Entreri crawled out of his tent, rose to his feet and stretched slowly and to his limits. He twisted as he reached up high, the sudden stab in his lower back reminding him of his age. The hard ground didn't serve him well as a bed.


He came out of his stretch rubbing his eyes then glanced around at the tent-filled plain set between towering walls of mountains east and west. Just north of Entreri's camp loomed the gray-black stones and iron of the Vaasan Gate, the northern of the two great fortress walls that sealed Bloodstone Valley north and south. The Vaasan Gate had finally been completed, if such a living work could ever truly be considered finished, with fortresses on the eastern and western ends of the main structure set in the walls of the Galena Mountains, the gate served as the last barrier between Entreri and the wilderness of Vaasa. He and Jarlaxle had accompanied the caravan through the much larger of the two gates, the Damaran Gate, which was still under construction in the south. They had ridden with the wagons for another day, moving northwest under the shadow of the mountain wall, to Bloodstone Village, home of King Gareth - though the monarch was under pressure to move his seat of power to the largest city in the kingdom, Heliogabalus.

Not wanting to remain in that most lawful of places, the pair had quickly taken their leave, moving again to the north, a dozen mile trek that had brought them to the wider, relatively flat area the gathered adventurers had collectively named the Fugue Plane. A fitting title, Entreri thought, for the namesake of the Fugue Plane was rumored to be the extra-dimensional state of limbo for recently departed souls, the region where the newly dead congregated before their final journey to Paradise or Torment. The place between the heavens and the hells.

The tent city was no less a crossroads, for south lay Damara - at peace, united, and prosperous under the leadership of the Paladin King - while north beyond the wall was a land of wild adventure and desperate battle.

And of course, he and Jarlaxle were heading north.

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All manner of ruffians inhabited the tent city, the types of people Entreri knew well from his days on Calimport's streets. Would-be heroes, every one - men and a few women who would do anything to make a name for themselves. How many times had the younger Entreri ventured forth with such people? And more often than not, the journey had ended with a conflict between the members of the band. As he considered that, Entreri's hand instinctively went to the dagger sheathed on his hip.

He knew better than to trust ambitious people.

The smell of meat cooking permeated the dew-filled morning air. Scores of breakfast fires dotted the field, and the lizardlike hiss of knives being sharpened broke the calls of the many birds that flitted about.

Entreri spotted Jarlaxle at one such breakfast fire a few dozen yards to the side. The drow stood amidst several tough-looking characters: a pair of men who looked as if they could be brothers - or father and son possibly, since one had hair more gray than black - a dwarf with half his beard torn away, and an elf female who wore her golden hair braided all the way down her back. Entreri could tell by their posture that the four weren't overly confident in the unexpected presence of a dark elf. The positioning of their arms, the slight turn of their shoulders, showed that to a one they were ready for a quick defensive reaction should the drow make any unexpected movements.

Even so, it appeared as if the charming Jarlaxle was wearing away those defenses. Entreri watched as the dark elf dipped a polite bow, pulling off his grand hat and sweeping the ground. His every movement showed an unthreatening posture, keeping his hands in clear sight at ail times.

A few moments later, Entreri could only chuckle as those around Jarlaxle began to laugh - presumably at a joke the drow had told. Entreri watched, his expression caught somewhere between envy and admiration, as the elf female began to lean toward Jarlaxle, her posture clearly revealing her increasing interest in him.

Jarlaxle reached out to the dwarf and manipulated his hand to make it seem as if he had just taken a coin out of the diminutive fellow's ear. That brought a moment of confusion, where all four of the onlookers reflexively brought a hand to their respective belt pouches, but it was quickly replaced by howls of laughter, with the younger of the men slapping the dwarf on the back of his head.

The mirth and Entreri's attention were stolen when the thunder of hooves turned the attention of all of them to the north.

