The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 23byLady_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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Thou Shalt Not Fail
Stinging cold rain washed over her, cleansing her of her sins. A puddle of red gathered around her feet, a testament to the filth that had stained her skin. Filth, she scoffed, the tainted blood of my enemies. Shiloh hung her head, watching the pool beneath her swirling as the deluge strengthened. She shivered, her teeth chattering. Numbness filled her, shutting out her grief. She could no longer bring herself to cry. All her wasted tears would not bring Caron back. Nothing could, for the one person who might have been able to was gone as well.
She forced herself to move. She had to work to do. She had to finish this job. With a heavy sign, she headed up the street to the Palace of Beauty Nathan had suggested she further her inquiries within. The Palace of Beauty.... Anden's sister owned it. Perhaps he would be there. Perhaps he would even make her feel better. No, she cautioned herself, work comes first. This job needs completed. There was a time and a place for everything. It wasn't the right time to be thinking about carnal pleasures. She steeled herself and ignored the ache in her loins. Work comes first, then pleasure later.
She found Carla's Palace of Beauty a few blocks north of the marketplace. Pushing open the door, she picked up a towel that rested on a low table near the door and began to blot the excess water from her skin and clothing. When she had finished, she wiped her feet on the thick woven rug and headed to the front counter. Shiloh plastered a fake smile on her face and greeted the attractive dark haired female before her. "Good day," she beamed as her eyes flicked over the woman she assumed to be Carla. The woman looked to be in her late twenties with long black hair and an overly made-up face. But it was plain to see that she and Anden were brother and sister. Just looking into the cocoa depths of Carla's eyes made her think Anden was standing before her.
"Greetings, my lovely. I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of seeing you in my shop? What can I do for you today?" The woman purred with a husky voice.
"That is because I've never been here before. Servants don't often get the luxury," Shiloh replied, with her eyes lowered to her feet.
"Yes, yes, our services here are usually fairly pricy." Carla looked her over carefully, "So tell me if you are not here for a treatment, then what brings you here?"
"I'm looking for somebody. A man. The only thing I know about him is that he often smells of oil and sweat. I was wondering if you could help me, perhaps?" She flicked her eyes up to meet Carla's momentarily before she lowered them once more.
Carla let out a small chuckle. "I'm sorry that I can't help you. We don't do males in here. I'm sorry."
Shiloh frowned. "Perhaps you could tell me where a man would go for personal hygiene? This is important. I have to find this person or else. You must know something."
Carla eyed her ponderingly. She nodded her head, and was more Shiloh got the feeling she was standing before Anden. "I'd recommend the bath house."
"And where is it?"
"Just right around the corner, girl. Now if you excuse me, I must see to my paying customers."
Shiloh knew a dismissal when she heard it. She quickly bobbed a curtsy and left the beauty parlor. Hmmmm, the bath house. Right around the corner. She headed to it, finding the business quite easily. Opening the door, she headed down a few steps. The air grew steamier and more saturated and ever more fragrant the further she proceeded down the hallway. Curiously she looked around, noting a small library of sorts of the main hallway with inviting looking large couches and cushy chairs to lounge upon. She made a mental note to come back to this place. She longed to explore the shelves of books that were provided for the customers reading pleasure.
As she approached a desk, the clerk looked up at her and smiled. The girl couldn't have been any older than Shiloh was, but her eyes still held a touch of innocence to them. She envied the girl. If only, she sighed, if only her father hadn't have went to war with the Dhorn. She'd still be living in the castle. She would've never have met Vico or Chella or Caron. Caron..... it wasn't fair. He'd been so sweet and so good. He hadn't deserved his fate. It was all her fault.
She closed her eyes and hung her head, fighting to still her pain. She had a job to do. Her head snapped back up as the girl before her cleared her throat. "Are you well, miss?"
"Yeah... I.... I'm fine. It's just so warm in here. I wasn't expecting it after being out in the cold rain," She felt her cheeks flush red and hoped she sounded believable.
"How can I help you? If you would like to use the bath, it'll cost you 2 gold pieces."
