A Devil’s Tale, Part 8

Unfortunately for you, I am still recovering from my close encounter with Miss Rona. I’m not entirely confident in my ability to brain very well and come up with something new and interesting for this weekly blog. Blarg. Fortunately for me, I have lots and lots of material concerning one blue Tiefling trying to get things in line to love and be loved. Continuing from this thing. Which is continuing from that thing. Because I forgot to link it last time.

For the record, I am getting better by baby steps. Hold tight, I might be getting ready to rant any time soon.


The door to this wine cellar was marked with a stylised harp and their entrance to it set off an alarm. Very cleverly concealed device, actually. Kosh didn’t know it was there until the bell started pinging.

He sighed. “Best to stand obviously, Lady,” he said, and assumed the position. Kneeling on the floor, ankles crossed, hands on his head and weapons removed and laying five feet away from him.

“Go through this a lot?” Lady asked.

“Every fucking day,” he said. “I’m used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to be,” she said, and removed her weapons, joining him on the floor in a similar pose. “If they’re going to treat you terribly, they’ll have to treat me terribly as well.”

Oh gods, how he wanted his Elisa to be like her.

That traitorous thought returned. Maybe she is my Elisa… Spitebane could have got it wrong. It could be a misunderstanding. After all, the younger Viscount hadn’t known he had a brother until some hours previously.

She could be his… but. 

But she had misgivings about Whitekeep in general, his family in particular, and being within ranged attack distance of anyone remotely like Spitebane.

It would not be fair to drag her to Whitekeep anyway.

She was magnificent, and he wanted her, but a Tiefling like him never got what he wanted. If he was truly lucky beyond belief, the gods deaf to his pleas may yet grant him what he needed. Not what made him happy. Never, ever, what made him happy.

Best to believe that she was as good as gone.

After this debacle was done, he would never see her again.

“Thank you,” he said. “It’s been fun adventuring with you.”

The household guard arrived, weapons drawn, and took in the Scene.

One lady in a half-ruined extravagant dress, bits of random armour, and assorted effluvium from the Undercity. By her side, a Tiefling dressed in black like an assassin. Both patiently waiting to be dragged off in chains. There to await the lord of the house’s displeasure.

Kosh said, “If I strike a harp in the crook of my arm, is the act a lyre?”

The head guard lowered their weapon. “Lord Vallaster will want to hear about this.”

Lady nodded back to the door. “We came through that door together, I would request that Lord Vallaster hear us together.”

“Bedmates are you?” said a guard.

“I’ve seen him in a significant state of undress,” she allowed.

Oh, I want her and need her in my life. Let her hand join mine let her reign with me… please. Please, please, please. He was setting himself up for an enormous fall, but he knew he wouldn’t feel it until he shattered at the bottom. What a sweet and delirious fall it was.

Poor Elisa. She was going to have a fight on her hands.

 Kosh almost floated as he allowed the guards to haul him, their stuff, and the lady about. All the way into a parlour where little could be stained.

Point of fact, the Undercity wasn’t the cleanest place in the universe. They were both filthy from a couple of days in the caverns and corridors upon which Waterdeep was built. Kosh was halfway ready to pay his soul for a hot bath and some laundered clothing. Gold would do, but he would be ecstatically grateful for them all the same.

His lordship turned up in his nightshirt and carpet slippers, shrugging on a dressing gown and fussing with his hair.

“Oh good gods, this has got to be interesting,” he announced. “Which one of you strikes a chord?”

Kosh flipped a part of his gi and displayed the harp pin he hid there. “That would be me. The lady has an intense desire to get safely away from Whitekeep and the titular family.”

“You’ll have to make an official complaint,” allowed the yawning lord. “Allow me to send for my scribe. Would you like a ba–”

“YES GOTTS!” Kosh belatedly remembered his manners. “Es tut mir leid, your lordship, I feel it has been days since my last bath. I am not normally a filthy Tiefling.”

“A bath, breakfast, and some degree of hospitality is in order. It is very early in the morning and some people are not yet out of their dreams.”

Kosh laughed. “Ah, that’s a familiar song. May I at least introduce the lady Marchess Bellarin, late of the scandalous meeting with her betrothed?”

