Of Music and Men

By Ariel D

Summary: A touch of humor involving Entreri and Jarlaxle . . . and that flute that's already giving some of you nightmares. ;) Takes place after "Wickless in the Nether." Delightfully Plot-free. :)

Disclaimer: These two mercenaries belong to R.A. Salvatore and Wizards of the Coast. It is not my intention to trample any copyrights. Really, I'm just having some fun here.

A/N: Just for fun, folks. Written at 2 AM after way too much sugar. Plot? What plot? Mildly OOC. (You've been warned.) Probably a one-shot. This takes place after "Wickless in the Nether," which I hope all of you have read, or some parts of this won't make the greatest sense (and it'll spoiler you, too). At the least, spoiler! you need to know that in "Wickless" Entreri is given a magical wooden flute. This is my first attempt to write a comedy, so please be kind. Thank you.

Ten days had passed since Jarlaxle and Entreri had been commissioned by some self-important copper dragons to steal loot. Ten days since one of the copper dragons in question had given Entreri a wooden flute and ordered him to learn to play it. Ten days since Jarlaxle had begun claiming the assassin wasn't refined enough in skill to learn any musical instrument.

Ten days.

Artemis Entreri had yet to get more than an airy whistling noise out of the damn thing.

The assassin stood in the candelabra-filled apartment he shared with Jarlaxle—the apartment that was thankfully drowless at the moment—and contemplated the atrocity which was defiling his bed. The grey wooden flute lay innocently in the middle of his linen sheets where he's tossed it, its finger holes seeming to gaze at him smugly. The Evil Flute did not understand what kind of enemy it had made.

The assassin walked silently to his bed and picked up the offending instrument. "You'll never win," he told it. Placing the flute against his mouth, he tried once again to produce a sound—any sound other than that irritating airy one.

Phooooooo. Ftph. Fthssss. Phoofssssssssst. Ftph.

The Evil Flute did a graceful arch back onto Entreri's bed, and the assassin spent several moments dreaming up new and inventive deaths for irritating wooden instruments and equally annoying copper dragons. After several moments completely lost in a rosy haze of bloody daydreams, Entreri returned to glaring at The Evil Flute. It didn't know how lucky it was that he hadn't chopped it into tiny pieces.

If Entreri had been a less stubborn man, he would have carved a whistle out of the damn thing by now . . . or perhaps used it for firewood. But alas, Artemis Entreri was determined to never be beaten by anything—not an opponent, not a goody-goody drow, and certainly not by a stupid piece of wood.

Of course, there was also the issue of the powerful copper dragon who'd made it clear she'd wanted him to learn to play it. Angry dragons were generally not a good thing.

But that wasn't why Entreri was going to learn to play The Evil Flute, he told himself. He was going to learn to play it to prove that he could. He was very intelligent and highly skilled, and he didn't see that there should be any exception to what he could accomplish.

Besides, Jarlaxle would never let him live it down if he didn't. And if there was anything Entreri did not want to do, it was give that exasperating drow more fodder with which to tease him.

As if on cue, the eye sore in question blew through the door, all smiles and glittering gold. The assassin could have sworn the drow had added five new necklaces to the cacophony of clinking metal which layered his throat. "Good evening, Artemis! And what a fine evening it is! Shall we dine?"

Entreri turned his glare upon the drow. "Why do you not simply paint your entire body with gold? It'd likely be less expensive and ultimately less garish."

Jarlaxle threw his rainbow-colored cape off his shoulder and twirled his silvery, ferret-headed cane in one hand. The enormous purple feather in his hat bobbed as he titled his head to the side. "What a brilliant idea, my friend! Perhaps I shall." His grin was wide and innocent, which always spelled doom. "Or perhaps not."

"Dare I ask?" Entreri ventured.

"It is only that it's a touch cold here in Damara."

"What ever are you babbling about now?" Entreri turned back to The Evil Flute and snatched it up, putting it in his belt.

"Well, I would have to go naked, of course, so that everyone could enjoy the splendor of my body art."

Entreri's brain immediately tried to formulate a mental image, and he shuddered, knocking the thought from his mind. "If you ever make me imagine something like that again, I'll pull your intestines out through your throat."

Jarlaxle laughed. "Given your lack of imagination, I'm surprised you produced a mental image at all. But do tell me—was I handsome? Was it not spectacular?"

The drow was mere moments away from death. Entreri wondered if he realized it.


"Come now," Jarlaxle said, swooping back out of the apartment. "Fine food and beautiful women await us at the nearest tavern."

"If you'd learn to cook, we wouldn't have to spend so much gold on taverns," the assassin shot back.

Jarlaxle's white teeth seemed to take up most of his ebony face as he smiled. "How did you fair with the flute today, my friend? Have you coaxed out its secrets?"

Entreri, who was completely immune to Jarlaxle's abrupt topic changes, didn't so much as blink. "The flute and I are getting along fine," he said, grabbing his cloak off the coat rack and exiting the room.

Jarlaxle snickered, and the assassin could tell he was in for an evening of teasing. Entreri applied himself to trapping their room and prepared himself for the onslaught.

