Disclaimer: The recognizable characters in this fanfiction were created by R. A. Salvatore in association with the legal entity Wizards of the Coast, who owns relevant copyrights to additional Forgotten Realms material referred to herein. The characters are used without permission but no material profit of any kind is being made from the following work. WotC reserve rights to Forgotten Realms material, but all of the situations unique to this work of fan fiction are property of the writer.

This fic spawned by: SPK, the band, not the mental patient terrorist group (truth; so much stranger than fiction), the letter G, Blixa Bargeld's voice, an obsessive need to explain Entreri's linguistic deficiency, and yet another impulse to write a weapon origin fic.

a taste of dissonance

The window was painted black, a fitting metaphor for the view into the owner's soul. He stood before it, a lean monument dedicated to physical and martial perfection, built on a foundation of callous self-interest. Artemis Entreri carried no sympathies for any creature alive, not even himself. His standards were harsh, bordering impossible and held to with enthusiasm and the harsher disappointments of his horror filled origins.

Behind him in the sparsely furnished room was no furniture of note. A bed of fine make and comfortable mattress had once dominated the quarters, but Entreri had no use for it and had baffled his new Pasha by having it taken out. An exquisitely carved desk had been in the study, standing on spindly legs. Entreri had sneered something about form over function and had pushed it into the hallway himself.

Decorative vases, paintings, wall hangings, window coverings and plush chairs had swiftly followed until Pasha Pook's new lieutenant was inhabiting two rooms with little more than hand woven silk rugs still covering the floor. As a replacement for the bed, Entreri purchased a simple wooden chair with tooled leather backing. The chair was sturdy and slightly less nondescript than the hardwood desk set he'd bought to replace the first.

The only thing in the room of interest, other than Entreri and the silk rugs, was the boyish figure of Dondon Tiggerwillies; street thief and con artist extraordinaire. At least he was quite happy to describe himself and his skills as such and while some of his street reputation came from shameless self-promotion, he wasn't far removed from the skills he claimed.

It was his exceeding regret that he had not been able to convince the superior officer of his many extraordinary talents until many long weeks after the assassin had come into the guild. Like many other opportunistic members of Pook's guild, the young thief had immediately tried to befriend the cold-hearted assassin, mistaking the bizarre lack of materialism for humility or generosity.

Of the guild members who'd made that grievous mistake, Dondon had fared the best. He was intuitive enough to know when a bad situation was in the offing and had managed to abandon his avarice before he suffered broken fingers or the deadly man's permanent disdain. The human's disposition was of the type that never let go of a dislike once it was formed. Fortunately for Dondon, that easily earned irritation hadn't fully materialized before he'd abandoned his acquisitive ways.

"So, what was your answer to the letter?" Dondon asked quietly. He moved away from the doorway and hopped up to seat himself at Entreri's solid, yet aggressively unremarkable, desk. It was one of the only desks he'd ever come across that did not call his curious fingers to rifle through its contents. It didn't even appear to have any locks or other security; the owner's reputation was more than enough to protect the contents. Not that Dondon could imagine Entreri keeping anything more remarkable than writing supplies, accounts, and conventional wealth within it. The real wealth was carried everywhere Entreri went; contained in the man's reflexes and inhuman accuracy.

"I accepted," came Entreri's voice, reflected from the black window he still faced. "The retainer alone is enough to pay for my services. He must be very frightened and desperate."

The young halfling nodded, knowing the assassin would catch the movement from the corner of his eye or, perhaps, his sharp sense of movement. "The one never strays far from the other. At any rate, I thought the challenge might interest you, for all it seems a difficult operation. Even though the wizard is from Baldur's Gate, he's a guild ally, so there is little chance of betrayal."

At the halfling's mention of betrayal, Entreri turned slightly to look over his shoulder, reaching out to touch Dondon with the strength of his gaze. "I am only ever betrayed once; Oberon will not fail to honor his promise."

A shudder threatened the charismatic halfling in the face of the killer's stare. With what strength of will he had, which was admittedly little, Dondon resisted shaking, but could not ward off the prickle of gooseflesh that rose on the back of his neck. Artemis Entreri was an unsettling man, even when he wasn't interested in slitting your throat from ear to ear.

