The Lesser Evil: Hooligan's Holiday
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of R.A. Salvatore/Wizards of the Coast ©. I don't own them; I'm just examining all their possibilities.
Epilogue: The Schemes Go Ever On
I have made it a point to avoid spilling any sentimental horse shit into my logs over the past year, though maybe the fact I have been inspired to do so again means I have finally gotten that proverbial grip on myself at last. That fact alone makes me a little more comfortable to spew out the drivel that will hit my page next, though maybe it is an honest response. Honest responses have been a theme as of late; all of us have been facing reality in its various forms.
It is an honest response to describe the complete glee that raced through me the moment I stepped foot in Cormanthor for the first time since walking out with Artemis and Jarlaxle. It had been a tad over a tenday since we first left, though seeing the trees again made me feel as if it were just yesterday.
The Rogue Prince walked into his realm to a hero's welcome of sorts, or just a welcome by those he hadn't seen in a while. I walked into the village, passers by doing their daily routine stopped and gave me the warmest welcome I have ever felt. Some cheered, some patted me on the back, some would pause and raise a water skin, others would just glance over and go back to what they were doing.
The fact our humble village was still in tact was celebration enough. Xalryln said there were no incidents at all, had been one of the quietest tendays he had ever seen; though the term quiet is relative among this crowd.
Artemis too received a hearty welcome, an expected occurrence since he is as much the Rogue Knight to these people as I am the Rogue Prince. What did surprise me was the calm and somewhat happy expression on his face during it all when he usually regarded the Auzkovyn with casual indifference.
I haven't spoken to him much at length about it, though I have my suspicions he was just as relieved to be back. I saw the tension melt from his face the moment Ilzir brought us through the portal a few miles from the village and I swore he smiled when approaching the familiar copse of trees.
Back in House Mourbasin he spoke a few times about wanting some quiet time in the woods, though I have a feeling the quiet time he had in mind was less akin to a small pause and more like an extended retreat from the civilized world whether he thought it that way or not.
It has been a little over two tendays since we returned to Cormanthor and Artemis has blended right in with the rest of the village. Now it is as if plans for leaving are a fleeting thought. An odd change, yes but one I understand.
He has spent a bit of time honing the ranger skills he has, taking advantage of a forest environment. I know he has met with Mazn'reysla a few times in private and I have a feeling it is due to the new talent he picked up after his death and return. Even if he is just discussing spirit with the cleric over drinks, it represents yet another change in him.
Artemis Entreri has seen so much in the past month that shoved his existence in his face. He would take this experience and use it as a weapon in the past, though now he has used it as a tool to better understand himself. Maybe his stay with Jarlaxle or even my stay with them both has opened his eyes a bit; struck him at a deeper level and finally made him want a fuller existence.
Since we first met, my own morality has matched his on whatever level, though even with the death of the self-righteous son of a bitch I once was I still saw his existence as empty. Maybe the little "holiday" we went on, from his death in Bani Pilazi's guildhouse to the moment he destroyed Moril, made him face that.
He is still ever the assassin from when I first locked swords with him, though he is more a man with a purpose now.
The fact he has spoken more of Baldur's Gate in the past tenday shows me he is planning for his future, desiring to get some unfinished business out of the way. I have a bizarre feeling he may have a plan much grander than anything he would tell me.
I am sure Jarlaxle is also facing the reality of his own situation. Less than two tendays after Moril was purged from his body, he is near fully recovered. He has since left the care of House Mourbasin, though neither Artemis nor I have seen much of him in the tenday since. He did some to Cormanthor once to train. His muscles did not atrophy from his illness thanks to Moril's meddling, though he needs a touch more training to further get his reflexes in order.
I have a feeling he is wrapping up a few matters in Menzoberranzan, though I doubt it is his intention to return permanently if ever again. Any whispers he was out of Lolth's favor would have serious consequences to his business reputation if he didn't have a price on his head already.
Jarlaxle has said repeatedly he wants to join us again; what adventures or business we have next is up to fate and all our usual schemes.
I stick to my word that I am not a recruiter, though I do believe he will have to face his soul sooner rather than later. He cannot use half-hearted loyalties to Lolth as a crutch any more and being a second away from death I do believe gave him some pause, especially given where Entreri went during his own trip to the other side.
I would of course say Jarlaxle too should have a talk with Mazn'reysla, though that is purely his decision.
The fact I have actually given any thought to Regis that did not involve spilling his blood shows at least to me that my temper has cooled since seeing him in Saerloon that first time. I cannot help but smile thinking on him now…thinking on all the times he squirmed or cowered in the face of that too terrible for his little mind to handle.
I do feel a significant validation after spending the time I did with him; he left us humbled nearly two years after I left him scowling. Could I now forgive him? I have given that some casual thought. I am not too concerned he will run to Bruenor and tell him how much more of a pleasant individual I am now; his last words about Bruenor were both scathing and hopeless.
If anyone from Mithral Hall or Silverymoon do come after me I pity them already.
There has been one reunion that makes my heart leap every day; I have Guenwhyvar back and believe she has the same thought of me.
I will never use her against my own enemies in rage; it is a promise I made once when I was a different man and I will ever keep.
Guenwhyvar has returned to my side as traveling companion and I praise every new moment I have with her. It feels as if I have a part of my soul back. As I have walked beside her in the forest.
Mazn'reysla has been able to speak with her as she is an astral animal and he learned the forest of Cormanthor was her original home. When the leaves fall and matters are further settled around the village I will allow her to lead me to her first home in the forest.
I believe she is truly happy here. Interestingly enough she and Azril can tolerate each other's presence; or at least Azril can climb on top of her and scratch into Guen's fur like she is the queen of the mountain. Guen will simply purr happily, glad for such a nice back scratch.
This is peace at last for me. I feel as if I have put to bed many past demons that haunted me too long. Not all is perfect, of course, but then what is life without a few challenges.
Bring them all on, I say. I have gone through another stage of evolution and am ready for the world.
A silver disk plummeted through the shadows, flipping over to reveal an emblem that would be forever etched into Drizzt's memory: a white clown face, one side of the mouth in a grimace with the other in a smirk and diamonds for eyes.
