A/N: RAS never wrote one of the most important scenes about Jarlaxle and Entreri, nor did he explain how Jarlaxle convinced Artemis to help him.
You can blame me for Artemis, Chi for Jarlaxle, and both of us for the resulting story.
The First Meeting
About a month after he got rid of Do'Urden's halfling friend Artemis still found himself in the unfortunate position of pasha, one he had never wanted. Sitting at the enormous desk in what had once been Pasha Pook's office Artemis felt horribly out of place. He had replaced most of the pompous furniture, but he still didn't feel at home. He sipped at his wine from time to time, trying to think about the latest intrigues in Calimport's underworld, but he couldn't bring himself to care about them. His thoughts always returned to that fight against Do'Urden a few months ago, and he regretted now that he had fled from it. If he had only finished his business with the drow he might have been able to move on; but as it was he was too absorbed in his thoughts to focus on the tasks at hand.
A puff of cheery red smoke burst out of nowhere, appearing in the middle of the lavish room with a shrill, flute-like sound. A very musky smell rolled into the room. It was like cave moss and incense at the same time, almost unpleasant.
Artemis flinched and was on his feet the next moment, hands darting to the hilts of his weapons. His office was protected against magical intrusions, and if someone had overcome those defences they shouldn't be underestimated. Slowly drawing his weapons he backed up against the wall behind the desk, eyes fixed on the smoke.
The smoke dispersed, fading away, and revealed for one strange moment an obscured figure waving their arms as if helping clear the red smoke from the room. When it was gone, standing in the middle of the room was a brightly dressed drow male grinning from ear to ear. He wore a blindingly purple hat with a red feather stuck in it, a vest and tight leather pants, knee high boots and an eye patch. He was decked out in more jewellery imaginable. Before Entreri's eyes, the uninvited guest bent down in a low bow.
"Hello, hello, hello! Greetings! Good evening!"
The drow straightened, still beaming.
In every other situation Entreri would probably have attacked the intruder and brought a dagger to their throat before asking questions, but now he was simply dumbfounded. Drizzt Do'Urden was the only drow he had ever met, but somehow he doubted that this was what an average drow was supposed to look and to act like. He was curious despite himself, but he didn't lower his weapons - and curious or not, he was incredibly annoyed that this drow simply appeared in his office.
"You have one minute to convince me not to kill you," he growled, his jaw clenched, every muscle in his body ready for an attack.
The drow looked completely unfazed, and one had to wonder if he had any grasp of Common. He lifted his wide-brimmed hat, reached into it, and pulled out an ornately wrought metal box. Magic. He put his hat back on his head as if what he'd done warranted no attention and held out the box cupped in one hand. Artemis tensed even more when the drow moved, almost expecting some kind of trick.
"A gift for you," the drow said. He opened the lid. Sitting on a velvet lining was a cut ruby the size of Entreri's fist. The drow gave Entreri a sly look.
"Is it not beautiful? It is yours. A welcome gift. I understand it is not customary to appear in an office uninvited. A peace offering is good, yes? Take it. It is real."
Artemis' eyes widened a bit at the sight of the ruby - not that he cared about such things, but it was certainly an impressive sight. Quickly enough his expression turned back into one of complete suspicion.
"There is no such thing as a gift, only payment."
He couldn't even imagine what the drow wanted in return - the dark elves had certainly enough capable assassins of their own. Artemis made a dismissive gesture with his left hand, the one that was still holding the dagger, and judging by the assassin's plain leather attire he was hardly someone who appreciated gems, with the exception of those on the dagger.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" he asked bluntly, not in the mood for games.
The drow looked surprised for a moment, as if taken aback that Entreri did not seem impressed by the ruby, though the human was surrounded by expensive furnishings of every kind. Then he closed the box and gave a good-natured shrug and sigh.
"I do mean to give you the ruby, even if you do decline my offer," he said, waving an index finger. "I am not stingy." Quickly enough, his smile recovered.
