"Jarlaxle?" Zak shouted, his deep voice echoing through the chilly room. "Captain Jarlaxle!" He jogged toward a row of arches at the back of the hall, calling out over his shoulder to Drizzt as he ran, "Don't leave the room!"
Drizzt walked to the stairs and took a seat, feeling almost dizzy as his two personas battled for dominance. As he got him self some what under control, his mind wandered to the bizarre events taking place. First Entreri disappeared and now their Captain. They hadn't even been gone five minutes and he had said that he was going to stay put. Why had he left? He looked around for signs of a struggle, a spent cartridge or even a spot of blood but there was nothing to indicate what might have happened in their absence.
Zaknefien appeared on the other side of the giant staircase, shaking his head in befuddlement as he walked over slowly to join him. Drizzt bit his lower lip, frowning.
"Do you think he ran into one of those things? The Captain I mean." he asked.
Zak sighed. "Well, I certainly don't think the BGPD showed up and snuck him out. But if he had run into trouble, we would have heard the shots."
"Not necessarily if he had been ambushed and dragged away…"
They stood silently for a moment, thinking. Drizzt was still a bit shaken from the unpleasant face-to-face encounter with the walking corpse and even more so from the painful discovery of yet another close friend's mangled remains, but with all things considered, thought he'd accepted the facts pretty well. The woods bordering the remote city of Baldur's Gate had become infested with zombies.
After a lifetime of reading trashy novels about serial killers, is a cannibal zombie so hard to swallow? Not really. He had battled things far worse in his 78 years of existence, from the Underdark to the surface and even in a few dimensions in between. So somehow he decided that it wasn't and that neither were the murderous dogs or the secretly kept estate for that matter. There was no question that it all existed. The question was, why? Did the mansion have anything to do with the murders that had plagued them for weeks on end or had the zombies simply overrun it like they had overrun Baldur's Gate's forest?
Was that creature the last thing that Catty-Brie saw as it was Wulfgar's?
He rejected that thought almost violently, the Hunter wanting any excuse possible to surface and gain complete control. But he understood that thinking about his deceased friends now would be a fatal mistake.
"So do we go looking or do we wait?" Drizzt said at length.
"Go looking. Wulfgar made it here so the rest of the Bravos could be somewhere in this house as well but it'd be easy enough to get lost. I'm just guessing that Entreri…" He half-smiled at the mention of the human, though Drizzt could see the worry in his eyes. "That Entreri and Jarlaxle just got side tracked but if we do a thorough search and keep alert, we'll find them. It'd take more than a couple of walking stiffs to cause either of them any grief and I think you would know that better than anyone."
His smile widened as he said that and Drizzt had the unexpected desire to blush though for what reason he was uncertain of. Zak reached into a pocket in his vest and pulled out something wrapped in a handkerchief and handed it to him. He felt the thin metal objects beneath the light fabric and recognized them instantly.
"It's the set Entreri gave me to practice with last month," Zak said, almost sheepishly. "I figured you would have better luck with them than I would. He taught you how to use them didn't he? I watched him teach you once and got curious."
Drizzt nodded, tucking the lock picks into his hip pouch as the slight blush finally found its way to his face. His father had been spying on him! Well, then again, they hadn't been doing anything worth spying on, but still. Had his father really taken an interest in the assassin's former "career"? Drizzt remembered he'd been given a few pieces from Entreri's old set which held several picks and torsion bars. The objects wrapped in the cloth felt just like them and he couldn't deny the fact that they would come in handy. As he set the small bundle into his pack it settled on top of something else, his nimble fingers gently ghosting over a hard and smooth surface-
In all the excitement, Drizzt had totally forgotten about his strange encounter in the locker room. He opened his mouth to tell Zak but then shut it, remembering Trenell's cryptic warning. "And if I were you, I wouldn't mention this conversation to anyone..."
Ah, to the nine hells with it. He had almost risked telling Entreri.
Where was Entreri now? Who's to say that Trenell's "dire consequences" that she had spoken of haven't already occurred?
