The Lesser Evil: Hooligan's Holiday

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of R.A. Salvatore/Wizards of the Coast ©. I don't own them; I'm just examining all their possibilities.

Author's Note: In late February of 2005, I undertook a project that I had never thought I'd ever do: writing a fan fiction. The title of that piece was "The Lesser Evil." Three months, over a hundred reviews, several hundred page views, one art depiction, and even one fanfic adaptation later, "The Lesser Evil" was officially finished and left to history and I left one promise to my readers when it was done: there will be a sequel.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am making good on that promise now.

To fully understand the setting and themes of this story, I strongly recommend reading "The Lesser Evil" before reading this one. To those who haven't, I will give you a word of warning: the character of Drizzt Do'Urden is more than a little different here. If you are reading this fic expecting a heroic story about the famed, goodly dark elf hero and his fellow Companions of the Hall, you will be in for a surprise. While constructive criticism is greatly appreciated, please think for a second before saying that Drizzt seems out of character. If you feel this because of certain descriptions or other detail intricacies, I'm all ears. If you think he's out of character because of how he is generally portrayed, my response is this: that is the whole point.

"The Lesser Evil: Hooligan's Holiday" is rated R for graphic depictions of violence, strong sexual themes, and some, strong profanity. This story is an examination of the darker nature of Faerûn as well as fantasy in general. There are no role-models in this story and the terms "hero" and "villain" are interchangeable. Characterization is based more on angst and dark humor than any moral lessons and should be read as such.

Prologue: The Prince's Reign

"Five in all," Nazlain said with no small amount of enthusiasm.

The only response Asil Qir'Treslin had to this was a look of deep scolding at her fellow priestess of Eilistraee, who should not be talking of such grim matters with such glee.

Nazlain straightened her smile and nodded in apology to the High Priestess, her thin, white hair bobbing slightly over her fine shoulders.

"Our sentries managed to take the lives of five Vhaeraun worshippers," the High Priestess said in curious confirmation, running a frustrated hand over her white hair, her fine fingers gently playing with the series of longs braids were strewn down both sides of her hair and joined at the middle of her back.

"Auzcovyn, all of them," Nazlain replied in a more respectful tone.

Asil looked up at the high canopy of trees and over at the long, wooded field on which her people had hade their camp. No moon was visible, only the dull red haze of heavy cloud cover reflected in the light of many campfires strewn around the area. She took in a deep breath of fresh air with the hint of woodsmoke and imminent rain, feeling much lighter in such serene surroundings…with such pleasing news?

People died, she thought to herself in a poor attempt at self-scolding. Young men and women who could have been brought to the Lady of the Dance and redeemed of their evil were lost to The Demonweb Pits. Asil did not want to be happy for these deaths, though she could not ignore the glee deep in her soul. Maybe her former life as a priestess of Lolth had yet to completely leave her psyche, a thought that both scared her and gave her incredible drive. These drow did not want to be redeemed, she thought, they attacked innocents died by the sword by which they lived; it was only inevitable.

She knew she was also doing a great service to the goodly folk of Cormanthor; the surface elves who still called this land home, the rangers of every race who protected the wood down to every last branch, and her own people, the followers of Eilistraee who wanted to escape the hellish Underdark and the monstrous ways of Lolth. Vhaeraun's flock was no better than the Spider Queen they scorned. All of them were predators; drow who raided the neighboring villages and slaughtered anyone who amused them at the moment. They would rape the land, defile Elven High Magic surrounding the area, and unleash demons and every other thing unholy that they saw as pleasure or creed.

Having the threat of Jezz the Lame and his minions in House Jaelre attacking the people of the Dalelands was tragedy enough, but a greater threat had been targeting her people directly for the past several months. The normally reclusive and splintered Auzcovyn clan had united in common sympathies and a new leader whose mere name spelled fear to many: The Rogue Prince.

