The Incredible Decision of Writing a Novel
Before we get started, I want to say some words about precisely what it is you have found here on the internet. Now, you may skip the Forward and go directly to the chapter one if you want to. But I thought it might be important for understanding what I have written, and deciding whether or not you want to actually read it.
R. A. Salvatore wrote a book called Servant of the Shard in 2000. It was the latest of a long line of stories which centered, as many of you know, around a character named Drizzt Do'Urden. Servant of the Shard was not the best book; it was not the brightest, not the most eloquently written, didn't have the best plot or the best characters. But it gripped me. In all of Salvatore's career, this book was my favorite. I finally bought it a few months ago at Half Price Books, after discovering that it had been lost when I and my family moved to a new home last year. When I read the dialogue, sometimes I could hear the characters speaking – see their faces, see what they saw, feel what they felt. It was a panoramic experience that left a deep impression on me. For the first time since beginning to read R. A. Salvatore's books, I loved Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle. For the first time, in Servant of the Shard, I was interested in them.
Salvatore eventually went back to these characters after writing a series of short stories published over the years, and he attempted to write two more books about them. Those books would be the recent and controversial Promise of the Witch King and Road of the Patriarch. In doing so, he lit a fuse in the fans' community. The majority feel that he wrote the books hastily, and that he should have taken more time on them. Some people were more disappointed than others, but it seems to me that everyone was disappointed on some level. Partly it was because he let us down – he wrote about people we liked, but he wrote too quickly, and without as much revising as he needed, which gives the latter two books of his newly formed The Sellswords trilogy (with Shard as its first book) a rushed, unbalanced feeling. Partly, it was because whether we knew it or not, we all made up stories about the parts of Artemis and Jarlaxle's lives that R. A. Salvatore didn't fill in.
That is why I wanted to go back and read Servant of the Shard again. I did, but what resulted in that rereading was more stories in my other series of novella-length pieces, starting with the story "Trying Too Hard". And I wrote those stories for months – I spent a lot of time on them. However, they were also for fun – I wouldn't say that I would go back and edit them, because I would be lying. Everything in them is rough draft – a jotting down of ideas that happens to be, in my opinion, marginally readable, so why not let the fanfiction community see it, right? Besides, maybe someone would get a laugh or an inspiration out of them.
Ah, but I'm skipping an important step. I didn't know I wanted to write Trying Too Hard until I read the speculative fanfiction of Ariel D, a wonderful author whom I'm sure everyone knows about, due to her prolific and popular trilogies. She seems nigh unstoppable, she's written so many (and I hope she writes them for a while longer). Reading everything she'd written in an all-night and all-morning binge gave me the heady feeling of inspiration I needed to begin writing fanfiction myself. You see, Artemis and Jarlaxle are the only two characters that beg to have stories written about them – other characters are too finished – their conclusions foregone – and that is what kept me from writing fanfiction before.
Anyway, that detour to the beginnings of my interest in fanfiction aside, there is a very specific way that I decided to write this novel. I decided that I would go back, read Servant of the Shard's epilogue, and build a story from there. I would pick up where Salvatore left off, using all the information he left me, and also use my wits.
This story you have here is based on a specific interpretation of Servant of the Shard, and in some places, it even contradicts Salvatore's interpretation of events. I have taken all of his dialogue, and all the actions of the characters, and stripped them of any of Salvatore's interpretive opinions. Then, based on my interpretations of that factual material, I added back in thoughts, meanings, gestures, and specific details that were never there in the original story Salvatore published.
I hope you enjoy this unofficial sequel to Servant of the Shard.
The Transformation of a Killer
Excerpt from R.A. Salvatore's Servant of the Shard:
For days, Entreri and Jarlaxle wandered the region, at last happening upon a town where the folk had heard of Drizzt Do'Urden and seemed, at least, to accept the imposter Jarlaxle's presence.
In the nondescript and ramshackle little common house that served as a tavern, Artemis Entreri discovered a posting that he found, in light of his present situation, somewhat promising.
"Bounty hunters?" Jarlaxle asked with surprise when Entreri presented the posting to him. The drow was sitting in a corner, sipping wine and with his back to the corner. "A call by the forces of justice for bounty hunters?"
"A call by someone," Entreri corrected, sliding into a chair across the table. "Whether it begets justice or not seems of little consequence."
Jarlaxle looked at him with a wry grin. "Does it?" he said, seeming less than convinced. "And what gain did you derive, then, from carrying Danica from the tunnels?"
"The gain of keeping a powerful priest from becoming an enemy," the pragmatic Entreri answered coldly.
