Niles was sort of in a state of awe for the whole thing; he had never been part of such a large operation before, and he was amazed at the way these things worked. The way the Major (smartly dressed in tan knickers and a darker brown jacket; Niles never imagined she'd look so good in men's clothing) commanded the attention of all the men, the way that the orders worked out exactly as planned...he was just awed by it all.
Now he stood a short distance away from Dragomir, trying very hard not to look nervous. He knew, as more and more men filled the room, that he was surrounded by criminals, all, save their numbers, members of the Berceuse Malheureuse. Breathing in deeply, he glanced at Dragomir for a second before once again looking straight forward, praying that he didn't look out of place.
Dragomir was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the tide of memories that was washing over him. He hadn’t been in such a position in a very long time, and it was difficult to conceal his nerves. The malicious atmosphere sent chills down his spine; he was not worried for himself however, but instead concerned for Niles. His only consolation was that they were close together and that Niles had been positioned in a location where he could stand and better defend himself. In addition to the assigned pistol and rapier, Dragomir had also armed himself with a dagger; he was already working out the best course of action to cut through the people between himself and Niles in order to reach the other as quickly as possible.
The building had almost filled completely now, and looking around, Dragomir decided they’d been successful in disguising their positions. No one from their brigade stood out in the slightest, and Dragomir had to look carefully to notice any individual members. This was impart due to the exceedingly large turnout of men, and Dragomir estimated slightly over a hundred men had turned out. Looking up into the balconies, he noticed that the soldiers assigned to sniping had managed to keep the balcony to themselves, which meant that as soon as they got a shot, it would be easy to take. The church was small enough in general size that Dragomir knew a shot from one of their riffles would be deadly enough to knock off a limb, and he was confident that should anything start, they men on the balcony would have no trouble providing back up and stirring up enough of a panic that everyone would run from the building. In that event, the perimeter would be notified and could catch all the unsuspecting Berceuse Malheureuse. The plan was flawless, and having come to that conclusion, Dragomir settled back into his seat slightly.
Above and to the right of Dragomir was the balcony in which Major Delancy had stationed herself and three other officers. They were well concealed, and the position made an excellent point of command. Dragomir averted his eyes quickly however, not wanting to draw too much attention to her location. The large room had quieted substantially from the roar of gruff voices which had previously contaminated the church’s hallow interior, and Dragomir followed the gaze of the large man seated next to him up to the pulpit. Apparently, something was about to happen.
As he looked on, a loud noise from the back of the church startled him slightly and he craned his neck around to see the cause, as did many of the men around him. The heavy wooden doors had been closed and were now being securely bolted shut. It was a disconcerting sign, and Dragomir could tell that even the other criminals were slightly out of their ease when they realized they were now locked in. The feelings of disease passed quickly from the Berceuse Malheureuse when a figure began sauntering down the aisle towards the front of the church. The man paused just before he would have come into the view of riflemen on the balcony above and slipped between the pews in the last row. Dragomir was surprised to see a woman get to her feet holding the hand of a small boy. The man led the boy back into the aisle and picked him up before he started walking again. After a few more paces, realization dawned on Dragomir and he recognized Donavan D’Aubigne.
Dragomir cursed silently to himself. Seeing that abhorrent man in person again was enough to make him sick but he restrained himself. Thee were far more pressing matters to attend to now, and he had to withhold his personal hatred for the good of the mission. Dragomir realized now that Donavan had obviously outwitted them; by carrying the child, he would be most likely immune to target by rifle unless he placed the boy back on the ground. It was just like Donavan, in his infinite cunning, to have a defense such as this in place, and Dragomir berated himself silently for not warning the Major of the possibility. Now, their initial plan would have to be adjusted, as killing Donavan D’Aubigne would be impossible. No man of the law could possibly take aim at him while he held an innocent, and no matter how good the man’s aim, the child would not escape unscathed. It was simply to close of a range and the musketball would penetrate both, leaving a massive exit wound in its wake.
Niles was left in awe as he watched the man whom he assumed to be Donavan D’Aubigne saunter down the aisle carrying the small boy. He was captivated by the attention, the control that he held simply with his presence, and Niles found himself almost drawn in by his aura. Still, he knew he had to remain alert, and so he tried not to relax and yet to blend in. It was difficult, and he didn't feel any better not knowing exactly how he looked. He glanced over at Dragomir, glad for the one thing that made him feel secure. No matter what went down, he was sure that Dragomir would be there for him.
As Donavan stepped up into the pulpit, Dragomir glanced quickly up at the Major’s balcony just in time to see her signal to the men poised with rifles to hold their fire. He was sure, however, that as soon as Donavan set the child down, they would open fire. It was all a matter of being patient; they would just have to wait until the opportune moment arrived and blend in until then. Dragomir checked on Niles out of the corner of his eye, and found him to be looking at least relatively comfortable, which was a relief. Dragomir realized that Niles was probably faking his ease, but he was doing a good job of it, which was what mattered. Satisfied with his observations, Dragomir returned his gaze the pulpit where Donavan now stood.
“Good evening, gentlemen.” Donavan said charismatically. Dragomir knew that in the past Donavan had been an actor, and as a result, the man’s speaking and projection were flawless. He was a powerful public speaker who could rally anyone, criminal or otherwise, to his cause if he so chose. “Tonight, our humble gathering is graced by several important guests, including my dear young master Esparanza.” Donavan smiled, hitching the boy up a little higher. Dragomir made a mental note of the name, as he was sure everyone else undercover did; he was determined to look the name up, with Niles’s help, once they’d returned to headquarters. “As for the rest of this evening’s guests, I’m afraid that the introductions will have to wait. First we have some very important matters of business to attend to.” He said rather slyly. His behavior gave Dragomir a bad feeling. Dragomir remembered that Donavan always acted particularly devious whenever he was about to do something terrible.
