The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 20byLady_Blackhawk©
Disclaimer: This fanfic is based off the Neverwinter Nights community module by the name of "A Dance with Rogues" created by Valine. I fell in love with this story and felt compelled to write something that compliments it. This story contains for explicit content and graphic violence. All characters except Shiloh, Bastian, Rhys, Nicca, Ni'as, Narev and Essex are property of Valine.
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The Ranger and the Bandit
Once Nathan and Vico had left the temple, she sought out Father Derthur, asking him for sanctuary for that night. He nodded, allowing her to stay with Rhys. It was not as pleasant of a night as she had hoped for. Rhys glared at her angrily as she approached him. Even though she had asked for his forgiveness, he turned his back to her, rolling over upon his side to find a comfortable position in which to sleep.
Shiloh cried herself to sleep that night. The souls of the dead and betrayed haunted her dreams. She could see the accusing eyes of Mick and Paurie, their ethereal hands reaching out to her to drag her down with them. A scream rent from her lips. But the ones that reduced her to wracking sobs were those of Vico's. His dark stare pinned her down, held her captive with the guilt of her betrayal. She had been his. His alone and she had dared to break that. She knew that deep in her heart and nothing she could say or do would change that.
When she awoke she found herself pressed quite intimately to Rhys, her leg thrown across his groin. She snuggled into him and felt a familiar part of him swell against her calf. He groaned and pressed flat to the bed, covering her with his big body. His engorged member sought entrance, only to be blocked by the fabric of her panties. He growled, delving down to tear them away.
She flinched as the violence of it snapped her eyes wide open. "Rhys!" she exclaimed, squirming beneath him as she felt the head of his cock push between her nether lips, "Stop!"
His eyes flew open and he froze as he looked down at her. Pulling away, he extracted himself from the bed and reached for his trousers. "I think you need to leave now, Shiloh. You have lessons to complete. Don't come here alone from now on." "Rhys, this is not my fault. What has gotten into you? What have I done that is so bad that you hate me now? I did not know anything about Arto Benthur. If anything I should be the one who is angry," she replied with a calm she did not feel.
"He is a Dhorn. He is your enemy, no matter whether you knew about him or not. How could you play such a deadly game? You are way in over your head and you can't even see that. Just get the fuck out of my sight. I do not want to hear your pathetic excuses. We are at war, Princess," he sneered at her as his last words slipped from his lips.
Shiloh turned and fled the room, heading out into the chapel area where she came face to face with Father Derthur. "Good father, might I be able to make a purchase from the temple?"
"What do you need, dear child?"
"Some healing draughts," she replied. "I have money to pay."
"Very well," He handed her a few minor vials and one major heal draught and proceeded to dicker over the price. When the two came to a price they could both agree on, Shiloh handed him the gold and gems. She smiled at him as she took her leave.
The time had come to finish her lessons. The Thousand Steps Inn became her destination. Ducking out of the near torrential rain that had been plaguing the city for the past few days, Shiloh entered the inn. She removed her heavy rain drenched cloak, taking care to ring the excess water into a barrel that sat next to the door for that purpose and made her way to the innkeeper. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed an attractive blond haired man. Turning her attention in his direction, she smiled. His golden mail gleamed in the torch light of the inn's common room. She immediately noticed he had been watching her with a rather interested expression on his handsome face.
Hmmmm...very interesting, she thought to herself. Shiloh smiled again, taking note of the female sitting across from him. The woman's suit of plate mail seemed to match her companions yet the look on her face didn't beckon invitation as his did. It was almost as if she meant for her gaze to warn others off. Hmmmm...quite intriguing. The imp inside Shiloh urged her to look into this and there was no better time than the present.
Shiloh approached the two, her eyes flicking over every inch of them. Her rogue senses tingled as she took stock of each one of them. As she garnered a better look at the golden mailed man, she noticed he was quite a bit older than she. She figured at least middle age. "Greetings," she smiled.
"Well, hello to you," the blond man replied as he stood up from his chair. His eyes flicked over her in a closely scrutinizing manner.
"Why are you watching me like that?" Shiloh boldly inquired.
"Why, greetings to you, lovely girl. Allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Sir Christano Arniman, and this beautiful woman by my side is the Lady Myra Waynolt."
