To Meet, Per Chance

Description: Insanity ensues when Alan, John, and Gordon Tracy are accidentally tossed into the unwitting hands of an assassin, a monk, a cleric, and an eccentric dark elf. Thunderbirds/D&D-Forgotten Realms crossover. Featuring characters created/story co-authored by Ariel D.

Author: darkhelmetj/Ariel D (co-author)

Universe: Thunderbirds (movie) and Forgotten Realms (one of the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons). Based upon the fanfiction universes created by Ariel D (Forgotten Realms) and darkhelmetj (Thunderbirds)

Archive: Sure, give either me or Ariel D an e-mail and we can talk about it.

Rating: PG-13/Teen (T) for mild profanity/violence and alcohol use.

Genre: Crossover/Humour/Adventure


Disclaimer: The recognisable Forgotten Realms characters appearing in this story are copyright Wizards of the Coast, Inc., all rights reserved. The recognisable Thunderbirds characters are copyright Carlton International Media, Ltd., all rights reserved. They are used without permission and for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made by the author for writing this story. No infringement upon nor challenge to the rights of the copyright holders is intended; nor should any be inferred. The characters of Tai Vatoshie and Nyx Jassan are original characters created by Ariel (D). They should not be used without her expression written consent; permission has been granted for use in this story.
This fanfic builds upon three characters from Ariel D's story "The Spectres of Our Pasts," which establishes Nyx and Tai and the villain Mordecai. This story, however, will have no influence on her later tales and is for humour only. See Dramatis Personae below for a brief character sketch of Nyx and Tai.

Also, three sons of the Tracy family will be showcased in this story. John, Alan, and Gordon will all be featured, and their character sketches can also be found below.

A few footnotes (ex (f.1)) have been included in the story. You can find the actual notes at the end of the text.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

Alan Tracy - The youngest son of Jeff Tracy (billionaire ex-astronaut, corporate leader of Tracy Industries, and founder of the rescue organization International Rescue). Often immature and head-strong, fourteen year old Alan is smart but generally lacks wisdom to go along with his natural knack for coming up with ideas. His youth and inexperience often land him in trouble.

Artemis Entreri - A forty-year old (approx.) hardened assassin, generally considered the best in the land of Faerun. Entreri is extremely strong willed and independent, yet he is a reserved man that saves his energy for the battlefield. Is currently partnered up with a drow elf, Jarlaxle Baenre, who both irritates him with his ways and intrigues him with his unspoken offer of friendship.

Gordon Tracy - A fiery eighteen-year-old red-head whose determination and temper almost match his passion for practical jokes. Gordon makes up for a lack of skill in school subjects with a love for physical activities and is an extremely skilled swimmer and diver. The loudest of the Tracy brothers, Gordon never turns down the chance to party, as long as it doesn't interfere with his official duties of responding to rescue calls around the world.

Jarlaxle Baenre - A centuries old dark (drow) elf, Jarlaxle is the leader of the rogue male organization Bregan Daerthe. An eccentric individual who enjoys wearing garish clothing and jewellery that often has magical properties, he is also extremely intelligent and weaves multiple webs of intrigue to conceal his true intentions. He is the current companion of Artemis Entreri.

John Tracy - Second eldest son of Jeff Tracy, the twenty-two year old physicist turned radio monitor prefers to spend most of his time in the peaceful silence of outer space. An introverted and thoughtful soul, John harnesses his knowledge and skill with the sciences to run International Rescue's vast communications satellite, spending months in space at a time, away from the family island situated in the South Pacific.

Nyx Jassan - The twenty-five year old Holy Javelin of the god Hoar, Nyx is a skilled monk (a warrior trained to harness the potential of hand-to-hand combat). On behalf of her god, she delivers poetic justice to those who deserve it most. An assertive and hot-tempered woman, Nyx shows her protective side when dealing with her younger companion, Tai Vatoshie.

Tai Vatoshie - At sixteen years of age, Tai shows signs of attaining more clerical powers than most followers of Hoar could dream of having in a lifetime. Wise beyond his years, Tai is a skilled cleric who recently experienced a rape at the hands of Jarlaxle's nemesis, the drow Mordecai.

Scott and Virgil Tracy - Twenty-six and twenty years old respectively, they are the other two young men in the Tracy family. Virgil is artistically inclined and a talented artist and engineer. Scott is the field commander of IR and a skilled pilot.


SETTING:

Tracy Island, Earth, 2020 AD: ACT I and VII - Located somewhere in the South Pacific, Tracy Island is the year-round home of the Tracy family, as well as the base for the top secret Organization International Rescue. Three families live there - the Tracys, Belagants, and Hackenbackers (known as the Wilsons in "The Winds of Advent"). The island is home to four advanced air and water craft, a top secret lab, and several kilometres of sprawling jungle.

Faerun, Toril, 1369 DR: ENTRACTE, ACT II-VII - Faerun, a continent on the planet Toril, is the traditional focus of all Forgotten Realms novels and computer games. It is Dungeons and Dragons at its most classic; elves, dragons, ogres, and magic abound in this continent, which is based loosely upon Europe during the Dark Ages in terms of geography.


ENTRACTE

Toril, somewhere in the north-western lands of Faerun

Raising his nose in the air, Jarlaxle Baenre took a long sniff, then another, then turned to his companion. "Something is about to happen, my friend."

The other individual, a man, stared blankly sceptically. "Indeed. What makes you think that? Does your nose suggest a burning steak in our vicinity? Or are you a dog sniffing a hare?"

"Intuition." The drow elf took another whiff of the air and gave a large smile full of white pearly teeth. "There is magic around us."

"Indeed," the assassin - a dour man known as Artemis Entreri - repeated, seemingly no more impressed with the explanation than he had been with his companion's initial statement. "Magic is, after all, most everywhere in Faerun." He smirked. "You might as well have noted that the trees have leaves."

Jarlaxle laughed. "I felt compelled to point it out, my friend, since you're such a peasant that you couldn't sense the magic."

Entreri ignored the implied insult. "Is it Mordecai, then?" the assassin asked, wondering if the drow had managed to track them in another attempt to kill them.

"I highly doubt it is Mordecai. And if it were meat I smelt, then I would prefer it to be raw enough that I would never smell it cooking." Jarlaxle laughed at the other man's disgusted sneer and adjusted the purple swashbuckler's hat that he wore. "Mordecai would not be foolish enough to ambush us in such a clearing. What it is that I am feeling I do not know. But something will happen soon." He glanced around at the wooded forest around them. "Aside from Nyx and Tai returning to us from their search."

"Indeed." The words did little to faze Entreri. Something, after all, was always happening to him, and that something was general of a nasty nature. He was prepared for whatever came his way. And if 'whatever was coming his way' was not a certain evil drow that he desperately wanted to disembowel, then things were just fine (though he would have been pleased to meet Mordecai again for that very reason).


ACT I

Earth, somewhere in the South Pacific

There were some things in the world, John Tracy had learned, that should never be touched. In fact, twenty-two years of experience had taught him that it was generally better to leave most things alone. One could never be too sure which things could be touched, which things couldn't, or which things wanted to be touched in the first place.

He was also sure, looking with mild intrigue at the device that lay before him, that the metal object definitely was in the 'do not touch' category. The large round ball, made of a dull silver material, seemed innocent enough. But knowing its creator, it probably had some function that could be dangerous if put in the wrong hands.

"Isn't it cool?" Leaning in front of his older brother, fourteen-year-old Alan Tracy grinned and pushed a strand of blond hair from his face.

"I suppose," John said, not sure if 'cool' was really the word he would use. Interesting, yet likely dangerous, was what came to mind first. "Alan, I really don't think we should be in here."

"Oh, come on!" Alan took a moment to look at the workspace around them, taking in various benches of mechanical objects and tools, power supplies set along the walls, and a large and slightly ominous looking metal arch set off in the corner of the room. "No one will ever have to know."

"What I'd like to know is how you got the password to the lab."

Guilt flashed across the other's face. "Uh-"

"Let me guess. Fermat found out the password, and then he gave it to you?"

"I wasn't the one that took it!" Alan argued, folding his arms.

John didn't doubt that Alan was telling the truth. But he also didn't doubt the level of friendship between his brother and Fermat Hackenbacker. He knew that Fermat's dad, Brains, often entrusted his son with classified information, and he wasn't surprised to see one of the scientist's passwords in the hands of the youngest Tracy son.

