Atreides noticed immediately how much the girl had improved since their last go. He and the Speaker grappled the girl for a long minute, trying to negotiate. “Please consider those unable to defend themselves against this unprecedented threat,” he implored. “Tens of thousands of people could be converted into these monsters-”
“That sounds like a ‘you’ problem, prot,” Leliana growled and tried to break free. “Not my plague, not my problem.”
The Speaker opened his mouth only to have it rammed shut as Leliana’s fist slammed home. He flew back into a crowd of talented who’d come to assist. Atreides dropped, losing his grip on the girl but avoiding a vicious kick that threatened to take his head off. She was fifty meters away by the time he was on his feet again. She threw herself into the ocean of oncoming monsters.
“We gotta go get her,” the Speaker grunted.
“Kahlin!” Atreides flew to his best alchemical mind. “I need you to get something ready. Once we get her back in position, don’t hesitate to take the shot.” Kahlin nodded and threw himself into his work.
Atreides and the Speaker dove headlong into the morass chasing Leliana, ducking and dodging the gnashing and swiping that swung from every angle. The creatures worked themselves into a renewed frenzy, wailing and diving unpredictably in their fervor. He hit the dirt when a disintegrating jade-serpent flew by open-mouthed, nearly swallowing him.
They weren’t gaining any ground. Every meter they gained, she pushed two more. Damn she was fast. Then there was an explosion.
A shriek. A sizzle.
What the devil is-
Before he finished the thought, a blast of vapor swept out of an exploding barrel. It burned. Eyes, nose, mouth, every moment an agony of existence. His instincts took over and he found himself panting next to the Speaker, the Overseer, and Lilith a moment later.
“What is the meaning of this?” He managed between gasps. Lilith’s science corp drifted lazily overhead, tossing exploding barrels into the raging mass below. Swaths of the things were losing shape, melting into puddles of sinew and bone and gore.
“I’ve spent months perfecting this mixture,” Lilith answered with a grin. “It’s a pain in the ass to make, but I instructed my pilots to flush the girl back here with any means necessary.”
“You’re gonna kill the girl!” The Speaker objected.
“Relax,” Lilith sighed. “She’ll be fine. Leliana is a special specimen, she’s not going to die under a simple lye mixture.”
“That girl is not a specimen,” Atredies interjected. “I will not allow you to endanger her so casually Lilith. Tell them to stop or -”
“Relax,” she scoffed again. “Leliana is perfectly safe, you damn busybodies. She was designed for much more than this. She will feel much more than this. I didn’t waste twenty years of my life building a trump card for it to get itself killed on a fool’s errand in a backwater city.”
“Hey!” The Overseer objected. He was interrupted by an unearthly howl that seemed to go on forever.
The air trembled. A moment later a massive stag catapulted straight into the circling airships. One after another, nearly a score of putrid animals sailed into the air before the scientists scattered. Out of the half-dozen vessels, only four managed to escape. The two remaining listed and plummeted in their own time, propellers and engines full of entrails.
“Oops. I wish that hadn’t happened.” Without explanation, Lilith spun and bolted toward Gungrave. The Overseer did a double-take, taking off after her. He yelled at a commander in passing, and the Gungrave army repositioned themselves as a barrier between the creatures and the city walls. The men watched nervously as more and more of the things streamed through the pass and over the mountains in an unending parade of death.
The airships were back, even higher than before. Atreides had a split second to wonder what they were dropping this time before an enormous blaze heated the air around him. The fire was almost two hundred meters away, yet he felt as though he were warming himself by a campfire. He cursed himself under his breath, looking for ways to extract her from that swarming hellscape.
It wasn’t long before flames engulfed enormous sections of the plague host. They burned in a semi-circular pattern with a clear corridor free of any flames leading straight toward the city gates. Atreides swore again. Lilith was trying to use the Gungrave military, though he was much less confident in the girl’s survival. So deep in thought, the protector didn’t notice the bull’s head fly at him until he was tackled to the ground. Yellowed horn gored the space where he’d just been standing. Leliana blitzed out right behind it, and he was almost too slow to catch her.
Her cold, pale eyes were…strangely emotionless. Her skin tinged a slight blue. He winced as she squeezed his hand. “You must listen to me,” he yelled over the cacophony of the monks and military at war with the beasts all around them. He didn’t get a chance to say anything more before the air erupted with fists. There wasn’t a direction he could dodge fast enough to avoid being pummeled. The beating lasted an eternity before the Speaker materialized behind the girl to save him.
Atreides ducked out of the way just before a 12-inch needle stabbed into Leliana’s throat.
Leliana stopped just long enough to look at the projectile before she slammed her head back, breaking free with brute force.
She blinked to where Kahlin still held his blowgun, white and wide-eyed. Then he was lifted by a strong hand around the throat, feet kicking feebly against an uncaring Leliana. She pulled the barb free and reversed it in her hand.
A dark fist clenched around the pale hand holding Kahlin.
“Girl. Do not continue.”
Atreides could barely hear Vea, but he rushed to her side to stop the war brothers from renewing their assault. I hope she is still in there.
Leliana’s cold stare bored into Vea, but the woman did not relent. “I will protect you. Everything is going to be okay.”
Leliana’s scowl morphed into a feral growl and she hurled unconscious man to the ground. She snapped Vea’s grip and flew into the air, faster and further than Atreides had ever seen. Vea shot into the air after her.
She landed behind the Gungrave line of fire, cradling an unconscious Leliana.