"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
Midnight arrived in the High Forest, bringing with it a partial clearing of the rain clouds. The moonlight filtered through the dense branches to dapple the muddy forest floor with ghostly illumination. In the stillness after the storm, crickets sang their chorus of chirps, and the fresh smell of rain permeated the air. Other than the occasional wind gust, the forest remained undisturbed, as though nothing important had occurred within its confines.
Jarlaxle, Nyx, Entreri, and Tai had returned—cold, wet, and empty-handed—to the clearing where they'd fought Mordecai. Although they'd systematically searched the surrounding forest for hours, Mordecai had escaped; in fact, there'd been no sign of him whatsoever. Entreri wasn't surprised at this development, nor was he daunted. The drow was living on borrowed time as far as he was concerned.
Nyx and Tai, however, looked grim. More than that, the pair appeared haggard. Nyx's braided crown had partially unwound, leaving wisps of dark auburn hanging hair in her face. Dried blood covered her neck and right shoulder, and she was pale. Entreri suspected that in addition to being physically drained, she was irritated—in her weakness, she'd slowed her and Jarlaxle's progress.
Tai didn't look any better. Although he didn't seem as tired as Nyx, he looked twice as dour, perhaps even slightly angry. Entreri understood. Tai had wanted to see Mordecai die, but vengeance had not been executed.
"Do not be so glum!" Jarlaxle exclaimed, gesturing for Nyx to sit on a downed tree trunk. "It's but a momentary inconvenience. Artemis and I are bounty hunters, after all. We specialize in tracking down evil criminals and bringing them to justice!"
Nyx snorted, but she sat where Jarlaxle indicated. "Well, that is basically why Tai and I hired you. And it better damn well be true. I won't rest until that bastard is dead."
"Never fear, my noble monk." Jarlaxle pulled his healing orb out of his belt pack. "Mordecai will not escape us!"
Entreri smirked at the elf's theatrics and sat by Tai on one of the other downed tree trunks . . . or rather what was left of it after Entreri had diced it in half during the earlier battle. The assassin had fought many things in his life, but never an animated forest. He found Mordecai's tactic cowardly. Then again, at this point Entreri couldn't conceive of Mordecai doing anything that wasn't cowardly.
Beside the assassin, Tai had slumped and was looking more depressed by the second. Entreri frowned at the boy. Jarlaxle had an overdramatic way of saying it, but the core of what he had said to Nyx was true. "Jarlaxle is right," Entreri said, aiming the comment at the priest. "We shall track down and kill Mordecai. Of that you may be certain."
Tai nodded, but any reply he may have given was stopped by Nyx's startled exclamation.
"What are you doing?" The monk eyed Jarlaxle with suspicion as he stepped up to her with the orb. She leaned backward as Jarlaxle approached.
"Healing you, my friend. That neck wound is horrid, and I can tell you have lost much blood."
Nyx held up her hand as though to stop the elf. "Yes, I know what the orb does. I'm simply unsure I want your magic used upon me."
"Relax," Entreri said snidely. "Tai did not suffer any unfortunate side effects when Jarlaxle employed the orb to heal him, did he?"
Nyx frowned, giving Entreri a glare, but after a moment she lowered her hand. Jarlaxle began chanting, enacting the orb's spell. The small orb glowed a faint magenta, and the cut on Nyx's neck began pulling together, the skin seeming to knit itself. At the same time, a pink flush bloomed across Nyx's face, easing her pallor. A few minutes later, the monk looked considerably better, the wound having faded from her neck.
Tai watched the proceedings without comment, and Entreri wondered what the boy was thinking. After all, as a cleric, Tai was equally capable of healing his friend.
And that thought, Entreri realized, contained the evening's revelation. Tai had apparently communed with Hoar at some point over the last few days, and Hoar had equally apparently not abandoned his priest. For Tai, however, the divine favor must have eased some of his anger or fear. Yet the boy still seemed confused and troubled.
To Entreri, Tai's mood made perfect sense. Tai would be a fool, in the assassin's mind, to brush off his anger too quickly—if such a thing were even possible. Yes, Tai had crossed the line between the pretty, fake world and the nasty, real world . . .
