The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 24byLady_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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Sneaking through the tunnels gave Shiloh a chance to clear her head and focus on the task before her. She had to figure out where the duplicitous priest would keep such an item as the rod in question. She assumed somewhere he could keep an eye on it, since he was aware that it was in demand. She just hoped that he was not lying when he said he had one. Magical lore had never been one of her favorite subjects. She remembered half-heartedly listening to the wizened old man who had tried to teach her about it. And the old priest that had monotonously droned on and on about her immortal soul had been even worse. But from what she recalled they both had agreed that bringing someone back from the dead was indeed possible, if they were willing. It took incredibly powerful magic to do so, but it was possible. Knowing that, she assumed a temple would have access to such an item. Her plan revolved around it. Without that item, she had nothing... well, nothing but a whole lot of gold she'd stolen from the Dhorn.
A chuckle slipped from her throat. She wondered how many heads would roll when they discovered the money and the last accounting ledger was missing? Would the soldiers mount a revolt if they couldn't get paid? She was sure that Master Nathan would approve. She considered sharing a portion of the take with him. Perhaps then the rest of 'The Family' would see her as one of them and not the pretty little princess. A scoff passed her lips. Don't count on that happening any time soon, a voice in her head warned.
Once she reached the room Rhys had recuperated in, she crept through its darkened depths. She could tell that they had not discovered this secret chamber as of yet. Where a cheery fire once burned, a cold hearth remained. She made her way through the dark rooms, noting that they seemed to have been cleared out. Father Derthur must have known something was about to happen and had been able to spirit Rhys away. Master Nathan had said that Rhys was now working for him. She wondered how they had disguised the seven foot tall man. He had told her that she wouldn't recognize him.
She found the panel in the closet that led her to what had once been Father Derthur's office. She could easily tell that Father Kheldar had taken over this room. A massive altar stood along one wall. She didn't remember that being there before. This was definitely not to the Hooded One. A large shining greatsword hung along the wall above the altar. She sneaked over to it and examined the sword. She felt odd about touching it.
Quickly she searched the room, opening drawers and rifling through papers, but nothing gave her any clue to where the rod might be. As stealthily as possible, she left the office behind and made her way into the grand chapel. Father Kheldar was not in the room. It made her wonder where he was. It made her ever more cautious.
Leaving the grand hall behind, she headed to the first of three other doors. The door was locked. She quickly dispatched it and slipped inside the room. At first the sickly sweet smell assailed her and she gagged instantly. Holding her breath, she pulled a tindertwig and a torch, lighting it swiftly. She held the torch aloft, she viewed the room and gasped at the implements of torture before her. On the table before her was the body of a man, his arms stretched high above his head. At various places upon his body where knives stuck into the hilt. She guessed they had been put in at pressure points, places where they could extract the most pain.
She stepped closer to him, eyeing the handiwork done by the torturer. A mixture of awe and revulsion swept over her. She knew she should feel sorry for the poor man, but deep down she couldn't. Yet she knew she had to get out of there. She couldn't be caught here. She didn't want to end up on a similar table. Quickly she extinguished the torch and crept back out of the room, locking it behind her. Moving to the next door, she picked the lock and let herself in.
Before her were a set of stairs going downward. She quietly traversed them and found herself at another door. It surprised her that it was unlocked. Her brow furrowed. She stopped and listened, but was met with utter silence. Something didn't seem right. She knew it was be wise to stay hidden as much as possible and keep her wits about her.
She slid the door open wide enough to slip through and shut it behind her. The door hinges had to be well oiled, for no sound came from it what so ever. An eerie white light filtered up from a low altar resting back the rear of the circular room. It seemed warm and inviting, flooding her with instant delight. She headed to it and knelt down, examining the holy edifice before her.
Where the new priests aware of this place? Somehow she didn't think so, but couldn't be sure. She didn't feel the taint of malevolence in this particular chamber as she had in the rest of the temple. Some bastion of goodness still held sway here.
