Dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden was created 30 years ago by author R.A. Salvatore, and the enduringly popular character will soon return in a brand-new fantasy adventure trilogy. The first book, Timeless, isn’t out until September, but we’ve got a rather kick-ass exclusive excerpt to share here on io9.
First, here’s a detailed summary to get you even more excited for the book:
Centuries ago, in the city of Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, the city of drow, nestled deep in the unmerciful Underdark of Toril, a young weapon master earned a reputation far above his station or that of his poor house.
The greater nobles watched him, and one powerful Matron—Malice—decided to take him as her own. She connived with rival houses to secure her prize, but it was ultimately the roguish Jarlaxle who caught him.
Thus sparked the birth of two key moments in Menzoberranzan: the coupling of a noble and weapon master that would produce Drizzt Do’Urden…and the friendship between Zaknafein and Jarlaxle.
R. A. Salvatore reveals the Underdark anew through the eyes of of this unlikely pair—offering a fresh take on the intrigue and opportunities to be found in the shadows, and providing a fascinating prelude to the journeys that have shaped the modern-day Forgotten Realms. There, Zaknafein and Drizzt are joined together in a series of trials that parallel those of centuries long past, even though their paths no longer seem to be aligned. How will a father, so long constrained by the vicious and conservative world of the drow, be able to reconcile his ingrained prejudices with the world and companions of his enlightened son?
The answer lies in their desire for peace over chaos. And as long as the scourge of the goddess Lolth’s ambitions still remain, both are determined to keep her dark will at bay. But the Spider Queen is powerful, and now demons have been unleashed on the unwitting denizens of the surface world. United in purpose—and through their mutual friendship with Jarlaxle—Zaknefein and Drizzt will need to put aside their differences in order to keep the ones they love safe.
And here’s the full cover, followed by the excerpt, in which another legendary Salvatore character—Drizzit’s father, Zaknafein—engages in some intense magical combat with an invading wizard.
“I’m not fond of your choice,” Arathis Hune said when Jarlaxle and Zaknafein joined him in the suite he had rented under the name of House Hunzrin. The room was well furnished, with three comfortable beds, but the webbed ceiling hung very low, barely above the head of Jarlaxle, who was the tallest of the three.
“It was the best choice,” Jarlaxle replied. “The innkeeper is a friend.”
“You mean the dead guy out at the desk?” whispered Zaknafein, who was standing at the door, holding it slightly ajar and looking out at the main area of the establishment.
“Priveer Bar’cl…” Jarlaxle started to reply until the weight of Zaknafein’s words hit him.
The weapon master swung wide the door and leaped out, dodging a flare of fire as he did. “Down!” Zaknafein yelled to his companions still in the room, and he dove, too, flying to the side of the open door even as a magical fireball exploded within the apartment.
Zaknafein rolled right back to his feet, weapons in hands, as the drow wizard, his invisibility spell ended by the attack, came into view. Zaknafein was no veteran of battling wizards, but he had certainly killed more than a few priestesses in his years, and so he figured the tactics were much the same: get in close.
That would not prove easy, though, as a pair of swordsmen leaped from concealment, one from behind the desk, the other from behind a web screen over by the room’s far corner, both rushing to block his way to the spellcaster.
Which meant he wasn’t going to get to the wizard in time, and the drow was already casting another spell.
Zaknafein cut left to intercept the man from the corner, but stopped short and snapped his right arm around, throwing his sword spear-like at the warrior coming the other way. That drow got his swords up together to deflect the missile, but it still clipped his shoulder, drawing a painful gash and putting him back on his heels.
The other warrior came in hard, both swords stabbing, but with his left hand alone, the skilled weapon master blocked and parried, even riposted with a sharp and true counter to put the drow back on his heels.
Zaknafein used the moment to tug the whip from his belt. He brought it spinning up above his head, dropping back his right foot to turn to face the newcomer. The mere action of the whip had that drow slowing, which was exactly what Zaknafein had counted on as he half turned back and snapped the whip into the face of the spellcaster instead.
The wizard’s magical wards stopped the weapon from connecting, but the snap so near his eyes distracted him and interrupted his spell.
And all the while, Zaknafein worked his left-hand blade, keeping the warrior drow at bay. The other was coming back again, though, and Zaknafein knew he had to retreat. He started back a step, but heard a heavy grunt and watched the incoming warrior lurch and stagger to the side.
Most dark elves carried small handcrossbows. Arathis Hune, though, kept a sizable one on his back, one that threw bolts that needed no poison to drop a foe. And he knew how to use it.
The wounded drow staggered, a quarrel deep into his thigh. He grimaced and tried to straighten, but then began howling.
