1"He's on the second floor!" the young guard called, racing up the stairs two at a time, cursing his rotten luck. The guard had just rushed into the shop below, beckoned by the dying screams of his employer, a silk merchant from Athkatla. The guard was of a prominent mercenary organization in Calimport, in the temporary employ of the merchant during his two tenday stay in the city. It was supposed to be a relaxed assignment, a reward. The guildmaster knew that the foreign merchant had no enemies in the desert city, so judged him to be at relatively low risk. Judging by the spreading pool of blood on the floor below, the guard thought, his master had been wrong.
The guard's thoughts were cut short by the edge of a sword as he bounded to the top of the stairs, expecting to continue the pursuit, only to find his quarry crouched on the second floor landing, ready to strike. A single deft slash hamstrung the unfortunate guard, sending him tumbling forward, crying out in pain. The young man's cry ended in a wet gurgle as the assassin's sword opened his throat, spilling his lifeblood onto the floorboards of the rented shop.
The young guard's companion reached the top of the stairwell shortly after, sword drawn. He managed barely to catch a glimpse of the assassin's cloak as it disappeared up a second flight of stairs to the merchant's bedchambers. Leaving his dead companion lay, the mercenary rushed up the stairs into the bedroom.
"Damn!" he cursed aloud upon entering the empty bedchambers, the curtains at the open window flowing in the breeze. He crossed the small room and peered out the window, trying to guess which rooftop the assassin would be on. He barely had time to feel the assassin's dagger pierce his heart from behind before everything started going black, and he saw the street rushing up to meet him.
Artemis Entreri allowed himself a small grin as he heard the stupid mercenary's corpse hit the street below. The dolt had not even thought to ensure the room was empty before exposing his back to it. The fool deserved his fate. Pausing only to wipe his blade on the dead merchant's robes, Entreri vanished into the cool desert night.
* * *
Pasha Basadoni was not a terribly ambitious man. Not anymore. He had risen from nothing, crawled from the depths of Calimport's streets to his current seat of power, betraying many along the way. A wry smile played across the man's face as he thought about it, and he closed his eyes, allowing the warmth of the morning sun to relax him. Now he was happy, with more wealth than he could have dreamt of in his wretched excuse for a childhood. Happy, but not complacent. No amount of gold or power could ever truly quench Basadoni's thirst. No, he was happy, but far from content.
The grin vanished from his face as his reverie was shattered by the sound of the doors to his reception hall banging open, announcing the return of Artemis Entreri, the most promising of Basadoni's lieutenants. Silent as ever, Entreri took his seat at the semicircular table the Pasha used for meeting with his four lieutenants.
"The others will be arriving shortly?" Entreri asked, his tone even.
"Provided you haven't murdered all of them in their sleep, Artemis." the Pasha replied with a chuckle.
"Not I, Pasha." came Entreri's reply, followed shortly by the sound of footsteps from the hallway. In a rush of colour and sweet perfume, Liira and Kiira Tau'rei flowed into the room. The twin sisters were two of the Pasha's four lieutenants, each one as beautiful as she was deadly. They portrayed a veneer of superficial ignorance, but underestimation has helped the pair destroy many an enemy.
"Ladies," the Pasha greeted, inclining his head.
The twins giggled, Liira responding with a quick, "Pasha," before they took their seats, both straitening their extravagant clothes, making no effort to conceal the pair of short swords both wore.
" Now, we wait only for-" the Pasha's sentence was cut short by the muffled pop! Of his fourth lieutenant, Kieren Vost, appearing beside the remaining empty chair.
The mage bowed deeply, his many trinkets and charms sparkling, as well as the many-faceted gemstones of the fabulously bejeweled dagger he wore on his hip, a weapon rumored to devour the very souls of those it killed. " My apologies for my late arrival, Pasha, I had not realized the hour, lost in my studies,"
"Not at all, Kieren, we were not delayed for too long." the Pasha responded, his tone dangerous. Unconsciously, he stroked the amulet he wore around his neck, one of the few magical possessions the Pasha never removed or exchanged for another. The amulet contained the enslaved soul of Raj, a djinn that had been bound to the crystal centuries ago, and now served as guardian and assistant to the wearer.
"Now that all of you are here, we can begin. Artemis, I trust all went well last night?" Basadoni inquired.
