Changed!

A Forgotten Realms fanfiction
By Marsie S. Sinclair

It could have been a good day, thought the assassin, glaring, quite annoyed at the shrieking creature crawling about on the floor, if his idiotic partner hadn't been the curious idiot that he was.
It all began quite innocently with a simple mission: just stealing some papers from a band of street thieves and bring them back to the mayor. Nothing difficult; no traps or guardian monsters, or so they had thought.

But it did not go according to plan, of course. Well hidden in between scattered wood and decaying furniture there was a light blue sapphire-like stone as big as an egg and, to put it simple, Jarlaxle had to find out what it could be.

And there disaster struck.

Not even a second after touching the egg-thing, the dark elf disappeared in a flash of blinding light leaving behind only a pile of eye-catching clothes and jewels.

At first, he had seriously thought that the magic trap had disintegrated the overly-curious mercenary but then something caught his attention: some small movements and soft squeaking sounds from the colorful pile.

Could the idiot have been changed into some strange creature?

Now, a bit curious himself, the assassin walked to the squirming mess of clothing ready to defend himself from the beast that once was his partner. He stopped, rock-still, staring at what–or better who—hatched out from the colorful pile: a small round face as black as the finest ebony, a pair of big, innocent ruby eyes and messy shoulder-length white hair; a really, really young Dark Elf boy in short. A really young Dark Elf boy who stared up at him in a mix of curiosity, confusion and a bit of fear.

Oh gods, Jarlaxle has been changed into a child and as it seemed he was stuck babysitting him until the spell—or his patience—wore off.

And so here he was, with a now useless—and most of all harmless—partner, a bunch of papers and other magic stuff, and a mission that still needed to be completed.

And to top it all off, he really didn't know a thing about how to take care of a child or how to reverse that damned spell.

The assassin picked the little elf up, keeping him at arms length to take a good look at his new charge: even in the very low light, he could see how small Jarlaxle had become, no more than two years old in human terms. An annoying, always crying baby, to put it simply.

"Very well," he hissed in his best professional voice, "since I'm stuck with you, let me tell you some simple rules: first, I am not your nanny or mother or whatever that has to deal with annoying brats; second, do not scream and third don't you dare do something idiotic. Am I clear?"

Now, Artemis Entreri's professional voice was something in between the hiss of a venomous snake and the very whisper of death, and it took him years to make it absolutely frightening, but, as it seemed, didn't work on half crazy mercenaries turned into babies since the little child simply dropped the necklace that he was chewing on and broke into a huge grin. Quite an unusual reaction.
The assassin preferred to ignore the strange baby's behavior and started gathering papers, de-aging egg -very carefully so as to not touch it, of course- and all the clothing that only some minutes ago were his companion's flashy garbs.

Getting out of the abandoned house was really simple but it was in the crowded streets that trouble began.

-.-.-.-.-.-

At first he was really comfortable all nestled up in the funny black human's arms, safer than he could ever remember being, gazing around curiously but then, and seemingly sudden, all of the warm darkness was gone and everything became bright. All the shapes were painfully clear, most of all the massive light-thing high up in the bright blue ceiling, burning bright above his little white head. And it hurts, oh how it hurts!

Eyes, skin, everything was on fire and he just wanted it to stop but it didn't matter how tightly he tried to curl up or squeeze his eyes, the strange hurting light was still there.

He felt his stinging eyes welling up with tears, making them burn even more, an awful claw-like sensation in his chest but he couldn't cry! "Crying is bad," said the spider ladies. Crying made them yell at him and he didn't want to be bad.

He just wanted the light-thing to go away.

-.-.-.-.-

Artemis Entreri had always been a stealthy creature, trained to blend in with the shadows to assault his victims from behind and kill them without a small cry and, even now that his assassin talents were not needed anymore, it was one of his habits to walk close to the walls as quietly as possible. But having a clingy, baby-fied mercenary hidden under your cloak would spoil the effect, most of all if the aforementioned mercenary was mewing and fussing like a... well, a baby.

"Shut up!" he hissed to the squirming bundle, tightening his arms around it. "You're making the whole city stare at me!"

The little elf simply curled up even more, still mewing pitifully and a heavily veiled woman glared at him.

It was quite new for the always anonymous assassin to have people throw him puzzled glances and, as he could find out, it was really unpleasant. Absolutely unpleasant.

At some point, a ragged child pointed at him, yelling that he had eaten a cat and it was still alive. No one has ever pointed at him. No one.

He cowered into a small alley and unbundled his cloak, eager to find out what the hell was wrong with the brat and possibly fix it before one of those nosy maids beat him with a broom for being a cat-eater.

And what he found was really unexpected.

His now-little companion seemed scared—no, absolutely terrified; it was really unexpected and, to be honest, quite worrying. He had never seen Jarlaxle so frightened before, in fact the flamboyant rogue has always acted like an overly confident puppeteer, moving his warriors like the master of manipulation that he was or a reckless idiot, jumping into troubles head first with a shiny, cat-like grin.

But not now.

"What's wrong?" he asked glancing around in search of prying eyes and then down at his little charge, checking on him for any evident sign of wrongness, but there was nothing... besides the big shiny tears rolling down the boy's face.

The little elf stared up at him with those impossibly large soulful eyes, trembling like a leaf in the winter wind but as silent as a rock.

The assassin was getting quite annoyed: that damned pointy-eared idiot had talked his head off for weeks and now that he needed him to say something, has decided to play the game of silence.

