The Lesser Evil
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of R.A. Salvatore/Wizards of the Coast ©. I don't own them; I'm just examining all their possibilities.
Epilogue: The Rogue Kings
The stone double doors to Bruenor's throne room opened. At once, various conversations about Mithril Hall business, strategies against the Kingdom of Many-Arrows, and general conversations about the upcoming cold weather ceased into a chilling silence. The eyes of Bruenor, Regis, Wulfgar, Stumpet, and an array of other dwarves turned towards the two grim-faced wood elves that entered the large throne room; one was a female with long brown hair adorned with a few hanging braids, the other was a male with long red hair pulled back in a ponytail. The fair creatures were all clad in simple leather armor and attire appropriate for the woodlands. All were simply armed, yet one carried a mid-sized wooden box in his hands.
"Me king," the cleric Cordio Muffinhead said, coming in front of the elves, "we have some unexpected visitors. They came here right from Cormanthor with some serious business they to talk over with ye. It can't wait."
Bruenor rose and gave a small bow, though his grizzled face showed some trepidation at this sudden arrival.
"Well met," Bruenor said hesitantly. "So what brings ye all from Cormanthor?"
"I apologize if our arrival has caused you any inconvenience, your majesty," a female elf said, bowing low and coming before the group. "I am Milae Winlir and this is my partner Aden Naitheil. Both of us have been sent as envoys from the elven court to deliver information of great interest to Mithril Hall. Before I give you our news, I wish to know the whereabouts of your dark elf companion Drizzt Do'Urden, if I may."
The room's occupants all gave each other nervous glances. Bruenor shrugged his broad shoulders.
"I couldn't tell you exactly where he is," the king said. "The elf likes to go wanderin' and since me girl…" his voice trailed off for a second as he winced at the sudden memory before regaining his composure, though the elves nodded in understanding, "…his wife was killed he needed to get out. We haven't seen him five months."
The wood elves exchanged glances, their faces even more grim.
"King Bruenor," Milae continued, her voice strained, "my kin and I have been defending our home, the oft beleaguered court of Cormanthor, against our ancient foes the dark elves; savage worshippers of the evil god Vhaeraun who vie to control our beloved land. We have come to call your ranger companion a friend, if only by reputation if not by witnessing his deeds. A tenday ago, we were scouting out Vhaeraunite strongholds with a small collective of human rangers when we found this on the ground."
Aden came forward bearing the wooden box. Milae slowly removed the thin cover and pulled back a sheet of green silk. A collective gasp rose among the group. Regis put a hand to his mouth as Bruenor's jaw slowly dropped. Carefully laid in a shroud was a collection of many metal fragments. Lying on top of the shards was the severed hilt of a scimitar with a large sapphire in the pommel.
"Our ranger companions have worked beside Drizzt Do'Urden before and immediately identified this as one of his blades," Aden said.
Wulfgar came forward and examined the shards, picking them up and noting the elven script that identified the blade as Twinkle.
"You found this on the ground in dark elf territory?" Wulfgar stated more than asked, looking back at his father Bruenor, whose face bore a look of steadily building rage, and Regis, whose mouth hung open with a helpless gaze.
"There was a battle in that location," Milae said. "The tracks indicate it was two of elf-kind who fought. There was also a large pine tree with large trail of dried blood running down the trunk like pitch; a deep notch in the bark above the blood trail indicated a blade the width of a scimitar."
"S-so he bested his opponent," Regis sputtered in a tone of nervous insistence. "Is there any way you could get us some pieces of the bark? We have a close ally who is a very skilled alchemist, a gnome named Nanfoodle. We can probably find an old piece of Drizzt's clothing with at least one small speck of his blood and I am sure he can compare the two."
"I am sure we can get you a chunk of that bark," Milae said. "The drow have been less stationary so it should be a relatively simple task. I will return to Cormanthor and we shall be back shortly."
"Bruenor, this may also be a matter for Lady Alustriel," Wulfgar said in almost the same desperate tone as Regis, rushing to the king's side. "We could send word and she could possibly lend some soldiers from Silverymoon to escort the elves through this hostile land and perhaps look for information on Drizzt."
"Good thinkin'," Bruenor barked, pointing a finger at the elves. "I'll fetch the gnome and I'm sure the elf must've left somethin' behind. Meantime, Cordio, send a letter to Silverymoon. I'm sure the Lady'll want to help."
Bruenor and the wood elves discussed their plans to find if Drizzt had indeed been in Cormanthor. In the meantime, Regis slipped from the room and ran down the hall letting out a few panicked whimpers, this sudden news too much to bear. There had to be a decent explanation as to how Drizzt's blade found its way into hostile territory, Regis thought; Drizzt had joined his fellow rangers in a fight against his vile kin where he walked away victorious. Maybe Twinkle was taken from him under some unique circumstances like Aegis-Fang was taken from Wulfgar during his drunken stupor in Luskan.
