Important Note: This is the second part of the Road to Redemption series and follows "Progression of a Killer." This fanfic was originally posted on Lavender Eyes on May 31, 2004, and therefore is unlikely to be revised. I'd rather focus on writing new stories; besides, my later stories build on the events in this one.

This piece is meant to take place several months after "Empty Joys" and draws very heavily upon that story, Servant of the Shard, and "That Curious Sword." This fanfic also refers to the story "The Third Level" from Realms of Infamy, in which we learn that as a child, Entreri was sexually abused. This fanfic begins one month after the events in "Progression." It would be best if you were familiar with the first story; however, I think you can read it as a stand-alone.

The Road to Redemption: The Mask of a Hero

By Ariel

Description: Part 2 and sequel to "The Progression of a Killer." Jarlaxle's manipulation of and curiosity over Entreri's psyche backfires. What will this mean for the future of the companions? Drama/Action/Adventure.

Disclaimer: Jarlaxle, Artemis Entreri, and all other recognizable characters belong to R.A. Salvatore and Wizards of the Coast. The following story is just for the amusement of the fans and will never make any profit. Like many other fanfic writers, I am a poor student, so suing me would do no one any good.

Chapter 1

Artemis Entreri had the urge to knock Jarlaxle over the head with his sword's sheath.

Jarlaxle was sitting atop his newest purchase—a black mare—singing through all twelve stanzas of a bawdy ballad the two had overheard a few nights before at a tavern. He grinned wickedly at Entreri between each stanza, and there was no doubt that Jarlaxle was the only being in all the world who would keep singing after getting such a malevolent look—repeatedly—from the dangerous assassin. In fact, the more annoyed Entreri became, the louder Jarlaxle sang.

Of course, Entreri caught on to this and employed every ounce of will power he possessed to wipe the irritation off of his face, but after a while even his mount started to whinny, as though he were begging the assassin to stop the elf. No doubt, three of the four creatures present were very happy when Jarlaxle reached the end of the song despite the fact the elf had a fairly nice singing voice.

"What a beautiful morning!" Jarlaxle exclaimed after he'd finished. "A lovely sunrise, a smooth road, and such beautiful wildflowers in the fields."

Entreri snorted. Did the elf do that just to irritate him? Still, the drow's observations were technically accurate: after being expelled by the last village which had rejected the drow, they'd traveled southeast and had entered a stretch of flatlands. Lush fields with swaying purple wildflowers raced away from them on all sides, and the dirt road was unusually flat. With the dawn had come moderate warmth and a pleasant breeze which blew almost constantly. All in all, not too bad, the assassin noted, yet it was hardly something to get excited about.

"Cheer up, my friend," Jarlaxle said. "We have almost reached Amonacan, by all accounts a lovely little town."

"That you can't even find on a map," Entreri retorted.

"They are rumored to create some of Faerun's most beautiful rugs," Jarlaxle continued airily.

"Oh, lovely."

"And have attractive women."

"Who are likely actually long-faced, mousey-haired, and coarse," Entreri quipped.

"Don't be ugly, my dusty, unshaven friend."

Entreri snorted again. "This coming from a drow wearing a purple hat and a red eye-patch?"

Jarlaxle laughed. "I am simply graced with finer tastes than most."

At that claim, Entreri glanced down at the black shirt he now wore—one given to him by Jarlaxle. The magical threads running through it caused it to shimmer silver in certain lights, and ivory-colored buttons of engraved bone decorated the front. He kept the shirt unbuttoned a few inches down from the neck for his comfort, but he supposed that in an odd way he did look fashionable in it. "Black is by far more tasteful."

The dark elf laughed again. "Only for those with dour personalities like your own!"

The assassin didn't bother to reply. Jarlaxle had an answer for everything. The man simply resigned himself to the drow's relentless joyful chattering all the way to the town.

The companions rode up to the most promising inn and went through their now-common routine of facing down scared and bigoted townspeople for the chance to have a warm meal and a room after a long night's ride. Fortunately, the news of their recent capture of a deeply feared rapist in the surrounding area had reached this town, and it eased their way. The owner of the tavern didn't seem thrilled with the idea of a drow bounty hunter, but he grudgingly accepted them.