“I am please to inform you all that the plans to execute the new General Comandant are now in place.” Donavan paused cleanly as the various criminal lowlifes burst into guffaw. Something definitely seemed amiss now. Assassination was a serious matter that the Berceuse Malheureuse would never have laughed about so lightly in the past, though things could have changed since Dragomir had left… Still, he shifted uneasily and tried to pay attention to Donavan’s speech, which had resumed. The fact that they were so lightly discussing the murder of such a prominent man was disconcerting and Dragomir found it difficult to pay attention. His mind was racing as he tried to come up with a reason why things would be proceeding as they were.
Niles' heart was pounding now, he knew that there was no way that they were going to get out of this without violence, and he was becoming exceedingly nervous. Still, as Donavan D’Aubigne talked, he tried to figure out what was going on. Surely what he said couldn't be taken at face value...there was no way that the head of the Berceuse Malheureuse would talk that freely of an assassination plan? Yet, he couldn't figure out what, and so he made a point of trying to remember what words he was using, so that someone more smart than he could figure it out later.
Glancing nervously again at Dragomir, then back to D’Aubigne and the child, he tried to keep as calm thought as possible. It seemed as though the speech was coming to an end, and he knew things were bound to start soon.
“And with that aside,” Donavan flashed a charming smile as he ended uncharacteristically lack-luster, “I think it’s about time to continue on with the introductions.” Dragomir struggled to decide why Donavan had ended so abruptly, and came to the conclusion that he had been too excited to finish adequately, though for what reason, Dragomir had no clue.
“First and foremost, allow me to direct you attention to the rear balcony.” Donavan continued, shifting the boy in his arms so that he could gesture elaborately to the back of the church. Everyone looked back of course, though it was difficult for Dragomir to restrain a gasp of terror. It seemed no sooner had he turned than all five men, who’d previously stood at the ready with their rifles poised, were executed in one single wave. During the speech, which Dragomir now understood to be a cover, five Berceuse Malheureuse had made their way up to the balcony and stood at the ready for Donavan’s signal to kill. Many of the murdered men feel forward, tumbling over the banister and into the screaming crowd below who did there best to get out of the way in time. Donavan laughed sadistically, turning slightly to look up at the other balcony. “Now my dear guests, another show is just beginning.”
Horrified, Dragomir looked quickly up to the Major’s balcony. Of course, the Berceuse Malheureuse’s element of surprise had been ruined, and Major Delancy and her three officers were engaged in hand-to-hand combat with their assassins. As of yet, the outcome was unclear, but Dragomir was nearly in a state of shock. He had no idea how he ought to react; whether to attack now, grab Niles and make a break for it, or to wait until his course of action was clarified. Panicking, he turned around to look for Niles.
Niles' eyes widened at the horror of what had just happened, he couldn't believe how easily they had been found out, and now everything was falling apart. He looked, terrified, to Dragomir, frozen with fear, unsure of what to do next. The Major hadn't given them a signal, but it didn't seem that she would be able to, since she was engaged in combat. He looked desperately to Dragomir for some signal, hoping that the other man would know what to do. Surely Dragomir would know; he was used to dangerous situations. And if not...Niles didn't want to think about it.
Dragomir located Niles in the crowd of people and met his eyes for a moment. Niles looked terrified now; he had to get over to where Niles was as soon as he could, Dragomir had sworn to himself to protect Niles at all costs, and he was determined to make sure nothing happened to him. His squirming to locate Niles elicited the notice of one of the men he was seated next to and caused a minor commotion, which Donavan did not fail to notice.
“Ah so there you are, Dragomir.” Donavan spoke loudly enough that he could be heard throughout the church, but did so in a stage voice that seemed more subdued. Hearing his name, Dragomir froze, petrified. The fact that Donavan had been able to pick him out among the crowd terrified him, and he struggled again to come up with a course of action. “Everyone,” Donavan began again in his former voice, dripping with gusto, “May I present, Dragomir Hirlea, the man who betrayed me.” Donavan said casually. “Feel free to kill him, if you can.” He added as though it were just a simple afterthought.
Immediately, the men on either side of Dragomir turned maliciously towards him, both reaching for their weapons. Luckily, Dragomir was faster on the draw, and pulled his dagger from his left holster and his pistol from his right. Cocking it quickly, Dragomir put the gun to the man’s head as, without looking, he stuck the other man with the dagger. Still holding the first man at gun point, Dragomir stood up slowly, forcing his captive to do the same.
“Come now, no hostages, that’s cheating.” Donavan whined, once again shifting the boy’s weight in order to draw a handgun of his own. He shot Dragomir’s prisoner in the head, and Dragomir flinched back from the blood that spattered everywhere. Donavan laughed cruelly as the body toppled to the floor, not stopping even as Dragomir turned his aim to Donavan. “Really Dragomir, you thought I wouldn’t recognize you? The least you could have done was sit in the back. You’re making everything too easy for me.” Donavan mock-complained as he put the barrel of his pistol to the boy’s head. “Don’t threaten me; you need to be more concerned about yourself and the rest of your men.”
Dragomir looked about the area quickly to see that fights had broken out all over the church and realized that the other people undercover must have attacked when he’d initially stabbed a man. After all, he and Niles had been the ones expected to convey the Major’s signals. And Niles, where was Niles? Dragomir shot a charging man in the chest as he jumped up onto the back of the bench he’d been seated in to get a better vantage point. Spotting Niles, he threw his dagger at a man that was attacking the other, landing the kill spotlessly. He heard a gun go off and felt the rush of air wiz past him, knowing he’d only barely avoided getting shot and that he was too easy a target. He jumped down, seeking cover among the brawling crowd, and tried to make his way over to Niles.
Niles had been distracted from the rest of the overall chaos when Donavan D’Aubigne had approached Dragomir. He stared on at their exchange, terrified that, at any minute, D’Aubigne would kill Dragomir. He was flooded with a sense of relief when he realized that did not seem to be D’Aubigne's plan, but was started out of his false sense of security by a sudden attack from behind him. He managed to dodge the ball flying past, but it caught his arm, grazing the skin and starting a steady flow of blood. Niles could barely feel it, however; he was lucky that he wasn't seriously injured, and he had more important things to be worrying about.
