LEGALITIES all characters and concepts owned by Lim HweiLin, Drizzt Do'Urden appears without written permission of TSR and RA Salvatore no copyright infringements intended as appearance is not exploited for personal gain, only to see how well Drizzt's personality would bounce off Mesu's and Telleas's and Dalmarus's and Blood's.
On top of the mountains that were black enough to absorb light completely, there stood two dark elves. One of them really was a dark elf, the true kind, the old kind; black of skin and white of hair, with chain mail and scimitars sheathed on his belt, the only discordant note being the civilised expression on his face. He didn't act like a dark elf at all. And the other one was actually a Garakkas mage with the trademark Gothic paleness of skin and darkness of hair, but he looked more like a sullen Brit lead singer with pointy ears attending an awards presentation. He acted like a dark elf.
You could tell by the way he was clutching the neck of his greatcoat shut under his chin and glaring at the dark elf while in his free hand he held lightning, making the flares dance higher than the sky.
"I will say it again," he said. He sounded like a sullen Brit lead singer accepting an award with particularly bad grace and a sore throat. "I do not know the name you speak of. I am tired and cold and wet and it is going to rain again. This is not good. Agree with me."
The dark elf had his arms folded across his chest. It was meant to calm the mage down, but all Garakkas elves eventually go insane if they dabble in magic too long, which they do all the time, and this one had learned only recently how to balance the tricky gap between magic and madness. Crossing your arms doesn't help. Throwing rocks does, maybe, but crossing arms, that's suicide.
"It is imperative that I speak to him," the dark elf said.
"It is equally imperative that I consume hard liquor within five minutes," the mage said.
"What is that?"
"Where are you from? You are an Inner Drow."
"I am from... I am a drow, but I left my people long ago. It is a long story and I have a quest to fulfil. I will leave you in peace after I know where I can find L'Zol."
The mage stared hard at him across ten yards of rock so black they did not seem to have any features. Both elves were extremely fine of face, but the darkness of the drow's skin only accented the soft purple of his eyes; when the mage who was no darker than bleached rice-paper stared at you, you felt as if you were falling into the lightless opaque rock of the mountain.
And then the lightning went out, and the mage pulled a battered trilby that he plucked from a pocket over his dark hair.
"Rain," he said, as the clouds screamed GO and ripped open, "I hate rain quite a terrible lot. Come with me, then. I will take you to one who knows."
Actually he wasn't sure Telleas would know, but he was too tired to fry this elf without mucking up some of the cleaning-up this would require, the cleaning-up that breaking the laws of physics always required. Anyway, after a drink people usually see things a lot clearer. And Telleas was called a lot of things... it was possible that on one of his journeys through the sleepsea he had picked up this L'Zol as a moniker...
Think of cocktails, the mage said to himself. Behind him the strange elf followed, so light on his feet that the mage had to turn around because he knew that the elf was there, but couldn't hear him. Even through the rain, everyone makes some sort of noise, only this elf walked like a ranger. Rangers. One with the whole bloody world. He had heard that before.
The study was empty. In the corner the drapes fluttered, pulled back to show the empty bed. It was neat and looked as if it had never been used. The extremely worn state of the large leather executive-type chair by the desk, and the small mess on the desk itself, explained why.
"He is not in," the mage said. He took his hand off the control stone and the image on the screen faded, becoming the reflected edges of the mage sitting at his own desk trying to toss the trilby on a hook at the other end of the room. "Please sit down. I will mix a cocktail for you. If you like I can try for an ambrosia-nectarine-ale sherry although I warn you I am better with Bacardi."
"No thank you."
The dark elf's voice was of the sort you would like to hear coming down through the leaves of the tree you slept under when there were wolves howling in the distance and your fire was dying. It was a voice that said everything is all right if you were worried. If you were someone like the mage, though, then the dark elf's voice would probably make you jump up and put several thousand volts of electricity through him.
Resist, the mage said to himself. Think of cocktails. He tossed his sopping greatcoat into a corner of the room where he vaguely thought the laundry basket was, and wished there was an elf-size laundry basket. It would dry him automatically and give him a good shower and shake the wrinkles of wear and tear from his soul. Then agan, it would probably also steam-iron him and hang him on a rack. He sighed and looked at the stranger.
The stranger didn't look any different at arm's length than any other of the Tower Drow. Granted, he probably couldn't resolve an energy equation to save his life, but that was a matter of long-term education whatnot (example: Mesu could checkmate you in ten steps now, although when he first came he'd thought pawns were something aquatic with shells). In any case, the mage projected his best air of indifference so that the other elf would not feel overtly scrutinised, while recording every visible detail about the stranger in some corner of his mind, just in case. If you took a look it would read like this:
whitefringelonghair blackskin lavendereyes (towerdrow?) sharpnose sharpchin angledfacialbone. olivegreencloak mithrilmailvest greytunic greyloosebreeches lowcutsoftboots (fighter?) twoscimitars oneblack oneblue bothmagic (ohyesfighter). intelligent hesitant polite funnytalk (notfromthisworld).
"Introductions," he said. Wet hair plastered to his forehead and the snakes of his familiar lightning turning the sky white-hot, flashing across his face as he stopped by a window that was actually a wall with a zero-opacity panel. "Dalmarus Yiimatakesh Cou'Raith. Aide of Tower Two, Outer Dalaktos."
