Author's Note: This is a scene that could have occurred in Starless Night, fairly early on, between the time when Jarlaxle discovers for sure on page 49 that Matron Baenre is going to try to conquer Mithral Hall, and the next scene of the book, which switches to Catti-brie. Just for those who feel better when I say stuff like this: I don't 'own' any of these characters or places, my intellectual property starts and ends with the plot of this story.

Preface

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What is heartlessness to a Drow? Many scholars have argued a belief that dark elves do evil on purpose, vowing to spend their days in villainy to get revenge on their light-skinned brethren and any who walk the Surface freely. Others who have gathered case reports from those who actually survived those depths of the Underdark – human slaves, visiting wizards, and the like – pose a different theory: that perhaps Drow know not the evil they do. This theory examines the socialization undergone by Drow children, instincts versus upbringing, and other philosophical uncertainties. If one is cut off from any morals similar to that of the goodly peoples of Surface, is one still able to tell the difference between right and wrong? Scholars who side with the Ignorance Theory would say no: people living in cultures that have no appropriate moral compass, of which the Orcs, the yuan-ti, and the Drow are thought to be a part of, have no comprehension of good and evil.

They argue further that more efforts should be made to support the deities and factions struggling to formulate those missing morals if the races of the Surface want to stop the endless bloodshed. For instance, Eilistraee, drow goddess of the hunt, trying to lead her people out of the darkness and forge peace between the Drow and the other races. Otherwise, these "lost" races have no choice but to choose between varying shades of evil, as they know nothing else. And no matter how light a shade of evil they choose, they are still evil, and they still act destructively towards their environment and themselves.


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

Sos'Umptu Baenre entered then, ignoring Jarlaxle and walking right by him to stand before her mother. The matron mother did not rebuke her, as the mercenary would have expected for the unannounced intrusion, but rather, turned a curious gaze her way and allowed her to explain.

"Matron Mez'Barris Armgo grows impatient," Sos'Umptu said.

In the chapel, Jarlaxle realized, for Sos'Umptu was caretaker of the wondrous Baenre chapel and rarely left the place. The mercenary paused for just a moment to consider the revelation. Mez'Berris was the matron mother of House Barrison Del'Armgo, the city's second ranking house. But why would she be at the Baenre compound if, as Matron Baenre had declared, Barrison Del'Armgo had already agreed to the expedition?

Why indeed.

"Perhaps you should have seen to Matron Mez'Barris first," the mercenary said slyly to Matron Baenre. The withered old matron accepted his remark in good cheer; it showed her that her favorite spy was thinking clearly.

(49-50)

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Artemis Entreri was sprawled across his bed awkwardly, having collapsed there in utter exhaustion after a grueling mission. He had been to the slums of Menzoberranzan pretending to be a runaway slave so that he could coax information out of a terrified goblin who'd packed all of his things in a grimy sack and fled after accidentally overhearing the battle plans of the House he'd been bound to. Those plans were instrumental in Jarlaxle's consulting position to House Erlan Granz'Ael, currently the twenty-sixth House of the city and the next ravenously ambitious House to desire power enough to employ Jarlaxle in their favor. So 'instrumental' that Jarlaxle had sent the assassin to do the dirty work, saying that of course he needed his 'trusted friend' to help him with these plans. After living in squalor, eating rotted garbage, and drinking gutter water for a week, he'd finally found his target and wrung the information out of the little green wretch.

The moment he crawled back to Bregan D'aerthe's headquarters he got into a hot spring for a bath and steamed the slums out of him for the next hour. Having finished that, he dressed in his true clothing and more, layering himself in finely woven spider silk garments that whispered against his brown skin to remind himself of all the prestige he was beginning to forget he'd bought with blood in the first place. Then he'd limped back to his room and collapsed onto the soft mattress where he was currently lying.

