“Why do you approach the city before the light of dawn?” the Nightkeeper of the North Gate asked the emissary for the merchant caravan that had pulled up outside Luskan’s wall. Jierdan, in his post beside the Nightkeeper, watched with special interest, certain that this troupe had come from Ten-Towns.
“We would not impose upon the regulations of the city if our business were not urgent,” answered the spokesman. “We have not rested for two days.” Another man emerged from the cluster of wagons, a body limp across his shoulders.
“Murdered on the road,” explained the spokesman. “And another of the party taken. Catti-brie, daughter of Bruenor Battlehammer himself!”
“A dwarf-maid?” Jierdan blurted out, suspecting otherwise, but masking his excitement for fear that it might implicate him.
“Nay, no dwarf. A woman,” lamented the spokeman. “Fairest in all the dale, maybe in all the north. The dwarf took her in as an orphaned child and claimed her as his own.”
“Orcs?” asked the Nightkeeper, more concerned with potential hazards on the road than with the fate of a single woman.
“This was not the work of orcs,” replied the spokesman. “Stealth and cunning took Catti-brie from us and killed the driver. We did not even discover the foul deed until the next morn.”
Jierdan needed no further information, not even a more complete description of Catti-brie, to put the pieces together. Her connection to Bruenor explained Entreri’s interest in her. Jierdan looked to the eastern horizon and the first rays of the coming dawn, anxious to be cleared of his duties on the wall so that he could go report his findings to Dendybar. This little piece of news should help to alleviate the mottled wizard’s anger at him for losing the drow’s trail on the docks.
* * *
“He has not found them?” Dendybar hissed at Sydney.
“He has found nothing but a cold trail,” the younger mage replied. “If they are on the docks yet, they are well disguised.”
Dendybar paused to consider his apprentice’s report. Something was out of place with this scenario. Four distinctive characters simply could not have vanished. “Have you learned anything of the assassin, then, or of his companion?”
“The vagabonds in the alleys fear him. Even the ruffians give him a respectfully wide berth.”
“So our friend is known among the bowel-dwellers,” Dendybar mused.
“A hired killer, I would guess,” reasoned Sydney. “Probably from the south – Waterdeep, perhaps, though we should have heard more of him if that were the case. Perhaps even farther south, from the lands beyond our vision.”
“Interesting,” replied Dendybar, trying to formulate some theory to satisfy all the variables. “And the girl?”
Sydney shrugged. “I do not believe that she follows him willingly, though she has made no move to be free of him. And when you saw him in Morkai’s vision, he was riding alone.”
“He acquired her,” came an unexpected reply from the doorway. Jierdan entered the room.
“What? Unannounced?” sneered Dendybar.
“I have news – it could not wait,” Jierdan replied boldly.
“Have they left the city?” Sydney prompted, voicing her suspicions to heighten the anger she read on the mottled wizard’s pallid face. Sydney well understood the dangers and the difficulties of the docks, and almost pitied Jierdan for incurring the wrath of the merciless Dendybar in a situation beyond his control. But Jierdan remained her competition for the mottled wizard’s favor, and she wouldn’t let sympathy stand in the way of her ambitions.
“No,” Jierdan snapped at her. “My news does not concern the drow’s party.” He looked back to Dendybar. “A caravan arrived in Luskan today – in search of the woman.”
“Who is she?” asked Dendybar, suddenly very interested and forgetting his anger at the intrusion.
“The adopted daughter of Bruenor Battlehamer,” Jierdan replied. “Cat – ”
“Catti-brie! Of course!” hissed Dendybar, himself familiar with most of the prominent people in Ten-Towns. “I should have guessed!” He turned to Sydney. “My respect for our mysterious rider grows each day. Find him and bring him back to me!”
Sydney nodded, though she feared that Dendybar’s request would prove more difficult than the mottled wizard believed, probably even beyond her skills altogether.
She spent that night, until the early hours of the following morning, searching the alleyways and meeting places of the dockside area. But even using her contacts on the docks and all the magical tricks at her disposal, she found no sign of Entreri and Catti-brie, and no one willing or able to pass along any information that might help her in her search.
Tired and frustrated, she returned to the Hosttower the next day, passing the corridor to Dendybar’s room, even though he had ordered her to report to him directly upon her return. Sydney was in no mood to listen to the mottled wizard’s ranting about her failure.
She entered her small room, just off the main trunk of the Hosttower on the northern branch, below the rooms of the Master of the North Spire, and bolted the doors, further sealing them against unwelcomed intrusion with a magical spell.
