Here’s chapter 2 of Lead Heart!
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?”
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.
“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.
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.
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.