CLEARING THE PATH
Leaning on each other for much-needed support, Arrayan and Olgerkhan inched down the staircase. Entreri came up and moved between them, pushing Olgerkhan more tightly against the railing and forcing the half-orc to grab on with both his hands.
Entreri turned to Arrayan, who was holding on to him and swaying unsteadily. He shifted to put his shoulder back behind her, then in a single move swept her up into his arms. With a glance at Olgerkhan to make sure that the buffoon wouldn't come tumbling behind him, the assassin started away.
Arrayan brought a hand up against his face and he looked down at her, into her eyes.
"You saved me," she said, her voice barely audible. "All of us."
Entreri felt a rush of warm blood in his face. For just a brief moment, he saw the image of Dwahvel's face superimposed over the similar features of Arrayan. He felt warm indeed, and it occurred to him that he should just keep walking, away from the group, taking Arrayan far away from all of it.
His sensibilities, so entrenched and pragmatic after spending almost the entirety of his life in a desperate attempt at survival, tried to question, tried to illustrate the illogic of it all. But for the first time in three decades, those practical sensibilities had no voice in the thoughts of Artemis Entreri.
"Thank you," Arrayan whispered, and her hand traced the outline of his cheek and lips.
The lump in his throat was too large for Entreri to respond, other than with a quick nod.
"That'll hold, but not for long," Athrogate announced, coming to the railing of the balcony overlooking the keep's main floor. From below, the dwarf's six remaining companions glanced up at him and at the continuing pounding and scratching on the door behind him. "More gargoyles than mummies," Athrogate explained. "Gargoyles don't hit as hard."
"The room is far from secure," put in Canthan, who still stood by the open book. "They will find a way in. Let us be on our way."
"Destroy the book?" Olgerkhan asked.
"Would that I could."
"Take it with us, then?" Arrayan asked, and the horror in her voice revealed much.
Canthan snickered at her.
"Then what?" Ellery chimed in, the first words she had spoken in some time, and with a shaky voice. "We came here for a purpose, and that seems clear before us. Are we to run away without completing - "
"I said nothing about running away, my dear Commander Ellery," Canthan interrupted. "But we should be gone from this particular room."
"With the book," Ellery reasoned.
"Not possible," Canthan informed her.
"Bah! I'll tear it out o' the ground!" said Athrogate, and he scrambled up on the railing and hopped down to the stairs.
"The book is protected," said Canthan. "It is but a conduit in any case. We'll not destroy it, or claim it, until the source of its power is no more."
"And that source is?" Olgerkhan asked, and neither Canthan nor Jarlaxle missed the way the half-orc stiffened with the question.
"That is what we must discern," the wizard replied.
Jarlaxle was unconvinced, for Canthan's gaze drifted over Arrayan as he spoke. The drow knew the wizard had long ago "discerned" the source, as had Jarlaxle and Entreri. A glance at his assassin friend, the man's face rigid and cold and glaring hard Canthan's way told Jarlaxle that Entreri was catching on as well and that he wasn't very happy about the conclusions Canthan had obviously drawn.
"Then where do we start?" Ellery asked.
"Down, I sense," said Canthan.
Jarlaxle recognized that the man was bluffing, partially at least, though the drow wasn't quite certain of why. In truth, Jarlaxle wasn't so sure that Canthan's guess was off the mark. Certainly part of the source for the construction was standing right beside him in the form of a half-orc woman. But that was a small part, Jarlaxle knew, as if Arrayan had been the initial flare to send a gnomish fire-rocket skyward before the main explosion filled the night sky with its bright-burning embers.
"The castle must have a king," the drow remarked, and he believed that, though he sensed clearly that Canthan believed it to be a queen instead - and one standing not so far away.
It wasn't the time and place to confront the wizard openly, Jarlaxle realized. The pounding on the door continued from above, and the volume of the scratching on the keep's main doors, just past Canthan and the book, led Jarlaxle to believe that scores of undead monstrosities had risen against them.
The room was no sanctuary and would soon enough become a crypt.
Jarlaxle will peruse the book and you will guard him, Canthan's magical sending echoed in Ellery's head. When we are long gone, you will do as you were trained to do. As you promised you could do.
Ellery's eyes widened, but she did well to hide her surprise.
Another magical sending came to her: Our victory is easily achieved, and I know how to do it. But Jarlaxle will stand against my course. He sees personal gain here, whatever the cost to Damara. For our sake, and the sake of the land, the drow must be killed.
