Chapter 9

Entreri dropped the swords and turned away from Waylein's body, the rage visibly draining from him. Jarlaxle was grateful, then, for the life-force of the shade that Entreri now had running through his body, because without it, age would have surely taken a piece out of his friend just then. As it was, the assassin merely looked tired.

Wordlessly, Entreri picked the lock to the Jarlaxle's shackles, and a quick search of the impressive weapon collection in Waylein's adjoining bedroom located their weapons and other items. Properly prepared and with strategies in place, they fought their way out with only minor difficulties, although Jarlaxle had to take more than his fair share of action due to the assassin's many injuries. Once they'd gained a reasonable distance from the fortress, they slowed to a walk in deference to Entreri's condition, careful to stay off of the trail and to remain well hidden in the trees. Fortunately, the sun was setting, and twilight would soon help conceal their escape as well.

The silence between the two was uncomfortable. Jarlaxle watched his friend, but the assassin, now calm, had an unreadable expression and seemed deep in contemplation.

Jarlaxle's first inclination was to be surprised by Entreri's outburst, but when he considered the man's personality, he acknowledged that underneath his stoic façade, Entreri was an angry man. Such rage would inevitably resurface. Still, Jarlaxle stopped to consider the assassin's words. It seemed to the elf that it had simply begun as an attempt to taunt Waylein, to knock him further off-balance; however, Entreri's final words, Jarlaxle knew, were a reference to the blackest memory of the man's life and the greatest part of his unrelenting anger. This realization left Jarlaxle feeling quite odd. Was this a feeling of protectiveness, perhaps? Or a surge of compassion? Jarlaxle wasn't sure.

For his part, Entreri was sifting through his memory. A sense of foreboding poked at his mind, telling him that he had overlooked something important; additionally, now that he had calmed, he was suffering from an emotion he couldn't quite identify at the thought that Jarlaxle had seen him lose control of his anger. Was he feeling mortification? What exactly did I say? he wondered, angry at himself.

No, he couldn't afford to be angry, he realized. The hatred in which he'd grounded his entire life, the rage he'd felt toward weak, sadistic men like his father—an anger that he had first felt toward the thug Theebles had sent to test him—had caused this problem in the first place. The rage had somehow torn free of him. He hadn't been so angry at anyone in a long time. Not since Drizzt. But what had caused his control to slip so?

Had it been because Waylein had desired to do such . . . things to him? Or was there more to it than that? Entreri thought hard. He remembered being disgusted by what Waylein had done to Merrick, and then there was the child, which was too familiar—

The assassin shook his head, finding he didn't want to ponder these things. Still, when he glanced at the silent drow walking beside him, the uncomfortable feeling returned. What exactly did I say? he wondered again.

Entreri thought through as many of his words to Waylein as he could. First, he could recall taunting Waylein, trying to destroy the unstable man. He'd made some comment about how many people Waylein had raped, he remembered, and one very vicious jab implying the man was sexually inept. The assassin grinned wickedly. Occasionally he had more fun taunting his victims than fighting them.

But he'd also said something about nightmares. Entreri held back a grimace at that. The assassin himself had had two nightmares during his imprisonment, and although they'd been the first nightmares he'd had since late childhood, Jarlaxle had been there to see them!

Entreri clenched his jaw, willing himself to remain calm. Jarlaxle knew he liked to taunt some of his victims. Just because the assassin happened to also have had a few nightmares wouldn't make Jarlaxle assume that—

The assassin literally stopped in his tracks, and the drow also halted, glancing back at him. Entreri's final words came back to him all too clearly: "Do you think yourself the only man to suffer betrayal at the hands of a father?"

Entreri wanted to utter an unusually vile curse but didn't dare let a single muscle on his face twitch. The implication was there, and Jarlaxle was smart enough to catch it. A moment of horror descended upon him in which he considered either killing himself for letting his rage best him or killing Jarlaxle for knowing too much.

The drow was regarding him with concern. "It's my leg," Entreri lied evenly, suppressing the horror and resuming his limping walk. "We'll have to stop soon and see to it." That much, at least, was true.

Jarlaxle nodded without comment, and they continued weaving their way through the trees. Entreri walked behind the mercenary so he could hide his scowl. It was too late now, he told himself brutally, but he did draw comfort from the possibility the drow might not think much of it. After all, as Entreri had become aware during his stay in Menzoberranzan, drow did many unspeakable things to their children, especially the male ones. Perhaps the mercenary had hardly bothered to note it. As a male, there was no telling what Jarlaxle himself had experienced as a youth.

That thought screwed Entreri's face up into a look caught somewhere between intrigue and the disgust he typically felt toward the drow.

Still, it was not something that Entreri had wanted known, and so he made a solemn note to himself. After all, his pride over his skills and his obsession with Drizzt had cost him much. His overblown respect and fear of the drow had nearly cost him his life. And now the hatred and rage in which he'd grounded his entire life had cost him his privacy. He had to keep on his game, to keep in control, and not let such things ever happen again. For now, he could only hope the clever mercenary—if he indeed thought anything of it at all—could tell the difference between the assassin's taunts and his honest words.

