The main corridors leading to the lower door of Mithril Hall had been dropped and sealed, but that had been expected by the invading army. Even with the largest concentration of drow slowed to a crawl out in the tunnels beyond the door, the dwarven complex was hard pressed. And although no reports had come to Uthegental about the fighting outside the mountain, the mighty weapon master could well imagine the carnage on the slopes, with dwarves and weakling humans dying by the score. Both doors of Mithril Hall were likely breached by now, Uthegental believed, with Berg'inyon's lizard riders flooding the higher tunnels.
That notion bothered the weapon master of Barrison del'Armgo more than a little. If Berg'inyon was in Mithril Hall, and Drizzt Do'Urden was there, the renegade might fall to the son of House Baenre. Thus Uthegental and the small band of a half-dozen elite warriors he took in tow now sought the narrow ways that would get them to the lowest gate of Mithril Hall proper. Those tunnels should be open, with the dark elves filtering out from the Undercity to clear the way.
The weapon master and his escort came into the cavern that had previously served as Bruenor's command post. It was deserted now, with only a few parchments and scraps from clerical preparations to show that anyone had been in the place. After the fall of the tunnels and the collapse of portions of Tunult's Cavern (and many side tunnels, including the main one that led back to this chamber), Bruenor's lower groups apparently had been scattered, without any central command.
Uthegental passed through the place, hardly giving it a thought. The drow band moved swiftly down the corridors, staying generally east, silently following the weapon master's urgent lead. They came to a wide fork in the trail and noticed the very old bones of a two-headed giant lying against the wall-ironically, a kill Bruenor Battlehammer had made centuries before. Of more concern, though, was the fork in the tunnel.
Frustrated at yet another delay, Uthegental sent scouts left and right, then he and the rest of his group went right, the more easterly course.
Uthegental sighed, relieved that they had at last found the lower door, when his scout and another drow, a priestess, met him a few moments later.
"Greetings, Weapon Master of the Second House," the priestess greeted, affording mighty Uthegental more respect than was normally given to mere males.
"Why are you out in the tunnels?" Uthegental wanted to know. "We are still far from the Undercity."
"Farther than you think," the priestess replied, looking disdainfully back toward the east, down the long tunnel that ended at the lower door. "The way is not clear."
Uthegental issued a low growl. Those dark elves should have taken the Undercity by now, and should have opened the passages. He stepped by the female, his pace revealing his anger.
"You'll not break through," the priestess assured him, and he spun about, scowling as though she had slapped him in the face.
"We have been striking at the door for an hour," the priestess explained. "And we shall spend another week before we get past that barricade. The dwarves defend it well."
"Ultrin sargtlin!" Uthegental roared, his favorite title, to remind the priestess of his reputation. Still, despite the fact that Uthegental had earned that banner of "Supreme Warrior," the female did not seem impressed.
"A hundred drow, five wizards, and ten priestesses have not breached the door," she said evenly. "The dwarves strike back against our magic with great spears and balls of flaming pitch. And the tunnel leading to the door is narrow and filled with traps, as well defended as House Baenre itself. Twenty minotaurs went down there, and those dozen that stumbled past the traps found hardy dwarves waiting for them, coming out of concealment from small, secret cubbies. Twenty minotaurs were slain in the span of a few minutes.
"You'll not break through," the priestess said again, her tone matter-of-fact and in no way insulting. "None of us will unless those who have entered the dwarven complex strike at the defenders of the door from behind."
Uthegental wanted to lash out at the female, mostly because he believed her claim.
"Why would you wish to enter the complex?" the female asked unexpectedly, slyly.
Uthegental eyed her with suspicion, wondering if she was questioning his bravery. Why wouldn't he want to find the fighting, after all?
"Whispers say your intended prey is Drizzt Do'Urden," the priestess went on.
Uthegental's expression shifted from suspicion to intrigue.
"Other whispers say the renegade is in the tunnels outside Mithril Hall," she explained, "hunting with his panther and killing quite a few drow."
