"Delicately!" Fret whispered harshly, watching Drizzt's hands as the drow scraped and chipped away the dried salve around the neck of the panther figurine. "Oh, do be careful!"
Of course Drizzt was being careful! As careful as the drow had ever been in any task. As important as the figurine appeared to be to Fret, it was a hundred times more important to Drizzt, who treasured and loved his panther companion. Never had the drow taken on a more critical task, not with his wits or his weapons. Now he used the delicate tool Fret had given him, a slender silver rod with a flattened and slightly hooked end.
Another piece of salve fell away-almost a half inch along the side of the panther's neck was clear of the stuff. And clear of any crack, Drizzt noted hopefully. So perfectly had the salve bonded the onyx figurine that not a line could be seen where the break had been.
Drizzt sublimated his excitement, understanding that it would inevitably lead him to rush in his work. He had to take his time. The circumference of the figurine's neck was no more than a few inches, but Drizzt fully expected, and Fret had agreed with the estimate, that he would spend the entire morning at his work.
The drow ranger moved back from the figurine so that Fret could see the cleared area. The tidy dwarf nodded to Drizzt after viewing it, even smiled hopefully. Fret trusted in Lady Alustriel's magic and her ability to mend a tragedy.
With a pat on Drizzt's shoulder, the dwarf moved aside and Drizzt went back to work, slowly and delicately, one tiny fleck at a time.
By noon, the neck was clear of salve. Drizzt turned the figurine over in his hands, studying the area where the break had been, seeing no indication, neither a crack nor any residue from the salve, that the figurine had been damaged. He clasped the item by the head and, after a deep, steadying breath, dared to hold it aloft, with all the pressure of its weight centered on the area of the cut.
It held fast. Drizzt shook his hand, daring it to break apart, but it did not.
"The bonding will be as strong as any other area on the item," Fret assured the drow. "Take heart that the figurine is whole once more."
"Agreed," Drizzt replied, "but what of its magic?"
Fret had no answer.
"The real challenge will be in sending Guenhwyvar home to the Astral Plane," the drow went on.
"Or in calling the panther back," Fret added.
That notion stung Drizzt. The tidy dwarf was right, he knew. He might be able to open a tunnel to allow Guenhwyvar to return home, only to have the panther lost to him forever. Still, Drizzt entertained no thoughts of keeping the cat beside him. Guenhwyvar's condition had stabilized-apparently the panther could indeed remain on the Material Plane indefinitely-but the great cat was not in good health or good spirits. While she seemed no longer in danger of dying, Guenhwyvar roamed about in a state of perpetual exhaustion, muscles slack along her once sleek sides, eyes often closed as the panther tried to find desperately needed sleep.
"Better to dismiss Guenhwyvar to her home," Drizzt said determinedly. "Surely my life will be diminished if I cannot recall Guenhwyvar, but better that than the life Guenhwyvar must now endure."
They went together, the figurine in hand, to Drizzt's room. As usual, Guenhwyvar lay on the rug in front of the hearth, absorbing the heat of the glowing embers. Drizzt didn't hesitate. He marched right up before the panther-who lifted her head sluggishly to regard him-and placed the figurine on the floor before her.
"Lady Alustriel, and good Fret here, have come to our aid, Guenhwyvar," Drizzt announced. His voice quivered a bit as he tried to continue, as the realization hit him that this might be the last time he ever saw the panther.
Guenhwyvar sensed that discomfort and, with great effort, managed to sit up, putting her head in line with kneeling Drizzt's face.
"Go home, my friend," Drizzt whispered, "go home."
The panther hesitated, eyeing the drow intently, as if trying to discern the source of Drizzt's obvious unease. Guenhwyvar, too, got the feeling-from Drizzt and not from the figurine, which seemed whole to the panther once more-that this might be a final parting of dear friends.
But the cat had no control in the matter. In her exhausted state, Guenhwyvar could not have ignored the call of the magic if she tried. Shakily, the cat got to her feet and paced about the figurine.
Drizzt was both thrilled and scared when Guenhwyvar's form began to melt away into gray mist, then into nothing at all.