His vision shifted upwards to the edges of a black bowl and the purple-lined black robes encasing the ebony arm that tossed Moril's symbol. Drizzt's perspective floated to the side, getting better look at the robed figure standing before what clearly looked to be an onyx bowl for offerings to Vhaeraun.
Drizzt was now aware of his legs enough to take a step back, though it still felt like floating; his eyes never left the familiar wizard in front of him though Gromph Baenre seemed to have no knowledge of his presence. Drizzt knew this worked to his advantage, but if only Gromph could see the cruel grin that had formed across his face.
Gromph noticed nothing, standing before the black bowl in what looked like a small, unadorned chamber in some tucked away cavern; his face in its usual seriousness, though tinged with some deep irritation if not nervousness.
"My sacrifice is complete, Masked Lord," Gromph said in a steady tone.
Shadows billowed from the bowl and Drizzt knew he saw a pair of red eyes through the blackness.
"Indeed," a familiar, oily voice said through the shadows, though Vhaeraun hardly sounded boasting or even satisfied.
The billowing shadows grew, taking a humanoid form. The blackness separated in a puff of astral wind, Vhaeraun's avatar form stepping out before the archmage; his hair and eyes glowing bright red, a factor that widened Drizzt's grin.
Gromph remained stone-faced, though the corner of his mouth twitched slightly, showing this was an unexpected development.
"I take it you are before me now victorious," Vhaeraun said. "I recall a time in not to far past when you were on your knees before my altar, asking for a deal when Lolth's servants re-took Menzoberranzan."
"Those were chaotic times," Gromph said, looking almost irritated with the mention, "and I come before you now in victory. Nazir Klau'Thest, the one who called himself Moril, is dead."
"By the hands of those you employed," Vhaeraun said with a nod.
Gromph nodded in response, his own grimace lightening to a smirk.
"I did as you asked, I sacrificed your enemy using every means at my disposal," Gromph said. "I consider my task fulfilled."
Vhaeraun gave a chilling snicker, hair and eyes remaining red.
"Bravo, you dispatched a dangerous and unpredictable quarry over which you had no means of control whatsoever," Vhaeraun said, taking a step forward. "That could be called a victory, or it could just be called dumb luck; or at least putting some competent hunters in the right place at the right time and relying on their wits to save your ass. You are truly fortunate the circumstances worked out as they did or else you would not look too good."
"By any means at my disposal, Masked Lord," Gromph said, his tone a bit more strained. "That was our bargain."
"Though whether you actually meant to fulfill that bargain is another matter entirely," Vhaeraun said, leaning closer to Gromph's face.
Gromph gave a small sneer to communicate he was still the one in control.
"I specifically asked you to get me Moril," Vhaeraun whispered, his nose an inch from the archmage's. "And you do that by baiting him with the drow whose mere existence made him go completely mad. I would say good work for that if Moril was not a storied genius of sympathetic magic who could gain control of any of his children simply by being a few feet away from them. Your bait was genius but your trap was beyond weak and you knew that. And you did not only hand him his son, you handed him a son that was not only dying but extremely susceptible to divine magic. Jarlaxle was his property the moment he was in his presence."
"An unfortunate error on my part," Gromph said, his voice still steady. "Had I known he was ill, I would never have let him set a foot forward on that mission. Moril's powers in sympathetic magic, while strong, still required more effort to control his offspring than merely being a foot from them. I have seen this; he needed a lock of hair from his two daughters and an extended ritual before he could curse them with horrid deformity."
"Ah yes, from his ancient history as a Baenre breeder," Vhaeraun said, taking a step back. "Back around four hundred years ago when he would prevent any of his daughters from rising too high in the ranks by cursing them; his little affront to Lolth. Now flash ahead four hundred years, add considerable knowledge and experimentation, and have my mother help him along a bit. Don't ever count me as a fool, elderboy; I see all. I know better than to think you were fool enough not to see the obvious, quite the opposite actually. You knew exactly what you were doing."
"In the off chance Jarlaxle was the intended sacrifice, what value to you place on him anyway," Gromph said, keeping his cool through Drizzt saw a small glean of sweat behind his ears. "You bear no love for Jarlaxle anyway, told me yourself he was expendable."
Vhaeraun took a step forward, now circling Gromph with the same unamused smile. Gromph remained still though Drizzt saw his muscles tighten.
"Never take me for my mother, elderboy," Vhaeraun hissed in his ear, keeping a stance behind him. "I do not accept substitutions. If Jarlaxle did die or remain permanently possessed, I would consider that a sacrifice but not to me. As I said, pure dumb luck."
Gromph scowled, though Drizzt did see one flinch as Vhaeraun burst into laughter and walked in front of him, considerably backing off.
"But why obsess over the 'what ifs,'" Vhaeraun said, hair and eyes turning gold. "Moril is dead, Jarlaxle is near fully recovered, and House Mourbasin is already back in operation thanks to your employment of such able warriors." Vhaeraun leaned forward to give Gromph a stiff pat on the shoulder.
Gromph politely bowed.
"Then my part of the bargain is fulfilled," Gromph said.
"Hardly," Vhaeraun immediately replied.
The poisonous scowl that flashed across Gromph's face made Drizzt's heart leap with glee.
"Moril is dead," Gromph said.
"By the hands of my champions, your brother, and the champions of two other gods," Vhaeraun said, a self-satisfied smirk forming over his face. "You merely pointed Jarlaxle toward Moril and ended your association with his company midway through the mission. As far as I'm concerned you are detached from them."
Gromph rolled his eyes, understanding Vhaeraun's meaning.
"If you should happen to re-associate yourself with them, I will consider our bargain fulfilled," Vhaeraun continued. "It had better be a sizable re-association, mind you, and divided evenly among the three."
"A simple task on my part," Gromph said.
"It is all I ask," Vhaeraun said. "We are at war, archmage' I need many able soldiers in my ranks. Though great things are already happening; I have made my alliances well and I can assure you Lolth's tyranny is drawing to a close."
"I will have the throne of House Baenre," Gromph said. "Such was our deal."
"You will have Menzoberranzan if you cooperate," Vhaeraun said with a grin. "I have chosen my rulers wisely."
Vhaeraun's gaze drifted from Gromph and aimed right in Drizzt's eyes. Drizzt smiled, managing a bow through the dense haze surrounding him.
