Chapter 3

Running

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Excerpt from R. A. Salvatore's Starless Night:

The dark elf's slender fingers, lightly touching, making not a sound, traced the grain of a wooden door. He had no desire to disturb the person within, though he doubted that her sleep was very restful. Every night, Drizzt wanted to go to her and comfort her, and yet he had not, for he knew that his words would do little to soothe Catti-brie's grief. Like so many other nights when he had stood by this door, a watchful, helpless guardian, the ranger ended up padding down the stone corridor, filtering through the shadows of low-dancing torches, his toe-heel step making not a whisper of sound.

With only a short pause at another door, the door of his dearest dwarven friend, Drizzt soon crossed out of the living areas. He came into the formal gathering places, where the king of Mithral Hall entertained visiting emissaries. A couple of troops – Dagna's troops probably – were about in here, but they heard and saw nothing of the drow's silent passing.

Drizzt paused again as he came to the entrance of the Hall of Dumathoin, wherein the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer kept their most precious items. He knew that he should continue, get out of the place before the clan began to stir, but he could not ignore the emotions pulling at his heartstrings. He hadn't come into this hallowed hall in the two weeks since his drow kin had been driven away, but he knew that he would never forgive himself if he didn't take at least one look.

The mighty warhammer, Aegis-fang, rested on a pillar at the center of the adorned hall, the place of highest honor. It seemed fitting, for to Drizzt's violet eyes, Aegis-fang far outshone all the other artifacts: the shining suits of mail, the great axes and helms of heroes long dead, the anvil of a legendary smith. Drizzt smiled at the notion that this warhammer hadn't even been wielded by a dwarf. It had been the weapon of Wulfgar, Drizzt's friend, who had willingly given his life so that the others of the tight band might survive.

Drizzt stared long and hard at the mighty weapon, at the gleaming mithril head, unscratched despite the many vicious battles the hammer had seen and showing the perfectly etched sigils of the dwarven god Dumathoin. The drow's gaze drifted down the item, settling on the dried blood on its dark adamantine handle. Bruenor, so stubborn, hadn't allowed that blood to be cleaned away.

Memories of Wulfgar, of fighting beside the tall and strong, golden-haired and golden-skinned man flooded through the drow, weakening his knees and his resolve. In his mind, Drizzt looked again into Wulfgar's clear eyes, the icy blue of the northern sky and always filled with an excited sparkle. Wulfgar had been just a boy, his spirit undaunted by the harsh realities of a brutal world.

Just a boy, but one who had willingly sacrificed everything, a song on his lips, for those he called his friends.

"Farewell," Drizzt whispered, and he was gone, running this time, though no more loudly than he had walked before.

(3-5)


Since Artemis knew with certainty that this period of several visitations in a day would not last, he knew that he had to find a way to entertain himself. The alcohol was steadily leaving his system, and his tangled thoughts and feelings with it. His renewed calm settling over him like a cold, damp cloth was a relief to him.

He stuck his gloved hands into a pocket at his belt and grinned bleakly. One thing that they hadn't taken from him was his pair of dice. He sat on the stone floor of the small room, leaning against the bed comfortably, and started throwing dice, playing a mental game with himself. This mental game was devised of something that interested him: probability. He tried to predict which numbers in which combinations would come up on the dice, or tried to figure out what the two dice would add up to most frequently, all out of this fascination of the similarities of the possibilities that could result from two simple, cubic dice. When he was an assassin – that is, when he currently pursued a job involving assassination – knowing these possibilities, knowing all sorts of possibilities and being able to pick out the most likely ones would save his life, his job, his reputation.

Actually gambling on the outcome of a roll of the dice was something he did not even consider, however attracted to the idea of besting someone through probability he would be. He knew that only fools gambled, which was another thing that bothered him about Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle committed to things, everything from purchases to entire ventures, which were composed of nothing but gambles stacked on gambles to make a house of cards. The assassin couldn't stand it. Every angle Entreri considered it from, he only saw an unsupported gamble being taken, a chance that he – and Jarlaxle – could lose everything by taking such a chance.

Artemis stomped straight down, slamming his heel into the floor. He couldn't believe himself. Here he was thinking about Jarlaxle again! Wandering back to the same flamboyantly dressed subject as if he had an addiction to the mercenary drow. He snatched up the dice again and clenched his fist around them. Damnit, if he's going to make me think of him every ten minutes, he could at least show up and get me out of here.

The idea stuck with him for an alarming, hope-inspiring moment. Then he slowly shook his head and forced himself to let go of it. Jarlaxle doubtless had more important things to do than 'rescue' Artemis, and Artemis was no longer his problem. If Jarlaxle was still watching him with spies the way he had been trailed through Menzoberranzan, the elf had no reason to care unless Artemis offered him something.

The assassin was not willing to go back to Menzoberranzan just to escape from the moronic clutches of The Companions of the Hall. That was out of the question. He was never going back to that darkness, that oppressive night that never for gods' sake ended.

He threw his dice again and sent them tumbling across the bare room with a force fueled by anger.

So I'm stuck here until I agree to whatever thematic changes of redemption Catti-brie makes for me.

He honestly didn't know whether to be insulted by her insane behavior towards him, or, insanely, flattered because she was the only woman in his definitely miserable, definitely poor life who had expressed interest to this degree about him. It was obsessive, and someone being capable of obsessing over him was an almost appealing concept. He'd never been paid attention to, after all, until he'd made people pay attention by becoming a threat to them. He didn't have to clamor for her attention. Which should be a positive.

Artemis frowned. But he didn't want her attention. Except that he felt flickers of doubt in his chest and realized that as far as attentions went, he wasn't that discerning. He didn't mind her red-headed eccentricities.

But he didn't want her to know that. The pushy, easily angered type that she was, she would probably run him ragged with her cloying, annoying poking and prodding, asking him questions and plaguing his every waking moment with her presence. He was in no way open to receiving the smothering weight of a 'dwarven' woman who was a restless bundle of nerves waiting for another adventure.

But on the other hand, if he could regulate her exposure to him, she might be worth the company. A frown of indecisiveness tugged at the corners of his mouth. He threw up his hands. He didn't know what to do.

He imagined what Drizzt Do'Urden would do to him if the elf ever found out he was even having these thoughts, and laughed, shaking his head. Run away at the first opportunity is what I should do, before he kills me.

