Dragon (S)Layers Ch. 11: Way ForwardbyT_Silverwolf©
City of Flames – 4
In the 5 minutes between giving the guards the slip by ducking into the burned out remains of a pub and collapsing on the floor from blood loss, Sarah had managed to come up with a plan the likes of which would have pleased the Inventor Himself.
It was masterful, devious by design and layered with complex simplicity the likes of which was normally reserved for the most well trained spymaster. But laying there on the floor, staring up at the ceiling through half lidded eyes as Keiter mumbled a healing chant in that strange draconic hiss of his, she had forgotten it.
All of it.
Karma, she decided, was an absolute bitch.
She had her wits about her enough to know that she had forgotten what the details were, but she remembered that it involved her house and stealing a cart. Getting her papers sneaking out of the city under cover of night-- because, after all, that's when all great escapes were made. At the fringes of her consciousness she tried to articulate this to the rest of the group but all that came out was a slur of empty syllables.
"What the hell do rolling papers have to do with anything?" A young man was saying. Some higher pitched woman-- probably an elf, the pointy eared kind-- answered him. "Oh. Her papers? What, is she some kind of a city official?" He barked a soft, disbelieving laugh and stepped into the edge of Sarah's vision.
She was tired. Too tired to really respond, but she made her best attempt at a lewd gesture.
"Feisty, too." He knelt down beside her with a surreptitious glance towards the kobold. His brow perked ever so slightly, as though he wasn't quite sure whether or not to trust Keiter. Not unusual, considering his racial type, really. In fact it was probably a miracle the stupid paladin hadn't smited him already.
Sarah braced her hand against the ashen floorboards and tried to push up, fell back with a thud and tried again. She needed to protect him. She needed to get out of here--
She needed to lay the hell down and relax.
"Easy, easy," the young man touched her shoulder. "They won't find us down here." He glanced over his shoulder. "Would you keep an eye on the door, miss? She's in no shape to travel."
Keiter inhaled deeply, sliding back on the balls of his feet until his blood stained robe was outlining his small frame, a sign Sarah had come to know meant he was having a hard time standing. "She'll be fine," he barely choked out before he slumped down to sit cross legged.
"And what's your story?" The young man-- the paladin-- delicately reached over to touch Sarah's wounded shoulder. He peeled back the blood sticky blouse from her shoulder and, seemingly content that the magic had done the job closing the wound, slid it back into position.
Keiter braced his little claws on Sarah's shoulder in a comforting gesture. She tried to smile, to thank him, but it just wouldn't come. She was too tired to do much of anything but lay there like a lump. The magic would take time to work, and in the meantime that meant everyone was at the mercy of the damn paladin and the inevitably stupid questions he was going to ask. Sarah gritted her teeth, trying to brace her hand again.
"Hey, relax. . . We're fine for now." The paladin muttered. "So tell me, what's going on?"
Keiter opened his muzzle a little and Sarah grabbed his hand. They made eye contact and she shook her head. "It's fine, my friend." He whispered. "Forgive her, she has a distrust for men with weapons bigger than her own." He tried for a smile but without the facial features to really pull it off, it looked more like he was about to eat something.
The paladin looked down at Sarah for a moment and then back up at her healer. "I'm sure. . . So what's really going on here?"
"I was wondering the same thing. They came into our temple and--"
"You're a Kobold, what do you expect?"
"I am a priest!" He snapped with righteous anger. "A temple is the sacred place of the gods, not a-- a battlefield!" The short creature was on his feet in the blink of an eye, half leaning over Sarah protectively and half in anger. A deep rumbling bass reverberated in his throat even as the paladin got to his own feet. He had his sword out and pointing at Keiter so fast Sarah could barely register the movement. Instead of backing down, though, Keiter looked the idiot in the eyes with the tip of the blade touching his muzzle.
Neither of them gave an inch.
"Child--" Sarah groaned as she reached for the blade. "--ren. Not over the wounded. . ."
"Sarah, no!" The elf started to object until Sarah waved her off.
She laid there as the center of attention for several beats before she managed to rally her voice. The soothing waves of curative magic were finally beginning to take effect and her faculties were slowly returning, enough that she could force herself to half sit up. "If you're going to fight, take it outside. . . I, for one, am in no mood to listen to it." She slumped back. "You, paladin, sit down over there."
He looked about to complain but when she wrapped her hand around the blade he clenched his teeth. Spilling blood of the innocent, even on accident, wasn't going to be a charge he'd want to answer for. After a second of considering his position he withdrew and took a spot on the burnt out step leading to the bar area.
