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 6: The Truth
The four guards sat around the table playing cards. This was the easiest job any of them had ever had. Lawrence Alexander, the cousin to the mayor, and a member of the city council had asked them to be there. They were sitting in the dinning room of the councilman's home while he and his wife slept upstairs.
The recent rash of violence and the killing of Councilman Strum two nights ago had made several of the councilmen nervous. The guards did not mind. Sure, it was extra work, but it was also extra pay for overtime, and sitting around a table playing cards and pretending not to drink alcohol was the type of overtime work all City Guards dreamed of.
Dan looked at his hand a second time, wondering when if his luck was ever going to change. His three friends each threw half a dozen coins into the pot after looking at their hands, and Dan was sick of folding. He met the bet.
His mind was not really on the game anyway. He was thinking more about the new men that had been hired into the guard. Some new councilman he did not know - Quinton somebody - had rounded up a bunch of mountain men and wilderness trappers, and at least 18 of them had joined the guard within the last 24 hours, almost outnumbering the original guards.
Dan could not put his finger on it, but there was something strange about the new men. They did not socialize with the rest of the men like most new recruits did, but instead they kept to themselves. It was odd behavior for City Guards to be reclusive. Dan looked around the table at the other three men and could remember several instances in the past few years when he had put his own life in their hands, and they had done likewise. In this job, if you did not know or trust the men you worked with, you endangered your own life.
As Dan emerged from his private thoughts, he noticed that the table was very inactive. Looking at the man across from him, he saw that his eyes were closing. "Hey, Kev," Dan said to the man. "Is it too late for you?"
Dan stared to laugh, but as he slowly looked at the other men at the table, he saw they were unconscious as well. One of them lost his upright position, and his head fell hard to the table. Dan figured this should wake him up, but he did not move a muscle.
Dan was about to try and wake them when he felt it too. It was an urging like he had never felt before. His mind went almost completely blank as his muscles relaxed and his eyelids fell. Sleep felt like the only thing in the world that mattered. It was as if he had finished running a marathon and he just needed to relax for a while.
But he did not fall asleep. A sixth sense in the back of Dan's mind hollered to him that something was dreadfully wrong. With willpower he did not know he had, Dan shrugged off the sleep suggestion and tried to focus on his surroundings.
The door to kitchen burst open, and Dan turned to meet the intruder. The guard stood slowly, still very groggy from fighting off the sleep spell. He started to pull his sword, but a dagger came flying at him, and he abandoned drawing his own weapon to fend off the attack with his arms.
The dagger sliced across his forearm, and the searing pain brought him to full attention. He kicked his chair at the attacker and spun away from the charging man to draw his sword. The intruder nimbly avoided the awkward projectile, letting the chair crash into the wall behind him. He pulled out a short sword and charged the guard.
Dan stepped forward to meet the charge, chopping down with his sword, trying to end the fight before it started. The smaller man rolled to the side at the last second, continuing his charge past Dan and scraping his sword across guard's side. The fine blade found an opening between the chinks in Dan's armor, and blood began to flow.
Dan tried to ignore the new wound and turned around to meet his attacker again. Before either man could initiate a new attack, Dan felt a searing arrow slam into his back. He dropped his weapon at the intensity of the pain, and reached around to dislodge the offending shaft. As his hands searched out his back, the pain came again, like acid eating away at his body.
There was no arrow, at least not a physical one. Dan never fully understood this, for before he could turn around to identify his new attacker, the magical attack released its third blast of delayed acid damage. This one brought Dan to his knees in pain.
So consumed with this new attack, Dan never saw his original attacker run up to him with his short sword swinging. Though he never saw the killing blow. He felt the stinging cut of the blade across his neck, and his hands felt the warm flow of blood through his fingers as he fell on his face.
His fingers weakly played with the slit in his neck, for it was not something you felt every day, and he barely felt the fourth blast of acid on his back. His last conscious thought was the realization that Councilman Lawrence Alexander was going to die very soon.
Trevor looked down at the City Guard as he fumbled with his neck. After a few seconds, confident the man was now dead, he looked up at Reillon. "I thought you said they would all be asleep!"
"He must have had a strong will," the mage said calmly, not taking offense at the thief's accusatory words. "The others are unconscious," he added, waiving his arm toward the dinning room table.
Trevor looked at the men and nodded. He retrieved his thrown dagger and made short work of the other three guards. Without a word, the two men moved through another room and up a flight of stairs. Like Trevor expected, a light was on. The chair the guard had kicked at him had made a considerable noise when it had crashed into the wall.
The bedroom door was open and Trevor watched from the shadows as Lawrence poked his head out the door and called down stairs for the guards. After no response, Lawrence went back into the room, and Trevor could hear him telling his wife that he was going to go downstairs to see if everything was all right.
Trevor and Reillon hurried up the stair before Lawrence reappeared. The two burst into the room, and as the councilman raised the sword he had picked up, a bolt of energy from Reillon held him fast. The two intruders had gone over this plan several times, and Trevor had known about this spell. Still he asked the question that had been answered several times before. He walked up to the frozen man, bringing his face right up to Lawrence's. "He can still see, right?" he asked, not looking away.
"Yes," Reillon answered with only a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice. "He can hear also. Only his movement is restricted. He is still conscious of everything that his going on."
"Good," Trevor said as he moved toward the bed where the councilman's wife was looking on in horror. "I want him to see this." He brandished his dagger as he eyed up the half-dressed woman in the bed. "All of it."
* * *
"Remember when you were a kid and you broke something doing something your father had told you several times not to do?"
It was morning, and John Irenum was standing in Lawrence Alexander's bedroom. The councilman had been killed with a deep cut across his throat with no other wounds visible and no signs of struggle at all. His wife on the other hand . . .
"You would think to yourself that your father was going to kill you. I mean, he had told you not to do the exact thing you had done. He had also told you what the outcome would be, but despite the countless times before when he had been right, you did it anyway."
Rebecca Alexander was lying on the floor next to the bed with a sheet over her. John had been told that she was not found this way and that one of his men had added the sheet. Instead of getting mad at him for messing with his crime scene, after one brief look under the sheet, John was ready to promote the man.
"You did not want to see him, but you knew you had to. You had one of two choices: try to hide the broken item, or deny any involvement. Neither worked very well and only increased your punishment when the truth came out."
In his one brief look under the sheet, John had not seen much, but then, there was not much of the woman left to see. Even though she was completely naked, it was difficult to determine the gender of the body, or even if it was human at all.
John finally looked away from the scene in front of him to turn to the lieutenant he had been talking to. "So, Allen, ever do something like that when you were a kid?"
"Sir," the lieutenant replied carefully, knowing what kind of mixed emotions must be going through his head, "the mayor is not going to hold you responsible for this. No one could have preve-"
"Sir, Sir, Captain Irenum!"
The mayor's page, speaking more than John had ever heard before, came running up to him. "Sir, the mayor needs to see you right away."
