Artemis went in the direction he'd seen the flash of green, but it was gone. It was high afternoon now, and the streets were thick with people. He ducked into the shadowed alley between a tavern and a tailor's to get his bearings and look at the street.
It was even colder in the shadows than in the sun. He heard the scuffle of feet behind him and realized the alleyway was already occupied. It was their last attacker from this morning. He sighed. Apparently Alegni's mysterious enemies were stupider than he thought.
The other man was a human. Broad shouldered and half a foot taller than the assassin, he was built for brawling, not stealthy reconnaissance.
Neither of them had drawn their weapons yet. Artemis watched for movement and considered his options. If he killed the man, he'd be losing a potential source of information. He could subdue and interrogate him, but the screaming might draw unwelcome attention from the street. This was a prosperous part of town; people would notice a fight and the guards would investigate or intervene.
Either way, winning this fight lacked practical gains. What about losing? The other man kept glancing longingly at the street behind him; Artemis suspected that he'd bolt if he got the chance, instead of staying to finish the job.
Artemis drew his dagger and charged in. He didn't bother drawing his sword – for this plan, it was as much a hindrance as a help. The man reacted by drawing both his knives as well. Artemis used his dagger to parry one blow and dodged the other.
It was very clear the man was a tavern brawler, not a soldier of any kind. He used his knives like they were fists, aiming for soft spots and twisting his hip into each blow to get maximum force. That made them predictable, but every cut that Artemis parried knocked him back and sent painful reverberations down his arm.
Dodge. Parry. Artemis ignored an opening to the man's neck and left him with a shallow cut across his arm, instead. After several more seconds, the man was bleeding from several shallow cuts and Artemis was untouched.
He was looking nervous, now. So this time, when the man stabbed with his offhand dagger, Artemis tried to grab his arm rather than avoid the blow.
As he'd expected, the man reacted by grabbing him, using his greater strength and height to throw the smaller man aside and into a wall. Artemis hit the wall with bruising force. He didn't need to fake a wince as he realized that the impact had opened up at least one of his half-healed stab wounds. He let himself fall onto the cold cobblestones with a grunt and didn't get up immediately. The man directed a kick at his ribs to make sure he wouldn't get up soon, then ran into the crowd.
Knowing he'd regret it later, Artemis ignored the throbbing pain in his side and got up to follow.
A day of searching and Drizzt was starting to consider the folly in his plan. The town was just too large to go searching for a random, nameless human. He was about to give up and turn back when he jumped at the sound of the familiar voice several feet ahead of him. He couldn't see his stranger in the crowd, but it was the closest thing he'd had to a lead all day.
He thought his stranger had been talking to the large tiefling, who was thankfully easy to follow, but by the time the crowd cleared, the stranger from last night was nowhere to be seen. But the tiefling (who had definitely been talking to someone) was alone now. Perhaps they'd rendezvous?
The tiefling was going into a tavern and it was starting to get cold out here. Drizzt considered the odds and decided that it was a long shot, but he could still warm up and come up with a better plan.
The tiefling sat where he had a clear view of the door and a half-decent view of the street outside. The room was half-empty at this point and Drizzt had no difficulty claiming a spot near the window. The table was cheap wood, peppered with scrapes where people had carved graffiti or been playing stabscotch. A tired, wary barmaid walked up and asked what he wanted.
"Will you be wantin' anything to eat? We've got stew, bread, roast pig." Drizzt noticed that she kept shifting nervously from one foot to the next and Drizzt realized that, for once, he wasn't the cause. He didn't look like a drow right now, which meant that the barmaid's fear was caused by someone else. The tiefling that was three tables away, perhaps?
He shook his head. "Just the mead, please." He didn't know how long he'd be watching here, anyway. He smiled. "And don't bother checking in on me. If I need anything, I'll come looking."
Her shoulders slumped in relief and she rushed away. Drizzt went back to watching the street.
Hours passed. The sky grew gray and snow started to fall. The tiefling he had followed started to get impatient, snapping at barmaids and grumbling under his breath. At one point, he spoke to a couple of gray-skinned soldiers – thankfully, not the ones from yesterday – and told them that if they saw some called Barrabus, they should drag him back here, in chains if necessary.
Drizzt tried to ignore the cold feeling in his stomach; at least he was reasonably sure that this Barrabus was his stranger from the inn. And from the way the soldiers were deferring, this could only be the dreaded employer he had mentioned.
