Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the places in this story belong to me; and I don't make any money with this.
A/N: Concerning the timeline - this story is set after Starless Night and Siege of Darkness.
Thanks to Chi for beta-reading. :-)
Jarlaxle was working on a brilliant plan, that much was obvious to everyone who had seen him swaggering through the Bregan D'aerthe headquarters during the last days. His dazzling smile was even more ominous than usual, the clacking of his boots and the jingle of his jewellery sounded almost triumphant, and his visible eye showed this disturbing mixture of anticipation, glee and thoughtfulness that was a clear sign of another of the mercenary's daring plans.
The eccentric drow often met with his best wizard, a competent diviner, and after those meetings he seemed even more cheerful, but whatever he was up to, he kept it to himself and didn't share his plans with his lieutenants.
No, this was something personal, a private whim for which Jarlaxle had finally found some time, now that Menzoberranzan had calmed a bit after the failed raid on Mithral Hall. He paced excitedly through his office, recapitulating what he had learnt in the last weeks, and pondering what he could do concerning his current source of greatest interest: Artemis Entreri.
Jarlaxle hadn't seen the human since he had fled from Menzoberranzan with Drizzt and Catti-Brie, but the drow had scried on Entreri for the past few weeks. The assassin was staying in Silverymoon, earning some money with small, inconspicuous jobs, remaining in the shadows and avoiding attracting attention, and apparently not planning to return to his home city, Calimport.
Artemis Entreri had intrigued Jarlaxle since their first meeting several months ago. In the beginning, the drow had been mostly fascinated by the human's skill with his blades, his intelligence, his self-discipline - qualities that would fit a drow warrior. He had been amazed by the human's cold pragmatism that didn't go with his obsession with Drizzt, and he had enjoyed working with him, finding that Entreri was a great partner and ally during their hunt for Drizzt.
That alone wouldn't be reason enough for Jarlaxle to think about the human now instead of turning his attention to some Menzoberranyr intrigue. No, it had been the time they had spent together in Menzoberranzan after Vierna's death and the assassin's disastrous fight against the renegade that had truly sparked the mercenary's interest. Jarlaxle had witnessed how this calm, unbeaten fighter had been shaken by his defeat against Drizzt - because it had been a defeat, even if Entreri had put the blame on his bad luck. And Jarlaxle had seen how the stay in Menzoberranzan had confused the distressed assassin even more, how it had shattered his view on the world and on his life.
Entreri, who had been feared and respected since he had been a very young man, had found himself defeated, insulted, humiliated. He, who valued his independence more than anything else, had been entirely dependent on Jarlaxle's protection. He, the greatest assassin on Faerûn's surface, had been imprisoned in a city where assassination was part of the everyday life, where he would never - no matter how powerful he was - be anything else than iblith, offal. This, combined with the humiliation of being defeated in combat, had broken something in Entreri, and although the man was a master at hiding his feelings behind a mask of cold professionalism, Jarlaxle had noticed his transformation: his increasing grumpiness and aggressiveness, the dull pain in his grey eyes that had replaced former pride, the sharp, snappish edge in his voice.
Menzoberranzan had taken something very important from Entreri without giving him anything else to replace it. The emptiness of his life had grown worse, or maybe the assassin had only then began to recognise it. Jarlaxle had seen the human's lack of orientation clearly when he had scried on him: Entreri didn't want - or wasn't able - to return to his old life as if nothing had happened, but he had no idea what else he could do with his life.
Jarlaxle had been wondering for some time about the assassin's past, about the reasons for his distrust and coldness, and about the possible ways to fill the hole that had always been in Entreri's life and that had been enlarged by the events in Menzoberranzan.
The drow knew that something had to be done, that Entreri couldn't go on like this, that he would do something stupid sooner or later, like drinking or killing himself or whatever these humans did when they were depressed. And it would be such a shame to see Entreri's skill and intelligence wasted like this, to lose a potential future ally! No, this was something the pragmatic mercenary could not accept, even less as he had come to like the man personally. To Jarlaxle, Entreri was amusing and fascinating, a challenge of a completely different nature than the usual intrigues among drow.
That was why Jarlaxle had been thinking so much about Entreri in the past weeks, and his scrying and pondering had finally brought him to a conclusion: Artemis Entreri's main problem was his loneliness. He was always alone, seeing the whole word as his enemy, refusing to trust anyone, even to speak with anyone normally. Most drow were not as distrustful and reclusive as this human!
