Chapter 15: Not quite flying

Hello readers

Chapter 15 of Lead Heart is up! I wanted to give her some fun before she was cramped into a stuffy airship, but she’s unfortunately pretty bad at decision-making. Please feel free to comment any suggestions

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“Ow!”

Leliana bounced around, flailing her hand in pain.

“You bastard.”

She loomed over the aggressor. Then bent down to try again.

The last hour, by her estimate, she’d spent trying to snap a stubborn glider wing back into place so she could play with it. So far, the only thing she’d managed was to snap herself repeatedly with the elastic band and, just now, punch herself in the eye. “Hnng!” She’d started initially stealthy and quiet, a shadow in the night. Something about giving yourself a black eye made it harder to care about being heard. The streets were quiet this time of night, naught but the occasional fight among the homeless or tavern-crawlers getting sick between the buildings.

She sat atop the highest building she could find in the dark fighting with her new toy. Well, one of them. Coincidentally the structure she’d chosen was an apartment, and at this point she almost hoped someone would show up to fight her, damn stealth and silence to the 9 hells!

Snap

“Hot steam in the jimmies!” She hopped enthusiastically as the wing snapped into place. “This thing is pretty cool.”

She waved it through the air a few times, watching the flexible metal arms sway and bend as the breeze caught the smooth material. A rope harness toward the back, metal handle and rope toward the top, and a metal frame around which the stretchy fabric-like wing itself slid into place – it seemed pretty straightforward to use.

The door to the rooftop thumped against the rope she’d used to lock it. “What the devil’s goin’ on out here?!”

“Whoa someone’s grumpy. Time to go!”

Leliana tucked the gear into the back of her new suit and hopped into the harness. She secured the fastenings, then remembered that the bit to hold her top half was currently irritating one of the locals. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming already.”

“Eh? Who the blazes-.” He cut off as Leliana yanked the door open, hands on hips.

“Excuse me, can I help you?”

“Wha-? Help? Well I-I just…Now wait just a blasted minute I’ll do the questionin’ ’round here missy. What are you doing up here in the middle’a the night?” It was hard to make out any details against the small lantern swinging behind him, but she definitely caught the limp as he hobbled on a wooden leg in her direction.

Ugh.

She definitely wanted someone to beat up on a few minutes ago, but she was not fighting a guy with one leg. It’s not like she hadn’t already taken her share of killing for the night so this was probably for the best. No need to risk losing control. She secured the rope around her chest to the wing while the grumpy resident continued his rant about manners and rooftop criminals.
“Ye damn thieves wouldn’t need to use the rooftops if you’d any respect and common sense anymore. My day, we used to pick scraps off the caravans that hauled-”

“Thanks for the lesson dad. I gotta get going, you get back to bed okay!” Leliana teased lightheartedly, then sprinted at the edge of the building. The edge came up a lot faster than she’d anticipated, and suddenly she was taking the leap over the side. Did I tie this thing right? Wait how do I know this even still flies? How far is it to the ground? How do I stop?!

She was assaulted by dozens of questions it was too late for in span of a heartbeat. The next beat, she spotted a flickering candle at street level some 50 feet down. Everything else shrank away from that small light, making it zoom up and fill her vision as her own stomach fell out from under her at the same time.

Her breath caught at her lips, everything slowed for a split second.
“Holy sheeeeeeeeeeeeee” Leliana launched herself from the rooftop, letting the wings snap into place behind her. The wingtips whistled as she plummeted toward the streets. “Aaahhhh!” Screams of terror she didn’t know she could make -“YEAH!” changed to screams of exhilaration as she pulled the nose up, the rest of the wing following. She split the peak of a fountain in an instant, street-lanterns blurred past at a dizzying speed.

“Shut! Up!’

The same tavern patrons that were puking all over the city fell back as she whizzed by, but the normal residents took to screaming from their windows. She didn’t care, this was the most she’d felt her blood race in the last decade.

Suddenly, the wide streets turned sharply, narrowing into a few scattered alleys. She nicked a window, shattering the thin glass and snapping off the end off the wing. “Wait!” She didn’t want to stop already! She fought a wave of nausea and the whirling descent she’d gotten into simultaneously, all while the ground hurled itself at her. She flipped the unbroken wing down and let it spark against the stone road, bowing and bouncing and finally snapping – sending her sliding across the street. The reverberations jarred her to the bone before she remembered she was wearing a brand new, very expensive armored jumpsuit. She bucked into the air, landing on hands and feet before sliding to a hasty stop against a lamp post.

“Owww…” The pain flared up like she’d accidentally went swimming in fire. At least she didn’t need to come up with a story about all the blood now.