All these thoughts passed through the halfling's head as his quick step finally ended in front of Drizzt's room. He pushed the door open and stood still for a second, his eyes scanning the simple bed with a blanket of direwolf fur pulled neatly over. A brown, leather travel sac hung from a wooden peg and various short garlands of dried herbs hung from the wall. The sudden revelation was like being hit by a river of cold water, making the halfling close his eyes and shudder.
Drizzt should be here, he thought. He should be in Mithril Hall, sitting on his bed, exchanging some grand tale with a huge smile.
It was a pleasing image Regis hoped to see when he opened his eyes, only to reveal a cold empty room. Drizzt Do'Urden was not there, not since that horrible day his grief and anger overcame him after the meeting in Bryn Shander's council house. Kemp of Targos accused Drizzt of killing his wife and taunted him for his heritage. Unable to bear too much more abuse, he snapped and savagely beat the councilor with the pommel of his scimitar. Regis now wished he had run after his friend, instead he stood and glared at Drizzt like all the other councilors, silently condemning him and saying nothing as Elderman Cassius banished Drizzt from the town that he loved. Regis knew he should have at least done something, but he instead watched at Drizzt faded from view. That was five months ago.
He remembered accompanying the councilors to the nearby healer's house, where Kemp was put in a bad and given excellent care. An hour later, heavy steps sounded from the hall and Bruenor burst in the room.
"Damned orc-headed fools!" Bruenor had yelled to the councilors who stood beside Kemp's bed side as the spokesman groaned from his injuries. "This is what you get when you beat a horse, ye don't be too surprised when it hauls off and bucks ye. Ye know what'll happen now; a hunnerd years from now and a hunnerd years after that when ye're all in your graves and ye're grandkids are fightin' off some kind of new beastie, that elf'll still be kickin' around and'll leave ye all to fight it yerself 'cause he'll be rememberin' the warm hospitality he got from all you fools."
Regis never joined in Bruenor's tirade, for secretly he felt Drizzt had betrayed them all. It was revealed during the council meeting that Drizzt had been keeping a correspondence with Jarlaxle and crossed paths with the drow mercenary and his companion, the vile assassin who still haunted Regis' nightmares, where Catti-brie died. Drizzt later defended them in front of a council of goodly townspeople: two thoroughly evil individuals praised as heroes by a supposedly decent warrior. Bruenor never seemed to care about this revelation, though he never seemed to care about anything since his daughter was killed. He did passionately defend Drizzt's innocence.
"If I thought for a second Drizzt'd had anythin' to do with me girl's death," the dwarf yelled after returning to the caves, "I'd still be wipin' elf brains off me axe."
Regis never believed Drizzt killed Catti-brie. They were two best friend and lovers meant for each other, and her death created a pit of despair in Drizzt's fragile heart. The halfling knew this, yet his own grief mixed with Drizzt's betrayal made him follow close behind Bruenor that afternoon after he was summoned back to Mithril Hall, a part of him hoping the drow would never show.
He got his wish, a wish he regretted making. Stumpet came to Mithril Hall three days after their arrival, coming before Breuenor with a pained look; one hand bore a note from Drizzt, the other clutched Guenwhyvar's figurine.
"…we will all meet again in happiness in this world or the next," Drizzt had written. "Until that day, I will find the happiness that has been destroyed in my soul and may you all find the same."
Regis remembered taking Guenwhyvar's figurine into his room, summoning the panther, burying his head in her warm fur, and sobbing violently. In the midst of one of the most horrible periods of his life, Drizzt had vanished, leaving behind that heartbreaking note while giving up his closest companion. Drizzt already had a history of taking reckless, almost suicidal actions under great duress. Regis wept loudly, knowing that he may never see his friend alive again. He went through five months of guilt, everyday hoping that Drizzt had pulled out of his blackness; a blackness for which he felt partially responsible. Not one of the Companions had shown their dark elf friend any true sympathy or condolences for the loss of his wife, Regis recalled. After watching the love of his life die and living without the support of his closest companions, Drizzt Do'Urden may have taken actions to end his own life.
This latest discovery seemed to confirm that deep fear, though Regis held on to hope. He broke from his sad recollection and ran for the plain wooden dresser on the other side of the room, pulling out drawers and rooting through every compartment, tears flowing as he tossed aside neatly folded tunics and rolled belts mixed with small trinkets from other lands. The stale cotton and musty leather still bore the strong scent of fresh woods and many campfires mingled with the slightly pungent hint of perspiration, creating the eerie effect of his friend's presence, though he himself was long gone. At last Regis found a brown tunic crumpled in the corner of a bottom drawer with a small circle of dried blood on the left shoulder. The halfling gave a cracked howl of victory as he scooped up the tunic and ran from the room.
