Two quiet knocks at his door nearly caused the seasoned man to drop his whetstone and ready the throwing knife that he'd been sharpening with it. Despite the adrenaline that his quickened heartbeats sent shooting through his veins, Artemis Entreri willed his hands to follow through with the final rhythmic stroke, allowing the metallic song of steel on stone to sing its last drawn-out note. He set the implements down with feigned detachment, adding a slight roll to the knife so that it clattered briefly against the stone, then carefully shifted himself out of his chair so that the creaks wrung themselves from the worn wood with slow deliberation.
The assassin's mind whirled with questions. He hadn't tuned all of his senses to detecting anyone who drew close, but he hardly needed to anymore, for listening for approaching threats had long since become second nature. Yet, his trained hearing hadn't clued him to the approach of whomever knocked at his door now. He glanced to the window, calculating the time it would take him to run to it and vault for freedom. However, he knew immediately that an attacker with skills enough to elude his detection would catch him vulnerable before he could make his escape.
With a silent curse, Entreri prepared to face his foe. Although he could have silenced his footfalls and all but glided to the door, the disciplined man walked with calculated steps, each one sounding a solid and unhurried beat. His hand swept up his jeweled dagger as he passed by his dangling weapons belt, the blade sliding free of its sheathe with nary a sound. As the assassin paused a breath before his door, he stared frigidly at an imagined point beyond the wooden slab where the knocker's eyes might be. In this moment of heightened focus, the wary man heard a faint squeak in the floorboards, the tell-tale sound of someone's weight being shifted, and the exhalation of a sigh. Both sounds were as quiet as a mouse's tiny scurrying paws, but those giveaway cues, or rather, what the assassin recognized as non-accidental intention behind them, painted a very clear idea of what awaited beyond. Despite his relative certainty, the cautious man's exasperated sigh was an internal one, and with his dagger concealed behind his back, his free hand unwound his many traps and he opened the door.
Steely gray eyes found a face black as night. As the assassin's glare took in the outrageously orchestrated ornamentation ostentatiously bedecking a handsome visage wearing a deceptively innocent smile, he sighed again to himself, but his clutch about the hilt of his dagger allowed blood to flow over his knuckles once more. Raising an eyebrow as he beheld the drow before him, his expression suggesting displeased surprise, Entreri greeted dryly, "Well played, Jarlaxle. You were the last person that I'd expect to knock at my door. Do tell, how it is that you finally have realized that I do not appreciate your barging in to my space uninvited? Was it the numerous times that I've informed you not-so-subtly of my preferences? Or perhaps the plethora of traps that I've laid to dissuade you from your willingness to intrude upon my personal space?"
Jarlaxle was the very picture of relaxation. Appearing to not have heard the assassin's jape, or more likely, Entreri thought, heard it but deemed it unworthy of his regard, the drow strolled past the human and sauntered into the room. As lethargically as a well-fed tiger, he fell into the sole chair.
This time, Entreri's sigh was audible as he shook his head at the mercenary's characteristic heedlessness. "Do come in and sit down," he stated sardonically as he closed the door behind them. Fixing Jarlaxle with a wintry stare, the assassin demanded, "What are you about now?"
Jarlaxle looked up at the dour human and grinned crookedly. "I was just thinking that I should pay my good friend Artemis a visit!" he responded in a jovial tone.
Entreri folded his arms before his chest and his lips drew together in a thin line. Jarlaxle continued to smile charmingly up at the assassin, but Entreri met that smile with his own level, icy, steel shrouded glare aimed like a fully loaded arbalest straight between the apparently guileless eyes of the mercenary.
Finally, after many silent heartbeats, Jarlaxle's handsome features twitched slightly under Entreri's unrelenting glare. The mercenary cleared his throat, then asked in an almost tentative tone, "Might I stay with you for a few nights?"
The dagger nearly slipped from the surprised man's hand. Chagrined at how quickly the uninvited drow again caused him astonishment, Entreri's eyes narrowed dangerously as he repeated his earlier question in even frostier tones, "What are you about?"
