He’d do the same with Dahlia, of course—perhaps even more so because she brought the added weight of being Sylora Salm’s murderous champion.
So be it, and such an event might even work more to his benefit, Barrabus mused. If the drow understood that Alegni had killed Dahlia in a most horrible way, Drizzt would exact swift vengeance on Barrabus’s hated master.
That was Barrabus’s hope, then, as he sat just outside the firelight of the small encampment, watching Dahlia’s movements as she set the bedrolls and performed other mundane tasks. Yes, a capture would be best. He focused on that as he watched her building a fire, and reminded himself of the difficulty presented by either task, capture or assassination, though the latter seemed much easier.
He reminded himself that this elf, Dahlia, was fearless and could fight.
He had to take her fast, without a struggle. He scanned the camp, noting that Dahlia had her weapon broken into flails and within easy reach on her hips, looped under her sash belt. To the side lay a fallen tree, propping the backpacks and bedrolls, and farther beyond that, slung over a low branch were saddlebags—rations, likely—and beside those, hooked on a broken limb, a green cloak, one side of it fairly shredded.
Barrabus glanced around and stealthily moved to the side. He retrieved an armful of kindling first, then got the cloak, apparently without attracting any attention. He donned the cloak and pulled the hood low over his face.
Still, fearing that wasn’t enough, he went into the firelight, bent low, and turned sidelong, even walking backward more than forward, clutching the pile of kindling up high to help shield his identity.
“Drop it there,” Dahlia instructed, pointing to the side of the fire and showing little interest in what seemed to be her returning companion.
Once he’d set events into motion, Barrabus rarely second-guessed himself. But he was doing so now, trying to anticipate every moment, and fearing that his desperation to be rid of Alegni had made him reckless. This was Drizzt Do’Urden and Dahlia he’d tracked down, not a pair of ridiculous Ashmadai zealots!
The whole plan seemed absurd to him suddenly, and he wondered if he should drop the kindling and run off into the forest night.
He did drop the kindling, but then he struck, sword and dagger out and swinging.
To his surprise, Dahlia was ready, her weapons coming into her agile hands and going into sudden blocks and counters. He had the initiative, but not the surprise!
How could that be?
He went at her furiously, knowing that his advantage, slim as it might be, would prove short-lived.
In those few heartbeats of battle, his desperation to win multiplied a hundred-fold because of the implications it held against Alegni, Barrabus the Gray fought better than ever he could remember. He worked his sword in a brilliant overspin, dodging Dahlia’s blocking flail, and bore forward, accepting a stinging hit from the elf’s other weapon but getting in close in exchange. His dagger moved up for a finishing position against the elf’s throat. He would have her surrender, or he would have her life.
Except that a dark form dropped from above, landing just behind him. Even as his dagger climbed up to score the victory, a scimitar crashed atop his skull, staggering him to the side. Before he could come up straight and offer a defense, Drizzt worked that blade and the other inside Barrabus’s arms, one tip coming in against the would-be assassin’s throat.
So he would die, and Alegni would bring him back and torment him all the more. Or perhaps, Barrabus wondered in that last breath, the Dread Ring would catch him first and animate him as a zombie.
Dahlia had warned Drizzt quite succinctly and repeatedly about the Netherese champion, the stealthy killer. That was why Drizzt had doubled back several times after they’d entered the area, and particularly after their battle with the Shadovar patrol.
So when Drizzt had ostensibly gone off that night to gather firewood, which they didn’t need, the drow had actually climbed a tree and slipped from branch to branch to get back near the campsite.
He saw the sudden movement of the murderer executing a brilliant overspin defense, and saw Dahlia taken back and nearly overwhelmed.
Perhaps she would have been beaten, but Drizzt wasn’t about to let it come to that.
In short order, he turned the tables, and had Barrabus the Gray helpless and about to die.
In short order, Drizzt looked into the eyes of the Netherese champion, facing the man the moment before his scimitar plunged home.
But he didn’t strike—he couldn’t strike. Paralyzed by a flood of memories that nearly knocked him from his feet, not by any countering move, but by the simple truth of the moment, Drizzt gaped. The skin tone was wrong, of course, being grayer than Drizzt remembered it, but the overall impression, the way he moved, his features …
“Artemis Entreri,” Drizzt whispered in shock. He wondered if he was just fooling himself, if the spectacle of Beniago’s too-familiar dagger had begun Drizzt thinking about his old nemesis.
The drow’s blade dipped precipitously—enough so that Barrabus, had he been thinking of a counter, might have broken away.
“Artemis Entreri,” Drizzt whispered again, shaking his head, wondering if this might be the assassin’s son—or great, great, great grandson, more likely.
The Netherese champion, this Barrabus the Gray, smiled as if in admission of the absurdity of it all.
“It cannot be,” Drizzt said, more forcefully, and he reset the blade against the assassin’s throat and forced him back against a thick tree.
“Finish him!” Dahlia insisted, but when she moved forward, Drizzt’s free arm snapped out to the side to hold her back.