To Jarlaxle, the solution seemed quite obvious: Artemis needed a close friend or, even better, a lover. Someone to talk to, to confide in, to give his life some meaning.
Yet at this point, Jarlaxle's scheming had usually ended in an impasse. Who could be a friend to Entreri, who would be accepted by the reluctant man? Certainly not Jarlaxle himself - he knew that Artemis couldn't stand his flamboyant manners nor would he ever trust him, and the drow himself had not the slightest interest in a serious, binding relationship. Jarlaxle preferred partners to friends.
But who then? Jarlaxle absolutely wanted to change the human's life and find him a friend, but first he had to think of someone who could be this friend.
And then Jarlaxle wondered how it was possible that he hadn't thought of this earlier! He finally realised why he liked Artemis Entreri so much - because the human was so alike to the best friend the mercenary had ever known. Finally he could think of a man who might be able to befriend Entreri, a man who would take care of him, a man who would understand him because their lives were so similar.
Well, had been, as the man Jarlaxle was thinking of was, unfortunately, dead, and had been so for decades. But Jarlaxle Baenre, who had been sacrificed to the Spider Queen once, would certainly not allow such a banal thing as death to cross his beautifully crafted plans.
Nights in Silverymoon were quite different from nights in Calimport. The beautiful city in the North was also rather busy at night, but not in the dark, threatening way of Calimport. Silverymoon seemed, despite being a city full of merchants, travellers and adventurers, peaceful and safe, whereas Calimport always seemed dangerous and menacing. Of course, there were criminals in Silverymoon just like in every town, but they weren't as omnipresent as in Calimport.
To Artemis Entreri, however, Silverymoon's beauty and calm were only a facade that hid the poverty and hypocrisy that were shown openly in his home city. He had no eye for the loveliness of the city, he was trapped in his thoughts - bleak, joyless thoughts.
The assassin walked through the broad, light streets, a dark figure that didn't seem to fit in, avoided by everyone, but taking care not to raise too many suspicions. He didn't want trouble, he only wanted to be left alone.
He returned to his tavern after a long, nightly promenade through the city, an idle walk without any other motivation than to get out of his small room. The tavern he had been living in for almost two weeks was proper and neat, but inconspicuous and not too expensive. Entreri didn't need big rumours going around about 'Faerûn's most dangerous assassin' being in town, and he had done his jobs almost anonymously and a bit sloppily - too perfect assassinations always raised suspicions about the assassin, thus Entreri had made everything look like the work of a decent, but not remarkable killer. Even his employers, mostly insignificant local criminals, didn't know who he was.
Unhindered by the innkeeper - he was paying well, after all - and the bar maids, who had understood by now that the rather handsome man had, unfortunately, no interest in them, Artemis went to his room, locking and trapping the door behind him. He sighed wearily and began to undress, but his instincts told him suddenly that something was amiss. He tensed again and rebuckled his weapon belt, furrowing his brow and scanning the room.
What had happened? Had some local underworld boss, or maybe a rich merchant or noble, learnt of his presence in the city and feared that Entreri had been sent by a Calimshite Pasha? Did, whoever feared him, try to kill him before he could kill them?
Although Entreri was a very calm man, he felt ill at ease when he couldn't hear or see anyone, but the feeling of not being alone didn't fade. His heart missed a beat when an impenetrable darkness enveloped him suddenly. He heard the clicks of several crossbows and felt a sting in his shoulder when one of the bolts hit him.
He drew his weapons immediately, but his senses were already getting blurry from the sleep poison, and he fell to the ground only a few moments later. His last thought before he fell asleep was that he truly hated drow more than anything else in this world.
Zaknafein Do'Urden was getting fidgety and impatient, sitting in a luxurious room, feeling alone and rather disoriented. He had woken up for the first time several hours ago - at least he supposed that it had been hours ago, but as he had no sense of time left, it could just as well have been minutes or days - with Jarlaxle sitting at his side.
Although he had been very confused then, he had been quite sure that this was rather odd. He should be dead after killing himself in his fight against Drizzt. Actually, one of Zaknafein's first clear thoughts had been to worry about his son.