Ellery took the continuing words in stride, not surprised. She didn't quite understand what Canthan was talking about, of course. Easily achieved? Why would Jarlaxle not agree to something like that? It made no sense, but Ellery could not easily dismiss the source of the information and of her orders. Canthan had found her many years ago, and through his work, she had gained greatly in rank and reputation. Her skill as a warrior had been honed through many years of training, but that added icing, the edge that allowed her to win when others could not, had been possible only through the work of Canthan and his associates.
Though they were the enemies of the throne and her own relatives, Ellery knew that the relationship between the crown of Damara and the Citadel of Assassins was complicated and not quite as openly hostile and adversarial as onlookers might believe. Certainly Ellery had quietly profited from her relationship with Canthan - and never had the wizard asked her to do anything that went against the crown.
In her gut, however, she knew that there was something more going on than the wizard was telling her. Was Canthan seeking some personal gain himself? Was he using Ellery to settle a personal grudge he held with the dark elf?
Ellery jolted at the sharp intrusion, her gaze going to Canthan. He stood resolute, eyes narrow, lips thin.
A hundred questions popped into Ellery's head, a hundred demands she wanted to make of the wizard. How could she follow such an order against someone who had done nothing out of line along the expedition, someone she had asked along and who had performed, to that point, so admirably? How could she do this to someone she had known as a lover, though that had meant little to her?
Looking at Canthan, Ellery realized how she could and why she would.
The wizard terrified her, as did the band of cutthroats he represented.
It all came clear to Commander Ellery at that moment, as she admitted to herself, for the first time, the truth of her involvement with the Citadel of Assassins and its wizard representative. She had spent years justifying her secret relationship with Canthan, telling herself that her personal gains and the way she could use them would benefit the kingdom. In Ellery's mind, for all that time, she thought herself in control of the relationship. She, the relative of Tranth and of both King Gareth and Lady Christine, would always do what was best for Damara and greater Bloodstone.
What did it matter if the dark tendrils of her choices delayed her from that "moment of miracle" her relatives all enviously awaited, that release of holy power that would show the world that she was beyond an ordinary warrior, that she was a paladin in the line of Gareth Dragonsbane?
At that moment, though, the nakedness of her self-delusion and justification hit her hard. Perhaps Canthan was imparting truthful thoughts to her to justify her killing of the drow. Perhaps, she tried to tell herself, the dark elf Jarlaxle truly was an impediment to their necessary victory.
Yes, that was it, the woman told herself. They all wanted to win, all wanted to survive. The death of Mariabronne had to mean something. The Zhengyian castle had to be defeated. Canthan knew that, and he apparently knew something about Jarlaxle that Ellery did not.
Despite her newest rationalization, deep in her heart Ellery suspected something else. Deep in her heart, Ellery understood the truth of her relationship with Canthan and the Citadel of Assassins.
But some things were better left buried deep.
She had to trust him, not for his sake, but for hers.
His eye patch tingled. Nothing specific came to him, but Jarlaxle understood that a magical intrusion - a sending or scrying, some unseen wave of magical energy - had just flitted by him.
At first the drow feared that the castle's king to whom he had referred might be looking in on them, but then, as Ellery remarked to him, "Do you believe you might be able to find some deeper insight into the magical tome? Something that Canthan has overlooked?" Jarlaxle came to understand that the source of the magic had been none other than his wizardly companion.
The drow tried not to let his reaction to the question show him off-guard when he lied, "I am sure that good Canthan's knowledge of the Art is greater than my own."
Ellery's eyes widened and her nostrils flared, and the drow knew that he had surprised and worried her with his tentative refusal. He decided not to disappoint.
"But I am drow and have spent centuries in the Underdark, where magic is not quite the same. Perhaps there is something I will recognize that Canthan has not."
He looked at the wizard as he spoke, and Canthan gracefully bowed, stepped aside, and swept his arm to invite Jarlaxle to the book.
There it was, as clear as it could be.
"We ain't got time for that," Athrogate growled, and the thought "on cue" came to the drow.
"True enough," Ellery played along. "Lead the others out, Athrogate," she ordered. "I will remain here to guard over Jarlaxle for as long as the situation allows."
Ellery nodded toward the book, but Jarlaxle motioned for her to go first. He passed by a confused-looking Entreri as he followed.
"Trouble," he managed to quietly whisper.
Entreri made no motion to indicate he had heard anything, and he went out with Canthan, Athrogate, and the two half-orcs, moving down the tunnel Mariabronne had taken on his final journey.