"Drizzt Do'Urden," the dark elf said. Too far away to shake hands, and he was not sure that he would have been offered a handshake by the mage, either. "Ranger of the goddess Mielikki."
"What is a goddess?"
Drizzt looked at him. He had managed to find a towel and he was drying his hair with it. He was actually quite small and thin and unremarkable except for his sullen good looks, but Drizzt knew that the intelligent who looked weak were usually the strongest.
"You have no deities, here?"
"We have a belief system and a code of laws. I am not sure about the current standing of ethics. That will always be under debate. We believe in science. The natural order and disorder of the universe. Uncovering the truth. Blind faith is useless. Are you sure you would not like a drink? Telleas may take some time. I have left him a summons, but so have at least twenty others."
He made a gin and tonic for Drizzt, but gin had long ago failed to have any effect on him, so he decided to start with vodka and lime and experiment from there. Experimenting was how the Drow went about their business, here. Having people around to make drinks for was usually good for Dalmarus, though; it made him nicer to talk to and you did not feel half as nervous about your neck.
"At the very least, Telleas will be able to send you back to your world," Dalmarus said. "He is not Drow, but he is powerful..." He stared into his glass, then shook his head a fraction and looked up. "How did you get here?"
"Clerics helped me. They did not want to." One of the scimitar handles seemed to burn a brighter blue as Drizzt said calmly, "I made them. I was told that after... after I had finished my business here, L'Zol would send me back. And if I did not find L'Zol... there will be no point going back."
He said nothing much about his affairs after this; Dalmarus left it there. Everyone has their own problems. Dark elves - and Garakkas mages who join the dark elves - have more than their fair share. Of course, they don't have to care about it. It's only that when you're always fighting to stop going mad, or fighting to be accepted, or simply fighting to stay abreast of all the bloody paperwork that the authorities are thrusting at you, you do care. So much so that you can't possibly find the empathy to care about anyone else's problems.
Then, when it was late, and Drizzt had half-dozed off on the couch while Dalmarus tried not to fall asleep over the pages of a compulsory reading introduction-to-electrodynamics book, the Drow's Staffmaster knocked on the door and poked his head around it because he was supposed to be playing chess with Dalmarus today.
"Hello, Dalmarus," he said, jolting both elves awake.
He stayed there with his head bent at an uncomfortable angle under the doorsill, because he really was too tall to fit under it without a small amount of pain, and Drizzt stared at him, and he looked back at Drizzt with that faintly puzzled look on his sweetly dark brown face that did not go with the hectically white hair.
"L'Zol?" Dalmarus said. "Oh, a lucky guess. One point for me. As I sincerely doubt Mesu and I will play any chess tonight, I will join Gambel. Good evening."
He teleported. The book hit the floor. Mesu, moving very quietly, walked into the room, picked it up and put it on the desk, aligning it neatly with the edges of the table. He brushed the slightly grainy texture of the cover with the cuff of his sleeve, although he knew the entire room was in a state of unholy cleanliness.
"Hello," he said. "Do you know why Dalmarus is calling me L'Zol?"
Drizzt, moving with a silky sort of speed, approached him, staring intently at him all the while. Mesu sat down obligingly so that Drizzt wouldn't have to crane his neck, although he put one hand on a small, pale wand that hung from his belt.
"You are not L'Zol," Drizzt said.
"I am Mesu. Do you wish to speak to me? Is that why Dalmarus said I would not be playing tonight?"
Suddenly the lavender eyes pulled away, and Mesu faced a swirl of bone-white hair as Drizzt walked to the false window where the rain smacked merrily into the wall several inches away. He stood up again, puzzled. Maybe I should have combed my hair, he thought, but there was no time.
"I am sorry," Drizzt said. "You are like one who was familiar to me."
"Really? That is amazing. I have never met another elf like me*."
"It is not important. I have come here to consult L'Zol, a being of great power. Your friend believes that his colleague will know the answer."
"Telleas knows a lot of things," Mesu said. He looked at the swirl of colours thick in the bottom of the last glass Dalmarus had mixed. "Do you want another drink? I'm not up to the standards of Dalmarus yet, but no one has died from my cocktails so far."
Drizzt put his hand on the wall and tried not to look too hard at where the impossibly tall elf stood as he held a new glass and tipped up one of the strange bottles from the cabinet so that the liquid sloshed with happy gurgles into the glass. If he looked too long, the dark brown of Mesu's skin would turn darker to ebon in his mind, the colourless eyes would gleam with sudden violet, and he would not be able to stop himself from reaching out to ruffle the shock of white hair.
He tried to think of what the cleric had said. He will look like the boy. But it will not be the boy. You must think of what you want in the end.
In the end - in the end that Drizzt had lived through - the boy had died without knowing the truth. No one told him. All that Drizzt had had was one fleeting moment of connection, when purple eyes met purple eyes and held fast, fascinated. She hadn't told him. For some reason, it would not have done for a child to have Drizzt Do'Urden firmly identified as its father. Even if the truth was smashing hammers into your skull by way of the lavender eyes and the stubborn chin, even if it was written in the weave and warp of genes and bone and skin.
