The Day After

By Ariel

Description: Set directly after Road of the Patriarch. Artemis returns to Dwahvel and Calimport as a changed man. Now what?

Disclaimer: Artemis, Jarlaxle, Dwahvel, 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 meant to lick the wounds of the fans who loved Artemis, and it will never make any profit.

A/N: I realize there are at least two competing interpretations for how RotP ended and what state of mind Artemis is in at the conclusion. I obviously wrote this story based on my interpretation, which is this: no swansong should have such a non-ending, and to me Artemis seems like he's almost back to square one—empty and without hope. Therefore, it's time to explore one possibility for what could happen next. I could likely draw this out into a novel-length affair, but I haven't the time or the interest to do so. I'd rather work on "The Power of Prophecy." To those of you who interpreted the ending of RotP the same way as I did, please accept this short offering in the spirit it is intended.

This story is not for those who liked RotP and its ending and might not make sense to people who interpreted the novel's conclusion as purely victorious.

Chapter One: The Day After the World Ended

Dwahvel Tiggerwillies knew he was coming long before he arrived—her spy network was the best in Calimport. She had not thought to ever see him again, however, and was disturbed by what it must mean. Artemis Entreri returning to Calimport? And only within a few years after the debacle he and the drow had left behind them? Tragedy must have struck, and hard.

The lean brunette Halfling wandered into the main room of The Copper Ante and glanced across the bar and gambling tables. The mostly Halfling crowd was busy enjoying itself—pints of ales and plates of food crowded the bar, and dice rolled to shouts of joy and dismay. Songs burst from the corner as a particularly drunken group celebrated a birthday, for even in the underbelly of Calimport, the Halfling spirit could not be broken.

The door swung open then, admitting a swirl of dust and the roar of the street, and a single human man stepped inside. Entreri's physical condition told her much: his clothing was covered in sand and dust, the bridge of his nose sun burnt, his cheeks unshaven, and his hair tousled. In short, he looked much the same as he had years earlier when he'd returned to Calimport a lost and confused man—a man who had lost his heart.

But it was his eyes that told her everything. He spotted her immediately from across the busy room and locked gazes with her, and she saw his pain, his emptiness, and a lingering anger, as though someone had detonated a magical missile inside his soul. He strode toward her in bold steps, his posture forever that of a warrior, and many eyes discreetly followed his progress. He didn't seem to notice or care.

When he reached her side, Dwahvel said the only thing she could, for all the words had been blasted from her mind at the sight of his pain. "Oh, my friend . . ."

Entreri sat across from her on a pile of silken pillows, slowly sipping a honeymead ale. His presence in her antechamber reminded Dwahvel of happier times, and she wanted to rejoice in his return, for she had keenly missed him. She had never forgotten their talks or the way he had protected her from Sharlotta. But she couldn't find pleasure in the face of his turmoil, nor could she ask him what had happened. He would talk when he was ready, and not before. Still . . .

"Entreri? How may I be of assistance to you?" she asked quietly.

His gaze, which had been resting idly on the rim of his glass, snapped toward her in anger. "Artemis Entreri is dead. Call me Artemis."

She nodded, and the man continued unbidden.

"I am not him," he said, his voice hard. "I am no longer an assassin, no longer a thief. Since I know you are curious, I will tell you: I have not returned to carve out my niche again. I will not work myself into the favor or employment of any guild; I will not pander to them, take their tests, or play their games. I am my own man. Nothing more, nothing less."

Dwahvel watched him, scrutinized the set of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, and realized he told the truth. Artemis Entreri had died, and this new man was in possession of himself: his past and his present, the hidden and the visible. Somehow, someway, he had looked fully into the mirror of his soul, faced everything it showed him, and was now going to change the course of his life. But what would that course be? Who would this man become? And what price had he paid for the knowledge?

Dwahvel had no idea, but one thing was for certain. Artemis was hurt; in fact, he was carrying some terrible wounds. Had those injuries been physical, there would be a pool of blood on her pillows and floor. As it was, he looked rumpled and tired, his eyes haunted. She had to find a way to help.

"Then how may I assist Artemis?" she asked.

The anger seeped out of his expression. "You may give him a room."

"A temporary one, or a permanent one?" she dared to ask.

Artemis remained silent for a long, long time. "Permanent," he answered at last.

"Then it is yours," she said, feeling a flutter of hope.

He gave her the faintest of smiles.

Unfortunately, she had more to say, and it was likely to steal that small smile from his face. "I feel compelled to warn you that the news of your return will spread quickly. You know what this will mean. You and the drow left a power vacuum in your wake. Mad scrambling followed your sudden exit, the Basadoni guild underwent a massive restructuring, and confusion reigned for some time over what had really occurred. Your appearance here will make the guilds nervous and angry. They need their newfound stability to function, and the drow both created and left chaos in their wake."

Artemis frowned, nodding, and Dwahvel decided he looked like a man who had lost the only sanctuary left in the world.