"If you're telling me anything about it, it can only mean you're out for information. And since you were kind enough to hint at the size of the retainer fee, I'm free to speculate an exorbitant price for my services." Dondon replied, blowing a sigh up to move his bangs from over his childishly large eyes. His claim to a fee for the information was more jest than anything else, a fact they both knew. The young halfling was always happy to be of assistance to the hardened killer; it was his very own formidable armor on Calimport's ravenous streets. "Do you want to talk here or should we meet at the Copper Ante?"

The assassin turned fully to regard his half-sized ally. His rooms were warded from prying eyes by Pook's wizard, a useful man by the name of LaValle. Though he had seemed awkward and harassed by Entreri's entry into the guild, his attitude had grown accommodating when the killer had come to him for information on area mages. His fears that the new lieutenant could be a powerful rival were tempered by the reality that Entreri was willing to trade information and services on equal footing. With that knowledge, the assassin did not doubt the safety of speaking about delicate matters within his quarters.

"It is safe to speak here," he remarked. "Or do you have an ulterior motive in going to the Copper Ante? You aren't the best hand I've seen at that house."

Dondon's face contorted in an expression of deep hurt that was made all the more convincing for the grain of truth at its heart. "Master Entreri," he exclaimed with feeling, "you wound me! If you think my skills at dicing or cards are so bad, I certainly request your advice in improving."

Beneath the inexpressive façade Entreri held, the assassin was amused by Dondon's response. Apparently he had guessed correctly; not that it was such a difficult call to make. The mischievous wretch's penchant for gambling was well-known. "Contact me when you gather the information I need; layout, defenses, and the like. If you have trouble with any sources, provide me their names and haunts and I'll ensure their helpfulness."

A grimace flitted across Dondon's child-like features at the man's last comment. He'd witnessed Entreri's brutal tactics in prodding an unwilling informant to become more helpful. The halfling was not opposed to those avenues, but he'd been unaccountably squeamish when it came to seeing them played out before his wide eyes.

Climbing down from the desk's chair, the small thief straightened his clothes and glanced at the assassin. Entreri's blank stare was on him, but he'd been around the man long enough to sense that it was not actually directed at him. In answer to his musings, Entreri abruptly reached for the coin purse he kept at the small of his back and withdrew another, smaller, purse. He neither weighed it in his hand nor loosened its ties to judge its contents.

In his usual balanced grace, the man tossed the bag to Dondon, who in his own effortless skill, seemed to do no more than guide it into his half-sized cloak. The halfling was delighted to discover that it had a very pleasing weight.

"To cover your expenses," Entreri explained. "Don't waste it at dice until you are done securing the information."

A wide grin bloomed on the halfling's face, brightening his deceptively innocent face. "Waste it? Why, sir, I plan to invest it!"

Entreri brushed his hand in a dismissive gesture, effectively ending Dondon's commentary and any more conversation, while simultaneously leaving the impression that he didn't give the thief's comment even passing credit.

Dondon read the gesture as the overall dismissal it was and headed for the door that led to the hall beyond. Try as he might, the halfling couldn't tell if the assassin was following him or not. Thinking it was to assume the dangerous man was there, he proceeded without looking over his shoulder. Despite the thief's wariness, he was still surprised when Entreri reached over him to pull the door open. He was less shocked when the door shut silently behind him.

Alone, as he preferred, the assassin contemplated the coming challenge; he was impatient to get things underway. It would be the only impatience he would succumb to, for he approached every job with the extreme professionalism that carried his name far out of Calimport, even beyond the borders of Calimshan. Despite his relative youth and unimpressive height, Artemis Entreri had pushed himself to the height of physical and martial perfection, spurred by an obsessive need to control every aspect of his destiny and surrounding circumstances.

The results of his efforts were not lost on the city's denizens; Entreri was an undisputed prince of the underworld. Respect and fear were demanded and freely given by even the highborn and otherwise wealthy. These were the things he'd desired since he'd crawled out of the mud and dust of obscurity, since he'd fled so very far away from the deeply buried past left in the city of his birth. These days, the deadly man never gave a moment's thought to the young boy who'd been betrayed by every person he should have been able to rely on. He didn't even wonder if those people had fled Memnon with the rise of his infamy. There were too many other, murderous, things on his mind to recall what he deemed his useless past.

