Legalese: The recognizable characters in this fanfiction were created by R. A. Salvatore in association with the legal entity Wizards of the Coast, who owns relevant copyrights to additional Forgotten Realms material referred to herein. The characters are used without permission but no material profit of any kind is being made from the following work. WotC reserve rights to Forgotten Realms material, but all of the situations unique to this work of fan fiction are property of the writer. So there, dammit.
A/N: I started this in December '05 and based it off assumptions I made from material published previous to PotWK. RAS has since contradicted his previously written material as well as my extrapolations. However, I'm more interested in his original version, even if he isn't. As for the title, I almost went with a plant from the Artemisia family, but decided it was just too cheesy. Instead I went with a Nirvana reference.
Special thanks to Witchwolf for beta-reading. If you enjoy this, you can thank her for it going up even though it wasn't what she expected me to work on.
One last note; I am sick of the sexual abuse aspect of Entreri's background, but despite it all, I can't seem to get away from it. If I address it in the future, it will be because he's over it.
He was a malevolent ghost that haunted their journey across the desert. Nobody asked questions of the young man with desolate gray eyes. The members of the caravan he had arranged passage with were cunning; they knew better than to seek out information that would prove more valuable than their already risky lives. Those less wise among the group were at least smart enough to follow example. Hardly a word was directed to him and conversations hushed as he passed.
The killer didn't know the day of his birth, or the exact number of his years, but he knew beyond all doubt it had been eight seasons of rain and mud since he first crossed the burning sands. A double handful of years ago he was a weak, but wise-to-the-world child, running from a situation he could not solve. This time, crossing back the way he came for the first time in his life, he was an adult by Calimshan's reckoning, still worldly wise, and weak by no standards he respected.
The decision to cross the desert had come on the anticipation that in time his name would travel beyond the gold domes and sucking flies of Calimport. It would not do to flush the quarry before he could wet his claws in their entrails. All plans that followed his decision were prepared meticulously. In his quarters back in the Basadoni cabal, he had spent regular intervals familiarizing himself with recent maps of Memnon; childhood memories were as unreliable as they were unwanted. It was attention to detail, combined with unusually rigid discipline, that kept him in his oft-contested seat as Basadoni's youngest lieutenant.
The night before the caravan was expected in Memnon was cool and dark. It came as no surprise that the young man waited no longer to take to the shadows. Members of the caravan would be relieved in the morning; none wanted to witness his departure and none would comment when he was not found. Silence formed the bookends of his new life. He drifted unhindered across the cooling sands like smoke propelled by the incessant desert winds.
The moon was asleep and the sun bleeding the horizon purple when he found the city's monolithic walls. They were formidable and heavily guarded, but none of that mattered to wind and shadows. Like the caravan before them, none of the posted guards noticed a darker shadow within the usual shadows of retreating night. Unlike the caravan, they did not know to expect him.
Walls set divisions in the minds of most ordinary creatures. The assassin, however, saw them only as a vertical highway best traversed at night.
Once he'd penetrated the city's dusty streets the young man's feet ran the route he'd charted weeks earlier. The streets were not empty, rather the desert city's inhabitants were early risers, seeking to take advantage of the coolness before the sun would rise. Few, if any, noticed the black-clothed killer as he moved through alleys and building shadows. He began to look for shelter as soon as he found himself on a street familiar to both map and memory. None too soon, for temple criers all about the city were beginning to sing the call to prayers from their parapets and towers. The sound never ceased to bring a sneer to his face, obscured though it was by the layers of black gauze that hid his lips.
Shelter was found deep within Memnon's walls on a rooftop that yielded a perimeter of stone benches and a stunning view of the city's skyline. The skyline was a novel experience; when he lived in the narrow streets, the buildings had always been too high to allow more than a view of the distant sky directly above. He looked at it with the eyes of a stranger and still he did not find it beautiful. It was, to his thinking, not unlike a silk drop cloth covering maggot-ridden refuse.
Shielded from the merciless sun under a stone bench and the deceptive gauze layers of his cloak, he dozed lightly until the burning star began its descent. Knowing the roof had a greater chance of intrusion with the falling sun, the killer vacated the premises. His muscles loose with the warmth of the roof's stone, he continued on to the modest home of memory.
He traveled by rooftop when possible, for the buildings were often squeezed tightly together, but when that was impossible, he slipped in amongst the deep shadows the buildings threw across the street. At times he walked alongside rickety carts pulled by twitchy donkeys. The animals were plagued with biting flies. Open wounds on the tips of their ears and around their nostrils were an oasis for the ravenous insects.
Though the streets were alive with people, donkey carts, and the occasional camel, it meant nothing to the man. Nor the heat. Nor the dust that rendered his baggy black pants brown to his knees. Nor the smells of heavy perfume, animal feces, and unwashed skin. It was discipline that crowded distractions out of his surroundings, finding meaning only in possible obstacles on the road to his destination.
