Was that movement?
He quickly turned to regard the dark corner that had startled him so. But there was nothing, for in this maze of underground passageways filled with dark corners and alcoves where only the rats could survive and no one would dare to tread, there was only the endless nothing.
But not today, for as once long ago two of the greatest warriors in all of Faerun had descended into these murky corridors to wage a war that had consumed them since their first meeting so many years ago.
How ironic Artemis Entreri found this situation. In his previous battle with his alter ego Drizzt Do'Urden he had come out second best, but only just, and he was certain this time would be very different.
But the sewers had not been his choice of battleground. Somehow during the fight through the bowels of the former Basadoni guild house the two fighters, so intense was their focus on their mirror, had simply drifted as if carried on the winds of fate to the sewers once more. How fitting he thought it that Drizzt would fall here, how appropriate that one born in the lightless world of the Underdark, one who had struggled clutching to his fragile principles to the surface world, who had gained the acceptance and friendship of the most unlikely of people, would now fall in the darkness and gloom of sewers, so far from home and so alone.
He silenced his thoughts and focussed his mind back on the situation at hand, on the danger out there in the dark. He was in good shape, but Drizzt had managed to score a couple of minor hits on his upper left arm and had re-opened a scar under his right eye. His real problem was not his condition but the very environment in which he found himself. The dark and shadowy world that would so normally have provided the perfect setting for him, now because of the gifts bestowed on the drow by that cursed Lloth was as dangerous as open battle. More so, for his eyes could barely penetrate the malignant darkness, yet he knew Drizzt would have little difficulty seeing him lurking in the shadows.
But he did have some hope; he had scored a wicked hit against Drizzt as they crashed through the door into the sewers. In the chaotic melee that had preceded their dramatic (if a little painful) entry into the sewers, Artemis had struck his viscous dagger against Drizzt's cheek and while the cut was not deep and no life force had been taken, the wound had cut both below and above Drizzt's eye and the hilt of the dagger connected violently with his temple. While not a serious hit, the impairment of the blood flowing down his face and the swelling to his eye, would Artemis hoped, offer him some reprieve from the drow's piercing vision.
Again how ironic, the very wound that had caused Artemis so much trouble in their first encounter may now be the wound that finally bring this much drawn out game to a conclusion, but this time with the rightful victor.
Artemis eagerly turned the jewelled dagger over in his hand as he thought of what was to come and he let his mind drift back to the start of this encounter. After they had landed in the sewers, collapsing into the filthy water dazed and confused, they had both risen in perfect harmony to face each other once more. The two nemeses, the ultimate peak of fighting excellence, faced each other once more. The ensuing moment, though it had only lasted a few seconds, felt longer than an Underdark night. Both exhausted from the tremendous fight, they simply stood there, arms dangerously low, laboured breaths exaggerating their movements and the warm vapour lingering in the cold night air, not uttering a word.
But then surprising them both, as though she had never been part of the game, Cattie-Brie had stumbled through the doorway absently calling out for Drizzt - fearing for his life after the witnessing his battle with Artemis from a distance - the drugs still heavy in her system making her thoughts and actions slow and cumbersome.
Drizzt had only his glowing sword, the other lying somewhere in the murky water along with Artemis's sabre. But Entreri still had his dagger and a few other tricks as well.
Despite the fact that both combatants were well aware of Cattie-Brie, neither of them dared move their eyes from the other's intense stare, not wanting to give away any advantage. Drizzt was closer to her, but Artemis realised too far to help. And so he struck.
His right arm sprung into motion, a full, exaggerated swing designed to launch a missile past Drizzt into the dumbstruck Cattie-Brie. But with no weapon in hand Drizzt did not react fearing the instinctive motion he had subdued would have left him open for an attack. But Artemis's hand did not remain empty for long. With a flick of his wrist a small throwing dagger was catapulted from a holster on the inside of his arm into his waiting hand. And in the same fluid move he launched the dagger effortlessly through the air but with tremendous force, heading for Cattie-Brie.
And then from nowhere, with a counter that Artemis could never have imagined, Drizzt did react. As if he suddenly spotted the double bluff mid way, Drizzt quickly shifted his weight onto his back foot and brought his sword arm back. Then with all the force he could muster he launched the scimitar, spinning blade over hilt in almost poetic motion, on an intercept course towards Cattie-Brie.