Jarlaxle sighed and stopped smiling. "Nothing, my distrustful friend. It is as I've said: I need a place to stay for a few nights," he repeated, his voice almost imploring.
The flamboyant mercenary's uncharacteristic behavior combined with the sheer unlikeliness of a circumstance which would lead the "mighty" Jarlaxle to beseech Entreri as he was doing, had the suspicious assassin on a proverbial but still razor-sharp edge. His voice dripping with sarcasm, the wary man asked, "Inns suddenly too good for your coin?"
Face somber, Jarlaxle replied, "Nay, it has nothing to do with coin. Inns are unable to shelter me from-" he paused and shuddered.
Rarely did the assassin see the mercenary leader so unnerved. Intrigue chased the annoyance out of his voice as he walked to his weapons belt and sheathed his dagger. Still standing by his blades, Entreri asked, "From what?"
"Qhagchel," the mercenary replied, another shudder shaking his entire delicate-seeming frame.
The foreign-sounding word sent a chill down Entreri's spine. As he willed away the sensation of millipedes marching down his back to the beat of the alien syllables, Entreri furrowed his brow. The word certainly wasn't Common, and to his knowledge, it wasn't drow either. Shaking his head, he said with exasperation, "You'll have to elaborate, for unlike your pet psionicist I cannot read your mind."
Jarlaxle stared at Entreri forlornly, and the cynical human was surprised to find something akin to anguish in those ruby eyes.
"Qhagchel is an illithid. I first encountered it in one of my sitting rooms. It then followed me, all the way to my bedroom…" the mercenary's voice trailed off as his red eyes stared through Entreri, his fine features contorting with horror and disgust at something that only he could see.
But the the assassin didn't need to share his companion's vision for his arms to drop to his sides and his eyes to widen with shock. His surprise only lasted a heartbeat though before his angular visage twisted into a mask of rage. Seizing the drow by the front of his vest, Entreri shouted in Jarlaxle's face, "You are hunted by an illithid and you thought it wise to lure it here to me?!"
Jarlaxle swayed in Entreri's grip as though he were made of straw. He smiled weakly as he tried to push Entreri's hands off of his vest. His voice soft, almost meek, the lithe form replied, "Peace, my abbil. It isn't what you think."
Sneering and not releasing his grip, the furious man, his body tense as a drawn bowstring, retorted bitingly, "You're absolutely right. Knowing you, it's much worse. Let me guess: your underlings are trying to overthrow you again, except this time, they've enlisted the help of an illithid!"
Jarlaxle met his friend's furious gaze with a vacant one, blinked a few times, then burst into laughter. "Gods, no, nothing like that," he said between chuckles, which ended as abruptly as they began. "At least, not literally," he added, his voice quiet and docile once more.
Entreri stared incredulously at Jarlaxle. For all of his experience with the unpredictable mercenary, the assassin had never seen his moods shift more quickly than ice turning to water in dragon's breath. Curiosity dulling the edge in his voice, Entreri asked, "Not 'literally'? What exactly do you mean?"
He let out another exasperated sigh, shook his head, and released the drow. Bracing himself for another taxing experience, the perplexed man fell onto his bed facing his uninvited guest and bade, "No more games, Jarlaxle. Tell me, or leave."
Jarlaxle heaved a sigh so great that the exhalation seemed to shrink his body. Not bothering to turn his chair so that he faced his friend, he explained in a tone filled with remorse, "I bedded an illithid. Kimmuriel seems to derive an overt amount of enjoyment from reminding me of the horrors of that experience. I fear that he may go so far as to orchestrate additional meetings between myself and mind flayers. I thought that perhaps your presence near me would dissuade him from seeking me out, given the… mutual dislike you two share."
Entreri's expression reflected a fierce battle that incredulity waged against repugnance. He stared wordlessly at Jarlaxle for several long breaths. Finally realizing that he would rather not try to understand, the assassin grimaced. Lifting one arm and pointing directly at the door, he hissed, "Out."
The contemptuous tone was sharp enough to finally draw Jarlaxle's attention, and he reeled at the icy reception in spite of his self-debasement. Moreover, the assassin's expression was so derisive that anger too surged through the mercenary. His pride recovered, the drow snarled, "I don't think so."