But that only reminded him of why he was here in the first place. He crossed his arms and hugged them to his chest tightly. He'd gotten himself into this mess because he'd decided that dying was easier than staying alive. And maybe it really wouldn't hurt if he made the decision himself. Maybe it was time to end things.

And what would I do if I escaped?

He suddenly knew that he couldn't stomach going back to his old life. A thief, an assassin. The Drow city of Menzoberranzan had made him feel feelings he had never associated with his job before. He felt as though he had been used.

Before, in Calimport, he would have said that it was true that he was being used, but he was using everyone around him at the same time, so his presence was a double-edged sword. They could manipulate him all they wanted, but not without being cut.

Now, it was as though a blindfold had been removed, and he saw what was really thought of him. To some degree or another, when someone else saw him, they saw a ruthless…tool. They saw an assassin as someone to be used and hated, never condoned, even as the wealthy and the politicians hired these 'reviled' assassins and trusted them with the most dangerous, most violent acts of their strategies for survival. An assassin could never be important in their own right.

Artemis felt long-suppressed feelings of anger rising to the surface like a stain.

Once, he would have said that hatred and fear were good outcomes; that these emotions inspired in others would protect him, it would keep others away from him, and it would keep people from thinking to hurt him. Now he saw that he had been wrong. Hatred and fear pushed people to new heights in order to destroy him. 'Destroy' because they argued that his soul was already dead, and that his life was meaningless, therefore the only thing left to take away from him was the ability to live.

Artemis Entreri felt his anger turn into frustration at the fruitless search for someone to blame, and the frustration predictably turned inward and distilled into self-loathing. He had already tried, so many times, to rid himself of that which was at the root of his problems! He had tried, so many times, to rip out the source of his suffering, to scour himself clean of stupidity, of naivete, of weakness, and still, that damnable root of blame was still there in his heart. What did it want from him? How could it only grow tougher and more gnarled with the passage of time, like an ancient tree feeding on all of his mistakes? Your search to be the greatest warrior was in vain, a horrible voice in his head said, the speaker of all of his doubts. You know you can never be the best, and if you cannot, what use are you?

All of these were reasons to destroy himself.

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Catti-brie found herself in an unusual dilemma. She was hardly ever unsure of herself, and yet, she felt oddly self-conscious today. I'm not really ignorant, am I? In spite of reassuring herself that Entreri's taunts about her were just that, just taunts meant to get her angry and get her to argue with him, she found herself worrying. What if I am wasting me time around here when I could be explorin' the rest 'o Faerun? And then, uncomfortably, Is Calimport really all that different? The auburn-haired woman slowly paused and became very still as something else floated to the top of her brain. Regis be from Calimport…

Catti-brie sought out Regis, and found him with his guard patrol. "Rumb – Regis," she hastily remembered as several dwarves bristled at her use of the casual name for their leader. Even though they were much shorter than she was, she had to resort to fast, long-legged strides to keep up with them as they tramped through the many, echoing halls of the underground fortress. "Regis, I need to talk to ye!"

The halfling smiled at her apologetically. "I know, but if you don't mind, I would appreciate it if you would get Taulmaril from your room and join the patrol. I have my duties as Watch Commander to think of."

"Aye!" the dwarves roared enthusiastically in unison.

"Where will ye be when I get back?" Catti-brie asked.

Regis said, "We're headed to the lower mines right now. After you and Drizzt came back that way, we decided it would be a good idea to make sure nothing else crawls out of the Underdark."

The dwarves all bobbed their heads in agreements and fondly stroked their various weapons.

She ran to her room and back, breathless and impatient for answers.

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"What you want from me you could just as easily look up in a book," Regis said. "Why don't you?" He looked at her curiously, shrewdly trying to ferret out the cause of her sudden interest in the desert city.

"Maybe I want some real answers instead of some stuffy outsider's opinion," Catti-brie said with a wheedling smile. "I bet ye know how it really is, not how people make it out t' be. I know nothing would be as accurate as a first-hand account."

"You're curious because the assassin doesn't make sense to you," Regis said.

She scowled and pouted. "Aye. Now tell me. Please!" She hated admitting to not knowing how someone was feeling and why.

"There are good things about Calimport," Regis said, as though he were having to defend the city's reputation from her. He frowned. "Of course," the halfling said with a shrug, "the good things are usually only available to the rich, and those who can weasel into some important person's favor."

"Ye mean…?" Catti-brie frowned.

Regis gave her an odd look. "Calimport's largest population is poor, you know. Poverty accounts for almost seven eighths of the entire city. The guilds controlling the wealth make sure people stay poor, and they themselves stay in power. It's been an uninterrupted balance since Calimport was born."

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Imprisonment is going to drive me insane, Artemis Entreri stoically observed. He felt oddly detached as he looked down at his own shaking hands.

No more than an hour ago, surely not more than that, he had reached up to the collar of his cloak in irritation to take it off, and then closed his hand around the steel cloak pin. Stunned, he manipulated the pin's clasp and took off his ragged gray cloak, uncharacteristically letting it fall to the floor in a heap as he inspected the fastener. It was an oval-shaped metal decoration on the front, and when he turned it over, a clasp and a long, three inch pin were exposed.

He stared at the gleaming needle. It was sturdy enough to puncture and hold a heavy cloak, but surely he didn't think it would be any good in his quest to commit suicide. It had no cutting edge at all to drag across his wrists, and it wasn't long enough to reach his heart. What in the nine hells am I going to do with this? And yet he sat there, staring at it all the same. He didn't know what he was thinking.

He was still staring at it when Catti-brie came in. She was back again. Did she not have anything else to do, today or ever? Was he speaking the truth when he'd called her a bored, unmarried woman?

At the curious lack of a greeting, he finally tore his eyes away from the cloak pin and looked at her. She was staring at him.

In spite of himself, a little smile twitched on his lips. A part of him was amused that after her long speeches, which she probably still thought would make a difference to him, she had come in to see him fondling a sharp object in his hands. "Hello. Is something wrong?" The assassin thought for a moment. "Was I not gracious enough in accepting Do'Urden's touching apology permitting me to say your name out loud?" I wonder what she thinks about that, he thought.

"What are ye doing with that?"

