Important Note: I built my series of fanfics on SotS, and I took these characters forward on one possible road they could have chosen. Some of what I did bears a resemblance to what RAS did, and the rest became AU as of the publication of "Wickless in the Nether" in 2005. So please enjoy these stories as an alternative fate for our beloved characters—a path they could have taken but one RAS didn't choose to explore.

Likewise, I based my portrayal of Entreri's childhood on "The Third Level," a short story RAS wrote back in 1993. In that story, fourteen year old Entreri remembers being sexually abused by three people, not just his uncle. I will not change my fanfics in light of the revision in RotP, so simply take the difference with a grain of salt.

As always, please remember that Artemis and Jarlaxle have undergone 7 stories' worth of development and change, and therefore they will behave and react somewhat differently than they do in canon.

The Power of Prophecy: Simulacrum

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.

Simulacrum: An insubstantial form, reflection, or representation of something real; an image

Chapter One

Jarlaxle had a problem.

Of course, being chased by Zhentarim agents was problematic for most. The drow's black mare galloped down the twisted muddy trail, sending clumps of sod flying in her wake, as arrows whizzed past Jarlaxle's ears on both sides. He could hear the thunder of hooves behind him, coming from the pursuit of a dozen agents—half of the soldiers that had lain in wait just beyond Loudwater's town wall, ready to accost Entreri, Nyx, and him. Word of the bounty assignment they had accepted against the Zhents had traveled fast, it seemed, unlike the other small jobs they'd taken in the past month since defeating the allips.

The problem with the Zhents was not a small one, despite Jarlaxle's many tricks and defenses. His mare's path through the forest forced Jarlaxle to invoke a magical shield against flailing tree branches which slapped against his arms, chest, and face. Even as he protected himself against the low branches, a blue flash exploded next to his head, evidence of a spellcaster. Jarlaxle's hatband absorbed the energy, but it could not do so indefinitely. The drow dared to release one hand from his horse's reins, draw a wand, and fire a cone of freezing snow and ice upon the ground behind him, hoping to cause his pursuers to fall.

Although it was a brilliant idea, Jarlaxle's loosening on the reins allowed his frightened mare to run amok. She bolted blindly, and not just from terror: a new moon left the night soot black, and the forest's canopy shut out the stars. If Jarlaxle couldn't regain control, she might crash into the trees.

But none of this was Jarlaxle's true problem.

The drow had been separated from Entreri and Nyx during the Zhent ambush, for the soldiers had split forces and driven them apart in the forest. The only one who was likely not in danger was Tai, whose role in their new job had led him west to the next town. But such were the dangers of accepting a multifaceted job from a wealthy merchant, and this also was not Jarlaxle's problem. He had conquered far more complicated setbacks.

No, the drow's problem was his unsettling realization that despite his own danger, he was more worried about Entreri's safety: it was a realization unprecedented, sudden . . . and world-altering.

And so Jarlaxle charged down the muddy trail, fighting his mare back under control, consciously aware that his growing feelings of friendship for Entreri had culminated in his traveling a second road in his heart—and unsure of where this new road would lead him.

Artemis Entreri slashed at the knees of Zhentarim soldier's horse, bringing down both horse and rider as they charged him. Having lost his horse early in the fight, Entreri had focused his energy on forcing all the other riders to dismount. With the final solider horseless, Entreri charged into the fray, joining Nyx in her efforts to dispatch the dozen Zhent agents.

The first solider fired at Entreri with a crossbow, but the assassin knocked aside the bolt with his dagger and sliced the man's hand off, weapon and all. As he fell away screaming, a second Zhent attempted to crack Entreri's skull with a quarter staff; the assassin dodged the blow, catching the strike with both his blades, which he angled sideways so the staff would be directed away. Entreri then kicked him in the side, knocking him backward before charging forward with his new sword, which had been named Black Widow, leading. The soldier parried the strike, but Entreri disengaged and spun around behind him, burying his dagger in the man's kidney.

The second solider hadn't even collapsed before a third was barreling down upon Entreri, leveling a long spear as though he'd turn the assassin into food on a spit. Entreri drew his sword into an upward block, redirecting the spear, and then gave his attacker a forehead butt. The man stumbled away, but Entreri pursued, slicing him in half with the magically enhanced Black Widow.