"Uh huh." Folding his arms in response, John set his mouth and gave his brother a stern glare. "All right, we're done here. I've seen it-"

"Aw, come on!"

"You've seen it-"

"You're too serious!"

"So let's go." Against Alan's protests, John took the boy by the shoulder and gave him a more than gentle push in the direction of the door. Moments when he resorted to force were few and far between, but he knew better than to argue with his brother. Alan was still young, and no matter how much intelligence he had, it spoke nothing of wisdom or common-sense.

"Some things should be left alone," John explained, feeling a pang of guilt as his brother shoved off his hand and stormed towards the door. "Alan, listen to me."

"Why?" The boy turned at the door to the lab and gave his brother the same look that had been directed towards him mere moments earlier. "I swear, you have no sense of adventure."

"You're right!" John rubbed his brow wearily with a hand. "I don't, at least when it comes to whatever Brains has in his lab. Last time you screwed around with something in here you accidentally leaked that instant growth formula into the fish tank!"

"That was Gordon's fault."

"Fine, it was Gordon's fault."

"Exactly! So why can't I stay here?"

Feeling a headache coming on, John continued to rub his head. "Because, I don't care if you're the damn president of the United States, you could still accidentally knock something and-"

Before Alan could respond, a large noise issued from the stairwell up to the main part of the home. Both young men turned to gaze in confusion at the doorway.

"What the hell?" John muttered, wondering who was coming down to the lab in such a hurry.

Almost instinctively, Alan backed away from the door. "Sounds like someone's coming down here."

Hoping it wasn't his father - though he doubted that Jeff Tracy could make so much noise while walking - John nodded in agreement and looked around the room for a place to hide. "Over here!" He pointed towards the metal arch in the corner of the room. "Behind the computer terminal!"

Alan wasted no time in joining his older brother. Together, the two of them crouched behind the terminal, which was adjacent to the arch. Peaking around the corner, John jumped back as another bang sounded.

The younger boy looked at him with a great degree of cynicism. "Now look who's in trouble!"

"Shh." When Alan moved to respond, John reached up a hand and covered his brother's mouth. "Be quiet. If he hears us, then hiding is kind of useless." He lowered his hand.

The two sat silent for a moment, until Alan shook his head and whispered rather loudly, "How do you know it's a he?"

"Because!"

A blank stare was the response.

"How many women live on this island, Alan?"

"Ah." The boy grinned sheepishly. "So that's why you're irritated today! Onaha is married, Tintin is mine, and Penelope is Scott's."

John didn't even bother to respond. Some things were not even worth commenting on. He simply shook his head a peeked out again from behind the computer terminal.

"John-"

It all happened at once: Alan reached a hand up to grab John on the shoulder, and a red-haired figure came barrelling down the stairwell, through the doorway, and into the lab. John lost his balance at the surprise of the sudden appearance of the figure and stumbled out from behind the computer.

John looked up in enough time to see his brother Gordon, eyes wide, shove a large bag away from his chest in John's direction.

"Take this! Quick!"

Completely unprepared, John tried to catch the bag, failed, and was left to watch as it flew directly through the metal arc. A blue loop of electricity arched as soon as it passed through, winding up and down the metal and in the direction of the computer terminal which had mysteriously become active.

Or, John noted as dread filled his stomach, the computer hadn't been off. Maybe it had been set to standby, and the experiment had in fact been running the entire time.

They were about to find out.

Jumping up from behind the computer, Alan stepped forward. "Gordon, what the hell are you doing here?"

Not answering, Gordon looked anxiously behind him.

"Guys." Imitating his brother, John took an anxious look himself at the metal arc, which was now arching electricity all across its surface. "Guys!"

"Damn!" Gordon suddenly spat, lunging forward, completely unaware of the program that was initializing on the computer. "Virgil's coming! He's gonna kill me."

It was the word 'kill' that remained in John's mind as Gordon stumbled and ran directly into his chest. All the synonyms of the word 'kill', including 'death', followed, as he fell backwards into Alan, in the direction of the arc. Death was what was likely to occur if he couldn't stop his falling, and there was very little chance of that happening with the amount of balance and coordination that he possessed.

Gordon's voice entered his ears as he felt his skin jump from the nearby electricity.

"Oh shit."


ACT II

Toril, somewhere in the north-western lands of Faerun

"You did not locate Mordecai? I am glad to hear that!" Jarlaxle exclaimed happily.

Frowning, Entreri gave the drow a dark look, then turned towards the woman and young man that stood before him. "That is hardly good to hear."

"No, it's not," agreed the woman, who was well-built with muscles that suggested a physical profession. "I had honestly thought we had tracked Mordecai down. His getting away is not a pleasant thing."

Jarlaxle shrugged and continued to grin. "Ah, but it means that the sense that I had earlier was not implying an attack from our cleric foe."

The woman raised an eyebrow. "You had a sense?"

"Elves are attuned to magic," Entreri explained, slightly surprised that the woman did not already know that. "Drow especially so."

"I know that," she growled, turning an intense glare upon the assassin. "But when it's him that's having the senses, I don't know whether to believe him or not."

"My lady! I assure you-"

"Jarlaxle has never been wrong," Entreri interrupted, cutting off the drow cold. "So if he believes that we are being scryed or such-"

"Not us." Jarlaxle corrected. "The land. It's a strange sensation."

"Then he is telling the truth."

The woman held her glare and bit on her bottom lip. "The land is being scryed?"

Part of Entreri wanted to slap the woman for continuing her useless argument, but the other half of him held him back. It was his other half that shared with the woman the same degree of patience for a certain drow elf. Finally deciding on a course of action, he turned to Jarlaxle and demanded, "Explain."

It was not often that Entreri saw the Jarlaxle confused. But now was clearly one of those moments. The drow shook his head slowly, lost in thought, and did nothing except finger one of the many gold necklaces that he wore around his neck. "I do not know if I can," he finally said at length. "I do not fully understand it myself."

Before Entreri could come up with a suitable retort, the woman stepped forward and poked a finger into Jarlaxle's chest. "Or is it that you don't want to tell us? You've duped us before. And don't pretend that you haven't, either! You-"

"He's right, Nyx."

All conversation stopped, and all three individuals turned to look at the young man who had been silent up until that point.

Still holding her finger against Jarlaxle's chest, Nyx's gaze softened as she looked towards the blue-cloaked priest. "Tai?"

"He's right. Something stirs in the Weave." Tai looked absently upward towards the sky. "Hoar is-"

Before he could say more, the sky instantly changed from blue to a violent shade of crimson. The transition lasted only a second, but it was accompanied by a vast and intense shuddering of the ground itself.

Acting on instinct, Entreri leapt forward and grabbed Tai by the arm, pulling the boy away from a tree. An instant later, a shudder ran through the dirt and the tree exploded upwards, sending roots and wood splinters flying through the air where Tai had just been.

The two landed on the ground in a heap, Entreri on the bottom where he could cushion the fall. The assassin took only a moment to recover. "You might get off of me now."

"Did you not just position yourself to soften the boy's fall?" Jarlaxle asked with a smile.

Entreri glared at him. "It was merely instinct to roll."

Tai, apparently not wanting to get involved in one of Entreri and Jarlaxle's many bantering sessions, immediately pushed himself to his feet. Several strands of dark black hair were pasted to his face, put their by the immense force of whatever had descended upon the clearing.

"That was close," Nyx said from nearby, crawling out from under the former husk of a different tree. She glanced behind her at the tree, then gave a visible shudder. The branches and bark were charred black, as though lightening had struck it from the inside out. "What the hell was that?"

"Magic." Jarlaxle had somehow evaded the outburst altogether and was standing casually to a side of the forest clearing. His hat was askew slightly on his head, revealing a patch of shaved head. "I am not entirely sure, but I believe it was some sort of surge."

"And you said that Hoar felt it?" Entreri asked suddenly, looking towards Tai.

The boy nodded and continued to straighten his robes. "I'm not entirely sure," he finally admitted - much to Entreri's irritation, for the older man was tired of everyone being sure of nothing. "The feeling that I had before it struck was as strong as what I would feel if I were to enter communion with Hoar."

