The Devil You Don't - Chapter 8 - pentuppen (2024)

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Diamonds and Silk

She woke to find herself suffocating, there was a brief moment of flailing panic before she pushed Baron’s heavy body off her, much to the cat’s indignation. Of all the space available on her bed, he’d decided her face offered the most practical of cushions. Pulling a good few strands of white and orange fur from her mouth, Ren sat up and cursed as she felt the faint dampness of her own shirt sticking to her skin. Mornings were not her forte, even less so when she had spent the night in the delirium of dreams that had become increasingly more strange over the last couple of months.

The dreams had become darker, the mundane slivers of her subconscious becoming more sinister, she saw things she couldn’t explain and felt things that couldn’t be named. Her dreams spoke of rage, fire, desire and fear, and of course, the devil. She dreamed about Raphael a lot, and not always in the best of lights. She might have suspected him of far more covert means of control, if not for the fact that she was pretty sure that he found immense satisfaction in holding her in check with his contract alone. She’d also exhausted all the tests for magical mind control, not trusting her own opinion on the matter enough not to do so.

No, the devil had simply found a way to fill her head without magic, which made her irrationally angry, since her dreams were her only sanctuary and he was invading even those now. What next?

A raucous caw drew her eye to one of the shelves that lined the walls of her small bedroom, where Dot was having a staring contest with an inert stuffed owlbear Ren had rescued from an estate sale. The toy had been possessed by a rather violent spirit belonging to a child who had been young enough not to understand what had happened to it, but old enough for rage and resentment of the living to build. It had been a particularly brutal exorcism, but in the last moments before the spirit let go, she had felt its child like relief, and had kept the toy as a reminder of compassion in the face of her work.

With an exaggerated groan, Ren swung her legs over the edge of her bed and winced when the soles of her feet met cold stone. She used to leave her soft soled boots by the edge of the bed in order to slip her feet in them upon waking, but that had stopped around the time she’d put her foot in one of them only to find another of Baron’s ‘gifts’ inside it. Now, each boot was turned upside down and shaken before she put them on, Baron giving her a green eyed glare as he stretched and clawed obnoxiously at the blankets.

After untangling her wild hair from around her horns, she snatched up a robe at the back of her door and shuffled into the library, meaning to find coffee at the first opportunity. Ren’s bedroom was little more than a storage room that had been repurposed, and there was no kitchens to be found down here, but she made do with her alchemy equipment, brewing the coffee in a large measuring beaker, her mind still shaking off the last remnants of her dreams while still spitting out the occasional cat hair.

Given that she was at her least observant in the mornings, and hardly anyone ever came down here before breakfast, it took her far longer than she liked to admit, to realize that she was being watched.

With her coffee still cupped in both hands she looked almost blankly at the young man who blinked a little nervously at her, his large watery eyes magnified behind thick spectacles, giving him the look of someone permanently on the verge of bursting into tears. This was very much off routine, and her brain was still only halfway through the process of fully waking up, and for a moment she couldn’t think of what to say. This left the two of them staring at each other for an uncomfortable minute before she remembered herself and drew an already tightened robe, tighter around her chest.

“Can I…help you?”

It wasn’t common for students to come into the library themselves, it was restricted for a reason, and the footmen were usually sent down with a list to be approved by herself if they wanted to check out a tome. Every now and then, one might come down with a question or request for her, but no student she knew would be seen out of bed before 9am and she didn’t recognize this young man.

“Um…actually I think I’m here to help….well. You.”

It might be entirely possible that she didn’t know every face in the college, but this young man had rather…particular features that would have made it difficult for him to blend in with Windstones usual noble stock. His face was thin and rat-like, but his nose, eyes and rounded ears were disproportionately large, as if they wished to make up for his lack of chin. He was trying to smile, but it looked more like a grimace and for a moment he gave her the impression of a hopeful dog that might be a little too used to receiving a kick instead of a ‘good boy’.

“I’m sorry, you have quite lost me. Help me with what exactly?”