Entreri might've wondered more at Jarlaxle's unusually mercurial state, but his disbelief was overshadowed by mounting anger in the face of the mercenary's animosity. Sneering, the assassin returned, biting off each of his words, "That is not your decision to make."
Jarlaxle glared at Entreri with the wild eyes of a cornered beast. "I am not leaving," he growled as he snapped his wrist, dropping a dagger from his enchanted bracer into his hand.
Entreri's jaw would have dropped open had he not been clenching it so tightly. He glowered at Jarlaxle for a few more heartbeats before he stiffly rose, gathered up his weapons belt, and stalked towards the door. Not bothering to look at the drow along the way, he pronounced icily, "As you wish."
A dagger whistled past, narrowly avoiding cutting open Entreri's cheek as it buried its blade deep within the door with a decisive "thunk". The assassin slowly turned to face the mercenary once more, his scowl deepening the shadows in his face. Pulse pounding in his ears, the irate man slowly turned and fixed the home invader with his frostiest stare. Despite knowing that the precision of the throw was no accident, the knowledge did not stymie the growth of his rage. His weapons flew into his hands as he dropped into a defensive crouch, his voice deathly calm as he stated more than asked, "Have you gone mad?"
Not bothering to answer Entreri's question, Jarlaxle instead declared matter-of-factly, "You are staying with me." He snapped his wrist again and a new dagger dropped into his waiting hand.
While he might normally have felt bewilderment at the strangeness of Jarlaxle's assertion, his anger instead caused Entreri to react with defiance. "Is that so?" the assassin snapped as he advanced upon the mercenary, who still looked so uncharacteristically vulnerable despite the edged metal so prominently displayed in his outstretched hand. However, before Jarlaxle was anywhere near the oncoming sword's reach, he leapt to his feet and hopped onto the seat of the chair, his movements so fluid, graceful and balanced that the beaten frame didn't even creak. The colorful drow set one foot on the back of the chair and launched himself backwards in a somersault. As the chair followed its downward momentum, Jarlaxle kicked it into a flip and sent it sailing towards the advancing Entreri.
Even though he had foreseen this possibility, even for all of his agility, the assassin only managed to marginally dodge the chair flying at his face, grimacing as it crashed into the wall. He knew that the tight quarters afforded by the apartment did not make for the ideal arena for him, but he also knew that the same was true for Jarlaxle. Entreri quickly glanced around for a means to retaliate, his gaze finding the only other easily movable piece of furniture in the room. Altering his course away from charging directly at his opponent, the calculating man dove for the table in the center of the room.
A grin broke out over the obsidian-dark face, the flash of perfect teeth showing too much gum to be mirthful. Deep red eyes glittering above the devilish leer, the mercenary cried triumphantly, "Oh no you don't!" and sent a stream of daggers towards the lunging human.
Stepping quickly, pulling his body to the left then the right, twisting as his blades flashed about him, Entreri dodged the first dagger, deflected the second and picked off the third. Even before the fourth and fifth tore open first his shirt and then his skin, the the veteran fighter realized that he would inevitably lose, that the confined space of the room slightly favored his opponent after all. Furthermore, it didn't help that more than half of Jarlaxle's flying daggers were illusions, but Entreri had no way of telling the solid apart from the illusory, nor was he foolhardy enough to try to believe all of them out of existence. Nonetheless, skills hard-won from iron discipline and grueling training led him to parry his way through the stream of steel to the table, which he flipped onto its side as he ducked behind. As the continuous chain of daggers ate away at the temporary shelter provided by the thin sheet of wood, some deflecting off the edge to bury themselves in the floor beside the crouching man, Entreri looked to the nearby bed, an idea forming in his mind. He drew himself in as small as he could and waited for the tide to abate.
After some time of barraging Entreri's makeshift barrier, more and more of his daggers bouncing off of ones that were already embedded, Jarlaxle paused, a dagger at the ready. He curiously studied the upturned table, more resembling a strange porcupine facsimile than a piece of furniture, behind which he knew the assassin still hid. Puzzled by the stillness of the scene, Jarlaxle drew out one of his many wands and carefully approached the table.