The room was much more than he needed. It was a lesson given to him by Jarlaxle on the subject of surrounding oneself with splendor if one can afford it. He honestly didn't have the heart to remove all the tapestries from the wall, rid himself of the insanely comfortable upholstered chair with a sculpted back to fit the user's body, give away the ornate writing desk, or do something about the plush three-inch-thick rugs. He was rarely there, and so it never seemed worth the effort to modify it.

He supposed it gave Jarlaxle a false impression that he was listening to the drow, but then, he attempted to rectify that by not listening whenever possible, or telling the mercenary flat out that he didn't appreciate the finery Jarlaxle was trying to drown him in. Of course, the ever-irritating Jarlaxle usually chose to disbelieve him, but at the end of the day, that wasn't his concern.

Entreri's first and foremost concern was to himself, and making sure that he got enough sleep to 'keep up the good work', as Jarlaxle called it. The assassin hated to admit it, but his self-esteem was beginning to ride on whether or not Jarlaxle thought he'd done an adequate job of a situation. He needed to hear the over-glorified praise just to balance out and ignore the cat-calls, the insults, and the outright abuse battering away at his sense of himself on all sides trying to make him believe what the rest of Menzoberranzan besides Jarlaxle believed: that he was worthless.

The first thing that the assassin did when he heard the knock on his door was dig himself deeper under the luxurious duvet on the bed, not wanting to be seen in a partial state of undress. He hadn't truthfully cared enough to take his clothing all the way off before falling asleep, and before the knock on the door, he'd almost been there. His button-up shirt was hanging off of his slender frame unbuttoned. His soft, velvety breeches hung off his hips at the lack of a belt. The narrow silk cloths at the front and back Drow tended to wear to cover their nether regions to keep them from being seen even with other clothing on underneath were so flimsy that Artemis kept forgetting he wore them.

The next thing he did was to growl and speak up, "Go away."

There was a chuckle on the other side of the door. Jarlaxle predictably swung the door open casually and stood in the doorframe, grinning. "I hardly think so," the mercenary said.

"Come back later. I'm tired." Artemis was face down and speaking through his ornately embroidered pillows.

The mercenary instead stepped inside and shut the door behind him. "I'm not here to disturb you," he assured. "I only came to congratulate you on a mission well-done."

"I'm congratulated," Artemis said. "Now go."

Jarlaxle chuckled, shook his head, and walked over the bed, sitting down on it beside the exhausted assassin. "I haven't seen you in a week. Don't I get to visit?" He bounced up and down, shaking the mattress, and beamed innocently.

Artemis Entreri groaned, and turned away from the dark elf. "Don't be absurd. I'm not awake enough to appreciate your dry elven wit."

Jarlaxle ran a hand down Artemis' back, an action that held no meaning at all for the Calishite. He felt it, and the sensation was not unpleasant, but he had no idea what Jarlaxle was doing, and not the strength of consciousness to find out why the dark elf was doing this. "Then you don't have to," the mercenary said, taking off his plumed hat and setting it on his knee. His tone was aggravatingly cheerful.

Artemis could have sworn that he actually dozed off for a moment, because the next thing he knew, he felt a soft, warm mouth against his shoulders from behind, pressing again and again. Eyelids fluttering, he realized that it was Jarlaxle's mouth, and that the mercenary was leaning over him, one hand down on the bed in front of him for support.

Confused, and his head cloudy, he rolled over to face the mercenary. He stared up at Jarlaxle for a moment before the dark elf wordlessly bent over him and began to kiss his neck. The assassin's eyes rolled back in his head at the sensation. Jarlaxle's mouth was massaging the sensitive flesh underneath his chin, suckling and nibbling the normally protected area of his neck. Distantly, he could also feel Jarlaxle's hands on his torso, running up and down his musculature. He wondered dimly, and without significance, how Jarlaxle had gotten him out from underneath the duvet.

His groin was aching now with an arousal rarely felt by the assassin; he usually kept himself out of situations like this, taking great pains to remove himself. But this time I can't help it. His arms weren't responding, and his attempts to move were admittedly halfhearted at best.

