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Embers of Black - Chapter Twelve

Author: 
Patrick Braddock
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
162

As she was lifted into the air, Naestra lashed out behind her with her feet, trying to kick her opponent somewhere that would loosen the grip that held her fast. Her foot connected with what felt like a knee, but the blow jarred her as much as it did her assailant.

Changing tactics, she threw her head back as hard as she could, feeling her skull smash into someone's face. The arms loosened enough that she was able to slip her still-damp body out of the hold. She hit the ground and somersaulted forward, twisting in mid-motion and coming up in a brawler's crouch.

Her assailant was a man, clad in a pair of boots and supple leather pants and clutching at his face. This was the first male she had seen among the dark elves. His fair skin, rounded ears, and above average height said that he was human. What is a human doing among these drow women? Fearing some kind of grim alliance of villains, she closed on the man in front of her, moving to deliver a killing blow with her hands. Yet she stopped her advance when she caught sight of the ragged, half-healed scars that criscrossed the man's body.

A jagged set of three scars, looking to have been caused by the claws of some hideous beast, ran from his left shoulder, crossing down his chest and ending at his right hip. His arms bore slashed that looked to have been made by the edge of a blade. And on his left shoulder was a circular scar that looked like an old arrow wound, as it was a pale pink instead of the angry red of the others.

Finally, the man lowered his hands from his face, shaking his head to clear it. The assassin's breath caught in her throat. "Talomanes?" she whispered, scarcely believing her eyes.

A slow smile spread across that familiar face, though a new scar crossed from over his right ear and snaked down to his jaw. "Hello, there," he said quietly. In the next instant, Naestra had thrown her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

Blushing a deek crimson, the paladin returned the embrace. "Ah, you're, um, naked," he observed sheepishly.

The assassin laughed happily, burying her face against his neck. "So what if I am?" she answered teasingly. Talomanes pulled away from her slightly, moving his fingers under her chin and lifting her face to his. Smiling softly, he leaned down, bringing his lips to hers for a long kiss.

Naestra leaned into his kiss, holding him tighter and pressing her body to his. Suddenly, she remembered the sentry, yet found that she no longer cared as she felt the paladin's arms go around her, lifting her easily and carrying her towards the cot.

The assassin shifted slightly, draping her leg over the paladin's and snuggling up against him, resting her head on his shoulder. He drew her closer with the arm he had wrapped around her waist, stroking her cheek with the fingertips of his other hand. Bending his head down, he kissed her gently on the forehead.

Naestra felt as though she were floating in the pool again, though the coolness of the water was replaced by a deep warmth that seemed to ripple in waves through her body. She turned her eyes to the man with whom she lay, studying his face as he watched her dreamily.

Kindness touched the edges of eyes the deep green of a forest glen, making the refined features of his face seem as if they would be more fitting on a priest in a peaceful backwater village. His gentle face was completely at odds with the powerful grace and vicious skill with which she had seem him cut down his foes with his massive sword.

Talomanes, in turn, was wondering at the beauty he held in his arms. Naestra's fine features and supple frame continued drawing his eyes along her soft curves, though his eyes always wandered back to hers. Now, they were a soft brown, like freshly-tilled soil, yet he had seen them blaze the color of molten copper at the height of passion.

Feeling himself being drawn into her eyes again, the paladin leaned down, meeting her lips as she brought them to his. Again, he felt the stirrings of passion and saw the flame reflected in her eyes.

The fire had burned itself down to embers by the time the paladin awoke. He found he had lost all track of time, caring for nothing except the woman who now dozed on his chest. Her legs straddled his waist, pinning him down, but he had no desire to be anywhere except right there, with her.

Slowly, he ran his hands lightly down her back, drinking in the feel of her smooth skin under his palms. She stirred, folding her hands on his chest and propping her chin on them, staring deep into his eyes, a tender smile on her lips. "That was something I never thought I'd find," she said softly.

Talomanes furrowed his brow slightly. "What's that?"