“Well met, again, Drizzt Do’Urden,” said Barrabus the Gray. He looked down at the scimitar, chuckled, and added sardonically, “As well met as ever, it would seem.”
“Who are you?”
“You spoke my name—twice,” the assassin replied.
“He’s deceiving you!” Dahlia insisted.
“Though it’s a name I’ve not heard, and have not used, in many years,” the assassin continued, though he barely got the words out as Drizzt pressed him more tightly with the scimitar, prompted by Dahlia’s warning.
“The name I spoke was that of a man who would be dead for more than half a century, even if he lived a very long life.”
“Life is full of surprises,” the assassin replied flippantly.
Drizzt tightened the blade, drawing some blood.
“How fares Jarlaxle, who betrayed me to the Netherese?” the assassin asked, dropping his sword and dirk to the ground.
That name gave Drizzt pause, for of course, the last time he’d heard of Artemis Entreri, the assassin had indeed been traveling with Jarlaxle.
“Is this your new bride?” Barrabus asked, turning his gaze to Dahlia. “She fights well—better than Catti-brie …” He went up on his toes as Drizzt moved the deadly scimitar in even tighter, drawing a grimace in addition to more blood.
“Never speak that name,” Drizzt warned.
“When I had Catti-brie captured, before we ever met, did I harm her?” the man asked, and with that, Drizzt knew.
Beyond any doubt, he knew.
The shocked drow stepped back, despite the protests of Dahlia.
“You should be long dead,” he said.
“So should you,” Artemis Entreri replied. “I killed you in a crystal tower, in single combat.”
Drizzt’s mind flew back to that moment. Jarlaxle had arranged the duel, in a magical tower chamber full of obstacles—props for the showdown between mortal enemies. Drizzt believed he had the fight won, but Entreri had countered with some magic against which Drizzt, caught so unprepared, had no practical defense. Entreri’s claim was correct: He had killed Drizzt in that tower the last time the two had crossed paths, and crossed swords, and only the intervention of Jarlaxle and his companion, a mighty mind-mage from Menzoberranzan, had brought Drizzt back from the edge of oblivion.
Drizzt had felt deceived by the psionicist’s intervention in that personal duel, and felt it again as he recalled that long-ago day. Apparently Jarlaxle had deceived Entreri as well, for the assassin’s surprise that Drizzt remained alive seemed genuine enough.
“You beat me fairly?” Drizzt had to ask, a wee bit of his pride forcing the question despite their more pressing issue—like what he and Dahlia might do with the likes of a captured Artemis Entreri!
“I beat you because that wretch Kimmuriel lent me his strange psionic power, and he did so without my asking.”
“You admit it?”
Entreri held up his hands helplessly.
Drizzt didn’t know what to think, what to feel. This was Artemis Entreri before him, of that he had no doubt. And yet, strangely, he was not prepared to strike at the assassin. He had no intention of killing Entreri. Drizzt couldn’t yet sort through his feelings at seeing this man who should be long dead, but he recognized those feelings clearly, and if he denied them, he would be a liar, to himself above all others.
He was not unhappy to see Artemis Entreri. Quite the contrary, Drizzt Do’Urden felt somehow relieved, wistful even, to find a remnant of those long ago days standing in front of him. Perhaps it was the recent loss of Bruenor, the last of his old friends, the last of the other Companions of the Hall, that granted Artemis Entreri more leniency than he deserved, and which facilitated more charity than seemed reasonable and sensible, than seemed perhaps even safe, from Drizzt.
“What are you doing?” Dahlia demanded, and her voice became more desperate as Drizzt slid his scimitars away.
“Why are you here?” Drizzt demanded.
Artemis Entreri rubbed his throat and considered the blood on his fingers. He glanced over at Dahlia again and said with complete calm, “To kill her.”
He looked back at Drizzt again, shrugged, and laughed in a self-deprecating way. “That’s what I’ve been told to do, at least.”
“Care to try?” Drizzt asked.
Entreri laughed again and asked, “Why are you here?”
“You expect me to tell you?”
“No need,” Entreri assured him, and he nodded his chin at Dahlia. “Sylora Salm’s champion and I are acquainted, and since Sylora and my master have become mortal enemies, so I’m charged with defeating her champion. You’re here to serve Sylora, which surprises me.” He ended with a little laugh.
Drizzt gave a quick glance over at Dahlia, who remained stone-faced.
“I wouldn’t expect Drizzt Do’Urden to fight in support of Szass Tam, Sylora’s master,” Entreri went on, and now there was a level of taunting entering his tone. “The archlich of Thay, who hates all living creatures. Does Mielikki approve of your choice, or have you seen enough of the world’s darkness to dismiss the pretty lies of gentle souls?”
Again Drizzt looked back at Dahlia, and this time he nodded ever so slightly. Dahlia’s expression remained tight and she shook her head, again slightly, in response.
When Drizzt turned back to Entreri, the drow was grinning.
“I come not to serve Sylora,” the drow explained, “but to kill her.” The assassin tried unsuccessfully to hide his surprise by laughing at him.