Milae returned to Cormanthor as Nanfoodle was summoned from Mirabar. A few days later, the wood elf maiden returned with a large chunk of bark soaked in dried blood, which was given to the gnome, who set up a laboratory in one of Mithril Hall's lower levels and conducted various experiments comparing the consistency of the blood on the bark to the blood on the shirt. In the meantime, word of Drizzt's plight their old friend Lady Alustriel in Silverymoon, who dispatched a few scouts to join the rangers in finding anyone matching Drizzt's description.
It was the first time anyone had heard any news on Drizzt and the company kept hope that this new discovery would lead them to finally reuniting with their missing friend. Regis even overheard Bruenor telling Stumpet his plans for a grand homecoming celebration. The atmosphere of hope lasted for two tendays, yet more information drained all the hope left.
Nanfoodle came back to Bruenor with his findings, his small head bowed and his voice strained. After conducting thirty-two different alchemical experiments, all tests indicated that the blood on the bark had the exact same composition as the blood stain on Drizzt's tunic. The situation looked grim, yet the residents of Mithril Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of the scouts from Cormanthor who hopefully possessed some answers.
A tenday later, Milae and Aden returned to Mithril Hall followed by three Silverymoon rangers joined by Lady Alustriel herself. All gathered in Bruenor's throne room for the final word.
"I am afraid we do not bring any good tidings," Senialin, a moon elf from Silverymoon said, his angled face held high but his green-gold eyes heavy. "There is no specific word of Drizzt Do'Urden's living presence in woods or the remains of the elven court, yet matters have become significantly worse. The drow of Cormanthor have become more powerful against their enemies. The two main factions of Vhaeraun worshippers, the Auzcovyn Clan and House Jaelre, have been allying more frequently. Their strategy is stronger and their tactics more savage as there has been more and more horror brought against the goodly folk. Rumors speak that both factions now have an outside source in their war, a drow warrior only known as The Rogue Prince; a devout follower of Vhaeraun, a brilliant strategist, and a savage fighter. Rumors says he may appear for everything from a few days to plan strategy and make sacrifices to his dark god or merely a few hours to slaughter small groups of rangers before vanishing. Our allies have been amassing, yet most have been slaughtered swiftly."
"Three of my bravest warriors fell in the fray," Lady Alustriel said in a strained tone. "I am afraid that, combined with the evidence we have already collected…" her voice trailed off as her beautiful face twisted into a look of pain.
"Drizzt likely joined with the rangers," Wulfgar said, voice rising as his face twisted into anger, "and fought with one of the drow, possibly The Rogue Prince himself, and fell. Is that your reasoning?"
"The side of a tree was bathed in blood that has been alchemically identified as his," Milae added with a long sigh. "The Vhaeraunites are just as bloodthirsty as their Underdark kin. The enemies they don't slaughter outright will be detained and tortured until their deaths. Regardless, Drizzt likely never left that wood."
Wulfgar gave a loud growl and kicked the wall. Bruenor sat back in his throne, putting his head in his hand with a stunned expression.
"So that's it," the king barked. "There ain't nothin' more ye can do."
"We searched all we could," Senialin said in a tone of desperation, "The situation has become too dangerous for another mission. It has been two months since Drizzt's blade was discovered and he could have fallen months before. That leaves little other options."
The room fell silent, the quiet only broken by a few rising gasps and sobs. Bruenor remained expressionless, while Wulfgar steadied himself against wall. Regis slowly sat on the floor, burying his head in his hands as every muscle quivered.
"He went for one last opportunity to prove himself," Regis said softly, though all ears present listened, "though he knew it would be his end; one last mission to end his pain forever and protect the goodly folk from his vile kin."
After a second of horrible silence, Regis burst into a series of painful sobs.
Two tendays later, when the shock of the news had fully set in, the dwarven crafters set to work. A fortnight after, the surviving Companions of the Hall gathered in the Hall of Dumathoin, where the weapons and armor of warrior's past were displayed in tribute to Mithril Hall's history. A stone pillar was erected beside the one displaying Taulmaril, whose string was nocked with a heat-seeking arrow that would never be fired. Bruenor took the shards of Twinkle from the box and carefully mounted them on the fresh-cut stone, the fragments making the shape of a shattered scimitar blade above the sapphire hilt. Bruenor stopped for a second, tears streaming down his red beard as he looked at the shards.
"Me boy," he said in a faint whisper.