Nyx methodically neatened her braided hair. "Whatever it was, it must have been strong to attract the attention of the gods."

"Realm shaking," Jarlaxle suggested, seemingly only half joking.

Entreri nearly said 'indeed' again, but stopped it at his lips for fear of creating another omen of doom.

"I have resources which may be able to--" Jarlaxle's eyes suddenly grew wide.

"What?" Entreri asked, seeing that Jarlaxle was looking in his direction. "What is it?"

His answer came when a large and heavy object fell on him from above.


ACT III

Entreri came to several minutes later, nursing both a splitting headache and a growing frustration at all the ridiculous magic that the world seemed bent on killing him with that day. He opened his eyes and pushed himself up from where he sat.

"Glad to see you could finally join us."

Snapping around to glare at the monk, who looked nonplussed about what had just occurred, Entreri replied, "Shall we drop a rock on your head and see how you fair?"

"I at least would have the reflexes to dodge," she quipped.

"And it was not a rock," Jarlaxle explained from the side of clearing, where he knelt with Tai alongside three bodies. "It was three boys."

Entreri raised an eyebrow incredulously. "Boys? What do you mean, boys?" Saying the words made him feel a bit better, though he could see the three individuals lying on the ground as easy as he saw Nyx glaring back at him.

"Boys," she explained as if to a child. "Is the concept foreign to you, assassin?"

Jarlaxle chortled happily at the exchange. "Boys generally don't fall from the sky, if I may comment, my dear Holy Javelin."

Entreri didn't know whether to be pleased or not that the Death Glare of Hoar was now directed at the drow instead of him.

"Of course not," she said. "That's why I didn't slit their throats on the spot."

"These are hardly Mordecai's men," the drow agreed, laying a hand against the forehead of a taller blond one. "But where they have come from I do not know, except to say that it is from a place far farther than Mordecai could ever reach."

That comment held both Entreri and Nyx silent for several moments. The assassin cupped his chin in his hands and contemplated the matter silently. "Are you suggesting that they come from a different plane?"

"Very likely a different set of planes altogether. After all, they hardly appear to be elementals."

Nyx snorted and pointed at the taller blond boy, whose hair was an unnatural shade of blond, closer to white. "Though by that one's hair I could suggest celestial ancestry." Standing from the rock where she sat, Nyx walked over to her young companion, Tai, and set a hand on his shoulder. "Have you been able to discern anything?"

The young man shook his head, sending a strand of black hair falling into his eyes. "Nothing, aside from the fact that Hoar doesn't consider them to be a threat." He looked at each of the bodies in turn, taking in the taller and shorter blonds, and a boy of middle height who had hair of varying shades of red and brown.

"Perhaps he is the son of an elemental," Nyx suggested, pointing at the red-head. "His hair grows red from the roots, yet the outer edges are brown."

"Hair dye." Jarlaxle smiled. "I would employ it, of course, if I had hair to actually dye."

Entreri had to hold back a shudder at the mere thought of his companion becoming anymore garish than he already was. "If you did that, I would be forced to remove your hair for you."

Jarlaxle looked shocked at the suggestion. "You would not!"

"I would. Not even your drow abilities can save you if I decide to turn my blade upon whatever hideous idea you have festering in your mind!"

"You would not!"

Entreri drew his dagger, a skilfully engraved and bejewelled weapon, and pointed it at Jarlaxle's head. "Would you like to try now? I'm sure it would be a great deal messier without the hair, but I suppose I can make it work."

Apparently disgusted at the exchange, Nyx drew her nunchaku and pointed one end at each of the offending individuals. "This is no time for bickering!"

"We are not bickering!" Entreri and Jarlaxle said in unison.

And then, from the ground: "Jesus, I think Virgil hit me with his piano."

Nyx stopped in mid retort and turned to stare at the red-head who was now blinking his eyelids. "Was that-"

"They're waking," Tai confirmed, drawing from his pouch a slender bottle with a dark liquid inside. He put it to the boy's lips. "Here, drink this." The red-head accepted, taking a long draught before he started to choke.

"What the hell is this stuff?"

"It's a potion of healing," Nyx explained, in a much softer tone than the one that she had used when dealing with Entreri and Jarlaxle. "You fell from a great height. It will make you feel better."

The red-head nodded, then suddenly began to stare at her. His gaze ran over her face several times before it turned to Tai. "Where in hell am I?"

"Not in hell," Jarlaxle clarified somewhat absently. "It's not this pleasant."

"No!" The boy pushed himself up and began looking around in panic. "What the hell is this?"

Deciding it was time to intervene, gave the boy an intense glare. "Control yourself!"

"Artemis, you're likely not helping the matter any." The drow shifted where he knelt. "Your face is hideous enough to scare off any beast, let alone a child." He chortled when the assassin shot him a glare of his own.

"Be silent, or I will cut out your tongue."

Shaking her head, Nyx intercepted the look and re-directed it back at its sender. "You are no better than a child, both of you." She looked from Jarlaxle to Entreri, who was still holding the now-terrified boy in his gaze. "Leave the boy alone. Now."

Entreri shrugged, then directed his gaze elsewhere.

"That's better."

"That is the scariest glare I've ever seen in my life!" The red-head gasped, pale in the face. "Are you an assassin or something?"

"Yes," Entreri replied dryly. "How could you tell?"

When the boy looked ready to panic again, the assassin put his face level with the boy's and gave him another death-glare. "Calm down." The words were a command, not a suggestion. "Take a deep breath. Jarlaxle!"

"Hmm?" The drow raised an eyebrow and feigned indifference. "You are speaking to me? I thought I was supposed to remain silent. I fear for my utensil for loving and eating."

Neither Nyx nor Entreri could hold back a disgusted grimace at the comment.

Interrupting the moment, Tai coughed and said, "Excuse me, but I believe the other two are waking up."

The assassin rolled his eyes and muttered, "Lovely," under his breath.

Ignoring the comment, Nyx shifted over on the ground to where the other two lay. She directed her attentions to the taller of the two blonds, the one with the unnatural coloured hair, and laid a hand on his brow. The forehead was warm to the touch, but not so warm that it suggested a fever or another illness.

"He is waking," Jarlaxle said from where he sat alongside Tai. Sure enough, the boy's eyes were moving under the lids. They fluttered several times, then opened suddenly.

"Easy." Nyx accepted a healing potion from Tai, then gingerly lifted it to the young man's lips. He took it without a fight, drinking half the potion before he seemed to come to completely. "You fell a great distance."

The blond blinked once, and his eyes cleared and became alert and sharp. "What happened?" He looked around suddenly, cringing and reaching for his head as if in pain. "Where are we?"

"Not this again," Entreri commented from the side, where he was currently still staring at the apparently petrified red-head. "We haven't even dealt with the other one. Two will be no better." He stopped speaking when he noticed that the blond's gaze had fallen onto his ginger-haired companion.

The red-head also caught the look, and an expression of pure guilt crossed his face. He laughed once, quietly, then started to giggle uncontrollably. "It wasn't my fault," he managed between giggles, his face turning a brilliant shade of crimson. "Seriously, it wasn't."

Entreri looked again to the blond and found himself surprised to see the same expression reflected in the young man's eyes that he likely held in his own. He raised an eyebrow, but the blond simply shook his head and sighed.

"That is the story of my life."

Entreri blinked at the words. He had not been expecting to run into someone who seemed to share his same degree of sardonic perception. Then again, looking at the boy, he didn't seem to be sardonic as much as . . .

As much as someone who had simply learned to accept what he had and dealt with it accordingly.

"This one is more co-operative," Jarlaxle offered with a grin. "At least he calmed the feisty red-head down." When the aforementioned boy looked at him with a trace of alarm, he added, "Feisty in a fighting sense, of course."

Entreri was tempted to remind the drow how odd he appeared to outsiders, with his shaved head, rainbow-coloured cape, and red eye patch, but he decided against it. The strangers would learn soon enough just how eccentric the rogue drow really was. Besides, Jarlaxle was right in one regard; the blond seemed to have a level enough head about him that it would be easy enough to learn from him precisely what happened.

"You are in the land of Faerun," Entreri said to the pale blond, and Tai nodded as though he were affirming the assassin's explanation. "In the territory known as the High Forest."

