The Crystal Shard 25. Errtu

The Crystal Shard 25. Errtu

Drizzt crawled out of his hidden chamber as the last lights of the setting sun began fading away. He scanned the southern horizon and was again dismayed. He had needed to rest, but he couldn’t help feeling pangs of guilt when he saw the city of Targos burning, as though he had neglected his duty to bear witness to the suffering of Kessell’s helpless victims.

Yet the drow had not been idle even during the hours of the meditative trance the elves called sleep. He had journeyed back into the underworld of his distant memories in search of a particular sensation, the aura of a powerful presence he had once known. Though he had not gotten close enough for a good look at the demon he had followed the previous night, something about the creature had struck a familiar chord in his oldest recollections. A pervading, unnatural emanation surrounded creatures from the lower planes when they walked on the material world, an aura that the dark elves, moreso than any other race, had come to understand and recognize. Not only this type of demon, but this particular creature itself, was known to Drizzt. It had served his people in Menzoberranzan for many years.

“Errtu,” he whispered as he sorted through his dreams.

Drizzt knew the demon’s true name. It would come to his call.

* * *

The search to find an appropriate spot from which he could call the demon took Drizzt over an hour, and he spent several more preparing the area. His goal was to take away as many of Errtu’s advantages – size and flight in particular – as he could, though he sincerely hoped that their meeting would not involve combat. People who knew the drow considered him daring, sometimes even reckless, but that was against mortal enemies who would recoil from the stinging pain of his whirring blades. Demons, especially one of Errtu’s size and strength, were a different story altogether. Many times during his youth Drizzt had witnessed the wrath of such a monster. He had seen buildings thrown down, solid stone torn by the great clawed hands. He had seen mighty human warriors strike the monster with blows that would fell an ogre, only to find, in their dying horror, that their weapons were useless against such a powerful being from the lower planes.

His own people usually fared better against demons, actually receiving a measure of respect from them. Demons often allied with drow on even terms, or even served the dark elves outright, for they were wary of the powerful weapons and magic the drow possessed. But that was back in the underworld, where the strange emanations from the unique stone formations blessed the metals used by the drow craftsmen with mysterious and magical properties. Drizzt had none of the weapons from his homeland, for their strange magic could not withstand the light of day, though he had been careful to keep them protected from the sun, they became useless shortly after he moved to the surface. He doubted that the weapons he now carried would be able to harm Errtu at all. And even if they did, demons of Errtu’s stature could not be truly destroyed away from their native planes. If it came to blows, the most that Drizzt could hope to do was banish the creature from the Material Plane for one hundred years.

He had no intentions of fighting.

Yet he had to try something against the wizard who threatened the towns. His goal now was to gain some knowledge that might reveal a weakness in the wizard, and his method was deception and disguise, hoping that Errtu remembered enough about the dark elves to make his story credible, yet not too much to strip away the flimsy lies that would hold it together.

The place he had chosen for the meeting was a sheltered dell a few yards from the mountain’s cliff face. A pinnacled roof formed by converging walls covered half of the area, the other half was open to the sky, but the entire place was set back into the mountainside behind high walls, safely out of view of Cryshal-Tirith. Now Drizzt worked with a dagger, scraping runes of warding on the walls and floor in front of where he would sit. His mental image of these magical symbols had fuzzied over the many years, and he knew that their design was far from perfect. Yet he realized that he would need any possible protection that they might offer if Errtu turned on him.

When he was finished, he sat crosslegged under the roofed section, behind the protected area, and tossed out the small statuette that he carried in his pack. Guenhwyvar would be a good test for his warding inscriptions.

The great cat answered the summons. It appeared in the other side of the cubby, its keen eyes scanning the area for any potential danger that threatened its master. Then, sensing nothing, it turned a curious glance on Drizzt.

“Come to me,” Drizzt called, beckoning with his hand. The cat strode toward him, then stopped abruptly, as though it had walked into a wall. Drizzt sighed in relief when he saw that his runes held some measure of strength. His confidence was bolstered considerably, though he realized that Errtu would push the power of the runes to their absolute limits – and probably beyond.

Guenhwyvar lolled its huge head in an effort to understand what had deterred it. The resistance hadn’t really been very strong, but the mixed signals from its master, calling for it yet warding it away, had confused the cat. It considered gathering its strength and walking right through the feeble barrier, but its master seemed pleased that it had stopped. So the cat sat where it was and waited.