"Or perhaps there was more," said Jarlaxle. "Perhaps Artemis Entreri had not the heart to let the woman die alone in the darkness."
Entreri shrugged as if it did not matter.
"How many of Artemis Entreri's victims would be surprised?" Jarlaxle asked, pressing the point.
"How many of Artemis Entreri's victims deserved better than they found?" the assassin retorted.
There it was, Jarlaxle knew, the justification for a life lived in the shadows. To a degree, the drow, who had survived among shadows darker than anything Entreri had ever known, couldn't rightfully disagree. Perhaps, in that context, there was more to the measure of Artemis Entreri. Still, the transformation of a killer to the side of justice seemed a curious and odd occurrence.
"Artemis the Compassionate?" he had to ask.
Entreri sat perfectly still for a moment, digesting the words. "Perhaps," he said with a nod. "And perhaps if you keep saying foolish things, I will show you some compassion and kill you quickly. Then again, perhaps not."
Jarlaxle enjoyed a great laugh at that, at the absurdity of it all, of the newfound life that loomed before him. He understood Entreri well enough to take the man's threats seriously, but in truth, the dark elf trusted Entreri the same way he would trust one of his brothers.
However, Jarlaxle Baenre, the third son of Matron Baenre, one sacrificed to Lady Lolth by his mother and his siblings, knew better than to trust his own brother.
Artemis began, "Out of curiosity, I wonder, my friend."
Jarlaxle turned to him as they walked. "I didn't know you had curiosity." The drow was completely straight-faced.
"I am curious about many things," Entreri said, and it seemed to Jarlaxle that he looked unusually subdued. There was a hint of an expression – a hint was usually all there was to be found on Artemis' face at any given time – that the dark elf interpreted as thoughtfulness. Then he uncharacteristically stopped speaking, and instead looked as if he was reflecting upon an unusual or new thought.
This gave Jarlaxle pause. Since when was Artemis apt to wonder about anything? The drow mercenary had wondered, when he had given Artemis the opportunity to view Menzoberranzan, if the assassin would learn anything at all. That he had come away with the slightest bit of what could be deemed a spiritual experience was amazing. Jarlaxle read people, and so the elf felt that Artemis' somber declaration that he had curiosity did not fit in with the terrain of Artemis' mind as Jarlaxle knew it. It was as though if Jarlaxle closed his eyes, he could feel what the assassin was thinking, and Artemis' behavior now was like finding a rough spot with his fingertips.
Artemis' attention abruptly returned to what he was saying, and once more, a grin appeared on his face. He rested a hand at his hip, and Jarlaxle glanced down to see the assassin's hand unintentionally resting on the ominous hilt of Charon's Claw. "Don't you think it was careless of you to decline Cadderly's passage back to The Spirit Soaring when you don't know where we are?"
Entreri looked around at the miles of waving grass spreading out in front of them in the distance. They were still walking on uneven, bare ground, interspersed with gigantic stones, surrounded by a mess of canyons and ravines. The day before, they'd fought a camp of goblins and then stolen the cave that the creatures had been using for shelter.
"Not that I expect you to care one way or another," the assassin said, kicking a loose stone and idly watching it tumble down the sloped trail. "After all, you keep harping on how there is a whole world to explore."
A grin spread across Jarlaxle's face as he rose to the challenge. "Why, of course I know where we are!" He dramatically whipped out a cloth map. Artemis stood close and looked on. It appeared to be a map of Faerun. He traced the familiar curves of the Calim Desert with his eyes, automatically gravitating to the inspection of his home country, Calimshan. From so far away, it was easy to forget all the bloodshed and every day ruination of livelihoods that took place there. After a moment, his attention became drawn to a pulsing symbol, bright and unpleasantly green.
Just as he noticed it, the dark elf mercenary pointed to it also, saying, "And here we are!" Jarlaxle smiled at him. "The Wyrmbones. You see? There in red ink."
"Your mapmaker should have used black," Artemis said. There was a glint in his gray eyes, and he looked at the drow slyly. "It's almost impossible to read when juxtaposed with that shade of brown they've painted the mountains."
Jarlaxle rolled up the map and playfully hit Artemis on the nose with it. "To the contrary," the dark elf said. "Drow can see the color red particularly well."
Artemis glared at him. He didn't appreciate having to put up the indignity of being slapped on the nose like some form of pet. However, he did get the response that he wanted. He didn't bother to ask how drow cartographers could possibly have created a map of Faerun, given that they didn't care to venture out during daylight. Jarlaxle would probably just say something infuriating and evasive. For all Entreri knew, Jarlaxle had taken the map somewhere and merely had it modified for easier reading. But the drow, and more specifically, Artemis suspected, Bregan D'aerthe, had had something to do with the appearance of this new map. Jarlaxle had to have contacted his band sometime between yesterday and today – Jarlaxle could not resist showing off magical gadgets, especially if they were useful. Artemis couldn't think of a more useful thing than knowing where they were at the moment.
