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 characters and situations unique to this work of fan fiction are property of the writer.

I feel compelled to make the following disclaimers:

First, I know practically nothing about D&D rules and little about the surface world, barring what I've read in a handful of the Drizzt books. I have researched a bit, but rpg-wise, it won't be flawless. Instead, it will be as realistic as I can make it.

Second, I am changing some things for personal aesthetic preferences, because I prefer Entreri's image from earlier books, sans 5 o'clock shadow. For one, I lost the hat, because no man looks good with long hair in a ponytail while wearing a hat.

Third, this chapter has a lot of information in it. Too much, in fact. I tried to break it up a bit, but I'm an impatient writer and I didn't want to contrive filler to plant some of the plot points.

And thanks to Ariel and Matt for FR info and criticism.

devil takes hindmost

It seemed to Entreri that Jarlaxle was up to something, which was a given where the wily drow was concerned, but the assassin hadn't managed to pry the information from him. The dark elf's gift of gab was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he could make time fly with his witty repartee and sly twist of phrase. Entreri had not often been in the company of a skilled raconteur and found it was not always an annoyance. On the other hand, Jarlaxle sometimes did not appear capable of shutting up and Entreri was a man who preferred long, comfortable silences. The man had often considered stealing his companion's magical whistle in order to forcibly affect blessed silence on him.

In the absence of removing the whistle from Jarlaxle's overwhelming visual assault, the human had adopted the habit of simply ignoring the excess noise. The only problem with this method was the occasional useful tidbit was often completely lost. He'd once startled to the fact that Jarlaxle was prattling on, a knowing look on his face, about some interesting business prospects infamous Skullport. Just as he'd shown interest, the infuriating drow switched topics.

Loquaciousness aside, Entreri had not managed to trip Jarlaxle into a verbal slip. If the dark elf had an ulterior motive for putting them far far out of their way, he wasn't letting on. In truth, Entreri hardly cared; one direction was as good as any other until he managed to form a better plan for what remained of his life. Introspection wasn't his strong suit; he still had no real leadings or plan for the future, for all he was determined to enjoy himself more than he had hitherto done. It was something that took practice.

In their wanderings, Jarlaxle had led them to an area neither of them knew much about. It had been hard to get passage on a ship sailing across the Sea of Fallen Stars, especially with Jarlaxle skillfully evading every excuse to disguise himself.

They stepped off the boat in Iljak's port under a sweltering midday sun and into the region's soupy humidity. The heat wouldn't have bothered Entreri had it not been for the thick moisture saturating the air. It was not unlike breathing in thick smoke and it left him feeling a little out of breath. It also managed to make their traveling clothes stick to their bodies. Even Jarlaxle's jaunty plume sagged a bit.

The dark elf was not affected by the humidity as much as the sun and heat, but instantly complained of the sunlight's ability to elicit the gagging odor of rotting fish and seaweed from the area. It was not unlike other ports he'd had the pleasure to visit, but the smell was twice as potent and disagreeable.

The dock was as noisy as any other. Waves lapped against the ships, creating a background to the many layers of sound. The regular creaking of the great wooden ships as they rocked against their moorings joined the waves in counterpoint. The low roar of sailors, passengers, and beasts of burden, and the shouts of people recognizing old friends formed an upper level of audible texture. The piercing cries of the ravenously cheeky seagulls fighting against crotchety fish mongers, and the dimly heard tuneless notes of the whistles employed on many of the naval vessels formed a cacophonous and chaotic melody over everything else.

Visually, the dock swam with the same visions of color and activity to be expected the world over. The crush of the crowd was the expected byproduct of a busy port, and intimidating for most. For Entreri, it was an unwelcome reminder of how much he truly despised the unwashed masses. Unpresumptuous in height or dress, the compact frame of the assassin slipped through the crowds with ease and mobility, but with an added distaste for the stench that came with close quarters.

Conversely, the handsome dark elf's visual attack inspired horrified expressions from the dominant population of humans, while simultaneously astonishing them. It didn't take the two long to realize while the source of their horrified double takes was Jarlaxle's smooth ebony skin, but it was his hat that seemed to inspire the triple takes.

"Sweet Lolth," Jarlaxle chuckled, moving with the port's crowds, "why didn't we come here sooner? These people recognize brilliance when they see it, do they not?"