The young man’s smile became more strained, and she could almost visibly see him starting to sweat beneath a tunic that looked as if it had been much repaired. Pinching at the bridge of her nose to chase away the last of the morning's lethargic daze, she took pity on the boy who looked like he was about to wet himself with nerves, and gestured to the seat on the other side of her desk.

Dot chose this particular moment to inspect their new visitor by landing clumsily on his shoulder, and pecking at his thinning brown hair. Curiously this seemed to take some of the tension out of the young man who smiled broadly at the small crow, and watched as she hopped onto the desk to chase around a few kernels of corn Ren scattered there.

“Um…Mossbank said that, well he allowed…um…I’m Percival Winford Ma’am, your new…assistant?”

Apparently her face made him believe that last part to be on somewhat shaky ground, and indeed, her need for an assistant was news to her, though she was already starting to get a sneaking feeling. Mossbank knew better than to send some green boy down into the vaults, which meant that someone’s wallet had opened if what ‘Percival’ was saying happened to be true. She might have been sleep fogged and one foot into annoyed, but she could still recognize the obvious well enough.

“Mossbank sent you down here as my assistant, to do what exactly?”

It seemed rather unfair that the college headmaster had sent Percival down here to deliver the news he was probably too afraid to tell himself, and indeed the young man seemed to be picking his words carefully, as if trying to avoid stepping into some metaphorical bear trap. Nobody with even half an ounce of sense would have sent an assistant down here without telling her, which in turn told her that there had to be another reason for Percival to be here.

“To uh…tend to the library of course, th-that is to say to assist you in day to day activities while you…um, w-while you attend to other…duties.”

Her barely held patience became a full glare by the time those words tapered off into a nervous watery smile that spoke of someone who hoped the phrase ‘shoot the messenger’ wasn’t actually literal. The bastards! Mossbank most of all, because he knew she would spot this for what it was the minute it was proposed. It wasn’t like she could actually dictate who the college hired, but up until now the old wizard had enough respect for her not to interfere.

“And who really hired you?”

Percival's' overly prominent Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously, twirling a small sliver band around his thumb as her direct tone made him flinch slightly. Again she took in the ragged edges of his sleeves, the slightly unkempt hair and the crack in one arm of his spectacles. This was no noble born, and yet here he was playing their game, or at least taking place as one their pawns.

“I um…wanted the job, if that means anything. But I confess, Lord Raphael sent me. H-he seemed to think you would need the help while…while you work on other projects.”

Other projects. She could have simply dismissed this as a euphemism, but even Raphael wouldn’t waste too many resources just to get her alone and naked more often, at least she hoped not. No, the devil might have been having his fun, but only a fool underutilized his tools, and she’d known something else was coming the moment he’d given her the book to decode.

“So, Raphael has sent you to keep an eye on me.”

It wasn’t a question, and to give Percival his due, he didn’t even try to deny it, merely looking like he really was expecting that proverbial kick. She was being manipulated in more ways than one, Raphael clearly smart enough to send someone too pathetic to actually take her temper out on. It might have been insulting that he was being so heavy handed about it, but the contract put her firmly in his pocket and made it very clear that while she could indeed fight him on this, that would only lead to him ‘insisting’ in ways only Raphael could. She would be having words with Mossbank, though this would likely achieve nothing but allowing her to vent, since it was likely the devil had him over a barrel of his very own.

“I really do want the job, Ma’am. I-It was either this or a net hauler at the docks…I can be of help. I want to be of help, and not just because Raphael will feed me to a pit fiend if I prove to be anything less than an asset.”

Fingers drummed on the desktop, Dot watched them with a rhythmic bob of her whole feathery body, as Ren pondered her choices here. Raphael had found the right person to tug on her heart strings, and even if the manipulation was blindingly obvious, she couldn’t help but see a little of herself in Percival. They were both of lowtown stock, and both of them were ‘unique’ enough that they would never be accepted by the elite that made up the college board members. And they were both under the thumb of a rather ambitious and frankly presumptuous devil, who could choose to make their lives miserable if he so wished.

No, she couldn’t turn the young man away when it was all too likely she might meet him as a wretch on his knees within the House of Hope if she refused him.