The assassin shook his head. Was he actually worried about Tai? No, surely not. But would it be a sign of weakness if he were?
Yes, his mind immediately answered. But in the moments that followed, the assassin found he wasn't as sure of that as he'd once been.
Entreri had never considered himself a coward. He'd never seen himself as the type to harbor any fears. But if that were true, he reasoned, then he shouldn't be afraid of change. Of pushing the moment. Of setting out on whatever path he deemed best.
Of having friends?
Entreri looked at Jarlaxle and considered the events of the past months. Then he looked at Tai and promptly pushed the issue from his mind.
Since Jarlaxle had finished with Nyx, he approached Entreri and Tai. "Are you injured?" he asked the boy. When Tai shook his head, the elf looked to Entreri. "And you?"
"No," Entreri replied, mentally dismissing the few nicks he'd received.
"Good, good." The elf grinned as he stowed away his orb. "How did you like the ring?"
"The ring?" Entreri stared at Jarlaxle blankly for several moments before realizing that the elf spoke of the ring he'd given him approximately a tenday earlier. The assassin glanced down at his left hand and considered the silver band. "I had forgotten it. Really, Jarlaxle, you should tell me what these magical items are for when you give them to me."
The elf chuckled and squeezed Entreri's shoulder. "But that would ruin the surprise!"
Entreri stared at Jarlaxle. "What surprise? At this rate, I shall never use it!"
"Oh, just experiment with it," Jarlaxle commented airily, throwing one hand up in a carefree gesture.
At Jarlaxle's exclamation, Tai had closed his eyes and begun rubbing his temples, and Entreri suspected that the flamboyant drow was getting on his nerves. "Yes, yes," the assassin said tersely, gesturing for Jarlaxle to leave. The drow grinned and headed back over to Nyx, apparently to double-check her condition, but he turned back when he reached her.
Well done, my intuitive friend, Jarlaxle signed in drow hand code to Entreri. If you remain this diligent, it looks like we shall maintain a functional cleric.
Entreri narrowed his eyes in reaction to Jarlaxle's obvious rhetorical move. However, the elf wasn't really trying to hide his intentions, and Entreri was plenty intelligent enough to read the subtext. Of course, the assassin didn't allow himself to consider how much of the rhetorical move was just that—rhetoric—or why a tactic, and the charade it created, were necessary. In fact, Entreri conveniently ignored that a charade existed to any extent—great or small. Still… Don't make me hurt you, he signed in reply, and Jarlaxle grinned.
From her spot on the tree trunk, Nyx watched the odd exchange and the way Entreri turned back to Tai. What had they been saying to each other? she wondered. For all the realms, it looked like they were discussing Tai's obvious pain—and, what was more, it even looked as if Entreri had shooed away Jarlaxle for Tai's benefit! She continued to watch the assassin with interest.
"Here," Entreri said gruffly, shoving his canteen at the boy.
Tai opened his eyes and accepted it. "Thank you."
It was a simple act, Nyx noted. An act so simple that in any other situation, she would have failed to notice it.
But this was Artemis Entreri. The monk knew just enough about the man and his reputation to suspect that the simplest, basic act of consideration was notable coming from him. And over the past three days since Tai had been raped, Entreri had been considerate toward him more than once.
Nyx turned her gaze upon the drow who had healed her. Despite guidance from Hoar and Tai's assurances, Nyx had just as much trouble trusting Jarlaxle as she did Entreri. However, the elf had been mindful of Tai's mindset, health, and safety over the past few days. Nyx was far from ready to declare undying trust in the two, but unless Hoar warned her otherwise, she supposed that she wouldn't grab Tai and leave their company.
Of course, she also needed their help to kill Mordecai and keep him from obtaining the Kagaor ki Tamal, especially if the mirror would make the drow as powerful as rumors indicated. Furthermore, Nyx would do almost anything to avenge Evendur's death and Tai's rape except endanger Tai.
Yes, Entreri would have to wait his turn when it came to Mordecai. Because when she got her hands on that bastard . . .