It was well beyond two weeks after Entreri had sent his halfling ally out to collect intelligence on his latest mark and he had set about gathering his own. The assassin began processing the surprisingly large amount of nearly useless incidental information available. Apparently Terthus Koedrobo suffered from the typical maladies Entreri associated with mages. There was the desert tower, the endless volumes of published research, which flew in the face of the jealously guarded solitude, and the reputation for eccentricity. The only thing outside the norm was his field of study.

Terthus was known for his obsession for collecting voices and sounds. Spellsingers, bards, and musicians feared him with unparalleled dread. Most mages also held the man in terror as they relied heavily on spells that were almost exclusively equipped with spoken components. All of which meant the mage had victimized far more individuals than Entreri had first suspected.

The assassin found himself drawing an obvious conclusion: many killers before him had tried to take the voice thief and had failed or they had simply turned down the offered contract. This logical extrapolation only fed Entreri's interest all the more. It was the only thing that had gotten him through a score of Terthus' publications on the character and properties of sound.

It came of particular note that all the voice thief's texts were available only in Calishite rather than the widely understood common parlance. Not that the assassin would complain; he'd only learned to read and write the common tongue when he'd joined the Basadoni Guild. Reading Calishite came much more naturally to Pasha Pook's lieutenant.

Despite the text's use of Calishite, Entreri had found he still needed to avail himself to LaValle's stock of esoteric dictionaries in order to understand most of what was written. The house wizard had been thoroughly baffled when the assassin had borrowed the heavy texts; he half wondered if they would be used as innocuous implements of death.

Earlier in his studies, Entreri had also noted the likelihood of the dictionaries and acoustical texts being used in an unlikely assault. The difference in Entreri's assumption was that continued exposure to the books' contents would eventually confound his mind completely. When he finally decided he had some inkling of his mark's personality from the writings, he stacked both sets of texts together and double tied them for eventual return to LaValle. Surely LaValle, like any magic user, wouldn't object to his books being returned with interest.

After setting the books aside, Entreri unlooped his weapon belt from wear it hung off his leather backed chair and crossed it over his narrow hips. He fastened the belt's hardware and adjusted it so his mismatched daggers each jutted out slightly, ready to be seized in the hands familiar to them.

The blades were of different makes and design; one was a curved affair that resembled the blades he carried in Basadoni's guild. It was of finer materials, balanced perfectly to a slender hand that had less maturing to do. The other blade was long and straight, suited to blocking and stabbing. It was a more stunning affair of simple design, with a large peridot, the size of a quail's egg, set in the pommel's aft. A spoil of a previous battle, it had been modified and balanced to his specifications.

Both weapons wore minor enchantments that enabled them to cut through magical fields that came naturally to many magical creatures, while adding an extra kick to any wounds they might inflict. Entreri did not mind this magical bonus; it was a benefit he could control. Their magic wasn't comparable to the coveted Charon's Claw, but they would do until he finally had the veritable dragon's hoard he supposed it would take to purchase the sword and gauntlet combination.

Taking his cloak in hand, the skilled killer shrouded himself to make a trip to collect what could be the last pieces of the puzzle he would find. Donning his cloak, Entreri only paused to set a few token traps on his door before taking his leave. There wasn't a thief in the building that had the nerve to trespass and any that did would be unnerved to find only the most obvious defenses. Entreri did not trust the thieves in his guild so much as their fear of his rightly deserved reputation.

The confidence propelling his dancer's gait was hardly assumed. Furtive glances followed Entreri as he strode through the guild house, confirming the continued safety of his rooms. Even the lieutenant's allies knew to keep the deadly man in sight.

Clearing the guild house, Entreri immediately took to Calimport's wretched shadows and stinking alleys. It was his way to take random routes to his destinations, only very occasionally taking the same way twice in a row in keeping with that unpredictability. He attributed this tactic to good sense and too many associations with guild diviners.

In the night, Calimport's shadows were never too vague for any manner of evil thing to hide within. But even the more bloodthirsty denizens of those shadows melted away from the assassin in his natural habitat. He navigated the darkness as precisely, stirring neither drunk nor predator.