A small but powerful black horse charged past the tents, silver armor strapped all about its flanks and chest. Its rider was similarly armored in shining silver plates, decorated with flowing carvings and delicate designs. The knight wore a great helm, flat-topped and plumed with a red feather on the left-hand side. As the horse passed Entreri's position, he noted a well-adorned battle-axe strapped at the side of the thick, sturdy saddle.

The horse skidded to a stop right in front of Jarlaxle and his four companions, and in that same fluid motion the rider slid down to stand facing the drow.

Entreri eased his way over, expecting trouble.

He wondered if the newcomer, tall but slender, might have some elf blood, but when the helm came off and a thick shock of long, fiery red hair fell free, tumbling down her back, Entreri realized the truth of it.

He picked up his pace and moved within earshot and also to get a better look at her face, and what he saw surely intrigued him. Freckled and dimpled, the knight's complexion clashed with her attire, for it did not seem to fit the garb of a warrior. By the way she stood, and the way she had ridden and dismounted so gracefully despite her heavy armor, Entreri could see that she was seasoned and tough - when she had to be, he realized. But those features also told him that there was another side to her, one he might like to explore.

The assassin pulled up short and considered his own thoughts, surprised by his interest.

"So the rumors are true," the woman said, and he was close enough to hear. "A drow elf."

"My reputation precedes me," Jarlaxle said. He flashed a disarming grin and dipped another of his patented bows. "Jarlaxle, at your service, milady."

"Your reputation?" the woman scoffed. "Nay, dark-skinned one. A hundred whispers speak of you, rumors of the dastardly deeds we can expect from you, certainly, but nothing of your reputation."

"I see. And so you have come to verify that reputation?"

"To witness a dark elfin our midst," the woman replied. "I have never seen such a creature as you."

"And do I meet with your approval?"

The woman narrowed her eyes and began to slowly circle the drow.

"Your race evokes images of ferocity, and yet you seem a frail thing. I am told that I should be wary - terrified, even - and yet I find myself less than impressed by your stature and your hardly-imposing posture."

"Aye, but watch his hands," the dwarf chimed in. "He's a clever one with them slender fingers, don't ye doubt."

"A cutpurse?" she asked.

"Madame, you insult me."

"I ask of you, and I expect an honest answer," she retorted, a tremor of anger sliding into the background of her solid but melodious voice. "Many in the Fugue are known cutpurses who have come here by court edict, to work the wilderness of Vaasa and redeem themselves of their light-fingered sins."

"But I am a drow," Jarlaxle replied. "Do you think there are enough monsters in all of Vaasa that I might redeem the reputation of my heritage?"

"I care nothing for your heritage."

"Then I am but a curiosity. Ah, but you so wound me again."

"A feeling you would do well to acquaint yourself with. You still have not answered my question."

Jarlaxle tilted his head and put on a sly grin.

"Do you know who I am?" the woman asked.

"The way you ask makes me believe that I should."

The woman looked past the drow to the female elf.

"Commander Ellery, of the Army of Bloodstone, Vaasan Gate," the elf recited without pause.

"My full name."

The elf stuttered and seemed at a loss.

"I am Commander Ellery Tranth Dopray Kierney Dragonsbane Peidopare," the woman said, her tone even more imperious than before.

"Labeling your possessions must prove a chore," the drow said dryly, but the woman ignored him.

"I claim Baron Tranth as my uncle; Lady Christine Dragonsbane, Queen of Damara, as my cousin; and King Gareth Dragonsbane himself as my second cousin, once removed."

"Lady Christine and King Gareth?"

The woman squared her shoulders and her jaw.

"Cousins in opposite directions, I would hope," said Jarlaxle.

That brought a less imperious and more curious stare.

"I would hate to think that the future princes and princesses of Damara might carry on their shoulders a second head or six fingers on each hand, after all," the drow explained, and the curious look turned darker. "Ah, but the ways of royalty."

"You mock the man who chased the demon lord Orcus across the planes of existence?"