Drizzt suddenly realized what it was he was thinking and had to fight off an urge to laugh at himself. What had happened with Ms. Trenell probably wasn't even relevant to their predicament. As for whether or not he could trust Zaknefien, his own father, That was with out a question. He certainly didn't trust Trenell. But still…
He decided to stay quiet, at least until he had a chance to see what kind of information the little computer held.
"I think we should split up," Zak continued. "I know it's dangerous but we need to cover a lot of ground in here. If we find anybody, we meet back here. We'll use this room as a base." He turned and fixed Drizzt with serious gaze. "Are you up for this Drizzt? If need be, we could search together…"
"No, you're right," The experienced ranger said. "I can take the west wing." Unlike cops, S.T.A.R.S. seldom partnered. They were trained to watch their own backs in dangerous situations at all costs. And so that was what they were going to do. Besides, if they went together, it would take them longer to cover the whole house. No, going it alone would be a better bet. Not necessarily smarter, but defiantly more thorough.
Zak nodded. "Alright then. I'll go back and see if I can persuade one of those doors to open. You just keep an eye out for a back exit. Conserve your ammo… and above all else, be careful son."
Zaknefien grinned, holding up his Colt Python. "Don't worry about me. I'm in good hands."
There was nothing left to say and so Drizzt headed straight for the set of doors on the west wall that Jarlaxle hadn't bothered to try earlier. Behind him, Zak hurried back to the dining room, disappearing through the door on the other side of the room. He heard the door open and close and then he was alone.
Drizzt let out a deep sigh as he collected him self, gathering up his courage to continue with the search all by his lonesome. This was no time to chicken out now and there was no turning back. He had friends in danger and they needed his help and he refused to lose anyone else that was dear to him. Even now, his two older brothers, Dinin and Nelfien, were both probably dead just like Wulfgar.
Drizzt shook his head violently to clear it of those awful and grisly thoughts. With the light of determination burning in his lavender eyes, he focused all his thoughts and energies to the task ahead of him.
Well, here goes nothing.
The cream painted doors opened smoothly without even the slightest hint of a creak, revealing a small, shadowy room as cool and silent as the main hall, all in shades of pale blue. Dimmed track lighting illuminated framed paintings on the grayish walls and in the center of the room was a large milky white marble statue of an elvish woman holding a pitcher in the crook of one arm.
Drizzt quietly closed the door behind him and allowed his eyes adjust to the gloomy room and took note of the two doors across the way from him. The one on the left was open but was blocked by a small trunk that was pushed in front of it. It was unlikely that Jarlaxle had gone that way unless he had somehow managed to move it into that position from behind the door way and it looked to be pretty heavy.
He made his way towards the door on the right and tried the knob but it didn't give.
Damn. Locked…Of course…
Sighing, Drizzt reached into his hip pack for Entreri's lock picks and then hesitated as his nimble fingers brushed yet again against the mini-disk reader.
How do I keep forgetting about that? Well, let's see what Lady Trenell thinks is so important...
He slipped it out and studied it a moment and, after locating the proper button, switched it on. A screen, the same size as one might find on a game boy, flickered to life. After a few seconds of experimentation, he managed to find a file that, once opened, displayed small lines of type across the monitor. He scanned the material, recognizing names and dates from local newspapers. Trenell had somehow managed to compact every article she could find about the murders and disappearances in Baldur's Gate plus the pieces of the S.T.A.R.S. Drizzt had to admit, it was kinda impressive how well she kept up to date on things. He had to give her credit…even if she did present herself as some two bit hussy.
Ok, so this is all things I already know. Nothing new or out of the ordinary here…
Drizzt continued to skim through the material, wondering what the point in all of this was. After the long stream of articles ended, there was a list of names.