"Can you please tell me what in the Nine Hells is wrong with you?" he tried again, an exasperate frown making him look way far from comforting but little Jarlaxle simply buried his tear-stained face in the black velvet with a small cry.

So the brat didn't want to talk.

Maybe it was just one of those absurd Dark Elf things, like the obsession over spiders or the fright of sunlight-

Sunlight! The brat was scared of sunlight!

It was so obvious that the human had forgot about that: without his magic tricks, Jarlaxle had no protection against the brightness and for him, the light was painful!

Now that the root of the problem was found, the only thing to do was fix it but, for the life of him, Artemis didn't know what to do. He simply wasn't used to these kind of things! It didn't happen everyday to have your companion—and a very skilled one by the way—changed into a wailing baby, after all!

So he simply re-wrapped his little charge in the black cloak and headed back as quickly as possible to the luxurious inn, where the others were still waiting for them.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The Dancing Tiger was a very fancy place, located in between the trendiest amman of the city and a weaponry boutique that would take a dragon's treasure only to enter. This was too pretentious of accommodations for the sober assassin, but it wasn't his choice to camp up in the best suite of the best inn in the richest city of the richest Sultanate of Calimshan.

It was the Dark Elf-witch's. She wanted to spend all their money on luxury, food, fine clothes and, most of all, really expensive enchanted items and of course, Jarlaxle was on her side complimenting her tastes and playing shopping-pals against him.

Oh well, better than sleeping in a tree at least!

Luckily there were very few people in the main hall, only an old merchant too busy counting gold coins and two veiled ladies gossiping in a corner, so he could sneak upstairs without any further trouble.

The assassin walked straight to the very last chamber, the Sultan's Suite, that he shared with his companions, and quite awkwardly, because of the bundle of trouble in his arms, kicked open the mahogany wood door.

The other two inhabitants of the suite—both one of a kind Dark Elves—were quite busy at the moment, one fletching arrows and the other reading spells from an ancient-looking book, but stopped dead-still at the loud bang of wood against the wall, ready to chase away any unwanted guest.

Only to have them stare at him, probably wondering about the meaning of that unnecessarily loud noise. 'Maybe they haven't noticed', thought the assassin, still slightly nervous, 'maybe I can still sneak off and patch up the idiot before-'

"Where is the rogue?" asked Drizzt, going back to his arrows. "I hope not celebrating with some strong wine that he can't handle… if he comes back drunk or high, or both, I swear on the Unicorn that I'll tie him to a tree to sober up." He seemed quite annoyed –nothing new when Jarlaxle was involved- and really determined to make it clear with dark glares and low growling sounds.

Just perfect! The right mood for bringing bad news!

Oh well, let's make it quick and reasonably painless at least.

So he walked to the ranger's bed and, as quickly as he could, unbundled the black cloak and placed the little elf-boy on the velvet coverlet. "Here." stated the assassin blankly, taking a small step back.

The ranger's violet eyes widened in surprise and his skilled hands stopped working on the light green feathers. "W-what…?!" he asked, too weirded out too say something more intelligent.

"What do you think happened?" hissed back the assassin, more than ready to release his frustration on his former enemy; now they were travel mates but that didn't mean that they got along well. Of course they didn't try to kill each other anymore but verbal duels and sharp words were a daily basis between them.

"A de-aging spell." Piped up a heavily accented and very feminine voice "And a quite nasty one but don't vorry! Our little companion is perfectly fine! Or at least he vill be unless ve try to reverse it!"

Hearing that, the two quarreling warriors fell instantly silent staring first at the baby and at the grinning priestess than back at the baby until... "WHAT?!"

"As I said, vhile you tvo vere bickering like an old married human couple, reversing the spell vill be quite... vell, unpleasant for our little Jarlaxle here so ve'll have to vait until it vears off by itself." she repeated, sitting down on the bed and picking the tiny dark elf up. "To put it simply, ve'll have to take good care of this perfect little gift of the Abyss for some days or veeks… maybe months!"

At that assassin and ranger looked, even more wide-eyed than before if possible, at the quite disturbing family picture then shared very worried—and a bit scared—glances. "This is going to be unpleasant," stated Artemis blankly.

"Highly unpleasant." added Drizzt with the same 'I-want-to-hide-in-a-dragon's cave-but-I'm-to-wild-and-dangerous-to-admit-that' expression on his fair face.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Jarlaxle was very very upset at the moment: his eyes were still hurting from the bright light, though the same could be said for his soft ebony skin, and, worst of all, he had lost his fight against the tears.

Oh no, he thought, now the spider lady is going to hurt me for being bad!

He closed his eyes tightly, waiting for the first blows to rain down on his pitiful, harmless little body: he was so scared, knowing what an angry spider lady could do to a tiny thing like him. They were so big and always laughed and yelled bad things while hurting him.

But, strangely, the pain never came.

After a little bit, he dared to open an eye: the spider lady was still here but she had a strange smile—somewhat different from the other ladies' back in the big, scary, shiny room—on her pretty face and most of all she was holding him like he was something delicate that could break very easily.

No one had ever held him like that, beside the black human and this strange spider lady, but he liked it: the lady's clothes were soft to lean his little head on and her warm hands were working magic, calming his painfully racing heart and wiping away the tears.

It was new but, for sure, very good.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Ilvaria wasn't kind or gentle nor anything like that: she was forged to become the merciless instrument of an even more merciless god, too strong and stubborn to accept her lower place in the spider-shaped temple.

