Storming The Katschei's Castle, Part II


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Scene Title Storming the Katschei's Castle, Part II
Synopsis Some people have all the luck. The group tasked with coming up at the library from below finds themselves on the losing end of a mostly conventional battle.
Date December 22, 2009

Svyato Monastery, outside Ryazan, Russia

Svyato Monastery was founded by missionaries in the 12th century. For hundreds of years, the miraculous properties of its reliquary collection - from the ancient icon of St. Ioann the Divine to the wonder-working Blessed Virgin icon named Znamenie-Korchemna; shrines with relics from George the Victor, Panteleymon the healer, Nikolay Wonder-Worker, and a host of other saints; and relics from the martyrs Mihail Ryazanskiy and Iuvenaliy Ryazanskiy - brought many travelers to the monastery, along with the money its monks needed to live on. In the past few generations, however, the monastery has dwindled; the elder monks succumbing to the inevitability of age, and then their successors, until finally only the monastery itself remained, barely-remembered monument to past wonders.

A long, low brick building situated near the edge of a limestone bluff, its profile anchored by two squat towers roofed in black and a slender central tower capped in white, the monastery shows signs both of age and enduring care. The exterior brick is beginning to crumble in places but the interior corridors are well-patched; and while its windows completely lack any semblance of glazing, the still air inside the building is markedly warmer than the outdoors. Old, age-faded tapestries on the walls attest to the hobbies of long-dead monks, scuffed floorboards to their habitual tread; in some of the more obscure corners can be found dust-covered dishes, or a scrap of moth-eaten cloth that was worn sometime in the distant past. The shrines, strangely enough, remain intact despite passing time, preserved by local superstition and caution; rough-hewn effigies, ancient half-burned candles, small ceramic or glass containers bearing the bones of long-dead holy men.

Situated below the monastery is the Holy Well, a water-filled pit lined by meticulously-laid stone, purported - like so much else at Svyato's monastery - to be imbued with the power of healing. Behind the Holy Well are the caverns, worn out of the limestone in ages past, undecorated and unadorned save by the bones from generation upon generation of monks? at least so far as anyone in the area will attest, for few care to broach the monastery's grounds anymore.

The eastern wing of the monastery isn't what it was just a week ago; the grenade-induced destruction of the garage cavern took a good portion of bluff and building down with it. Not the whole of the catacombs, however, and it's a different passage, one which begins beside the Holy Well itself, which Team Charlie's assault group B makes their entrance by. The first hundred yards of the water-carved corridor look like a largely untouched cavern — one which has seen considerable human passage over uncounted years but holds no more than the bones of long-dead monks, resting in peace on small niches carved out of the walls.

The cavern doesn't follow a straight line, but its tightest bend comes after those hundred yards — and then the atmosphere changes considerably. A line of small electric lights wired up at the top of one wall will do that. Only about half of them are functioning, making the illumination faint but nonetheless valuable, revealing what is clearly an artificially smoothed pathway and a deliberately widened passage, wide enough for two people to walk comfortably abreast, or three if they like each other well. Some fifty yards down this way is a left-hand entrance into another corridor, one that — if Anya is to believed — connects to the stairwell that will take them up into the monastery. This cavern continues on towards the east, likely ending in collapsed rubble somewhere past its next corner.

No one is visible down the length of their current path.

As they make their way through the passageway, Elisabeth's got point — her job in this instance is twofold: silence their own movements, talk, what have you as they come through and listen ahead for any sounds of people, equipment, or ambush. The sound dynamics of underground caverns can be a touch tricky, though Elisabeth's mentor used subway tunnels on a regular basis for training her. Their own movements do not carry more than a foot or two beyond the front and back of the group in any direction, allowing the three to converse and not worry too much about their noise leve as they sneak about, but the acoustics can make it a little harder to pinpoint certain things. For example, Elisabeth can hear rats scurrying and water dripping and various rustlings that she has to concentrate and listen to carefully to determine if they're actually rats and water and the buzz of electricity through the wires for the lights as opposed to the static hiss of a radio. It means she's actually not talking much, she's keeping her ears peeled forward for anything that might be construed as a threat.