Cuts and scrapes dragged up and down hands and face as she detached herself from the mangled contraption. Her breath ran wild for a few minutes. That thing was. Amazing. The sting of the wind and rush of the blinding speed was intoxicating more than any ale she’d ever had. “I wonder if Jovi has any of these.”

She looked sadly at the wreckage. It’s probably just as well, she thought. There’s no question that I’d have thrown myself overboard at one point. This might actually make my doom less inevitable.

She trudged through the night, leaving the glider where it broke and a trail of blood to shock the residents in the morning.

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Chapter 14: Hunted

Hello readers!

Chapter 14 of Lead Heart is up. All feedback is welcome, I hope you all enjoy

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The eyes of the hunter watched warily from his perch, wrapped in the shadows of the night. An ambush predator who hunted prey of an unconventional type. Those eyes followed a girl from the market stall to the changing room, then back toward the ship.

What a ridiculous thing to wear.

She’d come out looking like a bipedal fish. What the hells was she thinking?

He tapped his forehead to focus at the task on hand. The bounty his guild received had no uncertain terms about what would happen if she had a chance to fight back.

So they wouldn’t give her the chance.

He marked her current path and did some quick calculations, then pointed his aide North.

The teen sprinted exactly 60 seconds, weaving through rough stone streets and rougher wooden buildings, and fired a round straight up. A dark blue ring sprang to life with a pop, it illuminated the streets for no more than 3 seconds before dissipating quickly.

***

“Number 2, 60 degrees in the number 4 glass. About a mile.”

The message was delivered to a waiting watcher and delivered in seconds. The small, circular room was hemmed in by glass windows, 4 brass spyglasses set into the foundation to be manned by trainees.

“Good. Keep your eyes peeled, let me know if anything changes.” Rising from his meditative position, the hunter took the ladder to the top of the tower to snag a waiting glider and goggles. His wiry frame slid into a catapult and released the trigger. He gagged as his stomach hit the floor, blood pounded wildly in his ears while his last meal threatened a mutiny.

Normally he’d have foregone eating if there was a flight coming up, but he’d had no warning on this one.

Still, he released the wings at his apex and the glider smoothly snapped into place, setting him off at a brisk pace. Cool wind parted his hair, an intensely relaxing sensation in contrast to the exhilaration of the flight itself. Easily the best part of the job.

Ninety seconds after the first, another dark ring bubbled up slightly further North, and he adjusted accordingly. Number 2 pulled the rifle from his belt and double checked the harness out of habit. It would be unfortunate to drop your only means of hunting from this height. A metallic pop chimed through the night air and suddenly one area lit up like the sun. He readied his gun and aimed prematurely as he glided overhead.

There she was.

She’d been caught totally unawares and he’d timed his pass perfectly. Instinct guided the tip of the rifle and he pulled the trigger, the feathered shaft slamming into the dirt just a few inches shy. He noted that she jumped right when the shot was fired. They did warn she’d be a tough stick. But then, he wasn’t the best because he only hit the easy shots.

The shadows of the buildings below mingled with the bright light as the aide gave chase, floating like ghosts in the open air. The hunter looped around to match their direction and was rewarded with another clear shot. He watched the dart drive into the door frame immediately over her head. Suddenly he found himself locked in an intense stare, and he swallowed nervously as she tracked him through the darkness.

The moment was brief, and she slid back into the shadows immediately.

The dancing specters continued as the girl and the aide played a game of hunt the mouse in the streets.

The small man bit back his nerves bitterly, chastising himself in his weakness.

His fingers were starting to numb in the icy wind and he was losing altitude from the changes in direction at this point. He coasted by as the the sea of light brightened up a market square. A flash of movement hit the corner of his eye. HA!

Got ya.

Oh piss.

The flare tumbled from the hands of a very surprised boy succumbing to a tranquilizer. Cursing himself, number 2 swept around to get a better view of the clearing. Empty, save for the aide sleeping in the street-

Number 3 flipped into the plaza end-over-end, slamming face-first into the side of a well.

The girl tumbled into view. She grabbed the sleeping aide and hurled him at the larger man like a thrown axe. Even from this height, number 2 could feel the jarring impact between 2 skulls colliding. His two brothers collapsed into a heap. He snapped his eyes to the girl and took a shot.

Missed!

The false wings carried him out of sight again. His face felt hot. His entire body pulsed the erratic rhythm of his quickened heartbeat. Pull yourself together. He let the glider carry him a bit further while he struggled.

In

Out

Let himself fall into a trance to relax.

In

Out

He no longer felt the sting of the cold wind, nor the pain of the violence against his brothers. Determination coursed his veins, and he focused his eyes in the shadows – she wouldn’t be dumb enough to stay in the lit square.

The canvas of the night was absolutely still now. No one moved save the hunter and the hunted. Movement grabbed his attention, but it was just number 3 in the clearing. Stop moving you stupid-

No, he was still out cold.