Jarlaxle stood before the open book but did not begin perusing it. Rather, he watched the others head down the tunnel and stayed staring at the dark exit for some time. He felt and heard Ellery shifting behind him, moving nervously from foot to foot. Her focus was on him, he understood; she was hardly "standing guard for him." Over him, more likely.
"Your friend Canthan believes he has figured out the riddle of the castle," the drow said. He turned to regard the woman, noting especially how her knuckles had whitened on the handle of her axe. "But he is wrong."
Ellery's face screwed up with confusion. "What has he said to you? How do you know this?"
"Because I know what he discerned from the book, as I have seen a tome similar to this one."
Ellery stared at him hard, her hand wringing over the handle, and she chewed her lips, clearly uneasy with it all.
"He told you to keep me here and kill me, not because he fears that I will prove an impediment to our escape or victory, but because Canthan fears that I will vie with him for the book and the secrets contained within. He is nothing if not opportunistic."
Ellery rocked back and seemed as if she would stumble to the floor at Jarlaxle's obviously on-the-mark observation. Jarlaxle wasn't fool enough to think he could talk the woman out of her planned course of action, though, so he was not caught off-guard when, just as he finished speaking, Ellery roared and came on.
A dagger appeared in the drow's hand, and with a snap of his wrist, it became a sword. He flipped it to his left just in time to parry Ellery's axe-swipe and he back-stepped just fast enough to avoid the collision from her shield rush. A second dagger spilled forth from his bracer, and he threw it at her, slowing her progress long enough for him to extract a third from his enchanted bracer and snap his wrist again. When the initial assault played out and the two faced each other on even footing, the drow was holding a pair of slender long swords.
Ellery launched a backhand slash and pressed forward as Jarlaxle rolled around the cut and thrust forth with his sword. Her shield took that one aside and a clever underhand reversal of her cutting axe deflected the thrust of the drow's second blade, coming in low, aimed for the woman's leading knee.
Ellery chopped down with her shield, spun a tight circuit behind it, and extended as she came around.
Jarlaxle threw back his hips then started in yet again behind the flashing axe. He stopped and flung himself out to the side as Ellery cut short her swing and came ahead in a rush, her powerful axe at the ready. She stayed right with him, step for step. An angled sword moved aside her powerful chop. Her shield tapped down on one sword, driving it low, came up to take the second high, then low again, then...
Jarlaxle was too quick with his second blade, feigning high once more but thrusting it down low instead.
But Ellery was quick as well, and the shield tapped down appropriately.
On came the woman with a growl, and Jarlaxle had to step back fast and spin out to the side. He brought both his swords in one desperate parry and accepted the shield bash against his arm, glad that the momentum of it allowed him to put some distance between himself and the surprisingly skilled woman.
"If I win again, will I find your bed?" he teased.
Ellery didn't crack a grin. "Those days are long past us."
"They don't have to be."
Ellery's response came in the form of another sudden charge and a flurry of blows that had Jarlaxle furiously defending and backing, stride after stride.
Entreri rushed out past Athrogate. "I have the point," he explained. "Follow with caution, but with speed."
He sprinted down the corridor, pushing through the door and into the room where Mariabronne lay still, his sword held in both hands over his chest, its blade running down below his waist.
Entreri shook his head and dismissed the tragic sight. He went across the room to the other door, did a cursory check for traps when he saw that it had not recently been opened, and pushed through to find another curving, descending tunnel.
He sprinted down and carefully set the first torches burning by tapping the pressure plate. Then he turned and rushed back to the door, scrambling up beside it to the top of the jamb. Using just that tiny lip and the ceiling above him, the assassin pressed himself into place.
A few moments later, Athrogate moved out under him, followed closely by Olgerkhan and Arrayan, with Canthan moving last. They passed without noticing the assassin, and before they had even disappeared around the tunnel bend, Entreri hooked his fingers on the lip of the door jamb and swung down, launching himself and landing lightly back in the room with Mariabronne. He hit the ground running and ran back up the corridor.
Her movements were very much in line with the fighting style and skill level she had shown to him in their sparring match those days before at the Vaasan Gate. Ellery was no novice to battle and had practiced extensively in single combat techniques. Her efforts tested Jarlaxle at every turn. He had beaten her then, however, and he knew he could beat her again.
She had to know that too, as Canthan, who had sent her, had to understand.
They were the "Citadel of Assassins," after all.