The Rogue Prince was a warrior dedicated to Vhaeraun and his battle prowess was astounding; as was his savagery and love of slaughter. Those who fell under his swords did not fall in one piece, and many of those were still alive when they had their limbs hacked from them. His aim in battle was shed as much blood and cause as much carnage as possible, scaring his enemies into submission. No one ever saw his face since he always wore a black leather half mask in combat and those close enough to view any distinct features were allies who would not tell tales or combatants whose doom was imminent. It was obvious that he was a young drow of excellent build; even some of Asil's own priestesses would dare to describe him as handsome. His long, white hair was thick and often ran wild, though he occasionally pulled it back in a ponytail or a few well-placed braids. Rumors circulated that he also had a long, deep scar on the right side of his face that only added to his ferocity and the mysterious, yet deadly aura that surrounded him.

The Rogue Prince's daunting reputation in the Cormanthor wasn't the only reason why many feared him. In the past few months, rumors slowly spread around the goodly people that The Rogue Prince had slain a revered champion of goodness in the Realms: Drizzt Do'Urden, the most famous drow to have forsaken the evils of his kin. A group of wood elves found the shattered remains of the scimitar known by the rangers as Twinkle, the blade of Drizzt. They also found a long trail of dried blood running down a tree nearby. A few months later, soldiers from Silverymoon arrived in Cormanthor and those who escaped the Prince's wrath would return home with grim news: his body was never found, though the fate of the Ranger of Icewind Dale was all but sealed.

Stories spread around the Dalelands that Drizzt Do'Urden was working with the rangers against the Vhaeraun worshippers when he met the Rogue Prince in battle. The Prince impaled him on a tree with his own scimitar and he slowly bled to death as the Prince and his minions looked on and laughed. Then his body was dismembered and pieces were given to other Auzcovyn troupes as a prize, while the Prince claimed his head, which he now keeps preserved in a box and would display to anyone who pleased or challenged him. All of these were merely rumors, yet they were effective in adding to the horrifying legend of the Rogue Prince.

Asil and her fellow followers of the Lady of the Dance had come under heavy attack, especially in recent days by the Prince and the rest of the Auzcovyn; several circles would be ambushed and the Vhaeraunites would kill a few, maim many, and disappear. It was obvious their aim was terror, most likely making the goodly drow of Cormanthor know that they were not wanted.

Asil, however, had united her sisters in fighting back. The three hundred-year-old high priestess was possessed of great prowess in the divine arts; Eilistraee had shown her favor. She would find effects of the invading drow, whether shed pieces of hair, clothing, even skin, and do spells to curse them into weakness. When the spell was complete and the divinations revealed success, she would send word to her warrior allies among the rangers and wood elves, who would take care of the problem. So far, fifty Auzcovyn had died and many more were injured, though the Prince was nowhere to be found among the dead. Yes, this was dark work, but it was Eilistraee's will being done, and done with great success.

"Well, done," she replied, looking back up at the young priestess' white hair that glowed despite the lack of moonlight. "All we have to do is claim the Rogue Prince and Cormanthor will raise a cheer in victory,"

"Which shall be soon," Nazlain replied. "It will only be a matter of time before we corner him in battle again. He cannot keep all of his skin in tact swinging those damned swords around. And this is all because of you: our High Priestess who won us the day."

"Me who was merely doing my service to The Lady," Asil said, nodding her head in another gesture of gentle scolding.

"Eilistraee be praised," Nazlain added.

Asil looked at her friend and smiled, embracing her warmly.

"Now tend to our injured," Asil said, slowly drawing back. "I need some moments of contemplation."

"Of course…" Nazlain began, though she was interrupted by a small commotion on the outskirts of the woods.

Both priestesses looked over and saw two male, Eilistraeen warriors crouched down and yelling back for a priestess. Asil ran over and saw the two men bringing another male drow to his feet. The drow's tunic was torn and dyed red by his own blood, his skin covered with many cuts and bruises, dried blood making his black skin a shade of purple. His white hair took a shade of brown and red with all the dirt and blood seeped into it, the mane tangled and embedded with leaves and twigs. He looked like he could barely walk and his voice was only a series of pained groans that seemed to well deep from his shaking body.

