Added on September 09, 1999
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf multiple crossover
Author: Lledrith RavenWolf

Exile - Rewritten

Prologue

Part 1: Menzoberranzan, Toril
Chapter 1: Contest
Chapter 2: Blingdenstone
Chapter 3: Capture
Chapter 4: Ankh-Morpork
Chapter 5: Unseen University

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Prologue

Zaknafein levitated upwards, waiting, his swords drawn. Absently, he buffed one of them with the side of his cloak, noting that the fine adamantite blades had only shown the slightest of wear after nearly three decades of constant use.

He did not have to wait long. His ears picked up a rumble echoing off the tunnel entrance below and the occasional rasp of scales over scales. The steady tattoo of heavy feet beat against the stone floor. Zaknafein, straining his ears, could just make out the small sound of breath as his intended prey lumbered into sight.

Zaknafein watched as the eight-legged monster moved slowly but surely into view. Stupid as it was, it was huge and powerful, confident of its ability to destroy any opponent. Where it breathed, stone sizzled with the sound of acid, the hard edges of its claws digging deep into the solid stone. The basilisk stopped, sniffing the air, a snap of the jaws at a passing Underdark insect revealing row after row of spear-like teeth in its deep maw.

The weapon master shuddered, avoiding the large eyes of the monster. The gaze of a basilisk would transmutate any living thing into solid stone.

This was a carefully planned trap, covering all the possible tunnels that the monster could escape from. Or exit from, for nothing could trap the beast against its will.

He was not used to this, not used to teamwork and trust. But such ideals had been thrust on him after he, and his children, had entered Blingdenstone, the city of the svirfneblin.

Zak was the first to realize that by themselves, the only chance of survival in the Underdark was simply that – survival. He was content with that, really, having done the same thing himself in Menzoberranzan, when he had been the Do’Urden weapon master.

The twins had insisted. Zak could not remember what their argument had been, but it sounded very relevant. At that time, that was. Until now, Zak often wondered if he had been ‘tampered’ with.

Apparently Drizzt had a contact, a deep gnome known as Belwar, who was incidentally the ‘Most Honored’ Burrow Warden. Drizzt had saved the gnome from a raid, and his sister had aided said gnome to survive.

By means of repayment, they were allowed to stay in the city, then were gradually accepted, to the slightly pessimistic surprise of Zaknafein. To his knowledge, the drow had certainly not treated svirfneblin well.

Belwar did not believe he was ‘worthy’ of the title, that he had been responsible for Drizzt’s raid, so long ago. The twins had convinced him otherwise, and they, that is, Zaknafein and the twins, went out regularly with Belwar on whatever mining expedition that the city carried out.

On the most recent one, the basilisk happened to the raid. Zak wryly decided that there was no particular category of disaster that applied to what had happened. The basilisk had happened to them – there was no other accurate term.

Which was why he was now hanging some twenty feet from the monster and trying to kill it. He was thankful for his piwafwi, glad that he had brought it along. With it, he was invisible against the stone.

Zak grinned. Perhaps he would keep the fun to himself.

A snarl sounded from the exit of the tunnel. The basilisk stopped, sniffed the air, and peered forward rather myopically. Then it crouched, waiting, Zak supposed, for the intruder to appear and die.

The basilisk’s answer came in a superheated bout of flame, which seared the stone, melting it into puddles, and, most importantly, burning into the basilisk’s eyes.

The basilisk roared, blinded, pawing at its eyes. Zak wondered briefly if he should let the idiot monster claw itself to death, but dropped onto its back, running up the scales to get to its head.

The monster thrashed about, trying to unseat Zaknafein, but its attention was diverted from a set of sharp teeth biting into one of its legs, then darting away as it breathed its poisonous fumes.

The weapon master was already on its head. One of his swords gleamed with a red, enchanted edge, and he brought that one down. Strangely, the blade kept going even when it hit the hard scales of the basilisk, that should have been able to withstand any attack.

Khazid’hea glowed brighter, the energy surging up into Zaknafein’s hand as a fiery tingle as the sword sheared through the still burning head.

Sending the monster down into the black oblivion of death.

Zak jumped lightly off the monster when it lay still, callously wiping his sentient sword on the rough hide. “Well done,” he said absently, at the red furred canine shape that padded around the body, and patted its head.

Nhaz’aer wagged its tail briefly, then padded towards the entrance, with the easy lope of a satisfied wolf.

***

Part 1:Menzoberranzan, Toril

Chapter 1: Contest

Kyorl Odran sat at the third seat of honor, delicately sipping a glass of mushroom whine. She lifted the glass to her eyes, idly watching the deep, wood-colored, and expensive fluid swirl in the perfect glass globe.

It soon to be the Festival of the Founding, when Matrons were guests to other houses. Kyorl of the third House, House Oblodra, had chosen to honor the eight ruling House Do'Urden.

Honor? For it was widely known that House Do'Urden had suffered two serious setbacks – one, that its weapon master and the two valuable twins had betrayed the Spider Queen; two that in doing so, the three had brought down the disfavor of Lloth on House Do'Urden. Had it not been for the rumored deadly raid on House Hun'ett, the favored ex-fifth house, Kyorl suspected that House Do'Urden would have been no more.

Such was the fate of those Houses on which Lloth averted her eyes.

The eight ruling Matrons were gathered on the public council table, elevated above the crowd of nobles and common drow alike, waiting for the appearance of Matron Baenre while they took refreshments.

Kyorl slipped at glance at the last chair at the table. Matron Malice looked proud, as did the other ruling Matrons, but her eyes were, of late, carrying a certain suppressed rage. It was justified – Oblodran scouts had reported that fire had somehow burst out inside the chapel on the moment the weapon master – Zaknafein – escaped, and it had seriously wounded her daughters. Only the wondrous salves that the Matron of the eight House was famous for had saved them.

She wished Baenre would get on with it.

Every Festival of the Founding, there was a game, now. A more formal and 'easier' way to ensure Lloth's favor. The games were varied and often brutal, but highly entertaining.

This year, Matron Baenre had already hinted, the games were different. Matron Kyorl did not like that thought.

It was irking, but Baenre was the ear and mouthpiece of Lloth, at least in Menzoberranzan. The Matrons were gathered to listen to what she had to say about the rules to this year. More strangely, there was a choice this year to join, but Kyorl suspected each house would try, at least. And then turn disadvantage into an advantage. There were many paths to Lloth's favor.

She glanced down briefly from the platform, and briefly – just briefly saw a wide brimmed hat, overly plumed with the feathers of a diatryma.

So Jarlaxle and his mercenary band had come to watch, and gather information, as was their wont. As long as one paid well, one could yet the useful group of houseless nobles to do anything, anything at all.

Kyorl had wisely stayed out of this sudden trend to Bregan D'aerthe, knowing that it just took another house with more money to use the unpredictable mercenary group to overthrow another house, which was also paying the group. Underhand methods worked best in Lloth's dark city.

Another mistake, this time truly unintentional, that House Do'Urden had made. In winning the ball game contest, and the subsequent death of Dantrag Baenre in Baenre's team, had caused Baenre to look upon Malice with a certain degree of coolness, if not outright hostility.

Matron Baenre had a long memory.

Zaknafein was humming gently to himself as he strolled out of the tunnel, then walked onwards through the cavern into another tunnel. The Underdark was like this, a whole warren of endless tunnels and caverns and chasms, hostile to the unwary, a friend to those who understood it.

His canine companion stopped and sniffed the air, then made an affectionate, joyful sound, bounding forward through the other tunnel.

Someone yelped with surprise and pleasure at the other side, then Zak's ears picked up a welcoming, playful growl, that of a large cat.

He quickened his pace, stepping out into yet another cavern, easily levitating down the short drop to the floor.

Around him were several svirfneblin gnomes, holding an assortment of weapons, attention riveted on him. Zaknafein smiled to himself. Decades ago, the gnomes would have been dead, and so would he, if they happened to have any clerics with those nasty, ceiling-dropping spells.

Now – friends. A strange word, stranger yet to a drow elf that had lived so long in Menzoberranzan, but it tasted good in his mouth.

A drow female stepped out to meet him, her clothing that of a common cleric of Lloth, though frayed at the edges and torn in other places, patched up the best she could.

Striding closer, looking as nonchalant as he could, Zaknafein noticed that her bone white hair was well combed over one shoulder, and her ebony skin still flawless. Most striking were her lavender eyes, which were currently burning with irritation.

"We don't suppose you could have waited, or at least asked for help?" she snapped.

So many decades already and the twins still used 'we', or 'our', never 'I'.