Ellery continued the flow of the fight, working her axe with quick chops and cuts, generally playing out more and more to Jarlaxle's right. She followed almost every swing with a sudden popping thrust of her shield arm, leaving no openings for the drow's swords and also balancing herself and her turns to keep her feet properly aligned to propel her side-to-side or forward and back as required.
She was good but not good enough, and they both knew it.
It almost slipped past the observant drow that Ellery had crossed her feet, so smooth was the transition. Even noting that, Jarlaxle was taken aback at how efficiently and quickly the woman executed a sudden spin, so that as she came around, her axe chopping hard, she was aiming back at the drow's left.
And he couldn't stop it.
Jarlaxle's eyes widened and he even smiled at the "kill swing" - that one movement assassins often employed, that extra level of fighting beyond anything any opponent could reasonably expect to see. Jarlaxle had expected something of that nature, of course, but still, as he saw it unfolding before him, he feared, he knew, that he could not stop it.
Ellery roared and chopped hard at the drow's shoulder. Jarlaxle grimaced and threw his swords across in an effort to at least partially defeat the blow and threw himself aside in a desperate effort to get out of the way.
But Ellery's roar became a scream, and in mid-swing her axe wobbled, its angle pulling aside, her arm falling limp, as Charon's Claw slammed hard atop her shoulder. Her fine silvery breastplate rattled and loosened as the shoulder cord tore apart under the force of Entreri's blow.
She staggered and turned, trying to come around and get her shield up to fend off the assassin.
Entreri's other hand was under her shield, however, and his dagger easily found the seam in her breastplate and slid in between the woman's ribs into the left side of her chest.
Ellery froze, helpless and on the precipice of disaster.
Entreri didn't finish the movement but held her there, his dagger in place. Ellery glared at him and he called upon the life-drawing powers of the weapon for just an instant, letting her know the complete doom that awaited her.
She didn't persist. She was beaten and she showed it. Her weapon arm hung limp and she didn't try to stop the axe as it slid from her grip and clanged against the floor.
"An interesting turn of events," Jarlaxle remarked, "that Canthan would move against us so quickly."
"And that a relative of the King of Damara would be an instrument for an assassin's guild," Entreri added.
"You know nothing," Ellery growled at him, or started to, for he gave the slightest of twists on his dagger and brought the woman up to her tip-toes. The commander sucked in her breath against the wave of pain.
"When I ask you to answer, you answer," Entreri instructed.
"I told you that Canthan was fooled," Jarlaxle said to her. "He believes that killing Arrayan will defeat the tower." He turned to Entreri. "She is the Herminicle of this castle, so Canthan believes, but I do not agree."
Entreri's eyes widened.
"This is beyond Arrayan," Jarlaxle explained. "Perhaps she began the process, but something greater than she has intervened."
"You know nothing," Ellery said through her gritted teeth.
"I know that you, the lawful representative of King Gareth in this quest, were about to kill me, though I have done nothing against the crown and risked everything for the realm's sake," Jarlaxle pointed out.
"So you say."
"And so you deny, without proof, because Canthan would be rid of Jarlaxle, would be rid of us," the drow added, "that he might claim whatever secrets and power Zhengyi has left in this place and in that book. You are a pawn, and a rather stupid one, Lady Ellery. You disappoint me."
"Then be done with me," she said.
Jarlaxle looked to Entreri and saw that his friend was hardly paying attention. He yanked free the knife and darted toward the tunnel exit and the four he realized he had foolishly left alone.
Her magical shield absorbed much of the blow, but still Canthan's lightning blast sent Arrayan flying back against the wall.
"It will hurt less if you drop your wards and accept the inevitability," the wizard remarked.
To the side, Olgerkhan once again tried to get at Canthan, and again Athrogate was there to block his way.
"She is the foundation of the castle," Canthan said to the large and furious half-orc. "When she falls, so falls this Zhengyian beast!"
Olgerkhan growled and charged - or tried to, but Athrogate kicked his ankles out from under him, sending him facedown to the floor.
"Ye let it be," the dwarf warned. "Ain't no choices here."
Olgerkhan sprang up and swung his club wildly at the dwarf.
"Well all right then," the dwarf said, easily ducking the lumbering blow. "Ye're making yer choices ye ain't got to make."
"Be done with the stubborn oaf," Canthan instructed, and he calmly launched a series of stinging glowing missiles Arrayan's way.
Again, the half-orc wizard had enacted enough wards to defeat the majority of the assault, but Canthan's continuing barrage had her backing away, helpless to counter.
