Descent into Darkness: The Sacrifice for Salvation

By Ariel

Description: "Compassion can save your soul. Or damn your body."—Jarlaxle. What will be the price of defeating Mordecai and the Kagaor ki Tamal? 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, as are all poems and quotes of poetry.

A/N: This is a continuation of "The Gathering Storm" and begins immediately after its last line. 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" or POTWK in my fanfic universe; therefore, Descent into Darkness is categorized as mildly AU and rests heavily on the background provided by SotS, "That Curious Sword," and "Empty Joys."

Blinded Eyes

A truth dwells in fiction,
A mirror for all life.
A fiction dwells in truth,
When seen by many eyes.
Which version do we hold inside?
Can we see past our self-lies?
What we seek is not proof.
The answer lies inside.


The mirror, the legendary Kagaor ki Tamal, glittered in front of Mordecai, untarnished by the wear of countless ages, seeping with the force and strength that he desired to wield. The cleric could feel the wash of its magic around him, engulfing him, until all the cleric could hear was the throbbing of his own blood in his veins. Trembling with anticipation, Mordecai closed his eyes and, with outstretched arms, touched the mirror with his fingertips.

The world seemed to stop as he pulled the artifact from the wall. The mirror released an explosion of white light, piercing the room and the eyes of the soldiers. He heard Vren scream in agony, felt as the other soldiers fell to their knees in pain. With the light came another form of sight, a vision that wrapped about his mind, granting him sight from blindness. The power of the Kagaor ki Tamal was laid bare before him; he only need take it.

Unflinching even as his body was wracked with a strange and foreign torture of its own, Mordecai forced himself to look into the radiance, to embrace what was being given to him. The light began to fade then, but Mordecai knew better than to think it gone. He could feel it within him, ready to be unleashed on anyone who chose to oppose him and his masked god. A cry rose in his throat, transforming fast into a bark of laughter that echoed around the room, filling it with sound even as the light extinguished.

Let it begin.

Chapter 1

"Blinded Eyes"

Magical torches lit the dusty chamber, revealing a vaulted ceiling, tattered banners, and broken pieces of wooden furniture strewn across the flagstones. A musty, thick stench hung in the stale air, created by moss, ivy, mold, and old dirt. However, the cleric Mordecai hardly noticed his dim, dank surroundings, for he held in his hands an item about which he'd spent decades dreaming.

"One supposes you are quite proud of yourself," called a female voice.

Mordecai, still standing by the half-blinded Vren, whirled toward the doorway to see Chalithra, the eldest daughter of House Tuin'Tarl and his oft-times tormentor. Graceful and round-figured, Chalithra was a picture of drow beauty: free-flowing white hair, aristocratic features, and toned muscles. Of course, like most things beautiful among the drow, Chalithra was dangerous and vicious, taking great pleasure in whipping males to death—or in Mordecai's case, near death.

Chalithra stepped into the room, her four-headed snake whip writhing in her grasp. Mordecai sneered at the irony: although Chalithra worshipped a spider demon, she carried a snake whip. Likewise, although Mordecai worshipped a rogue, he wielded a mirror made by sentient snakes. Life did have its little amusements.

Chalithra's entrance was followed closely by another—a single-soldier escort. Mordecai glanced with suspicion at the three Tuin'Tarl soldiers who were only now recovering their sight, and his Matron Mother Prid'eesoth's plan was suddenly obvious to him. Or, rather, his supposed Matron Mother, for the lot was getting ready to learn just how poor their skills of intrigue really were.

"Quite proud," Mordecai finally answered, sauntering down the ramp. Predictably, Vren didn't follow, and the cleric wondered if he'd choose to side with Chalithra. "After all, I met my objective despite all interference."

"Your objective?" Chalithra repeated with a smirk.

"Yes, mine," Mordecai stated boldly. "My objective to attain a powerful magic item for the glory and success of Vhaeraun." The cleric had to laugh, then, for Chalithra's look of offense and outrage was of comical proportions: her nose scrunched up, her eyes narrowed, and she bared her teeth like an animal.

"I will twist you into a drider for this," the priestess hissed, "or perhaps sacrifice you on an altar to Lolth."

"Unlikely," Mordecai replied with a touch of boredom, "for not only are you out of your element and in mine, I wield the mirror your Matron Mother sought so desperately."