Zaknafein's eyes twinkled, and he savored the moment. "I did, Quetzal" he drawled slowly.

"Oh really?" the sarcasm dripping from her tone could have melted stone.

"The wolf," Zak said, winking at Nhaz'aer.

"You call that help?" the voice was the same, but it came from somewhere to his left. Zak turned slightly, to see a male version of the female in front of him. Shorter hair, taller, same lavender eyes...

"It worked out well, Drizzt," Zak protested mildly.

The Samadhi wolf was playing with a large panther, fur as black as a globe of darkness, swatting at each other and making mock bites. They had, out of all reason, grown fond of each other.

"You killed the basilisk?" Quetzal asked.

"Anything wrong with that?" Zak asked innocently.

Quetzal threw up her hands in exasperation, "Hasn't it entered your mind that the basilisk is possibly too dangerous for you to handle?"

"No," Zak said, with the same innocent look in his eyes. He could hear the stifled laughter of the gnomes around him, good natured, genuine laughter, and not the cruel laughter of the drow.

"No wrong I see in that," a deep gnome came up from behind Quetzal, his barrel-like torso shaking in silent mirth. As he had for all the times he met the gnome, Zak felt his gaze drifting down the Most Honored Burrow Warden's hands. Or what had been his hands. On the right side was a hammer crafted of mithril, with the images of many creatures etched on its sides. On his left hand was a two headed pickaxe, also wondrously carved.

The svirfneblin had cared for the wounded and crippled Belwar in the best way they knew how, when he had dragged himself back to Blingdenstone after the fateful raid.

"Why, thank you, Belwar, except that I do see, that my father could have been turned into an intricate statue, or a melted puddle of acid, or a snack for a certain eight-legged monster," Quetzal said.

"But a statue he is not," Belwar said firmly, "So let him be."

Quetzal glared at her father.

"If it gives you any satisfaction, I'm sorry," Zak said.

"You are not," Drizzt corrected, walking around to his sister.

"Well, if you would put it that way," the weapon master said, unperturbed. "Shall we go?"

The withered figure of Matron Baenre was now visible on a travelling disc as the nobles of House Baenre joined the crowd.

Matron Baenre, the oldest drow in Menzoberranzan, tottered out of the disc to the high throne on the end of the council table.

"Lloth has spoken," she began, her voice amplified magically.

"This year, the game is a contest." Matron Baenre deliberately cut through the buzz of whispers, "A contest to find the greatest weapon."

The excited chatter from the crowd nearly drowned her out, but the withered matron motioned for silence. "A weapon that a single drow may use."

No siege engines, then, Matron Malice thought. She believed that some of the duergar, the gray dwarves, had made a new engine that could break down walls in seconds, a useful machine indeed.

"Any weapon that has been made, through time itself," Baenre continued, "On any world."

The discussions were louder. Was Lloth suggesting that they should transverse the planes themselves?

"The deadline, if you could say, is on the Festival of the Founding," Matron Baenre said, "All may join, and may Lloth lay her blessings on the winner."

In other words, Malice thought, Lloth would preside over the competition, and judge it too.

This was important. It was no illusion to Malice that her house was distinctly out of favor, and this was an easier way to regain that favor.

Though she would not rest until the ceremonial knife found its way to the hearts of the three Do'Urden renegades.

As was often the case in her devious mind, a plan began to form.

Matron Malice nodded to each of her daughters as they filed into the family chapel. They had been present during the announcement, and knew what was to happen.

Briza entered last, holding the beaten gold of the scrying bowl reverently with both hands. The object, most precious to House Do'Urden, had seen much use, but still looked as new as when Matron Vartha, Malice's mother, had first purchased it.

It was laid on its customary place, and Malice spoke out the runes.

There was a sound of rushing water, and then the surface of the liquid inside the bowl turned a deep, painful black, too dark to look at it properly.

Then it cleared to show the image of a city, zooming in to show a rigged chair outside a tiny structure of stone outside an even smaller cave.

"Blingdenstone?" Maya said in astonishment.

Malice looked surprised, then quickly recovered. "Then the first order of business would be to evict them from the city. An easy task."

Vierna was not so sure, but instantly regretted the doubt that obviously showed on her face. "Vierna," Malice said, and she looked up to the throne.

"You will lead a party of drow warriors near the city. Attack the first patrol you come across, then retreat back to Menzoberranzan," Malice continued, "Spend this night learning your spells to counter the magic of the svirfneblin clerics."

Vierna bowed. What else could she do?

Maya, on the other hand, looked perplexed. "Forgive me, Matron Mother, but how would this help House Do'Urden in the contest?"

Malice smiled. "We have to travel through time itself, or even to other worlds, to get our prize."

"That is dangerous," Maya said.

"That is why Zaknafein and the twins would do it for us," Malice replied.

"We capture them, then force them to go," Briza said, suddenly understanding, "If they do not return..." she flashed a vile smile at Matron Malice, who nodded briefly in approval.

Briza would make a fine successor for the house.

Dinin was not happy. He did not like the deep gnomes, and especially did not like earth elementals.

Unfortunately, dealing with deep gnomes, especially down the point of an adamantite sword, often involved earth elementals.

However, he had a very precise notion of what Vierna would do to him if he did not do his job well, and had an even clearer idea of what Briza would do if he survived.

He led the small group of Do'Urden soldiers on, hands flashing signals to the others as he peered around the corner, rendered invisible by his piwafwi.

The svirfneblin patrol was there, just as Matron Malice had said, but as they were close to Blingdenstone, they were not in any sort of formation, speaking and joking openly.

Dinin wrinkled his nose at such disorganized patrols, and motioned his group to get ready. Vierna, immediately behind him, had managed to get into a position where she could see the skirmish and yet not be seen herself.

The svirfneblin patrol walked closer and closer yet to the tunnel, the only other exit from the small cavern they were walking across.

Dinin precisely calculated every moment, then waved his hand. Attack, the drow code said.

Attack, the Do'Urden soldiers read, and charged with the silence of the drow.

Globes of darkness dropped on the deep gnome patrol. The gnomes only had time to cry out before the drow were upon them.

There was the sound of metal against metal, and the cries of death.

Then a small 'thud' as something hard and tiny hit the floor – a summoning stone. Vierna sensed the emanations of magic, and started a slow chant.

Fifteen feet tall and seven feet wide, a monster of living stone emerged from the rock, out of the globes of darkness.

There was a faint sigh near its feet, as something slid from the living to the dead world.

The monster roared, and charged forward, trampling friend and foe alike in the darkness that swirled around its feet.

"A'lek'ae'anreae!" Vierna shouted, the last runes of her spell, and the monster, although still charging, did not seem to have the hard, angular edges of before.

Slowly, its features began to droop, something that oddly reminded Vierna of the yochlol, the handmaidens of Lloth.

Its knees collapsed, but it kept crawling on, leaving gobbets of mud behind it, dissolved rock. The glow in its eyes gradually flickered, like a candle assaulted by gentle breath, and died.

The rest of it collapsed in a squelching sound, melting and spreading out slowly, like spilled honey, onto the ground, stopping just short of her black robe.

Vierna dispelled the globe of darkness, prearranged by Matron Malice, who had carefully orchestrated the battle from the chapel of Do'Urden the night before they had set out.

What remained on the short skirmish were the drow. There was only one drow casualty, that had caught a glancing blow from the elemental's foot, then a harder blow from a svirfneblin hammer.

It had been a long travel, but from the hungry, savage look on the drow faces, Vierna thought that the soldiers believed it had been worth it.

"Well done, brother," she signaled to Dinin, who looked at the puddle of thick mud at her feet.

"We return now?" he asked, in the silent code.

"Yes," Vierna replied, then turned her back to the cavern, which was beginning to stink of death.

They left the fallen soldier exactly as he remained, an unspoken message to Blingdenstone, and the renegade drow seeking shelter in its walls.

***

Chapter 2: Blingdenstone

The returning anti-basilisk patrol gathered their equipment, preparing for the long walk back to the city. There was a great quotient of laughter and jokes, as were quite a few derogating remarks from Zaknafein. Khazid'hea, satisfied with its new master, throbbed with warmth even when the weapon master touched its hilt in accident.

"A fine sword," Drizzt observed, as Zak was encouraged to make a 'physical' gesture as to how he had finished off the monster. Khazid'hea's red line brightened.

"It serves me well," Zak replied. Of course it did, didn't it? To demonstrate the point, the sword sheared through the tip of a low outcrop.

"It is sentient?" Quetzal asked, her trained clerical mind sensing an otherworldly intelligence in the sword.

