By David Pontier
The Art of Being Entreri is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on The Art of Being Entreri and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 1: Escape
"You should smile more."
Artemis Entreri looked up and scowled.
"You should smile, period."
Entreri rolled his eyes. He did not want to talk with Jarlaxle right now. Of course, he would not have had to if he had not been so careless as to walk into Jarlaxle's room in the Basadoni Guild House. He was about to leave, but the drow mercenary stopped him.
"You should be celebrating," Jarlaxle continued unwavering despite his companion's verbal inactivity. "Instead you act like your best friend just died."
Entreri did not catch the hidden meaning behind that comment immediately, but when he did, his scowl only deepened as he leveled his eyes on the drow. Jarlaxle was of course referring to Drizzt Do'Urden, whom Entreri had killed just a few . . . How long had it been? A week? A month? A year? Did it matter?
Many people had been on the receiving end of one of Entreri's stares, and none had ever reacted the way Jarlaxle did. The drow mercenary leaned back in his chair and laughed.
This was not the kind of reaction Entreri usually got, and it unnerved him. Jarlaxle seemed completely at ease, without a hint of awareness or caution. When Entreri entered a building, it was not uncommon for people two buildings away to lock their doors.
Despite this apparent lack of respect the drow gave Entreri, the assassin knew the drow mercenary was always on guard. If the human took even three menacing steps toward him, he might not be alive to take a fourth.
Jarlaxle rocked back to a vertical position in his chair, ending his laughter. "I'm sorry, I forgot. Artemis Entreri has no friends, only enemies. Still, you should be celebrating, for have you not killed your greatest foe? Are you not the greatest fighter on all of Faerun?"
"You mock me," Entreri spoke for the first time since entering the room.
"Do I? You have killed the greatest drow warrior Menzoberranzan has ever seen. You killed the best of the best, does that not make you better?"
"You would so easily relinquish that title?"
"Me?" Jarlaxle laughed again. "Now you mock. I have never claimed to be on the same level as the young Do'Urden, or even a competent fighter."
Entreri smirked and that comment. Entreri knew Jarlaxle had to be an incredible fighter in order to earn the respect of so many Matron Mothers back in Menzoberranzan. Entreri tried to remember Jarlaxle in combat but could not. Come to think of it, Entreri had never seen the drow fight. Jarlaxle did not need to. He surrounded himself with very competent lieutenants who did all his fighting for him. Still, Entreri would not allow himself to view Jarlaxle as anything other than deadly. His eyes reflected this.
"You don't believe me? Sure, I could kill you right now." The statement was said with little conviction, and neither man truly believed it. "But does that make me a better fighter? It surely makes me more prepared and perhaps better equipped, but half the mages in the realms could strike you down without ever having picked up a sword in their lives."
Entreri knew there was not six inches of space on Jarlaxle's body that did not contain some sort of magical item. Entreri's arm rubbed casually along his side, feeling his dagger secured snugly against it. It was the only magical item he possessed, and it was only effective after he had struck an opponent, offering nothing to his fighting skill.
"You had never thought of it that way, had you?" Jarlaxle said, seeing the light come on in his friend's eyes. Was the assassin, his friend? Jarlaxle hoped so. Despite his previous claims, the drow did not wish to be enemies with the deadly human.
"Even Drizzt," Jarlaxle continued, "was ensconced in magic. Just being an elf - and a dark elf at that - gave him an advantage that would make you unstoppable. But beside that, his blades were some of the finest in the realms, his magical panther was always at his side, and the bracers he wore on his ankles allowed him to move faster than the wind itself. On top of that, he wore armor made by the best craftsman in the North. Do you even wear armor?"
Entreri felt the weight of the thin leather vest he wore under his jacket. To his memory it had never once prevented a hit against him.
"Despite all these obvious advantages, you beat him. You are the greatest fighter to have ever lived!"
"You do mock me."
"You mock yourself!" Jarlaxle replied sharply, his humor suddenly gone. "Is that not what you were after? Is that not what all humans strive for? You live pathetically short lives and try to grab all you can before you die. Well you had your sights set extraordinarily high, and now that you're there, you find it is not what you had hoped."
"I am forty," Entreri said bluntly.
"Happy birthday. I had no idea. You'll excuse me if I don't have a present for you. Preparations for the party will begin at once. I shall call the best baker in all of Calimport, and yo-"
"It is not my birthday."
"Then we shall celebrate mine," Jarlaxle said without missing a beat. "I'm not exactly sure when it is, but today is as good a day as any other." Jarlaxle stopped his rant to look closely at Entreri. "Please don't tell me you are going through a mid-life crises. I too am halfway through my life span, though I am ten times your age."
This comment brought a startled look from Entreri. He, of course, knew how old elves became, but he had never thought about it. The idea that Jarlaxle was 400 years old disturbed him more than a little.
"Actually," Jarlaxle continued, "I have no idea what my life span is. Frankly, I hold the strong belief that drow are immortal. Do you know that in Menzoberranzan, a city of ten thousand, there has never once been a drow that has died of old age."
Jarlaxle had hoped for some type of reaction from Entreri at this comment, but the ever-present scowl remained. "Have you ever smiled?"
The corners of Entreri's mouth began to curl upward and then stopped before his lips had even made a straight line. "It hurts," he replied and left the room.
Jarlaxle stared at the closed door for several seconds after Entreri had left. He was worried. Entreri was a vital part of Jarlaxle's power structure in Calimport. If he should continue down this road of depression, his apathetic views would be very detrimental to Jarlaxle's efforts. Maybe he would tell Entreri that Drizzt still lived. Jarlaxle would have to do something.
* * *
LaValle sat up in bed, unaware of what had woken him. Life had never been relaxing in Calimport, and serving as a prominent guild's wizard did not make it easier. Still, things had settled down somewhat in the past month. Entreri had returned and assumed control of the Basadoni Guild. There were rumors that the old assassin had some mysterious magic about him that had facilitated his takeover, but LaValle had paid little attention to those rumors. Artemis Entreri did not need magic.
As that thought floated through his mind, LaValle turned back to the question of what had woken him. His private quarters were designed to keep him safe. Wizards were not known for their battle prowess, and LaValle was the poster-boy for that philosophy. Thus, his room was designed to give him the maximum amount of protection possible.
LaValle realized as he looked about his dark room that his security had been violated. He doubted any of the thieves in his guild had either the intelligence or stupidity to try and break into his room. That left only one possibility.
LaValle spoke a power word, and his room was flooded with light. Artemis Entreri stood over him, less than a foot from his bed. The wizard shrieked in horror, for there were few things more frightening to wake up to. As LaValle flung himself to the far side of his bed against the wall, Entreri remained motionless and only moved when the wizard began to unconsciously mumble the beginnings of an offensive spell.
