“Karl, what the hell is that?” Felix tapped the rusty old carbine the librarian was attempting to load with a handful of equally weathered shells. They were the wrong caliber.
Karl clutched his weapon defensively.
“It’s my new rifle. I left my gear in that crater when I was captured, remember?”
Felix winced as his grey uniformed friend tried to jam another too big cartridge into the rifle’s breech.
“Damn it Karl, the only person that weapon is going to be a danger to is you.” He unclipped the belt strapped low around his waist, “Here, take these.”
Karl accepted the black leather belt reverently, his eyes wide. On it hung two silver semi-automatic pistols in matching holsters. Felix placed several spare clips of ammunition beside the handguns.
“Take these too, unlike your archaic boom stick there; these rounds will actually fit the guns. And fire. And not explode in your face.”
Karl pushed the weapons back toward the towering Northman. “I can’t accept these Felix, you need them.”
Felix grinned. “I’ve got plenty of guns librarian. Besides, those aren’t mine.”
Convinced, Karl buckled the belt around his waist. “Thank you Felix. This is truly a wonderful gift,” he adjusted the holsters, tying them down against his thighs, “but if they aren’t yours, whose are they?”
The long haired giant’s grin turned mischievous. “Inquisitor Konstantin’s.”
Chuckling at the Grey soldier’s horrified expression, Felix sauntered away, looking for something to nibble on. He hoped Konstantin hadn’t eaten everything before leaving on his mysterious mission. The skinny man was a bottomless pit.
He caught Brita’s gaze as she went to one of the curtained alcoves to change, and gave the girl a wink. She winked back. In the past his flirtations had only resulted in her pale face turning a bright red. Felix gave an approving grunt. The more time she spend with Deirdre, the more confident the young woman became. Her hair had also grown out somewhat since he’d met her. He liked the look.
Felix gave his belly a scratch through his leather vest. They were due for some quality alone time in his opinion. His daydreams were interrupted by Deirdre’s sharp whistle. It was time to get ready. He sighed dramatically. Oh well. After the rescue mission perhaps.
Naoise tossed him a submachine gun, slinging his own alongside the heavy axe strapped to his back. Felix nodded his thanks. Surprisingly, even James had kitted out with one of the smaller guns for the rescue attempt; a long rifle would be a burden in the close quarters fighting they expected to encounter at the library. Even so, he had been adamant about taking his piece along for the trip until Konstantin had intimidated the American sniper into letting him use it for his secret mission.
Deirdre stepped in front of Felix, Brita beside her. The young warrior’s jaw dropped. Sister Brita Konstantin was dressed for war. She had shed her practical travel clothes for a pair of Deirdre’s tight battle leathers, a look that was both alluring and disconcerting. She even had a few of Deirdre’s raven feathers woven into her blonde tresses. Both women looked positively dangerous.
Felix swallowed past the lump in his throat, for once left without a glib remark. “Umm, are you girls ready for this?” was all he could manage.
The women raised their hands. Sparks danced between their fingertips. They were ready.
“The question is, are you ready Mr. Magnusson?” Brita asked, trailing a sparkling fingertip along his jaw line as she stalked past.
Felix shook his head in amazement. She had been spending entirely too much time with Deirdre of late.
Crouching, he tightened his bootlaces. He was ready.
A shadow crept through the warring city, stalking its prey. The shadow paused. It was not alone. A column of soldiers marched wearily past. The shadow remained still. It could wait. It had a different target.
Black eyes watched the soldiers depart. Alone again, the shadow moved on. It was indomitable. It would fulfill its task. Death walked the city streets this night.
Felix crept through the warring city. Well, under the warring city really. Thanks to Karl’s unenthusiastic guidance, they were once again slogging through long closed sewer tunnels, working their way closer to the fortified library. He was a little surprised that they had not encountered any resistance to this point, but he brushed it off as a result of Deirdre and Brita’s subtle influences, and the distracting campaign grinding into action above their heads.
It would be nice if a plan actually worked out as anticipated for once.
He ducked underneath a dripping pipe, the rusty water running down his neck and shoulders. Atop the pipe strutted a glossy black raven, regarding Felix with an unblinking eye.
“How does she get them to follow her underground?” Felix wondered. With a sharp clack of its beak the bird flew from its perch, winging deeper into the darkness. Felix paused at the pipe, heartened by the good omen.
Karl wheezed up beside him, sputtering and sneezing as the cold water splashed across his slender face.
“This is suicide, this is suicide, this is suicide…” the grey uniformed young man muttered with every step.
Felix clapped a meaty hand over the librarian’s shaking shoulder.
“We’ll be alright little brother,” he assured his new friend, “this isn’t exactly our first rodeo.”
Karl gave a confused shrug. “What’s a rodeo?”
“Nevermind,” Felix chuckled, “just take a quick peek behind us.”
Karl complied. Following closely behind the pair was Deirdre, casually tossing a ball of liquid fire from hand to hand, her sorceries illuminating a determined looking Brita sandwiched between Naoise’s and James’ significant bulks.
