Disclaimer: This fanfic was based on the works of R. A. Salvatore.

Author's Notes: The Dark Elf Trilogy has been my guilty pleasure for quite a few years, ever since I was a teen. Salvatore's books are not what I would call great works of literature, but they have obviously stuck with me for some reason. That reason used to be Drizzt, now it's Zak and the whole dysfunctional drow society, among other things.

I'm afraid that this fic doesn't do Zak, Drizzt and their world any justice, but I had fun writing it, and I hope you'll enjoy reading it, too. It's obviously AU in a way: in Homeland Zak didn't really interact with Drizzt until the boy turned sixteen. Other than that, I tried to follow canon—for the most part, at least.


by Lucrecia LeVrai

To say that Zak disliked all Lloth-related rituals would be a big understatement.

Zak didn't want to pray to Lloth, or even pretend that he was doing it. He wanted nothing to do with the evil goddess worshiped by the majority of his race, but he was only a male in a place ruled by said goddess and her priestesses, so his personal beliefs mattered little. Malice would not tolerate his absence from any sort of ceremony that required the entire family's participation. Had Zak refused to obey her summons today, the punishment would have been severe. He knew this much from experience.

The fire of Narbondel hadn't even risen to the third of the column's height yet, so it was still quite early. Zak stifled a bored yawn and leant back against a stone wall, waiting for the other family members to gather in a room adjacent to the house's main chapel. Most of them were already there, including the ever-regal Malice, the Matron Mother of House Do'Urden. Her daughters, Briza and Maya, stood not far away, engaged in a quiet, semi-civil conversation about Maya's progress at Arach-Tinilith. Rizzen and Dinin, on the other hand, kept their respectful silence.

Without his swords and his whip, Zak felt almost naked, but for this particular ceremony no male would be allowed to enter the chapel armed. Males were supposed to stay out of the priestesses' way and look either pretty useless or just pretty, Zak could never remember which. Still, he had let his waist-length hair down, with just a thin braid falling to the right side of his face, and generally tried to appear as dignified and noblesque as possible. Malice had been less than thrilled with his appearance during the previous ceremony, which he had tried to attend after a long night spent in a tavern. She knew damn well that his carelessness hadn't been a coincidence.

The sound of the door opening broke the warrior out of his thoughts and made him turn his head, just in time to see Vierna walk into the chamber, a small child trailing behind her.

Zak's curious glance went unnoticed by the boy, who kept his eyes fixed on the floor. Only five years old, the youngest Do'Urden was barely old enough to participate in the ceremony, but he was still a member of the House and had to learn, at some point, what it meant to be a high-born male. He would be better off without learning anything about Lloth, Zak thought; alas, in Menzoberranzan, that was not an option. Indoctrination would start at an early age and continue through the boy's entire life.

Vierna leant over the child. "You will behave as I told you," she said, an unspoken threat in her voice.

Zak saw Drizzt nod. The female must have already described at length what would happen to him if he dared to misbehave in front of the whole family.

Vierna was Drizzt's older sister and his appointed caretaker—Matron Malice had made her responsible for raising the boy, which basically came down to training him in absolute obedience towards females. She was supposed to keep an eye on Drizzt constantly, but she was also a priestess of Lloth, and she couldn't participate in the upcoming ritual with a child clinging to her robes.

She picked the boy off the floor and turned to Rizzen, the patron of the House, Malice's official husband.

"If he as much as squeaks from now on, I'll flay the skin of your back," she promised.

Rizzen stared at the priestess in open apprehension, but he took the boy, nonetheless, holding him as one would hold a rotting piece of meat. The patron, being male, had virtually no experience with children, but even he understood that Drizzt was a bit too young to grasp the importance of the ceremony, or to sit absolutely still for well over an hour. A child his age had yet to learn that when a priestess ordered you to keep quiet, you kept quiet even if it killed you. He was likely to disrupt the prayers and land Rizzen in a great deal of trouble. As such, Zak wouldn't put it past the mage to actually try gagging the boy, either with his hands or with a spell, for the duration of the whole event.

As soon as Vierna moved to join her sisters, Zak pushed himself off the wall and approached the patron.

"Give me the boy," he demanded.