Uncomfortable with all the attention his partner was receiving despite the sheer amount of people pressing in from all sides, Entreri tried, and failed, to see over the crowd and beyond the hat's overwhelming visual block. There were times his unimposing height genuinely vexed him. He wasn't attempting to map the way out, the flow of the mostly human traffic communicated that clearly enough. He was looking for clues to why the monstrous hat was drawing stares.

"I doubt it is your deplorable fashion sense they're interested in." Failing to see anything of note, he tried, instead to listen for verbal cues. Most of what he picked up was unhelpful and along the sort of lines he could agree with. He heard little more than comments about the nerve of the black elf. Entreri sometimes wondered why he was not occasionally embarrassed to be around the drow's colorful display. The answer was easy enough; Jarlaxle was an eternal distraction for the assassin. Who would bother noticing Entreri when a target like Jarlaxle was walking nearby? It suited their needs perfectly.

Before anything else of note came to his ears, Jarlaxle was motioning the man over to the side of the thronged port with a circular wave of his hand. The assassin rolled his eyes at the glint of the midday sun refracting off his partner's vast collection of rings.

Jarlaxle had found the local board reserved for criminal postings, which was covered in multiplicities of wanted notices. They were not alone in perusing the board; a collection of men and women with varying degrees of obvious martial skill were looking at the postings themselves. The land in which they stood was well-known for exporting mainly mercenaries; the unlikely pair didn't doubt the group they stood among was locally produced.

At the heart of the board was a wooden notice that dominated the rest of the paper postings. The sign was doubly unusual as it lacked a long list of crimes underneath the weathered image of the wanted man. Instead, it read only: Casteja Vektch, Bandit Captain. Wanted Alive, in Moderate Condition, with or without weapon. No Questions Asked. The reward listed was easily in league with what either companion expected for their services before their current arrangement. The two paused; an air of speculative interest settled over them at the likely prospect.

"What do you think the moderate condition part means?" Jarlaxle's uncovered crimson eye did not leave the wooden notice as he asked. "Not dead? Perhaps we should tell the sign-poster of his redundancy."

"Considering the payoff," Entreri mused, "I'd say it means they don't mind damaged product. They expect it to be a difficult catch and they're allowing some leeway."

"Could we kill him for ease of transport and then animate him before delivery?" The dark elf's interest was obvious though all he aired were joking speculations.

"I don't know," Entreri drawled in return. "Can we? Do you have a trick that could do that?"

"Maybe," Jarlaxle grinned, tossing the assassin a wink that looked decidedly odd coming from his one eye. "A bandit captain warrants this kind of attention? Wood notices, woodblock print, promise of substantial reward for delivering damaged goods? It seems strange."

As a man with renown in a profession related to bounty hunting, Entreri's past experience helped him extrapolate the situation. "He may not be what the notices say. It seems more likely that he's causing problems that are making political waves. Perhaps he's involved with the fighting in the area."

Jarlaxle was already making many of the same assumptions. "Ah, the Menzoberranzan method suggests the oppressors use the word 'bandit' while said bandit uses the term 'freedom fighter.' He might be an honorable man, fighting for worthwhile reasons."

"The gold is good," Entreri deadpanned.

The mercenary nodded, causing the great plume on his huge hat to bob in agreement. "True. In fact, I would go so far as to say the gold is very good. Well! Let's seize the black-hearted villain and see justice served!"

The human blew a snort, used to his companion's flair for the dramatic. "It shouldn't be hard to get information on him with a reward that high. I think we'll have to worry about other bounty hunters snatching him before us."

As a plotter tempered in the hellfire of Menzoberranzan, city of the most creative and cutthroat plotters in the world, Jarlaxle simply smiled. "We'll just have to out-think them, won't we? Or use another group to clear the way. But first, let's question the locals."

Before Entreri could begin to protest, Jarlaxle had turned away to one of the hardened mercenaries looking at a different notice. "I say, dear man," the drow began in the most agreeable of tones, "who is this Captain Vektch?"

Entreri was gratified to see the man turn to Jarlaxle with little more than a narrowing of his dark eyes and a snort at the sight of the dark elf's hat. "Vektch? I thought you were from Sespech, but you must come from a very far off hole instead."

Jarlaxle answered immediately with a friendly nod, appearing to take no offense at the implied insult. "Not just far, but deep, good sir. I pray you might enlighten my compatriot and I as to this Vektch fellow."

