The confusion was immediate and complete, kobolds swarming in by the dozens, and tough dwarves forming into tight battle groups and rushing fast to meet them.
Catti-brie put her magical bow up and fired arrow after arrow, aiming for the main entrance. Lightning flashed with each shot as the enchanted bolt sped off, crackling and sparking every time it skipped off a wall. Kobolds went down in a line, one arrow often killing several, but it hardly seemed to matter, so great was the invading throng.
Guenhwyvar leaped away, Drizzt quick-stepping behind. A score of kobolds had somehow wriggled past the initial fights and were bearing down on Bruenor's position. A shot from Catti-brie felled one; Guenhwyvar's plunge scattered the rest, and Drizzt, moving quicker than ever, slipped in, stabbed one, pivoted and spun to the left, launching the blue-glowing Twinkle against the attempted parry of another. Had Twinkle been a straight blade, the kobold's small sword would have deflected it high, but Drizzt deftly turned the curving weapon over in his hand and slightly altered the angle of his attack. Twinkle rolled over the kobold's sword and dove into its chest.
The drow had never stopped his run and now skittered back to the right and slid to one knee. Across came Twinkle, slapping against one kobold blade, driving it hard into a second. Stronger than both the creatures combined, and with a better angle, Drizzt forced their swords and their defense high, and his second scimitar slashed across the other way, disemboweling one and taking the legs out from under the other.
"Damn drow's stealing all the fun," Bruenor muttered, running to catch up to the fray. Between Drizzt, the panther, and Catti-brie's continuing barrage, few of the twenty kobolds still stood by the time he got there, and those few had turned in full flight.
"Plenty more to kill," Drizzt said into Bruenor's scowl, recognizing the sour look.
A line of silver-streaking arrow cut between them as soon as the words had left the drow's mouth. When the spots cleared from before their eyes, the two turned and regarded the scorched and dead kobolds taken down by Catti-brie's latest shot.
Then she, too, was beside them, Khazid'hea in hand, and Regis, holding the little mace Bruenor had long ago forged for him, was beside her. Catti-brie shrugged as her friends regarded the change in weapon, and, looking about, they understood her tactics. With more kobolds pouring in, and more dwarves coming out of the other chambers to meet the charge, it was simply too confusing and congested for the woman to safely continue with her bow.
"Run on," Catti-brie said, a wistful smile crossing her fair features.
Drizzt returned the look, and Bruenor, even Regis, had a sparkle in his eye. Suddenly it seemed like old times.
Guenhwyvar led their charge, Bruenor fighting hard to keep close to the panther's tail. Catti-brie and Regis flanked the dwarf, and Drizzt, speeding and spinning, flanked the group, first on the left, then on the right, seeming to be wherever battle was joined, running too fast to be believed.
Bidderdoo Harpell knew he had erred. Drizzt had asked him to get to the door, to wait for the first drow to show themselves inside the cavern and then launch a fireball back down the tunnel, where the flames would burn through the supporting ropes and drop the stone.
"Not a difficult task," Bidderdoo had assured Drizzt, and so it should not have been. The wizard had memorized a spell that could put him in position, and knew others to keep him safely hidden until the blast was complete. So when all about him had run off to join in the fracas, they had gone reassured that the traps would be sprung, that the tunnels would be dropped, and that the tide of enemies would be stemmed.
Something went wrong. Bidderdoo had begun casting the spell to get him to the tunnel entrance, had even outlined the extradimensional portal that would reopen at the desired spot, but then the wizard had seen a group of kobolds, and they had seen him. This was not hard to do, for Bidderdoo, a human and not blessed with sight that could extend into the infrared spectrum, carried a shining gemstone. Kobolds were not stupid creatures, not when it came to battle, and they recognized this seemingly out-of-place human for what he was. Even the most inexperienced of kobold fighters understood the value of getting to a wizard, of forcing a dangerous spell-caster into melee combat, keeping his hands tied up with weapons rather than often explosive components.
Still, Bidderdoo could have beaten their charge, could have stepped through the dimensions to get to his appointed position.
