Descent into Darkness: The Gathering Storm

By Ariel

Description: "Your heart bleeds too much; mine, not enough."—A.E. Entreri's and Jarlaxle's troubles with Mordecai have just begun, and Mordecai turns out to be only part of the problem. Drama/Angst/Action. Rated R for violence and mature subject matter.

Disclaimer: Jarlaxle, Artemis Entreri, and all other recognizable characters belong to R. A. Salvatore and Wizards of the Coast. No challenge to the copyright is intended or should be inferred. Tai and Nyx, of course, are mine.

A/N: This is a continuation of "The Specters of Our Pasts" and begins one tenday after its epilogue. You are free to read this story as a stand-alone, but I don't recommend it. If you do decide to start here, I warn you that Entreri and Jarlaxle have undergone character development beyond where they are in "Empty Joys;" also, I ask that you be patient with the returning original characters.

This fanfic refers to the story "The Third Level" from Realms of Infamy, in which we learn that as a child, Entreri was sexually abused. Please remember that I have chosen not to include the events of "Wickless in the Nether" in my fanfic universe; therefore, Descent into Darkness is categorized as mildly AU.

Update, Oct. 2006: Obviously, this fanfic was written long before the release of RotP. Like I said in the above paragraph, I based my fanfics on "The Third Level," a short story RAS wrote back in 1993. In that story, fourteen year old Entreri remembers being sexually abused by three people, not just his uncle. I will not change this story in light of the revision in RotP, so simply take the difference with a grain of salt.


"Now that I consider those discussions, I recognize that you rarely offered
any advice. In fact, you rarely spoke at all but simply listened."—A.E.

Chapter One

The 15th of Tarsakh, 1369 D.R.
The Year of the Gauntlet

The approaching storm hovered overhead like a miasma, turning the sky into a steel-grey that contrasted remarkably with the spring foliage. The tree leaves seemed luminescent against the nearly black clouds, an effect created by a flicker of sunlight from the west, but the green seemed lost in the growing ocean of darkness. A lone young man sat on the black marble stairs of an abandoned wizard's tower and watched the spectacle. The scene of the emerald leaves against the dark sky was so brilliantly colorful that it seemed more like a painting than real. For minutes the young man simply stared, not allowing any thoughts into his restless mind.

The choice to keep his mind still was a conscious one. If he allowed himself to think, Tai Vatoshie, priest of Hoar, would have to admit to himself that he was at the tower where he'd been raped fourteen days earlier. He would likely see, in his mind's eye, the sneering face of the drow cleric Mordecai as he knocked the dagger from Tai's hand and grabbed him.

Tai, however, did not allow that picture to form in his mind. He did his best to not think about where he was, about what had happened to him here, or about the fact he refused to enter the tower. It had been hard enough for him to face Mordecai during the fight twelve days earlier . . . although he'd done so successfully.

Focus on your breathing, Tai told himself, remembering the training his uncle had given him. Straighten your shoulders; breathe through the nose. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth . . .

"They are nearly finished," a deep voice commented, and Tai nearly jumped.

The young priest had not heard the approach of the voice's owner, but that was hardly surprising. Artemis Entreri always moved silently. "Very well," Tai replied, secretly glad the man had arrived and distracted him. Keeping his mind clear was proving more difficult than he liked.

Entreri sat by the priest and crossed his arms on his knees. For long moments, his gaze seemed to rest on the tossing trees and dark clouds. Streaks of lightening raced through the clouds like veins, filling the entire sky with a pulse of life, and the howling wind and the rustling leaves filled the momentary silence. "The storm will be upon us soon," the assassin commented at last. "You'll be drenched yet again if you remain outside."

