A Devil’s Tale, Part 5

If you’re looking for part four, check the words for the link. I am all over everywhere with fresh new pink hair, and Beloved and I are set to go places and do things. So whilst I can actually hurry along and contribute, I had best get rattling. For those of you who don’t want to archive-trawl or follow the breadcrumbs, our heroes are still in the Undercity. Cordelia has saved Kosh’s life by laying her lips on his. This has… implications. And potential trouble.

The fire was at low ebb when he came out of his meditations, and all the things were dry. He added a few more bits of broken wood to the embers and began packing up his things and, of course, getting dressed.

If anyone found out about him being down to his loincloth in the presence of a Lady, it would be utterly scandalous. Which might also be an option. Marchess Bellarin was still sound asleep as he tucked away all his things.

Spitebane called her a butterface. He called her a poorhouse pudding.

Spitebane, Kosh decided, had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. Personally speaking, Kosh had an appreciation for beauty in all its ways of presenting itself. He had spent twenty-and-five of his years in close proximity to Elves and therefore grew immune to their cookie cutter perfection.

He was not a man who looked for thin, for blemishlessness, for perfectly coifed hair. He looked for kind hearts and open arms, or genuine smiles in his direction. In that, the Marchess was a very rare beauty.

Spitebane didn’t know what he was missing.

Were it not for his oaths, Kosh would have eagerly found comfort in the Marchess’ well-padded form, and kissed every inch of her. Ah, but he had to be true to his troth.

Honestly speaking, he was sorely tempted to see if breaking the Oath of the Keep would be that bad.

“You put your blood to it, Tiefling,” he muttered to himself. “Stay true to your troth. Elisa deserves all of what’s left of your heart. No falling in love now.” He counted his remaining rations. Four days’ worth, if they didn’t find their way out or find something else. Some relatively safe place from which they could reach the surface.

Hope. That was the key.

The lady stirred and stretched some of the kinks out of her bones. And didn’t her breasts look so lovely in the firelight as she did so? Down, boy. She’s not yours to ogle. He turned his gaze away out of politeness as she grunted and moaned. “Not the best accommodations,” she allowed, “but nothing better is available, is it?”

“Not really, no. We have four days to get out of here or find some other supplies.” He noticed the way she was putting on her sword belt. “Er… you don’t know much about swordplay, do you?”

“Uh. The pointy end goes in the bad guy?”

“Just the very basics, then,” well, it could have been worse. “Gekkomen sie, you have everything backwards or upside-down. I can teach you some better basics, but I would have to touch you to do so.”

Her dusky skin coloured around her cheeks. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“For many, it is.”

“I’m not many.”

“I’ve noticed.” In the process of sorting out the belt and the scimitar, his face became very close to hers. Close enough to touch. DOWN, boy. He coughed. “You are right-handed, ja?”

“Oh. Yes.”

“Sehr gut. Only the woodcuts of corsairs ever have the belt hanging loose on the hip. Very pretty and stylish until you trip over your scabbard. Test that for ease of draw.”

Smooth and clean. Good. He moved on to how to hold it. Moving her hand in his. “See? Thumb parallel to the grip. Let your fingers and wrist do most of the work. This way it won’t hurt so much if someone tries to disarm you. You are conducting a symphony in the other guy’s blood.”

“A poetic way of putting it.”

“Now how to stand. Until you get a buckler or a dagger, keep your other hand behind you…” he paused to tie up his hakama at the knee so she could see what his legs were doing as he demonstrated. “Give them less to hit. Front leg points at the target. Back leg keeps the foot perpendicular. Wide stance, knees flexing. Stability is everything. Use all of the sword. When you deflect, sweep it away. Up and away, down and away, either is good, so long as it doesn’t cut you.”

Good gracious gods, she was a fast learner, too. Imitating the careful way he walked so as to minimise noise as she moved.

Glorious lady! She was wasted on Spitebane. She was wasted in a parlour doing needlework. She would make a magnificent warrior queen, all bloody and victorious over her slain enemies.

So much potential, and Spitebane couldn’t see further than her weight and her face.

The idiot.

A practical lady with no fear of getting her hands dirty. Resourceful, clever, and refusing to be a victim of circumstance. Or a victim at all.

The only caveat was that she would rather be hurled into the plane of torment than set foot anywhere near his homeland.