The blade had already left Artemis's hand by then and in a split second that stole a lifetime the two weapons flew through the air towards each other. Then in a brilliant flash of sparks and angry blue light they collided, the crash of steel on steel echoing through the corridors, and the impact sending them careering off out of harm's way. The dagger landed far wide and Drizzt's scimitar crashed into the sewer wall and its eerie blue glow was extinguished as it sank beneath the murky water.
From where the move had come Artemis had no idea, the sheer impudence of his opponent was incredible and he was once again reminded why this fight had to be, and why it had to be finished the right way. With no distractions.
And so the distraction was removed. Both Drizzt and Cattie-Brie, so shocked and relieved at what had just happened did not see the second dagger appear in Artemis's hand and all too late did they register it leaving. And this one Drizzt could not stop.
If the colour could flow from a drow's face, then Drizzt bore a snow-white visage of utter terror at the moment he realised what had happened. The dagger unerring in its flight struck Cattie-Brie just above her collarbone and drove deep into her throat.
And then not knowing if more of Drizzt's friends were on their way to help, Entreri used the moment of confusion to grab his sword from the water and run off into the shadows, to regroup and ready himself for their next battle.
And so Entreri found himself here, waiting so very patiently, waiting for his moment to strike.
CENTER* * */CENTER
He barely noticed the assassin flee into the darkness before him. His eyes lingered on the air between Artemis and Cattie-Brie, at the path of dagger he could not stop. With all his skills, he could not stop. He couldn't bear to turn and regard Cattie-Brie.
This was no street thug, no amateur that had sent their dagger clumsily through the air. This was Artemis Entreri, and his deadly message had assuredly been delivered without error.
Tears streaming from his eyes, Drizzt finally managed to turn his head and look upon his beautiful Cattie-Brie. He saw her fall so gracefully to her knees, a look of abject confusion and horror on her face and that wicked blade stuck fast in her throat, the precious lifeblood draining from her body as face became as pale as death.
He didn't hear her hit the ground, hear the splash as she tumbled backwards into the water. His head was too full of emotions, so many emotions - horror, terror and rage, violent screaming rage like he had never felt before - that he could not discern fact from feeling as the world around him disappeared from view.
He did not know how his scimitars got back into his hands, or how long he'd been in pursuit, for Drizzt Do'Urden was no longer involved. The Hunter, stirred from his tormented slumber by the power of the feelings that coursed through Drizzt's mind, was now leading the charge, the bloodlust filled, vengeful chase that would lead to the destruction of Artemis Entreri, the annihilation of the epitome of evil men. Revenge though was all The Hunter desired and any thoughts of altruism were quickly replaced by the selfish need to inflict brutal revenge on the murdering dog that had taken his beloved Cattie-Brie from him.
How he would make him pay.
CENTER* * */CENTER
He could see the blue glow of Drizzt's blade long before he turned the corner to face him once again. How foolish to remove the element of surprise, Entreri thought. Little did he realise that The Hunter's primal rage cared little for stealth.
Intrigued by the drow's actions, Entreri waited, hoping to see some clue as to what his assault on Cattie-Brie had done to Drizzt. He had acted to remove a distraction from the battle nothing more, an attempt to keep both combatants' minds focussed on the task at hand. But would this strike, unexpected as it was even to Entreri, stir some more passion for the fight from Drizzt. How he longed for that to be true. He had battled Drizzt so many times, had fought him in countless locations across the realms, but had only rarely witnessed the fire in those lavender eyes, the desire to fight, the need to truly defeat Entreri. And how much Artemis had enjoyed those fights.
And then looking out into the darkness of the sewers, down the long imposing tunnel he saw those eyes, burning like a fireball in the sockets of the drow, the calming blue light of his sword doing little to extinguish the raging blaze, and he smiled. This moment was his life, all the pain, all the hardships would now be worth it, the final battle that would at last see him as the greatest fighter in the realms. The sacrifices he had made, of friends, of love, of his very soul, would be vindicated and his way would be acknowledged as the true way of the warrior and not the shallow pretence Drizzt had tormented him with.
Before he realised what he had done, the anticipation had gotten the best of him and he stepped out from the shadows to face his opponent once more. He could not hide the wide smile from his face as he saw the anger in Drizzt's expression as he came into view.