The words were not said with either concern or admonishment. The words were not said with any inflection at all—Artemis Entreri rarely allowed emotion to infuse his tone. Tai also knew that the assassin was not bothered by rain and would not care if another were wet, which would seem to make his comment quite strange. Tai suspected, however, that there might be words behind the words, something along the lines of "You do not seem well." Of course, the assassin would never say such a thing—would never even admit that any subtext existed behind his odd observation—and this was why the priest of Hoar turned to the man with the faintest of smiles. "I do not enjoy being here."

Entreri nodded once, and Tai knew nothing further would be said. After all, in the past fourteen days, neither Entreri nor Tai had mentioned the word "rape." In fact, the few words that had passed between them relating to the incident had relied completely on unspoken recognition: Entreri knew what had happened to Tai, and Tai knew that he knew. The priest was profoundly glad that they could discuss something without discussing it—that Entreri could understand what Tai meant without any explanation. But when the assassin accepted Tai's reply without comment or censure, the priest found himself wondering why. And how. How did the assassin know when to be quiet, when to not ask questions, when to stay or leave? Why did he understand? And how or why was such a normally heartless man showing Tai any patience or compassion at all?

These questions—only a few of many—had plagued Tai more than once in the last several days.

Entreri and Tai sat silently, allowing the wind to buffet them, and waited for their companions. In an attempt to gather information, Jarlaxle and Nyx were sorting through Evendur's scrolls. More specifically, the drow and the monk were attempting to determine the location of a relic called Kagaor ki Tamal, the magical mirror sought by Mordecai.

The group's first goal was to find the powerful item before the drow cleric could get it, but this goal—at least in Tai's mind—had become secondary to their other objective, which was to kill Mordecai. The young priest knew that he and Nyx wished to kill Mordecai for . . . assaulting . . . him, while Entreri and Jarlaxle wanted to eliminate Mordecai for his attempts to kill them.

But Tai found himself desiring that the two mercenaries had a further motivation: he wished that Entreri wanted to avenge him as well, and he wished Jarlaxle cared that he'd been hurt in the first place. In his current state of mind, the priest didn't feel hopeful on either count, although he had to admit that Entreri had been unusually angry when he had learned what had happened.

Actually, perhaps Tai was wrong to think Entreri did not want to avenge him. He had said, after all, "Mordecai will pay for what he has done. He will die for it."

Tai held in a sigh. Entreri avenge him? No, it was too much to hope for. Although, strangely, Tai found himself wishing for it all the same, despite the fact he also wanted to attain his revenge personally.

"The longer Nyx is inside the tower, the angrier she becomes," Entreri commented after a lengthy silence.

"That's understandable," Tai replied. "Evendur was her friend."

"Jarlaxle is having to tread carefully," the assassin continued, a slight note of amusement working its way into his tone.

Tai's chuckle was so faint it was more of an exhalation. He looked up at Entreri, who was staring at the storm clouds again. The assassin's steel-grey eyes were the same color as the sky. For a moment, the priest simply watched the man: the edges of his black cloak flapped in the wind, and a strand of dark hair had escaped his ponytail to brush against his cheek. The wind blew a leaf onto his arm, but the assassin ignored it and kept his attention on the lightning-streaked sky. A man unbothered by the elements; a man born to wander. A man who Tai dared to call friend, but not to his face. "Today is my birthday," the priest said suddenly, not even realizing his intention until the words had left his mouth.

Entreri glanced at the priest. "It is?" He seemed to falter for a moment. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

The assassin nodded. "Does Nyx know this?"

Tai was vaguely amused by the man's total lack of interpersonal savvy. "No."

"You should tell her." Entreri's tone turned faintly derisive. "Given that the two of you are friends, I suspect she would want to arrange a celebration of some sort."

Tai raised his eyebrow, briefly wondering if Entreri and Nyx would ever get along. "Maybe."

Entreri hesitated again, just as more streaks of lightning raced across the sky. A clap of thunder shook the air seconds later, filling the assassin's silence. Tai got the sense that Entreri was struggling with their conversation and wondered why discussing birthdays would prove such a difficulty for the assassin. Had he simply spent his life that divorced from humanity, or was there some other reason?

