Man in the Iron Mask Part 3- Painter of Pain
“I find that the activity known by most women and some men as ‘shopping’ could be better described by the word ‘torture,’ especially when both sexes are involved in the process. I have found only one woman who is an exception to that rule…”
-Diary of Sarevok of the Iron Mask
Sarevok laid in his bed with Tamoko, his long arms wrapped around her slim torso. Her soft skin was warm and comforting, and he could feel her back gently rise and fall against his bare chest. The smell of exotic spices clung to her hair and tickled his sensitive nose, but he reveled in the intoxicating scent. She stirred lightly and rolled towards him, her lithe body turning easily within his grasp. Her almond eyes opened languidly as she began to awake, and an easy smile crept across her full lips.
Sarevok shivered as she reached a delicate hand towards his face and tenderly stroked his rough cheek, gently smoothing his wiry eyebrows, as she always did, with her tiny thumbs. Her lips parted as she leaned up towards his neck, and he could feel her sweet breath against his skin.
“Wake up” already!” a rough voice interrupted, shattering his dream and brining him roughly back into reality. Loud pounding at the door echoed in his throbbing head, and he stiffly swung his feet around to the side of his bed. Who in the Nine Hells is it…oh, OH sleeping in plate mail is no better in a bed than on the ground… he groaned, reaching a hand to support his stiff back as he rose to his feet.
The pounding began again at his door. “Wake up! I will not have my day wasted being forced to wait for my master to finally grace me with his presence!” the muffled voice cried.
“I am coming you insufferable wench…” Sarevok hissed in reply, his mail clanking loudly as he shuffled towards the door. He practically ripped the handle off as he threw the door open, revealing a surprised, yet fully dressed, Shar-Teel. She glanced strangely at his plate mail, then looked back up at his helm-covered face with narrowed eyes.
“I heard that, but seeing as you are obviously unstable enough to be sleeping in full plate, I suggest that we get going so we can end this little ‘partnership’ as soon as possible.” Her lip curled in an irritated sneer, but Sarevok was surprised that she seemed to ignore his previous statement. A day’s travel had been sufficient enough to garner ample knowledge regarding the woman’s personality and prejudices, and Sarevok was certain she would rant about the “wench” part for the entirety of the day.
“We will leave when I am prepared, you will go downstairs and wait until I join you,” Sarevok commanded, motioning dismissively at her still-present form, “leave me.”
Shar-Teel threw back her head and laughed. “If you were not better equipped and more powerful than me, I would gut you where you stand for a comment like that. But…as it is, I have given my word,” she replied, shooting him a final cold stare as she turned to descend down the dark hallway.
Sarevok closed the door and returned to his room, his thoughts drifting back to his dream as he gathered his things. Tamoko still lingered in his mind, her nightly visits in his dreams were growing more and more distant with each passing day since he had buried her. She had been so close…her spirit…he clung to the memory desperately.
He roughly sheathed his sword onto his back and threw his pack over his shoulder, his thoughts weighing heavily on him. His armor rattled loudly as he locked his room and descended down the stairs to the tavern, his nose greeted by the scent of spiced meat and brewed coffee. Slowly he reached the landing and glanced around, not finding his companion in the sea of patrons and barmaids.
“Over here tin-man,” a sharp voice beckoned, and Sarevok turned to see Shar-Teel seated at a corner table, her place loaded with plates of meat and breads. She gestured towards an empty chair beside her and pushed a few platters towards him, smiling sweetly as he seated himself.
“ Master, I hope this is satisfactory, I even waited until I was honored with your verbose and stimulating company before I ate,” she sneered, a short laugh escaping her tightly drawn lips.
Sarevok glanced over her glittering eyes and wicked smile, deciding it was too early to even begin to deal with the woman. With some surprise, he noted that her callused elbows were drawn to her sides, and she sat with decent posture as she reached for her fork. He was glad she could not see his eyes open wide in astonishment as she gently sliced off a reasonably sized piece of pheasant and stabbed it delicately with her fork, then brought it to her mouth. Her thin lips wiped the fork clean without a sound, and she adroitly lowered it again into a small mound of steaming potatoes. I cannot believe it, the woman has proper table manners! He felt quite barbaric as he clumsily slid open the slit at the mouth of his helm and began to awkwardly cut his meat into smaller pieces, full plate did not allow for much ‘fine’ movement such as that needed for decent table etiquette.
