimy servitor who stood nearby quietly whispered to Valindra, who watched with great amusement.

And turn the blades and dull the thud of Dahlia’s staff, Valindra telepathically replied. She didn’t specifically impart, but was thinking that they should do this to all of the Ashmadai.

Through his servitor, the aboleth disavowed her of that notion, filling her ear with watery whispers explaining the realities of such an unusual ceremony as this. “Five hulks must die for one human to be armored, and in any typical situation, those five would be more valuable by far. Your human champion will not live long, and will never again know a moment without great pain. Were my master to release him from possession now, the agony would kill him. He will be Sylora Salm’s champion only through his zealotry, his willingness, his happiness to die for his cause.”

“But he will hate her for this,” Valindra reasoned as the dwarf’s wrapping reached Jestry’s crotch. “For never again will he know Sylora’s touch, her kiss and her charms.” She gasped, giggled, and blurted, “He is neutered!”

“His focus is singular now,” the servitor explained. “He’s Sylora Salm’s champion and will fight for her until his death. Nothing else will matter to him.”