"Who let this boy up here?!" John barked, quickly ushering the boy out of the room and away from the grizzly scene. "I want you men to clean this place up and take notes of everything you find. I want to know if even one hair is missing from either body. Is that clear!"
The guards scrambled over themselves, verbally responding to the order in turn. John took one last look at the room and humbly followed the page to the mayor's home.
* * *
"What did I tell you!!!"
John stood tall under the mayor's rebuke. He knew the man did not really hold him responsible, but his cousin had been killed, and he needed to lash out at something.
"Not only has the street violence not gone down, but they are still killing members of the City Council. And my own cousin! How many men did you have stationed in his home?"
"Four, sir," John responded.
"Drunks, all of them I'm sure. I want them all-"
"They're dead, sir," John said, knowing the mayor would want their badges and their removal from the guard. "They were killed with such efficiency it scares me. This killer, and I do believe that only one blade was used on all six bodies, is of a nature I have never seen. Only one of the guards showed any sign of struggle. It is not possible to sneak up on my men lik-"
"Unless they were drinking on the job," Jerithon bit back, but his insults were slowing down in the presence of John's calm demeanor. "Do you have any leads at all?"
John looked at the other men in the room. He was standing at the foot of the table, around which the rest of the living councilmen sat. There was a large portion of his own men surrounding this house and even the oldest member of the council felt safe now.
Leads? Did he have any? He weighed what Buster and Cal had told him. They both pointed at Entreri, but something about the man did not sit right with him. John had been fortunate to know very few killers in his life. By a killer, he meant that their sole means of income came at the expense of other people's lives. Each man had been a coward. They all attacked from the shadows and rarely walked out in daylight. John had confronted several one-on-one, and they had all opted to flee than face the sword of the Captain of the City Guards. Only a coward would have mutilated the helpless Rebecca Alexander. Entreri was not a coward.
"What about that man you were investigating?" Quinton said, interrupting the captain's thoughts. "What did you say his name was? Artemis?"
John's face twitched at that. How did he remember that?
Jerithon recognized the twitch immediately. "You found something out about him, didn't you? What did Buster say?"
"Actually," John started, "Buster wasn't too fond of him. Artemis is a killer, or at least he was?"
"Was?" Quinton prompted.
John really did not want to go into great detail but he was pretty sure no matter what he said, the council had found their scapegoat. Realizing this, he spared very little. He told them all about Buster's evaluation and then about the report of the killings from up north. John had barely finished before Jerithon exploded.
"What? What are we paying you for? How obvious does something have to be before you accept it? I want this man dead or behind bars waiting to die within the hour, and I won't take no for an answer!"
It did not come from John or anyone else at the table. All heads turned to the side of the room where Ellen came running down the stairs. She had been eavesdropping on the conversation like she always did, but she could not stay hidden any longer.
"No. Artemis did not do it, Father. I know it."
"What are you talking about, girl?" Jerithon's patience was running very thin.
"I know him. He is not a killer, at least not anymore." The looks she was getting demanded to know more, and she gave it to them. She told them everything from her attack in the alley and how Entreri had saved her, right to yesterday when she had spoken with the man.
"You did what?!" Jerithon had lost all control by now. "You went to speak with this killer? And here I thought I had raised a smart girl!" He could barely get his thoughts together for a competent sentence, and the next one made little sense. "Out! I want you out of my house! I don't want to see you again until all this is cleared up! Then we can talk about how you will not see the light of day for the next five years."
"Out!!!" Jerithon rose and slammed his palm down on the table, flipping over half of the councilmen's coffee mugs.
Ellen did not try and reason with him and was too mad at her father's stubbornness to try. She nearly ran out of the house.
"And you!" Jerithon turned to look at John. "What are you still doing here?! Go get this righteous killer!"
John looked about the room for a brief second wondering if he would get any help from the other members of the council. No such luck. None of them wanted to buck the mayor when he was like this. Even if they did, none of them had reason to disbelieve his claim that this Artemis was the killer. John nodded, turned, and left the house.
* * *
The sound of ten guards walking down the street in full armor and weaponry is not something that escapes many people, but still, Entreri thought, they could try to be a little more discrete.
The news of the most recent murder had not reached Entreri yet, and he could not imagine what could have inspired such a show of force. Unless they were here to kick out his neighbors for selling their produce outside of the market again, Entreri thought. He did recognize John, though.
Entreri put down his hammer and the handful of nails he was holding. "Good morning, Captain," he said, rising from his half-finished floor. He had never been properly introduced to the man and did not know his name. All he had to work with was the restaurant's host's casual reference to his title. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm afraid this isn't a social call," John said, his men fanning out behind him. Three of them detached from the main group and went to investigate the house and the rest of the property. The other six men flanked John and Entreri, three on each side. "By the power granted to me by the city of Garrilport, I'm placing you under arrest for the murder of Councilman Fredrick Strum, Councilman Lawrence Alexander, both their wives, Councilman Strum's two children, and four city guards."
Though none of the men saw it, Entreri changed his entire demeanor. In a spilt second he had transformed from Artemis Entreri, a carpenter, to Artemis Entreri, the most dangerous man alive. He felt the weight of his dagger tucked under his shirt, and his mind played out two dozen different ways to draw it with either hand, depending on which direction he would have to attack first. His eyes picked out the nervous hands of the guards in front of him, predicting which ones he would have to worry about and which would fold under pressure. His ears located the three men that were busy searching his property and determined if they were within striking distance. The only visual change that came over him was the intensity of his stare. It was subtle, but it sent chills down the spine of the seven men in front of him.
"I don't suppose you've had a chance to talk with the mayor's daughter, have you?"
Entreri could see at once that the captain had indeed talked to the woman, but John made no verbal confirmation. "Are you going to come willingly?"
"What proof do you have?" Entreri asked. John started a response, but the assassin cut him off. "Besides the blacksmith and any report from the north. Do you have anything that links me to these murders?"
John could not believe what he was hearing. This man, in not so many words, had just admitted to the killings from up north. He had also admitted that his heart was just as black as Buster had said. Still he had the audacity to deny any connection to the murders here in Garrilport. Like there could be two such killers loose!
"Captain," came a call from behind Entreri. It was one of the men who had left to search the property. John also noticed that it was one of the new men Councilman Quinton Palluge had hired. "We found these in the hay trough for his horse in the back."
"Of course," Entreri said, not even bothering to look at the planted evidence. "That way my horse might accidentally eat them. What kind of fool do you take me for?"
John did not like the implication from Entreri that his men were setting the killer up. He liked even less what the items were. They were the crystal sculptures of ships that had been given to the two dead councilmen. Each sculpture had one of the dead man's names. "Take him!"
John did not even know what happened. Two of his men approached Entreri with their weapons drawn, and a second later they were both reeling backwards, one grabbing onto his broken and bloody nose, the other clutching his now empty sword arm as blood seeped through his fingers. Entreri looked as though he had never even moved, though a dagger had magically appeared in his hand.