"My name is Jarlaxle. I am a mercenary. To be precise, I am the leader of Bregan D'aerthe, an organisation of warriors and spies. I am here on behalf of a client." His smile grew. "Regarding Drizzt."
Artemis gave a soft snort at the drow's first words - it would be the first time someone paid him for declining an offer. His face remained blank when the stranger introduced himself; he had never heard of this Bregan D'aerthe. If anything, it seemed to reassure him a bit that they were finally talking about deals, on a ground Artemis was more comfortable with. However, at the mention of Drizzt, he was incapable of hiding his surprise and, yes, his interest. He didn't reply immediately, obviously thinking. Drizzt could hardly be the client Jarlaxle spoke of; from what Artemis had understood Drizzt had no contact to other drow anymore. Which made this all the more fascinating.
"Explain yourself," Artemis said, but it wasn't even half as calm as he pretended to be. Jarlaxle tapped his bottom lip, obviously pleased. He bowed.
"You are wise to listen." He straightened. "You know that we, as drow, train from the very young and have no need of assassins." He laughed lightly. "There is no shortage of killing in Menzoberranzan." He waved his hand. "But that is not why I am here. My client has assured me that you, and only you, Artemis Entreri, can take on such an opponent as Drizzt."
He waited for a moment.
"We need you to fight him."
For a second the assassin hesitated, but then he sheathed his weapons, and his hands remained close to the hilts. Artemis seemed to think about Jarlaxle's words for a while, not quite sure to what extent he could believe him.
"You say that you don't need assassins, but that you need me to fight him. I don't see the difference. If I fight him, I kill him; that's what assassins do," he said with a hint of sarcasm, but he was clearly interested. He would give much to know who this mysterious client was, but he was too professional to ask such a question. He also couldn't help but wonder at the strange appearance of this drow, but his curiosity about his potential employers would have to wait.
"I don't say that I don't need assassins," Jarlaxle said. "I am ever expanding my business. However, that is not the point. No drow assassin will do." He waved his hand vaguely and made a dissatisfied frown. "They are... distanced. No, they have not what my client needs. My most experienced assassins are too old to learn. They would not keep up with Drizzt." He shook his head. "They do not know him. They do not possess enough ... initiative to think about how to do their jobs. They know." Jarlaxle snorted. "That is why I can't have one of them come here to track down Drizzt." He pointed at Entreri. "No, for this job - a most well paying job - I need you." He lifted his hat and rubbed the back of his head ruefully.
"Drizzt is out of control. He needs a youth opponent to keep up with him ... and there are no new youth talents in our pool of recruits capable of anything like Drizzt's standards." He sighed. "We have a very poor new generation."
Artemis listened carefully, still not even slightly relaxing. Yet the drow's words made sense - he doubted that Drizzt was an average drow fighter; it was believable that Drizzt would beat most drow. And Artemis couldn't deny that he wanted another chance to fight Drizzt, that he wanted desperately to finish what he had started months ago. It wasn't the money that interested him, but the target. And yet, this was too easy, too convenient ... this strange drow simply appearing out of nothing and giving him the opportunity to do what Artemis wanted to do so badly.
"I usually don't ask so many questions, but - as you seem to know quite well - I have more than only a professional interest in this. I need to know what I am getting into," he said suspiciously. This wasn't just another routine assignment in his own domain. "If I work for drow, I need to know who they are and what they want."
Jarlaxle laughed and clapped his hands.
"Oh, so you are interested! I was beginning to lose hope, my friend!" He dropped Entreri a wink. Then his expression schooled itself into something more business-like.
"For you to understand, I may have to give you a short lesson on drow families. You see, in my world, it is the females who head the families - and they do whatever they like to keep us males in line."
For a moment, something amused Jarlaxle so much that he put his hand in front of his mouth to keep from laughing in the middle of his explanation.
"Drizzt was a very bad boy, running away like that without permission. At one point, his family wanted him back." He shrugged cheerfully. "Now, they've changed their mind. Our client is Drizzt's own sister."