LEONA ROBERTSON, STEVE KELLER, SHANE DOUGLAS, MICHAEL DEES, MILES LAURENCE, JOHN HOWE, CARSON RICH, MARTIN CRAGKHORN, SUE LUBECC, HENRY SARTON, WAYNE SANDERS, ELLEN SMITH, PAUL BOSSOM, CALIHAYE, YORK TATUME, BILL ROMANS, CASSANDRA MARCOS…
Drizzt suddenly halted as a frown found its way to his handsome face. He wasn't quite sure what it was that had grabbed his attention so but for some reason, he was un able to continue, as if some little piece of extremely important information demanded to be acknowledged. He quickly rescanned the list of names and stopped yet again as his eyes remained glued to the small screen. It was the names, he knew, but none of them seemed familiar except –
Realization struck then as he continued to stare at the name. Wasn't that the name of Entreri's girlfriend who had recently disappeared? Hadn't someone once mentioned that she had worked for BG? He couldn't be sure but he had to make it a point to ask Entreri…
…that was assuming of course he ever found him.
Argh! This is just a waste of time! He thought angrily.
He needed to carry on with his search for the other S.T.A.R.S. He pressed the forwarding key a second time to get through the end of the data faster and a picture appeared, made up completely of tiny lines set into patterns. There were squares and long rectangles that were crosshatched with smaller marks that connected the empty boxes. Beneath it was a single line of text that showed a message as enigmatic as Trenell her self:
KNIGHT KEYS; TIGER EYES; FOUR CRESTS (GATE OF NEW LIFE); EAST-EAGLE/WEST-WOLF.
Well…That's certainly…helpful. NOT! What the hell is all this crazy mambo jumbo supposed to mean anyways? Some help…
Upon further inspection, he concluded that the picture was some kind of map. In truth, it looked like some kind of floor plan or blueprint for the entire building. The biggest area was at the center and a slightly smaller one expended off to the left. Drizzt suddenly felt his heart skip a beat as he stared down at the small screen, wondering how Trenell had known about any of this when his own team, the S.T.A.R.S., hadn't.
As he scanned the map, he realized that the large expanse of area was the mansion's first floor. He pressed the forward button again and saw what he assumed was the second floor. There was nothing after the second map but this was more than enough to aid him in his search. As far as he was concerned, there was no longer any question that the Spencer estate was the source of the terror in Baldur's Gate and the surrounding forest of Cloak Wood. That meant that the answers they all sought were right here waiting to be uncovered in this very mansion.
The zombie's head erupted into a shower of gore as Entreri fired point-blank into its grisly maw. As the now headless body staggered back a few steps, he fired into the repulsive thing's gut twice. The shots were muffled by its rotten flesh and it fell against him and foul, stinking blood sent small spatters across the side of his face.
Entreri hastily pushed it away, utterly repulsed by the contact, the back of his throat locking up on him. His hands and the barrel of his weapon were covered and dripping with fetid sticky fluids. The creature collapsed to the floor with its limbs spasming.
He backed away from the thing, wiping the Beretta against the pant leg of his beige khakis as he took deep breaths, trying desperately not to vomit. The zombie out in the hall had been a dried out mess, shriveled and dehydrated but this one was…
…fresh, if that was the right word for it. Festering and wet…
He swallowed hard and the urge to the throw up slowly began to pass. He didn't have a particularly weak stomach, being in the assassin business was not a trade for those who did, but that smell! Gods, it was absolutely horrid!
Come on, keep it together old man. You're not out of deep water yet. There could still be more of them….
The hall he'd entered was all dark wood and dim light. For the moment, there was no sound except the erratic beating of his heart that echoed in his ears. He dared to look down at the body, wondering exactly what it was, or rather, what it had been. He had felt its hot, fetid breath against his face as it had made that deranged lunge for his neck. It wasn't a reanimated corpse no matter what it looked like so there was no way this could be the work of a Necromancer.
