Chapter One: Rescue
The forest road was narrow and few people were travelling at this time of the year and the day. It was getting dark soon and the cold wind was howling as it passed between the stems of trees and the huge boulders which lay everywhere within this forest. The area was almost uninhabited and had been forever or so it seemed. It was not far from the great city of Silverymoon but nobody had bothered to settle down there, much because of the rocky terrain and the freezing cold of which the valley was infamous. The people only called it “Cold hell” and to the two riders who came along the road the reason for this was obvious. They wore good thick winter clothes and huge cloaks but still the smallest of the two figures was shivering and in obvious discomfort.
The larger man stared at the snowy landscape with eyes almost as cold as the wind itself, they had to reach the city soon but they could not push the horses any harder. The animals would collapse if they were ridden hard in this cold weather and without them the riders too would be in serious trouble. He sighed and turned around, stared at the man behind him. His face was completely covered by a huge scarf but he could see his red eye and it was revealing that the drow was less than enthusiastic about this situation. Being surprised by a sudden winter storm was darn bad luck and he felt that he longed for warmth and something to eat. They had been on the road for several weeks and now they were on their way to the city to see if they could get any of the lady’s wizards to take a look at a weird artifact they had come across while searching for treasure for the dragon sisters. The sisters didn’t want it, and that alone had told them that this thing was dangerous in some way.
He had it hidden within his bags, a seemingly innocent piece of jewelry but the drow had almost fainted when he first touched the thing and it was obvious that it contained some kind of extremely strong magic. They had to find out what it really was.
The assassin was sitting there trying to find a way to get the drow past the guards, they were perhaps used to that darn ranger but they would never allow just any other drow into the city. There had to be a way to trick them and he was thinking hard about it. The horses were stumbling through the snow and they were covered with frost, they could not make it another day without proper feed and water. The mercenary was mumbling something to himself, he was probably cursing the very winter itself and Artemis could understand it. To a drow the concept of cold is something they have problems comprehending. It would be like trying to convince a dwarf warrior of the value of a hot bath. He had to smile to himself whilst he considered that comparison and turned toward his companion once more. “It can’t be that long now!”
The drow cursed again and was rubbing his gloved hands together. “It better not be, I am freezing my freakin butt of! How can it be this cold?” His voice was shivering too and Artemis knew that the drow’s light frame didn’t preserve body heat as well as a more bulky body type. He froze too but he could handle it, hardened as he was. He was about to tell the drow to rub his own arms and legs when a sound made them both jump in the saddle. It was a scream, coming from some point up ahead and not that far away and the scream had to be from a male and it was filled with pain and fear. Jarlaxle just stared in shock and Artemis swore and calmed his horse down. There were no more sounds and for a few seconds the assassin hesitated, this was none of their business and they should be heading for the city but he had never heard anything scream like that before. What was going on? Jarlaxle had pulled his hood off and he was cocking his head, obviously listening to something. His earrings and eye patch made him look very out of place. “I hear people, someone is having fun!”
Artemis clenched his teeth together, he felt like he had to check this out, what in the nine hells could make such a horrible sound? And the source of the scream had to be close to the road ahead of them, they would have to pass it by and it could be a potential danger. Artemis made a decision, he jumped of the horse and pulled it after him into the forest, tethered it to a tree and the drow did the same with his steed. Artemis nodded to the drow. “We’ll have to check this out; it could be some kind of danger!”
Jarlaxle nodded and pulled his hood up again and covered his face, he looked worried. Artemis was slowly making his way through the snow and before long he saw light flickering between the trees. It was a campsite and he knew that Jarlaxle was right behind him. He slowly moved forward, used every shadow and soon he was staring at a small camp. It consisted of two tents, a carriage was parked by them and four horses were tethered to trees. It seemed like there were four men there and Artemis was a bit confused until he heard Jarlaxle gasp beside him, the drow was staring at something at the back of the camp and his visible eye was wide open with shock.
Artemis turned his gaze, stared in the same direction as the drow and he too felt like gasping but he held his mouth shut. A figure was kneeling down between the stems of two trees, the arms of the being were tied to one each and the snow around the figure was red with blood. Artemis could not believe his eyes, these were no warriors, he could tell that for sure and yet they had captured and tortured a drow?! He stared at the figure, something was wrong there, seriously wrong. The man, because it had to be a man, was tall! In fact he had to be very tall, too tall to be a drow and yet he had the black skin and the white hair and everything. But no drow could ever grow to such height and be that muscular? This male had to be almost as tall as that huge barbarian that darn ranger had travelled with, and he was just as muscular as him too. It was impossible, or was it?
He stared at Jarlaxle who stared back. There were still shock in his eye but also a glimpse of deep curiosity and amazement. He leaned closer to the assassin and whispered. “Once, many decades ago, I met with a man from one of the small drow cities within the under dark. The man could tell me of a legend they had there, of giants walking the tunnels. The inhabitants of the city feared them he said, they had found entire troops of drow warriors slaughtered like they were rothe! I thought it was just a lie or some drunken story blown out of proportion. But now I start to doubt it! “
Artemis nodded; they had to find out what this was about. If that being came from the under dark then what was it doing there and what the heck was it? He nodded to Jarlaxle who grinned back at him, the drow had forgotten about the cold now. Something else had occupied his mind and he followed the assassin like a shadow.
Artemis found his way around the camp in silence, he was watching the men by the fire very closely and he could soon smell blood. He hid behind one of the tents, sniffed the air. The men had to have stayed there for a couple of days, they had dug a latrine in the snow and the ground was packed and hard from trampling boots. He stared at the figure, he was so close now he could see details and they made him cringe. This was one very injured creature and he could see that the male was shivering, no wonder, he wore nothing except from a torn and tattered loincloth. The face was covered by his thick white hair which by the way had to be extremely long and something, almost a kind of instinct, told the assassin that this creature had to be rather young. The stench of blood was strong now, and he could also smell sweat, something that had to be semen and the sickening stench of infected wounds.
Jarlaxle whispered to him. “He is burning up; I have never seen anything that hot!”
Artemis nodded; the drows infravision was sometimes an advantage. He crawled a little closer, stared at the body which was actually hanging by its arms. It had to be extremely painful and something about the situation made him feel angry. Whether or not this was a drow, it wasn’t right. This creature had been tortured and that in the most terrible ways imaginable, even an evil being should at least be disposed of quickly, without hesitation and prolonged suffering.
He remembered his experiences with the race and felt a shiver run down his spine, they were so much like himself and he was only filth in their eyes. Jarlaxle was an exception of course but he was nowhere near being the typical drow and then it was that darn Drizzt and his principles and high morals. Also a most unusual drow. He had at the same time hated and admired the race and their achievements, and he had seen them as a sort of mirror image of himself, if he got too far. It had been a sobering experience but it had been useful.
And now this, he was not certain about what he should do. He stared at the prisoner again, saw grizzly wounds along his back, something that had to be burn wounds and nasty cuts made only to inflict as much pain as possible. He could see what had to be caked blood along the male’s inner tights and he cringed, he knew too well what these men had done to the creature. A sort of fire started to grow inside of him, got hotter by the minute and grew strong and wild, almost uncontrollable. He could hear the men talk, started to listen in on the conversation. They were discussing the bad weather, then they spoke about some salesman they had agreed to meet in the city and then one of them mentioned the prisoner.
Artemis sat still as a mouse in a house where they keep cats as the men were laughing and joking about how they had enjoyed the fun. The rage was like burning embers within his chest now, they reminded him of his past, of the people who should have protected him but didn’t. Those who had betrayed his trust and abused him and Jarlaxle touched his shoulder with a warning glimpse in his eye. Artemis just nodded, he would not let go of his control, it was all he was, control!
The men were laughing again and he kept his ears pricked, after a while he realized that these men hadn’t captured the creature, they had found him unconscious on a mountainside with a huge charred circle around him and a nasty wound in his back. And so they had made use of the opportunity and none of them felt bad about it, after all, drow were evil creatures. To torture one was ok, wasn’t it?
They kept joking about how pretty the creature was and even better than a woman and Jarlaxle were giving the assassin a pleading gaze. “We must do something, now! I think he is close to death!”
Artemis nodded; he could not let any creature die like that, no matter what it was. To kill to protect himself or because someone had paid him to do it was one thing, this was something altogether different. One of the men got up, staggered toward the prisoner and the two men pressed themselves against the stem of a tree each to remain undiscovered. The man was laughing and taking huge sips from a flask while he unbuckled his belt and got down on his knees behind the prisoner, Artemis was looking away, he could not watch this. The poor thing was unconscious and yet he made a shivering sound of agony that made the assassin cringe. He had planned to grasp the prisoner and just get out of there once the men had gone to sleep for the night but he changed his plan. He could not stand this; it brought too many memories forward, made him unable to maintain his focus.
He slowly got his dagger out of its sheath, and then he glided through the snow like a huge cat, soundless and stealthy. He ignored the sounds he heard from the man, grabbed him with one hand underneath his chin and plunged the dagger in his back with much more force than he needed. The man shook a few times, then he went limp and Artemis dropped the corpse with a grimace of disgust. The prisoner just hang there and Artemis felt sick now that he could see the injuries up close. No doubt that this man was dying and he turned toward the camp again. The other three had not noticed anything in their drunken stupor and Artemis bared his teeth. Should he kill them? He decided that he didn’t have too. He quickly cut the ropes and pulled the prisoner with him through the snow, hurried toward the horses. He got Jarlaxle to cut the tethers and made one of the animals kneel down. He pulled the unconscious male up on the horses back with a groan, the creature was incredibly heavy, and he had to use every ounce of strength he had to do it. He expected to hear the shouts of the remaining three men anytime but they were too drunk to notice anything. He got on the horse behind the man and then he let the horse stand up, and the mercenary pulled the remaining horses behind him.
They heard the men shout as the horses raced out of the camp but there was nothing they could do to stop them. Artemis grinned to himself and nodded to Jarlaxle. “With extra horses we can get to the city very fast, we ride as hard as we can. He is very sick indeed.”
The drow stared at the prisoner with the same expression of amazement and curiosity, this was a mystery and Artemis knew the mercenary fairly well by now. Jarlaxle stretched out a hand, touched the black skin very carefully. “He is so hot, but look at his skin, it’s even blacker than mine, see?”
Artemis nodded. “It is, I am getting curious too!”
He stared down at the man’s face, it wasn’t covered anymore and he had to agree with the men, this male was beyond pretty, he was beautiful and at the same time very masculine with a strong jawline and elegant features. And they were not those of a drow, not at all. His facial structure was very different from any elf he had ever seen but the male had the pointy ears of an elf. But his eyebrows were more like those of a human male, thick and straight and not at all the highly arched brows of an elf. They rode back to their own horses and Artemis switched the saddles unto two of the horses they had taken, Jarlaxle found a blanket in their bags and wrapped it around the prisoner and then they pulled him back onto a horse and tied him to it. He was so heavy two riders would be too much for one animal to carry.
They rode hard now; Jarlaxle was holding a rope that bound the other horses together and Artemis was holding the reins of the horse carrying the prisoner. They had to reach the city and get some help, but how should they get past the guards? There had to be a way to get in, the prisoner needed a healer and that soon if it wasn’t already too late. Artemis felt a strong sensation of urgency and despair; he could not let this being die, not after what he had been through! It would not be fair! He was deeply confused by his own reactions but could not stop to reflect upon them now.