Chalithra tilted her head and smiled. "Your treachery was expected, of course, which is why we sent you the escort and why I, myself, was sent to collect the mirror once you'd done the grunt work."

At this, the three Tuin'Tarl soldiers who had accompanied Mordecai and Vren straightened their postures. Mordecai glanced up at Vren, who still remained at the top of the altar. Obviously sweating, the Secondboy wrung his luxurious braid in his hands; the cleric decided he'd never seen anyone so afraid and briefly wondered if Vren had soiled himself. Mordecai laughed and turned back to Chalithra.

"The grunt work?" the cleric replied. "There's a problem with using slaves to do all your work: at some point, the slaves rebel and either destroy or steal whatever resources have been placed in their care."

Chalithra snarled at the blasphemy and raised her whip. The battle had begun.

Carefully hidden in the shadows of the entryway beyond, Jarlaxle, Entreri, Tai, and Nyx watched the confrontation between Mordecai and the Tuin'Tarl priestess. Since Tai and Nyx couldn't speak Drow, only Entreri and Jarlaxle followed the conversation, but the scenario was obvious to any onlooker.

"Although the concept of luck pales in comparison to the might of Hoar, I have to admit luck is on our side," Tai noted darkly.

Entreri turned to the boy at his shoulder and gave him a strange look.

"Either way you look at it, their numbers are five," Tai explained in a whisper. "If those three soldiers side with Mordecai and one atop the altar, there are five in the group; if they side with the female and her escort, there are still five in the group."

The assassin's expression grew only more confused. "This is significant?"

"Apparently," Nyx whispered, "five is considered a highly unlucky number in Tethyr."

"Given my faith in Hoar, I try not to place too much stock in luck," Tai said, "but I have to admit . . . there is some small comfort in the fact they number five."

Entreri's eyebrow had crawled halfway up his forehead. "Don't be ludicrous. Luck has little or nothing to do with any battle. It's wit and skill that decide a fight."

"It wasn't when you fought Drizzt the last time," Jarlaxle pointed out, whispering as well. "But never mind. The point is that priestess will likely solve most of our problem for us—or perhaps all of it. We may wait for them to kill each other and then take the mirror and whatever other treasures we may find."

Entreri silently sighed, resigning himself to Jarlaxle's greed.

"And if Mordecai wins?" Nyx asked.

"We'll kill him and take the mirror," Jarlaxle whispered back.

"And if that female drow wins?" the monk pressed him.

"We'll kill her and take the mirror." Jarlaxle grinned.

"One of the soldiers just melted into the shadows," Entreri said, interrupting them.

Jarlaxle drew a wand and pointed it directly overhead. "I wouldn't try that if I were you," he said in drow.

Entreri looked upward and found a solider silently levitating over their heads, his crossbow drawn. "So much for waiting for them to kill each other," the assassin said dryly, drawing his sword.

The drow soldier released his crossbolt at Entreri, who dodged to the side. Simultaneously, Jarlaxle aimed a ball of magical energy at the solider, but even as he did so, the mercenary knew his shot would be too late. The solider shifted his weight and let the levitation spell drop. He landed so that he rolled on impact, which caused Jarlaxle's missile to slam into the heavy stone of the roof. A shower of pebble and wreckage tumbled upon the group.

Entreri shot the drow mercenary a dark look, but Jarlaxle ignored it and drew his two magical daggers. A whispered spell elongated the blades into slender swords.

"My good assassin," he said to Entreri, "if you, your clerical companion, and Nyx would take the soldiers, I shall amuse myself with Mordecai."

Entreri, dagger and sword already in hand, gave Jarlaxle an Are-You-Mad? look. "Have you taken leave of your senses? If Mordecai has that cursed artifact—"

"Then it would be best if the three of you finished the rest quickly," Jarlaxle said.

Apparently shaken by Jarlaxle's magic and his attackers' numbers, the solider who had tried to attack them fled back to the drow priestess. He was quickly joined by the three soldiers who had once sided with Mordecai, and the remaining solider also ran down the ramp as though to aid them. The battle had shifted, though perhaps not in the right direction.

"It looks as though you may be getting your five after all," Entreri said to Tai. "Although at least you will not be like Jarlaxle, who seems determined to condemn himself to death."

The cleric seemed grim. "Our path can lead only to victory; Hoar will not let this injustice stand."

