Scoundrel's Answer Ch. 04byMetal_Slime©
As he crept through hallways that were familiar and strange all at once, Alan couldn't shake the sense of foreboding which had his heart racing. There was no explaining it, he hadn't felt like this since creeping into that dragon's lair so long ago. He couldn't remember what had transpired when they broke into the guild house, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. He knew she was in the room before him. He was certain of it.
Alan's footsteps were dead silent as he eased his lean form up toward the ornate oaken door. The pounding of his heart nearly drowned out the sounds he so dreaded to hear, but not quite. No, there was just enough getting through the muffled door and his racing pulse to torment him. The rhythmic creak of a bed shifting under the movements of those upon it, the slick slap of flesh against flesh, but perhaps worst of all was something he was all too familiar with. Soft and beautiful, there were those sounds Elizabeth made when she was truly enjoying herself. Whimpered moans, wanting little cries, gasps at a particularly solid thrust, but none sounded forced. None sounded frightened.
His hand darted forth to try the handle, but it was no use. An ominously solid lock kept the door tight. Sweat beaded on the old thief's brow as he gazed down at the yawning keyhole, but then he shook his head as if to clear it. Since when had a lock of any sort proved a barrier to him for very long at all? His toolkit was soon unrolled upon the ground, and he fell easily to one knee. Gathering a few picks from the loops of the leather wrapping, he turned to the lock. Alan froze at what he saw there.
The already overlarge keyhole yawned wider, as if inviting his gaze to linger on the scene framed within its darkness. Beyond the door, within the room, a glimpse of his wife was visible. She rode astride a form he couldn't see, save for a man's hands resting above the swells of her hips. Her flat belly undulated as she rolled her hips, rising and falling with a quick rhythm. Her long blonde hair lay in unkempt tangles down her slender back, bouncing and swaying with every rock of her hips. That pale, pristine flesh glistened with perspiration, lamplight within the room reflected off of her form from every angle. And yet he couldn't see her face no matter how he tried to angle his view through the keyhole.
It was surreal to watch. She definitely didn't seem forced. Then, as if she sensed his gaze, Elizabeth half turned, still straddling the man beneath her. Those firm, pert breasts of hers were thrust up by the arch of her back, and she lifted delicate hands to stroke over their swells, teasing long nails over the peaks of her nipples. Her wedding ring glittered in the light on one hand, the only decoration she wore. Those hands slipped down further, caressing over her own body, over the flat of her belly, and then further. One hand moved to grasp one wrist of the man she rode, and as her bucking rhythm gradually sped, she guided his hand up along her body, toward one breast. Her other slipped down between her slick thighs, disappearing from Alan's view.
"Oh! Mmh, Harder, oh yes!" Her clear, ecstatic voice snapped Alan out of his reverie. Her cries were punctuated by heaving breaths and soft gasps, and provided a distracting refrain as he set to work.
The lock yielded but slowly. It was torturous, having to hear her quite clearly willing cries, having to watch what glimpses were offered as he worked the lock. Such a device should have been done in seconds, but it seemed fiendishly resistant. At the same time the lock defied his attempts to pick it, it seemed to offer a clearer view around his tools at the scene within. The way her hair clung to her sweat slicked body, the way her breasts heaved and bounced with the increasing fervor with which the man beneath her thrust into every motion. The way her tiny hand covered the other man's larger one, and guided it up to grip one breast. Her nipples jutted forth, hard and peaked, her back arched further to offer herself to the man's grasp.
With a satisfying clunk, the lock came loose. The door swung open into the lush room beyond just in time for Alan to see his wife's head cast back. Her eyes were shut, her lush lips parted in a sharp cry. He rose to his feet as Elizabeth's body quaked with release. That sight previously reserved for him alone was now the shared experience of himself, the man on the bed, and another dark haired fellow who approached her from the opposite side of the bed. As she began to go limp, the new man wrapped his arms about her, keeping her lovely form upright.
"Lizzy!" Alan couldn't hide the despair in his voice. He stepped into the room, hands trembling with rage. "What have they done to you?"