"You really should give the flute to me," Jarlaxle said, his tone quickly growing melodramatic. "I know how to caress it with my breath, to move my hands across its body. I'll have it playing beautiful music within the night, I daresay! I'll seduce its inner magic and—"

Entreri turned from the door-turned-death-trap and glared at the elf. "I never dreamed I would say this, but do hurry and lie with the dragon. I'm unsure how many more of your lewd innuendoes I can stomach."

Jarlaxle, of course, merely laughed. "Really, now, my friend. You must learn to treat the flute with respect. It will never give up its song for you if you throw it around or curse at it."

Entreri's eyes narrowed, and he briefly wondered if The Evil Flute and the drow were in league. "You do not wish to hear my reply to that."

Jarlaxle smiled sweetly at his friend as they started down the hallway. "Why not, my dear Artemis?"

"I was going to insult your hypothetical manhood."

"You question my manhood? Well, when I get my body covered in gold, you will quickly learn that—"

Entreri moved his hands to his weapons' hilts, and Jarlaxle began laughing.

"Perhaps I'll commission to have you bronzed instead," the assassin quipped. "Fully clothed, of course. If I remove your hat first, you might conceivably make a decent statue. Or, at the very least, a useful coat rack."

The drow just grinned. "I would make a beautiful statue regardless of the material involved. My grace and beauty emanate from within me, showering everyone I meet with—"

"Endless nonsensical babble," Entreri interrupted. "You could talk a drunken dwarf deaf and make a stone wall cry."

"Why thank you!"

Entreri began slowly counting to one million. The drow lived to bait him, and banter aside, he wasn't about to give him the pleasure of genuinely irritating him. They descended the stairs and crossed the street to the tavern which had become their new haunt.

The Flaming Frog tavern, though oddly named, served excellent food and (according to Jarlaxle, at least) had beautiful barmaids. Entreri himself could have cared less what the women looked like as long as they brought his food and refilled his drink promptly, but Jarlaxle could not eat without giving the assassin a running commentary on the women. Resigned to this fate, Entreri chose a corner table, which afforded them the room's shadows and a view of the door, and sat down, keeping his patience firmly intact.

The tavern was only mildly crowded this night, with the murmur of voices only a hum in the background. The lack of a horde afforded the lecherous elf a good view of the barmaids as they moved from table to table. As soon as Jarlaxle sat across from Entreri, he made a show of surveying the room.

"Ah, the charming blonde is working tonight," he noted with a smile. "And the wry brunette! Why, Artemis, we are in luck!"

"I would have thought you would have learned all their names by now," Entreri replied dryly.

Jarlaxle stopped his appraisal long enough to grin at the assassin. "Oh, I have. And their preferences, too. But I assumed you'd be uninterested in the details. General designations are likely all they'll ever be to you." He shook his head in exaggerated resignation. "Really, Artemis, you should g—"

"Our barmaid approaches," Entreri interrupted.

Jarlaxle glanced at the curvy, voluptuous young woman headed their way. "Ah! The spry strawberry blonde! Excellent."

Entreri didn't bother acknowledging that the elf had spoken.

"What can I get you sirs?" the young woman asked as she stopped at their table. If she had anything to recommend her, Entreri decided, it was her courage. She only seemed mildly discomforted at the presence of the drow—a true feat no matter how many times the mercenaries dined there. Even if Jarlaxle wasn't drow, his gaudy attire would be enough to unsettle most people.

"Your finest wine and rarest steak—" the drow began.

"Well done," Entreri cut in, "and cooked with garlic and onions."

"Not garlic," Jarlaxle said.

"Plenty of garlic," the assassin added with a nasty smile.

The barmaid nodded and walked off, and as soon as she did, Jarlaxle gave Entreri a slanted glance. "No wonder you are forever without a woman. You reek of garlic half the time!"

"Does that annoy you?" the assassin asked.

"I am not a woman," the drow replied.

"I remain not entirely convinced of that, but you have not answered my question."

The elf grinned. "Of course I am not bothered!"

"I don't believe you."

Jarlaxle began chuckling. "You're simply dodging my efforts to find you a beautiful woman."

Entreri's only reply was a small snort.

"Take the wry brunette for example. Sharp mind, cunning banter—"

"Do you wish for me to engage in political debate with her or seduce her?"

Jarlaxle laughed outright. "Well, I assume you don't like dumb women." He grinned wickedly. "Do brunettes not catch your fancy? What of blondes, then?"

Entreri studiously ignored the monologue.

"Red-heads it is, then! Truly, I must agree with you. There's nothing more beautiful than a woman with deep auburn hair, or perhaps a shiny copper red, or even a—"

"Didn't I tell you to hurry and lie with the dragon?"

Jarlaxle continued as though he hadn't been interrupted. "—brighter red. Although blondes are attractive also. Or—wait!—a woman with satiny black hair. Yes. Long legs, pronounced curves, full lips, brown or green eyes . . ." The drow seemed to be headed into a pleasant daydream.

Entreri sighed. "Jarlaxle, you're a whore."