The structure he was headed for was not as big as he recalled and substantially less modest. It was a two-story building that was uncomfortable associating with the slightly rundown street. The area's main temple was easily visible from the flat face that held the home's front entrance. An equal distance away, in the opposite direction, were the public baths. Entreri sneered at the line of reasoning that connected the three structures. Paused across the street from the home's orange wall, he tapped his index finger upwards three times, creating an invisible dotted line. He then swept his finger back down through the line, dismissing it from his mind.
Holding down anger and disgust, he slipped across the street and into the narrow alley separating it from the more welcoming structure beside it. It would take too long in the fading light to open the locked shutters in front; he opted instead for those found on the second floor. Light as a cat he bounded upwards, using the walls on either side of him to propel his ascent. It was doubtful any passersby would notice him in the alley in daylight, let alone the gathering gloom of dusk.
He had the shutters of his choice open in seconds. Before stepping through the window, he surveyed what he could. The layout and much of the furniture was the same. The loom was in the same place with a pattern typical of Memnon folklore half-knotted upon it. The sights were the same. The sounds were the same.
Scent was the most overpoweringly familiar and clouded his mind momentarily with confusing impulses. He swayed as he came through the window, suddenly swept up in forceful nostalgia. The smell of flatbread in the stone oven, roasting coffee beans, spices from the kitchen and small sheltered herb garden, hand milled soap from the washroom, jasmine from the bushes, and the lotus incense the woman loved to burn. Though he was yet on the second floor, the scents were powerful in any capacity.
If not for his strong will, he might have lingered in the window but caught his mental and physical balance before memories could topple him. It was not a conscious decision to brush away the strangled feelings struggling in his chest; a ruthless section of his mind contained them immediately before they could grow. He only indulged himself in a moment of burning anger; hatred of his weakness against simple memories.
When he was steady, he moved from shadow to deepening shadow until he was looking down into the small courtyard. He found the woman and the housekeeper cutting and drying herbs from her small garden. The herb they were cutting was in great abundance. Pennyroyal, his mind noted, but saw no immediate significance in the herb, which was often used by women to help with their monthly bleeding.
The maid was new, but the woman was the same, if almost ten years older. Her posture was hunched, her face tired and drawn with lines, but it was her. The only thing vibrant to her was her shawl which she had surely woven herself.
He looked at her and told himself he felt nothing, but betrayal bites deepest when trust is at its strongest. It was all he could do to stay the hand that was in a rigid claw near his dagger. Completely unprofessional hatred boiled beneath the surface of his skin, evidenced by the clenching and unclenching of his jaw. Eight seasons of rain had curdled confusion and betrayal into a feeling that could only be called monstrous.
She was aged in body, though he didn't think she could be quite forty years of age. She was a sad-looking woman, every bit as pathetic as the hopeless souls he'd met in the back alleys of Calimport. There was no sympathy in his heart for her; she was still alive. The housekeeper inspired less disgust than the tired woman. Both were equally oblivious to his condemning gaze.
The women were not likely to move from their chores, but even if they did stray, the assassin would not be caught unaware. He drifted from the courtyard, unconsciously keeping them pinpointed with the sounds of their movement and occasional chatter. He told himself it was not morbid curiosity that led him to find and analyze the bedrooms, but professional need to learn if there were children that might cause a problem.
There was no evidence to indicate children of either gender. Artemis found the lack of children curious; the man of the house had lusts to spare. Before his colder nature reasserted iron control, the herb garden came back to mind. A grim sneer pulled at his face as he recalled the pennyroyal in her hands. Had the woman learned a twisted form of mercy? He could not be sure pennyroyal was the reason for the lack of children, but the assassin wasn't interested in the hypothetical. When taken during pregnancy, pennyroyal was known to induce a miscarriage. Failing miscarriage, it produced offspring better off dead.
With less chance of complications ascertained, the assassin drifted to the ground floor and settled out of sight. Patiently anticipating the coming feast of gore, he waited for the other mark.
It was full dark by the time the man returned from temple. He did not announce himself, but the assassin knew his presence before his foot passed the threshold or his hand touched the door. The moment the mark's image was reflected on the surface of the killer's eyes he was struck by how small the man was compared to what memory recalled. How very small. But not so small that he could not lift his beard and find a throat to slit.
He was short for a man of Calishite stock, but he was thick as a bull; a feature many Calishite women admired. For thickness was considered handsome in either gender. His raiment was fine with a thread count so compressed that Entreri knew it was not the work of the woman but a craftsperson of considerable skill. As was customary, his black beard was thick and glistened with expensive oil.
More than any other scent, the fragrant oil was the most powerful. It hit Artemis in the gut with a revulsion that stirred his intestines with knife points.
Memories he had tried to annihilate came to the surface. Those hands were the ones that held him down. That mouth was the one that assured him that their god did not object to such activities between men. That breath was the one that bathed his neck in the scent of wine. That beard was the one that slithered an oily trail between his shoulder blades.