From where she sat, Nyx studied the blond's reaction with a look of curiosity. When he failed to respond, she added somewhat reluctantly, "The year is 1369, Dale Reckoning. Does that help you?"

The blond's eyes seemed to look inward for a moment, and he absently reached up a hand and brushed at his hair. "Not really. Well . . ." He frowned. "We're not on Earth, are we?"

"Never heard of it."

The assassin's blunt remark apparently did nothing to help the red-head's temperament. Groaning, the boy, in an amazing act of flexibility, bent straight forward and slammed his face down on the ground where he sat. A jumbled mutter came from the tangle of vines and red hair. "We are soooooo screwed."

Entreri snorted at how uncanny the blond's look was when compared to his own. Of course, it didn't carry the same 'If-you-blink-I-will-gut-you' promise, but it was no less intense.

"Good analysis of the situation, Gordon. Dad would be proud of you." He paused, then shook his head, threw his hands up in the air, and spun around so that he was facing the other direction. "What was so hard about thinking before getting us in this mess?"

Mumble.

"What did you take of his anyway?"

Mumble.

"A book? And a bag? Great. You threw us in the middle of God knows where because you couldn't keep your hands off of a stupid book!" The blond closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then moaned. "Of all of the . . ."

From where he sat, Jarlaxle caught Entreri's eye and signed something him to him in drow silent speak. "The boy does an uncanny impression of you when he is angry."

A smirk escaped Entreri's lips, and he quickly signed back, "And the red-head is apparently as intelligent as you are, my friend."

"At least he had the sense to calm down. Your blond companion is only succeeding in working himself up."

"The red-head is scared of him."

"So you say. Perhaps he is the smart one and is simply hiding when it is appropriate to run."

The assassin glanced at the red-head, apparently Gordon by name, and shook his head. "Hiding in the shrubbery is cowardly."

"So says a man who has made his life hiding in the shadows and the trees."

Before Entreri could respond, Nyx's hand darted out and caught the drow's in mid-sign. He squeaked in protest at the strength of her grip, and she let him go with a push.

"Whatever you two are doing, stop it right now. Keeping secrets will not help us earn the trust of these young men." She narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Do not make this more difficult than it already is."

Her words were true, but Entreri was absolutely tired of listening to everything that the monk said. No one told him what to do, and the woman had been pushing that point ever since he had met her. So, ever so calmly, he said, "As you wish," and made sure that his gaze spoke what his mind shouted.

Seeming to sense where the situation was leading, Tai cleared his throat quietly, drawing the gaze of all in the clearing, including the sulking red-head. "We have told you where you are. Perhaps you can explain to us where you are from, and who you are?"

A wise request, Entreri thought with a touch of satisfaction. At least Tai understands enough to say what needs to be said. "Yes, please enlighten us."

Five pairs of eyes settled on the blond, who was now looking down at the other blond who lay on the ground. "Let's wake up Alan, then we can start. You might want to find a good place to sit, though. It's a long story." (f.1)


ACT IV

For the third time in a row, Jarlaxle opened his eyes wide, and asked, with much child-like glee, "A what-ship?"

For the third time in a row, the unnaturally white blonde, since identified as John Tracy, replied with unlimited patience, "A space-ship. It's like . . . air flight. Only it goes into space."

Jarlaxle looked upward, as if to see the stars that were still covered by the blue light of the early evening sky.

"You have unlimited patience," Entreri said to John from where he walked beside the drow and human. The seven individuals, including the younger boy who had finally awakened, were now traversing the last leg of the forest in approach to the nearby town. It had taken over an hour to sort through enough stories and tales for the various individuals to be sure of their companions, and Entreri was more than happy to be finished talking and on the road again. And since Tai had used a divine spell to determine the general mindset and weal of the three boys and had found them to be no threat, the assassin was content enough to have them as companions until they could somehow deposit them at the earliest possible convenience.

"Indeed," Nyx observed from where she kept point watch at the front of the group. She reached up a hand to brush away a tree branch, then looked to the back of the group where Entreri, Jarlaxle, and John were walking. "I believe that I would have told Jarlaxle to shut up long ago."

The peroxide blond smiled and simply shrugged; his irritation had faded as he had explained to the Faerun group where he and his brothers had come from, and his response to everything after that had been either a shrug or a subdued smile. "It's an honest question. After all, space flight is a foreign concept to all of you."

"I think most things are a foreign concept to Jarlaxle," Entreri said dryly, "including the word 'silence'."

The drow sighed and waved an unconcerned hand in the air. "Artemis, Artemis, how many times do I have to tell you that silence is only useful when silence is needed?"

"Well, it could be needed now!" Nyx snapped, glaring at him then turning her attention to the three boys that walked in the middle of the group.

Entreri followed her gaze, and his gaze came to rest on the group's cleric. Tai was caught in between the two other boys, Alan and Gordon, and looked as though he would rather be fighting dragons than listening to them speak. The assassin tuned out the drow, who was still rambling to the blond in the background, and focused his attention on the conversation between the three teens.

"And then," Gordon explained with much animation, "just when we were all about to go under, my brother shows up with his ship-"

"That's Thunderbird Two," Alan put in quickly.

"-and he drops this grapple line. So now I'm standing there on this concrete slab, thinking, oh damn! Because the rest of the wall is about to come down on top of me and these other guys. But we get the line wrapped around everyone, and just as the wall starts to fall, he throws the ship into full reverse, chucking us backwards into the water!" The red-head sighed. "Man, I love coastal rescues."

Before Tai could respond, Alan jumped in and immediately started talking. "It was so sweet! I saw it on the television-"

"Television?" Tai muttered.

"-and it was so cool! They were like-"

"I don't know what they were like," John suddenly put in quietly, "but maybe you should think about being quiet. We've all had a long day, and to be honest, you're getting really loud."

The entire group stopped walking, and Alan and Gordon turned looks of disappointment on their brother. "Aw, come on John, we're just telling Tai about the incredible adventures of Gordon Tracy!" The red-head turned his head as if preparing for a profile photograph.

The older blond snorted. "Uh-huh. Yeah, we all know. We have ears, you know, and mine are starting to hurt. So, if you could just turn it down a bit . . ."

"Does that include me?" Jarlaxle asked.

Entreri gave him a dark look. "If you can take a hint the third time, yes."

The drow feigned a hurt expression. "If you insist."

"I do."

"Then I shall be silent." Jarlaxle ran a finger along his lips. "Silent, like the proverbial lamb. Silent, like the-" He yelped as Entreri drew his sword and threatened to crack the drow over the head with the hilt.

"Like the grave, if you don't stop talking."

Gordon and Alan traded worried expressions at this exchange. The red-head then turned to their cleric companion, and said, "Don't worry, we can finish our conversation later. But right now I think we should be quiet."

Entreri found it hard to suppress a snort at both the red-head's attempt to scurry out of the situation and at Tai's thankful sigh that the two other boys would finally be quiet. "A good choice," the assassin whispered, walking forward and clapping Gordon's shoulder as he went by. "I would hate to have to remove your tongue."

"I believe that cliché is perhaps becoming a trifle overused," Jarlaxle commented happily.

Not even bothering to turn around and retort to the drow, Entreri simply kept walking. He caught Nyx's expression as he walked by her and held it for a brief moment. She nodded, and trailed to the back where she could guard the rear.

As he took point for the last stretch into the town of Olostin's Hold, Entreri heard a trickle of talk from the rear.

"Would he really cut out my tongue?" Gordon asked in a subdued manner.

"He might take more than that, if you don't be quiet," Nyx said matter-of-factly. "And I might take more than that as well if you don't stop annoying Tai!"

Entreri grinned, envisioning the red-head's face paling ever so slightly again.

"John! Is she telling the truth?"

"Please leave me out of this."

"But you're my brother! You're my legal guardian right now!"

"Technically not. You're of legal age to do what you damn well please. Deal with it."

"Aw, John!"

"Just please deal with it quietly, all right? I still have a headache from falling."

"I can tell. You're about as friendly as a porcupine right now."

"Porcupines are nice animals."

"Seriously! Quit being such an anal-retentive-"

"Gord, maybe we should be quiet."

"Shut up, Alan."

What good advice, Entreri thought with a smirk, as he pushed aside a tree branch to reveal the village of Olostin's Hold. Yet, it is unfortunate that it took you so long to figure it out. "I believe we have reached our destination."