“Oh it’s that nonsense. Gods. I’ll mark the messages as urgent, then.” Lord Vallaster tugged at a bellpull, summoning a male and female servant. “See that these people get a bath, their clothing laundered, and a decent meal, please. Then we shall await all interesting parties in the yellow parlour.”

He could have meant to say ‘interested’, but this was the resolution of a debacle. All the parties involved were therefore interesting.

Kosh saw the lady off in the care of the borrowed maidservant and eagerly followed the male servant to a bathtub charmed to remain warm. The soap was fragrant and luxuriously buttery, and they had shampoo as well.

“Does sir desire to be shaved?”

It wasn’t much of an inner debate. He didn’t want to argue with the self-destructive idiot in the mirror, this morning. “Eh, you’re safer with a blade near my neck than I am. Danke.” He let himself relax as a careful blade scraped the stubble off his face and neck. It felt entirely too good to have someone touching him, even if it was just to move his head around.

Besides the gentle hand of the Lady, it was the only kind touch he had known since Volo had grappled him – wait, no. Hugged him.

Nobody would really care for him ever again. Only the people paid to do so would spend the effort, and their motivation would never be heartfelt.

Maybe not even his Elisa would hold him gently or care for his welfare. Such was the way of arrangements among the highborn.

That was a problem for later. Today’s problem was solving the needs of the lady.

Lord Vallaster supplied him with a nightshirt and a thickly plush dressing coat, with matching carpet slippers. The meal was a very hearty breakfast. How long had it been since he’d had a meal like this? Too fucking long. Kosh’s hair was still caught up in a towel as he journeyed down to the yellow parlour.

Where the lady entered from a different door. Also in a nightshirt, dressing coat, and carpet slippers. Also with her hair caught up in a towel.

“I was wondering if you’d be able to manage that with your horns in the way,” she said.

“Just a little more attention to detail,” he allowed. He tucked himself up on a chaise lounge rather than bother battling a regular chair. “I’m guessing the world seems friendlier for a hot bath and a square meal?”

“Yes, thankyou. A very far sight from waterlogged ration packs and whatever goblins use for gorp.”

He chuckled at the memory. “That lot was not fit for human consumption. I’m sure it was off before we even started.”

She did an almost flawless impersonation of his accent. “You don’t eat anysink you can’t identify… and I don’t know vhat zis is…”

Damn him to all the hells, she was funny, too. Gods, saying goodbye forever was going to fucking HURT. He had to distance himself, and not using her name wasn’t working as well as it should have. Damnit. He was only an escort for one stage of her journey.

She would never return his affections. She would go somewhere else with a new name, make a new lifestyle, find a new swain… and forget him entirely. So he would have to forget her. Difficult. He still remembered Lali and her friendly smiles. How she defended him from her dutifully protective Da. How she would grace his hand with hers.

She put her lips to mine.

How cruel was it that the closest thing to a kiss that he had ever known… was an act of mercy to put air into his lungs? An act of desperation and hope, so that she would not be alone in the dark.

She sees me in the daylight, too, and she does not flinch. May Elisa be the same, and I may class this lady as a delightful near miss.

He owed his unmet Elisa all of his heart. He knew this. He had kept himself to that standard for years. The only trouble was… there wasn’t a great lot of it left. Bits of it fell away and died every time someone broke it.

His father broke it by calling him a monster to his face, when he was four years old and trying to explain how the Oath of the Keep made him good, now. You’re nothing but a monster and that’s all you’ll ever be!

His mother never yelled at him. Then again, she had grown quieter and quieter during his childhood in the castle. In the end, when his father argued for sending him away, his mother broke his heart with stony silence.

“Melancholy thoughts, sir?” she asked.

“I hate goodbyes,” he said. “And I must also ask after Spitebane. I swore an oath to his protection a long time ago. I have to do it.”

“After my testimony, for certain. That may give me time to leave so I don’t have to hear about him.”

“Ach, my crew of idiots probably got him out minutes after I fell. Unpreventable accident, such a pity. Drink to his memory and then back to business.”

“You’re going to scare the beans out of them when you turn up like a stray cat.”

“I’ll kick their asses if they’ve rented out my room already.”