Zaknafein nodded. "I wonder how Dantrag came to have it?" he mused, sheathing the sword, "Its hilt is very fine, oddly not suited for a drow warrior."

Khazid'hea thought about that remark for a while. Was his master not pleased with the wolf hilt?

"Suited to you, and very appropriate," Drizzt countered, glancing at Nhaz'aer. The red-furred wolf padded sedately behind Belwar, occasionally nudging the deep gnome with a wet nose, a wolf sign of affection, but a very sharp shock to the burrow warden. The Samadhi wolf had an uncanny knack of doing it when the svirfneblin was in a state of reflection, and least expecting the cold touch on his exposed neck.

Drizzt had persuaded them to go to the gates of Blingdenstone some months ago, when they still lived by themselves in the Underdark. Three's a crowd, but any sentient, living being needed contact to preserve a 'healthy mental state', as the twins might have called it.

Zak did not like the idea at first, and had vigorously protested most of the way, then grudgingly gave in to majority vote. He had decided not to point out that the twins, although suspiciously of the same mind, occupied two different bodies, and therefore he was very nearly out-voted on everything.

It was most unfair.

The svirfneblin guards had reacted most predictably to the sudden appearance of three wild-looking drow, one female and wearing a clerical robe, and mostly to their russet wolf friend. There was much panicking and calling of re-enforcement and Zak wryly noted that in all the confusion, they could have slipped away. Not that they did, having come to so much trouble just to get to the gates, in a nasty incident involving a nearby waterhole and a lot of scrags, water trolls.

Quetzal finished of some of them with a fireball, Drizzt and Guenhwyvar with a handy bit of flammable cloth (his sheets, actually) and a lot of sharp panther claws and jaws. Then the cat had to look for their other two companions, which had wandered off earlier to look for a chance of a late morning meal.

Zaknafein had found entertainment not far away with a few goblin intruders and Nhaz'aer was quite soundly asleep after a meal of diatryma nearby.

They had been put in the dungeons after a thorough search through their clothing. Drizzt, reluctantly, had given up the onyx figurine of Guenhwyvar; Zak had given up Khazid'hea; Quetzal her flute and small tome. Nhaz'aer had been persuaded to accept the muzzle, with ill grace and much grumbling, then had snorted when the twins told it silently not to flame open the metal bands.

Belwar had pulled them out of the dungeons. Drizzt, through translation of Zaknafein, who had a passing recognition of the svirfneblin tongue, had asked to see the Most Honored Burrow-Warden.

Drizzt had been the cause of the old svirfneblin's survival after the raid on their party, and then Quetzal had helped Belwar heal his terrible wounds, allowing him to live to see Blingdenstone.

The three of them were to stay in Belwar's cave, a tight fit, but they had managed. Zak still marveled at the trust evident in the deep gnome society. In what seemed days, they were invited out by the svirfneblin children to play. In a month or so, they had been given their weapons, and Nhaz'aer, though the twins had a job apologizing to the wolf. Apparently there was no word for 'sorry' in the wolf tongue, as wolves hardly ever did anything that they would be ashamed for.

***

Nhaz'aer growled, from somewhere at the head of the patrol. The tunnel reeked of death.

Belwar, knowing what carnage was likely to lie just beyond, gingerly peeked over a boulder.

His sharp intake of breath caused more deep gnomes, in the simple fact of curiosity and that the old burrow warden only seemed horrified, to take their look over the boulder.

Dead svirfneblin! one of the deep gnomes reverted to the communal, emphatic bond of the svirfneblin, that enabled basic feelings and such to be understood by the others.

Zaknafein's eyes widened in surprise, and then he began to walk out to the scene. A pickaxe caught his hand. Turning, he looked into the face of Belwar.

"A trap it may be," the old gnome said softly.

The twins wordlessly pointed to Nhaz'aer, already padding among the bodies, towards the exit, not really understanding why the others weren't following. They were just bodies, after all, to the wolf.

The patrol went into one of their practiced battle formations usually reserved for the deep Underdark, and went in.

"Nhaz'aer believes that the bodies are old," Quetzal said haltingly as she touched briefly at the sharp predatory mind of the wolf.

Belwar knelt sorrowfully at the body of a burrow-warden, obvious from the clothing. "Burrow-Warden Krieger," their svirfneblin friend identified.

Another deep gnome, wandering around, picked up a glinting stone, handing it to Belwar. It was the summoning emerald, the magic replenished by a day's rest. So Krieger had summoned an elemental, and it had been destroyed. That would explain the mud in the entrance.

"Drow," one of the svirfneblin party whispered, pointing to the body of a dark elf, its death wound visible on its bone white hair.

Belwar numbly nodded, noting the precise sword cuts on the bodies, their precision and obvious ease. What was a drow party doing so close to Blingdenstone?

Zaknafein was already examining the dead drow, his slender fingers turning the body slightly over, revealing the insignia.

"House Do'Urden," Drizzt said, in astonishment. Fear and rage began to bite his heart.

"Magga cammara, dark elf. Your family?" Belwar said.

Quetzal nodded grimly. "Looking for us."

"That they would not find, in the walls of Blingdenstone," the Most Honored Burrow-Warden said firmly.

"What did they hope to accomplish?" Zak reasoned, but he knew the answer.

"Most Honored Burrow-Warden, at once we must go to Blingdenstone and report this slaughter!" one of the svirfneblin party said.

Belwar nodded. The svirfneblin party plus three drow and one wolf shifted into a defensive formation and backed into the exiting tunnel.

***

Blingdenstone was beautiful, but in a way that differed from that of Menzoberranzan. Its features remained the natural traits of the stone. Behind the mammoth doors was a singular structure, which appeared to be a general home from the wilds of the Underdark. It was what a city should be.

Like the gnomes, the buttresses and tiers were rounded, smooth, and gracefully curving. There were many carvings of the gnome gods, and a quite a few of elementals.

Belwar went to the palace of King Schnicktick to report, while the three dark elves, already familiar with the city, walked over to the burrow-warden's abode.

Outside, they found Seldig, one of the svirfneblin playmates, already waiting for them. The young svirfneblin let out a joyful exclamation as the wolf buried him with a bark of greeting and an assortment of wet licks, then another as Drizzt summoned Guenhwyvar.

Zak smiled as Drizzt and Quetzal dumped their weapons on the ground and joined in the game. From what he understood of it, it appeared to be a game consisting of marbles. Each of the opponents (three young svirfneblin, two drow elves) had six marbles - rounded transparent minerals.

There was a sandy area near Belwar's cave, and there the game was played. First the sand was smoothed over and Guenhwyvar and Nhaz'aer bribed not to step onto it, then a circle two feet wide was drawn in the center carefully with a stick, or any sharp object, in this case, Drizzt's scimitar.

Two marbles were placed inside the circle. With the opponents standing equidistant from each other and at a respectable distance away from the circle, the game began.

Drizzt knelt down on the sand, taking aim with a marble. The idea was to knock out a marble from the circle, then you could claim it as your own. The more marbles you had, the better.

If your marble rolled out of the circle, you could have it back, but if it stayed in the circle, then it became a target.

His wrist flicked out, striking one of the marbles inside the circle, not hard enough, for the target simply rolled near the edge. Drizzt's marble exited smoothly, to the 'stay there, stay there,' of the opponents, and the 'get out, get out' of Drizzt, naturally.

Zaknafein, who had thought of the game in the first place, had been unanimously 'voted' disqualified permanently for his tendency to hit every target with unerring accuracy.

The weapon master had decided that watching was more fun than that of playing, and less pressurizing. He kept Nhaz'aer distracted, for the wolf was not content to lie down like Guenhwyvar and watch, but kept trying to press in to see what was happening.

Ten minutes later, Quetzal had lost quite a few of the marbles, Seldig was winning by a clear majority, and the targets had doubled in number.

There was a stifled oath from the opponents. Zak looked up from where he had been dozing off in the chair he'd moved out from the cave, grinned at Drizzt's indignant expression from the loss of a marble, heard Quetzal's bell-like laughter and the higher pitched ones of the svirfneblin, then fell asleep without further ado. Life was good, when you lived it well.

***

Belwar looked worried when he returned, and moodily picked at his meal of a certain fungus of a striking color.

Eventually, Quetzal spoke up. "The bodies, is it not?" she asked bluntly.

"We are a threat to Blingdenstone?" Drizzt continued.

The burrow-warden nodded. "Looking for something are the drow, they believe. However, another deception it may be."

"The Matrons are good at those," Zak observed, "Likely, if there is real trouble, the contacts Councilor Firble has with Menzoberranzan would double-deal him."

"Your words have truth," Belwar stopped. "How did you know about Firble?"

