Berg'inyon's force swept into Keeper's Dale, the sticky-footed lizards making trails where none could be found. They came down the northern wall like a sheet of water, into the misty valley, ominous shadows slipping past tall pillars of stone.
Though it was warmer here than on the open northern face, the drow were uncomfortable. There were no formations like this in the Underdark, no misty valleys, except those filled with the toxic fumes of unseen volcanoes. Scouting reports had been complete, though, and had specifically outlined this very spot, the doorstep of Mithril Hall's western door, as safe for passage. Thus, the Baenre lizard riders went into the valley without question, fearing their own volatile matron mother more than any possible toxic fumes.
As they entered the vale, they heard the fighting on the southern side of the mountain. Berg'inyon nodded when he took the moment to notice that the battle was coming closer-all was going as planned. The enemy was in retreat, no doubt, being herded like stupid rothe into the valley, where the slaughter would begin in full.
The moving shadows that were Berg'inyon's force slipped quietly through the mist, past the stone sentinels, trying to get a lay of the valley, trying to find the optimum ambush areas.
Above the mist, a line of fire broke the general darkness of the night sky, streaking fast and angling into the vale. Berg'inyon watched it, as did so many, not knowing what it might be.
As she crossed above the force, Alustriel loosed the last barrage of her magic, a blast of lightning, a rain of greenish pulses of searing energy, and a shower of explosive fireballs that liquified stone.
The alert dark elves responded before the chariot crossed over the northern lip of the vale, hit back with enchanted crossbow quarrels and similar spells of destruction.
The flames of the chariot flared wider, caught in the midst of a fireball, and the whole of the cart jerked violently to the side as a line of lightning blasted against its base.
Alustriel's magic had killed more than a few, and taken the mounts out from under many others, but the real purpose in the wizard's passing had been the part of decoy, for every drow eye was turned heavenward when the second battalion of the Knights in Silver joined the fray, charging through Keeper's Dale, horseshoes clacking deafeningly on the hard stone.
Lances lowered, the knights barreled through the initial ranks of drow, running them down with their larger mounts.
But these were the Baenre lizard riders, the most elite force in all of Menzoberranzan, a complement of warriors and wizards that did not know fear.
Silent commands went out from Berg'inyon, passed from waggling fingers to waggling fingers. Even after the surprise barrage from the sky and the sudden charge of the force that the drow did not know were in Keeper's Dale, the dark elf ranks outnumbered the Knights in Silver by more than three to one. Had those odds been one-to-one, the Knights in Silver still would have had no chance.
The tide turned quickly, with the knights, those who were not taken down, inevitably falling back and regrouping into tight formations. Only the mist and the unfamiliar terrain prevented the slaughter from being wholesale; only the fact that the overwhelming drow force could not find all the targets allowed the valiant knights to continue to resist.
Near the rear of the dark elf ranks, Berg'inyon heard the commotion as one unfortunate human got separated and confused, galloping his mount unintentionally toward the north, away from his comrades.
The Baenre son signaled for his personal guards to follow him, but to stay behind, and took up the chase, his great lizard slinking and angling to intercept. He saw the shadowy figure- and what a magnificent thing Berg'inyon thought the rider to be, so high and tall on his powerful steed.
That image did not deter the weapon master of Menzoberranzan's first house. He came around a pillar of stone, just to the side of the knight, and called out to the man.
The great horse skidded and stopped, the knight wheeling it about to face Berg'inyon. He said something Berg'inyon could not understand, some proclamation of defiance, no doubt, then lowered his long lance and kicked his horse into a charge.
Berg'inyon leveled his own mottled lance and drove his heels into the lizard's flanks, prodding the beast on. He couldn't match the speed of the knight's horse, but the horse couldn't match the lizard's agility. As the opponents neared, Berg'inyon swerved aside, brought his lizard right up the side of a thick stone pillar.
The knight, surprised by the quickness of the evasion, couldn't bring his lance out fast enough for an effective strike, but as the two passed, Berg'inyon managed to prod the running horse in the flank. It wasn't a severe hit, barely a scratch, but this was no ordinary lance. The ten-foot pole that Berg'inyon carried was a devilish death lance, among the most cunning and wicked of drow weapons. As the lance tip connected on the horseflesh, cutting through the metal armor the beast wore as though it were mere cloth, dark, writhing tentacles of black light crawled down its length.
The horse whinnied pitifully, kicked and jumped and came to a skidding stop. Somehow the knight managed to hold his seat.
"Run on!" he cried to his shivering mount, not understanding. "Run on!"