Number 2 swung the rifle on his comrade when a dark blue burst of fire erupted around him. White, hot fire consumed every nerve. The concussive force of the explosion knocked him out hard.

He regained consciousness just in time to witness his own crash into the wall.

***

Leliana wiped her blade on a headless figure’s shirt before sheathing it.

She hadn’t recognized any of them, but the tattoo of the six-pointed star wrapped in copper on the small one’s neck froze the blood in her veins. She’d actually planned to stack them hilariously atop one another to be honest. When she’d dragged the flyer into the market square, the dying flare was bright enough to reveal that small symbol and seal their fate.

She disrobed the men and scattered their heads into the sewers in separate locations on her way back to the ship. it wouldn’t stop an identification from being made of course, but it would slow it down a bit.

And deliver her message.

On the plus side, this modded revolver she picked up apparently shot grenades, and that was fantastic. There were even 3 left in the cylinder to replicate.

She frowned. There was no way this was a random operation. Someone in town knew where she was headed, she needed to get back before they realized she’d taken the head off of their stinger.

Chapter 13: The Crew

Leliana’s eyes rolled back as she lost consciousness.

Almost.

She jerked upright just in time to miss indenting the deck with an imprint of her face. Teena, the tiny engineer, had just given Leliana the most complete and brutal verbal beating of her life. But at least she momentarily knew everything about flying ships.

“Goodness, are you okay?” Teena didn’t even halt mid-sentence, she just transitioned what she’d already been saying into concern for Leliana as she lost her footing. “Sorry you’ll have to watch your feet until I’ve had a chance to clear up all this grease, it can really be quite slick if you’re not used to it I know.”

Leliana fought back a sudden wash of nostalgia, irritably wiping a tear that almost slipped out. Teena was a miniature version of Tilly, whom she didn’t realize she’d been missing. I wonder if he got in trouble after I got out. Her thoughts were interrupted by the most hideous screech she’d ever heard in her life.

“What the-”

“Oh woops! Gib!”

A billowing explosion of steam popped the propeller out of its base along the side of the ship, dissipating once the shaft drove back into place. This sequence played over and over, getting faster and faster. Teena flung herself at Gib, who in turn hefted her onto his shoulder. He got a good grip on the girl, then spun a few times and launched her across the ship.

Leliana’s jaw dropped while Teena’s screams of glee –

“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

Turned into screams of woe.

“eeeeeooooohhhHNNOOooo!”

Fading quickly as she sailed over the rail.

Leliana bolted, hitting the same railing a few seconds later. She was about to leap when she noticed a grappling hook already wedged into the side, right where she was about to go over. She peeked over the side, coming face-to-face with a smiling Teena. The girl was perched atop a nest of red hair belonging to a pale, freckled young lady climbing a rope.

“Catch me!” Teena bounced to Leliana, hands out. Leliana caught and hauled her up, and the girl hopped into the round propeller base and started hammering away.

Leliana helped the other girl to the deck as well, who gladly took the offered hand.

“Thanks. She’s a lot heavier than she looks!” She gasped between breaths, letting herself fall to the deck with a spatter of sweat.

The hatch next to the cabin slammed upward, and an old weather-worn face slowly materialized from below. The old man slowly walked on deck with a squinty smile. “Ah, Karina you’re back. You look dehydrated, drink some water.”

“I’m not dehydrated gramps! I just like to sprint long distances sometimes for no reason, and then catch stray women who can’t keep their hands off my tools.” Karina went to grab some water as the old man joined the growing party on the ship.

“Hello Sekkel, and Kari I’m glad you made it back as well. I wanted to introduce you to Leliana, she’s the second half of our security force. She’s already agreed to hop onboard with the same terms as the first gentleman, any objections?”

Leliana started when she heard her own name. So much went down in the last two days that she forgot she was supposed to be disguised. “Hey actually, I was using another name in this town. Is it alright if I keep an alias, or….?”

Jovi panned slowly to look at her. “Why, exactly? Are you wanted?” Those wide eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“No, no. Nothing like that, I just was toying with different names, that’s all. It’s a good way to test ’em out, don’t you think? Just announce it at the gates and, you know.” She trailed off, feeling the eyes on her. “Or not, I don’t want to complicate things.”

“We’ve had a bit of bad luck with false names historically, Leli dear, let’s stick to normal ones if it’s all the same to you.”

“Yeah, that’s fine then.” Leliana hoped.

“Hi Leliana pleased to meet you, I’m Kari.” The redhead shook her hand excitedly. “Teena’s responsible, older sister.”

Teena’s ears perked up. “Wait, what. Older?! You’re 3 years younger than I am!”

“Being responsible makes you prematurely old, so I’m basically older.” Kari shrugged and hopped side to side while Teena tried to tackle her knees.