"And I will not underestimate Mordecai," Jarlaxle said. As I did last time. The elf glanced at his companions, who nodded their understanding of the plan, and the group joined the fight.

Nyx focused her sights on the drow coming down the ramp. Since his attention seemed more focused on his comrades, Nyx used the element of surprise to launch her attack. With kukri drawn, she vaulted onto the ramp, scratching his shoulder with one blade and nearly severing his hand with the other. However, a second drow had followed a tactic similar to hers, and he used the angle of the monk's attack against her by kicking her from behind. Nyx's training had prepared her for such a scenario; she twisted and blocked the strike. Growling, she jumped back, facing both drow.

The shorter drow, who wielded a double-bladed sword, grinned at her and flipped his long silver braid over his shoulder. The movement seemed odd, almost feminine, and Nyx wondered if he were trying to unbalance her.

"Are you mocking me?" Nyx asked, lunging at the drow. She swung the kukri across her chest, deflecting the first drow's forward thrust and knocking him backward. The second drow immediately joined the attack, and the combined defensive strikes from the drow blocked her every move. Focusing her energy on the drow with the silver braid, Nyx issued her first taunt. "I'm not going to let a little pansy like you beat me."

Silver Braid hissed at her and said something she didn't understand.

Seeing that the drows' movements were in sync, Nyx reconsidered her approach. The drow seemed trained to fight as well together as separately; their movements spoke of an eerie level of control. She had to take one out as quickly as possible, or they'd be able to corner her. Attempting to regain her edge, the monk sheathed one kukri and drew shuriken from a side pouch. She feinted a forward sweep with the remaining kukri, then she shifted her weight, carrying herself backwards. With two quick snaps of her wrists, the throwing stars shot forth from her hand, directly towards where each of the drow—

Had been moments ago. Startled, Nyx pivoted to find the white-haired drow behind her and the silver-braided drow at her side. Silver Braid laughed as he arched his double-bladed sword towards her. The strike came with such speed that Nyx only had time to throw her weight out of the main path of the blade. Even so, the cold metal grazed her shoulder, and the awkward movement caught her foot on a stone. Her ankle bent sideways with a sickening pop.

Panting, Nyx curled into a roll and came up in a kneeling position, her kukri out before her once again, beads of sweat rolling down her forehead.

The two drow leered at her, and Silver Braid said something in his own tongue.

Nyx snarled. "Shut up, or I'll rip that blasted tongue out of your mouth and use it as a washcloth." She shifted her footing slightly, noting that the ankle was twisted, not broken. She tensed her muscles, ready to launch her attack, but stopped when a flash of lightning lit the room and struck the side wall.

In that instant, Silver Braid gained further advantage over her. He crossed the gap between them and brought his sword down in a lethal arc. Lips tightening, Nyx blocked the strike with both kukri.

However, the second drow had lunged toward her as well, his blade aimed directly at her side.

Entreri felt the hairs on his arms lift as the bolt of lightning struck the wall of the chamber. Fragments of ancient stone rained upon him, and the stench of mildew grew stronger. To his side, Tai paused for a moment, apparently refocusing his concentration.

The drow soldiers and priestess who Entreri and Tai were fighting paused, apparently stunned by the brilliant lightning which had been issued from Kagaor ki Tamal. Entreri used their momentary blindness to his advantage and pressed his attack upon the priestess, who barely deflected his sword.

"It would seem Mordecai has coaxed an attack from his prized mirror," the assassin said, and he enjoyed the outrage on the female's face.

"You humans will die for interfering in drow affairs," the priestess replied, snake whip curling in her grip.

Shifting his dagger to a reverse grip, Entreri sneered and circled the priestess even as the other soldiers began to close in on him. "I beg to differ," he said in drow, drawing a look of shock from her. "Does it surprise you that an iblith can speak your tongue?"

Shifting tactics, Entreri broke into a run, bringing Charon's Claw up before him and leaving a long trail of black ash. The drows' positions remained etched in his mind, black forms on a sullen grey backdrop. He burst through the floating barricade, grinning as Charon's Claw connected with flesh, a quick upper thrust cleaving right through skin and bone.