Drizzt was busy studying the area, searching out the optimum place for Guenhwyvar to spring from and surprise the demon. A deep ledge on one of the high walls just beyond the portion that converged into a roof seemed to offer the best concealment. He motioned the cat into position and instructed it not to attack until his signal. Then he sat back and tried to relax, intent on his final mental preparations before he called the demon.

* * *

Across the valley in the magical tower, Errtu crouched in a shadowy corner of Kessell’s harem room keeping its ever-vigilant guard over the evil wizard at play with his mindless girls. A seething fire of hatred burned in Errtu’s eyes as it looked upon the foolish Kessell. The wizard had nearly ruined everything with his show of power that afternoon and his refusal to tear down the vacated towers behind him, further draining Crenshinibon’s strength.

Errtu had been grimly satisfied when Kessell had come back into the Cryshal-Tirith and confirmed, through the use of scrying mirrors, that the other two towers had fallen to pieces. Errtu had warned Kessell against raising a third tower, but the wizard, frail of ego, had grown more stubborn with each passing day of the campaign, envisioning the demon’s, or even Crenshinibon’s, advice as a ploy to undermine his absolute control.

And so Errtu was quite receptive, even relieved, when it heard Drizzt’s call floating down the valley. At first it denied the possibility of such a summons, but the inflections of its true name being spoken aloud sent involuntary shudders running along the demon’s spine. More intrigued than angered at the impertinence of some mortal daring to utter its name, Errtu slipped away from the distracted wizard and moved outside Cryshal-Tirith.

Then the call came again, cutting through the harmony of the wind’s endless song like a whitecapped wave on a still pond.

Errtu spread its great wings and soared northward over the plain, speeding toward the summoner. Terrified goblins fled from the darkness of the demon’s passing shadow, for even in the faint glimmer of a thin moon, the creature of the Abyss left a wake of blackness that made the night seem bright in comparison.

Drizzt sucked in a tense breath. He sensed the unerring approach of the demon as it veered away from Bremen’s Run and swept upward over the lower slopes of Kelvin’s Cairn. Guenhwyvar lifted its head off of its paws and growled, also sensing the approach of the evil monster. The cat ducked to the very back of the deep ledge and lay flat and still, awaiting its master’s command, confident that its heightened abilities of stealth could protect it even against the high sensitivities of a demon.

Errtu’s leathery wings folded up tight as it alighted on the ledge. It immediately pinpointed the exact location of the summoner and, though it had to tuck its broad shoulders to pass through the narrow entrance to the dell, it charged straight in, intent on appeasing its curiosity and then killing the blasphemous fool that dared utter its name aloud.

Drizzt fought to hold his edge of control when the huge demon pushed in, its bulk filling the small area beyond his tiny sanctuary, blocking out the starlight before him. There could be no turning back from his dangerous course. He had no place to run.

The demon stopped suddenly in amazement. It had been centuries since Errtu had looked upon a drow, and it certainly never expected to find one on the surface, in the frozen wastelands of the farthest north.

Somehow Drizzt found his voice. “Greetings, master of chaos,” he said calmly, bowing low. “I am Drizzt Do’Urden, of the house of Daermon N’a’shezbaernon, ninth family to the throne of Menzoberranzan. Welcome to my humble camp.”

“You are a long way from home, drow,” the demon said with obvious suspicion.

“As are thee, great demon of the Abyss,” Drizzt replied coolly. “And lured to this high corner of the world for similar reasons, unless I miss my guess.”

“I know why I am here,” answered Errtu. “The business of the drow has ever been outside my understanding – or caring!”

Drizzt stroked his slender chin and chuckled in feigned confidence. His stomach was tied in knots, and he felt the beginnings of a cold sweat coming on. He chuckled again and fought against the fear. If the demon sensed his unease, his credibility would be greatly diminished. “Ah, but this time, for the first time in many years, it seems that the roads of our business have crossed, mighty purveyor of destruction. My people have a curiosity, perhaps even a vested interest in the wizard that you apparently serve.”

Errtu squared its shoulders, the first flickers of a dangerous flame evident in its red eyes. “Serve?” it echoed incredulously, the even tone of its voice quivering, as though it bordered on the edge of an uncontrollable rage.

Drizzt was quick to qualify his observation. “By all appearances, guardian of chaotic intentions, the wizard holds some power over you. Surely you work alongside Akar Kessell.”

“I serve no human!” Errtu roared, shaking the cave’s very foundation with an emphatic stamp of its foot.