When the boy had been alive and they had talked, in between the lessons of bladeskill and tracking, he had wanted to ask the boy, where did you get your height from? Not from your father's side, for sure... Aren't you eating enough? I could snap you with my bare hands, you look so fragile... Do you know who I am? Why your eyes are different from everyone but mine?
The cleric had said it was a reverse-flow effect. If the boy died then someone else on some other plane of existence would woud live. Vice versa. Drizzt had liked the 'vice versa' bit because it meant that he had a chance to talk to the boy again, if he stepped into the right universe and killed the right person. Vice versa, a cut of flesh for every pump of blood through the boy's now-silent heart.
And then you caught a passing blur of Mesu in motion and you noticed the same sort of gentle happy look that had belonged to the boy, when he had been alive, was also there on Mesu's face. What did this mean? Why did the cleric tell Drizzt that he would have to think so hard about what he wanted, in the end?
"I think Telleas is here," Mesu said, handing him the glass. There was no colour in his eyes at all, and it was like looking into a distorting mirror that reflected everything around it. He opened the door and stepped outside, and when he passed under the lintel he cocked his head slightly whie lowering it, looking up and rolling his eyes a little at the irritating nature of doors that insisted on being so low. Drizzt had never seen Mesu do this before. It was familiar to him because the boy had always done that, when he had grown enough so that walking under doors became a pain...
A small groan from behind him, and Drizzt turned to see another elf lounging in the shadows, where he had quietly teleported himself into. He saw brown skin and great heights of bone, and his eyes skewed for a moment; then he saw the closely-cropped black hair, the narrow eyes and the perfect cut of cheek and brow, and remembered what Dalmarus had told him. Not Drow, but powerful...
"I have a feeling I do know why you're here," Telleas said, "and that it is going to give me the mother of all headaches."
Telleas had to stoop to pass under the door as they reached it, but he was not as tall as Mesu and even if he had been he wouldn't have done it with such half-comical charm. He did it slowly, regally, as though it was part of a dance step that he was forced to suffer while entertaining a hyperactive lady partner, and he did it with such dignity you felt that you had to apologise to him for making him go through the door at all.
"Reverse-flow effect my ass," he was saying, "it's a continuity thing. I'll get Dalmarus to explain it to you, if you're interested. My interest in that field has become too complexedly academic to let me summarise it in less than four hours."
Drizzt nodded politely. He had been walking around the Tower with Telleas for a while now because Telleas wanted a place to sit down and talk, and every room in the Tower seemed to be occupied by silent pairs of Tower Drow playing chess, magic or swords. Drizzt felt ill at ease when any of the Drow looked up and he felt the colourless eyes in the black faces rest on him. It was as if he were walking in Menzoberranzan again, as if the subterranean city had somehow acquired a degree of cultivation and civilisation and he had come back for a visit and been completely mindboggled by the change. The Drow that he met in the Towers of Outer Dalaktos were not like the ones he had been born amongst, but they had the same feel to the edges of their presence. Perhaps Drizzt's people, before the demon goddess Lloth enticed them underground, had been something like this: intelligent and lethal but polite and restrained, in a way. Playing chess and magic and swords.
"Tournament next week," Telleas said. "Everyone's practising."
Like a Melee... "How do you play your tournaments?"
"Round robins, then knockout games." Telleas gazed intently at a chessboard as they walked by a table in one rec room, tilting at a dangerous angle on tiptoe to peer at the army of black threatening to overthrow the white, which seemed to be vaguely aware of this but held itself in check so as to conceal its own masterplan. "Some we play with animated full-size pieces, but the final game is always with a conventional set. The last game is always pure."
Drizzt looked around as Telleas joined the small ring of silent onlookers surrounding the two motionless combatants. In the corner, two young elves sparring with flail and spear took a few last swipes at each other, then came over to see the game. Telleas looked very tall and odd in the middle of the white-crowned heads. He came away after a while, shaking his head. "Masters," he said as he and Drizzt walked away and back out into the corrridor. "But we should really be talking of your business... Ah, here we are."
The stairs curved around the outer walls of the tower and the rec rooms were carefully staggered so that they looked very roomy although they were actually quite small. Through this door they could see empty alcoves cut into the rock wall and what looked suspisciously like tatami mats covering a generous floor space for sparring. Up in the topmost alcove Dalmarus was playing chess with a small, purple-haired elf.
"We are going to have a small and hopefully painless conversation down here," Telleas called up to them, "I hope that doesn't bother you."
Dalmarus shrugged. The purple-haired elf shook his head, but he was really quite into the game and couldn't manage one of his usual face-bisecting grins.
"Okay," Telleas said. He dropped into a seat and sank into the cushioning so loosely that in a few seconds he appeared to become semi-fluid. "Let us discuss this matter of your son."
Drizzt nodded and sat down. It was not surprising that L'Zol should know what he had come for.
"You are L'Zol," he said.
"Oh, no, but I know her. I know her well enough to deal with people looking for her, anyway. We call her Blood, here. Small joke. What did she do on your world?"
"She did nothing..."
Drizzt touched the surface of the rock wall. It had been very finely hewed and then glossed over so that it was like touching marble and silk at the same time. Cold and smooth and dark.
"On my world," he said, "a boy died. And it was not yet - time - for him to die. It was whispered into my ears that he had died so that one on another plane might live. I believed it. It was feasible. It was something that his mother was capable of accidentally achieving. I was told that the being known to my world as L'Zol knew of this. Told to look for L'Zol as the answer, or at least a guide..."