"Someone who saw me as more than just a cutpurse or a hired blade. Someone who saw me as a woman." She stretched towards him for a moment, kissing him gently.

"You'd never�?" He found he couldn't finish the question.

A slight smile curved her lips. "No," she said simply. She paused a moment before reluctantly asking, "Had you?"

This time, it was his turn to smile. "My vows prevent me from laying with a woman I do not intend to wed," he murmured.

It took a moment for the substance of that statement to work its way through the dreamy fog that shrouded the assassin's mind. When it finally hit home, she blinked in confusion, then her eyes widened. "Wed?"

"Aye," the paladin said gently. He reached up, stroking her cheeks with his fingers.

Naestra's face relaxed into an expression of dazed happiness. "I would like that," she murmured, her eyes drooping shut as she drifted off into a contented slumber.

A cheery warmth filled the room, mirroring the warmth that coursed within the assassin. When she finally opened her eyes, she was lying on her side, facing the doorway to the room. Talomanes held her in a tender embrace, his body pressed against her from behind, his arms wrapped around her waist.

Naestra saw that someone had rekindled the fire as well as piled her things neatly on the writing desk, the clutter of papers and books that had rested there having been removed. She was starting to worry that someone had discovered her there when she noticed the paladin's pants, which had found their way from the floor to the back of a chair, tossed too casually to have been done by anyone but he himself. After all, why would someone take the effort to put my things just so and then toss his around like that? She chuckled softly to herself, then blinked and chuckled again. And who am I to be wondering about something so inane?

A smile crossed her face as she snuggled back against the sleeping paladin. She knew now who she was and where she belonged. Yes, one of the Blacksword Alliance's trained killers, wife to a righteous man of the god of duty and loyalty. The thought brought an ironic smile to her face.

Gradually, the expression slipped from her face as she thought about the Alliance. They treated those who left their ranks without consent very harshly� And for someone to leave in the middle of a job� The assassin sighed, not wanted to think about such things right then.

Letting that line of thinking go, she lost herself for a time in the feeling of Talomanes' arms around her, in his scent, and in the sound of his slow breathing. Gradually, his breathing began to change, lightening as he came back from the world of dreams.

Naestra twisted on the cot, turning to face him, finding his eyes open and gazing at her with an expression of warmth and joy. He smiled at her before kissing her tenderly. "Good morning," he said softly.

"Good afternoon would be more like it," she replied with a smirk. The paladin chuckled softly. Her eyes fell on the new scar lining his face. She reached up, tracing it with a fingertip. "Yesterday, how did you�?"

"The elves," he said simply. He brushed his lips lightly against hers before going on. "They came just at�at the end." His fingers traced the scars that crossed his chest. "I was wounded�dying�" Pausing, he seemed to gather himself before going on. "Yet still I felt Torm's fire burning in me and I fought on even as I bled. I was so intent on butchering those unliving monstrosities that I hadn't noticed the elves among them until it was only them and myself still standing. One of them, Anluriel, approached me and asked if I needed aid. Then everything went black. When I woke, I was here." He gestured, his hand taking in the room where they lay.

Naestra hugged him close, resting her cheek against his chest. "I nearly lost you so soon after finding you," she murmured.

The paladin took her chin in his fingers, lifting her eyes to his. "Naestra, I love you," he said softly.

A gentle smile graced a face that, for so long, had been used as a mask behind which to hide. "And I love you, my Talomanes, my paladin." She kissed him long and hard, relishing the feel of his body against hers. After what seemed like a small eternity, he finally broke the kiss.

"We should be up and about," he said with a slight smile. "I spoke briefly with Anluriel while I was gathering your things. I let her know where you were, so she wouldn't worry." He traced her lips with a fingertip. "Tonight, the elves will try to locate the source of these undead. They think it's someone different than the one who commands the orcs."

"Did her scouts ever find Ix?"

The paladin shook his head. "No, she said it seemed as if he just vanished. There were no other tracks leading from where they had found you except those made by the group you were with."