Now able to see his enemy, the drow that Entreri had injured screamed and tried to raise his sword in defense. The assassin snapped his jeweled dagger around in an arc and dug the tip deep into the drow's neck. The elf's eyes went wide in horror as a vampiric power sucked the strength from his limbs; his lips moved in a prayer.

"Too late," Entreri said as the drow gave a final gasp. "You should have thought of that before you followed Lolth's orders to die."

His fighter's senses burned then. On instinct, Entreri swept his blades over his shoulders. One connected with steel, the other with flesh. By the drow's cry, Entreri felt sure that he had taken out at least an eye, if not driven the blade through the elf's brain. He snapped the blades forward again, shifting his weight so that the drow was knocked to the ground, his blood running onto the stone floor.

Disdain lighting his dark eyes, Entreri spat on the dead drow and turned his attention to the other two. Tai was locked in combat with one, his daggers blocking and striking with remarkable speed. The drow seemed off-balance, as though surprised by boy's tenacity.

Satisfied that the priest was in order, Entreri directed his sword towards the remaining drow.

Her lips twisted into a snarl, the drow priestess caught the assassin's gaze and spun around to meet his blades, her snake whip darting out to latch onto Entreri's arms. The assassin blocked easily, and with a quick thrust forward, he nearly ripped the priestess's whip from her hand.

"How humiliating for you," Entreri said in drow, "to be defeated by a human male."

The words hit home, and the priestess, even more enraged, snapped her whip back and tucked herself into a backwards roll, coming up near the edge of the stone ramp. In the semi-dark, her eyes glowed a demonic red, and Entreri found himself reminded of all the time that he had spent in the Underdark.

"Why is it always drow?" he growled, lunging forward. Charon's Claw carved a path of ash in the air. "Why drow!"

As his companions fought, Jarlaxle faced the very drow he wanted dead. Mordecai's red eyes glimmered in the dull light, and through his infravision, Jarlaxle could see a faint smirk on his former soldier's face. Even so, beads of sweat raced down Mordecai's forehead from his desperate attempts to avoid Jarlaxle's assault.

However, my strikes do little good, Jarlaxle thought, now that Mordecai has unleashed chain lightening from the Kagaor ki Tamal. Granted, Mordecai seemed unable to effectively control the mirror, but if he could wield that power with little effort . . .

Jarlaxle tilted back his hat. "I have been meaning to comment, and I seem to always forget—what a nice mirror that is!" The elf used the moment to subtly shift his footing so that he could spring. "Although I shouldn't think you'd be so deluded about your appearance as to enjoy staring at your own image."

"Your childish taunts do nothing," Mordecai said, too casually for Jarlaxle's liking. Though he was breathing heavy, the drow still smiled. "You are more a fool than I first thought if you believe you can defeat me here. Perhaps, in light of your impertinence, I will even rape that boy again and force your other human pets to watch."

With the implication of those words to fuel him, Jarlaxle launched himself forward, swords snapping and popping in quick circles and thrusts. The other drow dipped, narrowly missing having his ear sliced off, but still gained several cuts from the assault.

Mordecai was out of his element, Jarlaxle thought with a trace of satisfaction. No matter how powerful the mirror was, Mordecai couldn't escape if he couldn't dodge simple physical attacks. The cleric was an expert swordsman, but that did little good if he did not wield swords.

Wasting no time, Jarlaxle let one sword fly from his grip. As it traveled, the mercenary quickly drew a dagger from his wrist bracer. The sword dipped in its flight and sliced Mordecai's left arm.

Cursing, the cleric rubbed the wound and licked the blood off his fingers with a sadistic scowl. "You would have blood, would you? I would rather have cooked flesh!"

Jarlaxle's eyes went wide, and he instinctively stepped backwards. His guess was correct.

Cackling madly, Mordecai took aim with the mirror and released a second bolt of white lightning from its surface. The electricity crackled the air where Jarlaxle had just been, and the mercenary didn't have time to see where it had gone. It was all that he could do to maintain his balance.

"Would you like another demonstration?" Mordecai asked.

Jarlaxle grimaced. He had to kill Mordecai quickly while the cleric was still unsure of the mirror's properties. If Mordecai could discover more than just how to invoke chain lightning . . .

"Time ticks slowly for a dead man," Jarlaxle muttered.