Asil leaned in and grabbed the young man's shoulders, looking directly into his face and seeing his skin a shade of gray. She knew he could be a Vhaeraun worshipper, or even a soldier from the Underdark still in Lolth's slavery. None of that mattered to Asil; he was an injured young drow who was in desperate need of her care.

"We found him stumbling into the village," Rizal, one of Asil's soldiers said. "He hasn't said a word and his legs gave out many times."

"Hello, brother," Asil said in the injured drow's ear, "you are in the company of Eilistraee and no harm can come to you now."

The drow merely groaned in response and slowly looked up at Asil's calming face, giving Asil full view of his badly swollen and cut lip and swollen eyelids that barely opened to reveal bright lavender eyes. Asil leaned in, savoring the beautiful, unusual shade. Only one drow in the Realms was known for having that eye color…

The High Priestess felt herself go numb as her vision then turned to his belt, which bore one lone scimitar on his left hip and an empty scabbard on his right.

"Drizzt," she whispered gently, making sure he was the only one who would hear the word.

The drow's attention had shifted to the ground at first, but his head snapped up upon hearing the name.

"Drizzt Do'Urden?" Asil whispered louder. "Is that your name?"

The drow managed a wide smile as tears welled in those beautiful eyes. He nodded fervently and managed to reach his arms over and embrace the priestess, bursting into tears. Asil embraced his trembling body and felt her own tears come down.

"All is well, Drizzt," she whispered in his ear. "You are safe now. No one can harm you."

"M-m-my lady," he managed to gasp out. "I am not worthy."

"No, you are most worthy, and honored in this camp," Asil said through a sob. "We will bind your wounds, bring you to health again."

Drizzt tightened his embrace and sobbed. Asil gave her own sobs: some good had triumphed in this horrible place after all.

She slowly led him to his feet, giving the honored ranger many encouraging and soothing words. Drizzt Do'Urden manage to find some strength in his weary legs and walked along with the High Priestess' aid, though his steps were still staggered and his body seemed wracked with many aches and wounds. People in the small village would turn and stare at this scene, many wearing smiles and looks of awe. To some he was a young martyr who had survived the worst of battle now lived to be rescued in the light. Others caught a glimpse of his irises or heard his name and knew the most famous goodly drow in the Realms was alive and well.

Asil led Drizzt to her tent, a large construction of white canvas that seemed to glow on the field. By the time she opened the flap, his legs failed him, but Asil continued giving him encouraging words, which brought one final burst of strength that took him in the tent and to a soft cot covered by a gray blanket, where he crashed down. He immediately crouched into a fetal position and gave a few soft whimpers as tears rolled down his blood coated face. The High Priestess took a small basin of chamomile water from a stand in the corner of the tent and went to her knees, taking a thick cloth, soaking it in the water, and carefully reaching towards his bruised face. He cringed for a second before fully relaxing and allowing Asil to bathe his face, taking off the caked-on blood and revealing his beautiful, ebony skin.

"There are many, many people who are very worried about you, Drizzt," she said softly.

Drizzt sobbed harder.

"I am sure your Companions will be most happy to learn that you are safe," she continued.

"They can't know," Drizzt gasped, his voice barely a whisper. "I…I have dishonored them in too many ways. My lady, I have a confession. I have allowed my anger to control me. I have killed so many in blind rage, innocents and others. Many have died, and many should not have, all because I lost control."

Asil listened thoughtfully, her heart wrenched by his utter torment. He had committed terrible deeds, but redemption and forgiveness was the way of Eilistraee. She then remembered something else she heard about the young ranger.

"You gave into your anger after Catti-brie died?" Asil said, though she knew he could freeze if pressed further. "Your wife was everything to you, wasn't she?"

