The Elves at the Door

A JP by Rosmary, LSP, Tahjerius, and Nim

Kalena sprawled in the makeshift bed, frowning at Lafayette's brief note as the strength gradually seeped back into her finely muscled limbs. Shel sat attentively in a chair drawn close, where the big, green-skinned half-orc partook of a bowl of Prespa's salubrious soup. Across the sitting room, the practicing physician extinguished the hearth-fire whose roaring heat had served out its purpose.

“He must be out of his mind,” Kalena repeated, and absently crumpled the parchment in her hand.

“Do you think Lafayette has bitten off more than he can chew?” Shel asked, slurping down the soup.

“Our mutual friend is a man well able to look after himself,” Kalena said, assuring herself as much as the other woman. “Still, there is far more to this affair than there seems to be, and in my experience, what you don't know can turn out to be quite deadly.”

Shel gave her a questioning look. “What do you know?”

“Well, I'm considered something of an authority on assassins,” Kalena explained, sitting up. “Sending a whole team of them to despatch one lone noblewoman is a little overkill, don’t you think? And then there is the desire to make use of a dwarven poison. It's just such an overly elaborate scheme that we're obviously missing a few key pieces of the puzzle, namely, who the intended victim is. I must say that I'm rather keen to get to the bottom of the whole business! Would you saddle us some mounts whilst I get dressed?” She swung her bare, sculpted legs to the floor—and immediately stopped short as a rush of vertigo assailed her.

“Please get back in bed, Miss Valade,” Prespa called out, walking over. “You still need a few more hours rest at minimum.”

Kalena took several steadying breaths until the dizzy spell passed. “I daresay I can rest more comfortably on horseback.”

“Horseback?” The tall, horned woman shook her head in the negative. “You are as yet in no condition to ride a horse and are not going anywhere until you have properly recovered.”

Kalena's sage-coloured eyes darkened warningly. “I appreciate you came here to help, Prespa, but don't presume to command me in my own house.”

“You are my patient and need to follow my treatment directives.”

“In that case, I'm hereby officially discharging myself on my own recognizance. I'll thank you to stand aside.”

“Lafayette told me you might be stubborn. I do not think I would be fulfilling my debt to him if I allowed you to leave and get yourself killed.”

“It's no use fulfilling your debt to him,” Kalena retorted, “if he's the one who gets himself killed without me there to back him up.”

Done with the conversation, she turned and strode away down the short hall to the pair of small bedrooms at the rear of the house. She entered hers, lit by a single mullioned window facing a stand of oak trees in the backyard. It was a modest room, so very unlike the grand and opulent one she had in Dalen. She knew she was lucky, though. She was alive with a roof over her head, and that was more than could be said for a lot of her other contemporaries, the majority of whom were presumably long dead and gone.

Kalena crossed to a table on which sat a basin of fragrant, rose-scented water for her use at the end of a hard day's work at the malodorous stables. Peeling off her nightshift, she moistened a soft cloth and quickly washed herself down. Her body was sore and tired and craved a good long luxurious soak in a bubble bath, but there would be ample time for that once Gerda was successfully rescued from captivity. Kalena had no doubt that she and Lafayette could sort out all the mysterious intrigue, which promised to be a diverting little adventure for them.

The one-time elite assassin opened her mirrored, faded walnut armoire and dressed with practiced swiftness, changing into the 'adventure kit' she had grown to favour: tight-fitting, dark royal purple-coloured velvet leggings; a matching lace-trimmed silk blouse beneath a waist-length black sleeveless fitted leather jerkin with a light but sturdy chainmail underweave; her ornate sword belt, and her high-heeled, Kobroran leather all-purpose riding boots that she had purchased in Dalen over a century ago. Quiet and durable, completely irreplaceable, the boots combined utility with perfect fit and comfort, and what's more, besides looking fabulous, never scuffed or scratched. She brushed out her long, curly, nearly-black, deeply dark brown hair, walked over to Lafayette's battle trunk, and disengaged the complicated locking mechanisms. With a series of clicks, the lid opened to reveal an array of high-quality weapons and other paraphernalia stored for safekeeping.

