Author's Note: No, I don't own the settings or the characters. But some people say they wish I did. ;p I think that's rather flattering.
Jarlaxle thought he might just hang on to that Do'Urden key to the dungeon. Of course, he couldn't keep it indefinitely – sooner or later Matron Malice would remember that he hadn't returned her key to her – but he could make a copy. She would suspect he'd done so, of course, but then again, suspicions never got you anywhere in Menzoberranzan. It was proof that mattered. Jarlaxle loved this city so. That was just the kind of thinking that made his job easier.
Jarlaxle whistled to himself as he returned to Bregan D'aerthe, his headquarters precariously perched in the Clawrift, by walking openly down the broad, beautiful avenues of Menzoberranzan. He could feel free to walk openly in Menzoberranzan – after all, he was beloved by all, and lusted after by most. He was a male with power, which meant that he was simultaneously valued and feared. He liked that. That made his job easier, too.
The next time he saw Zaknafein it was almost a week later, six days since their previous encounter. He was called again by messenger to meet Matron Malice in her throne room regarding his friend from the Academy.
"Oh, how lovely it is to see you again, my dear Matron," Jarlaxle said as he swept his hat off his bald head and bowed low before her. "This is the most excellent opportunity to return to you your key." He straightened and grinned at her. "It seems I have sticky fingers, does it not? Compared to the importance of advising Master Zak the thing slipped my mind." He rubbed his head. "Yes, it seems as though I have a slipper mind and a sticky hand." He sighed. "Were that it were it the other way around, for then I would have a sticky mind and a slippery hand and I should never make those mistakes again." He posed with his hand on his chin. "But then I fear that would not do me well in battle, for then however shall I hold my daggers?" He shrugged and laughed. "Well, in any case, I am delighted to have the opportunity to present to you your key."
He held it out, and watched in amusement as Briza stomped up to him and snatched it away with a glare before returning to her mother's side. There was the intent to beat him silly written all over her face, and he had to restrain himself before he laughed, this time at her, because Matron Malice would never let her lay a finger on the mercenary while he was here on business. And he made sure never to come here when he was not on business, or else risk Briza or Maya's whip being directed at him.
"Briza will escort you to the Chapel," Matron Malice said, choosing to ignore his entire speech, sticky hands, slippery minds, and all. He took that as a good sign.
"Ah…" Jarlaxle wasn't thrilled with the look Briza gave him, then, no doubt thinking to make a stop along the hallways just to give him the lashing he deserved. "Then I take it my dear friend has recently reformed himself?"
Matron Malice raised an eyebrow. "You will see how he has chosen to 'reform' himself once you reach the Chapel, good mercenary."
Jarlaxle bowed, the smile gone from his face. Please don't let it be that Zaknafein has chosen to urinate on the statues like he did the second year of the Academy.
Briza bowed, and said, "May we be excused, Mother?"
Malice nodded. "Yes. You may go."
"Thank you, Mother." Briza bowed again, a slighter and more languid bow than any male could get away with, and gestured to Jarlaxle before starting to walk down the hallway.
Jarlaxle tipped his hat and left with her.
Jarlaxle saw that the hallways were polished and black, cool to heat vision. He looked around curiously as she led him towards the Chapel, and then eventually focused on her back. "How are you studies going?"
"Fine," Briza answered without looking around.
"I gather you are to take the Test of Lloth soon," Jarlaxle said. "So your father has bragged to me. How exciting!"
She looked over her shoulder to stare at him.
"Oh, yes," Jarlaxle assured her. "Your father is very proud of you. You show such promise as a priestess! You will, no doubt, bring great honor to House Do'Urden."
"My father," Briza said, emphasizing the word slowly, "is a sniveling traitor who will die a painful death at the hands of a true warrior."
Jarlaxle paused, the smile stuck on his face. "I see."
The paused partway down the hall, in front of an elaborate door decorated with spiders weaving webs. Jarlaxle studied the intricate design and asked, "Is this your room, by any chance?"
The young priestess turned to him with an implacable expression on her face. "Enter."
"Oh, good!" Jarlaxle beamed and pushed the door open with one hand, then turned to her and winked. "I have long been curious about what furnishes a young woman's room. I have no daughters of my own, you know, so that –"
She drew her whip. "Move."
The mercenary chuckled. "Alright."
Once inside, he found that it was a spacious domain, with every surface draped in gold, red, or violet silk. There was a four poster bed heaped with soft pillows, a large, stone desk, and a thick rug in a corner for meditation and exercise. Jarlaxle spent time standing in the middle of the room and looking about admiringly at the stone furniture, plush chairs, and the dresser and wardrobe.
Briza, standing in the entrance of the room, shut the door behind her silently. "Kneel."
"Are we going to see Zaknafein any time soon?" Jarlaxle asked, even as he dropped to his knees on the luxurious crimson carpet. "I would hate to think that our little extracurricular activities would be inconveniencing your mother."
"Why did you take the key?"
Ah, Jarlaxle thought. Here is the truth of the matter. She is angry about the key and is displeased with her mother's decision to let it go. He chuckled. "Take is such a misnomer when applied to me. I did not take it, your mother gave it to me in order to fetch Zaknafein. Ever obedient, how was I know what to do with it if she did not ask for its return? I am only a male, and easily confuse –"
He stopped, startled, as the fangs of the snake-headed whip lashed out and bit into his cheek. He snapped his head to the side, unprepared, and fell down upon one elbow. He was momentarily too paralyzed and numb to speak.
"And here I thought you separated me from watchful eyes in order to seduce me," Jarlaxle said when he recovered, straightening. "I admit that I am disappointed that all you wanted was to give me a beating."