Telleas had his chin in his hand. He made a sympathetic noise. In truth he had no idea what it was like to lose somebody, but he could make excellent sympathetic noises when he felt it was appropriate.
"And they warned me that, no matter what answer L'Zol gave me, whichever road I chose, in the end someone would have to die. I could not reason with the boy's mother to try and change the nature of the - the link that had been made. So I came here. Because. I do not know."
"Maybe it's better when you actually see what there is to do," Telleas said. "But you really are biting at straws if you're relying on her for help..."
A host of shurikens flew at him from out of thin air, but he'd pretty much figured this would happen and he deflected them into the wall where they stuck in a row. Their thrower, however, had known that he would expect them, and followed them up with a cushion. This he did not expect.
"Bugger!" he said. He was holding his nose, where the cushion had caught him. The whole of his head had snapped back very suddenly on impact with the cushion because the cushion had wanted to take his head over the back of the seat and his neck had said no.
Scimitars that flashed in the air were just as suddenly sheathed. The clerics had said that you would know L'Zol when you were in the being's presence. All around them now, filling the room, was the faint washed-out smell of cherry blossoms drifting fickle on a breeze that did not come from any natural atmospheric pressure differences, but was purely due to the special effects that accompanied the ninja as she landed neatly in the seat next to Telleas.
"Hello," she said to Drizzt, who bowed gravely. Turning her cat-insolent face to Telleas, she said, "and you too, you stupid elf..."
"Truthful," Telleas said. His head was still bent back over the seat.
"Equals stupid. Hello, Drizzt. You've come a very long way to see me. I'm flattered."
She smiled at him. If ever a woman reminded him of the panther Guenhwyvar... This was L'Zol?
"Wait till you hear what he wants," Telleas said. "Tissue, please. You've made my nose bleed."
They had given him a room in Tower Two for the night while Blood and Telleas stayed up to crack their skulls and give him an answer. Blood's exact words, when he tried to protest that he shoud be there to help, were: "The heck you will, you stay put and don't throw emotions into the pot, right?"
So he stayed here and listened to the rain fall and thought of the child that had gone away from him.
In Telleas's chambers Blood lay on the couch in a very catlike sprawl and examined each of her fingernails while Telleas set his screen on fire after the tenth unsuccessful prediction model.
"I'm not getting you a new one," she said.
"I know," Telleas said. "I've started putting fireproof covers on my things."
The flames died away as he spoke and it was marginally cooler as the energy that he had created, breaking the laws of physics, was destroyed, repairing the break in the laws of physics. The damage, though, was there. Telleas dusted bits of carbon, reduced from burnt air, off the screen, then he sat back and moodily chewed at his knuckles.
"Told you," Blood said.
"Oh, go die. It has to work sometime. There is no sense in it not working. If we can break the energy principle on a daily basis we should be able to mess around with continuity. Or at least time."
"You have no idea how much that pisses off the Timekeeper. I get an earful every time I run an errand for him."
Telleas put his hands behind his neck and stretched with a shudder. In his spine there was a faint crack as the vertebrae popped, and he sighed. "That was good. All right. That's it for the Do'Urden fellow, then. I'm buggered if there's a way to get him his son back. Pity. He doesn't seem... like... like..."
"Like a dark elf," Blood said. "Yes. It's a pity."
"And I'm sure you wouldn't let him kill Mesu, either."
He got another cushion in the face.
"Again I was halfway through the truth," he said, "quit it with the flinging of all missiles, soft or hard or round or pointy."
"Quit it with the bad jokes, 'kay?"
"I thought we should let him know, at least. It's an option. You saw me check it. Don't ask about the physics behind that reason, though... I never said everything made sense. But we should tell Do'Urden, at least. He seems to know it, anyway. Those clerics have some idea about continuity..."
"Well, he wouldn't. He's not the sort who kills people like Mesu. No one kills people like Mesu. Unless they're really really mean."
"I think you shouldn't worry about Do'Urden. Mesu's the sort who'd obligingly kill himself if he could save anyone else from suffering."
"Gee, you think**?"
She was off the couch in an instant and at the window, which Telleas had opened a crack to let some fresh air in. Blowing him a teasing butterfly kiss, her hair flying madly in dark snakes around her face like falling snow. Telleas lifted a hand to acknowledge. Out of the window a black shape curved, full of grace, and then was gone.
"The truth is the truth," Telleas said. His hand that he had lifted was still in mid-air, as though to catch the impetuous kiss she had thrown to him; he found that he had drawn his fingers together, to rest them on the full, heavy curve of his lips, as though to see what cherry blossoms tasted like. "It just hurts, sometimes***. That's all."
* It would be hard to find another elf like Mesu. He gave himself to the Drow to let them perform their bioengineering experiments so that they would be too busy to start a war with the Assemblage (the alliance of the various light elves). They altered him so he he turned into a semi-Drow in soul as well as in flesh. This is not a good thing to wake up to, even if you're prepared for nasty news.
** Mesu had in fact given his life up to save the city of the light elves, once. The Drow didn't kill him, but they might have. Or worse. Luckily for Mesu they had planned to use him for an experiment (see the earlier footnote) and it went well, so instead of dying, he was made half-Drow. Blood and Telleas were, in their own way, involved.