Entreri's hand moved ever so slightly toward his jeweled dagger, and LaValle quickly ceased his incantation. "Is this how you great an old friend?" Entreri asked, a bit of sick humor creeping into his voice.
"I should ask the same of you," LaValle responded, finally regaining some of his motor skills. He sat up slowly, his back firmly pressed up against the wall, and his legs folded in front of him. "Creeping up on someone in the middle of the night is not the traditional way that friends great each other."
"And I would hardly call us 'traditional friends.'"
LaValle agreed and had only used the word to mirror what Entreri had said. Their relationship had never been one of real friendship. Instead they had used each other to survive in the dangerous world of Calimport. Now that LaValle thought about it, though, he could not really remember the last time he had used the assassin. It was more of a one-sided relationship. A relationship LaValle would be wise to keep.
"What do you want of me?"
"How do you know I didn't just drop in to say hi? It has been a while."
LaValle had never been one for jokes. "It is not easy to break into my room, though the frequency in which you perform the task often makes me reconsider that idea. Still, you can not possibly do so without considerable risk to yourself, and thus would not do so unless you had a considerable reason. What do you want?"
Entreri admired LaValle. He had been through several Pasha's in his time, Entreri being one of them, and had seen many a dangerous moment, yet he had survived. Now he faced the most dangerous man in Calimport - Entreri might not believe Jarlaxle's claim that he was the realm's best, but he would grant himself this city - and did not back down.
Entreri also realized that he was beginning to talk like Jarlaxle and quickly changed gears. "I wish to leave this city."
"Then leave. I shall not stop you."
"Nor could you, though you can aid me."
LaValle cocked his head at this.
"I wish to leave without being followed," the assassin explained.
"You want me to magically smuggle you out of the city? It is rumored that you have strong, new ties that have much magic about them. Why not ask them?"
Entreri said nothing, wondering how much the rest of Calimport knew about his union with the drow. In actuality, what LaValle had said, was the full extent of his, or anyone else's knowledge.
"Let me guess," LaValle said. "It is from these new ties that you wish to escape. Entreri is not often known to run from his problems." As soon as he had said it, LaValle knew that he had erred. If Entreri had not needed him, he would have killed him.
"I fear no one," Entreri said emphatically, his eyes piercing LaValle's false sense of security. "I want a change of scenery and do not wish to be followed. My allies need me ten times more than I need them, and they would not take kindly to my walking out on them. And with that piece of information, you know infinitely more than anyone else in the city."
LaValle did not know what to make of this. Entreri was confiding in him. Though he had told the wizard very little, it was far more than LaValle needed to know. "Where do you want to go?"
"Away, far away," was all Entreri said. "It would be best if I didn't even know."
This was the time LaValle would normally bring up the matter of payment, and the wizard paused considering this.
"I have already paid you by telling what I have," Entreri said. "You know as well as I do that information is the most valuable commodity in this city."
LaValle nodded. "I will do as you ask, but it will take time."
"I am not getting any younger," Entreri replied.
It was an odd statement, and he would not have made it if it had not been for the conversation he had shared with Jarlaxle earlier that day. The comment made LaValle begin to wonder. How old was Entreri? No assassin on the streets had prospered like Entreri, and consequently, none had lived as long. Most of them had met their unfortunate end in pursuit of Entreri. It was always too late by the time the other hopefuls realized they had no business calling themselves rivals of this man, and that their lives would have been much longer if they had become a bard instead of a killer.
Because of this, Entreri had an air of immortality about him. He had started his trade when he was barely a teenager and had continued well passed most men's prime. He had then disappeared for a decade, only to return a few months ago without missing a step.
LaValle often lost track of time. He was well over 100 years old and planned to live at least another 50 before signs of his advanced age would begin to show. A bit of magic and the fact that he had one-eighth elf blood in him had allowed him to outlive exactly 13 Pashas. Looking at Entreri, LaValle realized the man must be nearly forty, an unheard of age for a man in his profession. Was Artemis Entreri entering retirement?
"You frequent the Copper Ante." It was more a statement than a question.
"Go there in two days time, and I will have prepared something for you. Now, I wish to go back to sleep." LaValle, with Entreri still standing in the same spot he had been when LaValle had turned on the lights, turned them off and lay back down.
The wizard refused to look at where Entreri now stood in the darkness and instead strained his ears to hear the assassin leaving. He heard nothing. On the contrary, he felt Entreri's penetrating gaze on his back. LaValle endured this extreme discomfort for several minutes before he could stand it no longer.
"Why don't you leave!" he shouted and turned the lights back on. The room was empty. "I will be glad when that one is gone," he said to himself as he turned off the lights and tried to go to sleep.
* * *
The Basadoni Guild house had undergone many changes when the drow had moved in. For one thing, it had become far less crowded. The need for guild members diminished when you had the backing of Bregan D'aerthe, Jarlaxle's band of drow renegades. Most of the former guild members had been killed in the take over, including Pasha Basadoni, the guild's namesake.
Because of this, Entreri had the ability to choose any room he desired. It was not as if anyone could stop him from taking what he wanted even if Pasha Basadoni still lived, and of the drow, only Jarlaxle had set up a room for himself in the guild house. The other drow lieutenants spent more time in Menzoberranzan than anywhere else. The ease at which the dark elves traversed the huge distance between the drow city and Calimport frustrated Entreri to no end.
Entreri had not chosen the guild master's room, taking instead a much smaller room toward the ground level of the guild house. Entreri required few luxuries and went out of his way to avoid the many intoxicants available to him, whether they were drink, drug, or female.
He sat in his room in the late hours of morning, having returned from LaValle's room the previous night. He expected a visitor, and the predictable drow obliged him. His doorknob turned without a knock, and Rai-guy Bondalek stepped cautiously into the room. The drow priest was powerful, but not stupid enough to enter the assassin's quarters with too much confidence.
The two hated each other. It was not that either of them really liked anybody, but the level of animosity they showed toward each other they shared with no one else.
"You left last night," Rai-guy said as his greeting.
"And you spied on me," Entreri replied, knowing that Rai-guy had no idea where he had gone. Despite the friendship Jarlaxle spoke of earlier, Entreri knew that he had Rai-guy and Kimmuriel Oblodra, his psionicist, watching the assassin's every movement. Entreri knew of a few places in the city that were shielded against such magical prying, and by moving from one area to another, he was able to stay mostly hidden from the drow. If he could only extend that protection outside the city, he would not have come back last night.
By telling Rai-guy that Entreri knew all about his scrying efforts, he forced the priest to admit that he had not been able to track him last night. "Where did you go?"
"Why must you know?"
Rai-guy did not wish to battle words with this human. Drow did battle in much different ways, and therefore did not excel in verbal sparring, Jarlaxle being the only exception Entreri knew about. "It is of great importance to the success of our ventures on the surface that we know were everyone's loyalties are."
