Jarlaxle came to with a dizzy rolling sensation. Then pain cut through it, helping him focus. He glanced back at his leg. Streaks of blood on the boulder and the numbness told him all he needed to know. His mind was a little fuzzy on the details, so he looked around the cavern for anyone else. The stone-hewn room was empty. He sighed in relief, stirring up dust and chips of stone. At least he'd done what he'd set out to accomplish. All the dwarven miners had been evacuated in time.
With his item for walking through stone, he hadn't been concerned about the collapse. He'd assumed that he could simply walk through any barriers that formed. Indeed, he'd had the command word on his lips when the cave-in struck.
Why hadn't he gotten the word out in time? Why was he stretched out on his side on the floor? Jarlaxle tried to remember, but couldn't. He supposed that meant he had a concussion as well.
Finally, after swimming in and out of consciousness a few times, his eyes focused on his hat. It lay barely within reach, knocked from his head and covered in a fine layer of dust.
Without being able to walk he'd only sink through the floor and injure himself further if he made himself insubstantive enough to pass through stone. He needed fine control to pull off an escape that way and he didn't have it.
If there was something else he had that could be useful...
Abruptly, Jarlaxle sucked in his breath and looked around with wide eyes. If this cavern was completely sealed he'd run out of air to breathe. Then his gaze hit on a small shaft across the room, in the ceiling. He slumped. Good. So that was an air source. Dwarves were usually good about that, come to think of it.
The air shaft...Jarlaxle perked up again. He groaned and scraped until his fingertips touched his hat. He pulled it back to him. A small creature would be able to fit through the air shaft. A creature like... He found the folded black cloth tucked into his hat band. "Aha!" His voice echoed. Grinning in triumph, he unfolded the cloth bat and murmured the word that brought his odd little pet to life.
It fluttered and landed on his fingers, still a beast of black cloth, but now with a familiar's intelligence.
"My little pet, you will send a message to someone so that I may live," Jarlaxle said. The sound of his own voice comforted him. "But who shall it be? King Garim I don't trust in spite of the fact that I helped his people. He made it fairly obvious that if I died on this mission he'd consider me well-buried. I meant to prove myself and open negotiations, but if I cannot return to his throne room under my own power, I won't be returning at all. No...dwarven gratitude doesn't extend to risking lives to unbury one drow. Who, then? Who?"
Kimmuriel was out of the question. They weren't speaking to each other. Besides, for one little cloth bat to survive a flight to Menzoberranzan was unlikely. Hooked horrors and other beasts would mistake his cloth familiar for food and eat it.
Athrogate had been his reference for this job, but Athrogate had no power to come to his aid, nor convince King Garim to.
Jarlaxle felt a spasm of pain that had nothing to do with his leg. It was his chest that hurt. If only...If only he could believe that Artemis Entreri would answer a call.
The little cloth bat, mistaking that pulse of mental anguish for a command, took off from Jarlaxle's hand and fluttered up the air shaft. Jarlaxle watched it go without having the heart to call it back.
But Artemis Entreri's words were clear in his mind: Fare well or fare ill, Jarlaxle. I do not care which.
So many people had washed their hands of him over his lifetime, starting with his birth mother, that Jarlaxle wished he could no longer be surprised. He knew he shouldn't be. At the core of it, he had to admit to himself that something about him was fundamentally unlovable. He had often wondered what during his lowest moments. If he knew, then he might be able to change. Or so his feeble hope suggested to him. His adult experiences suggested that something in the core of one's being was there forever. People could change how they expressed themselves but not their very nature.
In a world of such unfairness as the mortal realm, Jarlaxle found it all too reasonable that some people were created to be unlovable. Evidence suggested that he was one of those people. Evidence suggested that no matter how charming he was, how good of an ally, how solicitous a friend, it wouldn't change others' inability to love him. To care about him.
Not all drow were thus. Drizzt Do'Urden was clearly a drow who was made to be loved. To be beloved. Cared about. Doted on. Sacrificed for.
Jarlaxle cursed his dizziness and his disorientation. These thoughts weren't helping him escape. If Entreri didn't come – wouldn't come, as of course he wouldn't – then he had to figure out how to escape on his own.
He lapsed into unconsciousness.
The summer night was warm. Entreri's windows stood open, allowing cool breezes in whenever they stirred. The assassin sat in a chair in his bedroom at the Copper Ante, reading. It was not entertainment, of course. The scroll was a report on the movements of the other guilds. Since he had come back to Calimport, he had been elevated to the position of a lieutenant in Dwahvel's guild. He was the only human, and thus an oddity, but he was accepted.
Perhaps being accepted was all there was for him in life.
