Bidderdoo had never seen anything to match it. Literally, it was raining kobolds and pieces of kobolds all about the terrified Harpell as the Gutbuster Brigade went into full battle lust. They had come into a small, wide chamber and found a force of kobolds many times their own number. Before Bidderdoo could suggest a retreat (or a "tactical flanking maneuver," as he planned to call it, because he knew the word "retreat" was not in Thibbledorf Pwent's vocabulary), Pwent had led the forthright charge. Poor Bidderdoo had been sucked up in the brigade's wake, the seven frenzied dwarves blindly, happily, following Pwent's seemingly suicidal lead right into the heart of the cavern. Now it was a frenzy, a massacre the likes of which the studious Harpell, who had lived all his life in the sheltered Ivy Mansion (and a good part of that as a family dog) could not believe.
Pwent darted by him, a dead kobold impaled on his helmet spike and flopping limply. Arms wide, the battlerager leaped into a group of kobolds and pulled as many in as possible, hugging them tightly. Then he began to shake, to convulse so violently that Bidderdoo wondered if some agonizing poison had found its way into the dwarf's veins.
Not so, for this was controlled insanity. Pwent shook, and the nasty ridges of his armor took the skin from his hugged enemies, ripped and tore them. He broke away (and three kobolds fell dying) with a left hook that brought his mailed, spiked gauntlet several inches into the forehead of the next unfortunate enemy.
Bidderdoo came to understand that the charge was not suicidal, that the Gutbusters would win easily by overwhelming the greater numbers with sheer fury. He also realized, suddenly, that the kobolds learned fast to avoid the furious dwarves. Six of them bypassed Pwent, giving the battlerager a respectfully wide berth. Six of them swung about and bore down on the one enemy they could hope to defeat.
Bidderdoo fumbled with the shattered remains of his spellbook, flipping to one page where the ink had not smeared so badly. Holding the parchment in one hand, his other hand straight out in front of him, he began a fast chant, waggling his fingers.
A burst of magical energy erupted from each of his fingertips, green bolts rushing out, each darting and weaving to unerringly strike a target.
Five of the kobolds fell dead; the sixth came on with a shriek, its little sword rushing for Bidderdoo's belly.
The parchment fell from the terrified Harpell's hand. He screamed, thinking he was about to die, and reacted purely on instinct, falling forward over the blade, angling his chest down so that he buried the diminutive kobold beneath him. He felt a burning pain as the small creature's sword cut into his ribs, but there was no strength behind the blow and the sword did not dig in deeply.
Bidderdoo, so unused to combat, screamed in terror. And the pain, the pain...
Bidderdoo's screams became a howl. He looked down and saw the thrashing kobold, and saw more clearly the thrashing kobold's exposed throat.
Then he tasted warm blood and was not repulsed.
Growling, Bidderdoo closed his eyes and held on. The kobold stopped thrashing.
After some time, the poor Harpell noticed that the sounds of battle had ended about him. He gradually opened his eyes, turned his head slightly to look up at Thibbledorf Pwent, standing over him and nodding his head.
Only then did Bidderdoo realize he had killed the kobold, had bitten the thing's throat out.
"Good technique," Pwent offered, and started away.
While the Gutbuster Brigade's maneuvers were loud and straightforward, wholly dependent on savagery, another party's were a dance of stealth and ambush. Drizzt and Guenhwyvar, Catti-brie, Regis, and Bruenor moved silently from one tunnel to another, the drow and panther leading. Guenhwyvar was the first to detect an approaching enemy, and Drizzt quickly relayed the signals when the panther's ears went flat.
The five worked in unison, setting up so that Catti-brie, with her deadly bow, would strike first, followed by the panther's spring, the drow's impossibly fast rush into the fray, and Bruenor's typically dwarven roaring charge. Regis always found a way to get into the fight, usually moving in behind to slam a drow backside or a kobold's head with his mace when one of his friends became too closely pressed.
This time, though, Regis figured to stay out of the battle altogether. The group was in a wide, high corridor when Guenhwyvar, nearing a bend, fell into a crouch, ears flat. Drizzt slipped into the shadows of an alcove, as did Regis, while Bruenor stepped defensively in front of his archer daughter, so that Catti-brie could use the horns of his helmet to line up her shot.
Around the corner came the enemy, a group of minotaurs and drow, five of each, running swiftly in the general direction of Mithril Hall Catti-brie wisely went for the drow. There came a flash of silver, and one fell dead.
Guenhwyvar came out hard and fast, burying another dark elf, clawing and biting and rolling right away to bear down on a third drow.
A second flash came, and another elf fell dead.