She adjusted herself on her chair so she could face him a little better. “I’ve been meaning to ask. Why an exile in Zemnia? It’s an awful long way to send anybody.”

“I was sent away for being an embarrassment to the family,” he idly tapped one of his horns, indicating exactly what the embarrassment was. “I plan on going back to be even more embarrassing.”

“The heck with you, I exist anyway?”

“Not in as many words, but you get the soul of it.” She never swore, he noticed. She always skirted around the worst words. One day, she would have an occasion to cuss. The fact that she had remained so resolute in his company was another mark of merit.

How much of his heart would remain for Elisa by the time she was gone?

Lord Vallaster arrived once more, a little more ready for the street than either of them. Still in a relaxed set of wardrobe choices. He had a team of Recorders, who set up positions around the room. Another Harper agent was with him. A Ladyship, this time, to round out the gender balance in the room.

Kosh almost sprang up to bow for her.

“Please. Stay comfortable,” she said, taking her seat. “I understand this is something of a tangle.”

“An understatement,” said the lady. “I was just about to ask you to forgive our state of undress. But… evidently, you know some of the circumstances.”

“Some,” the ladyship allowed. Kosh vaguely recalled her as one of Lord Silverhand’s retinue. A face in the background goggling at a Tiefling brassy enough to test her lordship’s gratitude. Maybe she hadn’t been goggling at an adventurer. Maybe she was spraining something trying not to out him on the spot.

The Harpers knew everything, and orchestrated a decent percentage of it too.

Kosh felt suddenly more naked in her presence than he already was. However, since she was willing to dismiss him as part of the scenery, he wasn’t about to make a scene. He made himself very still and did his best to blend in with the upholstery.

“I am aware that you, Marchess Cordelia Maripose Heartsalve Bellarin, had an unfortunate experience at the Sparknight Gala, four days prior?”

Only four days? How time flew.

“Unfortunate experience encapsulates only the half of it. You’ve seen the remains of my dress? It began as it normally does for me, with three promised gentleman on my dance card failing entirely to be present at the appointed time.”

That was a crime of epic proportions, according to Kosh.

“Some cruel wag made butt of my physique and my implied friend in the chocolate fountain. I must note that I had not eaten a speck all evening, nor had any drink but water. I was taking a slow stroll around the sides, seeking any gentleman on my card when Lord Spitebane literally stumbled upon me. Thus explaining the copious wine and cheese stains.”

Another crime. Kosh had suspected a rude oaf, but not his rude oaf. He was going to box that kid’s ears when he saw him again.

“He announced himself. I announced myself as his destined bride. As per the arrangement betwixt the Whitekeeps and the Bellarins.” She took a deep breath to steel herself. “He looked me up and down and said, Papa must’a picked you as breeding stock, it certainly ain’t for looks. I’m gonna complain. He should be giving me cake, not poorhouse pudding. You’re not a wife, you’re a mattress.”

If Kosh wasn’t already sworn to Spitebane’s protection, he would fucking kill the boy. Blind, deaf, and fucking stupid to the truth.

“Sir, please cease growling,” cautioned Lord Vallaster.

Kosh coughed. “Apologies. I wasn’t aware I was doing it. Continue. Please.”

She had a little smile for him. One that showed off her dimples. 

Oh gods, she has dimples. Why why why why why is there always more of her to appreciate?

She continued. “If you want this for the official record, I don’t know what came over me when I hit him. If this is unofficial, I only regret that I failed to put him in his grave. I shall forever have to settle myself with the knowledge that I put him into the dessert table. Face first into that damned chocolate fountain.”

Kosh almost applauded. He could easily love a lady that willing and ready to defend herself.

“I left shortly thereafter and ran directly to my lodgings. A lady may not carry ready coin, but she always has jewels she can trade. So I took everything that glittered and headed straight for the less reputable sections of this fair city.”

Oh shit, she was lucky she didn’t die.

“My first purchase was the scimitar that is doubtless waiting in evidence. With that in hand, I went searching for mercenaries.”

“With that in hand, I’m amazed you weren’t hired as a mercenary,” blurted Kosh. He shrank in his place and put a hand over his mouth. All the better to remind him to stay still and quiet.

