“Keeper’s Dale,” Bruenor declared solemnly. The companions stood on a high ledge, looking down hundreds of feet to the broken floor of a deep and rocky gorge.
“How are we to get down there?” Regis gasped, for every side appeared absolutely sheer, as though the canyon had been purposely cut from the stone.
There was a way down, of course, and Bruenor, walking still with the memories of his youth, knew it well. He led his friends around to the eastern rim of the gorge and looked back to the west, to the peaks of the three nearest mountains. “Ye stand upon Fourthpeak,” he explained, “named for its place beside th’ other three.”
“Three peaks to seem as one,” the dwarf recited, an ancient line from a longer song that all the young dwarves of Mithril Hall were taught before they were even old enough to venture out of the mines.
“Three peaks to seem as one, Behind ye the morning sun.”
Bruenor shifted about to find the exact line of the three western mountains, then moved slowly to the very edge of the gorge and looked over. “We have come to the entrance of the dale,” he stated calmly, though his heart was pounding at the discovery.
The other three moved up to join him. Just below the rim they saw a carved step, the first in a long line moving down the face of the cliff, and shaded perfectly by the coloration of the stone to make the entire construction virtually invisible from any other angle.
Regis swooned when he looked over, nearly overwhelmed by the thought of descending hundreds of feet on a narrow stair without even a handhold. “We’ll surely fall to our deaths!” he squeaked and backed away.
But again Bruenor wasn’t asking for opinions or arguments. He started down, and Drizzt and Wulfgar moved to follow, leaving Regis with no choice but to go. Drizzt and Wulfgar sympathized with his distress, though, and they helped him as much as they could, Wulfgar even scooping him up in his arms when the wind began to gust.
The descent was tentative and slow, even with Bruenor in the lead, and it seemed like hours before the stone of the canyon floor had moved any closer to them.
“Five hundred to the left, then a hundred more,” Bruenor sang when they finally got to the bottom. The dwarf moved along the wall to the south, counting his measured paces and leading the others past towering pillars of stone, great monoliths of another age that had seemed as mere piles of fallen rubble from the rim. Even Bruenor, whose kin had lived here for many centuries, did not know any tales that spoke of the monoliths’ creation or purpose. But whatever the reason, they had stood a silent and imposing vigil upon the canyon floor for uncounted centuries, ancient before the dwarves even arrived, casting ominous shadows and belittling mere mortals who had ever walked here.
And the pillars bent the wind into an eerie and mournful cry and gave the entire floor the sensation of something beyond the natural, timeless like the Holdfast, and imposing a realization of mortality upon onlookers, as though the monoliths mocked the living with their ageless existence.
Bruenor, unbothered by the towers, finished his count.
“Five hundred to the left, then a hundred more. The hidden lines of the secret door.”
He studied the wall beside him for any marking that would indicate the entrance to the halls.
Drizzt, too, ran his sensitive hands across the smooth stone. “Are you certain?” he asked the dwarf after long minutes of searching, for he had felt no cracks at all.
“I am!” Bruenor declared. “Me people were cunning with their workings and I fear that the door is too well in hiding for an easy find.”
Regis moved in to help, while Wulfgar, uncomfortable beneath the shadows of the monoliths, stood guard at their backs.
Just a few seconds later, the barbarian noticed movement from where they’d come, back over by the stone stair. He dipped into a defensive crouch, clutching Aegis-fang as tightly as ever before. “Visitors,” he said to his friends, the hiss of his whisper echoing around as though the monoliths were laughing at his attempt at secrecy.
Drizzt sprang out to the nearest pillar and started making his way around, using Wulfgar’s frozen squint as a guide. Angered at the interruption, Bruenor pulled a small hatchet from his belt and stood ready beside the barbarian, and Regis behind them.
Then they heard Drizzt call out, “Catti-brie!” and were too relieved and elated to pause and consider what might have possibly brought their friend all the way from Ten-Towns, or how she had ever found them.
Their smiles disappeared when they saw her, bruised and bloodied and stumbling toward them. They rushed to meet her, but the drow, suspecting that someone might be in pursuit, slipped along through the monoliths and took up a lookout.
“What bringed ye?” Bruenor cried, grabbing Catti-brie and hugging her close. “And who was it hurt ye? He’ll feel me hands on his neck!”
“And my hammer!” Wulfgar added, enraged at the thought of someone striking Catti-brie.
Regis hung back now, beginning to suspect what had happened.
“Fender Mallot and Grollo are dead,” Catti-brie told Bruenor.
“On the road with ye? But why?” asked the dwarf.