So she plotted and planned for years, dreaming of power and wanting nothing more than to feel the wonderful pain of a dark entity filling her small and graceful body with untamed pure magic and then something happened: wandering around bored and frustrated in the Bazaar, the still-young priestess found an old book. A forbidden book that, instead of glorifying the Spider Queen and her dark blessings of chaos and murder, talked about another inhabitant of the Abyss: the demon Asmodeus.

And that was the beginning of an unbelievable adventure that carried an ambitious girl away from her twisted home and to a brand new world; in her roaming, she has found out that there were wonderful places outside of the Underdark, intelligent creatures that taught her different ways of living and endless possibilities for an ambitious girl with a really powerful demon-friend, like she was.

So, long story short, she ended up traveling with a flamboyant former mercenary, a more-barks-than-bites ex-assassin and a too-wild-for-her-likings renegade Dark Elf that has chosen the strange, barbaric ways of the Rangers.

She had her principles of course, strong like dwarven steel, but she was not gentle at all. Not even a bit. A priestess of the demon Asmodeus can't be gentle.

So why, then, in the name of the ninety-nine circles of the Abyss, was seeing her exuberant companion changed into a small, helpless—no, useless!—child make her feel like something warm had bloomed in her cold black soul?

Nameless Powers, she was happy to have Jarlaxle stuck in that pitiful form! She wanted to hold him!

Oh Asmodeus! That thousand times damned Curse of Cuteness, or, as the surface creatures called it, motherly instinct, was here and, worst of all, she was happy about that!

And she was more than a bit curious about how the spell could evolve: it could simply wear off in an heartbeat, leaving a very confused—and probably very naked—Jarlaxle behind or maybe make him grow up—hopefully not in a century like would happen naturally—into his usual flamboyant self… would he remember what happened while under the de-aging spell, or not? Oh so many possibilities!

And if he would remember everything, she could become a sort of foster mother to him until he would be old enough to learn the ways of Asmodeus, then teach him all the spells and chants and finally make him sign a deal with the powerful demon!

It would be like killing two bats with one arrow! Perfect!

Ilvaria cradled the tiny child gently, like she would have done with a priceless and very breakable relic, chanting a minor spell softly to calm him and help his not-completely-formed healing ability to get rid of the painful-looking sunburns, always keeping a sweet, reassuring smile on her face. She had seen so many human and Surface Elf mothers do the same with their little ones and, instead of seeing that as a weakness, she had come to understand that it was only a natural way to bond or better a mutual exchange: the mother took care of her helpless child and when the little sprite would be strong enough, he—or she—would repay with protection and work. Future benefits, like Jarlaxle would have said.

And besides that there were no records of long-term effects of de-aging spells: usually a wizard or priestess used them to change a powerful enemy into something easier to kill, but no Dark Elf had ever lived long enough to let the spell wear off.

This was more than a rare case, this little thing, she thought while freeing the child of all the jewels and hearings and wrapping him tightly in the light-blocking rainbow cloak. Taking care of him could be the perfect way of studying him and then, of course, sell the records to some rich wizard.
"Now sleep, my precious little novice," she cooed softly. "Ve have to be at our best for the many possibilities that are avaiting us."

-.-.-.-.-.-

A couple of hours later Ilvaria and Artemis were gone, leaving poor Drizzt alone to deal with the little monster.

"That thousands times damned witch!" He muttered, under his breath angrily. "If it's the right time for another of her shopping raids! And you, do you have to touch every single thing that you lay those greedy eyes of yours on? Serves you right for your childish behavior!"

Of course the baby wasn't listening, sprawled out on the bed still fast asleep after the tiring day, but the highly annoyed ranger didn't care: the greedy idiot had taken up his bed, after all, and he had to move his half-fletched arrows on the floor to make room for him! Why didn't the witch give up her king-sized bed if she was so fond of the annoying monster?

Continuing to dwell on these thoughts made him even more crossed: he was supposed to be the good one of the crew but, by the Unicorn, that was pure madness! Of all the uncommon and very unpleasant things that could happen to him, that damned Jarlaxle had to be changed into a child!

Not that he had something against children, of course: they were the future, and were what good and innocent that remained in the world but there was a difference bigger than a dragon between a normal child and a sneaky, manipulative, cheeky, greedy, mercenary changed into one!

He glared down at his now-little companion then took some long deep breaths, trying to calm himself down enough to resume his fletching without messing it up but it was absolutely useless: just seeing that annoying creature sleeping so peacefully—taking up half of the bed, by the way—without a single care for all the trouble that he was causing made him want to gather up his weapons and go find a cave in the desert to share with a giant snake. With a really unfriendly giant snake.

It would have been less stressful than dealing with this bunch of nutcases, for sure.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"Please, someone put an end to my misery," groaned Artemis Entreri, plopping down ungracefully into an overstuffed couch: the assassin was tired, exasperated and aching all over from the heavy loads that he had to carry around the whole city.

And his misery had a simple oh-so-innocent name: shopping. Pointless, frivolous, money-wasting shopping.

That thousands times damned commanding she-elf had—quite literally—forced him to keep her company while she was gathering up some basic things for their now-little travel mate but, at some point, the few clothes and bit of milk had become two enchanted bags full of child size flamboyant outfits, games and stuffed animals to keep occupied an army of spoiled princes for centuries and baskets over baskets of the finest food picked after an endless checking of every single damned stall of the bazaar.