Zaknafein smiled. "I knew his name, and the svirfneblin before him. How did you think I know your language?"

"Sheltered you are not," Belwar laughed, then sobered again.

"What is the council to do about us?" Drizzt inquired.

Belwar again looked grim. "The decision did not come easy, they say. King Schnicktick is sorry, but leave you must. The threat to Blingdenstone is too great. They would not listen to me."

Drizzt nodded. "We thought as much," he said quietly. "When?"

"As soon as possible," their friend replied, darkly.

Zaknafein nodded, then got up from his chair, to the surprise of the burrow-warden. "There is no use in prolonging farewells, my friend," he said gently, his hand reaching out to his scabbards. "No use at all."

The twins perceived that Zak's life, as were theirs, was full of crashing ends.

***

A hundred deep gnomes gathered at the doors to send them off. Conspicuously absent was Belwar Dissengulp, but Zaknafein told them he had expected as much. For some reason, his expression was both pleased and slightly irritated.

Nhaz'aer was the first off the platform and down the wide stairs, bounding eagerly ahead. For the wolf, this was just another adventure.

Zak sighed as the great doors clanged shut, walking down the steps, the twins trailing behind. With a last look at the city, that had been full of warmth, they started down the steps into the wilds of the Underdark.

A shuffle to the side brought them on the alert, drawing their variations of a sword. Nhaz'aer padded up quickly, then made an affectionate sound, not sounding surprised at all.

Zaknafein smiled, but Drizzt cried out in relief, "Belwar! I feared you would not say farewell after all."

"And so I will not," said the svirfneblin.

Quetzal studied the full pack on the burrow-warden. "No Belwar, we cannot allow..."

"I do not remember asking for your permission," Belwar replied, "I have been looking for some excitement in my life. Thought I might venture out to see what the wide world has to offer."

"It is not as grand as you expect," Zak said grimly, "You have your people, Belwar, who care for you and accept you. That is a greater gift than you can imagine."

"Agreed," replied the burrow-warden, "And the three of you have your friend, who cares for you and accepts you. And stands beside you. Now, are we going to start on this adventure or wait for your wicked family to come up to us and chop us down?"

"You cannot imagine the dangers," Drizzt warned.

"And you, dark elf, cannot imagine the ways I can deal with such dangers! What dangers, however, that could possibly be left, however, past a weapon master that kills basilisks, a giant panther, a fire-breathing wolf, a magical flute, and a fine swordsman is less than I can think of." Belwar banged his mithril hands together and smiled.

Drizzt shrugged helplessly at Belwar's determined expression, then walked down into the tunnel, his friends falling into step beside him.

Zaknafein knew the value of Belwar, especially now that they were inside areas unfamiliar to him. The burrow-warden's experience would be valuable indeed.

Nhaz'aer, not understanding what was the fuss, gave Belwar a welcoming lick and a wolfish grin, then bounded on in front of them, on silent feet, his eyes piercing the deep veil of the Underdark.

***

Chapter 3: Capture

"Why have you summoned me?" the yochlol asked, in a menacing voice as its form hovered over the sacred braziers.

Malice humbly bowed before the handmaiden of Lloth. "House Do'Urden humbly requests the aid of the Spider Queen in the contest," she said.

The yochlol looked amused. "Indeed? House Do'Urden is not in Lloth's favor," the monster bluntly reminded Malice.

Matron Malice sensed that something else was at work, and she persisted. "The contest will change that," she said, rather confidently.

"A last chance, Matron Malice," the yochlol said, the words seemingly rehearsed before. Was Lloth really…? Malice dared to hope.

The yochlol took out something from the air, and handed it to Malice.

It was another spider jewel; reminiscent of the one used to locate the Dagger of Menzoberra. This one's abdomen was purple, and was filled with banked fire. In the center of this was a silver star.

"The spider jewel is the key," the yochlol explained, "When it nears the chosen weapon, it will point towards it. Pressing the star would allow the bearer to transport herself and her companions over space and even time, towards the weapon. It may not hold much energy, and you will have to make many stops." The yochlol said.

The priestesses mumbled their heartfelt thanks, then released the yochlol from its summons.

"It is time," Malice said grimly and a trifle dramatically, but Briza nodded and hurried from the chamber.

***

"Home," Belwar proclaimed. They had taken a wrong turning somewhere in the tunnels, and had ended up at this place thankfully it seemed.

They looked down from a narrow ledge down to the cavern, which housed a subterranean lake. The ledge, manmade and crude, ended at a chambered cave with an easily defensible small entrance.

Whoever had used the cave had left many years ago. The walls had paintings done on them, of many races of the Underdark and some of its monsters. The quality and number of paints were astonishing. Drizzt and Quetzal were busily arguing over one of them inside the cave, which resembled either a gnome or a dwarf.

Zaknafein nodded, especially pleased of the pool. Dark shapes swirled underneath its surface probably the blind fish of the Underdark, and he noted that from its hardly stagnant smell, it was fed by some spring, somewhere.

The ledge was too narrow for any large monster to get in, and any goblin horde or such would not willingly face drow elves and svirfneblin.

Zaknafein levitated down to the edge of the pool, expertly flicking his normal sword in the gently rippling surface and spearing a fish. The Underdark fish were large, with sunken sockets where the eyes should be, their entire bodies a pale, sickly white, scales transparent and soft, as were the fins. Their only defense were the 'whiskers' on the sides of their mouth, carrying a dart of poison, easily removed.

"Good eating," The weapon master waved his catch at the deep gnome. Then he saw Belwar's expression.

Letting the still flopping fish slide off, Zak turned to confront a giant crab, a twelve-foot monster. He smiled.

The crab scuttled with alien grace out of the water, eyes focusing on the small intruder that had dared invade its pool. Its pincer swung out, fully capable of snapping Zaknafein in two, but Zak had already darted away.

Khazid'hea slid into the crab's shell, though not deep enough to seriously hurt or slow the stupid thing. The crab merely turned with lightning speed, but Zak was elsewhere and slicing, merrily keeping out of its reach.

Zak was dimly aware of Belwar descending quickly. "Stay on the ledge! I know how to deal with crabs," he cried at the burrow-warden, dodging a crushing crab leg.

The idea, he knew, was to keep hitting the crab lightly while keeping it out of its way. Cutting of legs might madden it, and the thought of a maddened eight-ton monster was a little staggering.

After a while, as Zak knew the crab would, it folded into itself, legs below, pincers tightly held to its body, and started to sulk. Little crabs, large crabs, they all acted the same way.

Zak experimentally poked at the crab, but it did not move. The weapon master levitated up the crab, neatly ending its slow life with a precise wound, then grinned at the surprise of Belwar and the twins, on the ledge.

"We will eat well this day," he said, cleaning his swords and stepping lightly off the crab.

"Really, Father, couldn't you have called us? Drizzt asked.

"I could handle it," Zak replied neutrally.

"Leave us a bit next time?" Quetzal suggested with a resigned expression.

"I'll think about it," Zaknafein replied with a mischievous smile.

***

Nhaz'aer ranged on ahead, eagerly sniffing at the stones, its nose expertly picking up any scent of passers-by.

"Well?" Zak asked of Quetzal, his companion on the scouting of the tunnels around the cave.

"Nhaz'aer says that nothing has passed in the last week, except for a few wild rothe." Quetzal replied, "Hardly a threat, and an asset if they happen to pass again."

Zak nodded. Rothe, the cattle-like creatures of the Underdark, were easily tamed, and would contribute to their table.

The wolf padded around in a circle, then bounded to the junction where their tunnel split into two passages.

"Doesn't it enter its mind that it is very exposed?" Zak murmured, then realized what a silly question that was.

"Any wolf that can breathe that type of flame, believe me, Father, is not exposed." Quetzal replied patiently.

Nhaz'aer sniffed around the entrances of the passageways, then loped down the left one. The drow elves strolled along, keeping up the light conversation.

Then the wolf froze, lowering its head such that its nose hovered a fraction above the red rock. It whined, then pawed the walls, hoisting itself on hindquarters to its full height, as tall as Zaknafein himself.

It snorted, as if understanding something then padded over to the other wall and repeated the motion. Then the Samadhi wolf loped back to the tunnel they had left, balancing precariously on a stalagmite mound and sniffing the high walls.

"What is wrong?" Quetzal asked it softly.

The wolf whined, then started to run back into the tunnels where they had come from. Quetzal closed her eyes, following the link to her brother, who had stayed at the cave …

***

"Out seeking trouble," Drizzt commented, as his sister and father walked out of the cave to the tunnels, "Scouting indeed."

