As the nervous farmers lined the road and gruff fishers set out to sea, Barrabus the Grey waited in the shadows of an alleyway near the offices of Tarmikos Navigation & Shipping. It was one of the buildings he'd noted in his first scouting mission, the offices of one Yennan Tarmikos. Tarmikos was a wine and vinegar merchant who had stubbornly refused to abandon his business when Luskan grew wild. He'd been rewarded for his tenacity (and his willingness to exploit the political situation) with a healthy stream of revenue, which he turned into a side business in the form of moneylending. As a result, he was one of a handful of locals to whom Bregan D'aerthe had turned for assistance in building their surface network.

From his information gathering yesterday, Barrabus knew that Tarmikos wasn't above shifting from moneylending into predatory loans when the opportunity arose and had already been threatened by several loan sharks who saw him as moving in on their territory. Tarmikos had reacted by redoubling his efforts and recruiting the straggling remains of the city watch to harass his self-proclaimed competition. He would not take kindly to what Barrabus was about to do.

Despite his newly acquired criminal leanings, Tarmikos was still a merchant at heart. He took the same route to and from the office every day. Barrabus had shadowed him the evening before to get a sense of the route, and now he waited in an alleyway with a good view of the street.

Tarmikos passed the alleyway. He was a wrinkled stringbean of a man with cold, slightly bulging eyes and a sharp chin. Barrabus was careful to keep his cowl up as he emerged long enough to grab the man by the collar and tug him into the alleyway.

"Do not yell," he said softly, placing a dagger against the back of the man's neck. He'd heard enough drow speak that he could duplicate the accent. Soft vowels, harsh on the sibilants. "You will listen."

A stifled growl rumbled in Tarmikos' throat, but he said nothing.

"We owe you nothing, understand?" In fact, Bregan D'aerthe owed Tarmikos quite a lot. A man of half his pride might still fight them for that amount of money. With Tarmikos, Barrabus had no doubt. "We will continue to do business with you, on our terms, and you will be grateful for it."

The merchant grimaced but said nothing. Good . Maybe he was smart enough to cause the drow some real trouble after Barrabus let him go. With a shove, he tossed the merchant back into the sunlit street. Then he scrambled up the side of the building to watch the street below.

Barrabus grinned as Tarmikos stalked away, his spine stiff with poorly restrained rage and offended pride. Satisfied with his handiwork, Barrabus started walking west. His day had only just begun.

Kimmuriel had gone through nine different imaginary conversations wherein he explained to Jarlaxle that no, truly, he hadn't tried to make their surface operations implode, they just had . So far, not a single scenario had ended the way Kimmuriel had hoped it would. This would have been disappointing, had Kimmuriel actually been trying to sabotage the venture. Now, when he was genuinely trying to keep it running, it was infuriating .

He'd finally gotten more information about what had gotten the dregs of Luskan's underbelly into such a paranoid fury. The corpse of some Netherese soldier that Bregan D'aerthe had been hoping to purchase information from had been found stabbed to death in the river. Kimmuriel would very much have liked to spoken with the agents he'd sent to the meeting, but they were eluding all of his messengers.

Athrogate had managed to find some urchins who claimed that a strange man had paid them to graffiti one of the Bregan D'aerthe offices, but they were unable to provide a description beyond "scary, but he paid real well." In a stroke of almost Jarlaxian insight, Kimmuriel had Athrogate offer the urchins a bounty if the man tried to hire them again, rather than making an example of what happened to those who interfered with the business of drow. The coins themselves were of a foreign mint—Baldur's Gate, if Kimmuriel had to guess—which meant, of course, that they could have come from anyone. Luskan itself had stopped minting coins, and even Jarlaxle still lacked the audacity to begin doing such a thing. (At least, Kimmuriel hoped that he did. Perhaps such a scheme had simply not occurred to him yet.)

