Disclaimer: I do not own this…at all, except for the stuff I made up.

A Friendship Betrayed

To a surface dweller, the stone walls of the underground cavern were quite unremarkable. In fact, the casual observer probably would not be able to see the rock at all in the inky blackness. However, Zaknafein, patron of House D'aermon N'achezbaernon (Do'Urden,) Tenth House of Menzoberranzan, witnessed a kaleidoscope of color as random heat patterns shifted endlessly and in beautiful formations in the solid stone.

Nevertheless, he took no notice. The heated walls, as artistic and exotic as anything found on the surface, had long since lost any allure it might have once had on the drow. He wrapped his piwafwi tightly about him, blending almost perfectly into the "shadows" caused by cooler stone.

He squinted behind him, barely making out Narbondel in the distance. It was completely cool, signifying the drow equivalent of midnight. Even now Gromph Baenre, archmage of Menzoberranzan, would be making his way to the giant stone pillar to reheat its base.

Zaknafein frowned; Jarlaxle was late. "Jar?" he hissed hesitantly. "Jar, are you out there?" No answer. Zaknafein crouched lower, shrinking into his camouflage cloak, feeling very exposed on the outskirts of the underground city. Zaknafein began to worry. It was not like the prudent mercenary leader to be tardy.

"Lolth curse you, Jarlaxle. Where have you gotten to?" muttered Zaknafein, clenching his fists in anger.

"Easy, Zak; I'm here." Zaknafein jumped and glared accusingly at two small red dots peeking out from another piwafwi.

"It's about time, Jar," snapped Zaknafein. "You picked an outstanding meeting to get into the habit of being fashionably late."

Jarlaxle posed airily: "Fashion comes first in everything," he intoned, swishing his cloak grandly and adjusting his ridiculous purple hat half a centimeter to the right.

Zaknafein forgot his worries and chuckled softly. "Come, my friend," he said, clapping the mercenary leader on the back. "Bregan D'aerthe will be sorely hurt to lose its leader. I'm surprised I convinced you to give it up."

"Give up?" said Jarlaxle, astounded. Zaknafein frowned at him. "I have not given up my band. My lieutenants will keep everything in order for me until I return."

"Return?" asked Zaknafein.

Jarlaxle sighed. "I sympathize with you, Zak, I really do, but I am not a creature of the surface. I am willing to go romping around in the sun for a while. In fact, I've been planning to do it for some time, but haven't thought about getting around to it for another century or so. I am making a special case for you, Zak. My band, however, cannot leave my control entirely."

"I thought you were just as ready to leave this hellhole as I, Jar," said Zaknafein.

"Oh, I am, of course, just in a different way than you."

Zaknafein thought about it, and then shrugged. "Oh well, your reasons are your reasons. I'll not question you. I didn't the day you took me in, and I won't now."

They plodded along in silence for a few minutes, and then Jarlaxle chuckled. "I remember the first day I saw you. What a bedraggled young drow you were."

Zaknafein nodded. "I was a beggar, an impure-blooded dark elf. I still don't know why you let me join Bregan D'aerthe."

Jarlaxle shrugged. "It was your eyes, I suppose. There was a fire in them that I'd seen in only the fiercest of warriors. Oh, you were quite a sorry sight then, but I knew, with the proper amount of training and a few good meals, you would become great. And look at you now! You are the greatest swordsman in the entire city of Menzoberranzan. You are patron of a high-ranking House with more potential than I've seen in centuries, and the Matron Mother's personal favorite. You have everything going for you in Menzoberranzan. It seems a waste that you should leave."

Zaknafein stopped. "What are you saying, Jar?"

Jarlaxle slowly advanced on Zaknafein, "Surely life in Menzoberranzan is not so bad. You are like a prince."

Zaknafein eyed his friend warily. "Jar, I'm not going back. I cannot stay here any longer. For the love of the gods, my soul is at stake!"

Jarlaxle suddenly grabbed Zaknafein's piwafwi and pushed him against the cavern wall. "Listen to me, Zak, and you listen closely. You cannot leave the Underdark. You cannot leave Menzoberranzan."

Zaknafein shoved Jarlaxle away. "The hells I can't. What's gotten into you, Jarlaxle?" His eyes widened when two daggers appeared in Jarlaxle's fists.

"Listen to reason, Zak," said Jarlaxle, allowing the daggers to elongate into two finely crafted swords. "You are a hero in your homeland, a legend amongst the commoners of what one can become with enough will and determination. What allure does the surface hold for you?"