"Do you yield at last, my friend?" he called.
Instead of answering, Entreri silently set his blades on the floor. As Jarlaxle drew closer, Entreri shifted his weight onto his toes, his body coiling like a spring. When he judged the mercenary to be close enough, the assassin sent his weapons clattering out before him as he pounced at Jarlaxle.
Distracted by the sight of the weapons and shocked that the assassin would relinquish them in their fight, Jarlaxle let out a shout of surprise and instinctively stabbed forward for where he assumed his foe to be. Entreri, probably fortunately for Jarlaxle, was not there. Instead, the wily human had darted past the drow, grabbing the sheets and blankets off the bed, yanking them upwards and sending pillows into the air. The mercenary gasped aloud as billowing fabrics filled his vision, knowing that the assassin following the innocuous sheets was almost certainly preparing a devastating strike but unable to properly prepare.
As Entreri flew towards a full bodied tackle of the sheet-shrouded Jarlaxle, a slimy "pop" forced him to re-evaluate. Instantly realizing the implication behind that moist yet muffled splattering, the assassin could guess easily enough what had transpired. A wan smile appeared on Entreri's face as he watched his original plan be thwarted, however he adapted immediately. Even though the magical glob of goo succeeded in driving the mass of fabrics away from his opponent, the chaos that Entreri's "bedside maneuver" had created caused Jarlaxle to drop his dagger while batting aside the obscuring material. Further, the closeness of the wand's target had caused it to be enmeshed in the goop soaked fabric and torn from the mercenaries' grip. Finally, and far more importantly than the fact that he had disarmed his foe (no matter how embarrassing that might later prove to be for the wily Jarlaxle), Entreri realized that Jarlaxle had committed one of the greatest sins of solo combat, as he had clearly lost sight of Entreri.
Not hesitating for even a heartbeat, the assassin ducked within the changed trajectory of the falling sheets, retaining his cover. In the same breath, he bounded around the mercenary's fabric-induced blind spot and slammed the drow to the floor.
"Oof!" Jarlaxle's breath was blasted from his lungs as he heard the clatter of his dagger and wand being swept away. His forearms were sloppily pinned, constricted enough that he couldn't use the magic of his bracers but clumsy enough that he could struggle. Like a wild animal, the indignant drow bared his teeth in a growl up at the human confining him while struggling with all of his might. Although Entreri outweighed his slimmer opponent, Jarlaxle had a strength that his limber frame contradicted. That, plus the roughness of his improvisation meant that the assassin had as sure a grip on the mercenary as he would have had upon a large, slippery, angry, wet and many-hued fish.
With his full attention on pinning the drow's flailing limbs and counterbalancing against the attempts to struggle closer to the discarded weapons, Entreri did not notice Jarlaxle's blind grasp landing upon something until it hit the side of his head.
For Jarlaxle's part, his fingers grazed upon neither blade nor magic, but he hardly cared what it was he found, his fist greedily devouring something soft and smooth. Although the mercenary swung it like a club with all of his constricted might, his weapon let out a soft "puff" as it hit his target.
The impact of the pillow against the side of the assassin's head didn't hurt, in fact the sensation could hardly be described as even approaching that qualification. Yet, the fact that it didn't hurt made Entreri more angry, but he was beyond caring about his lack of understanding. The outraged man snatched up another nearby pillow and slammed it down at Jarlaxle's face.
Jarlaxle raised his pillow to block Entreri's attack, then, realizing that his captor was off-balance, quickly took advantage of the opportunity to slither out from underneath the human. Not wanting to give his foe an opening to attack him again, instead of disengaging, Jarlaxle transferred the pillow to one hand, then swung it at Entreri's shoulder in a long arc, the motion causing the already frayed stitching to split. Entreri mirrored Jarlaxle and raised his pillow to block, but even the soft impact of pillow against pillow caused the contents of the drow's cushion to burst out as the tattered seams blew open. A flurry of down, in addition to more inexpensive stuffing material, rained upon the assassin.