ACT V

"We'll be back as soon as we can," Nyx said to Entreri, directing her attention to the tavern beside her. "Tai and I will attempt to locate a wizard that can perhaps help us. You should see if Jarlaxle has anything up his sleeve as well." A touch of distaste came to her voice as she said the words.

Entreri nodded, looking from the monk to the cleric that stood beside her. "I've reserved our rooms for when you return."

"Thank you." Without further comment, the two followers of Hoar left along the waterlogged and muddy main street of Olostin's Hold.

Entreri watched the two leave, then turned to the doors of the Flaming Flagon Tavern. He knew that Nyx had some connections in the scholarly world, and he honestly hoped that she would be able to find something that would whisk their young companions back to wherever they came from. He could handle the older blond, even appreciated the intelligence and quick wit the young man had, but the red-head was beginning to wear on his nerves.

"It was bad enough to have one drow in the group," Entreri muttered as he pushed open the doors to the tavern. "A human that thinks he's one is even worse."


"Artemis! Come join us!"

The assassin sighed deeply and made his way across the noisy tavern. He stopped at a wooden table in the far corner and set his hands on the surface. There, Jarlaxle had set up camp along with the three Tracy boys. A stack of plates, covered in a large variety of meats and vegetables, lay in front of the group.

"I see you've made yourself at home," Entreri observed, pulling out a chair and sitting down as far away from the younger boys and drow as possible. "I am surprised that the bartender has not evicted us yet because of your piggish habits."

The drow grinned around a mouthful of ham and said something that Entreri could not catch.

"What?"

Jarlaxle swallowed his pork, then said, "We pay him too well for that. He could not afford to lose his best patrons."

The assassin simply rolled his eyes and began to pile food on a plate of his own. "As you wish. Try and leave some food." He glanced over at the two younger boys, who were busy inhaling vast amounts of beef. "I never knew feeding children could be so expensive."

"They're just happy to have fresh beef," John said, rolling his eyes as his brothers continued to stuff their faces. "Most of what we have is frozen in the freezer first before we eat it. Everything has to be brought in."

"Could you not use the same dimensional hole that brought you here to take you directly to the beef?" Jarlaxle asked.

Shaking his head, John replied, "Not yet. The set-up that brought us here was in the prototype stage. I think it was, at least." He glanced at Gordon. "I didn't get a good enough look at it to tell for sure. We were pushed in without a lot of notice."

"You need a drow like my associate Kimmuriel!" Jarlaxle said with a large smile. "He can create dimensional doors on a whim."

The words did not register in Entreri's mind for several moments. When they did, however, he slammed his fork and knife down and stared at the drow. Although Entreri was surprised that Jarlaxle had mentioned Kimmuriel so openly, it occurred to him that, in the midst of his hilarity, Jarlaxle had actually come up with a good idea. "What did you say?"

"I said . . ." The drow trailed off, his eyes widening. "What a wonderful idea!" Before Entreri could respond, Jarlaxle quickly pulled out a small crystal - likely a diamond - and held it in front of his lips. He murmured something into the surface, and it quickly lit up with a pale sapphire light. "Kimmuriel is not expecting a call, so it could be a while before he responds."

"As long as he does, that's all that matters." Seeing John's confused expression, Entreri explained, "Kimmuriel is a drow trained in psionics. He is capable of manipulating the foundation of this realm to allow travel between dimensions."

"Generally," Jarlaxle put in, "he uses it to materialize at my command. Very few individuals travel to the outer or elemental planes, simply because of the poor environments there. However . . ."

John's pale blue eyes widened. "Could he bring us home?"

"Possibly." Entreri had two reasons for wanting to ensure that the young man would return home. One was to see the red-head gone. The other - which he was not able to explain - was to see the blond get his wish of returning home. Perhaps it was a feeling of kinship that allowed him to feel any form of emotion towards the young man. Or perhaps it was sympathy for John's having to deal with a drow in addition to a rather Jarlaxle-like red-head.

From where he sat, Gordon slammed his flagon down and looked towards his brother. "Hopefully he'll take a while. I'm kind of enjoying this." His head, and the heads of the others at the table, turned at the sound of a fight breaking out on the other side of the tavern. "Great food, good atmosphere."

If Entreri didn't know better, he thought he saw a trace of distaste on the oldest boy's face as his brother spoke. It was unusual to find someone his age that truly appreciated silence; he had thought that John's attitude was due to the injury that he had from the fall, but perhaps it was from something that ran even deeper.

"Lovely atmosphere," the peroxide blond said, tugging at one of his bangs with an absent look of paranoia. "They'd better not come over here."

"That'd be so sweet!" Alan declared through much broccoli and carrots. "And then it could be like in one of those old movies, where there's a brawl in the tavern, and some guy gets thrown through a wall!"

Gordon grinned and gave his younger brother a high-five. "Exactly! I put . . ." He fished through his pocket and finally withdrew a bill. "I put ten down on the big . . . ogre thing over there."

The suggestion of the bet seemed to catch Jarlaxle's attention. Grinning, the drow said, "A decent choice, good sir, but I believe that the young man over there," he gestured at a stocky farm hand with many scars on his face, "will be the victor." He poked at the bill. "And what is this?"

"Ten bucks," Gordon remarked, his brows narrowing. "Are you questioning the validity of my bill?"

Entreri and John both snorted.

Jarlaxle shook his head, but handed the bill back to Gordon all the same. "Nay, but we do not use that form of currency here. Do you have something better?"

The red-head thought for a moment, then withdrew a small cylinder from his pocket. "How about this?"

A long sigh escaped John's lips. "Gordon . . ."

Taking the cylinder in his lithe fingers, Jarlaxle twirled it around several times, measuring the inch long piece against his hands. He seemed utterly entranced by the device. "Hmmm. I do not detect any magical energies. What is it?"

A feeling of dread entered Entreri's stomach as John stood from his chair as though he were about to leave.

"Just push this button." Gordon grinned and reached over. "Like this!"

A green beam of light lanced forward from the device, catching Entreri right in the forehead. The assassin ducked instinctively, diving under the table with the hopes that his reflexes hadn't been too slow. He reached for his forehead, feeling for some sort of burn, only to feel a hand briefly touch his shoulder.

"Nothing to worry about," John said dryly, as a round of laughter burst up above. "It's a laser pointer. Actually, it's my laser pointer. It's used for astronomy." When Entreri moved to comment, John sighed and continued. "It's totally harmless. The worst thing Gordon could do would be to shoot you in the eye with it. That might do some damage, but it's pretty tame on the whole."

Entreri slowly let his hand fall from his head. "Not dangerous?"

"Not really."

"Good." Not wanting to elaborate, the assassin stood and walked away from the table. "Hopefully it will keep them busy until either Kimmuriel comes or our companions return." Entreri didn't even have to turn his head to know that John was following him. Clumsy and loud footsteps were enough to alert him of the blond's presence.

Weaving his way around tables and skirting the edge of the brawl, which showed no signs of dying down, Entreri quickly pushed his way out the doors of the tavern and into the open air of the town. He settled down on the side of the steps, away from the possible stagger of a drunk exiting the tavern. Several seconds later, John sat down beside him, burying his head in his hands and taking a deep breath.

"Thanks."

Entreri blinked, then replied, "You're welcome."

Several more moments passed, during which a cheer went up in the tavern, a thud sounded as a body hit the inside of the wall, and then a man came flying out the doors to land unconscious in a puddle of mud.

Looking to his companion, who was now watching the man and whose eyes had gone very wide, Entreri offered, "You should be safe if you remain in this spot."

When John didn't say anything, the assassin merely nodded and turned his attention towards the town beyond. The last light from the sun was beginning to fade into the darkness of night. A soft glow permeated the horizon, and the stars began to poke through the curtain of day.

Sighing, John set his hands under his chin and gazed upward.

Entreri waited for the young man to say something. When he didn't, the assassin took the cue that he needed to initialize the conversation. It was a tactic that he had learned from his time with his friend Dwhavel, and now his time with Tai. "You said you are a man that studies the stars." (f.2)

John waited a long moment before replying. "It's more of a hobby than anything." He closed his eyes as though he were in pain. "They're different here though. I guess I should be happy. It's like an adventure to have a whole new sky to look at. Yet . . ."