“Get back here you rust headed b-”

“Greasemonkey!”

The two pounded across the deck, playfully knocking each other down and yelling mild obscenities.

Jovi pointedly ignored them.

“Sekkel, Leliana mentioned that she still needed to make a pick up from the market later, have you already inventoried the supplies below?” Jovi’s booted food already jammed in door of the only room above-deck and checking items off of a clipboard.

“Yes, I have. The only thing I should need is a pin-up of her gloriou-”

“Did you know she beheaded a man last night. Lopped his head right off I was told. Big guy too. An interesting anecdote I thought you might appreciate. On that note, Kari, can you show her below-decks where she might store her belongings, point out a free hammock? Best show her where all the peepholes are while you’re at it.”

Sekkel rumbled a deep, gravelly laugh with no hint of shame. “I haven’t opened up any new ones since last time.”

What in the world was she getting into?

***

A pair of eyes watched the merry crew onboard from darkness. They narrowed as Leliana slunk below.

Chapter 12: A new home

Hello internets!

The new chapter of Lead Heart is up, please let me know how you like it. I’m playing with pacing and details, so do feel free to comment if anything is confusing!

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A mess of coins clinked playfully into Leliana’s hands.

“Here’s the advance to get outfitted darling. Head on over later today and I’ll introduce you to the crew.” Jovi pocketed the list she’d had Leliana write up of her own talents and swept from the room, Gib in tow.

The common room was still pretty sparse, but was slowly filling with patrons and gossips alike. Elaborate stories and exaggerations were flying more freely than oatmeal. She didn’t pay them any mind, instead replaying this interview in her mind. The captain certainly fit the part; she was all smiles and handshakes until business was broached, then the woman exuded authority. Leliana stowed her belongings. The first thing she needed was a way of carrying stuff without flailing this enormous sack about.

She was fond of it, to be sure. She liked hiding things inside and having a soft armor of sorts. Trudging around town with a 50 pound coin purse just drew some sorts of attention she didn’t want. The instructions from Jovi were crisp on the white parchment in her hands. A couple of uniforms, new shoes, food, and ammo? This was basically why Leliana was in town in the first place, and now somebody else was buying them for her?

Maybe Antros was right about that whole career thing.

***

Six hours later, she stopped to admire her new home. Well, temporary home. And workplace. And bedroom. Okay it wasn’t the biggest ship, but right now the biggest thing it represented was freedom. An escape from locked doors and steam guns and chains. For that, it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever set eyes on.

About 15 feet tall by her estimation, something like twice as wide and four times as long. It felt like a squat warehouse with a pointed bottom levitating a few feet off the ground.

Cool

Captain Jovi waved Leliana over to where she sat poring over a stack of papers. “Goodday Leliana. How goes it?” Even though her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark glasses, anyone could hear that she was about four seconds from falling asleep. Probably using the papers for a pillow.

“So far so good. I need to pick up a uniform at sundown, but I grabbed everything else.” The heavy canvas bag was indeed filled to bursting, as well as a new bag fastened at her hip. A thick belt she’d taken fancy to wrapped twice around her, holding an assortment of new bullets, knives and a few small explosives.

“I certainly hope you overdressed for the job,” Jovi quipped. “I”m not about to complain about my security detail being too armed, though. Last fellows figured a gun each would suffice and ended up…Well, it wasn’t enough. Let’s get you settled. First to take stock of the added weight.”

They stepped to a small plank held by a joint in the middle, so a platform at one end was raised while the other was on the ground.

“Step here please.”

Leliana hopped onto the lowered platform while Jovi clambered up the raised one. Jovi made a small frown as nothing happened. “What on earth is in that bag? Can you put your things on the ground a moment.”

Leliana set everything aside and they tried again. The platform didn’t move. Jovi peered over her glasses. “Oh. Okay. Uh, Gib, be a dear and stand here will you.”

Gib frolicked to the seesaw and hopped up. The platform slowly evened out, both figures suspended about 2 feet up. Jovi didn’t hide it this time, and spoke with open-mouthed astonishment. “Skymother above, where do you keep it all?” Gib went ahead and set Leliana’s packs on the platform he’d been standing on, and the board leveled out once again.

“Okay, okay. I’m not even going to ask. Please tell me the uniform isn’t a steel pillbox or something. I’m not confident we’ll be able to take off in that condition.”

Leliana laughed nervously. “Ah, no it should be pretty light.”

Jovi waved the matter aside. “Well it’ll be fine, the cargo from here to Rosewood is just a crate of logic cards so we should be fine.” They marched up the gangplank, the heavy board bowing dangerously in the middle as Gib and Leliana walked side-by-side.