Artemis twitched with the realization of the problem; he wasn't fighting back because what Jarlaxle was doing to him felt good. It wouldn't be hard to snap out of his daze and protect himself if he were feeling pain, but instead, a pleasurable feeling washed over him in thick waves like the heady natural perfume of desert flowers.

Jarlaxle's hands were massaging his stomach, his hips, and his chest, working out a tightness he hadn't thought was there and making him conscious of the pain of knotted muscles all over his body. He groaned at this strange mixture of positive and negative sensations and turned over, simply thoughtless and uncaring of whatever work Jarlaxle had to go through to keep adjusting to him. He lay on his back and moaned softly as the dark elf massaged all the tension out of him. The massage ached fiercely in his middle and lower back as Jarlaxle worked out the knots from his muscles, knots that the assassin suddenly comprehended had been there for years, causing unnecessary strain. Even solitary stretching and warming up hadn't completely helped.

When he was finished, Jarlaxle turned him over again. "All better?" the mercenary murmured, looking deeply into his eyes.

Artemis mutely nodded. The mercenary still sat there, waiting, and so the assassin cleared his throat, looked slightly to the right of Jarlaxle, and asked, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I want to," Jarlaxle said. "And I want you to want it too." He ran his hand over Artemis' arm. "It's no good if you don't want me to do it." The mercenary leaned in to lightly kiss Artemis' chin, rough with stubble, and started massaging the Calishite's chest as if he couldn't help himself, his hands needed something to do. "I want you to want it."

"I have to tell you that before we do anything else, don't I?" Artemis wasn't sure whether or not it was a question.

Jarlaxle smiled at him sheepishly. "Yes."

Artemis leaned back and exposed himself very deliberately, shutting his eyes. "Do it."

"You're tense."

The assassin clutched the bed sheets, turning his head away and clenching his teeth. "Just do it!"

"You're undoing all my work." Jarlaxle's voice was critical. "Look, you're just going to cause your muscles to tie themselves in knots again. Relax, my friend."

But knowing, the knowledge of what Jarlaxle wanted to do to him crashing around him and he became more and more awake, ignited desperate panic inside of him that tightened on him, squeezing as if trying to suffocate him. There was no way he could refuse – Jarlaxle could kill him, especially here and now, with barely more warning than a slap to the face. "Get away from me. Get away."

Jarlaxle kissed him instead, that warm, impossibly soft mouth on Artemis' tense lips, and drew Artemis inexorably into the embrace of strong, warm arms. It was something about those arms, so sure, but so gentle, caressing his skin, that made him relax, abruptly going limp again. The dark elven mercenary was apparently so sure of this response that Jarlaxle didn't even drop him.

Artemis found himself being cradled close to Jarlaxle's body, their skin rubbing together. Jarlaxle was impossibly soft everywhere; from his lips, to his chest, to his arms and stomach. It was the equivalent of warm spider silk, and the assassin let out a small, unintended gasp, subconsciously beginning to rub against the dark elf mercenary to feel that luxurious texture on his body.

Jarlaxle kissed him again, and this time, the assassin opened his mouth and let Jarlaxle play with his tongue. Waves of sharp, white-hot sensations jolted through his body again and again almost painfully, and he moaned openly, struggling to fit the curves of his body into the curves of Jarlaxle's, to fit them together. He barely recognized that he was digging his fingernails into Jarlaxle's shoulders.

It was Jarlaxle who broke off the kiss first. "You're thrusting."

"I'm what?" Artemis looked at him hazily, and then looked down at their bodies. Then he looked back up at Jarlaxle's face, his expression suddenly frozen.

"You want it," Jarlaxle said, leaning him down by degrees to lie back on the bed and stroking his cheek. "You don't have to do any more, now. I see it. Don't worry." The mercenary tried to find some way to make the expression on the assassin's face go away. The Calishite looked terrified, and ashamed, and something else Jarlaxle's wasn't sure of.