Entreri waited patiently, knowing that John wasn't looking for a response. He only needed an ear to listen.

"I'm worried that I'll be stuck looking at this sky forever," he finally finished softly. "They need me . . . they need us back home."

"Your organization. Are you their leader?"

"Not really. But we all have our part, our special talents, and Dad would be in trouble if the three of us suddenly vanished."

But that wasn't the point, Entreri thought as he looked at the young man. It was never about what others wanted. It was about . . . "But what do you want?"

John didn't hesitate with his reply. "I want to go back. I wouldn't want to leave my job - helping people means more to me than anything. I couldn't dream of living without doing that."

That concept was completely foreign to Entreri. He could understand the part about wanting to do something - that was his entire philosophy of life. But the part about wanting to help others for the sake of helping them . . .

"You sound like a priest," Entreri said, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable with his companion. He had grown slightly accustomed to priests, having travelled with Tai for a brief time, but John's philosophy of do-good-for-all sounded nothing like Hoar's concept of poetic justice. If there was one thing that he hated, it was goodly priests who ranted about 'saving' others' souls while secretly using the ill-gotten status to gain power, favours, or social standing. Such people were weak and hid their weakness behind the name of their god.

"A priest?" John sounded distinctly uncomfortable with the idea himself. "Not really. I'm religious, if you mean that, but I'm not a priest. I don't save . . ." He stopped himself before he finished the sentence. "I guess I see what you're implying. But we don't do that type of saving."

"But you save people? What do you get out of it?"

"Nothing." John shook his head. "It's just what our organization does. We have made it our duty to achieve what normal rescue services are unable to do. It's not for spiritual salvation, and it's not for glory. It's just . . . our philosophy that we made a reality. That's all."

Their philosophy made reality. That part, at least, didn't sound so different from Enteri's own current endeavour. "Hmmm," was all Entreri managed.

Inside, the ruckus continued.


ACT VI

"What about this, good sir?"

Gordon studied the proffered object for a moment, then shook his head. "Not unless it does anything special. That is the ugliest necklace I've ever seen in my life."

Jarlaxle's face fell for a moment, but he quickly rebounded with a car salesman grin. "Well then . . ." He fished around in an inside pocket of his vest. "How about this?"

"What is it?" Alan and Gordon asked at the same time.

"Well . . ." The drow studied it for a moment, then bit his lip in thought. "Hmm. I forget why I had this. I know it does something . . ." He shook the object around for a moment. "Perhaps not."

Gordon looked at this brother, then turned back to the drow. "Absolutely not. If I'm putting up my laser pointer-"

"It's John's laser pointer," Alan put in absently.

"-then I want something good in return. Capeesh?"

"A capeesh?" Jarlaxle asked, looking confused. "No, sorry, I don't have one of those."

Gordon rolled his eyes and grinned.

"But I do have this." Jarlaxle frowned for a moment, as whatever he was trying to pull from the inside of his hat refused to come.

"What is that?"

"This?" The drow wiggled the hat as if in the hope that the object would come out easier. "This is a hat of holding. It's very handy, if and when I can manage to get items out of it." He grunted and with a large tug managed to pull a long thin object, which looked suspiciously like a wand, from the hat. "Ah, there we are." He held the item at arms length. "Have a look."

The red-head took the item slowly, giving it a thorough and appraising look as he brought it to eye level. "What is it?"

"That, my dear boy," Jarlaxle smiled innocently, "is a wand that will turn men into toads."

That held possibilities. Returning the smile, Gordon looked at his brother, nodded, and reached out a hand. "You've got yourself a bet," he said, taking Jarlaxle's hand firmly in his own. "My ogre thing against your farmhand."

"A bet it is, then." Waving his hat in the air, Jarlaxle gave a loud whistle and drew the attention of the nearest barmaid. She walked over after much hesitation, apparently wary of the drow's presence when the bar itself was in such a state of disrepair. "My dear girl, could you fetch us a round of drinks?"

Eyes widening, Gordon looked to his brother in disbelief. "Drinks? As in alcohol?"

"Surely, sir," she replied eventually. "What kind are you looking for?"

Jarlaxle flashed a grin full of pearly whites and tossed her a handful of gold pieces. "Your best drink, my dear. Whatever the owner of this fine establishment recommends."

Behind him, there was a crash as a pair of bottles were shattered against the wall of the bar.

The barmaid considered this, looked to the gold in her hand, then nodded, not wanting to pass up an opportunity for a good sale.

"We get drinks," Gordon muttered gleefully, rubbing his hands together. "This night is gonna be awesome!"

Alan returned his brother's expression, then suddenly grew melancholy. "John is going to kill you if he finds out. You told Dad last year that you were through with partying. You know, when you crashed the boat."

"This is a special circumstance," Gordon said, waving his brother's concern off with a hand. "It calls for special celebrations. And besides, I got into trouble that time because I wasn't drunk. Go figure."


"So you're saying you give those you save a second chance at life?" Entreri asked.

"That's about it," John replied. "Nothing else, just a chance to make amends. They can do things over. They can do them the same. We're a pretty neutral party. Well . . ." The blond sighed and looked absently up at the sky again. "At least we try to be. It's hard, though. I deal with people dying all the time. They die when I'm talking to them, sometimes. Sometimes . . ." The words caught in his throat. "Sometimes it's my fault. I make mistakes. We all do. We're human."

He didn't know why he was telling the man, apparently a hardened mercenary, something he rarely told anyone. He didn't know why he even bothered. Given the type of land that he had ended up in, he was sure that the man sitting beside him had probably slit more than a few throats in cold blood. And yet . . . he couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere behind the cold grey eyes, there was a soul that understood. Perhaps that was why he spoke. He found in the man a reflection of the kind of person he was himself; one who could listen to others, yet was rarely able to voice his own feelings to the world.

Then again, John thought, he always did read too much into people. Maybe the feeling was buried so deeply in the man that it didn't matter whether he could see it or not. John's uncanny knack for dealing with others was only useful in situations where insight really mattered. But this man wasn't about to fall off a precipice to his death. He didn't need to be convinced of anything. He certainly didn't need to be saved.

Realizing that he was lost in thought again, the blond smiled sheepishly and returned his attention to the world around him.

"You find solace in the stars," Entreri said. It was not a question, but a statement.

"Sometimes," John admitted quietly, trying to keep his gaze from wandering up to the stars again. "They bring back a lot of memories for me. Good memories."

There was a pause, and then the mercenary asked a question that John was not prepared to hear coming from such a man. "Does it trouble you?"

"Huh?"

In the same calm tone, he continued. "Individuals dying. By your hand. It does trouble you. I can see it in your eyes."

John turned his head slightly so that he could look into the piercing grey eyes beside him that seemed to jump out of the dark itself. "Yes. It does, if you want to know." It seemed like a trick question to him. Why would a mercenary be asking him that kind of question, especially a man who obviously didn't care about it himself?

"I do." Entreri had a faintly sceptical look on his face. "Tell me one thing, boy."

"Okay."

"What makes you human?"

Thankfully, that was a question that he could answer, for he had pondered it many times himself. So many times he had wondered what kept him sane, what separated him from those without souls, what brought him above the level of the cold professional that he had to be when he was dealing with the dying or the doomed. And he, in his soul searching, had found an answer. (f.3)

"It's doing what I have to do," he finally said, resolved in his decision to answer. "And still grieving when I do wrong, even if I shouldn't allow myself to do that. It's having those emotions. It's knowing . . ." He stopped, as a wave of emotions rose in his chest. "It's knowing that I still care, even when most of the time I feel like I don't."

"I see."

Something nagged at John and refused to go away until he found the answer. Something important, that seemed out of character to the man sitting next to him. "Why are you asking me this?" And as soon as he asked it, and saw the expression in the man's eyes, he knew the answer.

Because soon I'll be gone, and it won't matter because no one will ever find out.

Up in the sky, alien stars and constellations twinkled their light down on the mercenary and the astronomer. Both sat silently, contemplating the words that had been spoken, and the words that had gone unspoken.

Whilst inside, a loud and off-key round of bar songs started anew.