The elf blinked at him as though he were coming out of a daze. "Not at all! I would never demand that a female pay me for pleasure, no matter how well I'd met her needs."

Entreri's withering gaze could have shriveled a vineyard into a field of raisins. "I'll pretend you didn't say that."

Jarlaxle grinned. "Really, now, you should relax and enjoy the finer things in life! Considering how well you understand the human body, I'm sure you would be the ladies' favorite in no time! Why, I bet that—"

Entreri tuned out the elf again and started counting to one million once more. He found himself doing it so often now that he had begun unintentionally counting other things as well: his footsteps as he walked, stair steps as he climbed them, the number of people he passed on the street . . . If he wasn't careful, the drow might drive him mad.

At that thought, the assassin reflected that it was a good thing he was so strong-willed. Only someone with nerves like dragon scales would be able to withstand the drow's incessant bubbling chatter.

Unfortunately for the poor man, Entreri had counted all the cracks in the table before he realized what he was doing and stopped.

It was going to be a long night.

After supper, the mercenaries returned to their apartment. The fire in the fireplace both lent the room a cozy glow and warmed it nicely. The drow smiled as he entered and hung his cape and oversized hat on the coat rack. That task accomplished, Jarlaxle proceeded to curl into the red velvet chair and pull a leather-bound book off the table and into his lap.

As Entreri watched Jarlaxle settle into the wing-back chair, he was oddly reminded of a black cat. Well, a black cat dressed in a hideous carnival costume. "You're going to read?"

"Certainly! It's an excellent tale of adventure, heroism, and romance!" Jarlaxle waved the book in the air. "You really should read it. It would expand that dark, flat void you call a mind."

Entreri sneered at him . . . and then hit upon the perfect plan. It was no secret that the assassin had yet to get a clear tone from the flute. So . . .

After shedding his own cloak and weapons belt (and lodging his dagger in the wall), Entreri settled cross-legged on his narrow bed and whipped out The Evil Flute. Jarlaxle's ear drums were going to pay for all the times Entreri had suffered the drow's incessant yapping.

Phooftsssssssss. Ftph. Phooooooo. Ftss. Ftssst.

Jarlaxle glanced up at the assassin with a smile but resumed reading.

Ftsssssss. Ftphooo. Ftsssstftssssst. Chirp!

Entreri pulled The Evil Flute away from his mouth and eyed it. It had never made that sound before. The assassin was plenty intelligent enough to ascertain that the angle of his lips and air stream were what had to be aligned correctly . . . that, and the position of his lower lip in relation to the hole. But getting all those things simultaneously positioned correctly was proving more difficult than he liked.

Well, if he didn't hate the thing so much, perhaps it would be less challenging.

Resolving to be endlessly, purely, and flawlessly patient (if for no other reason than to successfully torture Jarlaxle), Entreri resumed his efforts. Inhaling deeply, he tried again. Airy, near-whistling sounds filled the room. Undeterred, the assassin continued—and kept the drow in his periphery so he could gauge his reaction.

Five minutes passed. Jarlaxle shifted in his chair.

Ten minutes passed. Jarlaxle had shifted his position a half dozen times. He had yet to turn the page he was on.

Fifteen minutes passed. Jarlaxle's breathing had grown shallower in the way of someone who was losing his temper, and the skin around his eyes and mouth had grown tight. He was trying hard not to show his annoyance, Entreri could tell, but he wasn't entirely succeeding.

Twenty minutes passed. The drow slammed his book shut and grinned sweetly at the human—that sugary I'm-Going-to-Kill-You-Slowly look.

"Do your lips not hurt from the effort?" the drow asked, his voice commendably even.

Entreri lowered the flute. Actually, his facial muscles ached so much he wondered if he'd be able to form coherent syllables when he spoke. "Why?"

"Just curious." Jarlaxle opened his book and started reading again. Entreri grinned in spite of himself, discovering accidentally that smiling helped ease some of the pain from his face.

In a final show of stubborn pettiness—both toward The Evil Flute and Jarlaxle—Entreri lifted the thrice-damned wooden instrument to his mouth one more time and tried again.

A note came out.

"C sharp," Jarlaxle commented without looking up, then jerked his head around and stared at the assassin.

Entreri stared at The Evil Flute like it'd suddenly sprouted leaves. Recovering, he shrugged and placed it on the bed beside him. "It was only a matter of time."

"You're stopping now? After only one note?" The instant the elf said those words, he looked like he wanted to cut out his own tongue.

Entreri grinned again. A wicked, diabolical grin. "Ah. Good point, my friend." With stoic determination, he picked up The Evil Flute and explored every single note and sound he could create.

Jarlaxle didn't get any reading accomplished that night.

A/N: Well, I hope someone enjoyed this insanity. ;) Oh—and for those who don't know, the "You'll never win" line is a quote from Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II. If you play the game using Artemis, you'll hear that line enough times that it'll end up in your dreams, lol.

If anyone's wondering, yes, I do play the flute.

Much thanks to my beta readers, Matt and Darkhelmetj, for entertaining my madness. As for the second story of Descent into Darkness, I'm on chapter 3 now. I'm guessing mid to late June to start posting it.