Uthegental ran a hand through his spiked hair and looked back to the west, to the wild maze of tunnels he had left behind. He felt a surge of adrenaline course through his body, a tingling that tightened his muscles and set his features in a grim lock. He knew that many groups of enemies were operating in the tunnels outside the dwarven complex, scattered bands fleeing the seven-chambered cavern where the first battle had been fought. Uthegental and his companions had met and slain one such group of dwarves on their journey to this point.
Now that he thought about it, it made sense to Uthegental that Drizzt would be out here as well. It was very likely the renegade had been in the battle in the seven-chambered cavern, and, if that was true, then why would Drizzt flee back into Mithril Hall?
Drizzt was a hunter, a former patrol leader, a warrior that had survived a decade alone with his magical panther in the wild Underdark-no small feat, and one that even Uthegental respected.
Yes, now that the priestess had told him the rumor, it made perfect sense to Uthegental that Drizzt Do'Urden would be out there, somewhere back in the tunnels to the west, roaming and killing. The weapon master laughed loudly and started back the way he had come, offering no explanation.
None was needed, to the priestess or to Uthegental's companions, who fell into line behind him.
The weapon master of the second house was hunting.
"We are winning," Matron Baenre declared.
None of those around her-not Methil or Jarlaxle, not Matron Zeerith Q'Xorlarrin, of the fourth house, or Auro'pol Dyrr, matron mother of House Agrach Dyrr, now the fifth house, not Bladen'Kerst or Quenthel Baenre-argued the blunt statement.
Gandalug Battlehammer, dirty and beaten, his wrists bound tightly by slender shackles so strongly enchanted that a giant could not break them, cleared his throat, a noise that sounded positively gloating. There was more bluster than truth in the dwarf's attitude, for Gandalug carried with him a heavy weight. Even if his folk were putting up a tremendous fight, dark elves had gotten into the Under-city. And they had come to that place because of Gandalug, because of his knowledge of the secret ways. The old dwarf understood that no one could withstand the intrusions of an illithid, but the guilt remained, the notion that he, somehow, had not been strong enough.
Quenthel moved before Bladen'Kerst could react, smacking the obstinate prisoner hard across the back, her fingernails drawing lines of blood.
Gandalug snorted again, and this time Bladen'Kerst whacked him with her five-tonged snake-headed whip, a blow that sent the sturdy dwarf to his knees.
"Enough!" Matron Baenre growled at her daughters, a hint of her underlying frustration showing through.
They all knew-and it seemed Baenre did as well, despite her proclamation-that the war was not going according to plan. Jarlaxle's scouts had informed them of the bottleneck near Mithril Hall's lowest door, and that the eastern door from the surface had been blocked soon after it was breached, at a cost of many drow lives. Quenthel's magical communications with her brother told her that the fighting was still furious on the southern and western slopes of Fourthpeak, and that the western door from the surface had not yet been approached. And Methil, who had lost his two illithid companions, had telepathically assured Matron Baenre that the fight for the Undercity was not yet won, not at all.
Still, there was a measure of truth in Baenre's prediction of victory, they all knew, and her confidence was not completely superficial. The battle outside the mountain was not finished, but Berg'inyon had assured Quenthel that it soon would be-and given the power of the force that had gone out beside Berg'inyon, Quenthel had no reason to doubt his claim.
Many had died in these lower tunnels, but most of the losses had been humanoid slaves, not dark elves. Now those dwarves who had been caught outside their complex after the tunnel collapse had been forced into tactics of hunt and evade, a type of warfare that surely favored the stealthy dark elves.
"All the lower tunnels will soon be secured," Matron Baenre elaborated, a statement made obvious by the simple fact that this group, which would risk no encounters, was on the move once more. The elite force surrounding Baenre was responsible for guiding and guarding the first matron mother. They would not allow Baenre any advancement unless the area in front of them was declared secure.
"The region above the ground around Mithril Hall will also be secured," Baenre added, "with both surface doors to the complex breached."
"And likely dropped," Jarlaxle dared to put in.
"Sealing the dwarves in their hole," Matron Baenre was quick to respond. "We will fight through this lower door, and our wizards and priestesses will find and open new ways into the tunnels of the complex, that we might filter among our enemy's ranks."