She had barely fallen into her bed when the surface of her coveted scrying mirror began to swirl and glow. “Damn you, Dendybar,” she growled, assuming that the disturbance was her master’s doing. Dragging her weary body to the mirror, she stared deeply into it, attuning her mind to the swirl to bring the image clearer. It was not Dendybar that she faced, to her relief, but a wizard from a distant town, a would-be suitor that the passionless Sydney kept dangling by a thread of hope so that she could manipulate him as she needed.
“Greetings, fair Sydney,” the mage said. “I pray I did not disturb your sleep, but I have exciting news!”
Normally, Sydney would have tactfully listened to the mage, feigned interest in the story, and politely excused herself from the encounter. But now, with Dendybar’s pressing demands lying squarely across her shoulders, she had no patience for distractions. “This is not the time!” she snapped.
The mage, so caught up in his own news, seemed not to notice her definitive tone. “The most marvelous thing has happened in our town,” he rambled.
“Harkle!” Sydney cried to break his babbling momentum.
The mage halted, crestfallen. “But, Sydney,” he said.
“Another time,” she insisted.
“But how often in this day does one actually see and speak with a drow elf?” Harkle persisted.
“I cannot – ” Sydney stopped short, digesting Harkle’s last words. “A drow elf?” she stammered.
“Yes,” Harkle beamed proudly, thrilled that his news had apparently impressed his beloved Sydney. “Drizzt Do’Urden, by name. He left Longsaddle just two days ago. I would have told you earlier, but the mansion has just been astir about the whole thing!”
“Tell me more, dear Harkle,” Sydney purred enticingly. “Do tell me everything.”
* * *
“I am in need of information.”
Whisper froze at the sound of the unexpected voice, guessing the speaker immediately. She knew that he was in town, and knew, too, that he was the only one who could have slipped through her defenses to get into her secret chambers.
“Information,” Entreri said again, moving out from the shadows behind a dressing screen.
Whisper slid the jar of healing unguent into her pocket and took a good measure of the man. Rumors spoke of him as the deadliest of assassins, and she, all too familiar with killers, knew at once that the rumors rang with truth. She sensed Entreri’s power, and the easy coordination of his movements. “Men do not come to my room uninvited,” she warned bravely.
Entreri moved to a better vantage point to study the bold woman. He had heard of her as well, a survivor of the rough streets, beautiful and deadly. But apparently Whisper had lost an encounter. Her nose was broken and disjointed, splayed across her cheek.
Whisper understood the scrutiny. She squared her shoulders and threw her head back proudly. “An unfortunate accident,” she hissed.
“It is not my concern,” Entreri came back. “I have come for information.”
Whisper turned away to go about her routine, trying to appear unbothered. “My price is high,” she said coolly.
She turned back to Entreri, the intense but frighteningly calm look on his face telling her beyond doubt that her life would be the only reward for cooperation.
“I seek four companions,” said Entreri. “A dwarf, a drow, a young man, and a halfling.”
Whisper was unused to such situations. No crossbows supported her now, no bodyguards waited for her signal behind a nearby secret door. She tried to remain calm, but Entreri knew the depth of her fear. She chuckled and pointed to her broken nose. “I have met your dwarf, and your drow, Artemis Entreri.” She emphasized his name as she spoke it, hoping that her recognition would put him back on the defensive.
“Where are they?” Entreri asked, still in control. “And what did they request of you?”
Whisper shrugged. “If they remain in Luskan, I do not know where. Most probably they are gone; the dwarf has a map of the northland.”
Entreri considered the words. “Your reputation speaks more highly of you,” he said sarcastically. “You accept such a wound and let them slip through your grasp?”
Whisper’s eyes narrowed in anger. “I choose my fights carefully,” she hissed. “The four are too dangerous for actions of frivolous vengeance. Let them go where they will. I want no business with them again.”
Entreri’s calm visage sagged a bit. He had already been to the Cutlass and heard of Wulfgar’s exploits. And now this. A woman like Whisper was not easily cowed. Perhaps he should indeed re-evaluate the strength of his opponents.
“Fearless is the dwarf,” Whisper offered, sensing his dismay and taking pleasure in furthering his discomfort. “And ware the drow, Artemis Entreri,” she hissed pointedly, attempting to relegate him to a similar level of respect for the companions with the grimness of her tone. “He walks in shadows that we cannot see, and strikes from the darkness. He conjures a demon in the form of a great cat and – ”
Entreri turned and started away, having no intention of allowing Whisper to gain any more of an advantage.
Reveling in her victory, Whisper couldn’t resist the temptation to throw one final dart. “Men do not come to my room uninvited,” she said again. Entreri passed into an adjoining room and Whisper heard the door to the alley close.