Chapter 3: Tactical Retreat

Hello Internet:

Chapter 3 of Lead Heart is up! Sometimes you just have to GTFO.

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The merchant was jerked from the bench violently in the same instant Leliana hauled ass to the treeline. There would be a few seconds of confusion and she needed it to disappear. She recoiled as the tree inches to her left exploded in a burst of shrapnel and splinters. Holy scrap, that sniper was quick. The telltale retorts of pistol fire followed soon after and she saw puffs of dirt and bark popping up all around her.

She sprinted about 100 meters into the trees and bolted up a short evergreen. She hopped back and forth from branch to branch and only stopped to rest once she was high enough to confirm the hit and dismantle her rifle. A fight had broken out near the storage tent and a few burly men were vanishing into the distant woods. Likely his bodyguards, having pocketed any money on his person. She could also see a line of armed men sweeping over the ridge she’d been hiding behind a minute before.

Time to go.

She stowed the rifle parts and tested the heft of the bag. It’d have to do. She yanked the three bombs she acquired earlier that day and pulled the pins, hurling them to the forest below. Then she pulled back a solid branch and used it to slingshot herself away from the advancing troop.

Her gut hit the back of her throat as she sailed through the canopy, narrowly missing a couple of solid hits and scratching her arms to hell. She grabbed a branch to slow her momentum and dropped onto a young tree below. The limber sapling hooked the canvas bag and absorbed most of the speed from the fall, dropping to the ground with a grunt and a roll. The tree snapped back into place and the cacophony of breaking twigs made her wince. Almost simultaneously, the bombs exploded in unison and she was rewarded with shrieks and howls of pain and surprise. Leliana vaulted once more to a low hanging branch and swung up into the tree next to her. They’d still probably be able to tail her, but it would take a lot longer to spot the trail and she’d be long gone by then.

Thirty minutes later, Leliana strolled through a bit of fern whistling tunelessly. She’d lost a good power stone, but at least she put some mercenaries in their place. She still heard the occasional gunshot in the distance but who knows what they were shooting at anymore.

The flicking of leaves had her instinctively jerking her head back, yanking the quivering knife from the tree next to her and sending it tumbling back at the thrower before her mind registered anything was amiss.

“Nice to see you again.”

That gruff hello put her heart into her throat. A throwing knife flashed into her right hand, her left raised to block.

Even if she’d forgotten that grating voice in the last few hours, the ugly criss crossed scars across his eyes were extraordinarily memorable. The look of incredibly calm rage was pretty adorable if she said so herself.

It was less adorable as it was flying her way though.

She twisted aside and shoved his incoming bulk against a tree, then bounced back a few paces to put some distance between them. She was mildly impressed as he caught himself before he fell and caught the second knife she’d sent sailing.

“Here to shake me down some more for your pig owner?”

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t play stupid, you know damn well Creet is dead. Watched him sprout a new orifice in front of my eyes.”

She smiled again. “Revenge, then?”

“Dead men don’t pay for revenge.”

She stepped back as he bounced off the tree and crossed the clearing in a single bound, avoiding the sweep of his leg but catching his fist with her face. He used the confusion to latch onto her and heaved her up over his head, throwing her backward at the nearest tree. Leliana curled up mid-air, hitting the tree feet-first and kicking off of it to plant her boots in his teeth. His grunt of surprise made her giggle as he toppled like a felled tree.

She crouched into a fighting stance as he rolled to his feet.

“You’re pretty good, why are you screwing around with petty thievery and potshots anyway.” He leisurely stretched and flexed his arms, spitting a gobful of blood into the soil. “I just wanted to kick your ass for losing me a week of pay, but now I want to kick your ass for wasting that fighting skill.”

Leliana scoffed. “You mean take money from lazy bastards to protect their idiocy? I’d rather fight for myself. I don’t take orders well.” She rushed him then, keeping her center of gravity low and vaulting at the last minute. She grabbed his hands, outstretched to absorb the incoming blow, and crossed them over his shoulders, pulling him off-balance as she landed behind him. To his credit, Antros let himself drop backward, his own weight wrenching his hands free of her hold. He rocked back as he hit the ground and catapulted himself back up, landing a kick that tossed her backward onto her back. She sprang back to her feet, but he raised his hands briefly.

“Sure, sure. Don’t take orders, but don’t really get a chance to eat or relax either. Nothing like a cold pint to wash away the stink of an old, rich bastard.” He wrenched the knife she’d thrown earlier and sheathed it in his own vest. “It’s been fun, but I need to get back and find me a new bastard to keep alive. Next time I see you on a job, I won’t just be here to kick your ass though.”