Then, the next thing Artemis knew, he was sobbing brokenly into the mercenary's body, anger and humiliation surging through his body with the heaving contractions. He wasn't thinking, he couldn't put his driven desire to shred himself into pieces and cut all the things that had happened to him out of his body into words.

"What happened? Are you hurt?" Jarlaxle asked. He was stroking the assassin's hair, holding the Calishite close to his body again. He didn't understand what was happening to Artemis, or why. He'd assumed that the man led a relatively normal life at the city of his origin. Now he was thinking that he had to have been wrong about that. Artemis was reacting with trauma to this tryst and the assassin seemed out of control.

He felt a sudden spurt of grief at his unintentional blunder. He tried, but he couldn't get rid of the feeling that it was his fault, that he'd done something wrong to the assassin. It simply isn't true, Jarlaxle told himself sternly. He was enjoying it. He even started to rub against me. That isn't the action of someone who's in pain. "What can I do? How can I help? Artemis?"

"Broken," Entreri snarled, brought somewhat to his higher senses through the questioning he'd received.

"How? How are you broken?" Jarlaxle asked, his concern heightening. I didn't do this. Please say that I didn't do this. Artemis… I don't hurt people. I don't. Not this way. Say something!

Instead of answering, the assassin threw himself at Jarlaxle and pinned the mercenary to the bed. Desperate to make the mercenary forget, to make him stop hesitating, Artemis crushed him in an adrenaline-fueled embrace and kissed him, so hard that he was practically mauling Jarlaxle's sensitive lips.

The mercenary stayed pinned to the bed, pressed flat, but then he recovered from being stunned and dragged himself to a sitting position again. Jarlaxle gasped for breath, and said, "Entreri? Are you doing this because you're hurt, or are you trying to tell me to continue?"

Artemis' grip tightened painfully on Jarlaxle's wrists. "Con…tin…ue," he grated out. Then he seemed to realize what he'd done and dropped Jarlaxle's wrists. He averted his eyes. "And don't hurt me."

"My dear spy, I don't intend to," Jarlaxle chuckled, looking at the assassin admiringly. I never thought you capable of such a display of emotion like that. How wrong I am. And how glad I am of how wrong I am. His eyes wandered up and down Artemis' half-clad body. He is beautiful. He started to run his hands over Artemis' body again, and this time, he took care to remove Artemis' shirt entirely and drop it on the floor. "Oh, my dear man…" The mercenary brought them both to a lying down position, comfortably lounging on the soft mattress. He rained a trail of kisses up Artemis' torso. "You are simply ravishing." He chuckled again.

Artemis looked back at him stiffly. "I think I am rather scarred and ugly. But thank you for the insincerity."

"You can't really think that I would lie to you in that arena," Jarlaxle protested, kneading the assassin's shoulders. Predictably, the man was knotting up yet again. That wouldn't do. "I am an expert in beauty. You see the splendor all around you. Can you not imagine yourself as a fitting addition to this room?"

The assassin looked at Jarlaxle incredulously. "I think you are insane."

The dark elf mercenary chuckled. "Now, now, Artemis, everyone knows that. I am as batty as a belfry." He looked at Artemis with an adorably innocent expression. "Isn't that what you humans say about people who belong in insane asylums?"

"I don't know or care." Artemis started kissing Jarlaxle, and the elf didn't protest. "Instead, I think I care more about this." He started doing what Jarlaxle had done to him, running his hands over Jarlaxle's body, massaging him. He didn't know what he was doing as well as it seemed Jarlaxle had, but he was trying. He wondered if it was having the same comforting effect as what the elf had done to him. He'd never thought he could comfort anybody, so this was a foreign thought.

"Are you trying to give me a massage?" Jarlaxle asked. There was laughter in his voice, and he was grinning broadly. At the look on Artemis' face, he realized his mistake, and hastily clarified, "No, don't stop. I like it. Come here." He grabbed Artemis' hands before the assassin could pull entirely away and positioned them on his chest again. He wiggled, and purposefully laid himself out in a prone position. "Do that again." He closed his eyes.