They reached the main road, turned toward the city and saw that there had been a lot of travelers on it that day, Jarlaxle was covered up quite well but anyone could see that the unconscious being was a black skinned elf. Artemis tried to remember if there was any other way into the city than the main gate when they noticed a lone rider ahead of them, slowly heading in the same direction as they were. At first they just saw a distant shadow but then they saw the green cloak and recognized the rider. Artemis hissed, he felt like stopping the horse and turning around but he knew that he couldn’t. It would kill this poor thing and he would never find any peace if he died before they learned what he was, or where he was from. He hated the very idea of being face to face with Drizzt Do’urden again but it had to be fate. Drizzt could most certainly get them inside and he swallowed his pride and his feeling of anger and hatred and spurred his horse.
The ranger heard the sound of hooves and turned his horse, stared in confusion at the two riders who came riding along the winter road galloping hard. He was out of his saddle with his scimitars drawn ready for a fight the very second he realized who they were but Jarlaxle lifted his hands and yelled something in drow. Drizzt looked at them with deep suspicion within his lavender gaze and Artemis forced himself to remain calm. “Peace, we need your help!”
Drizzt did not look a bit less suspicious and Artemis pulled the blanket away from the prisoner, the ranger stared with eyes that got huge. “We found him in the woods, some travelers had found him in the mountains and they had tortured him bad. He is dying Drizzt; we need to get him to a healer, quickly!”
Drizzt stared at the man hanging from the horse in slack jawed amazement for a few seconds before he got a hold of himself, he stared at Artemis. There had been a hint of true concern within the assassin’s usually cold emotionless voice and his distress was real, he could sense it. He nodded, got back in the saddle with an elegant move. “Fine, I’ll help you, but only because of him! “
Jarlaxle grinned. “That’s all we ask for, but please make it fast because he is close to death I fear!”
Drizzt just turned his horse and spurred it and when they came within sight of the city itself with all its lights and beauty he left the main road and rode into a small path that swung down towards the river. He stopped the horse and nodded to the others. “Whatever you do now, do not show any kind of hostility or make any sudden moves!”
He held up some kind of medallion and whispered something and the air shivered before them for a second before a figure became visible. It was the lady of the city, Alustriel herself and she stared at the two riders with confusion. Drizzt quickly explained and she got pale and raced towards the horse with the wounded man, she stared at him for a few seconds with obvious shock before she turned around. “I usually never do this, but it is urgent. Close your eyes and do not open them again until I tell you to”
They obeyed and suddenly they all felt a strange chill rush through their bodies and their horses shivered and whinnied. When they heard the lady’s voice again they opened their eyes and now they were in a court yard in front of her private residence. The place was lovely but they did not have time to admire the architecture of the place, Alustriel ran toward a door and yelled something very loud and a few seconds later some servants came running like their pants were on fire. They stopped in shock at the sight of the strangers but she yelled orders to them and they snapped into action. Two ran and came back with a simple stretcher and one man ran out the gate like a spooked rabbit. Two other men ran before them into the house and were to prepare a room.
Artemis could only gasp at the speed and efficiency of the servants; it was very obvious that they had received good training. They pulled the man down from the horse and onto the stretcher and he moaned in agony, the sound was terrible. Artemis suddenly felt like plugging his ears and Jarlaxle looked away. The two men who held the stretcher moaned to. “What in the nine hells is this fellah made of? Lead?!”
The stretcher was too short, his legs were dangling but the two men managed to carry him into the building and up some stairs before the lady showed them into a rather huge room filled with lights. It held several beds and smelled of herbs and Artemis realized that this was some sort of hospital. Alustriel made them place the man on one of the beds and now, in the light, his injuries were simply horrifying. And the stench of him got almost overwhelming. Alustriel gasped and she had tears in her eyes, Drizzt was staring at the being with awe in his eyes and Artemis understood why. Not only was this male beautiful but he was impressive too, and clearly a warrior. Artemis hesitated for a few seconds, and then he grasped one of the man’s hands and tried to ignore the swollen bloodied wrists. He touched the palm and the fingers gently; they were calloused like they would be on a person well used to wielding weapons. Drizzt checked the other hand too and sighed. “Two handed fighter, like me! I wonder…”
Alustriel was running around gathering bandages, herbs, ointments and some other equipment and Jarlaxle was staring at the man’s face. “Look at him, he is so young!” His voice was strange, and Artemis wondered if the drow was feeling real heartfelt concern or if he just saw something he might be able to exploit one way or the other. Alustriel opened a door and shouted something into the corridor behind it, and then she turned back to the bed with the injured man.
“I have sent one of my men to fetch a healer who lives not far from here, she is the best there is. If anyone can help, it’s her. “
Artemis frowned. “Don’t you have like healing potions?”
Alustriel sighed, she looked very worried. “Normally yes, but two days ago some of the city guards were ambushed by a small group of orcs. Many got wounded rather badly so we used all we had on them. I did not expect this so our storage has not been replenished yet. “
Jarlaxle shook his head in disbelief. “He’ll need potions, strong ones too. Is there anywhere in the city where they can be bought?”
Alustriel was thinking fast. “One shop, close to the city square. They sell the ingredients but I don’t think they sell finished potions?”
Jarlaxle clenched his teeth together. “Then send someone over there and make sure that they buy everything that shop has, I think I know how to mix it if the healer don’t. “
Alustriel just nodded and sent one of the servants out with a pouch filled with coins. The man ran and she almost jumped when the door she had opened flew open once more and two girls came in carrying buckets of hot water. They placed them on the floor and Alustriel sent them off again, she grabbed a washing cloth and looked at the three men with determination. “So, let’s do what we can, first of all, this filth must come off him.”
Drizzt stared at her with amazement, the lady was so ethereal and other worldly, almost magical but now she seemed down to earth and practical. She started to wash the man’s feet and legs and before long the cloth was black with dirt and dried blood. Drizzt was really confused, the way Artemis and Jarlaxle were reacting was very unusual for them and he did not trust either of them but he did understand that this had made both of them so curious that they had to find the answer. And he was curious too, he had never heard of any drow this size, or with that kind of build. The male had to be strong like a giant and the weight of the body was huge too, even for someone that big. He had a strange suspicion but kept it to himself.
They could hear running feet and an elderly woman with a very gentle face came rushing in in front of the servant. She was carrying a huge box which probably contained her equipment and she gasped when she saw her patient and put her hand in front of her mouth to hide her shock. “By the gods…What has happened to this…..this male?”
Artemis growled, his eyes were like steel. “He’s been tortured.”
The woman cut a grimace. “Thank you young man, I am not blind! What I meant was more in the direction of how did he end up here?”
Jarlaxle shrugged. “We don’t know. He was found in the mountains, wounded and unconscious. “
The woman grunted, she placed her fingertips on his neck and got a very surprised look upon her face, then she opened one of his eyes and they got a new shock. Not only were his eyes yellow, when the light hit them the pupil of the eye contracted just like it would on a cat, into a thin vertical line. The woman was mumbling something to herself, then she opened his mouth and it was the same story, the teeth and their alignment were more like that of a huge cat than what you would expect to see in an elf. Alustriel was almost biting her fingernails in a mixture of emotions. “I have never even heard of such a creature! And I thought I knew a lot! I am a Sorceress damn it! What do you think Aleen?”
The woman shrugged. “He’s nothing like anything I have ever seen but we must work fast, he is slipping away even as we speak. I have to examine him closely to establish a plan on how to help him.”
She grabbed the cloth Alustriel had used, cleaned it and with surprising efficiency she cleaned the body. She even removed the remains of the loincloth and didn’t care that the sight made Alustriel blush ever so slightly. And as the filth came off the injuries became even more apparent and the stench of infected wounds became stronger. She pointed at a huge gash across his back. “This is the primary injury; it’s probably more than a day older than the rest. Its badly infected and the infection are spreading.”
She looked at them; her eyes were very determined but also sad. “I can’t promise you anything, I will do whatever I can but that doesn’t carry with it any guarantee that he will live. He is very sick indeed.”
Drizzt had noticed something else, his back had been unmarked by the scars most drow males had, he had never been whipped by any priestess and that told him that this male was something else al together. Artemis looked worried and Jarlaxle looked like he had ants in his pants, he could not stand still. Aleen sighed and continued her examination, she was quick but very good at what she was doing and she did not miss anything. She looked more and more shocked as she worked her way through the injuries and Drizzt could see by the look in her eyes that she really wasn’t able to believe what she saw.
“They have whipped him with horse reins; there is residue of leather in the fresh marks across his back. And they have burned him as well, lots of burn marks in almost any place with thin skin. “
Artemis swore, he sat down in a chair and his face was a bit grey. “Where the pain would be as bad as possible”
Aleen nodded, she pinched him and stared at the skin, it did not flatten out again and she swore. “The loss of blood is bad, the infection is worse but the fact that he hasn’t had anything to drink for days is the biggest problems. He is severely dehydrated. “
She opened her box and took out some instruments, washed them in a bowl she filled with some brown liquid that smelled very much like strong alcohol. “ They have raped him many times I can tell for sure, if his intestine is ruptured because of this he’s in serious trouble enough. It in itself can be fatal. “
Artemis winced and now he was pale. Aleen continued the job, felt his arms and legs, twisted the joints, felt his chest. “Several broken ribs, perhaps a collapsed lung, internal bleeding I am sure!”
She picked up a huge syringe and before any of the others in the room had time to react she jabbed it into the man’s muscled stomach and pulled, the syringe filled with blood immediately. Aleen swore and she was sweating now, they could see it.
“He’s been beaten in the head as well, I see a lot of swelling and if my fingers aren’t lying to me we are looking at a skull fracture, maybe a hematoma too. “
The others just looked at each other, they did not understand and Aleen checked his eyes once more, mumbling things to herself. She was like a whirlwind of efficiency. Jarlaxle made a strange grimace. “I can see that he is…ah…swollen? I think I have seen that before, on males the priestesses have tortured…”
Aleen nodded. “He has been kicked in the groin, several times. It’s impossible to say whether or not there is permanent damage until the swelling goes down, but yes, his family jewels are perhaps damaged. “All males in the room shuddered by her words and she just grinned. She grabbed another instrument, a long thin tube of some kind and smeared some ointment unto it before she slowly squeezed it into the man’s urethra. She held a bottle underneath the end and stared at it like she was expecting something extraordinary. Drizzt and Artemis had turned around with pained expressions on their faces and Alustriel had never expected it to be possible but Jarlaxle did in fact look a bit green in the face.
“If his kidneys are ruined he is most likely done for, there is a limit to what I can do. “ Some drops of a very dark liquid came dripping and she swore and pulled the catheter out. “Damn it, he’s been dehydrated for too long!”
Alustriel was rubbing her hands together. “But there has to be something you can do?”
Aleen was biting her teeth together, her eyes were blazing. “Yes, I will try but his chances are small, if not miniscule. We have to get the fever down, and then clean the wounds. I will have to deal with one thing at a time.”
She nodded to Artemis. “Come here, I will need some help in this end!”
Artemis obeyed, but very reluctantly. She pulled out a bottle with a tube attached to it, at the end was a needle and the bottle was filled with some sort of clear liquid. She tapped the man’s arm and found a vein, placed the needle in it. “Hold it high, we need to dehydrate him, and he can’t drink enough, not the way he is now. “
The assassin felt out of his element, to a degree where it was ridiculous but he knew he had to help. What those men had done to this helpless being was just… He could not stand thinking about it. While Artemis stood there with the bottle raised up above the sick man Aleen sniffed the blood from the fresh wounds. “Sepsis, I can smell it. His blood is poisoned by the infection. “
She straightened her back and caught their attention. “ People, we are looking at a miracle! No living being should be able to survive such injuries, none!”
Drizzt frowned. “Really? Then he must be one tough creature?”
Aleen just made a cold grin. “You have no idea!”
Alustriel gasped. “If we had healing potions?”
