Dark Hunger


EPILOGUE



"Did the fool human pass your silly little test?" Kimmuriel Oblodra asked Jarlaxle a few days later, off in the shadows beneath the Vaasan Gate.

"Do not underestimate Artemis Entreri," Jarlaxle replied, "or the value he brings to me - to us."

"And you should not overestimate the power of the skull gems you have found," Kimmuriel warned, for he had just finished inspecting the pair at Jarlaxle's request. He had spoken with the dracolich, Urshula by name, and had confirmed Jarlaxle's suspicions that the beast would not dare to go against the possessor of the phylactery.

"They are but the beginning," Jarlaxle said with a grin. "Artemis Entreri and I have an audience with the paladin king in two days, just south of here in Bloodstone Village. We will be received as heroes for our efforts in Vaasa and as solemn witnesses to the end of Gareth's heroic niece."

He couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of that last statement. If King Gareth only knew!

Kimmuriel looked at Jarlaxle, wary, recognizing that look of confidence and grandiose schemes in his eyes, for he had seen that look from his former master dozens of times over the centuries. But they were not in the Underdark, in Menzoberranzan where Bregan D'aerthe and Jarlaxle had held many secret trumps.

"Have you found another Crenshinibon?" the psionicist asked with obvious disgust and concern.

"I have found opportunity," Jarlaxle corrected.

"Bregan D'aerthe will not come forward in force against the likes of King Gareth Dragonsbane."

Jarlaxle stared at him with appreciation and said, "Glad I am that I had the wisdom to put Kimmuriel in control of my band," he said. "Of course you are correct in resisting this bold move. You are a fine leader, and I urge you to continue with all caution, but too with an open mind. There are many events yet to play out up here in this untamed land, and I am in control of most of them." He brought forth the dragon statuette. "My relationship with a pair of living dragons just changed in ways they cannot understand."

"More allies for your battle?"

"Allies? We shall see."

Despite himself, Kimmuriel could not help but offer a wry grin.

"You might find a way to fit in as events play out," Jarlaxle said to him. "I pray that Kimmuriel remains an opportunistic leader. The point of Bregan D'aerthe is more than survival, is it not? It is to grow in power."

"You nearly destroyed us in Calimport."

"Nay," Jarlaxle corrected. "It was an inconvenience to you. It was myself that I nearly destroyed."

"You and Entreri will take down a paladin king?"

"If it comes to that."

Kimmuriel didn't reply, other than to dip a respectful bow.

* * * * *

Muddy Boots and Bloody Blades had long since emptied out for the night, but Entreri had tossed the innkeeper enough gold to get the key for the door. He sat alone with his thoughts and a beer, considering the emotions that had accompanied him all the way to Palishchuk and back. On the table beside his flagon lay Idalia's flute, and Entreri wasn't yet certain if he hated the item or prized it.

It was all so very new to him.

He was to leave in the morning with Jarlaxle for a meeting with the king, where they would receive a commendation and an offer to join the Army of Bloodstone, so Honorable General Dannaway had informed them. As intriguing as it all was, however, Entreri's thoughts were much smaller in scope. He thought of the women who had accompanied him to the north, of how that innocent looking flute had given him a different way of viewing them.

That new viewpoint hadn't stopped him from killing Ellery, at least, and he took some comfort in that.

A soft footstep behind him told him that he was not alone, and from the sound of it, the assassin understood much. She had been watching him from across the room for most of the night, after all.

"I did not kill your friend," he said, not turning around. "Not with intent, at least."

The footsteps halted, still half a dozen strides behind him. Finally he did turn, to see that his reasoning was correct. Calihye stood there, her face very tight. Entreri was relieved to see that she did not have any weapon in her hands.

"Accept it as truth or do not," he said to her, and he turned back to his beer. "I care little."

He started to raise it to his lips, but Calihye came over quickly. Her hand grasped his wrist, stopping him and making him look back up at her.

"If you do not care whether I believe you or not, then why did you just tell me that yet again?" she asked.

It was Entreri's turn to stare at the half-elf.

"Or is it that you're simply afraid that you do care, Artemis Entreri?" Calihye teased, and she let go and stepped away.

Entreri stood up, his chair skidding out behind him, and said, "You flatter yourself."

"I am still alive, am I not?" Calihye reasoned. "You could have killed me back in Palishchuk, but you didn't."

"You were not worth the trouble," Entreri said. "A soldier of the crown was under your care."

"You could have killed me any time, yet I am still alive, and still, perhaps, a threat to you."

"You do flatter yourself."

But Calihye wasn't even listening to him, he realized as she stepped right up to him, her bright eyes staring into his.

"I assure you, Artemis Entreri, that I am always worth the trouble," she said, her voice turning husky, her breath hot on his face, her lips practically brushing his as she spoke.

"I did not kill your friend," Entreri reiterated, but his voice was not so strong and not so steady at that moment.

Calihye brought her hand gently up, brushing his chest and settling on his collar, where she grasped him tight.

"I accept that," she said, and she pulled him closer, pulled him right into her.

She kissed him hard and bit at his lip. Her arms went around him and pulled him even closer, and Entreri didn't resist. His own arms went around the half-elf, crushing her into him. He brought one hand up to grab at her thick, silky black hair.

Calihye pulled him with her as she fell atop the table - or tried to, for the pair were too far to the side and the flimsy table overturned, dumping them against a chair, which went bouncing away, and they dropped down to the floor.

Neither cared or even noticed. They fumbled with each other's clothing, their lips never parting.

Artemis Entreri, surviving on the wild streets of Calimport from his boyhood days, had known many women in his life but had never before made love to a woman. Never before had the act been anything more to him than a physical release.

Not so this time.

When they were finished, Entreri propped himself up above Calihye and stared down at her in the quiet light of the low-burning tavern hearth. He brought his hand up to stroke the line of her facial scar, and even that didn't seem ugly to him at that moment.

But it was just a moment, for noise out in the corridor reminded the couple where they were and told them that the night had nearly ended. They jumped up and dressed quickly, saying not a word until they stood facing each other, with Calihye fastening the last buttons on her shirt.

"You are looking at my face and regretting your choice?" she asked.

Entreri put on an incredulous expression. "Do you think yourself ugly?"

"Do you?"

Entreri laughed. "You are a combination of talent and beauty," he said. "But if your vanity demands of you to coerce such compliments, then why not seek out a wizard or a priest to repair..." He stopped short, seeing the woman's scowl.

And Entreri understood. Without that scar, Calihye would have ranked among the most beautiful women he had ever seen. She was trim and fit, slight but not weak. Her eyes shone, as did her hair, and her features held just enough of an elf's angular traits to make her appear exotic by human standards. Yet she kept the scar and had worn it for years, though she certainly had the financial means, by bounties alone, to be long rid of it. He thought back to their lovemaking, to the frantic beginning, the very tentative middle, and finally, the point where they both simply let go and allowed themselves to bask in the pleasure of each other. That had been no easy break-point for Entreri, so too for Calihye, he realized.

So she could draw her sword and battle a giant without fear, but that more intimate encounter had terrified her. The scar was her defense.

"You are beautiful, with or without the scar," he said to her. "How ever much you wish it was not true."

Calihye rocked back on her heels, but as always, she was not long without a response.

"I'm not the only one hiding behind a scar."

Entreri winced. "I have killed people for making such presumptions about me."

Calihye laughed at him and stepped closer. "Then let me make another one, Artemis Entreri," she said, and she put her hands on his shoulders, then slid them up to cradle his face as she moved very near.

"You will never kill me," she said softly.

For one of the few times in his life, Artemis Entreri had no answer.

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