Arrangements secured, they returned outside to their horses with the intention of taking them to the stable before settling in for breakfast. Yet when they stepped outside, they were met with a curious sight: a small man in a flowing brown cape and leather armor had just mounted Entreri's horse, and even as they watched, he kicked his heels into the beast's sides. The horse reared and galloped off.

"That man just stole my horse," Entreri stated in a calm, factual manner.

Further down the street, the horse veered to the right suddenly, scattering a group of people. The rider leaned down and snatched up a young teenaged girl from the edge of the crowd. The assassin grimaced at the sight, suspecting that the move had dislocated the girl's shoulder.

"That man just abducted a young girl," Jarlaxle noted.

"That man is named Marrin Socor," said an alarmed voice to their rear, "and the girl in question is the mayor's daughter."

The companions traded looks and turned as one to face the man behind them. "Oh?" prompted Entreri.

"Ye just got caught in the middle of a nasty situation," the man remarked with wide eyes. "Give up on yer 'orse, now. Socor is a nasty fellow. He's wanted in towns up t' a 'undred miles from 'ere."

"Oh?" Jarlaxle echoed his friend.

The assassin could hear the gold coins adding up in the elf's head, and he could almost taste the trouble brewing.

Artemis Entreri was getting a headache.

"Bounty hunters? Ye cannot be serious!"

Entreri watched the town sheriff turn bright red in the face as he faced the mayor, a greying man named Richard Ligon. The mayor, however, was distracted and tearful. He paced the length of the town's tiny sheriff's office.

"My poor Lila," he moaned. "We shouldn't have banished him, McKinney. Socor really wasn't causing too much of a problem here, and now he's—"

"Done what he would've done anyway!" the sheriff replied. "But my men will take care of it, don't ye worry. We'll get yer daughter back safely. Ye don't need to add bounty hunters to this mess."

Entreri choked back a sigh as he watched the mayor gnaw on his fist. He'd give them three more minutes, then he was walking out.

"Ah, you may not need bounty hunters," Jarlaxle interjected, "but then again, you may after all. Who knows what dangers might befall your men as they gallop to the girl's rescue, good sheriff McKinney? And having two more people out to capture this dangerous Socor will not hurt, I dare say."

Ligon nodded, but he was staring at a point to the left of Jarlaxle's shoulder, likely out of discomfort over talking to a drow. "I suppose you are correct. They say Socor is a wizard."

"Well, his father is an accomplished one, supposedly." McKinney smirked.

"Then you definitely need our help. We fare quite well when facing wizards." Jarlaxle smiled, utilizing the best of his charm.

"Very well," the worried man said. "I'll personally pay you five-hundred gold for the return of my daughter, and the town will pay an extra three-hundred for either bringing in Socor alive or for bringing in his head."

"But . . . y-ye can't!" sheriff McKinney stuttered. "Three-hundred gold will wipe out the town treasury! And—and five-hundred gold will leave ye destitute!"

The mayor closed his eyes. "I realize that," he said, bowing his head. "But we need Marrin Socor stopped. And . . .." His voice caught. "And I would do anything to save my daughter." He opened his eyes, which shone brightly with tears, and looked at the two bounty hunters. "Will you accept the job?"

"We will," Jarlaxle replied solemnly, to which a frowning Entreri nodded.

"Then enough talk," Ligon said. "Please leave immediately."

Jarlaxle and Entreri took the cue and departed, the assassin riding the sheriff's horse.

"Not too bad," Jarlaxle said with a grin as they left the town, "considering we needed to retrieve your horse anyway."

"If we get there first," was all Entreri would say. This made the third rescue-type bounty mission they'd taken in as many months, and even though they were being paid for their efforts, that—mixed with some goblin and orc killing they'd done—was beginning to make the assassin feel strange. This was not the type of adventure he'd imagined when they'd set off months ago. Still, it originally had been Entreri's suggestion to work as bounty hunters, so he really couldn't say anything. He frowned, resigning himself to the task at hand.