Aleen shrugged. “Would help a great deal but no potion can heal all of this, I can just hope that my skills will be enough. “
Alustriel moaned. “Let’s pray that the man I sent manage to get what’s needed. “
Aleen did not answer, she was making gestures that got Drizzt and Jarlaxle to understand that they should turn him around and they did. Aleen was looking at the nasty wounds on his back when a small jerk passed through him and he stopped breathing. For a second there was silence, and then Jarlaxle seemed to be grasped by some kind of panic. He slapped the man in the face, very hard several times. “No, don’t give in. Don’t you dare! Do you hear me, don’t you dare! Stay damn you!”
Aleen stared in surprise at the drow who shook the body violently, then there was a deep rasping gasp and the man was breathing once more, but very shallow and labored. Aleen swore and looked a bit bewildered. “He is too weak; I cannot clean the wounds and if I don’t the infection will kill him for sure. I have to stabilize him!”
She went to the box, found more bottles and a new syringe, filled it with some liquid from several of the bottles and injected it into the man. Then she placed some kind of crystal on his chest and whispered something, the crystal began to shine with a very soft blue light. “Now, this is something I usually never do, I would not even consider it, but due to the circumstances…”
Alustriel was obviously shocked. “Aleen, I did not know that…”
The healer made cold grin. “I know, it’s not what the Goddess likes but you want answers right? To keep him alive is the only way you can get them and so the method is needed, no matter how unethical it might be. “
Drizzt did not understand and Alustriel sighed, her eyes were very sad. “She has trapped his soul within the body, he cannot die as long as the magic lingers but it breaks the very laws of life. A dying soul should be allowed to leave. The liquids were painkillers, to make it less terrible. “
Drizzt stared at the woman with a mixture of awe and disgust, he too wanted answers but this felt just wrong.
Aleen sent them a very dark gaze before she continued what she was doing. She was cutting away dead flesh and the smell was so bad they all felt like retching. When the wounds were clean there was a lot of blood there and they all wondered how anything could survive this amount of blood loss. She smeared some ointment into the wounds that stopped the bleeding and she was going to ask Alustriel for more water when the servant returned with a huge bag filled with the ingredients they needed for the potions. The healer looked at the things the man had bought and waved her hand at Jarlaxle. “You, you have some experience yes? You can mix the things I tell you to, get some water and a bowl and get going! “
The drow swallowed hard and got the things needed and Aleen started to list the ingredients for different types of potions. Drizzt got a bit curious. “Can’t you just mix it all?”
Aleen shook her head as she finished cleaning the last gashes. “No, it would kill him. There is one type potion for superficial injuries, another for deep injuries. Then you’ll need a third kind for broken bones and so on. He’ll need at least five different types, or even more! “
Jarlaxle was finished mixing the first potion and Alustriel took the bowl and read some prayers over it before she tried to increase the strength of the concoction with some of her own magic. She grabbed a thin silk cloth and let the fluid run through it to get rid of any residue and Aleen injected some of it into him. While they repeated that operation Aleen checked the body for further injuries, she smeared ointment on the burns and was very careful to monitor his breathing. Artemis just stood there with the bottle of liquid and when it was empty Aleen replaced it with a new one.
Aleen washed her hands in the brown liquid, then she told them to turn him over and she smeared some grease on her fingers before she started to check him for injuries on the inside. The amount of blood in the area indicated that she would find some and she sighed and swore again. “As I suspected, he’s quite literally been torn apart. Not good!”
She dipped a roll of bandage in one of the potions Jarlaxle had been making before she twisted it into a very tight roll and placed it within the wounded area. The man made a strange noise as she did it, a sort of groan filled with pain and she sighed and her eyes were filled with sadness but also compassion. “You poor poor thing, I hate myself for doing this to you but we need you to live! We need to know who you are, and if there are more like you, who might need our help!”
Drizzt looked at the other two men with surprise. “Do you think there are more of them?”
Jarlaxle nodded. “The story I heard told of giants, and this one is just a lad. Of course there are more of them! “
Drizzt stared at the man, at the strange mixture of facial features and his incredible beauty. Even he looked almost plain in comparison, and he could tell that the others too were aware of the fact that this male was extraordinarily pretty. “But how come I’ve never heard of them? Not even as a sort of tale?”
Jarlaxle shrugged. “I think the story only was known in that small city, and it was very secluded and had few inhabitants. They usually never left the city and if they did they did not travel far. There could be a whole tribe of these things somewhere within that part of the under dark and nobody would know! Except perhaps those unlucky bastards who happened to come across them, and got slain. “
Drizzt stared at the man once more, looked at the muscular physique and the very apparent strength within the arms and legs. “So drow warriors were killed by giants, like this one? Drow aren’t easily killed! “
The mercenary grinned. “No, they aren’t. So these things have to be superior to ordinary drow warriors in every conceivable way, both with weapons and with skills. Imagine an army of these creatures?”
Drizzt shivered along his back at the mere thought of it, but if these creatures killed drow, did that mean that they were good? Or did they just kill anything that entered their area, regardless of what or who they were? He had always wondered why the drow were such an evil and vile race, if it was in their blood or if it was their whole way of living that caused it. The color of one’s skin should not have anything to say for the color of your soul or did it? Were perhaps these creatures just as bad as the drow, or even worse? They needed to know, if this man was evil then there were one more monster to fear down there, one that would outmatch any other. And if he was good? Well then they had some potential allies somewhere.
Aleen bandaged the smaller wounds and left the big ones open and already they could hear that his breathing had improved. She touched his neck and smiled, she looked very relieved. “He is better but he is by no means out of the woods yet. The potions are working but they need time, the injuries are so great!”
She placed a bandage on his head too and braided the long white hair. Drizzt stared at it with a sense of amazement. It looked as if each strand of hair was very thick and yet it was just as silky and soft as ordinary elf hair. He got caught by an impulse and leaned down, sniffed it. It smelled of blood and dirt and pain but he could catch a bit of the man’s own scent underneath and it reminded him a lot of how Guen smelled. The being did indeed remind him of the great Black Panther.
Aleen arranged his arms and legs so he lay on his side in a stable position, then she got a blanket and covered him with it. She sat down in a chair next to the man and then she placed both her hands on the body and closed her eyes. She gave herself up to the healing trance and started to pour of her own energy into the mutilated body to strengthen it and increase the effect of the potions.
Chapter Two: Awakening
Artemis stared at the scene and first now did he realize how tired he was and how cold and hungry he was. Alustriel yawned and stretched herself. “By the gods, it’s almost morning!”
She stared around her, shook her head. “I fear you all will have to stay here, I can’t let anyone see you and I hope you understand? But I will have some food and clean clothes and everything you need brought to you and there is beds enough here too. “
Artemis just nodded, he had reached the end of his endurance and strength and the emotional turmoil he had been trough had drained him further. Jarlaxle looked like he was about to drop too and sat down on a bed with strange slow motions. Aleen just sat there and nobody dared to disturb her. Drizzt wasn’t as tired as the two other men but he decided to stay, just to keep an eye on them. He could not forget how Artemis had been behaving in the past. And he had a strong disbelief in that man’s ability to change.
Before long some servants brought them food and wine and they ate in silence, staring at the healer and the unconscious man and each of them had his own thoughts to struggle with. When the meal was finished they found a bed and some blankets and lay down and before long Artemis was asleep. He had been more tired than he had been aware of and slept like he was half dead. Drizzt and Jarlaxle fell into reverie and still the healer was sitting there doing her work. The sun had started to turn against the horizon again before she finally moved, she moaned and opened her eyes, she was wet with sweat and very pale and she appeared to have lost several pounds in a few hours. She could not get up and Drizzt had gotten up and helped her. She smiled at him and petted him on his arm. “Thank you, I have never had such a challenge before!”
Drizzt stared at the man; he was breathing in a normal rhythm and looked a heck of a lot better. “He’ll make it?”
Aleen smiled. “Probably yes, I think so. He is tougher than even a dwarf. But it will take many weeks before he is completely recovered and if he has brain injuries they may affect him still, it is too early to say. We’ll just have to wait and see!”
Drizzt nodded and helped Aleen to the table. She drank some wine and had some food and then she lay down to rest. Alustriel returned and looked a lot better and she was pleased with the progress too. She could not stay there for long but Aleen promised to keep her informed if anything changed. The man’s fever had disappeared and the wounds were closing up slowly but surely. It was really amazing and when Jarlaxle did wake up he was a bit proud of the potions he had made. Aleen poured even more potions into the man and rubbed more ointments on him, she seemed to be completely tireless when she focused on a patient. She replaced the bandage roll with a new one and used a syringe to drain trapped blood from the swollen scrotum. The men had to turn away as she did it. It was strange but Drizzt had been in the same room as Artemis and Jarlaxle for several hours and they had not insulted or attacked each other, not even once. It was a miracle in itself.
Artemis was staring at the man, now he lay on his back and the face was peaceful. He was indeed young, the face was revealing a youthful spirit yet unbroken by the world and something about it reminded Artemis of himself. What was this man’s story? Had he a family somewhere, did they care? Or were they indifferent and abusive? Artemis did regret that he only killed one of the men who had raped and abused this man, but maybe he would get his chance again sometime. He had seen their faces and remembered them well. He caressed his dagger and the thought was pleasant, he would see his so called fathers and uncle’s faces as he killed them, of that he was sure.
The man just lay there for the rest of the day and well into the next night and then he suddenly started to move. The body was jerking and twisting and Aleen tied him to the bed to prevent further damage. He was moaning and gasping and it was obvious that he was dreaming and relived what had happened to him. The sounds could make even the coldest of hearts bleed and Drizzt bit his lip and felt how his sympathy threatened to overwhelm him. The male screamed, a terrible wail filled with sheer terror and Aleen was searching through her bags trying to find something that would make him go back to a deep dreamless sleep. He needed his rest and this would be emotionally exhausting. They all jumped in their seats when he uttered words they could recognize, the voice was shivering with fear and pain and it was very deep and raw. Not at all like normal elven voices.
“No, please, don’t do it! Please…I’m no enemy…” And then silence and a yell in fear and pain before he yelled one more word that made Jarlaxle and Drizzt stare at each other with a strange expression in their eyes. “Mom, help me!”
Jarlaxle swallowed hard, the plea for help had touched something within him, a sort of longing. He had seen how different the word family was understood here on the surface compared with what it meant in the under dark. Drizzt looked sad; it was pity in his eyes. “No drow, absolutely not!”
Jarlaxle nodded. “Right, no drow would ever call out for his mother. These creatures must be very different in deed!”
Aleen managed to pour some sleeping potion into the youth and he fell silent again. She was shaking her head and sat down, looked tired. Drizzt stared at her with unspoken questions within his gaze. “I can heal the body, but not the soul. He will be suffering the memories of this, perhaps for the rest of his life. “
Drizzt sighed, how he pitied the poor man, he could only imagine what he had been through and how did he end up in the mountains? Had he tried to leave the under dark like Drizzt had, and met an enemy he couldn’t win against? Aleen kept a very keen eye on the man all of the time and Drizzt went to do the things he really was supposed to do when he was in the city. The dwarfs wanted to trade with the city and a treaty was being made and Drizzt was there to make sure that it was correct and without hidden meanings. Alustriel helped him go through it and then he gave her a list of things he was supposed to bring with him back home. She promised that she would have it all ready as soon as possible before she returned to her duties and Drizzt took a small stroll within her private garden. He needed to see something else than walls and roofs.
Nothing happened that morning or the rest of the day. Aleen kept the man sedated the whole time and she was watching his progress with amazement. He was getting better so fast it made her doubt her own senses. The broken ribs had healed, and the lung was ok again too. The skull fracture was gone like it never had been there and even the internal injuries were mending fast. He had to have a remarkable ability to heal himself cause her power and the potions should not been able to do all this on their own. Now it remained to see if he was ok mentally or if he was broken, it would be very sad indeed if that was the case. She had seen the mental trauma people could suffer after such experiences; some would never recover and eventually go insane. The question was whether or not this man was strong enough emotionally to handle the fact of it. He had been brutally tortured and raped; it could make some loose them completely.