"Oh, no, actually I'm looking for somebody. A man. The only thing I know about him is that he often smells of oil and sweat. I was wondering if you could help me, perhaps?" Shiloh focused on the task at hand as she pushed her guilt aside.
"Oil and sweat, you say?" The girl clerk frowned at Shiloh, who nodded at her. "Hmm. We do apply oils here, but then scrape them off afterwards, thus removing the accumulated deposits. I would certainly hope that our customers do NOT smell of oil, and more importantly sweat, after visiting us. Even after heavy exertion, you would likely smell only the fragrant herbs we infuse our oils with."
Shiloh glowered at the clerk. That wasn't the answer she wanted to hear. "Damn!'
The clerk scratched her chin ponderingly for a moment. "I think the man you are looking for must be a fighter of sorts."
"A fighter? Why is that?"
"Many warriors apply oil to their skin. Not in order to clean themselves, but to make it more difficult for their opponent to grapple them. Have you considered the Arena?" The girl replied.
Shiloh shook her head. "No, I hadn't thought about that. Thank you. I appreciate it."
"Will you need the services of the bath house, miss?" The clerk asked.
"No, thank you. I'm fortunate enough to own a tub. The communal bath is too common for me," she sneered haughtily at the girl before she turned and walked out.
Shiloh sucked in a deep cleansing breath as she leaned against the building. The thick air inside the bath house had caused her head to swim. She was almost happy to be out in the pouring rain.
The arena... she pondered. She knew she needed to take that tidbit of information to Master Nathan. She recalled the time she saw the Dhorn and his mysterious companion in the sewers that he'd been dressed like a warrior. Master Nathan would know what to do.
She made haste back to the Bear Pit, racing up the stairs until she reached his office. Again she ignored Warent and Wesh. She didn't care what either of them thought of her. She dropped a curtsy before Nathan and waited until he addressed her.
"I have found out some information. The Palace of Beauty only caters to females. I thought that avenue might be of some use to me. The ranger I rescued out in the forest beyond the city is in fact the owner's brother. She couldn't help me, but she pointed me to the Bath House. That place could clear up even the most stuffiest of noses. The smell is nearly unbearable, but the clerk I spoke to told me that the person we are looking for could very well be a fighter of sorts. She said they often coat themselves with oil so no one can get a good grip on their flesh. She also recommended I check out the Arena here in the city. Now I've never been to such place. My father would never let me go because of the violence that takes place there."
"You've done well. Though, I believe the arena is only open on certain days." Nathan consulted a small calendar. "Every three days, to be exact. But as luck would have it, they are open tomorrow evening. I want you to check it out. But by all means, be discreet. Don't ask too many questions."
"You can count on me. I won't fail you," she inclined her head.
"Keep me updated on what you've discovered." He turned his attention away from Shiloh and back to the sheaf of papers before him. Shiloh glanced at them quickly and took note of a tallied list of goods. Must be something Drago had smuggled in. She chuckled to herself and left the room, stopping only to glare at Warent. She wasn't sure why he had a problem with her. She had thought their rendezvous had ended quite well. Obviously that wasn't the case. She shrugged and headed down to the kitchen. She was hungry and she knew Chella would feed her.
Trissa pounced upon her as she walked in, grabbing Shiloh by the hair. "What did you do to Caron? Answer me!"
Shiloh shook Trissa off and slammed her against the wall. "Get this through your stupid head, bitch. I did nothing to Caron. I wasn't with him. The Dhorn killed him. I brought his body back so it wouldn't rot in the sewers. Have done!"
Outraged cries rang out amongst the kitchen staff as Chella rushed over and pushed her way between the two females. "Enough! There'll be no fighting in my kitchen!"
Shiloh and Trissa glared at each other.
"Both of you will cease this nonsense immediately," Chella bellowed as she noted the expressions on the faces of the two girls.
Shiloh nodded. "I came in here to get something to eat and she jumped me. She still blames me because Caron liked me more and now he's dead."
"It's all your fault he's dead!" Trissa charged. "You shouldn't have been wiggling your ass at him. I told you to leave him alone."
With a murderous glare, Shiloh raised her hand and slapped Trissa soundly. "Bitch!"