“Don’t call me Ma’am. It’s Ren, or Miss Lethwaite if you have to be formal. I’m not going to lie, I don’t like this one bit, but we must pick our battles. First things first, there are many rules when it comes to the library…”

For the next hour, Ren took her time going over the many dangerous ins and outs of the Library, all the while, wondering how she might turn this disturbance of the norm, to her advantage.

~o0O0o~

The boxes were waiting for her on the bed once she had handed Percival a heavy tome containing lists of the Library’s policies and contingencies. She’d left him sitting at her desk with Baron keeping an imperious eye over him. Dot seemed to have taken to the young man, it was probably going to take Ren a lot longer to see him as anything less than a trap. Given the devils penchant for dramatics while popping in and out of her life, she didn’t bother questioning how the boxes with their neat crimson bows had gotten there.

She did eye them with some trepidation. Raphael was confident enough that she rather doubted this was a peace offering, and whatever he’d sent, would likely prove to be a benefit to him and a headache to her. Sitting on the bed, she pulled one of the ribbons free of the largest box, and flipped its lid open with a finger, wincing in advance of even parting the tissue paper covering its contents. After staring at what lay beneath for a few seconds, she lifted it out of the box and held it at arm's length, as if it were a mutant lovechild of a rust monster and jelly she was holding, and not a dress.

It was black, there were feathers, and small glittering jet beads worked into the silken fabrics, and it was exactly on brand for someone like Raphael. There was no note to accompany the boxes, but she didn’t need one to know that the dress was a convenient demand on the devil's part. Astarion was to be holding a party for the latest investors to his schemes, disguised as a charity ball, and he’d already pressed her into attending. Considering what she’d seen Haarlep wearing, this was not the worst thing that Raphael could have picked for her, but the damn thing still gave her anxiety as she held it up to the dim blue light.

She was still getting over the dress when she flipped open another box to find the boots. The heels were mercifully short, but the sleek velveteen boot would climb its way up to her thighs when she put them on, which she supposed would account for the long slit in the dress’s silk. He wasn’t kidding when he kept mentioning her using everything she had when it came to getting ahead, but she couldn’t for the life of her imagine what the devil meant to achieve by sending her to one of Astarion’s functions dressed like this.

Speaking of the vampire, she was already cringing while trying to imagine his reaction when she strolled into his ballroom wearing the devils version of open flirtation. She’d been picking a lot of her battles lately, which was just a polite way of saying she had been giving in because so far she hadn’t seen anything worth inviting Raphael's wrath. He’d been preoccupied with moulding her into something not exactly different, but not exactly herself either. But sooner or later he would show his cruel side, and she didn’t think the damn dress was worth testing his patience on.

He was pushing it though, more so with the assistant than the dress, though the garment was a statement of course, of both his desires and his control.

However, when she came to stand in front of her own mirror image an hour later, the possibility of mutiny became slightly more tangible. It wasn’t that the dress was particularly revealing, though looking down at her chest had earned an exclamation of “Good Lord!”, before she refused to look down again. But it was certainly tailored to not only fit her form, but outline it in incredible detail. The boots were a problem. True, their length meant that only a small triangle of thigh was bared by the dress’s design, but even the small heels made walking with any amount of confidence difficult.

She’d only fallen flat on her face once, yet she still walked as stiffly as any tightrope walker in the circus. The last box contained Raphael’s pièce de résistance. It glittered at her throat now, a tightly bound choker of woven silver filigree fitted with hundreds of tiny diamonds. She didn’t even question if the stones were real or not, Raphael did not seem the type to dabble in costume jewellery and it made Ren all the more nervous to be wearing that much money around her damn neck.

While she usually preferred to keep her hair up and out of the way, she’d only half tied it back this time, in deference to the fact that the back of the dress left her almost bare down to the small of her back. It was hair with an awful lot of personality, thick and slightly curling, it seemed to have a mind of its own most of the time, but tonight it would be a large part of her armour, along with the thick velvet cloak she pulled over her shoulders before she left her rooms.