At Jarlaxle's mention, the hard-bitten man moved his head slightly to take in Entreri for the first time, but without letting the foppish dark elf out of his sight. An amount of respect, previously lacking, entered the man's demeanor as he took the assassin's measure. "For the last five years he's been leading an uprising against Eles Wianar, called the Shining Lord of Chondath by some. If you're thinking of bagging him, I'd think about easier game. Not only is he a slippery bastard, he's well-liked by many of the people, and the only person, live or dead, I've ever heard of with the gall to win a war by losing."

Only stone drunk, from a hundred paces, and through a thick fog, would it be possible to miss the sudden gleam of intense interest on Jarlaxle's dark face. Entreri instantly knew their next adventure was a forgone conclusion. Professional interest began to characterize the way he processed information on the bounty.

"Win by losing?" Jarlaxle echoed, looking back at the ominous looking depiction of the man on the board.

"I heard this was a land sapped by conflict and dangerously vulnerable to further break up," Entreri quickly cut in. "Why would people support this military action against what little stability they have?"

The seasoned mercenary, for he could be nothing else, shook his head slightly. Jarlaxle noted with amusement the two humans appeared to be roughly the same age. The local man had been somewhat terse with Jarlaxle, but he seemed genuinely respectful of Entreri.

"Chondath is an aggressive land," he said, as if that explained everything. "From what I've heard of Casteja Vektch, he's a charismatic leader with a knack for creating public support. Six or seven years ago, he came into Iljak's farming communities and started helping people rebuild from the war, protect against the stray monsters wandering out of Chondalwood, and generally making himself useful where Wianar wasn't. He was talking about the corruption in Arrabar even then. So he had plenty of sympathetic ears."

The information was forming a loose framework in Entreri's mind as he listened. As an assassin, he knew less about building the sort of coalitions and structures needed in order to wage a war on a large scale. He usually simply played the part of the secret weapon inside the larger scope of vast conflicts. It was his association with Jarlaxle and brief stint as a pasha of Calimport's most notorious thieves guild that helped him put the picture together. He was unconcerned about his lack of education in the matter; he trusted Jarlaxle, master of intrigue, to nail down the salient details.

"Sympathetic ears are only helpful," Entreri commented, "if there are hundreds of them and they are no longer attached to orcs. He would need funding and something to gain to start what must be an unpopular uprising."

The mercenary nodded his agreement. "Just so. As far as I know, he ain't a local. Rumor has it he's on Sembia or Sespech's payroll, but any country wanting to sink hooks into another piece of Chondath could fund him. Though, he was branded a bandit easily enough for robbing Arrabar caravans earlier on. That might be his funding."

"And what he has to gain, if he wins," Jarlaxle chuckled, reinserting himself into the informative conversation, "is the possibility of a more united Chondath, with him at the reins, or at least whoever may support his action. And he enjoys popular support because he appears a better option than Lord Wianar. Smart man."

A single nod communicated the mercenary's agreement.

"His main thrust is that Wianar is corrupt and uninterested in supporting the people," Entreri mused thoughtfully. It seemed such a simple plan, it was a wonder the government in Arrabar hadn't made headway against Vektch. Another look at the sign revealed even more information to the assassin's keen mind.

It wasn't made of wood because it came with Arrabar's seal or a promise of Wianar's money; it was wood to last the seasons. By the weathering it had sustained, the sign had been up for a handful of years. All the other notices it flanking it had edges that overlapping it.

As he studied the sign, something else bothered him. One step ahead of him, Jarlaxle already had playfully seized their helpful mercenary's wrist in two hands and was pumping it up and down, thanking him with much enthusiasm.

"Good sir, you have been of the utmost help to two weary travelers! Please allow us just one more question before we part ways, always to look back on this moment with warm hearts. What sort of weapon does the posting refer to?"

The man jerked his wrist out of Jarkaxle's grasp, though his stalwart face betrayed a minimum of irritation. "It is said when he carries the sword it remains chained to his wrist. Strange looking thing by all accounts."

Entreri nodded his thanks to the man, sensing the mercenary would not be offended by more or less than that. Understanding the unspoken signal to the end of the conversation, the other human returned the nod, ignored Jarlaxle completely, and continued his searching through all the notices on the board. The assassin stood a few moments observing the bustling crowd and the apparent lack of interest in the bandit captain's notice, before turning to his gaudy companion.