Jarlaxle conceded the point, as did the others, but what Baenre was talking about would take quite a bit of time, and a drawn out siege had not been part of the plan. The prospect did not sit well with any of those around Matron Baenre, particularly the other two matron mothers. Baenre had pressured them to come out, so they had, though their houses, and all the city, was in a critical power flux. In exchange for the personal attendance of the matron mothers in the long march, House Xorlarrin and House Agrach Dyrr had been allowed to keep most of their soldiers at home, while the other houses, particularly the other ruling houses, had sent as much as half their complement of dark elves. For the few months that the army was expected to be away, the fourth and fifth Houses seemed secure.
But Zeerith and Auro'pol had other concerns, worries of power struggles within their families. The hierarchy of any drow house, except perhaps for Baenre, was always tentative, and the two matron mothers knew that if they were away for too long, they might return to find they had been replaced.
They exchanged concerned looks now, doubting expressions that ever observant Jarlaxle did not miss.
Baenre's battle group moved along on its slow and determined way, the three matron mothers floating atop their driftdisks, flanked by Baenre's two daughters (dragging the dwarf) and the illithid, who seemed to glide rather than walk, his feet hidden under his long, heavy robes. A short while later, Matron Baenre informed them that they would find an appropriate cavern and set up a central throne room, from which she could direct the continuing fight.
It was another indication that the war would be a long one, and again Zeerith and Auro'pol exchanged disconcerted looks.
Bladen'Kerst Baenre narrowed her eyes at both of them, silently threatening.
Jarlaxle caught it all, every connotation, every hint of where Matron Baenre might find her greatest troubles.
The mercenary leader bowed low and excused himself, explaining that he would join up with his band and try to garner more timely information.
Baenre waved her hand, dismissing him without a second thought. One of her escorts was not so casual.
You and your mercenaries will flee, came an unexpected message in Jarlaxle's mind.
The mercenary's own thoughts whirled in a jumble, and, caught off guard, he couldn't avoid sending the telepathic reply that the notion of deserting the war had indeed crossed his mind. As close to desperation as he had ever been, Jarlaxle looked back over his shoulder at the expressionless face of the intruding illithid.
Beware of Baenre should she return, Methil imparted casually, and he continued on his way with Baenre and the others.
Jarlaxle paused for a long while when the group moved out of sight, scrutinizing the emphasis of the illithid's last communication. He came to realize that Methil would not inform Baenre of his wavering loyalty. Somehow, from the way the message had been given, Jarlaxle knew that.
The mercenary leaned against a stone wall, thinking hard about what his next move should be. If the drow army stayed together, Baenre would eventually win-that much he did not doubt. The losses would be greater than anticipated (they already had been), but that would be of little concern once Mithril Hall was taken, along with all its promised riches.What, then, was Jarlaxle to do? The disturbing question was still bouncing about the mercenary's thoughts when he found some of his Bregan D'aerthe lieutenants, all bearing news of the continuing bottleneck near the lower door, and information that even more dark elves and slaves were being killed in the outer tunnels, falling prey to roving bands of dwarves and their allies.The dwarves were defending, and fighting, well.Jarlaxle made his decision and relayed it silently to his lieutenants in the intricate hand code. Bregan D'aerthe would not desert, not yet. But neither would they continue to spearhead the attack, risking their forward scouts.Avoid all fights, Jarlaxle's fingers flashed, and the gathered soldiers nodded their accord. We stay out of the way, and we watch, nothing more.Until Mithril Hall is breached, one of the lieutenants reasoned back.Jarlaxle nodded. Or until the war becomes futile, his fingers replied, and from his expression, it was obvious the mercenary leader did not think his last words ridiculous.Pwent and his band rambled through tunnel after runnel, growing frustrated, for they found no drow, or even kobolds, to slam."Where in the Nine Hells are we?" the battlerager demanded. No answer came in reply, and when he thought about it, Pwent really couldn't expect one. He knew these tunnels better than any in his troupe, and if he had no idea where they were, then certainly