The Devil of Amaranth

By Deuce Traveler

Chapter One

Deuce Traveler entered the Carrion Inn, the patrons of which could feel his bad mood entering with him like it's own living presence. Business had been slow the last few months, with a forgery operation he was involved with going badly in the hidden city of Loradonia, and two of his contacts being killed in a drunken brawl in Xezibar. At this rate he was going to have to give up his house in Riversy. Or he could follow the scolding advice from Sheila, the halfling peach seller he purchased fruit from, and get an honest job. "Heh, I'd rather live on the top floor of this dump they call a tavern again," he thought to himself.

The twenty five year old rogue was over six feet tall, slim, but muscular. His long, white hair was tied in a braid, its color drained when he was twelve. Deuce let his violet colored eyes that spoke of a magical heritage adjust to the dimness of the room and began to walk towards the bar. Filthy stood behind the bar, wordlessly putting out a bottle of the local speciality on the counter for his frequent customer. Deuce paid for the drink and quietly sat down next to a cloaked man at the bar. They enjoyed some minutes of silence until the man finally spoke.

"We've been offered a job," Dirk, the cloaked man said. He had frequented the Carrion Inn and it was only a matter of time before the two rogues were partners. Dirk had a knack for finding profitable jobs in Riversy, and their first few thefts had gone so well that the two rogues had expanded operations in every town and city in the region of Amaranth. Now Deuce was rarely in Riversy, constantly traveling from area to area to perform work for their many employers. Dirk found that he liked staying comfortably in one city and not risking his neck, so he kept the network they had created running through couriers, handled the gathering of tools for Deuce, and took a quarter of the profits.

Deuce looked disappointingly into his empty bottle and signaled Filthy for another. "Maybe our luck is changing for the better. What's the job?"

"The dwarves of Rockby have sent a representative to Riversy asking for mercenaries to reclaim an axe from the caves of Doom."

"Rumor has it that the self-proclaimed King of Doom, Ragnatoth, has built up a small army of men to patrol those corridors. It won't be easy to get in. How much are they paying?"

"Twenty thousand coins, a majority of their dwindling coffers that remains from their war with the dwarves of Dowwin's Tomb."

"What? I can live off that for four months even with my new home. Why so much? Who is this representative?"

"The dwarf in question is Rothor. Our contacts in Rockby sent word of his departure from the city. Their letters got here on the same day he did and state that he was given more than twenty thousand coins to hire a group of adventurers to travel with him into Doom. It seems that Rothor is here to enjoy the pleasures of Riversy and is using the gold to fund his bad habits, as he is known to do."

Deuce sighed. He had crossed paths with Rothor many times in his travels, every one being a good experience. The Rothor he knew back then was honorable, incredibly brave, and a happy soul in a way that only the hard living dwarves seemed to be able to achieve. Then came the green potions Rothor began to drink regularly. Green potions enhance your awareness and can save you when surrounded by an enemy, but at an awful price, and soon Rothor became an addict. Now the dwarf could only dwell on his next fix, slowly draining away his family's fortune. Deuce began to rub his temples. "Tell me about the axe."

"You are right. This job won't be easy. What our contacts in Rockby have told me and Rothor has left out to the mercenaries he's talked to is that the axe is an old dwarven artifact, lost between the struggles of the dwarven kingdoms of Dowinn's Tomb and Rockby. Whatever dwarven kingdom regains the Axe of Dowinn would of course gain much prestige over its enemy. Unfortunately, King Ragnatoth has discovered the power of the Axe and contacted his allies, the dwarves of Dowinn's Tomb, and offered to give them the Axe for a price. They are currently in negotiations, which is why the dwarves of Rockby are in such a hurry for someone to get the axe for them. Rockby's spies have found that Ragnatoth has most likely given the Axe to his newest creation. Some monstrous creature the King calls the Almighty Keeper."

"Ha! Not a very imaginative man, is the king? I bet this information cost us quite a bit, didn't it?"

"Yes it did, but I think I know a way to make it back. You know, Deuce, if you decide to take this job we don't have to give the Axe to Rothor. The Rockby dwarves would realize what a fool the man is and probably pay us whatever price we demand from them."

"I should have known this was coming," Deuce thought, a frown playing on his lips. He could use the money. And why not? Rothor hadn't been his friend for a long time. The words came slowly out, "No... we won't be doing that. I'll go see Rothor and tell him I'll take the job. He can return the Axe to his people when he's done."

Dirk stared long and hard at Deuce. "Kindness doesn't pay."

"If you don't like it, Dirk, why don't you do the job."

"We'll do it you're way, but one morning you'll learn your lesson. Speaking of charity, those young lads were in here looking for you again today."