For seven years, until the Time of Troubles, Bidderdoo Harpell had lived with the effects of a potion gone awry, had lived as the Harpell family dog. When magic went crazy, Bidderdoo had reverted to his human form-long enough, at least, to get the necessary ingredients together to counteract the wild potion. Soon after, Bidderdoo had gone back to his flea-bitten self, but he had helped his family find the means to get him out of the enchantment. A great debate had followed in the Ivy Mansion as to whether they should "cure" Bidderdoo or not. It seemed that many of the Harpells had grown quite fond of the dog, more so than they had ever loved Bidderdoo as a human.
Bidderdoo had even served as Harkle's seeing-eye dog on a long stretch of the journey to Mithril Hall, when Harkle had no eyes.
But then magic had straightened out, and the debate became moot, for the enchantment had simply gone away.
Or had it? Bidderdoo had held no doubts about the integrity of his cure until this very moment, until he saw the kobolds approaching. His upper lip curled back in an open snarl; he felt the hair on the back of his neck bristling and felt his tailbone tighten-if he still had a tail, it would be straight out behind him!
He started down into a crouch, and noticed only then that he had not paws, but hands, hands that held no weapons. He groaned, for the kobolds were only ten feet away.
The wizard went for a spell instead. He put the tips of his thumbs together, hands out wide to each side, and chanted frantically.
The kobolds came in, straight ahead and flanking, and the closest of them had a sword high for a strike.
Bidderdoo's hands erupted in flame, jets of scorching, searing fire, arcing out in a semicircle.
Half a dozen kobolds lay dead, and several others blinked in amazement through singed eyelashes.
"Hah!" Bidderdoo cried, and snapped his fingers.
The kobolds blinked again and charged, and Bidderdoo had no spells quick enough to stop them.
At first the kobolds and goblins seemed a swarming, confused mass, and so it remained for many of the undisciplined brawlers. But several groups had trained for war extensively in the caverns beneath the complex of House Oblodra. One of these, fifty strong, formed into a tight wedge, three large kobolds at the tip and a tight line running back and wide to each side.
They entered the main chamber, avoided combat enough to form up, and headed straight to the left, toward the looming entrance of one of the side caverns. Mostly the dwarves avoided them, with so many other easier kills available, and the kobold group almost got to the side chamber unscathed.
Coming out of that chamber, though, was a group of a dozen dwarves. The bearded warriors hooted and roared and came on fiercely, but the kobold formation did not waver, worked to perfection as it split the dwarven line almost exactly in half, then widened the gap with the lead kobolds pressing to the very entrance of the side chamber. A couple of kobolds went down in that charge, and one dwarf died, but the kobold ranks tightened again immediately, and those dwarves caught along the inside line, caught between the kobolds and the main cavern's low sloping wall, found themselves in dire straights indeed.
Across the way, the "free" half of the dwarven group realized their error, that they had taken the kobolds too lightly and had not expected such intricate tactics. Their kin would be lost, and there was nothing they could do to get through this surprisingly tight, disciplined formation-made even tighter by the fact that, in going near the wall, the kobolds went under some low-hanging stalactites.
The dwarves attacked fiercely anyway, spurred on by the cries of their apparently doomed companions.
Guenhwyvar was low to the ground, low enough to skitter under any stalactites. The panther hit the back of the kobold formation in full stride, blasting two kobolds away and running over a third, claws digging in for a better hold as the cat crossed over.
Drizzt came in behind, sliding to one knee again and killing two kobolds in the first attack routine. Beside him charged Regis, no taller than a kobold and fighting straight up and even against one.
With his great, sweeping style of axe-fighting, Bruenor found the tight quarters uncomfortable at best. Even worse off was Catti-brie, not as agile or quick as Drizzt. If she went down to one knee, as had the drow, she would be at a huge disadvantage indeed.
But standing straight, a stalactite in her face, she wasn't much better off.
Khazid'hea gave her the answer.
It went against every instinct the woman had, was contrary to everything Bruenor (who had spent much of his life repairing damaged weapons) had taught her about fighting. But, hardly thinking, Catti-brie clasped her sword hilt in both hands and brought the magnificent weapon streaking straight across, up high.
Khazid'hea's red line flashed angrily as the sword connected on the hanging stone. Catti-brie's momentum slowed, but only slightly, for Cutter lived up to its name, shearing through the rock. Catti-brie jerked to the side as the sword exited the stalactite, and she would have been vulnerable in that instant-except that the two kobolds in formation right before her were suddenly more concerned that the sky was falling.