Drizzt curled up even more and gave a series of wails.

"All I could see was her death," he said, his voice a bit stronger. "I tried to kill the pain in all the most horrible ways. I let myself go, fell in with the lowest, most evil creatures. Then I found myself again, though I knew Mielikki had abandoned me. I…I wanted nothing more than to cleanse my soul and I knew I could do it here."

"You thought you could cleanse your soul by attacking the Vhaeraun worshippers?"

Drizzt nodded and shivered more.

"You went against the Rogue Prince?"

Drizzt's face twisted into a look of both sadness and rage.

"I wanted to do one final thing against my kin, but I never knew…oh gods I am such a fool!"

He started wailing again and Asil embraced his trembling body.

"They took me and threw me in a cavern, tortured me endlessly for months. I wanted to die down there, but then I managed to escape…but what is there for me now?"

"There is who you are," Asil said, a few tears making their way down her angled cheeks. "You are Drizzt Do'Urden, and no matter what, you have been the truest champion of goodness, bringing courage to so many drow who would embrace the light. And you are alive, given a second chance to appreciate life. Let yourself be free of the darkness in your soul…and come into the light again where trees and flowers grow."

Drizzt gave one clearing sigh that turned into a laugh. Asil laughed with him, more tears of joy streaming down her cheeks as she savored this moment with a goodly drow whose work was not finished. If Mielikki had abandoned him, Eilistraee would greet him with open arms; a thought that truly warmed her soul.

Asil savored this warm moment before feeling the searing burn of a thin blade being driven through her lower back. She gasped, her legs going completely numb as she felt her life essence running in a torrent down her back as the life was fading from her. She managed to pull back enough to regard Drizzt Do'Urden's wide smirk, his red eyes clearing quickly and fixed on her as he pulled her closer and the stiletto deeper. Her fading vision did catch one lingering image of his face, especially the long, deep scar that ran along the right side of his jaw. He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, his hand running up her neck and fingers tangling in her hair. A second later, his arm wrapped away from the embrace and drew the scimitar. One lingering look of sad denial was on Asil Qir'Treslin's face as her head separated from her body and into the hand of the fallen Ranger of Icewind Dale.

Drizzt gradually came to a sit, regarding the Eilistraeen's head before placing it next to him on the cot and kicking her body aside. He leaned against the tent pole and waited quietly, reaching into his belt and producing a small flask, which he opened and slowly sipped the pungent contents inside. He didn't want to consume too much of the bourbon, yet it was enough to keep him warm in the cool air and keep him occupied while waiting for his companions. The sounds of serenity around the village broke into a million screams and the clanging steel of battle. Drizzt smiled wider and gave a happy sigh. He wanted nothing more than to go out and join the slaughter, yet he only had one sword and couldn't be sure the plan had gone fully into effect until he received the signal…

…Which came in the form of a low whistle as a crossbow bolt landed into the tent pole a few feet above his head. He looked up at the bolt, then over to the lanky, yet muscular female drow coming into the tent. He head was shaven and bare save for a great, multicolored tattoo of a dragon that circled the crown. She stepped in cautiously, one hand bearing the crossbow and the other a longsword caked in blood.

"That was quick," Drizzt said calmly, replacing the top of the flask and putting it back in his belt. "You have something for me, Szir?"

Szir gave a sneering grin at the sight of the priestess' head and reached into her belt, adjusting the crossbow in the other hand as she drew a black handled scimitar with a large garnet in the pommel, throwing it to Drizzt, who caught it, raised it, and kissed the hilt. His attention then fell to the head beside him. At first he wanted to throw it to Szir, who would put it in her backpack and give both of them freedom to move in battle. Then again the sight of The Rogue Prince removing the head of a hated enemy from the backpack of a lower ranking soldier was not a very appealing one; though the idea of how the Eilistraeens would react to seeing the severed head of their protector might strike fear, or blind anger.