Entreri nodded, "The merchant's superiors in Athkatla will not soon forget your message, Pasha"
"Good, what of old Vir'a? I trust her spies in our ward have been dealt with?" the Pasha asked.
Liira tittered at this, Kiira elaborated, " They have been dealt with ever so subtly, Pasha Basadoni."
" Excellent, now on to the matters in our near future, Artemis, I need you to organize a small group of our soldiers to go into the sewers beneath the main ward. Word has reached me of a possible nest of vampires forming near there. I trust you can handle yourself, and I would like to establish contact before the other guildmasters can send an envoy." Entreri nodded, but he was only half listening, his attention distracted by the quietest of sounds. He could hear the sound of someone whispering, but couldn't make out the words. As the Pasha elaborated on the details of his assignment, Entreri carefully surveyed the room. As he regarded Kieren, his eyes went wide with realization. The wizard was casting a spell!
Entreri leapt from his seat, weapons drawn. " Betra-" he started to warn the others, but was cut off as Kieren finished his spell, engulfing the room in flames. Entreri heard the telltale pop of teleportation spells as the room was suddenly filled with dark robed soldiers, seemingly unaffected by the magical blaze that filled the room. Entreri, his enchanted leather armour protecting most of him from the flames, launched himself at the nearest, sword and dagger leading. He brought his sword left-to-right in a heavy backhand at the nearest figure, who quickly blocked the attack with his scimitar. But the blow was a hard one, and the man had to shift his balance, stepping back. Entreri suddenly released the scimitar, spinning left and crouching down. He reversed his dagger in mid-spin, burying it in the man's calf. The man cried out, his leg buckling. Entreri reversed his momentum once more, spinning right, sword swinging. The enchanted blade severed the wounded attacker's head cleanly.
Not wasting any time, Entreri turned around just in time to see a pair of men rushing him, one holding a scimitar, the other favoring a mace and shield combination. Entreri rolled to the right, coming out in a crouch in front of the scimitar wielder, sword overhead to block the predictable downward chop aimed at his shoulder. Entreri jabbed his dagger straight up, aiming for the man's gut. To Entreri's surprise, however, the man shifted his weight further onto the locked blades, vaulting over Entreri's head. Entreri turned about, standing as he spun. His sword went right, blocking a swing from the mace wielder while his dagger deftly turned away the first man's scimitar. Feinting an overhead strike at the man using the mace, Entreri flipped his dagger in his hand, catching it by the sides of the blade. He stepped back from the mace-wielder and hurled his dagger at the man with the scimitar. The man knocked the dagger aside with his blade, but the diversion had worked. By the time the man's attention was back on Entreri, the assassin had rushed him, his now empty hand gripping the scimitar wielding wrist. Entreri turned into the man, flipping him over his shoulder, placing him between the other assailant and himself. The man hit the ground, winded and gasping, and Entreri deftly twisted his wrist, releasing then retrieving the scimitar. Stomping on the floored man's throat, Entreri leapt at the other attacker, blades flashing. Sword and scimitar working in perfect unison, Entreri launched into a blinding offensive routine. Blow after blow rained down upon mace and shield, leaving no opening for counter attack. Flames and ash swirled about the assassin as he rained a torrent of steel on his opponent, the fire's heat matched only by the cold death in Entreri's eyes. Entreri worked expertly, searching for a hole in the enemy's defense, ever remaining calm and determined. Finally, he saw his chance. He pretended to slip on the ashes now coating the floor, swinging both his blades against the shield, seemingly to try and beat the man away so he could recover. The man took the bait, swinging his mace out wide. Entreri regained his balance suddenly, locking his scimitar with the spikes on the man's mace and holding it out wide. Entreri dashed forward, ducking beneath the man's outstretched arm and dropping the scimitar. Faster than most men would believe possible, Entreri spun back around, slashing his sword across the man's throat, releasing a jet of warm blood into the air. Entreri shoved the dying man, dropping him unceremoniously to the floor.
Entreri whirled, searching for a new target, only to see a ray of blue light flash from the fingers of Kieren Vost, catching him square in the chest. Entreri had seen him use the sleep spell before, and the only thought on his mind as the burning room faded from his vision was how much he truly despised wizards.