Wulfgar stood in reverent silence, his large hand over Regis' shoulder and his mind filled with memories of all the time spent with his best friend and mentor; all the battles, all the talks, and all the times of happiness all mixed with a strong sense of guilt over never getting a real chance to say goodbye. Regis also washed in his memories, his heavy eyes scanning the elven script carved in the stone, words from a parchment the wood elves left, requesting the crafter to carve in as a final memorial:
"Here lie the shards of Twinkle, the blade of Drizzt Do'Urden: brave warrior, caring friend, and determined fighter for goodness; born 1296 DR, died 1373 DR."
The memorial was simple, a tribute to a heroic warrior who would want to have been remembered for his deeds in life and not fawned over after death. Regis sniffed and allowed a few soft words escape his sobs:
"I hope you found your happiness as last, Drizzt Do'Urden."
Artemis Entreri pulled his cowl of his tattered cloak further over his head as he crouched further against the slimy wall in the deepest section of the alleyway, making him look not too different from the average unfortunate on the streets of Baldur's Gate, if he was seen at all. He peeked from the fabric and brushed aside a loose strand of black hair to see the alley unoccupied; nothing but piles of garbage mingled with the corpses of rats and the cats that had savored their last meal. It was a busy evening in the port city as many different people passed by the alley, yet no one seemed too interested in what happened inside.
Then there was that one man who wore a cloak that was supposed to look tattered, but the rich, blue-black color gave away his true station. The wealthy merchant looked around the street before subtly ducking into the alley. Entreri's trained eyes then noticed the shadows from the buildings rising behind the man, a dark hand wielding a shining, silver dagger shooting out from the blackness and embedding into the base of his spine. Lightening then built from a large, round piece of clear quartz on the pommel, shooting up the blade and into the merchant; the man's hair standing on end as his muscles seized. He stood up, though his clearly dead body was propped to a stand by the darkness itself. The shadow dragged him further into the alley and dropped his corpse on the ground, though not before slender black hands took his purse and a few ruby rings. The shadow took more of a humanoid shape as dark hands pulled pieces of garbage and cat corpses over the merchant's scrawny frame and face, which was dripping with sweat as a trail of foaming saliva poured from the mouth; eyes wide open in a final moment of surprise.
Entreri nodded in approval, and then slowly rose, walking towards the other end of the alley with the shadowy form following at an inconspicuous distance. He rounded a corner, walking down another alley before stopping at a spot on the wall and placing the back of his right index finger inside a crack in the brick, a signet ring on his finger glowing. He then leaned against the wall, his small form passing through the bricks as he entered a stone hallway where a series of torches lit automatically. Entreri looked back to see the mass of shadow passing through the wall and following him. Then, the shadows slowly dissipated as they were sucked into the deep red garnet on the pommel of a scimitar, a new blade Entreri knew had been recently named WraithKiss, gradually revealing Drizzt Do'Urden clad in all black; leather trousers, high boots, and a leather vest, covered by a fine velvet cloak. He pulled back the hood of his cloak and pulled off the tie in his hair, letting the short fringe tumble down over his scarred, ebony face, lavender eyes shining through a black leather half-mask.
The two continued silently down the hall in Bani Pilazi's guild house, a relatively small building that was home to one of the fastest growing thieves' guilds in Baldur's Gate. Legend had it that Pilazi was once a lieutenant of Pasha Pook's in Calimport, before a series of ill deeds resulted in the master thief having a price put on his head as he ran to Baldur's Gate, where he formed his own successful guild. Pilazi was now an old and paranoid recluse who only made contact through a series of missives, who all had their own agendas. He did make outside contact once four months earlier when he heard his old friend and associate Artemis Entreri was traveling through Baldur's Gate, personally offering him and his two companions jobs in the guild; if only to keep the notoriously shifty Entreri and his two dark elf associates on a short leash while exploiting their talents.
Entreri's gaze fell on the walls still marveling at where this journey had taken him so far. It had not been the company's intention to stay in one place for too long, but the series of events in Cormanthor humbled them all. While Drizzt was understandably the most effected, it seemed Entreri and Jarlaxle were also reeling from the impact of their previous retreat, though neither cared to think on the reasons. Regardless, the three found their wanderlust sorely lacking. After a month of traveling, they took what was intended to be a brief respite in Baldur's Gate before they were given the perfect opportunity to rest with some steady work; steady work that became a perfect business venture.
Pilazi used the three as his own assistants, hardly noticing when the three shrewd mercenaries began taking over the major operations of the guild and pocketing much coin. While the old thief rested on his supposed laurels, Entreri had essentially become guild master, handing out assignments and overseeing affairs under the authority of a lieutenant, yet working with the power of a master. Jarlaxle acted as his silent partner, though Entreri arranged matters so this project would not be another feather in Bregan D'aerthe's hat, rendering him as merely a human front; though Jarlaxle's interest in his own mercenary band seemed to wane.
