Author's Note: This is a one-shot taking place after The Legacy, in which Drizzt soundly defeats Artemis and leaves Artemis to die.
A Good Kind of Insanity
Hmm. Who knew. Smashing your face into the side of a mountain hurt. A new experience for Artemis Entreri, but then, this was because he was not usually so clumsy. Of course, a malfunctioning bat cape had a lot to do with that.
And why did his cape malfunction? Because a crazy drow ranger sliced it to pieces.
Why was he falling at this exact moment? The crazy drow ranger threw him off a cliff after unhelpfully dislodging Artemis' dagger from his foot. It wasn't like Artemis was being rude or anything. It was either puncture the drow's foot with a dagger or fall to his death. He kind of preferred to live.
Artemis wondered why this desire was such a mystery to everyone he met. Is it so wrong to want to live? What have I ever done to deserve being snuffed out? Yet it seems that everyone, at one time or another, has sought to extinguish me from this plane of existence.
It finally occurred to him that if that were true, if everyone in the world truly desired him dead, there was no point in living anyway. No matter how long he lived, he'd still be alone.
Ah. So I guess I'm really dead then. No desire. No chance. I'm dead. If I can't fight for myself anymore, if I don't care anymore, there's nothing left for me.
I don't care anymore. It's not worth it.
Then he blacked out.
Artemis awoke to someone checking his pulse. A strong, thin-fingered hand gripped his wrist. By the placement of the person's fingers, he knew immediately that they were checking his heartbeat.
Don't be disappointed. I'll be dead soon enough.
Artemis fully intended to lapse back into unconsciousness.
"Up, up," a voice said cheerfully. "You're not going to die any time soon. You may as well get up and face the day, Artemis Entreri." A male elf, speaking Common perfectly. Odd.
Artemis frowned. Familiar. His eyes snapped open. The mercenary leader of Bregan D'aerthe stood over him.
Jarlaxle hauled him to his feet.
Artemis regained his balance perfectly.
Jarlaxle let go of his wrist.
Artemis didn't understand. He was looking at Jarlaxle with two good eyes. He was in no pain whatsoever. He merely felt a little stiff. This is not the body of the man who fell off the cliff. Though 'fall' was a graceful word for what he had actually done.
He looked around. A cave. A light – a fire. Why am I here? He could only assume it was some nearby passage to the Underdark connecting to the territory of Mithral Hall. He'd learned on this venture that there were many such passages into the darkness.
"Am I dreaming?" Artemis demanded, narrowing his eyes at Jarlaxle. Because this isn't any dream I want to have. He had looked forward to finally being dead.
Then it hit him: Of course I'm alive. I wanted to be dead. Oh, the gods and their eternal games. When he wanted to live, he was threatened with death, when he wanted death, he was threatened with life. An unending game of keep away.
Artemis let out a laugh and immediately returned to being serious. "Of course I'm not dead. I'm alive."
Jarlaxle looked confused. "And…?"
"What do you want?" Artemis looked at him flatly.
"Well, I did save you, you know," Jarlaxle said. "A little gratitude would be nice."
Artemis snorted. "You did me no favor. You merely did as the gods commanded: prolonged my torture."
Jarlaxle looked surprised, and then…concerned. He looked deep into Artemis' eyes. "So life is torture, eh?" he murmured. "Why is this, Artemis Entreri?"
Artemis was taken aback. Jarlaxle had gone from being an opportunistic mercenary to being a soul-searcher in the blink of an eye. He didn't know if he liked this new Jarlaxle. The drow's scrutiny was uncomfortable. And in the flickering light of the camp fire, Jarlaxle's face was sinister.
The assassin crossed his arms. "None of your damn business."
Jarlaxle's eyebrows flew up. He let out a chuckle. "Indeed? Is that so?" He walked in a complete circle around Entreri, studying the man. "What would you say if I were to tell you I would make it my business?" He cast long shadows behind him, shadows that curled up the cave wall.
"I'd tell you to get lost," Artemis said. He smiled pleasantly. "Since that hypothetical is dispensed with, I'm leaving." He turned away.
"Where will you go?" Jarlaxle asked.