The assassin turned that over in her mind before kissing Talomanes again. With a sigh, rolled over, sitting up as she set her feet on the floor. She stood and walked to the table, picking her folded shift from the stack of clothing.

Talomanes watched Naestra as she moved, the light of the fire dancing on her bare skin. She slipped into the thin garment, smoothing it with her hands. Catching the paladin watching her, she threw him a wink before stepping into her pants, pulling them up and tucking the hem of her shift into the waist. Next, she slipped into her dark shirt, settling it around her before strapping on her leathers. Finally, she wound her belt around her waist, buckling it and shifting the array of pouches into a more comfortable setting, making sure she could draw her knives quickly and easily. Then, she sat upon the table, watching the paladin with a look of amused expectation.

Chuckling to himself, Talomanes slipped out of bed, planting his feet on the ground and stretching. He yawned, gingerly scratching the scars on his chest. "They itch," he muttered darkly, bringing a snort of laughter from the assassin.

He wandered over to a chest that Naestra hadn't noticed, hidden as it was in a niche in the wall. He pulled it out and threw back the lid. From inside, he pulled out a pair of soft brown leather pants, sitting on the foot of the bed as he slipped them on. Bending forward, he laced them tight around his calves before standing up and doing the same to the waist. Next, he lifted out a loose white shirt, drawing it over his head and tying the cuffs snug.

Sitting on the bed again, he pulled on a pair of knee-high leather boots, reinforced along the shin and top of the foot with angled steel plates. He lifted a set of shining steel greaves from the chest, strapped them to his upper legs. Standing up, he drew out a chain hauberk, slipping it over his head. The mail settled over his body, falling to mid-thigh. From the bottom of the chest, he took a set of worked pauldrons with flaring edges and a set finely-worked steel vambraces, setting each piece on the bed, followed by a pair of segmented steel-backed gauntlets and a open-faced steel helm. Bending at the waist, he pulled the last item from the chest, a gleaming steel breastplate.

Talomanes slipped his head between the two halves of the piece, settling the weight of the breastplate on his shoulders as he tightened up the straps. Next, he belted the pauldrons to his shoulders, finishing up by buckling the vambraces onto his forearms.

He tossed his gauntlets into the helm, leaving them on the bed as he retrieved his two-handed sword. The worn leather of the scabbard was at odds with the beautifully polished plate he wore, but as he settled the blade across his back and buckled the belt around his waist, anyone could see that the sword was as much a part of him as was the rest of the steel he worse.

His eyes shining, the paladin walked towards Naestra, his armor clinking softly. He knelt smoothly in front of her, unhindered by the metal he wore wrapped around him. Beaming up at her, he reached into a pouch in his belt, closing his hand around something and drawing it out.

Slowly, he held up his right hand, his fingers unwrapping from the object he held. There, nestled in the palm of his hand, was a simple band of worked platinum, a benediction to duty and loyalty inscribed around the eternal circle.

He smiled up at her, his eyes full of love. "I have something for you," he murmured softly. Taking her left hand in his, he gently slid the band onto her ring finger. Naestra responded by throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him soundly.

When he was finished being quite thoroughly kissed by the assassin, Talomanes prepared to stand, but stopped as he spotted her bare feet. A wicked grin flashing across his face, he lunged forward, grabbing her right foot and holding it firmly in one hand while he tickled her sole with his fingertips.

Naestra broke into peals of laughter, squirming on the table and trying to kick him with her free foot, doing nothing more than pounding on his armor with her heel. Finally, the paladin ceased his torture, letting her laughter subside. With a tender smile at her, he kissed each of her toes before heaving himself to his feet.

Crossing back to the bed, he picked up his steel-backed gauntlets, slipping them onto his hands. "Come, beloved," he said softly as he picked up his helm. "We've got work to do now." Slinging his helm under his left arm, he offered his right to her.

After stepping into her boots, Naestra slipped her arm through his, taking his mailed hand in hers and squeezing gently. Together, the paladin and the assassin headed into the passageway.

 

Embers of Black - Chapter 12 © Patrick Braddock

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