Shar-Teel glanced over at him out of the corner of her eye, sizing up his eating skills in an instant. Decidedly not a paladin, those milksops wouldn’t be caught dead gripping a fork like a weapon, hmmm, dead paladins…nice, she thought to herself with a hit of a grin as she watched him fumble with a forkful of mashed turnips. She shot a sly glance towards him again, and was able to barely see his lips and chin through the small opening of his helm. His lips were thick and dark, along with his skin, and his chin was strong and covered with dark hair. He had the coloring of a Southerner, maybe from Amn, or even Baldur’s Gate. Maybe that is why he is returning…but why the disguise? Shar-Teel paused, her fork midair, and considered the various reasons, then brought the food to her mouth, dispelling the useless thoughts from her mind.
“I can feel you staring at me from under that colander you call a helm,” she growled, lowering her fork to the table.
Sarevok hastily looked back towards his plate, dipping his fork into a pile of fluffy, white potatoes. “Yes, I am merely surprised by your proper etiquette, it seems…almost feminine…”
“Very funny,” she replied, slumping forward onto her forearms and slouching in her seat. Feminine…right…he will die slowly, and painfully…
Sarevok brought the mashed potatoes to his mouth and took a big bite, promptly spitting it back onto his plate. “What was that for?!” Shar-Teel cried in surprise.
“What was that dreadful concoction of mashed…”
“Turnips?” Shar-Teel finished, glancing at Sarevok strangely.
“I hate turnips,” Sarevok growled, flinging the mound of pale mush onto a plate piled with bones and scraps.
“I see that…” Shar-Teel murmured, “can you get any more strange…I don’t think it is possible…”
“It is a long story, involving a gnome and a particularly ‘sour’ business dealing…” Sarevok began, but was interrupted by Shar-Teel’s raised hand.
“Save your breath, I don’t actually care.” She shook her head slowly and returned to eating her breakfast, muttering softly under breath between bites.
“Let me get this straight,” she finally said, turning to face Sarevok. “You not only wear full plate during the hottest time of the year for reasons unknown, but you also sleep in it even when you have a room alone, you are traveling to Baldur’s Gate but you just happened to have a the bone of a strange creature who almost killed me, and you hate turnips?” Her steely eyes stared at Sarevok, scanning over his helm-covered face intently.
“Yes,” Sarevok agreed, closing the opening in his helm and offering his cleaned plate to a passing barmaid, “and the point to this exposition of my eccentricities is…?”
“There is no point, I am just confused,” Shar-Teel replied, leaning forward on one of her bare elbows. She cupped her face in her hands as she looked up at him, giving her a strangely youthful look.
“You are confused? Ha!” Sarevok laughed, “you who were tied to a tree, challenged a fully-armed man to a fight, pledged your sword to an unknown cause, revel in bloodshed, and kill random Flaming Fist officers? You dare to be perplexed by my peculiarities?!”
Shar-Teel smiled widely and sighed blissfully. “Ah, yes, bloodshed would be nice…if only a certain cold fish in a tin can would allow me to express myself fully…”
“Yes,” Shar-Teel nodded, “I am an artist, you see, except my work is done in blood and steel…a veritable Painter of Pain.” She gestured floridly with a long hand and flicked her wrist as was the practice of the nobility. “By not allowing me to properly express my deep, violent feelings, you are repressing my creative flow and greatly reducing the quality of my work.”
Sarevok sighed and pushed away from the table. “That is one of the most ridiculous statements to have ever assaulted my ears…”
“Come now, what about the infamous “I am tha law?—Shar-Teel matched the accent of the Flaming Fists with her deep voice—“or maybe you have heard those stupid bandits running around with their balsa wood arrows rambling about kicking someone in the head?” She glanced at him, her eyes sparkling mischievously.
“I will not waste my time discussing such irrelevant nonsense,” Sarevok replied, glad his smile was covered by the helm. ‘You shall suff-a’…
The seamstress gazed out the window longingly, her business had been quite slow lately. Of course, most people don’t need new tunics in the middle of the summer, but still, she had expenses that needed paying. She gently stroked the blonde hair of her lover, how handsome he was. Strong, dimpled chin, soft skin that just begged to be touched, and his poetic words…oh how they worked magic on her heart!
“Garrick, darling, why did you come home in such a frightful hurry last night?” she asked, tracing a small finger across his cheek as he rested on her lap.
He looked up at her with bright blue eyes, she could feel herself melting into their depths. “Well, you see, um, I got chased by a dog…yeah, um, a dog. Yep. No lady trying to kill me or anything like that, after I begged her to sleep with me, nope…just a dog,” he stuttered, his eyes dropping nervously to the ground.
“Garrick, love, that is almost the third time this week! Maybe I should report this to the mayor, so he can bring in the druids to control them?”