"Are you accusing me of treason?" Entreri asked. "I go for a simple walk in the night and you turn it into an act of betrayal."
"Nothing you do is simple."
Entreri and Rai-guy stared at each other for a few moments, each only a heartbeat away from launching a killing attack.
"Jarlaxle wishes to move up the time table," Rai-guy said. "He is impatient and wishes to draw out the guilds who stand against us."
"I can answer that question without the meeting Jarlaxle wants. They all stand against us. This city is not so different from your own. The only truces that are in place are signed only so the other side of the treaty won't expect an attack."
"Is it the same way with you? Are you only working along side us so you can stab us in the back with your trusty dagger when we least expect it?"
Despite his comments to Jarlaxle, Entreri smiled. "I want you to know, Rai-guy, that when my dagger sinks into your flesh to steal the last of your life, you will be looking me full in the face."
"So you do plan to turn on us?" Rai-guy tensed himself.
Entreri laughed. "If I talk peace with you, you think I am lulling you to sleep for the kill. If I make threats, you believe I will carry them through. There is no way for me to win. Tell Jarlaxle that I will hold his meeting for him, though he is probably listening to us right now, so don't bother. I will hold the meeting the day after tomorrow, though I doubt few will come and fewer still will stand to listen to what I will say."
Off in the upper room of the guild house, Jarlaxle smiled. "They will listen," he said to himself. "You underestimate yourself, my friend. They will listen. They will listen, or they will die."
* * *
Dwahvel Tiggerwillies was the owner of the Copper Ante, and while you could not really call the establishment a guild house, Dwahvel often held as much power as a guild master yet had a talent for avoiding being made a target. She dealt in the information trade and excelled at allying with multiple guild houses, often to their misfortune but never her own. There was only one ally to whom she had never been disloyal.
Entreri walked into the Copper Ante and could almost feel the prying eyes of the drow leave him as he entered the protection of the tavern. Dwahvel was, as were most of her clientele, a halfling, but Entreri felt little discomfort as he walked through the crowd of short patrons. As much as he stuck out in this crowd, he knew that within these walls he had no enemies.
Dwahvel smiled as she watched the assassin walk toward her. She had hoped that the longer their relationship lasted, the more it would positively affect Entreri's constantly sour mood. If it was working, Entreri worked hard not to show it. The two took a seat at a table in the corner.
"A friend of yours dropped something off here yesterday. I assume that is why you have come."
Entreri nodded. Dwahvel produced a small box, three inches by three inches by six inches. She laid it gently on the table between them. "Do you know what is in it?" she asked.
Entreri shook his head. "Do you?"
"I resent that you think I would open it."
"Did you?" Entreri persisted.
"Of course I did, though I have no idea what it is."
Entreri picked up the box and opened one of the ends. He tipped the contents into his hand and discarded the box. It was a finely polished ivory cylinder, maybe an inch and a half across and roughly the length of the box. The surface of the white shaft was immaculate with out a hint of a scratch or any other marking.
"Do you know what it is?" Dwahvel asked again.
Again Entreri shook his head, staring intently at the magical item trying to discern its function. "Though I have faith it will work."
"You are leaving, aren't you?"
Entreri looked up from his examination. "Remind me to kill LaValle next time I see him."
"He told only me, and I have told only you. Will you go far?"
"That is yet to be seen." Entreri slowly reached into his jacket and produced his jeweled dagger. "I will not be able to take this with me," he said as he laid it on the table.
"Yes you will," Dwahvel smiled and produced an identical dagger to that of Entreri's.
"How . . ." Entreri started, thoroughly confused.
"When I heard that you were leaving, I took it upon myself to ensure your safe departure. This weapon is identical to yours in every way but it's ability. It has the same magical signature, so if anyone looks for yours, they will find this first, as long as you go far enough away."
"And how will they find it?" Entreri asked, slowly putting his own weapon back in his jacket.
"All you need to know is that it has been taken care of."
Entreri looked unconvincingly at Dwahvel and then to the fake dagger. "Remind me that when I see you again, I will have to kill you too."
"Will we see each other again?"
Entreri shook his head. "If all goes well, no." He rose swiftly from the table. "Before I start to think things through, I must leave. Can I use one of the back rooms?"
Dwahvel gestured to the room that used to belong to Dondon, one of Entreri's old acquaintances. "Be my guest."
Without so much as a "thank-you" or a "good-bye," the assassin walked into the back room, leaving Dwahvel wondering why she liked him so much. Entreri closed the door and brought the ivory cylinder in front of him. There was no way to discern what he was supposed to do with the object, but he had been around other such magical objects and knew how to prod them with his mind.
Entreri held the cylinder firmly in his hand straight up and down, two feet in front of his chest. Closing his eyes, he focused his concentration on the object in his grasp. Images of fire and gold instantly flashed through his mind, and Entreri opened his eyes quickly. The short rod in his hand was glowing dimly white.
"If this is a trap, LaValle . . ." Entreri let the threat hang in the air as he closed his eyes again. The same images blurred though his mind's eye, but he pushed them aside as he tried to concentrate on the glow of the cylinder through his closed eyelids. Entreri could feel his outstretched arm begin to twist under its own power. He tried briefly to fight against it, but the power was too strong, and he was forced to let go of the ivory rod or have his arm twisted out of its socket.
Entreri opened his eyes and watched as the small cylinder hung in the air where he had let go of it and was slowly tuning in circles. It sped up quickly, and the rod itself was indistinguishable inside the shining white disk it created. Entreri watched entranced as the disk slowly grew in diameter until it was six feet across.
The disk was made up only of the blurred motion of the cylinder, but Entreri saw that as the cylinder slowed its rotational motion and began to shrink back to its original length, the shining white disk remained. Soon the cylinder was suspended motionless in the center of the disk where Entreri had originally released it.
He tentatively reached toward it to pluck it out of the air. The assassin's hand tingled slightly as his fingers passed through the insubstantial disk. Instead of grabbing the cylinder, he pushed his hand through the disk, noticing a substantial temperature increase on the other side.
The disk was too wide to look around and see if his hand was coming out of the other side, but Entreri was pretty sure it was a portal. He had no idea where it led, but he was going to find out. With his arm leading, he carefully stepped through the disk, grabbing onto the cylinder with his other hand, pulling it through and closing the portal behind him.
* * *
"Where is he?" Jarlaxle asked for the dozenth time.
"We are looking, and your continual questions are not speeding the process," Kimmuriel responded. The drow psionicist was peering into a scrying circle that Rai-guy had brought into existence on the tabletop. Both drow were searching desperately for Entreri who had left the previous morning and not returned.
"He is supposed be holding a meeting with the rest of the guild masters in half an hour," Jarlaxle said angrily. "He knows better than to cross us."
Rai-guy looked up from his work. "I told you he could not be trusted."
