Swords of Fury pt 2

Part 1

Kingdom of Dalen
The capital city of Opra Dale
357 DSTR
Early Afternoon

Arrows ricocheted off Lafayette's travelling trunk as the drow archers continued to target him from the rooftops. He carefully reached under his poncho and retrieved a thin ceramic orb from inside. He checked the clay’s color to make sure it was the correct one before throwing it out in front of him, and yanking a scarf over his mouth. The orb smashed against the ground and its chemical contents instantly formed a curtain of smoke. For good measure, he cast three more of these same orbs until a thick cloud of the obscuring vapours began filling the street. Holding the trunk above his head and using the smoke for cover, Lafayette extricated himself from where he'd been pinned down behind his dead horse.

"Good thinking," Count Chiren Soldor said, with an approving nod. "But where there is smoke, there ought to be fire!"

He reached into his coat pocket and his hand came out with what looked like a few smouldering coals. With a magician's flourish, he threw them into the air and chanted in Aetherian. The coals flew together, colliding and disappearing in an eldritch flash. Then the Count extended his empty, open palm in front of him and from out of it came a barrage of coals. More than a dozen Emerald Scarves were struck by the projectiles, causing their bodies to go up in burning flames.

C’est pas mal deja!” Lafayette commended him. “That’s not bad at all!”

Soldor smiled. “An intermediate evocation spell I mastered as an apprentice war mage.” He turned and unleashed another fiery barrage up at the archers, sending them retreating. “These gutter scum don’t know who they’re mucking with. I fought at Mizsulce you know. I was no more than a lad of fifteen then, but I was there, right in the thick of it.”

“Mizsulce? I heard that was a nasty piece of business.”

“Nasty?” The Count let out a dark laugh. “You could say that. My regiment did not leave one filthy rebel alive. Our orders were to kill anything that moved, anything that breathed, rebel or otherwise. We actually had contests amongst each other to see who could kill the most people at once, or in the most agonising ways possible.”

Lafayette gave Soldor a strange look. “Er, those sound like good times,” he ventured.

“Oh they were, they were indeed! As I said, I was only fifteen, but they made a man out of me. And the Verdish witnessing us doing this to one of our own cities could only stop and wonder at what atrocities we'd commit upon theirs if given half the chance. How brilliant was that? Thalia was removing a cancer in our midst whilst striking terror in the rest of Dalen's enemies abroad. Ah, those were the days, let me tell you. Thalia was so inspiring, so ruthless, as hard as nails that woman. I shall honestly and truly miss her.”

Lafayette gestured around them. “If your Queen was so wonderful how could she let all this happen?”

“In recent years Thalia recognised the existential threat posed by the Timber Crag. Thus, she turned her attention away from domestic affairs to prepare Dalen for our inevitable conflict with them. This caused her to become distracted from the threats that lay a lot closer to home. To think she was deceived by that ridiculous imposter posing as me! And who can fathom the damage the Nahema boy did before Valade found him out? But enough reminiscences.” The Count’s glowing hands moved in occult patterns and an awful grin split his face. “If you thought my fire spell was impressive, my foreign friend, wait until you see my next one!”

Lafayette was about to ask if his magic was so great why couldn’t he just teleport them the hell out of here, but just then the Merovingian caught sight of the ring of hulking gladiators bearing down on Kalena, who was barely holding the brutes at bay with her dazzling swordsmanship, and at once he sprinted off to help her.

A mace swished past Kalena's ear that would have splattered her skull like a melon had it landed. She smoothly stepped to the side and cut a bloody gash down its owner's arm from bicep to wrist. As the powerfully-built warrior drew back with a grunt of pain, another man drove his sword at her chest. Ordinarily she would have parried it away with the flick of her own sword and immediately countered. Because of the far superior physical strength of her foes and their larger and heavier weapons, this would have been unwise, which meant a shift from her normal tactics. She used her superb footwork and reflexes, keeping just out of range and baiting the men into overextending themselves; the gladiators were so accustomed to fighting opponents their own size and not having to reach for them that she found it made them a bit clumsy, allowing for her to draw them in close enough to tag a hand, a knee or a hip with her slender, ever-darting sabre. So as the sword came at her, instead of parrying it, she smoothly sidestepped again and thrust with the subtle ease of an expert duellist, skewering the man's knuckles.

However whilst this was an effective strategy that would have sufficed against one or two large and fearsome adversaries, gradually cutting them to pieces, it proved inadequate against numerous hardened warriors pressing in on her, and the kind of big men who could stoically absorb a lot of damage. Nevertheless she worked her sabre magnificently, continuously twisting and turning, slashing and dodging, using every ounce of her athletic speed, and every learned trick in her vast sword-fighting repertoire.