Rizzen stared at him wordlessly. They both knew which one of them was Drizzt's father, and which one held some shred of influence in the House, despite having been stripped of titular authority many decades ago. Rizzen's pride surely suffered from all this, but he was well used to stepping out of Zak's way. Thankfully so, Zak thought, because this was Menzoberranzan, where two males fighting for power in a noble family would appear just as pathetic as two filthy goblin slaves jumping at each others' throats for a meager bone, tossed by their amused masters. In the end, a goblin could win the bone and an extra pat on the head, but what did that even matter?

It took Rizzen only a moment to reach a sensible conclusion.

"He's yours," he said, setting Drizzt on the ground between them. Zak acknowledged the double meaning with a slight nod, and then watched the patron withdraw. The other male looked relieved to have ridden himself of the unwanted trouble. It was a win-win situation for them both, perhaps; a rare achievement in society that only played zero-sum games.

"You've heard your sister." Zak leant over the boy, whose head could barely reach the middle of his thigh. "No talking during the ceremony. Also, from now on, don't stray a single step from my leg unless you're told otherwise. Do I make myself clear?"

The boy looked up, even though it was forbidden for him to do so. And when Zak didn't snarl at him to drop his gaze, as Briza or any other priestess would, he just kept staring at the tall drow, nearly without blinking. He must have been intrigued by the unfamiliar male before him, probably the first one who had ever spoken to him, maybe even the first one he could see up close, after having spent the majority of his short life locked in a room with no one but his sister to keep him company.

Zak, on his part, stared back. Vierna had been right, Drizzt's purple irises were a sight to behold. Zak had never seen anyone with such an unusual eye color before. Purple, he knew, was a mixture of red and blue, and blue was a color associated with the faeries, rather than the drow. It could be a simple anomaly, the only strange trait in an otherwise typical dark elf—or it could be a physical manifestation of something else.

These purple eyes blinked at last. "What's your name?"

Zak exhaled in disbelief. His fingers twitched on instinct—he was used to backhanding insolent students across the face—but he managed to stop himself in time. Drizzt would eventually become his student, and then nothing would stop Zak from teaching him proper respect, beating it into him, if necessary—but for now, he was only a child, still unbroken and innocent. Zak thought he liked the way the boy kept looking at him fearlessly, with nothing but curiosity written on his face.

"Zaknafein," he replied. "Perhaps I'll let you call me by my first name one day, but for now it's 'Weapon Master' for you." He saw Drizzt open his mouth again, perhaps to ask who or what a weapon master was, but he beat the boy to it. "Address your elder without their permission again, and you might find yourself missing a good portion of your tongue. Now eyes on the floor and keep quiet."

The ceremony was about to begin. Malice led her family into the main chapel, with Zak and Drizzt trailing behind everyone else. It was a large room that could easily hold up to a hundred elves, not that House Do'Urden had as many priestesses, even including the low-born ones. A low, circular platform rose from the middle of the room, surrounded by a few basins filled with red, blue and purple faerie fire. Statues of huge spiders climbed the dark walls, lurked from behind the columns, or even hung from the ceiling. Living spiders were fortunately nowhere to be seen, though Zak knew better than to assume that all of the stone ones were as harmless and immobile as they appeared. Malice had always liked to keep a few hidden tricks up her sleeve.

The priestesses gathered on the platform around the main altar, thankfully not to be splattered with blood today. Maya, the youngest of the four, began to light incense and more magical fire. Zak kept to the back of the chapel, about fifteen steps behind Rizzen and Dinin. He sat on his heels on the stone floor, wordlessly ordering Drizzt to do the same. The boy, of course, did not keep his head down, but instead stared at the ceiling in open wonderment. Zak let him. Curiosity was fine, as long as it was silent.

Finally, enough fires were lit and the real ceremony began.

As usual, Zak paid little attention to the females' loud chanting, let alone offered the Spider Queen any silent prayers on his own. In the past, he would have spent such rituals thinking up new, painful ways to kill Lloth's priestesses. Ironically enough, if the goddess had ever bothered to listen to his thoughts in the chapel, she would have probably found them pleasing. After all, why would she not enjoy the sight of a drow warrior becoming almost aroused at the prospect of slowly strangling a female to death with his whip, while looking her in the eye, too? Never mind the real reason why Zak fantasized about killing drow priestesses mostly, leaving males, children, surface elves and other sentient races out of his thoughts. At least he was aiming high, and ambition was always a good trait for a drow to have, was it not?

Today, however, Zak found himself thinking about something else.