“Hey you warned him, it’s not my fault.”

“You shot him. It’s literally your fault.”

She laughed. “Okay, that’s fair. I’ll be sure to look for that handsome mug next time I need to fence something.”

He laughed, or coughed, she wasn’t sure which, and strode from the clearing.

Whistling low with appreciation, leliana respected the silence and haste with which he’d vanished. “I’ll have to bring that man some flowers.”

The muted shouts in the distance gave her an idea of the kind of lead she still had over the rest of her persuers. Antros had a point, though. Dead men don’t pay, and there were a lot of armed thugs combing the trees now, angry about a paycheck they’d never see.

Her stomache growled furiously. Dammit, he was right about that too. She imagined it would be too much to chance the idiots behind her leaving all their food unprotected at the campsite.

She nursed a swollen eye as she dragged herself into the forest. Time to hunt.

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Chapter 2: The Second Swipe

Hello internet,

Here’s chapter 2 of Lead Heart!

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Leliana was irritated.

“My dear, that rock is worth more trouble than gold, I’m doing you a favor!”

Hells take his insufferable smug face and his insufferable stupid guards. Fantasies of daring assaults and widespread carnage filled her eyes if just for a moment. At least until she remembered the two score pistol barrels pointing her way.

Glaring daggers at the little weasel in front of her, Leliana untied the heavy bag behind her and let the metal core slam to the ground with a clang.

She noticed someone in the crowd she recognized as she replaced the pack and stepped away. “Antros, you’ve picked a real winner here. I hope you got paid up front.” Her lazy tone didn’t bother to hide the irritation she felt, her eyes barely turning to address the tall, dark and ugly to her left.

Her clean-shaven opponent mouthed a small o and squinted, turning to look behind him. “Have you met?”

A rough bodyguard stepped forward before answering. “We’ve seen each other in a professional capacity.” His deep voice grating her ears. “Meaning I’ve professionally seen her swipe enough junk to know there’s no way she found this piece lying on the ground.”

“Tut tut number 4. We can’t brigade about the countryside insulting nice young ladies,” he wagged a finger at Antros. “Run along little girl, I’ll be here for a few days if you find yourself in need of… Well me.” He flashed his most winsome smile and whirled with a flourish, waving her off.

The emotion drained from her body, replaced by a coldness she was all too familiar with. Images unbidden welled to the front of her mind.

“Run along little girl”

She took a slow breath.

“Are you just letting her walk free?” Antros frowned. “I’ve seen her at work and she’s definitely the type to retaliate. I don’t think-”

“I don’t pay you to think, number 4. I pay you so I don’t have to worry about letting little urchins run freely about their disgusting lives.” The dripping sarcasm washed over the gathered crowd. Scattered snickers grunted out of the men. “Am I wasting my money? Number 4?”

“Stupid brat.”

Phantom fists rained down around her, causing her to wince. The hiss of her own sharp intake of breath snapped her from the memory. The heat returned to her cheeks as she found the clearing silent, and staring.

She smiled.

“Surely you’re not afraid of a little girl, number 4.” Leliana emphasized the stupid name.

Antros’ frown turned into a scowl. “You’re the boss, forget I said anything.” He crossed his arms and stepped back to his place by the tent flap

Leliana backed up a few paces, watching the stone-cold faces with their stone-cold firearms. The guards lowered their guns at a wave from the trader, closely monitoring her retreat. She ran backward a few minutes, until she was far enough away to trust they probably wouldn’t shoot her in the back, then turned and sped down the road. Clever, to set up a faux trading post in such a clear, flat field.

The setup was good, she gave him that. The hired muscle wore carefully crafted colors to give the impression of multiple trading groups. It seemed legit at first glance. Looks like the actual traders were finding highway robbery just as profitable as she was.

She entered the treeline and immediately fell to the forest floor. Slowly, she crawled back to the edge of the clearing, hiding on a slope. Pulling the collapsible scope from her belt she ducked low and peeked up just until she could see the group. She groaned immediately.

“Of course you have a sniper. Everyone has a sniper.”

Grumbling to herself, she let her sack fall to the ground and stayed out of sight of the sharpshooter. There was no way she could kill them all, that would be foolhardy. She couldn’t just leave though, that would only encourage him in the future. There was no way to build a reputation if three dozen crappy mercs started tattling about your cowardice. She fumed for a moment, remembering the unwanted memories forcing themselves upon her. He was definitely paying for that.