"Mock him?" Jarlaxle asked, bringing one hand to his chest and looking as if he had just been unexpectedly slapped. "Nothing could be farther from the truth, good Commander Ellery. I express relief that while you claim blood relations to both, their own ties are not so close. You see?"

She steeled her gaze. "I will learn of your reputation," she promised.

"You will wish then that you included D'aerthe in your collection of names, I assure you," the drow replied.

"Jarlaxle D'aerthe?"

"At your service," he said, sweeping into yet another bow.

"And you will be watched closely, drow," Commander Ellery went on. "If your fingers get too clever, or your mannerisms too disruptive, you will learn the weight of Bloodstone judgment."

"As you will," Jarlaxle conceded.

As Ellery turned to leave, he dipped yet another bow. He managed to glance over at Entreri as he did, offering a quick wink and the flash of a smile.

"I leave you to your meal," Ellery said to the other four, pulling herself back into her saddle. "Choose wisely the company you keep when you venture forth into Vaasa. Far too many already lay dead on that wasteland tundra, and far too many lay dead because they did not surround themselves with reliable companions."

"I will heed well your words," Jarlaxle was quick to reply, though they had not been aimed at him. "I was growing a bit leery of the short one anyway."

"Hey!" said the dwarf, and Jarlaxle flashed him that disarming grin.

Entreri turned his attention from the group of five to watch the woman ride away, noting most of all the respectful reactions to her from all she passed.

"She is a formidable one," he said when Jarlaxle appeared at his side a moment later.

"Dangerous and full of fire," Jarlaxle agreed.

"I might have to kill her."

"I might have to bed her."

Entreri turned to regard the drow. Did anything ever unsettle him? "She is a relative of King Gareth," Entreri reminded him.

Jarlaxle rubbed his slender fingers over his chin, his eyes glued to the departing figure with obvious intrigue.

He uttered only a single word in reply: "Dowry."

"Lady Ellery," said Athrogate, a dwarf renowned in the underworld of Damara as a supreme killer. He wore his black beard parted in the middle, two long braids of straight hair running down to mid-chest, each tied off at the end with a band set with a trio of sparkling blue gemstones. His eyebrows were so bushy that they somewhat covered his almost-black eyes, and his ears so large that many speculated he would be able to fly if only he learned how to flap them. " 'E's made hisself some fine company already. Be watchin' that one, I'm tellin' ye. Watchin' or killin' him, for if ye're not, then he's to be killin' us, don't ye doubt."

"It is an interesting turn, if it is anything at all beyond mere coincidence," admitted Canthan Dolittle, a studious looking fellow with beady eyes and a long straight nose. His hair, as much gray as brown, was thin, with a large bald spot atop his head that had turned bright red from a recent sunburn. The nervous, slim fellow rubbed his fingertips together as he spoke, all the while subtly twitching.

"To assume is to invite disaster," the third and most impressive of the group advised. Most impressive to those who knew the truth of him, that is, for the archmage Knellict wore nondescript clothing, with his more prized possessions stored safely away back at the Citadel of Assassins.

Athrogate licked his lips nervously as he regarded the mighty wizard, second only to Timoshenko, the Grandfather of Assassins, in that most notorious guild of killers. As an agent of Tightpurse, the leading thieves guild of Heliogabalus, Athrogate had been assigned to ride along with Jarlaxle and Entreri to Bloodstone Village, and to report to Canthan in the Fugue. He had been quite surprised to find Knellict at the camp. Few names in all the northern Realms inspired fear like that of the archmage of the Citadel of Assassins.

"Have you learned any more of the drow?" Canthan asked. "We know of his dealings with Innkeeper Feepun and the murder of the shade, Rorli."

"And the murder of Feepun," Knellict said.

"You have proof it was brought about by these two?" a surprised Canthan asked.

"You have proof it was not?"

