Diary of a Weapon Master

Part I

The Visionary

Dedication, discipline, sound judgment, strength of character; these are the tools necessary to craft legends. I keep and utilize these tools with greater zeal, perhaps, than I harbor with regards to the twin swords at my sides. Yet I am constantly on the brink of destruction as a creature of the Underdark -- particularly among my own people. The females, to be precise, do not favor the kind of ethics to which I cling in my daily life. Still, I hold to faith that my actions and private thoughts will one day be rewarded, perhaps by beings residing in a higher plane of existence: beings with tremendous power curbed by the wisdom of discretion.

Four long centuries have kissed these bones of mine thus far. I have lost none of my speed and stamina, nor sharpness of concentration. I welcome the challenges, each and every one. The priestesses of Lloth lay claim to a special part of me that I never fail to exhibit when one House moves against my own. For this exceptional service, I am deemed a priceless commodity by Matron Malice. Not so with the other females of the House. Briza Do'Urden is a prime example of one whose head I have come to specialize in decapitating. The brutish high priestess no doubt realizes this with no small measure of resentment. The irony of the situation is not lost on me. For I am, after all, "only male".

--Zaknafein Do'Urden

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Chapter One: The Path Twice Taken

Drizzt Do'Urden awoke on a bed of leaves to the song of crickets and night birds in the air. Stars peeked out alongside the crescent moon, which shed its radiance over the woodland domain like the aura of some celestial watchman. Drizzt coiled himself into a cross-legged position on the ground. His blurry vision gradually sharpened as he blinked and stared about. His traveling gear sat against the base of a tree to his right, as did his sword belt, which the drow ranger thought peculiar indeed. He arched an eyebrow as he pondered this development, wondering who would've taken his sheathed weapons and gear off his person, only to lay them somewhere nearby.

The remnants of a small campfire wafted to his keen nostrils, even as he spied the bundle of blackened sticks and smoldering ashes in the clearing just ahead and to his left. Drizzt stretched his aching muscles, then sprang forth to grab hold of his sword belt. He stood up and slid Twinkle out of its scabbard, inspecting the steel surface of the ornate scimitar. Its faint blue glow indicated no immediate threat in the vicinity.

Nevertheless, Drizzt knew that something was amiss. He could feel it tickling the hairs on the back of his neck, brushing its fingernails along his spine. The ranger strapped on his gear and sifted through a belt pouch until he produced the onyx panther figurine. Turning it over in his delicate fingers under a shaft of moonlight, the drow admired its perfect craftsmanship as he'd done on the first day he laid eyes on it. "Guenhwyvar," Drizzt murmured, as though he were still dreaming. Then he realized he had just summoned his friend from her home on the Astral Plane. He set it on the ground and waited as the gray fog materialized about the figurine, slowly solidifying into the entity of the great cat.

Even after three centuries of life, Drizzt had seen few creatures that could rival the sheer beauty and symmetry of musculature that was Guenhwyvar. His beloved friend -- indeed, the only friend he had left -- stared up at him through lambent green eyes possessed with an intelligence that transcended the boundaries of any ordinary cat. She purred. Drizzt smiled and dropped an ebon-skinned hand to scratch the fur between the panther's ears.

"Something peculiar is happening in these woods," he informed his companion. "I don't sense the presence of the moon elves, for one. In any case, I don't believe they would have disarmed me and set a campfire as if they, like me, were just passing through here."

The panther stared at him for a moment, then tossed her head about in either direction, sniffing the air. Eventually, the two of them split up to investigate. Drizzt began with the abandoned campsite, while Guen glided through the underbrush in search of other clues. Neither of them had gone very far when something disburbed the atmosphere. The great cat stiffened and wheeled about to face the direction from whence she'd come. Her ears flattened against her skull as she crouched, issuing a low growl.

Drizzt sensed the presence himself. He, too, spun about, but refrained from drawing his scimitars for the time being. Sweeping his fiery gaze over every shadow, bush and tree, he noted that the forest creatures continued their general ruckus as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Neither Drizzt nor Guenhwyvar moved an inch from where they stood. A ghost of a whisper (or was it laughter?) danced along the currents of a gentle breeze. Even with the drow's exceptional hearing, he could just barely detect the sound. Evidently, this was not the case for Guenhwyvar. The cat bounded out of the underbrush and back into the clearing, followed a split-second later by a suddenly bewildered Drizzt Do'Urden.

What in the Nine Hells...

The thought never flowed to completion as an even louder giggle (there was no mistaking it now!) bubbled forth. The laughter resounded from somewhere in the immediate area, growing louder and more musical with each breath. In fact, judging by the low rumble and direct gaze of Guenhwyvar, Drizzt eventually reasoned that the sound was actually emanating from inside the tree where he had spotted his traveling gear and sword belt!

Seconds before the noise dissipated, it dawned on Drizzt what manner of creature could be responsible for such a phenomenon. At first, he had presumed he was being followed by someone not native to these woods. But surely the moon elves would not have stood for such disruptions in their dominion -- although the question remained as to why Drizzt had yet to sense any of them. Suddenly exasperated with this whole situation, and wanting nothing more than to carry on with his quest back into the Underdark, he snapped a scimitar out and swatted the growling panther on the rump with the flat of the blade.