“Yes, dear, that would be a good idea,” Garrick replied hastily, reaching up to stroke the woman’s severely dyed bright red hair.
A harsh rap at the door brought the woman’s attention back to the world, and she roughly shoved the boy off of her lap.
“Ouch!” he whined, grabbing for his smarting head after it smacked off the floor.
“Oh suck it up,” she hissed, “we have customers!” She flung her hair off of her shoulders and smoothed down her tight, bright green dress.
“Yes, love,” Garrick pouted, rising to go for the back room as he was always instructed. He just wasn’t good with customers, especially after that pretty young lady that he had helped fit into her bustier…
Two figures walked through the doorway, the first was a fierce looking woman, dressed in filthy plate mail and mud and blood smeared across her tattooed face. The second was a massive man dressed in full plate, every inch of his body obscured by the metal. What a shame…he is so…big, she thought to herself, rushing forward to greet them.
“Greetings, I am Silke, seamstress extraordinaire! How can I—she glanced at Shar-Teel’s dirt-covered garb reproachfully—be of aid to you?”
The man’s helm turned towards her, and a deep voice echoed through the finely slotted face plate. “We have need of new cloth to wear under our armor, and two full cloaks,” he stated flatly, and Silke smiled widely at him.
“Of course, I have a profuse selection of fine cloths and woven fabrics, in a variety of colors, shall I fetch them for you?”
“Yes,” the woman barked, her steely eyes fixed on the seamstress.
Silke rushed into the back, fetching various swatches of fabrics and cuts of cloaks, especially the nice delicate pink cloak she had just fashioned recently. It would fit the woman perfectly, and she knew the color would just look absolutely marvelous with her light brown hair and blue eyes. This will pay for my new instruments…Silke, soon you will be a bard once again!”
She swiftly returned to the main room, where the two customers stood waiting. The woman was tapping her foot impatiently, but the man seemed rather stoic and unmoving.
“Here” Silke gushed, opening her arms before them to expose the various fabrics, “these are the materials to choose from, and these”—she pulled forth a few cut tunics and cloaks—“are the patterns I can create.”
“This would look absolutely stunning on you,” Silke commented, holding a light blue tunic against the woman's body.
The woman shook her head and shoved it away. “Brown, gray, or black. That is all.”
“Oh, no dear…your coloring is much to beautiful for such drab colors, why not be vivid…I know, I have the perfect cloak for you!” She smiled to herself as she reached for the pink cloak, the woman was in desperate need of color. Plus, Silke was in desperate need of cash, and this cloak would cost a pretty penny…women were so gullible for things like that.
The taller man caught sight of what Silke was pulling forth and held out a gloved hand. “No!” he bellowed, but it was too late.
“Here,” Silke beamed, “this would look positively smashing on you!” She held the bright pink cloak against the woman’s body, not noticing that the taller warrior was slowly stepping away from them.
The woman stared at the cloak, motionless and at a loss for words. Her fists began to clench, and Silke could see her bite her lip and gaze down at the ground. Of course! I knew she would love it… The woman took a deep breath and held it in, then slowly raised a quivering hand and pushed the cloak away from her.
“Brown…gray…or black…” she hissed through clenched teeth, her blue eyes rising to meet Silke’s. The seamstress swallowed hard and quickly withdrew the cloak from the warrior’s body. “Ha,” she laughed weakly, “what do you know…pink maybe isn’t quite as perfect for your coloring as I thought…how about this nice tan colored cloth?” Silke held out a plain swatch of fabric, and two cuts of a simple tunic and cloak.
“Yes,” the woman and man said in unison.
Silke motioned for them to follow her to the dressing rooms. “Now for your measurements…”
Shar-Teel glanced up at Sarevok with wide eyes. “She’s not measuring anything on my body…” she hissed, and Sarevok nodded in agreement.
Silke held out a tape measurer and gestured towards a small room. “Come now, and I will measure you, how about you first, sir?” she beckoned, a lusty smile crossing her full lips.
Sarevok walked forward and snatched the tape out of her hands. “I will measure myself, the same for her…”
Silke sighed in disappointment. “As you wish…”
Shar-Teel roughly ripped her plate mail off of her body, and from the loud clanging in the room beside her, she assumed Vorekas was doing the same. She glanced in the mirror at her threadbare tunic and ragged hair, running a rough hand over her tanned skin. It was the first time in years that she had seen herself fully, without plate, reflected in a mirror. Her neck was thicker and more sinewy, her shoulders broader, her arms more chiseled and covered with a thin veil of veins. She could see her stomach muscles ripple as she breathed, beneath the thin tunic, and she could see her muscular thighs and calves bulging. If it were not for her smaller bone frame and somewhat existent breasts, she would look just like a man. Her lip curled in disgust and she turned from her reflection, her hand clutched involuntarily over a scar on her left breast. She looked down at it, tracing a long finger over the pattern…then quickly grabbed the tape lying on the floor.
