"I feel like the elf," Bruenor grumbled, shielding his eyes as they stepped out of the cave into the brilliant light of sunrise. "Trust the two o' ye to lead us out in the daytime."

Catti-Brie smiled a little at the dwarf's constant bluster, even as tears brimmed over her squinting eyelids at the thought of Drizzt. She could see him next to her, pulling up the cowl of his green cloak, throwing her a wink as he drew his scimitars. In her heart she thought she knew he was still alive, but what if she were wrong?

"It won't be as bad under the trees," Wulfgar suggested. "And I'll bet the elves will have some clue for us, as to where he will be."

"We don't need them," Bruenor said as the companions headed for the shade of the forest. "We've got the locket."

"That will help," the barbarian agreed. "But all it gives us is a direction, and it is unwise not to take all of the help we can get at this point. Remember that we're not just looking for Drizzt for our own reasons as his friends, but also because we need all the help we can get with those orcs."

"Elf can fight," Bruenor conceded. "And Rumblebelly will whine if we leave him in charge longer than necessary."

They fell silent as the canopy of leaves grew over their heads, blocking out the sunlight they were still trying to get used to after so long in the tunnels. None of the three could hear any trace of the light elven footsteps, but both Catti-Brie and Wulfgar were sensitive to the feeling that they were being watched. There were elves all around them, just hidden, waiting to see what the three companions would do.

Catti-Brie and Wulfgar shared a long, questioning glance that ended with a shrug from each of them. Both figured that it would be best to wait until the elves willingly made themselves known, unless that took very much longer than it already had. They couldn't afford patience, for Drizzt's sake.

They rested for a moment in a small clearing, and as they had hoped, elves came into view from all sides.

"Durned elves, always sneakin' up on people, can't never just be polite and give a bit o' warnin'," Bruenor mumbled, the only one surprised by the elves' appearance.

"We might pretend not to know who you are," said one female elf, stepping closer, "but stories of the Companions of the Hall are too well known across the Realms."

Catti-Brie nodded graciously. "We were hopin' that you might have some knowledge of Drizzt Do'Urden," she explained their presence. The elf maiden shook her head sadly.

"We do not. Two of our kin, Tarathiel and Innovindil, went out in search of the drow. They hoped to warn him that Ellifain—"

"The young elf whose life he saved decades ago during a drow raid," Catti-Brie identified. She shifted her gaze uncomfortably to Wulfgar and Bruenor, before looking back to the elf. "She confronted Drizzt, some months ago.... They were both mortally injured when we found them. We only had enough healing potion for one... he begged me to give it to her."

All of the elves bowed their heads sadly. "We feared it would be so... Ellifain was obsessed. She'd never have rested until one of them was killed. It is a shame, but at least now she is free."

"I am sorry," Catti-Brie said sincerely. "Drizzt still—"

"We understand, Catti-Brie. Unfortunately, we know nothing of where Drizzt Do'Urden may be, except that our scouts have seen a great number of orcs not far from our border, and they have mentioned something of a dangerous drow. It may be safe to assume they mean Drizzt, if all we have heard of the ranger is truth."

Wulfgar grinned. "It is."

"We wish we could provide more for you," she said. She turned and whistled into the forest. "Take some of our horses."

There were sounds of hooves and three magnificent elven-bred steeds came obiediently to the elf's call. "Thank you," Catti-Brie said. The elves took a few steps back, and faded out of sight.

*~~*~~*~~*~~*

Drizzt worked hard to control his breathing as adrenaline continued to pump through him. The sun was rising at his back, and the two drow had bound their eyes to avoid being entirely blinded. He knew he could use that to his advantage, but with the sudden disadvantages, the pain in his arms and legs, his own sensitivity to the sunlight, the fact that he was still outnumbered... his one advantage seemed somehow a ridiculous thing to bank his life on.

He needed time to think, to shape this battle as he always had tried to on the road with his four friends. The drow seemed happy enough to let him make the first move, but he understood how little patience they would afford him. It was not wise to give one with Drizzt's reputation too much leisure.

He figured that Guen would still be slightly tired, but rested well enough to make the difference in a fight. Still, if he produced the ebony statuette, the chances that these two would allow the word 'Guenhwyvar' to escape his lips were very slight indeed. Not now, when they were so carefully watching him. He might as well toss the figurine to them without a fight, if that was his plan.