He had also not heard anything from one of their offices, a warehouse on the South Bank. It was run by one of Jarlaxle's favorites, Maslyn Despar. He was enthusiastic about this whole surface venture, if not nearly as meticulous in his duties as Kimmuriel would have liked, and his failure to send a daily report was typical, but one more annoyance than Kimmuriel wished to deal with right now.

And speaking of annoyances... there was a quiet knock at the door. A wizard, one of their recent recruits. He was of unremarkable skill, and Kimmuriel had not bothered to commit his name to memory—Nillyn? Nilomyn?—but he was competent enough for a simple divination spell and easily intimidated into silence.

"You summoned me, Captain?"

Either come into the office or walk away, stop lingering in the doorway. Kimmuriel kept his lips sealed but raised in eyebrow in a manner that, he hoped, conveyed the appropriate mixture of expectation and contempt.

Nilraen coughed and stepped into the room. At a pointed glance from Kimmuriel, he closed the door behind him.

"You must find someone. He may be a corpse by now, but if he isn't, I must know his location." Kimmuriel slid a piece of paper across the desk. "His name is Artemis Entreri. A human. I've written a description there, if you need it. You are to report your findings to me, and only to me." This was likely unnecessary. All logic suggested Entreri was dead, but Kimmuriel would take whatever scraps of peace of mind he could find, and a confirmed corpse would provide that.

The wizard nodded earnestly but didn't pick up the piece of paper. Kimmuriel stared at him with what he considered to be a generous amount of patience, then slid the paper further across the desk.

"Ah," said the wizard. "You see—the thing is—do you have anything else ?" He didn't do anything so obvious as bite his lip or shuffle his feet, for such physical tells were trained out of well-born males early on, but Kimmuriel could tell that he wanted to. "I usually work with a stronger connection. Hair, blood, an old shirt. Even a picture would help."

Kimmuriel's familiarity with arcane magic was limited, but he was certain that Bregan D'aerthe mages had found targets with nothing but a name before. He said as such, but Nimphyn started shaking his head before Kimmuriel had finished his sentence.

"That requires a great deal more power," he said. "If I were working with other mages, perhaps..." he trailed off, clearly aware that Kimmuriel's demand for secrecy would allow no such thing.

It occurred to Kimmuriel that, in the past, Jarlaxle would have wanted his mages to have as much ability to find Entreri as possible, even when the human didn't want to be found. Perhaps there would have something more suitable in Jarlaxle's office. There was a small quiver in the back of his mind at the idea of yet another transgression against Jarlaxle, but he had already gone this far.

"I will see what I can find." The wizard nodded, but did not move. "Now get out of my office."

Jarlaxle lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to detangle plans in his mind. It would be easier if he stood up, if he wrote them down somewhere, but the will to do so somehow eluded him. He blamed the winter chill that had permeated the room. A sneer in his mind accused him of hedonism, but Jarlaxle dismissed it. Being cold would interfere with his cognitive prowess more than lack of paper could, and the blankets were too warm to abandon without good cause.

Most of Kimmuriel's closest allies were elsewhere, in Menzoberranzan. Jarlaxle would have a much better chance of success if he stopped Kimmuriel now, rather than letting their dispute become a drawn-out campaign. He adjusted a pillow, wriggling as a fresh draft laid siege to his fortress. Surely he had closed all the windows. Was it worth getting out of bed to make sure?

Jarlaxle would normally have been confident in his ability to kill Kimmuriel himself, but not in his current state of unbalance. And he had yet to truly remember anything. What would happen when he did? A flood of memories? A trickle of awareness that could distract him at a crucial moment? Going alone would be too risky. There were a handful of loyal soldiers in Luskan he could trust for backup, but only if he could protect them somehow from psionics.

Wearing down Kimmuriel's defenses and then going in a final strike team would ensure the best chances of success. Hopefully, such a battle would last less than a day. If he marshalled his resources today, planned overnight, and sent the first wave of fodder at dawn, he would have secured the city by sunset tomorrow.

