The Rescue of Gerda

A JP by Tahjerius, LSP, and Rosmary

The three continued on at a brisk pace, yet with caution and care, darting from one patch of shadow to the next until gaining the exterior of the warehouse. Bright lanthorns hung above the open main door, creating a blazing pool of light. Keeping well out of it, they pressed up against the building under the windows, then edged away toward a side entrance around a corner whereupon they found yet another man standing guard at the closed doorway.

Kalena removed a small dagger from a hidden sheath. All in one motion, taking only an instant to aim, she drew back her arm and whipped it forward so that the blade spun through the air and struck the man hard in the back of the skull, hilt first. The man dropped to the ground without making a sound.

“Now you're the one showing off,” Shel criticised under her breath.

Pretending not to know what the half-orc was talking about, Kalena turned with an innocent smile, but the smile lapsed from her face when she saw her superb knife throwing feat had been too quick for V's stricken vision to have clearly witnessed. Damn, she had impressed even herself. Advancing carefully, Shel handed Kalena back her throwing dagger, then picked the unconscious guard up under the arms and quietly deposited him out of view. At the same time V cracked the side door open and peered into the warehouse, squinting into the brightly lit room. He found that the illumination helped his damaged vision somewhat, as he successfully made out the two individuals roaming the corridor.

"Two guards up ahead," V relayed.

"Are you sure?" He heard from the half-orc as she and Kalena peered into the warehouse beside him.

"Yes, I'm sure. See for yourself."

Peaking around the corner, the ladies caught sight of one, but…

"Where did the other one go?" Kalena asked.

V gestured. "Around the corner. These ones have wide paths and this is a big place. We'll have to stay on our toes."

“You think?” Shel replied, a little disparagingly.

Kalena could tell Shel had still not quite forgiven V for the less-than-quiet takedown of the sentry, and any ill-feelings, however slight, were exacerbated by the tenseness of the situation. This was why she mainly preferred to work alone, or with a team that knew each other's rhythms and fully trusted each other, and not with people who had only just met. In a way she thought the three were probably very much alike: individuals who were used to operating on their own and doing things their own way. Loners, basically. Still, people like that could work exceedingly well together, and all things considered they weren't doing too bad up to now. And V, even half blind, was definitely the kind of man you'd want by your side in a fight.

Shel gave Kalena’s shoulder a small shake and silently pointed up to an overhang on the roof. Kalena gave a nod that she understood that one of them should enter from on high and that she was best suited to that. Shel knelt down, cupping hands for a foothold, and hoisted Kalena high enough for her to scramble onto the wooden awning above the door. The former assassin crawled up to the bevel-sided wall, found purchase for her hands and feet in the joints between the adjoining pieces, and climbed to the crescent window above.

Finding it slightly ajar, she slipped herself through to the interior where she lay on her back for a moment, her limbs shaking from fatigue. Kalena kept herself in peak physical shape and knew the short climb ought not to have exhausted her so much. Obviously Prespa had been correct that she was far from recovered from the lingering effects of the poison.

Not long after managing to catch her breath, Kalena heard a commotion as panicked guards burst in through the main doors. They were shouting that soldiers were coming. Damn, the army men from the roadblock were here already? Several of the warehouse guards came up from the stairs upon hearing the Karvossian military was about to descend on them. Below her she saw someone else moving furtively, though he was hard to make out, between the darkness and the amorphous reddish colour peeking out of the invisibility blanket. She smiled with relief, knowing she should not have doubted his great ability to look after himself.

The door creaked open below her, and Shel nearly kicked off the head of the person sneaking through. Lafayette had used the distraction to make a break for it in a pained crouch as he carried a woman with equally red hair as his own on his back. She looked alive, but much worse for wear, as though she had been badly beaten.

Through the threshold, Lafayette stood and looked to the half-orc. “Shel, a little help please,” he whispered, and Shel assisted him in getting the injured woman in a sitting position. “That lady Kalena was sent to find, Gerda, is still here somewhere,” he added in a hushed tone. “I can only rescue one person at a time.”

“Who the hell is this?” V asked Shel, brows furrowed as he struggled to make the man’s features out against the bright backlight.

“I think who you are is the more important question,” the man countered with a moderately suspicious look at V, rising from his crouch. As he did, the light caught his rakishly handsome face just enough for the elf to see him properly; all the while, he caught his accent, and added two and two together.

“Wait, so you’re Lafayette? That kid wasn’t kidding…”

“I know right?” Lafayette said.

Kalena was too far away to hear what Lafayette was saying to V, but she could tell the woman who had burdened his arms was far too tall to be a dwarf and that Gerda had obviously still yet to be recovered. She continued on, negotiating the narrow rafters which ran along the ceiling above the spacious interior of the warehouse and soon spotted a mezzanine office. She moved closer to it until she was near enough to look down through the office’s side window and glimpse a small figure slumped over a table inside. She nimbly leaped to another rafter and from that rafter to the top of a nearby stack of crates, which she used to descend to the floor.