Vhaeraun winked, though his smile suddenly soured. Drizzt felt a set of slender hands on his shoulders, massaging his muscles. He smiled curiously, thinking maybe Hallia or Mazn'reysla had joined him wherever he was.
Drizzt looked down to see the smooth ebony hands on his shoulders; a mass of tiny spiders spiraling through her fingers and bursting on Drizzt's shoulders before dissipating.
He slowly turned his head back to get a better view of whoever was behind him.
A pair of glowing red eyes met his, black mouth in a cruel grin. White hair cascaded down her shoulders as millions of tiny spiders ran a path through the waves of hair.
She was not a woman Drizzt knew personally, though her identity was obvious. He could feel the waves of dread energy wafting off her; chaos and evil incarnate.
Lolth, the mother of all drow, gently caressed his shoulder while giving him a coy smile that poured with cruelty.
"Congratulations, champion," Lolth said, spiders bursting from her lips. "My son has chosen wisely. I will certainly be keeping my eye on you."
A shrill cackle burst from her mouth with a mass of spiders and darkness.
Drizzt gave a scream, jumping up and watching his leather-bound journal fly across the floor of his tree house.
His breath came in heaving gasps, enough to calm him down and make him realize he was standing in his house in Cormanthor in his sleep pants. A breeze blew in from the open doorway as did the smell of rain.
Drizzt took a few deep breaths, managing to pry his feet from the floor and pick up his open journal, knowing he must have gone into Reverie while writing.
He looked down to the open page, trying to steady his mind from his bizarre dream.
Bring them all on, I say. I have gone through another stage of evolution and am ready for the world.
Drizzt smiled at the words, a chuckle escaping his throat.
"The great Artemis Entreri," Bani Pilazi said, pulling his fragile frame up in his plush, almost throne-like chair.
His cloudy gaze fell on the assassin who suddenly appeared in his chambers, though his wrinkled face and long moustache curled in a grotesque smile.
Entreri leaned against the door frame with a stiff smile and a nod of recognition before approaching the old man's chair.
"A thug's spell and a ruffian's blade could not touch the great Artemis Entreri," Pilazi said. "I had no doubt that you still lived. And I see I was right; barely a scar on your flesh of raw hide while your attackers died horrible deaths."
"Pleased or disappointed," Entreri said, plopping into another plush chair across from the guild master, his untied black hair falling over his shoulders as he stretched both arms across the back of the blue and gold upholstered chair.
"Validated," Pilazi said. "I knew that ridiculous order on your head from my idiot son was a fantasy."
"But little Jordani was taken by his own fantasies up until death," Entreri said.
Bani furrowed his thick, white brows in amazement, though Entreri only saw mild surprise and not parental rage.
"He's dead?" Bani said.
"I saw him in a back alley in Saerloon stabbing an associate of mine in the back; I could only return the favor," Entreri said. "I believe they spread his ashes over Saerloon. If you're lucky, you might find a few bits still piled in the street."
Pilazi gave a dirty chuckle that rose to a cackle.
"I mourn your associate more than him," Pilazi said, picking up a goblet of some steaming amber liquid and taking a sip.
"Oh my friend is alive and fully healed," Entreri said, "managed a few of his own stabs into little Jordani."
"I'll drink to that," Bani said, taking a long sip of the liquor whose mere smell stung Entreri's nose from a few feet away. "Jordani; such an idiot. Complete thorn in my arse. He could have been a master thief, though wasted his efforts. Good riddance I say.
"Good riddance indeed," Entreri replied, casually reclining in the chair yet his eyes did a casual sweep of the room. As expected, no guards or servants lingered around.
"Now it has been nearly a month since you left my fabulous guild," Pilazi said, putting his glass down on the table beside him and wiping his moustache with the back of the voluminous red sleeve on his robe. "Artemis Entreri has not forgotten us, though what is his purpose for returning, I wonder? It's not like he has a place in this guild any more; it's not like he is the star assassin."
"You have a new assassin," Entreri said, feigning curiosity though he already knew the answer.
"Rajan Fores, a Thayan spell sword," Pilazi said, puffing his chest out in pride. "He has been my protégé, my prize; so much more youthful and cruel than you could ever be."
"So I have heard," Entreri said, noting how Pilazi's gaze shifted to the back of the room.
Entreri took a casual look back then looked at Pilazi, noting a puzzled expression on his face before he straightened his visage to the smarm he showed before.
"The Red Wizards banished him from Thay because they feared him so," Pilazi said, looking to the back of the room again.
Entreri smiled politely in response. "He sounds like a fearsome creature indeed, though I could care less about taking his position."
"Naturally," Pilazi said, taking a breath and reclining back in his plush chair. "So many other ambitions and schemes brought Artemis Entreri crawling back. If you are here to kill me, I will warn you I am well protected."
"Killing you is not my intention at all, pasha," Entreri said. "Nor is kissing your feet. I took a little holiday after last leaving the guild, allowing for some time for the poison to clear the air and giving myself a much needed break from the usual intrigues. I am now refreshed and inspired to further my craft however I may. I come to you now with some new ideas from foreign lands which I am sure might intrigue you."
"You are seeking a new position in the guild," Pilazi said, twirling the end of his moustache around his finger.
"You could use some new insight," Entreri said. "I have been watching this guild closely over the last few days and you have to agree, my pasha, much has stagnated."
"You have been watching the guild," Pilazi said with a hint of annoyance.
"Very closely," Entreri said. "Your rogues have been most helpful; expressing their opinions, telling me of a few botched operations, a few holes in security. Your guild, my pasha, is in sad shape and I believe you could use some assistance."
"Assistance, ha," Pilazi said, making like he was placing his hand on the arm of his chair though Entreri clearly saw him press his finger in one area to likely call his guards since his prized new assassin never showed. "You want to take over my guild. That is why you have come. Well I will never surrender power to a thug like you, Artemis Entreri."
The old man's gaze fell to the sides of the room, trying to keep calm yet looking rather unnerved at something. Entreri kept his expression calm.
"Relax, Bani, those are your words, not mine," Entreri said. "My intention was not to insult your leadership but to point out that you could benefit from my skills, become an even more powerful master through my aid."
Pilazi calmed slightly, stroking the thick stubble on his chin.