In retrospect, she should have been ready for all of this, or at least something like it. The devil had been quiet in the two weeks after her last visit to his home, and she hadn’t really believed he had forgotten her already. She certainly hadn’t forgotten him, and if she needed a reminder she only had to recall the perilous and shaky journey down the Library’s long corridor, as her impractical boots clicked jarringly across the stone.

Percival was still at her desk, a stack of inert books beside him, quietly talking to an older man who looked to be in his mid forties, though that was a guess she’d never gotten around to confirming and probably never would since the man was technically dead. Merric was one of Astarion’s people, and that was about as much as she knew about him beyond his reliability and fealty to his Master. Studious and polite, he always gave her the impression that he took every task very seriously, even this one it seemed, as he noted the Tiefling's arrival and offered a short bow before straightening.

“Merric, I didn’t know Astarion was sending an escort.”

“The Master thought it would be prudent to send me tonight.”

This was the rogue's rather polite way of saying that he didn’t know either, and likely had no explanation to offer her beyond following his orders. For once she didn’t mind, she wasn’t keen on the idea of wandering into the Lower City while wearing the cost of a house around her neck. She watched Merric glance at Percival before raising a questioning brow at Ren who merely shrugged, not wanting to get into it right over the boy's head. For his part, Percival was doing his best to keep his considerable nose in one of the books.

“Percival, I’m not sure what time I’ll be back, I trust Mossbank has secured you a room, and I further trust you wouldn’t be so stupid as to poke around while I’m gone?”

Percival looked genuinely surprised rather than offended and shook his head with a short laugh that quickly tapered off as he regarded the more volatile shelves with a healthy dose of nervous respect.

“I rather like my shape the way it is Miss Lethwaite. But I'll walk out with you if it’ll make you feel better…um…can I take one of these with me?”

Ren eyed the cover of the book and nodded, gathering up the keys on her desk. The book on the theory of dream walking was a dull read, but it wouldn’t do anything more than send the boy to sleep. It was very early days, but much as she might have liked to find a complaint, Percival had turned out to be fairly unobtrusive, ready to listen and equally ready to make himself almost appear not there. He knew she didn’t fully trust him, and nor should she, given the hand that truly commanded him, but he certainly seemed very apologetic about the whole ordeal.

By the time she had locked up the library behind them, and taken Merric’s arm, Percival had already scuttled off to whatever small room Mossbank had tucked him away into. As she took the offered arm without complaint, hoping Merric’s sturdiness would abate the feeling that she was about to break her own ankle in the ridiculous boots, it occurred to her that Raphael might well make his own appearance tonight. Gods she hoped not, she didn’t think she could deal with Astarion, a room full of nobles and the devil all at the same time.

Her father often uttered a rather charming phrase that neatly summed up the reality of her situation.

“Wish in one hand, and sh*t in the other.”

~o0O0o~

Half an hour later, Ren was peering into the packed ballroom from out in the foyer, where Merric had left her once his task of seeing her safely to the palace was complete. There was the usual array of faces of course, the powerful, the rich and the useful, it was one of the few places where you might see a criminal mastermind rubbing shoulders with the elite. She felt no less out of place here than she had at Windstone, but the difference was, there wasn’t a soul in here who would look to her with open disdain, not with the Master of the house watching closely.

She found herself standing aside as a footman bustled past her with a tray of drinks, Ren snagging one as he passed, her eyes darting over soft flowing silks, gleaming jewels and intricate brocade. She was stalling, knowing that she would have to shed the protective outer layer of the cloak and reveal Raphael’s latest creative interpretation of her presence, but not quite able to make herself do so just yet. It was all very well consigning herself to the fact that a dress was not worth testing the devils ire, but it was quite another to waltz through this particular nest of snakes.

Though they wouldn’t dare openly disparage her in this place, she would feel them thinking it nonetheless, and she hated that this still terrified her, as if she were still some Lower city upstart who was one wrong move away from being cast back down into mediocrity on the whim of ‘the people’, that formless entity that spoke in whispers and deals. Wouldn’t it all be so much better if she simply didn’t give a f*ck? But she had none of Astarion’s confidence or power to pull off such an attitude, nor did she have the safety net of power and control that allowed such confidence.