Belwar smiled, "Best if they find it. Less trouble for us." The burrow-warden commented, lowering its mithril 'hands'.

The deep gnome walked over to sit near Drizzt, who was dutifully watching the entrance, holding the onyx figurine of Guenhwyvar in his hands. Drizzt had sent the panther back to its realm to rest.

Behind them, the shadows lengthened, and grew arms and legs.

A drow soldier stepped out, piwafwi silencing his catlike footsteps, as did another, and another.

Heavy flats of swords came down hard on Belwar and Drizzt, and they fell down, unconscious.

"Too easy," Briza smiled, emerging, then ordered the soldiers into positions.

***

"Something's happened," Quetzal said quickly, then ran off after the wolf, holding her encumbering robe as high as she could.

Zaknafein was almost matching Nhaz'aer's speed as they raced through the hard stone walls.

"An attack?" Zak asked on the way.

"Something like that. Intruders, and Drizzt is out cold," Quetzal replied, concern touching her voice.

"Then how can you…" Zak began, then stopped. "I think I'll take your word for it."

"Why thank you, Zaknafein," Quetzal said archly.

They reached the narrow ledge. Nhaz'aer had stopped, growling, at the chamber door.

"Come in," the harsh voice of Briza commanded, "Come and see your friends, weapon master."

Zak and Quetzal warily walked inside. On the floor at the end, were the two unconscious figures of Drizzt and Belwar. Briza held the onyx figurine of Guenhwyvar and a dozen or so drow, half clerics, surrounded the chamber.

"Disarm yourselves," Briza snapped, "Now."

A drow soldier, behind her, pressed the tip of his sword to Drizzt's throat.

Zaknafein reluctantly let go of Khazid'hea and the other sword, as well as taking out all sorts of daggers hidden on his person. Quetzal removed her sabers and flute.

Briza tossed a muzzle to Quetzal. It was gossamer thin and just as light, but Quetzal knew better than to believe it was fragile. Silently apologizing to the wolf, she snapped it on. Nhaz'aer looked as though it understood.

There were two braziers on either side of Briza, their flames burning bright.

"What do you want?" Zak spat, as their weapons were confiscated.

"There is a contest for the Festival of the Founding," Briza snarled, "Matron Malice gives you the 'honor' of being the Do'Urden spearhead inside. If you lose, your friends will be slowly killed, while you watch."

Zaknafein decided not to ask whether they had a choice to participate.

Quetzal looked painfully at the still form of her brother, and knew that she could do nothing. That, by itself, was hurting, that feeling of helplessness.

Briza quickly outlined the rules of the contest and of the 'gift', then handed over the spider jewel to Zaknafein. A muscle twitched in the weapon master's jaw, as he looked at the accursed object.

"The last gift is yours, sister," Briza said.

From the braziers, purple light formed that bent somehow, forming an intense spot on the ground between the flames.

"Step into the circle of light," Briza said, "Sister." The last word was spat out, like a curse.

Quetzal looked helplessly at Zak, then walked gracefully into it. The light flowed around her, and she felt a certain power entering.

Briza held out a four-headed snake whip, the heads hissing, to Quetzal. "A priestess of Lloth is required for this contest," she said smugly, "Accept, and I will graduate you."

Quetzal shuddered.

No, sister! Drizzt cried in her mind, Do not accept!

The first thing you must learn, dear brother, is to see the important things in life. Quetzal replied, shooting a glance at Drizzt's material body.

She reached out a slender hand, taking hold of the adamantite hilt, to Zaknafein's, and Drizzt's horror.

Briza smiled smugly at the weapon master. "I graduate thee," she said.

As the words were spoken, Quetzal's clothing changed into that of a full priestess', black and purple with the runes of House Do'Urden.

The snakes writhed over her hands with the promise of power.

No! Drizzt said in denial.

I can give it up, Quetzal replied, her teeth clenched. Of course she could, anytime she wanted to. I can give it up.

It had been to save two lives. Was this but a small sacrifice?

Briza handed back the flute, and the swords. "You have a time limit, of a week," she said, "If you are not back, you will be stranded wherever you are, and your friends put to death."

Zaknafein nodded grimly, and put on his swords.

He pressed the silver star.

***

Chapter 4: Ankh-Morpok

A land of ice…

Not winter, for the word winter preludes that of spring. The snow here is eternal, as eternal as the inhabitants of this land are.

And three figures on horseback, looking down the snow covered slope to a ring of eight stones. From this side they look much bigger.

The hot breath of their black horses hung in the air, but the breath of the riders did not.

The air, one could say the very reality inside the ring of eight stones curved and twisted.

"Something is tampering with the gateways," one of the riders commented. He wore an odd assortment of skins and feathers; his blond hair made up with grease and other such sticky materials.

The Queen smiled down at the stone circle. "Then we will hold the gateway open, when that 'something' passes through. And I shall enter the land again, and this time force it to accept us."

"The King will not like that," that same rider commented.

"When has that mattered?" The Queen inquired.

"Never, lady."

"The land is unsure, Lankin. The circles are opening, and closing again. We must take advantage." The Queen said, "Soon we can return."

The rider Lankin leaned on the saddlehorn. "And I can hunt again," it said. "When? When?"

"Soon," said the Queen, "Soon. And I may have my revenge on that pathetic Queen of the other side, and the witches."

"There is iron in their heads," the rider said. They hated iron. There was something about that metal that curved and took from the silvery threads of existence, that was emitted by everything, that enabled them to see where they were, know where they were, and even read the minds of living things. It caused them to feel entirely lost, entirely alone, and it also gave them a great headache in the process.

"We will succeed this time," the Queen said firmly, "I have discovered how the land will accept us. It fought back the last time, but will not, this time."

Last time… the witches of Lancre, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and some of their uncultured friends – the Queen delicately wrinkled her nose – had defeated them. Just, only just, she told herself, and smiled. This time, she would try elsewhere, on ground that was not, as Granny Weatherwax had said, her turf. A neutral turf, where the land had sickened and lay dying.

***

Father and daughter, suspended through time for a split second as the spider jewel takes them to places between places. Space, as we see it, is this large, dark place, full of stars, planets, debris etc.

What most of us don't know is that it's incidentally divided into sections, uneven sections, but sections nonetheless.

Each section has a place between it – a boundary, in layman's terms. This boundary exists outside space. Time does not exist inside it. One such, large boundary lies directly above the Discworld. It moves with that world, for reasons that would be apparent later.

Now for the special effects. That's what a story's about, isn't it? Special effects and cliches – there isn't any plot that hasn't vaguely been thought of before, is there?

Anyway, read on…

Imagine you are on a high vantage point in space, with the eyes of a specially enhanced eagle. You will see the star turtle Great A'Tuin, mind bogglingly huge, immense, gigantic, enormous, and just plain huge. Its shell is pocked with meteor craters, caused by various large rocks that just happen to be sailing around space in the right time and the right place. They don't seem to have caused the turtle any inconvenience.

Four huge elephants stand on Great A'Tuin's shell, balancing the Discworld on their shoulders. The oceans fall of the Rim of the Discworld, in a fountain that will last until Great A'Tuin finally dies. The tiny sun orbits around the Disc, followed by the tiny moon.

Another of those worlds, in which you'd suspect, is some cosmic joke by those People who create the Universe.

Magic exists here – for magic is what keeps this impossible world going. Impossible? Nothing is impossible, as Science declares. However, we shall leave quantum to those young fella-me-lads at the High Energy Magic Building at Unseen University (to be explained later) and carry on, shall we?

Now, through one of those wonderful camera tricks, your eye is led downwards, to the Disc. You see mountains and forests of the Discworld gradually growing larger and larger; you burst through the white clouds, and then go down to a massive sprawl of the city. Ankh-Morpork, the largest (and smelliest) city in the Discworld.

You see the river Ankh, flowing its sluggish way through the noisy city. Technically flowing, that is, for the most interesting river this author has ever seen. (All right, all right. Books say to involve the audience – lets involve the writer for now, shall we?)

It's not a Magical River Where Only Thee With Great Purity Mayeth Passe, not a River where the Slightest Drinke will Change Thee into a Rabbitte, not a River of Forgetfulness, but just a river.

It's not even filled with piranhas, those wonderful fish with all those teeth.

It's not filled with crocodiles.