In a moment's thought, he lifted the head by the parted braids and put them over his neck; the priestess' long braids a chain while her head becoming a large medallion that swung around his stomach. This was slightly cumbersome, but then her head was relatively light and her hair long, putting the skull out of his range. It would work for one night, he thought. Szir laughed hard at the sight of him wearing the head around his neck. Drizzt laughed back while reaching into his belt and producing a black, leather half mask he put over his face and tied with one hand.

"Ready for some fun?" he said, motioning his head towards the tent flap.

Szir raised her sword and gave a growl, before turning around and rushing from the tent, Drizzt following a few steps behind her. Both were on the field and Drizzt noticed all of the Eilistraeens engaged in some way. It looked as if many of them were already dead or close to the end, while others fought Auzcovyn warriors or were picked off by poisoned bolts.

It didn't take long for the priestesses and warriors to notice Drizzt Do'Urden standing outside the tent; now wearing a black mask, wielding two scimitars…and wearing the head of Asil Qir'Treslin around his neck. Warriors charged at him and he stood still for a second before launching into a series of rapid feints and thrusts that caught two of them off guard for long enough to sink blades through their throats. Two more came at him; one losing both legs while the other's head was halved. More warriors came at him, though Drizzt could see their bravery sucked out by not only his thrusts but also the head that bobbed around his torso. The skull was indeed cumbersome, but for Drizzt it was an extra challenge that he met perfectly. Besides, this fight was getting a little boring and this just spiced it up.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Szir hacking through bodies with her sword. Then there was Xalryln Adnis'Tir, the war leader of Drizzt's clan, using his longsword and mace to deliver a trail of bodies as the numerous braids in his white hair bobbed merrily. Drizzt briefly looked up to see fingers of fire reaching into trees and consuming concealed archers by the dozens. He could also see his close friend Mazn'reysla Sshemlet, wizard and High Priest of Vhaeraun, concealing himself in the brush and waving his fingers casually in a spell that controlled the tendrils, not saying a word and looking rather relaxed.

Drizzt plowed through the ranks, leaving hacked corpses behind; though he almost wished the Eilistraeens were putting up more of a fight. Barely half an hour later the fighting stopped. The field was strewn with the mutilated corpses of Eilistraee's flock as the Auzcovyn stood and cheered in victory. Drizzt stood still and surveyed the scene, savoring the bloody corpses and the groans of those who refused to die. He then walked towards Xalryln on the other end of the field all the while driving a sword or two into a body that looked like it was moving. At last he stopped before Xalryln and the rest of the Auzcovyn and raise his scimitars, face locked in a wide grin.

"A complete sweep and clear," Xalryln said, a huge smile embedded onto his lined face.

"Fine work, very fine," Drizzt said, giving the scene another look as he saw Mazn'reysla walking forward wearing his usual pleasant smile. "As you can see, the bitch is dead. Now, I want to go home and enjoy the rest of the night."

The twenty Auzcovyn cheered and began the march back to their camp just a mile away. Drizzt walked back to Mazn'reysla and gave a small bow, removing the head from around his neck and leaving a trail of blood in his hair. The High Priest stopped and regarded him, his doe eyes piercing Drizzt's soul. He reached a tiny hand up to his face and felt a few of the bruises along his cheek and eye.

"Xalryln did punch you hard," Mazn'reysla said, his soft voice perfectly calm.

"He did just as I asked him," Drizzt replied, putting a hand on his shoulder and tugging him away.

"Drizzt Do'Urden," a weak female voice called out.

Drizzt looked to the side and saw a female dressed in the garb of a priestess of Eilistraee, three arrows protruding from her body, though she managed to prop herself up on her elbows. Blood still poured from her lips and her eyes were wet with tears as she regarded Drizzt in sadness.

"Drizzt Do'Urden: the drow who defended goodness?" Nazlain shouted despite her weakening voice. "The drow who had found the light and protected others? The friend of the dwarves, the svirfneblin, and all the manner of goodly races? He who fought for the goodly folk and defeated hordes of villains?"