The dark elf was staring at the posting in question as if his one-eyed gaze would force the wanted man right out of the old ink. His face was arranged in a thoughtful look that confirmed there was more to the situation than he was letting on. "For a human, he's quite handsome, isn't he?"

An expression of near incredulity passed across the assassin's face at the question. It faded faster than it arrived; Jarlaxle was an expert at bizarre commentary. It was a ploy he used to throw both his friends and enemies off in order to glean every bit of information he could at the cheapest possible price.

"Your type?" Entreri smirked; he was growing used to turning the drow's odd comments and queries back on him.

The verbal riposte did not ruffle Jarlaxle in the least. He turned a philosophical smile with a wicked twist on his human companion. "Yes and no, but that has nothing to do with his looks. I wonder, if I was a wanted male, would my poster reflect my best features?"

The answer was hardly one Entreri cared to dissect or entertain, let alone picture in his mind's eye. Instead he grasped a handful of the drow's colorful cape and tugged him along to find lodging and information that would dictate the sort of supplies they would need. "I somehow doubt his looks have anything to do with anything. The sooner you tell me what you're up to, the happier I will be."

Finding secret amusement in Entreri's words, Jarlaxle chuckled and allowed himself to be towed. "Do you really think so? Why do you always think I have some ulterior motive to everything I do? Sometimes, Master Entreri, an adventure is simply that; an adventure."

Without missing stride, the assassin shook his grim head. "Truly, I would like to believe that, because I can already see this hunt is going to be complicated enough."

They found lodging near the edge of town, for most of the inns near the port were either full or unaccommodating to dark elves, Drizzt Do'Urden or not. Neither of them minded overmuch; the farther they were from the dock and its noise and noxious vapors the better. Many innkeepers were more irritated with Jarlaxle's hat for reasons the two could not guess. It was at their final stop they discovered the problem was not so much the hat, but the color of the outrageous diatryma feather. Purple feathers were a sign of loyalty to former Chondath controlled Sespech.

The surprising information brought a smirk to Entreri's face; he hoped Jarlaxle would be forced to remove one of his many terrible eyesores from sight. Unfortunately, the exasperating drow simply plucked out the feather and blew lightly on it until it slowly achieved a rich red hue that better suited the wide brimmed monstrosity.

With a spartanly appointed room rented, which Entreri inspected for trouble with a perfectionist's eye, the two split up to collect information on their mark. At the end of the day they reconvened at their second-rate inn's smoky main room to discuss what they'd learned.

"These people are brilliant," Jarlaxle said delightedly, pouring another shot of alcohol into the steaming black brew before him. "Too bad your countrymen in Calimshan threw in perfume instead. That was vile stuff, my friend."

"You're insulting the alcohol by putting it in that rot," Entreri replied, looking over a map of the road ahead. He'd found the only reason he'd resumed drinking the foul coffee was for the warmth it had instantly conveyed through his body. The region was hot, but the springtime nights were still a bit cold and the high level of humidity only helped sink the chill into one's bones.

"On the contrary," the dark elf grinned, patting the warm mug good-naturedly, "it is much nicer than Calimshan coffee, even without the alcohol. No nasty little dregs for your allies and prospects to laugh at when they see them in your teeth."

Entreri smirked in what could only be interpreted as mockery. "If you don't know how to drink Calishite coffee properly, you can't be considered a credible judge."

Enjoying the argument more than the hot drink, Jarlaxle happily rejoined, "It isn't the method, Artemis, it is the result. This tastes better, therefore, it isbetter."

The map rolled up as soon as the assassin put it down on the table. He fixed the exasperating dark elf with a level stare that conveyed volumes of sheer negative energy. "You are distracting me over this swill?"

The dark elf would never have guessed his sober companion to be a connoisseur of the dark brew, or patriotic for that matter. Over the last thousand miles he rarely managed to get Entreri interested in such petty arguments; the previous one had been about Calishite horses. His glee knew practically no bounds. As an added goad, the insufferable drow downed a good deal of the brew. "Swill you say?"

The dark-eyed man took the map up again, unrolling it in a smooth, one-handed move. "Swill."

"But Entreri," the infuriating mercenary said, feigning innocent confusion as he leaned over the bare few inches necessary to cast his ostentatious hat's shadow over the part of the map his companion was trying to commit to memory, "don't you see the flaw in your reasoning?"

An iron gaze shot up from the map and straight into Jarlaxle's uncovered and flawlessly red eye. "This can only end in sadness, Jarlaxle."