Without much thought, he drew his pistol; Niles had always been a horrible marksman and never had the courage to shoot another man, but they were in far too close range for his rapier to be of any use. He quickly aimed it at the man who had shot at him and fired, squeezing his eyes shut as he did so. When he opened them again, he realized that he had almost missed entirely, hitting the man in the shoulder. He was now wincing in pain, grabbing the wound and glaring angrily. Niles took a step back, but stumbled into another Berceuse Malheureuse member, and before he could react, the man, who was much larger than he, had grabbed his left arm and wrenched it around, causing him to drop his gun and cry out in pain. He was saved, however, by a flying dagger which immediately killed the man who was holding him, and, turning quickly, he caught a glimpse of Dragomir before he disappeared into the crowd. He only had a moment to be thankful for the other man, however, because he two more men were advancing on him. Unable to locate his pistol, he drew his blade, desperately trying to come up with a plan. In this crowd, it was going to be extremely hard to execute anything cleanly, and the movement of his arm caused pain to shoot up it for being wrenched so far around; however, his right arm was the one that had been hit earlier, and he knew his technique would never be good enough with his other arm, anyway. Grasping his rapier shakily, he decided he would just have to make do, and hoped that Dragomir would be able to save him again.
Once in the crowd, Dragomir drew his blade and ran it threw one criminal after another. He was incised and desperate; he knew he had to get over to Niles at all costs, and was willing to dispatch anyone that got in his way. He fired another shot into an oncoming man’s gut, a painful, debilitating wound which was not likely to kill him for a long time. The man crumpled forward in pain, and Dragomir kicked him hard, knocking him to the floor. Stepping over the body carefully, Dragomir shot to kill another man, taking careful aim for his temple. That man fell, and the space cleared for a short distance, allowing Dragomir to take off running, brandishing his rapier at all who approached him. He fired three more pop shots, taking out three other unsuspecting men with his pistol, cursing under his breath when he realized he was out of ammunition. He would have to reload, but not until he’d reached Niles, he decided as he reholstered the gun. Switching hands, he readied himself to fight anyone who came with in a foot of him. A large man backed into him, causing Dragomir to stumble over a body. Looking down, he noticed his dagger embedded in the corpse’s back. Using his foot as leverage, he yanked the weapon out of the flesh and stabbed the man who’d run into him. Not only would the dagger prove useful, but it meant that he was getting closer to Niles.
He killed four more men, only one of whom offered much of a fight, before he at last located Niles. He was pinned next to a wall by three large men who were coming at him with their swords drawn. Dragomir again threw his dagger, taking the first of the men out instantly, before rushing forward in a fleche and stabbing another man as he turned. Ducking down quickly, Dragomir retrieved his dagger and darted in through the final man’s defenses and earning a nick on his shoulder. Now at an appropriate range, Dragomir took the frightened man by the collar roughly and slit his throat. The man sputtered for a second, drowning in his own blood before Dragomir dropped the body. Backing up to the wall where Niles was, Dragomir transferred his dagger into the hand that still clenched his rapier and kissed Niles quickly. “Are you alright?” Dragomir panted, leaning against the wall, exhausted from his burst of endurance. “Listen, I’m out of ammo, can you lend me your pistol and reload mine? I’ll keep them back.” He asked, assuming Niles was fine, and hastily pressed his pistol into Niles’s hands as he leaned in for another quick kiss.
Niles nodded quickly. "Oh-of course!" he accepted Dragomir's pistol and handed over his own, fumbling the reload the empty weapon. He was clumsy with the balls, and had to be careful not to drop any. It took him a little while longer than it should have to load it, but when he finished, he hurriedly handed it to Dragomir, eager to be helpful. Now that Dragomir was here, everything was going to be all right. He was sure of it, and so he clutched his rapier tightly despite his injury, determined to help if he needed to.
Corrine rushed down the stairs from the balconies, hurrying to the main room. She had managed to escape the fight in the balconies relatively unscathed, but the same couldn't be said for the men she had had with her. Everyone who had been in the balcony, Berceuse Malheureuse or military, was now dead, and she wanted to make sure the same sort of massacre didn't befall her men downstairs. She silently cursed herself, hurriedly reloading her pistol as she burst into the room. This was her operation, how could she have let this happen? Her men's lives were taken because of her inability. But there was no time to regret now, she had to think, to act before it was too late. She looked around, trying to spot Dragomir in the crowd, or Donavan D’Aubigne. She wanted to find her Lieutenant in order to try and get some sort of organization over this whole ordeal, but if she was able to take out D’Aubigne, it would be just as well. She found neither, however, as two men suddenly attacked and she was forced to fight once more.
Donavan D’Aubigne hastily descended the steps of the pulpit, holding the young boy, Faustino, close to him. He’d watched the fight in the balcony unfold between his men and the military officers—the Major in charge of the operation included, with interest until it at last concluded. Only the major had survived and she disappeared out of view. Donavan assumed she was making her way down stairs to the main room to try and get the remainder of her men together and Donavan was pleased. Now that both balconies were clear, he no longer required the shield Faustino’s tiny body so aptly provided. Still, Donavan wanted to keep the boy safe and so glanced around for an adequate hiding place.
The old church still held a large organ whose pipes ascended almost to the second story. Behind the organ, Donavan knew there to be a small staircase leading up to the top of the pipes which, in the instruments time, would have been used for the cleaning and repair of the thing. Striding quickly over to the hulking instrument, Donavan set the boy down carefully. His arms which had been aching terribly for the last hour were at last relieved of the weight they’d been supporting for so long, and he stretched them out gingerly, flexing his biceps and fingers as he tried to get some feeling into them again. Satisfied, he knelt down to one knee to face Faustino eye to eye.
“Master Esparanza,” he addressed formally, “I need you to climb up that staircase over there and get to a place where you can see what’s happening. The pipes are steal, so I know you’ll be safe and well hidden. But you need to watch what happens—it could be important someday. Can you do that for me?” The little boy nodded in response. In his eyes, Donavan could see the look of perfect obedience, though he knew the boy was most likely in a state of shock as well. He felt a little sorry for the kid, but he knew the world to be a cruel place, and thought this massacre a fitting demonstration of that fact. Patting him lightly on the back, Donavan urged Faustino forward as he started him climbing the stairs. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.” Donavan called over his shoulder as he walked forward with determination and unsheathed his sword. He intended to kill Dragomir and any other military dog that got in his way.