"And I told you to find him. Human's do not just disappear."
Rai-guy looked past Jarlaxle briefly to see Berg'inyon Baenre smiling. The youngest son of the now deceased Matron Baenre was enjoying this spectacle. He no less hated Entreri than everyone else, but he held the human in a unique respect. Entreri was toted as Drizzt's equal, and Berg'inyon alone understood the true depth of that comparison. He was the only one in the room that had ever met the renegade drow in battle.
Rai-guy looked back down into his circle. "The problem is that there is nothing to search for. He has done well to build his strength within himself, and he has very little projection into the magical plane."
"That," Kimmuriel continued, "and his mind-set is so similar to that of every other cursed human in this wretched city that it is impossible to pick him out."
"What of his dagger?" Jarlaxle asked, knowing the assassin was never from his only magical possession.
"It is a strong weapon but does not stand out that much in the magical plane," Rai-guy explained. "It has no magical will of its own but relies on that of its wielder to guide it. In the hands of anyone else, it would not retain half its worth. Besides, if he left it in the Copper Ante, we will not be able to scry it."
"We've had the worthless tavern searched," Jarlaxle said, "it is not there, and he would not leave it behind. It is more than likely that he is no longer even in the city."
"I think I have him," Rai-guy said finally. The scrying circle had backed off the city, rising to a height far above so more of the countryside was visible.
"Where?" Kimmuriel asked so he could better focus his psionic probe.
"Fifty miles south of the city," Rai-guy said, bringing the scrying circle down to the area in question. It was a barren stretch of land, covered with sharp rocks and sun bleached sand. Rai-guy focused on a section of rocky cliffs and brought the circle within visual range. Soon bodies were visible.
"Mountain lions," Jarlaxle said, looking at the bodies. He was the only member of the group serious enough about their surface exploits to have studied the creatures of this new land.
"They are dead, whatever they are," Rai-guy said, looking at the three motionless forms baking in the harsh badland sun.
"I do not sense Entreri's presence anywhere," Kimmuriel protested. "What drew you to this area?"
"The dagger is there," Rai-guy said, pointing into his circle at the lions.
Berg'inyon pushed himself away from the wall and walked over to look at the scene. The lions were impressive, roughly the same size as Drizzt's Guenhyvar. In their natural environment their tan fur would be invisible against the sandy backdrop, and their padded, yet clawed, paws would tread imperceptibly on the cruel terrain.
As imposing as the dead creatures looked, Berg'inyon laughed. "Drizzt would never have fallen to only three such creatures." Berg'inyon had seen Drizzt take down three hook horrors on a patrol while the two of them had been in the academy together.
"He is not Drizzt," Rai-guy responded harshly. The drow priest did not hold a fraction of the respect for Entreri as he did for Drizzt. And he did not hold Drizzt in that high regard either.
Jarlaxle had been forced to endure the argument of who was better with Entreri; he did not want to do the same with his lieutenants. "Take us there," Jarlaxle told Kimmuriel, not taking sides in the argument, though inwardly he agreed with Berg'inyon.
Kimmuriel muttered something about the heat and bright sunlight in the area of question, but using the dagger's presence as a focal point, opened a portal to the cliff ledge. The four drow pulled their hoods up and stepped through the magical doorway and onto the wind blown outcropping.
The lions were quickly creating sand drifts, as the fine rock dust was heavy in the wind. Their wounds were deep and clean, definitely caused by a short sword or dagger. Kimmuriel used his psionic powers to flip the heavy beasts over, and Berg'inyon examined the killing blow to the largest of them. The drow warrior bent over the lion and pulled the dagger from the thing's throat. "A fine killing blow."
"But where is the assassin," Jarlaxle repeated above the constant sound of the wind.
"Any blood trail left by Entreri would have been covered with sand by now," Kimmuriel pointed out. He caught sight of Berg'inyon beginning to protest and cut him off. "Even your beloved Drizzt would have be injured in such a battle."
Berg'inyon decided not to argue, but pocketed the dagger and began to scout out the area. He dragged his foot from side to side through the loose sand that surrounded the battle scene and felt as his foot collided with a solid lump. He crouched to the ground and fished the clump out with his hand. It was a small piece of reddish mud.
Jarlaxle watched the young Baenre and walked up behind him. "It could belong to the lions too." He turned away as Berg'inyon began to fish more clumps of blood out of the sand. "Rai-guy, could you please clear this area for us," Jarlaxle asked.
Berg'inyon looked up at the comment but did not vacate the area in time. The gust of wind from the drow priest threw him from his feet and slammed him against a flat, rock wall. Berg'inyon leaped from the wall, his twin swords in his hands in an instant. He began to charge Rai-guy, but stopped cold as he looked around at his surroundings.
The magical blast of wind had cleared off the light surface sand, and now Berg'inyon could see that the ground was covered in reddish lumps of sand. Jarlaxle whistled low. "This must have been some battle."
Blood was spread around the ground in no discernible pattern, and even though the entire area had just been cleared, Berg'inyon could see that the sandy winds were already beginning to recover the evidence. He quickly found the edge of the blood bath where a solitary trail of red clumps led away from the grisly scene. The trail was fast disappearing, but after twenty seconds of following it, the drow knew where the injured Entreri had ended up.
Jarlaxle saw the cave too. He and Berg'inyon walked side by side along the wide ledge that skirted around the edge of the rocky outcropping and led to the cave. Upon entering the dark cave, both drow removed their hoods and quickly allowed their eyes to adjust to the change in light.
In the cave another lion lay dead with a familiar dirk sticking out of its spine. Next to the dead beast a human form lay crumpled on the cave floor. Berg'inyon flipped the man's body over with his boot, and Jarlaxle swore. Though it was hard to make out for sure through the deep cuts and gashes that covered his face, Jarlaxle spit on Entreri's dead body.
"What in the nine hells was he doing out here?!" Jarlaxle said with cold fury. Berg'inyon wisely backed away. He had never seen the mercenary leader this angry before. "If he were not already torn, I'd rip the flesh from his hide myself!"
Rai-guy and Kimmuriel walked into the cave and looked upon the body of their nemesis. Jarlaxle turned to the priest. "Please tell me that is not our assassin, and this is just a cruel joke he has played on us. In which case he'll wish this was his body!"
Rai-guy was too glad to see Entreri's bloodied face to spend enough time on his divination spell. If he had, he might have noticed that there was a strange aura hanging over this body, as if it had never been alive but was just a magical construct. Instead, he saw what the construct was designed to make him see. "It is him."
"Blazes!!!" Jarlaxle cursed as he viciously kicked the bloodied head of Entreri. He started to turn about to storm out of the cave, but stopped. With his back to the dead body, he took a deep sigh and said nothing.