Because the large bolt was poisoned anyway, Zaknafein realized. Why not?
He cracked the whip again at the wizard, though that one had already fallen back out of range. Unfazed, Zaknafein came around, still working the whip, and short-snapped it to the side of his closer opponent’s swords, once and then again.
“Get the wizard!” he yelled to Arathis Hune, but even as he cried out, a line of fire raced behind him, not from the wizard, but at the wizard.
A lightning bolt followed, then a flying blob of viscous goo that slammed the poor fellow and drove him up against the wall, sticking him there.
And then another lightning bolt roared into the poor fellow, and Zaknafein understood then that Jarlaxle was outraged – he had never seen such a barrage from the mercenary. He figured that the innkeeper must have been a good friend, perhaps even a Bregan D’aerthe agent, but when he glanced at Jarlaxle, he saw another possible reason.
The mercenary’s hair, what was still left of it, was still smoking.
Back beyond Jarlaxle, Arathis Hune had reloaded and was aiming, but now toward the inn’s door, where more assassins were coming on fast.
No time now for games or subtlety. Zaknafein snapped the whip in the air above his foe’s head, but only for effect and to put it in line for his real attack. With great skill and dexterity, Zaknafein reached far forward with his right hand and swept the whip out to the left, deftly shortening the stroke to send it swinging over the twin swords he continued to parry.
His opponent saw the trick and tried to retract, but Zaknafein was quicker with his tug.
He couldn’t keep the swords engaged, of course, nor did he pull either from the drow warrior’s grasp, but he tangled them just enough for him to pull them to his right while he slid past to the left.
He could have killed that drow – were it a priestess of Lolth, he surely would have – but instead he punched out with a sweeping left hook, slamming the fellow across the jaw with the ball pommel of his sword. The warrior staggered and went to one knee, and Zaknafein kept spinning, and leaping, easily clearing the last cut of his opponent’s freed blades.
Down came Zaknafein from on high, the momentum of his drop and his spin adding power as he brought his hard boot into the warrior’s face, laying him flat out on the floor. He kicked one of the swords away and stomped down hard on the drow’s other wrist, then threw aside his cut whip, damaged by the blades it had entangled, and scooped the freed weapon as his own.
He saw the other warrior as he came around, the man leaning heavily against the wall, screaming in agony, clutching at his leg and clutching too, Zaknafein could tell, at his very consciousness.
Behind the warrior, the wizard hung on the wall, looking more like a hunting trophy than a threat.
The battle was far from won, though, for over at the entryway of the tavern, another pair of drow warriors appeared, and as soon as Zaknafein—and Arathis Hune coming from the opposite wall—started for them, they parted and sent a line of powerful bugbears streaming into the fight.
“Left flank!” Zaknafein called to Jarlaxle. He and Arathis Hune met the bugbear charge side by side, holding a line, but not near enough to the door, and so more of the brutes were pouring in, sweeping about to Zaknafein’s left, threatening to flank the pair.
And where was Jarlaxle?
Something flittered past Zaknafein as he was forced to drop his left foot back to intercept a bugbear trying to rush past. He had no idea of what Jarlaxle might be up to, if it was even Jarlaxle that had sent the strange missile. Whoever it was, it made no sense to him, because it wasn’t some caltrop of magical burst.
No, it was a feather. A huge, strange feather.
Until it touched the ground, and then, so suddenly, it became a gigantic, flightless, thick-bodied, thick-legged, huge-clawed monstrosity.
Zaknafein shied reflexively, as did the bugbear – or at least, the bugbear tried to back away. But the giant bird was quicker and it pecked the goblinoid atop the head with its massive beak, a punishing blow that sent the bugbear straight to the floor, its eyes rolling, its skull shattered.
The left flank secured, the giant bird leaped ahead fearlessly, hopping, raking with is murderous claw, batting its short but thick wings, and driving back the press of bugbears.
A twist, a feint, a step back as if in retreat, and a sudden reversal led by a thrust dispatched the bugbear standing before Zaknafein, and a second, surprising stab with his right-hand blade went immediately over the falling monster and straight into the face of the bugbear thinking to take its place.
Beside Zaknafein, Arathis Hune, too, dispatched his immediate opponent, but found himself face up with a pair of replacements.
“Jarlaxle!” Zaknafein called again, for he was suddenly too engaged to help his flanked companion.
Even as he called for the help, though, it seemed a moot point, for another pea of flame soared in through the door.
“Break and flee!” Jarlaxle shouted from somewhere behind, and with a fireball about to explode, neither Zaknafein or Arathis Hune was about to argue. As one, they turned to retreat…
Only to wonder where they could retreat to.
