Author's Note: Set in Servant of the Shard, before their visit to Gent E. Man Briar's. Co-written with Ariel D.

An Offer of Friendship

Jarlaxle and Artemis rode along the Trade Way through the wide open dales of Tethyr. They had crossed into Tethyr two days ago through Saharkhan Keep. Jarlaxle had spied the old royal castle of Tethyr in the distance and wished that they could visit, but this wasn't a journey of leisure.

Crenshinibon, helplessly trapped in Artemis Entreri's belt pouch, sensed the turn of Jarlaxle's thoughts and sent out a puppy-like whimper.

"Crenshinibon regrets its aggressive actions," Jarlaxle blurted. "Why can we not spare it? It seems cruel to destroy something we do not understand."

Entreri cast Jarlaxle a sideways glance. "Oh, yes. Because it's going to regret raising a dozen new towers right here in Tethyr - and that is exactly what it will do once back in your hands."

"You do not know that," Jarlaxle objected.

"I do," Entreri said simply.

Jarlaxle was silent for a moment. He was unaccustomed to being treated this way. And yet, Artemis seemed to view this adventure as a rescue. "We should learn more about Crenshinibon before passing judgment," he declared.

Entreri snorted, and his horse tossed its head as though in agreement. "I have all the information on it I need. It manipulates and controls. It makes otherwise intelligent drow mercenaries act like fools."

Jarlaxle scowled with embarrassment. "Candlekeep is not that far out of our way. Why do we not go there and learn Crenshinibon's history before we decide that we must destroy it?"

"Two problems with that," Entreri said. "One, Candlekeep is plenty far out of our way. Two, we need to know nothing of the Shard's history to know it is permanently bent upon its goal."

"What goal is that?" Jarlaxle asked.

"Build endless replicas of itself to increase its power," Entreri said.

"But why?" Jarlaxle pressed. "If we could learn its motives, perhaps we need not be enemies."

Crenshinibon thrummed in agreement.

"Jarlaxle," Entreri said darkly, "desist. It is playing you again."

Jarlaxle struggled with a sense of outrage at being spoken to in such a manner...but he dared not alienate his only ally.

I am your only ally, the Crystal Shard protested. Remember how the assassin came to take me from you? He wished to kill you -

If he wished to kill me I would be dead, Jarlaxle snapped at it, suddenly angry as he realized the truth of Entreri's warnings.

Aloud, Jarlaxle sighed. "We must destroy it. Crenshinibon is a sly, if childish, foe. It apparently sees no shame in using the same ploys again and again."

"Nor you in falling for them." Entreri smirked. Still, Jarlaxle seemed back in control of himself, which Entreri counted as a good thing.

Jarlaxle pouted.

After a few moments of sulking silence, Jarlaxle wondered why Artemis Entreri bothered. The man declared that he never suffered fools. Also, Entreri was resourceful. He doubted he was the only way to shield Entreri from Kimmuriel and Rai-guy. That assertion seemed a convenient excuse for...

For what?

A convenient excuse for preserving their friendship? Artemis Entreri didn't believe in friendship. He didn't believe in partnership. The only thing he believed in was his lone status against the world.

On the other hand, Jarlaxle had been alive long enough not to trust anything anyone said, even when it was apparently truthful. He had survived this long by listening to his common sense, learning about the nature of intelligent beings, and making up his own mind about people's intentions.

If Artemis lies, why does he lie? Jarlaxle saw a prideful man, from a culture that encouraged demonstrations of male power. Also a man who was prone, in spite of outward stoicism, to drastic highs and lows. Entreri also displayed the behavior of a man chronically betrayed. So what did that add up to? Jarlaxle asked himself.

It added up to an offer of friendship that Artemis Entreri was terrified Jarlaxle would accept.

"Where should we stop for lunch?" Jarlaxle asked cheerfully. "I don't want to eat rations. Do you? And I spy a village in the distance ahead."

A cozy cluster of stone buildings with wood roofs, chimneys lazily curling smoke. Surrounding the village, flocks of sheep tended by their shepherds grazed in the afternoon sun.

Entreri's gaze fell on the buildings ahead. At their pace, they would reach Spirit Soaring within three days total, and they were well on their way there. He saw no harm in a decent meal, although there was always a chance the Shard would call out to someone in the village. "Very well."

Jarlaxle grinned at him. Entreri's acceptance spoke volumes. Always the man was hells bent on the most efficient solution. In this case, eating rations and trekking on through until evening. Artemis' willingness to stop for lunch could only be a sign of their budding friendship. I accept.