Kosh would have to wait until he met his Elisa and then for her rejection of him before he could go hurtling off after the lady currently by his side. And even then, the biggest hurdle was to get her to accept him once she knew who he was.

First things first… survive to see the sunlight or the stars again.

She had a good idea, heading upstream and uphill. The bad news was that there were a lot of dead ends and retracing their steps until one of them spotted something they recognised.

Little symbols on the wall. Some cut into the stone, some scrawled on the walls with chalk.

A winged snake, a set of mirrored C’s with a loop drawn between them.

“Zhentarim slaver route,” grimaced the lady. “We need a different way.”

Kosh pointed to a crude circle within another circle, surrounded by radiating spikes. “Xanithar’s hideout… Not that way either.”

She found a third sigil. A triangle divided by vertical lines. “This anything good?”

“Oh thank the gotts, the Harpers.” He spared a moment to check the sigil. It was old. Etched into the rock. “Maybe not recent, but at least a hope.”

A direction, anyway. The point of the inscribed harp pointed the way to go. Kosh kept his eyes peeled for any other harps. And for any traps. He couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a trap from one of the rival factions, after all.

He wasn’t used to trusting, but time and again, he found the lady guarding his back. Another pang of jealous spite towards his brother. Kosh could have easily killed to have someone he could trust. He had held that want for so long that he had almost forgotten how to trust at all.

For this lady? He could get back into practice.

She was a quick study, no shrinking violet, and rarely if ever repeated a mistake. Back when he was teaching at the Dojo, he would have thanked the gods for a student like her. Right now, he could easily beg the gods for a wife like her. But the gods didn’t listen to devils like him.

He was never so close to breaking his oath.

Surrounded by goblins and kobolds in an ambush, watching each other’s backs, they fought as if they had been a team for years. Every time he glanced at her, she was a picture of perfect form. A warrior maiden unconcerned with blood on her fancy highborn dress.

Please, father, I want this one. Spitebane clearly doesn’t appreciate her.

But if he wanted to keep her, he had to keep her in Whitekeep, where she would clearly be unhappy.

On one of those checks, he found her checking him. A moment’s smile for her, before, “Behind you!”

They shouted it at once, lunged together at a foe that the other didn’t see. Simultaneously dealing killing blows. Simultaneously winding up within easy reach of each other.

They were lucky those were the last two.

Time seemed to stop as he stared into her eyes. Deep pools of infinity in the half light. Her lips, parted so she could breathe quickly during her exertions, looked so ready for a kiss.

She had laid her lips on his once before. To save his life. Would she, could she do so again and thereby rescue his soul?

…and damn all of Whitekeep in the process?

With some difficulty, Kosh backed away from her, closing his eyes. “Stay true to your troth, you idiot,” he muttered. “I am not an oathbreaking Tiefling.”

She coloured delightfully. “I must confess that making such become a difficulty for anyone is a new experience for me.”

He resisted the urge to lean down. Compelled himself to keep the grip on his swords. He thought hard about Elisa and his future with her. She was not getting a handsome groom, so she should at least gain a devoted one.

Nevertheless, his idiot mouth ran away with him. “Then they’re idiots with no eyes to truly see.” Kosh had flirted before, but never before had he done so with the phenomenon of returned interest. The view was vertiginous.

Her smile for him was not false. Her willingness to be close to him was not an act. She said, “Perhaps, if your Elisa is too foolish to like you, I could find you and help you be happier.”

“Perhaps,” he said, “but you would find me in Whitekeep.” He could say that much, and not be damned. Kosh tore himself away from her spectacular amenableness to rummage about amongst the corpses for anything that could come in handy.

Rations, good. Coin… meh. Some charms and whatnot that had no meaning or value to anyone not a Goblin or a Kobold. Aha! A small shield – large for one of these creatures – made out of an old basket lid. Small pieces of metal had been stitched onto its surface and the handles were just large enough so that the lady could wear it.

“It’s a little constricting,” she allowed, “but it will do.”

“At least until we find something better,” he agreed. “Or get out of here.” A tempting siren thought whispered in his mind, We could stay down here. Make a different life.

But he had obligations. He could not listen to that tempting thought.

They continued on, looking for the sign of the harp.

“So,” she said. “How did you come to be nearly dead in an underground river?”

Ah. Here it was. The moment in which she started to hate him. “I also swore an oath to Lord Spitebane’s protection, for my sins…”

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