"Oh look at this!" She cheered at some point, her heavily accented voice shrill with pure feminine delight. "A tiny assassin jacket! He vill look just like you in this!"

"Whatever." Was the highly exasperated answer. "Buy that thing if you really have to and stop your frivolous rambling."

'How can sensible people want such useless things?', he thought with a pained sigh, glaring at the pile of small clothes, 'and most of all why in the Nine Hells that witch was buying all of this since the damned spell will hopefully wear off in a week? This is madness.'

"Very vell! Nov ve only need some training veapons and a smaller copy of his hat!" Oh wonderful! Now she was even clapping her hands like an annoying little girl! Pure madness.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Drizzt had seen many an unpleasant thing in the many years of fighting in the wild Underdark and faced the wrath of the Spider Queen herself, but nothing like that. At some point the little monster had woken up and, feeling himself in an exploring mood, had thrown away the cloak-blanket and determinately made his way down to the floor.

And now the exasperating former rogue was half-crawling, half-wobbling around the room, naked like the day of his birth, just a couple of steps out of the ranger's reach, touching, poking and chewing at every single thing that he could get his grabby little hands on.

"Come here!" he hissed, quietly crouching down to the boy's level to not let him run away. "I only want to put this shirt on you!"

It was nearly half an hour that the violet eyed renegade was trying to dress the little rogue up, or, better, bundle him up again to stop that mad exploring trip, but to no avail! That annoying creature, still slow, and unstable by the way, kept slipping away like not even the most elusive beasts of the Underdark had ever done.

"This is impossible! Why in the blessed name of the Unicorn won't you put this damned thing on?!" He growled at some point, exasperated after what seemed like hours of cat-and-mouse chasing.

The baby, probably distracted from his tasks by the loud and a bit shrill voice, looked up from the very interesting black glove and with a big innocent grin stated, "Yucky." And, giggling like a tiny maniac, crawled under one of the big elegant sofas.

That was enough. "As you wish," was the frighteningly calm answer. "If you want to drive me insane, let me tell you that it won't work. You can stay down there until the end of the Realms and it won't budge me at all." And with a homicidal glare that could have put a Matron Mother to shame, the ranger went back to his fletching.

It was nearly an hour later that the assassin and priestess came back, both carrying bundles and baskets and—was that a stuffed demon?—and, hearing the wooden door softly clicking open, the small child crawled out of his hiding spot and, as fast as his short legs could carry him, wobbled determinately to the human's waiting arms with a delighted shriek of "Artie!"

At that, the Ranger was really at loss of words "H-how did you do that?" he asked after some minutes of simply staring at how easily the damned rogue was letting the other two dress him up in the weirdest outfit without nothing more than a loud giggle every now and then "And where did those clothes—never mind, I'm not going to ask." He concluded lamely, too exasperated to do nothing more than try to ignore the whole dress-up game and clean his still-spotless blades.

Warrior duties had always helped him relax and now what he really needed was a very long swords-cleaning session to calm down his more-than-strained nerves.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"Artie!" squealed the little boy again, throwing his short, slightly chubby arms around the assassin's neck in a very dusty welcome hug. He had greatly missed the funny black human and his warm reassuring embrace, weird faces and most of all he wanted someone to play with since the other spider lord was so boring.

"Vhat vas our little demon up to?" Grinned the kind spider lady, wiping away some dust from his round cheek with the soft sleeve of her shirt. "Had fun vith your new vild friend?"
Baby Jarlaxle grinned back charmingly. "Me 'xploring!" He giggled, bouncing a bit in the assassin's arms. "He noooo fun!" he then added, vehemently shaking his white little head. "Want Artie! Artie fun!"

The aforementioned, infamous human pulled a confused face at the unusual childish pet name, but didn't said anything about that. "He's covered in dust." He stated bluntly, glancing down at the tiny gray hand prints that the baby had left on his fine leather jacket. "Someone has to give him a bath."

The little dark elf stared down at his grubby hands thoughtfully for a bit, probably pondering the offer, then, with a not-so-commanding voice, shrieked, "Me no bath! Me want 'xploring!"

"Don't you vant to get rid of all that nasty dust?" smiled the kind lady tapping at his tiny nose gently. "You're a dirty little demon, in great need of a long bubble bath!"

"Me no dirty!" shouted the little sprite crossing his arms boldly, in a way that mirrored his older self. "Me play!"

"You can play as long as you vant after your nice bath." tried again the young priestess, keeping her calm, reassuring motherly-instinct-induced smile firmly in place.

The tiny boy's ruby eyes were now rimmed with tears of anger and frustration: why did no one seem to understand that he didn't wanted to take that stupid bath, even if there would be bubbles and a promise of more games after the boring task? Was it too difficult or were they simply stupid weird people that liked to do boring things like taking baths and wearing mold-colored ugly shirts?

"Me play noooow!" He howled as loudly as he could pounding his tiny fists against the assassin's board chest. "Me no bath! Noooo bath!"

"That's it, brat." Hissed back the black human, now looking quite angry. "You will stop those damned shrieks of yours right now or I'll make you stop myself and it won't be pretty."

Oh no! What have I done? Those people were nice and I had made them angry! Now the spider lady will surely hurt me, were the little elf's panicked thoughts, she will yell bad things and then tie me up to the high scary tower!

"Me sorry! Bad me! Bad me!" Begged the little boy pitifully, his shrill voice weakened by the overwhelming fear for his life "No 'urt me, pwease! Me sorry!"

