Disclaimer: I don't own. I just play.
(AN: This is a sequel to Damage. I'd read it first.)
The young man facing Entreri was not unknown to him. He'd been the lookout serving under Captain Jarrol of the merchant ship Bonfire. However, Entreri had not thought to see him again once leaving the docks of Waterdeep, much less to cross blades with him.
The young man eyed him intently, bringing his sword to bear. With a sigh, Entreri prepared to face him down.
Their blades clashed, the young man's youth driving his speed and his willingness to attack. However, Entreri had already found the young man's sword with the silvery blade of his rapier and had started the parry before the boy had even begun his first move.
Entreri deliberately drew him out, baiting him, forcing him to retreat, forcing his steps. Before long the lookout knew he was hopelessly overmatched. He knew that Entreri could kill him easily at any moment. The swordmaster did not relent in his attack, and the boy's arm grew heavy with the effort of desperately trying to keep that flashing blade from his chest.
The boy soon bled from a variety of small cuts; sweat had begun to drip into his eyes. But the man across from him was cool and unshakable.
"No, please, sir," the boy gasped breathlessly. "I can't."
"Can't you?" Entreri sneered back at him. "I thought you wanted to challenge the Underdark? I thought you wanted to be a hero?"
"Please, sir," the boy tried again as that blade flashed at his face, leaving a scratch down his cheek. It took all he had left in him physically to back away, parrying desperately.
"Artemis!" Dwahvel scolded from his right. "You aren't supposed to kill them!"
Entreri stepped away from the young man, threw down his rapier angrily, and walked away as it clattered onto the wooden floor of the warehouse. The boy bent forward, gasping for air, and leaned on his knees to rest.
Out of nowhere Entreri turned and sprang at him, knocking the boy to the floor, his forearm coming to rest across his throat. "Boy, you should have at least taken your advantage when I walked away from you," he snarled. "Will orcs give you a chance to rest? Do you think the duergar will show you mercy? How about the drow?"
The young man looked up at him, his eyes wide with fear, his face pale. "Please, sir, don't kill me," he gasped against the pressure on his airway.
"If you just want to live, be a farmer," Entreri answered him coldly. "Do not take up the sword if you just want to live."
Then Entreri rose effortlessly in one graceful, fluid movement, pulling the young man up by the hand as he went.
"Yes, sir," the boy answered. Then as the master swordsman began to walk away, the young man sheathed his sword and called, "I'll see you tomorrow, sir."
Entreri just waved his hand dismissively without looking back as the boy opened the heavy front door of the warehouse and departed.
"Poor Cullon. He always leaves here bleeding," Dwahvel sighed as she watched the door close. "By the way, Jarrol's sending you another," she added as she walked across the floor to meet the man who was formerly the most dangerous assassin in Calimshan.
"Why?" Entreri asked, his voice icy with disdain. "Why does he continue to send them?" He bent over to pick up the rapier and she could see a momentary weariness in his shoulders.
"I suppose he hopes you'll be able to teach them," she replied evenly. "You said yourself his crew was inept in combat."
She watched as he sheathed the blade with a flash of silver. He rolled his head from side to side and stretched out his shoulders before coming to stand before her. "I am no teacher," he declared sardonically.
"I don't know about that, Artemis," she said, taking his arm and leading him upstairs to the rooms over the warehouse which served as their living quarters. "I thought Cullon was doing much better today."
"Cullon is a good boy," Entrer replied, his tone scathing though his words were mild. "He'd not last a day in the Underdark. A goblin could finish him."
"Then why do you bother?" she asked as she pulled some bread and cheese out of the kitchen cupboard.
Entreri took a seat at the small wooden table and half smiled at her. "To keep you in the manner to which you have become accustomed, my dear," came his sarcastic response.
"Is that why?" she teased, coming to sit in his lap. "In that case, take on a few more students. We need bedroom curtains."
Entreri rose from the table with Dwahvel in his arms and carried her into said bedroom, tossing her unceremoniously onto the bed. He paused only long enough to drop his swordbelt to the floor, the rapier falling with a clatter, then joined her there.
He lay on his side and propped up on his elbow while looking around the bare room. "Why do we need curtains?" he asked. "The windows are set so high you couldn't see out of them if you jumped."
"I want it to be pretty," she declared lightly. "I am accustomed to pretty things, Artemis."