But the minotaurs came on hard, and Catti-brie would get no third shot. She went for her sword as Bruenor roared and rushed out to meet the closest monster.
The minotaur lowered its bull-like head; Bruenor dropped his notched battle-axe right behind him over his head, holding the handle tightly in both hands.
In came the minotaur, and over came the axe. The crack sounded like the snapping of a gigantic tree.
Bruenor didn't know what hit him. Suddenly he was flying backward, bowled over by six hundred pounds of minotaur.
Drizzt came out spinning and darting. He hit the first minotaur from the side, a scimitar cutting deep into the back of the creature's thigh, stopping its charge. The ranger spun away and went down to one knee, jabbing straight ahead with Twinkle, hooking the tip of the blue-glowing scimitar over the next monster's kneecap.
The minotaur howled and half-fell, half-dove right for Drizzt, but the drow's feet were already under him, already moving, and the brute slammed hard into the stone.
Drizzt turned back for Catti-brie and Bruenor and the two remaining brutes bearing down on his friends. With incredible speed, he caught up to them almost immediately and his scimitars went to work on one, again going for the legs, stopping the charge.
But the last minotaur caught up to Catti-brie. Its huge club, made of hardened mushroom stalk, came flying about, and Catti-brie ducked fast, whipping her sword above her head.
Khazid'hea sliced right through the club, and as the minotaur stared at the remaining piece dumbfoundedly, Catti-brie countered with a slashing backhand.
The minotaur looked at her curiously. She could not believe she had missed.
Regis watched from the shadows, knowing he was overmatched by any enemy in this fight. He tried to gauge his companions, though, wanting to be ready if needed. Mostly he watched Drizzt, mesmerized by the sheer speed of the drow's charges and dodges. Drizzt had always been quick afoot, but this display was simply amazing, the ranger's feet moving so swiftly that Regis could hardly distinguish them. More than once, Regis tried to anticipate Drizzt's path, only to find himself looking where the drow was not.
For Drizzt had cut to the side, or reversed direction altogether, more quickly than the halfling would have believed possible.
Regis finally just shook his head and filed his questions away for another time, reminding himself that there were other, more important considerations. He glanced about and noticed the last of the enemy drow slipping to the side, out of the way of the panther.
The last drow wanted no part of Guenhwyvar, and was glad indeed that the woman with the killing bow was engaged in close combat. Two of his dark elf companions lay dead from arrows, a third squirmed about on the floor, half her face torn away by the panther's claws, and all five minotaurs were down or engaged. The fourth drow had run off, back around the bend, but that wicked panther was only a couple of strides behind, and the hiding dark elf knew his companion would be down in a matter of moments.
Still, the drow hardly cared, for he saw Drizzt Do'Urden, the renegade, the most hated. The ranger was fully engaged and vulnerable, working furiously to finish the three minotaurs he had wounded. If this drow could seize the opportunity and get Drizzt, then his place of glory, and his house's glory, would be sealed. Even if he was killed by Drizzt's friends, he would have a seat of honor beside Lloth, the Spider Queen.
He loaded his most potent dart, a bolt enchanted with runes of fire and lightning, onto his heavy, two-handed crossbow, an unusual weapon indeed for dark elves, and brought the sights in line.
Something hit the crossbow hard from the side. The drow pulled the trigger instinctively, but the bolt, knocked loose, went nowhere but down, exploding at his feet. The jolt sent him flying; the puff of flames singed his hair and blinded him momentarily.
He rolled over on the floor and managed to get out of his burning piwafwi. Dazed, he noticed a small mace lying on the floor, then saw a small, plump hand reaching down to pick it up. The drow tried to react as the bare feet, hairy on top-something the Under-dark drow had never seen before-steadily approached.