* * *
Kieren Vost looked about the scene, satisfied with his work. "Quickly, now, my spell will soon fade from this room, and I don't imagine the Basadonis will be pleased with this." Vost watched as his men hauled Basadoni and his lieutenants into the centre of the room, taking up their positions around them in a circle. Vost stepped beside them, drawing a wand from within his robes. He aimed it at the floor before him and spoke a command word. A small orange orb shot from the wand's tip, resting on the ground before him. Taking one final look about the chamber, grinning to himself, Vost cast a spell of teleportation, whisking himself and his captives far from the guildhouse.
Moments later, Vost's enchantment dispelled, a large contingent of Basadoni soldiers rushed into the room, taking stock of the antechamber's charred interior. Not one of them noticed Vost's fireball at their feet until it detonated, incinerating the entire brigade.
* * *
Artemis Entreri awoke with a start, leaping to his feet, his hands grasping for his weapons. Soon he relaxed slightly, finding that he was in an empty cell as well as quite unarmed. Vost, he remembered suddenly, eyes narrowing with rage. That wizard had betrayed them! More importantly, to Entreri at least, it had worked!
He looked again about the cell, inspecting it's entirety closely. It was not large, and was completely empty, a rectangular box with a single, windowless door. Entreri had no idea how long he had been incapacitated, and the only light in the windowless room came from the crack beneath the door. The flicker of the light told Entreri that it was not sunlight but the glow of a torch in the hallway before him. This as well the cool, damp atmosphere meant that wherever he was, Entreri was underground. Thoroughly angry with himself and Kieren Vost, Entreri concentrated on how he might be free of this place. Only one workable preparation occurred to him. He felt the edge of the stone around the doorway, feeling the sharp edges of the roughly worked stone. Grinning, he removed one of his boots and began pounding it on the rock about the door. Hearing a satisfying clatter of the flecks of rock hitting the floor, he replaced his boot, collecting the largest of the shards, roughly two thirds the length of his index finger. Letting his frustration fuel him, Entreri settled into a meditative position and did the only other thing he could, he waited.
* * *
"You were a fool to let Entreri live, you know that, don't you?" Sharlotta Vespers asked, peering up from the bed at Kieren.
" Entreri is an assassin, a hired blade. In time, he will be persuaded to see our side." Vost replied coolly, wrapping his robe about himself.
" He will see our way because he has to, but he will never forgive you, Kieren" Sharlotta warned, stretching.
Vost took a moment to admire her form, pleased with his newest ally. She obviously could not be trusted, but she definitely had her uses. Vost knew eventually the time would come to dispose of her, but he did indeed enjoy her company in the meantime. " I have dealt with many men more dangerous than Artemis Entreri" He told her, oblivious to the hundreds of corpses who had once uttered those same words.
* * *
Entreri sat calmly on the cool stone floor, deep in meditation. He roused instantly, though, at the sound of approaching footsteps in the hallway outside his cell. Metal scraped as a plate in the door slid aside, causing Entreri to squint at the light entering the cell. He rose to his feet, noting the sound of quiet speech on the other side of the door. He was moving to the corner of the wall beside the door, hoping to surprise whoever came inside, when he felt every muscle in his body go rigid. Recognizing a spell of holding, Entreri could only think once more how much he truly detested wizards as the door swung open and two veiled soldiers strode into the room, followed by the mage who held him. The mage released Entreri's arms one by one from the spell, and he felt the soldier tying his hands behind his back. Drawing a small crystal from his robes, the wizard uttered an incantation then launched a ray of orange light at Entreri. The assassin instantly felt himself go weak, energy drained by the spell. The wizard dispelled the enchantment holding him and a soldier gripped him by each elbow, pulling him down the hallway, past a number of other cells identical to his. He was taken through a series of corridors, no doubt an indirect route through the compound, but Entreri memorized it nonetheless, trying to get a feel for the size of complex. He could tell they were still below ground, and it was more than likely that the entrance was disguised in an inconspicuously small building on street level, as was the typical design of Calimport's guildhouses. Finally, he was led through a door into a large chamber devoid of any decoration. Flanked by two guards at the opposite end of the room was Kieren Vost, smile splayed across his dark face. Entreri's expression was cold as ever, those horrible eyes promising death without the assassin ever having to speak. The enfeebled assassin was forced to his knees, far enough away from Vost that the guards could catch him should he rush the wizard. The escorts then left the room leaving Vost with who were sure to be his most loyal men.