Entreri whirled to face his next opponent, for he could sense the presence of at least two more men. In fact, three had squared off with him. The first Zhent wielded shuriken not unlike those of Nyx. A monk, Entreri thought, as the man let loose a barrage of flying metal. Entreri picked the throwing stars off one-by-one, smacking them aside as he charged the man. The soldier brought up his fists, obviously unafraid to fight unarmed, but Entreri jumped and bounded off a tree trunk, vaulting over the man's head and slicing through his spine on the way down. The remaining two agents yelled and ran at him then, each of them brandishing swords.

For many minutes Entreri was consumed with the fight, the dance of blades—to parry and block, to thrust and strike. He caught one man's blades low and kicked over their locked steel, then disengaged and whirled, turning his sword and dagger in a corkscrew pattern against the strikes of the second Zhent. A mere nick against this man's throat, and Entreri had lethally poisoned him with his new blade; the man fell back a step, dropping his defenses.

Entreri, however, didn't press his advantage and turned instead to face the charge of the other agent. Engaging Black Widow's second magical power, Entreri pressed forward, seemingly against the air, and caused time itself to slow. The Zhent's charge became almost comically sluggish, and Entreri leisurely cut through him in a crisscross pattern. Time snapped back into motion, and the corpse fell at the assassin's feet.

Across the clearing, Nyx Jassan—who had already taken down three archers with her shuriken— was being circled by three swordsmen. The first two charged her from each side, so she wrapped her nunchuku around one man's blade and arm and spun herself around his body, forcing him forward into the second man's attack. She disengaged her nunchuku as the man was impaled, then kicked the corpse forward into her second attacker. Caught off guard, the Zhent stumbled backward, and Nyx used to the corpse as a platform from which to launch a roundhouse kick at the man's head. With a battle yell to ignite her ki, she emptied a blast of green energy into his skull, killing him instantly.

The third agent had charged her during her attack, but she pivoted and faced him, kicking his sword arm to the side. Then she snapped her nunchuku horizontally to the left and then back to the right in a Z pattern, striking her opponent brutally and breaking his bones. When he yelled and fell to his knees, she delivered a thrust punch to his face, driving his nose back into his brain.

"Lovely," Entreri commented, slinging the blood from his green-tinted sword blade.

Nyx grinned at him. "No more lovely that the man you hacked in half."

For a moment they shared a gaze of respect, but then Entreri stopped to glance over the carnage. He sheathed his weapons with a shade too much force and sighed.

"I should stop listening to Jarlaxle," he said. "We were supposed to go to Waterdeep, not stop off at Loudwater and get embroiled in an attempted Zhentarim invasion!" He growled to himself, suspicious about Jarlaxle's willingness to get involved with the Zhents in any fashion.

Nyx cringed. "I can't say I'm happy about running up against the Zhents, with their wizards, underhanded merchants, and army. I grew up listening to the stories of how they're trying to take over this entire area and all the people who have died as a result."

Entreri nodded—for years he'd been hearing such rumors himself. "It would have been better to stay clear, but no! Jarlaxle happily waltzes us into another bodyguard job."

"But the Zhentarim would have killed that poor girl!" Nyx exclaimed. "Especially if they believe that prophecy about her. Could you really just walk off and let them sacrifice her and get their way? When I think of that, I have to say I'm glad we came along in time to get the job." She paused and smirked. "If it bothers you that much, just remember that we'll be well paid."

Entreri snorted. You'll be well-paid if you survive, you mean. "At least Tai seemed excited about the task of protecting the girl." He sighed. "Do you remember what Edwin Garner said back in Withey Township? About prophecies and blood?"

"Something like 'It is most always about blood. The spilling of blood is a symbol and a sacrament, a simulacrum for worlds to come.' It does seem like his warning had some weight to it." Nyx seemed to ponder the thought for a moment, then shook her head and smiled. "But are you surprised about Tai's interest in the task? It might not be a case of vengeance, but Miri is beautiful and the same age as Tai."