Shiloh nodded her head. "It is a pleasure to meet you, but that doesn't explain why you are staring holes through me."
"I will explain, but might I be so bold as to ask your name?" Christano replied.
"I don't know, are you bold enough?"
He chuckled and eyed her, "Life favors the bold." His voice caressed his words like fine silk and a shudder of wariness coursed through her. This Christano was dangerous.
His eyes flicked over her again. "Anyway, I hope you forgive me for staring at you so bluntly, but Lady Myra and I were wondering if you might be a thief, perhaps. No, don't worry, please. We mean no harm."
"Why do you ask?" Shiloh eyed them both suspiciously and took a step back, preparing to make a dash for the door if need be. "Are you part of the city guard? A Dhorn spy, perhaps?"
Christano snickered softly, "Why, no, lovely girl. Let me explain, please."
"You see, the lovely Lady Myra and I are on a mission for the holy church of the Sun Lord. We have been charged with the duty of finding an old artifact, a golden chalice. It belonged to our church, but was stolen from the temple fifty years ago." He continued with a frown, "The thief who stole it was caught and questioned, but the chalice had already left his possession. The church managed to identify the person who bought the chalice. Sadly, at the time said person was nowhere to be found. To put an end to the story, I believe I have managed to locate the buyer or rather, the place where his remains rest. We found a tomb on one of the smaller Summer Islands, down the river. I'm convinced that we will find the chalice there.
"The Lady Myra and I have already visited the place. However, we did not get far. It is full of locked doors and traps. So we agreed to hire a professional who knows how to deal with that sort of thing. The problem is, with the Dhorn taking over Betancuria, such...experts...seem to have become quite rare. We've been here in this tavern for three weeks now, but to no avail. But then we spotted you. You stalk like a cat and have very deft and delicate fingers.
"Now if you agree to help us in this capacity, I shall offer you 20 gold pieces a day, plus an extra 100 when we find the golden chalice. What say you?"
Shiloh smiled. That was quite a mission and the pay was quite good. "I thank you for your offer and I am very interested in going with you, but there are a few things I have to finish here in the city."
"Very well, let us know when you are ready to venture off with us." Christano's eyes raked over every inch of Shiloh's body. A chill shot down her spine. What had she just agreed to? Hmmmm... Perhaps she would have to reconsider going along with Sir Lech or ask someone she trusted to accompany her to keep him off.
Shiloh forced a smile as she backed up in the direction she had come, returning her thoughts to the task at hand. She must speak to Master Kelten about lesson seven. Master Nathan had told her that she would be learning to set traps. She had already learned how to disable traps quite well, passing lesson number six with ease. The imp inside her chuckled as she recalled the look on Alfons's face when she handed him the clock she brought back from the wizard's tower. It had been an actual real mission instead of a lesson.
Walking up to the innkeeper's counter, Shiloh waited her turn behind a rather robust man who was waiting upon a room key. The large man moved and she smiled at the innkeeper. He greeted her promptly. "Good evening, miss. How may I be of assistance?"
"I'm looking for Master Kelten," she beamed.
"I'm Frank Kelten. What can I do for you?"
"My name is Shiloh. Master Nathan sends me..." She quickly consulted her notepad. "He said I'm supposed to learn something about setting traps."
He gave her a wide smile, studying her head to toe, "One of Nathan's girls, huh? Well, alright. I hope you've brought your good boots and a thick cloak. We're going away on a trip."
"What? Now? And where to?"
Frank chuckled, noting her apprehension. "There's no better time than the present, if it pleases you, yes. We'll go just a few miles up the river by boat. I'll teach you to set traps in the forest. There will be fresh meat for me and you'll be able to learn the ropes without killing anyone."
A sigh of relief escaped her lips. "Alright, let's be off. I'm ready to go." A smile returned to her face as she watched him hail an assistant to take over. He then tossed two big sacks at her and dragged her out into the street.
Their destination was the harbor. Frank directed her to a small ship docked at the end of a long wharf. He untied the lines that kept the ship moored to the dock and bounded up the gangway. "Just stow those below decks," he motioned as he reached for the wheel.
Shiloh felt her way around the dark belly of the ship and cursed herself for forgetting to bring a torch. What was I thinking? When she returned to the upper deck, she noticed they were already floating in the middle of the river, heading north of the city.