Drizzt walked towards her, his stomach tightening as a wave of complete rage came over him. He was tempted to add a few other things to that list: the drow shunned by his companions after his wife was killed? The hero ostracized by the same community he nearly died defending? The stupid boy who realized his goodly course was a series of lies and hypocrisies? The friend and student of two men he had cursed before as villains? Defender of a group of his own race he found worthier than any of the other "goodly" races? The devout worshipper of a dark god who gave him more support and understanding of himself than the goodly goddess he spent decades nominally recognizing? Drizzt wanted to say all these things, but none of them would have mattered to this slave of ideals.

"The drow who forsook the ways of his kin?" Nazlain added as another river of blood poured from her lips.

Drizzt paused and smiled.

"I still am," he said, reaching into his belt and flinging forward.

Barely a second later, a small throwing dagger slammed through Nazlain's forehead and she fell completely prone. A few lingering Auzcovyn gave laughs and cheers. Drizzt spat at her body and slowly walked away, holding the High Priestess' head high and marching out with his fellow Auzcovyn with much more enthusiasm. Mazn'reysla came beside him as he eventually joined the line with Xalryln. The passion of the slaughter was still with him, but the priestess' dying words still had a grip on his stomach.

Was it guilt; the lingering remains of his conscience that still haunted him? He determined that was not the case. Drizzt knew what guilt felt like, though the last time he felt true remorse for anything was when he sent his wood elf associates to Mithril Hall with the shattered remains of Twinkle. The Companions of the Hall had all but splintered, though a part of him still felt guilty for what he put them through, though in the end it had all been for the best.

Drizzt knew the cause for his current unease had nothing to do with any lingering goodness; it had everything to do with a slight sense of loss for the man he had once been. It was not a sad loss by any means, just that odd sense of separation. The Drizzt Do'Urden he was now was the evolution of the Drizzt Do'Urden he had been before; the young man growing out of his childish ideals and finding who he truly was; the side of him he had suppressed for so long and even given a name, The Hunter, was a large part of who he truly was and he realized this after a long period of personal dissection and discovery.

Unfortunately, the Ranger of Icewind Dale still lived in people's memories. He had not wanted to revisit his old life, but it was the only way he could have reached an enemy who was destroying his people. This was the price he knew he would pay, though that did not make it any easier.

"It has been a fine evening," a voice said beside him.

Drizzt broke from his painful reverie to look beside him and face the beaming red eyes of Mazn'reysla and feel them pierce his soul; a feeling that he found somewhat comforting. The High Priest gave his usual calm smile and looked back towards the path in front of them, one tiny finger absently twirling a lock of soft, champagne-blond hair. Drizzt could not take his eyes off his friend and counselor, merely savoring the absolutely calm, almost innocent visage that he knew hid great cruelty. It wasn't merely the black, cloth half mask on his face that suggested this, neither was it everything that Drizzt knew of him. The young wizard-cleric seemed to give off an aura of menace that he found absolutely fascinating.

"A fine night indeed," Drizzt replied, his smile widening as his eyes trailed to the front.

His gaze at last met the approaching tree forts of the Auzcovyn village. Soon many people came into view and all were gathered around in anticipation of the returning heroes. Drizzt's march became more determined as his fellow soldiers allowed him to pass to the front of the line. The soldiers entered the village to a hail of cheers. Drizzt lifted the priestess' head and screamed in victory. Drow of all manner of attire approached him, giving him pats on the shoulder, embraces, and some even bowing before him, calling him "Malla Qu'ess"; "Honored Prince". Adrenaline ran through Drizzt's veins as he savored this fabulous moment of victory.

The Rogue Prince had returned home.

000000000

Drizzt could hear the tiny taps of the rain drops beginning their first assault on the leaves. The air became fresher, a moist perfume permeated by the scent of many campfires. He looked down the balcony of his small tree house at his people at play: a few soldiers rolled bones by a fire while a couple of young mages had a minor wizard's duel a few feet away, throwing cantrips at each other that only left a few bruises and stained robes.