Dragomir went through all the shoots in Niles’s pistol in a short amount of time and quickly exchanged guns for his now loaded pistol. It seemed they and the rest of the soldiers were at last making a dent in Berceuse Malheureuse ranks, as the building was beginning to feel slightly less packed with people. Eight bodies now surrounded the place by the wall where the two of them stood; and Dragomir was quick to take out another man with his own gun. He knew that even between the two of them, their rounds would soon expire, but until then, Dragomir wanted to take out as many Berceuse Malheureuse as possible.
After three more kills, there was a break in the general rush of attackers, and Dragomir took a moment to turn back to Niles. “Thank you for all of your support, it’s really…” Dragomir’s voice trailed as he noticed the blood that had seeped through Niles’s clothing all down his right side. “Niles!” He panicked, “You-you’re bleeding!” Dragomir stuffed his pistol into his holster and used his dagger to cut the hem of hi sleeve off cleanly. He wrapped Niles’s arm tightly and kissed the wound lightly. “You should have told me sooner.” Dragomir said rather concerned. Before Niles had a chance to respond however, a shot rang out and hit the wall next to them. Grabbing Niles quickly, Dragomir pulled him behind a nearby pillar, holding Niles close with his own back against the thick wooden beam. Leaning carefully, Dragomir spotted the man who’d shot at them and took careful aim. The shot landed and the man fell to the ground. Dragomir sunk back behind the pillar and looked over Niles’s arm again. “How bad is it?”
"It's not bad," Niles replied honestly, he really hadn't thought about it since the wound had happened. "I managed to dodge the bullet, it just grazed me. Thank you for bandaging it, though." He was currently feeling better than he had that evening, securely pressed up against Dragomir, hidden behind the pillar. He shifted a little, and suddenly, there was a shooting pain up his left arm. He winced a little, and explained, "Another man wrenched my left arm around behind me, and I think that injury's worse...I don't think I can properly use a rapier." Smiling sheepishly, he concluded, "But, really, I'm all right. I wouldn't have made it if you hadn't saved me. You're all right, aren't you?" He was pretty sure that Dragomir hadn't been injured, but he wanted to be certain.
Corinne was trying to strategically use her ammunition; she was down to one ball left and she didn't want to waste it. Already since she had come downstairs, she had killed eight or ten men, and, after the three upstairs, she was beginning to tire. True, some of the men had been easier to kill, letting down their guard when they realized that they were fighting a woman, but, unfortunately, she had only been able to use that advantage a few times before the men surrounding realized that she was indeed a force to be reckoned with.
She was forced to use her last ball on a surprise attack from behind; the enemy's ball had flown past her head, barely missing, and she had no choice but to shoot as she turned to face him. The shot killed him instantly, but now that she was out of shots, she knew she was going to have a much tougher time killing so quickly or effectively. Shoving her pistol back in its holster, she drew her rapier, readying herself for the two men that were now approaching her.
Dragomir and Niles had run out of ammo now, and moved further back in the church. A few other men from their brigade were struggling to fend off attackers while they worked at opening the door, and Dragomir intended to get over to them and help with their defense. They were currently fighting their way through a think group of Berceuse Malheureuse on their way to the door, and Dragomir stood carefully in front of Niles, intending to shield the other from whatever attacks the criminals might try. With a quick disengage followed by a lung, Dragomir took out the first of their attackers. In his desire to remain as close as possible to Niles, Dragomir knew his footwork to be severely limited, and he had to make do with what he had; namely, fancy blade work to distract his opponents so he could go in for the kill. Dragomir disarmed the next man; catching the foible of his blade in his against his own forte and twisting violently to send the blade flying into the air, stripping the man of his defense. Stepping forward, Dragomir sunk the blade of his dagger deep into the man’s stomach and jerked it upward, effectively disemboweling his opponent.
Only one Berceuse Malheureuse man remained between them and their path to the door out and the rest of the force, and Dragomir relaxed into his fighting stance, deciding to wait for an opportune moment to counter. A gun went off nearby and Dragomir jumped abruptly. He had been under the impression that everyone was out of ammunition by this point, and to hear a gun go off put him back on high alert. Surprisingly, the man he had been about to duel clutched at his neck and gurgled piteously, spitting up blood as he struggled to get his breath. He stumbled a few steps forward before falling to the ground. Dragomir looked around quickly for the source of the shoot, and was met with the most unpleasant sight of Donavan D’Aubigne, still holding his smoking pistol.
Making eye contact with Dragomir, Donavan flashed a winning smile and holstered his pistol. “I didn’t want you to tire out before I got my turn to play, Dragomir.” Donavan belittled, shifting his stance into a duelist’s starting position and extending his left hand out behind himself theatrically before bringing his point up to en garde. “I hope you can bring yourself to fight back this time.”
Dragomir clenched his jaw and drew back to where Niles stood a few paces behind him. “Niles, if anything happens, you have to get out of here as fast as you can. I’ll do my best to protect you, but you have to promise to escape if things go badly for me…”
“Well now, who’s this? I don’t believe I’ve yet been introduced to your new friend, Dragomir how about you give me a little introduction?” Donavan suggested striding forward to an uncomfortably close distance.
“Go to hell!” Dragomir barked as he leaped forward and implemented a coupe, going around Donavan’s blade for a direct attack. Donavan laughed at his efforts, dodging the attack with a nimble step backwards.
“You’re a mess, Dragomir. “ Donavan chided, presenting his blade enticingly. “Fight like a gentleman, not a thug. I’ve been waiting so long to duel you again, please don’t disappoint me.”
Dragomir did not take the presented blade and instead feinted, moving in for a simple attack to Donavan’s torso, then disengaging from his parry, moving in to strike his right shoulder. Donavan avoided through displacement, jerking his arm to the side in a sweeping cut to the side of Dragomir’s head. Dragomir ducked, moving into a passata-soto, sliding the tip of his blade along the wooden floor and flicking it upwards in a quick motion. Donavan counterattacked, landing a stinging hit to Dragomir’s wrist. Dragomir pulled his hand back quickly, and didn’t go threw with his attack, but managed to keep hold of his blade and bight back the pain.