Drizzt seemed to take a less ambitious role in the operations of the guild. Instead he focused much more attention on his various military and spiritual pursuits in Cormanthor, where he visited frequently using a teleportation wand his cleric friend Mazn'reysla had given him before their departure. Drizzt did maintain an active role in the guild, mostly acting as an internal enforcer who rooted out potential treacheries through spying and torture while eliminating assassins who had become too sloppy in their work.
Drizzt himself was serving an informal apprenticeship under Entreri to learn the subtle trade of the assassin, an apprenticeship Entreri personally arranged after their initial arrival in the guild. Entreri never wanted to take students before, but he was making an exception this time. Drizzt Do'Urden was already a swordsman of legendary talent. It would help if the unstable drow learned some discipline; making him achieve a respect for the act of killing as opposed to merely doing it out of light sport. The idea of teaching his formerly good enemy such a dark art held its own appeal as well. So far, all efforts seemed to work for both parties.
Drizzt and Entreri continued down the hall until they reached a plain wooden door. Entreri placed his signet ring against the knob. The latch clicked and the door swung open on its own accord. The two walked through, Entreri closing the door, which automatically locked, as they walked into Pilazi's main office, a large, stone room adorned with a large oak desk, a few tattered chairs, and a few tall shelves storing many books and parchments. Entreri removed his tattered cloak and threw it on a nearby chair before fixing his gaze on Drizzt, arms folded and head up.
"Well," Drizzt said, removing his mask and placing it in a small pouch in his belt, "What have I pleased my master."
Entreri nodded in contemplation. Over the four months of his training, Drizzt quickly learned that Entreri was a hard teacher. The veteran assassin never gave actual praise and was quick to respond to mistakes with taunts and barks. Drizzt couldn't help but compare his current teacher to a master at Melee-Magthere, only Entreri merely threatened his life after a snide retort or fouled-up blow while a master would have killed him outright. Drizzt knew his skills were improving when the hard words became less frequent and venomous, though he never expected to be treated any differently. The fact Artemis Entreri was actually insistent on taking him as a student in the first place was compliment enough.
"You took the whelp down a little too close to the mouth of the alley," Entreri said evenly, "where anyone who cared could have seen something suspicious."
The veteran assassin then fell silent. Drizzt's mouth curled in a small smirk.
"In other words a satisfactory performance," the dark elf said.
Entreri glared at him before biting his lip and giving a slow, reluctant nod while rolling his dark eyes with a sigh.
"I will supervise your next two missions," he said at last. "If you fail to raise my ire both those times, you will take on a solo assignment."
Drizzt nodded, the smirk still plastered on his face.
"Just don't get too cocky," Entreri sneered as he sat down in the velvet chair that seemed too big for his small frame.
"Are we finished?" Drizzt asked. "I have another errand I need to run."
"Yes, we are finished," Entreri groaned, rubbing his face with one hand and sorting through a pile of loose parchment on the desk with the other. "Jarlaxle insists we meet him at Smith's Tavern before midnight."
"Ah yes, the bar wenches put on a little dance there," Drizzt said gleefully, "the best selection in town."
"If you are such a connoisseur of the female flesh, you might want to expand your horizons beyond cheap tavern whores," the human said, dipping a quill in a nearby inkwell. "Gods know you can afford it."
"Oh, do you have any other suggestions?"
Entreri smiled while making a few notes on a parchment.
"I remember in Calimport, I was so popular among the pashas that they allowed me access to their respective harems. These were elegant, sophisticated women, Do'Urden, not filthy wenches who can't make coin any other way."
"So if you do follow up on your grumblings and return to Calimport with a shred of dignity, you will put in a good word for me?"
"Or I could just introduce you to a certain noble client of ours here who just happens to be the madam of a rather successful yet highly exclusive gentlemen's club."
"You are too kind. And I promise I won't tell Jarlaxle."
"I would appreciate that greatly."
The two looked at each other, exchanging knowing smiles before Drizzt bowed, opened the door, and left the room, closing the self-latching door behind him.
He walked down the corridor, his stomach churning in tense anticipation of his next task; the finalization of a grueling extended project he just wanted over with. The corridor stopped in a dead end. Drizzt knocked against the brick wall in three evenly spaced beats. The wall faded to reveal a dark stairwell. He descended the stairs until he reached a deep tunnel leading under the streets. A few sharp turns later, he reached another door. Drizzt then reached into his belt, producing his mask and putting it over his face as he gave a rhythmic pattern of a knock against the door. The door then opened, a male human in a black half mask lined with red fringe bowing in greeting.
"Good evening, Master Do'Urden," the priest of Mask, the dark god of rogues, said. "We have been expecting you."