Jarlaxle slid the map through a loop at his belt and tossed his cape over his shoulder confidently. "In four or five days, we should reach the city of Kormul." He looked at Artemis innocently. "We will find much there to our liking," the drow said. His gaze became speculative and openly domineering. A gust of wind caught the brim of his hat, causing it to billow unevenly.
Instead, however, Artemis turned away from him and became preoccupied with the landscape. "So that priest has brought us to the edge of The Shaar," Artemis murmured. The wind that blew at him from his right was tinged with dust, and he braced himself against it, his nostrils temporarily clogged with the dry smell of sour soil. The huge plain that loomed below him he now knew was The Shaar. He had heard things about it, but not very much; he understood it to be a green and arid version of the far northern plains his rival, Drizzt, had so favored. A largely unsettled area home to nomads which gathered in tribes, frequently meeting, usually not in peace. He wondered if there was some sort of a council, and if it should prove to be made of men or women. He could not recall what form of government the area favored, and which organizations had power.
Artemis began to put the shapes he saw in context; the brown line moving across the plains was in actuality a road. He turned to his left, following it across his vision, and quickly realized when he oriented himself that he was now pointed west; the direction that he would go in order to get home.
He froze. He experienced a crawling sensation throughout his body similar to being submerged up to his neck in molasses that could only be mortification. Home? What made me think that? He forcibly tried to move his thoughts away from images of shifting dunes, Dwahvel's warm brown eyes, and the Copper Ante. Calimport is not home, he told himself sternly. It is where I make my living. Nothing more. And not that any more.
He looked around, his expression hardening in determination. This was where he was now making his living. He was distancing himself from Calimport forever. It was better this way. He would face danger to go back; insane suspicion at his motives; a political background in turmoil thanks to Artemis and his questionable friends, the rogue drow; a life of killing and being killed.
Artemis was surprised and nearly paralyzed at finding the emotion of loathing attached to the thought of returning to his job of killing people. He thought of the hatred he had felt for years, the force behind his dagger's killing stabs. Now that he was no longer facing a life in Calimport, Artemis saw that there could be a connection between death and the hatred he had always felt.
That conjured up an almost forgotten memory of his life on the streets, and a lingering sense of displacement; as though he had been somehow misplaced. As though he hadn't meant to do those things, or live that life. That he was wrong, somehow. As he thought about it, he couldn't place it.
Jarlaxle stopped and narrowed his eyes at the man, looking at him with an undisguised note of confusion. The assassin had ignored Jarlaxle's purposefully leading comment about finding something of interest in Kormul. "We may find a great many opportunities in Kormul," he ventured. "Perhaps we will find a niche there."
"Why is it that Jarlaxle craves a niche? Was not Calimport enough for him?" Artemis said acidly. His temper flared into a sudden, frustrated rage at having his thoughts interrupted before he could make sense of his broken memory. Noting that he should not react so strongly, he reined his emotions in before he did something he would honestly regret. His self-control slammed a lid on it that kept it back down a ways and let it simmer at angry irritation.
"It is true that I failed…" Jarlaxle began.
"Even as you say," the brightly dressed drow said, raising an index finger, "it is not the end of everything…"
The assassin's stare increased a tenfold. "It almost was, you fool. You could have lost everything." He couldn't believe that what happened could have so little an effect on Jarlaxle. "Are you made of rubber? If one tries to kill you by throwing you off a cliff, do you merely bounce when you hit bottom?"
"No," Jarlaxle said, smiling cheerfully, "I levitate. I am drow." He deliberately changed the subject back to what they were talking about. "The fact remains that I was not in error."
Artemis stared, both at his persistent and at the absurdity of Jarlaxle's claim.
"In the end, it was the crystal shard that ruined everything for me," Jarlaxle said. "I would never have acted the way I did if it had not been for the meddling crystal." He beamed at Artemis. "You yourself should agree with me! Truly! How different I was when I was under the notorious thing's spell!"
Artemis said, "How did you get that way?" He raised an eyebrow, his expression scathing. "Do you recall picking up the crystal and inviting it to take over your mind in the name of partnership as entrepreneurs?"
Jarlaxle froze comically, his hand still pointing in the air and one foot upraised. He blinked. "Well, I…" He unfroze and looked at Artemis, oblivious. "That is a different matter."