Jarlaxle, who had been Zaknafein's only friend during his lifetime, had calmed the dizzy, troubled Weapon Master a bit, but the fighter had fallen asleep again before his extravagant friend had explained very much. When he had woken up again, a drow he did not know had brought him something to eat, telling him that Jarlaxle would return to him later.
After his meal, Zaknafein had just sat down on a big cushioned chair - the kind of chair Jarlaxle liked - and waited, mentally summing up the little Jarlaxle had already told him. Drizzt was alive and staying on the surface, while Malice and the rest of House Do'Urden were dead. Several decades had passed since his death in the acid lake, but now he was here, in the Headquarters of Bregan D'aerthe, under Jarlaxle's care. Things could probably be worse.
Strangely enough, Zaknafein felt rather good, especially for someone who had been sacrificed, turned into an undead, and obliterated by acid. He felt no pain, nor could he detect any scars on his body that hadn't been there before. Only his head hurt a bit, and even the dim light in the room stung his eyes.
Zaknafein supposed that he had slept for a while, because he didn't have to wait long for Jarlaxle. He hadn't decided yet if he was glad to be alive or not, but he definitely preferred to be alive and with Jarlaxle than alive and with Malice. Still, he didn't smile when the mercenary entered the room - no, bounced into the room - and sat down on a second chair with an exaggerated sigh.
"Ah, you're finally awake! I was really worried when you lost consciousness this morning, my friend," he said, and Zaknafein wished that Jarlaxle had a deeper, calmer voice.
"I probably got used to being unconscious," Zaknafein remarked dryly, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Even though being alive felt, at least physically, really good, he was confused and not sure what he should think of his current situation. Suspicion was always appropriate when Jarlaxle was involved.
"That is not the right attitude, my dear Zaknafein! You're alive, you should smile and dance and -"
"I got your point," the fighter cut him short. He really didn't want to be snappish, but Jarlaxle's voice had such a shrill ring in it when he got excited, and right now Zaknafein needed calm explanations more than excited babble. "Why don't you tell me why I am alive?"
The question seemed to calm the mercenary a bit. He fell silent and put a finger to his lips, pausing dramatically as if preparing a long answer, before he said, "I don't know."
Zaknafein was too dumbfounded to do anything else but stare at his unpredictable friend. Fortunately, Jarlaxle showed some mercy and continued, "A Bregan D'aerthe patrol found you in a tunnel not far from Menzoberranzan, unconscious but very much alive and uninjured. You were alone, naked, and there was no sign of a fight. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, but I have no idea why you are here. But we're working on it!"
The Weapon Master nodded slowly and eyed Jarlaxle suspiciously. The mercenary had been his friend for a very long time, and Zaknafein trusted him to some degree, but that didn't mean that he believed everything Jarlaxle told him - all the more as it was impossible to tell when Jarlaxle was lying and when he was telling the truth, if he ever did the latter. Yet Zaknafein decided that, for the moment, he had more important things to worry about than the exact reason why or how he had been resurrected.
"Where am I supposed to go, if House Do'Urden doesn't exist anymore?" he asked, but he already knew the answer.
"I am sure every House in this city would be glad to take you in, but I doubt that you want to go back to the kind of life you hated so passionately. You could finally join Bregan D'aerthe, at least until you have found a better solution," Jarlaxle said, smiling, and for a moment, Zaknafein wondered if all of this - his death, the fall of House Do'Urden, his return - had only been part of Jarlaxle's plan to make him join his mercenary organisation, but he decided that Jarlaxle wouldn't have waited so long to have him resurrected if he were behind all this.
"I'll think about it," he replied gruffly, but then an excited smile made it to his features. "Now tell me about Drizzt. You said he's alive?"
Jarlaxle made a face. Drizzt Do'Urden was the biggest problem of his whole plan - if Jarlaxle didn't influence Zaknafein's opinions in the right way, the often volatile fighter might just decide to kill his son's nemesis when they met instead of befriending him. Still, Jarlaxle told himself to be patient and satisfy Zaknafein's curiosity - it couldn't endanger his plans to tell his friend a bit about his beloved son. Actually, Jarlaxle loved to tell stories, all the more with such an attentive audience. And after that ... he would make sure that Zaknafein would be too occupied with someone else to think about Drizzt.