Berg'inyon toed the body. He smirked. To Entreri's credit, there appeared to only be only one critical wound. His face was scratched badly, but the killing blow was a fine claw mark across his neck. Berg'inyon had spoke quickly back in Calimport when he had seen the three dead lions, but in truth, he would not want to be the one to face four of them out here in the dessert.
"What are we to do now?" Kimmuriel asked, speaking carefully. He knew Jarlaxle was on edge. Where most would have flown off the handle at this discovery, the mercenary leader was keeping a steady composure. Even so, he was not happy.
"The meeting with the guild leaders is lost," Jarlaxle thought out loud. He had not contemplated this turn of events, and so had not thought this line of reasoning out before. Oh, he had a contingency plan if Entreri tried to run out. The assassin would have quickly ceased in his status of equal partner in this surface venture and would have just as quickly become a puppet.
"The meeting is a loss, as is our ability to communicate effectively with the other guilds."
"What of the woman?" Rai-guy asked, referring to Sharlotta, one of Basadoni's old lieutenants who had survived the drow takeover.
"She is respected among the other guilds," Jarlaxle admitted, squinting out of the cave into the barren wasteland. He turned around. "But she is not feared. She is seen as the loosing side in what the rest of the guilds see as Entreri's takeover. Entreri's position in the city has increased tenfold since our arrival and assistance. If anything, Sharlotta's has decreased."
Jarlaxle looked down at the corpse on the cave floor. "If we plan to rule this city, we need the other guilds to respect us and fear us. Without fear, there is no hindrance to rebellion."
"They will fear us," Rai-guy said, and evil grin curling on his face. He loved killing humans.
"Perhaps you would like to be the first line of defense when the rest of the city learns that drow elves have invaded Calimport," Berg'inyon said.
Rai-guy shot him an evil glare. "He's right," Jarlaxle interrupted. "Not only will Calimport revolt, but all Calimshan will be at our throats." Jarlaxle contemplated retreat for the first time. Inside one of the numerous pouches that hung on his body, Crenshinabon, the Crystal Shard, spoke to him, "Oh but we could have some fun in Menzoberranzan."
Jarlaxle nodded. "Our time here is done. Kimmuriel, please get us out of hear. As they stepped through the portal, Berg'inyon thought he caught a glimpse of reflecting metal on one of the distant cliffs. He paid it no mind.
A small form watched the disappearing act from the peak of a distant cliff. The halfling lowered the eyeglass with a smile on his face. "Dwahvel will be pleased," he said to himself. He left his perch, climbed onto his dwarf camel, and headed back to Calimport.
* * *
Artemis Entreri stepped through the portal and froze. Entreri now knew why there had been such a temperature difference on the other side of the portal. Calimport's greatest assassin was staring right into the eyes of a huge red dragon.
Entreri had not known fear often, if ever, and was not comfortable with the feeling. He quickly dismissed his fear and replaced it with anger. What had he ever done to LaValle to deserve this type of treatment? The idea that the wizard would send Entreri to his death was so outrageous, that he began to analyze his situation to make sure everything was as it seemed.
The dragon's existence was not in question. Entreri stood less than twenty feet in front of the sleeping maw. From chin to nose, the mouth was as tall as the assassin, and the huge mouth was twice that in length. Beyond the head, the body reclined on an enormous pile of wealth that filled a space easily as big as a city block in Calimport.
The head of the dragon so dominated Entreri's view that he could not accurately judge the size of rest of the worm's body. Heat rolled of the slumbering creature in intense waves, and Entreri felt like he should feel each blast of air as the creature exhaled - but he did not.
Everything Entreri knew about dragons, which was very little, said they were acutely alert when asleep. Some slept with one eye open, but they all had a keen sense of awareness. With Entreri standing frozen in front of this great beast, barely more than a dozen feet from the huge nostrils, the dragon surely must have smelled him. Not only did the red make no move to recognize the intruder, but it made no move of any kind.
Entreri slowly began to relax as he realized what was going on. The dragon was dead. How it could still be producing heat was a mystery to Entreri, but dragons did not follow the normal rules of nature, and perhaps their magical bodies took years, if not centuries, to completely cool.
Entreri let out a long sigh and, against every impulse in his body, took a step closer to the dead dragon. He took several more until he stood right next to the great jaws. An idea of how he had gotten here began to form in his mind, and he had to satisfy his curiosity.
Entreri placed the ivory cylinder in one of his jacket pockets, grabbed the upper lip of the dragon with both hands, and heaved upward. The row of teeth was very impressive, but Entreri saw that at least three of them were missing. Keeping the mouth open with one hand, he reached back into his jacket and held the white cylinder up next to the remaining dragon teeth. It was an exact match.
One tooth could easily produce five or six of the cylinders, and Entreri wondered if LaValle had the rest of the tooth, or had only stumbled across the carved cylinder. The assassin was willing to bet on the former. LaValle had probably even visited this cavern several times. Entreri laughed at the idea of the guild wizard keeping this place a secret to all the Pashas he had served under. There was more wealth in this cave than Calimport's greatest guild master could amass in several lifetimes.
The difference when LaValle visited was that the wizard no doubt had a way to return back home. That thought led Entreri to wonder how far from home he was. Entreri discarded that line of thinking for consideration at a later date. Right now curiosity about this enormous dead dragon filled his mind.
Entreri walked a complete circuit around the dragon and could find no reason for death. It was possible that this dragon could have died of old age, but Entreri doubted it would still be as hot as it was. Perhaps a powerful mage or a substantial poison. Whatever the reason, Entreri felt he would probably never find out.
When he had left Calimport, Entreri had not brought much money with him, only a small bag of coins, knowing full well that money was not something he had to struggle to find in his dark trade. Now, as he looked around at the piles and piles of gems and coins that lay scattered about the cave like so much sand in a dessert, he knew wealth was not ever going to be a problem.
Entreri had never valued coin much anyway, but he was not blind to the immense usefulness of this cache. Apart from LaValle, he was probably the only person who knew of this cave's existence.
Before that thought had even left his mind, Entreri heard voices. The soft red glow from the dragon's cooling body was plenty to light up the cave, and Entreri spotted a small opening halfway up the cavern wall that emptied onto a narrow ledge. The assassin quickly hid himself between piles of wealth, making sure that he had a clear path to move in so he would not rustle on the coins.
Two men appeared on the ledge a minute later, one of them holding a lantern. Entreri had a good idea that the one who was empty-handed had never been here before. The look on his face must have been similar to what Entreri had worn when he had first arrived. The difference was that this man had surely been told what he was about to see while Entreri had stepped out of the Copper Ante and into hell.
"I told you," the one with the light said.
"A-are y-you sure it's d-dead."
"Of course I'm sure. Do you think I'm an idiot." The man put the lantern down momentarily and picked up a rock. He hurled it at the dragon's belly. It flew directly over Entreri's head and fell well short of the terrific beast, splashing loudly in a bed of coins.