"What would a celebration entail, should Nyx choose to have one?" Entreri asked at last. He paused and titled his head slightly, as though a question had just occurred to him. "How do they celebrate birthdays where you are from? Or do they celebrate them at all?"

"I'm from Tethyr, although my father's family came from Unther originally. And, yes, they do." Tai found that his birthday held no meaning for him this year. It was almost as though he were grieving—shock, numbness, anger, sadness—all the emotions he associated with his brother's death.

"Unther?" This seemed to capture the assassin's attention for a moment. "Did you not once say that Hoar is an Untheric deity?"

"Yes. He's known as Assuran there."

Entreri nodded as though he were perhaps confirming to himself some question he had wondered. "I see. So birthdays are celebrated how?"

Tai felt a faint grin threaten his lips at Entreri's attempt to show interest. He was so very stiff! "Much feasting, much wine. Song and dance. Stories of family history." The priest sighed. "In my family, at least, the birthdays of all those family members born during the same month are celebrated on the same day. In my case, my older sister, two of my cousins, one of my aunts, and I were all born during Tarsakh, so my family celebrated all our birthdays on the ides of the month. You see, since all the birthdays were spread throughout the month, they figured that celebrating in the middle of the month would be the fairest, even though it did give me an advantage."

"Because your exact birthday was always celebrated," Entreri said, drawing the obvious conclusion.

"Precisely. So my birthday has always been a type of holiday for me." Tai grew somber again as he felt a pang of homesickness. He hadn't seen his family—not counting his uncle—but twice during the past six years, and he missed them. The monthly writing and receiving of letters was a pale substitute.

"If it's that important to you, then you should tell Nyx," was Entreri's only response. "Actually, Jarlaxle is likely more suited to planning a celebration. You should be sure to tell Nyx while Jarlaxle is near." The assassin smirked. "That half-mad drow would no doubt enjoy arranging the festivities."

Tai's feelings about that suggestion were conflicted; he had been uncomfortable around Jarlaxle for many days now. Not only had Tai overheard Jarlaxle make a suspicious comment to Mordecai about his companions, every time Tai looked at Jarlaxle, he couldn't help seeing Mordecai. It wasn't fair, Tai knew, but he couldn't seem to stop the impulse. "So when is your birthday, Mas—uh . . . I mean, Entreri?"

The assassin was silent for many moments. "I do not remember."

Tai bit his lip as the implication of that statement sank in. Unlike Tai, Entreri had apparently not had a loving family to cherish him and celebrate each new year of his life. Perhaps he had not had a family at all. "Were you an orphan?"

Entreri gave the young man a hard look, and Tai held back a cringe, realizing he'd overstepped. Still, the assassin answered. "No. Not an orphan."

The tone of Entreri's voice warned Tai to drop the subject. The priest folded his arms across his chest and looked back out at the trees, watching the wind rip off spring leaves and batter them in a brutal drop to the ground. Tai found it odd. One minute, the assassin would be pulling him into a conversation or just listening to him speak; the next, Entreri would shut the priest out. Tai supposed he could understand. Sometimes he felt like talking and being around others, and sometimes he didn't. And over the last tenday, he found his mood could change in the passing of a mere moment.

But why had he suddenly found himself sharing such a trait with the assassin? Tai shook his head, trying to stop the endless cycle of his thoughts. Yes, he needed to focus on something else other than his constant, and often conflicting, jumble of thoughts.

And so the priest and the assassin sat on the black marble stairs of an abandoned tower and silently watched the approaching storm.


Nyx threw down a scroll and sighed in frustration. "I honestly thought Evendur kept his books and scrolls better organized than this."

Jarlaxle glanced up from the book he held and smiled at the monk. "Well, Mordecai no doubt added to the disarray."