"You do not seem happy, my friend. Smile!" Jarlaxle's happy tone made the word sound nearly like a chirp. "We are getting paid to save a damsel in distress! Can it be any better?"

Entreri snorted. The drow had an odd sense of humor. "Oh, yes, we're charging off to eradicate evil."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," the mercenary said innocently.

"If we really meant to eradicate evil, we'd have to kill the whole world," Entreri replied.

The drow turned a curious look upon him, apparently catching the half-jest. "Why do you say that, my friend?"

"Because most people are evil."

"Are they?" Jarlaxle gave him the oddest look.

"Yes," Entreri explained patience he didn't feel. "Self-proclaimed heroes and goodly priests make a great show of their charity, but most of them live completely different lives behind closed doors. More often than not, paladins are simply trying to gain fame and fortune—and maybe the favors of a young maiden—and they have no real sense of honor or justice. Granted, there may be a few honest ones or a few foolish enough to die for others, but it's wiser to simply distrust them all. In the end, the only thing separating us from most of the 'heroes,' 'goodly' priests, and other such people is that we admit we're in this only for ourselves. The people who meet us know not to trust us, and we don't lie—not about that."

Jarlaxle narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "So the whole world be damned?"

"The whole world is damned already."

"No wonder you do not enjoy your life."

"How have you enjoyed yours?" Entreri asked skeptically. "By playing the game like everyone else? By playing it better than others so that you may have the most power and wealth of any male in Menzoberranzan?"

"No, my friend," said the surprising drow, "although I do not deny that wealth and power bring me pleasure. I enjoy my life because I know it is all a great game. There is no truth to the game, and there is no higher meaning about life that comes from it. I do not damn the whole world because the game is merely that which I play to stay alive. The world is, in part, the game, but the game is not the whole world."

Entreri stared hard at Jarlaxle, trying to make sense of that one.

Jarlaxle, in the meantime, was pleased with this second insight he'd finally been able to pry from Entreri. He'd been curious about the assassin's past experience with priests ever since the first revealing insight Entreri had graced him with while they were at the Spirit Soaring. Jarlaxle now wondered if he might be getting closer to the truth of Entreri's hatred. Could it be that a young Artemis, traumatized by his father and uncle, had turned to a priest for help and had been denied or betrayed by that priest? Or could it be that Artemis's father or uncle had been a priest? The church of Tyr was quite active in Calimshan, after all. It would have been a sick irony for the child if his father had been a priest of the god of justice. Or—even worse—a priest of Ilmater, a god who cares for children!

But Jarlaxle had already learned not to press the man on the matter. "So, selfish bastards that we are, we don't care if the mayor's daughter is tortured or killed?"

Entreri shrugged and looked away from the drow to stare down the dirt road. "We are getting paid to save her."

Jarlaxle started to reply, to point out that Entreri did not care about material wealth, to reveal the strange contradictions in the man's recent behavior, but he left the words unsaid. Entreri still needed to believe he was hopelessly selfish and evil, still needed to believe that he didn't care about anyone other than himself. To a great extent, in fact, those things were still true. But believing that he was not changing kept the man feeling safe, and it was not yet time to knock the man any further off-balance than he already was. "Very well. Let us go save the maid, then."

Entreri smirked, no doubt thinking the reply quite typical of the profit-lusting mercenary. His response, of course, was a good thing since part of the reason Jarlaxle was successfully changing the man was because they were both just that—mercenaries. Jarlaxle was a kindred spirit, someone Entreri could—to some extent—identify with. Therefore, the drow could discuss, say, or point out things Entreri wouldn't take from someone else, which was fortunate considering that the drow was in the position to point out much. And he wanted to, especially after what he'd learned a month earlier . . ..

On the other hand, Jarlaxle had to wonder if his apparently predictable profit-lust was, in a personal context, not as much of a good thing. It was not a thought that had ever occurred to him before.

A/N: Thanks to the people on the LE forum who brought up the notion that Jarlaxle would likely sing just to annoy Entreri. Great idea! Also, I would like to thank, up front, darkhelmet and Matt for being my beta readers.

Other notes: I totally made up the description of the shirt—RAS doesn't say what color it is. I just imagine it that way.