The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 25

byLady_Blackhawk©

After taking a few minutes to clean the blood off her armor, she eased her way to the door and cracked it open. Beyond her was a large dimly lit room. Three more men sat at a table playing cards while a fourth stood by the fire, drinking something a mug. She smiled as she fixed her eyes upon him. She recognized him immediately. It was the same man she had seen meeting with the officer in the sewers and knew she had found the hideout of the thugs working for the Dhorn. Master Nathan would be pleased with her for sure.

She pulled her cloak around her completely and slipped out through the crack in the door, easing it shut behind her as quietly as she could. She knew it would be her death if these men caught her. One she could handle on her own, perhaps two if she was lucky... or had Bastian bolstering her abilities. As swiftly and silently as she could manage, she hugged the shadows of the room and made her way across it to a door that lead out into the hallway. A fifth gladiator sat snoozing in a chair nearby.

She undid the latch and opened it a fraction, slipping through without alerting the guard. Breathing a shallow gasp of relief, she headed up another hallway passed cells of creatures the likes of which she had never seen to a guard post that blocked another door. She crept past more snoozing guards and made short work of getting the heavy iron door unlocked.

Stairs, more hallway and locked doors followed, ending in a single gate through which she could entrance hall of the Arena. Directly ahead of her was the ticket clerk's booth. Once more she brought forth her picks and made short work of the lock on the gate.

She knew as she stepped out into the big foyer that she was nearly home free. She knew the Arena had to be closed. None of the workers were present. She glanced around, eyeing the iron door that blocked entrance into the office.

Hmmm, the office. She tapped her foot on the floor. The office was where the evening take should be. The allure of robbing the Arena of their money seduced her. She knew she didn't need the money. She wasn't sure what to do with the money she had now, but once she added to it, she was sure that purchasing better weapons and armor would benefit her greatly. As much as she liked her little poison blade, she longed for something more along the lines of Vico's insidious sword, Kinslayer. Perhaps he'd be willing to help her. Or perhaps not. She never knew with him. Pushing him out of her thoughts, she dashed to the office door and began to work her lock picks on it. It was extremely complex and difficult and after minutes of trying and cursing, she managed to finally get it open.

Slipping inside the office, she noticed a lone guard sleeping in a chair and the strongbox that sat next to him on the floor. She crept over to it and knelt before it, once more pulling out her lock picks. The lock was very simple and it opened quite easily. Reaching inside, she pulled out the sack of gold and frowned as she opened it. Surely the arena made more money than this, she mused as she stowed it away in her haversack. There had to be more somewhere.

Hurriedly she searched around, noting another strongbox behind a bookshelf as she pulled book from it. It prompted her to search the shelving unit itself and figured out that it slide outward on small casters. And after moving the shelf, she made short work of disabling a crude poison needle trap and unlocking the box.

She gasped softly as she opened it. It was full to the rim with gold coins. She ran her hands over them, feeling them against her palm. These lil' beauties would be all hers. It took her awhile, but she scooped handful after handful into her sack until the box was completely empty. Her pack was full and heavy, but she didn't care. This was all hers now. And she knew leaving the Arena would be easier than escaping the Barracks had been.

Shiloh chuckled to herself. How easy and how grand her adventure had been. It was intoxicating. The only thing she had left to do was inform Master Nathan of her discovery. She hoped he'd be proud.

O.O

Shiloh breezed into his office after she deposited her stolen loot at her apartment. He didn't need to know that she had robbed the Arena and what he didn't know wouldn't hurt her a bit. She hoped he would pleased that she found where the Dhorn collaborators were hiding. And she hoped he would send someone to deal with them because she knew she couldn't do it alone.

Fighting one of them had been difficult enough. And though she knew Bastian would be eager to help her, she was already indebted to him enough. Not that being so was a bad thing....

"Master Nathan," Shiloh bobbed a curtsy before him and smiled. He looked up at her and set down the cup of coffee he'd been drinking.

"Your habit of coming in here at these gods awful hours is mildly disturbing. It makes me wonder when you ever sleep," he remarked wryly as he raised an eyebrow.

"When do you ever sleep?"

A hint of a smile hovered on his lips. "So what is it you need, Shiloh? I'm quite busy at the moment."