He looked at her rather helplessly, and thought that it wouldn't be quite so damned stymieing if he had figured out the answer himself. "Never mind." He put the cloak pin down on the bed, absently fastening the pin closed so that it couldn't hurt anyone, and loosely folded his hands in his lap. He looked directly into her eyes. "What can I do for you this time?"

Catti-brie sat down on the bare floor and looked up at him. "Tell me about Calimport." She seemed to have taken his words at face value, fully expecting him to describe the city he had spent most of his life in.

Entreri stared at her with nothing but simple confusion on his face. Then he seemed to become peevish. "Well, for starters, in Calimport, most women know their place and do not presume to follow men around all day asking foolish questions."

"Then I'd say ye don't know enough about women," she said snidely. "We're not all the type to squeak like mouses if we're so much as threatened, Entreri, and ye need a good, strong 'un to stand up to ye and yer temper tantrums."

He glared at her, looking positively enraged for a moment, and then, somehow unexpectedly, his rage cooled off. He merely nodded at her. "Indeed. That may be true." His voice was quiet and mild.

Catti-brie gave him a look, but she couldn't discern the source of his self-control. "What else do ye know about Calimport?"

"Where should I start?" he retorted. "I've lived there for my entire life." That was not precisely a lie. He just didn't consider his early childhood a life.

"Why do ye seem so formal?" Catti-brie asked. "Is that yer culture, or are ye just stuffy?"

He stared at her. "Formal?" He scowled at her. "How do you expect me to act in the presence of strangers?" Then he raised an eyebrow mockingly as an idea came to him. "Like a gentleman?" His unpleasant smile following that question was enough to make her blood boil.

"No," she said, glaring at him. "Like you might actually care about someone."

"But I don't," Artemis said. He crossed his arms. "You would be asking me to commit a lie by insinuation."

"Ye liar," Catti-brie said. "Ye cared about me." When that didn't elicit a response, she pressed, "When ye tried to make me cross the rope ye threw over to the tunnel. I couldn't go, and ye tried to make me cross, because you were scared about what might happen to me, remember?"

He looked away. He did remember. An unnamed guilt pierced his attempts to deny it or his feelings, only lighting the scene in his imagination more brightly. It was a moment of terror and vulnerability that he was suddenly aware he didn't want to ever experience again.

He shook his head slightly, but lest she interpret that as a negative, he said haltingly, "I do…remember." He didn't know why he would be disappointed if she thought that the moment had been a counterfeit, if she believed any denial of what had happened at that moment with them both on the wrong side of the rope. But he cared, and he cared probably more than he had cared about anything since returning from that land of darkness.

Thankfully, Catti-brie, for all of her faults, seemed to possess enough tact to change the subject back to Calimport.

---------------

After an hour of useless questioning, Entreri couldn't take it anymore. His desire for company was one more outweighed by the annoyance of having company. "Surely you can find something else to do other than bothering me," he said.

The auburn-haired woman looked around the room for inspiration, and then settled on his worn travel pack, resting against the wall. "I'll do ye a favor." She beamed innocently and hefted the bag.

He twitched, and then furiously clenched his jaw, sitting stock still until he could control himself again. "What, pray tell, are you offering?"

Catti-brie opened his pack and started sifting through it. "Well, ye have a lot o' dirty clothing."

"That comes of traveling," Artemis said.

She grinned at him and held up a mud-caked pair of breeches. He stared at it, the memory of cleaning the horse stalls of his tavern refuge out of sheer boredom flooding back to him. "How'd ye get so messy?"

She would surely interpret his story wrong. Try to portray it as a moral act shining through his black soul, or whatever cracked nonsense they believed in. "None of your business," he said with a threatening glare. "Now put that down."

"Who's going to do yer laundry? Yerself?" Catti-brie snorted.

Artemis stared at her icily, his eyes narrowed to slits. "I would, but you are not going to let me out of the room, are you? You would rather do demeaning tasks for me."

She smiled and walked over to him as if to leave him with some puzzling parting gesture as she had before by kissing him.

He leaned back a little in spite of himself and waited.

She stared at him. Then she flicked the tip of his nose, a startling little pinch of pain that made his jaw drop in outrage. She withdrew before he finished struggling with his sudden, fiery desire to kill her with his bare hands. "Yer welcome." She trotted off with his pack.

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Catti-brie was happily folding laundry into a wicker basket with a sense of fulfillment showing on her face that tipped Regis off right away. Folding laundry was a woman's task. Therefore, Catti-brie had never wanted to do it. Much less take enjoyment from it. Something else was up.

"You are looking happy today," Regis said, coming up beside her with a friendly smile. "I was afraid that you'd be more upset, considering the events of this morning."

She threw him a confused glance before biting her lip in concentration and folding a white, button-up shirt, eyeballing it critically before dropping it into the basket on top of three pairs of breeches. "Aye, I suppose that dealin' with the assassin was a little trying, but still, ye can understand his distress. I doubt he's ever committed suicide before. He can't like bein' here."

"I meant…" Regis trailed off when he saw more clearly the contents of the basket. "This isn't your laundry."

"Nope," the red-haired woman said cheerfully. "It's fer Artemis Entreri."

The halfling's brow burrowed. "Why are you doing his laundry?"

She gave him a look and shook her head in exasperation. "I thought ye'd think of it obvious. Artemis Entreri can't wear the same clothes forever, and since he's not allowed out of 'is room, 'tis not like he can do his own laundry." She finished folding and picked up the basket. "Someone's gotta take care of 'im, ain't they? It's not like ye an' Drizzt 'll be down on yer knees doin' his wash." She carried the basket away, humming a pleased, self-satisfied tune.

"Um," Regis said.

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The elven ranger let out a long, deep breath.

He felt better after confronting the assassin and forcing Entreri to listen to an apology so that there was no more between them Drizzt owed him, but still, there was this restlessness, and this overwhelming desire to come face to face with his tormenting memories and defeat them with his scimitars. He fastened the clasp of his green cloak.

He closed his door quietly behind him and was walking down the hall when he met the glaring visage of Catti-brie in front of him. He flinched and hung his head, feeling foolish for not realizing that after the stunt he pulled, his friends were watching him like hawks. Drizzt Do'Urden summoned up a feeble, sheepish smile. "Greetings. How are you this fine morning?"