Scholars have argued that it is sterile, though the word 'sterile' conjures a white, sparkly building with sparkly floor like mirrors and a starched smell. Or, to the author, a yellow laboratory with two rows of benches and tables and a drain through the middle of the rows, with a starched smell. The Biology Lab 3, to be precise, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now read on…

The river is in an interesting state of suspension that is technically liquid but suspiciously solid. Any rock dropped in the Ankh may either bounce (in the worse regions) or sink slowly down, sucked by the mud-like surface, with a sound resembling 'gloop'. The river is past the word 'dirty', or 'smelly'. The Ankh emits a certain fragrance that is apparent in most of Ankh-Morpork, except perhaps for Lady Sybil Vimes nee Ramkins' house onna hill, as she is the richest being in the city.

It is said on the worse days of the Ankh, thieves have escaped by running away on the Ankh itself, regrettably leaving footprints and a distinct smell.

Ankh-Morpork, ruled by the Patrician, has many guilds. Any man could technically found a guild, which has led to the springing up of the Butchers Guild, the Candle-maker's Guild, and most interestingly (so far), the Rat-Catcher's Guild. The top guilds are the Assassin's Guild (of course); Mrs. Palm's Guild of Negotiable Affections, the Lawyer's Guild etc.

Ankh-Morpork opened its gates to dwarves and trolls, allowing a certain racial harmony to preside over the city for a while, especially when the inestimable Captain Carrot of the Ankh-Morpork Watch came along, who knew everyone and whom everyone liked. Dwarves and Trolls of the Discworld hate each other, and Carrot put down quite a few riots, then put down the racial prejudice itself. (Mostly, that is)

Your eyes zoom past the paved streets to a tall, majestic building with tall, majestic gates. A plate at the gate, badly tarnished, read Unseen University, the College of Wizardry Arts. A building at the end, the High Energy Magic Building (HEM for short) was where the young wizards were, who spent their lives messing up physics and trying to split the thaum (the smallest unit of magic). The older wizards spent their time more usefully – well, most of them – eating four large meals a day and nothing else.

Your eyes, like a very well programmed camera, zoom to the Ankh-Morpork palace, with gilt at most of the gates. (Giving the morality of the city, the only valuable monument not being stripped of its gold, silver etc was the Bronze Bridge over the Ankh River, which was too heavy to carry off) They zoom high up to one of the windows, obscured by a few statues.

A man on a bed, sleeping peacefully.

***

The spider gem pulled the two, as I said before, into those between places, and managed to dump them inside a certain world in a split second, taking up all its stored energy. They didn't know this, of course. Keeping characters in the dark is an essential part of any story, don't 'cher know.

Anyway, dumping the elves inside that world forced the spider to rip apart a hole in the invisible walls surrounding that reality and world, and pushed them in. Sort of like how you sometimes pushed your finger through a soap bubble made during bath-time in between your thumb and second finger. The difference is that for this event, the hole lingered for a while, gradually patching up, but slowly patching up.

Zaknafein and Quetzal appeared inside a small room. It was cluttered with all sorts of gadgets and devices, and a lot of springs and papers. Above the two were a strange bat-winged device, with a holding bar and pedals.

The spider jumped eagerly in Zak's palm, then stopped, becoming inanimate. Quetzal watched it carefully.

"I think the weapon existed here before, but was removed," she said.

"Then this place is one of those 'stopovers'?" Zak asked.

"Yes." Replied Quetzal, "The only stopover. The others would be on another world, through time."

Zaknafein narrowed his eyes. Vivid heat patterns showed at the end of the room. He padded softly past stacks of papers and a high-wheeled mechanism with brushes and levers, to see:

A man on a bed, sleeping peacefully.

The human head seemed to be the prominent bit of his body. Zak had the uncomfortable feeling that his head was growing out of his hair. The man wasn't bald, but he seemed to have an overly large brain.

Zak stepped forward, and something sounded under his feet. It was a damp squeak.

The weapon master looked down, then back up at the human on the bed, who was now upright and awake, by the looks of it.

Quetzal walked to his side, cautiously.

The human didn't look surprised, only faintly curious. On closer examination, Zak realized he was curious about the snake whip on Quetzal's hip.

"Hywk Brwyrni Erk?" the human spoke.

Quetzal looked apologetically at Zak then spoke a rune.

"Is that a new type of animal?" the human was saying, looking closely at the hissing whip. "Really, four heads? And attached to a handle too…I haven't seen the species before." Without warning, the human was probing at the snake.

Quetzal blinked, and stepped backwards, her hand holding the adamantite handle protectively.

The human lit a taper, and they immediately shielded their eyes from the glaring light.

"Sorry," the human said, "You don't see light often, do you?"

The candle was put out, and they looked back at the human. "Do you know what a gun is?" Quetzal asked, having been briefed more fully on their mission by Briza, telepathically.

"Gun? Oh, you must mean a gonne. Terrible device, that, caused all sorts of havoc in the city," The man waved at the city outside his small window.

"Destroyed now, I think. By the Patrician's orders," the man said, as if it was of no consequence.

"We need to recharge the gem," Zak said, ignoring the human and looking at the spider jewel. The fire in its abdomen was dull.

"Where is the place with the most concentrated magic in this world?" Quetzal asked the man sharply.

"Oh, you must mean the Library at Unseen University. It's close to here – just look for the tall towers and follow," the man pointed out of the window.

"How did you get in here?" he asked, out of scientific inquiry, "You don't look like mages, and I haven't perfected my transport-through-air device,"

"Magic. There are many kinds of magic," Quetzal said absently, "And many people who use them."

"You are elves? No elves I've ever heard of," the man asked another question.

Zak noted that the man did not say 'drow'. "Yes, but not from your world," he said, seeing no reason not to be frank with the man. Zak was a firm believer in observation. From what he could see, he concluded that the man, locked up in this tower, should be either a dreamer or a madman. Probably a dreamer, a dangerous one, Zak mused, as he looked down at the man's bed sheets.

They were covered with drawings. Zak recognized a siege machine, what looked like an apple-peeling machine, and a mechanical chariot without a horse, which was painstakingly labeled.

"Ah," the man said.

"Do you know the way out?" Quetzal said.

"The Patrician often comes in through that door," the man gestured to an opening, vaguely visible from this place.

"My thanks," Quetzal replied, then hurried to it. "A'brec'nak'yen." She commanded. The power of Lloth streaked through her, through her fingertip, pointed at the door.

It opened with a clicking sound, the locks and numerous bolts at the other end opening, and the two stepped out. Quetzal felt relieved that the power of Lloth still existed on this world, and was still as strong.

***

Something blew out from the dead rat's body, forming into the shape of, well, a rat.

The soul of a rat looked sadly at its former habitation. It had survived, for a month, unscathed from all of the human's experiments, that tended to blow up, throwing shrapnel all over the place.

A small (to a human) black robed figure appeared, riding a terrier. It hopped down, showing the tip of a nose of white bone. It held a tiny scythe in its paws.

"Squeak?" the soul of the rat, asked.

SQUEAK, replied the Death of Rats*, laying a bony paw consolingly on the other soul.

The soul of the rat looked downcast, but followed.

***

They were in a long passageway.

"Traps," Zaknafein said immediately. It was too quiet.

Quetzal shrugged, and began to thumb through her tome.

"Too noisy," Zak said, "Do you have a spell?"

Quetzal sighed, and took out another book. She frowned, and flipped quickly to one page.

"Yes, but it's not really reliable," she said.

Quetzal suddenly recognized the wolfish smile on her father's face. "Now, Zak, I'm not going to lose you to millions of swinging blades or some crossbow bolt in the wall. What will Drizzt say?"

Zak looked thoughtful. "He'd say, 'Nooooo!'"

Quetzal glared at him then lowered her head over her book. "Ny'rbar'VA Anr'eanv'ae" she said slowly.

"Hard to pronounce, aren't they?" Zak commented.

Red lines appeared in the stone, tracing some blocks and such.

"The red lines are the 'safety' zones. Most probably." Quetzal said.

Zak raised an eyebrow, with immense dignity. Then he hopped onto the first red outline, of stone. There was a whistle of air, then he ducked automatically.

An axe slammed into the wall next to him.

"See?" Quetzal remarked.

***

"Bingely bing bong beep. The time is Nine oh Clock ay em," said the demon organizer, from Vime's pocket. Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, sighed. He had accidentally 'lost' the first organizer in the Klatchian desert.

He should have known that his wife Sybil, with all her money, would just buy him another one. It was certainly very irritating.

"Appointment with the Patrician," the demon said in its squeaky voice. "That's um, right, isn't it?"

Somehow, the organizers were always very disorganized. "It doesn't matter, since I'm already here, does it?" Vimes snapped at the thing.

The demon peeked out of the flap. "You want me to tell you appointments how early beforehand?" it asked.

"Never, hopefully," Vimes said.