Artemis and Jarlaxle were bored but that changed when the man started to wake up again. Aleen could not keep him sedated anymore and so he slowly got out of the unconscious state. They were all assembled within the room and Aleen had strapped him to the bed again, just in case, and she had used some very strong straps too. The man was groaning and his eyelids fluttered, his breath changed and the healer could only hope that this would be ok. Slowly those cat’s eyes opened to the light, he was staring straight into the roof and made a hiss in pain before he closed his eyes once more, almost convulsively. His eyes had to be extremely sensitive to light and Alustriel hurried and pulled down the curtains of the few windows that were in the room. It got a bit darker right away and the man gasped and slowly his eyes opened once more, staring up with a bewildered look that slowly changed to realization and pure panic. He screamed and tried to get up, the straps snapped like they were made from rotten leather and he gasped in pain and fell back onto the bed again with an expression of pure agony on his face. He was writhing in pain and tried to get into a fetal position but was unable to. He opened his eyes once more and now he saw the people assembled there, his eyes got huge with fear and he whimpered like a puppy someone has kicked before he covered his face with his arms and froze.
The sight was pitying, Artemis recognized it and so did Jarlaxle, he had seen that expression before, on males who had been beaten almost to death by some sadistic priestess. Aleen sighed, and then she very slowly approached the male and placed her hand on his shoulder, ever so gently. He whimpered once more and took a new look at the small crowd; he looked even more terrified when he stared at Jarlaxle and Drizzt but the worst expression showed up when he looked at Artemis. He seemed to fear the human male even more than the two drows. And if the men who held him captive were the only humans he had ever met it was no wonder. Artemis felt a bit hurt by that fact, he was nothing like those guys and he never would be, ever!
Aleen whispered something very soft and soothing and he slowly turned his gaze towards her, shivered so badly they could see it. Then he moved, so fast that even Drizzt was shocked. He threw his arms around the elderly woman and pressed his face against her, like he was trying to hide! The three men were ready to take action if the male proved to be a danger but this surprised them, he acted almost like a frightened child and they could see tears running down his cheeks. Aleen sighed again, her eyes were filled with a kind of helplessness, she did not know what to do so she just stroked his hair slowly and the shivering gradually seized while the others stood there in silence and awe.
Alustriel bit her lower lip, cleared her throat and tried to find her most comforting and friendly voice, she really had no idea what to say so she just said something, and it sounded ridiculous. “How…how do you feel?”
The male turned his head toward her, he was still crying and his lip shivered. There was shock in his eyes still and he was clinging to Aleen like she was his last hope. He tried to speak but his voice failed on the first attempt, he tried again and this time it was better but barely audible and very hoarse.
“Who…who are you? Where am I?”
He did speak common but he had a very weird accent and the words were a bit twisted when it came to the way they were pronounced. They had to twist their heads to catch the meaning. Alustriel tried to smile; he was such a haunting sight, this huge guy with all his strength hanging on to the old healer like she was a gentle old grandma and he a scared kid. “You are safe here, Artemis and Jarlaxle found you in the woods and saved you from the men who were hurting you, and Drizzt helped them getting you here. You are in the city of Silverymoon and I am Lady Alustriel, the ruler of this place.”’
She pointed at the different persons as she mentioned their names and he followed her with his gaze, he looked confused.
“Am I on the surface?” His voice was trembling and he closed his eyes.
Drizzt took a few steps closer and the youth drew his breath in a startled gasp. Drizzt sighed; he probably had some less than pleasant experiences with drow too. “Yes, you are on the surface, but you are safe here. We don’t mean you any harm, Aleen here healed you and you will be ok. “
The man stared at Drizzt with confusion and the ranger understood that it was his eyes that made the youth so in doubt. “Purple eyes? You are no drow then? And a bald drow?!”
Drizzt had to smile. “Let’s just agree that we are a bit different from other of our race. Now, who are you and how did you end up on the mountains wounded?”
The youth gave him a strange blank stare before he touched his back with some struggle. There was deep confusion within his yellow gaze and Aleen petted him on his head once more and pushed him back into the bed. He stared at her with something that reminded them of the way a dog looks at a beloved owner. “There was a fight, an ambush. We never saw it coming. Oh gods!”
He sobbed and hid his face within his hands; he was shivering again and sweating too. It was obvious that he suddenly remembered something horrible. “We were…we were hunting…just a small group of us… And then something attacked us out of nowhere. Don’t know what it was, a monster of some kind. “
He gasped and his face was contorted with pain and fear, and a terrible sorrow. “ I…I was not supposed to be there, I am not finished training and I am too young to go that far from our home. But my brother let me join the group, just to learn. “
Artemis had a very cold expression on his face, he was trying to hide his feelings and Jarlaxle was playing with his rings, also a way of disguising emotions. Alustriel looked like she knew what was coming and Drizzt too sensed the tragedy that would unravel in front of their very eyes.
“It hit me with its tail, it had spikes on it, and I got hurt, badly hurt. It was a dead magic zone but Zoren tried to save me, to use his magic to send me home. It must have failed; the last thing I saw was that the monster grasped him!” The last words were a whisper and his eyes so dark and big. He made a strange sound, and then he hid his face again. “It must have killed them all, it was so terrible! Oh Zoren, he died to save me!”
Drizzt already knew a few things about this race, they obviously loved their family members very deeply, they also cared about their children and they lived somewhere in the under dark where there were no drow. The man was sobbing again and tears were flowing down his cheeks, he looked very immature at that moment. “I should have died, not him!”
Aleen sighed, she dried the tears of him with a cloth, stroked his forehead in a calming manner.
“Easy there, you did almost die young man, we were barely able to save you. “
His eyes glazed over, become distant and then he obviously remembered the men and what they had done to him cause he got some kind of convulsions and started screaming again, hoarse wails that rung between the walls and hurt their ears. Artemis swore, he rushed forward without even thinking about what he was doing, he grabbed the youth and shook him, hit him across the face once and he stared at the assassin with eyes that were burning with a rather explosive mixture of emotions. Shame was the one most visible. He grasped the human’s hands to stop him from hitting him again and Artemis moaned, this guy could crush every bone within him without even using any effort. The assassin stared straight into the huge terrified eyes, tried to sound calm and soothing. “Relax, they will never hurt you again, I killed one of them and if I meet the rest I will kill them too. It’s ok, it’s over!”
The youth let go of him with an apologetic look on his face, he was biting his teeth together, very hard. “I can’t remember how I ended up with them, all I remember was that it was so cold and dark and I was hurting bad. And they tied me up even if I asked them not to, and then they…”
He gasped and his head was turning from one side to the others while his eyes had that strange empty expression. “They hurt me… on purpose! I thought that humans weren’t that bad, that they were good. But they…they…!” He gasped for air and the shock was still rather visible, he was shivering and his eyes looked so confused. “They used me like they would use a woman and I thought I was going to die, it hurt so badly and they were laughing! And they burned and whipped me too, hit me with something hard!” He touched his head with a strange expression on his face. “I did not know that males could do that to other males!”
Artemis tried to smile, not easy for a person most used to look like death incarnate. “Listen, it wasn’t your fault! They were evil and twisted and thought you were a drow, everybody here hates drow!”
The youth made a faint smile. “No kidding! So do we, ironic isn’t it? “
Drizzt sat down next to the bed and looked at the youth. “ So you too hate the drow elves, but what are you? None of us has heard of your race before and what’s your name?”
The man pulled himself up a bit and groaned with pain, he was better yes, but not at all completely recovered. His own body would have to do the rest of the job. He bit his lower lip, looked down. “We don’t belong here, that’s why people don’t know of us. We have been hiding ever since we arrived in the under dark, because of an evil wizard. Our home is another place, another world if you like.”
Jarlaxle snapped his fingers. “That explains a lot! If they were of this world we would have known more about them for sure. “
The youth nodded. “ Yes you would, we are originally surface dwellers but the wizard just sent some of us away and we ended up in the under dark, and soon realized that we had landed in hell!”
Drizzt cut a grimace, hell; it was in fact a very good description of the place. The man closed his eyes; there was sadness within his eyes. “The first who came were warriors, fighting a war against an evil ruler in our home world. His wizards were very strong and one of them was to be killed by some of my people when he used his magic to send them away. They were my forefathers. We know that the world they came from was much like this one I guess, but also different. “
Artemis frowned. “ So, what are you?”
The youth sighed, he looked down once more and his eyes were glazed over with memories. “I am a Zha’bhel elf. In our world we are the race that is our world’s version of the drow of this world but we are nothing like them except in color. There are other races that are evil there. “
Jarlaxle looked intrigued. “So the roles are somewhat reversed? “
The man nodded slowly. “Yes, there are a race of white elves that are evil, they have no color it is said, they look like wraiths and they are lethal. “ He shuddered and made a strange grin. “All I know is what my parents and others have told me, and I fear I don’t remember everything. “
Drizzt stared at him; he was looking like he was thinking hard. “How many are you?”
The youth closed his eyes, was obviously counting in his head. “About one hundred, no more. We are very few and it causes us problems but we have survived. “
Alustriel sighed. “ One hundred, that’s a very small tribe. What kind of problems?”
He grinned. “We are afraid of inbreeding, it would weaken us, and there is not much food to be found. We have to eat anything we come across that is edible. “He cut a grimace and they looked at each other, their eyes told what they felt about that piece of information.
Artemis shrugged, he could see that the youth was shaking a bit still and he was hanging on to Aleens hand like he was seeking comfort. “But once again lad, what is your name?”
The male made a strange grimace. “I am No-name. “
Alustriel looked at him with confusion. “What? Is that your name?”
He smiled and made a pained grimace, moved a bit. “Yes, until I get a real one. It is our custom. Any boy has to wait until he knows who he is before he can choose a name for himself. The name tells of whom you are, and what it is that you chose to do with your life. “
Drizzt raised his eyebrows. “ That’s a strange custom, but it seems right too. So every youth is called No-name?”
No-name nodded eagerly and smiled. The smile made them twitch a bit, his long sharp teeth made him extremely feline for a second or two. “Yes, and without a name the Goddess can’t claim you until you know whether you will serve her or not!”
Alustriel frowned; she feared the worst since the drow worshipped such an evil deity. “The goddess, what Goddess might that is?”
No-name looked down. “Our deity, Ayzathe. We have always worshipped her. “
Jarlaxle looked a bit doubtful. “And how do you worship this goddess of yours? “
No-name smiled. “ We are nothing like the drow you know, we don’t sacrifice babies or kill others of our race. We do her bidding by killing evil creatures, that’s all!”
Drizzt let go of a breath of relief, he started to like this people. “But how can she claim anyone? “
No-name shrugged. “By wanting that person to be her special servant, a warrior like no other. It is a great honor but all mothers fear it because it would mean that the person has to live a life of fighting and bloodshed. There will be no peace for someone the goddess has claimed. “
Alustriel looked confused. “How can anyone know that they have been claimed? “
The youth grinned again. “You just know, and you choose a name according to it. You won’t become a peaceful person for sure but you’ll live a very interesting life. “
Jarlaxle was playing with his earrings, he was thinking hard. “So the goddess gives her warriors extra strength or something like that? How long do your people live by the way?”
No-name seemed confused; he was looking around the room as if to find an answer. “She gives you skills, and wisdom. The strength is your own, we have plenty of that. We are proud of it too; we treasure the strength of our bodies and the beauty of a blade far more than we treasure magic. And how long we live? “
He cut a strange grimace. “Well, if nothing kills us I don’t really know. We never age so… I guess we could go on forever but I don’t think anyone has. It must get boring in the end…”
Alustriel just gasped and the others were quite startled to. It seemed impossible.