Going back into the standard guard, Dragomir offered and invitation; he knew Donavan was arrogant enough not to pass up such an offer, and took the bait without hesitation. Smirking, Dragomir made to take the blade with a six and break through Donavan’s defenses. However, Donavan intercepted the take; slipping pass Dragomir’s blade and landing a touch on Dragomir’s shoulder. Dragomir gasped, stumbling backwards to reestablish the measure.
“I’d wager that he’s of a great deal of importance to you, Dragomir. “ Donavan said conversationally as he waved his blade in Nile’s direction. “You always fight like an idiot when you let your emotions get the best of you.” Dragomir glared silently at him, holding his blade steady. “Judging by that reaction, I think I was right. But how important is he, hmm?” Donavan started walking forward at an increasingly faster pace as though he would fleche, but Dragomir knew Donavan knew better and held his ground. “The question is, Dragomir, would you die for him?” Donavan’s voice rose in anger for the first time that evening and Dragomir had to use all the willpower he possessed to keep himself from shrinking back in terror. In all the time Dragomir had known Donavan, he had only seen the Berceuse Malheureuse leader lose his temper twice, and neither situation had had a pleasant outcome.
Niles looked on, terrified, as Donavan D’Aubigne approached them. He shrunk back behind Dragomir, nodding slightly at his words. He was horrified at the prospect of Donavan seeking Dragomir out this way; he knew Dragomir was tired from fighting so many men, and he was at such a disadvantage that Niles couldn't even bear to think of any possible outcome. As Donavan began approaching them, talking about him, Niles felt the worry increase in his stomach, and he hurriedly began going through his options in his head. He knew Dragomir had told him to run, would tell him to run again, but he couldn't bear the thought of running again when Dragomir was in trouble. The other option was equally as terrifying, but Niles knew that there really wasn't a choice. Coming out of his thoughts, he looked up to realize that Donavan was once again attacking Dragomir, this time with a frightening look in his eyes. Dragomir appeared to be tiring, and it seemed as if Donavan was gaining the upper hand. Donavan prepared for a strike, and, before Niles knew what he was doing, he was in-between Donavan and Dragomir, his blade drawn, blood oozing from his shoulder where Donavan's blade struck him instead of Dragomir. Donavan looked surprised at this, and Niles winced slightly in pain but looked him in the eye. "I won't let you hurt Dragomir."
Corinne withdrew her blade from another bloody corpse to engage her various new attackers; it seemed as if the flow of men never stopped. She had managed to find a couple of her men and order them to work on getting the doors opened, but, so far, they were struggling to defend themselves at the same time, and she knew that they were unable to progress very far. As she had fought, she had been trying to make her way over towards the door so as to help them, but it was slow work while she was fighting off two and three men at a time.
Finally, she managed to make a dent in the attacking men and hurried towards the door, but it wasn't long before other men spotted her and came after her. She did her best to defend the men at the door, hoping that with more forces fighting off the Berceuse Malheureuse, opening the lock would be easier work. Now that she was over at this point of action, however, she was forced to take on five or six men at a time, and was struggling even more under the strain. Still, she knew she had to keep it up or no one would make it out alive. She fought with fervor, and she had just taken out another two men when she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder-she had been hit. Gasping slightly, she whirled around to kill the man who had stabbed her, as well as the other two men who were with him. Doing so earn her another break as the attackers shifted their forces, and she put her hand to her shoulder to see how bad the wound was. To her surprise, she withdrew her hand to find it drenched in blood. Though she could tell it was just a flesh wound, she had to get it tied off soon, or she was going to lose too much blood. Her time ran out, however, when another large group of men came her way, and she was forced to take a fighting stance again. Binding her wound would have to wait.
“Niles!” Dragomir gasped, realizing what had happened. Donavan took a surprised step back and brought his blade around and across his body, flicking the blood off of his sword before returning to his fighting stance.
“Now that was something I had not expected.” Donavan’s voice was low, lacking the usual bravado with which he generally embellished his words. “I never would have expected you to have someone so loyal, traitor that you are, Dragomir.”
“Oh god, Niles…” Dragomir shivered as he watched the blood begin to seep through Niles’s clothing and ignored Donavan’s words. Dragomir knew that Niles’s gash had to be tied off as soon as possible, and therefore his duel with Donavan had to be brought to a conclusion; he had to win to help Niles. Thus resolved, Dragomir walked forward until he was just in front of Niles. In this arrangement, Dragomir hoped to take any future attacks from Donavan while still allowing access to Donavan’s blade. Dragomir then quickly transferred his rapier to his right hand and his dagger to his left; with their blades thus aligned, it would be difficult for Donavan to get on the inside and land any attacks.
“So you both intend to fight me? I hardly think that’s fair.” Donavan pouted mockingly. He shuffled back quickly and knelt, slipping his hand into his boot to retrieve a small knife, intending to fence Florentine as well. “No mater. You can die together.” Donavan snarled, leaping forward with a balestra and engaging Dragomir’s blade as he parried a weak thrust from Niles with his dagger. Catching Dragomir’s sword in envelopment, Donavan put him into a blind just long enough to sink his blade deep into Dragomir’s side.
The compound action came at a price however, and Niles disengaged Donavan’s parry and redoubled, catching Donavan just under his collar bone. Donavan hissed and jerked the tip of his sword out of Dragomir’s side, pulling back slightly. Grunting and clenching his jaw to keep from crying out, Dragomir recovered his line of engagement, attacking for Donavan’s face. Thinking fast, Donavan slid backwards into a flying parry, blocking Dragomir’s attack and moving into a riposte aimed for Niles. Dragomir counter parried Donavan’s attack with his dagger and thrust forward violently with his rapier. The action ended in a pass; Dragomir’s blade slipped past Donavan’s body ineffectually. They were almost corps-a-corps now, but neither seemed willing to step back to reestablish the measure. Donavan’s dagger was occupied parrying a strike from Niles, and Dragomir had dropped his own in favor of clutching his wound. To that effect, neither Dragomir nor Donavan could move. Donavan was counting on the weakness he’d felt in Niles’s strikes and his inexperience to allow him to escape from the entanglement relatively unscathed.