"You would attack City Guards?!" John cried, pulling his own sword.
"You would arrest an innocent man?!" Entreri fired back. "I have not killed anyone in this town and do not wish to start now. Everything I have ever told has been the absolute truth. I did not kill those men." John was about to bring up the outlandish stories he had told at their lunch, but Entreri's gaze cut him off as though the assassin could read his mind. "Everything has been the truth."
John wanted to kill this man. He could see the evil now that Buster had claimed was so obvious. This man had killed a dozen people up north, and John believed now, as did the mayor, that this man was their killer.
Entreri saw this transformation and smiled at John. "I have not killed anyone yet, but you are welcome to be the first."
The call saved John's life, for he was just about to attack the assassin. John was not crazy enough to turn his back to Entreri. "What is it?" he called over his shoulder.
"The guardhouse is under attack!"
John did relent in his stand off with Entreri this time. He turned to see that one of the guards' messenger boys was bringing the news. "Speak up boy."
The kid had obviously just ran all the way from the center of the city and was out of breath. "It was just after you left, Sir. I don't know who they are or how many there are, but we are under attack. There is a wizard too. Someone who can shoot fireballs out of his hands and summon all kinds of horrible creatures."
The kid was talking nonsense now. "Who sent you?"
"Draick sent me," the kid responded. "He said you need to come back right away. He feared that you might not even be able to make it back in time."
"But I was just there not fifteen minutes ago," John said, confused by this turn of events. Draick was not his best man. Heck, half the time it seemed like he was working for somebody else, but he knew the man did not get things wrong often. For someone to be able to seriously threaten the guardhouse in a matter of fifteen minutes was outlandish.
Entreri interrupted the captain's thoughts. "There is your killer, Captain. Be glad it's not me. I'd be able to take down your pathetic guard house in five minutes, and I would have never let a child escape to warn you."
John turned at the insult, wanting to run the man through, but he knew that he did not have time to deal with both issues right now. "I want you out of my city within the hour. If you are not gone by the time I get back from handling this other issue, I will burn your shack down around you as you pack."
With that, the captain turned to leave. A few of the men regarded Entreri with threatening glares and motions with their weapons before following their leader. Entreri returned each look with one of his own, sending the men away faster still. About the only ones that did not give the accused murderer a parting glance were the two men whose blood Entreri had shed. They had fought with the deadly assassin for about half a second each, and both were looking forward to a full out battle with the mysterious wizard.
Entreri did not need the captain's ultimatum. Even if he had somehow been able to convince John of his innocence, he would have left anyway. He had prided himself in staying away from trouble for as long as he did, but true to his nature, trouble had found him. He had not been in Halfway more than one hour before he had killed five men. Here he had lasted a couple weeks. It was something to build on.
Granted he had not been presented with the same conflicts that Halfway had given him, but he had some. Billy, the young pickpocket stood out clearly. The old Entreri would have handled that situation much differently. He had not been above killing children when the need had arisen in the past. He had just tried to think of them as halflings. Most of the time they were anyway.
Curiosity for what was going on back at the guardhouse did not entice him in the slightest. Just like the dead councilmen, it was not his problem. Heck, in half an hour, it would not even be his city anymore. Entreri had not accumulated much for packing, but what he did have would easily fit through his ivory portal and into the dragon cave several hundred miles away. Without much further thought on the matter, Entreri prepared to leave.
* * *
The guardhouse was oddly silent when John and his men walked up to it. It was a four-story structure and the strongest building in the entire city. The first thing that let John know something was wrong was that the two guards normally stationed outside of the front door were absent. Everything was quiet and still. If a battle had taken place here, it was long over now.
The front door to the guardhouse was unlocked, and John pushed it open easily. Inside stood two of his men. The entry to the guardhouse was not lavish and was purely functional, offering hooks, closets, and a few storage rooms to hold the guard's personal belongings while they were on duty.
John recognized one of the two men as original members of his unit before the infusion of the new recruits. "William," John said, walking up to him, "what happened here? I heard you were under attack."
William made no effort to respond and stood rigidly in front of his captain. His eyes could not hold John's gaze, however, and he looked away.
"Look at me when I talk to you and answer me when I question you!" John commanded. "What happened here?!"
"Please," William pleaded, barely more than a whimper.
John turned to look at one of his other men, who was standing next to a partially opened storage room door. "What is it?"
"I think you should see this."
Before John was even ten feet from the door, the smell of what was inside hit him and made his knees weak. Inside the small room was stacked half a dozen bodies. Some were burned to a crisp, while others were hacked up like raw meat. Some had been hacked and then burned. All of them were guards.
John spun away from the grizzly scene and marched angrily back toward William. "You will start talking, and you will start talking now! You will not stop talking until I tell you! Am I understood?!"
William was in obvious discomfort. His eyes looked about at the other man in the entry whom John had randomly not decided to interrogate.
John's right hand whipped up and across William's face, sending him reeling. John's other hand quickly followed suit, countering the first slap and stabilizing William's position. "Look at me! What happened here?!"
As hard as it was to refuse his captain, William had also seen exactly what had happened to the men in the storage closet, and he knew he could also very easily end up as a charred body on the top of a pile if he was not careful. Still, he did have some loyalty toward his old boss. "Upstairs," he said quietly, his right arm rising to point the way.
John stared at him a second longer, but realized someone else had given him commands that John was not going to get him to disobey. "Come on," John commanded to the nine men he had brought with him. They moved out of the entry and into the rest of the guardhouse, leaving the two influenced men behind.
As John moved upwards through the building, he found many more guards like those he had left behind. They were not talking and not moving. They all stood at attention and gave little or no response to John's questions. Yesterday these men would have marched to their deaths for him, but now they barely recognized him as an authority figure.
John knew that his most trusted lieutenants would never stonewall him like this, but John also noticed that these men were nowhere to be found. The bodies in the first floor closet were unrecognizable, but John was pretty sure who they were. For this unknown assailant to so effectively remove each man that was exclusively loyal to John meant that one of his men must have helped.
Even before John opened the final door leading into the main room on the top floor of the guardhouse, he knew who the traitor was. Draick stood in the middle of the large room, stepping away from the central table as soon as John entered. "Welcome. I'm glad you could make it. I would have hated to send your own men out to round you up."
As John's group entered the room, there was a very obvious separation. Of the men he had brought with him, the five who were new recruits quickly stepped away from the rest of the group, while the remaining four drew their swords. John recognized this immediately and understood the implications. He knew who had hired these recruits and now knew the real reason behind it.
"So what does Quinton want?" John asked, motioning with his arms to hold his men at bay. The rest of the recruits joined four others who had been in the room and they all readied crossbows.
"What do you think?" Draick responded. If he was startled that John had so easily solved the mystery, he did not show it. This observation made John slightly nervous. The only way Draick or Quinton would allow him to have this vital information was if they planned to remove him from the equation.
