Hello Internet Friends –
Chapter 18 of Lead Heart is up!
Several hundred miles from an airship take-off, someone else was preparing for a new flight of their own.
A bulky scientist dressed in thick leathers hopped up and down, wringing his hands. “You little bastards.” The grate squealed as he slammed it with his hip, shuttering the cave entrance behind it. “I will certainly not! If she’s going to waltz about wasting everything I’ve put into her, I’m damn well going to use her for something else!” The shorter of two men sprayed the other with spittle, grunting as he coated his bleeding fingertips with a clear solution. “What’s it to you anyway? You’ve been asking a lot of questions lately. Why?”
The taller man shrugged. “I suppose if you have too much money on your hands, it’s a good way to lighten the load. But wasn’t stealth and evasion one of the first skills you gave her?”
“This is different. I trained her, yes, but gave her? No. I gave her many things. Free will was not supposed to be one of them.” The stocky scientist stuck his hand into a large hide glove, the furred inside smooth and comfortable. “I have fixed in them all of her flaws. As a matter of fact, it’s feeding time. Would you like to watch? Tomorrow this flight is freed for me to start the next.”
The second shivered. “Ah, sure. Thanks Brutus, I’ve heard a lot from Mikhail about the creatures. Seeing them in action should be interesting.”
They strode from the dank underground room until the bright sun beat down from the courtyard. It was still early, the air cool and pine scented. “I’ve spent weeks infusing her scent into this batch’s feed. Who knows if they’ll ever find her, but if they do…” He trailed off, rubbing his hands together with a sick smile.
Brutus motioned his colleague to stop and stepped to a tripod holding a long, bronze tube next to an open cavity in the wall. He pointed the large end at the hole, then his cheeks puffed full out as he blew it. They both felt, more than heard, the shrill whistle permeating the air. He was still panting as he trotted over and hit a button on the wall.
The loud warning alarm issued three times. The wall slowly pulled up, grating against the frame with painful squeals. Inside the small garage, a huge lizard with an enormous wingspan and elongated head roared, lunging. The roar choked off as it hit the limit of a chain.
Brutus guffawed before turning to help his colleague back to his feet. “Sorry, sorry. I can’t resist Tilly.” He tossed a pair of thick earplugs. “These will protect against the paralysis, if not the rattled skull should it roar again.”
“Blasted steam pipes and piss on a brick, Brutus. You have a sky eater in here?” Tilly shoved the earplugs in and rubbed the back of his head where he’d hit the ground. “Do the leads know about this?”
“Of course. Do you think I locked this up myself?” Brutus scoffed and led the way to a concrete room near the entrance. “Now let’s let it go, shall we?” Tilly locked the door. Brutus, tentatively, put his hand out of a small opening to pull the pin to the chain. He shrieked and flung himself against the wall when the sky eater bit the glove suddenly. “Blasted filthy piece of- I HATE WHEN IT DOES THAT!”
Red-faced in the wake of Tilly’s deep laugh, he yanked the pin and flung it. “Alright, you’re free! Go on! Go get eaten!” He flipped his sneer into a smile as the huge animal tried futilely to smash the concrete barrier.
“Er, this wall is reinforced, I’m assuming?” Tilly swallowed loudly as the room shuddered with every deafening explosion of force.
“You’re welcome to step outside if you don’t trust it.”
The sky eater, satisfied the humans were sufficiently threatened, pivoted and jetted through the doorway. The two men’s ears popped as it swung its monstrous wings, clearing the walls in a single stroke. Out of nowhere, small, black specks darted in and latched themselves onto the beast. Comparatively tiny black blobs whose only distinguishing trait was the thundering buzz of a sudden swarm of wings and the bizarrely white, sharp teeth contrasting with the absolute blackness of its body.
“What in the hells?”
In a matter of seconds, the beast sprouted more than a dozen little black monsters. Each time a new one appeared, a flurry of teeth set to work grinding away. From each one sprouted dozens of smaller black dots which enveloped the monster entirely before vanishing into it. The sky eater was panicking mid-air, gnashing left and right to dislodge the attackers from its back, dropping several squishy mouthfuls to the ground before another took its place.
Seconds later, the huge lizard froze in place mid-flight. Tilly trembled inwardly as his heart fell with the beast, his feet shaking with the earth as it made impact. The small monsters screeched a guttural, gargled shriek as they fell upon it, burrowing into the skin.
After a few minutes, Brutus left the bunker and blew the whistle again. A swarm of the monsters rose out of the fallen sky eater, departing like a scorned shadow. In its wake, a bloody skeleton and little else.
Brutus laughed at the stricken look on Tilly’s face. Tilly smiled, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. This could be bad.