Chapter One should have the disclaimer. Unless I forgot. If I did, don't own. Want to, but don't.
The spelling for "Hosttower of the Arcane" is taken directly from Bob Salvatore's books. I know that the campaign setting had/has "Host Tower of the Arcane." Deal with it.
Whatever the true motivations behind Regis vouching for him, his words did at least seem to calm his allies. Not, perhaps, as much as could be hoped. Still, they were more placid than could have been expected in the presence of a self-described assassin.
The first night they were camped, Artemis watched the others carefully. He'd never seen them quite like this. There was, of course, the lingering tension caused by his presence. Still, there was also an oddly relaxed air of anticipation. This was not the group he had battled again and again, world weary as they had slowly become.
Do'Urden's eyes sparkled with life. There was some resignation at how he would be treated once they were beyond the borders of the Dale. However, he seemed to look forward to the adventure with his friends. His smile as he teased the halfling was laced with an easy affection. When he tweaked the Barbarian, he was overflowing with mischief. His interaction with the Dwarf gave cause to wonder if there was imp somewhere in his ancestry.
An actual possibility, given the oddities of what Menzoberranzan considered 'normal' interaction with demonic races.
The others were also more open, more playful, than Artemis had ever seen them. Wulfgar had the air of a boy, for all his overwhelming size. Regis seemed to have lost much of the reserve that the assassin's presence had inspired, and was busily teasing Bruenor. For his part, the would-be king was threatening to put the gluttonous halfling on a diet.
That was what he was looking for, he realized. Wulfgar hadn't been hardened by his experiences in the Abyss. Bruenor hadn't had to deal with invasions of orcs and all manner of other creatures as he fought for his throne and his people. Regis still had all of his fingers. (The removal of which was an act that Artemis was studiously refusing to admit was more a matter of sadism on his part than actual necessity.) Drizzt hadn't seen his friends die – multiple times in some cases. They were young, without the weight of regret that had settled on shoulders made too fragile by their inherent mortality.
"An' what d'ye think o' our quest, assassin?"
Entreri looked up at the Dwarf's question. "As I have no idea where we're going? I rather think that I hope I packed enough provisions." He eyed Regis. "Particularly if our light-fingered ally gets anywhere near my pack."
Bruenor snorted. "Aye, feedin' him needs a fortune an a half. I'd have thought that he'd have told ye where we be goin'."
"Only that there was a quest and fortune to be had."
"Hmph. Do ye go into all yer jobs with so much knowin'?"
Artemis let the smirk bloom on his face and his humor to show in his eyes, ignoring the breath the halfling sucked in. "Sometimes less, sometimes more. Usually the client tells me less than I should know and the victim more than I ever wanted to."
He sipped his tea, enjoying the surprised stares. Regis, having known him longer than the others, was most surprised of course. Artemis knew that – at this point in his life – ignoring insults and showing emotion had been something for the weak. It had only taken him a hundred and fifty years or so to fully and completely realize that that wasn't the case. He knew that there was more than one rumor that he was actually a well-made golem enchanted by some (probably dead) wizard.
He looked at the halfling and let one eyebrow slowly rise. The cowardly thief quickly started doing anything else he could think of. He turned back to the... Bruenor, he reminded himself. He needed to call them by name. Not by titles. "So, what am I to be told?"
Bruenor blinked, frowned and then nodded to himself. "We're lookin' fer Mithril Hall. It's me kin's home, lost to us for o'er a century now."
Artemis nodded. "All right then. What took the Hall? What are we likely to face?"
"We don' know. For all tha' I was there, I was a young'un." He shifted in his seat. "We'll have to be figurin' that out when we find it."
Artemis resisted the urge to drop his face into his hands. Of course. He should have been more aware of this. The reason for their erratic and odd traveling pattern when he'd been chasing them down was that they had no idea where they were going. Wonderful.
He could tell them but... He shook his head. Oh, by the way, I know exactly where it is and fifteen separate ways to get inside. We can have the place back in the next tenday, if you want. Less, if you don't mind me poisoning the water supply. Yeah. That would go over well.
He couldn't tell them. He'd have to be careful not to let slip any of a dozen pieces of information... Not unless he could come up with a damned good reason for why he knew what he knew. He had the feeling that this was not going to be a pleasant trip.
He settled into his blankets for the night and cursed meddling deities. Again.
The trip to Luskan was fairly quiet. Though, he did have to quietly scoff on realizing that Bruenor had come all this way without stopping to get a map first. As they stood looking at the town, he glanced at Wulfgar. "It's a different world than you're used to."
"What?" The boy's eyes were full of confusion.
"Life in a city." He nodded his head towards Luskan. "In a place like this, there are dangers far different than in the Dale. There will be men here that will have no compunction, no remorse over slicing your throat for a few coppers to buy a whore. They won't look at you and see someone that protects a town, or serves a needed purpose for your people. They'll look at you and see someone to take advantage of and betray if it suits their ends."
"Cynical words." Drizzt's voice floated towards them, drawing his attention from the barbarian's flushed face.
"Perhaps." His own gray eyes met lavender. "But we both know that they are accurate, amongst the privileged even more than among the poor."
Wulfgar looked to Drizzt in question and the drow reluctantly nodded. "He isn't lying. It's not quite as bad as he states. But..."
Artemis sighed. "I sometimes think that there is a certain percentage of the population that must be evil. The numbers in the cities simply mean that it is more concentrated and corrupts others more readily."
He continued to stare at the city, feeling the drow's eyes on him, until it was time to head for the gate.