Drizzt nodded, walking through and letting his gaze fix on the large space with a low. The walls were adorned with various mounded weapons and silver holders adorned with black taper candles. Various red cushions adorned the floor facing a plain altar adorned with a red cloth and various silver bowls used for offerings and sacrifices. The room was empty, but Drizzt knew that Baldur's Gate's temple of Mask was always teeming with hidden beings as the temple was the perfect place for rogues of various disciplines to meet and exchange schemes. The clerics had also set up a private room off to the side as a chapel to their allied deity Vhaeraun, where Drizzt and the sparse number of drow traders in the city could pay homage to their god when business took them away from the temples in places like Cormanthor.
"My prince," a melodious female voice said from the side of the room, "it is so good to see you again."
Drizzt turned towards the voice and smiled wide.
"Milae, my friend," he said, walking towards the brown-haired wood elf coming toward him.
The two embraced and Drizzt looked up to see Milae's lover and companion Aden emerging from a side room followed by Mazn'reysla in his clerical garb.
"Well, well," Drizzt said, bowing to the priest of Vhaeraun, "It is like a small party here. What brings you to Baldur's Gate, friend."
"Completing the alliance between our temples," Mazn'reysla said.
"It is a happy day when the children of Mask and the children of Vhaeraun can unite in friendship," the human cleric said, before disappearing into another back room.
"Indeed," Drizzt said with a laugh, his attention falling back on the two wood elves; two of his allies from Cormanthor who were expert liars and thieves capable of making themselves anyone's friend . "So, is my little problem solved?"
"I have to give you credit on that inscription you conjured up," Milae said. "How does it feel to write your own eulogy?"
Drizzt tried to hold back his pained expression. A part of him felt guilty for putting his old companions through such pain, though he knew he made the right decision
"I think Jarlaxle is rubbing off on me in more ways than I care to admit." He replied, forcing a smile. "Perhaps I have developed a flair for the dramatic."
"It was a fabulously directed performance," Aden added. "You managed to convince your former fellows of your own death while testing Cormanthor's defenses against outside forces, even baiting the Lady of Silverymoon herself into sending test subjects."
"King Bruenor and Queen Alustriel are all wise and powerful," Drizzt said, his voice becoming grave as the pained expression returned, "yet they have their weak points, all of which I have witnessed personally. Only they all turned out more predictable and gullible than I gave them credit for, which does sadden me, though it accomplishes our goals. Hopefully, more of the neighboring powers will learn that our people are not to be trifled with."
"Given the amount of grief your plan has inflicted on your former fellows, I must speculate that your original split from King Bruenor must have been rather acrimonious," Milae said. "That or you simply wanted to see them suffer."
"It was never a matter of either," Drizzt said to the elves and to himself, his gaze fixing on the altar as he gave a pained sigh. "In fact there was nothing but truth in those words I had inscribed on that memorial. For all parties concerned, Drizzt Do'Urden, the hero of the land, is dead. I would rather my former companions put my memory to rest instead of finding what they will term a vile being in need of eliminating in the body of an old friend."
"The flesh may live," Mazn'reysla added with a small smile, "but the death of the soul screams to the gods."
"By physical definition I am alive, though in many other ways I am dead," Drizzt replied. "A friend of mine told me that and I couldn't agree more."
"Well, the message has most certainly spread," Milae said. "I guess that chapter of your life is completely closed."
Drizzt smiled and gave a small chuckle.
"Yes indeed it is," he said, suddenly feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I thank you both for your efforts."
Drizzt reached into another pouch on his belt and produced a small sack of gems he handed to Aden.
"It was the least we can do, my Rouge Prince," the elf replied, putting the sack in his own belt. "You have aided our people in so many ways it was fitting to do you a favor in appreciation."
"I hate to end this little gathering," Drizzt said, "but I promised my Rogue King an audience for some feasting and merriment. I will see both of you delightful faeries at Xalryln's birthday party, right?"
"We wouldn't miss it for the world," Milae said with a dirty laugh. "It will be a night that will be talked about for centuries."
"Speaking of Xalryln," Mazn'reysla said, "he gave me a little message to relay to you. It seems Jezz the Lame is begging for another audience with you."
"So now you are drinking buddies with the leader of House Jaelre," Aden said with a smile. "You must indeed be charismatic enough to get an invitation from that stubborn bastard to sample his homebrewed ale?"
"You mean that steaming concoction with a taste not far from a substance squeezed from the back end of a dead rothé?" Drizzt added, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "Tell him I await his formal invitation."
He then bowed and walked towards the passageway, the cleric of Vhaeraun and the two wood elves responding with the same. Soon, he passed through the door and walked down the corridor towards a night of merriment with his companions.
"There have been a few rather curious rumors floating around about you, Jarlaxle," Kimmuriel Oblodra said, leaning back in the luxurious red velvet chair in Jarlaxle's room. His keen eyes observed the surroundings and noted how the human's guild had housed him well.