His path took him up walls, along roof tops, through deadly streets and finally to the waiting door of the halfling establishment, the Copper Ante. Inside the halfling run establishment a riot of sound and bustling activity was the chaotic norm. The lighting was sufficiently low, to keep new comers from off the streets from becoming blinded; an arrangement that happened to aid the rampant cheating across every board. Cheating was just another part of the game.

As in the guild house, the denizens of the house knew well enough to keep an eye on the man after his dark entry, especially those that had known him in Basadoni as well the ones that shared his current allegiance. Their was a brief decrease in volume as the man entered, unreadable eyes quickly taking stock of the occupants and their multiplicities of activity. He saw no potential rivals or guild enemies and so moved further into the room.

Entreri marked the sudden lull in conversation as proof of the respect his presence commanded. The reaction was one of the few things that pleased the man in a life devoid of true happiness. The respect and fear paid him had long since lost the glow of newness, but it rarely failed to satisfy him.

At one of the far tables, two small hands were raised toward him in greeting. Entreri didn't need the two small ones to guide him, both were merely garnering the bragging rights of treating the city's most deadly assassin as familiarly as they dared. And while Entreri often allowed the pretense from one, his lifeless gray eyes narrowed at the other.

Dondon smirked at the halfling to his right while waving good-bye to a pouting girl on his left. Though he was the pasha's favorite thief, Regis hadn't found the precarious pathway to Entreri's minute good side. The wily halfling let his arm wilt down to his side. "How ever did you charm that one?" He whispered as the killer approached.

Dondon's smirk didn't lose its self-satisfied intensity. "That would be one of my closely guarded secrets, my friend. And certainly not as profitable a secret as the one that endears you to Pasha Pook!"

"I'm sure that your friend's goodwill was not the result of dumb luck mine was." The other smirked back, his eyes turning quite merry with fake humility; they both understood the compliments for the caveats they were.

When Entreri arrived at the table he didn't bother greeting either halfling, though he did release the Pasha's favored thief from his glare. "What is he doing here?"

"Gambling," the boyish halflings replied as one. They looked at each other with a start before breaking into short-lived chuckles. If any other man had been at their table, the laughter would have lasted much longer.

Dondon stifled his mirth at Entreri's grim face and explained quickly. "We were both here at the same time and it would have been odd for me to avoid such a good friend."

"And now that I am sure Dondon won't be alone," Regis hastened to add, "I'll be joining another table. Besides, my friend's ocean of wealth seems to be at low tide and I should take the opportunity to find new waves to sail."

Nodding mournfully, Dondon built on Regis' more accurate account. "Tonight has not been very good for increasing my wealth, but surely tomorrow the tide will turn and my pockets will be full, while the unwary soul's will ebb."

The lively exchange between halflings always seemed wasteful to Entreri, though he knew the value in their verbal skills. It was an extension of their undeniable charm; a charm that normally had an adverse affect on a man with no interest in small talk. While Regis was one of the undisputed con artists of the street, having attained high favor with Pasha Pook, it was Dondon's ability to be reserved that had gained him Entreri's favor. Dondon was highly aware when to put the brakes on his loquaciousness when it came to the assassin.

The skilled assassin did not so much as acknowledge the halflings' conversation with a gesture of dismissal. His flat gaze was as eloquent as he was inclined to be when his irritation was rising. There was work to be done and continued banter was getting in the way. He did not understand that his frightening demeanor usually flustered creatures that relied heavily on the gift of the gab.

Young as he was, and used to enjoying Pasha Pook's patronage, Regis had yet to figure out what kind of tactics would best manipulate the guild's new lieutenant. He left the table, babbling slightly and confused.

Dondon watched his gambling companion go and sighed. Regis was an excellent ally, if one kept in mind, that like most thieves and con artists, he had a habit of encroaching on his friends' goodwill. In fact, Dondon recognized this same attribute in himself, but hadn't the conscience required to find anything wrong with it. Having no goodwill to speak of, Entreri wasn't at risk from this habit, nor would he be if the halfing had sensed any amount of kindness in the man; the promise of death put a damper on self-aggrandizement.

