By David Pontier
The Reality of Fear is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on The Reality of Fear and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 8: Wrap Up
John had a black eye and a nasty cut on his forehead, but he would live. He had been through worse before, and he would be through worse again. Right now he tried to ignore the pain in his leg and hide the limp as much as possible as he walked down the lengthy pier.
The four guards on duty in front of the warehouse were understandably jumpy, but they recognized John after he called out to them to stand down. No matter how many times these men were told that the man who had committed the previous killings was dead (they would not have understood if John had told them it had been a drow), they would still be cautious with unscheduled guests.
The guards let John enter without hindrance. The captain was happy to hear the sound of work going on inside and saw that the place was as active as ever. It had only been a day and a half since the killings here, but they were working as if nothing had even happened.
John worked his way to the back of the warehouse and accepted the cheerful greetings he got from the men who recognized him. It was widely believed that he was the one who had dealt with the murderer. They had all seen the bodies of their coworkers and understood how their mighty captain had sustained his wounds. John had still come out victorious. Let them think what they want, John thought. He was not going to argue with the praise.
He worked his way up the steps at the back of the main floor and followed the balcony to the main office of the shipyard. No one had wanted to step into the vacant position at the head of the most profitable business in the city, at least not at first. It might seem like a good deal, but the shipyard had been robbed of all its money, and there were wages and building materials to purchase. Yes, there was money to be made, but it required an incredible initial investment.
Entreri was going over the books when John entered. The captain was not quite sure why the assassin had taken this job so willingly, but he had. John had not even thought to propose it, but Entreri had seemed genuinely interested, and the captain had worked everything out with the council to allow it. Entreri had not only taken over, but he had increased the salaries of everyone involved, persuaded the general manager from a competing shipyard to oversee the business, and had already purchased an extreme amount of lumber to finish the projects in process. John did not want to know where the money came from.
"Borgian kept awful records," Entreri said without looking up.
"I'm sure he did," John said sarcastically. "That's probably why he was about the fifth wealthiest men in the city."
"I doubt he was even in the top ten," Entreri corrected. "All his assets were dedicated to expenses. He kept growing in size, but he kept reinvesting that money in the business, which easily absorbed it. It was a wise investment, but in case of emergency he had no means to liquidate his holdings, and unless he could barter with wood and half built ships, he never had any real buying power."
"You would have done it differently," John interpreted.
"Don't put all your eggs in one basket."
"Is that part of the credo?"
Entreri finally looked up. "Number nine says, 'You can't crush an egg in your fist, but you can break one open with a toothpick,' implying that precision is more important than brute force, but we didn't have any sayings about a basket."
John wanted to crack a smile, but Entreri's stern face stole any humor from the situation. "You need to diversify," Entreri said. "If Borgian had a fire or the lumber he purchased was bad or--"
"Half his crew was killed by a drow summoned from an alternate dimension by a foolish mage," John interrupted.
Yes," Entreri agreed, "or that, all his money would be gone. Borgian never furnished his ships. I plan to buy a share of a local carpenter's shop so I can outfit each of the ships before they are sold. There are many metal riggings and supports on a ship. I plan to invest in a blacksmith's shop as well. With a little diversification, this shipyard could be twice as profitable as it once was."
John did laugh now. "Is there anything you can't do?"
"I can't cook," Entreri admitted, "but I know of a few under-appreciated chefs who can. I want to open a restaurant just off the pier. By having my workers visit the seedy taverns populated by the other rowdy northerns, I risk losing them to a bar fight. The honest workers up here need somewhere respectable they can go at night."
John shook his head. There was no way a respectable eating establishment could be maintained in the northern section of town. Though, if it were possible, Entreri would be the person to do it. John turned to leave, confident that his city was in as good a shape as it had ever been.
* * *
Catti-brie opened the door to the small room and was happy to find Drizzt there this time. She was not happy to see what he was doing. "Drizzt Do'Urden, you aren't having second thoughts, are you?"
Drizzt had been so focused on his pushups that he had not heard the woman enter. He stopped what he was doing and caught his breath. "Now, what would make you think that?" he asked in between breaths.
Catti-brie had gotten the story of where he had been during the trip back from Silverymoon. He had explained what kind of shape his alter-self had been in, and it was easy enough to see what he was doing now. "You don't wish that we had left you there, do you? Or maybe you wished you could have taken that body with you?"
Drizzt chuckled but then grew suddenly serious. "He was a killer. I mean I was. Or I could have been." It was confusing talking about it. "I don't ever wish to be that one-dimensional. He was incapable of love or compassion. His life could not have been a happy one. Yet at the same time, he lived a comfortable life because he was prepared for everything. There was not one spell he could not defeat, and there was no enemy that could stand in his way. I do not wish for his life, but I would like a measure of his comfort."
"If you wish to dominate your enemies, there is still the matter of the mysterious tracks north of here," Catti-brie said. "A few of Berkthgar's people said they thought they might be goblins."
"I thought they just saw the tracks," Drizzt questioned, strapping his weapons on.
"While we were gone, they tried to hunt them down and say they caught glimpses of some short creatures scampering through the mountains. Though, when you tower above six feet, I imagine everything looks short to you. They might have been small trolls."
Drizzt stood and stretched his muscles. He could already feel the burn in his biceps and pectorals, reminding him of the bulk he had carried around for the past few days. "I'm ready."
The two friends walked out of the small room, ready to meet whatever the wilderness might throw at them.
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