The two stood in Evendur's main library, where they had been searching through books and scrolls for hours. The cramped round room seemed to hold thousands of texts; bookcase after bookcase stretched toward the ceiling, covering every bare inch of the walls. In some cases, the books were stacked two deep on the mahogany shelves, and piles of scrolls were heaped in the floor, obscuring the fine Calishite rugs.

Much to Jarlaxle and Nyx's consternation, the dim light from the two narrow windows hadn't been enough to enable them to read these endless texts easily. The single oil lamp they had lit may have helped alleviate that problem, but the sky outside kept growing darker until shadows filled the room. In addition, due to Evendur's lack of husbandry skills, the general swirl of dust and musty smell of old paper had kept the two sneezing.

Somehow, Nyx found it oddly humorous to see the drow sneeze. Partly, she was amused to hear his now-predictable three little sneezes, and it was even funnier when he sneezed hard enough to nearly knock his garish hat off his head. But mostly she just hadn't seen him as . . . well . . . human enough to sneeze. The legend of the powerful, evil dark elves seemed to preclude something so mundane. But, of course, Nyx realized that her reaction was illogical.

Jarlaxle had set down his book. "You do realize that Mordecai may have taken or destroyed the book or scroll we need?"

"Yes, yes." Nyx picked up another scroll. "But I just can't bring myself to believe that we'll find nothing. There has to be some clue here."

"We've been through most all the scrolls and books which appeared promising," Jarlaxle pointed out.

"Don't give up until the last page is turned."

The drow nodded. "I suppose you are correct." He motioned at the scroll Nyx had thrown on the pile beside her. "Although perhaps we would increase our chances of success if you would not proceed so hastily."

Nyx glared at Jarlaxle and snatched up another scroll. "I don't need to slow down. I'm quite sure I haven't missed anything of import."

The drow smiled, and it was not unkind. "Being here bothers you."

Nyx smacked the scroll down onto Evendur's mahogany desk. "Should it not? I don't particularly enjoy rifling through my friend's things now that he's dead." She gestured at the room. "And he always smelled like his books." The monk picked up the scroll again and unrolled it, trying to focus on the words. "Besides," she continued, keeping her attention on the paper. "Tai was . . . attacked here."

Silence greeted this proclamation, and Nyx glanced up to find Jarlaxle looking somewhat contrite.

"I am . . . truly sorry," the drow said quietly, staring down at the book in his hands.

This sudden seriousness knocked Nyx off-balance. Was he trying to placate her, or was he sincere?

Jarlaxle lifted his gaze to meet hers. "I have said so before, but allow me to say it again: I certainly did not intend for Tai—or you or Artemis—to be hurt that night. I would have never imagined Mordecai would lash out at one of us in such a way. All I can do is apologize for my lack of foresight and hope that you will forgive me."

The monk frowned at him. Lack of foresight? In such an obviously cunning mercenary? And regret or compassion for the pain of another? That seemed singularly odd coming from a drow.

At her silence, Jarlaxle opened his book again and began scanning the pages. Yet only a few seconds later, he'd released the book in order to bring a hand to his face; his eyes squeezed shut as he inhaled sharply.

'Choo, 'choo, 'choo.

Nyx laughed aloud, unable to contain her sudden mirth, especially as the monstrous plume upon Jarlaxle's hat bobbed with the little sneezes.

The drow glanced up at her with a puzzled expression, and within moments his signature grin returned. "Do you find my suffering so amusing, dear monk?"

Nyx returned her attention to the scroll. "Perhaps." Her smile turned a bit sad at her next words, although her tone betrayed a touch of anger. "And perhaps I'll forgive you—once I've avenged both Tai and Evendur by carving Mordecai's heart out of his chest."

Jarlaxle's chuckle was dark. "Be sure to go slowly."


"Vren."

The name was uttered like a curse. The drow who owned the name smiled as he stepped into the darkened forest clearing and spoke. "Greetings, my dear Mordecai."