The sudden environmental change shocked the formerly enraged man into stillness. As he willed himself to shake off the temporary stun, his body rebelled as an unexpected and irresistible itch asserted itself within him. Remembering the paralysis that Kane had inflicted upon him long ago, Entreri blinked furiously as he felt something like uncontrollable spasms within him screaming to be let out but not along familiar muscle cords. Finally, with a shudder, he sneezed. And sneezed again. And sneezed, yet again.
Jarlaxle did not relinquish the fortuitous opportunity afforded him by the onset of whatever fit that had seized Entreri. Exploiting the assassin's moment of distraction to the fullest, the mercenary snatched his opponent's pillow weapon and mercilessly fell upon the hapless human with a flurry of blows from his spoils of the battle. However, his defeat had become the least of Entreri's concerns, and also did diminish the significance of his most recent altercation with Jarlaxle. Much to the assassin's displeasure, his sneezing fit did not ease. The helpless man only halfheartedly raised up his arms to ward off Jarlaxle's relentless assault, his sneezes came closer in succession and greater in intensity as the second pillow loosed its contents into the air.
"Jarlaxle, stop," the assassin managed to choke out in between gasps for breath before succumbing to his sneezing fit once more.
Laughing, Jarlaxle taunted playfully, "Do you yield?" He whacked Entreri a few more times before noticing the human's increasingly disheartened attempts to thwart his efforts. The sense of sport fleeing, the mercenary set down his all but deflated pillowcase and peered at his impaired opponent.
"Are you all right, my friend?" the victorious drow asked, his tone a mix of concerned curiosity and suspicious skepticism.
Entreri nodded curtly to Jarlaxle's second question, futilely trying to suppress a sneeze as he did so. The agonized assassin grimaced again following another irrepressible chain of outbursts, growling in frustration in between. As he blinked away the tears in his bleary eyes, he silently cursed his companion for bringing yet another discomfort unto him.
Jarlaxle studied Entreri with narrowed eyes, unconvinced by his nod. Nevertheless, he shrugged, stood, and brushed himself off. Tapping one of his many trinkets, the resourceful drow called forth an invisible servitor, which immediately began to clean up the pillow stuffing strewn all about the floor. As the fluffy material rolled itself into order before Entreri's eyes, his sneezing fit began to subside. However, he could hardly feel beholden to the summoner of the magic that chased the irritant away, for rolling among the debris were splintered wooden chunks. Furthermore, with the detritus cleared away, the dagger-punctuated table stood out starkly, classy as the wall of a seedy tavern frequented by violent patrons. The assassin glared sullenly at Jarlaxle before pointedly returning his gaze back to his ruined furniture. "You owe me a new table and chair," he stated dryly.
Rather than follow Entreri's leading gaze, Jarlaxle just laughed airily and waved his hand in the air in dismissal of the human's words. The dandy drow walked over to the room's singular cot and began pulling out oddity after oddity. Following those came various brightly-colored garments and accessories. Finally, layers upon layers of soft lush furs piled onto the bed.
Entreri stared at Jarlaxle with a mixture of shock and disbelief, his gray eyes darting from his astonishing houseguest to the increasing mound on his bed. "What in the Nine Hells are you doing? What are those for?" he demanded, gesturing to the furs-covered hill.
Jarlaxle glanced askance at Entreri, his expression one of boredom. "I'm unpacking," the mercenary replied with the boredom of explaining an answer that should have been obvious. "And these," he added as he pet the topmost fur lovingly, "Are for making the stiff board that you call a bed more comfortable."
Entreri watched Jarlaxle with growing incredulity. "Unpacking?" the assassin echoed. A breath later, his eyes widened, and he accused, "You had this all planned out!" The frustrated man shook his head, as though the motion could dispel the entire ludicrous situation.
Jarlaxle shrugged and grinned as he pulled out the last of the items from his seemingly bottomless pocket. Luxurious overstuffed silk pillows in tones so bright that the assassin cringed to gaze upon them balanced precariously on top of the heap. The mercenary whistled a cheery tune as he pulled the simple linen bedsheet out from underneath the furs and spread it on the floor, whereupon he placed his oddities and personal effects. As Entreri watched, his gray-tinged skin turning more livid, Jarlaxle spread the furs over the cot. Without looking at his companion, the mercenary casually asked, "Where are you going to sleep?"