"Fair enough, you make an interesting proposal, Artemis," Pilazi said, though Entreri wasn't buying it.
Two sharp knocks came from a side door.
"Ah, my lunch arrives," Pilazi said, yelling a command in Alzhedo for whoever was knocking to enter.
The door opened and a short figure bundled in Calishite robes and head wraps entered the room, giving a nervous bow with a silver covered tray in hand. Pilazi gave another command in Alzhedo while motioning for the server to come forth.
"Your offer intrigues me, Artemis," Pilazi said, watching the servant place the tray on the table in front of him. "Return to me this evening and we can discuss more."
Entreri rose from his seat and bowed.
The server lifted the silver dome on the tray, causing Pilazi's smug expression to blanch in horror.
A bed of lettuce and gobs of tabouli lined the bottom of the tray around a man's severed head. Strawberry slices were lined around the crown of his bald head as a pear was stuck in his mouth. Four severed human hands were arranged in a square around the head, each upturned palm bearing either olives or balls of cheese.
Entreri grimaced, giving an irritated look at the server and seeing a lavender eye wink at him through the head wrap. The assassin rolled his eyes, and looked down at Pilazi, who was sputtering in rage.
"Oh look, it's the great Rajan Fores," Entreri said, looking at the head. "And I believe those hands once belonged to the two guards waiting for your call. Well that would explain why no one arrived when you expected them. What a pity indeed."
Pilazi looked at the server, seeing black flesh around a pair of strange purple eyes.
The guildmaster's face suddenly relaxed as a dagger pierced up through the back of his head from the top of his neck. A trickle of blood ran down his ear as Entreri withdrew his dagger, supporting his victim's falling weight and positioning him back to a sit in the chair.
Entreri passed a hand down Pilazi's face, closing his eyes and letting him slump forward as if he was sleeping.
Drizzt and Entreri nodded at each other, walking away from the scene and out the side door to the back staircase.
"Were the garnishes really necessary," Entreri said, leaning against a black tapestry in the temple below the guildhouse.
"You wanted a presentation to inspire hopelessness," Drizzt said, stretching his legs out on one of the velvet benches that lined temple of Mask, a popular location for the schemers of Baldur's Gate to meet in secret.
Few who went to the temple knew of another tucked away chamber dedicated to Mask's ally Vhaeraun, which was a haven for the modest population of drow thieves in the city; a chapel Mazn'reysla helped expand from a small offering bowl to a whole other section of the temple.
Drizzt and Entreri made a casual, yet quiet retreat to the location a tunnel away from the Pilazi guildhouse; or what would remain the Pilazi guildhouse until the name of the recently deceased Bani Pilazi was forgotten.
Given the fractured organization of the guild and the general hatred of the guildmaster, Entreri knew that would not be a long time at all. "Guildmaster" was a relative term anyway in this particular organization; Pilazi held the guild in name only and allowed a mass of what he saw as sycophants run the operations. The ever rotating base of sycophants, however, were the true leaders of the guild and Pilazi had no clue his own guild was out of his hands.
Entreri once held that distinction, though not any more; this time the guild would be his. He had lurked around for just a few days; spreading word he was back in Baldur's Gate and had interest in the business. No one, however, seemed to care; the turnover of rogues was so high no one reported to anyone. It was easy for Entreri to float among the ranks with casual conversation in most cases and good old fashioned intimidation in others to communicate he would achieve some measure of power soon.
For the first time in decades there was one unifying force in the Pilazi guild; Bani Pilazi would die any time and Artemis Entreri would take a lead position.
Declaring himself guildmaster would have been too bold a move, though the term guildmaster was relative now. Entreri thoroughly examined the ranks to see who needed to be weeded out, though Rajan Fores, the Thayan assassin, was the only one who seemed to gain anything from Pilazi being in power and Do'Urden took care of him with ease. The rest either couldn't care less or didn't even know there was a Bani Pilazi. The majority of the guild was freelance rogues anyway who could not have cared for actual power.
It was a perfect position for Entreri; he could push his power further and try to rope the guild into order or he could keep an eye on the operations and direct when necessary while keeping a few steps back to pursue any other projects. What any of those projects were would have to present themselves in time.
"I asked you to cleanly present the hands and the head to get the message across," Entreri said. "Instead you had to get artistic, potentially wasting the precious time I had to execute my plan and creating more of a risk you would be spotted and hence giving away the surprise."
"Relax," Drizzt said. "Pilazi had his own side kitchen and I had to deactivate a few traps to get into it. The man was very paranoid about his food and you should have seen the amount of drugs piled up in there; bricks of Thayan red weed, a large sackful of mind dust and who the Hells knows what else. It was a little too much of a secluded spot for selling the shit."
Entreri nodded, relatively satisfied with the answer.
"Besides, it would have been more barbaric to just slap a few severed human body parts under there," Drizzt continued. "It's all about presentation, Artemis. There's an art to this. You get on my ass about a messy kill yet will present severed body parts as a scare tactic; it's a tad bit hypocritical don't you think?"
"I could argue this philosophy with you for hours, Do'Urden," Entreri said putting a hand up, "though right now I completely lack the patience. If I am never able to see olives the same way again, I will have you to thank for it."
"You are very welcome," Drizzt said with a smart grin. "Besides, all worked according to plan anyway; right now Pilazi's real server has likely walked in to find his corpse and the word will have fully spread by the end of the day."
"Just heard a few passing rogues toasting his death as you speak," Mazn'reysla's voice said from behind the door to the chapel.
Drizzt and Entreri looked forward to see the priest in his full black clerical garb walking into the room.
"You just need to step beside the guildhouse for a second to hear a few jokes about baked Thayan headcheese," Maz said.
Drizzt gave Entreri a smug smile that brought a profound eye roll.
"Any whispers of who did it," Entreri asked.
"You have been firmly credited," Maz said, "in fact I think I heard a few toasts in your honor as well."
Entreri nodded, knowing the priest's word was nigh worthless though would give him a basis. If he walked through the guild a respected man, the priest was telling the truth; if he had a price on his head there were creative ways Mazn'reysla could be made to pay for his lie.
"So this is an unexpected pleasure," Drizzt said, coming to a sit on against the inlayed wood back of the bench. "Are you gracing us with your presence for business or pleasure, or business before pleasure?"