"You're humoring me," Artemis said.

"I'm not, no, I'm not. Come on. Please? Is that it? Do you want me to say please?"

"Oh, lie down and shut up." Artemis halfheartedly put his hands on Jarlaxle's chest and rubbed back and forth.

"That's good," the mercenary said. "Just a little harder, and work to the left more. That's where…" He sighed blissfully when Artemis complied and went limp.

Curious, Artemis leaned over him, straddling him to make what he was doing easier, and repeated the movements, trying to figure out what he was doing and how it worked. He grew more confident at Jarlaxle's relaxation and actively sought out more places to massage. At one point, he'd traveled all the way to Jarlaxle's arm, down to the wrist and the hand. The mercenary started wiggling and making audible sounds of appreciation when Artemis massaged his hand. To his wonder, he could actually feel the muscles in the dark elf's hand loosening and relaxing under his touch.

Jarlaxle smiled up at him. "Thank you. I get so tense from writing all day."

Artemis stopped, and slowly lay down on top of the dark elf mercenary, clumsily nuzzling the place where his jaw and his neck met. He suddenly felt so stupid, a fool that was being humored only for entertainment. He didn't know how to do any of this. He'd avoided people to the point of antagonizing them to get them to leave him alone when they tried to initiate this. Why was Jarlaxle different? He snorted. It wasn't that Jarlaxle was different. He was tired this time, that was all. "I think you should go now."

The dark elf mercenary sat up, looking bewildered. "What? Why? What did I do? Are you alright?"

Artemis felt very old, then. It was the same bone-deep weariness he felt whenever he thought about irrelevant things like whether or not he was 'alright'. "That's none of your business," he said gruffly, but he couldn't bring himself to sound unkind. "Now go."

"Talk to me," Jarlaxle said. He stroked the assassin's face. "I saved you, didn't I? I brought you here, I gave you a job, I gave you a home, everything you could ask for! It's all I wish!" The mercenary examined Artemis' face. "Tell me. What is troubling you? You know I can help you."

"Why?" The question burst out of Entreri before he could stop himself. Then he turned away, as if he'd said something wrong. Jarlaxle was still trying to dig answers out of him with his eyes.

"You've seen how the females treat us here," Jarlaxle whispered coaxingly, slipping up behind him and wrapping his arms around the assassin. He kissed the back of Artemis' neck. "What makes you think that what happened to you is wore than anything I've seen here, in all the years that I have inhabited this domain of wretchedness and corruption?" Jarlaxle nodded at Artemis' surprised twitch. "Yes, I know where I live, and I know the people I am a part of, they're twisted, and evil…and possibly mad. I know where I come from. Don't assume that I can't understand. Tell me. Please."

"You can't help," Artemis said quietly. "You don't even know what you're talking about."

Jarlaxle asked what he thought was a very reasonable question. "Why?" He let Artemis go, leaned back, and propped himself up on one elbow in the luxuriously fluffy bed. "Why can't I help?"

"It's over," Artemis said. His voice was measured and calm and very quiet, much too even. "It's been over for a long time."

Jarlaxle reached out and stroked Artemis' cheek. "Did it happen when you were a child?"

Artemis gave an almost imperceptible nod. "And I was born into it."

"I have a secret," Jarlaxle said, "that I think is similar, but if I tell you, will you tell me whether or not it is?"

The assassin turned around, curious. "What? What is it?"

Jarlaxle smiled sadly, the mask he always wore to keep jolly cracking a bit. "I died. And I was born like everyone else, except that I was born under an unlucky number, so that when I was a baby, I was murdered for my sacrifice to Lloth."