One got crushed under the stalactite, and the other's death was just as quick, as Bruenor, seeing the opening, rushed in with an overhead chop that nearly took the wretched thing in half.
Those dwarves that had been separated on the outside rank took heart at the arrival of so powerful a group, and they pressed the kobold line fiercely, calling out to their trapped companions to "hold fast!" and promising that help would soon arrive.
Regis hated to fight, at least when his opponent could see him coming. He was needed now, though. He knew that, and would not shirk his responsibilities. Beside him, Drizzt was fighting from his knees; how could the halfling, who would have to get up on his tiptoes to bang his head on a stalactite, justify standing behind his drow friend this time?
Both hands on his mace handle, Regis went in fiercely. He smiled as he actually scored a hit, the well-forged weapon crumbling a kobold arm.
Even as that opponent fell away, though, another squeezed in and struck, its sword catching Regis under his upraised arm. Only fine dwarven armor saved him-he made a note to buy Buster Bracer a few large mugs of mead if he ever got out of this alive.
Tough was the dwarven armor, but the kobold's head was not as tough, as the halfling's mace proved a moment later.
"Well done," Drizzt congratulated, his battle ebbing enough for him to witness the halfling's strike.
Regis tried to smile, but winced instead at the pain of his bruised ribs.
Drizzt noted the look and skittered across in front of Regis, meeting the charge as the kobold formation shifted to compensate for the widening breach. The drow's scimitars went into a wild dance, slashing and chopping, often banging against the low-hanging stalactites, throwing sparks, but more often connecting on kobolds.
To the side, Catti-brie and Bruenor had formed up into an impromptu alliance, Bruenor holding back the enemy, while Catti-brie and Cutter continued to clear a higher path, dropping the hanging stones one at a time.
Across the way, though, the dwarves remained sorely pressed, with two down and the other five taking many hits. None of the friends could get to them in time, they knew, none could cross through the tight formation.
None except Guenhwyvar.Flying like a black arrow, the panther bored on, running down kobold after kobold, shrugging off many wicked strikes. Blood streamed from the panther's flanks, but Guenhwyvar would not be deterred. She got to the dwarves and bolstered their line, and their cheer at her appearance was of pure delight and salvation.A song on their lips, the dwarves fought on, the panther fought on, and the kobolds could not finish the task. With the press across the way, the formation soon crumbled, and the dwarven group was reunited, that the wounded could be taken from the cavern.Drizzt and Catti-brie's concern for Guenhwyvar was stolen by the panther's roar, and its flight, as Guenhwyvar led the five friends off to the next place where they would be needed most.Bidderdoo closed his eyes, wondering what mysteries death would reveal.He hoped there would be some, at least.He heard a roar, then a clash of steel in front of him. Then came a grunt, and the sickening thud of a torn body slapping against the hard floor.They are fighting over who gets to kill me, the mage thought.More roars-dwarven roars!-and more grunts; more torn bodies falling to the stone.Bidderdoo opened his eyes to see the kobold ranks decimated, to see a handful of the dirtiest, smelliest dwarves imaginable hopping up and down about him, pointing this way and that, as they of the Gutbuster Brigade tried to figure out where they might next cause the most havoc.Bidderdoo took a moment to regard the kobolds, a dozen corpses that had been more than killed. "Shredded," he whispered, and he nodded, deciding that was a better word."Ye're all right now," said one of the dwarves-Bidderdoo thought he had heard this one's name as Thibbledorf Pwent or some such thing (not that anyone named Bidderdoo could toss insults regarding names). "And me and me own're off!" the wild battlerager huffed.Bidderdoo nodded, then realized he still had a serious problem.He had only prepared for one spell that could open such a dimensional door, and that one was wasted, the enchantment expired as he had battled with the kobolds."Wait!" he screamed at Pwent, and he surprised himself, and the dwarf, for along with his words came out a caninelike yelp.Pwent regarded the Harpell curiously. He hopped up right before Bidderdoo and cocked his head to the side, a movement exaggerated by the tilting helmet spike."Wait. Pray, do not run off, good and noble dwarf," Bidderdoo said sweetly, needing assistance.Pwent looked around and behind, as if trying to figure out who this mage was talking to. The other Gutbusters were similarly confused, some standing and staring blankly, scratching