"You erred in the first place!" Artemis said. "You can't pretend that you came out of this unscathed! Your miscalculation almost caused the collapse of my entire city!"
The drow, instead of reacting with serious thought as Artemis may have liked, instead gave Artemis a knowing, sly look. "And what would Artemis Entreri have done if I had caused the destruction of Calimport, as you say?" He placed a hand on his hip and smiled at the assassin. Suddenly he seemed like a dangerous person, a feral quality to his smile and a wild, almost unbalanced light to his crimson eye. "Danced on the ashes of that miserable collection of houses that so mistreated Artemis in his youth?"
Artemis looked at him incredulously. "Now wait a minute."
Jarlaxle's odd mood seemed to evaporate as if it never had been. "What?" he said, once more the innocent, reckless mercenary. "Are you saying that there is something about Calimport you like, my friend? You always scowled about at everything as if you'd eaten a cart of bad fruit. I'd thought you hated it there. You needed a change of pace."
"So you arranged to be possessed by a demented crystal to ensure me a change of pace?" Artemis asked sarcastically.
Jarlaxle bowed, sweeping his plumed hat off his head, head coming within a foot of the rocky ground. "I'm pleased to be at your service, as always. Jarlaxle of Bregan D'aerthe always delivers."
The assassin snorted. "You didn't even want to come to these dragon infested mountains," Artemis said, looking at Jarlaxle, amused.
Jarlaxle laughed and shrugged. "And what do I know? They're beautiful."
"Again with the 'beautiful'," Artemis muttered.
"But of course," Jarlaxle said, a grin splitting his face. He quite deliberately opened his arms wide and said, glancing at Artemis with the glee of anticipation, "Everything is beautiful."
"I'll throw you off this mountain," Artemis said, "the next time you use the word 'beautiful'."
Jarlaxle laughed. "I'll bounce."
Artemis looked at Jarlaxle speculatively, then cracked his knuckles. "Or levitate?"
"Yes," Jarlaxle said, his eye twinkling.
Artemis looked around at the rock-littered landscape. "Try levitating with a boulder tied to your ass."
Jarlaxle laughed, unrestrained, and then hopped out of Artemis' reach, alighting on a flat slab of rock. "You'll have to catch me first!" he cried, and began running away.
"What are we, children?" Artemis muttered. The soil ground under his boots as he ran, giving pursuit, if only to make sure that the drow didn't gather a horde of enemies, or make a wrong step and break his stupid neck.
Artemis looked around quickly for the mercenary as he sprinted down the path, avoiding treacherous dips and rocky outcroppings that he could sprain an ankle on. He caught a flash of color-changing cape and bright red feather. Artemis didn't have to track Jarlaxle; all he had to do was follow his companion's mad cackling.
"Jarlaxle, you idiot," Entreri said. He had to ask himself why he was even bothering to follow Jarlaxle in the first place. If the drow were anyone else, he'd have crossed his arms, sat down on the ground, and waited for Jarlaxle to come back and stop this puerile behavior.
Then the drow's laughter abruptly stopped. For a moment, Artemis became wildly afraid that something both improbable and typically dangerous had happened to Jarlaxle, but then he heard Jarlaxle shout, "Artemis! Come look at this!" There was a note of surprise in Jarlaxle's shout, but Artemis doubted that the drow mercenary would have shouted so if there had been any real danger.
What Artemis saw as he rounded the bent around to the left in the path was that Jarlaxle was standing on a cliff side looking directly down at the fields below. What he saw there was a stream of wagons with canvas roofs moving through the plains. The assassin squinted. In the distance was a thumb sized brown landmark. He could barely make out wisps of smoke.
"Civilization!" the drow mercenary yelled. One ebony hand was unconsciously clutching at a round bottle of pink crystal hanging from the right side of his belt as he excitedly strained forward, leaning precariously off the edge of cliff in a way that would have made Artemis' heart stop. His companion's face was split, lit up with a dazzling white grin. "After all this time of braving the mountains, before us lies a land of opportunity!" Jarlaxle said.
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "It's only been two days."
"Two days of hardship and treachery!" Jarlaxle said.
"We beat the goblins to a pulp without breaking a sweat and then stole their provisions," the assassin contradicted.
"Precisely!" the drow said, taking out a piece of rough, brown jerky. "Hardship! Misery and woe! Not even an identification spell could disperse the shadow of the unknown from this remarkable food. Where the goblins failed to conquer me, this has." Jarlaxle sniffed it. "What strange beast this is, it is powerful even in death. I cannot imagine what it could have been in life. Is it venison? Is it rat?" He lifted his hat and scratched his bald head. "No, it's too big to be a rat." He made a show of studying it from all angles.