"It's the truth and you know it. He thought if he proved himself to the boss, he'd not only earn a place of his own, but he'd win you. He said you were too good for Vico. Well, he was wrong. You're not too good for anyone. Especially not Vico and certainly not Caron. I don't care who the hell you say you are, you're worse than any two bit whore. At least a whore is smart enough to charge. And let me tell you one more thing, Vico slept with me. He said I was better than you. Your whore ass didn't mean a thing to him," Trissa retorted viciously, her eyes narrowed to menacing slits.
Shiloh's face darkened and she nearly pounced before she heard a voice of caution in her head. Trissa was trying to bait her, to see her reaction. She wouldn't give the other girl the satisfaction. Instead, she burst out in loud barking laughter. Soon she was grasping for breath as fat tears rolled her face. And when she had herself back under control and could hear Trissa's sputtering protests, she looked back up at the girl. "I have to admit, you almost had me. But ya know, honey, Vico will fuck anything that stands still long enough to get his dick inside them. So if you think you are special just because you fucked that asshole, think again. After all, it only proves that you're desperate enough to take my leavings."
Trissa's cry of outrage mingled with Chella's gasp of astonishment. "You will watch your language in my kitchen, young lady. Both of you will. Trissa, get back to work. And I think you, Shiloh, should take your meal downstairs. I won't tolerate this in my kitchen."
Shiloh nodded at Chella and walked away. She quickly fixed herself a plate of food and headed out of the room while Trissa went back to her duty of scrubbing pots. She found a table far removed from the rest of the patronage and ate in silence. How dare he, she fumed inwardly. She knew she would have to have a little talk with that philandering asshole as soon as possible! Surely he could've found someone else besides that little slut to fuck! Deep down she knew she wouldn't have cared as much if it were someone else, someone besides Trissa. Guilt weighed even heavier on her mind. She knew she had done him wrong to begin with when she willingly chose to bed that Dhorn. Bedding him wasn't part of the assignment. And she didn't have to seduce the ranger, but she did. She couldn't help herself. The ranger was like a trophy to her. It hadn't meant anything to her. She only did it to prove that she could. The ranger really wasn't her type. His goodness irked her greatly. She had delighted in twisting him for her own selfish needs. And he hadn't even been the wiser to her scheme.
Leaving behind her half eaten plate of food, she dashed out of the Bear Pit and returned to her apartment. She needed to be alone. No, she needed the strong arms of a lover that would hold her tight and chase away the insecurities plaguing her. But there was no such person. She had wronged the only one who could've redeemed her. And she only had herself to blame.
With a scream, she walked over to one of the bookshelves and began flinging the books about, throwing them to the floor, bouncing them off the walls as she indulged in her tantrum. She overturned furniture and threw the cushions from the couch. In the end, she sank to the floor and cried. Her rampage had done nothing to console her. She needed something more. Vico...... the only one who had claimed her heart and soul. She needed him, yet she knew it was hopeless. He wouldn't want to see her. He would just throw her out like he always did.
She had to make it right. She had to give him back the one thing that she knew had meant anything to him. And she knew exactly how to do it.
On silent feet Shiloh crept around the Dhorn Barracks, looking for an alternate way in. It was late, the moon was high in the sky, eerily shining through a few sparse clouds. The rain had let up momentarily, but the smell of a storm lingered on the breeze. She found herself a hiding spot near the entrance and watched for what seemed like hours. She discovered the rotation of the guards, how often they changed and how many. She knew their next one was coming up soon. She would be ready for it. She crawled through the shadows until she had positioned herself near the set of double doors behind a couple of the guards. They all looked very young and fresh faced and it occurred to her that these Dhorn had to be the low ranking soldiers. No wonder they hadn't spotted her. She remained crouched in a corner, ready to slink through the door the next time it opened.
Tense minutes ticked by as she stayed perfectly still, pressed against the cold stone of the building, until at last the door next to her opened. She moved as quickly as she could, springing from one shadow to another. She squeezed past the soldier who was walking out, her body barely brushing his. She held her breath, fearful it would give her away. As she cleared him and the doorway, she pressed herself against the inside wall and quickly took note of the soldiers milling around. Her mental count tallied at least a dozen. She knew she would have to be very careful. Despite the fact that these men were only low ranking soldiers, she knew to take them all on at once would certainly mean her doom and that was definitely not an option. She needed to find that payroll office. Her plan depended on looting it. Failing to do so meant her plan would fall apart.