their heads.Pwent poked a stubby, dirty finger into his own chest, his expression showing that he hardly considered himself "good and noble.""Do not leave me," Bidderdoo pleaded."Ye're still alive," Pwent countered. "And there's not much for killin' over here." As though that were explanation enough, the battlerager spun and took a stride away."But I've failed!" Bidderdoo wailed, and a howl escaped his lips at the end of the sentence."Ye've fail-doooo?" Pwent asked."Oh, we are all do-oooo-omed!" the howling mage went on dramatically. "It's too-oooo far."All the battleragers were around Bidderdoo by this point, intrigued by the strange accent, or whatever it was. The closest enemies, a band of goblins, could have attacked then, but none wanted to go anywhere near this wild troupe, a point made especially clear with the last group of kobolds lying in bloody pieces about the area."Ye better be quick and to the point," Pwent, anxious to kill again, barked at Bidderdoo."Oooo.""And stop the damned howlin'!" the battlerager demanded.In truth, poor Bidderdoo wasn't howling on purpose. In the stress of the situation, the mage who had lived so long as a dog was unintentionally recalling the experience, discovering once more those primal canine instincts. He took a deep breath and pointedly reminded himself he was a man, not a dog. "I must get to the tunnel entrance, he said without a howl, yip, or yelp. "The drow ranger bade me to send a spell down the corridor.""I'm not for carin' for wizard stuff," Pwent interrupted, and turned away once more."Are ye for droppin' the stinkin' tunnel on the stinkin' drow's heads?" Bidderdoo asked in his best battlerager imitation."Bah!" Pwent snorted, and all the dwarven heads were bobbing eagerly about him. "Me and me own'll get ye there!"Bidderdoo took care to keep his visage stern, but silently thought himself quite clever for appealing to the wild dwarves' hunger for carnage.In the blink of a dog's eye, Bidderdoo was swept up in the tide of running Gutbusters. The wizard suggested a roundabout route, skirting the left-hand, or northern, side of the cavern, where the fighting had become less intense.Silly mage.The Gutbuster Brigade ran straight through, ran down kobolds and the larger goblins who had come in behind the kobold ranks. They almost buried a couple of dwarves who weren't quick enough in diving aside; they bounced off stalagmites, ricocheting and rolling on. Before Bidderdoo could even begin to protest the tactic, he found himself nearing the appointed spot, the entrance to the tunnel.He spent a brief moment wondering which was faster, a spell opening a dimensional door or a handful of battle-hungry battleragers. He even entertained the creation of a new spell, Battlerager Escort, but he shook that notion away as a more immediate problem, a pair of huge, bull-headed minotaurs and a dark elf behind them, entered the cavern."Defensive posture!" cried Bidderdoo. "You must hold them off! Defensive posture!"Silly mage.The closest two Gutbusters flew headlong, diving into the feet of the towering, eight-foot monsters. Before they even realized what had hit them, the minotaurs were falling forward. Neither made it unobstructed to the ground, though, as Pwent and another wild-eyed dwarf roared in, butting the minotaurs head-to-head.A globe of darkness appeared behind the tumble, and the drow was nowhere to be seen.Bidderdoo wisely began his spellcasting. The drow were here! Just as Drizzt had figured, the dark elves were coming in behind the kobold fodder. If he could get the fireball away now, if he could drop the tunnel...He had to force the words through a guttural, instinctual growl coming from somewhere deep in his throat. He had the urge to join the Gutbusters, who were all clamoring over the fallen minotaurs, taking the brutes apart mercilessly. He had the urge to join in the feast."The feast?" he asked aloud.Bidderdoo shook his head and began again, concentrating on the spell. Apparently hearing the wizard's rhythmic cadence, the drow came out of the darkness, hand-crossbow up and ready.Bidderdoo closed his eyes, forced the words to flow as fast as possible. He felt the sting of the dart, right in the belly, but his concentration was complete and he did not flinch, did not interrupt the spell.His legs went weak under him; he heard the drow coming, imagined a shining sword poised for a killing strike.Bidderdoo's concentration held. He completed the dweomer, and a small, glowing ball of fire leaped out from his hand, soared through the darkness beyond, down the tunnel.Bidderdoo teetered with weakness. He opened his eyes, but the cavern about him was blurry and wavering. Then he fell backward, fell as though the floor were rushing up to swallow him.Somewhere in the back of his mind he expected to hit the stone hard, but then the fireball went off.Then the tunnel fell.