It had to be past midnight, though the moon was hidden behind the heavy cloud cover. He adjusted his footing and leaned heavily on the wooden railing, a hand going through his freshly washed hair, which he chose to keep unadorned at the moment and flow freely. There was a chill in the air, yet Drizzt was more comfortable in a ragged, sleeveless tunic that showed off his arms, which had gained much more muscle tone in the past year, while his feet remained bare. His blood was only now cooling after their great victory and the passioned ceremony of offering to the Masked Lord that sent his heart racing every time it was performed. He frequently replayed the moment of Asil Qir'Treslin's head being lowered into the black, onyx bowl and being consumed by the blackness within. He stared at this sight and felt the dark comfort in his soul; Vhaeraun was pleased.

Now everything was quiet. The blood was washed off in the river, the torn clothes were discarded and replaced, and the cuts and bruises of the evening were swept away by a potion. Drizzt now stood on his balcony, overlooking the rain-kissed woods and taking in the gentle sounds of raindrops, passing birds, and the laughs of merriment below. He gave a long sigh for quiet moments like these still held absolute bliss; one factor of his life that never changed. Drizzt then shivered slightly as this moment of introspection threatened to take him places he was not comfortable going at the time; namely anything having to do with what the dying priestess had said earlier that night.

Drizzt reached into his belt and produced a small, leather pouch; reaching in and taking out a small, paper-thin sheet of aged birch bark and emptying a small amount of dried, crushed cloves into the center. He put the pouch back in his belt and carefully rolled brown bark around the cloves, licking one end and sealing the tube. He then brushed off a small amount of loose cloves from the ends and put one end in his mouth, taking a match from his belt, striking it, and lighting the tip. Drizzt shook the match out and drew enough of the sweet smoke into his mouth to taste and smell, yet was careful to keep it out of his lungs. Cloves tended to have the same effect on many elves as pipeweed, though it acted more as an aromatic than a drug. It did not need to be inhaled for its full, calming effects to be felt; making many to call it safer than pipeweed, though if the clove smoke was fully inhaled it could do more damage. The smoking of cloves was rather popular among the druids and wood elves in Cormanthor, as the herb was practically a widespread weed in many parts of the forest, and gained in popularity among the drow.

Drizzt allowed a thick cloud of the bluish-white smoke to trail past his lips and under his nostrils as he savored the smell that calmed him significantly. He was normally disdainful of any substance that altered the senses at the expense of the body, but he made an exception in this case; first experiencing this out of bored curiosity when he saw Xalryln light one up during a strategy meeting. He rarely smoked and this practice never impeded his prowess. Maybe it was indeed a lesser evil. That last thought put a sad smile on his face as he raised the stick and took another drag: the lesser evil, it had become a theme for him, almost the philosophy that seemed to describe his life.

A while ago he had been able to clear his thoughts and at last enjoy his new life; this double life of battle and camaraderie with his kin in Cormanthor and methodical murdr and plotting with his two partners in crime in Baldur's Gate. It had all been fun times over the past year since his first, unfortunate arrival to these woods; a great time to find himself spiritually and physically. That all changed just two months ago under all the most inevitable circumstances: the spring air slightly warming and the same scent coming through the forest as the one he remembered the morning Catti-brie was killed. Drizzt still remembered exactly what day it was; not only by the calendar but also by the mere feel of the air, or maybe an unspoken sense of dread in his heart.

Since then all the old emotions that he thought he had completely sorted out returned with a deep seated vengeance. Unlike many of his associates, Drizzt hadn't come to define emotion as akin to weakness. Being ruled by one's emotions was weakness, though completely shutting them down was to invite greater vulnerability; he found this out the hard way. Catti-brie was his wife, the love of his life, and she was killed in front of him. He held back his emotions for a tenday after her death until they finally consumed him and many people died in the process. Drizzt knew he had to allow himself at least some leeway to fully sort out his emotions and move on with his damn life, but he knew she would haunt him forever. Even eight centuries from that moment when he had blissfully passed to Vhaeraun after being too old to care about life any more, Catti-brie would always haunt him from whatever plane she live on now.