Drizzt tried to change the subject, the idea of some creature being able to live forever was disturbing in a philosophical way. “You think your brother is dead? Do you have any other siblings?”
No-name smiled again, then his face turned sad and there were tears in his eyes again. “Yes, two sisters, Mahlia and Chibhi. They are older than me; I was the youngest of the family. “
Aleen smiled and stroked his hair again and he closed his eyes and sighed. “So your mother has four children?”
No-name nodded. “Four alive…oh goddess….” He gasped and she dried some tears off his cheeks again. “A few years ago she had a new baby but he died, he was too weak and we had been starving so she had no milk for him. Now she is too old to have any other children. Our women are only fertile in a short period of their lives; five births are almost unheard of so mom is famous for being so fertile. Some women never have children so we are not a very fertile race.”
Alustriel had a puzzled look upon her face. “Somehow that makes sense, if you truly are able to live forever your people doesn’t need to reproduce that often. “
No-name smiled, the smile was a sad one. “The balance of the goddess, it is a blessing and a curse.”
Aleen gave him a gentle smile. “Of that I am sure yes, but your father?”
No-name smiled once more. “Yes, he is alive. Here in your world we live very differently than at home. They have told me that our race is originally solitary creatures who only meet to mate and that’s all, like tigers. But in the under dark that would be the death of us so we live in families and are monogamous. That’s the safest way. “
Jarlaxle grinned. “Very wise move I must say, there is strength in numbers. “
No-name made a faint smile. “It did not help our group; oh I can still see it, that terrible thing! Not much can fight us and live but that thing it... it...” He was lost for words and just gasped.
Drizzt petted his shoulder and didn’t really know what to say. No-name whimpered and his lip shivered again. “I miss them, I miss them so much. Mom and dad and my sisters and everybody and I don’t know if they know what’s happened and…”
Jarlaxle was trying to find something smart to say, all this information had shocked the mercenary quite a bit. A whole race of beings like this one? Sworn to fight evil? Had they been many he would have feared for his own race but not even these creatures could pose a threat to the drow society. But on the other hand, they could most certainly cause problems, or twist the balance of power and he had so many ideas already but he was far from sure of what he should do. “Is there no way they can find you?”
It sounded lame and he knew it, the youth sighed. “ Maybe, some of us has a bit of magical abilities, if they know of the attack I am sure they are searching for me at this very moment. “
Drizzt had a melancholic expression upon his face; if some members of a drow family were missing nobody would go looking for them except of course if they were female. But not if there were anything to gain from their deaths. “Will they be able to find you here on the surface?”
No-name shrugged. “I don’t know! But they will try, I know they will! We never give up if someone of us is missing; everyone is valuable since we are so few!”
Artemis looked a bit curious. “Have you never thought about going to the surface?”
No-name bit his lower lip. “Yes, many times, but we feared it. We have no idea of what kind of dangers we would face and again, we are few. We could not risk losing anyone. So it was safer to stay where we were.”
Drizzt mumbled. “Makes sense!”
Alustriel placed her hands in her sides and gave the men a stern look. “He is getting tired, he must rest. We can continue the conversation later!”
No-name did in deed look tired, his face had a grey hue and his eyes were blurred once more, he was sweating and panting and Aleen looked worried. “He needs rest and food too, Alustriel, tell your cooks to make some porridge. His stomach cannot handle anything else as of yet. “
The lady went to follow her bidding and No-name groaned. “ Porridge?!”
Aleen grinned. “Yes my friend, but don’t worry. They can make really good porridge!”
The youth looked as if he doubted her words. Artemis and Jarlaxle left the room and it was obvious that the mercenary was rather upset by what he had been told. The assassin on the other hand looked a bit more enthusiastic.
Drizzt chose to stay, he wanted to keep an eye on No-name and make sure that the other two didn’t in any way interfere with the youth’s future. If he knew the mercenary right he would try to exploit this people in some way or use them for his own amusement and Artemis? With him one could never know! The servants soon came with some porridge and a jug of thin ale and Aleen helped No-name sit up straight so he could eat. He was sweating still and was in obvious pain but he did as he was told and ate even though his face told them that he found the porridge rather distasteful. The ale on the other hand was far more appreciated and Drizzt saw that the youth started to pay more attention to his surroundings. He was staring at the room and looked a bit confused.
After he finished eating he lay down again and sighed, he relaxed and closed his eyes but he was still awake, just resting. “Tell me, does everybody here live like this?”
Drizzt had to smile. “No, this is a very nice place, for people with a lot of power. “
No-name sighed. “We don’t have much, just some simple tents, but we don’t need anything more since there is no rain or cold or even seasons. That place is terrible, but we have managed even though our elders long for home still. “
Drizzt nodded. “ I was born in the under dark, in the largest of the cities down there. Not a good place at all I can assure you. So you would prefer to return to your home, all of you?”
No-name nodded, he bit his lower lip. “It is a dangerous place too, but it is where we belong. Even those of us born in darkness long for it, our souls know where we should be. “
The ranger sighed; he understood what the youth meant. Had he not himself longed for something else, something more even before he came to the surface the first time? “Have you tried to return?”
No-name shook his head. “No, there was only one among the first few who knew how to use magic, and he wasn’t that good. They needed something special if they were to turn the spell around and make it back, something with great magical power. Unfortunately we did not own anything of that kind. “
Drizzt smiled. “I am sure the good lady here can help you, she has many mages and wizards in her service and they should be able to find a solution. “
No-name got a dreaming expression on his face. “That would be wonderful, we would be forever grateful if that was possible. “
Drizzt touched his shoulder and got up. “Rest now, you need your strength, we did not think that you would make it you know. “
No-name nodded. “I know, I still hurt a lot but I can deal with it, it means that I am alive. “
Drizzt liked that attitude. “Tell me, are you all that tall? “
No-name giggled, no other word could describe the sound. “Yes, most are. I still have some growing to do I guess. Some of the elder males are a whole foot taller than me. “
Drizzt could understand the stories Jarlaxle had mentioned now, giants in the tunnels. He would surely have been rather shocked if someone of that size showed up in a dark cave. He left the room and let the lad have some peace.
Instead he found Alustriel and told her what No-name had told him about the fate of his kin and the lady promised that she would ask her wizards to look into it. She found the story fascinating but also heart breaking and she felt that they had to help them in some way. If they could find them, that was. If this people were that used to remain hidden it could be a monumental task. Alustriel asked Jarlaxle and Artemis to come join her at her office and the two came, both seemed to be having problems coping with what had happened. Artemis was even more silent than usual and Jarlaxle was driven by some kind of restless energy, he did not seem to be able to calm down, not even for a second. Alustriel looked at him with her eyes half closed.
“The lad told us that he and his people more than anything else want to return to their home world, what do you guys think about that?”
Artemis just shrugged. “I can understand that, who would want to stay in the under dark?”
Jarlaxle made a strange smile, he looked as if he had gotten fleas or something and Alustriel gave him a stern look, he got a grasp of himself and returned to his usual calm and charming self, but only for a short while. “I can barely believe that this is true! I mean, I thought it was a lie, or something like that. That these people are real is…. I don’t have words!”
Alustriel was staring straight at him and he looked down, he did not have to but old lessons were hard to ignore. “So tell me, what would you do with this information? Use it for your own benefit?”
He tried to bow and play his usual tricks but somehow he doubted that it would work on this lady.
“Off course not my dear lady, I pity them, I really do!”
Artemis scowled at his companion. “Yeah right, and pigs do fly I am sure! You would want to recruit some of them I bet, or use them in one way or the other!”
Jarlaxle did look hurt for a few seconds. “Artemis, you are hurting my feelings, I would never do something like that?! Why is it by the way that you have become so protective of that boy? Fancy him?”
Artemis got a look in his eyes that made Alustriel fear the worst; she was ready to intervene, if needed with magic.
Artemis hissed. “That is none of your goddamn business! “
The lady lifted her arms and the two had to stare at her, suddenly she had an aura of great power and her eyes were rather cold and very determined. “Gentlemen, I will not allow any quarrelling in my quarters, if you wish to murder each other do so outdoors! But I intend to help No-name and his tribe and if there is anything with which you can contribute I would be very grateful indeed!”
The two stared at each other; Jarlaxle broke the rather loaded silence first. “I only know where that city is, but I am sure I could find someone down there who knows more. “
Alustriel stared at him again and he looked uncomfortable, hell, she made him more nervous than any matron mother, he knew how to manipulate those bitches, this was something completely different. “Good, I will hold you to your word, and you Artemis, you shall help him!”
Artemis wanted to tell her that he was no subject of hers but he ended up nodding like some dummy, what in hells name did that woman do to them? Alustriel grinned and walked by them with graceful steps. “I’ll see you again soon, now I am going to have a chat with my wizards!”
The two just stared at her and when she had left the room Jarlaxle sat down in a chair with a small grunt and wiped some imaginary sweat of his brow. “She’s intense! But what a lady!!”
Artemis just scowled again and stared out of the window at the snow covering the small garden behind the building. “Speak for yourself. Now what?”
The drow shrugged. “I’ll contact my officers and ask them to dig a little, maybe they’ll find something interesting. “
Artemis grunted. “They’ll end up empty handed this time, believe me. I can feel it, and my instincts are usually right. So, you would really help these creatures? How generous!”
Jarlaxle made a grimace. “Oh spare me the sarcasm, this time I am honest, I really truly am!”
Artemis had to stare at him, Jarlaxle genuinely honest? Was the world coming to an end?
“And why should I believe you? Imagine what a troop of such warriors could do!”
Jarlaxle sighed. “Exactly! I don’t dare mess with these people; there are limits to even my powers of persuading and charm. I know naught about them, but I do know one thing and that is that they are dangerous! More dangerous than we can imagine. Only a suicidal maniac walks into a dragons cave armed with a sling shot, and I intend to live a heck of a lot longer thank you very much!”
The tone in the drow’s voice told Artemis that he actually was telling the truth, he did not dare interfere with this newly discovered race simply because they were an unknown factor that could change the balance of power, even flip it completely. So if Jarlaxle couldn’t control them, getting rid of them was the best alternative and if Alustriel’s wizards could do the job then nothing would be better than that.
Chapter three: Meetings and returns.
Artemis could not help thinking about the lad, hanging there by his arms bloody and almost lifeless. The look upon his face as he remembered what had happened, his screams and tears. Would he ever be able to forget? Probably not, Artemis had not forgotten anything and he felt a sort of kinship with the poor thing. No-name was probably destined to be even more lethal than the assassin and a piece of him felt a strange sort of longing. Seeing these creatures in battle had to be magnificent, he could probably learn a lot from them, but would that ever be possible? Only time would tell!
Alustriel had gathered her mages and wizards and they were discussing the situation, the sight of so many wise old people standing there talking all at once could have been very comical if it had not been so darn serious. Alustriel could only hope that they would come up with an idea or solution to this dilemma and she stood there with her face in the usual calm expression but her mind was in turmoil. There had to be a way to help these people finding a way back to their own world, and she would not let anyone rest until they had the answer.
No-name rested for a couple of days, Aleen was constantly by his side and her wise old soul slowly managed to help him past the worst of the mental trauma. He was still very weak and had terrible nightmares but he was recovering. Drizzt had been busy arranging the details of the trading deal and he had only seen the youth a few times but he was shocked by the progress. He was healing at a rate that was unbelievable. Aleen had allowed No-name to sit in the doorway to the garden and the ranger found him there, wrapped in blankets staring at the sky. The wonder in the youths eyes were almost a mirror reflection of his own when he first came to the surface. There was no fear in this young male’s eyes, only a deep fascination and joy of the wonders he saw.