He cupped her cheek in his hand and replied, "You are all the decoration this room needs." Then he kissed her. Her fingers twined themselves in his hair as she returned the kiss passionately.
Unfortunately, their pleasant interlude was cut short by the ringing of the downstairs bell.
"That would be my bedroom curtains," Dwahvel explained with a sigh. "Jarrol did say he'd send him along this afternoon."
"Let him rot," Entreri replied easily, then ran his fingers lightly over the curve of her breast, taking satisfaction in her reaction. The bell rang again. He sighed.
"Try not to hurt this one too badly," Dwahvel instructed sympathetically as he rose from the bed and snatched his swordbelt up from the floor.
"If I don't hurt them, someone else will," Entreri stated, but the bitterness in his voice had eased.
She watched him walk out of the room, then lay back on the mattress to think. Waterdeep was not Calimport. In Calimport, good and evil, law-breaking and law-abiding were so mixed together that it was hard to tell which was which. Many a duly appointed official was also a crime lord and many a crime lord kept the peace in his territory.
Artemis himself had been an agent of law and order on numerous occasions as he dismantled rogue gangs whose activities threatened the smooth operation of society in a pasha's domain.
But in Waterdeep the lines were much more strongly drawn between those who kept the peace and those who broke it. She found it very interesting that her Artemis had come down on the side of peace in Waterdeep.
He'd gone to the docks on the third day of their stay in the city to get the feel of things. Wrapped in his dark cloak, his signature weapons shielded from view, he'd slipped into Dock Ward's taverns and meeting places to learn the power structure of the city—both at large and in the underworld.
He soon learned that it would not have been overly difficult to make himself a place in the thieves guilds. The criminal underworld of Waterdeep was hidden, but not so much so that he could not infiltrate it with ease.
And while there were some very powerful crimelords, Waterdeep was a large city with room for at least one more. With Dwahvel's connections in Calimport, Entreri knew could begin setting up his own empire within a short amount of time, if he were so inclined.
However, during his foray into the ward, he was recognized by members of Captain Jarrol's crew on shore leave. Hailing him as a hero, they insisted on buying him a drink and regaling the bar's patrons with greatly exaggerated tales of his exploits against the pirates.
Before long, Captain Jarrol had been summoned and the meeting had turned businesslike as the good captain renewed his offer of introductions to men of prominence in the city. He had friends in the merchant guilds who were always seeking new swordmasters to train their caravan guards. Before long, Entreri had been enlisted to work with some of Jarrol's men as well, including the hapless young Cullon.
Sweeping them along in a tide of gratitude and camaraderie, Jarrol assisted the couple in finding suitable accommodations in the South Ward both for their lodging and for Entreri's new school for swordsmanship. In a last effort to derail the entire plan, Entreri had even resorted to using his own name, half hoping that someone would recognize it.
However, the good captain and his merry merchant friends had never heard of Artemis Entreri. But Jarrol's recommendation of him was enough to bring in a variety of clients—from individual lessons to group instruction to security consultation for the merchant guilds.
With every job, Entreri's reputation seemed to grow, despite his efforts to keep a low profile.
Now, after several weeks in Waterdeep, work was steady, if disheartening, and invitations to dinner for himself and his "wife" were steady as well.
Dwahvel enjoyed every minute, both of his discomfort and of the chance to socialize. If Artemis's skills lay in swordsmanship, hers most certainly lay in diplomacy and information gathering. She listened to the gossip of the good merchant ladies and learned all she could of the trade routes, the upcoming shipments, the problems on the road, the problems at home.
Before long, she knew enough to have easily shut down the trade route from Waterdeep to Amn using one well-placed raid and an ill-timed visit home by a particular lady's husband.
When she said as much to Artemis, he laughed, but had little inclination to disrupt activity on the trade way for mere sport.
"Then let's do it for profit, Artemis," she'd suggested. But to her surprise, profit was not very high on his list of priorities.
"I spent far too long seeking profit with Jarlaxle," he'd said with a shudder. "It's an empty quest. For every profitable score we made, there were at least two retreats from otherwise comfortable situations. I do not wish to return to the road, and given your love for hot baths and a soft mattress, I don't think you do either."
Dwahvel had to agree. The guildhouse in Calimport had always been a comfortable place, and she was far too much a halfling to let go of the comforts of her current residence for the roughness of the road without convincing reason.