Entreri caught a black fluttering at the corner of his vision. A dire mosquito? He jumped up and pulled his dagger, preparing to defend himself from having half his blood sucked out.
It was a cloth bat.
The bat fluttered across the room to him and landed on his wrist. Before Entreri could recover from his shock, images and knowledge flitted through his mind. Jarlaxle, underground, a cave in. Hurt. The Omlarandin Mountains in eastern Tethyr.
"The Omlarandin Mountains?" Entreri scowled. "Why am I not surprised? The fool was probably lining his pockets with omlar gems when the cave collapsed. Ever Jarlaxle is one to see opportunities where there are only dangers."
In spite of those words, he crossed over to the enchanted cabinet where he kept all of his gear and equipped himself. He buckled Charon's Claw to his belt in its sheath. He took the black hat Jarlaxle had gifted him for its invisibility spell. His dagger never left his side, so he had already been wearing that. Two healing potions and a wand that casted a magical shield completed the assortment.
He packed a few changes of clothes and a warm wool cloak. When he turned around, Jarlaxle's cloth bat was still hovering. "All right, bat. Show me to your master. Not too quickly."
Entreri took the back stairs down to the ground floor of The Copper Ante. He searched out Dwahvel. She was in the treasury office doing bills. At his entrance, she stopped and set down the scroll.
"I'm going out," Entreri said.
"I can see that. Where are you going?" Dwahvel asked.
"I have something to do."
"When will you be back? Will you make it for second dinner?"
"I don't know." He gave her a small smile. "And no. I don't think so. Expect me to be at least a tenday. I'll write if I'm delayed."
Dwahvel knew better than to ask. "All right. Take whatever you need."
"I have all I need. Thank you."
"Good luck," Dwahvel said simply.
He nodded and exited out of the guild by the back way, into an alley. He threaded through narrow streets to reach the marketplace and rented a horse. He didn't travel often enough anymore to justify buying. For a hundred gold up front, he could simply take the steed and return it. If he took more than a month he would incur late fees, but he doubted that would happen.
When Jarlaxle awoke, he thought perhaps a day had passed. His lips were cracked and dry, and his throat was sticky. He freed his canteen from his belt and drank, grateful he at least had the use of his arms. After he was sufficiently hydrated, he ate the rations tucked into a belt pouch. He always carried emergency rations, not that he'd had this scenario in mind. After some hard tack and dried meat his stomach didn't feel so uncomfortably tight.
But he had to escape. Awaking to this abandoned room confirmed that King Garim hadn't sent help. So it was true. He was on his own. Artemis Entreri would take three days to reach him if the assassin were in Calimport, but he didn't know where Entreri was, and he knew there was no hope of Entreri coming.
He spent the next few hours searching his arsenal for anything that could move the boulder pinning his leg without sending down more debris. For this situation, he was unequipped. His magical hole couldn't be deployed except to the floor, and that would cause the boulder to snap his leg off when it dropped. His elemental wands couldn't destroy stone. Stones could not be poisoned or paralyzed.
If I ever get out of this situation, I'll equip myself better in the future.
If. That seemed a horrible word, now.
Entreri rode across the Calim Desert in record time, avoiding the Trade Road because of the threat of raiders. He had no intention of letting bandits or merchants slow him down. The cloth bat kept up with his borrowed steed without seeming taxed. That gave the assassin hope that he had received Jarlaxle's message swiftly. You fool drow.
Underneath the anger was fear. Underneath the fear was remorse. He hated it. He hated being sorry for something he'd done. Especially as it concerned other people. He'd long lived by the philosophy that others deserved whatever they got from him. As far as he was concerned, that was still true...in all cases but one.
Damn it, you fool drow. I knew you couldn't get along by yourself. Why didn't you come after me like you always do? But asking such questions was useless. They couldn't propel him to Jarlaxle any faster.
As he passed through the gates into Zazesspur, his mind was consumed with where to find a wizard who offered teleportation services. He rode past inns and taverns blindly. He could sleep once he'd teleported to Saradush. That was the nearest city to the Omlarandin Mountains. Until he got there, he wasn't going to stop even for a drink.
Entreri found a wizard, as he knew he would in a big city like Zazesspur. For once, he paid up without bargaining, allowing the wizard to see how much of a hurry he was in. Horse and rider were teleported to Saradush's marketplace.
The assassin found an inn, ate a hasty supper, and collapsed in bed. In the morning he'd ride out to the mountains and find his careless partner.
Jarlaxle drank the last of his water and ate the last of his rations. Then he closed his eyes and sank himself into meditation as deep as he could go. He had to slow down his metabolism, save his strength. Elves could think during their meditation, unlike humans. His last hope was to sink into a state of detached consciousness, where he could leave his fatigue and pain behind, clear his mind.