Entreri blinked a few times, unsure if he had heard the drow correctly. Finally concluding that he had, the assassin snapped shut the jaw that he realized had been hanging open, then issued in a low and dangerous growl, "Seriously?"
The human's reaction altogether expected, perhaps even planned for, Jarlaxle snickered to himself, but decided all the same that it would be unwise to push the already testy man further. Thus, with a graceful spin-about to face the assassin, the mercenary put on his most winning smile. Touching a hand to his heart, the flamboyant drow proclaimed grandiosely, "Ah, forgive me, my abbil, where are my manners? Although I normally would not endure such hardship, since you honor me by making me your guest, I shall share the bed."
Entreri felt his eyes boggle so hard that he was surprised that they did not pop right out of his skull. He opened his mouth several times to reply, but no words came. Jarlaxle resisted laughing at his friend's strikingly fish-like behavior and hopped into the bed atop the pile of furs, folding his hands behind his head and leaned comfortably against the headboard. Still beaming charmingly at Entreri, he patted the space next to himself invitingly.
Entreri did not budge, instead continued staring at Jarlaxle in silent incredulity.
Jarlaxle patted next to himself again, this time more insistently.
Entreri rigidly turned away and started for the door.
Wholly expecting this response once again, Jarlaxle leveled his recently recovered wand at the door and shot a glob of magical green goo to cover the doorknob and part of the jamb, making escape impossible. The glob struck its target with a wet "splat" a finger's length away from the assassin's hand, which shot back before the sticky substance could encase it as well. Frigidity streaming from him, Entreri slowly turned to face Jarlaxle, his steely stare sharpened by the many barbs of indignity.
Instead of pinning the offending drow however, the flinty eyes found instead a blur of purple as an oncoming pillow caught Entreri directly in the face. As it slid into his waiting arms, he beheld Jarlaxle, reclining in his bed, one hand still pitched forward from the throw and another, this one pink, prepared in his other hand.
"Heed this, my abbil," Jarlaxle said innocently, "These pillows are stuffed with only the finest down. You will find no rough cotton, shredded rags, or whatever it is that the beastly cushions you sleep on contains within them. Surely you'd rather rest your head against their luxuriousness rather than the alternative?"
Already bristling at Jarlaxle's insufferable antics, Entreri's guise of calm shattered. Bellowing out a roar, his hands closing upon a corner of the pillow as though it were a greatsword and charged the drow, swinging his makeshift weapon with all of his might for the dark elf's head. Jarlaxle simply laughed and allowed Entreri's strike to come through unhindered. The surprising amount of force knocked him off balance and onto his side. He continued to laugh while halfheartedly fending off the human's assault with one hand, the other patting around for a "weapon" to counterattack with. Entreri swatted the other pillows out of the drow's reach.
"No you don't," the assassin growled as he relentlessly clouted the mercenary with his pillow. Although it was of highly skillful craftsmanship, the pillow, sewn by a seamstress and not forged by a blacksmith, tore under the rough handling. Plumes of down blossomed into the air, but still the assassin did not diminish his attack. Almost immediately, Entreri's eyes watered as he fought against the urge to sneeze, succeeding only partially against the irrepressible itch. His vision clouded, the stubborn man tried to growl away the intense discomfort as he would with pain, but only succeeded in emitting sharp, unnatural sounds more befitting a strange gnomish contraption than man. Still, he did not relent, throwing away the limp pillowcase after it fully deflated and snatching up another to continue his onslaught on Jarlaxle.
Were it a normal duel, Entreri would've long ago been victorious. As it was, the situation would've even been dishonorable, for the human beat the (literally) downed and defenseless drow relentlessly. Neither victory nor honor entered Entreri's mind however, couldn't enter Entreri's mind, for Jarlaxle continued to laugh. His words muffled and interrupted by the soft thwaps, the mercenary bemoaned, "Oh, woe! I am surely done for, for there is no one who can save me - OOF! - from the deadly assassin!"