So she'd devoted herself to consolidating their new position as members of Waterdeep's middle class. It was a sort of adventure all its own. She visited the little shops on the streets around them. She spoke to her South Ward neighbors and went to garden parties at the homes of the merchant wives.
She fielded questions about their past and about their future with a mixture of creative retelling of truth and outright lie. In her hands, Artemis was an adventurer and defender of Vaasa, named Apprentice Knight of the Order in Damara for his service to King Gareth Dragonsbane. She could only hope that no one who knew of his eventual banishment made their way to Waterdeep any time soon.
As for her story, she'd been a long time resident of Calimport, affiliated with the merchant guilds until Artemis had returned after a long absence and swept her off her feet, carrying her away to Waterdeep. The ladies sighed and declared him to be very romantic and quite daring. If they only knew, she'd sighed inwardly, but outwardly had agreed most vehemently. And she had to admit, her Artemis was daring to a fault and did indeed have a romantic side that she was only beginning to uncover.
In fact her stories were so inspirational that Dwahvel had caught more than one of the ladies making overtures to him; however, he was either too disinterested, too self-absorbed, or too unsuspecting to notice.
She was glad. It would have shortened their stay and cut into her comfort to have been forced into a confrontation with any of the ladies—likely at daggerpoint if they had designs on her "husband."
She also wondered at that. He introduced her so easily as his wife that it had become comfortable to think of herself as such. The line between reality and pose was becoming so blurred she couldn't tell what was real and what was a clever front to conceal their true intentions.
And just what were his true intentions? Did Artemis truly desire to settle down in Waterdeep and teach swordplay to callow young men? Did he truly wish to marry her and live on a quiet street with pleasant neighbors and quaint shops?
Or was all this some kind of stop-over between adventures? An interlude between acts? A diversion for a while until his real life started again?
And if it was only a pleasant interlude, what would she do when it was over?
The turmoil inside him stirred by Idalia's Flute had settled again to near calm. He no longer walked the edge of instability, and she no longer feared for him in that regard.
But in the wake of the storm, he'd drawn closer to her rather than farther away. She'd grown very used to his presence. She'd grown very fond of his touch in the night. She wanted to be near him, to listen to him, to tease him out of his dark moods, to experience all that was Artemis Entreri.
What would she do if his life went on without her? Could she return to Calimport as if nothing had happened?
Artemis Entreri had come into her life and turned everything upside down. Could she possibly put it back to rights without him?
She went downstairs to the warehouse floor where Artemis mercilessly hounded another young man with a sword. This one bore scratches down both arms and likely a black eye. He was panting in exhaustion while Artemis seemed unstoppable.
"You have one chance to live out there," he was saying in a clear voice as he slashed at the young man. "If you give it away in exhaustion or in carelessness, you are dead. This is not a game, boy. Take advantage of every opening, every chance, or trust me, you will die."
The young man redoubled his efforts, setting his jaw in determination. Dwahvel watched as he nearly slipped inside Artemis's defenses. From her vantage point it looked as though he might have even scored a hit on him.
However, Artemis stepped lightly away from the point of his blade and turned the attack against the young man, driving the point of his rapier to the hollow of his student's throat.
"You are dead, Ballantin," Artemis declared coldly, then sheathed his blade and turned to walk away.
Ballantin, however, sprang forward, his swordpoint coming within an inch of piercing Artemis right between the shoulder blades. Before Dwahvel could even gasp in fear, Artemis had neatly spun away from the attack, turning to grasp the young man's wrist and breaking his grip on his sword. With his free hand, he caught the hilt as it fell.
"Excellent," came Artemis's matter-of-fact word of praise, even as he bent the young man's arm into an uncomfortable twist. "Think like a predator, not like prey." Then he looked the young man coldly in the eye and stated, "But this time, Ballantin, you are dead—or believe me, I will kill you."
Ballantin wisely nodded and said, "Thank you, sir," as Artemis released his wrist and offered him his rapier, which he took with a bow. "This time tomorrow, sir?" he asked as he walked to the door of the warehouse.
Dwahvel watched as Artemis just gave him a dismissive wave and strode back to where she stood on the staircase.
"Am I done for today?" he asked her in a dry voice.
"Only with lessons," she replied. "I wanted to show you a few more things I'd like to have done in the bedroom."