"Let's go," he murmured before the cat could object. He started to turn about and resume his trek through the forest. But something immaterial caught his attention halfway through the move. It looked like the image of a woman's face, with something definitely material clenched in her teeth. Drizzt turned his full attention back to the tree, just in time to witness the dagger he normally kept hidden in one of his boots drop to the ground.

The face solidified into the visage of a beautiful creature indeed. Bronzen tresses spilled about angular cheek bones and slightly pointed ears, complete with plush mahogany lips. Eyes like pools of molten silver glittered in the fain moonlight spilling through the canopy of tree limbs overhead. The creature winked at Drizzt, then stepped fully into the clearing, revealing a physique that was every bit as attractive as the face, adorned only in a green gossamer gown.

The dark elf barely remembered his manners in time to look away from her breath-taking attributes prominently revealed through the flimsy garment. More musical laughter erupted as the creature moved closer. Guenhwyvar stopped growling, but instead positioned herself directly between the creature and Drizzt, crouching in preparation to pounce at the first sign of trouble. Drizzt looked to the cat and back to what he already understood was a dryad. "Well met," the ranger grumbled, eyeing his dropped dagger a few feet behind the exotic denizen of the woods.

A dazzling smile lit the creature's face as she dipped into a curtsy. "And a wonderfully delightful meeting it is," she chimed, making not the slightest move to return Drizzt's property to him. "My name is Serenaed," she revealed.

Drizzt nodded. He started to introduce himself, but was promptly interrupted.

"I know who you are," the dryad breathed, eyeing Drizzt appreciatively. "I know all about you, as well as where you're going next. Thanks to your gift --" she motioned to the dagger " --I know every detail of your time on the surface, including your most private thoughts and imaginings whilst you wielded that dagger. And I want you to take me with you to Menzoberranzan when you go in search of your father's chronicles."

That last statement struck Drizzt like a wooden club wielded by Pikel Bouldershoulder, one of two rugged dwarves he had met during his travels many years ago. "What?" Drizzt inquired. Even Guen stiffened at this ridiculous request. "All right, I am willing to accept the loss of a dagger, as well as your preposterous claim to know the most intimate details of my life now that it is in your possession," Drizzt scolded. "But..."

He stopped, realizing that this dryad couldn't possibly know that he was even going to Menzoberranzan, unless what she claimed was indeed the truth. His visage displayed his incredulity. "To my knowledge, dryads are not capable of such devilry," he complained, as much to himself as to Serenaed. Could she really know his dreams simply by swiping a mundane weapon of his? How else would she know about what Drizzt intended to acquire in the city of his ancestors? He had told no one about the vision except Guen, and the cat could not...

The dryad giggled softly this time, almost apologetically, as she donned a more serious look on her face. "Times have changed considerably since last you visited these woods," said she. Her features wizened as she elaborated. She told him about something referred to as the Hideous War being fought by the moon elves not far to the north against some nameless foe and its ghoulish henchmen. A spiritual darkness now spread across the land, spawning a new breed of creatures half-real and half-nightmare.

The remaining denizens of Moonwood Forest had been charged with protecting the villages and hidden keeps, but the dryads were expressly empowered to carry on in the abscence of the elvish hosts. "And because you are deemed special among my Lords," Serenaed said, "I have taken a personal interest in keeping you safe, or at least better informed, on your journey back home. Though I must say, there's not much of a home left for you to return to, by all accounts."

Drizzt started to question the validity of that statement, but suddenly remembered his stolen dagger still lying on the ground. Though he did not expect a straight answer, he asked, "Why did you feel the need to steal my property in order to know me better? Did you fear that I would refuse your company based on the dubious nature of your kind?"

Serenaed smiled gently, even as Drizzt's face burned with the sudden knowledge of the irony in his own words. "You should understand better than anyone that not every member of a particular race deserves such judgment." She turned and gestured with one hand. Drizzt's dagger flew off the ground and into the dryad's waiting grasp in the blink of an eye. The dryad then handed the weapon back to its owner. "Come," she said at length. "Your second journey into the Underdark will not be nearly as complicated if you allow me to take you as far as the entrance to the cave, at least."

Drizzt looked to Guenhwyvar for support. But the panther was already loping toward the trail. "Great," he murmured. "So much for loyalty." Then, glancing back at his new companion, the ranger motioned for her to come along. Perhaps he'd been wrong to judge this spirit of the woods prematurely. But he was going to keep a close eye on her anyway. Something did not sit right with him about her story. The whole thing sounded far too contrived for his liking. Also, protection was not something that Drizzt had required since the earlier days of his youth, much less after three centuries of life -- and to say nothing at all of requiring it from a dryad!

When he again turned to consider Guenhwyvar, he had to amend that last thought to at least include the necessity of friendship. Drizzt had always needed and appreciated his friends.