"What does any power hungry visionary want? He feels that this city is only beginning to realize its full potential, and my boss does not feel the current leadership is capable of bringing that potential to fruition."
"And what are you?" John asked, scanning the room as he talked. He knew Draick was a decent fighter, but he still did not think that with even twice as many recruits as there were he would have been able to take his guardhouse with a minimal of bloodshed.
"I am his right hand man. I am going to make sure this city remains under his control. I am going to take your job." He said this last comment with a wide grin on his face.
John had never realized Draick was so evil. Having so recently spent time with Entreri, another man he had misread, he was quickly becoming uncomfortable with so many men being not what they seemed. He realized he had suffered from a severe case of naiveté.
"So you did all the killing," John said, still having a hard time believing it. "I don't care if I join the corpses in the entry closet, but I will make sure you go there first."
Draick just laughed. "Me? No, I'm afraid you've got it all wrong. I haven't drawn a sword in this entire affair."
This confession and the frank honesty in which it was made startled John and he held off drawing his own weapon. In this awkward silence, Reillon stood from the table. John eyed up this mysterious robed man carefully. His frame was that of an adolescent, long before maturity, but his face seemed a hundred years old. It was his face, and more particularly, his eyes, that gave John worry. He saw immense power in those eyes.
"John Irenum, former Captain of the Garrilport City Guard, I'd like to introduce you to Reillon, the most powerful man in the city."
One of the men behind John laughed at the ludicrous statement. It was a fatal mistake. Reillon raised both his arms, his bony hands flexing out from his billowing sleeves. Five colorful bursts of energy flew from his fingers and struck the doomed man in mid laugh. He was instantly stunned, blinded, muted, deafened, and poisoned. Reillon's other hand shot out a jet of flame that consumed the man where he stood. The magical flames fed off him like he was made of parched wood.
John wanted to react to save his man, but he not only saw there was little he could do, but the recruits in the room all had their crossbows aimed right at him.
The magical display lasted only briefly, but when it ended, the guard stood as a statue, burned beyond recognition. Until the initial disabling spell ran its course, the corpse would stay in its morbidly rigid state, a very visible warning to the remaining three men who might wish to fight.
John realized this battle was lost. He was far from familiar with magical spells, and that unfamiliarity made him all the more hesitant to attack. Draick saw this change in him and smiled. "Good. Now if you'll just toss your weapon aside, I have instructions to bring you to an important meeting, and I feel if we fool around here any longer, we might be late."
John did as he was told, as did the rest of his men. They were led to another room while Draick and Reillon took John back downstairs. As the three of them left, the dead guard finally fell over, half of his body bursting apart in a plume of ash.
* * *
The councilmen were still debating how to reduce the crime spree when John's party entered the meeting room. Jerithon looked up at the interruption, taking special note of Reillon and Draick. "What's going on here? Have you dealt with Artemis?" The mayor also noticed that John was unarmed.
Quinton stood at the table. "I believe that this meeting is over, gentlemen. Now if you would all follow Draick and a few other of the guards outside, they will lead you back to the guardhouse where you will be kept only as long as necessary."
Jerithon was too confused to be angry. He turned to his captain for answers. "He is the one who's be-" John started, but a jab from Draick's sword hilt shut him up.
"No, no," Quinton said. "Let him speak."
Draick stepped away from John and motioned dramatically for him to continue. The captain cast an evil glance at the man. He must be loving this. "Quinton is behind the murders. He is the one who has been controlling the pickpockets too. I assume his palatial house on the river is also home to most of the thieves that have plagued the city. I also assume he has several of my guards on his payroll. He has complete control of the guard house at this moment."
Jerithon and every other member of the city council were in shock. "And Artemis?"
"I've never met the man," Quinton spoke up, "though I appreciate the effective diversion you set up."
Jerithon realized he was being made out to be the fool and did not like it much. "And you just let this happen?" he scolded John.
"What was I supposed to do. I was just follo-" he raised his arms in an innocent gesture and sprang into action. Draick was on his left, and John's arm shot out to grab onto his drawn weapon. The captain turned his back on the man as he wrenched the weapon away, hitting him hard in the face with his right elbow.
Draick stumbled backward under the blow, and John spun completely around, bring the sword up to his shoulder to chop down on his former lieutenant. Just before the deadly blow could be delivered, four magical bolts of energy slammed into the captain's body. The sword flew from his hands and skittered to Draick's feet.
John stumbled backwards, fighting off the dizzying feeling brought on by the magical attack. He turned to look for the wizard and totally disregarded Draick. The other man did not like being so humiliated and rushed his former captain after scooping up the sword. He struck out hard with the flat of the blade, hitting John solidly in the knee. A sickening crack was heard throughout the room, and John went down, not to get up without assistance.
Though the councilmen were concerned about their captain's wellbeing, they were more in shock by the magical attack that had come from Reillon. Reginald, the oldest member of the council spoke up first. "What kind of tricks are you playing with, Quinton? Explain yourself."
"Tricks?" Quinton said, stepping away from the table and walking around to where Reillon stood. "How long have you been on the council?"
"Thirty years," Reginald said with pride.
"I think that's long enough." With a motion of his hand, Reillon sent a black sphere of energy toward the doomed man. The spell hit him with a hiss - the sound of breath leaving the man's lungs for the last time - as he slumped to the table, quite dead.
"Anyone else?" Quinton asked.
"You can't kill us all," Porter, the next oldest man on the council, dared speak up.
"Oh?" Quinton disagreed. While he had not gone over Reillon's spell capability he felt confident in his mage's power.
Reillon, on the other hand, understood the power of the spell he had just used, and it was one that took considerable preparation. He could not fire it off at will, so he improvised. A bright yellow acid arrow, like the bolt that he had used against Dan the previous night, sped toward the councilman. Porter tried to scramble away from the table, but even if he had dove under it, the magically guided missile would have found him. It exploded on his chest with a colorful splash, releasing a strong acrid odor.
The spell did little more than induce extreme pain in its victims, but with Porter's advanced age and weak heart, it was enough to send him into cardiac arrest. As the acid spell repeated its painful bursts every few seconds, Porter's face contorted into several horrifying expressions as his life passed from him. This death was far more dramatic and time consuming than the instant variety that had been given to Reginald.
A full thirty seconds later, when it was all over, no one so much as blinked. "Good," Quinton said, "I'm going to need a few of you alive to help me with this power transfer."
"What of my men?" John groaned from the floor. He was on the verge of passing out from the pain in his broken leg.
Quinton admired his resolve. "They will retain their jobs if they are willing to accept the new leadership. If they don't, well," he looked over at the two dead councilmen, "I can't be held responsible for what happens to them."
That comment raised everyone's ire, and Jerithon almost spoke up, but he too was looking at the dead councilmen and wisely stayed quiet. Still, the idea that Quinton would not be held responsible was so outlandish it was insulting to contemplate.