The dark elf went on, still feigning confusion. "I've never actually seen you drink Calishite coffee, but here you are drinking the so-called local swill. What sort of conclusion am I to make?"

"If we were to strain horse manure through pillow sheets and throw in honey and alcohol," the assassin replied, glancing down again at his map, "you'd probably like that, too."

"No," Jarlaxle said with as serious an air of consideration he could maintain without breaking out into full laughter, "I don't think I would. Though I guess it would depend on if it came from a Calishite horse or not."

Entreri knew from the start he'd been baited, but had defended his native coffee without thinking thanks to Jarlaxle's uncommon ability to both put him at ease and rile him unnecessarily. With the mention of their last ridiculous argument, the human fighter reminded himself that his companion was being contrary for sport. "I'll be happy to witness the taste test."

Chuckling to himself, Jarlaxle sat back in his chair, content to study the assassin's face as he continued with the map. "You won't help me strain the manure?" He asked in a placid voice that couldn't conceal the merry glint in his unnerving red eye.

Unbidden, another smirk pulled at the corner of the assassin's mouth. "No, but I will provide the pillow sheets."

"Floral prints, I hope, with elven tatting?" The gleeful tone of the gaudy dark elf's voice almost proved beyond Entreri's bearing, but he refused allow the elf anything more than a wicked smile.

"Nothing less for Calishite horses."

"Nothing more for Jarlaxle?"

"Nothing more than an oilskin map down your throat and a pair of daggers in your eyes."

Jarlaxle sat back laughing at the threat. Baiting Entreri was rarely an easy task, but when done successfully, the dark elf took great delight in the occasion. Seeing the man's gray eyes still scanning the map, Jarlaxle shook his head merrily.

"Don't we need the map?" His tone was all the innocence his black-skinned face could not pretend at.

With the conversation turning toward a topic Entreri was more interested in, the assassin brushed the silly argument away. "Not if we commit it to memory." He placed the map on the table, smoothing it out and holding down opposing edges with his mug and a plate from Jarlaxle's dinner.

The staff in every establishment they found themselves in always seemed to wait until the two departed before collecting anything the pair used. Entreri found it annoying as he hated any kind of clutter. Jarlaxle merely found it amusing, often ordering small item on small item, to see what kind of a heap they could collect before the servers overcame their fear and tried to clear the table. On particularly dull nights, he was given to constructing precarious dining ware sculptures, balanced on an eggcup when available.

A hint of interest on his handsome features, Jarlaxle leaned over to look at the map Entreri had picked up while the two were apart. "Hmm, it looks very brown. And very green, too."

"It is generally accepted that Vektch's forces have strongholds within Chondalwood and secretly among the farming communities between the Arran River and Iljak, mostly near the Old Road, just south of the wood." Entreri tapped a finger on the map reflexively, rather than in any gesture to help guide the dark elf's gaze. "I think we should head in that direction and look for an Arrabar army to observe.

"Wianar's general, a woman rumored to be from Ixinos, replaced his last general who was executed thanks to his inability to bring Vektch in. She often leads troops into battle against Vektch and he, true to form, retreats before her. At night, when her people are settled in, our bandit captain assaults them and keeps them from rest only to retreat when forces are mobilized. Can you guess what happens next?"

A grin of evil admiration was slowly encompassing Jarlaxle's features. "Her forces settle down again and he attacks again. She gets no sleep and he rotates his marauders endlessly. I bet she'd like to peel his face off with her nails. What are the casualties like in this kind of warfare?"

Entreri snorted softly, impressed despite his usual grim demeanor. "We can only guess. Wianar and his general aren't going to publish that kind of information. According to Wianar, Vektch's group has lost over half their number and will soon be defeated. That as opposed to the first year of conflict where he claimed to have wiped almost all of them out. I think it is more than just a war of attrition."

Jarlaxle's chair creaked as the dark elf leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head and bringing his boots up to drop heavily, and noisily, onto the table. "I am willing to bet the Shining Lord of Chondath has lost a disproportionate number of warriors when compared to our bandit captain. In order to guess at his mindset, what else did you learn of his tactics and background?"

There was a pronounced pause as Entreri considered Jarlaxle's question. His eyes narrowed in suspicious slits of annoyance. Was this another one of those times where he worked at furthering their aims only to find Jarlaxle wasn't keeping up his end of the partnership? "Why don't you tell me what you learned about this little jaunt, first?"