The answer became apparent when they spied the magical hole thrown against the back wallby their companion, who was already diving out of the establishment.
So went Arathis Hune, and so went Zaknafein, and so went a pursuing bugbear, but that one came through aflame as the fireball exploded within the inn, filling the common room with fire and the cries of bugbears and the shrieks of a flaming giant bird. A burst of flames came roaring out, as well, but it was abruptly extinguished as Jarlaxle tugged his portable hold away from the wall, returning it to normal – and an instant later, there came a heavy thud as another bugbear tried to charge out of the conflagration through the hole that was no longer there.
“Do not let them escape,” Jarlaxle said with a hiss, and that sound was telling to Zaknafein, who was already up and running about the side of the inn. He had never heard the mercenary leader so obviously upset.
No time to consider that now, though, for on the other side of the small inn stood a drow wizard and her guards, at ease and staring at the burning inn, clearly believing that their targets remained inside the killing flames.
The look on their three faces when Zaknafein leaped around the edge of the structure into their midst brought a smile to the deadly weapon master’s lips. The look on their faces as his strike gracefully took the throat from the wizard and his second sword swept past the nearest warrior to cut him across both wrists as he turned to react, were even more delightful.
Zaknafein turned, too, face up with him, and his left hook took the man in the face, while he flipped his right-hand sword over and stabbed it straight behind him, catching the other leaping warrior by surprise—right in the chest.
Jarlaxle and Arathis Hune came running about the building at just that moment, to find all three of the remaining drow defeated, the wizard rolling on the ground, grabbing tightly at her bleeding neck, the impaled warrior lying quite still, and the other holding his cut wrists as he knelt there unsteadily on one knee, his nose dripping blood.
“Go get my feather,” Jarlaxle told Zaknafein, moving past toward the fallen sorceress. At that same moment, Arathis Hune’s sword tip settled against the back of the wounded warrior’s neck.
Zaknafein stepped back and stood up straight. With a glance around, he sheathed his swords and turned back for the burning structure, though it was more smolder than conflagration at that point, since much of it was constructed with thick but easily melted webbing. He moved up to the door and kicked it, expecting it to fall in. But it caught on some strands of gooey webbing and toppled back outside instead, hitting the ground with a whoosh of sparks.
In the main room, Zaknafein found some bugbears writhing, but posing no threat. A quick scan and he saw the smoldering carcass of the giant bird Jarlaxle had summoned.
The only unburned feather that he found, though, seemed hardly worth retrieving, looking more like a twig than a bird’s plumage. He shrugged and picked it up, pocketing it, then moving to the wizard hanging on the wall.
That drow was alive, most of the goo burned away, though enough remained to keep him aloft and his feet were still off the floor. The warrior shot by Arathis Hune had expired, though whether from the fireball or the poison, Zaknafein couldn’t tell, and didn’t care, but the drow he had knocked out was still alive, and just starting to stir.
Jarlaxle walked into the room. “I count two dead drow, seven dead bugbears, and four prisoners, including a wizard,” he said.
“And we are unscathed,” Zaknafein replied.
“An easy remark for you to make,” Jarlaxle said and patted his once-again singed head, where most of his hair had burned away and much of his skin looked as though it had been caramelized. His subsequent growl made it clear that he was not amused.
With a shrug Zaknafein handed him the feather. “Your bird – was that a bird? – too,” he explained. “Might be good eating, though.”
Jarlaxle took the feather stub and put on his wry grin once more. “It will grow back,” he said.
Zaknafein looked at the mercenary leader’s pate and tried to appear encouraging.
“Not the hair,” Jarlaxle explained. “Though I will see to that with a priestess when we return to Menzoberranzan.”
“Perhaps the gods are trying to tell you something,” Zaknafein quipped. “Every time I see you, your head is on fire.”
“Not the hair,”’ Jarlaxle said again, in even and grim tones. “The feather, the bird. The feather will grow back, and so return to me my useful pet when I need it.”
Somehow, Zaknafein wasn’t surprised. The man carried holes, grew giant birds from feathers, and acted as if the matron mothers worked for him.
And perhaps, in Jarlaxle’s mind, they did.
It occurred to Zaknafein Do’Urden then that it probably wasn’t a good life decision to remain near this dangerous character, but he shook the notion away, more than willing to take the risks.
Because it was so much fun.
R.A. Salvatore’s Timeless: A Drizzt Novel goes on sale September 4—but you can pre-order a signed copy at this link; it’s a hardcover, Barnes & Noble-exclusive edition that includes a short story chronicling a brand-new Drizzt and Catti-brie adventure.