Mordecai, formerly of Bregan D'aerthe, scowled at the Secondboy of House Tuin'Tarl, for whom he'd been ordered to wait before proceeding to the ruins. The cleric decided not to stand from the tree root he was currently resting upon; in fact, he picked up the solid white cat which lounged at his feet and began petting her instead. He hoped the double insult of not standing and of giving an animal priority over a noble would nag at Vren. "Pray tell, why did they send you?" The trees of the surrounding forest seemed to shiver at the cleric's anger, and the clap of thunder which rent the air appeared to equally reflect Mordecai's mood.

The short, willowy warrior glided toward the seated Mordecai but stopped just out of weapon's reach. His golden eyes seemed to glitter with amusement. "Our Matron Mother decided that such a pathetic commoner as you needed help to accomplish this task, so she sent me." Vren gestured toward the trees. "And she gave me three soldiers as well." At the general introduction, three drow warriors joined Vren and Mordecai in the clearing; each wore on his cloak the crest of their House.

Mordecai glanced at the soldiers, then turned his stare upon the drow before him. Of all the noble males of House Tuin'Tarl, Mordecai hated Vren the most. Just looking at Vren's ornately-braided silver hair made the cleric ill, and he often fantasized about torturing him. The portentous, pompous, annoying . . . "You misunderstand my question. While it is true that I insist I need no help, what I really wish to know is why our Matron Mother thinks someone as weak as you could assist me."

Vren laughed lightly, throwing out his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Stop sulking; you're so petty when you fail to get your way. Besides, you should not say such things to the future weapons master of your adopted House."

Mordecai snorted. "You? Weapons master? I thought your younger brother had been appointed to take my place. And what does it say about you that your Matron Mother had to bring me in instead of using you in the first place?"

Vren hissed. "By all means, let us fight. I assure you that you will find me much changed."

"Magical items?" Mordecai scoffed, making a show of turning his complete attention to Cat and scratching her under her chin. Vren wasn't worth his consideration any longer, and Mordecai wanted him to know it.

"Training," Vren replied. "I am your superior in every way now, not simply by blood."

A flash of lightening ripped across the blackened sky, and Mordecai glanced back up and merely grinned. The cleric wondered if the rain would send Vren into a snit; the Secondboy hated anything that messed with his long, beautiful hair. "We shall see how superior you are after you have spent a few days upon the surface—especially in the damp."

"No, we shall see how superior I am after I have assassinated Jarlaxle and his human servant and have recovered the Kagaor ki Tamal." Vren gave Mordecai a nasty grin of his own. "I have not only come with orders, I have come with a plan. You will be following my lead from this point on, or you will be the next meal for the house spiders." The drow crossed his arms and smirked.

The cleric snickered and began imagining all the ways he could terrorize Vren and break his soul. Truly, the fool had no idea who he was threatening, especially since none of the Tuin'Tarls knew Mordecai was a cleric. Mordecai had more ways to make Vren beg and scream than the Secondboy could even imagine. Hells, he'd reduce the drow to an incoherent, mad, drooling lump of flesh. He would become Vren's worst nightmare realized.

And he would do the same to Jarlaxle and his three pet humans; they would pay for the dishonor they'd handed him. With a deep breath, the cleric fought off his anger, reminding himself—not for the first time—that at least one of Jarlaxle's pets had received a proper dose of humiliation at his hands.

"Well, let us proceed," Vren said, motioning for Mordecai to stand. "We must travel West, back toward the tower you once occupied. I shall tell you my plan as we travel."

Mordecai sneered. "Yes, let's." Let's begin the path to your ultimate disgrace and death.


A/N: As always, I must thank Matt and Darkhelmet for beta reading. Also, I need to thank Rezuri and Euphorbic for reading and responding to this chapter. All the quotes of Artemis and Jarlaxle at the beginnings of the chapters are from RAS.

If anyone is curious, I made up the custom of the birthdays. It's supposed to be specific to Tai's family, not general to the region.

Thank you to all who read and any who review.