Chapter 17 of Lead Heart is up!
The crew used the next 30 minutes for flight preparations and Leliana
rebundled her parachute for what seemed like the thousandth time.
I hate packing them too. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.” Karina
was stuffing her own into the back of her suit. “You can trust me when I
say that you’d rather re-tie this thing a million times over falling
out of the ship and having it wrong even one time.” She smiled
comfortingly, translating the other girls’ expression as fear.
It was in fact, not fear, but remorse. Leliana replayed a vision over and
over in her head about leaping from the ship mid-flight on the glider
she’d killed last night. Damn. Maybe she could find one with her
earnings and climb a mountain.
She was directed to the bow of the
ship where a seat had been bolted in place, and grew quickly bored while
the rest did their thing. Scenes played over and over in her head as
were wont to do when she was forced to sit idle more than a few seconds.
Replaying the short-lived flight of the glider, the tattoo on the
hunters. What about Babyface? There was a memory she wasn’t dying to
repeat actually, nevermind.
The whump of a box being
dropped had her raising a fist to block an attack before she remembered
where she was. Probably best not to drift off around people she liked
just yet. A question had popped up though. “So has anyone ever fallen
Karina giggled, though Teena’s tiny voice was the one she heard. “Nooooo! That doesn’t count! The ship was still on the ground.”
The younger sister had a mischevious glint in her eye. “Nobody was asking
about where the ship was, she just asked if anyone had fallen
“Well if you hadn’t pushed me, I wouldn’t have.”
“I was strapped to the other side of the deck! And who do you think had to
figure out how to work the stupid controls because her older sister is
such a clamped-”
“You shouldn’t have taken off without me, that was your own fault.” The small figure had hopped up on the railing to
see eye-to-eye with the other, now crossing her arms and turning away.
Karina couldn’t hold back any longer. She dropped to the floor, tears of
laughter raining onto the wood. “You lit the fuse!” She struggled for a
minute, stuttering out half sentences and setting herself off again.
Jovi turned her back on the trio. an obvious effort to hide a smile. Sekkel
sat on a stool of his own and quietly chuckled along.
Karina took a few breaths to steady herself. “She was up on the rails.” Another struggle for composure. “She was counting the seconds the fuse took to reach the plug. When it got there, she just kept writing notes making
exclamations.” Karina was pantomiming her story. A little hand person suddenly slammed into her other hand and bounced onto the deck while their owner laughed hysterically.
Teena’s face was glowing. The
visible part anyway – most of her facewas obscured by the mechanic mask she had just put on. “Oh sure laugh it up you…You tall jerks!” She
plucked a small tin from the seat and headed down the ladder. “I have
important work to attend. And you better hope it’s not sabotage!”
Jovi chimed in as Teena disappeared. “Do try not falling off Leli, darling.
Took us two weeks to get back to Teena after that happened. None of us
really knew how to land the ship. Also we’d really rather not be
waylayed that long just now.”
Antros piped up. “I took a gig with a
group a few years ago hunting some mysterious monster out over the
waste. Wanted me to keep the competition from killing them when they finally caught it.” He leaned on the railing and looked at the ground
below. “One night, one of ’em hit the cask hard and fell off. Screeched
like a hive of hag bees until he remembered he was wearing a chute.”
Everyone chuckled. Drinking was one of those things most knew mixed poorly with airships, but some sailors didn’t let that discourage them
“Found him passed out 12 hours later drenched in his own…Well, they said the smell was going to chase off the thing they were hunting and called it
“The last ship I worked we had a guy black out and fall overboard.” Sekkel jumped in. “He…Uh, he didn’t wake up in time for the parachute to help.” He cast his gaze down, forgetting the darker details of his own story until they were already out. “Erm, well but
plenty overboard before that and only a couple didn’t make it. You’ll be
fine.” He patted Leliana’s back and mozied on over to his own place to
Finally, everything was latched and everybody had a place to get tied down for the launch.
Teena counted down the fuse, safely away from the rails, until a deep rumble signaled the cannister had been lit. Seconds later, the air was ripped
apart by the deafening roar of a monstrous flame starting their ascent.
Karina let out a woop while Leliana covered her ears against the sudden
blast. The town slipped beneath the bow, then the mounted cannon
pillars, and finally the tree covered mountains.
They rose slowly at first, going ever faster as the wind blasted her in the face more with every passing second. A flock of scaly birds caught unaware
shrieked out of the way as the ship went screaming past, and the ropes
holding her in place squeezed and loosened wildly and unpredictably as
the ship rocked back and forth.
The creak of rope and hiss of the
wind was deafening. The ship shook and rattled so loudly that there was
hardly a chance for anyone to pick up the telltale crack of a weakening
Suddenly, a squeal cut the air and snapped Leliana into work mode.
Teena was holding for dear life to the tatters of ropes that had recently
held her down, whipping violently against the deck as gravity and wind
fought over dominion of her body.
In seconds, Leliana was free of
the straps holding her down and leapt across the deck to land on poor
Teena. She remembered the disparity in their sizes at the last minute
and landed heavily on an outstretched hand.
She tucked the small girl beneath her right arm, then used the injured one to entangle in the ropes flailing away at her face.
Everyone watched in shock, knowing they’d probably just make the situation worse were they to help.
Leliana grit her teeth as the jarring vibrations tried to wrench her arm from its socket, and hugged down on Teena to keep them as flat as possible.
The ship jumped as it hit a patch of rough wind, jerking everyone in
their seats and throwing the two unfortunate passengers against the
Teena yanked down on Leliana as they both went airborne a moment, then collapsed again.
The ship sped carelessly into the sky, sails snapping freely as a layer of
lazy clouds drifted around and below them. They lurched downward again.
This time, the bounce easily sending them sailing over the wooden rails.
Tears of pain and adrenaline blurred Leliana’s vision as she single-mindedly
focused onto the feeling of the rope around her arm – and their only
connection to the ship. She felt the weight of the world dragging her
down, trying to rip the smaller woman out of her hands. At the same
time, the rope holding her up was stretching and groaning with some
alarming noises. Muscles trembled from sheer exertion.
A loud snap signaled gravity’s final victory. In slow motion, she watched the end of the rope float past. The air felt like molasses while she struggled
to get her free hand up to the rail. The ship kept a steady acceleration, keeping just out of reach. She wasn’t going to make it.
A huge hand enveloped her own. Gib slipped himself between two rail posts
and spread his knees wide. He roared into the air while fighting the forces trying to separate his friends. “I’ve come to your aid dear friends, our journey has yet to meet its end!”
The seconds ticked by and finally, somehow, the roar of the engine quieted. First a whisper, then silence. The Nightmare itself continued upward with a hushed voice until it, too, came to a stall. The wind fell silent and everyone lept out of their seats to
check on Teena and Leliana. Gib jumped up and, leaving the two in
everyone’s care, cleared the jump onto the mast to open up the sails.
The enormous canvas flaps billowed and they started cutting easily
through the air.
Gasping from the deck, Teena posted up off one arm, slowly coming to a sit. “This,” she was gasping through adrenaline and terror, “Is why she’s called THE NIGHTMARE!”