"Must you be so…" the halfling grasped momentarily for a term the killer would not deem insulting, "…intimidating?"

Entreri glanced at his short associate, amused in spite of himself. "Don't be ridiculous."

The thief sighed and shrugged in response, hoping his question had lightened his deadly ally's mood. "Well, then, I have a room rented for our business. Let's get that out of the way so there will still be remnants of the night to enjoy."

The two left the bustling activity and low roar of the Copper Ante's gambling tables and headed for the establishment's reputation maker. While the place was named appropriately for a gambling house, it was the Ante's private rooms that drew Calimport's most exclusive clientele. The rooms were known for their imperviousness to eavesdropping of any kind, whether magical, psionic, or physical. There was simply no way, short of ripping the place apart, to listen in on conversations that took place under the Copper Ante's formidable protection.

It wasn't until they were seated within one of those dark rooms that Dondon felt safe enough to begin disclosing the details he'd worked hard to procure for the deadly assassin. From underneath his cloak he produced a small packet of folded papers and set them on the table between them.

"In keeping with that retainer you mentioned the other week," the small thief began, "this was one of the hardest jobs I've been on. Nobody wants to talk about Koedrobo the Voice Thief! Sure, they'll give their opinions and speculations in normal conversation, but if they think you've got more than a passing interest in mind their mouths snap tighter than a Sword Coast clam."

Entreri put on a bored expression, assuming Dondon was playing up his normal theatrics. "But Dondon's skilled tongue never allowed his conversation partners to grow suspicious. Correct?"

Unperturbed by the assassin's impatience with his storytelling, Dondon shrugged. He was reasonably sure his next pronouncement would be worth the price he paid for it. "It is practically impossible to get a layout of a wizard's tower without giving rise to suspicions, Master Entreri."

Having failed to squeeze much useful information about the wizard from his own formidable network, Entreri was momentarily surprised. To confirm the halflings statement, the assassin reached out and took the folded papers. As he unfolded them, he discovered the truth to the implied assertion. There was no telling how much the edifice had changed since its construction over a century prior, but the plans would still be valuable for formulating entry and exit contingencies.

Dondon beamed with self-indulgent satisfaction as he watched Entreri scan the documents without uttering a word in praise or censure. He took the assassin's intense interest as the high flattery it was. When Entreri finally did look up from the unexpected treasure, a trace of a wicked smirk was pulling at the corner of his inexpressive lips.

"You've outdone yourself, Tiggerwillies." Entreri was honestly impressed with his small ally's achievement, but there was something in the halfling's statement that he couldn't leave unaddressed. "You said it was practically impossible to get something like this without raising suspicions. Did you?"

A flash of warning stabbed the halfling's heart at the killer's question and filled him with cold dread and uncharacteristic guilt. It was a split second of hesitation, but he saw Entreri's expression harden in that short time. He knew he would have to let on to truth or forever lose the benefits of the tentative alliance.

"I had help," he admitted, watching Entreri's face lose all expression. How he hated working with that blank slate. "Regis had the connection. I am good at what I do, but Regis is virtually without equal when it comes to his powers of persuasion! Without his help, there would be no map. I swear it!"

In response to Dondon's sudden confession, Entreri's scowl deepened. Knowing the other halfling, he would tell Pook about the incident in order to further cement the pasha's good graces. There were now three people other than the assassin and his client that knew of the contract. He could get away with killing all three eventually, but it wasn't in his favor to do so.

His pragmatic sensibilities required he exact no lasting punishment from Dondon for the slip in secrecy; the plans were of great value. The halfling was a valuable resource and he would not scuttle that avenue of information needlessly. Despite his ire, the assassin tallied the slips mentally and determined his small ally would be more careful in the future or reap the consequences. Artemis Entreri's allies never outlived their usefulness.

"How much did Regis ask for his services?" The assassin asked the question, but he could already imagine the answer.

Again, Dondon knew better than to answer with a convenient lie. "It was a favor between friends."

The assassin nodded; it was as he suspected. "I count none as my friend and am not involved in your exchange."

A nervous laugh escaped the thief. "I'm sure Regis is not so foolish as to think you would owe him for the favor. After all, I never told him who the plans were for."