Niles was frantically running through his options. He was feeling somewhat panicked; Dragomir was hurt and he wasn't strong enough to do any real damage. His mind reeled, his heart was racing...what was there to do? Then, suddenly, he realized: Donavan was the only man left with ammunition in the whole building, and his gun was within Niles' reach! In a sudden burst of daring, Niles reached out with his right hand, snatching Donavan's pistol out of his holster and cocked it, aiming it at the other man's head before he could do anything. Donavan looked shocked; he couldn't have expected Niles to do that.
Niles felt a terrifying rush of power; it seemed that, all of a sudden, Donavan D’Aubigne's life was in his hands. He didn't know what to do, but he knew he had to do something. Both Donavan and Dragomir were frozen with surprise, and Niles could clearly see the blood seeping from Dragomir's side. Before he even knew what he was doing, Niles pulled the trigger, squeezing his eyes shut as he did so.
When he opened his eyes again, Donavan D’Aubigne was on the floor, blood flowing from a large wound in his temple. Shocked, Niles dropped the gun, then looked to Dragomir, horrified. "Oh...my god..."
Corrine finished off the last two men she was fighting, feeling somewhat woozy. She knew she couldn't pass out, she had to keep fighting, she had to protect her men...but then, the world was going blank and she knew she was falling...Her last thought was that she hoped they would get the door open so that the others could survive…
Dragomir exhaled shakily and looked from Donavan’s body to Niles and back again. He was in a state of shock and amazement; he’d never expected Niles to do that. In his mind, Dragomir had been going over the outcome of the stalemate over and over, and he’d come up with the conclusion that for them to be able to break apart, Niles would have to disengage Donavan’s parry, leaving Donavan’s dagger open to attack. Dragomir had been in the process of excepting his death in exchange for Niles’s life, (he was sure Donavan would not hesitate to stab him in the chest once he’d been freed of Niles’s blade,) when the sound of the gun at close range had broken him out of his almost trance-like state. And now, Donavan was dead, and Niles had killed him.
Dragomir stumbled back, blinking awedly at Niles. “T-that was…amazing.” Dragomir sputtered. “Thank you.”
They didn’t have much time, however. The rest of their men had broken through the door at last and the few that were left alive rushed out quickly. Niles and Dragomir hurried to join the others, and made it out into the pitch black night air. The perimeter guard saw them at once, and the twenty backup men they had pushed through into the church, guns fully loaded, to clean out the rest of the Berceuse Malheureuse. Several military automobiles were called, and they arrived shortly. Dragomir clasped Niles’s hand tightly as they made their way over to one of the automobiles. As they were about to get in, there was a commotion from inside the church and several men rushed out, supporting the limp body of the Major between them. Dragomir and Niles were informed that she had simply passed out, and would probably recover, and also that the church had been cleared. Satisfied, they allowed their driver to take them back to headquarters.
Niles was in a state of shock as they sat in the back of the automobile on the way back to the headquarters. He had killed a man; for the first time in his life, he was responsible for another man's death. It was such a horrible, shocking thought that he didn't know what to do with himself, but, as he played the incident back in his head, he suddenly realized that Dragomir's first reaction was to thank him. And now that the thought about it, it was true. By killing Donavan D’Aubigne, he had saved Dragomir's life. Reassured by this, he let his head drop to the side, resting against Dragomir's shoulder. Everything was going to be all right. They had killed Donavan D’Aubigne, they had successfully infiltrated the Berceuse Malheureuse meeting, the Major was going to be all right, and they were going to be all right...
Niles hadn't had time to stop and think about Dragomir's side wound; it was deep and bled a lot, and suddenly, another knot of worry began to form in him for Dragomir's safety. But as soon as he was about to ask the other man, they arrived at headquarters and were immediately ushered into the building and to the medical wing. Dragomir and Niles were sent into a room with three or four other men who had wounds of similar degree: deep flesh wounds that weren't deep enough to be deadly. Dragomir and Niles were sent over to two adjacent medics who began to clean and bind their wounds. Niles was embarrassed to remove his shirt, but he knew he had to for the doctor to help him, and even so, he couldn't help but glance nervously over at Dragomir. His side wound was being wrapped, and it was now clear to Niles that he was going to be fine. The blood flow was slowing down, and with the bandages, it seemed as if it would be fine soon. Thus appeased, Niles couldn't help but steal a glance at the other man's chest, but quickly got embarrassed and returned to looking at the medic before him and his own wounds.
The medic informed him that his right arm was going to be fine; the bullet had almost completely missed him, and that the cut should heal within two weeks. His left arm had apparently been sprained when the man had wrenched it around behind him, and he was going to have to wear a sling for the next week or so, then go back and see the doctor again. The cut in his right arm, the one he had taken for Dragomir, was the worst; it was fairly deep and would take some time to heal. The doctor put some iodine on it and told him that it should heal fine, so long as it wasn't infected, but that it would almost definitely leave a scar. Niles shrugged and thanked the man, hopping down from the table and moving over beside Dragomir in order to make room for the next patient. He didn't mind if he got a scar; he was just glad it would be all right.
As soon as Dragomir was done, he hurried over beside him, clutching his blood-soaked shirt and, for the moment forgetting his embarrassment, and looked up at him hopefully. "Are all your wounds going to be okay?
“Yeah, that’s what the medic said. I feel a little woozy from losing the blood, but it’s not too bad.” Dragomir smiled weakly as he slid down off of the table to stand next to Niles. “How about you?” He asked concernedly as he ran a hand over Niles’s bare shoulder. “Are you alright?” Before Niles could answer, they were shooed aside to make room for incoming patients and Dragomir managed to discreetly press up against Niles as they were ushered into a little room where a nurse handed them clean blouses. They dressed quickly, and were then told to return to the office for a debriefing. When they arrived, they found that they were the first ones to be released from treatment and examination. “What do you think they’re going to tell us?” Dragomir asked. “Do you think we’ll get an update about the Major?”