Entreri snorted again. He'd thought Tai had forgotten to breathe when Miri had entered the room, as though the priest had been instantly hyperaware of the young woman's fine-featured face or perhaps the curves of her body, which were accented by the tight waist of her flowing white dress. "Yes, he seemed quite eager to accept the task of getting her away from here."

Nyx playfully punched him on the shoulder. "And you seemed eager to take the bounty assignment of killing the Zhent ringleaders." She grinned at him, apparently unable to refrain from teasing him. "Maybe you're looking forward to a hero's welcome in Loudwater after we've saved their fair city from Zhent control?"

"Hardly." He smirked. "I merely thought that it sounds like a challenge, and I live for a challenge." He paused, frowning. "But we have to find Jarlaxle first."

"You sound worried."

"About him? He's a walking arsenal." Entreri shrugged and tried to ignore a twinge in his stomach—the type he usually felt when facing mortal danger. Why would he be having that feeling now that he was safe?

Nyx just smiled.

The sound of approaching hoof beats put them both on alert. Jarlaxle thundered into the clearing on his horse, reined the mare to a halt, and dismounted in one graceful motion.

"I see you two have dispatched your enemies with your martial prowess," he greeted him, removing his floppy hat and dipping them an exaggerated bow. He straightened and plopped the hat back on his head, causing the hat's oversized feather to sway wildly. "I applaud you."

"And your opponents?" Entreri asked, concerned with the speed at which Jarlaxle had entered the clearing.

"Either frozen solid or full of too many broken bones to crawl," the drow replied flippantly.

"Don't be so dismissive!" Entreri snapped, caught off-guard by an unidentifiable anger. "If you don't restrain your recklessness, you'll be killed next time."

Jarlaxle blinked, apparently shocked, but then a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "Reckless?" He threw up hand up to his chest in a dramatic gesture. "Just because my suggested route out of town resulted in an ambush—"

"I'm not speaking of the route; I mean your battle tactics! The way you just—"

"Gentlemen," Nyx interrupted. "I think the relevant observation for the moment is that we're safe for now."

"Very well," Entreri conceded, still plotting to discuss the drow's madness with him at some point when they were alone.

Jarlaxle lifted a finger. "But we shall only remain safe for the length of time it takes us to locate the Stonars's castle."

Entreri sighed, not liking their new job in the least. The group had traveled west down The Black Road from Withey Township to Llorkh, which was a town heavily under Zhentarim control. From there, they'd worked their way to the free town of Loudwater, making their way ever closer to their destination of Waterdeep. A wealthy merchant named Morn Brightwood, who had risen to prominence in the relatively peaceful town of Loudwater, had snagged Entreri and his friends when they'd stopped to overnight.

Of course, Brightwood had accomplished this task only because when Jarlaxle had seen his vaguely-worded bounty posting on the town board and learned of his wealth, he'd cajoled the others into checking it out. An hour later, Entreri had found himself, Nyx, and Jarlaxle employed to assassinate Melcer and Lander Stonar—twin brothers who were attempting to bring Loudwater under Zhentarim control. In the meantime, Tai's task had become to get Master Brightwood's only daughter, Miri, to safety because of some prophecy Entreri hadn't really bothered to listen to, much less remember.

In short, Entreri, Nyx, and Jarlaxle had to breach a Zhent castle and kill the warrior and wizard who lived inside, a task that could prove to be either overly easy and boring or downright suicidal. Given the rumors surrounding the Stonar brothers, though, it was likely the latter.

"Why do I let you talk me into these things?" Entreri groaned.

Jarlaxle just grinned. "The adventure! The excitement! Not to mention the profit of Master Brightwood's rather—let us say—generous reward." He glanced sideways at Nyx. "In addition, our Holy Javelin here gets the opportunity to take vengeance upon two men who, in their quest for power, have killed hundreds of people."

"Tortured and killed," Nyx corrected, "if Master Brightwood and the townspeople are to be believed."

"Precisely, my dear monk." Jarlaxle patted his mare's neck. "So perhaps we should begin our—" He paused suddenly and smiled at her. "But first let me remark upon how beautiful you are today."

Entreri groaned again, even as Nyx snorted. With Tai's somewhat awkward but patient help, the monk had altered her hair style so that she wore her hair in a cascading crown: a small braid entwined her head, and the rest of her auburn hair fell in curls down her back, framing her narrow shoulders.