Entreri decided it didn't matter either way. For all intents and purposes, it was a zombie, plain and simple. It had tried to bite him for crying out loud and creatures like it had already chewed down some of Baldur's Gate's population. He needed to find his way back to the others and they had to get out and get help or at least some kind of back up. They didn't have the firepower to handle this situation alone. He scowled to himself as he ejected the empty clip from his dripping weapon and quickly reloaded it, his chest tightening with stress as he counted fifteen rounds left. He had his knives and above all else, his trusty Vampiric Dagger but the thought of going up against a zombie with only that wasn't all that appealing. Besides, you can't suck the life out of something that's already dead.
An involuntary shudder shot down his spine as he surveyed the area. There was a plain looking door to his left. Entreri walked up to it cautiously and pulled at the knob, but it was locked. He squinted at the key plate, and wasn't that surprised to see an etching of what looked like armor. He could see that there was a theme developing here. He sighed in frustration as he moved down the wide hall, listening for any sound and taking frequent deep breaths through his nose. The coagulated gunk on his pants and hands made it difficult to discern if there were more of those monsters around but it could be his only chance to avoid another close encounter. So he had to deal with it…for now at least.
The hall turned to the left and he rushed the corner, sweeping the Beretta wide across the open expanse of the area. There was a support pillar partially blocking his view but he could see the back of a man just past it, the slumped shoulders and stained clothes marking the thing clearly as one of the creatures. Entreri quickly edged to the right, trying to get a clear shot. The zombie was maybe forty feet away and he didn't want to waste the last of his rounds by foolishly missing. At the sound of his gun cocking, it began to turn, shuffling slowly. So slowly that Entreri hesitated, watching the way it moved. This one seemed to have been dipped in a thin layer of slime, dull light reflecting off of its glistening skin as it stumbled almost blindly toward the assassin. It slowly raised its arms, its pale, hairless skull wobbling on its emaciated neck. Silently, it shuffled forward.
Entreri took a sliding step back to his left and the zombie changed direction, veering toward him eagerly, closing the distance between them at a slow walk.
Just as I thought: Dangerous but dumb. Just like in those crazy novels Drizzt always reads. And easy to outrun too….
He rationalized that he had to save ammo in case he got cornered. There were stairs at the end of the hall, and Entreri took a deep breath, readying himself to take flight. He stepped back, giving himself enough room to maneuver and heard a gasping moan behind him, a fresh wave of rancid stench assaulting his senses. He spun swiftly, the realization hitting him even before he realized he was moving. The festering zombie was only a few feet away, reaching for him, bits of its putrid gut spilling out across its shattered abdomen. The Artemis Entreri of old wouldn't have made such a foolish and amateur mistake like turning his back to an open area that hadn't been thoroughly checked. What had happened to him? He was falling apart at the seams.
He blamed the only thing he could.
He blamed it on age.
Entreri made a mad dash down the corridor, dodging both of them and cursing himself all the while. He passed the thick support beam and almost made it to the stairs but stopped cold as he saw what waited at the top. He caught only a glimpse of the ragged creature standing at the head of the stair and spun away, raising his weapon to face the attackers that shambled toward him hungrily.
From the shadows beside the steps came a heavy, gurgling sound. The assassin spun once more and caught a glimpse of a small doorway beneath the stairs hidden in the darkness there, the dark wood blending so well with the shadows that he had almost missed it. Entreri ran for it, grabbing at the handle as he silently prayed to whatever God or Goddess out there that it would open as the creatures began to close in all around him.
If it was locked, he was a dead man.
Kimmuriel Oblidora had never been more afraid in his entire life. Not even when he lived at the mercy of his Matron Mother and sisters in Mezoberannzan. For what seemed like an eternity, he'd listened to the soft scrape of rotting flesh brushing against the door and had tried desperately to think of a plan, his dread building with each passing minute. There was no lock on the door and he'd lost his handgun on the run for the house. The small storage room, though well stocked with chemicals and stacks of papers, had offered nothing to use as a defense except a half-empty can of bug spray. And against things that had no use for brains, his psyonic powers were next to useless.
It was the can he gripped now, standing behind the door of the tiny room. If or when the monsters finally figured out how to use a doorknob, he planned on spraying it in their eyes and then making a run for it.
Bug spray… Yea, great weapon…Dumb ass.