Shar-Teel wrapped it around herself, measuring the points Silke had pointed out quite thoroughly, much to her chagrin, she did not like men nor women attempting to touch her. She scribbled the numbers down on a piece of paper and threw her armor back over her body, relief flooding her mind as she glanced back at her reflection. She saw nothing but shining plate and disheveled hair, exactly how she wanted to be.
Sarevok removed only his plate mail, and he could hear in the next room Shar-Teel doing the same. He grinned to himself as he thought of the pink cloak…and then Silke attempting to point out with very friendly hands exactly how Shar-Teel should measure herself. She was finally showing some measure of self-restraint, the journey might not be as difficult as he had at first anticipated, depending on whether she could keep that wicked temper at bay. Bah! What room do I have for criticism… “witness my unholy wrath…”
He sighed and glanced at himself in the mirror, scanning over his almost transparent tunic. His body looked much the same as it had before, he felt so much older and yet he looked the same. His travels with Seline had done him well, he was still a fierce fighter, even without the taint. It felt good to be out of the plate mail, and he even ventured to take off his helm and give him face and neck some air. He looked over his skin and bushy goatee, covered with beads of sweat and overgrown hair…he was in dire need of a good shave. It didn’t matter, noone would see his face anyhow. He grabbed the tape measurer off the floor and wrapped it around him, measuring the points dictated by the slip of paper the seamstress had given him, then reached for his plate. He could hear Shar-Teel doing the same as he strapped his various pieces of armor back on, and then unlocked the door and walked out of the small stall. He was greeted by Shar-Teel’s fierce expression, and he could see a small piece of paper clutched tightly in her hands.
“Did you enjoy admiring yourself in the mirror?” Sarevok asked mockingly, walking back towards the main room of the shop.
Shar-Teel glared at him darkly. “As much as I enjoy being in your company.”
Sarevok was about to reply when a sharp scream pierced his ears, followed by a series of high-pitched shrieks that made his blood curdle and stop in his veins.
“What the hell is that racket!” Shar-Teel bellowed, covering her ears with her hands as she quickly strode towards the shop. Sarevok followed her and soon they both saw Silke pinned against a far wall, her face pale with fear and her body drawn up away from something she was pointing towards on the ground. Shar-Teel looked down and jumped a little, then started moving back towards Sarevok.
“It is just a rat…” Sarevok and Shar-Teel both commented at the same time, then glanced towards each other in slight surprise.
“Kill it! NOW! Help! Please!” Silke shrieked, drawing her green dress up off the floor and away from the furry creature.
Sarevok reached to grab the crossbow strapped at his waist and found it missing. Shar-Teel had already ripped it from his belt and slipped away a single bolt, loaded it and aimed it at the creature. With perfect aim she shot the rodent through the middle, pinning it against the floor. She quickly walked up to it and grabbed it by the tail, then moved towards the door and opened it, flinging the rodent out into the streets.
“There,” she growled, walking back towards the seamstress, “and here are my measurements.” She shoved a piece of paper into the woman’s shaking hands and stepped away, then handed Sarevok back his crossbow.
“Why was I not informed that you were a good marksman with a crossbow?” Sarevok demanded, snatching the bow away from her roughly.
“I was never asked,” Shar-Teel replied flatly.
Insufferable woman… Sarevok thought to himself, then approached the seamstress and handed her his slip of paper. She looked up at him with wide green eyes, then coyly batted her eyelashes and tucked a shock of red hair behind her ear. “Thank you sir, maybe you would like me to take some other measurements some time?” she whispered slyly, glancing sideways at Shar-Teel.
“No. I want a tunic and a cloak for each of us, and I want a hood on both cloaks…they must be fully-covering cloaks. I want no part of my body visible…I am…highly sensitive to sunlight,” Sarevok replied sharply, then turned back towards Shar-Teel and motioned towards the door. She followed him and turned back to glance at the seamstress, who was smiling dreamily as she stared at the tall warrior. Stupid woman… she thought to herself, then spun back around and followed him into the crowded city streets.