"You will have to tread lightly, my friend," she said in the kindest voice she could muster. "And declare your intent apart from the game. They must learn that you will not be interfering or competing with them. A few well-placed contacts can help begin that process. Until then—"

Artemis smirked. "Until then I am trapped in your house, under your protection, like Dondon once was?" He shook his head. "I have had enough of prisons and chains. I will not accept such a fate."

Dwahvel was undeterred. "And I won't allow you to suffer it. When have I ever failed you? Give me a bit of time to smooth out the sand, and then you will be able to move freely."

Artemis locked gazes with her once again, seeming to weigh her words. "Very well. I trust you. Only you, but I do."

The admission shocked Dwahvel to the depth of her being and provided her with more proof than she would ever need that this man truly was not Artemis Entreri.

Three nights later, Artemis lay on the roof of the Copper Ante and stared at the stars. They arched over him like the enchanted dome of a temple, sparkling yellow, red, and white. Thousands upon thousands of those stars pierced the blackness of the night, tiny pinpricks of light in utter darkness, and Artemis stared at them until he felt he could reach out and burn his fingers upon one. To him, the sight was sinister.

The curse that had been Idalia's flute had enabled him to see beauty in nature, like the rugged grace of Vaasa. But he no longer considered it a gift. The flute had raped his heart and mind, forcing him forward into memories and emotions he wasn't sure he wanted in the first place. There had been a moment's warmth, a moment's surety that the emotions were a blessing. That life was better with love, better with the realization of beauty. That there was hope to be had.

But it had been another lie in a lifetime of lies. A false hope, a fool's dream. He had been right the first time. Been right when he had fought Drizzt and damned the drow for his idealism. Right when he had claimed all life had to offer was deceit and betrayal, and the only thing to consider was survival or death. There was nothing more.

Artemis's stomach clenched at the thoughts, his old anger burning under his skin, but then the trapdoor to the roof opened and Dwahvel climbed up to join him.

"I thought you might want a touch of supper," she said, sitting beside him and presenting him with a bowl of stew.

Artemis wasn't sure he could ever eat again.

Dwahvel sat the bowl beside him and then placed one hand upon his forehead. "You haven't become feverish have you? You look terribly pale, almost grey. You have ever since you arrived."

Artemis glanced at her, startled by her warm touch. For a brief moment he saw another face—the face of a woman broken by poverty and disease. For an instant, it was her hand that had touched his forehead, much like her hands had bathed the wounds caused by the drunken and abusive Belrigger. He shook the image away. "No, I am not ill. I absorbed the life force of an unusual man, and it altered my skin tone."

Dwahvel seemed to consider this revelation for a moment. "Are you otherwise unharmed?"

Artemis sighed. "I seem to be aging more slowly." Longer to live in this hellish life.

"Then you shall remain handsome and agile for some time to come," she teased lightly.

Artemis snorted.

"But on to business," Dwahvel continued, her professionalism asserting itself. "I met with representatives of the Basadoni and Pook guilds, as well as the Rakers. Securing your safety will be a long and difficult process, but I have begun the process." She smirked. "It helps that they each owe me favors."

Artemis wondered yet again if it would prove impossible for him to stay in Calimport after all. Why had he thought to try to call this his home?

"I told them that you and I were negotiating a contract as business partners," Dwahvel said, "and that you have become more interested in the spying and information-gathering side of the business."

"Except I want nothing to do with the game at—" Artemis stopped short. "Was that a proposition?"

"If you are no longer an assassin and no longer a thief, what do you plan to do with your life?" the Halfling asked. "You must have some form of gainful employment, even if it's just to assuage your boredom. Unless you plan to use your formidable skills as a warrior in the cause of a god or goddess?"

Artemis snickered. "No. I'll just use them to keep a particular set of hypocrites on track."

Dwahvel blinked at that statement.

Artemis continued before she could ask. "I suppose it is a place to begin. As you say, I must have some task to do. Preferably a challenging one. I suppose spying and gathering information will do for now. I certainly have enough experience in it." He considered his intelligent little friend. "But do you really believe that you will convince the guilds of my change in profession?"

It was Dwahvel's turn to snicker. "I have resources and methods. Give me time."

"And are you truly willing to have me as a partner? Remember that I refuse to serve anyone."

Dwahvel nodded, her expression softening. "I know. We have worked together professionally enough for me to know our partnership would be successful."

He pondered her words and thought through all the information and items she had acquired for him in the past and the way she'd helped him to succeed against Kimmuriel and Raiguy. And most of all, he considered the friendship and constancy she had shown him. "I agreed that I would let you work your magic," he said.

She smiled and pushed the bowl of stew toward him. "Excellent."

He watched her leave, then dutifully choked down the stew. He had to keep his strength up, even if the idea of food made him nauseated.

But when he lay back down to stare at the sky again, he found the stars looked a bit less sinister.