In the morning just after dawn, Entreri rode out of Saradush the fifty miles to the foothills. The cloth bat led the way, evidently retracing Jarlaxle's path. The bat led the assassin to a hidden dwarven city in the Omlarandin Mountains. The mountains weren't much higher than the foothills and were lightly wooded, mostly pine trees. It wasn't impressive or pretty to look at. The dwarven city was the same way. It was half sunk into the mountains, squat buildings of stone.
The bat led Entreri through the streets to the back of the city, where the caves opened up to the mountain. Four dwarves in armor guarded it.
Entreri stopped and dismounted.
"What're ye doing?" the guard with the long brown beard asked.
"I am entering the mines."
The guard got in his way. "No one enters the mines without authorization from King Garim."
"Then take me to him."
"He won't let you in. There's been a collapse."
"I know about the collapse. Take me to King Garim."
"It's yer own funeral."
Two of the guards peeled off and escorted him to the only building of any detail, a small fortress with statues of dwarven heroes all around it. Inside, the halls were low-ceilinged and wide. Suits of dwarven armor lined the halls, as well as tapestries. Entreri didn't spare the furnishings a glance.
The throne room was different. It had a vaulted ceiling, and decorative weapons were strewn everywhere. A short, fat dwarf sat on the throne. He had gray streaks in his beard. A heavy gold crown on his head said it all.
"King Garim. A visitor. Says he wants to enter the mines," the guards said.
Entreri bowed, because he knew better than to disrespect a ruler.
"Rise," the king said.
"Why are you here?" King Garim asked.
"I am looking for a friend," Entreri said, amazed at how he didn't even grimace when he said it.
"I doubt I've seen him," King Garim said.
"Probably not, but if you had you would remember him, I assure you. He is a drow. A drow who insists on wearing a silly purple hat."
King Garim's eyes widened. "Oh, aye! That Jarlaxle fellow."
"He didn't come back, lad. I hired him to go down into the omlar gem mine and evacuate my workers. Twas terrible dangerous. My court wizard heard there would be some quakes coming. Jarlaxle was here, trying to get me to sell him some omlar gems. Even one, he said. I said I'd consider it if he went down and rescued my workers."
"So he did."
"Indeed, he did. Gave me a pretty speech, too, about wanting to prove himself a hero."
Entreri felt a pang in his chest. It was deeply uncomfortable. "He's like that."
"I think you mean 'was' like that, laddie. My people told me the whole story. Jarlaxle went to the mines first and gave the workers my order to cease and retreat to the surface. A few of my men brought their families down to the deep caves to live. Wives and children, you understand. Mining omlar gems takes a long time and they didn't want to be separated."
Entreri's heart clenched. He only hoped his face didn't reveal it. "So?"
King Garim shrugged. "So, when a few of my men went back to the living quarters to fetch their families, Jarlaxle went along. He died there. The quakes came. Brogin's little boy was about to be crushed by falling rock. Jarlaxle shoved him out of the way and was buried himself. Brogin saw it happen. Brogin doesn't lie."
Entreri clenched down on his self-control. You fool! I should have known this would happen. Why do you vacillate between saving your own hide and being stupidly selfless? "I wish to see this for myself."
"The quakes have passed, aye, but you'll never get down there," King Garim said.
"I have my ways. Where is he?"
"Six levels down, in the living quarters."
"Are there any omlar deposits around the living quarters?" Omlar gems absorbed magic and would deflect Charon's Claw.
"If there were they wouldn't be the living quarters. They'd be more mines, aye?"
"Right." Entreri turned and walked away. Then he paused. "I'm going," he clarified.
King Garim gestured with a sigh. "If you feel that way about it, go ahead. But don't say as no one's warned you."
"I won't. If you have a map I would appreciate it."
"Oh, aye, lots of maps. Ask anyone."
Entreri nodded and departed. He took the map from one of the guards at the top of the mines.
His tactic was simple. Whenever he came across a rock slide blocking his way, he consulted the map and cut a hole in the wall to go around the obstacle, creating his own detour. Most often, he simply cut a hole from the other room back into the hall. After he was gone the dwarves would also be able to use his new openings to retake their mines. They can thank me later.
It was slow, treacherous work, and once, the stone rocked beneath his feet in an aftershock of the quake that damaged the mines. But he reached the sixth level beneath the ground. In spite of the air shafts allowing him to breathe, claustrophobia crowded the corners of his vision. Gods, but he hated the underground. Trust Jarlaxle to get himself stuck here.