Fine white eyebrows arched in response to Entreri's accusing tone. "Age before beauty, my good friend."

An unintentional look of disgust made a brief appearance on Entreri's normally inexpressive face. "Did you even bother to look into this bandit at all?"

"Not exactly," Jarlaxle replied with a shameless smile.

In response, Entreri nearly knocked the infuriating drow's boots off the table to the floor. Instead, he exerted a modicum of self control and dipped his head menacingly until his cold eyes stared through long locks of his black hair. "What did you do after we parted ways today?"

Seeing his game was beginning to go too far, Jarlaxle raised his hands before him and gestured for his deadly friend to calm down. "Don't worry, I didn't spend the time idly. I've made some important arrangements that may or may not work out to our satisfaction. I also made an appointment to talk to somebody about our situation. What I get out of that appointment depends on what you learned of Casteja Vektch."

Somewhat placated, but still suspicious, Entreri began again. "I think Vektch has come up with a form of warfare that might be effective against organized warfare. It is as the man said on the docks today; Vektch's forces continually lose strongholds, land, and strategic positions. In terms of normal military warfare, he has not won a single battle, but in terms of casualties, he's lost the least. Also, Wianar has yet to stop him."

Leaning back precariously on the back two legs of his chair, Jarlaxle rocked back and forth a moment, relying on his legs to anchor him safely to the table. Failing that, levitation. "He's a thinker, probably brilliant. Wins by losing. Helps the common people in order to buy them off emotionally and morally. Charismatic. Handsome. At worst, he's a born politician and at best, a lost relation. Why, I'm tempted to paint him black and kidnap him!"

"Why don't we skip the paint part," Entreri suggested with little enthusiasm.

"If you insist," the dark elf chuckled before turning more serious. "Ah, by the way, did you notice how little interest there was in the posting at the docks?"

The assassin nodded, glad his comrade had brought up the point. "Yes, I marked it as strange, too. Nobody believes they can take the man in alive. I think it has something to do with his sword."

The chair dropped forward to all four feet as Jarlaxle swung his boots off the table and leaned forward. His uncovered eye gleamed in interest only magic items could inspire. "Will you be parting with your magnificent skeleton sword?"

"No." His answer was immediate and resolute, telling Jarlaxle that he would be a fool to want the blade, either. "The sword has a large, orange gemstone ranging from blade to hilt over the crosspiece, which is said to allow Vektch to read minds and shield his own. The blade, by all accounts, is sentient. It is widely believed that the chain cannot be cut and that the man would kill himself with it rather than be taken in alive. The notice states he is wanted alive and nobody thinks that is remotely possible."

A dramatic sigh seemed to deflate the acquisitive dark elf; a psionic item with a will of its own sounded drearily familiar. "I see. Well, that is very good information. I wonder what kind of personality the sword has? If it has the gift of silent magic, will you be able to defend against it?"

The assassin's gray-clad shoulders shrugged gracefully. His menacing sword and gauntlet combination had become a part of him, though he never took either for granted. He was still learning about Charon's Claw, but the gauntlet seemed straightforward enough. "You should know the gauntlet can't keep it from reading my mind."

Jarlaxle nodded sagely, dismissing any traces of trepidation the ghost of Crenshinibon inspired. He stared at the map on the table without focusing on it, mind full of motion. At length, he nodded a second time and slowly straightened to stand in front of his chair. The dark elf stretched languidly, showing more of his taut stomach than Entreri wanted to see. Looking suitably unhurried, he picked up his mug of coffee again.

"I'll see what I can do about the mind reading. For now, I think a walk in the cool night air with the stars overhead will help me think."

Entreri, of course, didn't believe the cunning drow's excuse for a second. "I see. Tell your friend hello for me."

Jarlaxle paused mid-stride and grinned back at the assassin. "Yes, I must do that. And while I'm out, please get some beauty sleep, Artemis. Recall that I have to look at that scruffy face of yours every day."

Entreri watched the flamboyant dark elf turn and leave, his collection of jewelry chiming and boots making audible impacts on the hardwood flooring. Despite the use of his given name, the assassin did not immediately think of slipping his deadly dagger between any of Jarlaxle's vertebrae. He would never admit it, but Jarlaxle's uncanny ability to enjoy himself in almost any situation was a model he was trying to decipher.