For all his strength and his sword-- which was quite well made from what Sarah could tell-- he was still a kid and, more than that, he knew his place when adults were talking. It served him right. Ruining her blouse with soot and taking her pistol? Humility was the least he deserved. Sarah took her satisfaction from that even as she rolled over and tried to get her bearings.
"The situation," Sarah managed as she sat up on her knees. "is that those men work for a dragon. . ."
"So you say--"
"It's frightfully rude to interrupt." She turned to him. "This dragon has a desire to kill me, and I'm not prepared to die." They locked gazes. "This is Keiter, that's Tessarie. . . Friends." She emphasized the word as though she were talking to a toddler. She may as well have been-- he was a paladin after all. "Now, those men work for him-- or were hired by him. I don't know which. The guard? No idea, but I suspect it was something orchestrated by the man with the scars."
"Vestrin," the young man supplied.
He nodded. For a moment he didn't look about ready to expound on that until Sarah motioned for him to go on. "I heard one of the knights refer to him as Vestrin. There was some kind of bad blood but the knights weren't going to bring him in 'this time'. They had bigger problems, apparently."
Sarah digested that for a moment, frowning. "Like me? I should feel honored to have gained such favor with the upper class." She braced her hands on her thighs to compose herself. The paladin glanced at them just briefly and turned away. She had to smile. Ah, kids. Paragon of virtue indeed. "Now then, it would seem we've a choice to make dear boy."
Sarah cut him off. "Remember what I said about interrupting? Now, the choice is simple-- and all of you have to make it for yourselves. You can come with me, or we can part ways. . ." When no one made a move to answer her, she pushed up and tried to stand, wobbling slightly. "I'll help you get out of the city, but from there, you're on your own."
"Just like that?" Tessarie looked at her with a frown.
"Dear, I'm much too tired and too old for platitudes. You're not likely to have been implicated in anything, your freedom is assured." She wandered over to the bar, looking around the room for anything useful.
McDowel's had been burned down weeks ago by some anti-orc blood group hat set fire to his business and killed him before they took turns humiliating his human wife before hoisting her up next to his corpse. Of course, some of the demi-human groups raised a brow, but none of them seemed willing to endanger whatever quiet piece of the city they'd carved out for themselves. Now all that remained was a burned out husk of what used to be her favorite bar.
The fact that his wife was was gorgeous didn't hurt, either. It figured, the one refuge she had from the city she loathed would serve as a hide out on the night she was going to leave. Sarah traced a finger on the bar for a moment. No one had spoken up, so she looked to them. "This is what we're going to do, then."
The room was so quiet she could hear the creaking of the support trusses straining to hold up the second floor. "We're going to get to my home, it's not far, perhaps a couple of hundred feet down the road, and we'll get my equipment. Then we're going to s--" she eyed the young man who was looking at her dubiously. "Procure transportation. The good paladin is going to act as my bodyguard and carriage driver-- think you can manage that?"
"You're making a lot of assumptions, here. You've yet to convince me that they aren't after you for legitimate reasons. . ." As an afterthought, he added. "And your, ah, 'grinding' against me in the alley? What was that about?"
"I don't seem to remember you being too quick to pull away-- in fact, I seem to remember a certain lump pressing against my back." When he blushed and looked away she smirked. "I'm not here to convince you of anything, dear boy. The evidence speaks for itself-- I've done nothing warranting arrest, nor will I let my friends be killed so they can take what they want. Now, are you going to join us or not?"
He stared at her. That long, hard stare of someone weighing out every possible variable, not knowing which he should give preference to. She sauntered over to him, pushing him down when he tried to rise. With his face right at her waist level, she ran her hand through his hair and planted a booted foot beside him.
"I'm willing to take no for an answer."
"You're manipulative." He said softly.
"You're delusional." She smiled lightly. "I can be many things. . ."
He looked up at her, trying to stem the blush growing across his cheeks. It was cute in a way. To see that young, strong face lit by the fires of a passion he knew he couldn't indulge? Oh yes, paladins were so easy to manipulate. "Can you be honest?"
Sarah leaned in to whisper in his ear. He shuddered softly. As her hand came up to cup his neck, she could feel him tense-- this was new territory to him. Good. "Let me tell you something, young man. Unless you're going to call me a liar to my face," she blew the words across his earlobe in a sultry purr. "I don't appreciate the implication."
She held that pose for a moment longer. What did she really want to do with him? He was a paladin for gods' sake. What could he possibly do that the three of them couldn't handle? Oh, but when he looked up at her, those bright eyes fixed her with a burning inner fire. That look of the young too ambitious to know that what they were agreeing to was probably suicide.
"Well, then. . ." She brushed his lips with her thumb and smiled slightly. "Apology accepted."
"When do we leave?"
Maybe she was wrong about him. "Tonight. Let's get down into the cellar before a wandering patrol finds us."