“I did find the rogue named Veet, and some directions to an agency purported to help me get further from my point of origin. Perhaps it was fortunate that they were not easy to follow. It was not fortunate for Veet. She… fell afoul of a pit trap. I could not recover her body without coming to the same end.” She wiped her eyes. 

The ladyship listening handed over a kerchief. “Take your time. Adventurers know the risks when they undertake their quests.”

Kosh had his hand over his mouth to remind himself not to speak out about that. Some adventurers knew the risks. Some went out with sword in hand and hope in heart and no warnings at all. Kosh himself had undergone his adventures with half a hope of earning enough coin to get to his homeland… and more of a hope to simply die and thereby improve the lives of all those he loved.

“That doesn’t make it right that she died,” said the lady, speaking his mind. “Veet was a good person. She deserves better than a spiked pit for a grave.”

“Yes. Of course,” said the ladyship. “How did you come to meet the Tiefling?”

“He prefers to be called Kosh,” the lady sighed. “I tried following Veet’s map, but… I got even more lost than when I began. I resolved to keep heading uphill and upstream until I found a better means to navigate. That was how I chanced upon Kosh. He was dying, but I thought him dead. In checking for items, I found his pulse. But he wasn’t breathing. So. I put my breath into his lungs.”

You put your lips on mine, Kosh thought. You gave me your breath, only to take it away again. You have made an impact on me like a meteor striking the soft soil. I would give you everything to stay near me, but what you want most is to be far away. Would that he had an easier means of cutting his heartstrings. A piece of my heart will be with your memory. Always.

“He seemed… very surprised that I would do such,” she allowed. “He could not get past the fact that I had done that act.” She glanced his way, and boggled at his stiffened pose of mock relaxation, with one hand clamped over his mouth and undying admiration in his glowing eyes. “He was very helpful thereafter. Supplying me with lessons, victuals, and a decent direction in which to head. It’s almost a pity he’s sworn to Whitekeep and to guarding that ass Spitebane. Were it any other way, I might petition for us to run away together.”

Oh no. Please don’t say that. There’s so little of my heart to chip away, any more. Kosh removed his hand from his face. “I am not an oathbreaking Tiefling. I have a troth to be true to. I put my blood on it. Better to run away without me, ja? You will find a far better life.”

“As I said. It’s a pity,” another breath. Another sigh. “I would rather eat broken glass and chase it with pure acid than look at Spitebane Whitekeep ever again in my life. I would rather bathe in molten lava than even glimpse a Whitekeep or their entire frozen mountain. Give me options, or I shall hire somebody who will.”

It was hard to keep his smile between the rest of the world and his true emotions. Above all things, he wanted her to be happy. If she was happy on the other side of the world from him, then so be it. She would be happy, and he would have another chunk out of his heart from it. His Elisa would have a poor, shrivelled and shattered offering when he could finally give it to her.

He could only ever hope it would be enough.

“We can arrange a disappearance. We can arrange a story,” said Lord Vallaster. “A destination in which to vanish from the public eye. You will no longer be a Marchess. You will no longer have the lifestyle to which you are accustomed. You will no longer have any privileges. You will become… a nobody.”

“Better a nobody than a Whitekeep,” she said. “Am I to have some education in ways to behave once I am a nobody?”

“Of course. I have a series of maids to tutor you,” Lord Vallaster nodded to the Ladyship. “I trust that is adequate?”

“Evidence enough. Marchess? Are you content to begin your new life with education in Lord Vallaster’s residence?”

“Far more than content. Thank you. By your leave, Kosh?”

“Better to call me ‘Tiefling’,” said Kosh. “We haven’t met. You have no idea who I am.”

“Ah. Of course. Good day, sir Tiefling.” She curtseyed for him, and shuffled out of the room in the company of two little maids.

I wish it was, he thought. He watched her go. Gods, what a magnificent view. What a lovely woman. Everything he wanted and, of course, well out of his reach. He could sit up straight now that his tail was between his legs.

He leaned forward, hanging onto his horns. Stupid Tief. Falling in love with someone else’s bride. Falling for a lady who wanted nothing at all to do with anything at all to do with him.

Stupid Tief.

“Well, Lord Kormwind? What of your testimony?”

FUCK!