So she would have to make do with knocking back the glass of Suzailian Sweet like a soldier taking one last shot before battle. With the wine in her belly she shrugged off the cloak in one move, the gesture quick, as if she didn’t dare delay and let her second thoughts take charge enough to have her standing out here for the rest of the night. Glancing through the door again, she tossed the cloak off to one side, muttering to herself as she tried to make her feet move.

“You can do this Ren, It’s not like you haven’t done this before…granted you haven’t done it while apparently dressed like a devil’s wet dream, but it's a ballroom, not a dragon…and you handled one of those already. Just smile….and for the love of every god there is, don’t fall on your face.”

“Are you all right Miss?”

Ren whirled, then looked down, slightly relieved to see Petra, Astarion’s right hand woman, standing just behind her. The old halfling hardly seemed like the type to be seen as ‘spawn material’ on the surface, but Ren knew her well enough to understand that her steady hand and steel trap mind were exactly the kind of assets someone like Astarion needed. The vampire ruled the palace, but Petra made sure the whole thing ran smoothly, a job that might have been delegated to half a dozen others without someone like Petra to make it look easy. Much like Ren, she was not the typical fare for a celebration like this, but there wasn’t a nobleman or merchant that would raise more than an eyebrow to the white haired bespectacled Petra, who could make anyone’s life miserable with just a glance at one of her famed ledgers.

“Oh my you look…”

“Like I’m about to turn around and run out the door before anyone sees me?”

Petra grinned as she looked the tiefling up and down, then frowned as the hurried steps of the Master of ceremonies clattered towards them from the kitchens where he had likely been having a quick smoke, having made most of the important introductions by now. He was already opening his mouth to bellow the next announcement before he stopped short, suddenly faced with two women now glaring at him.

“Don’t you dare, go do something that requires less shouting Markus.”

The Master of Ceremonies did a neat about turn and marched right back to the kitchens, much to Ren’s relief, and she gave the halfling a grateful look that turned strained as she looked back into the ballroom, still trying to make herself get this over and done with before someone mistook her for a coat rack back here. Petra’s hand patted her on the arm in commiseration.

“The usual den of wolves I’m afraid, and their teeth won’t be any less dulled if you stand out here all night. Best to get it over with love, if nothing else, I can guarantee the Master will be pleased to see you.”

Ren sighed and shrugged off the desire to hunch her shoulders and bow her head, which was the typical pose of someone hoping desperately to go unnoticed. She fixed her eyes to the raised tables at the back of the room and put one foot in front of the other, trying her best not to overthink her own steps or the possibility of stumbling. Hiding herself amongst the crowds wasn’t going to work here and so she didn’t try, it was hard to blend in when she was pale blue and sporting horns that made her at least a head taller than most of the women here.

There were eyes that followed her, brows that rose into hairlines and of course, barely disguised whispers that rose quickly despite the mingled chatter and the small orchestra playing off to one side. With her eyes trained on the upper tables, she finally spotted the conductor of this particular orchestra of glamor and frivolity, currently deep in conversation with a rather severe looking man sat next to him. He looked to be the perfect depiction of decadent sin as always, draped in white and gold, which only made the turn of his gaze all the more vibrant when the severe looking man tapped him on the arm to draw his attention to the small partition in the crowd where she now walked.

Even from halfway across the room, she noted the slight widening of those eyes and the sudden straightening of his posture, along with the slow growing smile that was equal parts familiar and unsettling. She’d seen that smile a lot in the early days when he’d marked her as the one gullible enough to fall for all his carefully crafted affections, and though the nature of their relationship had mostly changed, he wore it for her now as she approached, swathed in silk and doing her best not to look as foolish as she felt. Like a child playing dress up amongst the adults.

When he took her hand in the traditional greeting of a brush of lips over the knuckles, her eyes narrowed, daring him to say a single word, both of them knowing there wasn’t a damn thing she could do if the vampire chose to make a show of her this evening. Much to her relief, he didn’t make a single comment about her attire, and instead introduced him to the man sitting beside him, who turned out to be a delegate from Neverwinter, currently in the city to observe some of the trade methods via the Gate’s ports.