As he and the rest of the councilmen rose from the table and obediently followed their captors outside, Quinton gave orders to a few of his men to search the house and bring along anyone else they found, especially the mayor's wife and daughter. Despite the fact that his outburst at his daughter had been unjustified, Jerithon was now very glad he had done it. He just hoped she was smart enough to keep her distance.
* * *
Ellen watched from the window of the city library, down the block from her house. She saw her father, mother, and the other councilmen being led toward the guardhouse by several well-armed guards. It was a very controlled procession, but Ellen knew her father and she could tell something was wrong.
The thing that told her something was really wrong was when she saw two other guards carrying John at the end of the procession. It looked like the captain was passed out, and his left leg was completely swollen.
Ellen had spent a lot of time in the guardhouse over the last few years doing errands for her father, though she suspected it was a further effort to get her and John together. She knew most of the guards by name. She knew none of the men who now escorted the council.
She had eavesdropped on all the meetings they had held in her home and knew that a man named Quinton Palluge was hiring new recruits. She saw this man at the head of the group giving directions.
Ellen did not want to believe what she thought was happening, but there seemed little other explanation. Quinton was taking the City Council hostage with the help of the City Guard, most of whom he had hired. She did not think one man was capable of such a takeover plan. Surely when the merchants and citizens of the city found out about this they would not tolerate it. Even if Quinton had control of every one of the City Guards, he could not stand up to the whole city.
Something was definitely wrong here, and Ellen needed to talk it over with someone. The list of people she trusted about such matters was not a long one, and most of them were directly involved and thus indisposed. Ellen could only think of one other person.
When Ellen entered the blacksmith's shop a short while later after a quick horse ride across the city, she did not hear the normal pounding of metal, but instead it sounded like Buster was tearing his shop apart. She got no response from the man upon entering or walking across his squeaky floor. "Buster?" she called.
"I'm closed," he shouted back. "Please go away."
Something was odd here too. Ellen climbed over the short counter and made her way tentatively into the large back room. Buster was indeed ripping his shop apart, yanking huge metal working equipment off his walls and throwing them into a large cart he had backed up to the dock in the rear. All of his special tools and prized custom items were already in the cart, and Ellen thought little else could fit, but the big man was going to get as much in as he could.
"I said I'm closed," he grunted as he moved a particularly heavy iron frame.
"Buster, it's me, Ellen."
Buster put the frame down and turned around to really look at his visitor for the first time. "Oh, I'm sorry Ellen. I'm still closed though." It was hardly a greeting, but he said nothing more and kept working.
"Buster, please! What are you doing? What's going on?"
Buster put down the huge frame once more, actually glad for this interruption in his work. He had been at it for the past hour, and he really did need a rest. One hour ago, Reillon, Draick, and the rest of the recruits had taken over the guardhouse, and Buster had felt the whole thing.
He was not a priest, but his former brotherhood of monks had engaged in many priestly practices and specialized in a few detection and divination spells. John was aware of Buster's skills, but did not understand their origin and would not even if they were explained. Regardless, Buster had a very thorough knowledge of things magical and, and the intense magical attack that had taken place an hour ago had shaken him to his core.
The former monk had not experienced anything that powerful in his life, and he had immediately dismissed his customers to divine the source of the power. When he was finally tuned into the magical attacks, he felt the full suffering of those receiving the brunt of it and the fear of those who watched. He also felt the pleasure and satisfaction it gave to those on the same side as the mage.
The evil presence was similar to Entreri's, but this was different; this was being acted out. Entreri had tried to keep his nature hidden. He did not want people to know who he was and was consciously making an effort to present himself as harmless. While Buster would still be the first person in the crowd that watched him hang, he could live with Entreri's existence in his city. This was different.
In addition to the magical display's evil origin, there was the strength behind it. This mage was not evil by nature; instead it was a direct result of his power. Power corrupts, and by the absolute level of this corruption, the power must also be absolute. Buster would stand alongside John and fight evil all day, but this was something else. There was a time to fight and a time to leave. Buster was not a coward, but he was not stupid either.
"What's going on?" Ellen asked again as she watched Buster deep in thought.
"Something bad has happened," he said slowly. "Something terrible, in fact. And it will only get worse from here on out. There is nothing you or I can do about it. I am leaving, probably for good."
"What do you know about what's happened to my father?"
This question took Buster by surprise. Though he had felt the people dying and the power behind the attacks that had brought their deaths, he did not know who was involved.
Ellen told him all she knew, and Buster took it in slowly. At first he felt bad for leaving, but after another second's thought, he realized he was not packing fast enough. "This Quinton you spoke of," Buster said slowly, piecing together what he knew and what he had just been told, "he has a mage working for him." Buster saw a confused look on Ellen's face at the mention of a mage. "A magician," he clarified.
Ellen actually chuckled at this. She had been to a few parties at Quinton's estate. "Yes, I've seen him. He's harmless. He does a bunch of slight of hand tricks and plays with fire. John showed me how it is all done once."
Buster shook his head. "This magician does not bother with simple tricks. This magician is capable of dealing out death and destruction with a flick of his wrist. He is completely deadly."
Ellen tried to laugh this comment off too, but Buster would not let her. "I am not joking. If this Quinton has control of the City Council and the guardhouse, with this magician by his side, he will be able to rule this city very efficiently. One hour ago, Garrilport ceased to exist as a free society with rights and privileges offered its citizens and became a dictatorship ruled by an evil man whose only aspirations for this city are to make himself money and give himself power."
Ellen looked into Buster's sincere face and no longer felt like laughing. Instead she swallowed hard. "What can we do about it?"
Now it was Buster's turn to laugh. "We can do nothing."
Ellen could not accept this answer. She had been told that she was not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to do a lot of things in a male dominated society, and she had always proved them wrong. Buster's comment did not refer to her age, gender, or any other aspect of her that had been criticized in the past. His comment came from years of training and research into the subject.
"Listen," he said slowly and firmly. "I have read many stories that some might chalk up as fiction, but I know to be true. They tell of this land a long time ago before any of the cities you know of existed. It was a time of turmoil with horrible monsters and creatures of every kind. People like us could not survive and prosper in this environment and most were killed off. At the root of this chaos was magic. This magic spawned many of the awful creatures, but some monsters could also use it. Soon some of us began to learn how to harness it and control it, and these men and women were finally able to fend off the death and destruction that surrounded them.
"Too often, though, these magicians did not control the magic as much as it controlled them. Once the monsters were dealt with by the mages, the mages then needed to be dealt with. These men and women could level entire cities and fight off huge armies with their powers.
"You or I or anyone else in this town could never handle one of these mythical mages, and I fear that, after their long extinction, one has come back. Soon there will be more. A mage gets his power through study and discipline and then makes an effort to pass it on to others that would learn.