the others were lost.That didn't bother Pwent so much. He and his furious band really didn't care where they were as long as they had something to fight. Lack of enemies was the real problem."Start to bangin'!" Pwent roared, and the Gutbusters ran to the walls in the narrow corridor and began slamming hammers against the stone, causing such a commotion that every creature within two hundred yards would easily be able to figure out where they were.Poor Bidderdoo Harpell, swept up in the wake of the craziest band of suicidal dwarves, stood in the middle of the tunnel, using his glowing gem to try to sort through the few remaining parchments from his blasted spellbook, looking for a spell, any spell (though preferably one that would get him out of this place!).The racket went on for several minutes, and then, frustrated, Pwent ordered his dwarves to form up, and off they stormed. They went under a natural archway, around a couple of bends in the passage, then came upon a wider and squarer way, a tunnel with worked stone along its walls and an even floor. Pwent snapped his fingers, realizing that they had struck out to the west and south of Mithril Hall. He knew this place, and knew that he would find a dwarven defensive position around the next corner. He bobbed around in the lead, and scrambled over a barricade that reached nearly to the ceiling, hoping to find some more allies to "enlist" into his terror group. As he crested the wall, Pwent stopped short, his smile erased.Ten dwarves lay dead on the stone floor, amidst a pile of torn goblins and orcs.Pwent fell over the wall, landed hard, but bounced right back to his feet. He shook his head as he walked among the carnage. This position was strongly fortified, with the high wall behind, and a lower wall in front, where the corridor turned a sharp corner to the left.Mounted against that left-hand wall, just before the side tunnel, was a curious contraption, a deadly dwarven side-slinger catapult, with a short, strong arm that whipped around to the side, not over the top, as with conventional catapults. The arm was pulled back now, ready to fire, but Pwent noticed immediately that all the ammunition was gone, that the valiant dwarves had held out to the last.Pwent could smell the remnants of that catapult's missiles and could see flickering shadows from the small fires. He knew before he peeked around the bend that many, many dead enemies would line the corridor beyond."They died well," the battlerager said to his minions as they and Bidderdoo crossed the back wall and walked among the bodies.The charge around the corner came fast and silent, a handful of dark elves rushing out, swords drawn.Had Bidderdoo Harpell not been on the alert (and had he not found the last remaining usable page of his spellbook), that would have been the swift end of the Gutbuster Brigade, but the wizard got his spell off, enacting a blinding (to the drow) globe of brilliant light.The surprised dark elves hesitated just an instant, but long enough for the Gutbusters to fall into battle posture. Suddenly it was seven dwarves against five dark elves, the element of surprise gone. Seven battleragers against five dark elves, and what was worse for the drow, these battleragers happened to be standing among the bodies of dead kin.They punched and kicked, jumped, squealed and head-butted with abandon, ignoring any hits, fighting to make their most wild leader proud. They plowed under two of the drow, and one dwarf broke free, roaring as he charged around the bend.Pwent got one drow off to the side, caught the dark elf's swinging sword in one metal gauntlet and punched straight out with the other before the drow could bring his second sword to bear.The drow's head verily exploded under the weight of the spiked gauntlet, furious Pwent driving his fist right through the doomed creature's skull.He hit the drow again, and a third time, then tossed the broken body beside the other four dead dark elves. Pwent looked around at his freshly bloodied troops, noticed at once that one was missing, and noticed, too, that Bidderdoo was trembling wildly, his jowls flapping noisily. The battlerager would have asked the wizard about it, but then the cry of agony from down the side corridor chilled the marrow in even sturdy Thibbledorf Pwent's bones. He leaped to the corner and looked around.The carnage along the length of the fifty-foot corridor was even more tremendous than Pwent had expected. Scores of humanoids lay dead, and several small fires still burned, so thick was the pitch from the catapult missiles along the floor and walls.Pwent watched as a large form entered the other end of the passage, a shadowy form, but the battlerager knew it was a dark elf, though certainly the biggest