A/N: This story is set after Servant of the Shard, and is AU afterwards (sorry, RAS… but you destroyed my favorite characters ever) On the other hand, besides Jarlaxle and Entreri, it will feature two OC's that I'm quite fond of: hope you guys will like them as much as I do, and won't mind our favorite duo to share "screen time". In case you are interested – and I'd ask you to be, pretty please – the background to these OC's can be found in my story 100,000 lousy coins. Because of this being a sequel to that story, events of Neverwinter Night's Expansion 2: Hordes of the Underdark, are more or less cannon. Also, there is a small humorous one-shot of mine, Future markets, that can be considered a prequel to this story on Jarlaxle's part. Reading none of this is necessary to understand the present fiction, but if you like this one, I believe you'd enjoy those as well, so… (yeah, shameless plug, so what?) Anyway, please let me know how I mixed cannon and original stuff here, and how the characterizations go…
And now, without further ado, let me present you the first chapter of my newest success! (And worry not, future author notes won't be this winded up…)
And so it begins
Artemis Entreri scowled deeply.
The assassin, the most famous one of Calimport, he who was a name to be whispered lest the spoken words could conjure the presence of the deadly man, was used to scowling: as a matter of fact, one might even say that a permanent scowl had settled in his features sometime in the past, and that the expression had become his normal one.
But his latest ventures had taking scowling to a whole new level.
Usually, the human blamed his companion for his attitude: no one, absolutely no one, could travel with Jarlaxle for two days straight without penance, and, in his case, penance was a skull-breaking headache, a sour mood gone worse, and the clear threat of developing an ulcer to his stomach.
Usually, the human overlooked that partnership with the rogue drow had been his own idea in the first place, because, honestly, he couldn't even remember why he had come up with that one – not even why he was still going along with it.
So for the most part Entreri scowled at Jarlaxle, and Jarlaxle did his best to irk Entreri, and they kept going without further questioning, because, deep down, they couldn't deny that they worked well together.
Ah, but every once in a while there were those 'special situations', where just following along didn't seem to be an option.
"You are crazy," Artemis said, still scowling.
He knew that soon, he would loose the spirit to scowl, or even to frown, and would be reduced to sighing, but still, he didn't give up.
"But Artemis!" somehow, the overenthusiastic elf managed a pout while keeping his merry expression. "I thought this was exactly what you wanted! The very spirit of our joint business! A call – not by justice, but by someone – for help in exchange of gold!"
The assassin cursed his partner even as he admitted partial defeat: he was not a man of many words, and so it was relatively easy for the dark elf, a true people's person if there ever was one, to set traps to use Artemis' own speech against him much as he was doing at the moment. For indeed, those had been Entreri's words when he had suggested that they become bounty hunters…
"The pay is…" he started to complain, but was smoothly cut off by a drow who could smell business a mile off.
"The pay is excellent! You must agree with me, Artemis, that it is more than generous payment for this little tiny task!"
"Exactly," the assassin said, still not giving up. "No one in their right mind would pay that much for such menial tasks. This is not what it seems, and if our employers are not being sincere, I see no reason to risk our necks while there're so many other options available."
Jarlaxle had to fight the urge to smirk smugly. If only you knew, he thought. Aloud, he resorted to his best tactic ever to bend Entreri to his will: he went into grandiloquent mode.
"But, Artemis! Don't be so heartless! This tiny little innocent village is about to be thwarted by fate's cruel hand! The terrible figure that even as we speak is invading the sacred land where this people's honorable ancestors lie is about to bring an era of darkness over…!"
"This is a swamp, there are no honorable ancestors here," Entreri deadpanned. "And I thought you said that it was just a grave robber or two."
Jarlaxle grinned madly. He had managed to get the assassin to discuss the particulars, and that was almost as good as getting him to accept the contract altogether.
"And I'm sure that there's nothing more behind this farmer's death! But, my dearest Artemis, they," and the drow nodded pointedly towards the house in front of which they had been standing for some time now, "they cannot know! It is perfect! We will barely sweat it, we will be their heroes, and we will leave all the richer!"
Entreri got to the point of sighing – and Jarlaxle noted another small victory when he did so.
"This is ridiculous," the assassin settled for saying aloud as he thought, and it is even more ridiculous that I have run out of arguments to dissuade you.
Jarlaxle patted his reluctant companion's shoulder, and he congratulated himself. The job they had found was indeed ridiculous, for the pair hardly ever took commissions of such insignificance, but it had taken all of Jarlaxle's considerable resources to just find a bounty, pathetic or not, that would take him and his partner close enough to the long-forgotten Dordrien crypt.
For the dark elf, everything had started several tendays before, when his keen and curious nature had learned of the existence of a certain item from the idle reading of a few volumes stored away in Spirit Soaring's library, while both he and Entreri waited there as guest before going on to destroy the Crystal Shard. The whole episode was something that Jarlaxle was rather anxious to forget, for it had left him, manipulator extraordinaire, badly manipulated, but he had stored away those bits of information he garnered, just in case.