"It could be a giant rat," Artemis said.
"Surely they have food," Jarlaxle said, looking once again at the caravans stretched out below.
Artemis looked at the view again tolerantly and placed his hands on his hips. "How do you propose to join them?" he asked. They reminded Artemis of some canvas-backed snake slithering across the bright green grasslands.
"Why, by jumping the distance!" Jarlaxle said. He examined the drop as if measuring it with his eyes and turned to the assassin, saying, "My magic will surely carry two. It has been done before, by many. There will be no danger at all." He thought for a moment. "Unless of course you let go." The drow gazed at Artemis with an innocent expression. "You won't do that, will you? I know that eating questionable cheese for so long has stolen your will to live, but there's no telling what cuisine might await us down there, where the people are hopefully more merciful." Jarlaxle regarded the chunk of dried meat and frowned, murmuring, "Is it goat?"
The assassin hated how Jarlaxle could slip in an offhand comment and then gloss over it as if he hadn't made the reference. The drow had bored Entreri so much that in four hours, Artemis had begun drinking out of his hidden flask of whiskey to keep from having to listen to Jarlaxle shoving information into his brain. The same day that he and Artemis had moved into the goblins' cave was the same day that Jarlaxle had deemed him fit to learn the difference between several different kinds of cheese, how important cheese was to the drow economy, and how Artemis should learn to truly appreciate cheese and stop eating low quality cheese that the assassin was, always had been, and was still particularly fond of. He had tried to end the conversation several times by saying, 'I don't care'. It hadn't even made a dent.
"No, I've seen goat before," Artemis said, instead of pointing out that he hated heights with a white-knuckled, hyperventilating passion, and that he would rather carve off Jarlaxle's head than allow his life to rest in the mercenary's hands. He resisted the urge to back away from the edge of the cliff. "And besides, I spoke of the difficulty of convincing whatever folk lie down there not to skewer you and see if drow are good with supper."
Jarlaxle sniffed indignantly. "They would never," he said. He put his hands on his hips. "Everyone knows that drow are poisonous."
Entreri stopped, and gave Jarlaxle a long stare.
He couldn't help but think of how strangely the drow had been acting lately. His companion's irritating behavior at the moment was reminding him why he hadn't wanted to be Jarlaxle's partner in the first place.
If you really didn't want to be his partner, the assassin told himself, you should have let him die when it was easiest to dispose of him. You're stuck with him now. Artemis sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, seriously trying to think of any way to avoid Jarlaxle's idea to plunge off the side of the mountain. That ought to teach me not to extend any more hands of mercy any time soon. The next time a paladin points out the joys of helping others, I'll give Jarlaxle to him. That ought to change his mind. If he's not begging for mercy from his god within a day, then he has no soul, and he and Jarlaxle deserve each other.
"Perhaps by eating you I will develop an immunity," Artemis said. "If so I would gladly sacrifice you in order to strip the flesh from Kimmuriel's bones and eat him myself."
The drow laughed. Jarlaxle regarded him with raised eyebrows and asked, "You still hold ill feelings towards my poor Kimmuriel? Come, at least he has not tried to kill you."
"Openly," Artemis said. He glared. "Who knows how many times he's tried to do the deed while your back was turned?"
Jarlaxle's expression became serious. "I think you've misspoken, my friend. You should know that Kimmuriel would never do anything to anger me as much as killing you would."
The assassin stopped for a moment and rocked back on his heels, considering Jarlaxle through narrowed eyes. The drow had said something that Artemis had never expected anyone to say about him, and certainly not to his face, so boldly. He tried to process this, but things kept getting in the way. Why would Jarlaxle say that? Why would he do it at such a time as this? What could he possibly gain?
The only thing I can think of is that he doesn't realize what he has said, Artemis thought. It could be an unconscious slip. He tried to think of other times when he had witnessed Jarlaxle saying something offhandedly without realizing the deeply personal secret he was sharing. He couldn't help thinking that if he had, he wouldn't have known it at the time, because it was difficult to know what Jarlaxle was thinking, and what he was pretending to think in order to keep people from figuring out what he was really thinking.
When he was unable to decipher the exact circumstances surrounding Jarlaxle's statement, he returned to the fact that it made him feel profoundly. Artemis was touched by the admission that the drow mercenary actually cared what would happen after he died enough to turn his wrath against his lieutenant. Artemis filed that away for later before thinking about it too much threatened to overwhelm him.
The assassin was quiet for a moment longer. Then Artemis spoke. "Well, are we going to make our entrance into the lives of some unsuspecting merchants, or are we going to wait for the mountains to sink back into the ground?"