Alan looked on his two companions with a look of pure indignation, as his brother and the drow jumped about arm-in-arm on the top of the bar. It wasn't the dancing that bothered him as much as the singing, which was off pitch and very, very loud. And the singing didn't bother him nearly as much as the fact that the barkeep had refused him a drink, stating that there were other more manly men in the bar deserving of it than him. Alan had a feeling it had to do with the fact that the men involved in the still continuing brawl had threatened the barkeep with his life if he so much as ran out of mead, let alone the best stuff offered there.

"I took the girl out to the back," sang the drow and red-head in union, "and kissed her on the cheek! And then-" The drow looked to his companion, laughed, then kicked one foot up in the air. They finished the song in tandem, very off key, and with faces of pure euphoria. "I warmed 'er up a bit, and thumped 'er by the creek!"

"John is definitely gonna kill you," Alan muttered, fingering the edge of his glass of water. "So gonna kill you."

Gordon didn't seem to notice.

"One more round!" Jarlaxle cried, kicking out his foot - and promptly catching a very drunk and angry looking half-ogre across the back of the head with the heel of his boot. "Oh, dear."

The half-ogre staggered forward, and the entire bar went quiet as he fell face-first into the floor. Several men sporting bloody noses backed away slowly, apparently sensing that the fight was about to spread once again.

"You killed my guy!" Gordon yelped with a slight slur to his voice. "That's so cheating!"

However, the half-ogre wasn't about to be beaten so easily. Pushing himself from the ground, he turned to the two individuals on the bar, cracked his neck in each direction, then grinned a smile full of sharp and bloody teeth.

Very slowly, realisation seemed to creep into the mind of Jarlaxle Baenre. He shook his head once, then twice - apparently throwing off all effects of the alcohol - then opened his eyes wide as the enraged half-ogre dived at the bar.

"My delightful boy, I believe our singing fun is at an end." He grabbed the slightly tipsy boy by the shirt collar and dragged him down behind the bar. The half-ogre crashed into the wooden surface on top, sending glasses and alcohol flying and the bartender diving for cover. A growl echoed in the tavern, and Jarlaxle turned to his young companion and grinned rather cockily. "And now the other entertainment begins." He quickly drew three throwing daggers from a wrist sheath on his right arm.

"Darts, anyone?" Gordon asked absently.


Several moments passed before Entreri noticed that a new pair of voices had been added to the din inside the tavern. Several longer moments passed yet again before he decided to do anything about it. When he made to stand up, he felt a hand grace his shirt sleeve, and he glanced down at John.

"Where are you going?" John looked back towards the tavern with a hint of panic in his eyes. "You're not going in there, are you?"

"I'd better," Entreri muttered, unpleased that his quiet time had been interrupted, "Or there won't be anything left of your brothers or my drow when it's all over." He paused at the door, reconsidering his words. "There may be something left of the drow, but I hardly feel like cleaning up the dirty mess that he will make."

John's eyes went so wide that they nearly climbed to the top of his skull.

"Stay here," Entreri said, pointing at the steps. "I'll be back in a moment." He didn't feel like dragging a pacifist into the din with him. It would be better to enter, end the fight, and leave as fast as possible. They would need new time to find an inn for the night, for he didn't think the bartender would appreciate Jarlaxle wanting to stay in the same inn that he helped to destroy.

As he moved to open the doors, something crashed into it, and a chair went flying out from between the suddenly split entrance way.

Entreri pointed at the astronomer again and said, "Don't move from that spot."

John didn't argue.


In amongst a tangle of mildly drunk thoughts and convoluted speech patterns, Gordon found a certain tangible fear of the man that was towering over top of him. The farm hand's black hair hung in his face, falling into his eyes and half covering a long scar that ran from his chin to the top of his scalp. But it was the large hunk of chair leg that was starting to worry Gordon, for it looked poised to crack him over the head.

"Not good." Gordon made to jump out of the way but caught his foot on a loose floor board and stumbled onto his face. He tucked his body into a ball, and tried to convince himself that the very large and angry man would go away.

Quite suddenly, he did. The farm-hand blinked once blankly, then fell forward to reveal Artemis Entreri standing behind him, sword drawn and hilt poised to hit the man again if he hadn't fallen.

The entire tavern had, for the second time that night, gone silent. Only this time, no one seemed interested in beginning the fight anew. Apparently Artemis Entreri carried quite a reputation, and no one was willing to dispute it.

Suddenly, the situation didn't seem quite so bad. "That," Gordon managed, as he pushed himself to his feet, "was awesome!" He smiled sloppily at the warrior, who was regarding him with a mildly irritated look, and said, "Can we do it again?"

The man rolled his eyes, muttered something, then looked around. "Where's Jarlaxle?"

Three things happened before Gordon could answer.

First, the door to the tavern opened again, and John Tracy poked his head in. It took him only a few moments to find his brother, and when he did - and saw the telltale red blush on his cheeks - his eyes narrowed.

Immediately after that, another pair of figures appeared in the door just behind John, adding their astonished stares to the entourage. Nyx bent ever so slightly so that Tai could see over her shoulder.

And if that wasn't enough, Jarlaxle himself stood up on the far side of the room, grinning from ear to ear, and proclaimed, "My crystal is beeping!"

Unable to contain himself any longer, Gordon let a snort escape his lips. It quickly turned into a giddy stream of laughter. Very soon, he was back on the ground and rolling around. "Oh man! Oh man! Oh geez. Geez. Geez. Ha! Aha! Ha! Ha!"

"You take yours, I'll take mine," Entreri muttered in the direction of the door.

John nodded somewhat hesitantly, stepping gingerly through the doors onto broken glass and the occasional drink spill. "Sure thing. It'll be a pleasure."

"I assume we missed something," Nyx said.

Entreri sneered at the monk, then resumed his walk across the room in the direction of the drow. "I have everything under control."

"And what of our rooms?" she pressed.

"I'll pay for them," John answered for Entreri. He stared down at his red-haired brother and wondered where the other had run off to. "I don't know with what, but it'll be with something . . ." He shook his head. "We'll deal with that, then let's hurry up and meet with this Kimmuriel person so I can take Gordon and Alan home before they accidentally burn something down."


ACT VII

"Thank you for all of your efforts," John said, reaching out a hand to the mercenary that stood before him. The man nodded, then took his hand and gave it a firm shake. Their eyes met, and for a brief moment John was sure he saw a flash of respect in the man's hard gaze. "You don't know how much this means to me."

"I can guess," Entreri said. "And I'd rather have you taking your saviour nonsense back to your own realm."

John returned the smile, knowing full well what the man was thinking compared to what he had said. "And I would feel much safer knowing that the best mercenary in the universe is cutting his territory far from us."

Nodding, Entreri turned and glanced behind him, where a crowd of individuals stood in the cramped quarters of their new inn. "You'll be leaving soon."


"Quick, put it away," Jarlaxle hissed, shoving an object into the red-head's hands.

Gordon looked around suspiciously, then quickly stowed it in his pants. He whistled innocently, then, when he garnered no attention, he gave the drow a happy wink. "Thanks, man."

"No, thank you," murmured Jarlaxle. "It was your laser pointer that convinced the owner of the new inn to allow us to stay."

"You 'shot' him?"

"I gave it to him."

Frowning, Alan commented from the side, "John's gonna kill you."

"No he's not." The red-head flipped a lock of hair out of his eyes. "Those potions work wonders. I am completely sober and without a headache."

"Then he'll kill you because he's the one with the headache."

"Whatever," Gordon said nonchalantly. "We're getting to go back home. That should be enough to calm his nerves a bit." He sighed, then glanced back up at Jarlaxle. "It was fun, dude."

"Feel free to come back anytime," the drow replied, taking his hat off and sweeping down into a low bow. "You certainly brightened my day, Mr. Tracy. Companions such as yourself are always a pleasure to have around." He glanced in the direction of Entreri and grinned when the man flipped his finger up in a rude gesture. "Good day to you as well, Alan. I hope you enjoyed yourself!"

"Yeah, right," the boy replied. "You guys drank all the beer, and I was stuck with water."

"Consider yourself privileged to have watched us perform, then," Jarlaxle said, smirking. "That in itself is a rare treat."

"Are we quite finished?" Nyx asked.

"Yes, yes, one moment!" Jarlaxle called to the irritated looking monk, who was waiting across the room next to a cleric and a certain drow psionicist. "Now," he turned to Gordon, and in a whisper, asked, "Do you remember the spell?"