*** Telleas and Blood once had something going, but he kept having his memories wiped out every sixty years which puts a great strain on any relationship with an immortal. Currently, Telleas has no memory at all of his previous escapades with Blood, although she does. He just looks at her wistfully every now and then. Until she throws stuff at him.
On the slopes of the Ilkenmayer, Mesu was trying to fish. This was difficult because the nature of the rocks was such that you could not tell where the bloody stream was until you walked into it, and then by the time you emptied out your boots and found a place to sit and shade to sit under, you had usually scared the fish away. The fish were smart. They were, however, also lazy and non-committal, confident that their habitat would forever shield them from enemies.
A spear through the spine is an excellent convincing device.
When Drizzt found him, he was gutting a small row of animals distressingly similar to trout and tossing them into a flat, hard satchel that his neighbour Neta had graciously lined with ice before he left. The fish were getting worried; Mesu could see the shapes moving with increasing agitation. He could see them because being Drow gave you a degree of infrared vision that was quite useful for walking in Central Dalaktos, whose inhabitants were used to faulty lighting systems.
He looked up, saw Drizzt, and that smile was there again. He smiled so much. It was hard to think that he would ever stand in front of you and swing spear and staff to drive the sharp ends through you. But he was Staffmaster... And the knife in his hands moved quickly, he disemboweled the fish so very fast, but he did not make you worry that he would cut himself.
Had the boy been like that? Perhaps, if he had lived longer, trained a little harder, been pushed a little more...
"Fishing is all right," Mesu said, "as long as we do not let the Scirrim* Library know."
Drizzt looked for a place to sit down. It was impossibe to see where the graduations in the rock were, but you could see with infrared where the cooler regions were and if you moved very carefully you could sit down without hurting yourself.
"Better to fish earlier in the day," Mesu said. "The fish go underground when it gets warmer, Neta's ice does not melt so fast... You have time to look around, and I like what I can see from here."
Down the rock, you would be made dizzy by the fact that it apparently went straight down and yet flat out all the way to where the Towers stood like a flat cutout of fourteen spikes jagged in the sky. After that, the whiteness of the bleachgrass reaching in a ripple to the edge of the sky, fading to a pale mint green as the sunlight hit the long flat blades of the grass, warm after the irreconcilable cold of night. In the shadows of the grass, where you could see the land undulating with regular monotony, you could see the occasional too-violent shake of the rustling blades, and sometimes something would leap out of the grass altogether and either scoot off in long bounds, rise into the sky or jump up with an indignant shriek that would hopefully prevent it from being eaten.
Drizzt watched Mesu toss the last fish into the satchel. Mesu peered inside, banged the thing around a bit to make all of them fitted properly, and when he was satisfied, pulled the cover over and buckled the straps. He got up, with the end of his staff dug into a crevice that he could not see, for leverage. Drizzt noticed that he was wearing soft, loose boots, that he walked with a curious rolling motion which had not been with him yesterday, but seemed so natural to him that he still moved quite fast.
"Have you found L'Zol?" Mesu asked.
Mesu nodded, and then he moved his head in a little jerk to the side. "I am done," he said, "I will show you an easy way down, if you like."
Drizzt rose and picked his way across the rocks, then got one foot wet in water he could not see up to the ankle. As he stumbled, he heard the soft footsteps, and then Mesu caught him by the arm to guide him out of the stream.
"I am not that old yet," Drizzt said.
"You are new to the Ilkenmayer. The mountains have never cared for age."
In his throat, a small grumble had started, but he had not made that sound for so long that it surprised him. It was a simple and gruff half-choked mumble, the sort he used to give the boy when the boy started saying innocent things about him aging.
Mesu looked at him, the sweet brown face peacably blank, as though incapable of laughing at Drizzt. And Drizzt suddenly wanted, very much, to see the colourless eyes turn purple and hold dark and colour instead of mad reflections.
Directly after Telleas told Drizzt that they was sorry there was nothing they could do to help him, the chess tournament kicked off, and half a dozen young Tower Drow started the pyrokinetics display with complicated fireworks that startled the Ilkenmayer into shedding its complete and utter blackness for at least half a second after each burst. Dalmarus wandered around, hands in pockets, sporting a Mafia-style trenchcoat with a skinny cigar that he didn't know how to smoke dangling from his lower lip and a tiny carnation in his buttonhole, smelling of strange cologne and gun-oil. He looked very small and odd and morose.
"Could I interest you in a small tour?" Telleas asked. He felt he was being very kind; he badly wanted to watch the grandmaster category at work. And his collar was killing him. It was of the tall and close-fitting category that had been created to slowly strangle the wearer and make him look like a dying duck despite the comfortable clean lines of the matching long coat and pleated slacks.
Drizzt shook his head. Telleas thought of mentioning the option of killing Mesu - it was the only one that would actually work - but even if you could deflect the shurikens of Blood, you could not do anything about the wrath of Blood. And Mesu dying, for whatever cause, really made Blood wrathful (at Telleas. No matter whose fault it was). It wasn't that Mesu wouldn't be capable of defeating Drizzt in battle. He was skilled enough to do amazing things with his staff. He was also, unfortunately, compassionate enough to do crazy things with his life.
"I'll get Dalmarus to take you around," Telleas said, finally.