"I'm still not sure if this will be practical," she said, pushing a few stray hairs from her face. "But I get bored if I don't change my hair every once in a while."

Jarlaxle pointed to her leather pants and matching sleeveless vest. "Then why not consider a—"

"No," she interrupted with a small smile, stopping the drow before he wandered off on one of his spiels.

Entreri motioned at his own silk black shirt and the new black leather utility belt that crisscrossed his chest. "What is your obsession with dressing your friends?" He motioned at the frightened horses scattered through the trees. "Turn your attention to finding two uninjured horses for Nyx and me to ride. We have a castle to find."

Jarlaxle grinned at him. "And two Stonar brothers to kill? Certainly, my friend, certainly."

Entreri sighed, not at all sure that Jarlaxle's true intentions were so simple and direct. In truth, the drow's plans were never simple or direct, and to the assassin, this portended trouble.

From his perch upon a fallen tree trunk, Tai Vatoshie watched his charge's every movement. Miri Brightwood walked with the same graceful precision of Artemis Entreri, except with that added touch of femininity no man could possess, and Tai was fascinated by her. He had found himself unusually drawn to her since meeting her the night before.

In fact, since he and his companions had stopped in a wooded glade to eat lunch, Tai had not removed his gaze from the half-elf maiden for a moment. He had admired her upturned ears, caught in an elegant arc somewhere between a human's and an elf's . . . He had noted the way her platinum blonde hair flowed down her shoulders and the way her eye color matched the soft pine green of her traveling clothes . . . He had even noticed that as she moved about the glade, gathering a few berries from vines, the sunlight which dappled the clearing would catch her hair and invoke a golden glow. Tai sighed, enthralled in a way he couldn't quite express.

"If you stare at her any harder, you'll be raping her with your eyes," snarled a male voice.

Startled, Tai jumped, but he schooled himself to not frown at the young priest who joined him on the fallen log. "I was doing no such thing. As her lifelong friend, you most be aware that Miri-sen is uncommonly beautiful. I hardly meant any disrespect."

The young priest did not look impressed by Tai's admission. When Tai had taken the job of protecting Miri Brightwood's life from the Zhentarim, he had not realized he would be blessed with the somewhat haughty and snappish addition of her childhood friend, Darvin Greycastle, who—like Miri—was a half-elf. Upon first meeting Darvin, Tai had been excited to learn that he was also a priest of Hoar. However, Darvin had declared himself leader of their group by right of age (he was 18, only a year older than Tai and Miri) and had insisted that Tai's additional protection was not particularly necessary given that Darvin was "greatly blessed in might by Hoar."

"Of course I am well aware of Miri's beauty," Darvin began. "But Miri does not need—" He paused. "What did you call her? 'Miri Sin'?"

Tai sighed. He'd slipped and used one of the Tethyr name honorifics. It was something he usually caught in time, remembering to call people "master" and "mistress" or "lord" and "lady," but occasionally he forgot and called them "-sen" or "-sema." How to explain this to a Northerner? "I was adding an honorific to her name that means 'mistress.' It was a slip. Although I'd be calling her Brightwood-sen had she not bade me to address her by her personal name."

"You don't call me Darvin-sen," the priest said.

"As fellow priests of Hoar who are basically the same age, we're peers," Tai said, smiling sweetly. "The honorific is unnecessary." Which was a bald lie—dropping the honorific so quickly was actually an insult.

Darvin looked oddly displeased by this information, as though it was somehow offensive or bizarre. "Is that why you didn't refer to your partners with honorifics?"

"No," Tai replied. "I don't use honorifics with them because they are my friends; the lack of an honorific implies closeness and familiarity." He grinned to himself over the memory of Entreri asking him to call him "just Entreri" several months earlier—in fact, a few times he'd even been able to call him Artemis.

Darvin ran both hands through his short, spiky black hair in a show of frustration. "Sounds needlessly complicated to me."

Miri had wandered closer to them and chose that moment to enter the conversation. "I think it's lovely," she said, smiling softly. She handed Tai a handful of berries. "You don't have to call me 'Mistress Miri' or 'Miri-sen', but if you wish to call me Miri-sen, I certainly won't mind."