"Jarlaxle, the drow are evil!" shouted Zaknafein. "I cannot live in such squalor, such filth! I will no longer assassinate children on Malice's whims!" He stood there, panting, slow realization taking place. "I am leaving, Jarlaxle, and if I have to leave you here with your lifeblood flowing from you, so be it."

"You cannot beat me," whispered Jarlaxle.

"You said yourself that none in Menzoberranzan could match me in swordplay. Did you forget to count yourself?"

"I have other tricks, and besides, your adopted family is coming."

The blood drained from Zaknafein's face. "You told them?"

"They paid me well. Money is a powerful incentive. They're on their way. I'm sorry, Zak, I truly am."

Zaknafein was stunned. "Yeah," he growled, "I bet you are."

With a howl, Zaknafein drew his swords and rushed at Jarlaxle, unleashing all his anger, rage, and despair at his betrayal. Jarlaxle parried, surprised at his friend's ferocity. "Stop it, Zak!" he begged, barely keeping the enraged dark elf at bay.

Zaknafein did not listen. Instead, he prayed to Lolth for the first time in his life. He asked her that if it was his lot to live in her city for eternity, then at least give him the satisfaction of slaying his betrayer. He could almost hear her mocking laughter rumbling down upon him. He grimaced and fought all the harder.

Jarlaxle threw some powder into the air and vanished with a flash of smoke. Zaknafein whirled around and blocked the mercenary's strike without even looking. Jarlaxle plucked an enormous feather out of his hat. Zaknafein sliced it in half before it touched the ground.

"Zak! How could you?" lamented Jarlaxle. "You know how long it took me to find one of those feathers!"

Zaknafein answered with a soundless snarl.

"We are friends! I saved you from the slums of Menzoberranzan; doesn't that count for anything?"

"Should I thank you for pulling me off the street and kicking me into the Abyss?" asked Zaknafein rhetorically. "I think not."

Jarlaxle was beginning to think he was in trouble. Zaknafein was keeping him too occupied to bear any magic items. For one of the few times in his life, the mercenary began to fear for his life.

"You should have realized that money isn't everything," hissed Zaknafein, sensing his advantage.

Jarlaxle cried out when Zaknafein slashed him across the stomach. He fell to his knees. Zaknafein raised both swords for a killing strike, but Jarlaxle quickly drew a wand and fired a miniature fireball at point-blank range at Zaknafein.

Zaknafein was hurled across the cavern. Astonishingly, he arose and charged screaming back at Jarlaxle to finish him off. Jarlaxle sighed unhappily and raised his wand again, prepared to kill his one and only friend.

Zaknafein's soulless scream was cut of suddenly when a large mass of sticky web caught him from the side and pinned him to the floor.

"That would be quite enough," drifted a silky, yet sour voice. Briza and Matron Malice flowed into the cavern, their priestess' garments swishing back and forth seductively.

"Jarlaxle, honey," I believe I made clear my express wishes that the package be undamaged?" said Matron Malice sweetly.

Jarlaxle attempted to bow, but winced as he disturbed the gash across his abdomen. Matron Malice wiggled her fingers in his direction, and the wound healed itself as if never there. "My apologies, Matron Mother. His attack was quite sudden. I had little time to invoke a proper caging spell."

"Indeed," said Matron Malice absently, inspecting a still-struggling Zaknafein. "Do try to be more careful next time."

"Yes, Matron Mother."

Matron Malice turned to Briza. "Take him back to the Do'Urden dungeons. The male will learn his place."

Briza grinned maliciously, and cast a spell that levitated Zaknafein off the ground and dragged him behind her back toward the city.

Jarlaxle stepped beside the Matron Mother. He cleared his throat, feeling he should help Zaknafein in any way he could. "I do hope you don't go too hard on him, Matron Mother," he ventured.

Matron Malice smiled at him. "Dear old Zak? By the time we are finished with him, he won't visit the privy without asking my permission first. At least, not for a while, anyway. We never could seem to get his spirit down irreparably. But don't worry, Jarlaxle. Nothing physically lasting will be done to him. We are going to need his wonderful swords for our next coup."

"Which will be?" prodded Jarlaxle, interested despite himself.

"Remember that incredibly interesting bit of information you gave me a little while ago about Matron Ginafae DeVir falling out of Lolth's favor?"

"Ah, yes," said Jarlaxle, smiling.