Then all went dark.Catti-brie cried out and leaped back, but the minotaur did not charge. Rather, the brute stood perfectly still, eyeing her curiously."I didn't miss," Catti-brie said, as if her denial of what seemed obvious would change her predicament. To her surprise, she found she was right.The minotaur's left leg, severed cleanly by Khazid'hea's passing, caved in under it, and the brute fell sidelong to the floor, its lifeblood pouring out unchecked.Catti-brie looked to the side to see Bruenor, grumbling and groaning, crawling out from under the minotaur he had killed. The dwarf hopped to his feet, shook his head briskly to clear away the stars, then stared at his axe, hands on hips, head shaking in dismay. The mighty weapon was embedded nearly a foot deep in the minotaur's thick skull."How in the Nine Hells am I going to got the damned thing out?" Bruenor asked, looking at his daughter.Drizzt was done, as was Regis, and Guenhwyvar came back around the corner, dragging the last of the dark elves by the scruff of his broken neck."Another win for our side," Regis remarked as the friends regrouped.Drizzt nodded his agreement but seemed not so pleased. It was a small thing they were doing, he knew, barely scratching at the surface of the force that had come to Mithril Hall. And despite the quickness of this latest encounter, and of the three before it, the friends had been, ultimately, lucky. What would have happened had another group of drow or minotaurs, or even kobolds, come about the corner while the fight was raging?They had won quickly and cleanly, but their margin of victory was a finer line and a more tentative thing than the rout would indicate."Ye're not so pleased," Catti-brie said quietly to the ranger as they started off once more."In two hours we have killed a dozen drow, a handful of minotaurs and a score of kobold fodder," Drizzt replied."With thousands more to go," the woman added, understanding Drizzt's dismay.Drizzt said nothing. His only hope, Mithril Hall's only hope, was that they and other groups like them would kill enough drow to take the heart from their enemy. Dark elves were a chaotic and supremely disloyal bunch, and only if the defenders of Mithril Hall could defeat the drow army's will for the war did they have a chance.Guenhwyvar's ears went flat again, and the panther slipped silently into the darkness. The friends, feeling suddenly weary of it all, moved into position and were relieved indeed when the newest group rambled into sight. No drow this time, no kobolds or minotaurs. A column of dwarves, more than a score, hailed them and approached. This group, too, had seen battle since the fight in Tunult's Cavern. Many showed fresh wounds, and every dwarven weapon was stained with enemy blood."How fare we?" Bruenor asked, stepping to the front.The leader of the dwarven column winced, and Bruenor had his answer. "They're fightin' in the Undercity, me king," said the dwarf. "How they got into the place, we're not for knowin'! And fightin' too, in the upper levels, by all reports. The eastern door's been breached."Bruenor's shoulders visibly slumped."But we're holdin' at Garumn's Gorge!" the dwarf said with more determination."Where're ye from and where're ye going?" Bruenor wanted to know."From the last guard room," the dwarf explained. "Come out in a short circuit to find yerself, me king. Tunnels're thick with drow scum, and glad we be to see ye standing!" He pointed behind Bruenor, then jabbed his finger to the left. "We're not so far, and the way's still clear to the last guard room...""But it won't be for long," another dwarf piped in glumly."And clear all the way to the Undercity from there," the leader finished.Drizzt pulled Bruenor to the side and began a whispered conversation. Catti-brie and Regis waited patiently, as did the dwarves."... keep searching," they heard Drizzt say."Me place is with me people!" Bruenor roughly replied. "And yer own is with me!"Drizzt cut him short with a long stream of words. Catti-brie and the others heard snatches such as "hunting the head" and "roundabout route," and they knew Drizzt was trying to convince Bruenor to let him continue his hunt through the outer, lower tunnels.Catti-brie decided then and there that if Drizzt and Guenhwyvar were to go on, she, with her Cat's Eye circlet, which Alustriel had given her to allow her to see in the dark, would go with him. Regis, feeling unusually brave and useful, silently came to the same conclusion.Still, the two were surprised when Drizzt and Bruenor walked back to the group."Get ye to the last guard room, and all the way to the Undercity if need be," Bruenor commanded the column leader.The dwarf's jaw dropped with amazement. "But, me king," he sputtered."Get ye!" Bruenor growled."And leave yerself alone out here?" the stunned dwarf asked.Bruenor's smile was wide and wicked as he looked from the dwarf to Drizzt, to Catti-brie, to Regis, and to Guenhwyvar, then finally, back to the dwarf."Alone?" Bruenor replied, and the other dwarf knowing the prowess of his king's companions, conceded the point."Get ye back and win," Bruenor said to him. "Me and me friends got some huntin' to do."The two groups split apart once more, both grimly determined, but neither overly optimistic.Drizzt whispered something to the panther, and Guenhwyvar took up the lead as before. To this point, the companions had been lying in wait for every enemy group that came their way, but now, with the grim news from the Undercity and the eastern door, Drizzt changed that tactic. If they could not avoid the small groups of drow and other monsters, then they would fight, but otherwise, their path now was more direct. Drizzt wanted to find the priestesses (and he knew it had to be priestesses) who had led this march. The dwarves' only chance was to decapitate the enemy force.And so the companions were now, as Drizzt had quietly put it to Bruenor, "hunting the head."Regis, last in line, shook his head and looked more than once back the way the dwarven column had marched. "How do I always get myself into this?" the halfling whispered. Then, looking at the backs of his hardy, sometimes reckless friends, he knew he had his answer.Catti-brie heard the halfling's resigned sigh, understood its source, and managed to hide her smile.