Leliana stowed her belongings in a small sealed chest next to the only cabin on deck and then she and Jovi took a quick tour. Fore, aft, starboard, port, the ship was surprisingly similar to some of the clippers in the strategy books she’d memorized years ago. The sail design was a bit odd though. Each sail was held aloft by two masts on either side of the ship with a couple of support beams in between. She said as much.

“That’s because these sails slide on the air like a glider, so the forces exerted upon the mast structure is all pulling away from the ship and need the extra stability.”

A girl with enormous, fluffy, pink pigtails popped up in the raised base of a vertical propeller near the ship’s peak. It was Leliana’s turn to gape as the tiny girl continued in a tiny voice.

“It was quite a challenging design feature to implement if I were to be honest but we increased the ships flight range by 100% so I’m definitely glad we perfected it.” The mousey girl waved, holding a wrench almost as big as she was. “Hi captain!”

Leliana leaned to Gib and whispered. “She’s. Adorable.”

Gib whispered back. “Yes!”

Chapter 11: Breakfast and company

Hello dear readers

Chapter 11 of Lead Heart is up, please enjoy!

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Leliana grabbed Antros’ hand and let him haul her up.

“C’mon kid, let’s get this room picked up. If you thought the hooligans were tenacious, wait ’til you see aunty Em get fired up.”

They shared a laugh under a withering gaze and set to work putting things in order. Shattered wood to the fire pits, bodies tossed to the gutter, bandages for the cuts and scrapes, and boiled water for the bloodstains.

“I must say, I’m a little impressed. The only injuries in that entire raid were to you and the idiots with the window.” He looked thoughtful a moment, “The gutter trash too, I guess. They had it coming.”

Leliana smiled. “Thanks. Never doubted myself. There weren’t enough of ’em.”

“Seriously though. Where’d you train? I’d be interested to pay them a visit sometime. Or at least know if I need to worry about more of you.”

She looked away. “Er.” Then brightened, raising a finger “monks in the icy mountains. They raised me and sent me out to complete my training.”

She bowed.

He stared.

“C’mon, that’s a good one. My mentor guided my training until the day I beat him, and he set me out on the world.” Leliana mimed a series of what she imagined to be exotic fighting stances.

“There are no monks in the icy mountains, I’ve been through there a hundred times.” He stopped scrubbing blood to wave questioningly.

“Well of course. Masters of stealth, we are. You’d probably never see them if you walked right through the village.” Leliana nodded.

They paused to provide some details to the police who’d made their way around. The officers promised Em to have the corpses picked up by dawn, but ler her know they likely didn’t have the manpower for a full investigation.

“Fine, gentlemen. Thank you for your time.” She slid one of the deadbolts home, then stopped and looked to the gaping window and sighed. “Thank you Antros. This place is as good as it’s going to get tonight, go on home and get some rest. And you,” she eyed Leliana. “You’re the only one who paid for a room and didn’t run into the night, so I suppose you can take your pick.”

Antros hopped out the broken window to the streets below, calling over his shoulder. “Meet me here tomorrow at noon then, I’ll give you an introduction to the cap at least. Remember, you’d be stuck with me and some dirty sailors in close quarters for weeks.”

Leliana turned to head upstairs, almost knocking over Em in the process. “Ah! Woops, sorry. I uh..”

Ahem

“My thanks girl. Ye kept a lot o’ people safe tonight, whatever the reason. I reckon it’ll be some time before I see another full house, but least I can do is put you up for the night.” Em flipped a coin Leliana’s way and headed presumably to her own room. Leliana considered the coin for a moment. One she hadn’t seen before, a woman’s face made of gold set into a flat silver disk.

“Wait, I-”

Slam

Too late. What even was this? Ah well, it was pretty cool at least. She dragged herself up the stairs, trudged through the first door she came to, and was asleep before she hit the pillow.

***

The next morning, Leliana groggily sipped a strong tea with milk and honey while Em busied herself readying the days’ meals. She burnt her tongue in surprise when the door slammed open behind her.

“Hello lovelies! I ‘eard this was a grand place for a bite and a fight. Tell me, am I right?” An unshaven monster of a man bounded through the doorway spouting some odd poetry, spinning on one heel at the end and stopping with a flourish.

Leliana stared.

“Pay no heed to the thespian dears, it only encourages him. Is your kitchen open yet mum? I’m starved like you wouldn’t believe.” A busy woman, curly black hair threatening to engulf her at any moment, hurried into the common room and plunked down at Em’s bar. The big guy moved behind her, but Leliana caught him stealing glances her way.

Aunt Em pulled the woman into a big hug, “Jovi, how wonderful to see you! Breakfast is just finished, let me take care of that one first.” She plopped a bowl of sweetened oats and milk heaped with fruit onto Leliana’s table, then retreated to the kitchen and did the same for the newcomer.

