A Tale from the Past: Reap the Whirlwind

JP with Rosmary and Ender

Opra Dale, Dalen

Arrows ricocheted off Lafayette's travelling trunk as the drow archers continued to target him from the rooftops. The Merovignian rogue carefully reached under his poncho and retrieved a thin ceramic orb from a pouch. He checked the clay’s color to make certain it was the correct one before throwing it out in front of him and yanking a scarf over his mouth just before the orb smashed against the ground and its chemical contents formed a curtain of acrid smoke. For good measure, he cast three more of these same orbs until a thick cloud of obscuring vapours filled the street. Holding the trunk above his head and using the smoke for cover, Lafayette then quickly 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!"

The Dalish nobleman and wizard reached into his own 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 of the drow street gang were struck by the projectiles, causing their bodies to burst into flames.

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

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

Lafayette's good cheer faltered. “Mizsulce? I heard that was a nasty piece of business.”

“Nasty?” The Count let out a dark laugh. “Oh, you could say that. My regiment did not leave one filthy Rising Star rebel alive. Our orders were to kill anything that moved, anything that breathed, rebel or otherwise in the streets and buildings of the city. 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 army 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.” He shook his head wistfully. “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 felt shivers going up his spine. Kalena had some of the creepiest friends. “If your Queen was so formidable, how could she let all this happen now? Dalen is on the brink of collapse.”

“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, however, caused her to become distracted from the threats that lay a lot closer to home. Insidious forces of chaos unseen in our midst. To think Her Majesty was even deceived by that ridiculous imposter posing as me! And who can fathom the damage the Nahema boy did before Kalena 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 burning coals spell was impressive, my foreign friend, wait until you see what I do for an encore!”

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 saw the ring of hulking gladiators that were bearing down on Kalena, who was barely holding the brutes at bay with her magnificent swordsmanship, and without a further word to Soldor 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 flicked her Makhairan duelling sabre forward, cutting a bloody gash down its owner's arm from bicep to wrist. As the powerfully-built gladiator drew back with a grunt of pain, another drove his sword at her chest. Ordinarily she would have parried it away with the swipe of her own blade and immediately countered with a dazzling riposte. Because of the far superior physical strength of her foes and the larger and heavier weapons they wielded, this would have been unwise, which meant a shift from her normal tactics. She fell upon her superb footwork and reflexes, keeping just out of the men's range and baiting them into overextending themselves; the gladiators were so accustomed to fighting opponents their own size in the arena and not having to overly reach for them that she found it made them a bit clumsy, allowing for her to draw them in close enough to slash a hand, a knee, or a hip with her sharp, slender, ever-darting sabre. So as the broadsword 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 might have sufficed against one or two of these fearsome adversaries, gradually cutting them to pieces, it was proving inadequate against so many warriors pressing in on her, and the kind of big men who could stoically absorb a lot of physical damage. Nevertheless Kalena had little recourse and worked her sabre brilliantly as she continuously leapt, twisted, turned, slashed, and dodged with every ounce of her tremendous athletic speed and agility, and every learned trick in her extensive sword-fighting repertoire.

Panic began to creep over Kalena as nothing she did seemed 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 of the men from killing her outright. She had repeatedly attempted to break free of their encirclement but the seasoned arena fighters worked excellently as a team to keep her busy and trapped in their ever tightening vise. She soon understood her situation to be untenable. She was not only being steadily exhausted, but literally backed up against a wall. Where the hell was Lafayette and Soldor?

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

The gladiators surged forward to take advantage of her stumble and Kalena desperately leaped and tucked her body into a reverse somersault that would take her clear of them, but she was not fast enough and a heavy boot connected with her body in mid-tumble, sending her flying through air. She landed hard and awkwardly on her backside with such force it had her teeth rattling. Aching all over, the former royal assassin forced herself to her feet, sucking in pained breaths as her oversized opponents came rushing in like a pack of hungry wolves, eager to make the kill and earn the gold Sarx was paying them for her head.

All of a sudden a thick cloud of smoke roiled in like a shroud being drawn over the street. The gladiators paused, coughing as the smoke entered their lungs and they all looked around in momentary surprise, wondering at its source. Recognising its colour and texture Kalena had a pretty good idea and went on the offensive with renewed vigour, swiftly grabbing up her fallen sabre 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, but due to the haze of smoke he could hardly 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 opportune moment to drive her own sword up beneath the man's chin, and further upwards 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 gladiator choking on his own blood.

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

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

Squinting from the smoke, the largest of Kalena's remaining assailants looked around for where the unexpected voice had come from and Lafayette did a running slide beneath the screen of smoke, cutting the huge man's Achilles tendon. He roared with agony. As the foot collapsed under him, Lafayette rose like a ginger-haired wraith against the black 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,” the Merovignian murmured, kicking the man’s sword away from his reach.

“It took you long enough to get here,” Kalena said in an ungrateful tone.

Lafayette gave a raffish grin. “Soldor started telling me his whole life story. I didn't want to be rude and leave until he was through.”

