Story Time: A Paladin’s Tale (Chapter 3: Bargain)

The moon led Micah, the rogue, to the paladin: a swinging pendulum, knocking sides of clouds, new to wax to wane. He had three moons, and two were spent.

Deals with the devil are seldom fair; no matter how balanced the scales, one of the parties will be shortchanged. Winners have their turn, and losers often go bare-chested after losing shirts, vulnerable to the elements and ridicule. But the underworld isn’t filled with merely one or two gleaned souls: the spirit dust of the ages reside eternally in the multitudes, having lost their bet, or broke a contract. Because the luck always favors the house.

But make no mistake: Devils want their due, too. The advantage can be gained. Consider in any trade, there is the expectation that one will be better off with the object or service. The barkeep in the Old Town pub has no desire to sit on his wares, and the healer needs that water. He makes a profit, keeps his nagging wife happy: meanwhile, she serves others, and basks in her arrogant glory. There is an exchange of gold and silver, goods transferred, and each is better for it. The barter of time and money are more abstract than the weight of a copper in a palm. Money indeed makes the world go round, on an invisible gyroscope of love and lust.

But when deal sour, regret reigns.

Micah traded his sister, bargained her soul, in exchange for his worthless hide.

“Rogue,” the Boss paused, “Options?”

Micah had stopped squirming hours ago. Never had defeat and futility been so palatable. Rarely had there been any occasion he couldn’t talk his way out of, sneak around, hide, maneuver, or manipulate. For a chest of gold, he believed he could win this time, too. The chambers had been deceptively easy enough to slip into. The concubines soothed him, caressed, and giggled. He used their apathetic lust to his advantage. The paid guards were no more than dogs at the door, pacified with meats. Instead of a bone, he used their stupidity to slice their throats while they were easily distracted by shiny pretty baubles. Micah smirked. And was a tad disappointed. This was the security of the vilest fiend in all the land? He found the domicile’s protection amateurish. In his over-confidence, it never once occurred to him that the main resident of the keep lured him there, and used the rogue’s arrogance to his advantage. The bargain had been arranged before Micah had crossed the threshold. The boon he was seeking were two daggers of such renown, which in his hands guaranteed his lethality and dominance. He brushed the dirt off of his patched leather pants. The glamour was fading, and it had become increasingly difficult to keep up appearances. His time for glory was calling. He deserved those powerful daggers, was entitled.
The chest was reported to be under the Boss’ bed. Only took a few goblin jugular veins to spill that secret. Simple enough. The snoring alone indicated the lord of the house was half dead and drowning in his sleep. Micah slithered under the tall bed frame, reaching for the chest, when two cold palms snatched both his wrists, dragging him to a deep hole. Slammed against sharp crags, tossed to the bottom like a wishing penny, the fall broke his left wrist and tore out his shoulder blade.

Up from the dirt pit floor, sprung poisonhoney vines. Wrapped quickly, his entrapment was more than sufficient. These vines grew in one area, and required soulless druids to harvest them. Each thorn pierced flesh with slow-acting poison that diminished mental acuity to the point of a slobbering idiot. No antidote exists. Each barb had a thousand infinitesimally small needles that burred into the skin, irremovable and parasitic. Even when cut from the mother plant, the vine would seek a new host, growing tentacles around legs, groins, and breasts, caring not for gender or status, seeking, attaching and winding along the pathways of veins and arteries. The damage of the vines could be lessened with quickness of freedom. Micah knew for every second the vines bled him, poisoned him, it would mean another year off of his life. And he very much loved his own life.

Options? He had no options. The most dangerous place of all, the realization that all is lost, and the choices belong to the one with no soul to lose: death or death, but whose?

“I know from the whispers of blood, Micah, what you came here for. And I want you to have those daggers, my venal friend. I need something in return. I abhor lies, so to the point: bring your sister to me.”

The Boss gave him three full moons to complete this task. Simple enough.

Oh, here was an out. He’d promise anything to the Boss. Any deal. His sister? Once he found her, they could figure an escape, break the deal. He agreed, so quickly the Boss cocked an eyebrow; a flicker of an expression Micah caught, but couldn’t interpret. It unnerved him, but the deal was done.

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