For Olgerkhan, disaster was even quicker in coming. The half-orc was a fine and accomplished warrior by Palishchuk's standards, but against Athrogate, he was naught but a lumbering novice, and in his weakened state, not even a promising one. He swung again and was blocked, then he tried an awkward sidelong swipe.
Athrogate went below the swinging club, both his morning stars spinning. The dwarf's weapons came in hard, almost simultaneously, against the outsides of Olgerkhan's knees. Before the half-orc's legs could even buckle, Athrogate leaped forward and smashed his forehead into the half-orc's groin.
As Olgerkhan doubled over, Athrogate sent one morning star up so that the chain wrapped around the half-orc's neck, the heavy ball smacking him in the face. With a twist and a sudden and brutal jerk, one that snapped bone, Athrogate flipped Olgerkhan into a sideways somersault that left him groaning and helpless on the floor.
"Olgerkhan!" Arrayan cried, and she too staggered and went down to her knees.
Canthan watched it all with great amusement. "They are somehow bound," he mused aloud. "Physically, so. Perhaps the castle has a king as well as a queen."
"The human is coming," Athrogate called, looking past Canthan to the corridor.
Enough musing, the wizard realized, and he took the moment of Arrayan's weakness to fire off another spell, a magical, acid-filled dart. It punctured her defensive sphere and slammed into her stomach, sending her sitting back against the wall. She cried out from the pain and tried to clutch at the tiny projectile with trembling hands.
"Kill him when he enters," Canthan instructed the dwarf.
The wizard ran out of the room along one of the side corridors just as Entreri burst in.
Entreri looked at Athrogate, at Olgerkhan, and at Arrayan, then back at the dwarf, who approached steadily, morning stars swinging easily. Athrogate offered a shrug.
"Guess it's the way it's got to be," the dwarf said, almost apologetically.
Ellery held her hands out to her sides, not knowing what she was supposed to do.
"Well, gather up your weapon and let us be off," Jarlaxle said to her.
She stared at him for a few moments then bent to retrieve the axe, eyeing Jarlaxle all the while as if she expected him to attack.
"Oh, pick it up," the drow said.
Still Ellery paused.
"We've no time for this," said Jarlaxle. "I'll call our little battle here a misunderstanding, as I'm confident that you see it the same way now. Besides, I know your trick now - and a fine move it is! - and will kill you if you come against me again." He paused and gave her a lewd look. "Perhaps I will extract a little payment from you later on, but for now, let us just be done with this castle and the infernal Zhengyi."
Ellery picked up the axe. Jarlaxle turned and started away after Entreri.
The woman had no idea what to do or what to believe. Her emotions swirled as her thoughts swirled, and she felt very strange.
She took a step toward Jarlaxle, just wanting to be done with it all and get back to Damara.
The floor leaped up and swallowed her.
Jarlaxle turned sharply, swords at the ready, when he heard the thump behind him. He saw at once that those weapons wouldn't be needed. He moved quickly to Ellery and tried to stir her. He put his face close to her mouth to try to detect her breath, and he inspected the small wound Entreri had inflicted.
"So the dagger got to your heart after all," Jarlaxle said with a great sigh.
Entreri wasn't certain if Athrogate was incredibly good or if it was just that the dwarf's unorthodox style and weaponry - he had never even heard of someone wielding two morning stars simultaneously - had him moving in ways awkward and uncomfortable.
Whatever the reason, Entreri understood that he was in trouble. Glancing at Arrayan, he realized that her situation was even more desperate. Somehow, that bothered him as much, if not more.
He growled past the unnerving thought and created a series of ash walls to try to deter the stubborn and ferocious dwarf. Of course, Athrogate just plowed through each ash wall successively, roaring and swinging so forcefully that Entreri dared not get too close.
He tried to take the dwarf's measure. He tried to find a hole in the little beast's defenses. But Athrogate was too compact, his weapon movements too coordinated. Given the dwarf's strength and the strange enchantments of his morning stars, Entreri simply couldn't risk trading a blow for a blow, even with his own mighty weapons.
Nor could he block, for he rightly feared that Athrogate might tangle one of his weapons in the morning star chain and tear it free of his grasp. Or even worse, might that rusting sludge that coated the dwarf's left-hand weapon ruin Charon's Claw's fine blade?