Though she knew it was wrong, she sucked in a deep breath and searched the altar. In a hidden compartment at the base, she pulled out a scroll and a long ornate rod. Small symbols were carved on each side, but she wasn't sure what they meant. She tucked both into her haversack, continuing her search.
On the back side she found an identical hidden slot and from within she pulled a small book and a finely crafted bejeweled blade. Stowing them away with her other finds, she moved away. And when further search of the room yielded nothing more than cobwebs, she exited it and headed back into the grand hall.
As she sneaked around the perimeter of the large chapel, she could hear stern voices coming from Father Kheldar's office. She had to know what was going on. Creeping over to the door, she slipped through the partially open portal and melted into the shadows. She crouched behind a flowery plant, listening intently to the priest and the three highly ranked Dhorn officers.
"And why would you think a grieving widow is suspicious?" One of the officers enquired.
"If you had seen her, you would understand. What grieving widow wears bright red? And she couldn't have been more than 18 years old, even with all the make-up on her face. Something just didn't sit right. She looked so damn familiar, too. I know I've seen her before."
"Did you ask for a name?" The second of the officers asked as he set his helm on the desk."
"Of course, do you think I arose to this position being stupid?" Kheldar retorted as he lifted a cigar to his lips and lit it.
"Lady Alcott, from Sargoza, but she wore the trappings of noblewoman from your country. Something is all wrong about this. I smell deception."
The third officer sighed. "Just what was she asking for? What did she wish to procure?"
Father Kheldar. "A very expensive item which in the wrong hands could have disastrous results. She sounded like she had the means to pay, though. It would be a great oversight to let some fool-headed female run amok with a rod capable of bringing the dead back to life. She could upset the delicate balances of nature. She could bring someone or something back to life that isn't meant to be."
"And did you explain that possibility to her?"
"Do you have such an item?"
"No, I didn't tell her that and of course the church of the Lord of War has such items. I had hoped to get my hands on the Lady's money and fob her off with a fake. She wouldn't have known the difference. And when she came back with a sob story about it not working, I could perhaps extract a little bit more from her." A maniacal grin crossed his face.
All three of the officers let out loud barking laughter. "And would you share what you extract with us, Kheldar?"
"But of course," he chuckled. "Jolan, my old friend, when have I not shared?"
An equally leering smirk split the face of the first Dhorn officer. "Where is the item in question?"
"In the vault. Did you think I'd leave it lying around?"
"Gods no, too many damn thieves," Jolan scoffed. "Garath, I think I hear something out in the chapel. Will you look into that? And Tolvin, here's the key to the interrogation room. See if you can get anything out of that sod what's useful. If he won't speak, start slicing off his fingers and toes. That just might loosen his tongue."
Shiloh watched as they left the room, the need for vengeance burning deep inside her. Not that she really gave a damn about the poor man, but what really stuck in her craw was their plan to dupe her. They'd never get the chance. If Kheldar thought she had fallen for his duplicity, then he was wrong. Dead wrong. And one day, he would pay dearly. She smiled as she considered bringing Vico back here with her after she had stolen the rod in question. The blackguard would surely enjoy taking out this foul priest. Or at least she hoped. Perhaps if she told him what the priest had wanted to do to her. She couldn't be sure that Vico would care one way or the other, but she knew she could find some way to convince him.
Once Garath and Tolvin had left the room and closed the door behind them, Kheldar nodded his head at Jolan. "Those two don't need in on what could become highly lucrative. Now, I interrogated Derthur myself. He told me many things before he died. I don't recall any deals with the nobility for magic items. So when the wench comes back tomorrow, here's what we'll do. We shall escort her into a private room where I'll ask to see the gems she told me she had in exchange for the rod. Of course, I'll up the price. Items of this nature are very hard to come by in times like these."
"And if she doesn't have enough?" Jolan leered.
"I'll suggest an exchange of services. I'll offer to perform the resurrection myself and forgo the wand for a similar fee. She'll be none the wiser. She need not know that a body is usually required for these things."
