This Day and Forever Afterward

By Ariel

Description: In 1669 D.R.—300 years after he faced his past in Memnon—Entreri still lives due to several unintentional infusions of shade life force. In all this time, has Jarlaxle truly proven to be his friend, especially when Entreri contracts a deadly plague created through magic-induced germ warfare? Fits on the "The Day After" timeline. Minor spoilers for RotP. Written for those who like fuzzy friendship stories.

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: 300 years have passed! The characters have grown, aged, and changed. Take anything that seems OOC with a grain of salt; there is not a person alive who can even live 3 years without changing. :) Horror of all horrors, there's a touch of sap here, I think. Also, this is another case of my writing in a short story what should really be a novel-length affair. Please be patient with me; it's the best I can do within my time constraints.

Despite my dissatisfaction with several aspects of RotP, RAS clearly illustrated through the novel itself and a few comments to fans afterward that Jarlaxle felt genuine feelings of friendship for Entreri—most notably by going back and rescuing him from Gareth. This adds special significance to my story, but I would have written it either way. This is fanfic, after all. The sky is the limit.

Chapter One

1669 D.R.

Artemis Entreri slipped from shadow to shadow, winding his way through dusty streets and crooked alleys that had changed dozens of times over 300 years, but never had they become unknown to him. The sun set upon Calimport, lowering the suffering city into darkness and creating black monoliths of the wooden docking sheds. The bustle of the day died into silence broken only by the wails of women crying over the bodies of husbands and children struck down by the Red Plague, the epidemic that had already killed thousands across Faerun.

The man who had long ago been an assassin set aside those thoughts for now, however, and allowed himself to feel the coolness of the billowing shadows, to feel their essence slipping like cold liquid silver through his veins. His numerous fights with the Netherese, which had often been won by his vampiric blade, had made him nearly one with the soul of the night, and he used his affinity to ease through the shed doorway and into a corner.

His would-be assassin stood boldly in the center of the shed, facing the door through which Artemis had just slipped. No human eye could detect the ex-assassin, he knew, since his role in fighting the return of the Netherese had left him almost half-shade. Artemis had time, then, to study the thin young man who meant to kill him. It was strange for Artemis to see in the child before him what he had once been: a young man, perhaps fifteen years in age, with the brown coloring and black hair of a Calishite. The boy continuously flexed his hands into a fist and then relaxed them, and his entire approach to the assassination was more like a duel. Such an amateur. Even after 300 years, Artemis remembered all the tricks of his one-time trade—sometimes he still had to use them.

From the opposite end of the room, a shimmer of movement caught Artemis's eye. Again, no normal human eye could detect it, but to the shade-infused human, the dark hole that formed in the wall was obvious, as was the drow who stepped through: Jarlaxle, co-leader of Bregan D'aerthe of the Underdark and ruler of Bregan T'rathe on the surface.

Artemis smiled to himself, for although he'd been expecting the drow's assistance, he hadn't been expecting the drow's newest outfit: modern and stylish, with its long golden coat and crimson waistcoat and breeches, the outfit was completed by black, shinny boots and a floppy crimson hat with a golden feather. Outrageous as always. It was a wonder the boy assassin didn't see the atrocity from the corner of his vision.

But before the boy did notice the drow, Artemis stepped into the light. "Why must I kill you?" he asked bluntly. He'd grown weary of the act of murder long ago, even when it was a common necessity. "What offense have I committed against you or your master that warrants my death?"

The boy jerked in shock at Artemis's sudden appearance, and the ex-assassin noticed how red and splotchy his complexion was. If the killer was that easily scared, he wasn't cut out for his occupation. Unless his complexion was a sign that he was infected with the Red Plague, in which case . . .

"My employer is one of the few Netherese that you and your allies didn't slaughter," the boy said, his voice clipped. "Azurthe Tyrune. Perhaps you recall the name?"

"Indeed I do." If Artemis had learned one thing during his unnaturally long life, it was that history never died. Actions great—or even small—could set events into motion that would echo throughout all time. The destruction of the Netherese Empire was one of them—but assassins sought him for more reasons than that. They targeted Artemis because of his connections with the government, because of his finesse in information gathering, and because of his position as pasha of a shipping guild. There was little in Calimport he didn't influence or own, and not everyone appreciated it.

The boy drew his falchion. "Then prepare to pay for your blasphemy." All around the assassin, blue screens formed, dimensional doorways that admitted a dozen further warriors.

"Hardly a fair fight," Artemis remarked dryly.

"All the world knows your reputation, and we also know the drow is always at your side," the boy replied without ever indicating he'd seen Jarlaxle's presence. "The two of you may be older than time, but to quote common wisdom, 'Only a fool underestimates Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle Bregan.'"