As he had been killing priestesses for real on the night Drizzt had been born, today was the first time he could actually get a good look at the boy. Drizzt was a pretty sight, just like most elven children. His features were softer than an adult's; dark skin smooth and bearing no signs of past punishments, though given the boy's cheek, Vierna must have dealt quite a few of them, already. His hair hadn't been cut yet, and it reached slightly past his shoulders, with the tips of his little, pointy ears poking through the white mane. Said hair was a bit curly, too, less than his sister's, perhaps, but the similarity was there. Zak knew almost for sure that he was looking at his own child, one who would grow up to resemble him even more—physically, at least.

Drizzt, on his part, remained unaware of his father's staring. At first, he seemed genuinely interested in the ceremony. Never before had he heard his mother and sisters sing in unison, their voices sharp, capable of sending shivers down his spine, but nonetheless beautiful. He had never seen so many magical fires, either. His eyes only grew larger as smoke started to raise towards the ceiling, bathing the whole room in an eerie, red glow. After a while, however, the monotonous chanting started to wear him out, and he began to lean forward, perhaps to alleviate the strain in his back.

Zak, a trained warrior, had no trouble keeping his back straight, and neither had Dinin, who sat a few steps in front of them. Rizzen, on the other hand, was already slouching slightly, the pathetic mage. It wasn't hard to understand, then, that a five-year-old would also find the prolonged stillness uncomfortable.

Zak—who believed wholeheartedly in proper self-discipline, who had no compassion for weakness and would no doubt force the boy to overwork himself for hours on end in the future, with the child falling unconscious on him as many times as it took—decided that he would rather not have Drizzt strain his back on Lloth's behalf, not if he could help it. It was a matter of principles. Soon enough, he knew, Drizzt would have to learn how to sit through prayers and official family meetings without even blinking, but that didn't mean he had to learn it here and now.

"You can sit cross-legged if you want," he spoke under his breath, in a voice so low that only the boy could hear him. "But during another ceremony, never move until someone speaks first and allows you to."

Drizzt complied immediately, his body slumping with relief. He turned to Zak, but before any thanks could be uttered, the warrior frowned and shook his head, wordlessly pointing his chin at the altar.

The tension in his muscles alleviated somewhat, Drizzt was able to concentrate on the ritual, but soon he grew restless once more. He all but writhed on the spot, picking at the hem of his sleeve. Zak imagined that for a curious, lively child, boredom had to be just another form of torture.

Looking back on his own childhood, the weapon master found it far less than satisfactory, but at least he hadn't had to endure so much of this Lloth nonsense. His mother hadn't been a noble-born high priestess, after all. She had only insisted on dragging her whole family to the temple on special occasions. For that Zak was grateful. For everything else, not so much.

Still, thinking about the distant past gave him an idea. He remembered finding simple means to entertain himself whenever he had been bored, not that he, a poor commoner, had been bored all that often. Why not, he thought, glancing at the unhappy Drizzt by his side. He motioned for the boy to lean closer and began to draw.

In the infrared spectrum, body heat left smudges of color upon the cold stone. It was possible to draw something that way if you were fast enough. The afterimage usually faded in a few moments, but not before the picture could be completed.

Zak knew he had never been much of an artist, and the only thing he would draw these days were perhaps battle strategies. Still, he was an elf. His kin was said to have art in their blood. He started with drawing a lizard, a mount commonly used by the drow. A good rider could even ride it on the walls or across the ceiling, making the lizard's footprints harder to trace. Drizzt, who had yet to set foot outside the house and see the stables, studied the glowing pattern with great interest.

"What's this?" he whispered. Apparently, Zak's earlier lecture on not speaking up first had fallen on deaf ears. The boy had still much to learn if he wished to survive in this House.

"A drawing," the older elf relied, a slight smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.

Drizzt grimaced, obviously unfamiliar with the concept of sarcasm, either.

"A riding lizard," Zak explained. "Now shut up before I hit you."

"But…" the boy was already opening his mouth, perhaps to argue that it was the weapon master who had done most of the talking so far, but Zak glared at him warningly.

"Hush. Do you want to see more, or not?"

The begging, desperate look on Drizzt's face was an amusing thing to watch.

Zak threw a quick glance at the priestesses, making sure that they were still focused entirely on their ritual. Rizzen and Dinin hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary, either. The two males were probably praying along with Malice, their heads filled with visions of bloodshed and glory. Satisfied that everyone in the chapel was having their private share of fun, the weapon master went back to his drawing.