"What do you mean, what have they done to me? What does it look like?" Her voice was teasing with laughter, and bore a cruel edge to it. "What, you think I didn't know? I saw you, Alan. I saw you playing with your little girl friends while I was here suffering. They showed me, and you know what?" Her arms lifted to circle the neck of the man behind her, while her hips continued to gently twitch against the one still buried in her body. "I decided I didn't have to suffer."
Alan grew pale at her words. "What? No, no Lizzy, it wasn't like that." But what was it like? His brow furrowed as tears threatened. When the old rogue saw the dark haired man kiss his wife's neck, he reached for his sword, only to find the scabbard empty. His eyes widened and he stared down at where the missing weapon should be, only to have his attention brought back up to his wife's laughter.
"Oh Alan, Alan. I know what I saw. But it's alright. Just keep playing with your toy girls and take your time rescuing me. I'll just be right here, having fun."
The words were in her voice, true, but he could never remember the cruelty and malice he heard in her words. Even when she was at her angriest, it was never like this. And yet when Elizabeth leaned up to capture the lips of the man behind her with her own, Alan clenched his fists and tried to step forward. Tried, because a soft, velvet gloved hand gripped his shoulder with all of the force of an armorer's vice. It pulled him back, even as Elizabeth began to move again.
She deepened the kiss, arched to wandering hands, and once more her hips began to rock, purposefully, insatiably. A low, wanton moan rose from her chest, and then the door slammed shut before him again. Confused, Alan stared at the wood, and then a voice, grating but vaguely familiar sounded from behind him.
"Tell me, Alan, what does it feel like to watch the one you love with another?"
The old rogue was bereft of his usual calm exterior. Torn with heartbreak and rage, he whirled upon the one behind him, only to stare in shock. Those lush red curls and burning blue eyes he'd recognize anywhere, even after so many years gone to dust. She was pretty enough, but not the devastating beauty of Daphne, nor the sweet nobility of his wife. Black robes draped over smooth, freckled skin and a lean figure. That velvet gloved hand remained at his shoulder, but in her other hand she clutched the Nightmare Orb, a glistening black sphere of polished obsidian mounted on a twisted, silver claw shaped handle. It was thought destroyed years ago, but then again, so was the woman who held it now.
"Miena... but, how...?"
"Answer my question, Alan," There was no amusement in her tone, her voice demanded his answer as surely as those glistening, black painted lips did. They seemed to draw his attention from her face, from the rest of the scene about him, until he felt he could fall right into their wet, welcoming warmth. "How does it feel to watch the one you love with another?"
Alan's brows furrowed, his heart raced and pounded until it felt as if it would burst from his chest. "How... How do you think it feels? Why don't you help her? How do you even know her? You died before I even met her!"
"I don't know, Alan." There was laughter in his old companion's voice this time. "Why don't you tell me? It's your dream after all."
"Dream? But I--"
He started awake in a dark room, drenched in sweat. His heart still pounded, and he felt as if he'd fallen down a flight of stairs. Alan cast his gaze about the room, staring into the dark. There was the outline of the bed, the simple desk, a few thin cracks of light shone through the shuttered windows. It was his room at the Reaver's Rest.
For a long while the old rogue sat in the darkness, trying to make sense of his thoughts. It was only the gentle knock at his door that eventually roused him from his brooding.
"Sir Tinsley," Charity's voice sounded almost timid, "Master Steelwright has arrived."
The news brought a smile to Alan's face. He hadn't seen the dwarf in years. "Thank you, Charity. And I told you, you can just call me Alan."
"That wouldn't be proper, Sir," the strain in her voice was evident even through the barrier of the door.
Alan rose and moved across the room, tugging his pants on as he did. With his shirt still unlaced, he opened the door a crack, and peered out at Charity. As beautiful as ever, she simply stood there, clad in her no nonsense white robes, gazing up to him expectantly.
"Look, about last night," he finally ventured.
"Oh it is quite alright, Sir Tinsley. I understand you were the one being attacked. Violence couldn't be avoided. After seeing to the Count's wounds, a few of us went out to speak with the guard and tend to those who could be saved."
"That's not what I was talking about, Charity, I --" He stopped himself cold in mid sentence, and a sense of dread settled in the pit of his stomach. "That must have taken a while."
