palms came in with the speed of a striking snake, heavy blows that knocked Deudermont's head tilting, and he would have fallen, except that the old man grabbed him by the shoulder and held him fast.

Through bleary eyes, Deudermont peered at his foe. Confusion crossed his stern features as his enemy's face began to melt away and then to reform.

'The dark one?' he, it, asked again, and Deudermont hardly heard the voice, his voice, so dumbfounded was he at the spectacle of his own face leering back at him.

* * * * *

'He should be here by now,' Catti-brie remarked, leaning on the bar.

She was growing impatient, Drizzt realized, and not because Deudermont was late-the captain was often detained at one function or another in Waterdeep-but because the sailor on the other side of her, a short and stocky man with a thick beard and curly hair, both the color of a raven's wing, kept bumping into her. He apologized each time, looking over his shoulder to regard the beautiful woman, often winking and always smiling.

Drizzt turned so that his back was against the waist-high bar. The Mermaid's Arms was nearly empty this night. The weather had been fine and most of the fishing and merchant fleets were out. Still, the place was loud and rowdy, full of sailors relieving months of boredom with drink, companionship, much bluster and even fisticuffs.

'Robillard,' Drizzt whispered, and Catti-brie turned and followed the drow's gaze to see the wizard slipping through the crowd, moving to join them at the bar.

'Good evening,' the wizard said without much enthusiasm. He didn't look at the companions as he spoke, and didn't wait for the bartender to come near, merely waggled his fingers and a bottle and a glass magically came to his place. The bartender started to protest, but a pile of copper pieces appeared in his hand. The bartender shook his head with disdain, never caring much for the Sea Sprite's wizard and his arrogant antics, and moved away.

'Where is Deudermont?' Robillard asked. 'Squandering my pay, no doubt.'

Drizzt and Catti-brie exchanged smiles wrought of continued disbelief. Robillard was among the most distant and caustic men either of them had ever known, more grumpy even than General Dagna, the surly dwarf who served as Bruenor's garrison commander at Mithril Hall.

'No doubt,' Drizzt replied.

Robillard turned to regard him with an accusing, angry glare.

'Of course, Deudermont's one to steal from us all the time,' Catti-brie added. 'Takes a fancy to the finest o' ladies and the finest o' wine, and is free with what's not his to be free with.'

A growl escaped Robillard's thin lips and he pushed off the bar and walked away.

'I'd like to know that one's tale,' Catti-brie remarked.

Drizzt nodded his accord, his eyes never leaving the departing wizard's back. Indeed, Robillard was a strange one, and the drow figured that something terrible must have happened to him somewhere in his past. Perhaps he had unintentionally killed someone, or had been rejected by a true love. Perhaps he had seen too much of wizardry, had looked into places where a man's eyes were not meant to go.

Catti-brie's simple spoken thought had sparked a sudden interest within Drizzt Do'Urden. Who was this Robillard, and what precipitated his perpetual boredom and anger?

'Where is Deudermont?' came a question from the side, breaking Drizzt's trance. He turned to see Waillan Micanty, a lad of barely twenty winters, with sandy-colored hair, cinnamon eyes and huge dimples that always showed because Waillan never seemed to stop smiling. He was the youngest of the Sea Sprite's crew, younger even than Catti-brie, but with an uncanny eye on the ballista. Waillan's shots were fast becoming legend, and if the young man lived long enough, he would no doubt assemble quite a reputation along the Sword Coast. Waillan Micanty had put one ballista bolt through the window of a pirate captain's quarters at four hundred yards and had skewered the pirate captain as the man was buckling on his cutlass. The momentum of the heavy spear had hurled the pirate right through his closed cabin door and out onto the deck. The pirate ship struck her colors immediately, the capture ended before the fighting had really even begun.

'We are expecting the man,' Drizzt answered, his mood brightening simply at the sight of the beaming young man. Drizzt couldn't help but notice the contrast between this youngster and Robillard, who was probably the oldest of the crew, except for Drizzt.

Waillan nodded. 'Should be here by now,' he remarked under his breath, but the drow's keen ears caught every word.

'You are expecting him?' Drizzt was quick to ask.

'I need to speak with him,' Waillan admitted, 'about a possible advance on earnings.' The young man blushed deep red and moved close to Drizzt so that Catti-brie could not hear. 'A lady friend,' he explained.

Drizzt found his smile widening even more. 'The captain is overdue,' he said. 'I'm sure he will not be much longer.'

'He was less than a dozen doors down when I last saw him,' Waillan said. 'Near to the Foggy Haven and heading this way. I thought he'd beat me here.'

For the first time, Drizzt grew a bit concerned. 'How long ago was that?'

Waillan shrugged. 'I been here since the fight before,' he said.

Drizzt turned and leaned back against the bar. He and Catti-brie exchanged concerned looks this time, for many minutes had passed since the previous two fights. There wasn't much to interest the captain between the Mermaid's Arms and the place Waillan spoke of, certainly nothing that should have detained Deudermont for this long.

Drizzt sighed and took a long swallow of the water he was drinking. He looked to Robillard, now sitting by himself, though a table not far from the man held open chairs beside the four that were occupied by members of the Sea Sprite's crew. Drizzt wasn't too concerned. Perhaps Deudermont had forgotten some business, or had simply changed his mind about coming to the Mermaid's Arms this night. But still, Dock Street in Waterdeep was a dangerous place, and the drow ranger's sixth sense, that warrior instinct, told him to be wary.


Deudermont, practically senseless, did not know how long the beating went on. He was lying on the cold ground now, that much he knew. The thing, whatever it was, having assumed his exact form, clothing, even weapons, was sitting on his back. The physical torture was not so great anymore, but even worse than the beating, the captain felt the creature within his mind, probing his thoughts, gaining knowledge that it could no doubt use against his friends.

You will taste fine, Deudermont heard in his thoughts. Better than the old Scaramundi.

Despite the unreality of it all, the lack of true sensation, the captain felt his stomach churning. He believed he knew, in that distant corner of consciousness, what monster had come to him. Dopplegangers were not common in the Realms, but the few who had made themselves known had certainly caused enough havoc to secure the wretched reputation of the alien race.

Deudermont felt himself being lifted from the ground. So strong was the grasp of the creature that the captain felt as if he were weightless, simply floating to his feet. He was spun around to face the thing, to face himself, and he expected then to be devoured.

'Not yet,' the creature replied to his unspoken fears. 'I need your thoughts, good Captain Deudermont. I need to know enough about you and your ship to sail it out of Waterdeep Harbor, far to the west and far to the south, to an island that few know, but many speak of.'

The thing's smile was tantalizing and Deudermont had just focused fully on it when the creature's head shot forward, its forehead slamming him in the face, knocking him senseless. Some time later-he did not know how many seconds might have passed-Deudermont felt the cold ground against his cheek once more. His hands were tightly bound behind his back, his ankles likewise strapped, and a tight gag was about his mouth. He managed to turn his head enough to see the creature, wearing his form still, bending over a heavy iron grate.

Deudermont could hardly believe the strength of the thing as it lifted that sewer covering, a mass of metal that had to weigh near to five hundred pounds. The creature casually leaned it against the wall of a building, then

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