It wasn’t hard finding a vantage point they weren’t watching – almost every eye in camp was staring down the road she’d used. Leliana skirted the camp carefully, settling behind some tall grass in close proximity to the forest beyond.

Unzipping the hidden pocket on the inside of the sack, she slowly pieced together her own rifle. A prize from a hundred years ago at least, the sleek, black, long-barreled rifle was like a sister to her. A sister that could kill someone at a thousand feet. Digging a small trough into the hillside and under the grass, Leliana settled in to get comfortable. Watching that cowardly old buffoon laughing behind his guards set her on edge, but patience was a fundamental virtue in this game.
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Leliana snapped from a trance-like state, the crunch of boots on gravel smacking her awake. The normal patrols were back in rotation; still, they were a sloppy bunch. They were probably used to bullying travelers unable to retaliate against a force this large, and that was fine by her. A lazy dog is a good dog.

Her breathing was slow. It felt like every part of her body were asleep, but she couldn’t move to ease the fierce tingling now. Fidgeting while stalking a camp of armed mercenaries was a fantastic way to get shot.

The unseen guard stepped a few paces in front of her, allowing her to make out the thick wooden shoes and the irritating camo pattern of their pants. Who the scrap wears brown camouflage to a forest. He looked like a huge pile of-

Oh, that weasel bastard was comfortable. His stupid white teeth were biting into a huge chunk of meat across the table from Antros.

She smiled.

The young woman took a few steadying breaths and selected one of her improv bullets – the quietest, a wasp stinger, because she could afford to waste one and because the poison would finish the job if her aim were off.

Her? Miss? She snorted softly.

The gravel crunching stopped and her heart followed suit.

Woops. She chastised herself mentally.

An intense minute of sweating later and the guard continued his round.

This needed to get done. The longer she lingered the greater the chance of discovery. She dropped the makeshift bullet into the chamber and slid it home, then readied her bag for a panicked flight. Okay, now time it right.

Still feeding his face, don’t want to shoot through that hunk of meat. Nope, jerks in the way. Not yet, not yet…grabbing a drink, perfect.

Smooth inhale. Sight down the barrel. Smooth exhale. His head tilted as he gulped at the wine.

FIRE.

Serialized Stories

Hello internet friends – Kris here!

Whew! It’s been quite a delay since our last entry. Tina and I have taken up going to the gym, lots of crafting projects, and other general non-keeping up our blog type things. This is pretty sad though and I’ve been wanting to get into a serialized story to help polish my skills whilst my super-long-take-20-years-to-finish novel is in the works. It’s a working title.

So here’s the first chapter of what I hope to be at least 15-20 chapters of the story of Leliana, a feisty girl who generally likes to shoot first and ask questions never.

Lead Heart

Chapter 1: The Swipe

Leliana stalked between the rows of jagged teeth. A shadow slinking in the darkness. The gargantuan demophant had more than enough teeth to hide her approach, still, it would hurt her pride to be discovered prematurely. It wasn’t difficult to find a hiding place among the reeking yellowed spikes. She took a moment to breathe slowly, coiling her muscles, ready to spring into action the moment she heard her cue.

There was a team of stocky men with picks and machetes and shovels flailing away at the back of the creature’s throat. She visualized them now; marking their progress over the last 2 hours, she’d stowed her spyglass and headed in when she realized they were basically done.

“AH HA!” A gruff cry of delight, followed by a sickening squelch and rushing air.

She Smiled.

Palming three sleep bombs, she vaulted off a few teeth larger than she was and scattered the explosives to surround the small party. Using her own pick, she suspended herself from the roof of the dead demophants’ mouth to get a better view. A yelp escaped from the mercenary hired for protection as one of the bombs hit him square in the mouth, the other two landing behind a group of idling specialists and the actual diggers in the very act of freeing the creatures’ first heart. Everyone froze and turned to face the burly guy nursing a loose tooth.

Woops, bad habit.

The mercenary was the first to react, eyes bulging as he noted the object which had smacked him a second ago and shrugging a large metal shield into his left hand, right hand instinctively grasping the small arm at his side. One of the specialists cowered as he pulled his colleague in front of him with a whimper, the latter yelling in outrage and wrenching himself free to throw himself backward, hands protecting his head. The dig team recoiled against the inner wall of the throat of the monster they were performing their macabre surgery upon, one fellow falling into the breach they had just opened up with a cry.