"Welcome, Artemis, I apologize for the manner in which I had to bring you into this, but you must understand that I couldn't have you twisting my plans for your own ends. As you can well see, I have recently acquired the backing of a new guild, an newcomer showing much promise. I understand that those of your particular persuasion can be converted to another cause for the proper amount of gold, and I assure, payment will be no difficulty for my supporters. I'm sure we can move past this event in hopes of mutual benefit, yes?" Vost opened his arms, many charms and gems glittering.
Entreri's glare did not waver. His face did not show the slightest change as he slipped the fragment of rock from his sleeve and began to cut at the bonds on his wrists, "Do not patronize me, Vost, we both know what I do and for what I will do it. But mark my words, before the sun sets tomorrow night, I will kill you with the dagger you are wearing on your hip. I will eat your soul and use it to heal the insult you ha-"his tirade was cut short by Vost, the wizard extending his hand and causing Entreri to go completely rigid once more. For an instant the assassin feared he might drop the rock shard. He had hoped Vost could be provoked into casting a spell on him, for he knew the wizard's habit for imbuing many enchantments to the jewelry he wore, including dispelling charms.
"A shame, Artemis, I suppose I shall have to be rid of you, then. A pity, I thought you were better at playing the game than this. Killed in an escape attempt? Plausible enough." He turned to the guards, "Kill him, then remove his bonds. Be sure to make it look like he fought." with that, Vost waved his hand at Entreri, releasing his holding spell, as well as, unwittingly, the spell of enfeeblement the other wizard had enacted upon him. Careful not to reveal that to his captors, Entreri slumped, completing his cut through the ropes that bound him. Vost spoke a quick command word, and vanished from the room. Silently, the two guards advanced on him, one drawing his sword, the other a dagger from his boot. The second bent over, slashing his dagger at Entreri's throat. The strike never got close. Faster than most eyes could have followed, Entreri grabbed the man's wrist, his other fist striking the man's elbow and inverting it with a sickening crack. The man cried out and released the dagger, which Entreri caught and subsequently buried in the man's throat. Before the other soldier could fully realize what was happening, the still crouched Entreri pounced, dagger stabbing for the man's heart. To the man's credit, he actually blocked the strike, but it was clumsy, and Entreri simply followed the parry's momentum, reversing his grip on the dagger and spinning about to pierce the man's heart from behind. Stooping to retrieve the fallen man's sword, Entreri slipped into the hallway, melting into the shadows.
* * *
"Creven, I am beginning to wonder why I keep you here, and I assure you, that is a dangerous state of mind for you to have me in" Kieren Vost warned his alchemist, watching the young man scratch his head over a haphazardly scrawled recipe. In truth the statement was far from accurate. While to eccentric potion master never ceased to wear on Vost's nerves, he knew that the Creven Yvel was quite possibly the best alchemist Calimport had to offer his new supporters. "Have the Oil ready for me upon my return, Creven, I will be back soon" With that Kieren vanished from the room.
"Does that man walk anywhere?" Creven wondered aloud, returning to his work. He had toiled for hours perfecting his most recent batch of Oil of Impact. What the wizard could want with so much of the volatile stuff was beyond Creven's imagination, but he had learned long ago that such questions often proved to cause more problems than they ever solved. Creven was content to simply while away all of his time in Kieren's employ simply creating his potions and performing experiments. So content, in fact, that he didn't even notice when the seldom-used door to his laboratory glided noiselessly open. Creven had not even an inkling that another was in the room until he felt the cool steel of Entreri's stolen sword press against his throat.
" I need to get out of here. Now. You are going to take me." The assassin's cold voice told the alchemist very matter-of-factly.
" I have no fight with you sir, honestly, and I mean no threat, but the vial I am holding is very volatile Oil of Impact. I don't recommend you go opening me with that knife while I'm holding it. It would be very messy." Creven warned, his voice without fear, not for any inner bravery, but more out of a severe misunderstanding of just how deadly this particular blade could be.
Entreri pondered what the alchemist had just told him. He glanced at the vial in the other man's hand, then at the beakers and vials on the counters. Evidently this man had needed a lot of the Oil for something. An idea occurred to him.
"How Volatile?" Entreri demanded, pressing the blade to Crevens' skin.