Canthan backed off, not wanting to anger the most dangerous man in the Bloodstone Lands.

"Information of their whereabouts since the incident with Rorli has been incomplete," Knellict admitted.

"They been quiet since then from all that we're seein'," Athrogate replied, his tone revealing that he was eager to please. Though he was answering Canthan, his brown eyes kept darting over to regard Knellict. The archmage, however, quiet and calm, was simply impossible to read. "They done some dealin's with a pair o' intrestin' lady pawnbrokers, but we ain't seen 'em buy nothin' worth nothin'. Might be that they be lookin' more for lady charms than magic charms, if ye're gettin' me meanin'. Been known to fancy the ladies, them two be, especially the dark one.

Canthan glanced back at Knellict, who gave the slightest of nods.

"Keep close and keep wary," Canthan told Athrogate. "If you need us, place your wash-clothes as we agreed and we will seek you out."

"And if yerself's needing me?"

"We will find you, do not doubt," Knellict intervened.

The archmage's tone was too even, too controlled, and despite a desire to hold a tough facade, Athrogate shuddered. He nearly fell over as he bobbed in a bow then scurried away, ducking from shadow to shadow.

"I sense something more about the human," Knellict remarked when he and Canthan were alone.

"I expect they are both formidable."

"Deserving of our respect, indeed," Knellict agreed. "And requiring more eyes than those of the dolt Athrogate."

"I am already at work on the task," Canthan assured his superior.

Knellict gave a slight nod but kept staring across the tent city at Jarlaxle and Entreri as they walked back to their campsite.

Tightpurse had been ready to move on the pair back in Heliogabalus and would have - likely to disastrous results for Tightpurse, Knellict figured - had not the Citadel of Assassins intervened. At the prodding of Knellict, Timoshenko had decided to pay heed to the pair, particularly to that most unusual dark elf who had so suddenly appeared in their midst. Drow were not a common sight on the surface of Toril, and less common in the Bloodstone Lands than in most other regions. Less common in Damara, at least, a land that was quickly moving toward stable law and order under the reign of Gareth Dragonsbane and his band of mighty heroes. Zhengyi had been thrown down, flights of dragons destroyed, and the demon lord Orcus's own wand had been blasted into nothingness. Gareth was only growing stronger, the tentacles of his organizations stretching more ominously in the consolidation of Damara's various feudal lords. He had made no secret of his desire to bring Vaasa under his control as well, uniting the two lands as the single kingdom of Bloodstone. To that end, King Gareth's Spysong network of scouts was growing more elaborate with each passing day.

Timoshenko and Knellict suspected that Vaasa would indeed soon be tamed, and were that to occur, would there remain in all of the region a place for the Citadel of Assassins?

Knellict did well to hide his frown as he considered yet again the continuing trends in the Bloodstone Lands. His eyes did flash briefly as he watched the pair, drow and human, disappear into their tent.

There was a different feeling to the air the moment Jarlaxle and Entreri walked out of the Vaasan side of the wall fortress. The musty scent of peat and thawing decay filled the nostrils of the two, carried on a stiff breeze that held a chilly bite, though summer was still in force.

"She's blowing strong off the Great Glacier today," Entreri had heard one of the guards remark.

He could feel the bone-catching chill as the wind gathered the moisture from the sun-softened ice and lifted it across the muddy Vaasan plain.

"A remarkable place," Jarlaxle noted, scanning the sea of empty brown from under the wide brim of his outrageous hat. "I would send armies forth to do battle to claim this paradise."

The drow's sarcasm didn't sit well with Entreri. He couldn't agree more with the dreary assessment. "Then why are we here?"

"I have already explained that in full."

"You hold to a strange understanding of the term, 'in full. "

Jarlaxle didn't look at him, but Entreri took some satisfaction in the drow's grin.

"By that, I presume that you mean you have explained it as well as you believe I need to know," Entreri went on.