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It didn't happen often,... well it was a long time since it last happened, but Ilvaria Nightstorm was absolutely stunned: one moment her now-little travel mate was on the verge of a full-blown temper tantrum over a very mundane thing like not wanting to take a bath, the next the poor little thing was shaking with fear, begging weakly as if someone were threatening his very life… why? Who could have been so needlessly cruel to hurt such a bright, adorable little demon?

But this was no time for wondering over the former rogue's dark past, she though with a small shake of her head, for now the baby only needed her help.

"Come here, little demon," she cooed softly taking the still crying boy into her arms as gently as she could very careful to not scare him further. "You're safe now… no one vill dare to hurt you…"

But the small child seemed to not be able to understand her kind words, too frightened to uncover his tiny pointy ears or even look up at her. "Me sorry!" he repeated weakly, curled up into a tight trembling ball.

"Jarlaxle," she called firmly but gently, adding a bit of magic to her voice to make it more soothing and warm. "You are safe here. Nov calm down or you'll make yourself sick… and I vant my little demon to be happy and healthy, you know?" she finished with a bright reassuring smile.

The frightened creature in her arms seemed to have calmed a bit, now gazing up at her with his impossibly large crimson eyes still rimmed with tears. "Y-you no 'urt me?" his small voice was unsure but now a little more hopeful, "Me n-no bad… m-me sorry… p-pwease?"

The priestess' once cold heart was nearly melting in a strange mix of fury and- was that strange warmth and need to protect the defenseless baby, pity? 'Who vould hurt such a cute little demon? And vhy vould zhey hurt HIM?', she thought, tightening her hold on the little child, 'I mean, I know vhat he's like vhen he's older but... hurting a child is—... vait a second, he's from Menzoberranzan. In Menzoberranzan, zhey follow zhat fucking spider bitch. Zhey will pay for zhis.'

She really wanted to open up a dimensional door to the twisted city, summon an army of demons, undead, and whatever most unfriendly and deadliest creatures she could gather up and erase that thousand times damned spider pit from the maps. Oh how wonderful would have been to see those spider-kissing witches bent down in defeat, screaming in agony and begging for mercy like the many innocents that they have made suffer through the years! How glorious would be the sight of the spider-shaped temple burning to ashes, the long-hated motives of cobwebs, unshaped Handmaidens and dark prayers forever erased and destroyed-

"Ow…"

The tiny, nearly whispered whimper made her pretty little fantasy of doom and revenge pop like a soap bubble and she realized that her protective hold on the fragile body had tightened too much into a painful vice-like grip. She had to stay calm and put the plans of revenge away for when she would have something less precious—and possibly not alive or hers—that could end up broken in her furious grip. "I'm sorry, little demon," she cooed again, now the sweetly smiling elf-maid again. "Auntie has hugged you a bit too tight, huh?"

The little boy leaned his white head on her shoulder tiredly, his round cheeks stained with a mix of dirt and tears but kept silent, still too scared to give a coherent answer. "Very good, then!" She beamed bouncing him slightly to make him smile. "Let's clean up this sleepy demon, before he turns into a cute dust ball!"

And then she gathered up some clothes, a soft, deep blue towel and walked off to the bathing chamber, humming softly one of the many magical tunes that she had learned during her travels all around the Realms.

After she was done—and when their voices were safely covered by the splashes and other happy sounds—the violet eyed ranger finally gazed up from his already shining weaponry, looking quite confused. "Did that seriously just happen?" he asked to his human travel mate, trying to look as calm and stoic as possible but failing miserably.

The assassin simply shrugged slightly, and sat down tiredly on the couch. "She's been up here for a long time," he said thoughtfully wiping away the dusty hand prints from his clothes. "Probably picked things up during that time. Like her religion, for example."

The dark elf nodded even if a bit unsure: that prissy she-elf worshiped a deal-making demon, for the Unicorn's sake! No sensible—or sane—being would trust her with taking care of a rabbit, let alone a child! But maybe she had to take care of a younger brother or sister back in the Underdark… No. Not even the craziest Matron would have entrusted her with a potentially useful soon-to-be warrior or priestess.

Oh shining stars, the whole thing was driving him insane! Maybe some more swords-cleaning would help him relax and most of all get rid of the highly disturbing mental picture of an all-smiles-and-songs Ilvaria surrounded by a horde of small half-dark elves "If so, I'm surprised anyone trusts her enough with children…" He muttered, wiping with grim determination over the silvery—and spotless—blade.

At that the assassin burst out into a really loud howl-like laugh, nearly falling from the overly stuffed couch.

"D-did I say that out loud?" asked the ranger, beet-red from embarrassment under his dark complexion, and the human simply nodded, still laughing madly at how damned absurd the whole thing was.

The now even more confused ranger went back to his cleaning session firmly convinced that in that egg was hidden an insanity-inducing spell that had affected all of them: Ilvaria has become a perfect babysitter, Artemis was laughing like a hyena and he himself was on the good way to become a clean freak!

This was pure madness!

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

It took nearly half an hour before Ilvaria came back from the bathing chamber with a half asleep little Jarlaxle comfortably nestled in her arms, her hair and sleeves drenched in soapy water from all the splashing and water games.

She was smiling sweetly and bouncing the baby slightly to keep him quiet, but seeing her two travel mates, one sitting on the floor laughing madly and the other still cleaning his blades with great determination, her almond-shaped crimson eyes widened in a mix of curiosity and a bit of disgust. "Vhat's so funny?" she asked still keeping her voice low to not disturb her little charge.