Leliana found an odd glee in allowing a second of realization before actually springing herself on her prey. She waited, all eyes on the bombs. When nothing happened, the mercenary called for everyone to get out of the mouth as quickly as possible, leading the charge. The other dozen or so men scrambled to follow, slipping back and forth on the slimy tongue.

Tapping the detonator on her wrist against the ceiling, she set the bombs to spewing shrapnel and sleeping poison in a large radius, simultaneously creating a haze of fog. The mercenary slumped to the floor mid-stride, most everyone else following suite. She shook the pick free, folding and storing it in her belt on the fall down. She landed on the unfortunate mercenary who’d been riddled with spikes full of the potent poison and took the opportunity to toss his gun among the creatures’ teeth. Even if it took only a minute to find, that was a minute not chasing her down. She leapt between a few of the specialists, sliding and hopping over the diggers into the tight quarters of the first heart’s chamber.

Allowing herself to slide around the unconscious brute to the opposite side of the chamber, she unclasped a thin, flexible knife and filleted the human head-sized chunk of metal that was the power source to the first heart from the wall. Stowing it inside the lead-laced canvas bag on her back, Leliana tied the bag quickly and slid back out the entrance of the cavernous mouth.

She lowered herself to the ground and snuck back through the workers’ camp, lifting a few bombs from a sleeping guards’ belt. He probably wouldn’t find enough work to use them after today anyway. The stealthy rogue spent a few moments scattering the collected firearms into the underbrush surrounding the clearing; they were too trashy for her to bog herself down with, but they were still deadly enough not to want them close at hand when this lot woke from their bad dream. The ground beneath her trembled, a distant thunder caught her breath.

Holy scrap that was close. She vaulted into the nearest tree and raised herself high enough to make out the towering monster slowly walking in her direction. Seeing a living demophant took her breath away every time, and she took a moment to admire that monstrosity crashing in her direction. The fact that each tooth was only about as big as she was gave evidence to this one’s young age. The single, wide fluorescent green eye fixated hungrily on the corpse below. Time to go.

They could only see irradiated plants and animals so she wasn’t afraid of being seen or eaten. They bunched their fat, serpentine bodies and bounded forward in a thundering explosion of movement which easily splintered trees and would displace an entire lake’s worth of water. Those posed a lot more of a risk. It was common knowledge they flocked to the death of their own kind, feasting on the body for days. It was also common knowledge that this was a bad time to be sleeping in the mouth of the dead one. Common knowledge to her, anyway. There was only one close enough to worry about for now though, and that was easy enough to work around. She dropped to the forest floor, setting a brisk pace for herself opposite the direction of the still living carnivore.

Two hours later she was facing a problem.

A large clearing full of people seemed to be a makeshift trade camp. She’d been planning to head to Imperious or Triad or some other city to sell off her stolen prize, but if she could get rid of it now there’d be no reason to stuff herself into one of those terrible places. The crowds, the smells. The guards. She’d almost give this thing away for a ham sandwich to be honest, it was definitely worth something, but it was also toxic and heavy. If she were being honest with herself, she only took it because someone else had been trying to get it first.

If it were a trap though. That would be real irritating.

Writing as therapy

Hellloooooo internet, Kris here:

Our post is QUITE late this week, by almost two weeks! Sorry about that, I owe you guys a couple of stories. It’s been pretty silly around the place recently what with the holidays coming around, Tina heading off to gallivant across state lines and school letting out. Whose idea was it to let kids out of school?

During a recent bout of “child smashing toys against EVERYTHING” I wrote up a quick story about Nik smashing up everything from the toys’ perspective. I read it to him and he giggled so I’ll read it (?) to you  too!

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“AAH! Run awaaay!”

Tiberius  Cloak yelled as a monstrous foot crashed through the building to the left, diving out of the way as a huge piece of debris flew overhead. The sounds of destruction let loose an incredible fury all around him as the attack fell on the sleepy outpost.

Sounds of return fire and automated turrets lit the sky around him with brilliant flashes of orange red, the cacophony like a million bees swirling overhead. At the same time, the baritone chanting of the defense corp rose up in a protective blanket washing over him, filling him with strength.

Tiberius leaped up onto the 10 meter wall in a single bound. He was no longer afraid of the titan stomping through the outer shell behind him, but shuddered to think of what would become of his home if they failed here. He swept up a sparkler, a giant sword enchanted with a flashing strobe light handle, and hurled his harpoon at a gap he spotted in the titanic armor. Leaping from the wall, he swung through the air until his arc reached its climax and ripped the anchor out of his belt. He allowed weightlessness to caress him momentarily before tossing a bounce grenade to give him momentum to reach dizzying heights.