"Sometimes the sweetest juices can be found buried within the most mundane of fruits."

Entreri glanced back at the wall and let it go at that. They had come out on a "day jaunt," as such excursions were known at the Vaasan Gate, a quick scout and strike mission. All newcomers to the Vaasan Gate were given such assignments, allowing them to get a feel for the tundra. When first the call had gone out for adventurers, there had been no guidance offered for their excursions into the wild. Many had struck right out from the gate and deep into Vaasa, never to be heard from again. But the Army of Bloodstone was offering more instruction and control, and offering it in a way more mandatory than suggestive.

Entreri wasn't fond of such rules, but neither did he hold much desire to strike out any distance from the gate. He did not wish to find his end seeking the bottom of a bottomless bog.

Jarlaxle turned slowly in a circle, seeming to sniff the air as he did. When he came full around, pointing again to the northeast, the general direction of the far-distant Great Glacier, he nodded and tipped his hat.

"This way, I think," the drow said.

Jarlaxle started off, and with a shrug, having no better option, Entreri started after him.

They stayed among the rocky foothills of the Galena Mountains, not wanting to try the muddy, flat ground. That course left them more vulnerable to goblin ambushes, but the pair were not particularly afraid of doing battle against such creatures.

"I thought there were monsters aplenty to be found and vanquished here," Entreri remarked after an hour of trudging around gray stones and across patches of cold standing water. "That is what the posted notices in Heliogabalus claimed, is it not?"

"Twenty gold pieces a day," Jarlaxle added. "And all for the pleasure of killing ten goblins. Yes, that was the sum of it, and perhaps the lucrative bounty proved quite effective. Could it be that all the lands about the gate have been cleared?"

"If we have to trek for miles across this wilderness, then my road is back to the south," said Entreri.

"Ever the optimist."

"Ever the obvious."

Jarlaxle laughed and adjusted his great hat. "Not for many more miles," he said. "Did you not notice the clear sign of adversaries?"

Entreri offered a skeptical stare.

"A print beside the last puddle," Jarlaxle explained.

"That could be days old."

"It is my understanding that such things are not so lasting here on the surface," the drow replied. "In the Underdark, a boot print in soft ground might be a millennium old, but up here...."

Entreri shrugged.

"I thought you were famous for your ability to hunt down enemies."

"That comes from knowing the ways of folk, not the signs on the ground. I find my enemies through the information I glean from those who have seen them."

"Information gathered at the tip of your dagger, no doubt."

"Whatever works. But I do not normally hunt the wilderness in pursuit of monsters."

"Yet you are no stranger to the signs of such wild places," said the drow. "You know a print."

"I know that something made an impression near the puddle," Entreri clarified. "It might have been today, or it might have been several days ago - anytime since the last rain. And I know not what made it."

"We are in goblin lands," Jarlaxle interrupted. "The posted notices told me as much."

"We are in lands full of people pursuing goblins," Entreri reminded.

"Ever the obvious," the drow said.

Entreri scowled at him.

They walked for a few hours, then as storm clouds gathered in the north, they turned back to the Vaasan Gate. They made it soon after sunset, and after a bit of arguing with the new sentries, managed to convince them that they, including the dark elf, had left that same gate earlier in the day and should be re-admitted without such lengthy questioning.

Moving through the tight, well-constructed, dark brick corridors, past the eyes of many suspicious guards, Entreri turned for the main hall that would take them back to the Fugue and their tent.

"Not just yet," Jarlaxle bade him. "There are pleasures a'many to be found here, so I have been told."

"And goblins a'many to kill out there, so you've been told."

"It never ends, I see."

Entreri just stood at the end of the corridor, the reflection of distant campfires twinkling in Jarlaxle's eyes as he looked past his scowling friend.

"Have you no sense of adventure?" the drow asked.

"We've been over this too many times."

"And yet still you scowl, and you doubt, and you grump about."

"I have never been fond of spending my days walking across muddy trails."