Of course, those annotations, by themselves, would have been utterly useless, but when put together with the knowledge acquired in centuries of mercenary lifestyle and with a mind prone to schemes of grandeur, they had given him an idea.
And it had been an idea that no one else would have been able to act upon, but then again, Jarlaxle had, literally, an army of dark elven scouts, informants, and the occasional erudite at his disposal, so he had done the only logical thing: he had called upon it, and had sent Bregan Da'erthe to scramble after the necessary information.
Because, really: once Jarlaxle had linked lore, legend and gossip together, and decided that indeed there must exist such an artifact, there was nothing he could do but to procure it.
The fact that he had no apparent use for the supposed powers of the Wailing Diamond was secondary: it was powerful, it was magical, and it was a diamond, and Jarlaxle must have it.
So when he had sent his lieutenant – or, he guessed he should say co-leader instead – in a fool's errand in order to find an artifact with the ability to command the land itself packed in a precious stone, he had had little doubt of Kimmuriel's success. Actually, when a tenday later the drow psion had reported that he had found the exact name, whereabouts and custodies of said artifact, along with news of a deceased Matron Mother who had been trying to acquire it as well, Jarlaxle wasn't surprised.
Well, he wasn't surprised about Kimmuriel's success. He had been a bit startled to learn that his beloved mercenary band had acquired a brand new lieutenant – courtesy of whom he now could pursue his treat, by the way… - and he had been somewhat dumbfounded when he saw that someone had an idea for business that actually could give his "mutual benefit" motto a run for its money, but he had disposed to adapt the policies of his organization accordingly, so the surprise had been short-lived.
He was only concerned about how to enlist Entreri's help without having to share the goal – and thus, the prize – with him.
Because with Kimmuriel up to his neck in a paperwork pandemonium, with the Matron Mothers as bitchy as ever, and with half of Bregan Da'erthe's informants reporting abstract rumors of a Baatezu Lord waltzing free on the Prime, Jarlaxle could only count upon himself to create the situation he needed.
The drow had dragged the assassin off to the area where he needed to operate, and had been wandering from bounty to bounty before accepting anything, hoping to find a job that would help him hide his true purpose.
And, lo and behold, just when he was about to give up and confess, there it was: a farmer killed nearby the local graveyard, a crime that needed to be investigated for an amount of gold that Jarlaxle's people's skills had managed to make more than decent.
Even as the pair of sellswords entered the building that functioned as town council to accept the task, get directions and get the first part of their payment, Jarlaxle was thanking whatever local idiot who had seen fit to build the small collective crypt of Beregost on top of the ancient Dordrien one.
o O o
People traffic was light on the road east of Baldur's Gate, and so not so many eyes fixed upon them, but those eyes that did were suspicious and skeptical at best.
Well, no wonder: the bright figure wearing exotic electric blue and red was a little suspicious-looking; the dark figure wrapped in a dark cloak which had the hood up, hiding dark features, was suspicious-looking; and the two of them together were really suspicious-looking.
The fact that they were holding onto a tree for dear life off to the side of the road didn't do much to improve this first impression.
"Are you feeling any better?" the colorful figure, a young woman of small stature and small build, asked her companion, carefully placing a hand on their shoulder.
"Just another moment, if you please," the answer came a little strained, in a rich male voice with the soft lilt that one can learn to associate with elves. A deep breath was taken, and he tried to straighten up while carefully keeping his head down.
"I would have never thought that an elf, of all races, would come to prefer cities to the wilderness," the girl joked, a slightly mischievous look in her eye.
"I do not enjoy this tasteless hives that pass as cities for humans, but at least there is stone or wood or something to find solace there. I apologize, Yria, but this openness you call the 'wilderness' appears to be more difficult to navigate than I would have thought," the elf dared to look up, just for long enough to catch a glimpse of the girl's expression, lest his sensitive eyes were assaulted again by the sudden vertigo that always seemed to go along with the onslaught of light.
Yria's expression had shifted to actual worry, and Rizolvir silently cursed himself for causing it.
"I apologize again," he started to say, bowing his head and fighting his weakness, but his companion squeezed his shoulder and shrugged his excuses off.
"Don't you dare act all guiltily," she admonished. "After all, it's more my fault than anything: I'm rushing you around without letting you recover fully, and you're doing admirably well taking into account that you've been but a few short days on the surface."
Air was forced out of his lungs, and a very shocked Rizolvir struggled to come to terms with the treatment he was receiving: no drow would have forgiven his troubles adjusting to the World Above for the first time in one – or rather, in two – lifetimes, and Yria not only did, but also insisted that he was not at fault in the first place.
She was an amazing female indeed.
Which is why you followed her up here to begin with, a lazy, nasal voice drawled in the back of Rizolvir's head.