"Regis isn't stupid," Entreri returned. "He will have put enough of the pieces together to make the connection. No matter; I'll see what comes of it."

Sufficiently chastened, Dondon nodded. He was sorry to lose the euphoric feeling of a job well-done, but hoped the map would be of enough use to the lieutenant that the incident regarding its procurement would fade in his memory.

"Most of what I've learned is with the plans," the little thief sighed, "but there were some points I thought you'd want to talk about. For instance, animals will not come near the tower; not even highly trained animals. In fact, by all accounts most sentient races find the area deeply unsettling. I've heard the uneasiness the place exudes is not a known spell, but one of Koedrobo's own devising. There have been curious mages that have warded themselves against magical fear and were still unable to venture far toward the tower."

Entreri nodded his understanding, but added nothing to the monologue; this was something he already knew and planned to discuss with LaValle under a different pretext. Having witnessed the eccentricities displayed in the man's writings, he felt confident the tower was protected by magical sound rather than any general fear spell.

"Everyone knows he steals voices and collects sound," Dondon continued, "but nobody really seems to know how he stores them. According to the source that supplied the map, Koedrobo keeps them in mysteriously labeled bottles."

Again the assassin nodded. "That confirms what I have from the letter. According to whoever was scrying for him, the bottles are labeled in a familiar, but one the scryer couldn't read."

"That's not very helpful," the pint-sized con artist drawled, rolling his eyes. "Mages are familiar with all kinds of writings. If they can't identify it, best not to mention much more than that. Who knows, perhaps Koedrobo writes names in musical notes."

Entreri stifled a sigh; he'd had to learn some complex mathematical theories to understand much of the wizard's texts. Now musical notation? This was a source of frustration for the assassin, who had not only been hired to kill the voice thief but retrieve several of the stolen voices. The bottle he was particularly after was reputed to be of northern crystal with a sinuously shaped blue glass stopper. If the collection was as vast as he was beginning to fear, there could be multiple bottles of the same description.

He wondered if LaValle had a tutorial on musical notation in Calishite in order to save a small amount of time and what the wizard might think of his sudden interest in such.

"One of the reasons he steals voices," Dondon continued, "beyond his field of study, comes from a failed experiment where he lost his own. Now he can only speak using the voices he's stolen."

This was more information Entreri knew from Oberon's letters. "What of his travel habits?"

"As for his comings and goings, past scryings indicate no set schedule to his outings to collect specimens or supplies. Apparently he makes great use of one of those carpets that used to be the rage ages ago, but he's also known to teleport. His visitors are exceedingly rare and he has no apprentices to speak of."

"What of defenses beyond the inexplicable source of fear?" The assassin was certain he wouldn't like the answer to this question either.

Dondon shook his head. "Unknown. No doors or windows on the lower levels; you might be forced to climb. Nothing ever seems to get that close."

"Excellent," Entreri remarked with bitter sarcasm. "Despite the map, I suppose my best option at this point is to show up below a window and demand his allegiance to the guild, payment of back duties, and several of his specimens as a cut of his action."

Though the halfling perfectly understood the assassin's sarcasm he tapped a forefinger to his lips in thought. "You know," he mused, "that's probably what I would do."

A note on Entreri's language skills in this chapter:

Throughout the books, Entreri has displayed perfectly good grammar. Inthe early books, he was shown to be intelligent and a remarkably quick study in regard to psychology and motivations. In short, we know he's literate and highly intelligent. However, after over five years he hasn't completely picked up Drow or drow sign, whereas Sharlotta picked up the language and made headway on the sign in less than a year. This bugs me, because it would lead me to assume Sharlotta was smarter than our assassin. Except Sharlotta received the flame job, not Entreri.

The only logical conclusion I can draw from this is that Sharlotta was introduced to foreign languages before she was about nine years old. Since we start losing our capacity to master foreign languages at nine years old, I'm assuming that Entreri left Memnon before he was schooled in 'Common' and that he could not learn it until he entered the guild. At fourteen, his capacity to learn a new language would be sufficiently degraded to make it difficult to learn anything new. But it still doesn't make complete sense, since he hates dependence and he was fully immersed in the language for a long time.