The good ranger simply shook his white gravity-defying mane as if saying, "I'm not insane so I can't understand him."

She glared at him and gently laid the baby down on the soft bed. "If you upset him, I'll hold you personally responsible." She hissed still keeping the sweet smile on, "and you know that displeasing me isn't vise." Then she sat on the couch and started to dig through the many bags and packages searching for something.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It took a bit of time for little Jarlaxle to wake up from his nap.

"'Ello!" He beamed happily sitting up and gazing around curiously, searching for his grown-up friends: he remembered being bad and not wanting to take a bath, and now he wanted to apologize. "Auntie?" He called with a big, charming smile and the kind spider lady was instantly at his side... but now that she was there the little boy didn't know how to say it. "M-me sorry…" He mumbled, looking away to hide the sudden embarrassed blush. "N-no go me away, pwease…" he added, his big eyes now rimmed with tears.

The kind lady seemed sad now. "There's nothing to forgive," she cooed gently picking him up again. "and vhere did I have to make my little demon go?"

"Cweepy tower." He mewed burying his face into her soft white hair "Me n-no like cweepy tower… big 'piders there… looking, an' b-biting…"

Every time that he happened to do something wrong or simply when they were crossed with someone else, his sisters used to beat him up and then tie him to one of the highest balconies of the Baenre Castle, leaving him up there for the big, nasty spiders that had chosen the very old tower to build their nests and webs. Now he was so scared to stay up there even for a minute that only thinking about the thousands of shiny malevolent eyes observing him from every corner made him sick.

'What if the kind lady stops being kind and makes me go to the scary tower again?', thought the frightened little boy, she's a spider lady after all!

"Oh my poor little gift of the Abyss." She was hugging him tightly, in a warm comforting way, and not one of his sisters had never held him like that. "I von't let any spider come near you again!"

"R-really?" asked the little boy, still shaking with fear.

"Of course!" Grinned back the kind lady. "I know lots of spells and have some powerful friends that can help me keep you safe! And speaking of friends, I have someone here that really vants to meet you!" And then she took out, seemingly from nowhere, a stuffed toy that looked like a sort of red creature with big bat-like wings, lots of horns and wicked-looking grin. "Say hello to my friend Asmodeus!" She beamed. "He's big, powerful and, vhen you know enough magic, vould give you vhatever you vant! Isn't he cool?"

The little boy studied his new stuffed friend attentively, staring into the black stitched eyes. "Uh…" he looked up at the still smiling lady, then down at the toy again. "Me no like As… Asmade… Asmadius." He was struggling with the long, and, for him, very difficult name "He cweepy!" Then he dropped the toy like it was on fire, and buried his face in the white locks again.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It was very late and still those two weren't back: of course dealing with a rather disappointed Pasha was not simple and would take some time but it was annoying anyway. And why had that damned witch left him with the brat again? She knows that they didn't get along well so why, by the Unicorn, had she insisted that much in making him stay behind and, as she said, make sure that the baby would stay happy and sleep the whole night?

That infuriating pint-sized nuisance of a rogue had firmly refused to cooperate, crawling and wobbling around like a sort of mad worm, shrieking like a banshee when it was time to be put into bed and then, just like the famous cherry on top of the cake, asked for milk or water and songs until he finally—finally!—fell asleep in the middle of a tale about a pink dragon and the talking bat that befriended it.

And now that the little monster was out of the way, the ranger could finally go back to working on that new twin swords technique: he was studying a way to create ice and fire barriers exactly like the assassin does with Charon's Claw.

'Okay then,' he thought with a proud smile looking down at the sequence of poses that he had sketched down, 'now I only need to keep the enemy away for a few seconds to give the blades enough time to gather up the magic-'

But his planning was suddenly interrupted by a loud bang, which he immediately knew was the windows closing violently. "Oh great," he mumbled, getting up from the bed to close them. "Just the perfect time for a desert storm…"

Now is well-known that Calimport was built in a deep bay in between the Ocean and a really vast desert, and was so blessed with hot, sunny weather for the whole year but every now and then, when the strong wind from the desert and the cooler evaporated water would clash, creating huge, violent storms. Usually they start with a strong wind from the sea, then it will start to rain and, joy!, thunder and lightning so strong to make the windows shake would get into the bandwagon, making everything even funnier.

Now again under the covers, Drizzt went back to his sketches adding detailed notes about how the walls would interact with other magical weapons and how long they will resist; he was rather pleased of the quick progresses and now he only have to test the whole thing in battle to-

A really loud thunder made his hand shake a little bit but it was enough to drop some glowing ink on the carefully drawn figures. "Damn you to the Nine Hells and back!" He hissed, wiping the liquid away with his sleeve before it would dry. "Those thunders will wake the brat!"

And, as if someone up in the higher plans had heard him, a weak mewing-like sound came from the other bed. "Shut up and go back to sleep!"

Another thunder clap, this time so violent that the bottle of ink toppled over, spilling its glowing content on the clean sheets, and the soft whimpers turned into loud, heart breaking cries. "Shut up! You will wake the whole inn!"

And now a flash of lighting illuminated the whole room, outlining strange shadows on the walls. "No!" Cried the baby. "It fall!"

No?! Was the little monster trying to drive him crazy? Throwing his life upside down even while asleep! Damned brat! And what was he rambling about now?