Jarlaxle tapped his lower lip.
"They have a long history, those two. She was his wean mother." He chuckled. "I suspect she's run out of patience for the little secondboy."
Artemis found the strange drow increasingly confusing, but also quite fascinating. Jarlaxle's words surprised him a bit - a world controlled by females was certainly not something Artemis could easily imagine - but why not?
Artemis nodded slightly and answered, a questioning tone in his voice, "So, his sister wants him dead, and she has hired you to find and hire me. I kill him, you pay me, and that's it?"
Somehow he doubted that it was that simple, that easy. Jarlaxle tapped his fingers together.
"Yes, and no. There's a bit more involved in this plan than a simple slash and dash." He smiled. "Vierna is a difficult child, but she must be appeased. Lloth save me, that is my job, and I'm too greedy to say no." He winked at Entreri. "Besides, I enjoy meeting new people. No, she wants you to fight her brother on her home territory." He paused. "The Underdark."
He quickly raised an index finger.
"We have methods of ensuring that Drizzt allows himself to be lured back to the place he once dwelled. Provided, of course, that you're as clever as my informants say." He looked at Entreri curiously. "You have a reputation for being a master hand at disguise, do you know that?"
Artemis grew a bit pale under his dark skin, suddenly not so sure about this anymore. One of his strong points was to use his environment to his advantage, and he wasn't sure if it would be wise to confront Drizzt on the drow's home territory.
"I have a reputation for many things, Jarlaxle," he answered slowly, warily, "but being a fool is not one of them. Do you really think I will follow a complete stranger into the Underdark, to fight not just any drow, but my equal, on a ground I don't know and where I can't even see anything?"
Jarlaxle beamed. "No."
Then he burst out laughing, and kept at it until he had to wipe tears away from the corner of his eye. Artemis scowled - if there was one thing he did not know how to deal with, it was laughter.
When Jarlaxle regained his composure, he said, "I am amused, you see, because the only reason you ask such a ridiculous question is that you have not become acquainted with me. One of my subordinates would most likely be punished for implying that I would do something so foolish." He shrugged disarmingly. "However. No. You will go to the Underdark before your confrontation, become acquainted with your surroundings, and then lure Drizzt to a battlefield of your choosing."
The drow's explanation calmed the assassin only a bit; at least it was good to know that the drow hid a perfect businessman under that hideous outfit. Still, he didn't like the terms of this deal.
"And what do I gain from this? Money, jewels? I have no interest in those, and it would be less risky for me to find and fight Drizzt on my own instead of following you to the Underdark," he snarled. "Why would I want to work with you?"
Jarlaxle spread his hands. "I am authorised to offer you anything you desire. Do not lose heart, my new friend. Payment does not have to be all gold and jewels. What is it that you do want? I will do my best to satisfy you..." His expression turned grave. "You should know that my offer is a rare one. My organisation is the most powerful in Menzoberranzan. I have negotiated deals with House Baenre and have the first word on all matters of intrigue in the city. If I promise to obtain something, I will find it for my client."
For some reason Artemis believed the drow, although he had strictly no reason to do so. Yet Artemis found himself at a loss. Asked like this, he had no idea what he wanted. The desire to kill Drizzt had taken every other thought from his mind for the last months, and even before that ... The only material possessions he had any interest in were weapons and armours, but he doubted that they were worth the risk of such an insane mission. Even if the rumours were exaggerated, drow were hardly a trustworthy race.
"Give me a reason why it would be preferable for me to fight Drizzt in the Underdark, and not under any other circumstances."
A thinly veiled confession that he had indeed no idea what he wanted.
Jarlaxle smirked. "Do you truly have to ask? It is a challenge." He threw open his arms. "An intoxicating challenge! Why, what better way to prove to yourself and to the ranger that all along it is you who is the better fighter? Besides," he said, giving Entreri what seemed like a genuine smile, "can any human truly say that they have travelled to the Underdark, seen its pleasures, and survived? Even if Menzoberranzan is not to your liking, I am offering you a chance no other human has ever had. Does not the uniqueness of the situation offer something to you?"