"I'll take him round."
"Whatever," Telleas said, and he nodded to Drizzt and walked off without even pretending that he was impressed by the way Blood had appeared out of nowhere and slid gracefully into the conversation. Drizzt saw Blood grinning madly.
"He's like that," she said. "Don't bother teaching him manners on chivalry. I wouldn't get used to it, either. How're you?"
"Well, as I trust you are."
She wound one lock of long black hair around her finger as she walked. Her legs were long and they had a very feline way of sliding sinuous over the ground. Drizzt fell into step beside her, moving like he was floating. In the sky the fireworks had faded away, leaving trailers of dying multi-coloured light in between the constellations and the mountain peaks. There were no clouds; spheres of light hung from the tops of poles put neatly into the ground to illuminate the contestants as they sat gravely opposite each other with the chessboard between them. As the light fell away you could see the gleam of eyes that reflected the light and the chess pieces, pressing around the battlefield of the board, spectating. The mountainside was so black that the lights looked like more stars, borrowed by the elves so that they could play games by the light of the stars. If you tried to look at the mountain you would believe it was part of the overhanging sky until you saw that it was at once underneath you and beside you.
"Tournament," Drizzt said. He had stopped, and Blood came back to look for him. There was a crook in his eyebrows. Next to a scimitar handle his hand moved, a faint clenching of a fist, barely there and barely remembered.
"Not at all like the ones you're used to."
"Not at all."
"Bet everything here isn't like what you're used to."
"You're right," Drizzt said. "Nothing like it."
"Impossible to expect things to be the same. It's a different world, honey."
"And nothing is the same."
He looked across at her. There, right behind the dancing lights of the cosmos you could see when you looked at her in the eye, a sort of shaking, as though she was holding her breath while at the same time grinning at him all careless and callous. In the way she held herself she told you that she was free of everything and bound to nothing, and then, suddenly, you saw a crack thin and fine through which she was actually holding her breath and hoping. Just like him. Holding your breath and hoping, hoping, hoping for a chance. He thought of door lintels too low for an elf to pass through.
"The Staffmaster is not fully Drow," he said.
Somewhere below them, they saw Mesu, sitting on a slope that seemed to be all featureless black, turning occasionally to talk to the drow who was next to him.
"Explains why he acts stupid sometimes," Blood said. "The Drow are actually quite bloody smart."
"But I have not met any true Drow in my brief stay here. Dalmarus, Telleas, Mesu - you say they are not true Drow, but they stand out. And Mesu, most of all..."
"Really? Glandular hormonal thingy, gets your kids shooting up faster than beanstalks. Not that beanstalks grow very fast, actually--"
She stopped, and the cosmos in her eyes shifted in between supernova and firmament, light and dark. She was only looking at the handle of Drizzt's scimitar, the one nearest to her, but Drizzt knew what she was thinking about. Something tightening in her hand, drawing the fingers together.
"It wouldn't hurt," she said. "All right then. You wait here."
"Where are you going?"
"To tell him how he and your son are connected. He'd be awfully pressured to oblige if you were the one who told him and asked him if he minded dying so's you could have a family reunion."
She grabbed Drizzt by the front of his collar. Like all ladies of reknown, her beauty was brighter when her rage burned higher.
"But I'm telling you," she said, "you two better quit it with the unconscious hero aura sometime SOON."
Then she let go of him so hard and suddenly his teeth rattled in his jaw, and the stars around them, the lights on the mountain, the strange sense of infinity in her eyes, all of it moved in a slow circle, so that when Drizzt focused hard with one hand on the rock to steady himself, the ninja was gone.
Gillu from Tower Twelve won the Grandmaster Tournament. The Drow did not applaud; they murmured, lips and minds moving silent and powerful, and a wave of respect would nearly knock off whoever it was aimed at. Gillu had trouble standing up when she started to walk up to the little peak where the two Elders stood waiting to pay respects to the champion.
"We're missing the presentation, dammit," Telleas said.
He stood like a bad joke, tall and thin and unbalanced and scarecrow, wind threatening to blow him right off his perch. He did not have to stand on the top of the ridge; he was only not happy that he had ended up getting involved in any of this.
"You'd complain if it was only me and the last elf standing who came back," Blood said, out of the corner of her mouth, but the whisper went straight to Telleas's head like yet another headache stabbing straight to the brain. "And you do know who the last elf standing would be in that case. Don't you?"
"If you think he's that good..."
"It's you who doesn't think he's that good."
Mesu and Drizzt stood about ten metres apart, and Drizzt had not pulled out his scimitars yet because he was not entirely sure what he was going to do. Mesu had taken the small bone-like wand from his belt and let it telescope into the double-bladed staff so he could put one end on the ground and give his hands a place to be, around the staff, holding it. That was really a problem. What to do with your hands, when you were not sure what you were supposed to do.
"Get on with it," Telleas said cheerfully.
"No more Monty Pythons for you," Blood said under her breath. Telleas looked sideways at her in that furtive manner you save for people you suspect are terminally insane.
Drizzt was watching them, his eyebrows pressing down at the insides. "They are..."
"Ah. And she is your..."
"She is my," Mesu said. The lips went up at the corners and something weird and wonderful pushed around the rest of his face, so that he did not have to explain anything; you could read it off his face.