“How many stores do we have left?” Shar-Teel begged, her feet dragging tiredly across the dirt roads as she carried an armful of parcels. “We have been everywhere…the seamstress, the blacksmith, the storekeeper…I loathe this…this…”
“Shopping?” Sarevok finished, grabbing for a bag of bolts about to fall out of Shar-Teel’s grip.
She snatched it out of his hands and threw it onto the pile in her arms. “Yes! I would rather call it torture…especially that awful woman, afraid of a stupid rat…I almost shot her…”
“Why didn’t you?”
Shar-Teel glanced up at him strangely. “I don’t fight women unless I absolutely have to…and I certainly don’t attack them.”
Sarevok nodded. “I see, only men have the benefit of your eternal enmity.”
Sarevok glanced sideways at the woman, her face filtering through the perforations in his helm. He wondered to himself why she held such a burning hatred for all men. I imagine she would run me through if she had half the chance…how confidence inspiring…
“Here, the Burning Wizard,” he directed suddenly, cutting sharply to the right towards the dark entrance.
“Another inn?” Shar-Teel asked curiously, glancing at the building. “At least it is a more suitable color…”
“We must meet…someone,” Sarevok added, somewhat nervously.
“Let’s just say I’m rather placated by the knowledge that you do not attack women…we must meet Officer Vai, of the Flaming Fist.” Sarevok swallowed hard, anticipating a loud outburst from the belligerent fighter.
“Make it quick, I’m hungry,” Shar-Teel replied calmly, then glanced up at him as he paused before the door. “Well? What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing,” Sarevok replied quickly, then pushed open the heavy door of the inn. He was greeted with the sound of cheerful music and laughter, the small downstairs tavern seemed to be bustling with activity. A short woman dressed in Flaming Fist armor caught eye of him and began walking towards him and Shar-Teel, smiling warmly at him but glancing strangely as she noticed the woman beside him.
“I presume you are Vorekas, then one Tenthir told me of?” she asked, her authoritative voice ringing clearly over the din of the tavern.
“I am he,” Sarevok replied, “he instructed me to meet with you before embarking on my—our—journey?” He corrected himself and motioned towards Shar-Teel. “This is Shar-Teel, she will be accompanying me, I realized Tenthir’s was the better judgment, traveling alone would be foolish.”
“Ah, I see,” the woman replied, a small smirk crossing her face, “the road does become lonely.”
Shar-Teel’s eyes began to narrow on the woman and she opened her mouth to respond, but Sarevok stilled her with a hand. “I presume you will give us the finer details of our travels?”
The officer nodded her head sharply. “As I am sure you know, I am Officer Vai, of the Flaming Fist. Tenthir requested that I warn you of the state of the lands to the north, I am afraid once you pass the gates of Beregost the road grows much less friendly.”
“Bandits?” Sarevok questioned.
The guard nodded her head. “You may find haven once you reach the Friendly Arm Inn, but I would suggest making haste from that point to Baldur’s Gate, that area is filled with them.”
“I am paid 100 gold for each scalp I return, correct?”
Officer Vai grinned. “Yes, I see you are a shrewd one…and a capable warrior. If you were able to root out the bandits at their main camp, I would offer you a 5,000 reward on top of the coin for each scalp…and there would be plenty.”
Sarevok glanced at Shar-Teel, whose eyes had lit up. “All those men…I mean, bandits…” she murmured dreamily.
“Yes, we accept your offer,” Sarevok replied hastily, grasping the officer’s outstretched hand and shaking it tightly.
“Good, the supply wagon will be awaiting you outside the Feldepost at sunrise tomorrow morning, I suggest you finish gathering all the supplies you would need…the journey will be difficult.”
“We have been ‘gathering’ all day…” Shar-Teel sighed.
“A question before I leave…can I exchange one scalp now?” Sarevok asked, reaching into his pack.
Officer Vai looked at him with surprise. “You have killed one already? You are a capable man…of course, here is the gold.” She reached for a pouch of coins and dropped them into his hand, grabbing the bloody chunk of flesh with the other. “Thank you…and good luck!”
Sarevok nodded at the woman and turned back towards the door, followed closely by Shar-Teel.
“I don’t like aiding the Fists, they are always up to something…” Shar-Teel whispered, edging close to Sarevok.
“I thought you liked women,” Sarevok replied.
“I might not kill them, but that doesn’t mean I trust them!” Shar-Teel hissed, glancing over her shoulder nervously.
“Speaking of women…we should go ‘check’ on our faithful seamstress..”
“And then we will return to the inn to eat and rest.”
Shar-Teel sighed blissfully. “Thank the gods.”
Part 3: Painter of Pain
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