"Strictly business for now, pleasure tomorrow," Maz said with a wink to Drizzt. "I bear news from our old friends at Castle Wenthias." He produced a rolled parchment from his cape and focused his unnerving gaze on Entreri. "I believe you are not the only one who took care of some unfinished business upon returning."
He handed the parchment to Entreri, who unfurled the scroll and read the print. He finished with a profound blink while passing it to Drizzt.
Drizzt unrolled the parchment and read the neat flowing text.
To the friends of shadows,
I bear news from the Wenthias family that will have an effect on our relations.
DuMare, Earl Wenthias, my beloved uncle, died suddenly at his manor just a tenday after our mutual enemy Moril was delivered to oblivion.
As endowed by my uncle in his will and testament, I will take the title of earl and command of the Wenthias family's lands and holdings.
Business will continue under my lordship and prosper. My uncle taught me well the principals of Bane; I will rule and protect these lands with a firm hand, though will maintain more diplomacy between my house and the children of Vhaeraun than has been shown in the past.
Both our peoples reside in these woods and must demonstrate our power to the slaves of righteousness that would try to usurp us. My uncle did not see the truth by which I abide; the servants of Bane and the servants of Vhaeraun who call Cormanthor our home have more to gain through collaboration than through division.
I will call a meeting between myself and the drow leaders of Cormanthor as both an introduction and an opportunity to share ideas and band together. I will deliver a time and location shortly.
These is a new era and may it prosper,
Darkness to you
Gherbod, 2nd Earl Wenthias
"Fantastic," Drizzt said with a heaving sigh, handing the parchment back to Mazn'reysla.
"Died suddenly," Entreri said, "the meaning of that isn't obvious at all."
"The rumor spreading around Zhent territory is Fzoul Chembryl has an appearance in Cormanthor scheduled within the tenday to debrief a powerful blackguard. The meaning behind that should be obvious as well."
"The Chosen Tyrant will be gracing us with his presence," Drizzt said, rubbing his temples with his hand at the far from pleasant news.
"A diplomatic appearance or a trap?" Entreri asked.
"A diplomatic appearance I am sure," Maz said.
"He has nothing to gain from killing or cursing any of us at the present," Drizzt said. "He has too many interests in Cormanthor and negotiating with us, or at least exploiting us, is too much to his advantage."
Drizzt looked at Mazn'reysla, Vhaeraun's words to Gromph suddenly piercing through his brain.
"I have made my alliances well," the Masked Lord said; the same god who allegedly had an alliance with Bane at some point in history.
Mazn'resyla merely gave his usual smile, almost reading Drizzt's mind. Entreri saw the exchange and cocked an eyebrow, knowing someone would be explaining something to him later.
"It's not as if the Zhents find any of you to be threats," Maz said. "The church of Bane has already claimed credit for Moril's death."
"Surprise," Entreri said.
"Though the final story depends on the teller apparently; the goodly churches are heaping honors upon the church of Tymora for their victory against the Clown Cultist," Maz said.
Drizzt gave a dirty snicker that Entreri suspected had less to do with sarcasm and more to do with something else he had suspected for the past few days; the tone was too sharp, too vindictive.
"While the churches of Torm and Selune mourn their dead I would suspect," Entreri said.
"Torm's church, yes, though some servants of Selune's more pleasant sister are whispering that Vasha Millian was resurrected soon after her death," Maz said. "Selune's champion is supposedly bitter at her church for sending her to a fool's cause; being snatched up by a dragon-riding paladin and skewered on a mast only strengthened her bitterness. It is a very easy peace of propaganda for Shar's cause; one conveniently shared secret."
"Speaking of Shar, I'm still a little fuzzy on what her involvement was in that mess besides giving hospitality," Entreri said. "Or is that yet another one of her sacred secrets?"
"That is the story told by Shar's church, though I think the answer is simpler," Maz said. "All parties involved fought a battle based on or motivated by their losses to Moril while Moril was himself a creature of sorrow."
"She just sat back and enjoyed the show," Drizzt said. "Now back to the matter at hand; who else received this message?"
"The usual circles," Maz said. "I have spoken with different parties around Cormanthor to coordinate. Jezz is expected of course as are you. The Auzkovyn will send three representatives."
"Three representatives," Drizzt said. "Including me, that will make four representatives; I suppose our clan wants to cover its respective ass."
"Actually the other Auzkovyn leaders wanted three of their own representatives," Maz said. "There is a growing sentiment that you represent a third party."
Drizzt sat up a bit more with a stiff smirk. All the implications of that statement made his head hurt. It could have been a blessing or a curse; another statement from Vhaeraun pounding through his brain, "I have chosen my rulers wisely."
Drizzt manage a sudden chuckle, dealing with the present and not focusing on the possible right now.
"We will indeed be well represented," he said, glancing at Entreri, who returned his chuckle while the look in his black eyes noted his clear discomfort.
"More information will be forthcoming, though I must away to Cormanthor," Maz said. "By the way, I crossed paths with another champion yesterday."
"The ranger of the land of asshole," Entreri said with a small groan.
"Fielder sends his greetings," Maz said. "He is lurking around as usual, said he is available if we need him. Apparently Linuin is gone from the forest."
"Arvandor by way of a wooden spike?" Drizzt said.
"Evereska by way of teleporting," Maz said. "Fielder said he left while sputtering about all the filthy drow and humans he had to deal with. Regardless, I have a group of drow I would love to deal with. I should be back in a few days."
Drizzt blew a kiss which Maz returned with a wink.
"Speaking of happy forest folk, try to get some of Miss Biddy's freshly made pies and bring them back with you," Drizzt said. "There's a certain kinsman of hers who would just adore them."
Maz gave a maniacal grin, the last image of him seen as he tapped himself with a teleportation wand and was back in Cormanthor.
Entreri gave Drizzt a dirty look, communicating he knew exactly who Drizzt was talking about.
"He will only be here on a freelance basis," Drizzt said. "Just doing the usual thief jobs."
Entreri's scowl crawled to a smile.
"Speaking of employment, guess who will return to the guild house today," Entreri said.
Drizzt smiled and gave a hearty laugh.
"Good, maybe we'll have some sense of normality," Drizzt said, his eyes widening with a realization. "He will go back to his old position as…"
Entreri merely smiled.