In desperation, Nyx struck with the only strategy she could recall. The monk yelled, igniting her battle ki, and shifted most of her weight onto her uninjured leg. She spun in a semi-circle, using her momentum to both partially dodge the drow's blade and execute a round-house kick to Silver Braid's head. The result was that, although she couldn't completely clear the sword, she knocked Silver Braid into the second drow, which broke the line of his attack.

Nyx didn't congratulate herself yet, however. The drow regained their balance with ease, their red eyes flames of rage and hatred. Her only option remained killing one within the next minute before they could use her injury against her. Gathering her ki for a second strike, Nyx admitted to herself that she needed a distraction.

Hoar help me, the monk thought, keeping her kukri before her defensively. Just one chance. I need one chance.

And then, so fast that it surprised her, that chance came. A flash of lightning lit the room, and the monk noted a blur of movement as Silver Braid tried to evade the errant bolt. The move threw the other drow off balance. That was it. Summoning the full force of her life energy into her good leg, Nyx leapt forward and slammed her foot into the second drow's windpipe. The strike crushed his throat, and the drow stumbled backward onto the floor, desperately trying to draw wheezing breaths.

Landing carefully so that she did not strain her ankle, Nyx grinned and drew a pair of shuriken from her pouch. She faced Silver Braid, who suddenly regarded her with blatant fear.

Now the fight was back on her terms.

Great gashes erupted on the drow solider's chest as Tai emptied a burst of divine energy into him. Blood sprayed from the solider's wounds, spattering the priest's face, but Tai ignored it and took aim with the stiletto dagger in his right hand. As the drow attempted to regain his footing, the priest lunged forward and buried the tip of the weapon in the drow's throat, severing his windpipe. The solider toppled to the ground.

In his preoccupation, Tai almost failed to note the lightning bolt. The world seemed strangely still as a flash of light filled the room; the priest turned away from the dying drow and focused on the electricity's path. It nearly killed another drow—one of the soldiers Nyx fought—then arced towards Entreri.

Tai's horror and panic were absolute. He didn't think. He didn't plan. He simply acted.

A surge of power flooded into the priest, and an incantation he didn't recognize left his lips. A flash of golden light enveloped Tai, followed by a sensation of displacement. Suddenly he was lying on the ground, Entreri under him, as the bolt passed disconcertingly close to his back. The lightning struck near the drow priestess Entreri had been fighting, and with a yell, she scrambled to one side.

The assassin remained deathly still, and for an agonizing moment, Tai wondered if he had failed. However, a second later a muffled growl erupted from beneath the priest.

"Damn, boy, what were you thinking?" Entreri lurched up, shoving Tai roughly to the side.

The priest cringed. "I—I was just trying to save you from the lightning. I thought you might be killed."

Entreri's gaze bore into Tai. "Save yourself next time."

Tai bit his lip, hurt.

The assassin stood and glared at the priestess, who had recovered herself and now approached them. "So quick to die," the man muttered as he stepped toward his opponent.

Tai stood as well, watching Entreri's back for him. His pain had been momentary, for it occurred to the priest that Entreri's cynical side was second nature to him. He also recognized that regardless of what the man would say, Entreri's anger might not be born of disdain.

Either way, Tai didn't believe he was the one who needed saving.

The mercenary was growing annoying. Worse, Mordecai decided, he was fast becoming dangerous. Every step that Jarlaxle made, every strike he directed towards Mordecai, drained the drow of strength. The battle strained him more than he recalled happening before; however, he shrugged it away as a result of being unaccustomed to the mirror's power.

Yet for all the energy drain, the blasted mirror seemed restricted to one attack. Since he had first touched it, Mordecai had been able to do nothing other than summon chain lightning. Whatever magic that had initially occurred seemed to have subsided.

"Would you like a breather?" Jarlaxle called, sending another flurry of daggers. "A moment to relax, perhaps?"

Mordecai dodged most of the daggers, but one caught the edge of his wrist, drawing a thin line of blood only a bit lower from where he had been struck by the flying sword. He felt tired of Jarlaxle's continued babbling. No matter how Mordecai protested, Jarlaxle's comments did irk him because he knew that he had enough power in the mirror to crush them all. He just wasn't sure how to access it.

Jarlaxle unleashed another stream of daggers, and Mordecai spun to avoid them. He was startled, then, when he came suddenly face-to-face with another pair of red eyes.