The lines left by his fingers were fading fast, but by constantly adding new ones, and in different places, Zak was able to create an animated scene, a battle between the lizard and a rothe, another domesticated animal Drizzt had yet to see. The rothe were an entirely docile species, but even they became violent sometimes to protect their young. A grown-up beast could trample a careless lizard.

Zak pulled his hand back, eying the final result critically. He realized that his sketches were hardly the best a drow could do, but that didn't really matter. The boy watched the display in open-mouthed fascination, and the older elf had to stifle the urge to smirk at him again. Instead, he wondered what he should draw next.

He had never met a dragon in his whole life—a fact he hardly regretted—but he had seen a few well-made sculptures that could serve as reference material. His fingers moved to illustrate a beast with massive hind legs and outstretched wings, smoke rising from its mouth. Truth be told, it probably looked nothing like the real thing, not even like those sculptures, but it still made an impression on Drizzt. The boy stared at him imploringly.

"A dragon," Zak explained in a low whisper. He wanted to say more, but the chanting had become quieter in the meantime, and he couldn't risk the priestesses noticing their extra activity.

After another moment of thought, he began to draw a figure much more familiar to the young drow. It was obviously female, a cleric, running away from the dragon that by now had almost vanished from the floor, but not from the two males' imagination. The priestess's long hair was billowing behind her, her mouth opened in a silent scream. She appeared to have lost her snake whip, which was also trying to crawl away in terror.

Zak wouldn't, really wouldn't have been himself if upon finishing the drawing he hadn't met Drizzt's eyes, and then pointed with his chin at Briza, the cruelest of Malice's daughters.

He should have known better than that. Drizzt was already amused by this point, and no fan of Briza, either. Upon grasping the joke, the youngest Do'Urden laughed out loud in delight, his high-pitched voice cutting through the females' chants with startling ease. Zak froze. He had seen Drizzt's expression change, realized his own mistake in the blink of an eye, but hadn't managed to clamp his hand over the boy's mouth in time. Now it was too late.

Drizzt had laughed out loud in the middle of the ceremony.

All priestesses fell silent mid-sentence and everyone turned as one to stare at the boy. Malice stood by the altar with her arms still raised above her head, apparently frozen. Zak would have found the sight almost comical if he didn't know that this was just a prelude to a bloody massacre, with him at the center of it. Other females looked just as shocked and indignant as their Matron Mother, while Rizzen and Dinin seemed torn between pure disbelief and horror. The only thing missing from this picture was Lloth herself, crawling out of the Demonweb Pits to rip him to shreds.

Still, Zak was not called one of the best warriors in Menzoberranzan for nothing. In a brilliant display of cold blood and reflex, he grabbed the back of Drizzt's head and pushed him face-first against the floor, before the boy's mother could get another look at his happy smile. Then, using the fact that everyone was still too flabbergasted to react, he met Malice's furious eyes and raised his free hand to signal, in the drow unspoken language, 'My apologies. It will not happen again.' He stressed the word 'not' by shaking his fist a little.

That wasn't enough to placate the Matron Mother, of course. Her murderous expression didn't fade. Zak let his gaze flicker to the smoking incense in the middle of the chapel, then back to the priestess's white face. He wanted to remind her that all punishment would have to wait for later. The ceremony came first. If it was disrupted any further, they could risk truly displeasing Lloth.

Malice seemed to realize this as well, and yet she hardly appreciated the fact that her former husband had the audacity to remind her of such things. As she finally turned back to the altar, her glowing eyes clearly told Zak that he would be in a great deal of pain, and soon.

Zak waited until Malice and her daughters resumed the chanting, their voices louder than before, audibly distorted with anger. He waited until Rizzen and Dinin also turned around. When it was safe to assume that everyone's attention was once again focused on the worship, he leant over Drizzt, whom he had kept pressed against the floor the whole time.

His lips nearly brushed the tip of the boy's pointy ear, as he whispered in the lowest voice possible, "No sound from now on. We're both in trouble." After a second of thought, he added, "And not a single word to anyone about the drawings."

He released the child from the forced bow then, and watched him straighten himself up. Drizzt remained obediently silent for once, as he turned to the older elf, his face scrunched with guilt and worry. Even though he didn't really understand how outrageous it was to laugh out loud during the sacred incantations, he understood that the fun was over and that a punishment would come. Zak stifled a sigh. He pointedly gestured at the floor, and the boy dropped his gaze.