"How long have I waited for this moment," Entreri began. "You have taken so much for granted in our battles before, but now I feel you truly understand the enormity of our fight.
"There is only you and I now." He teased. "No more distractions."
Entreri had hoped his bait would stir Drizzt, but he could barely comprehend the fury of the assault that erupted from the whirling blades of the drow. It was all Artemis could do to bring his sword and dagger into play before one of Drizzt's blades found his heart in his stunning initial attack.
He worked his hands furiously, desperately even, for in this tremendous melee he was on his back foot and with the determination in Drizzt's face it would be a short fight if he could not regain his equilibrium. Drizzt's scimitars blurred in a wall of blue light and sudden flashes as the edges of the swords caught the light of the moon stealing into the sewers through one of the many grates in the streets above. The hypnotic dance of Drizzt's blades drawing Entreri into the majesty of their movement.
But Entreri was no novice and fought with both his body and mind to resist the power and brutality of this opening assault. How long could Drizzt keep this going, Entreri wondered, for he truly feared he could not maintain his frantic defence much longer. He had to act, and fast.
Seeing the absolute focus and driving fire in the drow's eyes, Artemis hatched a desperate plan. He was still being pressed back by the force of Drizzt's blows and the frequency with which the drow could turn his defeated strikes back into dangerous attacks.
He had quickly realised that perhaps he had gone to far when he attack Cattie-Brie, for the monster he now fought was remorseless in its fury. But in this rage Artemis saw a chance. With driving fire that anger gives comes the price of a focus so narrow that it blinds the aggressor to even the most obvious of feignts. And Artemis Entreri was the master of deception.
His arms tiring fast, Artemis let Drizzt advance further, let the drow's forward pace increase, as he believed Artemis to be falling back. Normally Entreri realised that Drizzt would see the ruse for what is was and would temper his assault, but Entreri recognised that Drizzt was working at another level now, and that the opportunity to strike down a retreating Entreri would be too much to resist.
And so he moved backwards trying to give an impression of desperation in his actions while trying to stem the flow of brutal strikes that just kept coming from the tireless drow. The desperation came easily to Artemis for he could barely hold Drizzt at bay with all his focus on defence, and now he was juggling his deception as well.
But Drizzt was coming forward with even more fury now, leaning further forwards to bridge the gap to the retreating Entreri. And then as Drizzt - so bent on making the killing blow that he didn't register his precarious position - leant out thrusting his weight forwards, his right sword leading a fierce lung designed to pierce Entreri's chest and drive the blade through to his heart, Artemis struck.
Spinning his left shoulder back to move his chest from the line of the sword, he let go of the dagger in his left hand and grabbed Drizzt's leading arm at the wrist. Then hoping the shock of the move and Drizzt's own poor positioning would keep his other blade from his side, Artemis bent his legs and swung his right hip in under the reaching body of the drow, forcing his back and shoulder in front of Drizzt as the elf's momentum carried him forward. And then using every ounce of strength in his legs he sprung upwards, letting the movement drive his shoulder forwards in an arc, and sending the helpless Drizzt soaring head over heals from his shoulder, smashing the elf flat on his back, through the slime and into the stone of the sewer floor.
Artemis instinctively leapt backwards, scooping up his dagger as he went, fearing a counter strike from the prone, but never helpless elf. But when he looked up, what he saw shocked him to his bones. He had gotten barely three paces from the drow but when he looked up what he saw was not a prone and defenceless elf, lying stunned in the water.
When he looked up he saw that incredibly, impossibly, Drizzt had somehow regained his stance and was now there, swords still in hand ready to finish Entreri off. And Artemis did not doubt for one second that Drizzt would show no compassion towards him now. This was the fight he had always wanted, the fight to the death that he had demanded for so long. The fight, he knew then, that he was going to lose.
There was a calm moment. The fury of the battle had raged for many minutes, and both fighters were clearly exhausted, the break in The Hunter's rhythm had robbed him of the adrenaline that was driving him on despite the burn in his muscles, but it had not stolen the rage, the lust for vengeance. This was as strong now as it had ever been, The Hunter could smell victory and would not let the physical stress get the better of him in his moment of sweet revenge.