Behind her Cat is silent, eyes alert and pace careful. She studies the footing ahead of them for the presence of trip wires and other such traps, as well as the walls. Claymores or some Russian equivalent which could be triggered remotely would be bad news. As would cameras by which the passages can be remotely viewed.

The three Company agents who come in behind the representatives of Team Charlie are also not inclined to talk much. They keep their rifles at ready, the one in the rear paying attention to their backtrail in the hopes of not being surprised from behind.

No tripwires are apparent in the cavern, nor in the one they turn into, or on the stairs which lead upwards into the monastery; into its great hall, as a matter of fact, the large chamber in which its population of monks once dined, when there was such. According to Anya Orlova, the hall still has three very large and heavy wooden tables with long benches on either side, a succession of alcoves along the walls, some of them still containing holy statuary, ragged and moth-eaten tapestries, and two doors leading into the connecting wings of the buildings; the western door is their next marker on this route — but the great hall is their first likely site for meeting opposition in force.

Pausing on the stairs just out of sight of the great hall, Elisabeth leans against the wall and closes her eyes to better focus on the sounds coming from the head of the tunnel to see if she can figure out what might be ahead of them. Her report if brief, all business, kept confined to the small group. "Definitely people in the room. I can't even get a ballpark on how many. Keep low, one left and one right til everyone's out of the stairwell," she says quietly. "Don't know what we've got for cover. Don't get dead. If we can avoid gunfire until we're all out of the bottleneck, that'd be best." It's an obvious thing to say, but sometimes…. not. "I'm left." Which means whoever's next in line should go to the right of the door, etc.

Nodding, Cat turns to the right and makes ready to go through the door, crouched low. She keeps her back to it and the wall so she'll be facing the interior of the room ahead when it's entered, all the better to fire at anyone seen to spot them and bring a weapon to bear. At the same time, she takes one of the tear gas canisters in hand, ready to toss it toward the largest group of persons sighted.

The Company agents follow, each of them fluent enough in English to comprehend Elisabeth's instructions; first and last to the left, second to the right.

The room itself is much as described — three tables, the closest one parallel to the wall the team spreads out along, two others set perpendicular to its other side, drawing an unconnected 'U' shape. Tapestries alternate with alcoves along the sides of the wall, and no people are readily visible at all — in groups or otherwise. Perhaps because there is no lighting in the room but leakage from the stairwell behind them and the fast-dimming glow of twilight. The doors to the east and west are both wide open, showing even darker mouths of yawning passages beyond…

To Elisabeth, what really stands out about the great hall is what happens immediately upon her entrance into it: the abrupt cessation of her enhanced hearing, the loss of any sense of other people out there at all. And for Cat, similarly, a sudden failure of the memory she has come to depend so heavily upon; the loss of all capabilities that require a supernatural capacity for information and its access.

The bolt of blue-tinged electricity that snaps out of the western corridor and strikes the Company agent next to Liz is just icing on the cake, in that regard.

And sonofabitch, they've got the negator in here! In that split second it takes her to process it, the agent next to her is down. The dark will work against them here, but Elisabeth has only ever relied on her ability in the most basic sense to get a general idea of what's what or communicate privately — the team of people she's come in with should know enough to know not to make a big target of themselves by clustering up and to at least attempt to scatter into better cover along the alcoves of the wall. She sends several bursts of suppression fire toward that tunnel in the hopes of at least giving the other team enough time to get to the side walls with Cat, who she knows will be struggling with the fog of no-powers. She hopes the months of practice will allow Cat to continue to be useful here.

The last time she felt the fog's presence was in part after the operation to free Belinda Aniston, and before that in the days after their raid on Pinehearst courtesy of Tyler Case. It had lasted days. For all practical purposes, the clearest memory she can access is of that time, when she learned of Father's fall in the reactor and heard details of the battle she suddenly discovered aftermath of on the roof.

And now she's here, with the fog so thick and weapons fire suddenly being heard. There's disorientation for some moments as she takes stock of things, discovering herself armed, and spots actions from Elisabeth and backups.