Jarlaxle smiled at him, and he only widened his smile into his customary grin when he saw that his knowing expression was making Artemis uncomfortable. "Yes, let's," he said.
"Yes let's what?" Artemis asked, hoping Jarlaxle meant letting the mountains sink back into the ground.
Jarlaxle waved him over with a hand. "Come on. My magic won't work if you're standing that far away."
The assassin warily crept closer, scowling at Jarlaxle as if he were expecting the drow to shove him over the edge and then run away cackling.
"Come on, closer," Jarlaxle said. He pouted and waved an index finger admonishingly. "I won't start unless you're ready."
Entreri heaved a sigh, and then came within arm's reach. "Are we ready yet?"
The drow said, looking at Artemis as if he ought to know already, "You must get closer. Drow levitation magic has a very short range."
The assassin came still closer, walking up to Jarlaxle until he was almost beside the drow on the edge of the precipice. Artemis stiffened up just thinking about it. In spite of himself, his mouth was rapidly running dry. "Are we ready yet?"
Jarlaxle scooted slightly closer to him. They were almost touching. The drow's expression became businesslike. "Alright." The look in his visible eye was distant; as though he were concentrating on something that he couldn't see. "It should be…"
Artemis waited, and was taken completely by surprise when Jarlaxle grabbed him around the waist and fell over the edge of the cliff in one smooth motion, taking Artemis with him.
Each thing that happened next happened in slow motion to him.
He saw the bright green ground slide into view far below him.
He felt his feet leaving the ground they had stood on.
He felt his body impact with Jarlaxle's. His hands slid against bare black skin until he felt the sturdy leather of Jarlaxle's vest. His fingers curled numbly around the flap of a pocket, and a loose leather strap hanging from the side. His arm was hooked, captured, around Jarlaxle's neck, and he couldn't get it loose, and he couldn't remember how it had gotten there. His other arm was crushed between them.
He heard his breathing too loudly in his ears, and a heartbeat like a metronome measured out the time as he looked down past Jarlaxle's body.
He was actually falling.
"To the nine hells with ye," the grizzled old bartender said, the curse growling in his throat. Artemis thought it a strange time to remember it. The memory appeared before his eyes, ghostly. The nine hells…?
Entreri looked to Jarlaxle. He shrugged, entirely seriously, and said, "I have already been there." The expression on his face was composed – the matter-of-fact face of a child telling something he knows, Artemis thought. The drow said, "Hardly worth a return visit." He took the glass and the bottle from the counter where they sat and walked away. Artemis watched him for a moment, and then followed.
The memories came upon him in a visitation of jumbled images, sounds, and tastes, one after the other.
As clearly as if he were transported back in time, he was transported back to that first moment when he faced the crystal shard and held its energy in his hand, deflecting it with his gauntlet to save his own life.
How powerful was that item?
He smelled his hand burning. His skin flaked and curled under the gauntlet. The energy, a hard, hot ball, slid from his hand. He shut his eyes against the blinding light and threw it as it left his fingertips, tossing it away from the black-skinned mercenary, gritting his teeth. A small cry escaped from his lips. Artemis smelled smoke.
An explosion rocked the room, almost sending him to his knees. The sound was deafening. The assassin opened his eyes, and saw Jarlaxle cringing, his eyes squeezed shut and one hand curled in a fist in front of his face, as if he might cough. His expression was unconsciously that of terror.
Artemis' resolve renewed itself.
Artemis opened his eyes, not realizing that he had shut them. The ground was at an odd angle in relation to his and Jarlaxle's intertwined bodies. They were tumbling. The ground was an odd flash of color, and it overwhelmed him again. He briefly imagined vomiting midair and decided that just in case he did live, he didn't want to live covered in his own vomit until they found a body of water sufficient to bathe in.
And then suddenly he was reliving the moment when he saw Kimmuriel's glowing portal to the Underdark close without a seam, without the drow's presence Artemis felt standing beside him.
Artemis turned to the person he had come to know; the dark elf's appearance, his wise red eyes, black-skinned, scantily clad body, whip-like with agility and impossibly thin. And it suddenly seemed strange to him that he could come to know such a person at all. "Why?" he said.
Jarlaxle seemed to mock him. "'Why'?"
But Artemis wouldn't hear it. "Why didn't you go with them? Why did you refuse to leave me here? You could have gone back, you could have taken back your mercenary band. You could have…Why would you give up something like that, just to remain on the surface with me?" Me, Artemis thought. Why would you choose to be with me? The assassin trailed off, speechless. Artemis said, "Why would you choose such a thing?"
A smile quirked on Jarlaxle's lips. He shrugged, and as he turned away, he said, "Perhaps I hate drow more than I hate humans."