“No, back in Ten-Towns,” Catti-brie answered. “A man, a killer, was there, looking for Regis. I chased after him, trying to get to ye to warn ye, but he caught me and dragged me along.”
Bruenor spun a glare upon the halfling, who was even farther back now, and hanging his head.
“I knew ye’d found trouble when ye came running up on the road outside the towns!” He scowled. “What is it, then? And no more of yer lying tales!”
“His name is Entreri,” Regis admitted. “Artemis Entreri. He came from Calimport, from Pasha Pook.” Regis pulled out the ruby pendant. “For this.”
“But he is not alone,” Catti-brie added. “Wizards from Luskan search for Drizzt.”
“For what reason?” Drizzt called from the shadows.
Catti-brie shrugged. “They been taking care not to tell, but me guess is that they seek some answers about Akar Kessell.”
Drizzt understood at once. They sought the Crystal Shard, the powerful relic that had been buried beneath the avalanche on Kelvin’s Cairn.
“How many?” asked Wulfgar. “And how far behind?”
“Three they were,” Catti-brie answered. “The assassin, a mage, and a soldier from Luskan. A monster they had with them. A golem, they called it, but I’ve ne’er seen its likes before.”
“Golem,” Drizzt echoed softly. He had seen many such creations in the undercity of the dark elves. Monsters of great power and undying loyalty to their creators. These must be mighty foes indeed, to have one along.
“But the thing is gone,” Catti-brie continued. “It chased me on me flight, and would have had me, no doubting, but I pulled a trick on it and sent a mountain of rock on its head!”
Bruenor hugged her close again. “Well done, me girl,” he whispered.
“And I left the soldier and the assassin in a terrible fight,” Catti-brie went on. “One is dead, I guess, and the soldier seems most likely. A pity, it is, for he was a decent sort.”
“He’d have found me blade for helping the dogs at all!” Bruenor retorted. “But enough of the tale; there’ll be time for telling. Ye’re at the hall, girl, do ye know? Ye’re to see for yerself the splendors I been telling ye about all these years! So go and rest up.” He turned around to tell Wulfgar to see to her, but noticed Regis instead. The halfling had problems of his own, hanging his head and wondering if he had pushed his friends too far this time.
“Fear not, my friend,” said Wulfgar, also seeing Regis’s distress. “You acted to survive. There is no shame in that. Though you should have told us the danger!”
“Ah, put yer head up, Rumblebelly!” Bruenor snapped. “We expect as much from ye, ye no-good trickster! Don’t ye be thinkin’ we’re surprised!” Bruenor’s rage, an angry possessor somehow growing of its own volition, suddenly mounted as he stood there chastising the halfling.
“How dare ye to put this on us?” he roared at Regis, moving Catti-brie aside and advancing a step. “And with me home right before me!”
Wulfgar was quick to block Bruenor’s path to Regis, though he was truly amazed at the sudden shift in the dwarf. He had never seen Bruenor so consumed by emotion. Catti-brie, too, looked on, stunned.
“‘Twas not the halfling’s fault,” she said. “And the wizards would’ve come anyway!”
Drizzt returned to them then. “No one has made the stair yet,” he said, but when he took a better notice of the situation, he realized that his words had not been heard.
A long and uncomfortable silence descended upon them, then Wulfgar took command. “We have come too far along this road to argue and fight among ourselves!” he scolded Bruenor.
Bruenor looked at him blankly, not knowing how to react to the uncharacteristic stand Wulfgar had taken against him. “Bah!” the dwarf said finally, throwing up his hands in frustration. “The fool halfling’ll get us killed…but not to worry!” he grumbled sarcastically, moving back to the wall to search for the door.
Drizzt looked curiously at the surly dwarf, but was more concerned with Regis at this point. The halfling, thoroughly miserable, had dropped to a sitting position and seemed to have lost all desire to go on. “Take heart,” Drizzt said to him. “Bruenor’s anger will pass. The essence of his dreams stands before him.”
“And about this assassin who seeks your head,” Wulfgar said, moving to join the two. “He shall find a mighty welcome when he gets here, if ever he does.” Wulfgar patted the head of his warhammer. “Perhaps we can change his mind about this hunt!”
“If we can get into the mines, our trail might be lost to them,” Drizzt said to Bruenor, trying to further soothe the dwarf’s anger.
“They’ll not make the stair,” said Catti-brie. “Even watching your climb down, I had trouble finding it!” .
“I would rather stand against them now!” Wulfgar declared. “They have much to explain, and they’ll not escape my punishment for the way they have treated Catti-brie!”
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