As he came eye to eye with the figure, Tiberius activated the piercing strobe light to distract the giant as he swept his enchanted diamond blade through the incoming giant nose. He felt the blade bite deep, knowing instinctively retribution was already on its way. He yanked the handles at the pommel, allowing the shield hidden inside the sword to expand rapidly in tight arcs, forming the circle of protection just as a heavy hand swapped him out of the air. Tiberius drank his panic potion(TM) as he hurtled face-first toward the earth while himself panicking. Relief flooded his being as his now-bouncy body rebounded off the ground and then wall, sending him back to his former height.

The pin of another bounce grenade almost left its socket, but something stilled his hand. He noted the sudden change in the creature, the change in direction. It turned suddenly, staring into the distance.

*****

“Nikolai! Dinner time!” Mom called up the stairs as she heard Nik smashing his toys together.

“But mooooom I’m BUSY!”

“Come down here right now sir! You can play again after you eat.”

Nik grumbled and walked grumpily out the door, away from the small Lego city he build. Time to be Godzilla another day.

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Tiberius landed softly on his feet after drifting slowly from the sky. The titan howled and retreated into the distance. The city was safe for one more day, though they knew it was just a matter of time.

NEWS TIME!!!

Hello Friends!

Tina here. I am excited to announce to you all that Kris and I will be moving our blog/talk time to Fridays. Because of this very sudden change, Kris suggested I write a short story but I would rather share an amazing site with you and task you to try some prompts yourself, or tell me which one you might like to see expanded!

The Site: plot-generator.org.uk

Prompts:

1. You’re about to embark on a dangerous mission. Write a letter to your loved ones for them to open if you don’t make it.

2. Imagine you’re a wolf for a day. How would you spend your time?

3. Think of a wish. Now imagine the granting of the wish has unexpected consequences.

4. Take the names of the songs on your favourite albums. What if they were chapter headings?

5. You find a hard-boiled egg by the side of the road. How did it get there?

6. Think of the person you’d least like to spend time with. Imagine you’re trapped in a drain and he/she is the only one who can help.

7. Think of your favourite place by the coast. Describe the scene if the sea level were 10 metres higher.

8. You wake up in the wrong body. Whose body are you in and why?

9. Ask your parents how they met. In what way would their first meeting have been different if your dad had had a parrot on his shoulder?

10. Look at the last message you sent. What would have happened if you’d accidentally sent it to your mum?

11. What was the last thing you lost that never turned up? Write a story describing something that may have happened to it.

12. Would you ever license a robot version of yourself?

13. You find a letter from your grandfather that was never sent. Why not?

14. Imagine you can travel back in time to give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?

15. Think of a child in your life. Write a page designed to make him/her fall on the floor with laughter.

16. Think about the more prudish person you know. Now sit him/her next to somebody behaving inappropriately on a train.

17. What is the least convenient personal habit for a detective? Write about that detective.

18. Look into your family tree. Is there somebody who moved away? Make up an explanation.

19. Think of somebody younger than you – a brother, sister or friend. Imagine he/she wants to become your superhero sidekick. How would he/her try to impress you?

20. You pick up somebody else’s coat accidentally. Something in the pocket makes you suspect the owner of supernatural talents.

Happy Merry Holidays!

Well, Tina here!

I would say Thanksgiving was successful! I made a turkey and it was only a tiny bit under cooked. My family was sweet enough to smile and clean out the fridge so I guess it wasn’t too terrible. Now with Christmas upon us, I have to be ready to smile and hand out gifts that I know are not what any of them want but will accept because who is going to be rude enough to say no to free stuff.

I was given the great joy and pleasure of having my friend join us for Thanksgiving this year and her freaking post on Twitter made me cry. She is so wonderful. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have made not one but two great friends.

After Christmas is my biggest event…. PAX South. Where both of my wonderful friends were so sweet as to come and work with me. Sorry that this blog isn’t very informative or full of inspiration or stories. I felt just like talking with you all for a second.

Thank you so much for sticking with us!

A fireside chat with Kris and Tina. And a fire this time.

Hello Internet!

Tina and I sat down to chat a little about starting a Pathfinder game with Nik, and about just some random silly topics. We didn’t want to get too in-depth with anything since it’s Thanksgiving this week and we know you’re all out there listening to cooking tutorials today.

And that’s fine!

We had a real fire in the fireplace this week and we sat around being generally warm and comfy, as we hope you all are this fine November day as well.