He mentally superimposed a map of Luskan over the ceiling, considering the locations of the most important bases. There were the southern warehouses, and the office on the river. Had that crack in the plaster always been there?

Distracted. Distraction. He needed a distraction. Could he hire mercenaries to wear Kimmuriel down? He snorted at the thought, but it was one way to avoid drawing notice before he was ready to attack. He could certainly find someone suitable in Luskan if he had the funds. The surface operation was somewhat lacking in currency, though. He ran numbers in his head and grimaced at the result.

What funds did he have stored in the northern outpost? It would be in the records on his desk.

His desk was on the other side of the room. He would need to get up and check them.

He stared at the ceiling and listened to the howling wind.

Tentative knocking provided the impetus to pry himself out of the bed. He opened the door, to the apparent surprise of the Bregan D'aerthe soldier—Veldrin Difar—who was crouched down, preparing to slip a note under it. His nose was roughly level with Jarlaxle's waist, and in infravision, Jarlaxle could see heat rushing to Veldrin's face and the tips of his ears. A small thing, but a balm to his wounded ego nonetheless. Jarlaxle winked, and that seemed to break Veldrin's stupor, making him stand up rapidly and hold out the envelope. Jarlaxle had found it helpful to discourage his agents from the staring-at-boots variety of respect that drow matrons favored, so Veldrin stared very carefully at his chin instead.

Jarlaxle spun the envelope in his hands but did not open it.

"Do you know the contents?" he asked. Veldrin nodded, clearly relieved to be switching to a conversation more within his realm of expertise.

"Captain Oblodra says you're busy with a new venture, so he canceled or rescheduled several of your existing obligations. That's a list of which ones."

"How proactive of him." Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow. Interesting, that Kimmuriel had chosen 'new venture' instead of 'recovering from illness.' It was better for morale, Jarlaxle supposed. Looking at the list, it became obvious that Kimmuriel wasn't expecting Jarlaxle to return to a normal workload anytime soon. Most of the important meetings had been reassigned to someone else. Another dozen had been canceled or postponed.

Concern for Jarlaxle's mental state, or an effort to keep him out of the loop? Jarlaxle felt a tug of uneasiness as he considered the damage Kimmuriel could do by keeping him sidelined.

He eyed the canceled meetings. There were a few which he felt confident in handling, even in his current state of distraction. Arranging to increase their imports of certain foods, for example, should be simple enough; it was an arrangement of mutual profit, and all that was left was to hammer out the details.

And if Jarlaxle remembered correctly, that particular merchant had a few sidelines which could be of help with Jarlaxle's other, more pressing problem. He considered his tangled plans for a moment in this light and smiled.

Veldrin, still awaiting a response, looked faintly alarmed at Jarlaxle's sudden change in expression.

"My thanks for your timely delivery," Jarlaxle said. Veldrin nodded and retreated, and Jarlaxle managed to maintain his grin even after the door swung shut.

The cold air against his bare shoulders gave new urgency to being dressed. He assembled his outfit, being certain to put on the ring that neutralized most poisons, especially those favored for hand-crossbows. Anti-psionics, protections from tactics favored by drow...was he missing anything? Being truly prepared for every situation would have weighed him down with so much jewelry that he couldn't walk. However, he'd gotten very good at predicting what he'd need on any given day, and that had only served to enhance his illusion of being prepared for anything. Not for the first time, he wished it was more than an illusion. As a last thought, he added protection from cold. It did nothing to lift the chill from his bones.

Illusion may have been a cobweb-thin protection, but it settled over him with comforting familiarity nonetheless. Layer by layer, he became himself.

Jarlaxle leaned against a crumbling wall to watch the docks and review his plan. He'd prepared it as he walked, letting the salt air and piercing sunlight wake him up.

He froze as movement on the docks caught his eye. There was a person writhing in a net on the pier. He watched, breathless, as the fishermen beat their catch with oars until it stopped squirming. Then he blinked, and the net was filled with nothing but fish, scales glittering in the sunlight. He kept staring at the net, at the fish, at the dock, waiting for the image to reappear, but it didn't.

