The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 22byLady_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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Welcome to the Family
Seven days gone found Shiloh standing before a familiar place. She was home, at The Bear Pit. She slowed for a moment to take in the sight of the place that had been her whole life for the many months since her world was turned upside down. She pushed the door open and entered through the front door. Several of the waitresses stopped what they were doing long enough to rush to her side and bestow upon her many fond embraces.
"I am so happy you have returned and that you are well. We were so worried about you, Shiloh. And I believe there is someone upstairs that is beside herself in concern over what has become of you," Mary winked at Shiloh.
"Oh! Yes, her too, but Nicca was whom I meant," the dark haired waitress bubbled before resuming her serving duties.
"What about Caron, Mary? Is he here as well? I need to see him. I treated him quite poorly and have much to make up for."
A frown crossed Mary's face. "I haven't seen Caron in over a week. Trissa is beside herself over that. She is convinced that he is with you."
"He has definitely not been with me," Shiloh shook her head, pondering their last meeting. She had been overly harsh with him, almost taunting him with her relationship with Vico.
Mary shrugged at her. "Well, I have work to do." She went about her business.
Shiloh hustled up the stairs to the kitchen level. She turned to Nelina. "Hey, when was the last time you saw Caron?"
"Shiloh! Where have you been?" Nelina exclaimed then ran over to the doorway leading to Chella's domain. "Good news! Shiloh's back!"
"No, Nelina," she protested as Chella, Nicca, Wally, Silia, Celia and Denny spilled out of the room and mobbed her. She found herself caught up in several crushing embraces and geysers of joyous tears before she managed to break away. The cries of relief and the squeals of happiness filled the hallway. It was Chella that held her the longest. "You're squashing me, Chella."
Chella released her and wiped away a few of her tears. "I was so worried about you. I begged Nathan to send Vico or someone after you, but he claimed it wasn't necessary. He said he would wait a few more days. He said it was your choice to make. But I prayed you would come back to me and you have. You look so thin. Have you not eaten?"
"I was injured by bandits and a ranger nursed me back to health. I am fine now, but it was touch and go for a few tense moments."
"Bandits, mercy! If it's not one thing harming you, it's another. I must really speak to Master Nathan. He needs to keep you out of danger's way." Chella huffed as she coddled Shiloh.
"Chella, I could have avoided the bandits, but I chose not to. They had taken one of the local rangers' captive. I had to free him. It turned into a bit of a bloodbath after that. I was shot by a poisoned arrow and the ranger took care of me. The ranger is very valiant and gallant and an incredibly fine man. I think you would approve of him."
Chella cocked an eyebrow at Shiloh. "We shall talk about it, young lady."
Shiloh shook her head as Nicca wrapped her arms around her, hugging her tightly. The teenager's teary-eyed face beamed at her. "I have so missed you, Shiloh. I knew you wouldn't leave me here all alone. And guess what, Uncle Rhys is all better. He came by to see me incognito. That means in secret. It was kind of exciting!"
"I bet it was, my little dumpling." Shiloh smiled widely. "Tell you what, if you let me go upstairs to speak to the big boss man, then I shall come back afterwards and I'll take you to the bakery for a slice of your favorite pie. Deal?"
"Yes!" Nicca exclaimed and relinquished her death lock hug on her friend. Chella herded everyone else back into the kitchen. The matronly woman was overjoyed to see Shiloh again, but she knew Shiloh had other obligations at this moment and she knew that she'd have plenty of time to spend with Shiloh once Master Nathan fully welcomed her into the organization.
With a smile, Shiloh turned back to Nelina. "Where is Caron? Has he been here today?"
Nelina cocked an eyebrow at her. "Shiloh, Caron hasn't been here since he punched his fist through that wall. That's been over a week now. You really upset him. Trissa hasn't even seen nor heard from him and let me tell you something else. She has been in one nasty foul mood ever since."
"Has Vico been here at all?"
"Nearly every day. My backside can barely handle any more of his nonsense. Tell ya the truth, he's not acting like himself either. He's more vulgar than usual. I don't know what the hell went on with you two, but the repercussions of it have affected a whole lot of people. Ah, I think I've said too much. You need to get your pretty bum moving upstairs. The boss does not like to be kept waiting," Nelina told her as she thumbed a motion at the stairs.
