The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 28byLady_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 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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Tangled Webs and Stolen Hearts
Shiloh trembled, sucking in a deep breath. Sheer need of him gripped her. She mentally scolded herself for such weakness. She did not want Vico. The words played over and over in her mind. I do not want him, I do not need him, I do not crave his touch...I do...The voice inside her head screamed at her. I DO...I DO...I DO...
"NO!" Shiloh cried aloud to an empty room. Once more she surveyed the damage to her home. Nothing but firewood, she scoffed to herself. Forcing herself up from the floor, she sifted through the wreckage and removed the precious books. Then she gathered all the broken shelves and reduced them even smaller with a hand axe meant for that purpose. She stacked the debris by her stove and added the books to the remaining bookshelf not destroyed in the fight. Men and their foolish notions of might making right, she brooded as her mind fell upon other more troubling thoughts. Damn, why could he not leave well enough alone? Why did he have to have it all? She was satisfied with Rhys, willing to explore the depths their relationship could go. Why did Vico have to interfere? Why, after she'd given him something more?
"Stop it!" Her spoken chastisation of her tumultuous thoughts echoed through the apartment. She needed to get out of here. Needed time away to clear her head and make her mind believe what her heart already knew. Vico wasn't for her. She needed to remain steadfast in that knowledge. With that resolve, she picked up her pack and double-checked the contents. Rod of resurrection, check. Length of rope, check. Her short swords, check. Bedroll, check. Waterskin and food rations, check. Thieves' tools, check. Torches, check. Then she glanced over the miscellaneous gear she figured she would also need. Before she closed her pack, she double-checked the apartment. Confident she wasn't forgetting anything, she sat down on the couch to wait for Shanna and Rhys to return. She had to convince Shanna to go with her. Both of them needed this chance to get away.
Her wait was short. She met them at the door, imploring eyes begging for understanding from her sister. Yet Shanna's dark scowl told her everything she needed to know. She closed her eyes and looked away, searching for the right words to say. None came. Then she glanced up at Rhys. His expression was neutral; she could not tell what he might be thinking. "I did nothing..." she murmured to him.
Rhys nodded his head. Her skin held no such blissful glow, her lips not swollen by desperate kisses. He knew he was right to trust her. She hadn't given into the potent allure of her greatest tormentor. Pride swelled within him. His heart pounded in his chest. Shiloh wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on the swell of his chest. He winced, stifling a groan that threatened to slip forth from his lips. His ribs were still aching.
"He tried to kiss me, but I told him no. I won't be the cause of tearing my sister's heart to shreds. He can't do that to us. I told him that when I go to the Summer Islands on that quest that I'm taking her with me." Shiloh murmured against his skin.
"I think that is for the best, my precious one. I have the healing potions you asked me to purchase for you. I picked up a few others that I thought would come in handy for you. I'll wait while you finish packing and be your escort. Is there any place you need to go?"
"I wanted to stop at the guild to purchase a better suit of armor and some nicer weapons. Since I don't know what I'm going to be up against on this adventure, I'd like to be prepared. And since Shanna is going, I should outfit her just as well. I have money to pay for everything."
Rhys nodded, and planted a kiss on the top of her head. "So be it, my sweet."
"And what if I don't want to go anywhere with you?" Shanna hissed, her eyes shooting daggers at her sister. "I want to be with Vico. If you are out of sight, perhaps he won't be tempted. Let me go to him."
"No, that won't do. You both need time away. If there weren't arrangements I need to make for Nicca to leave this city behind, I would accompany you and keep you safe." Rhys shook his head, "This is for the best."
Shanna glared at him. "You should be as angry as I am at him, at her."
"But I'm not. You act like this is something Shiloh can control. She can't control Vico and his wants." Rhys reasoned with Shanna, his face passive. "She's made her choice and it's not him."
"And you believe that?"
"It's true. I've chosen Rhys."