Tai returned her smile. "Thank you, Miri-sen."

Darvin scowled, and Tai wondered at the man's temper.

"Now," Miri said, retrieving her short spear from the tree she'd leaned it against, "shall we continue on to Zelbross? If there is any chance we're being pursued—"

"Of course!" Darvin said, standing and brushing off his white clerical robes. "Your protection is first and foremost my concern." He jerked up his javelin, which was his only weapon, and marched back toward the road.

Tai raised an eyebrow at this display, instantly reminded of how he'd immediately failed Darvin's "assessment" of his worth as a priest of Hoar: he didn't wear clerical robes, had admitted to never using Hoar's divine power to fly, and didn't carry a javelin, which was Hoar's favored weapon. Tai snorted to himself. Flying! As if he wanted his feet anywhere but firmly planted on the ground!

Shaking away the irritating thoughts, Tai stood and offered Miri his arm. "Shall we follow our fearless captain?" he asked lightly.

Miri chuckled and took his arm as they followed after the priest. "Don't mind Darvin, really. He truly is a dear. He just feels protective of me because we've been friends since we were barely out of the nursery. He forgets sometimes that I'm well-trained in the use of my weapon—" She held up the short spear she carried in her free hand. "—and that I have the power of nature to call upon."

Tai nodded, for he'd learned that Miri was a druid. "I have no doubt of that. But with the Zhentarim wanting you . . ." He hesitated. "I'm sorry to ask, but would you mind repeating the prophecy that they believe concerns you? Your father explained everything so quickly last night I could hardly keep up."

Miri exhaled heavily. "Certainly. The horrid prophecy reads like this: 'Whoever the serpent marks shall be cursed with the poisoned blood that shall damn or save the world in its passing. Brightly she shines in the wood, this wretched creature, yet she destroys the trees and streams with the opening of the portal.'" She glanced at Tai and frowned, her brow creasing. "It's an old elven prophecy about some woman whose blood is supposed to open a portal to an abysmal dimension and release demons and monsters into this land. Thanks to the 'brightly she shines in the wood' part, some people believe that I'm a perfect fit since I'm named Brightwood." Her frowned deepened, revealing either anger or fear—or perhaps both.

Tai felt his stomach clench. "But wouldn't you have to be marked by a serpent?"

Miri stopped and pulled away from Tai. She yanked up the side of her tunic and exposed her ribs, revealing a red birthmark in the shape of a snake.

"Oh," Tai said, his voice utterly flat.

After smoothing her tunic down again, Miri entwined her arm with Tai's and resumed walking. "My family tried to hide the fact I have the birthmark, but a healer who treated me as a child saw it. And now the Zhentarim have heard about it, and only Eldath knows what they think they'll accomplish if they should spill my blood and find the prophecy to be true."

Tai cringed. "But the prophecy says 'shall damn or save the world,' right? So doesn't that mean . . .?"

Miri released his arm, skipped forward several steps, then turned back and grinned at him. "Why do you think I became a druid?" She whirled around twice, throwing her arms wide. "I will save the world instead!" she yelled, causing Darvin to look back at them and a few birds to fly from their perches. She stopped and smiled at Tai. "Truly, I refuse to accept that my role will be one of destruction. With every ounce of my being, I am fighting for a positive outcome."

Tai smiled, touched by her unconquerable spirit, and knew that he had to do everything in his power to keep her safe—both for her sake and for the world's sake. He also knew that part of his success depended upon Entreri, Jarlaxle, and Nyx, who had the daunting task of slaying the Zhent ringleaders who had ordered Miri's capture in their preparations to seize Loudwater.

"Oh, Hoar, help us all," Tai whispered.

A/N: Thank you to all who read and review! If you're curious, I made up the honorifics that Tai uses, but there is evidence that some of the cultures in FR use honorifics.

I ask for your patience; I have become increasingly busy since I first began writing fanfic. I can't write as often as I'd like, so I may post slowly at times. However, the good news is that I do have several scenes written for both this story and the final one in the trilogy. In addition, I'm working on a new humor series.