"I am a Series Four Eighteen demon Organizer," the demon said, "With built in battery. It is my job…eep!"

Vimes had stuffed a piece of notepaper into the flap.

Then he got up and went into the Oblong Office.

"Ah Vimes," said Lord Vetinari, looking up. Vetinari was the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, and though Vimes secretly hated the bugger, he did keep the city working. Vetinari was tall and wore a serviceable black. His pale, equine-like face suggested that he spent his days in the dungeons with pretty girls and whips and such, but in fact, Vetinari spent his days reading reports. Or, if he could stand the excitement, playing a round of chess with himself.

"Yes sir," Vimes said.

The Patrician took a bit of paper from one of the neat piles on his desk. "The watch payroll has shot up by ten people," he said. A simple sentence, but with a silence at the end of it that took people by the throat and demanded them to explain.

"Yes sir. Captain Carrot's volunteers, sir." Vimes said.

"And ten pigeons?"

"Constable Rainwater and Constable Drip, sir," Vimes said, referring to the two gargoyle recruits of the Watch. Gargoyles, though useless on parade and on the streets, were good for watching, and had no concept of money, only pigeons, and eating them.

"And a dartboard? What happened to the last one?" Vetinari asked.

"The Librarian came to visit, sir," Vimes replied, with an absolutely straight face.

Vetinari sighed, scribbled something at the bottom, and then picked up another bit of paper. "Lady Selachii tells me that you ran out of another party?"

Vimes hated parties, when he should be walking the streets. It had been widely suspected, especially by Lady Sybil, that he had a sort of communications system that allowed him to learn of any crime in Ankh-Morpork at that time and run off, subsequently.

"Yes sir. A murder, sir." Vimes said.

"Suicide or murder?" Vetinari asked. Suicide, in Ankh-Morpork, included calling a troll a rock (an insult) a dwarf a gritsucker, and walking down the highly criminal Shades area.

"Suicide, sir."

"Vimes, you should really learn when to…" the Patrician was interrupted by the sound of splintering wood.

Vimes turned to see two wild looking, dark human-like creatures emerge from what seemed to have been the wall.

They blinked in the sunlight, then the female one muttered a word, and they apparently managed to focus on Vimes and the Patrician.

Vimes drew his sword, for what it was worth, and walked vaguely in the space between the Patrician and the two.

"Vimes, there is no need for…" the Patrician began.

"Shut up," Vimes snapped, looking back at the two. "You are arrested for trespassing, destruction of property, and…" he stopped.

The two had started to run to the door, but the guards at that same door came in, holding their swords.

"We don't want to make it difficult for…oh my," Vimes said, stunned. The male one had drawn two swords in a blur.

He smashed into one guard, a series of flickering movements disarming the guard, then kicked the guard in the stomach, dealing with the other one in the same way, except for kicking his leg, instead.

Reversing, Zaknafein punched the first one as the guard got up unsteadily, wincing slightly, then forcefully kicked the other in the face. They raced out of the Oblong office.

"After them!" Vimes cried, leaping over the guards and running after the fleeing pair. Seeing what they could do with their weapons, this was probably foolish, but Vimes had done many foolish things in his life.

For now, there was only the pure simplicity and beauty of the Chase.

*There is one Death on the Discworld, that wears a robe woven of pure darkness and holds a sharp scythe on a white horse called Binky. Due to events taking place in the book Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett, lots of deaths were created by Death's absence by retirement. In the end Death came back, and called all the other Deaths to himself (Death of Mayflies etc). The Death of Rats, who rides a dog, and the Death of Fleas, were left.

***

Chapter 5: Unseen University

The Dancers were a ring of stones. Not just stones, however, for they contained a love of iron. To put it scientifically, they are lodestones. To put it in layman's terms, any iron going near it would immediately stick to it.

Sources tell us that the dwarves that first found them could only escape by struggling out of their chain mail shirts and trousers.

They were a gateway between the Discworld and the land of the Lords and Ladies, the Star Folk, the Shining Ones. The elves of the Discworld.

Although it is certain that elves in some other worlds are good, or just plain mischievous, the audience ought to know that those here are not. Elves are bad.

Why? You would say, Why bad? Elves are good, they're beautiful, and they've got style.

It just is. Elves, they have a mind that keeps taking and taking from other minds, like a chainsaw. It's got a predatory shape, a mind that'll take living things and hurt them because it was fun.

They can read your minds, so in defense, your mind makes you see what they want you to see. Granny Weatherwax, the prime force that beat the elves back the first time, had a name for that process, and her word was glamour.

Now, the educated reader would protest that 'glamour' does not technically mean that, does it? Glamour means allure.

I would say that words mean whatever we want them to mean. No one on the Discworld who wants to keep his nose would cross Granny Weatherwax, and that's that.

Now, to get back to the story…

The reality flux inside the Dancers wavered and solidified. When it wavered, it showed a lawn, well mowed, with a flowerbed at front full of white and black roses. A dwarf gardener was happily pouring compost there. The strange thing was, from this view; the lawn appeared to be far away and yet was contained inside the Dancers themselves.

There were places where the worlds were thinner; as thin as the soap bubble that the spider jewel pushed Zaknafein and Quetzal inside. Thin as they were, they still held, until some magic bugger somewhere, who in most cases is a Discworld Wizard, tears a hole in the fabric of reality, either accidentally or purposely, in this case.

In nine times out of ten, the hundred eyed, hundred legged monsters from the Dungeon Dimensions would come out, the wizards would empty fireballs in them, and that would be the last of it.

However, that one time out of ten happens rather regularly in the Discworld.

This time, the hole affected the elves.

And they're here to stay.

***

Zaknafein and Quetzal ran through the streets of the Ankh bit of Morpork, the cleaner bit. Light travels slowly on the Discworld, like what would happen if you accidentally poured a bit too much honey on a wide biscuit. It covered everything it passed.

Thus it was that it was eight oh Clock aye em in the Patrician's Palace, but was still dark. When it was still dark, to Leonard of Quirm, the man on the bed, it was night. By the time they managed to get to the Oblong Office, it was nine oh clock aye em, and the light was coming.

Zak decided that although the rune that Quetzal had said gave him the ability to see in the daylight, his eyes hurt.

They kept the tall towers of Unseen University in sight, and ran on.

Technically, Unseen University should be unseen, but whether it is just a name, or whether the wizards there got sick of students getting lost looking for it, we shall leave it at that.

Why would only a library be part of all that concentrated magic? Well, books, especially magical books, emit magic. They have a sort of sentiency. A whole collection of magical books does strange things to the magic and the morphic fields, and also strange things to space and Time itself.

On the whole, a very dangerous place.

Zak and Quetzal did not know this, and probably wouldn't care if they did. They just ran.

Behind them, slightly out of shape but still keeping it up, was Commander Vimes of the Watch. He remembered when the Watch was only a handful of individuals set on keeping out of trouble. Now the watch was forty strong, and went looking for trouble.

Which was probably why he was running after two dangerous people.

The palace guards had, unanimously, decided that what went on outside the palace was the Watch's business.

Vimes rang his bell. According to tradition, Commanders of the Watch were on their own, and did not carry a bell. Vimes, a more practical Commander, decided that they should have a well and bloody well got one for himself.

It was his luck today. Sergeant Detritus the troll showed up, slightly ahead of the running pair.

"Stop them, Sergeant!" Vimes bellowed.

Detritus saluted, stunning himself slightly with his hand, then walked menacingly forward. "Yessir! Stop an' surrender yer weapons. You have der right to a lawyer…"

Zak blinked at the new monster. It was very large, and a sword would probably look like a needle in its huge hand. It held what looked like a former siege engine.

It also resembled a slightly yellow colored moving pile of rock, the Discworld's type of troll.

It was wearing guard's uniform.

Its eyes were now burning with rage. "Elves!" it roared.

"We don't need this much trouble," Zak told Quetzal hurriedly, "Just get past the thing. It's too bulky to run."

He vaulted over the monster, using the shoulders of the thing, too quickly for Detritus to react, and Quetzal simply ran past as the troll started roaring, aiming the siege engine and its six-foot crossbow at them.

"Detritus! Don't aim it when there are citizens!" Vimes shouted, too late. The giant crossbow bolt flew swiftly at the two, but they veered into a side alley, and the bolt kept going and going, to puncture a salesman's stall.

"Detritus, call…Ah, Captain, get some of our people and go down to the Unseen University (UU). Take Detritus with you. Two suspects breaking inside the Patrician's office without thief guild license. Very dangerous," Vimes said, a wide smile just beginning to break out. Then he ran into the side passage.