he had ever seen. The drow carried a large trident, and on the end of the trident, still wriggling in the last moments of his life, was Pwent's skewered Gutbuster. Another drow came out behind the huge weapon master, but Pwent hardly noticed the second form, and hardly cared if a hundred more were to follow.The battlerager roared in protest, but did not charge. In a rare moment where cleverness outweighed rage, Pwent hopped back around the corner."What is it, Most Wild Battlerager?" three of the Gutbusters yelled together.Pwent didn't answer. He jumped into the basket of the side-slinger and slashed his spiked gauntlet across the trigger rope, cutting it cleanly.Uthegental Armgo had just shaken free the troublesome kill when the side-slinger went off, shooting the missile Pwent down the corridor. The weapon master's eyes went wide; he screamed as Pwent screamed. Suddenly Uthegental wished he still had the dead dwarf handy, that he might use the body as a shield. Purely on instinct, the warrior drow did the next best thing. He grabbed his drow companion by the collar of his piwafwi and yanked him in front.Pwent's helmet spike, and half his head, blasted the unfortunate dark elf, came through cleanly enough to score a hit on Uthegental as well.The mighty weapon master extracted himself from the tumble as Pwent tore free of the destroyed drow. They came together in a fit of fury, rage against rage, snarl against snarl, Pwent scoring several hits, but Uthegental, so strong and skilled, countering fiercely.The butt of the trident slammed Pwent's face, and his eyes crossed. He staggered backward and realized, to his horror, that he had just given this mighty foe enough room to skewer him.A silver beast, a great wolf running on its hind legs, barreled into Uthegental from the side, knocking him back to the floor.Pwent shook his head vigorously, clearing his mind, and regarded the newest monster with more than a little apprehension. He glanced back up the corridor to see his Gutbusters approaching fast, all of them pointing to the wolf and howling with glee."Bidderdoo," Pwent mumbled, figuring it out.Uthegental tossed the werewolf Harpell aside and leaped back to his feet. Before he had fully regained his balance, though, Pwent sprang atop him.A second dwarf leaped atop him, followed by a third, a fourth, the whole of the Gutbuster Brigade.Uthegental roared savagely, and suddenly, the drow possessed the strength of a giant. He stood tall, dwarves hanging all over him, and threw his arms out wide, plucking dwarves and hurling them as though they were mere rodents.Pwent slammed him in the chest, a blow that would have killed a fair-sized cow.Uthegental snarled and gave the battlerager a backhand slap that launched Pwent a dozen feet."Ye're good," a shaky Pwent admitted, coming up to one knee as Uthegental stalked in.For the first time in his insane life (except, perhaps, for when he had inadvertently battled Drizzt), Thibbledorf Pwent knew he was outmatched-knew that his whole brigade was outmatched!-and thought he was dead. Dwarves lay about groaning and none would be able to intercept the impossibly strong drow.Instead of trying to stand, Pwent cried out and hurled himself forward, scrambling on his knees. He came up at the last second, throwing all of his weight into a right hook.Uthegental caught the hand in midswing and fully halted Pwent's momentum. The mighty drow's free hand closed over Pwent's face, and Uthegental began bending the poor battlerager over backward.Pwent could see the snarling visage through the wide-spread fingers. He somehow found the strength to lash out with his free left, and scored a solid hit on the drow's forearm.Uthegental seemed not to care.Pwent whimpered.The weapon master threw his head back suddenly.Pwent thought the drow meant to issue a roar of victory, but no sound came from Uthegental's mouth, no noise at all, until a moment later when he gurgled incoherently.Pwent felt the drow's grip relax, and the battlerager quickly pulled away. As he straightened, Pwent came to understand. The silver werewolf had come up behind Uthegental and had bitten the drow on the back of the neck. Bidderdoo held on still, all the pressure of his great maw crushing the vertebrae and the nerves.The two held the macabre pose for many seconds; all the conscious Gutbusters gathered about them marveled at the strength of Bidderdoo's mouth, and at the fact that this tremendous drow warrior was still holding his feet.There came a loud crack, and Uthegental jerked suddenly, violently. Down he fell, the wolf atop him, holding fast.Pwent pointed to Bidderdoo. "I got to get him to show me how he did that," the awe-stricken battlerager remarked.Bidderdoo, clamped tightly on his kill, didn't hear.