The voice belonged to Enserric: a sentient longsword of unknown origin that had found its way to the dark elf's hands, and who had a loud mouth and a bad habit of always making its opinion known. Sometimes, it offered helpful advice or interesting insight to a new situation.
Though I'd not have gone this far to bed her, of course.
Mostly, though, Rizolvir had to fight the urge to use the skills he had acquired while in service of the deceased House Zarosta, and to re-forge it into a chamber pot.
And you won't even manage that if you don't stop behaving so drowlike, pal.
Rizolvir's hand closed angrily over Enserric's pommel, and he sent a mental frown its way. "That is enough. Do not disrespect her like that again."
"I feel that I can continue now, Yria," he said aloud, silencing the telepathic lecture coming his way that insisted in saying that there was no disrespect whatsoever and that that kind of mentality was his problem to begin with.
He felt the girl studying him for a moment, but apparently she decided that he was being sincere because she nodded and reassumed walking.
As they started to leave the city far behind, the drow noted that she hadn't let go of his shoulder, and her presence was welcome against the flimsy canopy of green that protected him from the sheer void that was the so-called 'sky'. Rizolvir thought back to the one previous time she had walked by his side, like an equal, back in the drow city of Lith My'athar: that had been the time he realized just how peculiar the diminutive human sorceress really was.
In spite of all that had happened between the there and then, and no matter how much he liked it, it still felt slightly improper to him.
See what I mean? How are you going to woo her if you can't even look at her!
"Enserric, shut up, truly. Go back to sleep and let me be," Rizolvir rolled his eyes, even though his sword couldn't see it – he knew that it could feel it.
I don't want to. I've been stuck for forever in this smelly scabbard. I want to fix your love life. I want some action!
"I do not care about what you want. It has been five cycles since our last battle. You will end somewhere much smellier if you do not obey. My love life does not need any advice coming from a sword. And we will see action soon enough."
Aha! Enserric's usual drawl perked up, and the sword sounded interested. What's coming up, pal?
Rizolvir went to shrug, but he stopped himself, not wanting to disturb Yria and cause her to withdraw her hand from his shoulder. He settled for arching a delicately sculpted eyebrow.
"I do not know. It is not my place to question Mistress Yria."
The telepathic connection with Enserric sent him an unusual feeling, and he had the distinct impression that if the sword had hair, it would be pulling it out by now.
Why did I end up with such a mentally challenged drow?, the sword complained. It is not questioning; it's called 'conversation', and, go figure, humans are quite fond of it…
Rizolvir suppressed the angry comeback that burned in his mind, and pondered upon what the sentient sword had said. It was true that Yria enjoyed to talk, and he guessed that there was nothing wrong with making their next goal into their talking topic.
From time to time, Enserric did make a good point.
"Yria," he said, softly, still unused to the constant noise of the surface and half expecting his voice to echo and carry as it used to back in the Underdark, "I was wondering, what shall our destination be?"
"What?," she said, clearly surprised. "You don't know?"
"I am afraid that I am not aware, no. Should I be?"
"Well, you were there in the temple while we discussed it, but I guess you didn't have any reason to pay attention to that old dwarf…"
"Oh, the dwarf… I did pay attention, Yria," he smiled wryly, knowing that somehow she would recognize the gesture in his voice even if she couldn't see his shadowed face. "But listening to and understanding his speech were two different matters altogether."
At that, she let out a hearty laugh.
"Yeah, he had quite the accented common, didn't he?"
"I was not even aware that he was actually speaking common."
"Well, don't you worry; you'll get the hang of it soon enough," Yria squeezed his shoulder briefly before deciding to answer his original question.
"It is obvious that Calls for Heroes are not the way to get rich," a dark wave of anger ruffled past the pair when she recalled her earlier experience with 'hero-ing', "so we're going to try another approach: Treasure Plundering!"
Rizolvir peered out from beneath his cowl, to check that he was listening properly. Apparently, he was.
"This activity is expected to be more profitable?"
"Yup! You see, we set up a contract to recover something or other, so we have a minimum of expenses paid for! Then we find the item, and as it usually is surrounded by other valuable things, all we have to do is take our price and pocket the change!"
It didn't sound too bad a plan.
"It does sound promising. What is our first objective, then?"
"Sune's Bloody Kiss. It is supposed to be a holy thingy that did something or other and that was stolen a hell of a lot of time ago by someone and…" Rizolvir's barely contained chuckle interrupted Yria's explanation. "Hey! What's so funny?"
"We do not know much of that which we seek, Yria."
"Of course not. I want to recover it and get paid; if I learn what it does and decide to keep it for myself, the whole point of Treasure Hunting will be lost… Ah, it's going to be difficult enough just because it looks like a diamond, don't you think?"
"Yes, I believe that it shall be…" Rizolvir smiled. It wasn't going to be just difficult, it would be heart wrenching.