And cursed. The two of them were nowhere to be seen, and if he knew the people of Yankee Street, they wouldn't know their right hand from their left.

***

After a series of wrong turns, Zak and Quetzal ended up at the high metal gates of the UU.

"A'brec'nak'yen," Quetzal said, not at all winded.

The gates, with a creaking, protesting sound swung open to allow them in.

They started to run over the turf, towards the building. Zak flashed a glance down at his spider jewel. It was already half full.

Then they stopped. Wizards were coming out of the place, dressed in pointy hats and robes with stars and symbols all over in sequins. The apparent leader was holding a large crossbow.

Unknown to the elves, the UU had a mind. It was sentient, sort of, and could raise alarms or, if it liked, disrupt magic casting of any inside it itself. The building, that is.

"What are you doing in my university?" The crossbow wizard demanded.

"We need to borrow some magic for a trip to another world," Zaknafein said, starting to smile wolfishly, "A place called the Library, I'd expect."

The crossbow wizard looked more closely at Zaknafein. "No stinking elves in my university!" he roared. The crossbow 'twanged'.

***

"It is time," the Queen said, and the elves spurred their black horses over the snow-covered landscape, into the Dancers.

The reality flux twisted, to show a lawn.

***

The crossbow bolt was sliced out of the air by a sword, spinning harmlessly to the side.

"I don't think so," Zak said, "We won't be hurting you, nor your magic. Just let us inside to the Library to refill our transport, and we'll be out of here."

The leader stopped feverishly trying to restring his crossbow. "Oh yeah. What about Lancre? Elves are good at promises, but they always lie. Evil things that you are."

An old woman pushed irritably past the other wizards. She was tall, but her features could only be called striking. She wore a black hat and black clothes of serviceable black.

She looked more closely at them. "Shut up, Ridcully. They ain't elves. Got the foxy face, but not the clothing an' the hair. Ain't got the 'glamour'. Got the wrong type of power." Zak noticed she had a very piercing stare, as if she was looking right through him.

"What are you?" she asked.

"Drow," Quetzal said. She saw their puzzled looks of incomprehension. "Dark elves."

The old woman cackled. "Another world, ye say?"

"Yes," Zak replied. There was no use in lying now.

"Ah then. Your names don't suit you. Dark elves, eh? Supposed to be evil?"

"Yes," Zak replied.

"Ye ain't. Ye ain't elves I've ever seen, either." The woman said. "Ever heard of a witch?"

"No," Zak admitted.

The woman snatched an iron spade from the gardener, who was standing by politely watching. "Catch," she said, tossing the spade to Zaknafein.

Zak automatically caught the spade, looking at it curiously. There wasn't anything wrong with it, except it had a very compost smell.

"See? They ain't elves I've ever seen," the woman told Ridcully.

Ridcully grudgingly put down his crossbow. "You don't fear iron?" he asked.

Both Zak and Quetzal shook their heads. "Any reason to?" Zak inquired.

"Ain't this world's elves. Elves now, they'd have killed the lot of ye, without speaking to ye." The woman said. "Let them to your library."

Zak decided not to remark that if other drow elves came and found 'the lot of ye' they'd have killed them, too.

Ridcully sighed, but gave way under the impressive stare of the woman. "Come this…"

There was a warp in the air, as if someone had dropped a stone into a pool.

Then it stopped. On the turf, at their right, were riders on horses. The lawn began to snow.

"Elves," the woman hissed.

The leader of the group was a tall lady in red, with stars in her hair. The glamour washed over them, and the wizards saw them as beautiful creatures, higher than the humans, so perfect, to perfect for them even to touch.

Unknown to the elves, Zak and Quetzal had a resistance to magic, that was characteristic of all Underdark elves that they knew of.

They saw the elf riders with greasy hair, wearing bits of bronze and feathers stuck together, in their surety that anything they wore would be seen as beautiful. Their faces were, at any rate.

Ridcully, at least, knowing what the elves were, had aimed a fireball at them.

The lady in red raised a hand, and it dissipated. She smiled.

"This is neutral turf now, old woman. Can you defeat me, here?" she appeared to be talking to the woman in black.

Granny Weatherwax also smiled. "Can you try?"

Zaknafein definitely did not want to get involved in this. Perhaps if they were to go off to the side, and go through the main door?

The Queen had already seen them, unfortunately. "Elves?" she asked, her very voice beautiful and shimmering.

"Not your kind," Quetzal snarled, snapping the snake whip from her side. She could sense the cruel mind shape of the Queen and her elves, hard and unforgiving. To them, they were on the top, with all those of this world at the bottom, as slaves, worse than animals.

"An interesting toy," the Queen said, looking at the whip, which hissed at her.

"Would you like to feel it?" Quetzal offered. The four heads turned to the Queen, in menace. The crossbows of the elves had split themselves between watching Granny Weatherwax and the drow elves.

The Queen's answer, a stunning mind blast that knocked some of the wizards to their feet and killed some passing birds, flowed over Quetzal and Zaknafein.

"Your minds are protected!" she hissed.

"By Lloth, our deity. Evil as she is, she does have her uses, when she chooses to." Quetzal said.

"I can provide more than this Lloth of yours," the Queen said, her voice like honey.

"Don't listen to her. She'd take everything from you, and give you fear. What's left for us all if they take over will be the snow, and the laughter of the elves." Granny Weatherwax said.

"We didn't intend to," Zak said, and threw the spade at them. He knew, vaguely, that iron affected the elves. The horses reared, dancing away from the hated thing, but none of the elves fell off.

There was a sound from the gates. Members of the Watch trooped in; took a look at the Queen, and their mouths opened in wonder. Except for the dwarves and trolls, that started to roar, and charged. They had longer memories than humans did.

The Queen, tightly in control of her skittish horse, sent another wave of power, which knocked the charging party unconscious.

The distraction was enough for the pair to do two things. One, that Zak went into the nearest elf with his blades, knowing that the only way out of this predicament was to help the humans, and two, Quetzal summoning virgin iron from deep in the earth. Her spell, modified, was that of magnetism. Iron wrapped around three elves.

The land was not fighting back. Over Ankh-Morpork, it began to snow.

Granny Weatherwax hit an elf on the head with a hoe. Ridcully sent a crossbow bolt through two others. Although the land wasn't fighting, the people were.

The elves were too many. They shrank back, then solidified back onto themselves.

One elf got a dart through to Granny Weatherwax, but was blocked by the hoe. Another dart took Mojo the dwarf gardener, who had been busy hitting an elf with another spade.

The Queen smiled again. "The land needs a union between worlds, and it would be satisfied."

Zaknafein advanced, adamantite blades raised.

The Queen laughed. The elves disappeared, along with the weapon master, but the rippling warp remained.

Quetzal snarled, and tried to push through the warp, but it pushed back. "It can't work!" she turned to Granny Weatherwax, "It can't! We're not of this world!"

"You are mortal," Granny Weatherwax replied.

The Watch was picking themselves up. "What was that?" Vimes asked, to no one in particular.

"Elves," Granny Weatherwax replied curtly, "They're not the nice, beautiful ones that you think they are. The Gentry are cruel."

"Bingely Bing bong beep," said something from Vime's pocket, "The time is Ten oh Clock aye em. Things to Do: Meeting with Elv…eep!" Vimes had triumphantly located another piece of paper in his other pocket.

"Really?" Quetzal said. The snakes hissed in rage.

A man with red hair stepped forward. He was tall, and his armor gleamed, as did his kneecaps. His shoulders knotted with muscles.

"Do we still continue with the arrest, sir?" he asked Vimes.

"There are more important things at stake, man," Granny Weatherwax snapped, "Leave the onnachterall things to us magic uses."

"Appearing in the Patrician's office is unnatural," Vimes observed. From what he had seen of the power, and also the still rippling warp in the air, this was unnatural.

"But the person in red said that they're taking over Ankh-Morpork, sir. Under the Tenth paragraph, sixth chapter…" Captain Carrot, the tall young man, was interrupted by Vimes.

"Right, Captain. So it's our civic duty to help the lot of you," he said.

"Much help you are, when the glamour comes on," Granny Weatherwax said.

"Glamour?" Vimes asked.

Quetzal ignored him. "We're not of this world – and we're resistant to magic!" she protested to the old woman.

"On their world, you ain't." she replied succinctly. "S'long as you're human, or elf apparently, the land takes it as it is."

A blond, pretty woman stepped forward from the Watch. Her eyes were faintly glowing. "Only human?" she asked.

Granny Weatherwax smiled, a shrewd smile, as if she understood and saw something.

"Aye," she said.

[next page]

Lledrith RavenWolf



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