Drizzt wondered if the fight that he could not hope to win was about to begin. He considered calling out Guenhwyvar so that they could at least land the first blows.

But the demon suddenly calmed again. Convinced that it had half-guessed the reason for the unexpected presence of the drow, Errtu turned a scrutinizing eye on Drizzt. “Serve the wizard?” it laughed. “Akar Kessell is puny even by the low standards of humans! But you know this, drow, and do not dare to deny it. You are here, as I am here, for Crenshinibon, and Kessell be damned!”

The confused look on Drizzt’s face was genuine enough to throw Errtu off balance. The demon still believed that it had guessed correctly, but it couldn’t understand why the drow didn’t comprehend the name. “Crenshinibon,” it explained, sweeping its clawed hand to the south. “An ancient bastion of unspeakable power.”

“The tower?” Drizzt asked.

Errtu’s uncertainty bubbled up in the form of explosive fury. “Play no games of ignorance with me!” the demon bellowed. “The drow lords know well the power of Akar Kessell’s artifact, or else they would not have come to the surface to seek it out!”

“Very well, you’ve guessed at the truth,” Drizzt conceded. “Yet I had to be certain that the tower on the plain was indeed the ancient artifact that I seek. My masters show little mercy to careless spies.”

Errtu smiled wickedly as it remembered the unholy torture chambers of Menzoberranzan. Those years it had spent among the dark elves had been enjoyable indeed!

Drizzt quickly pressed the conversation in a direction that might reveal some weaknesses of Kessell or his tower: “One thing has kept me puzzled, awesome spector of unbridled evil,” he began, careful to continue his string of unduplicated compliments. “By what right does this wizard possess Crenshinibon?”

“None at all,” Errtu said. “Wizard, bah! Measured against your own people, he is barely an apprentice. His tongue twitches uneasily when he utters even the simplest of spells. But fate often plays such games. And more to the enjoyment, I say! Let Akar Kessell have his brief moment of triumph. Humans do not live a very long time!”

Drizzt knew that he was pursuing a dangerous line of questions, but he accepted the risk. Even with a major demon standing barely ten feet away, Drizzt figured that his chances for survival at this moment were better than those of his friends in Bryn Shander. “Still my masters are concerned that the tower may be harmed in the coming battle with the humans,” he bluffed.

Errtu took another moment to consider Drizzt. The appearance of the dark elves complicated the demon’s simple plan to inherit Crenshinibon from Kessell. If the mighty drow lords of the huge city of Menzoberranzan truly had designs upon the relic, the demon knew that they would get it. Certainly Kessell, even with the power of the shard behind him, could not withstand them. The mere presence of this drow changed the demon’s perceptions of its relationship with Crenshinibon. How Errtu wished that it could simply devour Kessell and flee with the relic before the dark elves were too involved!

Yet Errtu had never considered the drow as enemies, and the demon had come to despise the bumbling wizard. Perhaps an alliance with the dark elves could prove beneficial to both sides.

“Tell me, unequaled champion of darkness,” Drizzt pressed, “is Crenshinibon in peril?”

“Bah!” snorted Errtu. “Even the tower that is merely a reflection of Crenshinibon is impervious. It absorbs all attacks directed against its mirrored walls and reflects them back on their source! Only the pulsating crystal of strength, the very heart of Cryshal-Tirith, is vulnerable, and that is safely hidden away.”

“Inside?”

“Of course.”

“But if someone were to get into the tower,” Drizzt reasoned, “how well protected would he then find the heart?”

“An impossible task!” the demon replied. “Unless the simple fishermen of Ten-Towns have some spirit at their service. Or perhaps a high priest, or an arch-mage to weave spells of unveiling. Surely your masters know that Cryshal-Tirith’s door is invisible and undetectable to any beings inherent to the present plane the tower rests upon. No creature of this material world, your race included, could find its way in!”

“But…” Drizzt pressed anxiously.

Errtu cut him short. “Even if someone stumbled into the structure,” he growled, impatient with the relentless stream of impossible suppositions, “he would have to pass by me. And the limit of Kessell’s power within the tower is considerable indeed, for the wizard has become an extension of Crenshinibon itself, a living outlet for the crystal shard’s unfathomable strength! The heart lies beyond the very focal point of Kessell’s interaction with the tower, and up to the very tip…” The demon stopped, suddenly suspicious of Drizzt’s line of questioning. If the lore-wise drow lords were truly intent upon Crenshinibon, why weren’t they more aware of its strengths and weaknesses?