His answer was Catti-brie's scowl. He laughed nervously. "This is not what it appears to be. I was merely…going yeti hunting."

"Ye won't mind me Da comin' along for the hunt, then." The auburn-haired woman put her hands on her hips.

The elven ranger whirled around at the sound of slow, heavy footsteps, and saw the old dwarf. "Bruenor is quite welcome to come," Drizzt said meekly. "I simply did not want to bother anyone…" He trailed off as he realized that was the wrong thing to say. He winced, and waited for the tongue lashing to come. Nothing happened. Instead, when he opened one eye, he saw a shining expression of pity on her face.

"Oh, Drizzt." She tackled him in an abrupt hug that threw him off balance. "Ye don't need t' go anywhere. Ye can stay here. I know ye're uncomfortable what with Entreri bein' here, but he can't leave his room, and he won't bother you anymore. He promised. He wouldn't do that if he wanted to fight ye again. He wouldn't. I know he's a strange man, but his word's as good as any man's."

She reached up and stroked his cheek. He thought suddenly, irrationally, that she was going to kiss him, in front of her father and everything, and then he realized that she was tracing a wound that had never quite healed, a long scar down his face. The dark elf avoided her eyes, stunned and ashamed of himself for presuming to project his feelings onto her this way. She didn't love him that way. That had been Wulfgar's place.

"Well, girl?" Bruenor asked, glaring at her without any real bite. "Are we gonna mow down some yetis or are we gonna stand here jawin' all day?"

"Me?" Catti-brie said innocently. "I'm not to be goin', Da. I thought me that this would be a boys only expedition. Ye need some kind t' cool off 'n get yer heads screwed on straight, aye?" She patted Bruenor on the shoulder and kissed his weathered cheek, then skipped the scene.

Bruenor looked down at his axe. "Ye were missed around here, elf. Why'd ye have to go off like that without tellin' anybody? I thought ye'd lost yer wits an' went off to kill yerself."

Drizzt stared at him, at a loss. "I'm sorry, Bruenor," he said softly, moved to words. "I didn't mean to." He took a step towards his old friend, then stood there indecisively, not sure how the aging dwarf would react to any gestures of affection.

Bruenor solved the problem for him by reaching out and gruffly patting his arm. "Don't do it again, ye durned crazy elf. Ye're supposed to outlive me."

The dark elf smiled wryly at the way they'd avoided really talking about anything that made them uncomfortable by resorting to nickname calling and banter. "Right."

The old dwarf rubbed his hands together. "What do ye say we spend the rest o' the day fightin' and be back by dinnertime with a few new yeti pelts?"

Drizzt smiled, the first real smile in a long time. "I would like that."

They set off into the snow, and the familiar routine of tracking quarry soothed Drizzt's soul. They ate lunch on the trail, and sometime in mid-afternoon, found the tundra yeties. They trekked back to Mithral Hall with the sun setting.

Over dinner, the dark elf let Bruenor tell the tale of their hunt, adding only occasional comments of his own. Drizzt noticed that whereas Bruenor was too loud, brazenly trying to cover up the ache of Wulfgar's absence from the table, Catti-brie was too quiet, looking down at her plate as if deep in thought. The ranger looked over at Regis, and nearly fell out of his seat with surprise. Something was troubling the halfling to the point where shock and anger showed on his normally angelic face. Drizzt wondered what could possibly have occurred in the space of one day to change everyone so. Was it Artemis Entreri's fault? Drizzt asked himself. He did fall into our midst rather suddenly. The ripples could be having repercussions on everybody. He sipped his mead and thought about that for a long time into the night.

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Artemis awoke to the sound of the door to his room opening. He carefully maintained his deep, slow breathing and watched out of the corner of his eye as Catti-brie snuck into the room, no doubt thinking herself stealthy, and deposited a pile of clothing in a basket. She set his pack against the wall where it had become designated to rest and left, assuming that she hadn't awakened him.

Once she left, he stretched, got out of bed, and carefully lit the lone oil lamp 'generously' bequeathed to him during his stay. It was the clothing that she had taken from him the other day. Puzzled, but relieved, he had changed into a fresh shirt and breeches by the time she cheerfully knocked on his door and gave him breakfast.

This time, instead of antagonizing her, he merely nodded and said a quiet, "Thank you." She took this compliment – for in the case of the assassin, it was one – with a puzzled frown, and a somewhat humbled retreat. When he finished eating, he gave the tray to one of the two dwarves posted outside the door. They grumbled, but didn't say anything to him directly. He wondered if he could get used to this as a routine, and then shook his head, shoving the thought away.

The next person to visit the Calishite was Regis, the annoying halfling.

"So, how's dear old Calimport?" Regis asked, a pleasant, conversational smile on his cherubic face.

I might actually know if you and your friends would let me return there, the assassin thought. Artemis studied his one-time quarry and quickly thought through all possible permutations that could lead the halfling to talk to him alone. He decided that either A) Regis simply was not afraid of him when he was in this caged state, or B) Someone, possibly Catti-brie, had sent the halfling here to keep an eye on him, and they were all going to take turns. Artemis Entreri decided to cut through all the useless chatter. "Who sent you?"

Regis raised his eyebrows, his expression a declaration of innocence. "No one. I came of my own accord. As a matter of fact, I'd like to know what I missed." The halfling gestured with one pudgy little hand. "As you can see, I am completely swamped in the duties of my new life as one of the righteous, but that doesn't mean I don't still think about the days on the streets, where wits are the only thing that keep you alive."

Artemis stiffened at the implication that he had ended up here in this room without any of his weapons because he didn't have any wits. "Leave. Now."

Regis looked politely puzzled. "But I thought Drizzt had said you told him this wasn't your room, and therefore, we didn't even have to knock on the door." He shrugged. "It was your choice, after all, but since you forfeited all your rights to privacy…"

Artemis Entreri gritted his teeth to keep from cursing and turned away, determined not to hear any more of Regis' verbal assault on him.

"Talking to the wall, eh?" the halfling said, his tone a great deal more merciless and mocking than Entreri supposed he ever revealed to his new 'friends'. "Well, that doesn't matter. I know you, and I know your kind. You'll listen."