"Since when hasn't there been," Jarlaxle replied merrily, spreading his belt out on the red-blanketed bed and straightening the various compartments. "So what are the gossips saying about me this time?"
The mercenary captain was naked to the waist and bare-footed, his large plumed hat next to the belt. This was the most casual attire Kimmuriel, his friend and co-captain of Bregan D'aerthe had seen him wear in a long while. The drow psionicist's gaze fell to a black gemmed pendant that fell on Jarlaxle's toned ebony chest, wondering what magic was held inside this recently acquired trinket.
"Some people are saying you have been making a few appearances to the blasphemous renegades in Cormanthor," the psionicist said. "Speculation is you have been doing some spy work, while the more dramatic tales say you are recruiting a select group of rogues for another mercenary band, a surface Bregan D'aerthe perhaps."
Jarlaxle gave a loud belly laugh.
"Dear Lolth, the gossips are getting creative," he replied. "I take that as a compliment. Maybe my next move will be to establish my own kingdom of renegade males. No, I hate to disappoint them, but I do not have such a grand scheme in mind."
Not right now, at least, he thought, though it was not as if the thought hadn't come to him on several occasions.
Since their first trip to the Auzcovyn five months ago, Jarlaxle saw a group of fellows in his own flesh. Drizzt's increasing involvement with the clan resulted in a few invitations for him and the human to take part in secular events or occasionally visit their admirers. The idea of organizing a surface band was intriguing and possible, especially since he already considered Drizzt his surface lieutenant, who would make an excellent co-captain of such an operation. Unfortunately, connecting Bregan D'aerthe to a band of Vhaeraun worshippers would be astronomically dangerous for both him and his soldiers. The fact he was keeping frequent company with a Vhaeraun worshipper in the first place already endangered his position in Menzoberranzan, even his life if news of such a discovery reached the ears of the Matrons; a possibility that opened up so many other favorable options that he would have to act on later.
"I am glad to see you finally doing well for yourself," Kimmuriel continued. "Controlling a human thieves' guild, even claiming some sizable rewards."
The psionicist motioned towards the pendant on Jarlaxle's neck.
"Oh, this is just a little souvenir from a previous mission," Jarlaxle replied, grabbing the pendant, a periapt of poison resistance, and sliding it on the silver chain.
The previous mission was actually their departure from the Auzcovyn five months ago. Xalryln and three of his soldiers escorted the company to a small cavern, where Nieral Moondown, the moon elf wizard who got them into that situation in the first place, had a private chamber. At the start of the mission, the company was promised fifteen emeralds each for their work and instead was drawn into a trap. Now, all three claimed their fifteen emeralds and a little extra. Most of the small room had been picked over already, but Xalryln gave them access to a small king's ransom of gems, coins, and magical items. Jarlaxle was like a child in a candy store, claiming many small magic items he stored in his bag and hat for later use, though he wore the periapt openly, as well as a ring of water walking he suspected had a few stronger properties.
Drizzt and Entreri only claimed their share of gems, though they did take some basic magic items, such as a new supply of potions and a few rings of fireballs and sustenance. Drizzt's greatest find was a brilliant silver dagger of obvious elven craft that sent a surge of electricity when it was held into flesh. Despite this new acquisition, he still kept his cheaply made dagger for some kind of sentimentality.
"So how have your companions been faring?" Kimmuriel asked. "I am still surprised the Do'Urden renegade is still part of your company. One would think this would not quite be his cup of tea."
Jarlaxle gave a slight smile as he picked his belt from the bed and placed it around his slender hips.
"Well, I have my own personal opinion on that matter, Jarlaxle said, picking his high-cut vest off the floor and putting it on. "It is the curse of youth; one is so able and virile at his age, yet mentally he does not even understand himself or his full capacity. Then the hulking beast of full adulthood begins to loom and all his ideals and childish expectations fall. Drizzt needed a way to find himself as a grown man, and I certainly hope I adequately provided it."
"Has Jarlaxle become a mentor," Kimmuriel said with a small smile, "or even an older brother to a wayward young drow? How very lovely."
"Maybe I am getting soft in my later years," Jarlaxle said, stringing his vest. "Or maybe not."
Jarlaxle let out a wicked laugh, as he sat on the bed and picked his boots from the floor.
"I trust all matters are well in Menzoberranzan?" Jarlaxle asked.
"All is well," Kimmuriel said rising. "The usual routine; death here, treachery there."
"Good, I will talk to you again soon."
Kimmuriel bowed as he faded from view and returned to Menzoberranzan.
Jarlaxle finished putting on his boots and rose, putting on his hat and collecting his rainbow cloak from a nearby chair. With a final smoothing of his garments, he drew a wand from his belt, spoke a command word, and tapped himself. A second later he was in a small alleyway a short distance away from the tavern that was his destination. He casually made his way onto the street and walked with a swift stride. It was only appropriate he arrive before his companions so he could chide them about being late.