"Power is a tempting thing, and soon there will be an army of mages that will sweep across this land, taking each city they find. No one will be able stop it. If my study of history has taught me anything, it is that it will always repeat itself. The ability for man to learn from his mistakes is only overshadowed by his unwillingness to do so."
"There must be some way to defeat this evil. How were the mages defeated before?"
"Time. Time and knowledge. Over time the mages grew complacent and the people became educated. Fighters began to train themselves in the art of battling mages. The few weaknesses in a mage's arsenal of spells were examined and exploited. Now there is only one, and there is a hope he will be defeated before he can create an army, but it is a slim hope for in this town there is none strong enough, save perhaps Captain Irenum himself, and by your eyes he has already been dealt with.
"This new mage will use the guard house as a shield, never engaging his enemies directly, but at a distance while the City Guards take the brunt of the blow. He will survive and the town will fall. I wish I could do more, but I can not. And so I leave."
Buster paused briefly after his tale, letting it sink in. "Now if you'll excuse me," he said heaving back up the heavy metal frame he had set aside, "I have a lot of work to do. I would recommend that you leave too, but I know you won't. I will pray for you."
Ellen saw nothing further could be gained from the blacksmith and she left him. She did not feel bitter toward him for his abandonment of the city. He was looking out for his own wellbeing, and that should be respected for what it was. This was a port city, and every sailor knew that there was a time on a sinking ship when you had to stop bailing and start swimming. Buster was swimming as fast as he could.
Ellen slowly climbed onto her horse, a plan forming in her mind. If all that Buster said was true, and she had never known the man to be wrong, then there was nothing she could personally do about this. But that did not mean she could not get help. As she kicked her horse into a quick trot, she only hoped she would be able to find someone willing to help.
* * *
As night fell on Garrilport, not much had changed. As the new Captain of the City Guards, Draick had hastily reformed the guards into what they used to be. Shortly after the takeover, Draick had his men back out on the streets, patrolling like normal. He was forced into using mostly recruits, but Reillon had assured him that a few others would remain loyal.
The prominent merchants did not deal with the City Council directly and what little communication they had with the ruling body was done on an infrequent basis. Still, Quinton had sent a few messages that said the City Council would be unreachable for the next few days while they dealt with the rash of murders that had befallen them. This was totally understandable, and Quinton did not expect any problems from the merchants.
As far as the actual council was concerned, Quinton had kept them locked up on the top floor of the guardhouse without food or water for most of the day. They were kept under constant guard, but none of them were fighting men, and Quinton did not expect any trouble from them either. He realized he could not keep or kill them all, as most of them had responsibilities outside of the council. The two older members Quinton had killed had retired from all but the council and were thus expendable.
As Quinton walked into the upstairs room of the guardhouse, followed closely by Reillon and Draick, the rest of the room stopped what they were doing. Quinton took notice that Trevor was in the room. The man had a very disturbing evil streak about him that had only surface once Quinton had asked him and the rest of his men to promote terror. As a member of the council, Quinton had been given the details of the most resent murder.
With this nasty streak brought out, Parnid was now definitely his new top thief. Parnid was out right now, patrolling the streets with his ears and eyes open to any changes that might have come from the day's drastic events. If he saw anything, he was to report back immediately. The fact that Quinton had not heard back from him all day gave the new mayor a good feeling.
The rest of the council was seated around the central table and looked at their tormentor as he entered. They had no doubt been privy to hearing about the lewd and gruesome exploits of Trevor for the past hour or so and were glad for an interruption. They were all hungry and tired, but they had been taught very well this morning that any vocal outburst would result in death.
There was one person who, though he had seen the lesson, did not care about the consequences. "What is going on here?" Jerithon shouted as soon as he saw Quinton. "You can not keep us caged up here indefinitely. We will be missed."
Quinton laughed at the former mayor, for his words were quite literally true. Quinton kept a few exotic animals as pets back at his chateau on the riverbank. He had taken one of the smaller cages and used it to suspend Jerithon from the ceiling in one corner of the tall room. The old mayor had only enough room inside the bars to sit cross-legged and was growing very uncomfortable.
"I would disagree," Quinton said. "I can not only keep you 'caged' up for as long as I want, but I will, and there is nothing you can do to stop me."
"When I get out of here," Jerithon started, and Quinton motioned to Reillon to shut him up, "I will beat you so senseless you will not be able to tell your ass from your head, not that I can tell the difference now, but when I'm done wi-" Reillon finished his spell, and though Jerithon kept shouting, nothing could be heard.
It took the caged man a few moments to realize he was no longer making any sound. He tried shouting a few times, and then grabbed his throat in terror, for being magically muted was a very unique experience. Anyone can plug their ears or shut their eyes, but a gag does not adequately represent the inability to make any vocal noise at all.
Quinton chuckled to himself as he moved to the head of the table while Jerithon continued his frantic yelling. Quinton knew the spell would not last forever, but Jerithon would give up long before then.
"Good evening gentleman," Quinton said as he took a seat. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but as you know, it is not easy to run a city of this size. Plus, my chef prepared a fabulous meal, and I could not let it go to waste. I hope your meal was equally satisfying."
"We have not eaten," one of the men said flatly. He had seen Reillon's most resent display, and hoped all the attacks from here on out would continue to be non-lethal. The members of the council had realized, like Jerithon, that they could not be killed without people outside of this room missing them. They saw after some thought, that the two men who had been killed, were the least likely to be missed, and this gave them a small sliver of hope.
"Ah, well, I apologize for that. I guess in all my preparations for this day, I over-looked that small detail."
The looks that Quinton received from around the table let him know that his sarcasm was not being appreciated. Sitting in one of the soft chairs along the side of the great room, Trevor laughed. He loved this job.
"I want each of you to know that if you are not foolish enough to die tonight, you will all be sleeping in your own beds in a few hours."
At this comment, each councilman sat up a little straighter in his chair. A few even mumbled amongst themselves. Quinton put a stop to it.
"Yes, I know what you must all be thinking: I've lost my mind. If I let you go now, you will run back and tell the rest of the city what has happened here, and I will have thousands of angry citizens to deal with. Let me play that scenario out for you.
"You will go home and tell your families. I imagine that they will believe you, though not at first. The rest of the city is going to bed right now, and you will have to wait until morning. They will awaken with you shouting in their windows that the city has been taken over by thieves and murderers. They will not believe you."
Quinton rose from the table and paced about the room as he continued his tale. "Why should they? They have not seen what you have and will not believe you when you tell the fabulous stories of Reillon and his abilities. Their lives have not changed, and will not change, and so they have no reason to believe you. Oh, I'm sure a few will, and they will join you in arms against me, but even now I am bringing in more trained fighters to bolster the guardhouse, and I will easily put down all who oppose me.
"As the deaths of Councilmen Reginald and Porter become public, and you continue in your tales of doom and gloom, more people will believe you, and what had started as a dozen protestors at my door will turn into thousands. For starters, this building is the strongest in the city, and with its doors barred, in is impenetrable.