Entreri incredulously met Regis' eyes. How low have I sunken that even this fat, retired thief dares to speak to me this way? "What? What could possibly be so important that you could deem it necessary to walk in here and patronize me, even after I have done nothing wrong?"

Instantly, he regretted his words. Nothing wrong? Since when had that mattered? And since when was he so desperate for mercy that he would remind his own enemies that for once, he was not their attacker?

But on the other hand, the assassin thought, trying to soothe himself, if they claim to be so heroic, they would at least pretend to care that I am not the aggressor in this situation. It is they who are keeping me hostage against my will.

And then, he sighed, let himself show a resigned smile, and let it all go. He was here because this was revenge. It was so simple he'd completely overlooked it. Of course. That was why they were keeping him here. It made perfect sense now, Catti-brie's interest in him. She was exacting revenge, not trying to help him. In the oddest way, having the situation back within his mental grasp was such a relief that he didn't care if he had to stay here for the rest of his life, being imprisoned here until he was nothing more than a lifeless bag of bones. "Very well," he said, leaning back on the bed and comfortably crossing his arms. "What is it that you have to say?"

"Catti-brie cares about you," Regis said. "I don't know why, and possibly never will, she sees something redeemable in you, but I've appointed myself the task of making sure that you don't mess it up."

"Pardon?" Artemis wasn't hearing what he wanted to hear. In fact, he was fairly certain that he should never be hearing this. He wasn't redeemable. He was a heartless assassin whose only comfort in life was being able to kill everyone around him, and those that didn't understand him because they couldn't stretch to being cynical enough were simply not worth his time. The gears turned in his head for a while before he willed himself to speak. "You…" He gestured in disbelief. "You want me to court this woman."

Regis raised an eyebrow. "I want you to get as far away as the time will allow. If it were up to me, I would return your weapons to you and tell you to rot in Calimport or the Nine Hells for all I care."

Absurdly, even as he registered that Regis was trying to insult him, he felt a wild flicker of hope in his chest. Finally, one of these blasted, scramble-brained Companions was speaking sense, and he had a chance of escaping here. "Then why don't you?" Artemis asked, leaning forward persuasively and fixing the halfling with a measured gaze. "I would be more than happy to leave you alone and never come back."

The halfling frowned at him as if in mild surprise that he hadn't been listening. "Because it would break her heart."

Artemis leaned back again, smile gone. "I see." He was silently cursing to himself in fluent Calishite. Outwardly, however, he maintained his utmost calm.

Regis stared at him coldly. "I know you probably have no interest in this, but listen anyway. Catti-brie and Wulfgar were engaged to be married, and then Wulfgar is killed in battle, so now after being so close to being married and secure for the rest of her life, it was all taken away, and she's forced to be alone. Bruenor would be happy if she mourned for the rest of her life, but she won't, and didn't. She's moved on, and the first step she took in completing her life again was to get attached to you."

Touching, Artemis mused, with only a minimum of acidity. He hates me, yet is willing to let Catti-brie court me. He must care about her so. The assassin smiled, a small, sharp expression with a vicious dagger edge. He was, once again, laughing at himself. Regrettably for me. It would be so much easier if he agreed with me. "And what if I decide not to cooperate?"

The halfling stared at him. "I believe that's a rhetorical question for someone who's lived in Calimport." Regis got up from his chair and turned to leave the room. "Use your imagination." He left without another word, closing the door behind him.

Artemis Entreri hated the common ground being from Calimport gave him with the overweight halfling. Regis knew how Calimport natives thought. What their motivations were. How they reacted. He was being steadily penned in by these people, and he didn't like it. Artemis Entreri despised being manipulated. He clenched his fist in a crushing grip that didn't allay his anger.

Then a thought came out of nowhere, astonishing him into feeling a spurt of horror in his chest. So that kiss on the nose had been - ? His eyes widened. Damnit! She had gotten past her defenses with her conversation and stupid bantering and actually… His skin started to crawl… been able to touch me.

He whirled around and slammed his fist into the wall. That's it. No more mistakes. The next time she comes into this room, she'll have to stand by the door, and I don't care what she's carrying. With the gods as his witnesses, he was not going to make her happy and fill the alleged oh so sorrowful hole in her pathetic life by playing the romantic in order to avoid being killed by her friends. His face burned with the level of rage he was experiencing. He was not going to be played like a fool. He had not escaped Menzoberranzan for this.

In spite of however much he might curse these circumstances, they gave him a new fuel to pursue life. He had to get out of here. That immediate goal pushed all thoughts of suicide firmly away in the struggle to survive. Slavery in deed or spirit was not survival. It was death.

------------------

After that, the next disturbance to his solitude was a knock on the door hours later, followed by Catti-brie's voice saying, "I'm coming in." She made good on her word and opened the door. She was carrying another tray. "I have lunch for ye," she said softly. She was subdued, and upon finding him on the bed, sitting with his back towards her and with his head resting on his clasped hands, she barely tried to coax a word out of him. "Are ye well?" When he didn't answer, only sat there, too-pale and carefully still, she set the tray down on the floor and left.

It was all he could do to control himself and retrieve the tray, then sit down and calmly chew the slices of ham, the baked potato, and the creamed corn.

While his body mechanically took care of the necessity of nourishment, the gears in his mind were turning. How could he escape and when? The matter was of putting pressure on the right Companion of the Hall and relentlessly pushing until they released him. But which one? The only one who had not been to see him was Bruenor, and he suspected it was because the old dwarf didn't care. No, dwarves were like stones, especially the older and wiser ones. Bruenor wouldn't budge. He would just tell the assassin that whatever Catti-brie wanted, that's what he was going to give her. Regis the blackmailer was out of the question, especially since the smug halfling was relishing Artemis' imprisonment.

That could only leave Drizzt. Artemis Entreri came back to life at that conclusion, suddenly tasting his food for the first time. He had time to register that it wasn't bad, before he realized that once again, he was excited at the prospect of a challenge, an escape, a future outside of these bleak, stone walls. He could do it. He was sure of it. All he had to do was offer something that the dark elf ranger wouldn't be able to refuse. For all that the legends and his friends said about him, Drizzt was weak right now. He was the perfect target. Entreri would get the drow to return his weapons to him, and then he would escape – perhaps with the ranger's help in order to slip past the others.