"Thank you." Shiloh made haste on her way up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Her long legs ate up the distance and soon she was striding confidently toward Warent and Wesh who stood guard outside of Master Nathan's office. Her eyes flicked over both of them rather appraisingly. This wasn't the stare of an appreciative woman and they all knew it.
"Look who's back," Wesh quipped at her as she passed between him and Warent. She threw a glare at him and continued on, acting as if they were both beneath her notice.
"Haughty fuckin' bitch," Warent muttered to Wesh, who guffawed loudly.
But Shiloh ignored the insult and kept walking. She made it into the inner office in six long strides. She cleared her throat and dropped a respectful curtsy before Nathan.
A smile split her face. "I have passed all my lessons!"
"I am glad you have returned, Shiloh. I had begun to wonder what became of you," Nathan replied as he looked up from his ledger. He closed it and set it aside. Standing up from the chair, he approached Shiloh. His expression was extremely neutral and not a hint of emotion shown in his emerald gaze.
"I would have figured you already knew what tragedy had befallen me. Being such a successful spymaster, I would have figured you had eyes and ears everywhere," she taunted him snidely, not being to hide her derision from him.
"I did have eyes and ears on the lookout for you, but it would seem that you killed them all...oh, all but one."
Shiloh gasped, "Your eyes and ears nearly killed me. If it weren't for the RANGER they had as a prisoner, I would be dead. Would that make you happy? If that was your goal, you failed. You should have sent Vico."
Nathan frowned at her. "Vico is too busy to be bothered. He is too valuable to play babysitter to a spoiled brat. And for the record, they were supposed to keep an eye on you. But they were trying to accomplish their own goals at the same time. A liability any way you look at it."
"I have found I have a knack for killing. I'm good at it, Master Nathan. I never would have thought it so," Shiloh flashed her evil grin at him.
He took note of it. "Have a seat, Shiloh. There is much I have been promising to explain to you. There is much you need to know. It started about twenty years ago. Your father had gone to war with, I don't remember who, and Betancuria was under siege. For the third time that year. Food was non existent. Thieves cut your throat just for the shoes you were wearing. Shops were being plundered. Your father didn't care. He was interested in wars, in territory, in power. He conquered when he could, and when things went wrong, he hid in his castle."
"I find that hard to believe, but you are not the only person who has said such things to me. Arto Benthur had similar things to say. Only he did not know exactly who he was speaking to." A sigh slipped from her lips. "It seems everything I've ever thought to be true is in truth a lie. I thought my father cared for this city."
"He did, as long as it produced soldiers for his army. But I don't blame him. In a way, it is good that things happened this way. You see, Shiloh, this all started before you were even born. I had this restaurant back then already. Just like Hatori had the tea shop, Igor his smithy, Frank the Thousand Steps. And we decided it was enough. We started hitting the local thugs. It was not difficult to find them. We set their hideouts on fire when they slept. We shot an arrow in their back when they plundered in the streets. We poisoned their wine when they drank in our taverns." Nathan continued on his monologue. "We were quite successful. They were gangs, unorganized, changing leaders daily. We on the other hand had a structure, a goal, and the support of the people. We got the upper hand. It was a smuggler named Drago who saw that the only way the thieves would stand a chance against us was to organize themselves as well. But the result would have been a war in the streets. So instead, he came to me."
"Can you make your point already?" Shiloh huffed, impatiently.
Nathan's glare at her took on an almost menacing quality. It was obvious to him that Shiloh thought she was above his wrath and he knew he must rectify the situation before she became even more belligerent with him. No one crossed the boss in such a manner. She may be the rightful heir to the throne of Betancuria, but she was not as untouchable as she would like to think. "I am getting there, Shiloh. You would be wise not to interrupt me anymore. Now as I was saying. The idea was very simple. Why fight each other when you can control the whole thing? So we formed the family. We took in every cutpurse, every shopkeeper, every whore, and every merchant. We made sure there was no more plundering in the streets. We made sure that stealing and shop lifting stayed at a certain limit. We also made sure that only we smuggled goods into and out of the city. Nobody sold something that we didn't want to be sold. People played by our rules. We never interfered with the military. We sure bribed a few soldiers, but we did not want to upset the authorities. Your father ruled the Castle, but the streets were ours. Things have been very good for us."