Artemis paused and snorted. "You needn't sound so concerned, drow. I have a place to be."
"Where?" Jarlaxle insisted.
"Calimport? Have you no better place to go than Calimport?" Jarlaxle asked.
Artemis looked over his shoulder. "What's wrong with Calimport?"
Jarlaxle shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. It didn't make you happy last time."
Artemis turned all the way around. "What would you know?"
Jarlaxle shrugged again. "I just don't see why you would have given up on your comfortable Calimport life to fight Drizzt in the dirt and muck if you hadn't been substantially unhappy. You had everything a Calimport assassin should want: money, fame, and a guild to run. Instead, you left it all behind for one scrawny drow."
Artemis narrowed his eyes. "Get to the point."
Jarlaxle ticked off the items on his fingers. "Fame, money, and guild leadership mean nothing to you." He spread his hands. "It's obvious."
"You're wrong," Artemis said automatically. He felt a sudden ache of emptiness in his chest. He's right. I could eat of that food and be hungry forever. An entire banquet of leadership, fame, and wealth couldn't satisfy me. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What are you saying, Jarlaxle?" And why are you saying it? The drow's forwardness was creeping him out. Not that he would admit to that. He preferred to be the one making other people uncomfortable.
"Tell me what you want and I'll give it to you," Jarlaxle said.
Artemis took a step back. He thought about drawing his sword. "Why?" What do you want from me? What does Jarlaxle think he can buy with my heart's desire?
Jarlaxle looked surprised. "Why does one do anything?"
"I don't know," Artemis said sourly. "Why?" Something in Jarlaxle's demeanor relaxed him, but he didn't know what. He just knew Jarlaxle's body language didn't say 'threat'.
Jarlaxle laughed. "Well, if you don't know why you do anything, we have much work to do."
Artemis felt his face grow hot. "That's not what I meant! Damned drow!"
Jarlaxle chuckled at that, grinning in the face of the assassin's ire. He wagged an index finger. "But it's true, isn't it? You don't understand other people, but you don't understand yourself, either. Why does Artemis Entreri do things? Does he think about it? Or is he merely…sleepwalking, we'll say."
"We won't," Artemis said flatly.
"Then what do you call it?" Jarlaxle asked softly. "Living?"
Artemis narrowed his eyes in dislike. "Don't question me."
"If I don't, who is?" Jarlaxle asked, apparently serious.
Artemis turned away, angry and frustrated. "No one, I suppose. That's the way I prefer it, at least. Mouthy mercenaries don't make the cut. Definitely now drow ones. And definitely not drow ones wearing high cut vests and purple hats. Go elsewhere, Jarlaxle. I don't need you and don't want you."
"Hmm." Jarlaxle didn't move, didn't seem impressed by Artemis' assessment.
Artemis started to walk away. There was a passage into a network of caves, and dark or not, he was going. He wasn't afraid of the dark.
"What are you going to do when you get there?" Jarlaxle asked.
"Where?" Artemis asked, wondering why he bothered.
"Calimport." Jarlaxle added innocently, "Isn't that where you want to go?"
Artemis ground to a halt and gritted his teeth. Jarlaxle's implication that he himself had forgotten his destination needled him. The assassin spoke into his mood. "Kill something."
"Ah." The pause was not long. "Why?"
"Because it's better than not killing something." If you don't go soon, I'm going to kill you. How would you like that, drow? And in these caves, no one will ever find you. I'll make sure of that. I don't care if the best drow tracker from your Bregan D'aerthe searches for you. Though he supposed that was not the drow way. If the band didn't hear from Jarlaxle, they'd just assume the captain was dead.
"Why?" Jarlaxle asked. "Is there some meaning to killing something that I should be aware of? Isn't it merely a job? A cessation of life?"
"Stop analyzing me," Artemis groaned. He started walking again. The more distance I get between you and me, the better. I can see that clearly, at least. He squinted into the caverns ahead.
In spite of his order, Jarlaxle spoke again. "You kill because what you face if you don't is a meaningless void."
Once more, Artemis felt himself grind to a halt. He slowly turned around to face the mercenary, feeling like every drop of blood had drained from his body.