Pure rage ripped through Shiloh and she fought the urge to jump from her hiding spot and plunge her sword deep into their black hearts, forcing herself to calm down.
She only hope to find out how to get into the vault hinged on remaining hidden. Now was not the right time. Especially considering that the Dhorn officer had medals all over the breastplate of his ornate armor. He had to be fairly high ranked.
This was not her fight... not at the moment. She settled deeper into the shadows of the corner and continued to listen to their conversation. They droned on about various other things, smoking cigars and drinking brandy that she realized had come from the royal wine cellar, until her impatience nearly got the better of her. She had to find out where the vault was. She needed that rod. She knew there was nothing for it. She'd just have to wait it out. Closing her eyes, she sank into the corner as tightly as she could.
The sound of their chairs scraping on the stone floor brought her out of her reverie. She watched as they headed to the door and quickly moved to follow them. Keeping to the shadowed edges of the torch lit rooms, she squeezed through the shutting door and flattened herself against the pillar. They headed to the last door she hadn't yet tried. Kheldar pulled a set of keys from a pocket and opened it, allowing Jolan to enter ahead of him.
She dashed and tumbled through the doorway, seeking refuge in the shadowed interior of the dimly lit room. She breathed a sigh. Both men seemed oblivious to her presence. Though she doubted they would've noticed the sound of her faint movement over the hoarse screams of pain coming from within the other room. A part of her pitied the poor man, but she knew there was nothing she could do for him. Her focus had to remain on getting the rod. It became a single minded obsession. Nothing else mattered at this point. At the far end of the room was another door. The priest used his keys once again to open it. She followed behind them, moving in their shadows. They headed down a corridor that went to the north down a long hallway and then turned to the west. At the end was an iron door. From his pocket he pulled another key. She watched intently while he unlocked it and dropped the key back from where it came. Shiloh grinned, getting that one would be simple.
As the door swung open and the two unsuspecting men and their tag-along guest made their way into the room. Shelves lined the walls with a safe in the rear center.
Bingo! Ducking behind an armor stand, she made a mental list of the items within the room and smiled.
Father Kheldar worked the combination of the safe as Shiloh moved closer... close enough to watch his hands and hear the tumblers click. He pulled it open, and she nearly gasped at the inventory.
Stacks of trade bars and gold coins rested on the top three shelves while various sized containers sat on the lower three. From one of the lower shelves, he pulled a cylindrical rod that was about a foot long made of carved white ash and handed it to Jolan. "I'm sure the powers that be wouldn't want a feather-brained female running around with one of these. If the peasants knew that their dead could be reanimated and brought back to life just by use of one of these, then we of the priesthood wouldn't be needed. And we can't have that."
A loud husky laugh slipped passed Jolan's lips. "These peasants in this gods forsaken city will learn to respect their betters. There are those within the Emperor's inner circle that want this place settled with our families. They feel it would be better if the women in this city are put in their place, subjugating them to the will of the men. This city is to become part of the Empire."
"As it should be," the priest smirked with a superior air about him. "Coming here has been quite profitable."
Jolan let loose another hearty laugh. "Quite so. Who would have thought that old miserly bastard had so much gold hidden in the castle?"
"Did the riches get shipped back to the Emperor?" Kheldar asked, lifting one eyebrow.
"Most of it has been, from what I have heard. Shipments of it happen at varying intervals. I heard that there is another going out at the end of the week. It's bound for a rendezvous point at some island. That's all I know." Jolan shrugged. "Damn shame that all of it must go to the Emperor."
"I wouldn't mind getting my hands on some of it," the priest chuckled as he took the rod from Jolan's hand and set it back on the shelf.
"You should let me take that rod with me. Think about it." The officer offered. "Perhaps it would be better when the price negotiations happen. The young widow could be told we do not have one at this time due to the cost of such an item. We could charge more and keep her coming back. Think of how profitable that could be and I would be more than willing to help you."
