Hi Everybody!!! Yeah, I know, I know... it's been a while, I'm such a lazy cow... But, you know, I've been pretty busy! My entering the university, NaNoWriMo during November, now I should be studying for my exams but you know what, it was Christmas, and I thought it would be kind to update.

It's pretty strange, because I know that the events of this chapter are a bit of a sudden. But I was stuck, and I wanted the story to go on. So here we are. If you have any comment, please, please review, because it's always a pleasure to read from you. You guys rock and make my days. And above all it's really easy now, you just have to click on the greenish button at the end of the text.

So, bonne lecture et je vous souhaite à toutes et à tous de bonnes fêtes de fin d'année !

Chapter Thirteen: The Darkness within

As soon as it began, Entreri knew it was a dream. The corner of his eyes sent back a strange blurry impression, and he had the feeling he inhabited his body, but at the same time outside of it, watching the whole scene in silence.

Moreover, as soon as it began, Entreri felt uncomfortable. He was not accustomed to dreams: his nights were shallow wells of unconsciousness, disturbed only by sounds of the waking life around him. In fact, he would never allow himself to sink into deep sleep, for he wanted to be ready; what for was not really his concern. However, aboard the Sea Sprite, things were entirely different. There were no evil and greedy pashas, nor unpredictable dark elves full of bad intentions. There was only Drizzt, who had smoothly sunk into Reverie a few minutes before. There was only the faint murmur of the sea singing against the keel, the calm and comforting cracking sounds of the mast, the steady breathing of Drizzt. Drizzt. In spite of everything, and even if he would never admit it, Artemis felt asleep in peace, for Drizzt was there.

Therefore, yes, it was a dream. He stood in a clearing, in a forest that looked like that of the Spine of the World. Tall and slender conifers overwhelmed by a pure and untouched snow, in the dead of winter, slowly swayed their branches in a mute wind all around him. He felt cold, and his teeth were chattering. He only wore the clothes he had when he had gone to sleep. In the bushes, something moved, only revealing to be a tiny orange and white fox wandering among the trees.

Then, the whole scenery turned, and all the colours changed. The brightness of the snow darkened, the sky lost its frozen blue and soon was invaded by dark and disturbing clouds. And he was not alone anymore.

Or maybe he was.

For, standing right in front of him, was... himself. Or more precisely, his dark reflection in a mirror. His other self was draped in a large dark cloak, bare feet, smiling slightly, but in a way Artemis did not know or had never met in the mirror.

Greetings, Artemis Entreri.

The thing in front of him never once opened his mouth. But its voice, deep and velvety, had invaded the clearing.

I thought you would understand faster. Who could I be, after all?

Artemis, then, knew. The Shade he had killed, the essence he had absorbed, the life he had taken. But why here? How? The assassin wished he had his sword, or at least a weapon to defend himself, but the logic of dreams is not that of reality.

Fear me not, Master, I am no enemy. Not anymore. Indeed, I mean you no harm, and I think you had a foretaste of the powers you took from me into my death. I just want you to discover the hidden possibilities you have not yet explored.

And, as curious as it could seem, Artemis trusted the Shade. He was standing in a world where lies did not exist by themselves, and things were so different... That strange creature that looked like him was telling the sheer truth.

"What is the price?", Artemis asked then, his own voice hollow and disembodied.

There is no price.

But then, Artemis knew there was something wrong.

"What is the price?", he repeated.

There is no price, but a concession. If you want to become the Shade, your gauntlet will prevent you from using the totality of your new perspectives. Yes, I know what you think. The vulnerability, the danger. Let me answer as simply: power, and control.

Artemis nodded. That was fair enough.

A sinister laugh filled the clearing.

Let me introduce you to the Darkness within, Master.

Artemis woke up with a start, his breath short and erratic. He stood up, glancing all around him, as if he was checking his own self was not chuckling somewhere near. But there was nothing but the slight song of the sea, the intense whisper of the waves against the keel.

However, his agitation had alerted Drizzt. The dark elf got out of his hammock and stared at him with bewildered eyes.

"Artemis? Is everything alright?" His voice sounded hoarse and unsure.

He had even unsheathed a scimitar, Twinkle by its bluish glowing.

"... Yes. Bad dream."

Oh, great, that sounded so ridiculous. The assassin just strangled a sigh and lay down again in his own hammock. He was not so surprised to discover that Drizzt's doubts were not that easily discarded. The ranger went beside him, his lavender eyes glowing slightly.

"What kind of dream?"

That time, Artemis did not conceal his contempt and exasperation: "None of your business."

Silence fell between them, as sharp as a blade. Drizzt broke it with impatience.

"Whatever, if you feel the need to talk, you know where to find me."

The assassin hated to appear so fragile, so influenced, so weak, so easily disturbed. So human. He wrapped himself in his coarse blanket, turning his back to the elf. And suddenly, he sensed it. He felt it. He knew that it had been there since the beginning, lying in wait, and that he could not deny it any longer.