"Foolish male," Chalithra hissed. Blood leaked from a head wound and matted her white hair about her hairline. "I will rip out your intestines and feed them to driders. It is by divine favor alone that you did not kill me accidentally with that cursed lightning!"

A wave of embarrassment seared across Mordecai's face, but only briefly. He hated it when priestesses mocked him, and he hated it even more when they were right. A feral growl escaped his throat, and a surge of rage burned in his lungs. He could feel the fury building in his fingers, growing within the mirror.

"I will kill you both, then," he said softly.

Apparently unimpressed, Jarlaxle turned to Chalithra and shrugged. "I would much rather prefer to do it myself, but if you insist . . . a truce?"

"Momentarily," Chalithra sneered. "Long enough to see that one drawn up with my whip."

Truces meant little to the drow, but that was no comfort for Mordecai when his two enemies—one almost past sanity with anger, the other possessed with a killing calm—advanced on him.

Mordecai had no choice. Focusing his mind on the mirror, the cleric allowed the magic of the artifact to enter his mind. He felt the pathways intertwining before him, saw the Weave bend in the air. Just as before, he aimed the mirror, smiling in victory when Jarlaxle and Chalithra faltered in their steps. The air crackled, the glass flashed—

And nothing happened.

Nyx grinned as her fists repeatedly connected with drow flesh. Although her battle ki had been spent with the kick that had killed the other drow, her training in unarmed combat allowed her to strike Silver Braid with the strength of the earth beneath her feet. While the impact of her punch traveled harmlessly through her body into the floor, the main force struck the drow in the chest, causing him to melt away from her with cries of pain. It wouldn't be long, she decided, before he gave in entirely—or, perhaps, fled.

The drow grunted as one of her punches struck him across the side of the head. Skin broke under her fingers, and the drow stumbled backwards.

"Come on," Nyx chided, wiping blood from her knuckles. "Had enough?"

Surprisingly enough, Silver Braid had. Shaking his head as if to right his senses, he lunged away, heading toward the door.

"Coward!" She snarled, reaching for a pair of shuriken, only to find her pouch empty. "Oh, lovely." Grabbing for the one thing available to her, Nyx grasped hold of her kukri and started to throw one an attempt to catch the drow before he left.

However, her body betrayed her as the last of her ki seemed to drain away, and the ankle that she had twisted earlier collapsed. Nyx fell to the ground with a thud, managing to catch herself before she injured anything else. She was left to watch, frustrated, as the drow fled the room, his silver braid flopping behind him.

Jarlaxle laughed at Mordecai's horrified expression when the mirror failed to discharge. The foolish drow had gotten what he deserved!

Mordecai slumped backwards with a shocked expression, glaring at the artifact as though it were animal excrement. At his pause, Chalithra rushed forward, snake heads snapping at the cleric. One of the animated heads bit deeply into Mordecai's arm, causing him to scream and fall further backwards, blood now dripping from both arms.

Having used the opportunity to gain a better angle, Jarlaxle let loose a swarm of throwing daggers. Two missed, and two hit the mirror with no result. The final one caught Mordecai in the shoulder. The drow hissed and spun around, bringing up the mirror with the only arm that would still work. The poison of the whip had apparently taken hold in the other, for it hung limply at his side.

"And now," Chalithra snarled, her petite features curving into a hideous grin, "you will die."

That is, of course, Jarlaxle thought smugly, drawing a wand from its pocket of holding, if I don't kill Mordecai first.

As Jarlaxle took aim with the wand and Chalithra closed in, Mordecai seemed to find some strength in his desperation. The surface of the mirror flared once, then exploded into a brilliant light that sent the priestess to the floor with a scream, clutching at her eyes. Jarlaxle, more accustomed to the bright light of the surface, merely cringed.

When the light faded, the mercenary was dismayed to see not Mordecai, but a large viper at least twenty feet long. The snake reared up and hissed, poison dripping from two teeth the size of a drow's arm.

To the side, Chalithra crawled away along the floor, one hand still clutching at her eyes. Jarlaxle ignored her, instead focusing on the more immediate threat. The snake was huge and much like the carcass that he had seen upon entering the room. It was likely that the mirror had the power to summon some form of snake to the wielder's control.

A voice from behind startled Jarlaxle, and he turned to see Entreri, sword drawn and dagger pointed at the snake. "You said?" the elf asked.