That earned him an even more vigorous beating, but it only made the mischievous mercenary laugh harder. Clutching his aching sides, Jarlaxle let Entreri play out his energy and rage. The odd sounds that the human made in his defiance of his body's response to the feathery down threw the already aching drow into intense convulsions the likes of which he had never experienced before, unabated even as he rolled from side to side in his fits of laughter.
"Artemis, spare me!" Jarlaxle gasped breathlessly, "Please, I beg you, stop making that sound! You're killing me!"
In contrast to Jarlaxle, Entreri felt perfectly miserable. His vision was been reduced to little more than a blur and his entire chest ached from the irrepressible urge to sneeze. He felt as though he'd swallowed a fireball that threatened to burst from him the longer he suppressed his fit. Nonetheless, although he would've liked to collapse and let the convulsions take him, the stubborn man continued to beat the drow until the pillow in his hands, and also the last one of the lot, completely deflated.
Managing to squeak out something that vaguely resembled, "Good," in response to Jarlaxle's pleas, Entreri finally crumpled, too lost in the heaving of his chest as he fought for every breath to notice the unsteady ebony hands catching him and guiding his collapse onto the bed. Instinctively, his body curling in attempt to alleviate the hole that felt itself ripping forth from his chest, the aching man groaned, even whimpering a little, as the sneezes continued to rack his body. "Stlarning drow," Entreri squeaked out between his irrepressible expulsions of air.
Jarlaxle quietly thanked his luck, for he was similarly debilitated, albeit not as much as was the assassin. It'd taken him awhile to stop giggling like an elfling, and now, as he laid on his back, panting, the pounding of his heart ringing in his ears, the mercenary watched the last of the feathers slowly drift down out of his range of vision. Finally recovering somewhat, still grinning from ear to pointed ear, the chipper drow propped himself up on an elbow and poked at the assassin. A squeak followed by a groan was his response. Despite his growing concern for Entreri, Jarlaxle couldn't help but chortle at the unnatural emissions. He set a hand on the curled up man's shoulder. "I'm afraid that I cannot summon my spectral servant again until tomorrow," he informed with unfeigned contrition.
Entreri heard the drow's words, but they sounded muffled, as though one of them were underwater. He ignored those words, instead focusing on the thinning veil that blurred his vision. The assassin pushed his sleeve against his eyes, clearing away moisture that only returned in lessened quantity. He dared to relax his defenses, allowing the sneezes to come through, and was relieved to find that they, too, subsided somewhat. Breathing a bit more regularly again, Entreri snapped in response to his companion, "Clean it up yourself then."
It was Jarlaxle's turn to blink incredulously at Entreri, but it wasn't the cranky tone that surprised him. Rather, the idea of him performing a task as mundane as cleaning was utterly ridiculous. Despite facing away from the pampered drow, Entreri knew Jarlaxle well enough to correctly interpret the mercenary's stillness. With a great deal of exasperation the assassin explained, "I can't do it," and sneezed again.
Acknowledging the point, Jarlaxle shrugged and looked around. He picked up his wide-brimmed hat and used it to sweep the feathers off of the bed. Then, hopping to his feet on the down-covered floor, the mercenary continued to sweep with his great hat, succeeding more in stirring the feathers into the air again than gathering and pushing them away. Meanwhile, Entreri, trusting that Jarlaxle could take care of the mundane task, chose to rest his eyes rather than supervise. He took a deep breath, foolishly believing that Jarlaxle had contained the feathers by then and that he could begin to breathe normally again. Instead, he nearly inhaled a feather that had been sent into the air by Jarlaxle's inept attempt at cleaning. Gray eyes popping open and managing to catch a glimpse of the circumstances before the watery veil once more obscured his vision, Entreri felt panic rising. Along with that unnatural panic came the horrific urge to sneeze unendingly. "Jarlaxle, stop!" the hapless man wheezed as his fit returned. "You're making it worse!" He curled tightly within himself and tried to muffle his sneezing with his own body.