Kalena’s good-humour returned and she 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, the highly trained war horse having bowled the man over and caved in his skull when no one was looking.

“Good girl!” Kalena called out in warm praise, despite the aging mare disobeying her express order to stay out of the fight.

“An impressive showing,” Sarx said, the smug smile wiped off her face by an annoyed, uncertain expression.

“Those men entertained an audience for a living,” Kalena remarked derisively. “You know what I did to make ends meet.”

“As good as you are, Miss Valade, there's always someone better.” Sarx slowly unsheathed her own weapon, a long double-edged sword, black finish in colour, with an emerald-studded cat’s head pommel. “I don't intend to return to Cartwright without your head. So it appears I am going to have to take you down myself.”

“That I would like to see,” Kalena responded with a confident laugh. “I've wanted to gut you for a long time, Sarx. Come on, let’s finish this!”

Without a further word, Sarx launched into a run straight at Kalena, moving faster than a human possibly could have. The woman's long black braids streamed out behind her like living snakes; Kalena, assuming an opposing stance, grinned fearlessly through her disheveled brunette curls. Their two swords collided with a deafening metallic ring, and the former assassin was forced backward from Sarx’s momentum and greater demonic strength.

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 punch to the face. Wincing from the blow, 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 lightning fast thrusts and strokes, she recognised the other woman’s weapon as a Schiavona style sword that were popular in Karavoss, and by the way it moved and hummed in the air that it was magically enchanted. She stifled a cry as the tip of the black blade sliced through the links of her chainmail shoulder-guard and scored her flesh beneath.

Teeth gritted, Kalena retreated back again and Sarx pursued with blinding speed, stabbing towards her unprotected neck. A master in the art of sword fighting, Kalena sure-footedly slipped to the side of the other woman, bringing her sabre slashing in a highly practiced downward arc. Falling out of balance, the half-drow reeled away, and vermillion blood appeared from a cut along her flank.

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 to resort to psychological taunts is rather telling, Sarx, and rather pathetic. The fact is I'm in the prime of my life and I have the full measure of you now; you’re admittedly quite fast and strong, 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 deflected 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 she wildly sprang at Kalena, the Schiavona a deadly, black blur in the air. Kalena fell back under the frenzied assault, their two blades ringing together again and again like raucous cymbals, releasing sparks into the air. There were no more taunts and insults exchanged, both women now 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 along the street. As Kalena's strength flagged, Sarx began raining hammer-like blows against her slender sabre, the impacts jarring Kalena's sore, tiring arm, and keeping her largely on the defensive.

Standing on the sidelines, Lafayette prepared to intervene. He didn't care that Kalena would be mad at him. With her drow and infernal blood, Sarx's physical capabilities were beyond human levels that she was clearly the faster and stronger swordswoman, and though enormously skillful, Kalena was 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 to find it of any real interest.

Short of breath and visibly weakening, Kalena's swordarm sagged for a brief moment, letting an opening in her guard present itself. Sarx gleefully went for it and in the process left herself exposed, not recognising the feint for what it was until it was too late. Kalena with sudden, unexpected strength and coordination, 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 its ornate hilt guard… right in the same exact place that Count Soldor had earlier blasted with his magical lightning.

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, Kalena, please!”

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

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

Lafayette looked away from the awful gore, switching his amber gaze instead to the other Emerald Scarves who stood transfixed on the rooftops above 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 dead in a pool of 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. I would have been remiss departing Dalen and leaving that woman still breathing.”

“How badly are you hurt?” Lafayette asked with concern.

“I'm fine. She just nicked me in the shoulder is all.” Ignoring the throbbing gash, 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.”

“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 mutterings and curses, but it was quite apparent 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.

“Ah, you killed her of course.” Chiren Soldor smiled as he came walking up and saw Sarx's grisly corpse. “Despite this little victory we still need to leave in some haste.”

“Yes, let's get a move on, shall we?” Kalena started over to Enyo but Lafayette stopped her.

“Un moment.” He removed his trunk and popped it open. Scanning the contents, he took out a small vial. “Pour this on your cuts,” he told her. “It’ll burn, but it will keep you from getting sick.”

Kalena sighed at the delay but obliged him.

“Lafayette is correct,” Soldor said with a comradely smile. “We don't need you to fall ill. Those drow killed my entire retinue, so I'm now even happier to have your company on the way to Haven.”

“You can come with us, but please spare us any more of your war stories,” Lafayette told the Count, looking around. “So it's just the three of us?”

“Four,” a wintry voice said. “If you will have me.”

They turned to see a very tall man with strong, sharp features of face and a head of flowing silver-white hair.

“You!” Soldor gasped.

Zachary Sainte smiled and signalled the Count not to give away his identity. "My name is--"

“Why don’t we save this conversation for the road, oui?” Lafayette interrupted, “The Timber Crag are encircling the city and we need to get out before they close the net, and we end up trapped.” He gave an urgent ‘let’s go’ look as he adjusted his pack and together the group mounted the horses and continued their effort to escape the Doom of Opra Dale.

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