Grey eyes flashed. "I hate drow," the assassin growled. So fast that he seemed to disappear, Entreri sprinted to the snake. When the creature moved to strike, the assassin rebounded off the wall and landed on its back. The snake sputtered in pain as Charon's Claw drove deep into its back, but it was the dagger that silenced the creature. Entreri only held the blade in the snake's back for a few seconds before it thudded to the ground.

"Effective," Jarlaxle said, never ceasing to be impressed by Entreri's talent. Then he glanced about the room and realized it was empty save he and his companions. Apparently Chalithra had recovered and given Mordecai chase.

"And Mordecai?" Entreri asked, his eyes narrowed.

Jarlaxle didn't answer. Instead, he turned his attention towards Tai, who had rushed to the injured Nyx. He held the image of the worried young priest in his mind until he found the words that needed to be said.

"His own pride will force him to return and try to kill us." The drow mercenary was calm and confident. "He will walk directly into our hands."

The Jaezred Chaulssin: a well-hidden drow House of master assassins who haunted the ruins of the ancient city of Chaulssin. Unknown except to a few, the House was the essence of stealth, sending away its members to strategically infiltrate and kill in cities like Menzoberranzan.

It was to one member of this secret House that Mordecai reported to, meeting him in a secluded cave in the forest—a place long planned out in advance.

Stepping into the cave, the partially-healed Mordecai managed a bow. "I have come, brother, with the mirror."

The other drow, who looked much like a taller, thinner version of Mordecai himself, stood from the rocky ledge that had been his seat. "Do not call me 'brother' when you have made so many mistakes and foolish choices."

Mordecai glared at the male, who was genuinely his full-blooded brother, and frowned. "I have done the best I could in difficult circumstances, and the mirror is ours now. Our House will be able to wreak much damage with this powerful item."

"Indeed we shall," the older male, Zharin, said, "but you nearly destroyed our entire mission and revealed us! You were chosen for this task because of your profile—carefully selected and planted in order to be acquired by the Tuin'Tarl. We invested decades of effort into making sure you could procure the mirror with stealth. Yet you have managed to attract too much attention; you have the eldest daughter of Tuin'Tarl and the ex-leader of Bregan D'aerthe tracking you!"

"We have the mirror," Mordecai repeated, irritated.

The older drow's glowing red gaze seemed to drill through the cleric's skull. "You allowed your own ambition to get in the way."

As Mordecai grew tenser, his backpack shifted, revealing the presence of something live within it.

"Tell me it is not so," Zharin sighed. "Show it to me."

With an exasperated sigh, Mordecai pulled off his backpack and lifted out Cat, who he had summoned to him after shaking Chalithra's pursuit. The soft white animal twisted in his hands and meowed at the newcomer.

Zharin shook his head. "So petty. You did not have time to take pets! What were you thinking dragging some worthless beast across the Night Above with you?"

"I am anything but petty," Mordecai snapped.

But Zharin was not listening. "You have been too reckless, too immature, too risky. You have much to account for." The older drow held out his hand. "Give me the Kagaor ki Tamal. We must return to our House at once."

Mordecai hesitated, dropping Cat to the floor. Hand over the mirror? Somehow the thought seemed incongruous. He was the wielder. The mirror's power was his to control. The Jaezred Chaulssin shouldn't be criticizing him—they should be thanking him for using such power to their advantage.

"Alak," Zharin said in a warning tone, using Mordecai's real name, his birth name.

But Alak didn't hand over the mirror. The Kagaor ki Tamal belonged to him, to the cleric known as Mordecai. Its power was for him alone.

Slowly, in a calm and non-threatening gesture, Mordecai pulled the mirror from his backpack and started to hold it out. Then, with only a thought, he commanded the mirror to strike his brother with lightning. The mirror complied, invoking a blinding glow in the room as it pumped streak after streak of lightning into Zharin's chest.

Mordecai left only a charred corpse behind.

Sorry about the delay in posting chapter 1; I've been felled by a case of arm strain. Thanks goes to Darkhelmet, Euphorbic, and Rezuri for betareading. Also, a big thank you is in order for Darkhelmet, who wrote part of the chapter. (Or, more simply put, the ADWT strikes again.) I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to post chapter 2—real life always gets in the way—but I'll attempt to have it up no later than two weeks from now.

Thank you in advance to all who read and any who review.