Unfortunately he passed by one wall to see Entreri leaning against it, arms folded face in a look of smug anticipation.
"Must you always spoil my fun," Jarlaxle groaned.
"I would never think to do anything of the sort," Entreri said mockingly.
Drizzt then came out of a side alley, followed by a man wearing the red striped helm and black armor of a Baldur's Gate patrolman. The two exchanged parting greetings before clasping forearms. Jarlaxle saw Drizzt slip a small cloth from his black leather bracer into the hand of the guard, a cloth most likely containing a few gems in tribute. The guard then turned in the opposite direction and swiftly walked away.
"I thought we weren't focusing on business tonight," Jarlaxle said. "I thought we agreed tonight would be about merry making and not money making."
"So tell me who are you and in what hole did you shove Jarlaxle?" Drizzt said with a smirk.
Entreri gave a small snicker as the three began walking down the street, exchanging small words about the evening.
Jarlaxle paid attention to the small talk, but his conversation with Kimmuriel was still on his mind. He fixed his gaze on Drizzt, who gave Entreri a teasing glare over some snide comment the human made about his assassin skills. Jarlaxle noted his white hair had grown out in the past few months and he kept it pulled back into a small ponytail. The scar along the length of his jaw stuck out and combined with his slightly hardened features and cold lavender eyes to make him look like a boy who had truly become a man. In a flash of recollection, the mercenary swore he saw some of Zaknafein's features in Drizzt's face.
Drizzt Do'Urden was a different person than the unstable youth who joined their company eight months earlier. He was no longer the idealistic hero, nor was he the raging animal he became after his wife's death. Instead he was now a calculating, brutal drow rogue who held himself with more confidence and clarity; his suicidal rage now turned into passion with a purpose. It seemed as though Drizzt Do'Urden had truly found himself.
Jarlaxle smiled and returned his attention to the street, adding his own contributions the conversation as the three rogue kings walked side by side towards their next adventure.
Author's Note: "The Lesser Evil" was the end result of a seven month writer's block finally broken after I picked up the Paths of Darkness series last fall after finishing The Legacy series in the spring. Servant of the Shard made me fall completely in love with Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri; two characters I had disliked until this book and now fully saw their potential. I then read Sea of Swords and Drizzt's harrowing final battle with Ellifain planted an idea in my head. It was an idea I played around with while reading The Hunter's Blade's Trilogy. The Lone Drow, with all its descriptions of Drizzt giving into his darker nature, sealed the creative deal and planted another question in my mind: what would make Drizzt Do'Urden become completely evil? What could fully break his morals and turn him into the evil creature he vowed he would never become? After completing The Two Swords, which seemed to bring up more questions about Drizzt's nature than it answered, my own answers to that question are on these pages now.
As an English major, I combined various elements of gothic fiction with psychoanalytical criticism of the books. I also combined my own fascination with the generic concept of evil as defined in various role playing games, such as the supposedly black-and-white concept of alignment in the Dungeons and Dragons universe and the savage, yet somewhat loyal vampires of the Sabbat in Vampire: The Masquerade. Other influences came from various films, such as the dark urban fable Sin City; Pink Floyd's The Wall, a tale of a modern hero who slowly goes insane; and Donnie Darko, the wondrously screwed-up story of an emotionally disturbed adolescent (give him two swords, put him in a medieval setting, and give him a goodly purpose and the resemblance is disturbing). I did notice a few other fan-fics very briefly dealing with the concept of Drizzt turning evil, and I will say "Go Fish" by Lady Serpentine (a short, yet amusing description of a card game between Drizzt and Elaith Craulnober) gave me a few ideas. Music was also a huge influence. I listened to Comalies by Lacuna Coil repeatedly during the first half of the story (especially the ironically titled song "The Ghost Woman and the Hunter") as Marilyn Manson's The Golden Age of Grotesque became the theme for the second half; though listening to the end song from Donnie Darko ("Mad World" by Gary Jules) on the radio in a dingy secondhand clothing store in Concord, NH gave me the full nerve to write this story in the first place.
Now the rest is history. I would like to give my sincerest thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this story on Lavender Eyes and as well as my fan-fic study buddies Suzanne and WitchWolf. I know elements are appearing in at least one person's role-playing game, while I also recommend checking out "A Drow Inside" by Lady Hally, a story that seems to be a fan-fic of my fan-fic (which is indeed an honor).
I assure you all; the adventures of The Rogue Kings will be continued. I will probably take a small break from this wonderfully exhausting project and come out with a few short pieces and maybe a longer one in the future. This has been my first experience writing fan fiction and I appreciate all the help and support I have gotten from everyone.