Panic began to creep over Kalena as none of it seemed to be quite enough. She had slain one of the gladiators at the outset of the battle, but had done little more since then than forestall the rest from killing her outright. She had repeatedly attempted to break free and mount Enyo, but the seasoned arena fighters worked well as a team to keep her busy and trapped in an ever tightening vise. She soon understood the situation to be untenable. She was not only being steadily exhausted but literally backed up against a wall.

Her luck finally ran out when one rushed in at her, aiming a sword stroke at her neck. Kalena ducked and spun to the side only for another gladiator to score a glancing blow across her thigh just beneath her armoured cuirass, knocking her almost to her knees. She screamed out from the intense stinging pain. The light chainmail leggings she wore had turned the blade, but it still hurt like hell.

The men surged forward to take advantage of her stumble and she desperately threw herself into a reverse somersault that would take her clear, but she was not fast enough and a heavy boot connected with her body in mid-flip, sending her flying. She landed hard and awkwardly on her backside, her teeth rattling. Aching all over, she forced herself to her feet, sucking in pained breaths as she turned to face the gladiators, who came on now like a pack of preying wolves, eager for the kill.

All of a sudden a thick cloud of smoke roiled in like a shroud being drawn over everyone. The gladiators paused, coughing and looking around in momentary surprise, wondering at its source. Kalena had a pretty good idea and went on the offensive with renewed vigour, swiftly grabbing up her fallen sword and stabbing one of the distracted men through the heart.

Seeing what she had done to his compatriot who he was fairly close to, another gladiator charged Kalena in a berserker rage, swinging his broadsword at her head, but due to the haze of smoke he could hardly any longer see their surroundings, and the tip of his blade struck the side of the building she had retreated against. The sword caught fast in the wall between a crack in the mortar, and before he could wrench it out, Kalena took that moment to drive her own sword up beneath his chin, and further upward into his mouth. His eyes bulged in shock, and she viciously twisted her sabre and ripped it free, leaving the flesh a torn hanging mess and the man choking on his own blood.

The big warrior collapsed, and Kalena turned from him, her dark brunette hair wreathing wildly about her spattered face as she fiercely looked about for her next foe to slay.

“Remind me never to make you mad,” a familiarly accented voice quipped.

Squinting from the smoke, the largest of Kalena's remaining assailants looked to where the unexpected voice had come from and out of sight, Lafayette did a running slide, cutting the huge man's Achilles tendon on his right ankle. He roared with agony. As the foot collapsed under him, Lafayette rose like a ginger-haired wraith against the smoke and clouted the man twice in the temple with the hilt of his short sword, sending the giant toppling and writhing on the ground. “Plus ils sont gros, plus ils tombent dur,” Lafayette murmured, kicking the man’s sword away from his reach.

“It took you long enough to get here,” Kalena said ungratefully.

Lafayette gave a raffish grin. “The Count started telling me his whole life story. I didn't want to be impolite and leave until he was through.”, but it was obvious this wasn’t the whole story.

Kalena chuckled. “Yes, Chiren does go on a bit, doesn't he?"

She looked around for the last gladiator only to find him lying on the ground at Enyo's feet, who had bowled the man over and caved in his skull when no one was looking.

“Good girl!” Kalena called out in praise, despite the mare disobeying her signal to stay clear of the fight.

“An impressive showing,” Sarx said, the smile wiped off her face by an annoyed, uncertain expression. She slowly drew her own weapon, a double-edged sword, black finish in colour, with an emerald-studded cat’s head pommel. “It appears I am going to have to take you down myself.”

“That I would like to see,” Kalena responded with a confident, mocking laugh. “Come on, let’s finish this!”

Without another word, Sarx launched into a run, moving faster than a human could possibly have, straight at Kalena. Her long black braids trailed out behind her; her nemesis, assuming an opposing stance, smiled fearlessly through her disheveled dark brown mane. Their two swords collided with a deafening clang, and Kalena was forced backward from Sarx’s momentum.

Kalena’s lighter, thinner sabre lashed out first though, and Sarx swayed back as the keen blade swished past her throat. She spun around in a blur and balling her free hand into a fist, caught Kalena with a blow across the face. Wincing, Kalena skipped back, instantly recovering her balance, her grey-green eyes blazing.

Grinning, Sarx attacked with savagery and skill. As Kalena parried a flurry of lightening fast double-thrusts, she recognised the other woman’s weapon as a Schiavona sword, and by the way it moved and hummed in the air that it was quite possibly enchanted. She stifled a cry as the tip of the black blade sliced through the links of her chainmail shoulder-guard and scored the flesh beneath.