Out of Mithral Hall, he would flee back to Calimport or even further south. He could go to Lapaliiya, the nation directly east of Calimshan. Many of Calishite descent lived in Lapaliiya. He wouldn't be out of place there. Once there, he could begin a new profession. He wasn't yet old. He could become a warrior instead of an assassin, or perhaps – he cut his speculation short. First, I have to get out of here, he reminded himself. He eagerly finished the rest of his lunch and didn't bother giving the tray to one of the guards this time.

--------------------

"Do ye know what is the matter with him?" Catti-brie asked her friends and father over lunch. She picked at her food. "He looked worse than before. Has one of ye come to him, threatening him, or have ye had some disagreement? 'E looks terrible."

The Companions all looked at each other, but none of them said anything. She'd been talking about Artemis Entreri on and off for the past half hour. Drizzt looked almost painfully confused. Had his apology sent Entreri over the edge? Could the man not handle forgiveness? Regis avoided everybody's eyes and set his frown on his face firmly. He would not give up. It was for Catti-brie's own good. He knew scum like Entreri. Without threats, he would hurt Catti-brie and leave. She didn't deserve that. Bruenor only gave her a shrewd look and asked, "Why is me girl so worried about a ne'er do well like that?"

Catti-brie shrugged and unhappily poked her food with her fork. "Da…" She looked pained. "He ain't a ne'er do well."

Drizzt snorted incredulously. "Excuse me? Then tell me what he is, Catti-brie."

She met his gaze stubbornly, something that surprised him because he'd been expecting her to waffle about it like she had been ever since Entreri had helped them escape. "He's a man. An' he might be hurt. So ye better give 'im room and let 'im talk, Drizzt Do'Urden."

The elven ranger just gave her a confused smile. "What makes you think he'll talk to you? About anything?"

Catti-brie snorted. "Ye have eyes, Drizzt? He already has. That's why me head's so full 'o different things I can't think without hurtin' meself these days. E's not a cold blooded assassin, e's somethin' else, but I'll be eatin' me own boots before I figure out what." She sighed and tried to eat some of her roast potatoes. They were cold already.

Drizzt stared at her. What could Artemis Entreri possibly have said that could inspire this kind of reaction in his friend? Did he – No, it couldn't be – He – Did he actually – The elven ranger's head was filled with awful visions of the assassin declaring some sort of twisted sentimentality towards the auburn-haired woman. She had helped him escape, after all, and only an idiot or someone with brain damage wouldn't notice that Catti-brie was beautiful. Drizzt shook his head. I hope it's not that. It can't be that. Suddenly, he lost his own appetite for his food. He stopped, chewed more slowly, and forced himself to swallow his mouthful of ham. He felt ill. This can't be happening.

But for some sick reason, he was sure that it was. It was too much of a nightmare not to be true. If it was anything he'd learned from Menzoberranzan, it was that his life was a nightmare just waiting to happen.

His self-reflections brought himself to an epiphany he wasn't ready to have. He didn't know if he could deal with it. Drizzt put his head in his hands, dropping his fork. "Headache," he mumbled, and excused himself from the table. He slipped back to his room as quickly as possible, looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't being followed. Only after he shut and locked his door did he even allow himself to think it. I'm in love with Catti-brie. The pain in his chest was terrible. It was amazing how agonized he could feel while still being sure that nothing inside of him was broken.

I'm going to die. There's no other way. I have to leave. Thoughts pounded at the inside of his head, just as if the illithid were trying to read his mind again. Tears seeped out through his fingers, and he realized that his head was in his hands again. He'd never felt more frightened and alone in his life.

It didn't even occur to him that he could have Catti-brie. She didn't love him that way. He knew it. If she had, she would have wanted to marry him instead of Wulfgar. She had free choice, and she was going to marry Wulfgar.

And now Wulfgar was gone, and she was lonely, and he was a mess, and where did Artemis Entreri fit into this? Drizzt felt frustrated, suddenly, not to know. It maddened him. Why does he have to be here? Why didn't he just leave? He instantly demanded, but then he stopped, and sighed. I've been through this before. I know the answers. He didn't leave because he couldn't, and Catti-brie saved him because she's Catti-brie. She wouldn't be herself if she didn't. A small smile on his face that quickly disappeared. That's one of the reasons I love her. She can still help people without suspicion.

It was a shocking, jolting feeling to realize that he couldn't. Not anymore. Something had been stolen from him when he was captured back in Menzoberranzan. A part of his innocence. He didn't have the unfettered naivete anymore to go around helping people. He didn't care. So many people, the whole world, it had seemed, hadn't cared whether or not he had been suffering. Even after he had found a faith, a beautiful way of thinking and living that made so much sense to him…Even it had betrayed him.

For the first time, he realized that he hadn't prayed to Mielikki since returning home. She let him down. He thought – no, he was sure, he was so sure - she had been different. Gentle. Not like Lloth. She didn't abandon her followers. But what about me? Is it because I am Drow? Is it because I willingly left the light of her world? Was grieving and giving one's life for one's friends an unnatural sacrifice? Did she not care? Tears washing down his cheeks again, he clasped the pendant in one hand and silently demanded, an accusation instead of a prayer, How could you do this to me?

----------------

Drizzt crept furtively to the room where they were holding Artemis Entreri. He avoided everyone by taking the long ways around whenever he saw someone else in the halls. Mithral Hall was a series of convoluted, criss-crossing hallways through solid stone anyway, and he used it to his advantage. He told himself over and over again what he wanted to say to the beat of his own overly-casual footfalls, which he made sound out just in case someone thought he was sneaking somewhere. He didn't want to look suspicious.

I'm just going to tell him to stay away from Catti-brie, he repeated to himself, but eventually, that plan dissolved, and he found himself giving in to thoughts of the startling communion between himself and Mielikki in his room. Drizzt curled his hands into fists at his sides in helpless frustration, and wondered how she knew that he was going to listen to her after he had just blamed her for his suffering in the Underdark. Especially after the conversation with Regis where things had seemed to make so much such. How could he once again lay blame at the doorstep of someone other than his torturers? What was wrong with him? Why wouldn't it go away?

He was so deep in his thoughts that he was startled to look up and find that he was there, standing in front of the door. Two brothers, Radd Stonelifter and Ike Stonelifter, guarded the doorway currently. Their beards were cut in the same exact style, and were both the same shade of red. Drizzt nodded politely to them, and then commenced to knock on the door.