"I said shut up! I do not wish to be kicked out because of your cries!"

"It fall! It fall!" Wailed the little one. "Help! No fall!"

"There's nothing that can fall here." He explained with an exasperated sigh. "Now shut up and go back to sleep."

It was only a loud, annoying, unwanted desert storm and, as rare as they could be, they were not dangerous, if you were lucky enough to have a roof to shelter you from the rain and bolts. So what was that brat scared about? Absolutely nothing, of course but that loud little monster seemed to not understand that.

Everything remained calm for about half an hour with only low rumblings far away on the sea, but then it started to rain violently enough to rattle on the roof, like thousands of spiders crawling about, and that was enough to wake a very light sleeper like Drizzt.

"Oh, not again…" He sighed burying himself in the blanket to block out the noise. "Damned weather…"

And he was about to go back to the dream world when something small but quite heavy pounced on the bed, or better right onto his lower back making him gasp in pain and surprise, and he was ready to yell all his annoyance at that thing that had dared to wake him up so rudely, when the same small creature had thrown himself onto him, again emitting a loud shrieking-like noise.

"What in the Nine Hells is wrong with you?!" He hissed, prying what revealed itself to be the now-little Jarlaxle. "After ordering me around all day like I were your slave, now you are trying to kick me out of my own bed! I do not care if now you look like an innocent child since I know that you still are the same sneaky, manipulating, drama queen that can use the dirtiest tricks to get what he wants! Now stop playing scaredy-cat, and go back to your own bed!"

"No go me 'way!" Shrieked the little creature, wrapping his short arms as tightly as he could around the older elf's chest in a desperate hug. "It loud and cweepy and-"

A really violent thunder drowned out the last part of the sentence, and the little boy buried his face into the safe warmth of Drizzt's shirt with a really distressed cry.

And what was the brat rambling now? What kind of crazy demented would go outside during a desert storm? And most of all, why was the little idiot rambling about being kicked out?

It was a bit strange, now the he got to think about it, for Jarlaxle to be so, well, scared… that infuriating rogue was, after all, the very picture of the typical happy-go-lucky idiot, dancing from one unpleasant and potentially deadly situation to another with a bright arrogant grin, never thinking about how damned close he went to get himself—and his partners—killed… By the Unicorn, he had faced a scorpion bigger than an orc, some days ago, with nothing more than a comment about its ugliness!

Drama queen or not, Jarlaxle had never reacted like this, not even when in the deepest of trouble, so maybe, but only maybe of course, the spell had to have messed up his mind in some way… he was acting like a real child! The tears and broken sobs seemed not to be fake and, beside that, fake crying was a bit too much even for a manipulating, drama queen… or better, faking his crying for so long… and keeping on with the baby talk and all for more than a day was, well, nearly impossible…

At some point his thoughts were interrupted by another loud boom of thunder, this time followed by a blade-like lightning bolt that hit a minaret somewhere at the other side of the town; at that the small child let out another pitiful cry. "Help…" He whimpered weakly trying to curl up even more. "P-pwease…"

Now, a bit more than surprised, Drizzt wrapped his arms awkwardly around the little body pulling back up the covers over his head to block out the blinding bolts. "It's only some noise," He explained calmly, "and water. Nothing to be scared about."

At that the baby seemed to calm down a little, drawing in some gasping breaths. "B-but c-cweepy… go noise 'way…" He mewed. "D-Dizzie… go it 'way, p-pwease…" And now a ridiculous pet name too! There was definitely something wrong… oh well, now wasn't the time for thinking about how that damned spell had messed up the still-twisted rogue's mind. If Jarlaxle's mind was really one of a child, he needed to be comforted and protected.

"I can't make the storm pass," continued the ranger. "But I can tell you a secret that would make it less scary: once you know the reason behind events, you can understand them." He whispered running his quick ebony hands through the baby's soft locks gently. "This is a very dry place and rain here is very rare, so when it happens to rain all the plants and other living things are so happy to get their part of water that they cheer very loudly. And since there are so many living things that are very thirsty, their voices melt into a really loud noise."

The little boy, his big ruby eyes still rimmed with tears, looked up at him. "W-what rain?" He asked, a mix of fear and curiosity in his mewing voice. "Rain bad?"

Drizzt, not used to children's endless curiosity, really didn't know what to answer, or better how to say the right thing in the right way: he didn't want to upset the baby again after nearly calming him just a moment ago. "Uh," he started moving the tiny sprite a bit to let him get more comfortable. "Rain is just water falling from the sky and of course is not bad. All living things, like me and you and the trees and all the animals out there, need water and water comes mostly from rain that helps fill the rivers and lakes. We are alive thanks to the rain that gives us water and the sun that gives us warmth."

"What sun?" asked the child again, the very picture of curious innocence.

Well, that was a quite difficult question. How can you explain to a child that has lived all his short life in a giant cave-city, illuminated only by glowing molds and soft blue or violet fairy fires?

"It's a… uh…" started the ranger struggling a bit to keep the explanation simple and easy to understand "big light that keeps the world warm and nice for us to live in. Thanks to the sun all the plants and animals can get big and strong and then humans and elves eat them… it's how things works. Everyone has his place, everyone is important, from the smallest bug to the biggest dragon, even me and you… just remember that and nothing would scare you… nature is good and we are part of it…" he continued in a soft humming tone; it was kind of strange staying like that, hidden under the blankets with the storm raging outside and a small creature that trusted him to be kept safe and to chase away the nightmares… Then he realized something: his childhood was difficult and gloomy like any other Dark Elf child, but he had someone that had cared for him the best that he could, someone that had taught him how, and most of all why, to fight. "I had Zack." smiled softly the violet-eyed warrior, remembering the wild wolf-like grin on his father's face when they were training together. "But you were alone… no one cared for you enough to protect you… but now, I am here."