She raced up to the office only to find the door was locked. Glancing around her, she retrieved her set of lockpicks from a belt pouch and quickly worked on the tumblers in the keyhole. There was a click and the door opened.

Replacing the lockpicks, Kalana entered the room and immediately saw that the unconscious figure could only be Gerda. The years seemed to have been kind as the dwarf if anything looked younger than she remembered being at Maelwin's house all those years ago. She was reaching out a hand to waken the apparently sleeping Gerda when a man, who had been standing out of sight against the wall, suddenly came lunging at her with a long sword.

Kalena dropped into the splits as his blade flashed over her head and in the same smooth balletic movement spun about and unsheathed her Makhairan duelling sabre. The man had a fanatical, crazed look in his eyes and he and Kalena fought without speaking as they furiously thrust and lunged and fast stepped around the small confines of the room even as Gerda continued to just lay there, unmoving, dead to the world.

In a handful of seconds it was all over. Kalena directed a subtle blow to the man's elbow joint, knocking him slightly off balance enough for her to break through his guard and plunge her blade into his body, piercing him through the ribcage. The man groaned and fell, dropping his sword.

“I thought you'd given up killing,” Shel said, appearing in the doorway.

“Unnecessary killing. Sometimes it can't be avoided,” Kalena replied, wiping her sabre on the lifeless man at her feet. “Did you see him? He fought like he was ensorcelled.”

“Ensorcelled?” Shel said. “All the more reason to spare his life.”

“Look, I'm not at my best right now, so it was either him or me,” Kalena growled defensively.

“Then you made the right choice,” Shel said, moving to Gerda. “Is this Solandriel's wife?”

“Yes, it is,” Kalena said with a smile of triumph and she turned to the dwarf, raising her voice. “Wake up, Gerda, and grab your things. Your rescue is finally at hand, thanks to yours truly!”

“I don't think she can hear you. It looks like she's been drugged or something,” Shel said, checking her vitals before lifting her up to carry.

“We'll have Prespa take a look at her,” Kalena said. “If she and Solandriel haven't been captured by the soldiers.”

“They're here in force,” Shel said soberly. “It's going to be difficult getting out of here. The place is a madhouse out there.”

The two stepped out the door to see it was just that with people running and tripping over each as they sought to escape the arriving army. A few of the assassins were engaging the soldiers in frantic combat as they tried to fight their way clear. Kalena and Shel started toward the double doors of the exit only to be confronted by several falcon-crested Karvossian soldiers, their crossbows up and aimed at them.

“Don't move, you're under arrest!” one shouted.

“Go,” Kalena said to Shel. “I'll handle them!”

Shel nodded and burst into a run, turning slightly to valiantly shield Gerda's limp form with her own body as the soldiers opened fire. A crossbow bolt whizzed past Shel's face and another shot overhead and smashed into a hanging lanthorn, causing it to explode and splatter its flaming oil reserve across the array of costumes that hung on hangers the red-haired seamstress had been labouring to produce.

As the garments burst into flames and the nearby wooden crates caught fire, Kalena charged the soldiers. They dropped their crossbows to draw their swords, but not before she reached them and her sabre flicked out twice and two of the men fell beneath the mithril-edged blade. The third soldier swung at her neck and she ducked and cut open his stomach with a swift slash.

Up to that point she held the advantage, but then many more converged on her. Too many.

“Hold on, Kalena!” V shouted to her. He raised his own crossbow to his best functioning eye and loosed a bolt into a man's shoulder who was coming at Kalena from the left, spinning the soldier sideways into a stack of crates.

Seeing a number of soldiers closing on Kalena from the right, Lafayette detonated one of his concussion bombs, sending an avalanche of crates and boxes down into their path. “I think I’m in the lead,” he quipped to V.

"The man is lucky he's cute," V muttered under his breath.

But their combined efforts brought the three heroes only a moment's respite before they were all sorely pressed by yet more soldiers charging in through the main doors that seemed only to have a desire to kill and ask questions later of anyone found at the warehouse.

“The Agriculture and Poulter's Guild, was it?” the army captain from the road said vindictively.

“The what now?” Lafayette asked, truly confused.

“Hey, you were buying the whole thing, don't tell me you weren't!” V shouted back with a cocky grin. He turned to Lafayette and explained, “A bit of a private joke. One of those you-had-to-be-there kind of things.”

“Well he does not seem to find it too funny,” Lafayette observed as the man charged them.