Entreri came to regard his antithesis once more in the still moment that afforded them both a much need rest from the furious pace of the fight. And what he saw touched him more deeply than any blade could ever do.
What he saw before him was not the noble Drizzt Do'Urden he had come to so hate and yet so respect. The ranger who so belittled Entreri's very existence, who claimed that it was his compassion and love that made him a great fighter, the fact his blades were lifted in only defence that was the true difference between these two who appeared to any onlooker to be so similar. No, this was not Drizzt Do'Urden but some shell of the character that had caused Entreri such inner turmoil, a machine bent purely on revenge, with no emotions other than hate and a desire to destroy, who's only need was to be victorious.
How familiar the pitiful form that now stood before him seemed to Entreri. Drizzt's brilliant white hair muddied and soiled by the filth in the sewers, his proud stance replaced by an aggressive tension that robbed him of his grace, his beautiful rhythm stolen by the desire for death, with even his own sword refusing fight the oppressive gloom of the sewers for him.
For in The Hunter Artemis Entreri saw not the ranger Drizzt Do'Urden, but himself - or rather a horrific caricature of what he was and what he represented, and the thought brought bile from the bowels of the assassin and left a taste that would not easily fade from his mouth.
But his inner reflection was abruptly ended by another terrific assault from the drow fiend that stood before him. As the elf charge a sudden explosion of thunder crashed from the heavens as if the gods themselves were applauding this most terrific of battles. And as the first blows rang out into the night sky the clouds released an endless torrent of rain, the tears of the world descending upon the streets of Calimport like nothing the city had ever bore witness to before - almost the mirror of the war that was being waged merely feet beneath the streets of the city.
As the lightening flashed overhead in the blackest of skies the elf and human danced a fantastic duet of deadly yet beautiful movements, their forms suddenly highlighted in brilliant silver and white as the light stole the darkness from the depths as they moved beneath the grates in the sewer ceiling. The intensity of the light blinding them momentarily, but their focus was so strong that they barely registered the change.
Now both fighters were battling with all the strength and fury they could muster, each needing the other defeated, needing the victory to silence the demons that were raging in their heads, to drown out the cries of their own failure.
And then suddenly as they approached one of the ceiling grates the torrential storm above sent a wave of rainwater cascading through the metal grill barely a few steps behind them, a waterfall crashing into the sewers and sending a mist of water droplets into the sewer's dank air.
Entreri was again being pressed backwards, for all his hatred and skill he could not match the fury of the possessed elf and was expecting the inevitable at any moment. But he would never give up, he would never surrender, and he would take Drizzt to the afterlife with given even the smallest opportunity.
The water fell violently just inches behind the assassin as his blades worked furiously to counter Drizzt's attacks and work his own into the fight. Who was actually wining at that moment was unclear, both Artemis and The Hunter were fighting on borrowed strength and it would be doubtful that even the victor would have the strength to flee the sewers before they swelled with rainwater and drowned all those who were unfortunately to still remain within their dismal grasp. But they couldn't dwell on that now, matters at hand were far too pressing.
Water splashed violently from side to side, its trail making visible for only an instant the perfect motions of the two master swordsmen as it latched on to every swing of their swords as Entreri crashed backwards through the cascading torrent and fought wildly to keep those deadly blades from his heart.
But when he was though The Hunter did not press on. The watery barrier was now a serious danger to any who dared to cross and so they stopped once more. Each assessing the obstacle in search of a way to finish this fight once and for all.
And through the barrier they could just make each other out, their features twisted and contorted by the chaotic water torrent. But the demonic rage that burned within each of them was clearly visible on their faces, it could not be masked and was accentuated by the hideous twists and deformations from the waterfall.
And then, in one last twist of fate, the dark clouds broke for just a second and the brilliant full moon shone down its glorious rays upon the world below. And in the streets of Calimport a sudden calm befell the city as the heaven's ceased their relentless assault. The azure, silver light illuminated the magnificent city and it was lit up for miles around in a magical glow that brought gasps of awe from the nomads and travellers outside the city that were privileged enough to bare witness to this remarkable event.
CENTER* * */CENTER
Likewise in the sewers the silver light shone down and stole the darkness from all but the most wretched of places. And in that moment, when the light enveloped the whole of the sewers, the cascading waterfall was transformed, for just a second, into a glistening mirror affording each combatant a fleeting view not of their opponent, but rather of the real demons they were fighting, demons that were staring right back at them, with their own eyes.