Kalena lifted out her Makhairan dueling sabre. The hilt was a solid piece of carved ebony with a shark skin grip. The blade was slender and silvery blue-black in colour due to its razor-sharp mithril edge. The entire sabre was beautifully balanced and in her masterful hand had proved a most splendid instrument of death. She scabbarded it on her belt and her fighting dagger on the opposite hip from the sword—an identical twin dagger to the one she'd lost earlier in the day—and stowed her smaller throwing daggers in their various sheaths on her person.

Grabbing her trusty hooded sable cloak and fastening it about her shoulders, she gave herself a last check in the mirror. Even to her own critical gaze, the tailored ensemble was superlative; as practical for skulking unseen in the shadows of the night as it was sartorially elegant enough for wearing to meet Queen Thalia for tea. Kalena noticed her face looked a bit puffy and drawn, not that she overly cared at the moment. She wasn't off to hobnob with handsome rich noblemen, but to once more engage in some amazing feats of bangstry and derring-do.

Sliding her recurve bow and quiver onto her back, she swept out of her room in time to hear the pounding knocks at the front door.

“We're here for Kalena,” a stern voice announced from outside.

Kalena's eyes widened with alarm, and the three women exchanged questioning looks with each other.

Shel peered out through the window curtains. “Two men,” she observed. “One looks like a bounty hunter. I know the sight of them well enough.”

“Damn, it must be the authorities,” Kalena said, jumping to conclusions.

“The City Watch?” Prespa said. “What would they want with you?”

“Well, I kind of... sort of... killed someone. The man who poisoned me. It was self-defense, but I wouldn't fancy trying to convince a court of law of that. Unless you have enough money and connections they tend to be more a threat than protection to commoners, or at least that's how it was in my day.”

“That's how it still is,” Prespa said. “But Karavoss is a more just kingdom than most.”

“How did they know where you live?” Shel wondered.

“Someone must have recognized me and they asked around—stall them whilst I slip out the back,” Kalena said hurriedly, long in the habit of making decisive, sometimes impulsive decisions on the spur of the moment.

Shel pressed her long pointed ear to the door, and though the voice was lowered, she heard one say to the other, “It's just one foreign guy and she's injured. I seriously doubt they'll prove so difficult to tame...”

Not so difficult to tame? At this, the half-orc felt a protective surge of anger. Lafayette and Kalena had kindheartedly taken her into their home when she had nowhere else to go and treated her like family; she'd tear anyone limb from limb who messed with them! She flung the door open with an enraged snarl and her nearly seven-foot-tall frame towered over the two elves, causing the pair to instinctively step back.

“What do you want with Kalena?!” Shel demanded, her large tusks moving as she growled out the words, her black sclera eyes fiercely glaring, nostrils flared, and her mighty fists clenched, veins bulging against the muscles in her arms and legs that were ready to wreak havoc on the men before her.

V looked up, wide-eyed as the unexpectedly large beast of a woman thrashed open the door and thuggishly questioned them.

“You aren't a handsome red-head,” V spoke impetuously. Though he had raised his hand, and was ready to strike at the woman’s throat in order to quickly pacify her, however she did not attack and simply held her position at the door, though it seemed her actions might become far less cautious at any moment. V glanced at the other elf, seeing a similar level of surprise upon his face.

But Solandriel was looking at the door, or rather past the half-orc woman and through it. “Kalena!” He called. V followed his gaze to find the legendary badass ex-assassin... dangling halfway out of a window.

Solandriel then turned to the ferocious half-orc, “We mean no harm! I’m Kalena’s...employer. We had been separated and I was only trying to be sure she was safe.”

V nodded vigorously, all in favor of helping to calm the ferocious orc woman down, “And I suppose you could say I just signed on. We found one of your attackers,” He looked to Kalena, “and managed to get some info out of him. Including which way you had gone.”

When she heard Solandriel shout out her name, a surprised Kalena climbed down from the window sill and rushed to the front door to find Gerda's husband standing there in the company of another elf. He looked to be Solandriel's junior by some years, and wore a pair of swords and a crossbow strapped on his back. His tigerish frame clearly bespoke the well-honed athleticism of a trained fighting man. Kalena, however, began to stare puzzledly at V as an unaccountable recognition stirred in her, as if she had met him in some distant past life. Even his voice and cadence sounded vaguely familiar to her ear.