Memory is disabled, but she knows enough to recognize Elisabeth as friendly and to recall there's possibly a negator around, the source of the fog. Her tear gas canister is flung in the direction fire is being aimed at, then she too opens up with the AK.

The most clear thing, to her, is this is a time to act and figure out just where the hell she is and why later.

Redshirt Andrei having been stunned by the electric bolt, Redshirt Kolya drags him into the questionable cover of 'under the nearer table' and then scrambles underneath the furniture towards the nearest alcove, taking advantage of Liz's fire and Cat's tear-gas attack. The rifle fire hits something; whether the tear gas had any effect is more difficult to discern under the echoing of gunshot reports.

Kolya claims the nearest western alcove for his own, an empty one, mask protecting him from the drift of tear gas. The alcoves being sized for single pieces of statuary, Liz must take the next one down the hall — also devoid of statuary, but with the uneven drape of a hung tapestry now on her left, as she faces inward towards the center of the chamber.

Redshirt Boris scrambles under the table as well, apparently choosing it for his cover — and, clicking his flashlight on, he throws it over the length of the table towards the western passage, illuminating three men in black armor and night-vision goggles, two of them coughing and scrubbing at their faces, one attempting to get a good bead on the scattering team. Someone didn't bring gas masks.

Cat, in retreating to her alcove with its piece of damaged statuary, finds the unexpected — an abrupt attack with intent to disarm and perhaps incapacitate, quick strikes of foot and hand from someone with the advantage of clear vision in this dark room.

In the light afforded the group by the flashlight that rolled to a stop, Elisabeth takes aim at the hallway and fires several bursts of bullets down that direction. The electrokinetic and any baddies with guns are definitely a bigger threat than any other she's immediately in proximity to.

She isn't expecting the assault, and so quickly finds her AK-47 gripped; at risk of being torn away from her hands as the action continues. There's a helmet, body armor and a gas mask, so her first thoughts aren't of likely use. But she has the silenced pistols too, so while trying to keep the Kalashnikov with one hand, Cat uses the other to draw one out and shoot at the kneecap.

Liz's fire has the side effect of keeping Kolya penned, as she shoots across his alcove; he turns his attention towards the room behind her instead, thumbing on his flashlight. The beam of light seems to have the side effect of making him an instant target, before he can even see more than dusty table and dark silhouettes; some statues, but also it seems there are others in the back of the room as well. Ducking back into the alcove, several new dings on his armor and the bruises to show for it, Kolya sends fire back in that direction, across Liz's line of fire.

For Liz to fire into the western corridor, she cannot be in the cover of an alcove on the western wall; this puts her back to the silhouettes at the far end of the hall. Fortunately for Liz, the fire sent her way is not a pervasive curtain, and the bruises from bullet impacts on her armor are more in the way of inconvenience than anything else… unless there gets to be many more of them.

Cat's attempt to take the offensive to her attacker results in the loss of her rifle, snatched out of the one hand clutching it; and the loss of her pistol, knocked out upon its drawing by the force of two swift strikes; both are sent skidding in opposite directions, the rifle behind her assailant and the pistol under the nearby table. Follow-up takes the form of a palm to her chin and an elbow to the woman's temple, disabling rather than truly damaging; the kind of attack that leaves her disoriented and sprawled on the great hall's stone floor.

Before her assailant can continue, however, Boris shoots him in the back. He staggers forward, catching himself on the damaged statue, then ducks around behind it; like Liz, he is bruised but far from down.

As soon as Kolya begins firing, Elisabeth shouts, "SWAP!" so that she and he can swap targets in order to not be firing across one another anymore. She ducks back into her own alcove for cover between barrages, but their small infiltration group seems to be getting their asses handed to them. Taking stock briefly, Elisabeth gets a mental head count of how many targets we're up against here and shakes her head. Shit. Now is about the time she'd love to be able to make everyone on that western wall start puking their brains out. Instead, all she can do is keep on firing. A lot of bullets toward the targets that Kolya had been shooting at and hope that the hail of gunfire from several angles takes down some of them.