"I am going to kill you," Drizzt said. He did not sound like you would, if you told someone you were going to kill them, because normally you kill people because they deserve to die and you are most happy to tell them so.
Mesu shifted his grip on the staff, putting one hand above the other, then putting it back where it had been.
"I have no son," he said, "and I ran away from my father**, so I cannot understand what you feel."
He looked across the glade and the air heavy with dew from night slipping over the ridge-top into early sun rising from a shimmer of bright dust low in the sky, across into dark eyes, cat-like, impossibly dense with the spinning stars of other worlds. And Drizzt, who after so many years of experience in these matters knew exactly what it was he saw, sometimes, saw it again, here, in the way Mesu looked at her, the way his smile touched his colourless eyes and turned ghost-irises to a strange and luminous gold.
"A long time ago I was not really Drow, and I tried to trade with the Drow," he said, "give them my life, so that they would give the city of the light elves a little more time. I said to her that time to live, that was important. I did not know then that she could not die."
"And it did not make sense to her."
"But through me it makes sense," Mesu said. "I am in need of time, and I am not your son, but he has died, in your world, and that has given me time. And I would give it back to him, if it did not mean taking away the only kind of time that she has ever known..."
Drizzt had a funny taste in his mouth. It did not really make sense. A ninja who could not die, who could do anything she wanted because she was above something like this universe that he stood in. Why did she need time?
"I am sorry," he said.
The staff cut air and Mesu held it against his other arm now, but the blades seemed to know and they gleamed, predatory, while Mesu held his body in a way that did not fit the way he talked and tried to make you understand. A way that came from something deep inside him, like the way Drizzt felt when he held his scimitars and a voice spoke through the handles into bone and muscle. Silent music a chord throughout the body.
The first clash of blades came just as the Drow extinguished the last great lamp on the Ilkenmayer. Some of the Drow heard it, but Telleas was there, a presence in their minds they could not ignore: you don't really want to know, do you? Telleas was actually leaning against the side of the ridge now, looking at the rock almost relieved it was normal and not light-absorbing and impossible to look at like the Ilkenmayer, and missing one of the best fights on Margay.
"Drizzt's fast and the scimitars go places," Blood said, "but that staff is wicked long and Mesu's got height for a reason."
"Thank you for the totally useless analysis of the situation."
"What d'you want, a dissection of what they're feeling right now?"
Round one, stalemate. Drizzt had never had his scimitars kicked away by the heel of a boot slamming into the flat of the blade before. Mesu had never had anyone get closer than half the length of the staff to him before. They had been confusing when they fought, the cloaks rippling in and out of each other with blades glinting in exactly the same way, but then Mesu was suddenly at one end of the glade and Drizzt at the other.
"Why did you stop?" Telleas asked, disappointed.
Blood jabbed him in the ribs.
"Why did you stop?" Drizzt asked, softly, so that only Mesu could hear him.
The staff came down again, but Drizzt was no longer where he was.
And in between the downward drop of a scimitar blade and around the twist of its cold handle, under the passing swoop of the staff's curved end and over the tripping kick of a long and lean leg, Drizzt thought he knew. Underneath the ragged fringe of white hair, Mesu struggled, decades old but still a boy, handling a problem that age could not make easier.
It was like fighting for sport, for training, up to a point when you cannot take it any more and you fly apart. Mesu could not tire of fighting. Something in his head, the problem taking away his love of Blood from his eyes, was building up and he had to stop and let it drain off so he could get his head straight again. Drizzt let him dart away, returning to the other end of the glade. Morning sun on the rocks, but the trees kept the light from hitting them. Telleas and Blood were dark blurs in the shadow of the ridge, and the Drow were gone from the slopes of the Ilkenmayer.
"Again," Drizzt said. His hand tingled where the smooth handle of the staff had grazed him when he had timed a dummy too fast.
Mesu dusted bits of hair the scimitars had chopped off from the folds of his cloak. "I do not mind dying," he said, "to be honest. But she would."
"Decide, then," Drizzt said to him, lowering the scimitars so that they pointed at the ground. In his chest his heart felt as thought it were dissolving, the final piece of it delaying the change, waiting for Mesu's answer.
"You decide." The staff's end, bright in the air from a beam of light skipping through the leafcover of the trees, moved in an arc and pointed at Drizzt, like a child's finger saying 'you're it'. "You have the same choices. Someone you know and love, and a stranger from another world. Who would you give time to, if you held it in your hand?"
Mesu chanced a quick glance at Blood, to see if she was worried, the gold cast rose bright over his eyes, his mouth turned up at the corners; when he turned back to Drizzt, the strain in his face was back again. Blood was his love, Drizzt his stranger. And Drizzt's fingers numbed around the handles of the scimitars, because the memory of his son was in the shape of the one he loved, but it also ran through this tall and awkward stranger who could ask questions in this familiar, unsettling way.
"It is not the same," he said.
What was it the cleric had said? Think of what you want, in the end. He'd never said how to weigh a life, how to see which one was heavier than the other, which deserved more time than another.
"It is the same," Mesu said. He put his staff down. In the soft earth, the blades at both ends gleamed brilliantly, as though protesting his actions. "I think, although I do not know you at all, I can trust you to come to a decision about it. Because either way, someone will be made happy."