When the cat was gone, Drizzt scooped up the figurine, taking heart that he felt no warmth coming from it, that apparently whatever had gone wrong the last time he tried to send Guenhwyvar home was not happening again. He realized suddenly how foolish he had been, and looked at Fret, his violet orbs wide with shock.
"What is it?" the tidy dwarf asked.
"I have not Catti-brie's sword!" Drizzt whispered harshly. "If the path is not clear to the Astral Plane..."
"The magic is right once more," Fret replied at once, patting his hand soothingly in the air, "in the figurine and in all the world about us. The magic is right once more."
Drizzt held the figurine close. He had no idea of where Catti-brie might be, and knew she had her sword with her. All he could do, then, was sit tight, wait, and hope.
Bruenor sat on his throne, Regis beside him, and the halfling looking much more excited than the dwarf king. Regis had already seen the guests that would soon be announced to Bruenor, and curious Regis was always happy to see the extraordinary Harpells of Longsaddle. Four of them had come to Mithril Hall, four wizards who might play an important role in defending the dwarven complex-if they didn't inadvertently take the place down instead.
Such were the risks of dealing with the Harpells.
The four stumbled into the throne room, nearly running down the poor dwarf who had first entered to announce them. There was Harkle, of course, wearing a bandage about his face, for his eyes were already in Mithril Hall. Guiding him was fat Regweld, who had ridden into the outer hall on a curious mount, the front of which resembled a horse and the back of which had hind legs and a back end more akin to a frog. Regweld had appropriately named the thing Puddlejumper.
The third Harpell Bruenor and Regis did not know, and the wizard did not offer his name. He merely growled low and nodded in their direction.
"I am Bella don DelRoy Harpell," announced the fourth, a short and quite beautiful young woman, except that her eyes did not look in the same direction. Both orbs were green, but one shined with a fierce inner light, while the other was dulled over and grayish. With Bella, though, that seemed to only add to her appearance, to give her fine features a somewhat exotic look.
Bruenor recognized one of the given names, and understood that Bella was probably the leader of this group. "Daughter of Del-Roy, leader of Longsaddle?" the dwarf asked, to which the petite woman dipped low in a bow, so low that her bright blond mane nearly swept the floor.
"Greetings from Longsaddle, Eighth King of Mithril Hall," Bella said politely. "Your call was not unheeded."
A pity, Bruenor thought, but he remained tactfully quiet.
"With me are-"
"Harkle and Regweld," Regis interrupted, knowing the two quite well from a previous stay in Longsaddle. "Well met! And it is good to see that your experiments in crossbreeding a horse and a frog came to fruition."
"Puddlejumper!" the normally forlorn Regweld happily replied.
That name promised a sight that Regis would like to see!
"I am the daughter of DelRoy," Bella said rather sharply, eyeing the halfling squarely. "Please do not interrupt again, or I shall have to turn you into something Puddlejumper would enjoy eating."
The sparkle in her good green eye as she regarded Regis, and the similar glint in the halfling's gray orbs, told Regis that the threat was a hollow one. He heeded it anyway, suddenly anxious to keep on Bella's good side. She wasn't five feet tall, the halfling realized, and a bit on the heavy side, somewhat resembling a slightly larger version of Regis himself-except that there was no mistaking her feminine attributes. At least, not for Regis.
"My third companion is Bidderdoo," Bella went on.
The name sounded curiously familiar to both Bruenor and Regis, and came perfectly clear when Bidderdoo answered the introduction with a bark.
Bruenor groaned; Regis clapped and laughed aloud. When they had gone through Longsaddle, on their way to find Mithril Hall, Bidderdoo, through use of a bad potion, had played the role of the Harpell family dog.
"The transformation is not yet complete," Bella apologized, and she gave Bidderdoo a quick backhand on the shoulder, reminding him to put his tongue back in his mouth.
Harkle cleared his throat loudly and fidgeted about.
"Of course," Bruenor said immediately, taking the cue. The dwarf gave a sharp whistle, and one of his attendants came out of a side room, carrying the disembodied eyes, one in each hand. To his credit, the dwarf tried to keep them as steady as possible, and aimed them both in Harkle's direction.