He had heard what could have been shots somewhere close by, but they weren't repeated. His hope that it was one of the team faded as the seconds ticked past. He was starting to give a serious consideration to the concept that he was the only one left when the door suddenly burst open and a gasping figure hurdled inside. Kimmuriel didn't hesitate. He leapt forward from his position behind the door and pressed the button, releasing a toxic spray of chemical mist into its face, tensing himself to make a mad dash past it.
"GAH!" It yelled, and fell back against the door, slamming it shut. It covered its eyes in agony as it sat spluttering. Kimmuriel stared in disbelief at it. It wasn't a monster he had just maced. It was one of the Alphas!
"Oh my God! Oh my God! I'm so sorry!!" Kimmuriel was blushing madly as he reached into his field medical kit, his immense relief at seeing another of the S.T.A.R.S. battling with monumental embarrassment. He fumbled out a clean cloth and a tiny squeeze bottle of water, stepping toward the other S.T.A.R.S. member. "Keep your eyes shut and don't rub at them."
The Alpha dropped his hands reluctantly, droplets of the toxic spray dotted his blood spattered face, and the young Drow finally was able to recognize him. It was Artemis Entreri. Kimmuriel felt himself blush even harder than before and was suddenly glad that the man had his eyes screwed shut in pain and couldn't see him.
Nice going, Kimmuriel! Way to make a good impression on your first operation. Lose your gun, get lost, blind a teammate who just so happens to be Artemis of all people…
He led him over to the small cot in the corner of the room and sat him down, letting his training take over.
"Lean your head back. This is going to sting a little, but it's just water." He dabbed at the man's eyes with a damp cloth, relieved that he hadn't sprayed him with anything worse.
"What was that stuff?" Entreri asked, blinking rapidly. Tears and water streamed down his face, but there didn't seem to be any damage.
"Uh… yea, it was bug repellent. The active ingredient is permephrin which is an irritant but the effect shouldn't last long. I lost my gun on the mad dash we made for this place and my mind powers are virtually useless against things that don't think. When you came crashing in here, I thought you were one of those things. But if they haven't figured out how to use a doorknob by now, they probably won't ever." He suddenly realized that he was babbling, which wasn't like him, and quickly shut up, making one last half hearted swipe at Entreri's sensitive eyes with the cloth in his hand.
"Your Jarlaxle's Phsyonist…Kimmuriel, right?"
The young Drow nodded miserably. "That's correct…I really am sorry…."
"Forget about it," he said, and sat up straighter, flashing the Drow a lopsided grin of approval. "Not too bad of a weapon, actually. Sure got the jump on me."
He stood then and looked around the small room, frowning. There wasn't much to see other than an open trunk full of papers, a shelf lined with bottles of mostly unlabeled chemicals, a cot, and a desk. It was pretty obvious Kimmuriel had been through all of it in his search for something to use as a means to protect himself.
"What about the rest of your team?" Entreri asked.
Kimmuriel shook his head. "I don't know. Something went wrong with the helicopter and we had to set down. Once we did, we were attacked by some kind of crazed animals and Uthengental told us to run for cover." He shrugged then, suddenly feeling like he was a small child all over again. "I got turned around in the woods and ended up at the front door of this place. I think one of the others must have broken it down because the door was open…" He trailed off, looking away from the man's intense gaze. The rest was probably obvious: he had no weapon, he'd gotten lost, and he had ended up here hiding like a coward. All in all, a pretty poor and humiliating showing.
"There's nothing you could have done. Uthengental said run, so you ran. All you did was followed orders and that's that so don't cry over it."
Kimmuriel looked at the man in silence. He was looking away from him, jaw clenched tightly from stress as his sharp silvery eyes remained locked intently on the door.
"Those undead creatures out there are all over the place. I hate to admit it but I got lost too and the rest of the Alphas could be anywhere. Trust me, just the fact that you made it this far-"
Just outside the small room, a low, nostalgic wail arose from one of said creatures and Entreri ceased his speech as his expression turned grim. Kimmuriel could not suppress the shudder that ran through him.