Gritting her teeth, Kalena retreated back again and Sarx pursued with blinding speed, stabbing towards her vulnerably exposed neck. Kalena sure-footedly slipped to the side of the other woman, bringing her sabre slashing in a downward arc. Falling out of balance, the half-drow stumbled away, and vermillion blood appeared from a cut along her side.

The two circled one another, their breaths heavier from pain and exertion.

“I can see you’re very tired, Kalena,” Sarx observed. “Not as young as you used to be, are you? By human standards, I mean.”

Kalena’s intense expression faded and a faintly amused smile curved her mouth. “That you feel the need for psychological taunts is rather telling Sarx, and rather pathetic. The fact is I’m only getting warmed up, and I have the full measure of you now; you’re quite fast, but that can only help you so much against someone of my advanced skills, which it goes without saying, far exceed yours.”

“Ever the braggart, Kalena, but don’t tell me, show me!” Sarx growled and attacked again.

Kalena parried the woman's thrust and in the same motion cleverly riposted, putting a bloody gouge in Sarx’s narrow chin.

Kalena laughed aloud. “How’s that for a demonstration?”

Jolted, Sarx touched a hand to the wound on her face and then with a snarl of rage wildly sprang at Kalena, the Schiavona a deadly, black blur in the air. Kalena fell back under the frenzied assault, their two blades clashing together again and again like raucous cymbals. There were no more insults exchanged, both far too concentrated on battling each other with every iota of their considerable martial prowess as they stamped and lunged, and slashed and thrust back and forth.

Sarx continued to ferociously rain hammer-like blows against Kalena’s sabre, the impacts jarring her sore arm and keeping her largely on the defensive. On the sidelines, Lafayette prepared to intervene. With her drow and infernal blood enhancing her physical capabilities slightly beyond human levels, Sarx was clearly the faster and stronger swordswoman, and though highly skillful, Kalena was noticeably stiff and exhausted from fighting the gladiators. Nearby, Enyo hardly paid attention, as if having seen Kalena in a life or death sword fight far too many times.

Short of breath and appearing increasingly weak, Kalena's swordarm sagged for a moment, letting an opening in her guard present itself. Sarx gleefully went for it, not recognising the feint for what it was until it was too late. Kalena with sudden, unexpected strength, batted the Schiavona out of position with a hard, contemptuous slap, and thrust her sabre forward with brilliant precision, whose mithril-edged steel blade vanished wetly into her foe’s chest, sinking up to the ornate hilt guard… right in the same place that Chiren Soldor had earlier blasted with the magical lightning, greatly weakening the armour.

Sarx’s gold eyes popped wide open and her mouth fell agape. “No!” she cried.

“Yes,” Kalena said, gripping her sabre with both hands. “This is for the boy, Van, who you murdered on my property last year.” She leaned in close, tearing the blade violently through both of Sarx’s lungs. “And this is for Hemlock’s little faerie friend.”

The half infernal half drow was gasping in excruciating agony. Begging for her life. “No-wait, please!”

“And this… this is for everything else!!”

Sarx let out one last strangled shriek as Kalena disemboweled her.

Lafayette looked away from the gore, switching his amber gaze instead to the other Emerald Scarves that stood transfixed on the rooftops and about on the street, watching on in horrified astonishment as their leader was butchered before their eyes.

He raised his arms in an ‘are you not entertained pose.’ “You’ve lost, go home!” he shouted.

As Sarx lay quietly still, sprawled in a pool of her own blood and spilled entrails, Kalena wiped her sabre clean, then sheathed it.

“Well, I don't know about you,” she said happily, “but that was quite diverting.”

“How badly are you hurt?” Lafayette asked, noticing Kalena was still short of breath.

“I'm fine. She just nicked me in the shoulder is all.” Kalena retrieved the Schiavona off the ground and idly examined the well-crafted weapon. “Hmm. They don't make swords like this around here. I could probably get a fair bit of coin for it in Haven.”

Je l'aime bien. You should keep it; the color suits you. And maybe with that thing you become their boss now?” Lafayette added half-jokingly.

The few surviving Emerald Scarves that heard the comment did not seem to appreciate the humour in it, nor the sight of Kalena brandishing her new trophy; some responded with grief-stricken anger and curses, but it was quite obvious the death of Sarx had taken all the fight out of them. One by one, they turned and walked away, disappearing into the daylight shadows of Opra Dale.

Before setting off again Lafayette removed his trunk and popped it open. Scanning the contents a moment before taking out a small ornate vial. “Pour this on the cuts.” Said Lafayette. “It’ll burn but it will keep it from getting you sick.” he said, slinging the back on and mounting as of now unused horse, before they prepared to set off again to Haven.

(Co-written with Rosmary)

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