Important note: This is the third part of the Road to Redemption series and follows "Mask of a Hero." This fanfic was originally posted on Lavender Eyes on August 13, 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 after "Empty Joys" and refers to the story "The Third Level" from Realms of Infamy, in which we learn that as a child, Entreri was sexually abused. This is a continuation of "Progression of a Killer" and "Mask of a Hero" and begins a few tendays after the events in "Hero." It would be best if you were familiar with the first two stories; however, you can read it as a stand-alone if you allow for the occurrence of positive character development.

Update, Oct. 2006: Obviously, this fanfic was written back in 2004, 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.

This story is rated M for implications of sexual abuse, childhood and otherwise. Read at your own risk.

The Road to Redemption: The Face of a God

By Ariel

Description: A continuation of "The Mask of Hero." Can a man who's lived his life as a heartless assassin see past his own dark heart? Can a paranoid drow mercenary invest himself in a genuine friendship with a man he has seen mostly as a tool? Drama/Action/Angst.

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. The following story is just for the amusement of the fans and will never make any profit.

Chapter One

Orangey-yellow fingers of sunlight crept through the wooden slats that covered the tavern windows. Bold in their daily death, the fingers clawed their way across the dull wooden tabletop, leaving stripes on the wrist of the table's single occupant. A shot of whiskey sat cupped in the occupant's hand, but the man absently turned the glass between his long, slender fingers and left it untasted. Through the slats, the man could see a knot of black clouds swelling in the crimson sky; thunder crashed so loudly it vibrated in the man's chest. The sunset would soon be overwhelmed by the fury of a storm. One corner of the man's mouth curved upward ever so briefly—a violent thunderstorm would match the typically dour mood of Artemis Entreri.

Entreri stared into the gloom of the sparsely populated tavern. Evening had not brought a rush to this particular inn. A few younger men slumped over the bar and nursed ales, and one older man sat alone at a table a few feet away. But their forms were nearly lost in the shadows that deepened by the minute. Another brief humorless smile crooked the assassin's lips. If Jarlaxle didn't conclude his meeting with Kimmuriel soon, he'd be drenched in the coming storm.

A reddish-white streak of lightning cracked in the distance, flashing at the edge of Entreri's vision. The few low voices, clink of mugs, and rushing wind should've had an almost relaxing effect, but as usual the assassin's back didn't even touch his chair. He wasn't sure anything could relax him at the moment. Every shadow in the tavern seemed to harbor some memory. The fat lout at the end of the bar, his voice louder than the others, made a garbled catcall at one of the barmaids, and the stench of alcohol filled the air. It seemed too familiar to Artemis Entreri, and it made him see ghosts. For the first time since his youth spent alone in the streets of Calimport, the specters of the past seemed to well up before him, spilling out of the corners and presenting him with images so disturbing that his mind instantly skittered away. It chaffed his soul deep within, irritated a festering wound so raw that trying to touch it, even with the most gentle of mental fingers, made him nauseated.

Disturbing. Yes, that was the only word for it. Disturbing. On some inherent, innate level the experiences of his childhood struck him with a sense of wrongness, of . . . immorality. Of . . . unnaturalness, a perversion and profanity so great as to upset the mind of an adult . . . and swallow the soul of a child. And the memories seemed to have crawled their way through the intricate, thick-walled fortress that protected his heart—and his mind—to unsettle him. It was something he'd spent a lifetime trying not to think about. Damn Brok Waylein, he thought viciously, and wished that he could make a short excursion into the nine hells just to torture the psychotic pervert, for Entreri's experiences at Waylein's fortress had caused his childhood nightmares to return after decades spent buried. And it seemed to the tormented assassin that he would not succeed in putting down either the nightmares or the related thoughts they unearthed like he had so many times before.

Another sharp report of thunder rent the too-still air, shaking the building. The fingers of sunlight that reached across the table died, leaving Entreri's wrist doused in shadows. Shadows, the stuff that now filtered through his blood. The assassin sighed. He'd been thinking far, far too much as of late, and just as he knew it would, the exercise in reflection was proving useless—a fool's errand.

The tavern door flew open, and a slim, delicate form strode in confidently. Entreri smirked, instantly matching the grand stride with the elf who owned it. The wind blew the door shut behind Jarlaxle, and the drow surveyed the dim tavern like a king observing his court. Truly, the assassin had never known a soul more self-assured, more charismatic, more commanding than Jarlaxle. All eyes immediately turned to him, and not only because of his race. The elf smiled widely—it seemed genuine—and, upon spotting Entreri in the corner, advanced toward the table as though with great purpose. It was a bit overdramatic, but then again everything about the mercenary was a bit overdramatic. Entreri watched with growing amusement this slender elf with his walking cane, billowing red cape, matching red eye patch, and ridiculously-plumed purple hat—this slender elf who swaggered toward him with such a sense of (admittedly legitimate) poise.

Jarlaxle wasn't surprised to find Entreri skulking at a corner table. He wasn't surprised to see his signature frown, his untouched drink, or his tense body language. What did surprise him, however, was the honest smile that just barely threatened the corners of Entreri's lips as he approached. The faint smile didn't actually register on the man's face, of course, but a ghost of something less dour seemed to brighten the man's eyes for the briefest of moments. Jarlaxle had added yet another thing to his Entreri-objective list: get the man to genuinely, openly smile. Things were not proceeding quickly in that department, however.

"Too bad," the assassin quipped as Jarlaxle sat across from him, "I had hoped you'd get caught in the storm so I could laugh at the drowned rat that came strolling in."

Jarlaxle just grinned. "Well, I do intend to provoke sincere laughter from you someday," he replied, the tease being part of his—or rather, their—new unofficial "more open influence" treaty. "But I'll not do it by having you laugh at me."

"Laughter is laughter."

"Ah, I have so much work left to do on you," the elf lamented with an exaggerated sigh. Entreri snorted. Jarlaxle was hardly being completely open or forthcoming about all his plans and intentions, nor did he assume Entreri expected him to be. But over the last two tendays, Jarlaxle had made sure to telegraph his influence on the assassin quite clearly. As a result, it had become a running joke of sorts between them, and fortunately, no less effective so far. As odd as it felt to the elf to be so obvious, it felt even stranger to realize the subtle shift for the better their friendship had taken . . ..

"Well?" Entreri interrupted Jarlaxle's thoughts. "Was Kimmuriel able to assist us with Socor?"

Jarlaxle found himself fingering the feather on his hat as he considered their attempted pursuit of the too-elusive wizard. The elf had not been amused by his near-death at Marrin Socor's hands—a near-death that Entreri had saved him from. And in addition to attaining revenge, Jarlaxle also faced the lure of adventure and profit. "Yes, well enough. I do believe we have a lead on Socor now. And given the increase his bounty has taken of late . . .."

"It would behoove us to leave immediately, lest some poor fool try to beat us to the kill?" Entreri finished.

Jarlaxle's smile was perfectly sparkling.

Entreri shook his head. "You greedy bastard."

"Not at all," Jarlaxle replied with a grin. "Just pragmatic." He thought for a moment. "Well, perhaps a bit greedy." The assassin smirked, but it was just a bit closer to a smile than a sneer. A bit more time, the mercenary thought.

Neither the human nor the drow noted the way their words evoked a sudden rigidity in the figure a few tables over. The name of Marrin Socor held more than a bounty; it acted almost like a curse.

"Socor," the older man hissed under his breath, and unbeknownst to the mercenaries, the contest was on.