The incident wasn't Drizzt's fault, really. Malice would hopefully take this fact into consideration before she struck the first blow. A five-year-old was simply too young to grasp the full consequences of his gross misbehavior, and could be forgiven a slip or two, after an obligatory, yet token punishment. A grown-up drow, on the other hand, one who had actually edged said child on, disrupting the sacred ritual in the process, certainly deserved a severe lashing.

The rest of the ceremony was spent in revered silence, though of course it didn't mean that Zak had suddenly started to pray to the Spider Goddess for forgiveness and mercy. He hardly regretted his actions. It wasn't the first time he had managed to infuriate Lloth's servants, nor would it be the last. And the reward for this?

He had seen a drow child—his own son—laugh in pure delight.

Drizzt seemed neither timid, nor arrogant. His apparent disrespect was only a consequence of his lack of fear mixed with childish curiosity. He was probably naïve enough to believe that Zak's indulgence was nothing extraordinary, or that joy could be shown openly in front of other people.

Not for the first time Zak wondered if all drow children were born just as innocent, and became twisted only later in life, having grown up in society ruled by bloodlust, fear and ambition. Did Drizzt act the way he did because he was so young, because Vierna hadn't tried hard enough yet, or was it because he was really different from the rest of his kin? Would he be able to keep even a shred of his innocence in a place like Menzoberranzan? Would he grow into a gleeful killer, like his remaining older brother—or into a cynical killer like Zak? Did that make any difference whatsoever?

As usual, there were only questions and no answers. For the time being, Drizzt occupied himself with shapeless doodles. He also tried to imitate Zak's earlier picture of the dragon, but he was too slow to complete the whole thing before some heat faded from it. Zak didn't bother to interfere. The boy didn't squirm around enough to draw the priestesses' attention, and if he was to be punished anyway, then he'd better be punished for a reason, at least.

Once the ceremony was over and the family began to leave the chapel, Zak braced himself for the inevitable.

"Zaknafein!" Malice all but shrieked, and the elf immediately dropped to one knee, forsaking his pride. The furious Matron was not to be taken lightly, especially when there were three other, equally incensed priestesses standing behind her, their whips held at ready. "What is the meaning of this?" she demanded. "Why did the child laugh?"

Malice was focusing her anger on him, not on the boy, Zak thought in relief. And she hadn't started the interrogation with a blow to his face, which was always a good thing, for it allowed him to speak properly. He could at least try to extract the child from this mess.

"I might have accidentally tickled him." It was a preposterous thing to say, but still better than admitting that he had been entertaining the boy the whole time, with neither of them paying any attention to the ritual.

"You…" Malice was momentarily struck speechless, before she growled, in a voice that sent shivers down the warrior's spine, "Zaknafein, I swear that if you are trying to make fun of me, of Lloth, then I will rip out–"

"Matron Mother, I beg your forgiveness for the disturbance," he dared to interrupt her before she could get carried away with her perfectly real threats. He looked up to meet her eyes. "It was hardly intentional, I assure you. I thought the child had slipped into reverie and I wanted to wake him up gently," he heard Briza snort at this, "to avoid drawing any attention. But as it turned out, the boy was actually awake, trying to meditate like the adults around him. I must have startled him. Again, my apologies."

Malice just stared down at him, her white fury gradually fading into a colder, calculating expression. Zak was aware of the fact that he could have fooled almost everyone with his most humble, repentant gaze—everyone but her. After nearly three hundred years spent in a twisted, unsteady, but oddly intimate relationship, they knew each other too damn well. The high priestess was many things, including cruel and self-centered, but he could not deny her intelligence. Of all family members gathered in the antechamber at this moment, she was perhaps the only one to grasp what had really happened between her former husband and their son during the ceremony, even though she remained unaware of a few details.

"We will talk later. In private," she spoke at last, and Zak did not doubt for a second that it would be a very unpleasant conversation. "You should be glad that the ritual hadn't been irrevocably ruined, or else you'd be screaming out loud already."

The weapon master bowed even lower, long hair obscuring his face completely, before climbing back to his feet.