“Oh thank the almighty, you’re a dear Em. Can you get my friend one? A triple, he can eat all day.” Jovi and Em gossiped over the counter while the big guy practically inhaled more food than Leliana had ever seen someone eat at one sitting.

Her attention wandered, sipping at the tea and cereal in front of her. She made some tentative plans for the day. Definitely needed to swing back around to that candy shop, money was tight but priorities were priorities. Also-

A huge face slowly materialized over her shoulder.

She stared into his eyes. “….Hello.”

“What’s your name?” He jabbed her a couple times with a giant finger.

“Excuse me,” she chimed to the chatting women. “I think your thespian is touching me. Can you, uh, call him off?” She thought about just elbowing the wind out of him, but that felt a little like kicking a dog or something. She wasn’t a monster.

“Ah, sorry about that. He gets like this when he sees someone he likes. Gib, hands to ourselves please.” The tired woman turned back around without a second thought.

Ugh.

He raised his hands as high as they’d go and sat opposite her at the table. “I’m Gib, I’m a real big guy. My friend likes me to go places and carry big stuff. I’m real good at carrying big stuff. I could carry you too probably, you want me to try?”

He didn’t even pause for breath. What the.

“Hi Gib. I don’t like being carried, but I’ll bet you could.”

He sat up straighter, wiggling his hands at the tops of his arms.

“You bet I could! What’s your favorite color? What do you like to eat? Have you ever been to Melgrave? They have amazing chocolate!” A torrent of words washed over Leliana as she accidentally opened the floodgates. An amusing way to finish breakfast.

“Mmhmm. yeah. Oh. Okay. Yeah I like pink, but my favorite is-”

Clink

Leliana’s hand gripped a small arm as a squeal hit the air. She raised a small boy up by the arm, plucked her coin from his fingertips, and put him down. She stared through narrowed eyes as the flustered boy backed up a few paces, and bolted through the door.

“-and I threw him over the rail. HA! Hahaha!” Gib wrapped up a story, gesticulating wildly as the door slammed.

The big-haired lady took the seat next to Gib.

“Leliana, I presume?” She offered a hand while the big guy crossed his arms.

Chapter 10: Guarding a bodyguard

Hello internets,

Here’s chapter 10 of Lead Heart!

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Antros recovered from the shock of near miss and watched the girl leap impossibly up to the railing on the second floor. He noticed from the corner of his eye a pale shadow in the dark corners of the ceiling. He called a warning as he watched the girl knock a sudden group of dirty men down the stairs, “watch out above you!”

Well slag he thought. This was supposed to be a quick stop so his weapons weren’t on him. The last of the thugs from the second floor landed in a pile of his friends at the bottom of the stairs. He watched as she hopped onto the chain holding a chandelier and yanked, rocketing up into the darkness. A confused shout and a volley of grunts and punches followed, though whose he couldn’t quite make out.

Back on the ground floor, diners had taken poorly to the raining of men down the stairway. First one, then a second, then five and six rose from their table to make an escape via the front door. By the time they reached Antros, he had to flatten himself against a wall to avoid the small stampede of mild-mannered townspeople. The first threw the door open and was practically ejected by the press of the crowd behind him. There was yelling and confusion and everyone started backing up, three rough men herding them back into the common room.

“Aye, nobody leaves ’til the boss says they leave.” A beast of a man with more scars than skin crossed his arms with finality, “Sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy your meals.”

Antros flicked his eyes upward, listening to the wacks and thwacks punching out of the darkness, then backward as a movement caught his eye. The dark skinned owner of the inn, affectionately known as Aunt Em, flipped backward over her front counter and came up with a smooth-barrelled shotgun. “I’ll have none of this in my house! I suggest you ‘n your men disappear right quick, y’pasty faced clap slappers.” Several men shrunk back from her commanding aura, though the ones by the door remained unflinching.

“Put it down missy.” The brute never uncrossed his arms as the lackies behind him each drew a pistol. “Tonight isn’t about you.” The guy to his left trained the barrel at Antros for a moment, though he was slapped immediately to the floor. “Idiot, that one’s for the boss.”

“But I don’t see the boss!”

“Said he was comin’-”

The floor splintered as a heap of pale flesh rained onto the three from above. A huge, blubbering mess of a man lay atop them, clutching his swollen face.

“Boss!”

Scars hefted the weeping man away from him and vaulted to his feet, scanning the rafters. “Who’s up there!?” He narrowed his eyes, keeping them trained on the ceiling and plucking a gun from one of his fallen men.

A chair went through the front window across the room and a press of desperate dinner-goers dove through in pairs, leaving smears of blood on the jagged glass.

“‘Ay, ‘ay none of that!” The innkeep waved a fist at the dwindling patrons.