Rhys carefully eyed Shiloh, his gaze boring into her as he meticulously gauged her statement. She didn't demure at all. She snuggled into his chest and let her hands roam over the muscles of his back. "Yes, I do. Now let's get everything ready that we'll need. I need to heal some more. I purchased a few of the major healing potions that the Alchemist had to offer and I believe just one of these will put me to rights again. Give me a moment to quaff it down and then we'll pack some things for Shanna." He turned to Shanna, looking her straight in the eyes. "And there'll be no protesting."
"Fine," Shanna ground out through clenched teeth. "I'll go, but I don't have to like it."
After packing a few things for Shanna and after Rhys had once again disguised himself in the get-up he'd had on earlier, they left the apartment. Shiloh made sure to lock her home up. She didn't think anyone would be fool enough to cross Master Nathan, but she wasn't taking any chances. They left the northern part of the city and headed into South Betancuria to the ruined house that served as an entrance to the sewers. Then Rhys guided them up into the guild house.
Shiloh was relieved that Vico wasn't there. She figured he may be nearby licking his wounds, though. She gave herself a good mental shake and pushed those dangerous thoughts out of her head. She shouldn't be thinking about him at a time like this. I don't need him, she told herself as she recited the mantra over and over again. Approaching Dalino, she gave him a wide smile and pulled out a bag of gold. "I need armor and a good weapon for myself as well as my sister. Do you have anything that will suit my needs?"
"I have plenty of things that will suit your needs, pretty girl, as long as you have the gold." His eyes boldly raked over her. "Might I suggest a few items?"
"Sure, show me what ya got."
He opened a crate and drew forth and suit of black and silver armor. "This is blackened mithral. It'll help you blend in with the shadows and the mithral rings are well oiled to cut down on noise. I call this piece Silent Death. It's very effective in helping you strike from the shadows. I've seen you fight. You need this armor. I'll even make you a very sweet deal on it."
Shiloh picked it up and began to look it over. She'd never felt anything so light before. "May I try it on?"
"Sure thing. You can use that room over there." He pointed at a door to his right. Shiloh nodded and headed inside, closing the door behind her. Quickly she slipped out of her clothing and into Silent Death. She liked the way it hugged her curves and plunged down over her chest, doing little to hide her ample charms. She smiled. This armor was definitely a keeper.
"I'll take it," she smiled as she returned to Dalino. "Now, what do you suggest for my sister? I doubt she's ever worn armor before or even used a weapon. I'm going to train her, though."
A pondering look crossed the merchant's ruddy face as he studied her thoroughly. Then he reached into another crate and pulled out something that looked like shimmering black silk. "This is called Shadowskin." He handed it to her. It resembled the black catsuit Shiloh had gotten from Drago.
Shanna looked it over curiously before heading into the room Shiloh had changed in. While waiting for her to come back out, Shiloh perused the weapon racks behind him. She picked up another short sword and held it in her hand, feeling its weight. It didn't warm to her touch as her poison blade had done. "I like this one. What can you tell me about it?"
"Ah, that is called Heart of Winter. It has an enchantment on it that delivers a kiss of coldness to whomever it strikes. It is a very good blade, but there is another I would recommend above it." He reached over to another rack and drew from it a sword whose blade was tinged in red and whose hilt sported two good sized rubies. "This is Darkstar. It was forged by the same smith who created Kinslayer."
"Kinslayer?" She repeated.
"Yes, the sword belonging to the Family's dark knight."
Shiloh's eyes flashed in recognition and she picked up Darkstar, cradling it in her hands. It felt incredible to the touch and fit within her grasp as if it belonged there and had been made solely for her. She flashed a wicked grin at him. She had wanted a blade as insidious as Vico's. "I'll take it."
"I thought so. The good thing about this sword... if you are injured and strike a living foe with this blade, it can be used to drain them of their life energy, thus bolstering your own. Many have been too faint of heart to successfully wield this weapon, but I don't believe this will be the case with you. I believe that you will do well with Darkstar."
Her grin grew even more wicked. "And what about this dagger? Its blade is serrated."
"Ah, yes. That one is what is called a Courtesan Blade. Our dark knight wields one. It is a very good off-hand weapon and what makes it so is its ability to stun people, to rob them of their senses and open them up to other more insidious attacks. This sort of blade is favored by assassins. Perhaps it would be good for your sister."