CENTER* * */CENTER
In that moment Drizzt Do'Urden saw himself, his lavender eyes filled with the flames of revenge, and only then did he realise what he had done. What he had so nearly become. He had saved Cattie-Brie, had rescued her from the clutches of Entreri and despite all his control he had let his anger take him from his love as soon as he had seen the assassin fleeing the compound. With escape so close for him and Cattie-Brie he should have fled with her, saved her when he had the chance.
How stupid he had been. In that moment he had left Cattie-Brie, drugged and alone, and gone off in pursuit of the man who would dare hurt Cattie-Brie, wanting to strike out and to punish him for everything he had put her through.
But only as Entreri and Drizzt faced off in the sewers after their long fight through the guild house, did Drizzt come to realise the folly of his pursuit. As soon as Cattie-Brie, confused and scared, had entered the arena, Drizzt knew that he had lead her to her death. He did not need to see the dagger strike to know that, even as he launched the defence against Entreri's first attack he realised that he had doomed his love, that he and not the assassin had killed Cattie-Brie.
And from then in the guilt-fuelled rage, for that is what it truly was, The Hunter had given Drizzt an excuse to wreak terrible retribution against Entreri for Drizzt's own failure. Of course it was Entreri who had taken Cattie-Brie, had lead Drizzt here, but it was because of Drizzt, because Drizzt had failed to stop the assassin before, because he hoped deep down that by defeating the assassin with words and not swords he could forever justify his flight from Menzoberranzan, justify his principled existence and deny with all his heart the Entreri clone he would have become if he had remained in the vile city of his birth, but most of all because he had let those emotions that he so desired to control, the emotions of his kin, hatred and revenge, take control of him and it was in that moment he killed his beloved Cattie-Brie.
And here he was about to become as his kin, he was ready to let The Hunter utterly destroy Entreri in the hope that his screams would silence the screams of Cattie-Brie in his head.
What had he become?
CENTER* * */CENTER
Artemis Entreri looked upon himself in a way that he had never done so before. In the calm that this stolen moment offered he was drawn back to that terrible sight of the shell of Drizzt Do'Urden standing before him. And now looking at himself he came to realise the lie that was his existence. The unrelenting force behind his doomed quest, his own failure, his empty soul.
In his silver hewn reflection and in that terrible image of Drizzt Do'Urden he saw how shallow and hollow his life had become, endlessly driven by the need for perfection in order to silence the demons in his head, the void that was his soul.
What left for Artemis Entreri, what hope for a soulless wretch?
"No!" he cried. A scream of purest defiance, a scream of utter desperation in the face of the truth staring back at him with his own eyes.
He didn't see his dagger hand fly forwards, barely felt it crash through the watery barrier and plunge deep into Drizzt chest.
And Drizzt was not willing to fight back. He had succumbed to the beast within him for the last time and took the dagger as retribution for his own failure and for the death of his love.
He took a step back as Entreri came through the waterfall, the dagger coming free of the assassins outstretched palm. And through the air a faint wisp of magic meandered from the daggers hilt towards Entreri's hand, slowly dissipating into the still night air, as Drizzt's eternal soul fled his mortal body.
Again Drizzt stepped back, but this time his feet struggled for grip as his control began to wane. He glanced down at his chest, to the dagger embedded to the hilt, its life stealing magic unnecessary due to the severity of the wound.
Then he looked up to regard the man who had taken so much from him and who he so nearly let consume him. And in the moment before his eyes closed forever and the eternity of the afterlife consumed him, reuniting him with his friends once more, he saw a face that filled his last moment of life with hope. For in the eyes of Artemis Entreri he saw a man not basking in the bloody glory of his victory, but rather a man who had only too late realised the façade that was his life, a man that for all the evils he had committed, had finally realised what Drizzt had told him all along. For the glory of victory was truly empty and the void that was his heart felt only sorrow and guilt for what he had done.
He fell softly, gracefully even to the ground, in death as distinguished as life, Drizzt Do'Urden lay still forever.
He didn't catch the last words of his nemesis of so long, the words that were spoke from the real heart of Artemis Entreri, the words that Drizzt had seen in the assassin's eyes before he fell.