"Yes Sir Tinsley, we didn't finish up for hours," The priestess's brow worried as she gazed up to him, and a soft hand lifted to press to his forehead. "Are you well, Sir Tinsley? You look troubled."
"I am fine, Charity," Alan certainly didn't feel it, though. "And after the guard...?"
"Count Varonne talked to them and explained the situation, so after we stabilized a few of the ruffians who had been involved, I helped escort the dead to the temple for their preparations. Why?"
The concern that edged into her voice tugged at Alan's heart, but more than that, he felt he was losing his mind. If it wasn't her he had been with the previous night, who was it? And it wasn't something he could just come out and ask anyone about. 'Oh I'm sorry, did anyone by chance see me cheating on my kidnapped wife last night with an innocent priestess?' It wouldn't go over well at all.
"It's not important, Charity. I'll be down in a few minutes."
He forced a smile that he just didn't feel, and with a nod Charity turned and made her way away. Alan watched her go for a moment longer, then shut the door. That sense of fear from the dream was back in full force, but this time it was far from some night phantasm. This was a tangible event that posed a direct threat, and he had no idea what was going on.
It didn't take long for Alan to properly dress and head down into the commons. Still, by the time he got there, Count Varonne was already raising a mug in toast to old friends. It was already well past noon, but a few of the more regular younger members of the company were still about, marveling at being in the presence of two of the founders. It was three when Alan joined them, for sitting at the table a few seats down from Varonne was the dwarflord, Master Garthur Steelwright: priest of the earthen father, hero of his clan, and charter member of the Reavers of Aethwin.
He was almost exactly as Alan remembered him. Dwarves aged slower than humans, although not quite as timelessly as elves, so there were a few extra wrinkles here and there, a few extra streaks of gray in that dark hair and beard. With a broad nose and twinkling eyes, Steelwright had a sort of ready smile and quick wit that was far from the norm for his taciturn race. Short and squat, he was clad in a white tunic and dark trousers, though his trusty hammer Jhernyr was at his side as usual. Of course, hanging from a chain, the iron disc symbol of the earthen father rested just over his chest.
The dwarf was flanked by two barmaids, and he had one meaty arm wrapped about one of the girls' shoulders. In his other hand, he gripped a tankard. A tankard that was raised in salute when Garthur caught sight of Alan. A broad grin split his bearded face like a chasm opening in stone.
"Alan my boy! Ho there! I heard you were having woman problems."
Garthur's jovial tone brought a faint frown to Alan's features, and the dwarflord immediately sobered up, "Sorry boy, I just got in. I didn't even know you had a wife, but Vick here tells me you two hit it off good? So what's the situation?"
Alan sighed heavily and sat down across from Garthur and Vick. He proceeded to tell the whole tale to the dwarf, who just nodded grimly where appropriate. Perhaps not the whole tale, for the old rogue certainly didn't mention the previous night's happenings with the one he thought was Charity, but everything else was laid out plain as he could manage. The assault on his estate, the wounding of his footman, the visions he'd seen using the scroll, and so forth up to the attack outside of the Reaver's Rest just the previous night.
After taking it all in, the dwarflord cast his gaze off into the distance. "It seems like you're nothing but trouble boy, just as I remembered."
"Yeah, sorry for being such a draw for such things."
"Ach, no worries boy, we'll get you straightened out soon enough."
It was all Alan could do to keep from smiling. Garthur could always be counted on, and the constant call to his 'youth' was excusable. The dwarflord was still more than four times his age after all.
"There's more," Vick's words startled Alan, but the Count just nodded to both, "Charity and some of my guards were able to pull a few of the fellows from last night from the brink. I was able to question them with Daphne."
The mention of the elven woman was enough to cause Garthur to release the barmaid he'd been holding. The dwarf leaned forward in his seat, and turned a dour gaze at both men. "You're still consorting with that damned parasite?"
Vick spread his hands helplessly, "I don't like it any more than you, old friend, but as Alan here pointed out, we do need every bit of help we can on this. And she is good at what she does."
This brought a snort from Garthur, and Alan offered an apologetic smile. "It's my fault, I thought she would be useful, and she proved herself well in the ambush last night."
When the dwarf just waved one stubby hand dismissively, Vick continued, "Yes well, after some, ahem, pointed questioning, we were able to determine that Devron did indeed order both the attack and the kidnapping."