“I really hope so,” Niles replied worriedly. “It seemed as if she was wounded pretty badly…Major Delancy doesn’t seem the type to faint easily.” Looking around the room, more and more men began to trickle into the room in groups of 2 and 3 as they were released from the medical wing. It seemed some soldiers had escaped fairly free of injury, with only a graze or a cut, but as more men appeared, it became obvious that some weren’t so lucky. The injuries seemed to get more serious the later the men arrived, and Niles knew that not all of the soldiers they had brought along would make it to the meeting, or even made it out of the church. The thought hit the pit of his stomach hard, and he inched closer to Dragomir, clasping his hand tightly. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
“I owe my life to you, you know.” Dragomir murmured, squeezing Niles’s hand gently.
Perceval walked gracelessly through the halls, stumbling occasionally, on his way to speak to the survivors of his brigade. There had been heavy casualties as he had planed for, but he was shocked by just how high a toll the encounter had taken on the Berceuse Malheureuse. Tripping over his feet, Percival stumbled over to a wall and leaned against it to catch his breath. He slumped forward and put his face in his hand as he tried to regain his composure. Just minutes earlier, he received news from the perimeter officer informing him of the unthinkable. Donavan was dead. Inhaling deeply, Perceval bit back a little cry of distress and shook his head lightly, mumbling nonsense to himself in an effort to keep from crying.
Perceval stood leaning against the wall, on the brink of tears, and with his face concealed in his hands, for a full minute before he straightened up, smoothed his clothing, and adjusted his hair. He then removed a lace kerchief from his pocket and dabbed daintily at his eyes, making sure nothing seemed amiss. Then he set off again, his stride once again long and graceful, his composure completely regained. He would not mourn for his cousin, only the loss of a pawn in Algernon’s plan.
Everyone, even the seriously wounded rose to their feet when Perceval entered the room, and they all bowed to him as best they could. Instead of his generally nod however, Perceval bowed back. “Tonight is one of marked importance. I am extremely relieved to see that so many of you were able to return after such a terrible miscalculation on the parts of your superiors…” Perceval trailed. “Myself included.” He added bitterly after a split second. Pausing again, he began to pace as though he were nervous, an unusual gesture coming from him, even under these circumstances. “I have just been informed that Major Delancy is receiving special treatment for her wounds, and is expected to make a slow but complete recovery, for which I am, as I’m sure you all are as well, exceedingly grateful.” He continued after a moment. “You have all risked your lives for a great and most glorious purpose, the perpetuation of peace through out Gallia; a peace that would not be possible to maintain if it weren’t for the fine men such as yourselves.” Perceval smiled with admiration, but he was squinting as though he might cry at any moment. “And…and today, because of your efforts…” his voice shook and he once again extracted his kerchief, shuddering slightly as he began again. “A dangerous individual has been…eliminated.” Perceval wiped his eyes and sniffed softly. “You must forgive me…It pains me to see so few of you… But I would like to know who among you managed t-to remove…Donavan D’Aubigne.”
Niles smiled softly up at Dragomir, glad that he finally did something for the other man. It seemed as if he had been saved so many times, he was happy he could finally do something in return. He gazed at Dragomir lovingly, feeling truly secure for the first time that night.
He broke his gaze when he heard General Rousseau enter, and rose quickly to bow. He was somewhat surprised to see the Brigadier General so upset, but he guessed that they did lose a lot of men, and that would be distressing. He listened carefully through the speech, and was surprised to here his question at the end. Glancing nervously to Dragomir, he rose and bowed before saying, "It was me, sir."
The General stopped in mid-stride and did a slight double take. In an instant, his expression became one of loathing as he glared at Niles disbelievingly. “You?” He questioned harshly before making a conscious effort to soften his features and lighten his accusatory tone. “Y-you were the one who…?”
Dragomir got to his feet quickly and stood next to Niles defensively. “Sir,” Dragomir bowed hastily, “I was there when Nil-Corporal Christian took out D’Aubigne.”
“H-how?” General Rousseau stuttered slightly.
“He shot him, sir. In the head.” Dragomir smirked with satisfaction. Not only was that hateful Berceuse Malheureuse man dead, but it was Niles who’d finally dispatched him. With Donavan gone, Dragomir felt a certain sense of closure with regards to his former involvement with the Berceuse Malheureuse, and the fact that their superior seemed so surprised was icing on the cake. Dragomir couldn’t help but swell with pride for Niles, and leaned against him discreetly with affection.
“Is this…true?” The General asked, turning to Niles sharply. His face had gone rather red, but it was impossible to read his expression.
Niles was worried by the Brigadier General's reaction, but he nodded shakily. "Yes, sir. I-I shot him with his own pistol. He-He was going to kill Lt. Hirlea, sir." He wrung his hands and hoped that he wasn't in trouble. After a brief panic, he decided the best thing to do was to bow again, and so he did, and waited an extra-long time to come up before looking hopefully at General Rousseau.
“I see.” General Rousseau responded through the clenched teeth of a forced smile. “I must say, that is quite an impressive…feet for someone of your rank, Corporal.” The General spoke curtly and looked as though he were struggling to keep his expression neutral. The Brigadier General took a deep breath and seemed to regain control of his façade. Putting up a smile, he nodded to Niles kindly. “You will, of course, be duly awarded.” He said smoothly. “I’ll be seeing to that myself.”
Niles' eyes widened in surprise and delight. "Oh, thank you, sir!" He bowed again, smiling brightly. Then, glancing to Dragomir quickly, he grinned, not quite believing that this was really happening to him.
Perceval walked steadily down the halls with added determination as he went on his way to make his usual visit to Algernon’s office after finishing with his brigade. He had resolved not to break down again and was instead fuming silently to himself about the injustice of it all. Donavan, his cousin, the Donavan D’Aubigne, shot and killed with his own pistol by utter scum. Corporal Christen—Perceval shook with disgust at the thought of that whining, pathetic soldier even managing to raise a weapon, let alone kill someone like Donavan. As much as Perceval tried however, he simply couldn’t manage his usual bitterness, and was reduced to petty name calling as he ranted silently to himself.
