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Interlude: Volatile I

Calimport, 1373

Artemis Entreri smiled as he leaned against a wall in the Copper Ante. In the past few years, he had found what might be termed an equilibrium. Even if his most recent trip to Memnon had disturbed it a bit, it hadn't destroyed it completely. It was a new sensation, realizing that something going wrong wouldn't destroy his life and require him to rebuild.

The dark elves' abrupt withdrawal from the Calimport underworld had left chaos and distrust. Much of the latter had been directed at those known to be friendly with the "Basadoni" guild, including Dwahvel and the Copper Ante. Guilds who wouldn't have dreamed of attacking such a useful source of information before had started to keep their distance, while previously friendly rivals started eyeing them for weakness. Anyone less competent that Dwahvel Tiggerwillies would have found herself in a most precarious position. Instead she had made the best of it and, when Entreri had returned to a hostile Calimport for the second time in a decade, she welcomed him with a smile and a crossbow pointed at his chest.

As much as a few well-chosen assassinations might have put her problems to rest, they would have roused even worse ones. So he worked mostly outside the boundaries of Calimport, doing information gathering rather than assassinations. His information joined the stream of intelligence that had made Dwahvel so valuable to the guilds in the past and ever so slowly, the threats began to cease.

He was waiting in her office when she got there. "You know," she said. "It'd be more of a help if you'd tell me where all the holes in my security are. Not all my unplanned visitors are going to be as friendly as you."

Entreri shrugged and pointed to the stack of papers he'd left on her desk. "If you wanted them fixed, you'd find them yourself."

Dwahvel glanced at him. Usually this was where he made a comment about how, if she was so concerned about assassination attempts, maybe she should have someone nearby. It was as close as he'd get to admitting he worried. There were dark circles under his eyes. She frowned.

"You were gone longer than usual," Dwahvel said. "How was Memnon?"

"It was itself. A few small thieves' guilds have formed, but none of them have the power to affect anything outside of their streets right now."

"They'll learn. Anything else?"

He didn't respond for a while. Then he spoke.

"Jarlaxle tried to contact me. Or some of his agents did. They wanted me to go back to Bregan D'earthe." He scowled and looked out the window. "They were insistent. They brought Calihye with them and threatened to kill her if I refused."

Dwahvel nodded. Entreri had told her about his travels with Jarlaxle, including the story of the bounty hunter who had tried to kill him. She hadn't realized the woman was still alive. Judging from his face, neither had Entreri.

"I killed them, rescued her. We talked." Dwahvel thought it likely they had done more than 'talked,' but she left it alone. Entreri shook his head and kept talking. "She vanished. I searched Memnon, but there was nothing."

He didn't have to say more than that.

"I'll have my agents to tell me if they see a beautiful half-elf with a scar," she said. Entreri nodded to her.

"I cannot stay here," he said.

"True. We're recovering, but after that business with the drow, the other guilds would still burn the Copper Ante down around my ears if they learned I was harboring you."

"I do not know if drow will come here, either. If they threatened Calihye..."

"If they come back here I'll make sure the entire city knows it. From what you've told me of Jarlaxle, he's too pragmatic to take that sort of risk."

"I should still leave as soon as possible."

"If you're looking for suggestions, I have been hearing some strange rumors from the Anauroch Desert. But before you do-" she pulled out a letter from one of the many hidden compartments of her desk. "Someone's been asking about you. I don't think they're local."

He took the letter from her and started reading. "Do they want to kill me or recruit me?"

"It's not clear. But according to a friend of mine, they've been lurking around the docks."

Entreri smirked and tapped the edge of the letter, thinking. Dwahvel pointed at the bottom of the paper.

"They're offering quite a bit of gold for information on your whereabouts, by the way."

"Are they? You should collect on that before someone else does."

"And where are you?"

"You don't know where I am now, but a reliable source says that I will be on the western edge of the Trade Ward in five hours."

--

The sky was a blaze of red and orange as Entreri walked along the busy street in Trade Ward. The sun was setting, which meant that the shadows were getting longer and longer. More places for his mysterious stalkers to hide.

For the first time in six years, he pulled his cloak back and let the hilt of the jeweled dagger show. In an hour, half the guilds in Calimport would know that Artemis Entreri was in the city. In an two hours, the other half would know and there would potential assassins trying to hunt him down.

He didn't plan to stay in the city that long. His eyes flickered across the crowd, watching for reactions, for people running away or leveling a crossbow.

There. Five men stepped out of the shadows, studying him with intent. They were all grayish in the fading sunlight. Entreri deliberately looked at them and made eye contact with the closest one. Then he let his eyes widen --let them think he was scared!-- and turned to run into an alleyway. Behind him he could hear offended murmurs and shouts as the group of men gave chase. There were more shouts in a language he didn't recognize. One of the men was barking orders to the others, probably to split up, try to corner him.

He didn't run too quickly. Even after years away, Calimport was his city. He could think of twenty ways to lose the men behind him with ease, but that wouldn't give him the information he needed.

After leading them halfway across the ward, he was back at the warehouse he'd chosen for this meeting. He stopped, made sure they'd seen him, then ran in, slamming the door as loudly as possible.

It was a square sandstone building with a canvas roof. Some merchant was using it to store food supplies and cheap liquor, so there weren't any guards inside. Night had fallen, so the inside of the warehouse was completely dark.

His hunters came in the door that he hadn't used. They didn't seem bothered by the lack of light. There were only four of them, now, all of them panting from the exertions of the chase.

"Artemis Entreri," said the first one, the leader. "I know you're in here, so stop hiding."

"Hiding? I just thought this would be a good place to chat." Entreri leaned against the door, arms crossed. The man whirled to face him.

"You have something that isn't yours. We've come to retrieve it."

"You'll have to be more specific. I've stolen many things." Entreri thought he knew what it was, though.

"The sword." The man smiled, showing crooked teeth. "But be reasonable. I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangment. Why meet with us if you aren't willing to make a deal."

Entreri shrugged. "I wanted to know who was following me. Now I know. You have nothing that I want."

The man opened his mouth to respond --most likely with a threat of some kind-- but Entreri had already run to the door. He turned just long enough to wave and cut a rope that he had placed there hours earlier, before Dwahvel's agent had passed along word of his whereabouts.

The rope dropped a weight that pulled a knife along the edges of several bags of flour hanging from the ceiling. Darkvision couldn't see through the white fog that covered the room, and Entreri ran out, barring the door behind him as the men coughed and tried to yell.

He didn't stop to listen. Instead, he knocked a lantern onto the ground in front of the door and ran like every demon in the hells was after him. The flame from the lantern ventured out and found the trail of lamp oil that had led back to the warehouse. It followed the oil under the crack in the door.

The explosion was audible; trapped within stone walls but not confined by a ceiling, the flames flew upward in an hot gust of light.

Less than an hour later, Artemis Entreri was on a fast boat out of the Calimport docks, mourning the loss of his newly found equilibrium. But at the same time... it was good to have a challenge, a direction again. He looked back at the city with a grin, watching as the distant flames warmed the sky like an early dawn.
-
Author's note: Fun fact: Flour can be remarkably explosive. I think it has something to do with the size of the particle and how much surface area they have, but the result is that grainery explosions tend to be very, very deadly.

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