The dinner rush came and went. At one point, the only people left were the tiefling, some other patrons on the other side of the room, and Drizzt. He saw the barmaid look in his direction once, silently inquiring, but he sipped his mead pointedly and shook his head.
The gray sky was growing dark, another crowd was trickling into the tavern, and Drizzt was considering going home when he saw his stranger through the window. He was limping. He held himself stiffly, and there was dried blood from a cut above his eye. Drizzt considered whether or not to say anything, but the man didn't seem to see him and walked right past him to the tiefling's table.
He didn't sit down. The tiefling glared at him.
"You're late. Again."
"I was right." Barrabus' voice was softer than his employer's. Drizzt leaned closer to hear. "We were fo–" his voice cut off in a choke. The tiefling was holding some metal object, but it was too dark and too far away for Drizzt to identify. Barrabus had gone pale, tense and was swaying slightly; he was clutching the edge of the table like it was the only thing keeping him standing.
"I didn't ask for an excuse, Barrabus."
The tiefling kept glaring at him as the man shuddered inexplicably. Drizzt clenched his fists. He didn't understand what was happening, but he severely regretted leaving his scimitars behind, now. Something here was wrong.
Barrabus had stopped shaking. The tiefling looked expectant, though Drizzt couldn't imagine why.
Barrabus' voice came out in a bitter, angry croak, too quiet for Drizzt to understand the words. His shoulders slumped. His employer, apparently satisfied with whatever he had said, put the piece of metal away and gestured to the chair in front of him.
The man sat and began to speak in the neutral tones of a report. As he spoke, he picked up the knife that was leaning against the empty bread basket. The motions of stabscotch, the knife going faster and faster, pulling splinters out of the wood between his fingers, were visible even from Drizzt's vantage point. There was something wrong with it, though. Stabscotch was a reckless drinking game. It seemed strange to play it in front of an employeer strict enough to mandate how the man spent his free time.
But the tiefling was smiling and seemed to get less and less annoyed the further the converstation went on. Barrabus kept speaking, but in the crowded room Drizzt couldn't hear the words. His quiet, almost frantic tone was at odds with the knife dancing carelessly around his fingers. Finally, he stopped talking and the knife stilled.
The tiefling sat and thought for several minutes before saying something and nodding dismissively. Barrabus stood up, clearly wanting to be as far away possible. Barrabus was three steps away when the tiefling cleared his throat.
"Oh, and Barrabus," He said, eying the man's beard with distaste. "Your appearance reflects on mine and we should make a good impression on our mysterious friends."
Barrabus nodded and walked away, but it wasn't until after the tiefling had walked off to find a barmaid that Drizzt dared stand up and follow after the man.
It was a long cold walk back to the inn. Artemis had deliberately chosen a place on the opposite end of the city from Alegni, convinience be damned. Even with blood starting to soak through the cut on his leg, he didn't really regret it.
As expected, his attacker had retreated back to meet his other allies. Artemis had hidden on a roof and listened as they discussed their failed ambush today and determined that they would meet up with a further unnamed person at sundown the next day to learn what they should do next.
It had taken hours to get back across town after that, but coming back with useful information about their mysterious enemies had taken the edge off Alegni's anger. As a reward, he didn't have to report again until noon tomorrow.
Artemis limped into the inn and ordered a bottle of something that could peel paint. He didn't bother sitting; he planned to get the bottle and retreat upstairs. In his scramble not to lose his attacker, he'd hastily wrapped any bleeding injuries in torn-off strips of his cloak, but he could feel it starting to soak through. It probably wouldn't need stitches, but he needed to rewrap it. It'd be embarrassing to pass out from bloodloss on the dirty inn floor.
Bottle in hand, he started to climb the stairs.
"Hey." A breathless voice behind him. It was the elf from yesterday. He was in the same fine clothing, but this time he had a bow.
"Good to see you're not dead," Artemis said, nodding. The elf looked nervous.
"Same to you."
There was a moment of awkward silence. Artemis kept walking up the stairs. The elf grabbed his arm.
"Wait! I--" The elf stuttered to a halt. Artemis raised an eyebrow and the bottle.
"If you want to talk more" or anything else, he thought "I'd rather do it upstairs." He let some of his weariness leak into his voice. "I want to sit down."
The elf nodded and followed him upstairs.