Errtu understood its mistake then. It examined Drizzt once again, but with a different focus. When it had first encountered the drow, stunned by the mere presence of a dark elf in this region, it had searched for deception in the physical attributes of Drizzt, himself, to determine if his drow features were an illusion, a clever yet simple shapealteration trick within the power of even a minor mage.

When Errtu was convinced that a true drow and no illusion stood before it, it had accepted the credibility of Drizzt’s story as consistent with the characteristics of the dark elves’ style.

Now, though, the demon scoured the peripheral clues beyond Drizzt’s black skin, noting the items he carried and the area he had staked out for their meeting. Nothing that Drizzt had upon his person, not even the weapons sheathed on his hips, emanated the distinct magical properties of the underworld. Perhaps the drow masters had outfitted their spies more appropriately for the surface world, Errtu reasoned. From what it had learned of the dark elves during its many years of service in Menzoberranzan, this drow’s presence was certainly not outrageous.

But creatures of chaos survived by trusting no one.

Errtu continued his scan for a clue of Drizzt’s authenticity. The only item the demon had spotted that reflected on Drizzt’s heritage was a thin silver chain strung around his slender neck, a piece of jewelry common among the dark elves for holding a small pouch of wealth. Concentrating upon this, Errtu discovered a second chain, finer than the first, weaving in and out of the other. The demon followed the almost imperceptible crease in Drizzt’s jerkin created by the long chain.

Unusual, it noted, and possibly revealing. Errtu pointed at the chain, spoke a command word, and raised its outstretched finger into the air.

Drizzt tensed when he felt the emblem slipping up from under his leather jerkin. It passed up over the neckline of the garment and dropped to the extent of the chain, hanging openly upon his chest.

Errtu’s evil grin widened along with its squinting eyes. “Unusual choice for a drow,” it hissed sarcastically. “I would have expected the symbol of Llolth, demon queen of your people. She would not be pleased!” From nowhere, it seemed, a many-thonged whip appeared in one of the demon’s hands and a jagged, cruelly notched blade in the other.

At first, Drizzt’s mind whirled down a hundred avenues, exploring the most feasible lies he could spin to get him out of this fix. But then he shook his head resolutely and pushed the lies away. He would not dishonor his deity.

At the end of the silver chain hung a gift from Regis, a carving the halfling had done from the bone of one of the few knuckleheads he had ever hooked. Drizzt had been deeply touched when Regis presented it to him, and he considered it the halfling’s finest work. It twirled around on the long chain, its gentle grades and shading giving it the depth of a true work of art.

It was a white unicorn head, the symbol of the goddess Mielikki.

“Who are you, drow?” Errtu demanded. The demon had already decided that it would have to kill Drizzt, but it was intigued by such an unusual meeting. A dark elf that followed the Lady of the Forest? And a surface dweller as well! Errtu had known many drow over the centuries, but had never even heard of one that had abandoned the drows wicked ways. Cold-hearted killers, one and all, that had taught even the great demon of chaos a trick or two concerning the methods of excruciating torture.

“I am Drizzt Do’Urden, that much is true,” Drizzt replied evenly. “He who forsook the House of Daermon N’a’shezbaernon.” All fear had flown from Drizzt when he accepted beyond any hope that he would have to battle the demon. Now he assumed the calm readiness of a seasoned fighter, prepared to seize any advantage that might fall his way. “A ranger humbly serving Gwaeron Windstrom, hero of the goddess Mielikki.” He bowed low in accordance with a proper introduction.

As he straightened, he drew his scimitars. “I must defeat you, scar of vileness,” he declared, “and send you back to the swirling clouds of the bottomless Abyss. There is no place in the sunlit world for one of your kind.”

“You are confused, elf,” the demon said. “You have lost the way of your heritage, and now you dare to presume that you might defeat me!” Flames sprang to life from the stone all around Errtu. “I would have killed you mercifully, with one clean stroke, out of respect for your kin. But your pride distresses me; I shall teach you to desire death! Come, feel the sting of my fire!”

Drizzt was already nearly overwhelmed by the heat of Errtu’s demon fire, and the brightness of the flames stung his sensitive eyes so that the bulk of the demon seemed only the dulled blur of a shadow. He saw the darkness extend to the demon’s right and knew that Errtu had raised its terrible sword. He moved to defend, but suddenly the demon lurched to the side and roared in surprise and outrage.