Entreri used his speed, darting this way and that, feigning a strike and backing away almost immediately. He was not trying to score a hit at that point, though he would have made a stab if an opening presented itself. Instead, Entreri moved to put the dwarf into a different rhythm. He kept Athrogate's feet moving sidelong or had him turning quickly - both movements that the straightforward fighter found more atypical.
But that would take a long, long time, Entreri knew, and with another glance at Arrayan, he understood that it was time she didn't have to spare.
With that uncomfortable thought in mind, he went in suddenly, reversing his dodging momentum in an attempt to score a quick kill.
But a sweeping morning star turned Charon's Claw harmlessly aside, and the second sent Entreri diving desperately into a sidelong roll. Athrogate pursued, weapons spinning, and Entreri barely got ahead of him and avoided a skull-crushing encounter.
"Patience... patience," the dwarf teased.
Entreri realized that Athrogate knew exactly his strategy, had probably seen the same technique used by every skilled opponent he'd ever faced. The assassin had to rethink. He needed some space and time. He came forward in a sudden burst again, but even as Athrogate howled with excitement, Entreri was gone, sprinting out across the room.
Athrogate paused and looked at him with open curiosity. "Ye running or thinking to hit me from afar?" he asked. "If ye're running, ye dolt, then be gone like a colt. But be knowing in yer mind that I'm not far behind! Bwahaha!"
"While I find your ugliness repellant, dwarf, do not ever think I would flee from the likes of you."
Athrogate howled with laughter again, and he charged - or he started to, for as he began to close the ground between himself and Entreri, an elongated disk floated in from the side, stretching and widening, and settled on the floor between them. Athrogate, unable to stop his momentum, tumbled headlong into the extra-dimensional hole.
He howled. He cursed. He landed hard, ten feet down.
Then he cursed some more, and in rhymes.
Entreri glanced at the tunnel entrance, where Jarlaxle stood, leaning.
The drow offered a shrug and remarked, "Bear trap?"
Entreri didn't respond. He leaped across the room to Arrayan and quickly tore the magical dart from her stomach. He stared at the vicious missile, watching with mounting anger as its tip continued to pump forth acid. A glance back at Arrayan told him that he had arrived in time, that the wound wasn't mortal, but he could not deny the truth of it when he looked into Arrayan's fair face. She was dying, with literally one foot in the nether realm.
Desperation tugged at Entreri. He saw not Arrayan but Dwahvel lying before him. He shook the woman and yelled for her to come back. Hardly thinking of the movement, he found himself hugging her, then he pulled her back to arms' length and called to her over and over again.
Lying on the floor to the side, the dying Olgerkhan saw the fleeting health of Arrayan and understood clearly that much of his dear companion's current grief was being caused by her magical binding with him. As the rings had forced Olgerkhan to share Arrayan's burden, so they had begun to work the other way. Olgerkhan knew his wounds to be mortal, knew that he was on the very edge of death.
And he was taking Arrayan with him.
With all the strength he could muster, the half-orc pulled the ring from his finger and flicked it far to the side.
His world went black at the same time Arrayan opened her eyes.
Entreri fell back from her in surprise. She still looked terrible, weaker than anyone he had ever seen before, more - he could only describe it as thin and drained of her life energy - frail than any human being could be, much more so than she had been before the fight.
But she still had life, and consciousness, and so the assassin learned, rage.
"No!" the woman cried. "Olgerkhan, no!"
The tone of her voice showed that she was scolding the half-orc, not denying his wound. That, combined with her sudden return from the grave, had the assassin scratching his head. Entreri looked again to Jarlaxle, who studied the pair intently but seemingly with just as much curiosity.
Arrayan, so weak and drained and sorely wounded, dragged herself past Entreri to her half-orc companion "You took off the ring," she said, cradling his face in her hands. "Put it back! Olgerkhan, put it back!"
He didn't, couldn't answer.
"You think to save me," Arrayan wailed, "but don't you know? I cannot be saved to watch you die. Olgerkhan, come back to me. You must! You are all I love, all that I have ever loved. It's you, Olgerkhan. It was always you. Please come back to me!"
Her voice grew weaker, her shoulders quivered with sobs, and she held on dearly to her friend.
"The ring?" Jarlaxle asked.
Arrayan didn't answer, but the drow was figuring it out anyway. He thought of all the times the two had seemed to share their pain and their weariness.
"So the castle does have a king," Jarlaxle remarked to Entreri, but the assassin was hardly listening.
He stood staring at the couple, chuckling at himself and all of his foolish fantasies about his future beside Arrayan.
Without a word of explanation, Artemis Entreri ran out of the room.