The knight suddenly felt as though the horse was somehow less substantial beneath him, felt the beast's ribs against his calves.
The horse threw its head back and whinnied again, an unearthly, undead cry, and the knight blanched when he looked into the thing's eyes, orbs that burned red with some evil enchantment.
The death lance had stolen the creature's life-force, had turned the proud, strong stallion into a gaunt, skeletal thing, an undead, evil thing. Thinking quickly, the knight dropped his lance, drew his huge sword, and sheared off the monster's head with a single swipe. He rolled aside as the horse collapsed beneath him, and came to his feet, hopping around in confusion.
Dark shapes encircled him; he heard the hiss of nearby lizards, the sucking sounds as sticky feet came free of stone.
Berg'inyon Baenre approached slowly. He, too, lowered his lance. A flick of his wrist freed him from his binding saddle, and he slid off his mount, determined to test one of these surface men in single combat, determined to show those drow nearby the skill of their leader.
Out came the weapon master's twin swords, sharp and enchanted, among the very finest of drow weapons.
The knight, nearly a foot taller than this adversary, but knowing the reputation of dark elves, was rightfully afraid. He swallowed that fear, though, and met Berg'inyon head-on, sword against sword.
The knight was good, had trained hard for all of his adult life, but if he trained for all of his remaining years as well, they would not total the decades the longer-living Berg'inyon had spent with the sword.
The knight was good. He lived for almost five minutes.
Alustriel felt the chill, moist air of a low cloud brush her face, and it brought her back to consciousness. She moved quickly, trying to right the chariot, and felt the bite of pain all along her side.
She had been hit by spell and by weapon, and her burned and torn robes were wet with her own blood.
What would the world think if she, the Lady of Silverymoon, died here? she wondered. To her haughty colleagues, this was a minor war, a battle that had no real bearing on the events of the world, a battle, in their eyes, that Alustriel of Silverymoon should have avoided.
Alustriel brushed her long, silvery hair-hair that was also matted with blood-back from her beautiful face. Anger welled within her as she thought of the arguments she had fought over King Bruenor's request for aid. Not a single advisor or councilor in Silverymoon, with the exception of Fret, wanted to answer that call, and Alustriel had to wage a long, tiresome battle of words to get even the two hundred Knights in Silver released to Mithril Hall.
What was happening to her own city? the lady wondered now, floating high above the disaster of Fourthpeak. Silverymoon had earned a reputation as the most generous of places, as a defender of the oppressed, champion of goodness. The knights had gone off to war eagerly, but they weren't the problem, and had never been.The problem, the wounded Alustriel came to realize, was the comfortably entrenched bureaucratic class, the political leaders who had become too secure in the quality of their own lives. That seemed crystal clear to Alustriel now, wounded and fighting hard to control her enchanted chariot in the cold night sky above the battle.She knew the heart of Bruenor and his people; she knew the goodness of Drizzt, and the value of the hardy men of Settlestone. They were worth defending, Alustriel believed. Even if all of Silverymoon were consumed in the war, these people were worth defending, because, in the end, in the annals future historians would pen, that would be the measure of Silverymoon; that generosity would be the greatness of the place, would be what set Silverymoon apart from so many other petty kingdoms.But what was happening to her city? Alustriel wondered, and she came to understand the cancer that was growing amidst her own ranks. She would go back to Silverymoon and purge that disease, she determined, but not now.Now she needed rest. She had done her part, to the best of her abilities, and, perhaps at the price of her own life, she realized as another pain shot through her wounded side.Her colleagues would lament her death, would call it a waste, considering the minor scale of this war for Mithril Hall.Alustriel knew better, knew how she, like her city, would be ultimately judged.She managed to bring the chariot crashing down to a wide ledge, and she tumbled out as the fiery dweomer dissipated into nothingness.The Lady of Silverymoon sat there against the stone, in the cold, looking down on the distant scramble far below her. She was out of the fight, but she had done her part.She knew she could die with no guilt weighing on her heart.Berg'inyon Baenre rode through the ranks of lizard mounted drow, holding high his twin bloodstained swords. The dark elves rallied behind their leader, filtered from obelisk to obelisk, cutting the battlefield in half and more. The mobility and speed of the larger horses favored the knights, but the dark elves' cunning tactics were quick to steal that advantage.To their credit, the knights were killing drow at a ratio of one to one, a remarkable feat considering the larger drow numbers and the skill of their enemies. Even so, the ranks of knights were being diminished.Hope came in the form of a fat wizard riding a half-horse, half-frog beastie and leading the remnants of the defenders