Drizzt's glance was pulled over to the male drow as he drew a slender sword and a dirk. The drow looked at Drizzt a bit uncertainly, then back at the female. Drizzt knew that the drow's misgivings were unnecessary; he remembered the snake whip he had taken so careful inventory of. If this drow had even half the skill of any of their kin, in this situation when Drizzt could hardly stand to lift his aching arms, it would surprise Drizzt if he could defeat him.

Drizzt's foe came on cautiously, probably thrown off by the way Drizzt calmly waited for him, not moving, not bringing his scimitars to the ready.

"Ready, Drizzt Do'Urden?"

Drizzt didn't respond. The drow took a lazy swing at him, an attempt to nudge him into action. The scenario reminded Drizzt of his duels with Artemis Entreri, except that this time he had every intention to fight back. He let the sword cut a thin line on his cheek, before both scimitars burst into motion, one cutting in towards the opening the drow had left on his right side, the other stabbing forwards for his stomach. Not having time for any other reaction, the drow fell backwards into a hurried roll and then another, coming up far from Drizzt.

The ranger watched but did not pursue, in part because the drow had retreated towards his female companion, and in part because he saw no reason to bother. His opponent, confused and angered, rushed back in, his emotions not coloring his fighting style. He did not make another mistake.

This drow was a brilliant fighter, Drizzt saw. At his best, Drizzt could have beaten him, he knew, but it would have been an extensive battle. The drow forced Drizzt to the defensive, attack routine after attack routine forcing Drizzt's scimitars to be everywhere, keeping Drizzt too preoccupied to attempt taking the offense. Drizzt's motions were slower than usual and gradually becoming more so as the battle taxed his strength. And he was holding back so his energy was not spent too quickly.

Drizzt settled into the rhythm, gritting his teeth and ignoring the pain he felt. He was concentrating more on this than he had on anything for some time, searching for any opening in the well-formed defenses of his opponent. Drizzt guessed, from the precise way the drow fought, his weakness would be in his inability to improvise if necessary.

Drizzt shot a cursory glance towards the priestess, but could not see her. He didn't have time to worry about it at the moment, and if she did enter the fight, Drizzt knew that his training with Zaknafein had taught him well how to improvise. As the drow cut high with both blades, Drizzt fell into a crouch. Expecting him to aim an attack at his legs, Drizzt's opponent was off-balance when Drizzt's scimitars shot upwards instead, slicing deep into one of his arms. The drow's sword fell from his hand, and he ran backwards, trying to regroup away from Drizzt. This time, Drizzt did follow.

Or at least he started to. There was a hissing behind him that he did not have the time to respond to before he felt the fangs tearing into his back and down his legs. With a cry he could not repress, Drizzt collapsed to the ground. The insidious poison burned as it spread through him, paralyzing him almost instantaneously.

"Ah, Drizzt... you really are a fighter. You cannot know how much respect I have for your talents." He heard her moving slowly around him. "And now it seems you will never come to."

He heard a dagger being drawn, and the female kneeled to roll Drizzt over onto his back. She started muttering something, her voice rich with the power of a spell. From the direction of where Drizzt thought the male had been, there was a soft thud that the priestess did not notice, preoccupied as she was.

Drizzt's entire body went cold, and he felt as though he were frozen within a block of ice. His lungs would not accept the air he tried desperately to gulp in. The female looked up from his face and seemed surprised by something she saw, but Drizzt did not know what it was. A shadow passed across his vision. I'm dying, he thought all but emotionlessly.

But the darkness was gone as soon as it had come, and he realized that it was not his eyes malfunctioning, but something had leapt over him. The female let out a shriek that was cut short, a noise very similar to the one Innovindil had made.

The flying shadow padded over to Drizzt after a moment, big eyes peering concernedly from a black face. The cat nudged his shoulder hopefully, but Drizzt could not respond. The drow did not, at that moment, realize the impossibility that the panther was there.

"Guen, go home," said a weary voice. The panther growled. "He'll be fine, go rest."

"Innovindil," Drizzt managed to rasp.

"Naw," the voice replied. "It's Harkle."