"You might think, though, that my death is not as important as ending my ability to control the city. There you would be correct, but Reillon has assured me that given proper crowd density, he can kill over one hundred people a minute. Just imagine the effect a fireball that explodes to twenty feet in diameter would have on a densely packed crowd."
"You know that you are insane," one of the men said.
"That is exactly what I'm trying to tell you that I am not. I do not want you to think that I have gotten this far in my plan without having thought of everything to come. If you bring the mob looking for death, you will get it, but it will not be mine. And if you try to start anything, my men will have no trouble treating you like they treated Councilmen Strum and Alexander. They might kill you in your sleep, or they might have fun with you first. I can not control that."
Quinton stopped walking now and leaned on the table to look each man in the eye. "I want you to know that I am in charge, and there is nothing you can do to about it. You have two options open to you that actually make sense. You can leave the city - I will not stop you - or you can live under my rule. Either option will extend your life far past what it would be if you chose any other path."
Quinton stood up. "I now dismiss you to your homes. You will find that no one will stand in your way as you leave the guardhouse. My men will escort you to your homes, though you will not see them. Trust me, they will be there. You will go to bed, and continue your normal lives as if nothing has happened. In the end, you will thank me, or perhaps your children will, for I shall make this city far greater than any of you could have imagined.
"I will release information to the general public about what has taken place here today, and you are at liberty to agree with or deny anything I say. I will not pursue taking any more lives if I do not have to. Any death that comes in the next few days will be on your hands."
Quinton gestured to the door. "Go."
A few men stood tentatively, wondering if there was still some trap here.
"Go!" Quinton shouted. "Go before I have you thrown out. And I won't use the door. These windows look just as capable of the task."
The remaining council members scrambled out of the room as fast as they could. "What about me?" Jerithon asked. He had felt his voice return to him a while ago, but had refrained from interrupting Quinton, knowing that he would just be muted again.
"I like you right where you are," Quinton said. "Don't worry, your wife will also be returned to your home and watched closely. We are actually still looking for your lovely daughter. Perhaps I should send Trevor out after her. I understand he had a run in with her a few days ago and has unfinished business."
Jerithon caught the reference to Ellen's story of when Entreri had rescued her. He was instantly furious at the man, but then quelled his rage by how that particular story had ended. Trevor had told the men of quite a few of his exploits throughout the day, each meant to unnerve them, but he had kept the Entreri incident to himself. The former mayor could imagine Trevor running from the alley with his tail between his legs, and he laughed.
Quinton misunderstood the laugh. "I'm sure you're thinking that your daughter is orchestrating some sort of rescue mission right now. I hear she is rather resourceful. I want to assure you, if she or anyone connected to her tries to attack me, they will be met with deadly force. No one can stand against me."
With that, Quinton turned to leave the room. Trevor too rose from his reclined position, looked mischievously at the caged man, licked his lips evilly, and followed his boss out of the room.
Jerithon let out a sigh to try and calm his fear and anger. As his thoughts went to his daughter's safety, he tried to reposition his cramped legs in the small cage. Getting no satisfactory results, he gave up and just focussed on his daughter. He truly hoped that she was far away from the city with no intention of organizing a rescue. He was only half right.
* * *
Entreri sat in front of the fire as he leaned against the large rock behind him. He was half a day's journey east of Garrilport in the foothills of the Great Range. He had originally come south across the mountains, and instead of continuing in that direction, he decided to scout the foot hills to the east and visit a few rough towns he had found on the maps he had stolen from Reichen back in Karenstoch.
As he looked into the fire, he realized he should try not to stare at the flames, knowing full well what that would do to his vision at night. He just did not care anymore. He had left Garrilport in the morning, over 15 hours ago but had not traveled quickly and was not more than a few dozen miles from the edge of the city. The terrain he was now in did not facilitate quick travel, but that was not the reason for his short journey.
Entreri wanted to be chased. When he had left Karenstoch, he had washed his hands of the town, realizing it was not ready for what he had to offer. People in the city could have very easily profited from his work, but they chose to see his actions in a less than honorable light, and so he left.
The ranger had chased him to Halfway, and the bodies she had found there had not slowed her pursuit, to say the least. All he wanted was to be left alone, but when Elliorn had finally caught him, he realized that she had a legitimate beef. He had killed 17 people. Though in his mind they were all justified, he had killed them. For that reason, he had not killed the ranger.
Entreri realized that his trail of blood had to end somewhere if he was ever going to live in relative peace, and the ranger was as good a place to start as any. He did not expect Elliorn to sing his praises from the mountaintops, but he had hoped that his show of compassion, combined with his obvious skill, would throw her off his trail.
Then came Garrilport.
The town had accepted him, for his money at first, but after the lunch meeting with John, Entreri felt he would be accepted as a citizen as well. He was wrong. It did not matter how bright and pleasant his current state was, if the past was dark and deadly.
The parallel with Drizzt would just not leave him alone. How had the dark elf survived? Entreri knew, for had looked into it. When Drizzt had first emerged from the Underdark, he had tried to live in peace with those around him, but fell pathetically short. A family, the Thistledowns by name, was murdered savagely, and Drizzt was accused of the deed. The drow was chased out of the area and tracked across a great expanse before the ranger, Dove Falconhand, had declared the drow innocent.
Though Drizzt had dealt with the ranger with slightly more tact than Entreri had with his, and Elliorn had a more justifiable reason for taking up the chase, the similarities were there. Though they more closely mirrored his current condition. He had just been chased from a town, convicted of a crime he had not committed. Like Drizzt, his past was dark and deadly, and plain to those who looked for it, and he had been convicted on those grounds alone.
Unlike Drizzt, Entreri had too much pride to give in to the authorities and allow himself to be judged. Entreri cared little what other's thought of him unless it impaired his ability to live as he wanted.
Now, if the captain and his men came chasing Entreri down, he would only voice his innocence if they let him. If they instead came looking for a fight, he would make sure they did not have to look hard. Entreri knew the more people he killed, the less they would believe his story, but he still held onto the hope, that the more he killed, the less they would come after him.
Maybe it was an endless cycle, but given the choice between surrendering to John and hoping that the justice system of Garrilport might find him innocent or standing his ground to protect his innocence with his blades, the second one was the only one he could live with.
As the fire died down and the night waned on, his thoughts left him with disturbed sleep. It was not surprising then, when a startled yelp brought him to immediate attention. In his days in Calimport, he prided himself in the fact that he could sleep through a thunderstorm, yet rise instantly at the sound of a creaking floorboard outside his room.
Over the past month, he had tried to rid himself of that annoying alertness. It had been necessary in Calimport and vital in his short stay in Menzoberranzan, but in a land where even the stealthiest thief moved as if wearing bells, it was not a skill he needed to retain.
As Entreri found himself standing alert in front of his low fire, his blades in his hands even before his eyes had fully open, it was nice to know that the skill was still there when he needed it. He then tried to determine if this was in fact a time that called for it.