Now he consulted the map again, navigating to the living quarters. This level was honeycombed with them all across the west side. He resigned himself to searching. Looking for a rock slide, he poked around, moving from the front of the level to the back.
Of course, it was all the way in the back. The last suite of rooms was blocked off by a thick wall of rocks collapsed in from the ceiling. Entreri backtracked to the next living space and cut through the wall of the living room to enter the living room of the next place.
There was Jarlaxle, laid out on the floor with one leg pinned underneath a boulder. The sight of his old partner covered in dust, the boulder smeared with dried blood, wrenched something inside Entreri. "Jarlaxle. Wake up."
The cloth bat, which had discretely accompanied him this entire time, flew past his shoulder and alighted on Jarlaxle's hand. With its wings, it tickled the drow mercenary's face.
Jarlaxle stirred, groaning. "W-What are you doing? Stop that." His voice was hoarse with dehydration.
Entreri crossed the room, knelt in the dust, and brought forth his canteen. He uncapped it and pressed it to Jarlaxle's lips.
Jarlaxle looked up at him in amazement and took the canteen with shaking fingers. The drow mercenary drank, coughed, and drank again. "Artemis."
"You sound surprised," Entreri said wryly, covering up his reaction. He'd caught himself wondering why he left.
"I am. I -" Jarlaxle tried to move and collapsed with a grimace, shaking.
"You fool. Don't move." Entreri examined the way the boulder held up smaller rocks on top of it. Then he busted the rock slide with Charon's Claw, starting at the top so Jarlaxle wouldn't be crushed by rubble. Finally, he cut the boulder into chunks and kicked them away.
Jarlaxle shielded his head with his arms.
"Stay still," Entreri said. "Your leg is crushed. I have healing potions."
Jarlaxle peeked at him.
Entreri knelt beside his partner again and slowly fed Jarlaxle the potions. He was amazed at the power of magic still, after all these years. Jarlaxle's magic had restored him when he'd fallen from a cliff outside Mithral Hall. Magic now restored Jarlaxle's leg.
He helped Jarlaxle up, but the drow mercenary only stumbled and fell against him. Entreri cursed. "Of course. You're weak with hunger."
Jarlaxle only felt real once Entreri was supporting him. He heard his partner's heartbeat from where his head rested on the assassin's shoulder. He'd become chilled from the long time lying on the floor, and Entreri was warm. "Artemis...I..."
"What?" Entreri demanded.
That familiar, cranky tone did the opposite of what his partner must have intended. It was so stingingly nostalgic that Jarlaxle felt his eyes prickle. "I thought I'd never see you again."
Entreri's disgruntled silence told Jarlaxle he'd caught his old partner flatfooted. Finally, Entreri grumbled, "I don't make it a habit to come save someone from their own decisions." He pulled Jarlaxle's arm across his shoulders and started off, exiting through the now unblocked door. "The only person I make an exception for is you. If Athrogate were buried right alongside you I'd leave him to die. Remember that. I'm not responsible for your companions."
"Artemis, I – You were right, I shouldn't have -"
"Let it alone. It's the past."
"Quiet. Your throat will get dry from all the dust."
Jarlaxle couldn't help himself at that. He didn't know how to handle forgiveness of a past deed. He hadn't been raised to know how. This was the first time it had ever happened to him. Confused tears of mingled regret and relief welled up, and not knowing what to say to himself to reason his way through the situation, they fell.
Entreri stopped and pulled them facing each other. He stared at Jarlaxle's tears. "What?"
"When you left, when you said you didn't care if I fared well or ill and -"
Entreri clutched him tightly. "I lied."
Jarlaxle stopped crying out of shock.
"Why are you so surprised? You lie. We both lie. Frequently."
"You never meant it?"
Entreri sighed. He took out a clean handkerchief and dried Jarlaxle's eyes, then wiped the dust from the drow mercenary's face. "No. I was angry." He grudgingly added, "In pain. I had just learned...never mind. I believed you were responsible for my pain, so I lashed out. My pain would have happened anyway, even without your presence. I said what I believed would hurt you. I was clearly right. I didn't mean to make such a lasting mark."
Jarlaxle couldn't begin to process how he felt. Tears fell freely. "You never..."
Entreri sighed and wiped up Jarlaxle's tears with a clean part of the handkerchief. "I know what I did was not the right way to handle the situation, but I didn't know of a right way. It never happened before. No one...No one besides you and Dwahvel ever meant well. I lashed out."
Jarlaxle hugged his partner as tightly as he could. The ache in his chest finally loosened, and the sting of the old words faded. "All I want is to be your partner."
"You never stopped being my partner."