"You cannot do that." Drizzt was feeling lightheaded, too, now; he looked at the tall boy standing with his hands clasped behind his back and thinking how much he looked like the boy now, the boy who always said 'whatever' and then gave himself up to fate, to do with as fate saw fit. Drizzt had not approved of that habit of the boy's. It had seemed too much like a fault.
"You will. Blood," Mesu's voice suddenly cut clear and knife-keen across the clearing, louder than it had been and accompanied by the twist of his head to stare at the shadows under the ridge, "don't..."
"I've had enough of this nobility shit," Blood said from behind him. She clouted him across the back of the head, an action he was familiar with, hard enough to drop him to his knees so that Drizzt saw her suddenly as Mesu fell down.
"I thought I'd let you fight for a while, make you happy, then take you out and settle everything, if Mesu didn't do it first. Don't look at me like that. I don't pretend to be good or righteous or anything. And you fight for a few minutes, then you give each other this hero-to-hero-everything-is-grey talk? That's utter bollocks!"
"Blood," Telleas said, still cool in the shade of the ridge, "it's not your business."
"I think it is," Drizzt said. He could see Mesu's face because Mesu was looking up at Blood and then looking at him, and the eyes were pure gold now, the mouth very faintly curved in a proud-embarrassed dip.
"Clever, sane, elf. You know, you're about the first one of that kind I've come across. This one here," she prodded Mesu with the toe of her tabi-boot, but gently, "he's exactly your opposite***. I must be a stupid mad ninja to care about him this much."
"It is not hard to do that," Drizzt said. The scimitars were back in their scabbards now, and his heart was back and solid and beating; although some of it was empty, he knew now how much emptier the ninja's heart would be if he tried to take his son back. If there had been no tall boy with that sweet, dark face in her life, she would have no reason to value time, but Drizzt would always have a reason to value time.
Blood pulled Mesu to his feet and looked carefully at Drizzt. "You're all right," she said. She walked up to him, tugged at one of the white forelocks tumbling over his dark forehead. "As long as you know you'll die one day, you don't need to be reminded how precious life is. But I'm kind of lacking in that department, see..."
"I pity those who crave immortality," Drizzt said, smiling at her.
"Then pray for Dal****. The fashion freak, the mage you met, remember?"
"I'll send you home," Blood said, kindly. "And..."
She leaned over his shoulder, her delicate face screwed up with conspiracy.
Drizzt touched her hand that she laid on his shoulder. It felt very real and alive and the flesh of her fingers, small and tapered, seemed to be warm, to flow with blood. But beneath the skin, there was no pulse. Her pulse, he thought, beats in him. And it felt that he was doing, if not the right thing, the next best thing.
Over her head, Mesu's eyes, still somewhere between gold and mirror, never purple - but that seemed all right now. Drizzt wanted to say goodbye. He hadn't had the chance to say goodbye to the boy, and now it seemed he could make up for that, if he could only find the words...
He woke up in the chamber where the cleric started out of sleep. Blood had kindly put a soft place for him to land; there was a small avalanche of marshmallows as he tried to walk to where the cleric was standing and staring at this visitation of fluffy sugary pink that had flooded the place while he was sleeping.
"Is it possible for there to exist a person of such magnitude that he cannot exist on more than one parallel universe?" he asked.
The cleric only looked at him.
"I think there is... and I have lost him, found him, and lost him again. But he is there. And in the end... I have not ended, yet. I still have time. And... I think I will not waste it regretting something I could not bring myself to change."
The cleric opened the door for him. Outside, there was a wash of dark in the sky, lamps lighting all over the city. The cleric stood against the door and watched him disappear into the growing darkness. If you looked very closely at the sun dropping low into the horizon, you could see that in between the gold and red and yellow streaks of light there was the faintest tinge of faded lavender, and then it was gone.
But you would not have known how different the boy was from Mesu Akkata, he said to himself, dark beneath the cowl of his cloak and the night falling close over the land. If you had killed Mesu, would the boy's eyes still be purple when you looked at him, or would you see instead the golden colour of Mesu's love for the ninja?
Just take this time, that you have, and love it for what it is. And remember that every action you take is both right, and wrong, but some actions are simply not yours to take. All you can do is give. Give time. Mesu must have done that once; you saw him struggle with the memory of it, breaking away when he should have dug even deeper into the fight. Hold the memories close, and give time.
But for now, there is still grief, in those moments strong and clear, before it fades away.
* The Scirrim Library is a clan of Inner Drow that champions the rights of animals and other less fortunate creatures of the planet George. It is due to the Scirrim that Central Dalaktos banned hunt-derived meat long ago and now cultivates food organically so that steaks don't actually come from a cow no more, although they taste the same. Mesu, though, was originally Gisoroth and needs to hunt every now and then.
** Gisoroth are hunter-wanderers who move alone. A child is considered the female's gift to the male, since she does carry it for an awful long time. The kids get raised by their daddies and don't really get the maternal-love part of the deal. So Mesu's running away seems terrible to him, although his father still had two other children at the time.
*** Blood's first words to Mesu were 'You. Stupid. Mad. Elf.'
**** Dalmarus is a Garakkas elf, and every single Garakkas goes insane after some time because they all become obsessed with gaining immortality. None have succeeded, so far. Dal is still sane because he made an odd pact with the Drow, but he's still bitter about having to die some day.