"Of course."

"Then . . ." In a louder voice, "I believe it is time to send these dear boys home."

Nyx nodded, and she looked from Jarlaxle to John. "Are you ready as well?"

"As I'll ever be," the peroxide blond muttered, apparently unhappy at the thought of falling from a great distance again. And then, so quietly that it escaped all but Jarlaxle's ears, "I hate flying."

Wasting no more time, the three Tracys gathered quickly in front of Kimmuriel and watched in wonder as the drow summoned forth a portal of pure energy into the air in front of him. The dimensional door crackled with electricity of an intensity that Jarlaxle had never seen before.

"Are you sure that is safe?" The drow asked, and his associate nodded. "Good then, we wouldn't want to be sending cadavers home instead of young men." When he saw John turning green, he quickly added, "Tai could resurrect you, of course, if he had to. I'm sure Hoar would grant him that power should he need it."

"God speed," Nyx said, attempting to bring the conversation to a close. "Hoar will be with you."

"He will watch over you," added Tai, his voice quiet beneath the snapping of the electrical field. "Do not fear."

All three looked to Entreri, who seemed caught in his thoughts. The assassin simply shrugged and said, "Just leave." When the Tracys did not move, he jumped forward at a speed that they couldn't follow and gave the three a push in the direction of the dimensional door. They tumbled in together, and as quickly as the door had appeared, it snapped closed and vanished.

Nyx tossed Entreri a dry look. "What an intriguing way to say good-bye. I'll have to remember to use it next time I want you out of the room."

As the assassin moved to retort, Jarlaxle couldn't help but think that things had suddenly - sadly - returned to normal for good. "Good luck, my friend," he muttered to no one in particular. "May good life and love find you."


"So we're telling no one about this?"

"Absolutely no one," John replied, attempting to wipe down his hair from the static discharge that had sent the peroxide locks spiralling towards the ceiling. "Not even Brains."

The three young men once again stood in the family lab, in the very gateway that they had seemingly just fallen into. All clocks in the room showed near the same time as when they had left.

"I don't want to have to explain how we were gone for nearly a day without any time passing here, let alone everything else that you two idiots managed to get yourself into."

"I wasn't involved in the fight!" Alan protested, only to be waved down by his brother. "John!"

"No buts, just forget it happened." He looked at Gordon, noting an innocent look on the teen's face that generally suggested trouble. "Not one word of this to anyone. Ever."

"What about the machine?" Before Alan could ask anything more, John reached a hand over to the computer console, took a handful of wires, and gave them a hard tug. Several sparks flew, and the wires and a circuit board came off in his hands.

"Any other questions?"

Alan and Gordon both looked at each other, shook their heads, then fled out of the room and up the stairs.

Suddenly exhausted, John slumped down against the console and stared at the now inactive arc in front of him. He eyed it extensively before he was satisfied that it wouldn't magically start up again and suck him into some other strange world. He didn't know about Alan and Gordon, but he was quite happy to be home where there were no ogres, dark elves, or holy priests with magical spells. Space-craft he could take, but even the swords had pushed his sanity.

"Thank God," he muttered, rubbing his eyes hard with his hands. Somehow, he had managed to get back home without receiving a knife in the back first. And he didn't have to convince himself to not tell his father. He had no idea where to even begin if he did. If it ever did come out, he'd leave it to Gordon and Alan to tell the story. It would likely descend into a mess in the first place, so he might as well wait for it to happen and pick up the pieces after the fact.

Suddenly, something caught John's attention from the corner of his eye. It was a brown bag lying on the floor behind the arch - a brown bag that he recognized quite well.

Unable to contain his curiosity, John stumbled forward on the floor, gave the arc one last suspicious glance, then snagged the bag and pulled it back to where he sat. Looping the draw strings around his hand, he pulled it open and dumped the contents onto his lap.

Several things fell out: a hat, obviously Virgil's; a music book, also Virgil's; and, the object that drew his attention the most . . .

A book.

Taking it in his hands, John looked the novel over, studying the spine, the cover, and the inside text. Then he checked the copyright date and realised why he had never seen it before.

"Copyrighted in 2003. That's almost twenty years," he said quietly, noting the title. "Best of the Realms."

Virgil did like to read fantasy novels, and John rarely recognized them because he often picked them up at used book stores in massive quantities when he went to the mainland. This book was no different. Slowly, apprehensively, John flipped to the table of contents and checked the authors in the anthology. When he recognized none, he began to check random pages in the book.

Two names jumped at him: Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri.

Before he could even react to the shock that was settling in his stomach, John was shaken from his thoughts by a terrified yell from the main level of the home. Several seconds passed, and the scream sounded again, followed by a set of heavy footsteps down the stairwell. By the time that John stood up and was approaching the doorway to the lab, his older brother, Scott, was already there, breathing heavily against the doorway frame.

"John! John!" The dark haired man looked absolutely panicked. "John! I swear . . ."

As calmly as he could, John put on his International Rescue game-face and said, "You swear what?"

He didn't have to guess what was coming. He had a vague idea of the cause of the incident and possibly the origin of the item involved.

"I swear! I was standing there, and Gordon popped around the corner, and when I turned back, Virgil was a toad!" He pulled a very disturbed looking toad from his pocket. "Look!"

John sighed, then rubbed the bridge of his nose. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he certainly hoped that whatever the spell was it would wear off soon. He had no intention of going back to locate a certain drow to find out.

"Does Dad know?"

Scott stopped his muttering and looked at John curiously. "No . . . he's going to kill us when he finds out . . ."

"Good. He doesn't need to know. But I think there's a story that you need to hear."

CURTAIN


Footnotes (otherwise known as shameless plugs):

f.1 - The background story for John and his brothers, which he paraphrases to Artemis and his companions off scene, can be found in the fanfiction story "The Winds of Advent". It is written by darkhelmetj, and is archived onff(dot)net.

f.2 - For the background story on Artemis Entreri's adventures with Tai Vatoshie and Nyx Jassan, the reader can look up the fan story "Descent Into Darkness: The Spectres of Our Pasts" by Ariel D, as well as the three stories that do not feature Tai and Nyx which come before. They can all be found on the Drizzt Do'urden - R.A. Salvatore web-site Lavender Eyes (you can find it by typing it into Google). Simply look under the fanfiction section, and run a search for all stories by 'Ariel'.

f.3 - John's personal monologue on this topic can be found on ff(dot)net.It is written by darkhelmetj, and is titled "Midnight Musings".


A/N, darkhelmet(j): This story started out as an amused rambling between Ariel D and I one night on MSN, and ended up exploding into a full short story. Who knew something so weird would sprout such stubborn plot bunnies? Not me, that's for sure! But it was a lot of fun to write, and it was interesting to see how two completely different universes spawn characters that are so similar in some aspects. Coming back to write Artemis Entreri after a long adventure into the mind of John Tracy and co. wasn't such a task after all!

I want to take this moment to thank Ariel D for allowing me to borrow her two characters, Tai and Nyx, for this brief journey into the realm of insanity. It was fun, but now it's time to hand them back to their rightful creator. :) All good things must come to and end eventually. Besides, I can't leave Jarlaxle and Gordon in the same room for too long. They might do something bad. ;)

Also, I want to say thank-you to Ariel D for reading this over for me. Between commas and compass points, I think I would have had everyone else lost and wondering without your help and advice. :D


A/N, Ariel D: You're quite welcome! I enjoyed seeing you write Tai and Nyx.

Now, since darkhelmet has named me co-author, I want everyone to know that darkhelmet did the drafting/writing. I just threw quips and bounced ideas back at her and then later beta read. However, it was great fun to help with this crossover story (the first I've worked on!), and seeing Jarlaxle and Gordon cause trouble together was especially priceless.

Trying to make Forgotten Realms, its setting and characters intelligible to Thunderbirds fans who don't know D and D was a challenge for us, as was trying to make Thunderbirds, its setting and characters intelligible to the FR fans who haven't watched the TB television show and/or movie. Frankly, darkhelmet(j) and I know too much about both "universes" to be sure we succeeded, so please forgive us if any confusion occurred.


A/N, both: thank you to everyone that reads this story! I hope you all managed to get a decent laugh out of it, or at least enjoyed it for what it's worth. Take care, everyone!