"Very well. I'll take it, Darkstar, Heart of Winter and the armor, providing Shanna likes hers," Shiloh added as she watched Shanna walk out of the small room.
Shanna joined them and picked up the dagger. "I like this blade. It calls to me," she murmured. "And I like this armor. I want to learn to be the greatest assassin this city has ever whispered about. I want to strike fear in the hearts of all who hear my name. I want to be called Shanna Darkwalker. I think my Vico like that. He admires those who are strong enough to take what they want."
Shiloh smiled wickedly at her sister, "Now that's more like it. I think we can work on that while we're away. I'll have time to teach you everything I know and when we return, you can train with Vico. He'll teach you. I'm sure he will."
And I can help, a voice in her head whispered. She knew that voice, the low haunting timbre that belonged to Bastian. Coax her to join you on the dark side and I'll lend my mighty protection to both of you.
His offer tempted her greatly. She mulled it over in her thoughts for a few long moments before sending her mental reply. Thy work shall be done.
Rhys eyed Shanna ponderingly, "You've much to learn before you become an assassin. That's something one doesn't become overnight. It takes years of discipline and training. I know there are many in the Family that would be willing to show you that course. Vico is one of them, but don't set yourself on a path that you'll regret later. Taking a life isn't as simple as it sounds. When you take a life, you sacrifice part of yourself and that can take its toll on your soul."
"Save the lectures," she scowled as she picked up the scabbard and sword belt Dalino laid in front of her and strapped it around her waist. "Have you anything else that will benefit me?"
"Ah, Boots of silence, an essential for any thief worth his or her salt. And I have two pairs. I even think they'll be the right size. And Gloves of Nimbleness, another essential for a thief who specializes in burglaries. I'll give you a special price for all of it provided you do something for me."
"What might that be, Dalino?" Shiloh asked, her curiosity aroused.
"There is something I've been hoping to acquire. Its last known location was in a vault beneath the castle."
Shiloh cocked an eyebrow at him. "Is it something that belonged to the Royal Family?"
"Yes, it is. To our dearly departed King," he grinned as an evil glimmer shone brightly in his beady little eyes.
"You are aware of who you're speaking to? King Aurelius was my father and you expect me to sneak into what was my home which is now inhabited by my enemies to steal something that belonged to my father? You must have testicles the size of grapefruits and would advise you to reconsider your words or else end up like that wretch Paurie after he asked me to whore for him down on the docks!!!!" Shiloh's eyes turned a blazing red while her skin soon took on a deep copper hue.
Dalino swallowed the lump in his throat, licking his lips nervously, and backed away from her. "I meant no harm. I had heard a rumor about you, linking you to the Royal Family, but I hadn't lent much credence to it. I know it must be upsetting to hear me ask you such a thing, but think of it this way. If it is in the hands of the Family then it is not in the hands of the Dhorn. Wouldn't it be a solid blow to them to find out that King Aurelius's greatest treasures, the greatest spoils of war he ever collected are gone, poof! Vanished without a trace! It's a way to hit them where it really hurts. I know they have been sending treasures from the lesser vaults to the Dhorn Emperor. We intercepted the last two shipments and have secreted them away. But word has it that this vault is the one they have not been able to break into. Think of the heads that will roll within their ranks when they find the vault not only open but emptied. And you will be able to keep what you want of the goods as long as you bring me the one item I seek."
Shiloh brought her hand up to her chin, tapping a finger against her lips as she thought over his proposition. Her father's greatest treasures in her hands instead in the hands of the Dhorn Emperor. It was very tempting. She let go of her anger and studied him thoughtfully. "Alright, Dalino. You've caught my interest. I'd much rather have my family's possessions in a safe place that only I know rather than allowing the Dhorn to have them. However, I cannot complete this mission anytime soon. I have agreed to another mission that'll take me out of the city for an unknown amount of time. It'll have to be completed when I return."
"It must be done tonight. My sources tell me despite the fact that their attempts to open it have been unsuccessful, they have decided to use explosives on the vault door."
Shiloh let out a cackling laugh. "Pathetic!" She scoffed, "The metal used on those vaults was crafted by dwarves, built to withstand even the attack of an ancient wyrm. Explosives will do nothing to it."
