Darkest Sky: Desert's Edge

By Ariel

Disclaimer: 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.

A/N: This is a short scene exploring what Entreri's thoughts might have been right before he returned to Calimport. It's set directly before the events in Silent Blade and plays heavily off of that book and Starless Night. Technically, this story is the sequel to "Darkest Sky: Lost Before It Happened", in which I delved into Entreri's thoughts after he, Drizzt, and Catti-brie parted ways upon escaping Menzoberranzan. However, you do not have to have read that story prior to reading this one. Rated PG-13/T. Angst and graphic violence.

The edge of the Calim Desert stretched before the man, a vast, flat expanse broken only by small boulders or scraggily bushes. A storm massed on the horizon, stretching like an airborne, blackened sea that rolled and crashed through the sky. The grey day and grey sky matched what seemed to Artemis Entreri to be grey sand, grey cacti, and a grey man.

Entreri smirked at the thought, but the description was more fitting than not. His ripped cloak was grey, as were his eyes and the steel of his signature dagger. More than that, his mind was colorless, as flat and unfilled as the desert which rushed away from him on three sides.

Lightning lanced through the black clouds, and thunder crashed in the distance. Rain was rare in this region, and storms rarer, but when they came, they destroyed. With a sigh, the assassin turned back toward the border town, knowing he would have to wait to embark. Calimport was on the far side of the desert, and by great irony, Entreri was once again making the trip south from Memnon. As a boy of nine, he had made the trip because he saw no other choice, and now decades later he made the same trip for much the same reason. Calimport was, after all, the closest thing he had to a home.

The border town Entreri re-entered was several miles south of Memnon, a last stop for those facing the unrelenting heat and glare that was the road into Calimport. This grimy town was not much more than a small collection of dusty taverns and stores with a few squat houses thrown in. The assassin hadn't bothered to learn its name; the settlement was new and not one he'd visited before. Likewise, he didn't bother to note the name of the musty tavern he chose. In fact, he didn't bother with much anymore—not replacing his lost sword, not cutting his hair, and not shaving his goatee-turned-beard. None of it seemed to matter, to have a purpose or to warrant any effort.

Entreri sat at a corner table out of pure habit and ordered an ale. Shadows doused the room, filling the corners and spilling over the tables. Thunder crashed overhead, shaking the tables and rattling mugs, and the assassin frowned. Quicksand would be an increased danger for several days now. The murmur of voices increased in volume, proving that the collection of caravan men and merchants were uneasy at nature's unusual choice of a tantrum. However, Entreri paid it no attention and stared into his drink when it arrived. Perhaps that was why he didn't notice at first that the loudest voice addressed him.

"'Xcuse me, but yer at our table. Hey! I'm talking to ye."

Entreri pulled his gaze away from the dark amber beer and gazed up at the burly man who towered over him. "Pardon?"

The man, whose six foot stature was offset by his imposing berth, scowled at the small assassin. "I said, ye just sat at our table. We were sitting there."

The assassin glanced over his shoulder to see three other men, all dusty and sweaty. What a waste of energy, Entreri thought. "Find another. There are plenty empty."

The would-be bully leaned into Entreri's face, close enough that the sour stench of his breath assaulted the assassin's nose. Ale glistened in the man's grisly black beard, and tufts of meat were caught in his front teeth. "I don't think ye understand the seriousness of yer position."

Instinctively, Entreri sized up the group's swords, all of which were second-rate craftsmanship and made of second-rate steel. He also calculated the men's strength, gait, experience, and aptitude. However, he found himself unmoved by the thug's boasting, uncaring about his own pride, and uninterested in the fight. It would prove nothing, mean nothing, and provide not even a moment's entertainment.

The hulking thug straightened, apparently thrown off guard by the empty, apathetic gaze of his opponent. "Move now," the man said, obviously trying to retain his bravado. "Or we'll move ye by force."

From the street outside, the rumbling of wagon wheels pierced the wall, providing the only sound in the suddenly silent tavern. All eyes turned toward the group, and the men at the nearest tables stood and backed away.

Entreri heaved a sigh, one so deep that his chest seemed to contain the expanse of The Fugue Plane. "Very well," the assassin said, standing and drawing his infamous dagger. When the sight of the dagger failed to invoke recognition in the men, Entreri knew he'd been gone a long time, indeed. "Let us be done with this so I may attend to whatever tasteless food this tavern offers."

The thug's three friends chuckled, hollow laughs that were one part skepticism and one part nervousness. The shadows which infused the room seemed to bloom behind Entreri, spreading black petals to encompass him. A cool breeze drifted through Entreri's long hair, the kiss of a darkness that had long sheltered him. He could glide backward, all but disappear in one quick move, and bury his dagger into the closest fool's back.

The group of thugs shifted their feet, apparently feeling the shift in Entreri's attitude. The leader drew his sword. "Fine then. As ye wish."