Now

While everyone’s attention was on the window, Antros kicked off the wall and grabbed for the gun in front of him. Or, he would have if –

Slam

Booted feet stood in the remains of one of the door guards’ head, one hand extended toward himself.

“Ah, ah, big guy. You just stay right there. I’m going to protect your dainty ass and you are going to take me flying.”

“Are you serious right now, kid?”

“Leliana.”

Antros reached out to warn her. “Watch-”

Bulging arms wrapped around her waist and locked at the hands, hoisting her off the ground. The pair struggled for a several seconds. Antros moved to help Aunt Em, who was in the middle of a slowly tightening circle of bandits. He checked his rear, falling into a defensive stance. He counted three behind and 2 in front, closing in.

“Aaaaaah”

A body sailed over him, crashing face-first into one of the guys behind him.

Okay 2 behind, 2 in front.

The other two made to help their comrades up and Antros stole a glance forward. A greasy, disheveled, weasel of a man was using his shirt to staunch the absolute torrent of blood painting the wall next to him. Leliana and the bruiser were locked into a grapple, red-faced and panting. The match concluded as she hammered her head into his face and flung herself around him, bouncing off his legs to buckle them and then dropping him to the ground with a snap.

Who the…WHAT the? She’s a monster.

“Hey!”

Antros started as Leliana yelled at him. Wait, no not at him, the guys behind him. He about-faced to witness the three conscious guys bolting for the backdoor. He recoiled as a knife sang between he and Em, end-over-end, burying itself into the back of the one who still had hair. The other two made it out the door safely, screaming like children.

“You disgusting wench. How dare you touch me. My family.”

Antros started again, whipping back to the front of the inn where Leliana and Babyface were locked in a deadly embrace. Muscles trembled and the wood beneath them cracked, throwing shards of wood everywhere.

“First the mutt. Now his bitch.”

The quiet yet high-pitched whining set his teeth on edge. Antros swept the room with his eyes, returning back to the fight in front of him after confirming they were the last 4 standing. Aunt Em kept the gun leveled at the two fighters, but didn’t shoot.

“You should have just left us alone. We only wanted what was ours. What was STOLEN from us! WE ONLY WANTED WHAT WAS OURS!”

Antros felt his hair stand on end as the whining turned to snarling, and the snarling rose into screeching. Babyface was spitting and shrieking nonsensically in Leliana’s face and Antros was getting a bit concerned. Althought wait a second….Leliana was…Smiling? Antros took an involuntary step back.

The pair took turns trying to dislodge the other with kicks and acid, blood spitting and freakishly long teeth snapping in the open air. Leliana’s entire body glistened with a sheen of sweat and blood, cuts and bruises and shards of wood decorating her body. Babyface lunged with his face, but was instead run straight into the wall with that momentum. Inhuman howling put a shiver down Antros’ spine as his would-be murderer released his pain and anger in a wild cry. Babyface dug his own sharpened fingernails into his tear ducts, then whirled and slapped Leliana with an echoing crack.

Antros winced. The handprint immediately started opening up, the acid eating her face.

Leliana rolled beneath the second swing, stopping a moment to toss an unspilt glass of water at the side of her face, then swung on the chandelier again, across the kitchen counter to retrieve her knife.

Babyface, in single-minded focus, sprinted between Em and Antros and leapt over the counter growling all the things he was going to do with her corpse.

Leliana stopped, held up a hand. “Wait, wait. Just hold on a second,” she wore an expression of concern. “What’s that on your face big guy?” She pointed to her own nose.

Babyface stopped short. Confused, still sneering. His hands scratched around his scarred and pitted cheeks.

“Whoa it looks just like my fist,” she shot a jab to his nose, giggling.

He roared and wailed, wildly swinging to maim and hurt, clawed hands scraping the open air. Antros caught himself holding his breath, unblinking, waiting for the conclusion.

Pots and pans flew from the shelves as the two danced to their own deadly song of rage and fear and prideful jeers. A few bits of furniture bounced off Antros in a final flurry of blows and both fighters vanished from sight.

Antros hesitated, then took the gun from Em. He approached cautiously.

“WHEW!” Leliana giggled with exhaustion as Antros sidestepped the grotesque head she tossed at him. “I did it!”

Aunt Em’s wide eyes took in the shattered window, broken furniture, splintered floor and dead bodies littering her inn. She set her slack jaw, marched over to look down at the girl’s foolish smile. Then she narrowed her eyes, and cracked her knuckles.

Chapter 9: Reacquainted

Hello internet,

Please enjoy chapter 9 of Lead Heart!

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“Of all the people I’ve ever met in the field, it’s hard to think of many I’d’ve liked to run into less.”

Leliana laughed as Antros stiffly took the seat across from her. The door squeaked shut.