Would she still send her love, as Zaknafein said she did during their meeting last year? It was more than likely she saw all the horrible things he was doing and shedding astral tears every night: her husband was once a good man and had now given into the temptation of his blood. He would not be joining her in Dwarfhome or The Halls of Nature, or wherever she was now, after age or a blade claimed him; his final journey would be to the Demonweb Pits with the rest of his evil kin, though Drizzt knew his destination was Carceri with his god and no where near the Spider Bitch and her servitors. Once again, the lesser evil…

Drizzt took a long drag from the clove stick, feeling a slight burn in his chest indicating that some of the smoke had reached his lungs, and blew out a long stream with a small sneer. In the end, it didn't matter what Catti-brie thought about anything he was doing; he was moving on with his life and hers was over. That was the way it was and no one could say or do otherwise.

Catti-brie was dead, the Companions of the Hall abandoned him, and Drizzt found a new life surrounded by those he called friends in both here and in Baldur's Gate, despite the fact he watched himself around all of them and trusted no one. In the end that is what made these friendships so much more meaningful: he was surrounded by a group of scheming, backstabbing bastards who all would kill or die for him, though they would not hesitate to kill him should he betray them. This wasn't a happy, cozy union based on loyalty and blind trust in the name of any cause; it was a series of friendships held together by mutual honor and shared affections, true, well-earned friendships indeed.

Drizzt reached back into his belt and produced the flask containing the one vice he had been partaking a little too much of in recent weeks. He unscrewed the top and threw back the flask, the burning liquid assaulting his sinuses and the back of his throat and causing him to cough hard and lean forward, bracing himself against the railing as he let the searing wave pass. Drizzt let out a few deep breathes and looked up at the sky, putting the flask to his lips and taking a few more careful sips.

"Your mind is heavy," a soft voice said beside him.

Drizzt didn't need to look beside him to see who this unexpected guest was. He merely smiled, mentally thanking Mazn'reysla for his latest attempt to analyze him.

"The bitch's words reached the weak spot of your heart," the High Priest continued, looking out at the woods and then at Drizzt. "A eulogy over your corpse."

"Yes, that whole 'death of the spirit' matter you keep telling me about," Drizzt said calmly, taking another drag and blowing out a long stream as he looked over into his friend's beaming red eyes.

"It is only understandable," Mazn'reysla said, looking up at him with his usual polite smile.

Drizzt's only reply was a dirty chuckle as he took another sip from the flask. The High Priest only stared at him.

"Will you spend your Reverie here tonight?" Mazn'reysla asked.

"Yes," Drizzt said, nodding. "I return to Baldur's Gate tomorrow morning, lest our Rogue Knight track me down and cut my throat for lost productivity."

"You work yourself too hard, khal abbil," Mazn'reysla replied. "You need to learn to relax a little."

"That I do," Drizzt replied evenly, screwing the top back on the flask and putting it back in his belt.

Mazn'reysla gently shifted his position closer to Drizzt, placing a hand on his shoulder and slowly kneading his mid-length fingernails into his skin. Drizzt let his head gently come back and sighed, feeling the tension being worked out of his muscles while savoring a rush of minor pain through his skin. Mazn'reysla's fingers worked casually over his shoulder and trailed up his neck. He then let one fingernail gently scrape across the skin before withdrawing his hand and walking towards the door of Drizzt's tree house.

Drizzt took one last, long drag off the clove stick and looked backwards to see the High Priest casually walk into the building. He then blew a long trail and twisted the burning end, momentarily savoring the dull sear before extinguishing the stick and throwing it to the ground. He spun on his heel and walked towards the door, one lingering smile on his face.