The underlying sensuality, the untold fight for dominance, the unseen game.

Yes indeed, he could not deny it, but was not able to accept it all the same. He wrapped himself more tightly, and closed his eyes to dispel the latent truth. Curse the Drow and his so-called friendship. Curse the power that ran in his veins, showing him things he preferred being still concealed.

He dreamed again. Of shadows, flares and burning eyes.

Days passed, slow, morose and all alike. Once, when Artemis woke up, he felt sick. Of course, he had been ill in his life – but not since he had killed the Shade, which was worth noticing, but not in that way. It was as if his body was excessively small for his mind, as his spirit was stretching out in every direction, sending waves of pain in his spine. He knew it was the price to pay, for everything around him had strangely changed. Maybe it was colours in the air, new smells, but his environment seemed familiar... and at the same time, extremely new. And his spirit had opened to feelings all around, to new levels of apprehending. And that was disturbing.

Drizzt worried about him. He kept glancing his way, frowning, murmuring in Drow through clenched teeth. The whole day was one of silence between the two companions. Respectfully, the dark elf stayed away, understanding without saying so the assassin needed some time alone.

In a corner of his mind, Artemis appreciated that behaviour. As far as Jarlaxle was concerned, he would have been clacking all day long.

However, when night came, the Drow's curiosity obviously won the battle. Artemis was in their cabin, sharpening his throwing knives. They exchanged glances, and Artemis lowered his eyes.

"Don't want to talk about it", he snapped.

"You don't even know what I'm going to say!", the young elf protested.

The temptation of answering "I sense it" was indeed strong. However, giving the secret away was not something that was that tempting.

Drizzt rolled his eyes and sat on a chest, his shoulders down.

"Listen Artemis. I know things are getting weird, lately."

"That's the understatement of the century."

"But anyway", Drizzt went on, "I know there's definitely something wrong with you. Now nothing forces you to tell me what, but since we are partners in order to defeat Kimmuriel, I... Well, I think I have the right to wonder if you will be able to fight."

"Liar. You just made up that stupid excuse."

"... Yes, I did. But wait a second, how could you know that!"

Artemis chuckled. Drizzt's naivety was so... cute. Yes, he lied, but it was out of real concern, out of sheer friendship. Now that the assassin was able to perceive that course of action, somehow, serenity made its way in his mind.

"I'm fine," Artemis sighed. "When... When I'm ready, I'll talk to you about it, but don't ask me again."

It seemed fair to the Drow. He nodded, burying his face in his hands.

"Is Jarlaxle...", he saw the man's shoulders sensibly tense but went on nonetheless, "Is he always like that? Exuberant, laughing, invincible?"

"Always, yeah." This is precisely where my misfortune lies.

"Well, stop me if you don't care or think I'm a fool; I'm sure it's just a mask he wears to face the entire world, a way to hide his feelings, his vulnerable core."

"Everybody wears such a mask", Artemis simply said, his voice low and emotionless.

"I don't", Drizzt said after a while, his eyes prisoners of the repetitive gestures of his companion on his reddish sword. "The only mask I've worn, I left it behind long time ago."

Artemis stopped his sharpening, glancing Drizzt's way. That was the truth, as surprising as it could seem to be. "Do you think I'm wearing a mask?"

Drizzt preferred not to hesitate. "Yes, I do. You tack old lies on your face, and they are the harder to get rid of. Maybe, deep inside, within the soft flesh of your soul, beyond all the pretence, maybe there's still honesty, hope, and..."

His voice died away. Nevertheless, the last word hung up in the air, like the final note suggested by a simple harmony. Their eyes met, but Artemis's remained stone-like.

"There's only darkness within," he whispered.

He closed his eyes, images of the Shade playing in his mind. He jumped when he felt Drizzt soft hand on his own. His first reaction was to jerk away, but somehow he resisted the urge to wait. When he opened his eyes, they locked with the dark elf's, slightly glowering in the new twilight.

"If there was only darkness, Artemis, you wouldn't protect the ones you care about."

The assassin felt the irrepressible urge to deny, but it would have been ludicrous. After all, he had saved Drizzt's life on one or two occasions, and he was still trying to rescue Dwavhel from Kimmuriel. He knew he was stupidly blushing, but just could not help it. Drizzt's face was so close; if he leant forward, just an inch, their foreheads would be touching.

"If there was only darkness, I wouldn't be helping you." Drizzt went on, not louder than a light whisper.

Artemis also knew where this was going, and preferred not to think of all its terrible consequences. He felt the soft breath of the Drow against his own mouth. The voice that came then was barely audible.

"If there was only darkness, I wouldn't..."

Their lips locked, for a brief instant.

"LAND!" was the shout that broke their union.

Then Drizzt flew away.