"Those trails will lead us to great things," Jarlaxle said. "I promise."

"Perhaps when you tell me of them, my mood will improve," Entreri replied, and the dark elf smiled wide.

"These corridors might lead us to great things, as well," the drow answered. "And I think I need not tell you of those."

Entreri glanced back over his shoulder out at the campfires through the distant, opened doors. He chuckled quietly as he turned back to Jarlaxle, for he knew that resistance was hopeless against that one's unending stream of persuasion. He waved a hand, indicating that Jarlaxle should lead on, then moved along behind him.

There were many establishments - craftsmen, suppliers, but mostly taverns - in the Vaasan Gate. Merchants and entrepreneurs had been quick to the call of Gareth Dragonsbane, knowing that the hearty adventurers who went out from the wall would often be well-rewarded upon their return, given the substantial bounty on the ears of goblins, orcs, ogres and other monsters. So too had the ladies of the evening come, displaying their wares in every tavern, often congregating around the many gamblers who sought to take the recent earnings from foolish and prideful adventurers.

All the taverns were much the same, so the pair moved into the first in line. The sign on the wall beside the doorway read: "Muddy Boots and Bloody Blades," but someone had gouged a line across it and whittled in: "Muddy Blades and Bloody Boots" underneath, to reflect the frustrations of late in even finding monsters to kill.

Jarlaxle and Entreri moved through the crowded room, the drow drawing more than a few uncomfortable stares as he went. They split up as they came upon a table set with four chairs where only two men were sitting, with Jarlaxle approaching and Entreri melting back in to the crowd.

"May I join you?" the drow asked.

Looks both horrified and threatening came back at him. "We're waiting on two more," one man answered.

Jarlaxle pulled up a chair. "Very well, then," he said. "A place to rest my weary feet for just a moment then. When your friends arrive, I will take my leave."

The two men glanced at each other.

"Be gone now!" one snarled, coming forward in his chair, teeth bared as if he meant to bite the dark elf.

Next to him, his friend pur on an equally threatening glower, and crossed his large arms over his strong chest, expression locked in a narrow-eyed gaze. His eyes widened quickly, though, and his arms slid out to either side - slow, unthreatening - when he felt the tip of a dagger against the small of his back.

The hard expression on the man who'd leaned toward Jarlaxle similarly melted, for under the table, the drow had drawn a tiny dagger, and though he couldn't reach across with that particular weapon, with no more than a thought, he had urged the enchanted dirk to elongate. Thus, while Jarlaxle hadn't even leaned forward in his chair, and while his arms had not come ahead in the least, the threatening rogue felt the blade tip quite clearly, prodding against his belly.

"I have changed my mind," Jarlaxle said, his voice cold. "When your friends arrive, they will need to find another place to repose."

"You smelly..."


"... stinking drow," the man went on. "Drawing a weapon in here is a crime against King Gareth."

"Does the penalty equate to that for gutting a fool?"

"Stinking drow," the man repeated. He glanced over at his friend then put on a quizzical expression.

"One at me back," said the other. "I'm not for helping ye."

The first man looked even more confused, and Jarlaxle nearly laughed aloud at the spectacle, for behind the other man stood the crowd of people that filled every aisle in Muddy Boots and Bloody Blades, but none appeared to be taking any note of him. Jarlaxle recognized the gray cloak of the nearest man and knew it to be Entreri.

"Are we done with this foolery?" Jarlaxle asked the first man.

The man glared at him and started to nod then shoved off the table, sliding his chair back.

"A weapon!" he cried, leaping to his feet and pointing at the drow. "He drew a weapon!"

A tumult began all around the table, with men spinning and leaping into defensive stances, many with hands going to their weapons, and some, like Entreri, using the moment to melt away into the crowd. Like all the taverns at the Vaasan Gate, however, Muddy Boots and Bloody Blades anticipated such trouble. Within the span of a couple of heartbeats - the time it took Jarlaxle to slide his own chair back and hold up his empty hands, for the sword had shrunken to nothingness at his bidding - a group of Bloodstone soldiers moved in to restore order.

