Two Months Later:
It was young Kathlo who brought the first word. One of a half-dozen boys who'd skipped off the farm and headed into the woods, daring each other to go further in, he was the only one to make it back out that day. He was exhausted and needed Rathan's help to be able to give his message:
"Drow. In the woods. Got the others."
"Storm," Torm said, "Drow in the woods. They've got five farmboys. We're calling in everyone we can, you and your visitor." The usually dashing and flirtatious rogue of the Knights of Myth Drannor was neither right now, his usual cheer erased by need.
Meliantha leaned the hoe she held against a fencepost. "Let me get my things," she said, then glanced at Storm. "If my teacher allows."
Storm Silverhand, the Bard of Shadowdale, glanced at one, then the other, then nodded once. "We'll meet you forestside of the Skull," the bard said, then turned and, Meliantha a handbreadth behind, ran for the cottage. The two women geared themselves, checked their gear, and then were on foot for the meeting place.
They gathered there, the Knights of Myth Drannor and their allies. One was not there, but then no one had expected the Mage of Shadowdale to arrive.
"All right, settle down," said Torm. "Florin wants to talk."
The tall ranger waited for the group to settle. "What we know isn't much," he admitted. "We know there's drow. We don't know how many, how many priests or priestesses, how many wizards. We know damn little, to be honest, but they've got at least five boys taken prisoner, and we're going to get them back before they become drow slaves." That brought a general assent. "Torm, you're on scouting duty, along with, er… Storm's pupil."
"Meliantha," the bard said before Meliantha could. "She's a good scout."
"Good. We'll need that. Off, you two. We'll wait a glass, then follow."
Torm was good. Meliantha was just as good. Between the two of them, they scouted out the cave the drow had come from, including two very large hired bugbear guards to deal with the daylight that would have blinded the drow.
"Ideas?" whispered the dapper thief as he pressed against a tree.
"I could shoot them," she replied, tapping the bow slung over her back. "Or terrify them," she added, nodding to Chainbreaker.
I was wondering if you'd forgotten about me in all this, Chainbreaker's voice floated into her mind.
"Scaring would be good – it would get them away and possibly bring some of the drow out." Then he glanced over and took a moment to breathe, as the two bugbears began to peer in their direction.
Can you relay to him? Meliantha thought urgently at Chainbreaker. Talking, even whispering —
Easily done. Master Torm, do you hear me?
Torm's voice whispered in her head. Well! This was unexpected. You hold more surprises the more I know you, Duskmaiden.
Meliantha didn't blush – she was too focused on the task at hand – at the epithet Torm had dubbed her with, and then her eyes widened. Torm found himself suddenly realizing there were variations in her eyes – to someone who didn't look closely, it was just a single violet expanse, but close as they were at that moment, he could see where pupil and white would be in her eyes, by darker and lighter sections.
They're coming, her thought came. She realized suddenly what it meant when Chainbreaker would tell the health of her companions, as she felt them suddenly. As they all came close, she looked at Torm and told him, Take the left; I'll take the right.
As the rest of the Knights arrived, they found the two bugbears collapsing silently, dead without a sound, one with Torm's blade through its chest, the other with Meliantha's. They nodded to the assembled, and the group entered the cave as quietly as they could.
Most of the drow were asleep, with two awake and watching as the group entered the room. One gestures, and the other dropped a pan on the stone floor. The sound of the pan roused the other drow quickly, and then the Knights and their allies found the entrance blocked by darkness. There were the sounds of drow moving past it, and the Knights chose to charge through it.
Meliantha slid one of the rings on her finger – experimentation proved it made her invisible for a few minutes – and followed them in. She arrived to a grand melee, the Knights outnumbered at least three to one by the drow. You wouldn't have known they felt any worry by that, though – they all fought with skill. Here Torm dodged a hand-crossbow dart while cutting at the hand of one of the wizards and ruining his spell, there Rathan stove in a priestess's ribcage with a mace; over that way Storm dealt death to two of their fighters. Near the back, the mage Illistyl wove spells to keep the drow from leaving the cave, with spider's webs blocking it and a pair of elementals rising from the Earth to join into the fray.
For herself, Meliantha kept to the edges of the fight for a moment, until she found an opportune moment. One of the drow warriors, this one with a heavy crossbow, levelled it at Florin's back, and got a flaming sword through his back for his trouble. Then she joined the fray directly, bringing Chainbreaker (now glowing a deep green color and smelling acrid) through the arm of a wizard, leaving him screaming and clutching the arm. She turned and concentrated, and two of the drow near the back of the cave had their own bit of darkness around them. They said something in their language that sounded as if they approved of it, only to cry out in anger and horror as Meliantha, able to see in that darkness with her amethyst eyes, crashed into them and drew blood.
One fell quickly, his robes showing him a wizard, but the other was larger, stronger, and wielded a pair of slender swords. He saluted her mockingly, then came to the attack. He was fast, yes, but not as strong as she was. She took a few cuts, giving a chance for Chainbreaker's acidic emissions to destroy one of the swords, and she knocked the other aside, took his hand, and then finished with a stroke to the throat. He fell, gurgling on his own blood, and she turned to see all the other drow dead or dying.
A moment's searching found the other boys, drugged with the sleep poison the drow were famous for and packed in sacks, and a large number of hand crossbows, darts, spider-silk rope and manacles.
"Slavers," Florin said. "Dead ones, now."
"The best kind," Meliantha said, to the general agreement of the group and a pleased sensation from Chainbreaker.
The boys were returned to their families, once they woke up, and the Knights descended upon the Old Skull to celebrate. Drinks were bought, toasts were made, and the spoils were divided. Meliantha claimed a pair of green boots of a soft leather, to replace the ones she'd been wearing since she left Berdusk.
Illistyl had brought some scrolls with her, and cast spells to find what some of the loot was – after all, it might be magically trapped. When she got to the boots, she looked impressed. "They'll speed you on your way, improve your jumping, and there's another small enchantment on them to improve their comfort when travelling."
"I assure you, that enchantment alone will be something incredibly helpful," Meliantha said, taking them and putting them on immediately.
"Good work today, lass," Storm said as they prepared to sleep. "That bit of surprise was a help. And you're better with the sword, as well. That last strike on that warrior was well done."
"You used that one against me, once, and I remembered it, aerister."
"Good memory. Well, to sleep, then. We've a wall to build tomorrow," Storm said, with a smile.
With a theatrical groan, Meliantha settled into her bedroll, and was fast asleep in moments.