Entreri just sat there quietly. He looked at Jarlaxle as if asking if there was any more. He just looked puzzled. Then, as if he couldn't believe it himself, he nodded. Then he swallowed away a lump in his throat, and nodded again, more sure this time. He looked around as if he still couldn't believe that this had happened –that they met, that they both… "Yes. Yes, I think it is. I was raped by my own father, and then by my uncle. My mother was murdered because of me. They kept me indoors and sometimes tied me in my own bedroom, where they would keep me for months at a time without letting me go. I lived most of my life in that room until I escaped and ran away at the age of nine." He rattled off all of that as calmly as if he were explaining the plot of a play, but there was a tremor of hysteria ringing high in his voice towards the end. His eyes had a glazed, frightened gleam in them, terror so binding that he couldn't move with the memory of it.

Jarlaxle looked like he was going to say something at least two times, but while his jaw moved, his voice failed him. Finally, the dark elf forced a smile to his voice and said, "Don't you feel better for sharing?"

"I feel like a sick bastard who would do the entire 'goodly' world some good by going off into the Underdark by myself and ending it all." Artemis stared at him. "So no."

"Oh, we all feel that way from time to time," the dark elf mercenary said with an airy wave of a hand, sounding lighthearted, even if it was a bit strained. "That doesn't mean it happens to be a good idea." He nuzzled Artemis affectionately. "Stay with me. We can help each other, I'm sure."

"You haven't heard a single word I've said." Artemis shrank back from him in disbelief. "I was raped by my father." He repeated himself in a much louder voice.

"That makes you the wronged party," Jarlaxle said, staring at him. "Don't you see that it's not your fault? How could you defend yourself from the advances of a full grown man? Now, me, on the other hand, with me, you have a choice." He batted his eyelashes and made a variety of fetching smiles. "You can take me or leave me. I don't mind."

"I am trying to tell you…" Artemis Entreri found himself shaking. His head was pounding, he was sick to his stomach, nauseated. He felt as though he were collapsing in on himself, he suddenly couldn't help curling up on the bed like a small, stupid child. "You don't understand…You don't understand what it's like…to know."

"To know what?" The smile was wiped off of Jarlaxle's face. The mercenary was extremely uncomfortable, but he was now in a situation where his sense of humor couldn't get him anywhere.

"That the only reason you are being violated is because you were born to be violated. It is your purpose in life, and fighting it only brings pain. To know that you are the result of two people vomiting their sins out of a womb and creating a creature that doesn't understand unless you cause it pain." The assassin bitterly curled his lip. "I was beaten every day merely for existing, merely because that is what Tyr would have wanted. I am an abomination. And you know it."

But instead of backing away, or burning his clothing, or scrubbing at his skin, as Artemis would have expected, Jarlaxle was staring at him with a stark expression that seemed to cut all the way down to the dark elf's core, the part of himself he hid from everyone else. "What…Why did they do this to you?" The dark elf shook, shuddering near-convulsions. His chin trembled. Incredibly, tears started to fall from his crimson eyes, rolling down his too-youthful cheeks. "I had thought…I never thought…They would do this to you." He shakily, stiffly grabbed for Artemis and constricted, holding the Calishite uncomfortably close, hand gripping the assassin's shoulder nearly too hard. "You are so strong. I assumed that they…I thought they would take care of you. You are always – you've always been so – I thought –" The mercenary sniffed loudly, trying to contain himself and failing miserably. "Nothing ever seemed to touch you, and I thought – surely – even that – something as horrible as that – they couldn't taint you. They couldn't force you to believe the lies about yourself that they force us to endure –"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Artemis stiffened, his face forced blank. "I have never – and will never – be anything to save, or covet, in this ridiculous manner you seem to be wallowing in." The assassin's voice shook with anger. "Stop touching me right now. You're getting filth on your hands."

"Don't you see what they did to you?" Jarlaxle demanded, turning Artemis around, forcing him to meet face-to-face.

"They did what they did because I deserved it," Artemis snarled. "I was born dead inside."

"No, you weren't!" Jarlaxle's hands were on his face. "They made you that way! Don't you see how they used you?" He buried his face in Artemis' shoulder and burrowed his way into the assassin's arms, aggressively snuggling and cuddling and clinging. Artemis didn't know what to do. The Calishite blinked and sat still, waiting for it to be over.