Drizzt smiled and sat down next to No-name who followed the flight of a crow with huge eyes, even such a simple thing as a bird was a source of amazement to him. Drizzt recognized something of himself within this creature and felt a sort of connection with the youth. No-name sighed and stared at the sky, his eyes were distant. “My elders always told me of the world they had been forced to leave, of its wonders and its beauty. But they never told me how beautiful the sky is, or how many different kinds of living creatures there is. “
Drizzt shrugged. “ Maybe they hoped that you one day would see for yourself?”
No-name nodded. “They all spoke of returning, it was what they all desired deep within. We could make a living for ourselves in the under dark but it will never be our home, ever! I just feel it! “
Drizzt just nodded, he knew exactly what the kid felt.
No-name continued. “When I hang there in the woods, and knew I was going to die I thought of a lot of things. The things I hadn’t done were the ones that hurt the most. I regretted going with the hunters off course but there were other things that felt sadder. I remember that one of our hunters told me that when you think you are going to die the things you have done doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is the things you are going to lose. And he was right too!”
Drizzt had nothing to say, because the young man was so right. He had felt that way too, too often it seemed.
No-name looked down; there were tears in his eyes. “I regretted that I never would see my parents again; never tell them that I love them. I thought I never would see the things they had told me about, the beauty of our true home. I missed my sisters, feared that I never would see them again either. “
He sighed, had a weird grin upon his handsome face. “ Guess what? I have never even kissed a girl, and that was one of the things I felt most sorry about. I have heard and seen others being together but I have never dared to try asking a female for her attention, even if I have wanted it many times, and wanted it bad believe me! “
Drizzt grinned to, that age he remembered. He had a strong suspicion that this race was very warm blooded in deed, with strong feelings and even stronger urges.
No-name got serious again. “I don’t know any more, if I could let anyone touch me, I mean…what they did to me… I feel so tainted…so…dirty!”
He looked down again. “I fear that if I let some girl I like touch me it would be like them touching me again. And I don’t’ want that, not at all. It was terrible!”
Drizzt had to swallow hard, how many males had not suffered a similar reaction whence being humiliated and forced by the sadistic priestesses? But in the under dark every male knew that this fate was one very few could escape, they were prepared for it and knew that the strong survive. This lad had not been prepared for anything like that, not at all. These concepts had to be unknown to his race and Drizzt felt very sorry for him indeed. These scars only time could erase, and a lot of patience. He tried to smile to the lad who stared at the sky with a somewhat melancholic look in his yellow eyes.
“You will get over it, I promise you. If you find that one someone you really truly want to be with it will be nothing like what those men did to you, nothing at all. Making love is about sharing pleasure, not demanding and claiming it from someone who is forced to do something they really don’t want. “
No-name looked down again, his long dense eyelashes fluttered. “I wish I could forget it, everything! By the goddess I wish it never had happened. I hate those men so much, it burns my heart! And that hurts, almost as much as what they did to me!”
Drizzt sighed and touched the lads arm very gently. “Try to forget about that hatred, you can and should feel angry but do not hate! Hate is like a very sweet poison, once you tasted it you will crave more and more not realizing that it is eating away at your very self. My own race is the best example of that, for them revenge and hatred is as natural as breathing and it has consumed them and made them empty shells, alive but not living!”
No-name stared at him with huge eyes. “Wow, you are really smart! I did not know that drow could be intelligent!”
Drizzt snickered. “Please don’t say that to Jarlaxle, he is going to see that as a personal insult. “
No-name grinned and pulled at his blankets, to make them cover his neck. “He is weird, and that human even weirder, but I think he understands me somehow. I can see it in his eyes!”
The youth’s voice was very honest and Drizzt had to ponder his words for a few seconds, could that assassin really understand? In that case, why? Drizzt had his suspicions, every path starts somewhere and he was pretty sure that Artemis had a past with a lot of secrets, and a lot of hurt too. Nobody becomes this cold and focused without a cause behind it. He just shrugged and saw that Aleen was heading their way to get her patient back indoors. The elderly healer smiled at the ranger but her face was just as strict as usual and not even No-name’s pleading helped, he was wheeled back indoors again and Drizzt promised to be back later to tell him more of this world. No-name looked like he was looking forward to that.
Aleen was checking him again, listening to heart and lungs, touching his wounds and feeling his temperature. No-name was filled with respect for the woman and he never dared to protest even when the things she did to him hurt. She finished her examination and smiled at him, she had a look of compassion in her gentle eyes, touched his cheek and he leaned against the touch. It felt so good, so safe and warm. “Are you hurting anywhere?”
No-name felt his face turn warm and swallowed hard. “I still hurt…down there!”
His voice was but a mere whisper and Aleen sighed. He had been kicked hard several times; of course it would take some time before he was fully healed. She smiled at him, a very calming and understanding smile. “ I can check you, see if you have been more severely wounded than we’ve seen, it will be uncomfortable and it will feel rather invasive too. “
No-name swallowed again, he had something very strange within his gaze. “I know that kicks there can make you infertile. Not that I want kids yet, but one day…”
He sighed and his hands were restless. “Our people are so few; it is a duty to procreate. Not being able to is a tragedy to us. “
Aleen nodded. “ Then I’ll check you, just to make sure. If it is ok?”
No-name just nodded, he lay back and covered his face with his forearm, he was shivering and Aleen knew how much it took of strength to agree on this. She was very gentle when she pulled the blankets aside and examined him very quickly. Then she gave him a soothing glance and grabbed his hand, squeezed it. “This may hurt, but it will be over soon I promise. And we’ll know for sure how bad the damage is. “
He just nodded again and Aleen sighed and her fingers moved over his skin in a very strange pattern, found nerves only a healer would know of and in certain spots she gave a short push. It did not hurt in itself; No-name had a very peculiar look upon his face like he really didn’t know what he felt there and then. But when she reached the last acupunctural spot he suddenly drew his breath in a harsh gasp and moaned as he jerked and liquid spilled out of him without him even being aroused or anything. And it hurt, he whimpered and clasped the blankets while tears sprung from his eyes and it felt like his lower belly was on fire. Aleen was quick, she used a cloth to remove the sticky substance, it was discolored and had the wrong texture but she could see that the damage was mending itself already. She touched a few other spots and the pain disappeared like it never had been there and he sighed in relief. Aleen smiled at him. “It is over now, and I think I can promise you that you will be ok, you’ll have no problems producing offspring when that time comes. “
No-name looked relieved and tired and she pulled the blankets around him again, petted him on his head. “Sleep now, you still needs a lot of rest. “
He opened his mouth to argue but it became a yawn and he gave up the resistance and fell asleep. Aleen remained there until she was sure that he slept well, and then she left to make more medicine and told one of the servants to watch over the youth and bring him food and drink if he should wake up and require it.
Jarlaxle and Artemis had been busy the last days too, the mercenary had had several meetings with his lieutenant and he had been very careful with the questions he had given as well as with the orders. He did not want anyone to suspect what it really was that he was asking about but the bald drow was very cunning and knew how to ask questions without really asking them. And they received some information but it was seemingly useless. Jarlaxle did look very pleased in spite of it and Artemis was both confused and puzzled at this fact. The mercenary explained to him that sometimes no news is good news and he just shook his head at the mercenary’s logics.
Alustriels wizards were hard at work as well, they were gathering all they knew about traveling between worlds and after a while it was evident that they actually had a lot of knowledge, they just hadn’t put it all together and analyzed it before. Alustriel kept pushing them on and after a few days they came to the conclusion that it would be possible to move No-names kin back to where they came from, if they only had something that came from their world, and a source of strong fluctuating magic. Alustriel was swearing to herself when they told her that the last object was something they had no idea of where to find.
She ordered them to start looking and they willingly obliged to her orders but with doubts in their hearts. Such magic is extremely rare and to find an object with the right amount of energy would be like finding one specific needle in a ton of needles. But they tried, they really did and Alustriel could only hope that they somehow would be able to locate No-names tribe and help them getting back home.
No-name was getting better day by day and Drizzt told him a lot of this world and its wonders and Artemis too could sit there and tell him of his adventures and things he had seen. He always managed to avoid the ranger but anyone who knew him would have been very surprised by the assassins more patient tone and the eagerness he showed when he told of things he had experienced. Nobody had ever bothered listening to him before but this lad was sitting there with his eyes shining and it gave Artemis a weird sensation within his chest, one he never would admit to feeling but in some strange way it felt good.
The drow also spoke with the youth, he was charming as ever but he kept his distance and never told anything about himself or his past. He just told the stories he had heard from others but the lad enjoyed those too and the three men almost felt like a kind of benevolent uncle. They all liked him and cared about him and that fact built a bridge across the gap between them if only for a while. No-name thrived in their presence, he was still sad and missed his family but he learned a lot in a few days and they were impressed by his cleverness and patience. He was sucking in knowledge like a sponge and they all found a new joy in sharing their wisdom with someone this uncorrupted and open minded.
Then one day things changed, they were all gathered by the youth’s bed to discuss a possible way to reach his tribe when Alustriel fell silent all of a sudden. She was staring into nothing with a shocked expression on her lovely face and they all stared at her in confusion. Alustriel was on her feet within seconds and she called out loud, words none of them understood. “Someone is searching for him, I can feel it. I must help them!”
No-name was gasping, his eyes were huge and he whimpered. “They are close, I can feel them! “
The others were just staring as Alustriel shouted one last spell and a brightly shining portal formed in the middle of the room. They could see several tall figures within the opening and the warriors checked their weapons just by reflex, No-name was shouting something which sounded very ecstatic and before they knew it a tall and very beautiful woman raced through the portal and threw herself around No-names neck. She was crying and the three warriors, the healer and the sorceress was staring at her with a mixture of pity and admiration.
She was wearing a sort of shirt which had to be made from cheap leather and it did not look very well made, she also wore a loincloth and some sandals and that was it. She looked poor and they realized how truly little this people had of possessions. No-name was crying too and a huge man and two younger women followed through the portal. They stared with shock and a bit of apprehension at the gathered people but showed no hostility. Drizzt had to stare at them, not only were they more than a feet taller than any other elven race he had encountered but they were so pretty, and so strong. It was obvious that physical strength was appreciated far more than magic and the male that had to be No-names father was extremely impressive. The two girls were pretty and cute and Jarlaxle was staring at them the same way a man dying from thirst looks at a fresh spring.
No-name was gasping out words, sobbing and whimpering and they understood that he told them what had happened and how he had been rescued. His mother looked stunned by what he told her and his father had an expression of both compassion and rage upon his handsome but masculine face. It was not hard to see where the lad had gotten his beauty, both parents were stunning.
When No-name finished his tale his mother looked like she was about to swoon and Aleen hurried and brought a chair, the tall elven woman sat down into it with an expression of relief. His father hurried to her side, sat down on his haunches next to her and embraced her gently. They all felt moved by this sign of love, and to Drizzt and Jarlaxle the sight was almost surreal. These elves looked so much like drow and yet they behaved so different from them.
No-name got control of himself, smiled at the small crowd. “These are my parents, Siskia and Nihalar. “
Siskia was trying to say something but her voice failed and Nihalar embraced her again and smiled at the strangers, his voice was very deep and soft and the accent made his words hard to understand.
“We are grateful beyond words, you saved our son!”
Alustriel blushed ever so slightly and her eyes were a bit shiny, like she was about to burst into tears. “Artemis and Jarlaxle found him and Drizzt helped them getting him here, they all helped! “
Nihalar got on his feet and Drizzt felt a bit intimidated, the man towered above them all and in spite of his size he was as graceful and sleek as a huge cat, just like his son. He bowed slowly in front of them and Drizzt realized that it showed great respect among this people. “We are in debt to you, in great debt. If there is anything we can do for you, ever, just let us know!”