The other three drew their swords as well, circling the assassin. A flash of lightning penetrated the shuttered windows, lighting the room for an instant—just long enough for Entreri to see the fear pooling in the thugs' eyes. Then the leader attacked, thrusting forward. The assassin blocked with his dagger, pushing the blade aside and lunging forward. He grabbed the man's other wrist, and in one quick movement twisted the man's arm and stepped behind him. The man shrieked as his elbow threatened to snap, but better yet, the thug had become Entreri's shield.

The second thug halted his charge and dodged to the side, and the assassin shoved the leader into the other two thugs, entangling them. The second thug continued his attack, cutting his blade toward Entreri's shoulder. Again, the assassin used his dagger to deflect the blade, and once more he lunged forward. However, this time he aimed a punch directly at the man's solar plexus, emptying his entire momentum into his opponent's chest. The man jerked backward, crashing into a table and dropping his blade. Entreri snatched up the sword just in time to meet the attack of the other two thugs.

One thug rushed in while the other attempted to work his way behind Entreri. The assassin blocked the first thug's initial thrust with his dagger, locking the blade in his crosspiece momentarily. He pushed the man's arm wide as he unleashed a flurry of strikes. In the instant it took the man to cry out, Entreri had swung his sword over head, arching it down to slash open first the man's left arm then his right. With one more over-head swing, the assassin drove the blade down into the side of the man's left knee. As the thug screamed and stumbled, Entreri stepped back and thrust his sword into the man's gut.

Sensing the fourth thug behind him, Entreri disengaged and spun around, brandishing both his blades in a two-handed strike-block combination that rained blows upon the thug's face, neck, and chest. Cuts and gashes spurted open across the man's upper body as the assassin simultaneously parried thrusts with his dagger and slashed with the sword. For an instant, Entreri rose above his apathy long enough to see a certain beauty in his movements, a weave of strikes so fast and coordinated as to create a rhythm, a song of ringing blades. With a final snap of his wrist, the assassin slit open the thug's throat and smirked as the man sank to the ground. Yet that moment's satisfaction was quickly swallowed by the void in Entreri's chest.

By this point, the leader had recovered. However, before the thug could even regain his feet, Entreri took a single step forward and swung his sword over his head, arching it downward in a blow that split the man's skull. This left the man Entreri had punched—a white-faced thug visibly trembling in terror. The man screamed and rushed the assassin, trying to overcompensate for his cowardice with enthusiastic stupidity. Entreri pulled his dagger in line with his sternum, then pushed aside the man's blade with an inside block. Simultaneously, the assassin leveled his sword and allowed the man to impale himself.

Disgusted by the useless display of violence, Entreri jerked the sword free of the corpse, causing the body to tumble to the ground. The assassin leveled his stare at the rest of the room, determining that none of the other men present were foolish enough to join the thugs in death. Satisfied, he threw the poorly-made sword down upon his latest victim and then surveyed the damage, taking in the sight of the corpses with their glassy eyes. The leader's mouth hung open, eternally gaping in horror, and blood trickled down the slope of his face from his forehead to his ear. One thug made a final gurgling sound, his back arching off the floor momentarily before collapsing again with a sigh. Bile mixed with the blood that seeped from another's gut, filling the room with a bitter, acidic smell. The last thug's abdomen was lacerated, revealing pink and grey tissues that caused the assassin to imagine pig intestines.

The sight would cause most people nightmares, but Entreri felt nothing. Not anger or pride, and certainly not guilt or pain. His soul seemed to have fled his body, caught somewhere in Menzoberranzan in a spider's web. Surely his enemies would have claimed he hit the streets soulless, but the assassin had never experienced such a complete lack of internal inertia.

It was all the same. Always the same. Blades and blood, ego and death. Above or below ground, humans or drow, it was always the same. What point had there any been to any of it, from his first kill to these men? A climb to power, a position gained? Reputation born or skills acquired, it was meaningless, and the entire city of Menzoberranzan attested to that fact.

Yet what else could Entreri have done, then or now? The entire wretched world was filled with such men: innumerable useless thugs, liars and killers. Neither their lives nor deaths mattered, and neither Entreri nor anyone else cared that they were hacked up corpses. What meaning could ever be made of any of it?

With that question, Entreri's life—the entirety of existence everywhere—seemed to unfold before him, not as a winding road with no destination, but as a flat, barren desert like the one outside. No path, just miles of rocks and hot sand littered with unseen pitfalls and quicksand. A wasteland in which to either live or die.

The assassin shook away the thoughts, finding and expecting no answers, and picked up his toppled chair. His ale still sat on the table, having been spared the main path of the fight, so Entreri sat back down and sipped it absentmindedly. His gaze fell to the floor, and so he stared as he drank, watching the blood seep into the wooden planks.

A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmet for betareading, and thank you to any who read and review. If you want to know how my other stories are progressing, just check my author's page.