"Oh, it is so good to see myself again!" the wizard exclaimed, and he spun about. Following what he could see, he started for himself, or for his eyes, or for the back wall, actually, and the door he and his companions had already come through. He cried out, "No, no!" and turned a complete circle, trying to get his bearing, which wasn't an easy thing while viewing himself from across the room.
Bruenor groaned again.
"It is so confusing!" an exasperated Harkle remarked as Reg-weld grabbed him and tried to turn him aright.
"Ah, yes," the wizard said, and turned back the wrong way once more, heading for the door.
"The other way!" frustrated Regweld cried.
Bruenor grabbed the dwarven attendant and took the eyes, turning them both to look directly into his own scowling visage.
"Hey!" Bruenor roared. "Turn around."
Harkle calmed himself and did as instructed, his body facing Bruenor once more.
Bruenor looked to Regis, snickered, and tossed one of the eyes Harkle's way, then followed it a split second later with the other, snapping his wrist so the thing spun as it soared through the air.
Harkle screamed again and fainted.Regweld caught one of the eyes; Bidderdoo went for the other with his mouth. Luckily, Bella cut him off. She missed though, and the eye bounced off her arm, fell to the floor, and rolled about."That was very naughty, King Dwarf!" the daughter of DelRoy scolded. "That was..." She couldn't maintain the facade, and was soon laughing, as were her companions (though Bidderdoo's chuckles sounded more like a growl). Regis joined in, and Bruenor, too, but only for a second. The dwarf king could not forget the fact that these bumbling wizards might be his only magical defense against an army of dark elves.It was not a pleasant thought.Drizzt was out of Mithril Hall at dawn the next morning. He had seen a campfire on the side of the mountain the night before and knew it was Catti-brie's. He still had not tried calling Guenhwyvar back and resisted the urge now, reminding himself to take on one problem at a time.The problem now was Catti-brie, or, more specifically, her sword.He found the young woman as he came around a bend in the path, crossing into the shadow between two large boulders. She was almost directly below him, on a small, flat clearing overlooking the wide, rolling terrain east of Mithril Hall. With the rising sun breaking the horizon directly before her, Drizzt could make out only her silhouette. Her movements were graceful as she walked through a practice dance with her sword, waving it in slow, long lines before and above her. Drizzt rested and watched approvingly of both the grace and perfection of the woman's dance. He had shown her this, and, as always, Catti-brie had learned well. She could have been his own shadow, Drizzt realized, so perfect and synchronous were her movements.He let her continue, both because of the importance of this practice and because he enjoyed watching her.Finally, after nearly twenty minutes, Catti-brie took a deep breath and held her arms out high and wide, reveling in the rising sun."Well done," Drizzt congratulated, walking down to her.Catti-brie nearly jumped at the sound, and she spun about, a bit embarrassed and annoyed, to see the drow."Ye should warn a girl," she said."I came upon you quite by accident," Drizzt lied, "but fortunately it would seem.""I seen the Harpells go into Mithril Hall yesterday," Catti-brie replied. "Have ye speaked with them?"Drizzt shook his head. "They are not important right now," he explained. "I need only to speak with you."It sounded serious. Catti-brie moved to slide her sword into its scabbard, but Drizzt's hand came out, motioning for her to stop."I have come for the sword," he explained."Khazid'hea?" Catti-brie asked, surprised."What?" asked the even more surprised drow."That is its name," Catti-brie explained, holding the fine blade before her, its razor-sharp edge glowing red once more. "Khazid'hea."Drizzt knew the word, a drow word! It meant "to cut," or "cutter," and seemed an appropriate name indeed for a blade that could slice through solid stone. But how could Catti-brie know it? the drow wondered, and his face asked the question as plainly as words ever could."The sword telled me!" Catti-brie answered.Drizzt nodded and calmed. He shouldn't have been so surprised-he knew the sword was sentient, after all."Khazid'hea," the drow agreed. He drew Twinkle from its sheath, flipped it over in his hand, and presented it, hilt-first, to Catti-brie.She stared at the offering blankly, not understanding."A fair exchange," Drizzt explained, "Twinkle for Khazid'hea.""Ye favor the scimitar," Catti-brie said."I will learn to use a scimitar and sword in harmony," Drizzt replied. "Accept the exchange. Khazid'hea has begged that I be its wielder, and I will oblige. It is right that the blade and I are joined."Catti-brie's look went from surprise to incredulity. She couldn't believe Drizzt would demand this of her! She had spent days- weeks!