"You must be quite the experienced sailor." Shiloh commented as she approached the wheel and watched as he maneuvered the ship around a sharp bend in the river.
"I've been doing this for more years than you've been alive, girl." He stated, with a broad smile on his face. "Nice to be on the river, isn't it? I always say if you've got water under your butt, you don't notice the rain as much."
"If you say so...," Shiloh let out a sigh and snuggled into her cloak.
The cruise upriver continued on for a few more miles. He brought the boat to a slow drift.
Shiloh eyed him warily. "Why have we stopped here?"
"Ah, it looks like the storm will be raging on for a while yet. I really don't want to risk damaging the ship. So, I am going to turn back."
"What about my lesson?" Shiloh huffily demanded.
"Oh yes, setting traps...Watch this. See?" Master Kelten produced a mechanical piece of equipment. "This is a trap. You place it upon the ground to enable it. Something or someone steps upon it and bang, it triggers...unless it is disabled. That's all there is to setting traps."
He grinned, "Almost. I've brought you here on purpose."
Shiloh raised an eyebrow, regarding him even more suspiciously. She was all alone with him on a boat, and he seemed to be an able fighter. Scenes of Vico and the night of the Dhorn attack on the castle filled her thoughts. She gasped and backed up a few steps.
He chuckled again. "Do you see the river bank to your right? Half a mile to the west is the road that leads back to Betancuria, if you choose to go south. Or if you go north, the road, the road leads to Sargoza and eventually Min-Toras. I'm going to drop you off here. It will be your choice which way you go."
"You want to drop me off in the middle of the wilderness?!" Shiloh screeched.
"Yes, I do."
"Must you? I mean, can I not return to the city with you on your boat?"
"I have made my choice. I want to go back to the city."
Shiloh bristled with indignation, "Oh, come on, do I look like a ranger to you?"
"No, you look like a spoiled brat. Some time in the woods will do you some good."
"Pfft..." Shiloh paced the deck while Master Kelten steered the boat as close to the bank as he dared.
"Now overboard with you," He shot her a wide grin.
"Wait a minute here...You cannot expect me to swim to shore!? What if I can't swim? What if I drown?"
He laughed, "You'd better learn very quickly!"
Shiloh dodged out of his way as he tried to shove her overboard, and plunged herself into the water. As the iciness engulfed her, she struggled to reach the surface. The heaviness of her cloak weighed her down, threatening to pull her further under. She kicked hard and flailed about, breaking the surface. She paddled her way to shore, pleased that her pool splashing skills had come in handy.
Panting heavily, she climbed up the bank, setting her legs on solid ground. She was soaked to the skin and began to shiver. She looked back to the river. From the ship, Master Kelten waved and maneuvered his boat to sail back downstream. She let out a growl of frustration and shook her fist at him.
Shiloh gave herself a good shake, and attempted to ring the excess water out of her long soggy hair. She hoped to find shelter soon where she could dry off and slip into some clean clothes. She wasn't sure how far from Betancuria she was, but hoped it wouldn't take her too long to get back.
Yes, go back...She had been brought out here to decide for herself her own destiny. To decide whether she wanted to return to the city and her second family or go north to either Sargoza or Min-Toras where she could claim exile with their nobility. The choice was hers. Stay in Betancuria or start a new life in a new place. Oh, what to do.
She smiled, go back. The words seemed to echo through the trees. Yes, despite the Dhorn, she wanted to go back. She wanted to see Chella, Master Nathan, and Vico again. She knew she'd miss his wry wit, and despite the fact she still bore the scars of his way of dealing with people, she knew their fates were closely tied together. His touch was addicting. His kisses mesmerized her. His arms around her made her feel safer than she had ever felt. Sooner or later he would come to her. Despite the events of the previous day, she knew he wouldn't be able to stay away from her. She knew she would be the recipient of his scathing wrath once again and she knew he would also move heaven and earth to make it up to her. At some point... But that was neither here nor there at this very moment. She had to figure out where she was and find her way back to the city.
She finished wringing water from her hair, cloak, and clothes and started walking to the west. Spotting some kind of monstrous humanoid creature she'd never witnessed the likes of before, she hugged the tree-line and did her best to move quietly as a mouse. She crept past it until she reached a clearing and a small stream.