Deuce groaned, "Oh not again. What do they want now?"

"The usual. For you to show them the ropes. You've begun to make quite a reputation for yourself in the underground. Hell, they even talk about your exploits in some city streets. I've been telling you for awhile that if we ever started a guild..."

Deuce glared at Dirk. "I will not be part of some damnable organization. Those stupid kids follow me like I'm some sort of hero. I keep telling them they should talk to Esk, Saint, or Angeli." He almost added Rothor, but stopped himself. "Those three believe in causes."

"Maybe they trust in you for a reason. It's rare to find people in our line of work that care about the people they work with. Not that I don't care about you. If you died, I might actually have to work for a living."

"Dirk, you don't know what it's like to be hounded by these lads sometimes. I can't possibly live up to their expectations."

Dirk studied his partner for a moment. "You know pal, I think you're right. After all, when it comes down to it you're not scared of much, but you're actually afraid of people depending on you. It kind of makes a little cheat like me feel better to find that the famous Deuce Traveler is actually a coward." Dirk smiled at Deuce happily, and walked out of the Carrion Inn, whistling a pleasant tune.

Deuce finished the last of his drink and paid Filthy, saying to the bartender, "For a moment there I was afraid it was going to turn out to be a nice day..."

Chapter Two

Deuce couldn't figure out why Riversy had to be so bright and cheery this afternoon. The sun was out without a cloud in the sky. The people smiled at complete strangers, happy thoughts filling their minds. "How can people be this happy? Don't they know that there is a shell of a man living among them? A dwarf who used to be a hero, and whom probably should have died in his hay day when everyone could have remembered him the way Deuce did. Strong. Resolute. Unbreakable. And how the mighty have fallen. If someone like Rothor could become a twisted addict to something like the green flow as some called the green potions, what did that say about the rest of us?"

Now that he put himself in the proper dour mood to face Rothor, he began his trek. He went past the Riversy theatre and some general stores. He reached the center of town and stopped to think at the Temple Yard's Riversy Fountain for a while. He continued east of the fountain and down two streets until he reached the Griffin Lounge Inn. Rothor rented out a room on the second floor in one of the apartments. His friend and ever-present companion, Sloe, unsurprisingly had the room right next door. Deuce rapped his knuckles on the wooden frame, heard someone stepping across the room, and was surprised to see his friend, Esk, open the door.

"Hello dear, it's such a surprise to see you here," Deuce said.

"I'm planning to go to Doom and needed information from Rothor about its layout," Esk answered.

"Excellent. I've agreed to help retrieve that axe for him, too, although I think I'll put up a scavenger hunt, if it meant you'd visit my room."

"I'm not after the axe, I'm after something of my own." She said the next part louder and looked back over her shoulder. "The axe can rot there for all I care."

"Ummm...did I come at a bad time?"

A weak, scratchy voice came from inside the room. "Deuce? Deuce Traveler? Step in here so these old eyes can look at you." As the rogue slipped past Esk the voice went low, almost into a whisper. "Aaaah...Deuce. It's been what, a year? Way too long, my friend, way too long. Well, don't you have anything to say to your old traveling companion?"

Deuce didn't have anything to say for some long seconds. He was afraid if he did his voice would crack, and then he would cry. He hadn't cried since he found that his Caitlyn was gone, and he would be damned if he would now. The dwarf looked skeletal, a glazed look covered his eyes. This thing in front of him couldn't be his friend. Somewhere in those eyes was Rothor, but instead of that happiness that filled his face, there was nothing but the lost look of self-pity. "Hello Rothor. I too miss my traveling companion."

If Rothor heard the sting in those words he didn't show it. "I need someone to do this job for me, Deuce. Our lady Esk here refuses to care about her old friend. I just have to get this axe out of Doom."

"That's why I'm here, Rothor. I could use the cash and I've heard you were looking to hire a man for the job. Well, I'm it."

"Hehe... <caff> <cough>.. oh. Excuse me. You make this warrior proud, Deuce. Are you familiar on how to get into the mountain city of Miramor?"

"I am. The half-elves of the city know me as I have visited Miramor often looking for information on... someone close to me."

"Well, out of the south gate of Miramor is a secret tunnel entrance into the caverns known as Doom. Once you worm you're way through the tunnel and get into Doom go straight through the corridor. Our Rockby spies were able to get study maps in Dowinn's Tomb and sent the information to us. Did you know those dwarves built Doom for their human allies? Our spies’ messages indicate the side passages are filled with a library, a throne room, some barracks, and living spaces. However, straight down the hallway is where they keep their greatest treasures. If you can get past some minor locks you should find the axe in that region of the cavern. We have several cases of gold we are willing to drop off in your account at the bank. I'm willing to pay you ten thousand coins for the job. What do you say?"