Artemis could see that void in his mind's eye. A gray, sucking storm that leeched meaning and color from the world. The endless, hungry mouth that threatened to consume his life. "No," he whispered.
Jarlaxle smiled and wagged a finger at him, startling him. "But this is not true, you know."
Artemis stared at the drow. What do you mean it's not true? I know it is. "No?" he asked dryly. "Why do I kill, then?"
"Because you think it is true." Jarlaxle spread his hands. "To a person motivated by such fear, nothing is risked. No chance is taken that it is not true, because one mistake leads to destruction. You are afraid of oblivion, no? This is why you fight. This is why you must be perfect, yes?" Jarlaxle beamed at him.
Artemis couldn't decide if Jarlaxle were sadistic or merely a lunatic. Why are you smiling at me? Why, when you understand my thought process so well, do you merely smile instead of running away screaming? "And…this does not frighten you?"
Jarlaxle chuckled. "Lord, no. Most of the people I know think that way. You are no exception, Entreri. Do not think it intimidates me."
"Is that a threat?" Artemis asked. He narrowed his eyes. Jarlaxle had him completely off balance.
"It is a promise," Jarlaxle said.
Artemis felt his facial muscles twitch.
Jarlaxle looked at him curiously.
Artemis wondered if he were dreaming. If, in fact, this were some twisted nightmare somehow inflicted upon him by the ruby pendant. A nightmare in which someone offered him friendship. He swallowed. He must resist the temptation at all costs. "I…don't believe in that."
Jarlaxle laughed and slapped his knee, bending over double. "You don't believe in friendship?"
"No." Artemis scowled.
"What kind of person are you?" Jarlaxle asked. His visible eye twinkled. He was grinning in amusement.
"A loner." Artemis resented the mockery.
"There is no such thing," Jarlaxle declared, straightening.
Artemis stood up. "There is, and I am one."
"You're not, because there isn't," Jarlaxle retorted. The drow pointed at him. "Who made the shirt you wear?" Jarlaxle snorted. "Oh, you did, I suppose."
Artemis glanced down at his shirt, taken aback. "No."
"You're wearing someone else's handiwork?" Jarlaxle raised his eyebrows. "I thought you were a loner. Imagine that, Artemis Entreri relying on someone else's work to live. But surely this is a mistake. Who made your cloak? Your belt? Your jerkin? Your boots?"
Jarlaxle narrowed his eyes, suddenly moving in for the kill. "Your sword?"
Artemis felt as though someone punched him in the stomach.
Jarlaxle gestured imperiously. "Surely to someone so invested in killing and loneliness, fashioning his own sword is essential?"
Artemis instinctively gripped the hilt of his sword, suddenly pierced with the irrational fear that it was going to be taken away from him.
"You didn't, did you?" Jarlaxle demanded.
Artemis wordlessly shook his head.
"You aren't alone, Artemis Entreri. Everyone in the world ensures that you live. Other people even allowed you to defend yourself – to kill. Where is the loneliness in that?"
Artemis speechlessly sat down. The ground didn't feel solid – it didn't feel real. The stone was cold under his hand and not cold at the same time.
"You are no more alone than I am," Jarlaxle said.
"What, then?" Artemis said. His voice sprang from somewhere deep inside. "Why do I feel so…" …tortured. Helpless. Alone. If I am never alone, then why do I feel alone?
"Unneeded?" Jarlaxle suggested gently. "Unwanted? Unimportant? Unintended and unusable?"
Every word Jarlaxle used piled on top of Artemis' head, heavier and heavier. Artemis bowed his head under the weight of those words and stared at the ground. I am empty.
"I need you," Jarlaxle said softly.
Artemis slowly raised his head and looked at Jarlaxle in disbelief. "What did you say to me?"
"I want you," Jarlaxle said. "Come with me."
Artemis was horrified at the loaded reaction he had to those words. His first thought was of being grabbed and shoved in a small, dark place. He's lying. The other reaction was that of a starved man being offered food. I'll eat it even if I choke.
He jumped to his feet, drawing his sword. "Stop it! Stop messing with me!"