"Until my father picked a fight he had no hope of winning," Shiloh added as she remembered many of the conversations she had overheard between her father and his most trusted advisors. Her father became too greedy for his own good. He wanted to assume rule of Dhorn and expand Betancuria's wealth and his power base.
"Exactly. Things have become complicated now and very dangerous, especially for you." He turned his intense green gaze upon her fully. "And despite all the havoc you have wreaked upon us over the past several weeks, I feel the safest course for you is to join 'The Family.' You've shown a remarkable talent for the work we do."
"May I speak freely? For all your wondrous explanations, I still feel as if you've told me absolutely nothing. Cut the bullshit, what'll I be required to do?"
His emerald glare turned dark with restrained anger. He knew she was hell bent on antagonizing him, but wasn't sure what had brought it on. "Shiloh, you tempt too much. As for what you will have to do... that all depends on what is going on at the moment. And you may decline any jobs you do not feel comfortable with. However, I would prefer those be done without killing being involved. A simple 'no' will suffice."
The look on her face turned serious and thoughtful as she pondered her decision. She rubbed her chin as she met his gaze. "Tell me more."
"You'll also get your own apartment. I assume you'll be glad to be out of the kitchen."
"To have a private place of my very own will be very welcoming."
He cocked a brow at her. "Your decision, Shiloh?"
"I have no desire to leave this city and I assume that is my only option if I do not take you up on your offer. Therefore, I accept, on one condition."
"You seem to think you're calling the shots here, don't you?"
"I'm not that stupid. I wouldn't be half surprised that Vico isn't hiding in some dark corner, waiting to do me in if I were to tell you to stick your offer where the sun doesn't shine. I do accept as long as you rescind that ridiculous 'off limits' decree. I am old enough to make my own decisions and that includes who I do and do not sleep with. And honestly, I did NOT beg Vico to fuck me. He pursued me quite vigorously. He did everything he could to warn every other man off as well because he wanted me to himself. I've spent many a night in his bed in his private apartment in the sewers."
"He has told me everything and I'm surprised you kept it from me after the uproar you made after he raped you. I wouldn't have you killed if you decided not to accept my offer. I'd ask you to leave the city and never return as long as you live. You possess knowledge that might endanger us, should it fall in the wrong hands. I won't let you do that. Now that is only if you don't join us."
"Like I said, Master Nathan, I have no desire to leave this city. It is my home, so I do accept your offer."
A tiny ghost of a smile flickered across his lips. "Very well, Shiloh. Welcome to the family. As far as your apartment goes, we do have a vacant accommodation. The address is 2 Acorn Street, first floor. Right around the block. It's not a palace, but it's a start. It's yours from now on. Here's your key. If you do well in the family, you may earn better lodging."
"Perhaps one day I'll have clawed my way high enough to once again take up residence in the castle," she smirked wryly.
Nathan shook his head at her. "Talk to Alfons, Mando or Jacia about available jobs. You'll get your payment from them as well. Lodging is free, but you have to earn food, clothes and so on yourself."
"And what if I am recognized by my neighbors? I would prefer to not go through another incident like with the veterinarian."
"If it happens again, just let me know about it and I shall take care of it. The Family cares, Shiloh. We take care of our own."
"Thank you, Master Nathan."
He inclined his head at her. "I have one special task though. Those scumbags that have allied themselves with the Dhorn and are spying on us. It's a top priority to find out who they are. Or just where they are. If you find out anything come to me at once. This task is top priority."
"Isn't this the same task you had charged Caron with?" Shiloh asked as she weighed her apartment key in her hand. Something wasn't adding up. Caron hadn't been seen in over a week.
"Yes, it is the very same, but I have not heard a thing from Caron and before you explode like a fireball, listen to me. We've been searching for Caron and we've been unable to find him. You must succeed in this. The answers you uncover may well lead us to what has happened to him."
Shiloh nodded as her mind raced. "I will not fail you, Master Nathan." She curtsied one last time and took her leave of his office. She had to find Caron. Whatever his fate may be, he did not deserve it.
Cold chills ran down her spine. She knew time was of the essence. She had to succeed. Caron's very life depended on it.