Trying to banish the image from his mind, Jarlaxle turned to considering the best conversational ploys. He'd brought some of his less important magical trinkets—nothing someone could use against dark elves, of course, but some elemental resistance and similar things—to use as collateral, if necessary. It would be better if he could build on their existing business relationship. Jarlaxle was wary of going further into debt to a surface merchant, but scouring Bregan D'aerthe of Kimmuriel's influence had to take priority.

Charm first, leaning heavily on how well their dealings had gone in the past. He could offer favorable terms for the deal they were already planning, followed by an offer of collateral if necessary. Yes, that would do. Having a plan, even a bloody and desperate one, was comforting, and Jarlaxle managed to walk into the offices of Yennan Tarmikos with his usual swagger.

It lasted roughly two seconds before Tarmikos himself, pointed finger quivering in fury, shouted "You!" and stood up behind his desk with a scowl.

Jarlaxle paused, mouth open in an aborted salutation. He looked to his left, to his right, and behind him, just in case, before coming to the unfortunate conclusion that Tarmikos was, indeed, yelling at him.

"Good morning, Master Tarmikos. You seem—"

"You think you can just come in here and smile and offer me a deal, you half-plucked parrot?" The old man puffed himself up like an angry cat. "I've pissed off murderers, and I've crawled, half-drowned, out of a hurricane, and I've seen a green dragon melt my caravan like it was butter in a skillet, so don't think that I can be intimidated by the likes of you . I've been here since before you crawled to the surface and I'll still be here after you're gone."

The sound of pens scratching against paper didn't cease. Jarlaxle noted that everyone around them was looking very carefully at their paperwork and trying not to draw attention to themselves.

"I believe there's been some kind of misunderstanding, Master Tarmikos," Jarlaxle said. "No one is trying to intimidate you." If you insist, I could demonstrate what intimidation looks like. A few daggers here, a fireball there... this was supposed to be the easy part of the plan, dammit.

"Sending your shadow to threaten me in an alleyway wasn't intimidation? Or perhaps I misunderstood an invitation for tea and cookies."

What in all the hells is Kimmuriel playing at?

"Ah. I'm afraid that agent was merely supposed to be watching your movements and ensure your safety, but he must have misunderstood his instructions." He grinned ruefully, inviting Tarmikos to commiserate. "If we have a flaw, it is encouraging excessive initiative in our soldiers. Please, I assure you that the agent who insulted you will be—" he paused here, hoping Tarmikos' imagination would fill in the gaps. "—appropriately chastised."

Tarmikos puckered his lips and was silent for a moment. Jarlaxle hoped he was calculating just how much his pride was worth and if he could really afford to fight them.

"You do that," Tarmikos eventually said. "But until you do, we got nothing to talk about."

Jarlaxle tipped his hat and left, cursing internally. In the back of his mind was a faint awareness of how easy it would be to burn Tarmikos' offices to the ground. Wasteful, perhaps, but the cheerful simplicity of destruction was a glittering temptation nonetheless.

But Jarlaxle hadn't reached his position by only having one plan at a time. He let the sharp breeze cool his temper as he walked. There were other moneylenders in Luskan, but before he spoke to them, he wanted to check in with some of his more reliable agents. If Kimmuriel was making a sudden change in Bregan D'aerthe's diplomatic tactics, Jarlaxle needed to know about it.

When he arrived at the South Bank warehouse, he found the door unlocked. For a brief moment as he walked in, a different warehouse flashed in his vision. There was yellow lantern light, and a familiar cloaked figure stood at the far end of the room. He took a shuddering breath and blinked, and the colors resolved themselves into the unlit room. Jarlaxle scanned the room again, but the image didn't reappear. He was alone.

However, the warehouse had not been left unchanged. Several crates of grain and fruit preserves had been disturbed, and several sacks of flour had been sliced open. He ran up the stairs and found similar destruction there. The books had been ransacked and several pieces of furniture overturned. Shards of blue glass crunched under his boots. The smell of old blood hung in the air.