Jarlaxle tilted his head and rested his hands on his hips. The gesture was at once casual and unconsciously seductive. "You don't believe me, do you?"
Artemis stared the drow down, ready for an attack. "Guess the game's up."
"Do you believe that you will also be important to me?" Jarlaxle asked. "That I will call you my friend? That we will do things together that please us both? That we may, in fact, defy powers greater than ourselves, succeed beyond both of our dreams, form a bond as partners, and conquer the world?"
Artemis sighed, no longer afraid. Lunatic, he decided. "You're insane." He shook his head. "I would never want to do those things with you, even if I could." He sheathed his sword.
"Why?" Jarlaxle asked.
Artemis explained as he would to the smallest child. A little kindness, but mostly pity. "Because having a partner is a weakness. Having a partner slows me down."
Jarlaxle slowly smiled.
Artemis did not like that smile. "What?"
"You have just thrown the gauntlet," Jarlaxle said. "A challenge I cannot help but accept. I will show you, Artemis Entreri, the meaning of friendship."
"I don't want your friendship," Artemis retorted.
Jarlaxle snorted, tried to hold it in, and then burst out laughing. "Then why are you talking to me? Why have you been talking to me this entire time, when you say you want to go?"
Artemis was suddenly humiliated, frustrated, and somehow unspeakably annoyed. "Because you were talking to me!"
"But you didn't have to answer." Jarlaxle grinned at him so widely it bordered on a leer.
"Look, you damned drow!" Artemis took a step forward, fully intending to run Jarlaxle through. "I don't have time for your games!"
Jarlaxle spread his hands, his visible eye widening. "Then leave."
Artemis was so stymied, so utterly bewildered by that answer to his confrontation that his arm wouldn't move. He stared at Jarlaxle in shock.
As a matter of fact, he couldn't. Walking away from the only fire on a dark night in the middle of the Underdark wilderness, fighting his way into a foreign jungle of monsters – even though he knew full well he could get home if he wanted to –filled him with a realization. He didn't want to. He didn't want to step back into the darkness.
Artemis sank to his knees and sat down.
"There, you see?" Jarlaxle looked at him kindly. "You're not such a loner after all."
"Shut up," Artemis muttered. He was stunned at himself. Stunned and disquieted. I don't want to be alone. I am not seeking loneliness. It has found me, and Jarlaxle relieves this loneliness from my shoulders.
"You're not going to talk if I don't?" Jarlaxle asked.
Jarlaxle watched him, smiling.
Minutes passed. Artemis started to stare at Jarlaxle, then averted his vision. What am I doing? Don't encourage him. He's the drow. A loquacious drow who needs to mind his own business.
He glanced back.
Jarlaxle smiled at him calmly.
"Is this what drow do on cold nights?" Artemis found himself saying. "Stare at each other?"
Artemis blinked, and then narrowed his eyes. "I know your game."
Jarlaxle shrugged again.
"Damn it, say something!" Artemis gripped the hilt of his sword.
Jarlaxle burst out laughing so merrily that Artemis was disarmed.
It is all a game to him. He is nothing but a child. Artemis lowered his hand, letting it fall off his sword hilt and rest in his lap. He taunts me for the fun of it, not out of maliciousness. The assassin didn't know what he should do with that information.
Jarlaxle's visible eye twinkled. "I will break the silence. Do not worry, friend Entreri." He sat down and made himself comfortable on the floor of the cave.
"I'm not your friend," Artemis muttered. "Presumptuous drow."
"Presumptuous?" Jarlaxle pouted. "But you stay with me on a cold night and share my fire. You talk with me and play games. What is a friend?"
Artemis stared at the mercenary.
Jarlaxle looked as though he'd just had a revelation. He looked at Artemis curiously. "What is a friend to you, if I may ask?"
Artemis blinked. He didn't have the slightest idea.
"Whatever it is, I'll be that," Jarlaxle asserted.
"N-Never had one," Artemis stuttered. He found himself examining the side of his boot again.
"Well, what would you like one to be?"
Artemis almost said 'silent'. He curbed the impulse immediately, seeing it could only lead to another rehashing of the previous game. He had been neatly outsmarted. He was forced to honestly consider the question – something that turned his stomach. He never honestly considered questions. Especially not personal ones.