"Come in," came the defeated-sounding voice of the assassin within. The man sounded as if he'd had a tiring day. The ranger recalled what Catti-brie had said over lunch.

With a jolt, Drizzt realized that he must have missed dinner. It was late, now. How long had he been communing with the goddess? He could instinctively feel in his bones what time it was. It was late evening, possibly around nine…He frowned. No, definitely about nine o'clock. The elven ranger pushed the door open, came inside, and then shut it behind him. "I have to talk, Entreri."

The Calishite was sitting on his borrowed bed, one knee drawn up close to his chest, the other leg dangling over the edge of the bed. The assassin studied Drizzt for a moment, and then nodded. "I suppose you mean for me to listen." Artemis sighed.

"I don't expect you to like it," Drizzt said. He looked around for a chair, realized there was none, and then sat on the floor. "I'm not leaving until you listen." The dark elf waited for an answer, and when there was none, he said, lifting his head defiantly, "I'm in love with Catti-brie."

Artemis looked at him incredulously. When will these lunatics make up their minds? "You are," the assassin said. He searched those infuriatingly impassive lavender eyes for some sign of what he was supposed to say. 'Congratulations'? Or 'I'm sorry you're too late, I loved her first'? Or 'She loves me instead'?

"Yes. I am." Drizzt stared at him. Then the dark elf made a strange face, almost as though he simultaneously confused himself and dreaded the answer. "Why?" he said sharply. "Are you?"

Entreri stared at him for a moment, and then was jolted by sudden comprehension. "No!" The assassin froze, and then forcibly calmed himself down. "No. Never." He crossed his arms. "Why?"

"Nothing!" Drizzt averted his eyes. "I mean… Good. I mean… How are you?"

Artemis Entreri's lips quirked in a wry smile, by far the warmest expression he had ever aimed at the ranger. "Get me out of here."

-----------------

Drizzt soon returned with Artemis' weapons stowed under his cloak, as they'd agreed. The elven ranger held his sword out to him, hilt-first.

Artemis took the crosspiece of his sword with a nod, but then stopped and immediately tensed when the elven ranger did not relinquish his grip.

"I must offer you some advice," Drizzt said.

The assassin looked him in the eyes with an accusing glare, and then removed his hand with frustration. "What…do you have to say…to me?"

The dark elf also braced himself, as if he were being forced to do something that he didn't want to and something he knew would lead to more conflict. At the last moment, his chin firmed, and his lavender eyes flashed defiantly. "Only that you play into the hands of Malar." His voice shook with contained outrage.

Artemis merely raised an eyebrow, consuming his anger with a deadly calm. This reaction seemed to make the ranger taken aback. "If this is a warning," he said slowly, "it would help first to know who or what Malar is."

"Ch – Sh – Surely –" Drizzt Do'Urden choked. "You don't know of the shadow of the Beast Lord over this land? How can you walk these fields and forests if you are so ignorant and that you know not on whose ground you tread!" He was still spluttering in shock.

Artemis Entreri snorted and bit back an angry retort. "Save the lecture, ranger. I am not of these parts, and I had no intention of staying."

"In the northern forests, Malar holds sway," Drizzt said, his voice leaden. "He draws on the dark power of the hunt, draws people into blind bloodlust. He rejoices in conflict and contest over who is strong and who is weak." The dark elf's jaw clenched. "The way you have acted towards me, what you have done, has caught Malar's attention. He seeks to add you to his followers."

The assassin slashed the air with a hand held flat. "I follow no god." He turned to go, fastening his cloak about his shoulders. "If that is your only concern, be assured that I will not 'play into the hands' of this mysterious beast deity." Artemis' lip was curled in disgust.

Drizzt stared at this unexpected reaction. "You have no distaste for causing discontent. You must rely on some god to back up your incessant trouble causing."

Artemis snorted. He merely pocketed his dice, still lying on the far side of the room, and straightened. "I have no desire to 'cause' trouble. Trouble already exists when I get there." Then he threw a cocky smirk over his shoulder, eyes dancing with false innocence. "For some reason, my presence exacerbates the problem. I have no apprehension why." He strode over and took his sword from the ranger's now limp hand, irreverently saluting Drizzt with it before sliding the blade into its sheath at his belt. "I'll be taking this, now." His fingers drummed impatiently on the golden hilt of his elegant vampiric dagger.

"Very well." Drizzt looked away, and nodded reluctantly. "I'll tell them you're leaving. They'll escort you out of the Hall, and then leave you. You can do whatever you want from there." He left, and came back after what Artemis was sure was a short time that just felt like an incredibly long one.

"Regardless of what you may think, this reunion was pure chance," Artemis said. He scowled. "I am not coming back this time."

The dark elf looked at him with hooded eyes. "I hope not."

Entreri uncomfortably nodded and turned on his heel, leaving.

It was only after the Calishite blithely walked free that Drizzt realized Artemis had avoided his question. The assassin had never confirmed that he didn't pay lip service to any of the gods. "Blast it!" The dark elf turned around sharply on his heel and grasped his scimitars tightly, briefly considering the consequences of going after the man. But he couldn't imagine any other outcome than a colossal fight, the very same thing that Mielikki had warned him never to engage in again with that individual.

She had also reprimanded him for his foolhardiness with the assassin, warned him of his own temper, and gently commanded that he try to sway Artemis to the teachings of the Lady of the Forest before Malar corrupted Artemis' heart.

"Corrupted his heart?" Drizzt protested. "He doesn't have a heart to corrupt! He kills people for a living!"

Her unspoken rebuke fell on him heavily in the form of alien emotions washing over him, and his tongue became still with ashamed mortification. It is your duty, she told him with a smile in her commune, to soothe his heart. It is true that he appears a savage beast, but it is the wounded animal that bares its teeth and attacks, Drizzt Do'Urden. You have been taught, but you must continue to learn, and see. Go to it, ranger. The silent inflection was 'my ranger', and his heart beat faster as his face flushed. It is not only your duty to protect. It is your duty to teach. Then her presence fluttered away, lifting from him as though she was nothing more than the wind.

When he had shouted out his silent accusations at her, he foolishly, in his anger, had never expected her to answer. He had expected her to stay silent to his attacks on her, to be removed and deaf as he was thought she'd been when he was imprisoned and tortured.