Artemis didn't know what was happening. For a moment, he felt himself falling, and then he felt a final, gargantuan impact with the ground, as if it had just reached up and stopped him. His head rushed with dizziness. Sharpness and clarity suddenly came back. For the first time, he realized that he had his arms around Jarlaxle in a crushing embrace. His heart beat rapidly. Artemis stared at Jarlaxle, agape, his body paralyzed in its death grip on the drow.
They were on the ground, Artemis thought. They were on the ground. They were actually on the ground. "You almost killed me," Artemis said, with a perfectly calm demeanor. Then he let go of Jarlaxle and tumbled to the ground.
Jarlaxle bent over him, disbelief warring with mirth. "It wasn't that bad. Besides, the way you were crushing me, there was no chance of you falling to your doom." The elf fanned his face. "Actually, I'm blushing," Jarlaxle said. He turned away and beamed, holding a hand to his cheek. "Why, Artemis, I didn't know you were so interested. To think, sharing that tent together when we were running from the Dallabad Oasis, and I didn't have a clue!" He shrugged innocently.
Behind the drow mercenary, Artemis was getting to his feet, angrily scowling, storm clouds gathering on his face.
Jarlaxle placed a hand on his chest and gestured poetically with his other hand. "Why, I didn't know you were so inclined. Perhaps I should have asked you for companionship in bed instead of Vespers." He grinned slyly.
Artemis made a grab for his shoulder, which Jarlaxle neatly dodged without missing a step. The dark elf turned around on his own locomotion and regarded the assassin with an innocent face. "Yes?" Jarlaxle asked.
Entreri's face was flushed deep red. "If you ever," he snarled, "ever make such propositions again I will force your heart out through your stomach." In his own mind, he knew he was being irrationally emotional, but he was too thrown off by how deeply offended he was to keep his composure. Jarlaxle had just pushed him off a cliff without his permission and then saw fit to make jokes about Artemis' near death experience. He felt tears burning behind his eyes. Actual tears. He automatically hated anyone who could do that to him. He lashed out and succeeded in shoving Jarlaxle in the chest.
The dark elf stumbled backward, his expression of amusement frozen on his face. Jarlaxle's demeanor was quickly replaced by a wariness bordering on coldness. Then he shook his head, and a shiver passed through his body, leaving only a touch of confusion. In the wake of this reaction was his smile, which was rapidly returning. "I think you're overreacting –"
"I will hunt you down and beat you to death with my bare fists if I have to keep you from touching me," Artemis said. He was clenching his hand so hard that his fist was trembling. He knew he didn't even make sense any more. He was frustrated by the fact that as always, nothing made an impression on Jarlaxle for long. Even at the height of his hostility for Jarlaxle, here the drow was, laughing it up, and brushing off Artemis' feelings in order to do it.
"Should I start running?" Jarlaxle asked, raising an eyebrow at him airily.
The thing that made Artemis feel violated the most wasn't that Jarlaxle had suggested that he should have taken Artemis to bed with him instead of Sharlotta, but that when he thought he was going to die, all he could think about were memories of Jarlaxle. All that was running through his mind was, 'How could this happen? I trusted you.' 'Trust?' he wanted to scream in the fact of that thought.
"How could you do that to me?" the assassin demanded instead. His voice came out husky and breathless, pushed beyond all semblance of a shout until it was hushed with pain.
Jarlaxle narrowed his eyes at Artemis argumentatively. "You are supernaturally opposed to doing things the easiest way. We could have spent all week merely hiking down the mountain!" He gestured to the monolithic peak now behind them. "If you reach a brick wall, you pound your way through it instead of searching for a door!"
"Whereas," Artemis suggested, staring at the elf coldly, "Jarlaxle decides to make a door, instead of waiting for someone to allow him entry past the wall."
The drow mercenary rocked back on his heels. He unpleasantly found all sorts of shades of meaning in that one statement. Jarlaxle looked at him uneasily. 'Instead of waiting for someone to allow him entry past the wall'? That was an accusation, and Artemis was looking at him in a way that the elf had hoped Artemis would never look at him again.
Have I encroached upon your territory so uninvitedly? Jarlaxle asked silently. Surely you don't actually wish to be alone for the rest of your life.
Jarlaxle said, "Is it so unnatural to assume that you and I could easily surmount whatever challenges we face, so long as we are together?" Artemis didn't say anything, leaving him alone, standing there with his mouth open. His normally leading question had gotten no response whatsoever.