Guenhwyvar had latched firmly onto its upraised arm.

The huge demon held the panther at arm’s length, trying to pin the cat between its forearm and the rock wall to keep the tearing claws and teeth away from a vital area. Guenhwyvar gnawed and raked the massive arm, tearing demon-flesh and muscle.

Errtu winced away the vicious attack and determined to deal with the cat later. The demon’s main concern remained the drow, for it respected the potential power of any of the dark elves. Errtu had seen too many foes fall beneath one of the dark elves’ countless tricks.

The many-thonged whip lashed out at Drizzt’s legs, too quickly for the drow, still reeling from the sudden burst of brightness of the flames, to deflect the blow or dodge aside. Errtu jerked the handle as the thongs tangled about the slender legs and ankles, the demon’s great strength easily dropping Drizzt to his back.

Drizzt felt the stinging pain all through his legs, and he heard the rush of air pressed out of his lungs when he landed on the hard stone. He knew that he must react without delay, but the glare of the fire and Errtu’s sudden strike had left him disoriented. He felt himself being dragged along the stone, felt the intensity of the heat increasing. He managed to lift his head just in time to view his tangled feet entering the demon fire. “And so I die,” he stated flatly.

But his legs did not burn.

Drooling to hear the agonized screams of its helpless victim, Errtu gave a stronger tug on the whip and pulled Drizzt completely into the flames. Though he was totally immolated, the drow barely felt warmed by the fire.

And then, with a final hiss of protest, the hot flames suddenly died away.

Neither of the opponents understood what had happened, both assuming that the other had been responsible.

Errtu struck quickly again. Bringing a heavy foot down upon Drizzt’s chest, it began grinding him into the stone. The drow flailed out in desperation with one weapon, but it had no effect on the otherworldly monster.

Then Drizzt swung his other scimitar, the blade he had taken from the dragon’s hoard.

Hissing like water on fire, it entered Errtu’s knee joint. The hilt of the weapon heated up when the blade tore into the demon’s flesh, nearly burning Drizzt’s hand. Then it grew icy cold, as though dousing Errtu’s hot life force with a cold strength of its own. Drizzt understood then what had extinguished the fires.

The demon gaped in blank horror, then screamed in agony. Never had it felt such a sting! It leaped back and tossed about wildly, trying to escape the weapon’s terrible bite, dragging Drizzt, who could not let go of the hilt. Guenhwyvar was thrown in the violence of the demon’s rage, flying from the monster’s arm to crash heavily into a wall.

Drizzt eyed the wound incredulously as the demon backed away. Steam poured from the hole in Errtu’s knee, and the edges of the cut were iced over!

But Drizzt, too, had been weakened by the strike. In its struggle with the mighty demon, the scimitar had drawn upon its wielder’s life force, pulling Drizzt into the battle with the fiery monster.

Now the drow felt as though he hadn’t even the strength left to stand. But he found himself lunging forward, blade fully extended before him, as if pulled by the scimitar’s hunger.

The cubby entrance was too narrow. Errtu could neither dodge nor spring away.

The scimitar found the demon’s belly.

The explosive surge as the blade touched the core of Errtu’s life force drained away Drizzt’s strength, tossing him backward. He cracked against the stone wall and crumpled, but managed to keep himself alert enough to witness the titanic struggle still raging.

Errtu got out onto the ledge. The demon was staggering now, trying to spread its wings. But they drooped weakly. The scimitar glowed white with power as it continued its assault. The demon could not bear to grasp it and tear it free, though the embedded blade, its magic quelching the fires it had been wrought to destroy, was surely winning the conflict.

Errtu knew that it had been careless, overconfident in its ability to destroy any mortal in single combat. The demon hadn’t considered the possibility of such a wicked blade; it had never even heard of a weapon with such a sting!

Steam poured from Errtu’s exposed entrails and enveloped the combatants. “And so you have banished me, treacherous drow!” it spat.

Dazed, Drizzt watched in amazement as the white glow intensified and the black shadow diminished.

“A hundred years, drow!” Errtu howled. “Not such a long time for the likes of you or me!” The vapor thickened as the shadow seemed to melt away.

“A century, Drizzt Do’Urden!” came Errtu’s fading cry from somewhere far away. “Look over your shoulder then! Errtu shall not be far behind!”

The vapor wafted up into the air and was gone.

The last sound Drizzt heard was the clang of the metal scimitar falling to the stone ledge.