The whip cracked down upon Mordecai's shoulder, flaying the skin open even as the four snake heads bit into his neck and back. The drow tried to swallow his shout, but a pained grunt escaped his clenched teeth. Chalithra, the eldest daughter of House Tuin'Tarl, was only warming up, however.
"Useless male!" she screamed, striking him again.
Mordecai had been kneeling before her as commanded, but the force of her blow nearly knocked him onto the forest floor. He found it particularly fortunate that he'd teleported so far away from his enemies before she found him; not only did he not wish his foes to stumble across this scene of humiliation, he didn't want Chalithra's yelling to announce their location.
"How dare you disgrace us with such failure!" she continued, snapping her snake whip upon his back and laying open the flesh.
Even in his haze of pain, Mordecai thought to say, "Us? But the other houses believe my connection to House Tuin'Tarl was severed." However, speaking up for himself would only enrage the female more, and his left arm, neck, and back were already growing numb from the snake venom.
"We dared to take you in, common filth, and make you our weapon's master!" Chalithra screamed, whipping him again. "We entrusted you with a mission!" The whip cracked against his shoulder and arm. "And not only have you yet to find the Kagaor ki Tamal, you have not even secured control of Bregan D'aerthe. You are truly the most worthless of males!" Again, she snapped the whip against his flesh with all her strength.
Mordecai was on the verge of fainting. Apparently realizing this, Chalithra stopped her beating and knelt before him to hiss into his face. "Accomplish your mission at once, or find yourself with more than two legs."
A surge of genuine fear choked Mordecai at the thought of being turned into a drider. His complete shame and powerlessness scorched his soul; he promised himself that the female would die for this. After all, it wouldn't be difficult for him to punish her once he'd achieved his goal.
Chalithra stood and left him as he toppled onto the wet grass. Mordecai waited several minutes for her to get sufficiently far away then prayed to his deity for healing. A soothing warmth filled his body almost instantly, and the drow felt grateful that his deity wasn't as angry with him as his Matron Mother apparently was.
Moments passed, and a warm rough tongue licked Mordecai's fingers. The drow glanced over at his hand to find that Cat had left her hiding spot and was now cleaning his fingers. Mordecai wanted to snicker, but it would have hurt too much. Who would have thought that the beast's fastidiousness would have extended to her master?
Mordecai didn't want to admit he was happy to see her, but he was. Cat had bolted when Chalithra had arrived, and the cleric had wondered if she'd return.
And so it was that Cat was the only witness to Mordecai's most recent humiliation at the hands of Lolth's servants. Cat would be present for his victory as well, Mordecai decided, for with every beating he became all the more resolute of his path.
They would all die. Every single worshipper and priestess of Lolth. Mordecai would return from the dead to ensure it if necessary.
And he would send to the abyss anyone who stood in his way.
A/N: As you can tell from the way I left . . . well, everything . . . up in the air, I'm just getting started. This story is meant to be the first installment of three fanfictions. So please don't kill me because Mordecai is alive and well!
Thank you to my beta readers, my fiancé and Darkhelmet, who proved even more priceless than usual in their commitment to giving me feedback on this story, especially chapter 5. You two have my deepest thanks for your time, suggestions, and help. hugs beta readers
I also need to thank many others for their tips, suggestions, or information: Silver Wolf, Euphorbic, Alzadea, Zachee, Rezuri, and Dr. L.
Thank you to all of my readers and to my reviewers: Zachee, Lessiehanamoray, Alzadea, Rezuri, Rufio, Silver Wolf, Ryeniya, Suzanne, Aikenjaldi, Matron Sahar, Euphorbic, and, of course, Darkhelmet. Um…I think I got you all. If I forgot to name someone, I'm sorry! Post note for reviewers commenting after the epilogue: thanks also to Drekadair, Neven, and Lord Onisyr.
Again, the quotes of poetry are from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
Don't forget, please, that Rezuri and Rufio both have fanart in their LE galleries which they've drawn to accompany my stories. Also, Darkhelmet has music you can email her about.
"Installment two" :) of this series in already underway. I've written a few scenes. However, given my work and class schedule, it will likely be May before I can really sit down and write on it. It is my hope to begin posting the story in early or mid June.
"Specters of Our Pasts" was completed on April 19, 2005.