I won't fail, she mentally chanted over and over again. I will not fail.
Shiloh kept herself pressed against the wall as she tiptoed around the perimeter of the large entrance hall, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. She eyed the large statue in the middle of the room, remembering how this used to house many of her father's soldiers, the King's Guards. A tremor of desire to kill coursed through her. All Dhorn should die! Die for what they did to her family, her friends, her city. Die for all the injustices they had committed. She shook herself mentally! Damn, she thought, stop sounding like some self righteous paladin!
She continued on, leaving the entrance hall as she entered another large chamber. Various combat dummies were placed in the middle of the room a few feet apart from each other. Two Dhorn soldiers practiced upon them, swinging their wicked looking halberds at the dummies. She watched as chunks of wood went flying after each hit. She gulped and continued on, passing by a sign near of door that read 'Library.' The next one was for the Personnel office. She had to be getting close. There was one more door. Before it was another sign. She grinned as she crouched before it. Bingo!
The door to the payroll office loomed before her. Crouching behind the sign, she reached for the door handle. Locked! Of course it is, a voice inside her head chided.
Oh, shut up already, Shiloh frowned to herself. I know it's locked! She pulled her lock picks from inside her cloak. A pang of pain tore through her heart as she used them to open the lock. Caron had given her these picks. Caron, she sighed, if only....
This is no time to get sentimental, the same chiding voice taunted her.
Stop it! The tumblers clicked and she pushed the door open just enough for her to squeeze through. She looked backwards to make sure the soldiers hadn't noticed her presence. She exhaled the breath she'd been holding as they continued to bash away at the dummies.
Quickly she closed the door behind her and leaned against it. The room she now stood in was small. A bookshelf and a table and chair were its only features. She moved to the chair and sat in it, taking note of the iron door to her left. Pulling a book down she began to scan through it. She recognized it as the same kind she had seen Master Nathan writing figures in. This one was obviously one of many payroll ledgers the Dhorn used to keep track of how much each soldier earned, how often and if pay was denied for any infraction. Placing it back, she scanned through them until she found the most recent. It shocked her at how little these soldiers actually earned considering the duties expected of them.
She carefully read through the pages, taking note of two large amounts paid out for Mercenary services. Shiloh rubbed her chin and checked the dates on both of the payments. From what she recalled, both dates were after the day she had overheard the conversation between the Dhorn and the mysterious person in the sewers. Coincidence? Hmm....She didn't think so. Stowing the ledger in her haversack, she stood up from the chair and headed to the iron door. Again she pulled out her picks and made short work of the lock. It was almost too easy.
The door squeaked a little as it rubbed on the stone floor. She hoped no one had heard it as she closed it behind her. Before her sat three iron bound safes, each bearing the royal crest of her family. She smiled widely. Yes, it was too easy. She remembered these safes. Her father had kept her family's crown jewels within them. While she was sure those riches weren't in the safes, she knew their payroll had to be. It made her wonder what the Dhorn had done with her father's treasures. Did they have them hoarded somewhere in the castle? Or had they been sent back to the Dhorn Emperor, as spoils of war? Shiloh felt the urge to discover the answers to those questions and since her plan would take her into the castle she had once lived in, she vowed to find out for sure.
As she moved to the first of the three safes, she took in a deep breath. She wondered if the Dhorn had somehow changed the combinations on them. She had known her fathers by heart. One was her mother's birth date, another her own and the last, the date of her father's coronation. She looked all three chests over thoroughly, looking for a clue to which was which. She smiled as she found the blue paint smudges on the back of the middle safe. This one had to be hers. She remembered how she wanted to paint a picture on it and how she had started with a blue sky, something rarely seen here in Betancuria. Her governess had found her in the vault and had chased her away, but her father had never had the paint removed. His daughter's artistic endeavors were special to him, he had told the often stern woman.