The yelp had come from his right, toward a small pass in the rock that anyone approaching his fire would logically traverse. Thus, Entreri had set a simple dagger trap there, to give him an alarm if any one came calling. Though he half wished to be chased, he had no intention of being ambushed.
As the assassin moved silently toward the pass, making sure the fire did not cast his shadow anywhere where it might alert his prey. A few painful gasps came from the trap area ahead, still out of view, and Entreri began to develop a theory on who it might be. He stepped on a thick twig on purpose.
Ellen's head spun about at the sharp crack. "Artemis," she said in a harsh whisper, half hoping the killer was not the one stalking her in the dead of night. Entreri sheathed his weapons and moved through the trees and rocks, coming upon the woman suddenly.
She gasped at the sudden appearance of the dark form and how quietly he had made the rest of the approach. "What are you doing here?" he asked her, looking down at her seated form.
"Just testing your traps out," she grinned painfully.
Entreri sighed heavily as he squatted beside her. "Let me look at that." The dagger had stuck in her thigh, stopping when it had hit the bone. It was not near the vital arteries on the inside of her thigh, but the similarity between this wound and the one Entreri had given Elliorn was too much for the assassin. He chuckled.
"I'm glad my suffering is so entertaining. Why don't you throw another one into my side. I'm sure you'll double over with laughter at that one."
"Long story," was all Entreri said on the topic. The wound was not deep or life threatening. Ellen's jovial mood told him that much, but still, there might be significant blood loss if the dagger was just yanked out. "Let's get you to the fire," he said.
Entreri assisted the woman into the clearing of the camp, and he threw a few more sticks onto the fire to provide a bit more light. In no time he had removed the dagger and provided a tight wrap for the wound. Ellen offered a few superficial thanks throughout the process, for it had been Entreri's trap that had inflicted the wound in the first place.
"I had expected your captain friend, or at least one of his scout teams," Entreri started, wondering what in the world this woman might be doing tracking him down. "Or did you come to get my confession despite our earlier conversation?"
"No," she replied. "I came to ask for your help."
In his forty years of life, Entreri could not remember one incident when someone had genuinely come to him asking for help. Jarlaxle might have been the closest, but their arrangement had been more of a business arrangement than anything else. "So you've come to appeal to my good nature."
Ellen did not catch the sarcasm. "An evil man, Quinton Palluge, has taken control of our city. He is the one who has been responsible for all the murders. He has taken over the City Guard and has all the councilmen, including my father and the captain, held hostage."
"Then rally the troops and kick him out," Entreri replied, not taking much interest in the story. "Garrilport is a city of, what, eight thousand people, half of which are men, and half of them battle worthy. Surely with two thousand men behind you, you can take back your city."
"Quinton has the help of a mage, and a powerful one by all reports. Do you know anything of mages?"
Entreri was silent for a while. This was an interesting twist indeed! If he had missed anything about his old home, it was the variety it brought. Elves, halflings, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and the like were everywhere you looked. There was also a magical something-or-other almost anywhere you went. If it was not a wizard or a priest or - heaven forbid - a psionicist, then it was a magical weapon or item. Entreri's own dagger fell neatly into that category. This land was so void of variety, he almost thought about accepting Ellen's offer just for some excitement.
"I know of mages," Entreri replied. "They are weak-muscled cowards, whose only concern is their own fame and fortune. Their egos are only one of hundreds of weaknesses, and their spells are far too predictable to even be considered threatening. You should have no trouble."
Entreri spoke these words without any sarcasm, for this was truly how he felt. Ellen picked up on this and was confused. She trusted what Buster had said, but in her few meetings with Entreri, she felt that he was also very knowledgeable.
"I was hoping I might persuade you to come back and help me fight him," she said, slightly fearful of Entreri's reaction.
"Me?" Entreri laughed out loud. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
"I know what people say about you, but I don't believe them."
"And what are people saying about me?" Entreri asked, genuinely interested.
"They say you are a ruthless killer with not one thread of good in you. They say you kill for money and entertainment, and would rather see a woman raped in an alley than step in and risk your life to help."
Entreri did not like that last phrase, but the rest of it seemed almost like a compliment. "And who do you think I am?"
"I think you are a man who has been through a very hard life. People have threatened you, and you have been forced into fights you did not want. You are not a bad person at heart, but people have often been fearful of your skill, and your need to defend yourself has left a bloody trail behind you."
You think I'm Drizzt, Entreri thought to himself. He hated that drow ranger more than anything else. He had not only proved to be Entreri's equal, and often superior, but had done so while still embracing those things that Entreri despised most. On top of it all, Drizzt had thrown a dagger into Entreri's soul, laying bare his motivations and proving them hollow and useless. It was a revelation that had put Entreri on the path he now walked. How simple would his life had been if he had never met that dark elf? He would be living in Calimport now, the celebrated assassin who would never have to work again and all would bend over backwards to make his life easier. Jarlaxle and his hoard would be but a delusional fantasy that only the strongest liquor could bring on. Entreri hated Drizzt.
"Your wrong," Entreri said flatly. "Listen to your father. I am bad. People who come near me die, not because they attack me, but because I kill them. I am not your hero on a white horse."
Ellen was shocked. She had been prepared to offer money if Entreri had proved less than willing, but this was totally unexpected.
"I did kill the councilmen," he added, wanting to be rid of this woman as soon as possible. "This man who you said has taken over your city, he hired me to do it. He paid me well, and now I'm making myself scarce. He told me there might be more work for me east, so that is where I'm headed."
Ellen just stared on in disbelief. "I don't believe you. I don't be-"
"I don't care what you don't believe!" Entreri shouted back, standing as he spoke. He drew his jeweled dagger and held it in the firelight. "Do you have any idea how many people I've killed with this weapon? Do you?"
Ellen was in tears now. "No," she sobbed, shaking her head in case the word was not audible.
"I sliced open the councilman's children with it. You should have heard their screams; it was like sweet music to my ears. It had been a long time since someone had hired me to kill children, and it was a refreshing change of pace."
Tears were rolling heavily down her cheeks now. She knew this whole display was a lie meant to scare her. It was working. She knew the children had died without a mark on them. "That's not tru-"
"True?! True?! What is true?! What is the truth? Who decides what the truth is? You? Me? Your father? Don't come to me to lecture me on truth. I've lived a life so full of lies that were truths and vice versa, I'm beginning to think there is no such thing as either.
"Your father is held captive by a powerful man who wishes to take over your city. If that is the truth, well, that is too bad. But I know that it has nothing to do with me. That is the truth. Now I think you should leave."
Ellen rose, her body shaking from her sobs. "Please?"
Ellen went. She ran from the clearing, limping on her bad leg and tripping on the rocks and roots in the darkness. She fell several times, but did not slow her pace. She found her horse and galloped away as fast as she could, sorry she had ever come.
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