There was a corpse leaning against the south wall: Maslyn Despar. Jarlaxle sagged against the desk as a chill that had nothing to do with the weather crept over him. Competent, adventurous, and ambitious, Maslyn had been in charge of maintaining this outpost and sending regular updates. His reports tended to be sparse on written detail, but the sketches he'd include in the margins more than made up for it. Jarlaxle knelt to check his wounds. A quick slice to the right arm and another across the neck. Maslyn had been a good fighter—whoever he'd fought had been better, and wielding two blades. This left a very narrow field of potential killers, but Jarlaxle had his suspicions. Maslyn had been one of his most dependable agents in entrenching Bregan D'aerthe in Luskan, after all. If Kimmuriel wished to destabilize Jarlaxle's network, this would have been a good place to start.

Jarlaxle pulled the body out of the patch of morning sunlight and started organizing the remaining books. More than half were gone, though burned or stolen it was impossible to say. There was a large pile of ashes in the hearth. Jarlaxle suspected that had been done specifically to obscure which ledgers had been taken. He opened one at random to familiarize himself with the kind of information that might have been stolen.

He hadn't been expecting Kimmuriel to act this quickly or this viciously. Kimmuriel was methodical, academic. He didn't care to rush. Clearly, Jarlaxle needed to reevaluate what kind of threat his lieutenant might pose.

He ran his finger down the line of numbers and considered how best to adapt his plans. His hoped-for decisive strike had been preempted. If Kimmuriel could anticipate this plan, who was to say that he wouldn't have already undermined Jarlaxle's next plan, or the one after that, or the one after that?

He slammed the ledger shut with a shudder, sending a cloud of dust up from its pages. He hadn't felt this uncertain in decades, nay, centuries . Before he'd formed Bregan D'aerthe, before he'd left House Baenre, before he'd made himself untouchable.

No, not untouchable. Jarlaxle knew better than that. But because he'd been off-balance, wounded even, he'd made the mistake of a first-year Melee Magthere student. Speed is no substitute for strategy. If you attack without first diverting your opponent's blades, you will find yourself impaled upon your own ambition.

Jarlaxle couldn't possibly hope to divert an attack if he didn't know what direction it was coming from. He considered the possibilities for scouting, but was interrupted by a piercing chirp from one of his rings.

Someone was breaking into his office.

At previous places, he'd ingratiated himself with the locals by buying their drinks. Everyone knew, of course, that he was trying to bribe them for information. It was part of the game. Now it was time for something a little more subtle.

He'd deliberately chosen a place with dirty windows. In the dim light, it was harder to notice the corpse-like pallor that would reveal too much about the nature of his employers. He'd faked a large scar as well, to discourage staring. If anyone did look at his face too closely, they'd remember the burn, not the features underneath it. A slumped shoulder and the broad vowels of a northerner completed the subterfuge.

One fellow patron settled nearby. Barrabus gave him a companionable nod, noting the cracked mud on the man's boots and trouser legs.

"Hell of day to be out in this weather," the man said. "What's yer excuse?"

"Eh, you know." Barrabus shrugged. "Lookin' for work."

"You in shipping?"

"Shipping, loading, digging. If it pays silver, I'll give it a shot." He shuddered slightly, careful not to exaggerate the movement. "Well, not digging no more. Not after what happened with the last one."

The man froze in a way Barrabus recognized as an attempt to hide intense curiosity. "Digging?" he asked, a hair too casual. Barrabus disguised his triumphant grin as a grimace before taking another sip of the watered-down mead.

"Yeah. Got paid to do tunnel-work for some—" He looked back and forth fearfully. "—some out-of-town sorts. So they could connect their buildings without steppin' into daylight or something. Only, they decided to pay us in steel 'stead of gold. They missed me, though, and I been looking for a cheap ride out of here ever since."