The sound of money and the reassurance that the dragon was indeed dead brought both of the men to life. The leader picked up the lantern, while his friend pushed past him and hurriedly scampered down the steep descent of the cavern ledge. "Master Cailring will be ecstatic when he sees this," the second man said as he tripped down the slope.
The man with the lantern was more careful. "I already told him that I had found a treasure hoard, but I didn't mention the part about the dragon. I wanted that to be a surprise."
"Well, Riechen, Cailring will almost surely promote you to the head of the guild for this," he stopped when he reached the bottom of the ledge and saw the wealth at eye-level, "for this . . . this . . . whatever you want to call it."
"I like to call it a retirement fund, Trent."
"And I like to call it mine," Entreri said loudly as he rose from his hiding spot and walked out from behind the pile of gems. He had watched closely as the two men had descended the ledge and noticed with interest their clumsiness. Even Riechen, in his caution with the lantern, had made more noise than Entreri would have if he had run across the bed of coins at full speed.
Trent drew his sword quickly. "Who are you?"
Entreri eyed Riechen as he spoke, for he felt he was the more reasonable of the two. "My name is not important. What is important is why you are hear, when will you leave, and with how many body parts still intact."
"I'm sorry, stranger," Riechen said, stepping past Trent, "but this treasure belongs to the thieving guild of Karenstoch, under the direct rule of Master Cailring."
Entreri looked around the cavern as if searching for something. "I don't see your guild's name anywhere. As far as I can tell, I got here first and claim the treasure as my own."
"You thieving, rotten," Trent started until Riechen turned to quiet him. "Just let me kill him, Riech."
"It's funny that you should call me a thief when you just declared yourself to belong to a thieves' guild."
"I did no such thing," Riechen said, turning back to look at Entreri. "I merely told you who this treasure belonged to."
"Me," Entreri countered.
"I am going to have to ask you to yield to our superior claim on this treasure, stranger. You are out numbered, and we will not back down."
"Then we are at an impasse," Entreri said.
"No," Trent spoke up, "you are dead."
Despite Riechen's restraining hand, the younger man burst out from behind him and charged. Entreri had not drawn a weapon yet and did not now. The thief's short sword was barely a yard away from Entreri when he finally moved. The skilled assassin sidestepped the weapon, allowing the blade to thrust itself in front his chest, parallel to his shoulders. Trent collided hard into Entreri's side, but with the older man's elbow extended, the thief took the brunt of the blow.
The air left Trent's lungs in a rush, and he dropped his sword. Entreri grabbed the extended sword arm and quickly stepped around the stunned man, pinning his arm awkwardly and painful behind his back. He gave the appendage a sharp tug, resulting in a yelp of pain from Trent. With the thief straightened in pain, Entreri placed his foot in the small of the shorter man's back and kicked out hard. The thief's feet left the ground briefly under the shove, and he stumbled headfirst into a pile of coins fifteen feet away.
Entreri noticed that there was a golden battle-axe lying half-buried in the pile right next to Trent's landing site. After making sure that the thief had also seen it, Entreri turned his back on him. "Like I said," Entreri spoke to Riechen, "we are at an impasse."
Trent tried to be quiet as he pulled the axe free of the pile, but to Entreri's expectant ears, it sounded like a waterfall. With his back still to Trent, Entreri slipped his toe under the pommel of Trent's dropped sword and kicked it up to his hand. He caught it and turned in one smooth motion. Like Entreri had predicted the axe was far too heavy for the small thief, and Trent could not stop his charge in time.
Continuing in the same motion of his spin, Entreri slapped the axe harmlessly away, spun completely around again, and slammed the pummel of the stolen sword into the side of the thief's face. Trent stumbled under the blow and dropped the axe. Catching sight of a small crack in the floor, Entreri changed his grip on the sword and stabbed it down along Trent's back.
At first, to Riechen, it looked as if Entreri had delivered a killing blow. Entreri did not wanted to kill either of these men yet, knowing they were the best chance for beginning his new life. Instead of stabbing Trent, the assassin had slipped the end of the blade inside the back of the thief's waist line, thrust the weapon down through the bottom of his trousers, and secured the tip of the sword into the crack in the cave floor.
Trent was forced into an awkward sitting position by the strength of the move. He tried to rise, but he was stuck fast to the floor. His inflexible arms tried to reach back to the pommel of his sword in the small of his back, but he could not attain a substantial grip on it.
"If you can't control your friend," Entreri said to Riechen as he walked away from Trent to pick up the fallen battle-axe, "I will have to tie him down." Entreri casually tossed the axe back onto the treasure pile.
Riechen stared on in shock. Trent was actual one of the better young fighters in the guild and this man had just treated him like a child without so much as a scratch to show for it. "What do you propose?"
"As I see it, I feel my claim is valid beyond anything you might have to offer, and you undoubtedly feel the same way about your claim. One option I have is to kill you both and hope you have not told anyone else about this cave's existence. To save your own life, you will of course say that everyone else in your guild knows about it and I don't stand a chance against them."
A loud ripping sound came from behind Entreri, and the assassin did not need to turn around to know that Trent had given up on trying to pull the sword out of the rock. Instead, the stupid thief had stood up, ripping the entire backseat out of his pants. Entreri did not fear another charge by the young man, for in order to run, he would need both hands to hold up his pants.
"Whether there is any truth in your claim that the rest of your guild knows about this place is irrelevant. In either case, you will be missed, and I will be found. So I have no choice but to accept your claim on this treasure, but at the same time, there is nothing you can do to keep me from taking what I like whenever I like."
"Master Cailring will not be in agreement with you. He will insist that you pay back each coin taken from here with a quart of your own blood."
"And who will drain it from me?"
"You need not boast of your skills, stranger. I have eyes that work. I saw what you did."
Entreri was waiting very patiently for this dim-witted thief to put things together, but it was painfully slow.
"There is only one way for us both to be happy," Riechen finally said. "If you claim that this treasure is yours and the guild claims that it is theirs, the only way to reconcile the difference is to make the two one."
"You wish for me to join your guild?" Entreri asked skeptically. This of course had been his plan, but now that it was presented to him, he was not so sure he wanted it. If it turned out to be Calimport all over again, he could always leave. If Trent was an example of the guild's skill level, Entreri need not worry for his own safety.
To Riechen, this encounter only sweetened the pot. The treasure was great indeed, but he doubted Master Cailring would ever dip into its wealth much more than a sampling. To flash too much of it around the city of Karenstoch was to make yourself a target.
So while the gold was nice, Entreri's blade would probably be better. What good was wealth if you did not have the means to protect it? Gold would make the other guilds jealous, but skill with a blade would make them fearful. When you are feared, you are respected. You might still become a target, but that was always an inevitable result of success.