"He poked me with a sword!" the man cried, jabbing his finger Jarlaxle's way.

The drow pasted on a puzzled look and held up his empty hands. Then he adjusted his cloak to show that he had no sword, no weapon at all, sheathed at his belt.

That didn't stop the nearest soldier from glowering at him, though. The man bent low and did a quick search under the table.

"So clever of you to use my heritage against me," Jarlaxle said to the protesting man. "A pity you didn't know I carry no weapon at all."

All eyes went to the accuser.

"He sticked me, I tell ye!"

"With?" Jarlaxle replied, holding his arms and cape wide. "You give me far too much credit, I fear, though I do hope the ladies are paying you close heed."

A titter of laughter came from one side then rumbled into a general outburst of mocking howls against the sputtering man. Worse for him, the guards seemed less than amused.

"Get on your way," one of the guards said to him, and the laughter only increased.

"And his friend put a dagger to me back!" the man's still-seated companion shouted, drawing all eyes to him. He leaped up and spun around.

"Who did?" the soldier asked.

The man looked around, though of course Entreri was already all the way to the other side of the room.

"Him!" the man said anyway, pointing to one nearby knave. "Had to be him."

A soldier moved immediately to inspect the accused, and indeed the man was wearing a long, slender dirk on his belt.

"What foolishness is this?" the accused protested. "You would believe that babbling idiot?"

"My word against yours!" the other man shouted, growing more confident that his guess had been accurate.

"Against ours, you mean," said another man.

More than a dozen, all companions of the newly accused man, came forward.

"I'm thinking that ye should take more care in who ye're pointing yer crooked fingers at," said another.

The accuser was stammering. He looked to his friend, who seemed even more ill at ease and helpless against the sudden turn of events.

"And I'm thinking that the two of you should be going," said the accused knave.

"And quick," added another of his rough-looking friends.

"Sir?" Jarlaxle asked the guard. "I was merely trying to take some repose from my travels in Vaasa."

The soldier eyed the drow suspiciously for a long, long while, then turned away and started off. "You cause any more disturbances and I'll put you in chains," he warned the man.


The protesting victim ended with a gasp as the soldier behind him kicked him in the behind, drawing another chorus of howls from the many onlookers.

"We're not for leaving!" the man's companion stubbornly decreed.

"Ye probably should be thinking that one over a bit more," warned one of the friends of the man he had accused, stealing his bluster.

It all quieted quickly, and Jarlaxle took a seat at the vacant table, waving a serving wench over to him.

"A glass of your finest wine and one of your finest ale," he said.

The woman hesitated, her dark eyes scanning him.

"No, he was not falsely accusing me," Jarlaxle confided with a wink.

The woman blushed and nearly fell over herself as she moved off to get the drinks.

"By this time, another table would have opened to us," said Entreri, taking a seat across from the drow, "without the dramatics."

"Without the enjoyment," Jarlaxle corrected.

"The soldiers are watching us now."

"Precisely the point," explained the drow. "We want all at the Vaasan Gate to know of us. Reputation is exactly the point."

"Reputation earned in battle with common enemies, so I thought."

"In time, my friend," said Jarlaxle. His smile beamed at the young woman, who had already returned with the drinks. "In time," he repeated, and he gave the woman a piece of platinum - many times the price of the wine and ale.

"For tales of adventure and those we've yet to make," he said to her slyly, and she blushed again, her dark eyes sparkling as she considered the coin. Her smile was shy but not hard to see as she scampered off.

Jarlaxle turned and held his glass up to Entreri then repeated his last sentence as a toast.

Defeated yet again by the drow's undying optimism, Entreri tapped his glass with his own and took a long and welcomed drink.

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