"You know, Kimmuriel, the last time you brought me any messages from Gromph the results were rather unpleasant," Jarlaxle said, crossing his arms and leaning further against the tunnel wall.
"This time he has no desire to see you in person," Kimmuriel said.
The Oblodran still gave an internal head shake, thinking he would never be accustomed to the sight of Jarlaxle with a full head of long hair. He had kept his trademark purple hat, though a few tufts of his thick, white hair stuck out from under the brim as a single thick braid cascaded down his back.
He also wasn't wearing his favored eyepatch, leaving both red eyes exposed and shining with malicious excitement. Just the fact Jarlaxle was in front of him was surprising enough considering the stories he had heard.
"Ah, so he acts through an intermediary, cannot say I'm surprised," Jarlaxle said. "I'm sure I am the last creature he wants to see right now considering our last rather catastrophic meeting."
Kimmuriel was usually stone faced, though Jarlaxle saw no hint of confusion or curiosity. Judging by his facial expression, the news was hardly a surprise and likely a juicy piece of gossip Jarlaxle hung from the end of. Jarlaxle expected as much.
"He sent me to give you what he called 'back payments,'" Kimmuriel said, reaching into his robes and producing a thick velvet bag that barely fit his hand. "Though I do believe the term 'severance' was also used. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I believe Gromph has little interest in your services."
Jarlaxle chuckled, seeing the same shadow of smugness across Kimmuriel's face. He was tempted to ask if anyone else in Menzoberranzan had slipped a similar message, whether it came with treasure or the promise of a dagger if he dared show his face in the city again.
He had spent a few days in Menzoberranzan shortly after leaving the care of House Mourbasin, keeping a low profile and listening for rumors among the priestesses or Bregan D'aerthe. As predicted, the term "out of favor" was attached to his name a few times; once Lolth chose a target, surviving only guaranteed blacklisting if not a price on one's head.
Jarlaxle could have mustered enough power to regain his reputation with at least the uppity male element, though it was barely worth trying in his mind. Life could have been made very difficult for him in this land where he would be scrutinized by a population who prided themselves on figuring out the best ways to bring pain and torment to people they weren't overly fond of.
That and his heart just wasn't into the constant struggle anymore.
He looked at the sack in Kimmuriel's slender hand before snatching it up and being pleasantly surprised when no traps went off. He carefully untied the string wrapped around the bag and looked inside.
"My, my," he said, his voice in almost a happy gasp at what he saw. "Gromph shows his generous side indeed.
He casually retied the bag and put it in a large belt-pouch with a magic disrupting enchantment, disabling any lingering traps that may have been contained in such a generous reward.
"Gromph also told me to tell you the treasure must be split equally with your companions on your last mission," Kimmuriel said.
"And you tell the archmage that he has my word," Jarlaxle said, enjoying Kimmuriel's noncommittal tone a little too much.
An awkward silence fell over the two, both looking at each other trying to find the best words. At last Jarlaxle gave a dramatic sigh.
"This is a farewell on my part as well," Jarlaxle said. "I will not return to Menzoberranzan."
Kimmuriel's face again betrayed not one hint of surprise.
"So it is official," the Obladran said. "Several hundred years of schemes in Menzoberranzan then a decade of schemes on the surface; I see you have chosen a more profitable location."
Or less hostile, Jarlaxle thought, though the words never left his lips. Judging from Kimmuriel's slight smirk, he didn't need to say anything.
"So does Jarlaxle move from one grand scheme to another," Kimmuriel said.
"No, not one grand scheme," Jarlaxle said with a laugh. "I plan to sow a many little schemes and see which one grows the largest. This is not my farewell to you; I certainly hope I can count you at least as a source, perhaps a gossiper on the latest Menzoberranzyr intrigues."
"Naturally," Kimmuriel said. "Since when would I ever think I could be freed of the great Jarlaxle?"
Jarlaxle removed his hat and did a sweeping bow, Kimmuriel looking on with a raised eyebrow.
"In that case fare the well, friend," Jarlaxle said. "This is not a goodbye, this is an 'until next time.'"
Kimmuriel merely bowed. A flash of light later he was in Menzoberranzan.
Jarlaxle gave a lingering look at the spot where Kimmuriel had once stood, a small remainder of his frayed nerve twitching again though the rest of him remaining perfectly calm.
This whole meeting had been the final farewell to Menzoberranzan, to his whole life up to that point, to everything he had worked for and against. The decision was not entirely by his choosing either, another factor that grated on him. The past several years on the Surface had been his own choice and the fleeting plans to leave Menzoberranzan behind him once and for all was yet another scheme.
Now he was an outcast in a city where he had spent centuries as one of its most truly powerful citizens. He was undone by the schemes of others after spending what felt like an eternity weaving his own schemes for others to fall into.
The thought did carry a small amount of sadness, though carried an infinite number of possibilities as well. No matter how much he prospered on the Surface, the waiting spider of Menzoberranzan would always hide in the blind spots of his perspective; ready to spring back on him and drag him back down the hole at any moment.
The reality was still there, though more distant; Jarlaxle was now a memory on the cusp of anyone's mind. If there were any other plots spinning around him, he would not dwell on the possible at the moment.
The fact he was still alive, let alone nearly at full health, was enough of an overall motivator.
Jarlaxle sneered in the direction where Kimmuriel left, taking a step down the corridor with a dramatic huff. He reached a small rock outcropping and pushed it in. A wave of light washed over him and a moment later he was in a hall covered in human-hewn brick and not drow-hewn stone.
His neckpurse took on a sudden warmth, causing him to reach in and pull out the Do'Urden House insignia; the warmth indicating its brother insignia was a few feet away.
Jarlaxle walked down the hallway and saw a door he knew lead to the city's church of Mask, temple that was also a haven to Vhaeraun worshippers as well. Jarlaxle smiled, figuring Drizzt and Entreri were both here taking care of some business; maybe they were using this as a gather point after slaying Bani Pilazi as Entreri had hinted for the past tenday he would do at last.
Jarlaxle looked around and approached the door. He had seen the special knock to get in and figured it was a nice, out of the way place to present his two other companions with their just reward from Gromph, perhaps have it analyzed if they were suspicious enough.
