Assessing the situation quickly, Dragomir spun and pulled Julian roughly, heading towards the stairs once again. If they stayed, they’d be likely to cause more liability for the snipers than to provide aid to the Lt. Colonel, and Helene did not appear to be in the vicinity. It was important that they find her quickly, and help her get to the safe so that they could get the info they needed and get the hell out of the building and into the open, where backup could quickly overwhelm the remaining Berceuse Malheureuse.
Upon their arrival downstairs once again, their men greeted them with looks of relief on their faces and the good news that no new reinforcements had yet been spotted. Dragomir knew they didn’t have time, though, and so, taking Julian by the arm once again, he dragged him down the stairs into the basement. It was almost completely dark, save for a few lit candles dispersed seemingly arbitrarily throughout the almost catacomb-like halls of the lower rooms. The darkness would be an excellent place to hide, and Dragomir had a feeling that the majority of innocents were nearby, hiding in the dark where much less of the fighting had taken place.
“We’re looking for someone, right?” Julian whispered softly into his ear. Dragomir nodded, blinking to get his eyes accustomed to the dim light. Julian broke away from him, heading for one of the candles and reaching for it tremulously. A shot went off and Julian jumped as the bullet whizzed past his hand and Dragomir grabbed him roughly by the shoulder.
“Idiot.” Dragomir growled under his breath, taking a guess at where the man who’d fired was stationed and shooting blindly in the general direction. A howl of agony let him know he’d guessed right, and he turned to Julian, an almost smug expression on his face. “Stay away from the light or else you’ll been seen. There are a few of them down here.” Julian was back to trembling, but by the low light, Dragomir could see his expression of terror, and trusted he’d learned his lesson.
Dragomir gestured towards one of the halls, extending his sword in front of him the way a bind man might employ a cane, and lead Julian forward slowly. Cautiously, they approached the first door on their left, and Dragomir stopped in front of it, pressing his ear to the wooden surface to listen intently. Sure enough, he could just distinguish the faint sounds of movement from beyond the threshold, and he took a step back, pulling the door open slowly. Just inside, there was a small group of people—women, girls, and a few young boys—huddled inside, trembling with fear and gazing up at them as if expecting their death to come at any moment.
Dragomir knew they’d discovered where the brothel’s employees had fled, and wasted no time in casting about the room for the small blond girl, locating her in the far corner. “Helene,” he hissed, and the group took a collective shaky breath as the girl looked up at him, terrified. “It’s Dragomir. We met earlier.” He explained quickly, his voice barely louder than a whisper. Her colleagues were thoroughly frightened of the idea that Helene knew a military man, one that had discovered their hiding place, and all seemed to be holding their breath. “Do you have it?” Dragomir asked, his voice rising slightly with urgency.
“Yes.” Helene choked out, getting to her feet shakily. “I-I’ll take you to it...to the safe.”
Niles was feeling nearly sick to his stomach, and was caught between trying not to listen to the Captain and having to or else he would get in trouble. He was failing rather horribly at the former currently.
"Hey, Christian, why do you look so pale?" The Captain looked curious at him. "Hmm?"
"No reason, sir," Niles replied feebly.
Another loud noise rang out, and the Captain perked up for a second. "Hey, I bet some more people just died, right Christian?"
"Yes, sir," Niles replied nauseatedly, bracing himself for another dreadful comment when suddenly, there was movement a few blocks down. It seemed the other group was getting called in for backup. Niles was in mid-worry of what was going on when he glanced to his left and realized that the Captain had stiffened and was now looking worry-stricken and pale. Relieved to be freed of harassment, Niles went back to feeling upset. If he didn't find out if Dragomir was all right soon, he felt he would die.
“I…I didn’t think you’d come.” Helen gulped, looking up at Dragomir, wide-eyed with fear as she led them further down the darkened hallway. “They know.” She breathed.
“What?” Julian asked confusedly, “what do they know?” She looked at him quickly, before looking up at Dragomir, untrusting of the additional unexpected company.
“How did they find out?” Dragomir asked darkly, anger rising within him as he realized just how much danger he’d put the child into.
“Someone…told them.” She replied hesitantly. “Somebody knew and told them!” Tears fell from her delicate brown eyes, and Dragomir was once again taken by the scene and the resemblance the girl shared with the one in his memory.
“Someone from the Berceuse Malheureuse?” Julian asked, at last feeling in his own element. He could handle gathering evidence, and he was starting to feel safe again under the cover of the darkness.
“Yes,” she gasped, wiping her eyes with her dress sleeve. “I even recognized the voice…but I don’t know his name.” She started crying harder, and Dragomir placed a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll protect you. You’ve done so much for us already—don’t worry, you’re safe now.” Dragomir said with sincerity and determination. They were so close to the end now, and she’d already made it so far. Things were going to work out.