Bent forward in mid-sweep, Jarlaxle paused, glanced at Entreri, and frowned. He straightened and made his way back to the bed, easily avoiding stepping on any felled feather. Carefully hanging his hat on a bedpost, he questioned the curled lump before him, "What do you propose I do then, my friend?"
Entreri bit back a string of colorful expletives involving Jarlaxle, the most grotesque demons and devils of the Abyss and the Nine Hells respectively and the most obscene sexual acts. The assassin dared to peek out with one eye at his formerly austere but spotless room and realized with dismay that the only area clear of down was the bed upon which he rested. Fighting back another urge to curse, the exhausted man buried his sigh in his arms, then tersely instructed, "Shut up, lay down, and don't move."
Jarlaxle considered making a game of Entreri's muffled words, but his abdomen still ached from the great entertainment Entreri gave him earlier, and he was content with allowing a heartfelt smile to flit across his face. The circumstances weren't exactly what he would've wished for, but at least he had accomplished his goal of seeking refuge with Entreri while retaining the assassin by his side. The triumphant mercenary effortlessly hoisted himself over his debilitated companion and landed gracefully on the unoccupied side of the bed, where he made himself comfortable. Without anyone to see him preen, Jarlaxle grinned and mouthed silent congratulations to himself on his victory while being serenaded by his friend's slowly abating sneezes.
As Entreri's vision cleared once more, he allowed himself to slowly uncurl, but otherwise remained very still. He wanted to be angry at Jarlaxle, however he was far too drained of energy to sustain the fire necessary for rage. Moreover, despite his mind's denial of the fact, his sore body was grateful for the padding afforded by Jarlaxle's furs. He wouldn't be able to move for quite some time, and if he had been laying like that on his usual cot, the he'd be quite sore and cramped the following day. Of course, none of any of this would've come to pass were it not for Jarlaxle in the first place, but that thought was made vague by the blissful onset of sleep.
Unfortunately, Jarlaxle had grown bored in the relative silence, and just as Entreri was forgetting in his exhaustion that he should've known better than to expect Jarlaxle to follow his instructions, the drow began bantering about various trivialities. Entreri didn't answer, didn't need to anyway as Jarlaxle seemed to be perfectly content talking to himself, so long as he had a nominal audience. To prevent himself from being lulled to sleep by the melody of the the mercenary's lyrical voice, the enervated assassin passed the time by putting his own spin on Jarlaxle's self-focused tales, adding a word or two to each of the dark elf's conquests and modifying them to be instead achievements in misfortune.
Contrary to appearances, the clever drow's sense of self-importance was far from his mind. He paid enough mind to his words to ensure that they made sense while focusing on more important matters, such as his next steps and his unwilling host's temperament. He knew that his respite was only temporary, and he knew better than to believe his companion to be asleep, despite the human's unmoving form. Jarlaxle replayed their encounter, calculating the degree to which the assassin's self-respect was injured, gauging how much more he could play his hand.
Night finally fell as the garrulous drow finished his final tale. The pause in his outpouring words seemed spontaneous, but it was hardly so, for the mercenary felt the subtle relaxation in the corded fibers of his friend's back, which suffered the indignity of proximity to him by never turning. A tingling magical sense told Jarlaxle that his invisible servitor would be available again in a few hours, but he decided that Entreri didn't need to know this fact, especially as the human seemed to have finally succumbed to his weariness. Despite his lack of need for the reverie, the drow pointedly stretched and yawned, declaring, "I believe that I shall retire for the night. Sweet dreams, my abbil."
Entreri jerked back into consciousness, not even aware that despite his best efforts, the irrepressibly melodic voice had served as too effective of a lullaby. Being addressed directly by it had ripped him from his euphoric drift, and that immediate consequence irked him more than anything else in that moment. His words slurred by fatigue, Entreri snapped, "Shut up Jarlaxle, lest I change my mind about not murdering you tonight."
Jarlaxle only grinned more widely, fully secure in his knowledge that the assassin would do no such thing that night. As for the next morning, well, what made each day exciting were its unknowns after all.