Kalena was the first to meet the enraged army captain. Their swords clashed hard together and she expertly deflected his blade upwards so that it passed above her head. As her sabre broke free, it bit into his side. He ignored the minor wound and attacked her fiercely so that she was driven backward and tumbled over a crate. The captain's sword came slashing down, and cut into the wooden container. Snarling, the man pulled it out, whirled, and next charged at V.

Kalena regained her feet and raised her sabre in front of her in time to defend against the oncoming blade of the man's lieutenant. She rolled and aimed a rising kick at his weapon, booting the blade to the side even as she sprang up off the floor and thrust her sabre through the links of his chainmail and into his clavicles, sending a spray of blood.

V, who had been keen enough to switch to his dual blades in the small time he was given, raised them as they were slashed into. Sparks flew as the man’s aggressive and sudden attack dropped V onto a box, and the man pressed down on him, not willing to give out.

“This is embarrassing, “ V grunted, his roguish smile never faltering, “Usually, I’m on top!”

He pressed up against the captain's blade, rising just enough off of the box so that when he came down, he did so with force. He dropped, his full weight crashing into the box as it caved in on itself. Ready for the fall, V spun in a bout of athleticism, landing so that he was beside the captain rather than under him. He moved quick, scrambling to get on top and press him down, before spinning his blade into a reverse grip and bringing it high, sending the hilt crashing down into the man’s face. With a jolt, the man blacked out, and the army captain was reduced to a non-issue for the next several minutes at least.

V, Kalena and Lafayette soon stood, all back to back as the rest of the soldiers continued to converge on them. Even with the time they had now, things weren’t looking so good. The fire was spreading with fervency, the warehouse being mostly wooden after all, and its stored contents exceedingly combustible. In minutes, it would be the flames, not the soldiers, that trapped them here, and in that instant, it seemed everyone in the room acknowledged that reality.

“Okay, this is starting to look real dicey!” V exclaimed as a distant support beam toppled from the ceiling, enveloped in flames.

“Does anyone have any ideas?” asked Lafayette, “Because what I got might kill us at close range.”

Kalena’s eyes desperately darted about as she looked for something, anything that could get them out of this. But as she did, she saw in the distant flickering flames the silhouette of someone or something coming towards them. It stood taller than any man, and from its skull great horns jutted out.

“What the hell is that?” she said, her eyes wide as the figure approached though the flames of the fire like they did not bother him at all.

“It looks like a spectre of the damn underworld!” V spat, his eyes catching the silhouette as well.

“Do you take me for a fool? So afraid of your own deaths that you resort to childish tricks to save your own pitiful lives!?” mocked the injured army lieutenant, finding the strength to stand, even as blood trickled down his cuirass.

The three were silent as the towering figure stepped forth behind the man, blue skin, a short mane of rugged black hair, and whitened eyes highlighted by the dark shadows that encircled them, all complete with a bad temper by the looks of it.

The being looked down upon the soldiers, who only now seemed to sense his presence and turn, and a snarl played on his lips as he regarded them with visible disdain. The lieutenant was the last to turn, and the surprise caused the Karvossian officer to physically topple over. Pain rung through his voice as he exclaimed, “By the gods, what is tha-”

The figure breathed in deeply, before letting forth a ferocious column of fire into the soldier’s ranks from his mouth, cooking alive the men who stood before him and afflicting the men who were just out of it’s reach with minor burns.

All of the soldiers who still lived and were not paralysed from their injuries collectively scrambled, looking back at the three heroes before turning to their lieutenant. Noticing their expectant eyes on him, the man, who laid on the ground, steadily bleeding out inhaled air to voice the words, before urging with all he had, “Retreat, you fools! RETREAT!!”

His men did not need to be told twice, most of them breaking into dead sprints as they hurried to evacuate the burning warehouse, the courageous few staying back to carry their lieutenant.

“Where is the captain!?” the lieutenant wanted to know.

“He’s dead sir, we have to go, now!”

Horns watched as they fled with disinterest in his eyes as they went, before turning to the three that remained. These were the ones who had managed to disrupt Ponce's operation. That meant they had to die, but he would test their spirit nevertheless. Horns seemed to know well what he needed to do, as he craned and twisted his neck, cracking his knuckles, before unveiling his slim carbon greataxe, the design of it unlike anything the three had ever seen.

He held it loosely, letting it hang to one side.

“Come!” he spoke, his voice booming, challengingly, even amidst the roaring fire. “Show me your strength!”

There was a moment of nervousness, but then Kalena’s accustomed resolve and confidence shone in her eyes and she assumed a graceful fighting stance. “I’ll show you…”

V glanced at Lafayette. “Well... we traded an army for a terrifying demon to fight, so this isn’t much better…” he grumbled, his weapons at the ready as certain death personified stared them in the eyes.

“Nonsense!” Lafayette said, flashing a never-say-die smile and slapping V on the ass. “We’ve killed bigger.”

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