"Haven't you ever wondered what a friend is like?" Jarlaxle asked, tilting his head.
"Often," Artemis muttered. Then it was too late to take it back. He sighed with despair. If this were some kind of test of his mental strength, he had just failed. Is this going to devolve into torture now?
"What did you believe?" Jarlaxle asked.
Artemis' head jerked up. He examined Jarlaxle's expression. The mockery is gone. He didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
Jarlaxle waited, looking patient.
Artemis had to dredge something up. He usually tried to erase his fantasies from his memory after he made them. Fantasies would only get an assassin killed. His mind needed to be in the moment. Only on the edge of sleep did he formulate a fantasy.
"A friend is someone…who doesn't betray you," Artemis said finally. That had been his most recent fantasy. After Dondon sold him out to the wererats.
Jarlaxle's visible eye widened for a moment, and then he smiled. "Alright. I won't."
Artemis stared at the drow mercenary. He swallowed. He couldn't possibly take that offer. It was too tempting. Too good to be true. And a trap, besides. Not even a clever one. "I don't believe you."
"That's understandable," Jarlaxle said.
Artemis narrowed his eyes. "This is too easy."
"Compared to what?" Jarlaxle asked.
Artemis didn't have an answer. He felt Jarlaxle knew this somehow. This is another game. He is manipulating me. And yet he couldn't see the strings. He couldn't figure out how Jarlaxle had cornered him.
"Friendship is easy, friend Entreri," Jarlaxle said. He wagged an index finger. "You simply do what you know the other person likes. You show each other respect."
"Then what do you want?" Artemis muttered.
Jarlaxle's smile widened. "Someone to talk to."
Artemis looked at Jarlaxle with wary distaste. "I have to listen?"
Jarlaxle's smile widened a little more, turning back into a grin. "That is optional."
I can't believe I am considering being this lunatic's friend. "What do I get?" Artemis demanded.
Jarlaxle reiterated patiently, ticking the points off on his fingers. "I will want you, need you, see you as important, give you a purpose, and I will never betray you."
Artemis stared at the drow mercenary. Finally, he said, "I don't think you can deliver."
"If I fail, you don't have to listen to me anymore." Jarlaxle's visible eye twinkled.
"I thought that was optional," Artemis retorted, but he felt his lips curving upwards.
Artemis realized, bewildered, that he actually did like Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle was the only person he had ever met who felt…pleasant to be around. In spite of making him angry. He couldn't make any sense out of the dichotomy. How can the same person make me angry and made me feel good at the same time?
He quickly put on a scowl. "You can call me your friend, but don't think I will return the favor until you have proven to me that you can be trusted."
Jarlaxle clapped his hands. "It's a deal!"
Again, the easy agreement put Artemis off balance. He really does seem as though he wants to please me. Why?
Jarlaxle held out his hand. "Let's clasp on it."
"That's a surface thing," Artemis found himself saying.
Jarlaxle tilted his head. "Are you not a surface dweller? What method of sealing a pact would you prefer?"
"A Northern thing," Artemis clarified. "I don't do it." I don't make promises.
"What do you do?" Jarlaxle asked.
"Usually? Avoid crazy drow offering me friendship." Actually, he didn't know what he wanted from Jarlaxle. He needed to stall. He needed time to think. He needed – Oh, what in the Nine Hells? Artemis held up his hands. "Just do…something. Something that lets me know you're not crazy."
Jarlaxle leaned forward, reached out with one ring-bedecked hand, and squeezed Artemis' shoulder. His visible eye met Artemis' gaze piercingly. "I can be a good friend to you. I know it." He let go and retracted his hand.
Artemis Entreri stared at Jarlaxle with wide eyes. His voice felt disconnected from him. "You're crazy."
And yet he believed the drow. He believed that Jarlaxle could be of some help. That Jarlaxle just might respect him.
Insanity is catching.
Artemis had no idea what was going on, but he knew somehow there was no going back.
Jarlaxle nodded at him and smiled. "I hear that a lot. Especially from my friends." He winked outrageously.