Artemis stood and surveyed the small office that Dwahvel had arranged for him and nodded in approval. Over the past tenday, his friend had ordered all he would need; in the meantime, he had picked out a few jobs for himself, including a particularly difficult exploration of a nobleman's house and all its hidden wares. Now the office was ready for Artemis's use, and he surveyed the contents with satisfaction.

The ebony desk was simple in design, as was its accompanying red leather chair. Two human-sized and two Halfling-sized chairs were placed in a half-moon circle before the desk. Rugs of red, gold, and black weave decorated the floor, with matching tapestries on the wall. Brass candelabra and oil lamps sat upon the desk and small tables in the room. More importantly, these mundane items held magical and mechanical defenses. Respected and trustworthy informants lived with less danger than assassins, but the job wasn't risk-free.

Artemis took his seat behind the large desk, satisfied that the jobs he would choose to take would challenge him but that he would also have time for other avenues of interest. Now all he had to do was determine what he wanted, which was proving difficult considering how empty and raw he still felt. Perhaps in a few days he would go check on the progress of Gositek—a man he intended to brutally haunt for the rest of his life since there was no other way to be sure his demands were carried out. But for now, he would simply read through a few scrolls of information Dwahvel had given him. With a sigh, Artemis opened the first scroll.

At that moment, a brilliant blue screen formed in the center of the room, and an outrageously dressed dark elf stepped through. Artemis slammed the scroll down as Jarlaxle tipped his oversized purple hat to him.

"Get out," Artemis snapped. "I told you I did not care where you went, and the implication was I never wanted to see you again."

Jarlaxle smiled. "And I told you I could find you no matter where you went, the implication being I would like to check in on you from time to time."

Artemis stood, placing his hands on the hilts of Charon's Claw and his vampiric dagger. "Get. Out."

Jarlaxle held up one ring-laden hand in a dramatic request for patience. "I have not come to whisk you away on an adventure or to try to pull you back into my fold—although I am certain my adventures are far more exciting. As you said to me, you have your path, and I have mine. I merely came to give you a present."

Artemis ground his teeth together. "I want nothing from you. Nothing except for you to leave. I didn't want your flute, I didn't want your hat, and I didn't want you to rescue me from King Gareth and his self-righteous friends. I refuse to owe you anything."

Jarlaxle's grin faltered slightly, as though he'd felt a twang of remorse, but he recovered instantly and wagged his finger at the man. "Of course you owe me nothing. You rescued me from the Crystal Shard, and I rescued you from King Gareth. All our debts are cancelled."

Artemis was momentarily taken aback by both Jarlaxle's logic and his admission.

"Now, please accept my gift," the drow said. "I have ever considered you a kindred spirit and a friend. Surely I may be allowed to leave you with something."

Artemis narrowed his eyes, and his sword hand twitched. "Oh, you have left me with something, indeed."

But Jarlaxle continued to smile, and from under his rainbow-colored cape he pulled a small furry animal and set it on Artemis's desk.

Artemis didn't know whether to be suspicious or dumbfounded, so he ended up being both. "A puppy? What am I, a child?"

"Hardly." Jarlaxle patted the little dog's head. "Athrogate tells me that dogs are considered by many to be the best pets because they are tireless companions and undyingly loyal." He tipped his hat again. "Please enjoy!" And with those words, he stepped back through the dimensional door and disappeared.

"Bastard," Artemis replied, one beat too late. He eyed the puppy with distaste, expecting a trap. It was a pit bull, probably around six months old, and it had a solid white coat except for a single black spot over its right ear. Artemis picked it up gingerly, inspecting it closely for magical items. Was there a collar, perhaps, through which Jarlaxle could constantly spy on him?

But Artemis found no collar. In fact, when he passed his enchanted gauntlet over the barking puppy, he sensed no magic emanating from the animal at all. It appeared to be a perfectly normal dog with no strings attached.

That meant it was a message.

Artemis stared at the puppy, which was now wagging its tail and licking his hand. He'd never had the time or interest for a pet, and he certainly didn't want any reminders of Jarlaxle. However, he wasn't possessed of enough cruelty to kill the dog as a substitution for killing the drow who brought it, so he'd just give it away.

The puppy bumped against his hand, asking to be rubbed, and Artemis absentmindedly scratched its ears. Who among Dwahvel's associates might want a puppy? Damn Jarlaxle for saddling him with yet another problem! He hoped the dimensional door misfired and scattered the drow's body parts across all the realms of the universe.

An hour later the dog was asleep on his foot while Artemis skimmed through the last of Dwahvel's helpful scrolls.

A/N: Be kind when you review; remember the source material I have to work with. Yes, I really could write out a whole novel trying to fix this, but I'm determined to keep it down to 2 chapters. Insta-novel, just add water. Apologies to Euphorbic for making her read anything at all about Dwahvel.

Thank you to anyone who reads and reviews. I'll be back in a few days with the conclusion.