"Should I wait to inform you that I've found where the cutthroats spying for the Dhorn are? They're gladiators, hiding in the catacombs below the arena."

"And you are 100 percent certain of this?"

Shiloh nodded, "Of course I am. I wouldn't be here wasting our time if I weren't. I recognized one of them as the man I overheard talking to the Dhorn officer in the sewers. I went to the Arena like you told me, too. The ticker clerk gave me some information about a woman named Sharita that ran a brothel here in the city before the Dhorn invaded. Sharita often provides women for the gladiators. So I went to see her earlier. She got me into their lair. One of them is already dead, by my hand. As I was sneaking out through their hideout, I saw the same man I saw before. I had a feeling they were there, anyway. When I was in the Arena, watching one of the fights, I saw the same name on their line-up that was in that ledger I brought to you."

"Hmmm, I see. Well, this calls for certain actions." Nathan cleared his throat and motioned to Timo, the big man standing by the door. "Get Vico."

Minutes ticked by slowly before the blackguard entered the room. "Ah, Nathan, you caught me downstairs. It seems we have a serving girl who is filling her own pockets with coin. Shall I take care of her for you?" A shiver ran down Shiloh's spine as she noticed the evil glint in Vico's eyes. He grinned insolently, ignoring her presence in the room.

"No, Vico, that'll have to wait. I have something more important for you. Shiloh found the scum working for the Dhorn. Take her and a few others and put an end to this unfortunate situation."

"Consider it done," he inclined his head at Nathan before he turned to Shiloh. His grin became even more truculent than before. "But I don't need her going with me. She'll only be a hindrance. Just tell me where they are and I'll see that is taken care of."

An enraged glare crossed her face and she slapped him as hard as she could and watched as his head snapped back. "Then I'll do it myself, asshole. I don't NEED you."

Vico clenched his fist and grabbed her, ready to smash her to a pulp until he noticed her eyes glowing a bright blood red and the color of her skin starting to take on a copperish hue.

Nathan cleared his throat loudly. "Unhand her, Vico," the older man nearly growled. "This hostility between you two will cease immediately. I have had enough of it."

But Shiloh was too far gone in her transformation. The moment Vico released her, she pounced, slamming her knee as hard as she could into his groin. The blackguard hissed in pain and doubled over while her fingernails extended into razor sharp talons that resembled daggers.

She rode him to the floor, stabbing at his chest unmercifully. Nathan bellowed for assistance. Timo, Nicha, Wesh and Warent piled into the fray, desperately trying to separate Shiloh from Vico, but their efforts were for naught. She easily batted them away like flies and resumed her assault upon the blackguard.

But Vico wouldn't go down without a fight. Though he was bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, he summoned a ball of sucking energy to his hand and pressed it against her chest. Shiloh convulsed and screamed in pain. It gave him the upper hand with her. The blackguard flipped her to the floor and put her beneath him, positioning his legs over her arms as he whipped out Kinslayer and held it to her throat. "Give me one good reason, demonspawn whore, why I shouldn't slit you wide open?" His words were in the Abyssal tongue, guttural and gravelly.

"ENOUGH!" Nathan's voice boomed as he yanked the younger man from Shiloh. "I WILL NOT HAVE THIS NONSENSE IN MY OFFICE!"

Standing between them, he watched as Shiloh grabbed hold of a bookshelf in order to pull herself up. As Timo tried to lend her a hand, she smacked it away and focused her hate-filled glare at Vico. "I'm no whore!" she retorted in the same language and let her skin turn a fiery red. "Quit hiding like a cowardly old woman and fight me!"

"You're good as dead, bitch!" Vico's black eyes turned an even more violent shade of red as he reached passed Nathan and hit Shiloh with a blow that resounded through the upper floor and kitchen. She crashed into the bookshelf, smashing it with the force of her impact and slumped to the floor, thoroughly knocked out.

Nathan's eyes narrowed dangerously as he looked from Shiloh to Vico. "You will explain to me what in the name of the hells is going on between you two!"

Vico shuddered and took a deep breath, gathering his composure. "She's been enthralled by a dark god. This isn't the first time I've had to remove his influence from her. They must have bonded even deeper than I had expected because he doesn't seem to want to let her go. I won't utter his name here because I'd rather not call him to her. You'd be wise to call a powerful healer because she's going to need it."