He rubbed his chin and studied the human assassin.
"It seems to me, am I right, that you are looking for an adventure. You do not belong in this stuffy office - even I can see that, and I hardly know you. You, my friend, you are a man of action! Why stay here when you are so unhappy?"
After a short moment of surprise an intrigued smile appeared on Artemis' features. He hated it if someone tried to manipulate him, and yet he had to admit that it was quite impressive how Jarlaxle managed to say exactly what Artemis wanted, needed to hear. While it was not the uniqueness of the situation that attracted him, it was the change. The possibility to get out of the dull routine of Calimport or of hunts along the Swordcoast ... Wasn't that what Artemis had been waiting for? Not to mention that he was actually interested what real drow were like. Artemis smirked, the first time Jarlaxle saw anything other than a glum, angry expression on the human's face.
"I'm not surprised that you thrive in a world of intrigues," Artemis said, as close to a compliment as one would ever hear from him. Jarlaxle bowed to him deeply. His eyes when they met Entreri's were shrewd...but surprisingly full of humour.
"Would you make my life a great deal easier and accept my offer? In spite of being manipulated?"
Entreri shook his head, but not as a refusal, more as if he was asking himself what in the Nine Hells he was doing.
"I know I am going to regret this, but yes, I accept your offer," he replied finally, running a hand through his black hair, hardly aware in that moment that he was showing his nervousness so openly.
Jarlaxle held out the ruby in the box again. Artemis looked tempted for a second, but then he shook his head again, a sly grin on his face.
"Find something better," he said. "Something useful."
Jarlaxle was dumbfounded. He stammered and almost dropped the box. "Something useful?"
Artemis slowly raised a brow, obviously amused now, and quite satisfied that he could surprise the drow. "Yes, something else than a sparkling stone that is useless and not even entertaining."
Jarlaxle gaped and looked down at the ruby with mournful eyes. "That's alright, my pretty. I still lust after you and your priceless, sparkling glory," he said, stroking the enormous gem. He looked profoundly confused as he closed the box and stowed it in his hat. He gave Entreri an almost suspicious look. Artemis looked equally confused that this eccentric drow was actually talking to a gem, but then he simply shrugged.
"I can't imagine that you want something so mundane that it becomes 'useful', but I assure you I can acquire anything you might need." He made a face at the word 'need' as if he'd bitten into a lemon. "Perhaps I'll find you a nice sword." He snapped his fingers. "Yes, I think I have an especially fine sword to give you."
"I am a pragmatist, Jarlaxle, I have no interest in useless beauty. A sword, though, would be fine."
Not that he really needed one, but maybe Jarlaxle would find him a good magical sword. Artemis almost felt as if he was indulging the drow by accepting his 'gifts'.
"Oh, it is," Jarlaxle assured him. "It is one of the finest swords ever made by drow craftsmen. I am truly ... sorry," he paused and frowned as though that were an unfamiliar or difficult to understand word, "that my first peace offering was unacceptable. I will deliver the sword to you personally at this same time tomorrow."
He bowed to the assassin deeply. "Is that acceptable?"
Artemis frowned a bit at the drow's somehow stilted behaviour, but he just shrugged.
Jarlaxle's manner became suffused with relief.
"Then it is a deal, my new friend! Tomorrow, I shall deliver your sword, and then we may sit down and discuss our mutual plans."
He tugged on the hoop earring in his left ear. Nothing happened. He waited for a moment, and then frowned.
The drow mercenary turned away, muttering something under his breath in drow. When he turned to face Entreri again, he was once more smiling.
"Now, I bid you good night."
He disappeared in a puff of smoke the way he had come. Artemis just sat down on his chair and buried his face in his hands, once again wondering what he was getting himself into.