But despite the distraction, her mind was processing the logistics of their story. “I shouldn't have imagined the assassin with the blow darts would have been in any condition to see me leaving. What else did you learn from him?” Kalena then looked to Shel, placed a hand on her back to calm her, and said, “Oh, where are my manners? This is my friend Shel Nolbul. Shel really isn't as harsh as she may seem. And this is... uh, Prespa,” Kalena added, casting an uncertain glance at the other woman standing back inside the house, who was watching on with only mild curiosity.

“I do not wish to be involved in any crimes you plan to commit. I have done my favor for Red. Tell him we are even for now next you see him,” Prespa said as she was packing her things.

“I'll do that. Thank you again and goodbye, Prespa,” Kalena replied with a mixture of relief and gratitude before turning back to the two elves.

V nodded, as hostilities were dispelled, and cracked a smile, taking in the three women's wide-ranging appearances. "Well, if you would prefer it, you can call me 'V', or at least I've been told that it's a far more convenient moniker than Vistlend Blacksparrow, son of Oruvand Blacksparrow," He said as if it were a tired and unoriginal saying rather than his own name and title.

"It is rather long-winded, isn't it?” V said, taking the expression on Kalena’s face for surprise, “Ah, but you'd asked about our intel. Well, we got a description of the man responsible for these assassins in the first place. If you'd care to hear about it,"

Kalena was naturally very much still stuck on the first part of his words. For a moment she was too stunned to react, then a great delight surged through her to realize just who the strapping young man standing before her was, and who he had reminded her of. “Oruvand Blacksparrow! Oru!? He's your father!?” She shook her head, a huge grin spreading across her face, her eyes aglow with genuine affection as she gleefully said, “It's an immense pleasure to meet you, V. Truly. I actually know your father. We met a very long time ago, and associated with each other quite often from time to time. I'm Kalena...Kalena Valade! Yes, that Kalena. He must have mentioned me before. Surely he told you stories? I mean, of course he did! How we cornered Jack Nahema in Jocelynn's Inn? How we fought Sarx and her Emerald Scarves? How we tried to save the kingdom from the clutches of Randall Cartwright? How what was left of us banded together against the Timber Crag? When the Two Kingdoms were in a state of all-out conflict and it seemed like our whole world had come to a crashing end? Oh, those were heady times. Heady times indeed. An age of heroism and folly. When nothing less than chaos reigned. Oruvand... your father, he couldn't have been any older than you are now. He must have told you about Queen Thalia, and Archer Craine, Gularzob Nugbu, Kline Lowson, Lafayette Le Renard... and Kalena Valade?” Her grin increased with each name, especially her own.

V stood there, elven eyes widened as the woman listed name after name, simply bubbling with uncontainable excitement and glee. Kalena Valade...Kalena Valade? He looked down at the ground, as if collecting his thoughts, before looking up to the grinning woman.


"Yes?" she prompted.

V looked at her, and finally frowned, "I'm afraid I don't recall anything of the sort. My father has told me many a story about the destruction of Dalen, but only that it was then that he left for greater things and scraped up a living within the kingdom of Aelmere. But these names you've mentioned, Jack Nahema, Jocelynn, Sarx, Cartwright? The only names of those I know of are your's and Lafayette's…"

"So he did tell you about us!" Kalena said, almost desperate on that matter.

V shook his head, "Today is my first time hearing of either of you. I only know what I've seen and heard, that you're a formidable fighter and quick on your feet, and that Lafayette is a red-head with a funny accent. If you and my father have some profound history, though, then I'm afraid he's taken that to the grave."

The grin collapsed on her face, which transformed into hurt disappointment, which in turn was replaced by a look of sorrow as the full import of his words sank in that Oruvand was dead. She had shared memorable adventures with the tenacious bounty hunter and the two had got on like a house on fire from their first encounter outside Jocelynn's Inn through the conclusion of the catastrophic war. With the exception of Lafayette, she had never known a more reliable and trustworthy partner in the field. Though she had certainly suspected Oruvand had long since departed from this world, a part of her hadn't really wanted to believe it, taking some degree of comfort in the uncertainty of his fate and those of her other friends and acquaintances of over a century past.