From the calculation and fear on the man's expression, Barrabus knew he'd chosen his story well. Being killed by one's employers was a very real fear for anyone working on illegal or secret construction projects, and the list of potential culprits was short. Drow had a reputation, and every added thread of fear and distrust among the locals would make it harder for them to do business.

"Well," the man looked grim. "You'll want to avoid the areas 'round Neverwinter and Port Llast. I hear there's been some skirmishes with ghouls or the like. Whoever they are, they ain't been too discerning about who they kill."

"I heard it was demons," said someone else. "But I don't give that much credence. A few tieflings, mayhap."

Icy claws in his chest and Barrabus couldn't breathe for a moment. Not undead , he knew . Netherese . And Alegni was probably with them. If he reached Luskan and Barrabus was still here, he might insist on keeping him close.

For the first time since he'd realized who was running Luskan, Barrabus felt as trapped as he did anywhere else. Once he completed his revenge here, there would be nothing left.

And time was running out.

When Kimmuriel emerged from Jarlaxle's office, he stopped. Jarlaxle stood, leaning against the wall, watching him with a mild expression. He looked as confident and polished as ever; if Kimmuriel hadn't already known about the memories he'd dredged back up, he wouldn't have noticed the tension in Jarlaxle's shoulders or the ghost of exhaustion under his eyes.

"Just who I was looking for," Jarlaxle said, beaming. "I wanted to ensure you weren't having too many difficulties in my absence." His eyes lingered on the door of the office Kimmuriel had just left. "You seem to be making yourself comfortable."

It took every ounce of willpower Kimmuriel possessed not to pat his pockets and make sure no incriminating items were visible.

"I needed the most recent inventory from the warehouse on South Bank. It wasn't in my files, and I thought perhaps it had been left on your desk."

A flash of something , too fast for Kimmuriel to read, leaked through the eyepatch. Jarlaxle chuckled.

"Perhaps Maslyn was delayed in delivering it," Jarlaxle suggested.

Kimmuriel kept his face blank. He had assumed Jarlaxle was too distracted regaining his memories to take revenge, but if he were wrong...if Jarlaxle wanted to kill him, the South Bank offices would be one of the first resources he'd recruit. Perhaps their lack of communication was the first step in a bloody coup. Kimmuriel could imagine it as easily as movements on a sava board. Jarlaxle making careful moves, cutting off Kimmuriel's information sources one-by-one, until finally closing in for the kill. It was exactly the kind of conflict that Quenthel would have hoped to get from revealing their brief alliance.

"If you wish to keep your organization alive, we cannot start working against each other," Kimmuriel reminded him. "Maintaining surface operations is difficult enough without our subordinates going rogue."

Jarlaxle's lips thinned for a moment, and Kimmuriel reconsidered the wisdom of reminding Jarlaxle that one of his subordinates—Kimmuriel himself—had already gone rogue. Twice now, in fact. Although both of them were in the habit of discounting the incident with the Crystal Shard as a single incident under extenuating circumstances, if Jarlaxle thought he saw a pattern developing, Kimmuriel was certain that he would be compelled to prevent it.

"I have no wish to work against you, Kimmuriel, not when we're both better served by cooperating." A less confident leader would have followed that with ' a fact you would do well to remember .' Jarlaxle simply smiled.

"Of course, captain." At that moment, Kimmuriel would have gladly sacrificed his distant relatives and several useful subordinates if it would make Jarlaxle believe in his good faith again. Of course, he could do that with psionics, but that the action itself would belie the message—the realization had the bitter tang of irony to it, and he absented himself as quickly as possible.

Kimmuriel realized halfway down the hall that, in their conversations in the past week, he'd never gotten the chance to justify his actions. Jarlaxle hadn't asked for an explanation, so Kimmuriel hadn't offered one. It was a faint hope, but perhaps it would mend this nameless thing that he seemed to have destroyed.

He looked back down the hall and opened his mouth to speak, but Jarlaxle was already gone.