"Father Derthur is dead. There aren't any others that I know of," Nathan exhaled deeply. "How did this happen? I knew she was exhibiting signs of being far too much like you, but it never guessed she was in that deep."

Vico pulled two long cylindrical vials from a pouch. He drank one, feeling a tremor course through him as it completely healed his many wounds. Sweat broke out on his forehead. "It's a long story and you aren't going to like it."

He launched into the explanation of their affair and how Shiloh had become overwhelmed with jealousy when she found another female in his bed. He confessed that in her rage she killed the girl and placed the body upon his altar, calling to her a high power. The one who answered her call gave her the power to seek her revenge on Vico and it was only after she'd brought him to the brink of death that she spread her bloody slaughter to the streets, murdering several Dhorn patrolman. When she returned, Vico had been able to overpower her and had thought he severed her connection with her new patron god. It was only then that Vico had told Shiloh who the girl was and what she was doing in his bed.

An utterly stunned expression crossed Nathan's face as he listened to Vico's account of Shiloh's descent into madness and what he'd had to do to redeem her soul. "And why wasn't I told about any of this?"

"Probably for the same reason she never told you I was the one who attacked her down at the Wharf that night." The coldness of Vico's voice spent shivers through everyone standing in the room.

Nathan's jaw hit the floor. "What in the hells made you do that to her? You nearly killed her, dammit! Why in the hells did you bring her to me after that?" Rage simmered within the older man's eyes. "And why would she defend you?"

Vico looked away and sucked in a deep breath before taking a seat in one of the chairs in the office. "I could easily say she brought on herself. Yes, she knew I was there. She played with fire and it burnt her. But when it comes right down to it, she did something I'll never forgive her for. She showed doubt after she behaved like a dockside whore. She initiated it and then had the audacity to second guess her actions. I don't play games and she learned that the hard way."

Nathan shook his head. "And she still protected you. Why?"

Vico shrugged nonchalantly. "Don't know, don't really care."

"You are aware how easily I could arrange to have you killed, don't you?"

Vico let out a barking laughter. "There isn't a man or woman in this organization that has a snowball's chance in hell in managing that and you know it. That's why I'm your enforcer. That's why you give me all the nasty jobs because you know I enjoy them. She's the only one who has ever come close to taking me out. Shiloh in her god-ridden state like you just witnessed nearly did me in," the blackguard replied as he raked his eyes over her unconscious form.

Nathan ran his hand over his face. He looked extremely old in that moment. "Is there anything else I need to know? What else have you two not told me?"

The blackguard shook his head. "Nothing on my part, but I'm not so sure about her. I know she's been up to something and I know she was lying when she made you think she wanted to bring Caron back from the dead. I'm not sure who she wanted to resurrect, but I'd keep closer tabs on her than you have. The decomposed heads of her parents are still mounted on the castle walls. I wouldn't put it past her to try to bring them back from the dead and attempt to regain her status as the crown princess. This dark god she has bonded with could certainly lend her the power to make it happen quite easily. I think the Dhorn would have a civil war on their hands if King Aurelius reappeared to rally the citizens."

Nathan placed his head in his hands for a brief moment before gesturing at the vial in Vico's hand. "Bring her to. We need to take care of those spies. She said she killed one already. While we rest here on our laurels they could be regrouping with the Dhorn. I'll talk to her once it's all said and done. And no fighting with each other."

Vico nodded and stood up from the chair, sighing raggedly. Pulling the stopper out of the vial, he cradled her in his arms and gently pried her lips apart, making her drink the curative draught. It took a few moments before she stirred completely. Once she realized where she was, she flailed about recklessly, pushing herself out of Vico's arms. A look of sheer fright graced her beautiful face. "Stay away from me!" Her head felt fuzzy. She sat down to regain her composure. "Asshole!"

Vico chuckled, "Are you over your temper tantrum yet? Can we get those show on the road? There's scum to kill. Now where are they?"

She glared at him before nodding. "Damn, did you have to hit me so hard? I think you just about knocked me all the way into the next ten-day. By the hells."

"Where, birdie? And how many of them do we expect to find there?" Vico was back to being all business, but she could feel his enmity for her brewing beneath the surface of his cool façade.