of the southern face, hundreds of men, riding and running-from battle and into battle.Berg'inyon's force was fast pushed across the breadth of Keeper's Dale, back toward the northern wall, and the defending knights rode free once more.But in came the pursuit from the south, the vast force of drow and humanoid monsters. In came those dark elf wizards who had survived Alustriel's conflagration in the thick copse.The ranks of the defenders quickly sorted out, with Berkthgar's hardy warriors rallying behind their mighty leader and Besnell's knights linking with the force that had stood firm in Keeper's Dale. Likewise did the Longriders fall into line behind Regweld, and the Riders of Nesme-both of the survivors- joined their brethren from the west.Magic flashed and metal clanged and man and beast screamed in agony. The mist thickened with sweat, and the stone floor of the valley darkened with blood.The defenders would have liked to form a solid line of defense, but to do so would leave them terribly vulnerable to the wizards, so they had followed savage Berkthgar's lead, had plunged into the enemy force headlong, accepting the sheer chaos.Berg'inyon ran his mount halfway up the northern wall, high above the valley, to survey the glorious carnage. The weapon master cared nothing for his dead comrades, including many dark elves, whose broken bodies littered the valley floor.This fight would be won easily, Berg'inyon thought, and the western door to Mithril Hall would be his.All glory for House Baenre.When Stumpet Rakingclaw came up from the Undercity to Mithril Hall's western door, she was dismayed-not by the reports of the vicious fighting out in Keeper's Dale, but by the fact that the dwarven guards had not gone out to aid the valiant defenders.Their orders had been explicit: they were to remain inside the complex, to defend the tighter tunnels, and then, if the secret door was found by the enemy and the defenders were pushed back, the dwarves were prepared to drop those tunnels near the door. Those orders, given by General Dagna, Bruenor's second in command, had not foreseen the battle of Keeper's Dale.Bruenor had appointed Stumpet as High Cleric of Mithril Hall, and had done so publicly and with much fanfare, so that there would be no confusion concerning rank once battle was joined. That decision, that public ceremony, gave Stumpet the power she needed now, allowed her to change the orders, and the five hundred dwarves assigned to guard the western door, who had watched with horror the carnage from afar, were all too happy to hear the new command.There came a rumbling beneath the ground in all of Keeper's Dale, the grating of stone against stone. On the northern side of the valley, Berg'inyon held tight to his sticky-footed mount and hoped the thing wouldn't be shaken from the wall. He listened closely to the echoes, discerning the pattern, then looked to the southeastern corner of the valley.A glorious, stinging light flashed there as the western door of Mithril Hall slid open.Berg'inyon's heart skipped a beat. The dwarves had opened the way!Out they came, hundreds of bearded folk, rushing to their allies' aid, singing and banging their axes and hammers against their shining shields, pouring from the door that was secret no more. They came up to, and beyond, Berkthgar's line, their tight battle groups slicing holes in the ranks of goblin and kobold and drow alike, pushing deeper into the throng."Fools!" the Baenre weapon master whispered, for even if a thousand, or two thousand dwarves came into Keeper's Dale, the course of the battle would not be changed. They had come out because their morals demanded it, Berg'inyon knew. They had opened their door and abandoned their best defenses because their ears could not tolerate the screams of men dying in their defense.How weak these surface dwellers were, the sinister drow thought, for in Menzoberranzan courage and compassion were never confused.The furious dwarves came into the battle hard, driving through drow and goblins with abandon. Stumpet Rakingclaw, fresh from her exploits in the Undercity, led their charge. She was out of light pellets but called to her god now, enacting enchantments to brighten Keeper's Dale. The dark elves quickly countered every spell, as the dwarf expected, but Stumpet figured that every drow concentrating on a globe of darkness was out of the fight, at least momentarily. The magic of Moradin, Dumathoin, and Clanggedon flowed freely through the priestess. She felt as though she was a pure conduit, the connection to the surface for the dwarven gods.The dwarves rallied around her loud prayers as she screamed to her gods with all her heart. Other defenders rallied around the dwarves, and suddenly they were gaining back lost ground. Suddenly the idea of a single line of defense was not so ridiculous.High on the wall across the way, Berg'inyon chuckled at the futility of it all. This was a temporary surge, he knew, and the defenders of the western door had come together in one final, futile push. All the defense and all the defenders, and Berg'inyon's force still outnumbered them several times over.The weapon master coaxed his mount back down the wall, gathered his elite troops about him, and determined how to turn back the momentum. When Keeper's Dale fell, so, too, would the western door.And Keeper's Dale would fall, Berg'inyon assured his companions with all confidence, within the hour.