Extinction - By R. A. Salvatore

Chapter One
Pharaun lay on the forest floor, staring up into the angry eyes of five hissing serpents. Their fangs bared and dripping with poison, their mouths open wide, the red-and-black-banded vipers strained against the whip handle from which they grew.

The woman holding the whip stared down at Pharaun with tight-ly contained rage. Taller and stronger than the Master of Sorcere, she was an imposing figure. Pharaun could not see her face - the bright light streaming down from the sky above flooded his vision, turning her into a dark silhouette with bone-white hair - but her tone was as venomous as her serpents' hisses.

"You stepped on that spider on purpose," Quenthel said.

"I did not," he spat back, wincing at the slush that was soak-ing through his elegant shirt, chilling his back. He was glad the other members of their group had scattered in different direc-tions to search - that they weren't there to observe him in such anundignified pose. "I can't see a gods-cursed thing in this wretched light. Would I have let my trousers get into such a state if I could see well enough to step around the brambles that tore them? If there was a spider on the path, I didn't know it was there."

He glanced to his left, at the spot Quenthel had indicated a mo-ment before. As she looked in that direction, he slid his right hand out from behind his back.

One of the whip-serpents hissed a warning to its mistress, but too late. The moment Pharaun's hand was clear, he spoke the word that awoke the magic in his ring. Instantly, the steel band around his finger unfurled, elongating and expanding into a sword. Quick as thought, it spun in mid-air, slashing at the serpents.

The vipers recoiled, narrowly escaping the scything blade. Quen-thel leaped back, her mail tunic clinking. Pharaun scrambled to his feet and pressed her with the sword.

"Jeggred!" Quenthel screamed, herpiwafwi whirling out behind her as she dodged the dancing sword. "Defend me!"

Pharaun whipped a hand into a pocket of his ownpiwafwi and pulled out a pinch of powdered diamond. Flicking the sparkling pow-der into the air, he shouted the words of a spell, at the same time whirl-ing in a tight circle to scatter the powder. A dome of force sprang up all around him, shimmering like an inverted bowl.

And not a heartbeat too soon. An instant after the magical dome had materialized, a vaguely drow-shaped form hurtled out of the forest. The draegloth leaped onto the dome, the claws on his oversized fighting hands screeching like the shrieks of the damned as they scrabbled for a hold on the diamond-hard surface. The half-demon jumped again and again onto the dome, sliding off.

At last giving up, the draegloth crouched just outside the magical barrier, his smaller set of hands balled into fists on the ground while his larger hands flexed claws in frustration. He glared with blood-red eyes at Pharaun, then jerked his chin in defiance, sending a ripple through the coarse mane of yellow-white hair that cloaked his shoulders.

Pharaun winced at the stench of the draegloth's breath, wishing the magical barrier was capable of blocking odors.

Behind Jeggred, Quenthel kept a wary eye on the sword that hovered just over her head, shielding herself from it with the buckler strapped to her arm. The serpents of her whip hissed at it, one of them straining upward in a futile effort to snap at the weapon. Quenthel started to reach for the tube at her hip that held her scrolls, then paused. She seemed reluctant to waste the little magic she had left on such a petty quarrel.

"Call off your nephew, and let's talk," Pharaun suggested. Squinting, he glanced up at the harsh blue sky. "And let's get out of the sun, before it turns that pretty adamantine buckler you're wear-ing to dust."

Quenthel's eyes narrowed in fury at Pharaun's insubordination. No doubt she was thinking that though a Master of Sorcere he might be, as a male he should remember his place. Quenthel certainly lust-ed to use the spells once granted her by Lolth to pin Pharaun in a web and subject him to a thousand slow torments, but the Queen of Spiders had fallen silent. Save for her scrolls, Quenthel had no more spells to cast.

"Jeggred," she snapped. "Withdraw."

Reluctantly, Jeggred backed away from the barrier.

"That's more like it," Pharaun said.

He lifted his right hand, fingers extended, and spoke a command word. His sword shrank, then streaked through the air toward his hand