She couldn’t stifle the smile. “And yet here you are, sitting at my table. You can’t resist me.”

He scowled at her brazen reply.

“In the collective fifteen minutes we’ve known each other, I’ve witnessed three deaths and lost over five hundred silvers. Honestly I’m impressed, but you can’t blame me for being cautious. It’ll be easier to dodge a bullet if I see you aiming”

She liked the way he glowered when he spoke. Like his face realized the monotony of his voice, and wanted to place emphasis on the words anyway. “Hey, hey. I only killed one guy, don’t pin those first two on me. They jumped on their own, I wasn’t even close.” She shrugged, finishing the rest of the warmed brew in front of her.

“So did you pinch enough for me?” He waved his hands over the empty dishes.

“No! I paid for this, you..” Her nose scrunched up for a second, “whore’s ass.”

He held back a smile.

“Where’d you get the cash?”

Leliana crossed her arms and stared at a fat guy licking a stack of plates. “I earned it, basically.”

Gravelly laughter erupted from Antros and he relaxed visibly, uncrossing his arms to wave the waitress over. “I’m surprised to see you here though. I thought you were heading South last I saw, figured you’d head to Bolton or Chadwick. Barley’s not really a good place for petty thievery.”

“Petty thievery? That makes it sound small and weak. That stone your boy yanked was hella heavy and you should’ve seen the moves I put on to get it. Petty would’ve been something like surrounding the first team with guns and just demanding it.” Her narrowed eyes glared pointedly at the mercenary.

He smiled good naturedly. Well, she thought it was a smile.

“Alright, alright, fair enough. Creet was a slag sucker to be sure. But he was financing my trip to Triad, so I’d rather he sucked a bit longer at being alive instead of feeding scavengers under a bench.” Coins clinked as he dropped them into the Innkeeper’s pocket. She dropped a plate with a steaming mountain of vegetables atop, next to a glass of clean water.

Leliana flipped another coin at the woman and asked for a second beer. It wasn’t the best she’d ever had, but it had something of a spicy and sweet aftertaste and she was into it. The smell of the wood fire and the din of the others eating in small common room had an invigorating effect on her appetite. She was looking forward to drowning it. “I don’t really have a direction. I had a bit of a…strict upbringing, Now that I’m free I just wander around looking for things to get interested in. What about you though? You’re the only guy I’ve seen more than once out here.”

He waved the question away with a handful of purple broccoli. “I’m a bodyguard, I go where the work is. You have a knack for stealing from my clients. It’s not unusual for me to brush up against gangsters more than once.”

He stared into a fire across the room as he worked through a mouthful of food. Leliana finished her second cup and looked around suspiciously. Her gut was calling her attention, and not for more beer.

“I’ve spent a couple cozy years around this place,” Antros turned back to finish a thought, “but truth be told, the cannons popping off at all hours is almost as bad as the mosquitoes nowadays. So where’d you grow up? It’s pretty uncommon I run across a professionally trained ass kicker with no affiliations.”

Leliana looked away from the balcony above him for a moment to answer. “Oh, a small place over the mountains. You probably wouldn’t have heard of it. Also, I watched those cannons kill some freaky lizard thing outside town. They probably don’t just shoot off randomly. You have any luck finding work in this place?”

“Just because they’re useful doesn’t mean I can’t hate them. And you killed my last paycheck, I’m not about to tell you who I’m working for two days before I sail out of here. Meet me in Triad and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Sail

Leliana felt her breath catch as she eyed him. “You got a job on the flying boat!? Scat and slag take me with you!” She smacked the table for emphasis.

“No.”

“C’mon I’ll be good. I promise.”

“You give that ship a wide berth until it takes off, you hear me? They’ve paid half my fee already. If I see you skulking around I might have to kill you.”

She was incredulous. “I don’t want to kill the boat, are you crazy? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, I never even knew you could sail a boat in the sky. I just want to stand at the top and look at the ground.”

“I have no interest in being murdered after I finally get a way out of here.” He finished the food on his plate and drained his cup. Then he rose.

“Killing you in an enclosed space in the middle of the sky on a vehicle I can’t operate would be suicide. Surely you can’t think I’m that stupid.” She reached into the canvas bag behind her, sliding the hunting knife from its sheath.

“I don’t know anything about you kid. Sorry, but I’m not hiring, and I don’t trust you enough to let you that close to the captain.” He did seem mildly apologetic, which she appreciated.

She smiled and narrowed her eyes.

“If I can protect you right now, will you think about it?”

He glanced around skeptically. Everyone was absorbed in their own world, nobody was even looking this way. “Protect me from what exactly?”

Tss

Tss

Tss

He jumped back as the table smoked and sizzled. Leliana dropped the bag hiding her blade and glanced up.