"Matron Mother, the boy," Briza reminded, her voice so eager that Zak felt the urge to strangle her with his bare hands, right there and then. Of course, Briza just had to make sure everyone was disciplined properly. Her day wouldn't be complete without watching a male being tortured. "No matter the reason," she said, "he shouldn't have laughed. It's pure sacrilege."

"Vierna is Drizzt's caretaker, not you," Malice snapped impatiently. "Vierna!"

The second daughter all but jumped at her mother's voice. She must have expected to find herself in trouble because of her little brother's transgression, too. "Yes, Matron?"

"Make sure that suitable punishments are dealt! To everyone who is responsible," Malice added, letting her gaze linger on Zak for a second. Apparently, she thought that a 'conversation' was not the only thing her ex-patron ought to endure.

"Of course." Vierna bowed.

Her orders given, Malice stormed out of the chamber, with Briza trailing closely behind her. The oldest daughter seemed rather disappointed that she couldn't stay behind to watch the scene unfold, though she kept smirking at the prospect of the inevitable violence. Other family members were in no hurry to leave. Today's incident was clearly one of a kind, and it was not because of the weapon master's involvement, it was because of Drizzt's. Thankfully, the boy hadn't decided to blurt out any unfortunate words yet, and was instead admiring the floor in silence, perhaps disconcerted with the adults' stares or trying to make sense of Zak's lie.

Vierna ignored the boy for now and turned to Zak, instead. There was a trace of hesitation in her eyes, even as she stroked the handle of her whip. She wouldn't dare to disobey Matron Malice's orders, and she was just as upset with the ceremony having been disrupted as any other priestess in her place would, but she didn't seem overly keen on beating her father into unconsciousness. Zak wasn't looking forward to meeting his punishment at her hands, either.

In a calm voice, he said, "If I recall properly, you charged the patron with watching the child, not me."

"What?" Rizzen cried out at once. "I wasn't even–"

"That's right." Vierna spun around to face the other male. "You weren't even watching the child as you were ordered to!"

Lloth had to be appeased after the mishap, but she had never been known for her outstanding sense of fairness. A whipping was a whipping, regardless of its recipient. Zak's matter-of-fact reminder had been the only spur his daughter had needed.

Rizzen opened his mouth, trying to protest, but one look at the priestess's pursed lips made him realize that the case was lost. Zak met the patron's eyes over Vierna's shoulder and shrugged in a semi-apologetic fashion, mouthing the words 'tough luck'. Dinin and Maya, on their part, made no attempt to argue in their father's defense. With Malice and Briza gone, Vierna was the highest ranking person in the room, and if she said that Rizzen was guilty, then he was guilty. It was a perfect illustration of drow justice for the young Drizzt to see.

Zak himself felt little remorse concerning Rizzen's fate, and his perpetual dislike for the mage didn't help to stir his conscience in the slightest. Vierna was sensible enough to keep the punishment to minimum, aware that the patron could only be accused of negligence. Hopefully, she wouldn't hurt her little brother much, either.

"Stay here and don't even blink before I come back for you!" the priestess snapped at Rizzen, raising her whip threateningly. "Drizzt, come! Be certain that you won't miss a beating, either!"

She strode away so fast that the boy had to trot just to keep up with her. Zak watched the pair go. He paid no attention to Rizzen, who started to whine about something behind his back. The patron's empty threats were of no importance.

Drizzt looked around his shoulder. His face clearly said that instead of following his sister to one of the lesser chapels, which served as both his prison and his home, he would have rather stayed behind with the newly met stranger.

Zak's eyes remained hard, he did not return the longing stare. He knew what the outcome of his promised conversation with Malice would be, apart from a few aching spots here and there. Malice wouldn't let him near their son for years to come, not until Drizzt grew and became old enough for fighting lessons. And then, things would be different. Zak would show the boy that he could hardly be described as kind or patient, especially towards his students. He would teach Drizzt how to fight for the sake of killing his brethren, as was expected of any drow. Would Drizzt keep his innocent smile by then?

That Zak did not know, but he knew he would do everything in his power to preserve the boy's true, unreserved laugher for as long as he could.

Author's Notes: I wanted to make Zaknafein rather 'soft' in this, but hopefully he didn't come across as too soft. The final part with Rizzen, for example, was supposed to stress the fact that Zak is still a drow, not above such things as petty opportunism. :)

Feel free to point out any of my grammar mistakes, typos, etc. English's not my first language and I'd only benefit from such criticism.

In any case, reviews make my day!