"And I would venture to guess that you know how to get in to it," he predicted, his beady little eyes glossy with greed.
"I do. I had access to all the combinations of the vaults as well as a few secret passages leading into the vaults themselves. And the one you want me to break into is the vault my great-great grandfather had those dwarven craftsman construct out of adamantine which is a full two feet thick and past the adamantine is a substance that dwarf called Acidic Crystal. It's at least a foot thick and can burn huge gaping holes in any sort of flesh that comes in contact with it. It's very painful. I've seen men who barely touched the crystalline points die from the pain it inflicted. It wasn't pretty. Very well. I'll head into the castle as soon as we're done here. I know exactly how to reach the vault in question. I assume it'll be guarded but I know a back way in." Shiloh grinned mischievously to herself. "Now that I've agreed, what is your price for these items I wish to buy?"
"Fifty thousand gold for all of it, plus the item I want," He stated confidently.
"Nah, too much. I don't have that much gold. How about thirty thousand gold and the item plus a pick of anything else in the vault?" She countered.
"Do you think I'm a fool? No, thirty thousand is not nearly enough. That armor is more than that by itself. Forty-five thousand," he waged. "And a pick of something else from the vault."
Shiloh frowned at him. "Forty thousand even and the item you wish. That's my final offer. Think about it wisely before you speak again. I know exactly how to get into that vault without the Dhorn knowing anything is even gone. No one else can do that for you, not even the senior most master thief that Family has. Only me. So I'd take what I'm willing to give you and be happy about it."
The look on his face was incredulous. "Who are you to scam the scam artist?"
Her smile said it all. "Face it. You know I'm right. I'm the right person for the job, the only person for the job. That's who I am."
He grumbled under his breath. She had him and he knew it. And furthermore, she knew he knew she had him. "You drive a hard bargain, girlie. Forty thousand and the item I want from the vault."
"It's a statue about oh this big...," he held his hands about a foot wide, "...and about a foot tall of a voluptuous woman. In her open cupped palms is a perfectly faceted flawless jewel. That's the item I want. Here take this."
He handed her a piece of black cloth. "What's this?" she looked it over.
Shiloh unfolded it, allowing it to expand completely. She tossed it to the floor, watching it open into a hole ten feet wide by ten feet deep. "What is it?"
"It's an extra-dimensional space known as a portable hole. That will allow you to empty the contents of that vault without problem or worry. Consider it a gift."
"Thank you, Dalino. It'll take me a while to get in and out, but I'll return as quickly as I can with your statue," she flashed a wide smile at him then reached into her bag of holding and pulled out the needed coinage.
"One word of advice, never put the portable hole into that magic bag or the magic bag into the portable hole. You might cause the end of the world as we know it by tearing a hole in the Astral Plane."
Her brow furrowed. "I'll remember that." Then she turned away from him and began packing her newly purchased items into the bag. "Well, Rhys, are you up for a jaunt into the castle?"
He shook his head, "No, Shiloh, this is all you. I'll stay here with Shanna, keep her company. Perhaps teach her to play dice."
Shiloh nodded and gave them both a big hug and kiss, then she was on her way.
Crossing the sewers took a little more than an hour before she reached the tunnel that would lead her up into the bowels of what was once her home. She knew exactly how to get to the vaults and knew the danger she faced. She knew she could've returned to her apartment to pick up the suit of Dhorn armor she'd stolen from the soldier she had killed, but that would've taken even more time. She wanted to get this over with and back to her business of getting out of Betancuria for a while. She greatly needed a break and a change of scenery. And she needed to convince herself that she didn't need Vico. She knew that was her greatest obstacle.
Keeping to the shadows, which weren't all that hard in the dark cellar corridors of the castle, she moved as quickly as she could manage without making much noise. She knew she'd have to go up to her father's state rooms in the north tower then find the secret door which would lead to a spiral staircase that she could make her way down to the vaults far below the dungeons. She knew there was also another concealed door that would take her from the spiral stairs into the very vault in question; allowing her to bypass the guards she figured had to be guarding it.