Alan winced visibly at the revelation, but said nothing.
"Anyway, not only has he been behind a few other such incidents recently, he seems to have shaken up the ranks of the guild. Any who objected to what direction he was taking them in was either dismissed or made to disappear."
A rage grew in Alan's chest. He'd still had friends in the guild. Further, Devron had been his hand picked successor. "When did he fall so far?"
"It's hard to say, but one of the fellows did admit it all seemed to start after a certain client visited. Ever since then, Devron has been treating the Guild like the personal army of this person. We weren't able to get much out of anyone regarding the identity of this client, only that they kept themselves cloaked and hidden, and Devron referred to them as The Black Star."
As the Count mentioned that name, a soft squeak sounded from near the far corner of the commons. All eyes turned toward the diminutive figure of Faringalia. The gnome was clad in rather gaudily colored robes as usual, her hair tied up in a pair of pigtails, bound around to stand fully three inches higher than her head, before that shock of fiery hair just seemed to explode all over. The extravagant hairstyle did little to make her actually appear taller.
"I- well, it's just that I've heard that name before..." Immediately Faringalia began to babble on about her encounters. Over the last few years, some of the troubles the Reavers had been called upon to intervene in had pointed to a common mastermind, operating toward some unknown goal through bands of criminals, monstrous humanoids, and pockets of undead. The name of The Black Star had come up more than a few times.
As she went on, Count Varonne's face turned redder and redder. Finally he exploded, "Why has no one informed me?! Some growing threat against my own lands, and my former adventuring company can't even be bothered to let me know?"
The gnome woman nearly jumped out of her skin, cowering under the corpulent count's wrath, "B-but Lord Varonne, we did! We notified your men several times."
Alan and Garthur both turned at once, ready to restrain Vick's legendary temper, only to find the man taking his seat again. The expression on his face was one of heartbreak rather than anger. "My own men," he mumbled, "Betrayers..."
"Lord Varonne," Faringalia seemed to recover hesitantly. "It's possible that their minds could have been influenced without their knowledge. It's said that The Black Star can enter a man's dreams from afar, and perhaps even change their waking mind through the use of the Nightmare Orb."
Alan felt as if he had been kicked in the gut. Recalling his own earlier dreams, he looked across to his old companions. The two other men just gave each other a knowing look. The Nightmare Orb. Miena's last great treasure before her death. It had been one of the few items that had survived the destruction of her tower. The three had been present, along with their elven friend Windhawk when the Orb had been entombed in Miena's place. A fitting tribute, they thought, when they couldn't find enough of her ashes to bury.
Count Varonne was the first to speak, "Whoever this Black Star is, they threaten my lands, they are responsible for kidnapping Alan's wife, they have despoiled our friend's memorial. When we have put down Devron, we will find this person, and we will kill them." There was no question as to whether the other two were in accord, but there was no objection either.
"I'm in," Alan said simply enough, without hesitation.
The dwarflord stroked his beard, then clapped his hand on the table, "Aye, this Black Star crossed the wrong lot."
"Hey now, don't forget some of us new folk. If you're going after some sort of dark mastermind, you'll need my magic." The redheaded gnome scurried across the common room, only to clamber into one of the chairs there. It gave her enough height to allow her to clap both hands on the tabletop. She leaned forward with as much intensity as any of the older friends, committed to her new task.
"But first, " the Count began, only to be interrupted by a soft, sultry voice from above.
"But first we need to recover Alan's wife." Daphne stood there on the balcony above, by the very same railing outside of her room where Alan paused the night before. The elven woman looked even more well tanned than the prior day, though she remained wrapped in a long black cloak, with hood drawn. It clung to her figure like a cascade of black liquid. She squinted against the few beams of sunlight that penetrated the interior of the inn, although none came near to where she stood.
Her words were met with silence for a moment, then Vick and Garthur both turned to Alan.
"Sorry boy, of course we'll get your lady first. I look forward to meeting her."
The Count nodded after the Dwarflord's words, "Indeed. Lizzy first, then we make sure that Devron suffers the long, slow death he deserves. There'll be plenty time enough to go after this Black Star."