He backtracked in his plans to the point of bending over backwards, which was the nearest thing he could come to making an apology. "I naturally assumed that we should seek out the nearest city. Artemis Entreri would not be comfortable walking through the wilderness forever." Jarlaxle was scanning Artemis with his eyes as he spoke, searching for indications that he was being listened to. Artemis just stood there. "I merely…formed a theory that since he chooses the city of Calimport over the forests and mountains of Tethyr, he must be more comfortable in the twisted depths of a metropolis than the…unsettled realms." The dark elf paused uncertainly, Artemis' scrutiny beginning to rob him of his words. His tongue was uncustomarily held back by the feeling that he was walking delicately to let sleeping dragons lie.
Artemis snorted, an edgy, noncommittal sound that didn't convey his thoughts. He looked at the ground. "I have no desire to see the interior of a city ever again."
This put Jarlaxle a further step back. He didn't quite know what to say to get Artemis around this obstacle. When the drow had been traveling with Artemis to dispose of the crystal shard, he had awoken to the exciting scent of an opportunity being wafted under his nose he had hardly ever dared to dream of. This was his chance, to become not merely a figure of infamy, but to break through to the highly regarded ranks of the sanctimonious! He, Jarlaxle, could be hailed as Hero! He could finally become that icon which cancelled out his dark heritage, which would finally set him on the road apart from his kin, an entire land full of people that he honestly had no desire to see again! Besides the few people he trusted to back him up in his organization, like the enigmatic Kimmuriel, an elf that Jarlaxle understood far better than most by virtue of the fact that it was himself who had rescued Kimmuriel from the jaws of fate.
The elven mercenary quickly revised his plans in his head. Perhaps this wasn't a set-back, but an unexpected development in a different direction. An opportunity. For what yet he didn't know. The word made him smile. Whenever he was particularly declined to sink to the depths of sadness, he reminded himself of the word 'opportunity'.
"Alright," Jarlaxle said, trying out a smile. Artemis didn't react negatively, which soothed the mercenary's self-confidence. "Then we don't have to end our expedition in Kormul." He looked around, and gestured at the waving plains of grass that stretched out endlessly in every direction. "After all, this seems to be a fairly large land."
Artemis took a deep breath and tried to steady his emotions. Still, he looked at the brightly-garbed drow mercenary with a burning stare. "One that may appear far smaller with due time."
Jarlaxle winced, but decided that he'd said all he'd been allowed to for the time being. His companion's decision to let him recover some of his dignity and standing in Entreri's eyes, Artemis seemed to be saying to him, was far better than a person like Jarlaxle deserved, but that the assassin was going to do it anyway, and so the drow mercenary had better be grateful. Jarlaxle hesitated, then offered, "That one might find it cozier…after a while, places seem to shrink to conform to the people in it."
The look on Artemis' face became strange. He stared at Jarlaxle. "This is no Calimport." He turned away, and began walking through the waist-high grass, brushing it aside. He looked for any natural parts in the grass, due to frequent travel, and then said, only half-turning his head to look over his shoulder, "Be careful. There may well be ticks in such thick grass."
Jarlaxle automatically clapped his hands to his bare arms. He looked around shiftily, suddenly aware of every movement in the tall grass. "Did you say tricks?"
"Ticks," Artemis said firmly.
Jarlaxle rummaged through his series of wands and potions, muttering to himself. "Ticks. I hate ticks. I hate bugs. I hate flies, I hate worms, I hate ants."
"How about spiders?" the assassin asked, giving Jarlaxle an innocent gaze.
The drow mercenary offered him a sickly smile. "Now that would be blasphemy." He returned to his rummaging.
Artemis shook his head, amused despite himself, for now, letting the harmful atmosphere between them be defused. "To find the road," he said, to alert Jarlaxle to the fact that he wasn't going to stand here and wait patiently forever. "Where the road leads, there will be people. Presumably. Since, after all, a road has to get here somehow."
Jarlaxle nodded without looking up, and began to search through the contents of his floppy purple hat.
After about five more minutes of being subjected to this, the assassin rolled his eyes, sighed, and grabbed Jarlaxle's arm to stop him. Jarlaxle looked up at him. "You had no sympathy for my phobias," Artemis said. "You'll just have to get over yours." He pulled Jarlaxle towards the billowing waves of sun-bleached grass.
Jarlaxle stopped, and stared. He seemed to shrink in on himself, drawing his arms close to his chest, huddling. "That's a lot of grass."
"Your beautiful realm of opportunity isn't so beautiful now, is it?" The assassin smirked.
"Is it too late to go back to Calimport?" Jarlaxle asked. He looked around as if expecting a shimmering portal to open up and reveal the bustling streets of the desert city.
"There's no turning back now," Artemis said.