Nimfein was waiting in his office when Kimmuriel returned. "Did you get it?" The wizard sounded eager, almost hungry, and Kimmuriel smirked. A secret commission from one of his captains had to be an exciting opportunity.

He thrust the wooden flute into the wizard's hands. The wizard nearly dropped it, then examined the carvings closely. What he was looking for, Kimmuriel couldn't possibly guess, but he wished the wizard would look for it somewhere else.

"Will that be sufficient?" Kimmuriel tried very hard to imply with his tone that the answer had to be yes . The wizard looked at him plaintively.

"This is enchanted. And it's had multiple owners."

"Can you do this task or not? Must I draw you a map?" Kimmuriel had meant this to sound sarcastic, but the wizard shrugged.

"A picture would be better."

Kimmuriel pinched the bridge of his nose. "If I draw a picture of the target, will you go away?"

Frentic nodding. Kimmuriel sighed and pulled out a scrap of parchment and some charcoal. Ink was expensive and he wouldn't waste it on this. His hand paused as he realized he had only a dim memory of what the human looked like. Aware that he was being watched, he made his best guess—furrowed brows, a harsh line of a scowl, and Kimmuriel was almost certain there had been facial hair. A quick scribbled hairline completed the sketch. He pushed it across the desk at the wizard, who caught it before it landed on the floor.

The wizard looked at the sketch, then at Kimmuriel's face. He opened his mouth, then seemed to think the better of it. A properly deferential nod, and Kimmuriel was finally, blissfully alone.

Barrabus the Grey read through his pilfered ledgers and ate preserved strawberries with a spoon. He'd originally stolen several of the jars from the Bregan D'aerthe office because he thought they might be disguising some less innocuous valuables. That hadn't been the case. However, it did mean he didn't need to interrupt his reading to find actual food. Two empty jars—one raspberry, one apricot—sat next to the stack of books he'd already examined.

Someone had forgotten to tell the gods it was spring—light reflected against falling snowflakes to illuminate the city outside. Barrabus scowled at them through the window and considered how best to escalate his revenge. He'd been working in an ever-tightening spiral. It wasn't clean, wasn't efficient. Whittling away at the organization Jarlaxle had spent centuries building was a death in a thousand tiny pieces. It seemed only appropriate, after all, to return Jarlaxle's gift to him in equal kind.

He'd taken the ledgers from the past few months, as well as some older ones for comparison. He'd been hoping to find in them Bregan D'aerthe's most profitable revenue stream—it would be the target that would hurt Jarlaxle the most—but the numbers weren't adding up. If he was understanding the ledgers correctly, this operation wasn't nearly as profitable as the Calimport one had been. It had been improving over the past several years, but not enough to make it self-sustaining. Barrabus could only assume the operating funds for Luskan were being pulled from other branches of Bregan D'aerthe. In addition to leaving him with a lack of potential targets, the idea itched at him. This isn't a profitable outpost. Why has Jarlaxle not packed up and left already?

He frowned and re-added the column, but it came to the same result. Every instinct he had screamed that he was missing something.

He would only get one chance to kill Jarlaxle—unforeseen complications could ruin everything. If he wanted to do this right, he would have to avoid any direct confrontation until he had more information.

As he took a bite of jam, he felt the prickle of magic on the back of his neck. Bregan D'aerthe, no doubt, trying to find whoever had broken into their offices. It it was harder than he remembered to summon the force of will that would push away any attempts to scry him. (It seemed to have no effect on Claw's hold, and so he had fallen out of practice.) As he built up a mental wall against the spell, he wrapped a blanket around himself, hiding himself from view in case the scrying was successful. Even if they knew where he was, he could maintain some element of surprise.

After a few moments, the prickling stopped. Either he had successfully deflected the spell or the mage had gotten the information they needed and ended their scrying.

If it was the latter, he only had a few minutes before Jarlaxle found him. He gathered up his papers and the jar and climbed out the window, into the drifting night.