Felix gave his companions a confident nod. “You’re in good hands Karl Franz. We have a certain amount of experience with this sort of thing.”
Karl managed a feeble smile.
“Thanks Felix. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss a party like this for the world!”
There was no door. Karl adamantly insisted that there should be a door. But there was no door. Naoise gave the concrete slab an experimental tap with his axe handle. Not surprisingly, it did not budge. All they had was Karl’s word that they were even close to their destination. The tiny group had spent the past several hours scurrying through abandoned pipelines and tunnel systems, going out of their way to avoid hostile soldiers as they approached the fortress library.
When they began their journey, Grey engineers had been methodically shelling the city, subjecting the ruins to a massive artillery bombardment. Over the last quarter hour the thunder from the big guns had tapered off, clearing the ground for Lieutenant’s coordinated counter attack.
Deirdre’s plan relied on the surface assault pulling a significant number of Green soldiers out of their fortified bunkers, leaving a reduced guard on the prisoners. They were all about to find out whether Deirdre and Lieutenant’s gamble had paid off.
Naoise gave the bare stone wall another tap.
“The Greenies must have sealed all the lower entrances to the archives,” Karl worried, “I’m sorry; we can’t get in this way.”
Deirdre casually tossed her fireball into the air, where it hung for an unnaturally long moment before dropping back into her waiting fingers.
“I think we’ll be able to figure something out sweetie.”
Grabbing Brita’s hand, she walked a few paces the way they had come, leaving the men to kick about uncertainly in the dark. In the oppressive silence of the tunnel, muffled music could be heard coming from James’ ear buds.
“You still have your tunes?” Naoise asked.
“What’re you listening to?”
“Felix grabbed my RagnaRock’s new album back at the club in Munich.”
“Yeah? Is it any good?”
Jim shrugged. “Not really.”
By then, the women had walked back up to the wall that should have been a door, accompanied by their bobbing ball of light.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” Deirdre was all business, “Jim, you and Naoise hold my hands. Felix, you and Karl hold Brita’s.” Felix didn’t try to hide his smile. Karl just blushed.
This arrangement accomplished, the women took over. Shuffling back down the tunnel, they put some distance between themselves and the concrete barrier.
Brita’s small hand grew hot in Felix’s grip, rhythmic pulses of power flowing up his scarred arm and into his body. The pulses grew in frequency and intensity, until they became nearly unbearable.
“What are you doing to us?” Karl moaned through gritted teeth.
Brita’s entire body was glowing eerily, as if from a powerful light shining just beneath her skin. When she opened her mouth to speak, tendrils of luminescence spilled out to dance and crackle in the dark tunnel.
“I’m creating a balance.” Her voice was both beautiful and terrible. Felix couldn’t decide whether he wanted to kiss the girl, or run away screaming. What had Deirdre unleashed in the Franciscan nurse?
“A balance for what!?” Karl was beginning to panic. He’d had little experience with magic in his short desperate life. Brita tugged insistently, pulling the two men with her as she strode purposefully toward the offending wall. Her pace grew until they were running full bore at the concrete slab. Deirdre loped behind her, pulling Naoise and James.
Felix could see Karl struggling to free his hand from Brita’s grip, but her fingers were like steel bands. Anticipating a devastating impact with the approaching barrier he cried out in fright. Better grasping the young witch’s intent, Felix let loose a powerful battle cry, lowering his shoulder into the charge. Naoise and Jim followed suit. Howling in defiance they met the wall head on. And disappeared into it.
There was a moment of darkness, and then they were through, thundering into the room that Karl had promised lay behind the concrete barrier. Unable to fully arrest his momentum, Felix bulled forward, cracking his shoulder painfully on the edge of a steel bunk bed. Its bolts tore free from the tile floor with a pop, and it tipped into the bunk beside it with a calamitous crash. Yelling in alarm, men that had just been sleeping peacefully throughout the room stumbled to their feet.
“This isn’t right,” Karl groaned, still unsettled from being pulled through several feet of concrete and metal, “The census archives used to be stored down here. Who are all these people? Where are the books?”
“Are you prisoners, or soldiers?” Felix asked, pulling the closest man from the twisted metal of his ruined bunk.
A rifle cracked, its retort echoing loudly in the enclosed area. Narrowly missing Felix’s skull, the bullet clipped his left ear lobe painfully before lodging in the solid wall he had just ran through.
“So that would make you soldiers then.” Felix grinned happily. Adjusting his grip on the bewildered man whose bed he had just upended, he spun on his heels, launching him across the room at the alert trooper who had already fired his gun. Beside him Karl was viciously beating a half naked man with his pistol barrels, demanding to know where all the books went. To Felix’s right and rear he could hear the unmistakably meaty thwack of Naoise’s axe finding a yielding human target. Alarm klaxons began blaring overhead. Felix’s grin grew wider. It was going to be a good day.
The man with the dark eyes tested the wind, adjusted his aim. He blinked slowly, evenly. There was a fierce battle raging before him, the cries of desperate men drifting up with the wind. His target was already dead. He just didn’t know it yet. The man breathed out. His finger tightened on the trigger.