The little boy looked up at him, his glowing eyes half closed "Who Zack?" he asked in a tiny dreamy voice

Okay, that was a tricky question, worse than the one about the sun: it was still difficult and quite painful for him to talk about his long-lost father. And on top of all the skillful Weapons Master was also Jarlaxle's best friend back at the Academy!

Sometimes Drizzt tried to picture them in his mind, both young and rebellious, a wild-looking warrior and a flamboyant trickster dancing from one danger into another, grinning and joking as if life was only a weird exciting game with no rules…

"Zack was… well, it's kind of complicated…" sighed the ranger. "He was my very first friend and the Weapons Master of my house… he taught me all about sword-fighting and most of all how to keep being myself… he told me that there was something else outside our dark city, beautiful places and good creatures that were worth having protection… he was... well, my father but I didn't know that…" He trailed off with a sad smile, looking down at the now-sleeping baby. "He's gone now, and I miss him… dearly…"

The warrior's thoughts were kind of confused, as if his half-asleep mind were mixing memories and dreams and, just before slipping into the dream world, he had a flash of his father jumping into the acid lake with tears running down his cheeks and a wild victorious grin.

So hours passed and the violent storm finally rolled away, leaving behind only a few silvery clouds and a very wet city, and then the dark starry night left its place to a rosy beautiful dawn.

During the night, the light silk sheets got bundled up on the floor, kicked out of the way by the two sleeping creatures: after the violent wind had calmed, a humid dome of heat had taken hold of the city, changing the long-needed rain into a hot sticky mist that made sheets and night clothes cling uncomfortably to its still-resting inhabitants. So both Drizzt and little Jarlaxle had gotten rid of the light covers first, and then of their baggy shirts, and now they were quite an endearing sight, the warrior hugging one of the soft pillows like it were a cuddle toy, and the former rogue sprawled on his back snoring gently and babbling in his sleep every now and then.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

"You have what?!"

"Simply taught some manners to zhat ill-mannered human and try to not shriek right in my ears, please. I need to concentrate to keep us from falling into zhe Shadow Plane."

"Damned elf-witch! You have changed a Pasha into stone and made his guards try to kill each other! Now, I do not want to know how things work in your twisted little world, but here, turning the leader of the most powerful criminal organization in the whole damned Calimshan into stone is clear sign of suicidal intents! I do not care if you want to end your own life, but try to not get other people involved into that!"

"Oh please! It vas just a fat human in hideous clothes zhat kept on eating vhile talking like a goblin slave… absolutely rude! And beside zhat, he vill return to his original form in a couple of hours! You humans are so quick to overreact…"

"I am not overreacting at all since every delinquent in this cursed sand pit that wants to make a career will try to get our heads, not only yours! And that means that you've thrown even your dear little demon into this mess since, technically, he still is part of our happy little gang!"

"I have a plan! It vill be a bit unpleasant but it's going to vork perfectly!"

"If you say so."

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It took them only a couple of minutes to finally get to their destination and, as silent as shadows, assassin and priestess could at last close the heavy wooden door of their suite, in their pursuer's faces.

"Zhat vas quite fun!" grinned Ilvaria, stepping out of the Shadow Plane and taking in the mess that was their chamber. It would have taken her at least ten minutes to gather up the most important things… quite a pity that she would have to leave behind most of her and little Jarlaxle's new clothes but, honestly, she didn't have enough time or energy to put a stronger never-filling spell on her bags.

The young priestess started to pile up books and weapons, trying to stuff the biggest and more eye-catching things into her quickly-filling bags. Wait... the disguising circlet! It could hide her features but not her clothes so she had to make up a non-magical disguise first. So she quickly took off her black and red dress and, after a bit of searching, she found a blue Calishite costume, perfect for her needs. "Very good!" she beamed, proud of her elegant but comfortable disguise. "Now let's get our little demon ready for the great escape! And you, continue to pack up! Ve're leaving in ten minutes!" And then she walked into the big bedroom to wake the others up.

Ilvaria walked into the still-dark room quietly, knowing that making a too loud noise would mean having a very well-aimed arrow stuck in the wall a bit too near her head, like the last time that she had tried to sneak up on the sleeping ranger to wake him up with a bucket of freezing cold water. It was quite unpleasant, and she really didn't want that to happen again.

But now she could safely walk up to the huge bed and take in the very adorable sight of her two travel mates still deeply asleep, Drizzt curled up around a pillow like a kitten and little Jarlaxle… oh, the tiny sprite was just too cute that she wanted so badly to bend down, and tickle and cuddle him for hours!

"S-so adorable!" she squeaked with a dreamy smile, "If only I had ten minutes for some quick sketches…!"

But of course, she had barely enough time to pack up and get out of the Dancing Tiger… sadly. So, instead of indulging in some play time with her precious little demon, she shook, not too gently, the ranger awake. "I'll explain later." she hissed to the still half-asleep warrior. "Start packing; ve're getting out of this sand pit."

Then she carefully picked the little boy up, bouncing him slightly to keep the baby quiet while she started to dress him up in colorful Calishite clothes.