Deuce's face turned red. He couldn't believe this was coming from his friend. "You lying thief!" He screamed causing both Esk and Rothor to jump. "After all we've been through and you dare lie to me! I know that axe is guarded by something the Rockby dwarves had feared! I know the axe is the artifact known as Dowwin's Axe! I know you've come with a lot more money then what you offer! How much did you start with? Thirty thousand coins? Forty? How much have you spent on the green flow? You were offering twenty thousand coins a few hours ago! Were you going to buy some more of you're drug? I felt sorry for you, you bastard! I should take that damn artifact of yours and sell it to the Rockby council and tell them about what type of man you really are!"

The door behind them slammed open as Sloe angrily barged in. She looked like a cross between a walking lizard and a human, eyelids that, unlike a human, were vertical and had nictating membranes. "Deuce, leave Rothor alone! He saved your life in Nengtaroth!" Rothor had found Sloe in a corner of known Austin and saved her life despite almost losing his own life in the process. When he was the hero Deuce knew. Sacrifice was something that her own race was not know to have the capacity for. Ever since, Sloe had been found to be overly sensitive to kindness. Rothor saved her life once, and no matter what Rothor was now, she loved him as her friend unconditionally and would never leave his side. Despite his anger, Sloe's pleading shamed Deuce.

"Very well, Sloe. I won't yell anymore, but you must understand this man is destroying himself and I won't stand for him bringing me down with him. Rothor, tell her to put twenty thousand coins in my account now so you can't spend it on green potions. Tell her, Rothor, and I'll head to Doom right now. Otherwise, I walk out of this room right now and your Rockby mission be damned. I've noticed no big line of sell swords knocking on your door behind me."

Rothor laughed bitterly, "Trust you? You can call yourself a fingersmith, Deuce, but you're still nothing but a thief. Your spies have obviously been watching my every move and you dare ask me to trust you? What about you, Esk? Love, if you ever truly cared about me you would do this itsy bitsy thing for me."

Esk's head was bowed, her face hidden by her hair. When she looked up towards Rothor, Deuce was stricken by the terrible sadness in her face and the trembling of her voice, "You bastard. How could you cheapen those days, you bastard? Rot in you're bed for all I care." Esk, the warrioress, turned crisply on the balls of her feet, a move she had learned from all her time in the military, and stormed out, slamming the door.

"What was that about?" Deuce wondered, but kept his face impassive and stared patiently at Rothor's still form.

The dwarf stared at the foot of his bed for several long minutes until he spoke, "Alright, Deuce, you rot bastard. You win, you unholy devil. Sloe, please go to the chests and arrange for twenty five thousand coins to go into this rogue's account here in the Riversy Bank. Are you happy now, thief? An extra five thousand coins to make sure you come back."

"I'm not a thief, I'm a fingersmith. And I told you my price was twenty thousand coins. Keep your extra five thousand, you look like you'll need it for your habit." So saying Deuce walked out with Sloe, lecturing her not to dare overpay him, and leaving the dwarf alone.

"Heh," Rothor chuckled to himself, "keep the five thousand coins, eh? Another day of living in bliss." So saying Rothor slipped out of his blankets, bedsores visible on his legs. He pulled out a large chest filled with dozens of glass vials with a greenish liquid inside. "Yep, I can live in harmony as my friends risk their lives when I should be instead. I can be one happy dwarf again as brave, brave Deuce takes my risks for me. Oh, Deuce, I remember when I thought you were some vagabond mercenary, but despite your talk on how you didn't care about that mission in Nengtaroth, you were there in the end, even though you were sure you were going to die with us. And we almost did, but we saved each other so many times in that nightmare fortress." Rothor pulled the cork of the bottle open, sniffed its contents, and licked his lips. "And my lovely Esk, does she remember that first night on the shores of Elwyn? The way you looked at me, my love. I could be so much stronger if you didn't leave, and now I send you to die in Doom. I wouldn't even help you in your private mission, but maybe Deuce will. Oh Esk, I'm so so sorry..."

The dwarf started sobbing over his green potion, and started to raise it to his lips when in the process he looked up into a desk mirror, saw his image, and wondered who it was looking back. Realization hit him and with a roar he tossed the vial at the mirror, shattering it, green liquid disappearing into the floorboards. Roaring like a wild beast, he began to throw the vials into the walls and floors of the room, crushing some in his fists, causing glass to cut into his blistered skin. When he was out of potions, he collapsed on his bed, sobbing and bleeding on his sheets, wishing the physical pain of his fresh wounds would hurt more and distract him from the withdrawal pains soon to come.


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