Kill him now! The impulse was strong, the killer's desire for blood wet on his tongue. But he withheld, desire struggling with discipline in the greatest challenge of all. It was, he would later decide, a fight for ownership of himself. No, I will not kill in a moment of passion. I am nothing if I am not in control of myself!
The mark passed through the entryway with no inkling of the renewed presence in his home or the knowledge that the details of his death were dancing on the fiery tips of rage's harsh teeth. The assassin watched, unmoving, as the man advanced to the living room where the evening meal would be taken. It was another curious hearkening back to a shaded past before large round eyes had become narrow and dark with violent impulses. At one time shadows had been sought for refuge, now they were used for ambush.
The woman had no reaction to the man's presence other than the expected subservience. The maid excused herself once her serving duties were usurped by the soul-weary woman, leaving the two alone with their cloak of silence. Nothing was said; the worn woman had no words to offer and the man seemed to be in such contempt that he would not waste his wine-laden breath on her. The smell of his breath was no surprise to the assassin; alcohol was not needed in order to raise the man's ire or inflame his passions, though the killer recalled it made them all the more vibrant.
With both marks where he wanted them and the maid out of the way, the assassin found the perfect window of opportunity laid out before him. Once past his anger, the situation was a much more pleasing feast for his eyes than the array of familiar dishes that were spread before the man and woman.
And yet, as he watched the two, the young man began to feel something new. He felt himself losing pleasure in the cup of blood he planned to partake. Hands of ample experience did not drop to his oft-blooded daggers. His challenge-honed muscles did not draw him into the leopard's crouch. His mouth no longer tingled with saliva at the thought of metal teeth tearing skin or combing through muscle. The scene in his mind's eye had been painted red with warm, wet, garnet, but the more he thought of the situation, the less stomach he had for the easy feast.
After overcoming the blind rage to slaughter the two people before him, a calm center within him had expanded, even reasoning had returned, offering him new wisdom. He did not want to be filled once, only to be found empty later. Should he spill their blood, it would only dry and he wanted steam to eternally rise from their wounds. For these two he wanted a fullness of misery.
He watched them go through the meal, all the while examining the unexpected development. The woman who offered babes up for sacrifice to her husband and pennyroyal wore her misery like a funeral shroud. The man preyed on male children because the letter of his religious law forbade females to all but the one that took them in marriage.
The young man's eyes flicked to the mace the man wore at his side, but he no longer found the inclination to use it against the two.
His gaze flicked up to the small man's bearded face. There were no children within the house to prey upon and the woman his lusts were free to exploit found no savor in his loins. The lack of communication between them was proof enough of his disgust. Matrimony was his prison, the lack of children frustrating his ample lust. If Entreri tore away her life, he would be doing the man a service.
The disdain the man wore was a palpable weapon under which the woman's spirit had bent and broken. It was likely she received much of the same treatment Entreri had known as a child and was resigned to her humiliation and abuse. If he slew the man, he would similarly be rewarding the woman.
In the perfect space of time he had planned to deliver his judgment, Entreri's hand was stayed by further epiphany. Yes, they were miserable now, but how much more miserable would they be in the inevitable rise of his name? He saw the situation within an entirely new light.
He had come to slay them before they could flee his wrath, but did it not bring more satisfaction that they would, indeed, flee? They would lead a life forever hounded by shadows at their backs, always fearing that one of those shadows would one day rise up to slit their throats. He needn't even show them his face to torment them to their last breaths!
His rage retreated further. It did not disappear, but it was assuaged by the assassin's cool reasoning. Could fear, then, be worse than death? It certainly seemed so.
The barest quirk at the corner of his mouth indicated the reversal of their fate. He was young, far too young, to have honed cruelty to such a sophisticated and psychological edge. However, Entreri had made the choice to skip childhood and all its weaknesses and vulnerabilities long ago. He considered himself all the more deadly for it.
Backing away effortlessly, he left the scene and the oppressive air of misery. It was curious to him that not killing a mark, in this instance, had given him more power over his intended victims than if he had bashed their heads in like so much organic crockery. Fear, he mused, slipping out the front door, was definitely worse than death. Fear gave perfect control over into the hands of the one that inspired it.
On instinct, the assassin closed the door silently and began to head into shadows. Evasive as he was to the mortal eye he knew no one would notice him leaving by the front door. But then, reveling in his self-taught lesson, he boldly strode back to the door and opened it wide.
There was still quite a good amount of traffic on the streets, perhaps even more with the sun's reprieve. Backlit as he was in the doorway, he was surely noticed. Only his piercing grey eyes were visible, and they sought out many on the street and made direct, cold and horrifying, contact. Pushing hard, he slammed the door behind him, creating a sharp report that would have the occupants come running.
Let them wonder, he thought, disappearing into the shadows before the curious eyes of his on-lookers. Let them be afraid of the unknown assassin. And later let them learn the name of Artemis Entreri, unequalled assassin in all Calimshan, if not the entire Realms.
I may add a short piece I uploaded over a year ago at LE if there's interest.