The next blow fell upon his bare shoulder, and he secretly snarled to himself about needing to wear a shirt more often. He once again fell forward.
"Why?" she snapped.
"You never know how many prisoners I might feel like rescuing later," Jarlaxle said, turning and smiling at her with a careless shrug. "After all, I make it my business to rescue the weak and feel the hungry. Didn't you know? I run a charity, not a mercenary guild."
His flippant response turned Briza's face red with anger.
He faced the sight of her pulsing face calmly. "Oh, you don't dare to truly punish me now. You will wait until I slip up, and then make spider meat out of me."
This truth forced her to stiffly put her whip away, seething with humiliation and resentment at the logic and the fact that he had dared to tell her so. He, a male, explaining something to a female.
He got to the Chapel soon enough, and what he saw there dismayed him. There was Zaknafein, stripped to the waist and wearing colorless breeches, using a rag to wash one of the large, nude statues. He looked disheveled, as if he had been at it for a couple days already, and his eyes were downcast. The pale scars on his muscular arms and back stood out to Jarlaxle clearly.
The weapon master did not at first see him, and he watched his friend's weary movements for a minute before clearing his throat and asking, "What is all this?"
Zaknafein turned to him. There was a deadness to his crimson eyes. "I have been asked to prove that I do not pose a threat to her."
Jarlaxle rubbed the back of his bald head. "'Her' who?"
Zak's eyes dropped to the floor. "Malice." He turned and began washing the statue again.
Jarlaxle watched, then came up and stopped him, taking his arm. "Why would you pose a threat? What did you do?"
Zaknafein slowly met his eyes again. "I told her that I would rather die and take all of her soldiers with me than praise a goddess no one has ever heard doing anything other than heaping abuse on us all."
He started to turn away, but Jarlaxle grabbed both his wrists and made his friend face him. "You can't keep doing this!" Jarlaxle exclaimed. "She will destroy you!"
"Better destroyed than any more corrupted," Zaknafein retorted, fire leaping into his eyes for the first time, and he struggled against Jarlaxle's hold on him.
"Better corrupted than any more destroyed!" Jarlaxle argued, anger appearing on his own face. "I say you cannot do this any more! I am your friend! You are my friend! You cannot keep hurting yourself!"
The weapon master hung in his arms, looking stunned at his uncharacteristic outburst. Jarlaxle held him, feeling how close Zak was to collapse. "Have you been working for two days straight?"
"None…of your business," Zak mumbled back, struggling to stand on his own. "I am not your…toy."
"I am not trying to make you one!" Jarlaxle said, his eyes shining with hurt. He tried to help his friend stand up, since that was what Zak wanted, but he found his hands being slapped away. "When did I ever say that I wanted you to be a toy, reduced to –"
"Don't tell me what to do," Zak said. He was breathing heavily, and his eyes were flashing. His voice rose to a shout. "I don't give a damn about Lloth, and I can rain the wrath of Corellon down on her empire for all I care! I –" He raised his fists, as if wanting to swing a giant hammer and crush this Chapel, but before he could do anything else, Jarlaxle clapped a hand over his mouth and used his other hand to try and shake some sense into him.
"Stop this," Jarlaxle hissed at him. "Do you realize what you're doing? You could be struck down even now! This is where Lloth comes to listen to her worshippers!" He released Zak's arm and drew one of his daggers. "If you truly want to end it all, I can do that right now. Where would you like death to come?" Jarlaxle motioned. "From the heart? From the neck? The eye? The stomach?"
The mercenary's eyes glinted, and he pressed his dagger to Zak's stomach so that he knew it was pricking his friend's skin. "Because that is what you are doing right now. You are killing yourself with a wound to the stomach: it is slow, and it is painful. Do you really want this?"
He let Zaknafein go, and watched as the weapon master stumbled over a bucket of water and fell down to the floor, heavily landing on his back among the swirling suds of the dirty water. To his surprise, Zak turned away from him, long hair obscuring his profile, and lay there. "Yes."
Jarlaxle stood there, stunned. "My friend…" He made an attempt to take a step forward and help him up, reaching down with one hand.
The mercenary flinched. "But Zak…"
The weapon master did not get up. "Now."
"You can't do this," Jarlaxle said, pleading.
"What do you know of what I can and cannot do? Go, Jarlaxle. Before you interfere any more."
Jarlaxle found himself getting down on his knees. "Zaknafein…join Bregan D'aerthe."
The weapon master stilled. Then he turned around to face the mercenary. "What?"
"Come with me back to my headquarters," Jarlaxle pleaded. "You can become one of my agents. We can be together – no more of this Lloth nonsense. No more playing weapon master to a House that cannot truly appreciate you. I can make you a lieutenant. We could even go to the surface – you want to see the surface, don't you?"
Zaknafein closed his eyes. "Yes," he whispered. "I do want to see the surface."
Jarlaxle dared to smile, hope fluttering in his chest.
The weapon master let his body sag. "But I would never be welcome on the surface."
"A lot of people wouldn't be welcome on the surface," Jarlaxle said, chuckling. "I wouldn't be welcome on the surface. Even some of the surface dwellers aren't welcome on the surface! Come, Zaknafein, let's get you cleaned up and off the floor so that we can prepare –"
"I'm not going," Zaknafein said.
Jarlaxle's smile froze. "What?"
The weapon master looked around, forced himself to a sitting position, and said, "I'm not going with you, Jarlaxle."
The mercenary didn't know what to do. He finally acknowledged the building sense of grief and foreboding in his chest, and let it overwhelm him. His voice cracked. "But why?"
"It's too late for me."