But it wasn't. Jarlaxle started kissing his neck, and shoulder, and stroking him, murmuring words to him in Drow that he couldn't understand, coupled with phrases in Common like, "I'll make things right," "I'll fix you," "You don't have to worry any more," "I'll take care of you," "We'll make things right".

"If you're trying to make me dependent on you," Artemis mumbled. "You're succeeding. So stop it. I would sooner fall on my own sword than rely on someone else to 'fix me'." He scowled. "Stop this obsessive fondling, you lecherous fiend."

"But that's where your mistake is," Jarlaxle said, shifting position to lie on top of him, stroking and kissing his body. "We all need to help each other. The Bregan D'aerthe way. Mutual benefit, my dear friend. Do you know what Bregan D'aerthe means?"

"No."

"It means 'Band Together'," Jarlaxle said, kissing the place where his neck met his shoulder, "and it is our battle cry. Originally, 'bregan d'aerthe' was a war tactic practiced in Melee Megarthe, where I, of course, was trained, just like any other Drow male noble enough to afford it." He stroked Artemis' arm. "That concept, of banding together, inspired me, and suddenly as a young boy I wanted nothing more than to find some way of binding people together, finding a way to eliminate betrayal."

Jarlaxle paused, and looked into the assassin's eyes with a steady gaze. "Betrayal is the enemy. Betrayal is what kills the old, not old age. It is the embodiment of evil and death in Drow society. Fatalists, or religious fanatics, speak of betrayal in terms of dark praise. The will of Lloth, they call it."

The bald mercenary shook his head. He raised an index finger sternly. "It is not the will of Lloth. It is the will of Lloth's followers. They have gotten themselves so confused about their identity that they cannot separate what originates from themselves and what originates from their goddess. But I know. I have seen Lloth with my own eyes, spoken with her. It was she who brought me back to life, told me that there had been a mistake, that my mother and my sisters had ignored a holy mark on my skin at birth, so wrapped up in ritual that they could not bend to see her true will. They are clumsy pawns, and I am alive because of a goddess' will, not a goddess' priestesses."

Artemis just stared at him, taken aback. "I thought you hated Lloth."

Jarlaxle shook his head sadly. "I hate Lloth's people. That is the unfortunate difference. You will see soon enough that she cannot tolerate her followers much longer. She will cleanse them from the city, and Menzoberranzan will fall back into chaos. Matron Baenre may not want chaos, but Lloth does, and even though Baenre holds the power she does over the city, she will still lose. Because Lloth has decided it will be so. Matron Baenre wants to conquer the dwarven kingdom of Mithral Hall."

Jarlaxle sat back as if forgetting that he had been ravishing Artemis' body. "She will not." The drow mercenary got up and left, collecting his hat on the way out, without so much as another word.

Artemis was left hot and sweating, lying on the comfortable bed and wondering what had happened. Was he toying with me? Or did he care? What was that about Mithral Hall and Lloth and chaos and power? What was he trying to tell me? His stomach lurched. Am I in danger, because I am currently trapped here, in Menzoberranzan? Is he telling me that I must leave before chaos shakes the city to pieces? Or, in that case, why not have us all leave? Why not take Bregan D'aerthe to the surface? Either way, he still needed his sleep, so he became fully dressed (no chances this time, he told himself) and slid under the covers, forcing his mind to go blank and his breathing to steady. He slept.


Footnote

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Or perhaps, some Drow know evil, while others do not. Perhaps, if they allowed themselves introspection, they would find their hearts full of darkness. Or perhaps, movements of rebels, all trying to escape the horror of Drow society, periodically spring up and briefly change things, only to be torn down by the Drow who revel in violence, and rape, betrayal and torture. But then, what is to happen to the Drow who realize that they will be relentless devoured by the darkness if they allow themselves to be swayed by the empty promises and pain of their people?