His hand went up briefly, though stayed at his side. There was always the possibility Drizzt and Entreri had failed their attempt against Pilazi and Pilazi had sent his goons down here as a decoy; waiting for the third member of the party to receive a signal and jump on him the second he walked in the door.
Jarlaxle knew it was ridiculous thought the second he crossed his mind, though he still stood at the door. He had been in temples of Vhaeraun for business purposes before, though for some reason he could not bear the thought of crossing the threshold into this one.
He knew he should enter lest he should witness his two companions scheming against him, though that reason did not make him knock either.
Maybe he had spent so much time with Vhaeraun's flock in House Mourbasin that he was tired of dealing with them…or maybe he was more intrigued by them then he cared to admit. Maybe he desired desperately to enter, though stayed outside for fear yet another higher force would claim him again…or maybe this would be protection from that possibility.
Jarlaxle spun on his heel and walked a few steps down the corridor. He would give the reward to his companions back in the guildhouse. He did give one lingering glance back, swearing he saw the shadows around the door curling over each other. For a moment they almost took the shape of a mask with glowing green eyes.
The door opened, dissipating any shadow shapes in Jarlaxle's perception as Drizzt and Entreri walked out.
"Speak the devil's name and he arrives," Entreri said, his stony expression betraying a small smile.
"I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, I suppose," Jarlaxle said with a laugh, chasing away his ridiculous state of unease. "Business has been fruitful, I hope."
Entreri gave a wicked smirk, continuing down the hallway with Drizzt and Jarlaxle close behind.
"Business has been a bountiful harvest," Drizzt said with a smile.
"That remains to be seen," Entreri said.
"Though I bring some fruit from a different labor," Jarlaxle said, doing another cursory glance around the hall.
Drizzt felt a thick, velvet bag pressed into the palm of his hand and stopped in his tracks. He looked down at the bag, then Jarlaxle's smile while seeing Entreri stop and look back.
"Our last employer has at last paid us our keep," Jarlaxle said.
Drizzt shot him a glare as Entreri walked back to the group.
"You had an audience with…" Entreri said
"Kimmuriel had an audience with him and passed along the message," Jarlaxle said. "Gromph would rather I was out of his hair at last. This came with specific instructions it must be divided equally among the three of us."
Drizzt went numb with the possibility, a vision reflecting reality once more. He carefully untied and opened the velvet bag an arm's reach away from his body, pulling it in after seeing no traps.
Inside was pure blackness, though the contents glinted brilliantly in the light of the torches that lined the hall.
Drizzt looked at Entreri and handed him the bag. The assassin did a careful look inside, pulling out one of the small, finely cut black diamonds and scrutinizing it before putting it back and retying the bag while staring at Jarlaxle.
"It is not the full chest he showed me, though it is sizable indeed," Jarlaxle said.
Drizzt's mouth curled into a smile and he let out a cackle, receiving a glare from Entreri as a response.
"It's fortunate we are close to a temple," Entreri said. "We can have this little gift examined now."
"Artemis, I personally believe Jarlaxle has nothing to gain by bringing us poisoned offerings," Drizzt said. "Neither does Gromph."
Entreri cocked an eyebrow, seeing Drizzt give a knowing smirk. He had no idea what Drizzt knew of Gromph's involvement in this if any, though Drizzt too had little reason to deceive any of them and was very well connected in his own right.
"Fine then," Entreri said, handing the bag back to Drizzt and continuing down the hallway.
The heavy, late summer sun set through the high, arched windows of the guild's study.
Entreri stood for a second, leaning in the window and gazing out at the spires of Baldur's Gate bathed in the red glow of sunset.
His eyes examined every roof, every tower, gradually falling to one location that would never leave his mind.
Several other buildings crowded it, though the gold dome of Gond's High House of Wonders glowed brilliantly in the waning sunlight. Entreri could still see workers putting an extra coat of paint on the exterior while a few planted bulbs around the perimeter with metal contraptions that loaded the bulb into the ground and packed it with just one push of a lever.
It had been over a month since Moril's minion's reduced the temple to ruins; now it was nearly rebuilt thanks to the ingenuity of the Gondish builders. Word spread around the city a grand celebration would be had soon when the temple reopened with a collection of all new devices and creations.
Entreri looked forward to the event, actually; not necessarily in honor of Gond's church but to signify his own successful rebuilding. He too was wrecked the night the House of High Wonders exploded and he too was a new creation.
Entreri gave a proud smirk in spite of himself, twirling around and walking through the room. He entered the long, simply decorated hallway of red brick that was the Pilazi guildhouse; "was" being the key phrase.
The late summer days still bore strong warmth, yet he still felt comfortable in his favorite black cape made from a light, breathable material that also acted as a form of armor. He idly looked down at the white embroidery on his along the collar of his sleeveless, black tunic, one of the few items of personal vanity he had allowed himself in the past month; the change in his situation encouraging a slight change in wardrobe.
Maybe Jarlaxle had rubbed off on him more than he cared to admit, he thought with a small smirk followed by a gentle sigh.
It had been nearly a tenday after Bani Pilazi's death and already the guild was at a state of business as usual. Entreri would return to the guildhouse but few hours after Pilazi's death to find no challenges and no protests. Interestingly enough, the guild members regarded him as the guild leader soon after Pilazi's death while others went about their usual business not caring about him at all.
As he walked down the hall, a few minor thieves would cower from him with venomous sneers, which he would greet back with a polite smile. A passing minor mage/master con artist made no eye contact with him at all, found a different side of the black and gold carpet to walk on.
Entreri knew it was never entirely safe to travel so openly among this group, yet hiding in his quarters was never an option.
It was all just as he liked it. Taking the position of guild leader at last provided the rich taste of power; keeping a distance and not trying to impose his will over this fractured group kept him free.
Entreri turned the corner, dodging the large creeping rose bush in a black clay pot as he and peered through the open door of another small study.
Drizzt was sitting at his desk, slender feet planted on the fine wood as he went over some papers. Entreri was about to walk in and ask him about a rumor regarding the bookmakers skimming coin when the shrill voice of a halfling had him casually cling to the wall while watching the conversation.