He glared at the ladyship. “How the fuck–? I never once uttered my name when I was in Waterdeep. Either time. And if you know my name, you should know that saying it out loud can attract fucking assassins. I barely survived one. I don’t want any more.”

“We’ve been fairly good at keeping a watch on you.”

“So was the Hidden Cloud Dojo, and some asshole still managed to poison me in there. I do not trust your ‘fairly good’ watch on me.”

“As I understand things, my lord, you have a difficult time trusting anything at all.”

“Is it any surprise?” he gestured around himself. “Wheels within wheels, secrets inside secrets, lies and deceptions. Sometimes I think I’m the only person in the world who tells the truth.”

This greatly amused Vallaster and the ladyship.

“And yet you have a knack for telling such deceptive versions of the truth,” said the ladyship. “You may know me as Kochis Shaydden? Never once, ‘my name is’ in any association with your identity.”

“My actual introduction is long and horrible,” said Kosh. “But I would thank you not to use it out loud any more.”

“Have you met your brother?” wondered Vallaster.

“Unofficially and officially. I was almost out of that labyrinth with him when– I was too busy arguing with him to spot treacherous ground. It was almost too late–”

“–for an unfortunate, unpreventable accident.”

Kosh almost reached for a weapon. “Do not,” he warned, “ever. Try to imply that I would cause harm to my baby brother ever again. I am oathsworn to his protection. I am heartsworn to his loyalty. Yes, he’s an asshole, but that’s because he’s become his father’s creature. I was sent away as a child and could not do anything to stop his shaping like that. If you want to blame someone, blame yourselves. You left him there.”

“Lord Vallaster, you finally found one of his nerves,” said the ladyship in awe. “I had thought you unflappable… Kosh.”

“I only flap for things that are worth it,” he growled. “My oaths and my blood and the people I care for… They are worth it. Even when I fucking hate them as well.”

“Have a care, Lady DeRoltin,” said Vallaster “I suspect he may be truly dangerous when his passions are ignited.”

“You should both have a care in regards to not talking about me like I’m not right here.” He snorted. “Did none of you get taught manners at the end of a drubbing stick?”

It was suddenly less amusing to the two of them.

“Were… you?” whispered DeRoltin.

“The stick was always a threat. Nani Felfeather would terrify me by beating my writing desk, just in front of my fingers. Any little slip and– CRACK! And ten more lines for flinching.”

“We never knew,” said Vallaster.

“Of course not. The Earl my father was very careful to keep any such things out of view. My guard was always dismissed for those lessons. No other servants. Just her and a room with no windows.”

“I’ll make a note,” said DeRoltin. “The Earls Whitekeep have figured out ways to skirt their hereditary obligations and their Oath of the Keep.”

“I’d have thought Kormwinds Four, Five, and Six would have told your lot that.” Kosh settled his metaphorical feathers. “It’s a long time between devils on the Blood Throne. I can’t blame you for what happened to me. Not personally. Whoever was in charge when I was eine kleine teufel was the one who dropped the ball.”

“We can’t get our agents everywhere,” said Vallaster. “We shall have to try harder.”

“Danke,” said Kosh. “Enough of the past. On to more recent matters, ja? Spitebane. I got the news by a company of mercs sent to find him by our father. I heard first that someone was looking for me. Paranoia won and I made myself look…” He faltered, gesturing at himself.

“Less like a Whitekeep Tiefling?” suggested DeRoltin.

“Ja. Turns out they were after me because word got around about the Whitekeep Viscount’s gratitude I offered Lord Silverhand. They had no idea the Viscount I had in mind was me.”

“So you scrambled towards any word of your brother.”

“Exactly. That’s when I found out about the clusterfuck, and set about getting him the hell out of there.” Kosh made himself stretch and pace. Catching the spade of his tail up in his left hand so that the damned limb wouldn’t dive back between his legs. “The others probably have him up top by now, sharing a feast and drinks at the Trollhead.”

Vallaster and DeRoltin exchanged looks.

“What,” he said.

“We were hoping you might have news of where Spitebane was,” said DeRoltin.

“He’s yet to return to the surface,” added Vallaster. “With… or without company.”

What was left of Kosh’s heart began to sink straight towards the bottom of the world and even beyond.

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