Prologue

Prologue

            Drizzt looked around the room uneasily, playing with the dragon dagger.  Zaknafein, on the other hand, was sprawled over the only couch in the room, petting Zaire, his cheetah.  Ti'vienr Teken'duis, the oldest of the Masters of Melee-Magthere, was pacing around in a tight circle.

            "What if..." Ti'vienr began again.

            Zaknafein gave him a bored look.  Ti'vienr swallowed what he was going to say and continued to pace in agitation. 

            Drizzt looked miserably at the dagger and carefully traced the design on the scabbard of the dagger.  They'd only told him what they were going to do five minutes ago – he had already been considerably surprised at being summoned to Melee-Magthere in the first place, away from his patrol.

            They were in the adjoining room to the Meeting Hall of Melee-Magthere, as the Masters of Melee-Magthere gathered inside.  The Mistress of Melee-Magthere had died three days ago, under unforeseen circumstances.

            Drizzt noticed that Zaknafein and all the mage Masters he had seen had been wearing smug expressions ever since the formal announcement.  Oh, they did have befittingly somber expressions during the grand funeral, but Drizzt had expected them to smirk any minute throughout it.

            A new mistress was officially to be selected, but Melee-Magthere's Masters had delayed sending in their formal assent to the candidate under protests that there were several matters that needed doing due to the Mistress' 'untimely death' that needed sorting first.

            Drizzt glanced at Zaknafein.  Mages were, through unspoken agreement not allowed in Melee-Magthere grounds, and the mage looked like he was secretly enjoying the barely concealed scandalized glances from some of the Masters.  But the Master of Sorcere had to be here – custom dictated it for what they were about to try.

            Ti'vienr was with them for the sole reason of 'balancing out' Zaknafein.  If Melee-Magthere tried to put another Master to wait with them, it was possible Sorcere would add another Master...and so on.  So one Master – to the ArchMage.  Drizzt was sure the odds weren't fair, if anything was to happen.

            Zaknafein had explained the dagger to him partly in the past days during the mourning of the ex-Mistress.  Apparently it 'took' his blood whenever he cut himself on it – and that would release the dragon into the world.  On the other hand, the dragon was bound to his command.

            All the Masters of both schools had been adamant that he keep the dagger safely and not use it until the ceremony, so he hadn't managed to 'find' the dragon's thought again to 'ask' it what it used the blood for.  Drizzt doubted it was for drinking, then shivered at the thought.

            There was a sudden stop in movement in front of him, and he looked up.  Ti'vienr had stopped again.  This time, Zak did not bother to look up, but Zaire turned her delicate head to regard the old Master with gold-flecked eyes, and bared her fangs for an instant.  Ti'vienr held the cheetah's unblinking stare for several seconds then looked away with a grunt.

            Zak seemed moved to take pity on the old elf for a moment, and opened his mouth to utter what Drizzt thought would be a comforting remark.  However, it was a curt snap.  "Quit worrying, Ti'vienr."

            Ti'vienr spun at the ArchMage, and Zaire snarled softly in warning, but Zak lay a restraining hand lightly on her shoulder and she subsided ungraciously.  "Worry? What we're doing is going to anger...Them, and the Goddess, for sakes!" his whisper was sharp, "I never really wanted..."

            In a flash Zaknafein had somehow sprung up from a reclining position and crossed the two meters to the old Master, hands gripping the front part of his Master's cloak.  Drizzt's hands had moved automatically for his scimitars, but Zaire turned her stare to his eyes, and he stopped.  The message was simple – I've known you for some time and I don't mind you and I know you are his cub, but touch those swords and you die.

            "You never wanted?" Zak said quietly, his voice low menace, filled with such steel that Ti'vienr tried to shrink back.  "You never wanted? You and your council of Masters, who came to us for help and you never, wanted? Sorcere only wishes to work with those who keep to their goal, and not deviate at the slightest risk.  Give me the word, and I'd take Drizzt back to his patrol.  Give me the word, and I'd transport that dagger of his to the deepest pit in the Nine Hells such that such a chance will never come again.  Go on.  Give me the word."

            Ti'vienr nearly whimpered at the hint of a barely held rage, but Zak pushed him away and slumped back onto the sofa as if nothing had happened.  The old Master attempted to regain a vestige of dignity by dusting off and straightening his cloak, but Drizzt could see he was very frightened of Zaknafein.

            Drizzt swallowed.  The silence that followed was nearly unbearable, but Zak seemed unconcerned.  Zaire appeared to be lazily basking in the ArchMage's attention, but Drizzt knew that she was focusing on him, and on Ti'vienr.

            Then there was a respectful knock on the door, and Ti'vienr nearly jumped to get it in his relief.  A student looked in and said in respectful tones, "The Ceremony is beginning."

            Zaknafein nodded to Drizzt, and followed Ti'vienr out of the room.  Drizzt trailed behind him, but kept a prudent three paces behind Zaire.  The cheetah had been skittish lately.