It was a dull subject, and likely purposely so in order to conceal the real reason for his being here, but Ren didn’t pry, simply glad to be occupied with the dull conversation which left little opportunity for her to be approached by anybody else. By the time she broke off from the pair, the party had passed its awkward introductory stage and slipped into the hour where the drinks were flowing fast and the conversation even faster. Ren had inched her way up the long stairs leading to the balcony, where she could comfortably watch the people below like some spectator sport.

Ren was simply relieved to have gotten through the first hour without incident, and she wouldn’t have to spend too much more time here, Astarion only wanted her seen for the look of the thing after all, and she doubted he would realize she was gone if she slipped away in the last hour.. which proved she still had a lot to learn when it came to her friend. His initial reaction to Raphael’s latest gesture had been brief and physical when she had entered the ballroom, which was much to be expected. But she didn’t expect to be suddenly tugged into the dimmer corridor at the top of the stairs while she had been watching an amusing little play between two family matriarchs and a handsome young patriar.

She should have known that his reaction was far too measured, the man couldn’t leave anything well enough alone if it served to intrigue or delight him.

“This is…new, and thoroughly enticing. If I didn’t know you better I'd say you meant to make an impression this evening. Dare I ask whose closet you have been rifling through to come up with this masterpiece?”

Ren folded her arms, which produced the unfortunate effect of pushing her overly exposed decolletage to more prominence and she quickly dropped them, much to the vampire's amusem*nt. Theirs was a tenuous friendship, prone to slip into the arduous task of pretending that they didn’t know each other intimately on occasions, though he wore none of that pretense now as he stared down at the fruits of the devils labour.

“Oh for the love of….you know perfectly well whose hand has directed this travesty, now would you kindly stop looking at me like I’m a well bloodied steak.”

“Not in the slightest. So this is Raphael’s latest game is it? Well the man has taste, if absolutely no sense, only an idiot would send you into a lion's den looking this delicious.”

His words all but purred, and Ren was reminded that she wasn’t immune to the vampire's charms, just stubbornly dismissive of them, knowing how fickle they could be and never really being sure just how much truth there was to them. She knew the truth of his hunger far better however, and it beat down on her from the little alcove he’d bustled her into, the rest of the corridor free from staff and guests given that it led to the private quarters. When he leaned in to take in her scent just below her ear she remained perfectly still, gritting her teeth.

No she wasn’t immune to him, not by a long shot, he knew it and she knew he used it to his advantage sparingly, saving it for those times where she was most susceptible. Tonight however, she had been packaged up as temptation, and Astarion certainly wasn’t immune to its effects, she rather doubted he even tried as his nose brushed her jawline and his voice dropped a few octaves into the gutter.

“There is a room full of people down there waiting to celebrate my mere existence and all I have been thinking about for the past hour is getting my hands under this dress. It’s not like you to test my resolve, Ren, but I have to say…I like it.”

He knew her well enough to be able to test her limits, especially when he was well aware that while the sensible part of her brain had enough resolve to keep her away from his desire to make her part of his undead entourage, the stupid part of her brain remembered their time together all too well. Even now, she knew he would taste the faintest skip of a heartbeat or the dry click of her throat when she swallowed hard and tried to think of something cutting to say.

“Well…stop it, I’m not testing anything but my own patience tonight. I don’t know what the devil was thinking, but it probably wasn’t serving me up to you on a platter.”

But now that she had mentioned it, the idea formed that perhaps that was exactly what Raphael had in mind. They had not discussed many rules beyond the fact that she was, as per her contract, his to do with as he pleased, and she wouldn’t put it past him to have concocted some sort of test of her loyalty by throwing her in at the deep end. He would have eyes on her of course, and as covert as the vampire thought he was being, whispers would no doubt reach infernal ears if she let her ‘friend’ build up the momentum of seduction. It wasn’t a nice thought, and when a cool hand finally did settle on her waist and drag itself down the dark silk, she found her hand snapping a little too quickly about his wrist before it could reach that small section of bare thigh.