He waited, timing his shot to coincide with the next mortar salvo. The bombs dropped. The rifle spat hot fire. It was a long shot, a difficult shot. The man didn’t miss.
Rolling on his back, he slid down off the wall it had been hidden atop. Something flew overhead. A presence more felt than seen. He paused. Dark eyes contemplated the sky. Eventually the shadow moved on. The man gave it no further thought. He already had a second target tonight.
Brita ducked into the broken elevator, its thick metal doors twisted and mangled as if it had been punched in by a giant fist. She grimaced in disgust. The elevator had been occupied when Deirdre blasted it open.
Panting heavily, Felix slid in behind her, turning immediately to fire at the pursuing soldiers, pinning them back around a bend in the corridor. Cursing eloquently, he emptied the clip, his free hand digging through his vest pockets in search of a reload. The wound on his ear continued bleeding freely, turning half his beard a fiery red.
“Where did the others go?” He asked Brita out the side of his mouth. She pointed up, toward the unclipped access panel in the elevator roof.
“Alright little one, up you go.” He offered her an open palm, and when she stepped into it, he lifted her easily to the hole in the ceiling. Jumping up behind her, he pulled himself through the small hatch. It was a snug fit.
A small service ladder was bolted into the wall of the shaft; on it the others, led by Naoise were climbing steadily.
“Are you ready for climbing?” Felix asked Brita. She was looking a little drawn, and even paler than normal after her magical exertions. They had been fighting desperately since their dramatic entrance into the library basement.
Brita gave the ladder a quick tug, and shrugged, unsure.
“Here,” Felix slung his gun over his shoulder, letting it hang against his side by the strap, “get on my back and hold on tight.”
When Brita had settled on, Felix began ascending, pausing only once to drop a grenade down into the elevator interior.
Keeping her tired arms and legs wrapped tightly around the muscular Northman, Brita closed her eyes, burying her face in his back when the Green troops below them discovered his deadly surprise. The explosion rattled the shaft, almost dislodging Karl from the shaky ladder. Only a quick grab by James kept the young soldier from plummeting back down to the burning elevator, a fall that would probably have dislodged the piggy-backed pair climbing below him as well.
Brita looked up at the librarian’s shout of alarm, expecting to receive his boot in her face for the trouble. Instead, she recognized the unmistakable glint of a gun barrel poking down into the elevator shaft from a higher level. Realizing that her friends couldn’t see it from their positions on the ladder, without thinking, she reached a hand down, and grabbing the stock of Felix’s sub machine gun, fired repeatedly up at the lurking soldier.
With the crunch of breaking plastic, one of her bullets found the trooper’s face shield, blasting through his skull before flattening itself against the inside of his helmet. Releasing her other hand from its grip across Felix’s chest, Brita leaned back, and holding on with only her legs, reached out and caught the dead soldier’s falling shotgun as it clattered down past her companion’s heads. Another twitch of her legs brought her back in against Felix’s bulk, where she strung her prize alongside his still smoking gun.
“What the hell just happened?” Felix’s ears were ringing. Above them, everyone stared unblinking down at the young nurse, even Karl, who still hung by the wrist in James’ strong grip. Noticing her friends’ astonishment, Brita blushed heavily, wrapping her arms back around Felix’s chest.
“We should probably keep climbing,” was all she could offer.
“How much further Karl?” Even Deirdre was looking worn. A lucky shot by one of their pursuers had grazed her abdomen, leaving an ugly looking gash in her side. She insisted she was fine, but a worried Naoise was convinced otherwise.
Their injuries notwithstanding, they had been relatively lucky to this point. It appeared that Lieutenant’s attack had actually drawn the majority of the active duty troops away from their bunkers, leaving the library complex nearly deserted. Nearly deserted still left it populated enough to be giving them a very bad day however.
“We have to get to the top level,” Karl explained, “that’s where the prisoners are always kept.”
“Wouldn’t that make it easier for them to escape?” James wondered.
“Possibly, but it also discourages our artillery from firing on their buildings.”
James scooted himself closer to the door of the room they were hiding in. It had once been a women’s restroom, although its current use appeared to be garbage dump, judging from the piles of sticky trash bags mounded everywhere.
“Naoise, if you please.”
“Huh? Oh, right,” Swinging a ham-like fist, Naoise shattered the spotty mirror bolted above the cracked porcelain sink. Retrieving one of the larger slivers, he passed it into Jim’s waiting hand.
Pushing himself up against the door’s frame, James gently opened the door slightly, just enough so that he could slide his arm, with the chunk of mirror, into the hallway, checking the reflection for any movement.
“Okay guys, we’re all clear,” Jim whispered, “Wait…oh shit!”
With the distinct smell of ozone, an explosive bolt of lightning crackled down the corridor, shattering the mirror, and blasting the American sniper back into the room. Staring in disbelief at the charred remains of his fingers, Jim twitched and shivered uncontrollably, his clothes smoking.
“They’ve unleashed the Silents!” Karl screamed, “We’ve got to get out of here!”