The two sisters also came to embrace their brother and for a short while there were tears of joy until No-name asked the inevitable question. Siskia looked down and Nihalar had closed his eyes, the two girls had tears on their pretty faces and Alustriel could sense their sorrow like a wave of energy in the room. No-name gasped, then he made a weird sort of cry and Siskia embraced him once more. Let him cry against her chest while she was rocking him back and forth very gently.
Nihalar looked at Alustriel; they could see the sorrow within his eyes. “Our eldest son did not make it, he managed to tell us what had happened through magic but he could not be saved. We have mourned him but now we can at least rejoice in the knowledge that our other son is safe.”
Siskia was whispering to No-name who was clinging to her just like had been clinging to Aleen when he first woke up. Siskia stared at the elderly healer. “You have done an amazing job, I can sense the damage done to him but he is almost entirely healed. I bow to you revered one!”
Aleen blushed and looked like a schoolgirl who has been praised by the teacher. “It was my duty!”
Nihalar shook his head. “You could have turned him down, we look like drow and we know what most people think of them!”
Aleen had a stern look upon her face. “I never turn anyone down if they need my help, no matter what color their skin is!”
Siskia sighed. “Then you are wise, wiser than many others. I can’t believe what they did to him, my dear sweet child!”
Drizzt saw the love between the members of this family and felt a strange kind of longing, for something like it. “They were evil and cruel, cruelty doesn’t care what race you are, or color. It just appears!”
Nihalar nodded. “True words, we will help him any way that we can, when the memories are too tough to bear. I wish I could slay those bastards but it is impossible. “
Artemis had been silent, he had been staring at the family with a kind of deep respect, now he took a step forward. “ Impossible to you maybe, but not to me. I have already killed one of them; say the words and I will make sure that the remaining men also get their just punishment. “
Siskia looked at him with astonishment in her eyes. “You are willing to kill for our son? To avenge his capture and torture?”
Artemis just nodded and suddenly he felt a very weird sensation, like he wasn’t alone within his own skin anymore, like someone was there with him, seeing everything he saw, remembering everything he remembered. He shivered all over and gasped, the sensation of being spied upon was terrible and he froze, wanted this to end because nobody else should know. Her eyes were so tender, so caring and compassionate and he could hear her voice in his head as she withdrew from his mind. “You poor poor child, your secrets is safe with me, we will never judge you nor will we despise you. We are your friends now, forever!”
The others stared at the two, something had happened but they knew not what, all they saw was that the assassin suddenly got pale and silent and that the elven woman had a very soft expression on her face. Nihalar swallowed. “We do not seek revenge, not like many others. There has been enough bloodshed. All we want now is to bring our son back and help him become himself again, safe where he belongs. “
Alustriel nodded. “He has told us of your people and how you ended up down there, we wish to help. My wizards think that there is a way to get you back to where you came from but we need something from that place, and a source of a special kind of magic. “
Nihalar looked stunned. “ That would…that would be wonderful, we do have things the first brought with them but we have very few magical items, none of very much power I fear?”
Alustriel was thinking, hard and fast. “My wizards are working as hard as they can, I have established the portal now so we can send you back to your tribe whenever we want to, so I ask of you, stay for a while. Maybe we will be able to find a solution together and we have food and room enough and I would love to hear more about you. “
No-name looked very eager. “ Yes mom, say yes. They have really good food here and nice clothes too, the girls will love it!”
Siskia looked at Nihalar who just nodded, and then she smiled and petted No-name on his head with a loving gesture. “Ok, we will stay. Your invitation sounds very tempting indeed and we too want to learn as much as we can about you. “
Alustriel grinned, she looked very happy indeed. “Wonderful, I will tell my servants to prepare for a feast!”
She hurried out the door and shouted orders and No-name looked very happy indeed. His father came over and whispered something to him and ruffled his hair and the youth appeared to be perfectly at peace now. Siskia smiled at the small crowd, she sat down again and they could see now that she was a bit thin and looked tired, she must have been terribly worried and they started to understand that the loss of a family member had to be absolutely horrible to these people- They seemed to be so closely knit together and obviously shared everything.
The two girls were looking around with huge eyes, they could never have seen a building like this and their amazement was obvious. The clouds moved overhead and suddenly sunlight came pouring in through a window high upon the wall, Siskia and Nihalar saw it and gasped in wonder and longing and the girls stared at it too, like they didn’t believe their own eyes. Nihalar said something to them in their own language and the girls both had tears in their eyes. He turned to Drizzt and the others with an apologetic smile. “We have not seen sunlight for ages, I can barely remember it and the children have never seen the sun. “
Jarlaxle had a weird expression on his face and Artemis too looked a bit thoughtful, at least his eyes were less cold than usual. Drizzt smiled gently. “I have watched the sun rise every day since I managed to leave the under dark. It is a moment of wonder to me, every day. “
Nihalar nodded and Siskia had turned her face toward the light with her eyes closed and an expression of serene worship. “ If we make it back home I am rather sure that we too will feel joy every time we watch the sun rise. We have been trapped within darkness for too long.”
Artemis was looking at the male’s rather poor outfit, he wore only a loincloth and a belt that had to be made from un-tanned leather and his knife was perhaps sharp and well-made but very simple.
“Tell me, how the heck have you managed to survive down there? There is little to eat, a lot of dangerous creatures and eternal darkness?”
Nihalar smiled. “We refuse to give up, ever. It is a common trait within our race, we fight to the end no matter what, and it is the very core of our existence. But it has been tough, we are starving a lot and as you see, we own very little but we need very little too.”
Jarlaxle was staring at Siskia and the girls. “But beauties like you should be wearing silk and velvet and be adorned with jewels!”
Siskia smiled a very pleased smile. “How kind of you, but remember, true beauty rest within you. Never judge a book by its cover. “
Jarlaxle bowed, he was obviously very smitten by the ladies appearance and tried to charm them as much as he could. Artemis had to grin, that one never changed, ever!
Alustriel returned, her cheeks were flushing and she had a very eager glow within her eyes. She rubbed her hands together. “My servants are working like mad, there will be food soon. And I have invited some of my best magicians too, they are very eager to help you in any way they can”
No-name was grinning and Drizzt could see that he would have preferred to get up but he was too weak yet. “Believe me, you will enjoy the food! They have real meat here!”
Alustriel smiled and took Siskia by the hand. “I have gotten our bath prepared, and my servants are trying to find some clothes for you right now. My servants are very used to seeing almost any kind of beings here so don’t worry. They won’t be scared by your appearance.”
Siskia made a small sigh of longing. “A real bath, it has been ages since I enjoyed something like that.”
Alustriel just smiled. “Then follow me all of you, you seem to be needing it. “
The family followed her and No-name turned to Aleen. “I think I need a good wash too, could you?”
The healer just nodded. “Of course my friend, I will help you. “
Drizzt sighed and turned toward Artemis and Jarlaxle. “Right, I think we too should get into something a bit more appropriate. I do not envy them a bit, her magicians are going to be all over them with questions, believe me, and I have been through it!”
Jarlaxle winched and cut a grimace. “Then by the nine hells, keep them away from me! Not even my charm would work against such a bunch of desperate parasites.”
Drizzt had to laugh. “I would not call them that to their faces but I know what you mean, but don’t worry. A couple of drow won’t even be worth noticing now; they have probably found a much more interesting object to investigate. Poor family!”
Jarlaxle just nodded and Artemis cut a grimace. “I don’t really have anything to wear!”
Drizzt scoffed. “Tell that to the servants, they’ll find something for you. Not being there will be an insult I fear!”
The assassin sighed like his chest was about to burst but he knew that there were no way out of this. He had to be there although he rather would have fought an army of orcs singlehandedly.
They all returned to their quarters and Artemis searched through his bags, he found the artifact that had brought them to the city in the first place. It was weird but he had forgotten about it until now. It was a simple bracelet which looked like the kind of jewelry a rather poor person would wear but he could feel the power within it. The wizards would be there, maybe this would be a good time to show it to them and ask them what they could tell him about the thing. He put it in his pocket and put on his best shirt and a west that did not look too old and worn. He refused to dress up like some clown just because of a feast.
Jarlaxle had of course brought his hat and his usual west and his fondness of color was very apparent when he joined the assassin, he looked a bit like a peacock and Artemis had to shake his head in disbelief at the sight. Jarlaxle looked at him and then at himself. “Too much?”
Artemis shook his head. “No, not if you intend to give everybody in there a headache!”
Drizzt appeared too, he had put on a dark tunic with silver embroidery along the sleeves and a pair of pants in the same material. His scimitars hang at his hips as always and Artemis tried not to scowl at the sight, as if it wasn’t enough that he was so goddamn righteous, he was damn good looking too!
They met Nihalar in the corridor leading into Alustriel’s hall and they had to stare at him. With the dust and grime removed he looked even more stunning than before and he had gotten a pair of leather pants that were barely big enough and a white shirt that was very simple but it looked great against his black skin. Nihalar’s long white hair had been braided and he looked far more civilized now, and yet he carried himself with the telltale elegance of a very dangerous warrior.
The hall was not that big, and the table would be completely filled because there would be few available chairs. Alustriels wizards had arrived and they looked very eager, they stared at No-name and his sisters with huge eyes and Artemis thought they looked like a pack of hunting dogs close to their prey. Siskia arrived too, wearing a long blue gown that made her look almost royal and Jarlaxle was staring at her with an almost religious awe.
The two girls had gotten a rather simple but pretty dress each and they looked like they couldn’t believe how pretty they were. They had probably never worn anything like that before. Alustriel had changed to a nice green dress and she looked very elegant, Drizzt was staring at her. When everybody had found a seat there were silence for two seconds, then suddenly every wizard in the room started talking at the same time and since there were about ten of them it got very loud very quick. Alustriel had to shout out loud to make them stop and they stared at her with mild embarrassment before they started chatting again and they did not stop until some girls came running with the food. Alustriels servants had not had that much time to prepare but they had managed to make a lot of very nice food. Nihalar was staring at the steaks with huge eyes, Drizzt was pretty sure that he was very close to be drooling. Alustriel allowed her guests to eat before they started to talk about the problem and get serious.
The servants had brought some wine and ale too and luckily the guests were careful with it so nobody got drunk. Siskia was giving the girls some strict glances and Alustriel had to smile, it was rather clear that she wanted them to behave themselves and give a good impression. No-name was very happy and he was chatting with everybody but sometimes he would lose the smile and look sad again. Drizzt understood that he mourned his brother and he felt very sad too, it was a tragedy that this family had to go through something like this. Alustriel had managed to get some fruit to go with the food and Siskia was apparently telling the girls what the different things were. The girls were listening and they were slack jawed by all the new information.
No-name also explained things to them and they were obviously very impressed by their smart brother. Drizzt had to smile at them, they were really cute. Nihalar had begun talking to one of the wizards and he was explaining facts about their race and its home. Artemis sat there and looked a bit bored, the food was good but he felt like he really didn’t belong there. Jarlaxle was also chatting with a wizard who looked like a cat who has cornered a limp and blind mouse. The wizards were getting all the new information they wanted served on a golden platter.
After a while everybody had eaten and Alustriel tried to organize a civilized conversation with a single topic, how to get No-names people back home where they belonged. Before long the wizards were eagerly arguing on how that could be done and the rest of the group were sitting there with a feeling of being ignored. No-name was staring at the table and Siskia was trying to comfort him, they were clearly talking about Zoren and Alustriel felt very sorry for them. She was about to go over and express her sympathy when one of the wise old men got on his feet like he was a very energetic young colt, his eyes were sparkling and he was pointing a shaking finger at Artemis. The assassin looked like he was about to either bolt and run or attack and he stared back with confusion. The wizard was almost unable to speak. “The magic, I can feel it”
Alustriel was staring at the man like she believed that he had lost it completely.” What?!”