Perceval was almost at Algernon’s door now and slowed his pace to make sure his breathing would be perfectly regular once he arrived. Without realizing it, Perceval had been practically jogging through the halls in his rage and desperateness to get to Algernon, and now that he’d stopped going so fast, he began to find it even more difficult to be angry.
He and Donavan had grown up together and spent entire summers together at their grandfather’s house, and though Perceval didn’t particularly like his cousin, looking back on everything and reflecting on it all now was enough to draw the tears again. Perceval sniffed loudly and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he went about straightening his clothes and hair in front of Algernon’s door. He tried to force himself to be angry, to hate that disgusting Corporal and blame him for the death of his cousin, but he couldn’t force himself to think of anyone but Donavan. Desperately trying to pull himself together for Algernon, Perceval shifted his hatred to Donavan himself, blaming his cousin bitterly for being too arrogant to pay enough attention. Of course, that failed as well, so when Perceval at last pushed open the door, the tears were streaming uncontrollably down his cheeks, and no matter how much he rubbed his eyes, he couldn’t make them stop.
Algernon had been waiting for Perceval for some time now, he had heard the news earlier and was already having trouble dealing with it himself. His own troubles had to be set aside for the moment, however, because he was going to have to improvise for a while. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, rising and moving around his desk when he saw the door begin to open. Truthfully, he had no idea how Perceval was going to respond to his cousin's death, and he had to be prepared for anything.
However, when Perceval entered and Algernon caught sight of his face, the General Comandant nearly melted. He looked so pathetic, so horribly upset, that Algernon didn't even have to try to want to comfort him. Hurrying over to him, Algernon quickly pressed the lock shut, lest anyone overhear them, then gathered Perceval into his arms comfortingly. "Oh, Percy, Percy...I'm so sorry," he murmured soothingly, rubbing Perceval’s back softly and holding him for another moment before slowly leading him over to the sofa and sitting down beside him. Wrapping a comforting arm around him again, Algernon withdrew his handkerchief and dabbed softly at the tears. "That's it, you can cry on me," he soothed, offering a small, concerned smile. "Everything will be all right." It was strange, Algernon couldn't remember a time when he had comforted anyone for real, a time when he actually cared about the other person, and not just his own motives.
“I’m sorry…” Perceval sniffed. “I’m so sorry for it…for my behavior, sir.” He hiccupped slightly as he tried to suppress his tears. Perceval was in a bit of shock now that all of his bottled up emotions were flowing out full force, and to receive such unexpected tenderness from Algernon almost made him want to go on crying. But he knew he had a duty to do, and so choking back the tears and panting for breath, he tried to sculpt his shaky voice into one of business. “Tomorrow I…I will go speak with my uncle about…about continued Berceuse Malheureuse cooperation from his faction.” Perceval managed irresolutely with a little nod. Than, his business obligation satisfied, Perceval’s tears started to fall again, and he fell forward against Algernon, burrowing his face in the other’s shoulder and gripping his arm tightly as he shook violently with the emotions.
"Thank you, Percy," Algernon said softly, holding the other man soothingly. "But really, you may take time to mourn for your cousin. I understand." It was unnerving to Algernon to see Perceval so shaken, and he wondered what he must be going through. Still, right now, comforting him was what was important, and he had to concentrate on that. Pressing a soft kiss to Perceval's cheek, he ran his hand softly over his back, letting him cry. "Somehow, everything will be all right," he comforted again; he was confident that everything would be all right. He'd find a way to plan around this, and he was sure Perceval would be able to move on with a little time.
After a short time, the tears seemed to be beginning to subside, and Algernon proffered his handkerchief once more, moving to wipe away some of the tears with his thumb. "And don't forget, Percy...I'll be here, if you need me." It was a strange thing for him to be saying, and he felt awkward saying it, but he really did mean it.
“Thank you…” Perceval gulped, trying to regain some of the moisture in his mouth he’d lost through crying. “Algernon,” he trembled slightly, “…I don’t know what I’d do with out you…” He nodded shakily with his initial attempt at formality. “I’m sorry for all of this.” Perceval’s voice only wavered slightly as he began to regain more control, and he smiled sadly at Algernon. “What an inconvenience to lose a valuable tool like him. In the future, I’ll find you more reliable pawns.”
"Percy, you mustn't blame yourself," Algernon insisted softly, replacing his handkerchief and pulling Perceval into his arms again. "It's just as much my fault, for letting it happen, and more so the fault of those despicable men..." he trailed, sighing and thinking for a moment. "Do you know who it was who killed him?" he asked gently, "You don't have to talk about it if it would make you upset. I merely wish to know who I should punish." Punishing the killer ought to make Percy feel better, and, if he was clever about it and made it seem as if it was an attack of revenge, could put the Berceuse Malheureuse under more suspicion.
Perceval hissed between his teeth and shook slightly. Now that Algernon had helped him recover from the initial overwhelming grief, he felt a tinge of rage well up in him again. “It was that abhorred Corporal.” Perceval snapped abruptly. “Neither Christian or that disgusting Lieutenant of mine were killed, and now I have to promote them both...” He whined, concluding with a sigh. It was refreshing to distract himself by complaining to Algernon, and he snuggled a little closer to him.
Algernon stroked Perceval's hair absently, an idea forming in his mind. Christian was long overdue for a visit, and Algernon did have quite a bit of sedatives left over from their last encounter. He had already been planning on having Christian for tea in order to find out what he knew and rid him of any suspicions, and it would be easy to get his revenge for Percy, as well. Smiling at the other man, he ran a hand along the side of his face softly and assured, "I'll punish him for you. I don't think it's time for him to die just yet, but I'll make sure he suffers." Honestly, the thought of Christian suffering was enough to make Algernon happy on its own, as well as because it would make Perceval feel better.
Perceval smiled deviously against Algernon. Whenever Algernon was ready to be rid of Christian, it would be a happy day. However, until then, Perceval knew he could be satisfied with the Corporal’s suffering, especially since he knew how much it pleased Algernon. “Thank you, Algernon.” Perceval sighed contentedly.
Algernon was glad to see Perceval was feeling better, and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. "My pleasure, Percy."