Rifle out of reach, one pistol less out of reach, and here she is on her back. Moments are spent gathering her bearings and suppressing the question of just where she is and what the goal might be in this place; far more important is not getting shot and subduing opposition. She has a second pistol, the dropped weaponry can be recovered after securing the location. So the backup comes out; Cat takes cover under the table and seeks targets or threats in the area.

Swapping targets is a good idea; but in the light from Boris' cast-out flashlight, it also becomes evident that the group of enemies in the western corridor has chosen discretion over valor and begun to retreat into the darker depths of the hall. Once they're out of the flashlight's range, and not firing back at him, Kolya turns his attention to the more immediate threat; the ones Liz is also firing at.

The bullets rained upon Elisabeth diminish as the shooters themselves take to cover. Not gone but — decidedly fewer. Perhaps some of their opponents were hit hard enough to be incapacitated.

Cat's scramble under the table means that the bullets shot from the gun of the man behind her thunk into wood without doing any harm. He peeks out intermittently from behind the statue and occasionally firing at either Boris or Cat; but the return gunfire from Boris keeps him penned.

The negation effect shows no signs of lifting, but in terms of the physical altercation there seems to be enough of a break for them to bolt back the way they came — or through that lingering cloud of gas and into the western corridor.

Back the way we came is not in the plans. Elisabeth uses hand signs to convey that the group needs to push forward to the corridor that, according to Anya's intel and the floor plans, will take them to the library. The whole point is to get hold of those files. She covers the group, keeping the guy behind the statue busy… never know, someone could get a lucky shot on him. But getting the other three out of here seems the most prudent option to her.

Looking around, with the opposition seeming less, Cat emerges. She retrieves the dropped pistol quickly and moves to follow Elisabeth where she's heading, while taking care not to get overly exposed to fire from behind the statue. The fog is thick, but she knows enough to see wisdom in this course of action. Hopefully one of the others will snatch up and bring the rifle.

Leaving Andrei behind under the table, a casualty they unfortunately can't afford to drag along or carry out, Kolya moves into the western corridor, flashlight held alongside the muzzle of his rifle. Its white light reveals a straight hallway with many doors lining its walls; a mirror-image of the hall Team Charlie once escaped through. A torch sconce is mounted to the wall after every third door — but all of them are empty. The only illumination is that from the agent's light, and it reveals no human forms between them and the open doors at the far end. Those who were there have gone elsewhere.

Boris keeps his weapon trained on the knot of opponents at the far reach of the great hall as he too retreats towards the western corridor, leaving his flashlight where it landed down by their position; it's much too far away to attempt to retrieve. This does mean he has no method by which to illuminate their backtrail.

Cat's rifle, like the flashlight, is too far away to be reasonably retrieved. As the woman makes her way towards the western passage, a few parting shots are fired from the man behind the statue; but none of them hit, perhaps because he is distracted by avoiding Liz's fire.

As they regroup in the hall, Elisabeth murmurs, "What I would not GIVE right now for a negator with better range than that bastard." She considers. "Boris, bring up the rear — if it looks like you can split off and take him out of the equation, do it. The rest of us are going to try to make it to the library. If you split off and can't regroup, just get out as best you can, don't worry about the team."

For her part, Cat is just following and ready to act when the need appears. She takes position a short distance from the detective, seeming bewildered and disturbed, but otherwise calm and functional. It occurs she could ask just what the situation is, but it really doesn't seem the time.

Accepting Liz's flashlight from her as well as the instructions, Boris nods briefly and moves to the rear of their four-person column, letting Cat pass by. He shines his flashlight down their backtrail as he goes, squinting to try and make out any details at the dim fringes of its illumination; there aren't many to be had.

The hallway ends in another expansive room, this one also familiar by type to Liz; a cousin to the room in which Anya revealed a cache of weapons by which the escapees armed themselves. It's another large chamber that they enter from the east, vaulted ceilings vanishing into darkness just as the length of the hall does. According to Orlova's description, it is another hall of reliquaries and works of religious art; but only a few of the nearer pedestals are illumined by the sweep of Kolya's flashlight. Thirty feet ahead and on the right is the closed door leading to the stairwell which will take them to the third floor — and the library.