Entreri agreed to the conditions. "For now," he said. "I do not often stay in one place long, but I shall see what your guild has to offer. But realize that the entire time your guild employs me, you will be paying me with what I believe to be mine already."
Trent walked angrily up behind the pair, having rigged a shoddy belt out of a piece of rope he had been carrying. He tossed Entreri an evil glance, and the assassin realized he would have to kill him before too long. Such was life.
The maze that led back out of the cavern made Entreri glad he still had the ivory cylinder. To find this place again through conventional means would not be easy. The way out joined other passageways continually, and while the trip was a straight shot up to ground level with little choice in what tunnel to take, the trip down would present numerous choices.
After almost half an hour of travel, they came to the cave exit. The three men stepped onto a small ledge that barely ran the width of the narrow opening. The cave opening was three-quarters of the way up a steep cliff wall, some 80 feet above the canyon floor below. The opposite side of the canyon was barely 35 feet away, rising a good 20 feet above the cave's wall.
The most important aspect of these surroundings to Entreri was the sky. It was filled with stars. When Entreri had left the Copper Ante less than two hours ago, it had not yet been noon. Now it was the middle of the night. While most of Entreri's travels had been north and south along the Sword Coast, he could understand that traveling east and west would change the time of day. To have changed it by twelve hours, Entreri must be on the other side of the great sea. Jarlaxle would never find him.
There were two repelling cords bunched on the ledge that the thieves had used to climb the wall. Riechen turned to speak to Entreri for the first time since leaving the dragon's cavern. "We can not use the cords to descend. There would be no way to detach them once we reach the bottom, and we can not mark this spot for others to find."
"It looks like you will not be able to follow us back home after all, stranger," Trent said with a smug face as he attached one of the repelling cords to his mock belt and put on spiked climbing gloves.
Entreri eyed the wall below them and thought he might be able to walk down it. However, he decided to impress these men with a different skill in his repertoire. Before Riechen retrieved the second repelling cord, Entreri picked it up. The cord looked to be 150 feet long, almost twice as long as the decent and perfect for what Entreri planed.
He untied the grapple, which had a foot and a half long shaft, and found a good-sized rock. Entreri walked a short way into the cave and pounded the grapple into a soft patch of the tunnel so it looked like a short metal tree. He looped the middle of the repelling cord around the "trunk" of the short tree and tossed the rest of the cord down the cliff wall.
Without a word to his new friends, Entreri literally threw himself off the ledge with both lengths of rope in his hands. His feet first touched the side of the cliff wall halfway down, and he was standing at the bottom of the canyon barely five seconds later. Entreri looked up and was pleased to see that with the ledge in front of the cave protruding as far as it did, it made the cave opening completely invisible from below.
Riechen eyed the setup, smiling. "Clever." He could see that by tugging on one of the cords, this stranger would be able to bring the entire cord down quite easily.
"The grapple will mark this cave for others to find," Trent said, though he did not really believe it.
"I can barely see it now, and I'm standing five feet from it," Riechen remarked. The old, steel grapple was nearly invisible against the gray stone of the cave, and even though it was night, the canyon ran north and south, never seeing any direct sunlight.
Riechen took the two cords in hand and began to make his way down the cliff. Trent huffed in frustration and began to climb down manually. Entreri watched the man's slow descent and realized he was not as clumsy as he had shown himself in the cavern, but there were few thieves in Calimport that would take as long as he to climb down the wall.
Riechen yanked the cord Entreri had rigged down and had the entire length of it looped and on his belt before Trent made it to the bottom. The tricky descent was one of the reasons Riechen had not shown this site to anyone else until now. Though Cailring had begged to see it, his gluttonous habits had left him less than nimble. Now the decent was easy enough that even he would be able to make it. The climb would still be tricky, but Cailring might be able to manage it.
When Trent finally reached the canyon floor, the three men walked to the entrance of the narrow crease. Entreri took careful notice of the surroundings, wanting to acquaint himself with this new land as soon as possible. The canyon emptied into rocky foothills that grew to a small mountain range behind them.
Half a mile through the unfriendly terrain brought them to the edge of a forest. The trees were thin in the rough soil, but Entreri saw they got denser as they left the shadow of the mountain. As the canopy above them became thicker, blotting out the night-lights in the sky, both Trent and Riechen drew their weapons.
Riechen had relit the lantern after the descent from the cave, and Entreri could see worry written on his face. Woods were not unfamiliar to Entreri, though he preferred the alleyways of a city. "Goblins," he asked, guessing at the source of their disturbance.
Both men stopped and turned to look at the assassin. "Goblins?" Trent asked, making sure that Entreri heard all the disrespect he had thrown into the word. "You've been reading one too many bedtime stories, my friend." Without further explanation, Trent turned around and continued through the forest.
"Bears," Riechen clarified, still puzzled as to why Entreri thought goblins were in this forest, or even existed at all.
Entreri nodded, taking the rebuke in stride. Where had LaValle sent him? Was he still on Faerun? He had heard tales of the stars in the night sky being suns for different worlds, but he doubted LaValle had access to that kind of magic.
They walked for another hour before they came upon a road. The two natives to the area relaxed visibly once the troop was safely walking down the road. Entreri thought he noticed a light through the woods and pointed it out.
"Elliorn the Ranger," Riechen said. "We'll not be bothering her."
Entreri frowned at the women's chosen profession. Riechen noticed the look of disgust. "She has her uses. For one, the wildlife in this area has become much tamer since she moved into her cabin."
"Makes it good for the hunters when you can sneak up on the deer without needing a bow," Trent said. Entreri doubted the stupid thief could sneak up on a dead deer, but did not say so.
The sky was getting light in the east when they started up a small rise. Peaking the rise, Entreri was given his first look at the city of Karenstoch. It was smaller than Calimport, but trying to compare the two cities on any level other than size would be pointless.
Calimport was a hive for thieves and killers in the middle of the dessert. This city was a settlement on the edge of a dense forest with rolling farmland and prairie as its other borders. The sky was brightening to Entreri's left, telling him he was looking south. A quick glance over his shoulder told him the mountains they had come from were mostly north west of the town. A good size river that came out of those mountains to the west cut through the center of the city.
The city itself looked shiny and new. This was probably because Entreri was used to the sandy streets of his old home. There was a wall along the two sides of the city that bordered the forest, but the south and eastern sides were open to the prairie. The large buildings in the center and forest edges of the city reduced in size in a pretty constant slope, dissolving into the poorer section of the town and eventually thinning into the occasional farm house separated by acres of fertile fields.
The river ran from west to east through the city, with several bridges connecting the larger buildings to the residential section of the city. All in all, Entreri guessed the population of this city to be half that of Calimport, perhaps twelve thousand.
Riechen noticed his new companion's long look at the city as they crested the hill, and realized that he had no idea where this man was from. "First time to Karenstoch?" he asked. There were a few rugged settlements around the mountain range, but this man did not look like an outdoorsman.