"In the pits beneath the Arena. There are five gladiators remaining. I don't see us having any trouble handling them. I've already taken out one of them on my own. I did see a few guards, though."

"Good girl," he smirked insolently. "Don't worry about those guards. They won't bother us, trust me. But I'm going to take two of our men with us so the pretty lady may feel safe. Lead the way now."

Nathan signaled to Timo to send for Ramir and Donan to accompany Shiloh and Vico back to the Arena. There was no talk at all between anyone in the small group as Shiloh led them back to the Arena. The guards stepped aside without a word when they saw Vico approach. Shiloh smirked, noting how Master Nathan's organization was so well known. Or Vico. Or both. In any case, it wasn't long before they arrived at their destination. The hideout of the thugs, working for the Dhorn.

Vico pulled Shiloh back as they neared the gate that led into the gladiator's room. "So far so good. You might want to stand back a little. This might get ugly," he scoffed in his usual insolent manner.

"You wish, asshole. I want to see these bastards bleed," she hissed, menacingly.

He cocked an eyebrow at her. Obvious he hadn't cooled her need for the kill as effectively as he had hoped. "Bloodthirsty, are you? I would've thought you'd lost your taste for it after I handed your scrawny little ass to you once again."

She rolled her eyes at him and pulled her weapons from their sheathes. "Are we here to talk or annihilate?"

He nodded briefly, "Lead on, but don't cry to me for help when you get beat again."

She leveled upon him one of the most chilling looks he'd ever witnessed in his life before hugging the shadows as she made her way over to the gate. She swiftly unlocked it and swung it open, allowing Vico, Donan and Ramir to charge the man still snoozing in a chair nearby. She tumbled passed them, into the main room and quickly engaged an axe wielding warrior who met her head on.

The clang of steel on steel, the grunt and groan of bodies taking vicious blows and the tangy scent of fresh blood filled the room as one by one the gladiators succumbed to their deaths at the hands of their attackers. Shiloh tumbled and feinted, slashing her poison blade through the flesh of the men who had been involved in the circumstances that had led to Caron's death. She could hear Vico behind her, but could not see him. A gut-wrenching roar escaped from Donan's lips as the last remaining gladiator buried his axe blade deep into the fighter's midsection. He crumbled to the floor, his guts spilling around him. Shiloh watched in horror and unleashed an ear-splitting wail at the sight of such carnage. Then she, Vico and Ramir surrounded the man responsible. They offered no mercy, heartlessly stabbing and slashing before finally severing his head from his body.

Blood splattered all over Shiloh. She threw her arms up over her head and screamed as if it had seared her flesh. Vico grabbed hold of her wrist and dragged her back out of the room. "We'd better get out of here before the patrol arrives."

"What about our guy that died? Are we just going to leave him behind?" Shiloh protested, pulling her arm out of Vico's grasp.

Ramir looked her straight in the eyes, "It's necessary, little one. I don't like it any better than you. Donan was a good mate, but we need to be as far away from here as possible before the Dhorn arrive."

She nodded and allowed Vico to lead them all the way back to the Bear Pit. Once again, no one said a word until they re-entered Nathan's office. He cocked an eyebrow at them, noticing the absence of Donan. "How'd it go?"

"Our mission is complete. They are all dead. Unfortunately, we lost one of our own," Shiloh replied. "I didn't want to leave the body behind, but there was no way to get him out of there."

Nathan nodded, "These things happen, Shiloh. Well done. I am pleased to here of your success."

"It was quite the massacre. But she hung right in there," Vico scoffed.

"After the fight we all witnessed here earlier, I have no doubt of that," Nathan replied as he noticed the beaming smile on her face. The truths that had come out this very night hadn't settled well with him and he felt the need to assert control over the situation. "Speaking of which, we have a few things to discuss."

Nathan snapped his fingers and everyone left the room, pulling the door shut behind them, leaving only Shiloh and Vico with the boss. "Both of you sit down."

Vico slid into the chair Shiloh had meant to sit in and pulled her down onto his lap forcefully. She slapped him in retaliation and wrenched herself out of his grasp, picking a different chair near Nathan's desk. "Don't touch me, you vile loathsome pig," she sneered at him haughtily.

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