Shiloh made haste down the stairs to the kitchen. She entered it with a cheery smile that she didn't quite feel on her face. She was more than a little worried about Caron. If some terrible fate had befallen him it was her fault. She had goaded him over her relationship with Vico. He had been concerned about her well-being and she had thrown it back into his face. She remembered the conversation as if had just happened. His voice in her head haunted her as the look on his face danced before her eyes. She sighed as she replayed it in her head.
"Are you okay? I have been worried about you, sweetie," Caron caressed her cheek gently. "No one knew where you were."
"Everyone knows where I was or they think they do. I am not so good and this time it won't be so easily cured," Shiloh lowered her eyes. "I must go, Caron."
"Has Vico been treating you well?"
Her teary eyed gaze met his as she snapped her head up. "What do you think, Caron?"
"I think no. Dammit, Shiloh. That idiot doesn't deserve you. You are so much better than that," Caron glared at her. "All he is interested in is fucking you. Have you heard what he says about you behind your back? He makes fun of you. I overheard him describing in detail how he has fucked you and what you let him do to you. He bragged about it. He is using you and when he is through with you, he will throw you aside like garbage and never look back. Is that what you want?"
Shiloh slapped him soundly. "That's the face he shows everyone else, but I know differently. It's none of your business, Caron. Do as Vico told you and stay away from me! You are jealous!"
How could she have been so stupid? That was she failed to see his true feelings for her ripped holes in her heart. Caron, she whispered to herself, where are you? The crate filled hallway seemed utterly empty without his presence here.
"Shiloh!" Nicca's joyous squeal interrupted her thoughts and pulled her back to the present. She bounced around Shiloh quite merrily. "Can we go now?"
Her cheerfulness was infectious and Shiloh let it sweep over her. "Yes, let's go!"
Nicca grabbed a cloak to wrap up in while Shiloh grabbed a few personal items from her armoire in her room. She would miss her cozy little bed near the always warm fire, but the lure of her own apartment was too great to turn down. The two set off, leaving the Bear Pit behind, and headed up Acorn Street to the Bakery.
A few pieces of pie later found them stuffed and ready for more shopping. "Hey, let's head over to Fortune Teller's. I have a few gold pieces. I'd love to have my future foretold." Nicca giggled.
"Your future is what you make of it, sweetie, but if it's what you want to do, then let's go. I think I'll have mine told as well."
Nicca threw back the hood on her cloak and took off running as fast as she could, bouncing through puddles as she went. Several Dhorn soldiers barked orders at her to cease her frivolity. She smirked at them and continued at a skipping pace. Shiloh kept a watchful eye upon her young charge, ready to step in if any of the Dhorn became hostile in any manner. "Shiloh, keep up!" Nicca exclaimed as she reached the door first.
"Yes, little dumpling." Shiloh smiled as she joined her promptly and opened the door to the shop. As they entered the overwhelming scent of burning incense took hold of her senses. She coughed as it choked her and brought tears to her eyes.
"What's that smell?" Nicca whispered as she covered her mouth and nose with her hand.
"Patchouli, I believe."
"I don't like it," the teenager coughed.
Shiloh nodded in agreement and stepped further into the shop. They were greeted by a gypsy woman wearing brightly colored sarongs and scarves.
"Do come in, my children," she spoke softly. Her voice took on an almost mystical quality, throaty and sensuous. "I am Sannah. How may I help you this day?"
"We are interested in having our fortunes told," Nicca beamed. "I have brought 4 gold pieces with me. Is that enough?"
"I usually charge 10, but for you, my sweet, I will only charge 2," Sannah smiled at the bubbling girl.
Nicca bounced about happily before handing Sannah the 2 gold pieces.
"Have a seat, child, while I consult the realm of mysticism in my crystal ball." Sannah sat down before it and began to chant softly. She worked her hands around the globe before looking back at Nicca. "Ah, child, the spirits have showed me much. Your path is very clear to me. I see happiness, the free reign of the heart in overflowing joy and abundant love. You have been fortunate. But something threatens the sanctity of it. You are living in a world of fantasy and illusion. Unrealistic and vain hopes. The threat seems to be a brutal aspect of power. Violence. Consuming heat.