He looked up at her with one raised brow, and clearly didn’t like what he saw on her face, and for a second she thought he almost looked…hurt? It was gone before she could properly process it, and he took a step back, which only seemed to make her hand tighten around his wrist, still trying to process that look.

“You’ve looked at me in a lot of ways over the years Ren, but never with fear. I’m suddenly starting to not like this game.”

She hadn’t been aware of it, but now that she thought about it, her reaction in grabbing his wrist had not been borne of reluctance to be toyed with, but genuine fear. This worried her, but it also made her a little angry, how much further influence did the devil want? He infiltrated her home, her work, her reputation, and now it was bringing a tenseness to one of her few friendships where there had only been an unspoken peace between them. Up until now she might well have allowed herself a moment's reprieve in an old lover's arms, but her fear of what the devil might do in retaliation had placed an unexpected invisible wall between them.

“I’m not….it’s not you I’m afraid of. I woke up this morning to find out I have a new assistant I didn't ask for, but someone certainly paid for, and now apparently he’s dressing me too, and who knows what else is coming.”

The look on that carefully controlled face softened a little, but the eyes were still slightly darkened with what might have been anger, it was hard to tell in the dim light. She’d never been off limits before, except when it came to her own restraint, but she knew Astarion well enough to know that he could have gone years or more without touching her if it were just herself saying no. Putting her out of his reach by any other means was just throwing oil on a fire that had burned peacefully ever since their true separation. If she were any judge, Astarion would not forget this, nor would he leave well enough alone.

“I keep forgetting how much trouble I’ve landed you in. Yet again I feel the word ‘sorry’ is somewhat inadequate. Stay the night in one of the rooms, I think we need to have a talk in the morning.”

It occurred to her that Astarion was likely the only person she actually could discuss the situation with. Raphael’s contract had not bought her silence, but it didn’t need to. She wasn’t about to announce to anyone that she was under his thumb, and even if she did, the only thing it would achieve would be to make her even more of a pariah amongst her peers. Besides, there were things she wanted to get off her chest that absolutely couldn’t be said in polite company, things that Astarion of all people could understand and perhaps give insight. Logic made his offer acceptable, but she couldn’t help but feel as though he were speaking to her through a mask that hid his true feelings on the matter.

“All right, I’ll just have to hope Percival doesn’t blow himself up in the meantime.”

He smiled a smile that didn’t quite fit right on his face, and bent his head to press a brief kiss to her forehead, his mouth a cool breeze on warm skin before he stepped back and she finally let go. He looked at her for a moment or two before visibly shaking off whatever lingered in his mind, putting on the face of the perfect host once more.

“You know, I really should have known better. Of course the bastard would find a way of punishing me too.”

She didn’t have to ask him what he meant by that as she watched him leave back down the stairs, and a moment later the noise level rose as she heard his shout for more drinks. She should have been relieved, she supposed, and she was, if only for the fact that he hadn’t pressed the matter when he was fully capable of doing so when he knew full well the limits of her resolve when it came to him. Her own body let its opinion be known with its mournful little ache in response to her rejection of what it knew to be ultimately pleasurable advances.

Turning away from the balcony, she found one of the rooms at the end of the hall open and shut herself inside, breathing a little easier once most of the noise of the party below was cut off. The room was almost triple the size of her small poky bedroom, and its bed dominated most of it, giving Ren pause for thought as she tried to calculate how many people would comfortably be able to fit on it.

Double doors led off to a balcony, though it took her a minute or so to shove them open, and she supposed that a house full of spawn weren’t keen to have them open too often. The cooler air filled the stuffy room, and Ren began to poke around in the closets for something to wear that didn’t require lacing up or baring half her breasts to the world in general.

“Awakened by a silken promise, her silver lover dreams. But love is lost, and desire blind, beneath the echo of her screams.”

She froze, arctic fear slipping up her spine as her forehead slowly touched on the cupboard door.

Well….sh*t.

~o0O0o~

The Devil You Don't - Chapter 8 - pentuppen (2024)
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