"What do we do now?"
"We look for the others and find a way out." The assassin said with grim determination. He sighed then as he looked down at his weapon. "Problem is, you're unarmed and I'm almost out of ammo. And believe you me, the last thing I wanna do is go at it toe to toe with one of these things armed with naught but my dagger…"
The Psyonist expression brightened a bit at this and he began to rummage around in his hip pack. He pulled out two full magazines and handed them to the man. With that, at least he had something to contribute to redeem himself in the eyes of his superior. Entreri allowed a look of relief to pass over his face briefly as he took the ammo and placed them in his own pack.
"I also found this on the desk," Kimmuriel said and produced a silver key in the shape of a sword. He had no idea what it went to but thought it may prove to be useful. Entreri regarded it thoughtfully then took it to examine it further. It was a beautifully detailed piece and after some contemplation, Artemis tucked it securely into a pocket on his vest. Then he walked over to the open trunk and looked down at the stacks of papers that overflowed into a big mess that scattered out on to the floor. He crouched down rifled through them quickly, frowning.
"Your field is biochemistry, right? You searched through these already?"
Kimmuriel joined him and shook his head. "I'm afraid I barley gave them a glance. My attention has been mainly focused on the door."
Entreri picked up a sheet of paper, gave it a once over and handed it to him. He scanned it quickly and found that it was a list of neurotransmitters and level indicators.
"This is brain chemistry," he said, a hint of interest in his voice, "but these numbers are all wrong. The serotonin and nor epinephrine are far too low… but if you look here, you can see the dopamine is off the chart. We're talking major schizophrenia here..."
The Drow noticed the dubious look on the man's face and smiled a little. Well he was a Psyonist after all. It was his business to know these things. The S.T.A.R.S. had recruited him right after graduation from the academy, promising him a whole team of researchers and a lab of his own to study molecular biology, his true passion in life. Provided, of course, that he went through basic training and got some field experience. No one else had shown so much interest in hiring a whiz kid and it was thanks to Jarlaxle that he even got the job in the first place…
His thoughts where disrupted by a soft thump at the door and his smile faded. He was getting experience, alright…perhaps a little too much of it.
Entreri fished the sword key out of his pocket and looked at him seriously. "I passed a door with this sword engraved over the keyhole as I was running down here. I'm going to go check it out and see if it leads back to the main hall. I want you to stay here and go through these files, all of them. Maybe there's something we can use here." Kimmuriel's uncertainly must have shown on his face because Entreri offered him one of his rare half smiles. He rested a hand on the young Drow's shoulder awkwardly, his voice low, almost soothing. "Thanks to you, I've got plenty of ammo now so I won't be gone long."
The Psyonist nodded, making a conscious effort to relax his tensed body a little. He was extremely scared, but letting Entreri see it wasn't going to help matters in the least. Hell, he wasn't going to admit it, but the man was probably scared too.
Entreri walked to the door as he continued talking. "The BGPD should be here any time now, so if I don't come back right away, just wait here, got it? And it would probably be wise to barricade the door…just incase."
He raised his weapon and placed his other hand on the doorknob. "Get ready, Oblidora. As soon as I'm out I want you to move the trunk in front of the door. I'll give a yell when I get back."
Kimmuriel nodded again, and Entreri was out the door. He looked both ways quickly before moving out into the hallway and into the gloom. Kimmuriel closed the door and leaned against it, listening intently. After a few seconds of silence, he heard the rattle of gunfire not too far away. Five shots echoed into the stale night air and then nothing. He waited a little longer and after a few more minutes, he dragged the trunk over to block a section of the door, edging it in front of the hinges so he could push it out of the way easily when the need arose. With that done, he knelt in front of it, trying to clear his thoughts as he started scanning through the papers, fighting back his feelings of insecurity. He was still fairly young by Elven standards after all. Then again, so was Drizzt. He sighed and pulled out a handful of papers and began to read.