Instead, she had responded immediately, with a strength that forced him backwards and had him stumbling to the floor on his rear end, as she explained every last reason why she had been unable to help him, and how Drizzt should have taken Catti-brie as a sign because of the girl's blessed resemblance to the Forest Queen herself. He was weeping with embarrassment, his face burning, long before she had finished with him, and only after she assured him that she would give him a chance to prove his loyalty did he stop prostrating in some pathetically Drow attempt to show her how sorry he was.

She had told him of this mission to heal the assassin's heart, and to coax the man to participate in a mission of Mielikki's so that he could see for himself how well her followers were treated.

Drizzt pushed a frown from one corner of his mouth to the other, trembled with restless anticipation and foreboding, and then slumped, resigning himself to the fact that Entreri was gone, for now. If redeeming the assassin was really Entreri's fate, and his own role, then the elf ranger would have to wait for Artemis to come back to him.

--------------

"I want to take a walk with you," Drizzt said.

"Alright," Catti-brie said.

They put on their cloaks, and grabbed some rations from their supply, just about enough for a meal or two, in case they accidentally got stuck out in weather. They filled their canteens and brought their weapons along, and told Bruenor where they were going.

The snow was crisp, and Catti-brie seemed to take enjoyment from making Drizzt display his elven talents by walking so lightly that he hardly sank into the snow, while she sank down until the snow reached most of the way up her knee-high boots. She laughed, and talked about inconsequential things, and Drizzt was glad of her company, for it lightened his mood considerably.

He thought it unfortunate that he was still too distracted by what Mielikki had said, even a day later, to concentrate on the first time he had alone with Catti-brie since their return from Menzoberranzan. Last night, he had let Artemis Entreri go, and this morning, he had intercepted her before she could find out what he had done. That was part of his dangerous, spur-of-the-moment planning to tell her his side of things before she verbally cut off his head.

"Call Guenhwyvar!" Catti-brie said. "I'm suren she would love to play in the snow with us!"

The dark elf ranger smiled weakly at her and said, "I'm afraid I can't. She's still tired from last night. I…couldn't sleep and needed the company." Which was true. He had stayed up all night, with his arms around the panther, asking Guen if what he did was right. She'd purred at him and groomed him like a panther cub, something she used to do when he was still crying about Zaknafein dying, and he'd fallen asleep finally convinced that she would love him, even if he was the biggest mess-up in the entire universe.

To his wonder, Drizzt found a little cave like the ones he used to love to crawl through when he was younger. He felt a pang in his chest at the reminder of his love of the Surface, and his excited exploration of this new land. "Catti-brie, look." He pointed.

She laughed and hugged him delightedly. "It be just like one of yer old hiding-places!" She instantly shared his thoughts. "Oh, Drizzt, let's go in." She tugged at his hand. "It be just like old times."

The dark elf blushed slightly and felt the tiny snowflakes falling around them melting on his cheeks somewhat faster than normal. He mumbled an agreement, and then added, "But we have to make sure it is uninhabited first." He poked around sufficiently to tell that it was, indeed, just an abandoned cave about the size of a room. He helped her inside, and they both had to duck in order to fit. They ended up sitting comfortably on the ground near each other, watching the snow lazily falling. For a moment, neither one of them spoke.

"I had been so close to running," Drizzt said. His knees were drawn up to his chin, and he was curled into a ball, back resting against the rough stone of the cave. His violet eyes were shining, it seemed with imminent tears. "And then I…and then I asked Mielikki for help…" His lower lip trembled. Yeah, I asked her for help alright. He'd yelled at her and blamed her for everything, is what he'd done. He was surprised that she had taken him back after that bratty, childish behavior.

"She said that I should tell you…" Tears began running down his cheeks. He burst out, "I can't stop thinking about you! I can't live without you! I can't stop thinking about you and Wulfgar and how if it wasn't for me, he never would have died! I got everyone in trouble! I should just have kept running once I left the Underdark, I should have run all the way to the Great Glacier, or to The Endless Wastes at the end of the world, and I should have stayed there! Or drowned myself in The Shining Sea." His voice was bitter. "I shouldn't have gotten you in trouble."

Catti-brie looked at him, stricken, and then hugged him as tightly to her as she could, as if trying to shelter him from himself. Why does everything have to fall apart? "It weren't your fault!" She shuddered in horror at the thought of anyone hurting him. She'd tried to push the image of him suffering while those Drow bitches hurt him out of her head, but now it was back, with more clarity than ever. Her imagination filled it all in with sickening detail. "It was never yer fault!" She kissed him on the cheek and drew her cloak around him. He was shivering.

Drizzt yelled, "I let Artemis Entreri go! I let him go! It's my fault!" almost as if he were trying to keep her from getting too close to him, now.

"I don't care," Catti-brie said flatly. Oh, Drizzt, how could you? Ye knew he wasn't well, I told you a thousand times he had changed, he wasn't thinking straight, he needed our help…Now he's going to go an' try an' act like nothin' happened, ignoring his heart like he's been doin' since he was little. How could ye do that to him? He needed ye. "I ain't going to hate you for doin' something you couldn't help doing. He was yer rival. Ye didn't care about 'im." That reassurance was unintentionally double-edged.

"I couldn't help it," Drizzt protested. "He asked me to get his weapons, so he could leave. He told me that you were trying to get him to stay, that he didn't want to. If he doesn't want to, let him go back to Calimport. He's not used to the cold up here, anyway. He'll make a fine living of being an assassin." He didn't want to be converted. I gave him the chance. He denied my help. "I can't change a man who wants to be the same cold-blooded bastard he's always been." Guilt gnawed at him. Was letting Artemis Entreri go really wrong?

"Yer hurt, and ye're not thinkin' clearly, or else ye'd be appalled at yerself, Drizzt Do'Urden," Catti-brie said firmly. "But right now, let's get you to a nice warm bed an' some blankets. Yer not well."

"I am fine," Drizzt protested, but he let Catti-brie carry him nonetheless, hugging his thin form to her chest with strong, muscular arms. He didn't think his position could get any worse. Despair closed around him like the blackness that had been haunting his entire life. Only this kind of blackness, he couldn't see through. Despair was impenetrable.