Entreri just nodded. Riechen shrugged. He did not even know this man's name. All would hopefully become clear when he introduced him to Cailring. The three men walked down the gradual slope of the hill, staying on the road and heading for the main northern city gate.
Entreri was interested to notice that there were no guard towers along the wall. Apparently the wall was just used to keep the non-existent goblins and such out of the city. As they dropped down from the hill, Entreri also noticed that he had misjudged the size of this city. The tallest buildings in Calimport were maybe five or six stories high. Karenstoch boasted dozens of buildings that topped ten stories easily.
The main gate consisted of only two guards and neither one protested the trio's entrance into the city. The walk through the streets consisted of only two turns. Unlike Calimport's haphazard structure, this city was laid out neatly in square blocks with few dark alleys.
The city was just waking up when the three men ended their walk by entering a tavern on the bottom floor of a seven story building. The tavern was called "The Pale Ale." While the tables were all empty, Entreri could tell by the barmaid's activity and the smell of bacon and sausage from the back kitchen, they were expecting a good-sized morning crowd.
Riechen moved right to the back of the restaurant, through a door, and to a stairway. Instead of up, like Entreri had expected, Riechen led them down. A doorman eyed Entreri suspiciously, but allowed the three men into the basement of the guild house.
A short hallway led to the main room. There was a large table, at which three men ate while being waited on by two young serving girls. Four other men stood by, armed and watching the three arrivals closely. Entreri picked out Cailring easily enough.
"Care for a bite, Riechen," he said, stuffing a wad of waffles in his mouth, syrup dripping down his chin. "I trust my treasure is still secure. Please have a seat."
Cailring wiped his chin and looked up at the group, seeing for the first time who had accompanied Riechen. "Who's your friend?"
"We found him in the cavern when we arrived," Riechen explained.
Cailring had reached for a goblet and was ready to take a sip but paused dramatically. He placed the glass down and looked hard at Entreri as Riechen continued.
"He claims that the treasure is his, and he will not give up that claim."
The other two men who were seated opposite each other, stopped all motion and looked at the their boss at the head of the table. "Really?" Cailring said. "And why is he still alive?"
"It didn't seem wise at the time to g-" Riechen started.
Cailring was not interested. "And why is he still alive?" Cailring asked again, looking this time at the four guards in the room. The guards reacted immediately to their master's command.
"Hold!" Entreri said loudly. For some reason, the four guards paused with their swords halfway out of their sheaths. They cast a questioning look at Cailring, and he shrugged. The guards pushed their weapons back down, for now.
"What is your claim to my treasure?" Cailring asked, leaning back in his chair.
"I could ask you the same thing," Entreri responded.
"And if you do," Cailring responded, "there will barely be enough left of you to feed my dogs. Now answer my question."
Entreri thought of several ways he could approach this situation. He could maintain a tough guy image, but he knew Cailring's type and that would not get him far. The other end of the spectrum was to beg acceptance into the guild. That might work, but it would put him at the lowest rung in the organization.
As it turned out, Entreri did not get to pick an option. Cailring waited five seconds for a reply before he spoke. "Trent," he spoke up, "could you please kill our guest."
Entreri knew the thief stood less than three feet behind him. The assassin spun around quickly, delivering two hard punches to Trent's face before he could even clear his sword. When he finally did, Entreri delivered a third punch to his stomach and easily wrenched the sword from the stunned man's grasp. With a flip of his wrist, Entreri reversed the blade and plunged it into Trent's chest.
The whole encounter took less than three seconds, and Entreri spun back around. His short cape flared out as he spun, hiding the entire fight from Cailring. All the guild master saw was Entreri spinning around and one of his best men falling dead to the floor with his own sword in his chest.
The four guards pulled their swords out cleanly this time. "Hold!" It was Cailring who stopped them now. "Who are you!"
"My name is Artemis."
"Well, Art, what are we going to do with you?"
"You are going to make me a lieutenant in this organization. You are going to give me the finest room available. I shall come and go as I see fit. I shall decide when my tenure with your guild is at an end. At which time, I will be able to walk away from this city free and clear."
The laughter was expected. The rest of the room was deathly still, but Cailring roared. "I shall make you a guild jester perhaps!" The laughter was forced, and he recovered from it quickly. "Please tell me, Art, why should I do this for you? Tell me quickly for my food is getting cold, and my guards are impatient."
Entreri turned to Riechen, who was still staring stunned at Trent's cooling body. "How many people did you show the cavern to?"
Riechen was too much in shock to think his answer through. "Trent was the only other one who kne-" he paused in his answer as he felt a tingling sensation in his chest. As he looked down he saw the briefest glint of steel as Entreri returned his dagger to its hidden sheath inside his jacket. Entreri had told the man this exact event was going to tale place and how he would need to answer to save his life. He had failed. "- the location of the-" was all he managed has he fell backwards, the red stain on his shirt growing quickly.
The guards moved quicker than Entreri had expected, but then, so did Cailring. "Wait!" he yelled as he leaped up from his chair and ran around the table over to Riechen. The man had died before he had hit the floor, and the cavern's location had gone with him.
Cailring did not bother to crouch down next to the dead man, seeing he was not going to get the information he needed. Instead he turned on Entreri. The assassin did not back down from this man, who outweighed him by close to a hundred pounds and was half a foot taller.
"You are playing a dangerous game, Art."
Not half as dangerous as you are, if you keep calling me Art, Entreri thought. "There is very little keeping me from walking out of here. If you want your treasure, you better make it worth my while to stay."
"You would never make it ten steps if you tried to leave this building," Cailring said in a low growl.
"What would you do? Kill me?"
"I could find the cavern on my own," Cailring said, thinking he might let the guards have their fun with this stranger. On the other hand, he had just seen what Entreri was capable of, and he wondered who would really be having the fun.
"I don't think so. I don't even know how our old friend Riechen found it."
"But you did?" Cailring asked. Entreri nodded. "And you can find your way back?" Entreri felt the bulge of the ivory cylinder in his pocket and nodded again. "Suppose I make you bring my guards out to the cavern so they can see you are not lying."
"Suppose I kill your guards and keep all the treasure for myself."
Cailring's fists were opening and closing at his side with enough force to crush a piece of charcoal into a diamond. Entreri was braced for action at the slightest hint of an attack. If Cailring had been so foolish, he would have found himself on the floor next to Trent and Riechen, with his four guards soon to follow.
Cailring finally stepped back. "Crane," he spoke to one of the guards, "take our guest upstairs and show him to Riechen's old room."
Crane stepped forward with a look of disgust on his face. Entreri smiled pleasantly at him. "And the rest of you," Cailring said, gesturing to bodies on the floor, "clean this mess up. I'm trying to eat in here."
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