A greedy look came across the face of the priest. He licked his lips salaciously, his beady eyes going dark with desire. "You very well might be right, my friend. Dealing with her must be done delicately, though. We'll reel her in nice and slowly and by the time she's in that deep, they'll be no way out. She will give up those diamonds and everything else I can extract from her pretty hide. And she will be none the wiser when I finally hand her over a cleverly modeled imitation."
Jolan accepted the rod that Father Kheldar handed him, stowing inside the sheath of his ornate longsword. "Now, shall we see to that prisoner of yours? Have you managed to find out from him any information on those spies from Illeria?"
"He'll talk, if he knows what is good for him. And if he doesn't I shall make arrangements to have him moved to the dungeon beneath the Headquarters building. One way or another, he will tell everything. It could lead to a greater discovery. There are many people in this city who know who handles the crime organization from the inside out. We mean to find out everything." Kheldar stated, the look of lust now replaced with one of pure evil as he closed the safe and twirled the knob. "Shall we?"
Shiloh crept closer, stepping into his shadow and following closely behind. She waited until he locked the door to the vault and the outer room as well before filching both sets of keys from him. She sank into the shadows and waited until they made their way to the door of the torture chamber. Skulking up behind the Dhorn officer she plucked the rod from him. She nearly gasped and gave herself away as the door opened wide and she caught a glimpse of the man on the table. His wounds had multiplied, only bloody stumps remaining where fingers and toes had once been. His piercing scream split the air as his tormentor slowly sliced a gash in his upper thigh.
Scrambling into the shadow behind the door, she pressed herself against the wall. That had been close, too close. Several long seconds passed before she slowly exhaled the breath she had been holding. She had been fortunate that the man screamed and that no one else was present in the grand hall.
She waited a few minutes. She had to gather her wits about her. After inhaling several deep breaths, she dashed across the grand hall, heading for the vault. She planned on stealing everything that she could fit in her haversack and if she needed it, hopefully garner Bastian's help in getting out of there uncaught.
As swiftly and as quietly as she could muster, she headed back to the vault, using the purloined keys to gain entry. After opening her haversack, she headed to the safe and knelt before it. She was pretty sure she had seen the numbers the priest had used for the combination. Smiled as she spun the dial left to 4, right to 24 and back left again to 37. Elation soared through her as she pulled on the heavy handle and the door of the massive iron edifice swung open. Time to loot, she nearly giggled with glee. Leaving behind the heavy trade bars, she scooped the coinage into her sack. Once it was all gone, she began picking up various magic items and shoving them in on top of the gold. Potion vials, scrolls, rings, amulets and folded cloaks made their way into the overloaded haversack. Pulling out a thick woven cloak, she examined the deep plum color of it. Its silkiness felt good against her skin. She immediately settled it into place upon her shoulders and clasped it at her throat. She liked the way it felt, enveloping her body softly. It was as if it had conformed itself around her, becoming a second skin.
Reaching back into the safe, she grabbed a few more interesting items and shut it behind her and left the room. She locked the door behind her and crept all the way out to the grand hall. As she shut the outer door, a hand snaked out to grab her.
"Little thief, what do we have here?" The voice of the priest smacked of smugness. He yanked her to her feet and looked deeply into her eyes. "If it isn't our sweet young widow, Lady Alcott. What ever shall I do with you now?"
A squeak came from her mouth and she struggled to get loose, but his hold on her was too strong. His arm felt like a tight band spanning her waist.
"You have nothing to say for yourself. Breaking into the temple of the Lord of War, stealing from me and most of all, lying to me about your identity. We intend to find out why. My fellow Dhorn have a comfortable cell with your name on it." His voice purred in her ear as his hands caressed her nubile form.
Shiloh struggled against him, her arms and legs now frantically flailing about. She bucked her body, ramming her bottom into his groin, and wiggled to get free. She sank her hands into his thick hair and gripped chucks of it, pulling with all her might. A slight mutter of pain slipped passed his lips. She kicked and yanked, her feet coming in contact with his shins and knees, but Kheldar retained his hold on her.