"It's all about watching for opportunities," Regis said, looking at someone on the opposite side of the room. "All the gawkers have been watching Gond's temple rebuilt and have been easy targets. Yes the guards will be back out there for crowd control, though you can expect a profit. Mrs. Elderberry and I have worked them over for days."
Entreri shifted his body slightly to get a better view of Jarlaxle reclining on the plush, red couch on the other side of the room and paging through some sort of thin book while keeping half his attention on the halfling.
"Though when Gond's house reopens in a few days, you might get a brief spike in pickings though it will be down from there," Jarlaxle said, running a hand over his white hair, hat on top of the couch underneath…
Entreri swallowed hard, an odd sense of déjà vu creeping over him. He had been in this moment before. He sneered and shook his head; it was a ridiculous thought, though the sight of the hat underneath a pair of crossed swords that had been mounted on that wall by the last worker in that office still made his skin crawl.
"Do you have much knowledge of thievery on the Surface, sir," Regis said, "no offense meant of course."
"Of course," Jarlaxle said, waving a hand in dismissal. One of the pages of his book flopped down to reveal the detailed drawing of a naked woman. "And I will be honest with you; I have dabbled in many dealings, never really fond of staying in one place."
"The pickings in one city change by the season," Regis continued with a small air of conceit. "In Calimport you knew to stay in taverns when the Hammer winds hit and the brothels were ideal during Midsummer. In this city you know the docks will be perfect as all the merchants will be out there inspecting the boats they've invested in. The coin will flow like knucklehead during a Mirtul thaw."
"Though the knucklehead were never heavily warded," Drizzt said, looking up from his paperwork and giving Regis a polite smile.
"I'll take that over that damn sharp fin," Regis said, producing a chuckle from Drizzt.
"Well, you'll have your commission tomorrow once you've had another time to go out," Jarlaxle said. "Though nice work today; you are indeed a master at what you do, Regis."
Regis gave a small bow to Jarlaxle, then to Drizzt as he walked to the door; a wide smile was on his face the whole time. Here he was a goodly rogue surrounded by a sea of murderers and for some reason he couldn't have looked happier.
Entreri stepped back into the hall as if just passing Regis on the way to Drizzt's office. Regis gave him a sheepish glance, though nodded with a smile before walking down the hall. Entreri gave a stiff smile to his back as he walked into the office.
"So our grand guildmaster decides to grace us with his presence," Drizzt said, looking up from his paperwork.
"Try to look honored by that, Do'Urden," he replied, the words almost coming like they were supposed to be said.
He looked further into the room, seeing Jarlaxle's nose buried in his book and a tuft of white hair poking upwards. Entreri gave a lingering look, receiving a smile in return as Jarlaxle put his book down enough to reveal his face; a strong ebony hue when Entreri was so used to seeing pallor.
"Did your little friend have what I asked for," Entreri asked.
Drizzt reached from under the desk and produced a small, black bag before tossing it to the human.
Entreri caught the bag and felt the weight of the gems he had been waiting for.
"Impressive," he said in a sarcastic tone. "Though I hope you checked to make sure no stones were missing.
"Hey, he collects, you collect," Drizzt said. "There's a pretty sizable haul in there too, proving he's not useless."
Entreri jiggled the bag in his hand, testing the weight, before nodding.
"Any regrets yet for inviting him along," Entreri said, putting the sack on the desk as he leaned against the fine wood. "I have to say I was a bit surprised to hear you even sent him any correspondence."
"He has a talent and no proper place to use it until now," Drizzt said, his tone considerably lighter then all the other times he ever spoke of Regis.
Drizzt had to keep telling himself that constantly. It wasn't as if he wanted to keep Regis around; giving himself a second chance at burying the past was his main motivation.
"We are surrounded by able rogues," Jarlaxle said, putting his book down and coming to a sit. One arm stretched across the top of the couch, grabbing his hat and plopping it on his head before returning to its original position. "Able rogues under our employ."
"If they are our rogue servants, does that make us their…" Drizzt said, his voice trailing off with a smile as he looked at Entreri.
Entreri groaned with an annoyed grimace. His gaze fell on Drizzt Do'Urden sitting at a wide desk, short white hair in a wild series of spikes yet his lavender eyes actually focused with clarity and not perpetual rage.
He gave a glance again to Jarlaxle…Jarlaxle Baenre, his long time companion he cursed, bantered with, and almost lost. He had hair now and hadn't worn that eye patch in a long time, though scheming mischief was ever in that smile.
Entreri had to look at himself as well, a man returned from the dead with a new inspiration for his craft.
What a bizarre team these three made.
"Their Rogue Kings?" Entreri said, his grimace turning to a smirk as he crossed his arms. "Why not?"
Author's Note: And so ends a story that has been two and a half years in the making.
The first chapter was posted on September 2, 2005, a few days after the end of my story "Midsummer" while I was chomping at the bit to finally start a sequel to my first fic "The Lesser Evil." This story has gone in directions I never imagined and I certainly never imagined it would be this long. However, this story was in progress during some of the biggest changes in my life; getting a huge new job, a new relationship and nasty break-up, the death of a family member, a friend's illness, so many other things going on that makes this story a snapshot in history for me. This story as received both a strong following and some of the most negative comments I have ever gotten on my writing. I regret nothing. Everything here had a purpose and I adored the opportunity to play with the personalities and possibilities of established characters while giving me the first major opportunity in too long a time for me to write original characters. This has represented writing evolution for me; I have honed my skills and learned what to do and not to do in a story. I feel I can only go forward from here.
The title of the story itself is based on the song "Hooligan's Holiday" by Motley Crue. I began this story with inspiration from Marilyn Manson's "Golden Age of Grotesque" album as I had for "Lesser Evil," though Disturbed's "Ten Thousand Fists" was pretty much the soundtrack of this story. Other sources of inspiration came from all over the place, from old sci-fi movies to gaming sessions to whatever popped up in the last two years.
This isn't the end of The Rogue Kings, though I cannot guarantee when I will pick up this storyline again. I have a never say never view on inspiration, so who knows.
Infinite thanks to all of you who have followed this story from the beginning, you guys are my rock. Huge thanks of course to anyone who has read and reviewed this story with constructive criticism on and Lavender Eyes, or anywhere else anyone has commented.
My plumed hat is in hand as I give a grand bow. Thank you and good night.