Chapter 15.

How can I possibly sink any lower? Artemis thought to himself as he jabbed absently at a goblin slave that had ventured too far from the group he was supervising. Being on his own normally suited him perfectly, but to be made to perform such a lowly task as goblin herding was simply un-called for. The man sat dejectedly on the slope that led to the black and glassy water of the subterranean lake of Donigarten, his duties having been thus reduced in the ranks of Bregan D'earth. How Humiliating! Jarlaxle had said that it was for his own, as well as the other soldiers safety that they not work together, but he couldn't help but think the drow was punishing him somehow for his behavior in Manyfolk. I Artemis Entreri, most feared assassin on Faerun, reduced to a mere herdsman of these stinking vermin! The man smiled wolfishly to himself, turning the vicious looking goad he wielded over in his long fingers and imagining what he would do to Jarlaxle if ever he got the opportunity. His herd gibbered with alarm and scattered slightly, eyeing their temperamental overseer warily as he stood and began pacing.

The past two weeks had been extremely trying for Artemis. After the assassination in Manyfolk, he discovered that his reluctant guardian had abandoned him. In fact, the wretched girl had left him alone in Menzoberanzan without so much as a backward glance. Artemis stopped his pacing as abruptly as he began it, causing his herd to shift once again with agitation. Aramys, he thought, lifting one hand and pushing his inky hair out of his eyes. Where have you gone? He hadn't seen so much as a trace of the girl since he had returned, still weary and shaken from his ordeal with the spider venom. At first furious, his anger had grown steadily into alarm as he searched the places he knew Aramys to frequent in their short association. She had seemingly vanished.

He had finally found himself at a place he did not wish to be at all: standing on the threshold of Jarlaxle's chamber. The drow, opening his door, had raised his eyebrows at the sight of the harried looking assassin. Uncertain of what to say, the man had instead tried to peer surreptitiously around Jarlaxle's huge hat to see if Aramys were within. Jarlaxle, however, would have none of it, shifting his stance to further block the man's view.

" I hear congratulations are in order." The mercenary said cheerily, his light eyes gleaming with something decidedly non-cheerful.

"What?" Artemis had questioned warily.

"On your success in Manyfolk." The drow continued." Aramys informs me you were great help. She said she wished she had you on more of her assignments."

Something was not right. "She said that?" Artemis asked suspiciously, his dark eyes narrowed on the drow.

"Well, perhaps I am paraphrasing a bit". Jarlaxle continued, moving again as Entreri tried to see around him," she may have used he word "bait" rather than "help", but the sentiment is the same I suppose." The drow laughed as Artemis abandoned his attempt at subtlety and pushed past him into the room.

" Where is she?" he hissed angrily, striding swiftly all the way into the bedroom. It was empty.

"She is not here, and in truth, I have not spoken to her", Jarlaxle admitted coolly, following the man into the room. " I don't know where she is at the moment, only that she is in no danger."

"How are you so certain?" Entreri questioned him. "And how do you know what happened in Manyfolk?"

Jarlaxle chuckled. " I have my ways, as you should well know."

Entreri sneered, unconvinced. The drow elaborated. "Spells and spies, the usual, you understand. I assure you that Aramys is perfectly safe." Artemis relaxed a little, wondering briefly at the feeling of relief that flooded him.

" I have many ways of knowing the activities of those around me without their telling me directly." the drow continued "I know the details of your dealings with Taella Sorl, and," he paused slightly, "with eachother."

Entreri turned slowly and faced Jarlaxle, shame and anger warring in his turbulent eyes.

All pretence of good cheer was suddenly absent from the drow's face. "You are the last man on Faerun fit to pass judgement on her." he said coldly. "What were you thinking? "

Artemis found himself at a loss; he was not accustomed to explaining his actions. Usually a glare and a few well-phrased threats were enough to ward off any questions from those around him. And yet, in this situation he felt compelled to explain his actions. " I …I don't know ", he replied, floundering to find the correct words. " it was as if she was…" He searched for the right words,"gone, empty… I couldn't stand it."Artemis felt himself cringe inwardly, loathing this kind of self-exposure with every fiber of his being.

Jarlaxle watched the man shrewdly for a few seconds. With no more explanation forthcoming, he continued quietly. " Do you begin to comprehend the things that girl has survived? " the quickly smothered flash of pain in Enreri's eyes confirmed that he did. "What you witnessed has enabled her to continue in this awful place. " Jarlaxle pinned Artemis with a penetrating stare, all traces of his customary frivolity gone. His voice took on a silky, strangely hypnotic timbre; " Don't you remember how comforting that emptiness is? How peaceful? I imagine it is as loving as a mother's embrace might be."" The intrusive gaze didn't falter. " How one must hate the person who takes it from them. Drizzt took it from you, I seem to recall how well you dealt with that" Jarlaxle watched as Entreri's whole body tensed up. He laughed a little to himself: this human's buttons were easy to push once you knew were to strike. Retreating slightly, he added, " I have tried my best to teach Aramys to survive here, but you understand better than any how high the price can be. "

Entreri was still seething from Jarlaxle's quick and easy dissection of his psyche. "You have made her into nothing more than a cold-blooded murderer!" he interrupted angrily.

"And since when is cold-blooded murder offensive to you?!?" the mercenary shot back incredulously." You should know as well as any what the cost of survival can be. I have done as I must, as has she!"

Entreri's eyes were black with rage. "Did doing what you must include taking her to your bed? I'm sure that was truly essential to her survival!" The sarcasm dripped like venom from the man's words. A sudden image of the girl's haunted eyes appeared to Artemis: her face as they left the basement in Manyfolk. He continued, "You are merely a softer-spoken version of the ones who have harmed her before!" Artemis wasn't the only one in the room with buttons to push, and he realized suddenly that he had stumbled on to one of Jarlaxle's. He watched the drow's face twist with fury and something that looked much like abashment. He meant to press his advantage, but before he could open his mouth to continue, the drow had closed the distance between them and slammed him back against the wall, his furious face barely an inch away from the human's.

"You have no bloody idea of what you are talking about!" Jarlaxle hissed, grasping the front of the man's shirt and shaking him. "You don't know what I feel for her, haven't even the beginnings of the concept in your black and shriveled heart!" He shook Entreri again for emphasis. "You have no idea what I would do for her!"

Entreri was taken aback; he had never seen Jarlaxle come so completely unglued. His shock lasted only an instant; however, and he sidestepped out of the drow's grasp and had his dirk out of his scabbard before he could spin to pursue him. The sight seemed to bring Jarlaxle back to himself.

He took a deep breath and stepped away. When finally he turned back to Entreri, his face was carefully expressionless. Jarlaxle drew a deep breath, and Artemis realized that thee he was still struggling under the influence of some intense emotion; weather it were simply the desire to slit his throat or something deeper he was unsure" Well, Master Entreri, these matters aside, I can only assume that Aramys wishes to discontinue your tutoring. Let us pray that despite your thickheadedness, you have absorbed enough learning to do without her assistance. Tomorrow, I will find you new employment in Bregan D'earth. Something suitable to you talents." The drow looked at Entreri speculatively for a moment. "Now, if you don't mind", Jarlaxle continued, " I think you should leave."