The smell of wood smoke tickled her nose. There had to be a house nearby. She continued on, noticing a small field of corn. Shiloh sneaked up to it and set her eyes upon a well lit house and prayed she would find shelter within it. She hoped the inhabitants were friendly and would take pity on her pathetic state. She dashed to the door, nearly slipping on the wet grass as she spotted a pair of glowing yellow eyes in the distance just beyond the tree-line.
She knocked on the door as hard as she could and rattled the handle. It seemed to be barred from the inside. Please, she thought, someone answer the door. Then a voice called from inside. "Who's there?"
"My name is Shiloh. I'm seeking shelter and perhaps a warm fire. Please let me in!"
She noticed someone peering out at her through a window and then the doors opened just wide enough to allow her to enter.
"By the King! What are you doing out in the rain on a night like this, girl? Gods have mercy, you are soaked to the bones. Come in and warm yourself by the fire," The man ushered her to the fireplace.
"The ship I was sailing on was damaged in the storm and I fell overboard. I doubt they know I'm missing." She told him, gladly accepting the soft length of toweling he handed her. "Thank you, good sir."
"Where was the ship headed?"
"To Betancuria...Can you tell me how to get there?"
"The road is a few hundred yards to the west. I'm sure ya can't miss it, really. You'll want to warm yourself first."
"Thank you, good sir," Shiloh removed her cloak and rubbed the towel over her head. She sat in front of the fire and absorbed the heat. It felt heavenly after being submerged in the chilly water and soaked by the pouring rain. She let out a heavy sigh.
The farmer seemed quite friendly. "I'm no sir. The name is Carlen."
"Then I thank you, Carlen, for your hospitality."
He nodded, "Is this your first time traveling through the wilderness?"
"Why do you ask?" Shiloh replied as she dug into her backpack and pulled out her other set of clothes to dry.
Carlen laughed, "You don't look like you belong in the wilderness. You lack that earthy touch, if you know what I mean."
"You mean I'm not dirty?" Shiloh huffed tersely.
"No, I could tell you were a city girl right away. You don't look like you belong out here in the wild. It's your manner of speech. It's almost regal."
Shiloh raised an eyebrow at him.
"It must be your name, I suppose." Carlen chuckled once more as his eyes raked over her lingeringly. "Ah, I had a ranger here two nights ago. Now, he knew his way around. He also had a story or two to tell, the lad. He said he was headed south. Isn't that where you are headed? South to Betancuria?"
"Yes, back to Betancuria."
"Ah, a pretty little city girl. I'll tell you now, girl, you should be careful out there. There are bandits on the road. Best if you try to stick to the woods. You see, ever since the War, the road's not seen much traffic. Not a whole lot of trade going between Betancuria and the North. So it's fairly unlikely you'll find a caravan to travel with. A pretty girl traveling alone...it would make you easy prey for the scoundrels."
She nodded at him, enjoying the warmth of the fire. She watched the children curiously. They were quietly playing on the floor with a pile of blocks. The boy looked to be about ten years old while the girl could have been eight years of age.
"Say girl, perhaps since your people won't know where you are, would you consider staying here with me?" His eyes flicked over her body in a possessive manner. "Ever since my wife died two years ago, it's been very hard. The kids are wonderful. They help me out a lot. I could use another pair of hands, though. Not to mention the companionship of another adult. I do get quite lonely."
"Oh," she gasped. "I...thank you...for your offer, good sir, but I don't believe I have it in me to be a farm girl. I'm just not ready for that kind of responsibility yet."
She eased the rejection with a sweet smile.
He returned her smile and sighed softly, "A pity. It would have been wonderful to have you here with me. Would you at least think on it?"
Shiloh nodded and smiled. She didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"Well, I've got chores to do. You should change into something dry and warm yourself by the fire. I'll have you a plate of food soon," he replied before going about the business of fixing supper.
She quickly stripped out of her wet clothing and threw each one of the soggy garments along with her bedroll over a line that ran the width of the cozy cabin. She soon noticed the curious stares of the boy and girl as well as the occasional look of desire in the eyes of the farmer. She did her best to ignore it. She wasn't interested in being a wife and a ready made mom. She still had much to experience in this life before she settled on one man. "Good sir, would you happen to have a dry blanket I could borrow? All of my belongings are soaked from being in the water."