Artemis bowed his head in acknowledgement and then drew Charon's Claw—the sword he'd carried all these centuries as a reminder of whom he'd been and never wanted to be again. Behind the soldiers, Jarlaxle drew a sapphire-tipped wand. It was a dance between Artemis and the drow, a waltz of magic and metal, perfected over the centuries until no enemy could hope to defeat them.

The boy assassin charged Artemis as though he had to kill him in one swing, slicing at him from all sides: a slash at each of Artemis's shoulders, followed by a slash at each of his knees, then a straight stab at his heart. Swordsmanship was something Artemis had never tired of—nor ever stopped needing—so he blocked each swipe with his red blade. He had retired the vampiric dagger, disgusted by its accumulated effect upon him and the utter destruction it brought, but he didn't need two blades to defeat this boy.

Even from across the room, Artemis saw Jarlaxle use his wand to unleash a small tornado of ice and snow upon four of their attackers, freezing them into scream-faced statues, while simultaneously drawing an emerald-tipped wand and spraying three others with acid. The acrid smell of burnt flesh and hair permeated the air, and the five remaining men circled the drow carefully.

Satisfied concerning his friend's safety, Artemis refocused upon the boy as he launched his second barrage, bringing his sword overhead and down in a death arc. Upon Artemis's block, the boy retracted his blade and swung at his shoulder again before snapping the blade low and then straight up in an attempt to gash through his groin. Artemis blocked all three strikes successfully, but took a small tear in his pants on the last parry.

"You're getting slow in your unnaturally old age," the boy snickered breathlessly.

"And you're ready to faint on your feet," Artemis replied, unconcerned with the boy's observation. He had long ago determined that he'd die on his feet, engaged in battle. The boy, though, looked ready to die without the benefit of a sword wound. Again, Artemis wondered if the boy were infected with the Plague.

The boy's only answer was to draw a dagger and charge Artemis once again, first with a feint before dropping into a spin with both his blades. Artemis snatched one of his nonmagical daggers from a thigh sheath and met the attack blade-by-blade. By far more experienced and effectual, despite being over 340 years old, Artemis knocked aside the boy's sword and looped his dagger hand over the boy's other arm, trapping his elbow before stabbing the dagger home. The boy gasped, then coughed violently and spat blood in Artemis's face. The ex-assassin wiped it away in disgust.

Across the room, Jarlaxle now had a collection of dagger-ridden corpses about his feet. Straightening himself slowly, the old drow rolled his shoulders back as though popping his vertebrae. He strolled over to Artemis, smiling all the way.

"Nothing like a good fight to remind me of our golden days," the drow said, winking.

"I told you not to joke like that," Artemis replied.

"We have never lost yet," Jarlaxle said, and although his movements were a touch stiff, his eyes sparkled.

"Well, I wasn't sure you'd come to my aid this time," Artemis quipped, unable to pass up a chance to goad the drow.

Jarlaxle immediately frowned. "And I thought I told you not to joke like that."

Artemis grinned and squeezed his shoulder before turning their attention toward the collection of corpses. "A small force for such a seemingly important act of vengeance."

The drow nodded. "Yes. I suspect a secondary motive or contingency plan." He pointed at the red splotches decorating the dying boy's face. "Do you think that perhaps . . .?"

The boy coughed again and opened his eyes a slit. "Not 'perhaps.' Definitely. My master and I have won. Artemis Entreri, I've infected you with the Red Death. You have about a tenday to live." He started to laugh, but choked and started coughing instead.

Jarlaxle stood motionless for a moment, then snapped a dagger straight into the boy's heart. "Bastard!"

A seeping coldness traced through Entreri's veins, and for a moment he was far away, mentally reliving other moments in time: his near death at Mirthal Hall almost 310 years earlier; his potential death at King Gareth's hands 300 years ago; his heart literally stopping during a battle in the Netherese Wars 250 years before; his bleeding out after being attacked by two chimera . . .

A half dozen moments out of a thousand where he'd nearly died, and most all of them during fights, with his sword in hand. Not in a sick bed.

When Artemis neither moved nor spoke, Jarlaxle grabbed him by both shoulders. "Artemis! You will survive. Artemis!" He shook him slightly. "Talk to me."

The ex-assassin looked at Jarlaxle, gazing directly into both his crimson eyes since he no longer wore an eye patch, and realized that in every near-death experience he'd recalled there had been one common denominator. Jarlaxle had always been there to help him, to save him. Whether he'd asked for help or not, wanted to be helped or not, Jarlaxle had been increasingly steadfast in staying by his side and saving his life.

"I know you will do your best," Artemis said. "But this is the Red Death."

Jarlaxle squeezed his shoulders—a sign of affection Artemis had finally grown used to and had even learned to return. "No. I will save you! I refuse to let you die this way."

But Artemis just stared at the corpse of the plague-ridden boy.

A/N: Thank you to anyone who reads and reviews! I'll be back in a few days with chapter 2, which has sticky edges thanks to my friendship-story obsession.