-alone in the mountains, practicing with this sword, connecting with its unnatural intelligence, trying to establish a bond."Have you forgotten our encounter?" Drizzt asked, somewhat cruelly. Catti-brie blushed a deep red. Indeed, she had not forgotten, and never would, and what a fool she felt when she realized how she-or at least how her sword, using her body-had thrown herself at Drizzt."Give me the sword," Drizzt said firmly, waving Twinkle's hilt before the stunned young woman. "It is right that we are joined."Catti-brie clutched Khazid'hea defensively. She closed her eyes then, and seemed to sway, and Drizzt got the impression she was communing with the blade, hearing its feelings.When she opened her eyes once more, Drizzt's free hand moved for the sword, and, to the drow's surprise and satisfaction, the sword tip came up suddenly, nicking his hand and forcing him back."The sword does not want ye!" Catti-brie practically growled."You would strike me?" Drizzt asked, and his question calmed the young woman."Just a reaction," she stammered, trying to apologize.Just a reaction, Drizzt silently echoed, but exactly the reaction he had hoped to see. The sword was willing to defend her right to wield it; the sword had rejected him in light of its rightful owner.In the blink of an eye, Drizzt flipped Twinkle over and replaced it on his belt. His smile clued Catti-brie to the truth of the encounter."A test," she said. "Ye just gived me a test!""It was necessary.""Ye never had any mind to take Khazid'hea," the woman went on, her volume rising with her ire. "Even if I'd taken yer offer...""I would have taken the sword," Drizzt answered honestly. "And I would have placed it on display in a secure place in the Hall of Dumathoin.""And ye would have taken back Twinkle," Catti-brie huffed."Ye lyin' drow!"Drizzt considered the words, then shrugged and nodded his agreement with the reasoning.Catti-brie gave an impertinent pout and tossed her head, which sent her auburn mane flying over her shoulder. "The sword just knows now that I'm the better fighter," she said, sounding sincere.Drizzt laughed aloud."Draw yer blades, then!" Catti-brie huffed, falling back into a ready posture. "Let me show ye what me and me sword can do!"Drizzt's smile was wide as his scimitars came into his hands. These would be the last and most crucial tests, he knew, to see if Catti-brie had truly taken control of the sword.Metal rang out in the clear morning air, the two friends hopping about for position, their breath blowing clouds in the chill air. Soon after the sparring had begun, Drizzt's guard slipped, presenting Catti-brie with a perfect strike.In came Khazid'hea, but it stopped far short, and the young woman jumped back. "Ye did that on purpose!" she accused, and she was right, and by not going for a vicious hit, she and her sword had passed the second test.Only one test to go.Drizzt said nothing as he went back into his crouch. He wasn't wearing the bracers, Catti-brie noticed, and so he wouldn't likely be off balance. She came on anyway, gladly and fiercely, and put up a fine fight as the sun broke clear of the horizon and began its slow climb into the eastern sky.She couldn't match the drow, though, and, in truth, hadn't seen Drizzt fight with this much vigor in a long time. When the sparring ended, Catti-brie was sitting on her rump, a scimitar resting easily atop each of her shoulders and her own sword lying on the ground several feet away.Drizzt feared that the sentient sword would be outraged that its wielder had been so clearly beaten. He stepped away from Catti-brie and went to Khazid'hea first, bending low to scoop it up. The drow paused, though, his hand just an inch from the pommel.No longer did Khazid'hea wear the pommel of a unicorn, nor even the fiendish visage it had taken when in the hands of Dantrag Baenre. That pommel resembled a sleek feline body now, something like Guenhwyvar running flat out, legs extended front and back.More important to Drizzt, though, there was a rune inscribed on the side of that feline, the twin mountains, symbol of Dumathoin, the dwarven god, Catti-brie's god, the Keeper of Secrets Under the Mountain.Drizzt picked up Khazid'hea, and felt no enmity or any of the desire the sword had previously shown him. Catti-brie was beside him, then, smiling in regard to his obvious approval of her choice for a pommel.Drizzt handed Khazid'hea back to its rightful owner.