Entreri needn't have worried since Jarlaxle had dismissed the taunts as just that. However, Jarlaxle was reflecting upon the irony of the situation. After all, in his eyes, both Waylein and Entreri were obsessed with power, control, and pride, even if they didn't express it in the same ways. Was Entreri aware of the truth and hypocrisy of his reaction to the man? Jarlaxle frowned and dismissed the question, focusing instead on two other pieces to this puzzle: Entreri's hatred of Waylein and his refusal to perpetrate such a crime himself. Ah, my friend, Jarlaxle mused. You do indeed have hope.

Jarlaxle glanced back at the man once more and smiled at him. "Well, my friend, I must thank you for rescuing me. I admit, once I'd learned you had escaped, I had to wonder if you'd not save yourself and abandon me to the joys of Waylein's tortures." The elf said it jokingly, but in truth he was partially serious.

"Abandon you?" Entreri echoed incredulously. It had not even occurred to the man to abandon his friend, and it especially had not occurred to him to abandon the elf to one as twisted as Waylein.

Jarlaxle smiled and tipped his hat to Entreri, and when he turned away to keep walking, his smile nearly split his face.

Several minutes of silence passed, and then the footsteps behind Jarlaxle suddenly stopped. The elf turned to find Entreri leaning against a thick redwood tree, and Jarlaxle could clearly see that the assassin had grown even paler from the continued blood loss. The mercenary gazed at the man and wondered what to do about the sudden awkwardness between them. Entreri, he knew, trusted him enough to embark upon this adventure with him, but the assassin wouldn't trust him with such personal information any more than he'd allow the elf to help him. The drow would have to tread carefully, but business first. "Your wounds have almost overcome you." He glanced around, looking for a possible place to sit. A fallen tree trunk lay about ten feet away. "Can you make it to the fallen tree?"

Entreri nodded and stumbled forward again. Jarlaxle frowned as the human nearly dragged his injured leg behind him. He would collapse before reaching it, the elf realized, and decided to take a practical approach to the problem, especially since the drow could simultaneously make a point, a point about help. Laying a hand on the man's shoulder, he stopped the assassin, looping his arm under his and shifting the man's weight so that he leaned on him heavily.

"I can make it on my own!" the already-uncomfortable Entreri snapped, starting to pull away.

"I doubt that very seriously," the mercenary said evenly, catching Entreri's wrist in order to keep his arm across his shoulders.

The human shot him a murderous glare. "I'm telling you, I do not need help."

"Would it mean anything even if you did?"

Entreri refused to acknowledge the question with an answer. The elf merely laughed and guided them both the remaining distance to the perch. But as they sat side-by-side, Jarlaxle grew quite serious. Upon seeing that look, Entreri stared rather pointedly at the ground and looked ready to flee despite his injuries.

No, the drow concluded. The night's revelation was something that had to remain forever unspoken between them. Jarlaxle chose his words with care. "Although you rescued me, I still have seven times to your four."

"Seven?" Entreri echoed with obvious doubt. The elf could see him counting up the incidents in his mind, and he laughed.

Jarlaxle reached for his healing orb. "Don't die on me now, my friend," he teased, "we have many adventures left to go."

Entreri relaxed just a fraction, apparently realizing they were going to pretend nothing unusual had happened.

"And much more trouble to get into," Jarlaxle added.

The assassin slumped and sighed. "Of that, I have little doubt."

Jarlaxle smiled and held out his healing orb, chanting for a minute. It was going to take a while, the drow decided, to heal all the injuries, so when Entreri had recovered enough to walk again, he stopped chanting. "Come now, I'll finish this later. For now, we need to get as far away as possible." The mercenary stood and looked to his friend expectantly. Entreri rose gingerly, testing his leg, and then followed Jarlaxle without comment.

Once back to the safety of the caves they'd taken shelter in previously, it took several minutes for Jarlaxle to repair the rest of the assassin's wounds. But the man's barbed quips did not daunt the dark elf, who simply laughed them all off, and the mercenary sat in companionable silence afterwards, watching his friend fall asleep. The man deserved some peaceful sleep, he reflected.

Many adventures remained for the drow to plan for himself and his friend. Many indeed. And of more depth than he'd imagined, which suited him beautifully. The more complex the better.

And where does the priest fit in? Jarlaxle wondered, immediately lost again in the complexities of Artemis Entreri.

He would not have it any other way.

A/N: I really cherish having had the chance to share my very first fanfiction with you, and I appreciate those of you who have provided feedback. Special thanks to my fiance for acting as my betareader.

Update, Revision on 1/03/05: Thanks to Alzadea for acting as my "gama reader" and also to darkhelmet, Dave, and Rezuri for tips.

"The Road to Redemption: The Progression of a Killer" was finished on May 9, 2004.