Helene took them to a tiny room with a single desk and chair, walled in by shelves containing paperwork on there walls, and a large safe built into the wall to the right. She extracted a small skeleton key from the folds of her skirt and handed it to Dragomir, shooting one last mistrustful look at Julian. Dragomir smiled gratefully down at her and accepted the key, turning to open the safe.
A gun shot echoed resoundingly throughout the tiny room; the noise was deafening, and paralyzing, and it took Dragomir a few seconds to recuperate from the shock it. Dumbly, he turned around, not drawing a weapon, looking to the floor instinctually. Helene’s eyes were glazed over in death, and the dark liquid was already pooling beneath her tiny body. Dragomir could feel her blood soaking into his clothes, but more that than he was keenly aware of the fact that her death rested squarely on his shoulders, even more so than the death of the girl from his past. Dragomir heard Julian gasp with terror and looked up quickly, though he knew he was already too late.
“That bitch,” A gruff Berceuse Malheureuse man said from behind Julian, easily using his weight and stocky build to hold Julian’s wrists behind his back as he pressed a pistol to his temple, presumably the same gun he’d fired to kill Helene. “I never woulda thought she’d be dumb enough to turn on us.” He sighed, pulling Julian back a little further and pressing the barrel of the gun harder against his head. “She was a good girl, too. Good for business.” Dragomir mad a move for his pistol, but Julian’s feeble cry and the sound of the man’s pistol cocking stopped him in his tracts. “Don’t move, or I’ll kill your buddy.” Dragomir did as he was told and let his hands fall to his sides. “Drop the key.” Again, Dragomir followed orders, buying time to think up a way to get Julian out of the predicament. The man edged around the perimeter of the room, dragging Julian along with him, until he was directly across from the safe. With a violent jerk of his head, he signaled for Dragomir to move aside, which he did without hesitation. The man smirked dumbly, adjusting his grip on Julian as he spoke. “Fool. Did you think I’d let the military get a hold of the records? I’ve already burned them.” The man said with smug satisfaction. “The second I got wind of what was going on, I got rid of everything. Your boys can sweep the place all you like, but you won’t find a damn thing because—”
It was at that moment that Julian broke free of his grasp and wriggled away from him. Seizing the opportunity and the man’s moment of stunned surprise, Dragomir drew his pistol and fired, granting him a quick death with a shot to the head. He shut his eyes for a moment, collecting himself pushing the thought of the little girl that lay dead on the floor from his mind while he tended to business. He stooped to retrieve the dropped key, and ignored Julian’s frightened panting, opening the safe and groping blindly inside. Sure enough, there was nothing left. Inserting the key into his pocket, Dragomir turned to Julian with a sigh. “Let’s try and get the others out.”
Julian seemed to be in too much shock to say anything, so he followed Dragomir numbly from the room back down the hall to the place they’d first discovered the group of prostitutes. They found the room empty, and realized that the noises of battle had died down completely. They hurried through the hall towards the stairs, and made there way up to be greeted by the sight of the reinforcements, arresting the last of the resistance, sorting through bodies, tending to the wounded, and assisting the survivors.
Gasping with relief, Julian stumbled forward, out of the building and onto the street, where the Lt. Colonel stood with Colonel Lawley going over what had happened. Julian seemed hesitant to even approach the Colonel, but he was desperate to get things wrapped up and get away from the location. Panting, he acknowledged the Colonel with a bow and turned with an air of extreme anxiety to the Lt. Colonel. “They knew!” Julian gasped. “The Berceuse Malheureuse already knew we had a girl on the inside to get the key, and they killed her and burned the documents! Hirlea’s right there, he’s got the key!”
As soon as everything was settling down, Captain Holtcombe announced that they were to move in and await new orders in the aftermath, and Niles followed his quick pace at his heels, anxious to find Dragomir. They made their way to the brothel, now surrounded by bodies strewn here and there, the wounded struggling with their injuries, military personnel helping the innocent survivors. Niles drew to a stop beside the Captain and they both looked around frantically, searching, until Niles noticed him notice something and watched him dart off to his brother's side behind Colonel Lawley. Niles was about to disregard it when he realized what the Colonel was doing: he had Dragomir by the wrist and was wrenching his arms behind him while the Major bound his wrists in handcuffs. Niles' entire body went numb, and for a moment, he stood, before emotion suddenly broke free of the floodgates.
"Dragomir!" he screeched, shoving his way through the crowd, trying to get to him. "Dragomir, Dragomir!" What was going on? It didn't make sense. Why should Dragomir be arrested? Just minutes earlier, Niles thought he would have been happy to know Dragomir was uninjured, but now everything wasn't making sense, everything was wrong... Niles' voice cracked as his voice grew hoarse, but his screams did not end. He threw himself at the Colonel, kicking, screaming, until he vaguely heard the order to restrain him, and then someone strong was grabbing him and pinning his arms behind his back. He struggled ferociously but could not break free, and only his piercing screams continued, crying Dragomir's name as if it would make everything all right.