The drow dropped a hand into his pouch, feeling for the magical figurine that he used to summon the panther from the Astral Plane, wondering if he should even call to Guenhwyvar this time. The panther had been aboard for much of the last week, hunting the hundreds of rats that threatened the ship's food stores, and was likely exhausted.

'Only if I need you, my friend,' Drizzt whispered. The Sea Sprite cut hard to starboard and Drizzt had to take up the guide rope in both hands. He steadied himself and remained silent, his gaze to the horizon, to the square-rigged ship growing larger by the minute. Drizzt felt deep within himself, mentally preparing for the coming battle. He immersed himself in the hiss and splash of the water below him, in the rousing music cutting the wind, and in Catti-brie's calls.

Fifteen hundred, a thousand.

'Black cutlass, lined in red!' the young woman shouted down when, thanks to her spyglass, she was able to discern the design on the snapping flag of the caravel.

Drizzt didn't know the insignia, didn't care about it. The caravel was a pirate ship, one of the many who had overstepped their bounds near Waterdeep's harbors. As in any waters with trading routes, there had always been pirates on the Sword Coast. Until the last few years, though, the pirates had been somewhat civil, following specific codes of conduct. When Deudermont had defeated Pinochet in Asavir's Channel, he had subsequently let the pirate go free. That was the way, the unspoken agreement.

No longer was that the case. The pirates of the north had become bolder and more vicious. Ships were no longer simply looted, but the crews, particularly if any females were aboard, were tortured and murdered. Many ruined hulks had been found adrift in the waters near Waterdeep. The pirates had crossed the line.

Drizzt, Deudermont, and all the Sea Sprite's crew, were being paid handsomely for their work, but down to every last man and woman (with the possible exception of the wizard, Robillard) they weren't chasing pirates for the gold.

They were fighting for the victims.

'Five hundred!' Catti-brie called down.

Drizzt shook himself from his trance and looked to the caravel. He could see the men on her decks now, scrambling, preparing for the fight, an army of ants. The Sea Sprite's crew was outnumbered, possibly two to one, Drizzt realized, and the caravel was heavily armed. She carried a fair-sized catapult on her stern deck, and probably a ballista beneath that, ready to shoot out from the open windows.

The drow nodded and turned back to the deck. The crossbows fixed on the bridge and the ballista were manned; many of the crew lined the rail, testing the pull of their longbows. The minstrels played on as they would right up until the boarding began. High above the deck, Drizzt spotted Catti-brie, Taulmaril in one hand, her spyglass in the other. He whistled to her and she gave a quick wave in response, her excitement obvious.

How could it be otherwise? The chase, the wind, the music, and the knowledge that they were doing good work here. Smiling widely, the drow skittered back along the beam and then the rail, joining Deudermont at the wheel. He noticed Robillard the wizard, looking bored as usual, sitting on the edge of the poop deck.

Every so often he waved one hand in the direction of the mainmast. Robillard wore a huge ring on that hand, a silver band set with a diamond, and its sparkle now came from more than a reflection of the light. With every gesture from the wizard, the ring loosed its magic, sending a strong gust of wind into the already straining sails. Drizzt heard the creak of protest from the mainmast and understood their uncanny speed.

'Carrackus,' Captain Deudermont remarked as soon as the drow was beside him. 'Black cutlass outlined in red.'

Drizzt looked at him curiously, not knowing the name.

'Used to sail with Pinochet,' Deudermont explained. 'First mate on the pirate's flagship. He was among those we battled in Asavir's Channel.'

'Captured?' Drizzt asked.

Deudermont shook his head. 'Carrackus is a scrag, a sea troll.'

'I do not remember him.'

'He has a penchant for staying out of the way,' Deudermont replied. 'Likely he dove overboard, taking to the depths as soon as Wulfgar turned us about to ram his ship.'

Drizzt remembered the incident, the incredible pull of his strong friend that nearly turned the original Sea Sprite on its stern, right into the faces of so many surprised pirates.

'Carrackus was there, though,' Deudermont continued. 'By all reports, it was he who rescued Pinochet's wounded ship when I set him adrift outside of Memnon.'

'And is the scrag allied with Pinochet still?' Drizzt asked.

Deudermont nodded grimly. The implications were obvious. Pinochet couldn't come after the troublesome Sea Sprite personally because in return for his freedom he had sworn off vengeance against Deudermont. The pirate had other ways of repaying enemies. He had many allies like Carrackus who were not bound by his personal oath.

Drizzt knew at that moment that Guenhwyvar would be needed and he took the intricate figurine from his pouch. He studied Deudermont carefully. The man stood tall and straight, slender but well-muscled, his gray hair and beard neatly trimmed. He was a refined captain, his dress impeccable, as at home in a grand ball as on the open sea. Now his eyes, so light in hue that they seemed to reflect the colors about them rather than to possess any color of their own, revealed his tension. Rumors had followed the Sea Sprite for many months that the pirates were organizing against the vessel. With confirmation that this caravel was allied with Pinochet, Deudermont believed that this might be more than a chance crossing.

Drizzt glanced back at Robillard, who was up on one knee now, arms outstretched and eyes closed, deep in meditation. Now the drow understood the reason Deudermont had put them at such a reckless speed.

A moment later, a wall of mist rose around the Sea Sprite, dimming the view of the caravel, which was now barely a hundred yards away. A loud splash to the side told them that the catapult had begun firing. A moment later, a burst of fire erupted in the air before them, dissipating into a cloud of hissing steam as they and their defensive mist wall streamed through it.

'They've a wizard,' Drizzt remarked.

'Not surprising,' Deudermont was quick to reply. He looked back to Robillard. 'Keep your measures defensive,' he ordered. 'We can take them with ballista and bow!'

'All the fun for you,' Robillard called back dryly.

Deudermont managed a smile, despite his obvious tension.

'Bolt!' came a cry, several cries, from forward. Deudermont instinctively spun the wheel. The Sea Sprite leaned into the leeward turn so deeply that Drizzt feared they would capsize.

At the same moment, Drizzt heard a rush of wind to his right as a huge ballista bolt ripped past, snapping a line, skipping off the edge of the poop deck right beside a surprised Robillard and rebounding to tear a small hole in the crossjack-the sail on the mizzenmast.

'Secure that line,' Deudermont instructed coolly.

Drizzt was already going that way, his feet moving impossibly fast. He got the snapping line in hand and quickly tied it off, then got to the rail as the Sea Sprite straightened. He looked to the caravel, now barely fifty yards ahead and to starboard. The water between the two ships rolled wildly. Whitecaps spit water that was blown into mist, caught in a tremendous wind.

The crew of the caravel didn't understand, and so they put their bows in line and began firing, but even the heaviest of their crossbow quarrels was turned harmlessly aside as it tried to cut through the wall of wind that Robillard had put between the ships.

The archers of the Sea Sprite, accustomed to such tactics, held their shots. Catti-brie was above the wind wall as was the archer poised in the crow's nest of the other ship-an ugly seven- foot-tall gnoll with a face that seemed more canine than human.

The monstrous creature loosed its heavy arrow first, a fine shot that sank the bolt deep into the mainmast, inches below Catti-brie's perch. The gnoll ducked below the wooden wall of its own crow's nest, readying another arrow.

No doubt the dumb creature thought itself safe, for it didn't understand Taulmaril.

Catti-brie took her time, steadied her hand as the Sea Sprite closed.

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