But the instant Kolya sets a toe out of the hallway, he is again under fire. One bullet bounces off the curve of his helmet before he quite pulls himself back into the shadow of the wall, leaving the Russian shaking his head and hanging back a moment.

The negation hasn't faded.

The stairwell door is probably locked, in this tower.

And then Boris starts firing at something behind them, suggesting the group is boxed in.

There's a soft sigh as Elisabeth debates the matter internally for a mere second and then she shakes her head. She made a bad call and she knows it. "Pull all the way back. Bulldoze 'em back into the other room — they're just as boxed in as we are in this corridor and four of us rushing whoever's at the doorway back there firing is going to at least throw them off guard. Kill everything that's not us," she tells Kolya and Cat grimly. And she peels backward and murmurs the same instructions to Boris, the two of them being the first line of shooter/targets.

With her remaining silenced pistol, Cat moves in following Elisabeth's lead. She fires shots from it, aimed so as not to hit friendly folks, at any target visible in the path of retreat.

Oddly enough, once the team starts retreating, the fire from the rear diminishes. Two silhouettes retreat more rapidly than they, scrambling out of the radius of Boris' flashlight and into the darkness of the great hall. As they pull back, one of them twitches in a way that suggests more than a mere bruise; but he's still withdrawing.

As first Cat and then Kolya follow Liz and Boris back towards the hall, another bolt of caged electricity sizzles through the dark air; this one strikes Boris from behind, sending him to his knees, both rifle and flashlight independently scattering down the hallway; the flashlight collides with Cat's heels.

There's a second searing blue jolt, and Kolya crumples to the ground.

The hall looks as it did before — dark — but this time there's more noise, the scuffs of shoes on stone flooring; there are at least two people somewhere down the length of the hall, by the sound of it, and two others who have retreated into that black eastern hallway.

Negator to the front of us, electricity bastard to the rear. Elisabeth pauses in the retreat to turn and fire four short bursts in the direction that the electrical shock came from — if nothing else, to give Cat and Boris time to get the hell out of the corridor. It's possible, even plausible, that this route of incursion is going to get them all killed, but damn it, she's going to take as many of them with her as possible.

Being within easy enough reach, Cat scoops up the fallen rifle and flashlight. The illuminator is stuffed into a pocket, then the rifle is used to send a burst of fire down the path Elisabeth just targeted as she crosses and clears the corridor.

Liz and Cat paying attention to their rear, Boris is left alone to crouch by one side of the door into the great hall and fire at the silhouettes in the hall. Bullets thunk into the wall by his head, keeping him more behind cover than not; but not enough, as they have the advantage of numbers, and it isn't long before all firing stops at the eastern end of the corridor. Boris is down.

Liz's fire strikes home, which in some respect may have been a mistake; from a dicernably lower origin lashes out a vibrant burst of painfully blue electric light, tendrils playing up along the wall the team hides behind but the majority of the bolt discharging into Elisabeth. The force of the bolt is considerable — but its effect is primarily to stun, even if Liz will probably have frazzled hair for the next day and a few burn marks to show for it.

With only Cat still standing, the last attack comes from a direction not foreseen. There are no bullets, no glare of electricity, no explosions and no gas canisters. There's just iron claws of pain that sink themselves into the memory-lost brunette's bones and take up residence there, twisting her posture inwards and shattering all clear thought.

A feminine figure steps out of the gloom, looking down upon the defeated team; she wears night-vision goggles, dark Kevlar armor, and a helmet, from beneath which only a few stray ends of her blonde hair peek. She speaks a single sentence in Russian, and then steps past; in her wake, one of the Vanguard soldiers knocks Catherine unconscious.

None of this group are people Yvette Volken has a vendetta against.

Which is why, in the end, they are left bound, stripped of any gear save clothing, but unharmed beside the vehicle they arrived in, to survive or not on their own.

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