“Well, it's good to know your father went on to greater things after the fall of Dalen,” Kalena said, a trace of bitterness and envy in her voice before she caught herself and forced a strained smile. Oruvand considered his time in the Two Kingdoms as little more than a footnote? “He must have had quite the eventful life. You say he relocated to Aelmere? A fine place to live, albeit not so much lately with that elven uprising across the border in Zatar. Something that could spill over at any time, if the rumours are true.” She glanced at Solandriel, who surely had to be worried sick about Gerda, and returned to business. “You were saying you had a lead on the man responsible for these assassins?”

V nodded, thinking it was about time to get things back on track. “It’s a small lead, just a description. Male, young adult, most likely human considering the assassin didn’t specify, white hair, red eyes, this guy ought to stand out quite easily with features like those.”

“Almost sounds like someone I used to know, or one of her people,” Kalena murmured, but dismissed the idea, believing it to be highly unlikely.

“We got all that from the same assassin that led us to you, “ Solandriel added, “He was a straggler apparently, and was waiting to ambush you but bumped into us instead.”

V nodded, “According to his knowledge, their lead assassin, as well as Solandriel’s wife, are all still in the same place. That’s about everything, though. I think all that remains is deciding how we’re going to move on their encampment.”

“Since they're down three people, that should certainly make things easier for us,” Kalena said briskly. “As far as heading to this warehouse, I expect Lafayette is already on the scene. According to the note he left me, he set out a few hours ago to rescue Gerda on his own. Knowing him, he may possibly have the situation well in hand, but I think it would be best if we made our plans on the way there.”

“So, I guess we should really get going after this Lafayette? You say he’ll have it in hand, but I don’t imagine taking on a group of trained killers alone is an easy task for anyone. I say we make haste!”

V nodded to himself this time, before turning and preparing to leave, but just as he reached the door frame he stopped and whirled around.

“But uh, who’s coming. This red-head guy’s in on it all of a sudden, so who else is supposed to be working on this op?”

V looked to the tall horned woman named Prespa, bags all packed and firmly secured, “You coming? You-” He trailed off as she approached, taking a large step out of her way as she wordlessly exited the house.

“So I guess she’s not coming. Well, what” V pointed to the Half-Orc named Shel.

Shel looked at V, still not entirely over the comment he had made outside the door. “If Kalena is going I will be going.” She looked at the mostly gangly group. “And besides, you are in desperate need of muscle.”

Prespa however stood out near her large cart. Covered in grow boxes, two small log beehives, and several other odd bits of garden all attached to the large cart. Big enough to be a tiny home. “I would like you to ride with me, Ms. Valade, at least until we arrive at your destination. I will not be involved in your nefarious acts, but I will provide travel to the next town over so I may monitor your health for a time.”

Kalena sighed and rolled her eyes. “I've suffered worse and lived, but transportation would be much appreciated depending on how fast that thing goes.”

"I wouldn't find a carriage ride to be unappealing either, even if a competitor happens to be the one offering the service," Solandriel piped up. "Although I imagine Gerda will get on my case about this later, after we rescue her of course!"

“Yes…” Prespa said. “Competitor... because a doctor is comparable to a snake oil saleswoman.”

V shrugged, looking at the horned woman and her carriage, "I mean, it looks spacious enough. And I guess this is going to be the fastest way available to us as of right now. If everyone is on board, I don't have any objections!" Though, to say the elf would be unsettled by riding with the strange woman would be to say nothing. But maybe there was a lighter side to her? Only time would tell, and with no further reservations, the swarthy elf boarded the carriage.

Kalena grabbed the side and stepped up onto cab platform. Again she felt the same sense of vertigo. Prespa eyed her knowingly but said nothing and sitting down next to her in the upholstered driver’s seat, gathered up the reins. The team of mighty Ardennais horses stirred, and then the heavy cart pulled forward along the cobblestone street and headed out of Osilon toward Indrasel, and the mostly unknown danger that lay ahead of them.

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