The wizard was shaking even more; his hand was making circles in the air. “The magic we need, it’s within this room!! I can feel it, with this gentleman here!”
Alustriel looked at Artemis who at first understood next to nothing but then a light went on and he pulled out the bracelet. The wizard squealed like a little girl, ran over and grabbed the thing like it was some kind of sacred life saver! Alustriel stared at Artemis who stared back and Jarlaxle cleared his throat and smiled. “We found it a while ago and were going to ask you guys to take a look at it…” The wizards gathered like a herd of sheep in a small corral and they were so loud Alustriel covered her ears. Drizzt stared at the wizards with astonishment and Nihalar and Siskia had hope in their eyes. No-name was holding his breath and the girls were whispering to each other.
Finally the main wizard came forth, he was smiling and since he had lost most of his teeth he looked a bit peculiar. “It is really what we needed, it is a miracle! But with an object from your home we will be able to create a working portal! “
Nihalar let go of his breath in a sigh of relief and Siskia looked like she was close to tears. Jarlaxle had a weird smile around his mouth and Artemis realized why. For the first time in his life the drow had done something completely unselfish, because he would never ask for anything in return and just give the wizards the bracelet. Artemis felt a bit uneasy and took a discrete look around. There were no immediate signs of the world coming to an end so the age of miracles was apparently not over yet. Alustriel looked very pleased and the wizards were arguing on how to best do it and where the portal should be placed. Alustriel left it to the magicians to organize the practical part of this and Aleen was sitting next to No-name and she was keeping the wine out of the youths reach. She was still watching over him and Alustriel felt that the healer was proud of what she had accomplished. No-name was really the hardest job she had ever done and she had managed to save him so it was no wonder that she was proud and also very protective.
Nihalar and Siskia was chatting with their voices low and Drizzt could clearly see the joy that they felt by this turn of events, how weird it was to watch these creatures which looked so much like his own race and yet behaved in such a different way. The tenderness shared by these two was so apparent and so was also the love they shared for their offspring. No-name was talking with his sisters but Drizzt could see that there still were things within his mind that threw a shadow over the joy he should be feeling. Losing a family member was one part of it but Drizzt knew that the things the youth had been through still haunted him. He had lost his innocence in more ways than one and nobody would just walk away from such experiences without being bothered by them in some way. He could just hope that the lad would overcome it with the help of time and patience.
The wizards spent several hours discussing how they should solve this task and in the meanwhile the rest of the party spent the time taking small walks in Alustriels garden or resting. The servants had brought in some desert, a sort of very sweet pastry that made Artemis shake his head in disgust and so Jarlaxle got his share of it too. Drizzt noticed that No-name stood by himself next to a window, he was staring out at the stars and so the ranger went over next to him and smiled. No-name pointed at some of the stars. “It is weird, my parents and the elders told me of the stars, and how they would imagine that they formed pictures in the sky and make stories about them. I really didn’t believe them but now I do. It is real! “
Drizzt just nodded and No-name sighed and turned around, looked at his parents who were sitting in a couch embracing each other. He looked down. “Sometimes you have to go through changes to see who you really are, and I guess I have changed now. I have seen evil and been close to death too, I know I am no longer the child I was. “
Drizzt was a bit confused by the lads tone of voice, it held a kind of melancholia and yet it was firm and told of decisions made. “ I must agree on that yes, you have been through a lot and seen things a young soul shouldn’t have. “
No-name nodded and smiled, he walked toward the couch and the two looked at him, they obviously realized that something had changed and Siskia looked a bit worried. “ My son, what is it?”
No-name was kneeling down on one knee, his face turned toward the floor as he sighed and started to speak in a very low and steady tone. “You told me that everybody knows when their name has come to them, when the time has come to put childhood behind and assume the duties and life of an adult. Mother, father, it has come to me. I am no longer No-name!”
Siskia gasped and Nihalar looked a bit troubled, he bit his lower lip. “Son, are you absolutely sure about this?”
No-name nodded, Drizzt could see a strange kind of peace within his gaze. “I have seen the truth about myself, I have seen the path that I must take and the man that I must be. There is no choice because it is written in the stars and in every drop of blood in my body. “
Siskia was shivering, her eyes were huge and Drizzt realized that she somehow knew something nobody else did, except from her son. Artemis and Jarlaxle had gone closer and they were staring too, Jarlaxle looked a bit stunned. “My child, please, you don’t have to…”
No-name shook his head; his face was really very calm. “Yes I do, I have been claimed mother, but it was I who claimed that fate and not the goddess, she just welcomed me into her embrace.”
He stood up, there was a new pride within his stance and he held his head high. “My mother, my father, sisters, from now on and for all time to come I will carry the name of Azhay, I will be her sword and her axe, the destroyer of her enemies and the enemies of our people. So I have seen and so it will be!”
Siskia gasped and hid her face with her hands, she was apparently sobbing, Nihalar just looked a bit sad but there were pride too within his golden eyes. “It is a strong name my son that is good!”
The lad just smiled and Drizzt knew that he no longer could regard him as a lad, he was a man now, and he understood that the choice Azhay had made was a tough one but one which carried within it the promise of greatness and adventure. Artemis and Jarlaxle looked a bit stunned and Alustriel looked like she was praying.
The wizards had finally come to a conclusion and so it was decided that they would create the portal as soon as the stars were in the right position, which would be in two months’ time. Meanwhile they would transport as much food and supplies to the tribe as possible and prepare them for their return back home. Nihalar and Siskia were incredibly grateful for the help but Drizzt could not help it, he could still see the sadness within them. They had lost one child and he knew that Azhay’s future would be a violent one; they stood the risk of losing also him.
And so he agreed when Azhay asked for Alustriel’s permission to stay there until the time had come to leave this world. He needed more knowledge and wanted to learn more from Drizzt and the others and they all agreed. Artemis was somewhat reluctant but that was only on the outside. He was very eager to see what the young man could accomplish and so were Jarlaxle.
Being a teacher proved to be a bit harder than any of them had anticipated, to Artemis and Jarlaxle the very concept was new and they had to rethink their entire approach to the task. Azhay did learn and fast too but he forced them to look at their own methods again from a new and different angle and it was a sometimes shocking experience. Artemis realized that he had gotten stuck within the routine of his methods in more ways than one and understood that he still had things to learn. And Jarlaxle too began to see things in a slightly different way. It was as if the young man’s innocent eyes opened their own and allowed them to see the world from a completely new and fresh point of view and it brought some of the wonder and amazement back to them.
And they had some silly moments when he did mistakes that made even Artemis laugh, since he knew naught of this world and everything within it such happenings were inevitable. Drizzt tried to teach him how to ride a horse and had some major problems because Azhay had come to believe that he somehow needed the horses permission to mount it and the darn thing refused to answer when he spoke to it. Some things that were mundane and ordinary scared him, the first time he saw a dog he ran to hide. Others which should have frightened him didn’t and the ranger had to shake his head and explain certain things over and over again just to make sure that the youth didn’t get himself killed because of stupidity.
Artemis and Jarlaxle taught him how to pick locks and spy without being seen and even how to detect an enemy’s weak spots. Some of the things they taught him were far from benign or nice but they both assumed that he would need this knowledge to stay alive. Artemis showed him how to detect traps of the both mechanical and magical kind and Jarlaxle gave him some lessons in how to dazzle others with charm and how to behave like someone else. The youth was sucking it all in like a sponge! And they did bring him with them to a small tavern one night, just so he could see what life was like among others, Alustriel had of course strictly forbidden something like that but they did not care. Azhay had his first taste of beer and got drunk but very slowly and he was no cheap drunk. He needed more than three others his size to even feel anything. But whence he got a bit tipsy he became less timid and when the serving maidens learned that he was no drow, and not at all a danger they were flocking around him like bumblebees around a sunflower. And he enjoyed the attention and Jarlaxle had to whisper to Artemis. “I do believe we have created a monster!”
When the tavern closed for the night the two of them had a heck of a job getting the now very drunk youth back to Alustriel’s home undetected and he was complaining about the fun being interrupted. He had been sure that those bar maidens were the love of his life!
The next morning he was naturally far from feeling good and Aleen of course went ballistic and almost strangled both Artemis and Jarlaxle in spite of the drow’s desperate excuses and attempts to charm her. Drizzt tried to see what the young man had learned about the use of weapons and got the shock of a lifetime, Azhay was still weak and could not possibly perform as well as he would have if he was in his full strength but still he showed a talent that was stunning. He did lack a lot when it came to technique but he would learn, the thing was that he was so swift and agile and not the least strong that the ranger sometimes just stood there in awe. Azhay had a body control that was nothing less than exceptional and it was obvious that a warrior of his race had to get used to wielding any weapon that was available. He could not specialize in using just one kind of weapon but be good with anything he could get his hands upon. Drizzt could not help it; he had to wonder what his own father could have created out of this young man. Azhay was a diamond in the rough and with the right training and encouragement he would be nothing less than exceptional.
Azhay had a zest for life that was amazing; he would act like a kid at times. He visited the kitchens and tasted absolutely everything they had there. He tried on different types of clothing and swam in the good lady’s own pool. He sat outdoors while it was snowing just to feel what the snow felt like against his skin and different cloaks; he tried to catch the household pigs just to see if he could do it and kept the entire house awake since the pigs didn’t appreciate the attempts. He brought both enjoyment and irritation to them all but two months pass very quickly and one day it was time to say good bye. The wizards had transported loads of food, weapons, clothing and other items to the tribe and it had been extremely appreciated but now the time had come to return them to their native land.
Azhay hugged them all for a long time before he followed the wizards through the portal which brought him back to his tribe. Nobody really spoke because they had no idea what they should say. Azhay thanked them all for the help he had received and his eyes were sad, they all felt moved and Aleen was crying and whispered something to him neither of them heard, but they did understand anyhow. Drizzt remember the first time he saw the youth, by the gods how he had changed and he had a suspicion that he had changed them in return. He most certainly knew that the stranger had changed him, and he knew that his name would live on through this youth in some other world. The thought felt good somehow, he had done something very right this time.
Artemis and Jarlaxle watched in silence as the young warrior disappeared and Artemis stared at the drow, he had a strange expression within his eyes and Artemis almost began to believe that the mercenary was moved by this. But by any gods he knew of, it did feel sad to see Azhay go. He too had been very impressed by the young man’s talent and would have loved to see it honed and brought to perfection. He had not anticipated something like this the day he entered that snowy winter road but he felt like he had gained something from this anyhow. Nothing he could grasp within his hands but something he could keep within his soul. The knowledge that he had done something right, that he had for once done something good and that someone would remember him and have good memories of him too. He felt a bit humble, and it was not a feeling that came easily to him. He and Jarlaxle packed their things and got ready to leave, suddenly he could not stand the thought of staying there. He did not want to meet Drizzt or anyone else and so they just left with no goodbyes. He felt a bit like he was running away from something and he knew deep within that it was true. He was running away from the man he could have been, if things had been different.
When they had gotten some distance between themselves and the city Artemis turned in the saddle and took a quick look back, he could still see Azhay when they found him, broken and dying and it felt strange to know that they had saved him. Jarlaxle reined his horse and the drow’s face was more open and honest than usual, he looked the assassin right in the eyes and Artemis could see that the drow had made the same thoughts as himself. “I will miss him, it is strange but I really will. We had fun together, I almost forgot about everything else. “
Artemis sighed, turned his gaze away and spurred his horse. He refused to show any softness to the mercenary, he worked hard to retain his old cold self. But a few words managed to escape him before he froze over again. “I will miss him too!”
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