Luskan was just as obnoxiously depressing as Artemis remembered. The poor grovelled in the streets, the city watch was corrupt, and the Hosttower of the Arcane looked down on it all with a smug self-satisfaction that annoyed him greatly. Mostly, though, he concerned himself with keeping the Barbarian from gaping like a yokel and giving the fairly accurate impression of gullibility. The boy would easily get them killed at the rate he was going.
Dendybar, Entreri knew, was probably already apprised of their presence within his city. The mage was no doubt already spinning plots on how to capture and interrogate them. Of course, the last thing they really needed was to have that happen. He and the drow would escape fairly easily, he knew. The others would be a pain to break out of confinement. He really didn't want to have to bother with it.
Still, he didn't argue as they made their way to The Cutlass. The inn was the site of Wulfgar's first real bar brawl in the previous time line, and Entreri couldn't help but admit to himself that he wanted to see what the Barbarian was capable of at the moment. He would have offered to spar in order to test the boy's skills, but he was willing to be that they'd be suspicious of his motives. He already couldn't breathe without feeling at least two pairs of eyes on him, there was no need to add to the suspicion.
After some debate, and more than a few warnings from the dwarf, he managed to get left behind with both the halfling and Wulfgar while the other two went off to terrorize poor Whisper. Artemis reclined in the chair at their table and fought down the memories of killing the human. She'd died purely because his own pride would not allow her to live with the impression that she'd gotten the better of him. He'd slipped a knife through her ribs and deliberately twisted her own words upon her.
Gods, I was such an arrogant little shit.
Needing to move, he stood and approached the bar. As he ordered more ale, he watched the whore attempt to court Wulfgar. He saw Regis entice her away. He came back to the table with the three tankards – no doubt the boy would drink the halfling's – and set them on the table before carelessly tossing himself in the chair. "I wouldn't feel too jealous, were I you. Her kind are easily found and more easily bought."
He could see the question in the young man's face. The boy was wondering if he could read his thoughts. It was amusing, and he allowed himself that small twitch of the lips. "More than half the women in the room are for sale, if you really want one. I'd not suggest it, though. Most of them will carry diseases that will make your immediate future unpleasant and possibly prove fatal in the long run. It's far better to court one that won't make parts of you rot off."
"Oh." The Barbarian looked repulsed now. "But..."
"The risks the halfling takes in his lust are not yours to choose. Only the risks that you are willing to take are under your control."He sipped his ale and watched the boy ponder his statements for a few minutes before they finally seemed to sink in. Who knew? Maybe he could even end the bar fight before it got started?... No, he'd rather see it.
It started more quickly than he expected, were he honest. A fat male started making comments to Regis as he headed for the stairs with his prostitute. The Barbarian's eyes glazed with rage and shortly ale, cutlery and people were flying around. Artemis, safely ensconced in a corner, watched the growing chaos with something akin to satisfaction. It rather reminded him of happier times with Jarlaxle.
He forced himself to frown, suppressing the smile that wanted to overtake him. I don't miss him, dammit!
He eyed the crowd, noting the halfling hiding under a table and sipping at ale. Across the room, one of the city watch – Jierdan? Maybe? - was observing the scene with more interest and less of a mind towards stopping it than he should be. Definitely spying on them, then. He absently kicked a fighter that came too close, sending him back into the fray and into the pathway of a flying chair.
The boy was holding his own, though he favored brute force too much. For his size, he was remarkably quick and would probably fare better were he to use it to his advantage. It also might help if he succumbed less to his battle rage. His willful blindness led him to take a few hits that he should have been able to easily dodge.
He'd be a formidable opponent with the right training. From the tactics that were instinctively used, he could tell that Drizzt had tried to teach him better. Wulfgar had probably dismissed it as elven trickery, though. Perhaps he and the drow combined could beat it into his thick head? Perhaps.
Finally, the fight ended. The three of them were sitting on the street when the other two appeared beside them. From what he could tell, it was obvious that they had also found combat. Probably from their dealings with Whisper, if he remembered correctly.
He listened to Regis filling them in on the battle and kept his thoughts to himself. He would speak to Drizzt about training the boy after they left the city.
Okay, in addition to everything else I'm dealing with... The ceiling in my bedroom just fell in. Well, part of it. The part that was about two or three feet from my head while I was sleeping. None of it actually hit me. However, it was close enough that I am now wide awake and unlikely to be able to sleep again before noon.
On the bright side, no insulation fell in spite of it being the ceiling under my attic. On the down side, it's plaster and lath. I am not mucking around with the plaster needed to repair a good three by four hole, even though the lath does appear to still be sound. This is the... second? time in two years that the ceiling in this bedroom has fallen in. (No, not a water leak, just age and a different section of the ceiling. 90 year old plaster does that.) So... I need to pull down all the loose plaster, find the actual studs under the lath, shim the areas not currently covered in plaster with furring strips, and then install new drywall to cover.
I suppose I could drop the ceiling by about six inches and put in a tile ceiling. There are some beautiful pseudo-pressed tin tiles available on the market. And it would fit with the age of the house. But, I like my high ceilings and have no desire to lower them. Maybe I'll get some of the tiles and install them to the drywall instead once it's up.
I'm going to see if I can scrounge up the money to install a ceiling fan. We have no AC, so it would help keep us cool in the summer. I'm going to have my hands full hanging drywall and the wiring is very old. So... I'd probably want to hire an electrician to put in the fan. I could do it myself, but I it's better for my insurance (and peace of mind, where the wiring is concerned) if I don't. So, that's an added expense on top of the fan itself.
We'll see if I can do it.
In the meantime, because I was full of nervous energy and unable to sleep, you get this lovely chapter of a story I had no intention of continuing. I don't know why. For some reason, it's what I wanted to write when I sat down. And, no, this hasn't gone through my usual three re-reads and grammar edit.