Hello internet friends,
Lead Heart chapter 22 is up, please leave comments with any feedback!
The skies were unpredictable the closer to the sea they flew. Lightning storms would surround them in brilliant displays of white and blue, deafen everyone for a few hours, and then scatter just as quickly. Leliana saw many ships along the way over the next few days as they drew closer to the main shipping lanes. Well, at least that’s what Karina had said, after she’d brought some cold sandwiches up to chat . Several uneventful days started to dull the excitement of flying. Weren’t there supposed to be pirates and monsters and stuff up here?
“Leli darling, I’d like to have a chat.”
Here it goes, she thought. Jovi didn’t seem like the type of captain to throw people overboard, but Leliana checked the parachute in the back of her jumpsuit anyway.
“Hey. What’s up.”
The older woman hoisted herself up and sat down a sack of food and a bottle of mead. “Gib and Teena had something to say about an issue a few nights ago. Something about her breaking a box. I wanted to hear your side.” She offered up a piece of bread and some fruit, though Leliana made no move to eat.
“Yeah, sorry about that. Bad dreams, you know. I started sleeping up here to make sure it didn’t happen again.”
“Is that why you’ve been up here all this time? I thought you were sulking because I was averse to your killing spree.” Jovi forced a small laugh and the two picked at the fruit in silence for a few minutes. “Gib had something to say about it too, darling. He told me you’d been… crying before you woke up. His descriptions were exceedingly all too familiar to my own a couple of years back.”
What? “To your own what?” Leliana forgot her problems as the captain opened up about her own past.
“My own dreams. Terrors, really. I drank myself to sleep every day back then. Gib was always there to hold me down in my fits and help me regain control.” Jovi regaled Leliana with stories of insane pirates and heroic saviors. Night terrors pushing her to the brink, and a huge friend to keep her anchored through it all. Apparently the crew of The Nightmare used to be bigger, but most had been pushed away by an angry drunken captain frivolously throwing their wages into casks of alcohol. The only ones left were the 3 from the beginning and Sekkel, an old retiree to whom Jovi was just a drop in the bucket as far as angry captains went.
They chatted most of the morning away. Clear, blue skies gave way to a darkness gathering at the horizon.
Leliana was wiping tears of laughter by the time the story finished. “You punched him so hard you broke your hand? Hot steam I would’ve loved to have seen that.”
“Oh, no you wouldn’t have. I was a wreck. Makes me embarrassed to remember it.” Jovi’s cheeks were bright pink, flushed with mead or embarrassment or a combination of the two. “But I’m also incredibly grateful to have the crew I do.”
Something on the earth below caught Leliana’s eye. It looked like a centipede or a skinny worm, but visible from a thousand feet in the air. She dug out her scope while Jovi gazed into the distance. “Huh. There’s a bunch of people walking through the middle of nowhere down there. Bunch of guys in brown coats.”
“Really!?” Jovi retrieved her own spyglass to have a look.”Oh! Those are the traveling monks. The Wandering Monastery they call themselves.” The group was some hundred strong with bruised and battered people huddled between them. Some wore backpacks, others had nothing. Two large carts, pulled by 4 garbed men each, pulled up the rear. One was laden with bundles and boxes, the other bore several people laid out in various positions. “They’re the saviors I was telling you about. I lived with them for almost a year before I met Gib.”
“Are they, like, taking slaves down there or…” The name ‘Wandering Monastery” sounded pretty cool to Leliana, but there was a clear divide between the upright, robed individuals and the others.
“No, not at all. At least they weren’t when I was a girl. They walk between cities, picking up animals and people along the way. Anyone can join them for as long as they like.” Jovi handed Leliana the spyglass for a better look. “Here, check it out.”
Leliana took the offered device and marveled at how much clearer things were. “Man this thing is way better than mine.” Jovi laughed. She was right about the situation on the ground, Leliana could tell now. Several men gingerly carried children and small animals. One man standing atop a cart was feeding a bandaged panther, who lapped at a bowl in the monk’s lap.
Leliana felt a tremor in her ear. The hair on her neck raised, and she felt the sudden prickly sensation that screamed caution. Two more tremors followed in quick succession. She looked to the storm. It was certainly headed this way, but not what she was hearing. A cold wind picked up, throwing a bowlful of berries overboard.
“Haha, oh no!” Jovi merrily swept the remnants of the improvised picnic back into the bag. “We better get inside girly.”
There was the tremor again, almost audible this time.
Leliana loosed the ropes around her and scurried up the mast to have a better look. After a few minutes, she spotted it. A ship running in front of the storm. “Hey Jovi, question.” She yelled to be heard above the brisk wind blowing now, so she jumped back down.
“Yes, Leli darling?”
“You know anything about a red flag with a…clown?” She’d zoomed in for the best possible look, but nothing else really came to mind. Pasty white face, black rimmed eyes and a freakish red smile. Looked like a knife or spike sticking out of the right eye. Reminded her of some of the old carnival comics she’d burned through one winter. Something else tugged at the edge of her mind. It felt so familiar. “I think I’ve seen that somewhere…”
“Leliana, hand me that glass please.” The woman’s smile was plastered in place, but her voice was harsh, commanding.
“Sure thing boss.”
Jovi’s hands trembled while she gazed at the bizarre airship in front of them. A rainbow of sickly hued reds and yellows and greens were painted haphazardly everywhere, a huge blimp roped to the ship to keep them afloat. Minutes of silence whooshed by in the growing wind. The metal tube suddenly squeezed out of the captain’s fist, hurling itself overboard.
Leliana snatched it, though she almost dropped it herself after a glance at the captain. Despite looking the calmest she had been since the two had met, Leliana’s fighting instincts recoiled from the vitriol exuding from the small woman. A thump-thump-thump caught Leliana’s attention and she saw Gib walking across the deck. “Hey big guy, I think you better come over here.”
Gib changed mid-stride from a walk to a frolic, his wavy black hair floating through the air as he bounded to the watch nest. “What can I do for you today, o’ friend of mine and pretty maid?”
“Pretty what the hells did you… Nevermind. Liste-”
“Gib. Dearest. The Jesters have come to play.” Jovi smiled as Leliana back away from her suddenly cheerful voice. “It seems they’ve taken a fancy to shooting at my old friends, as well.”
That tremor hit Leliana’s ear once again. Something clicked, and she whipped around to stare through the glass at the men and women below. A plume of dust and rock and smoke puffed out of the hillside near one of the now-abandoned carts. The robed figures were all carrying a man, woman, child or beast and scattered in all directions. She let out a small whistle. They were split and each carried a burden, yet they all migrated as one unit. Well, a small group had split and run for the forested hills at a sprint.
“Damn, even wandering monks have cowards huh?” Jovi was suddenly not behind her anymore. She was below. Gib had one hand on her back, and one on his own chest. They were breathing in sync.
“There we are, Jovial. You’re doing a tremendous job. You shall slay these demons yet one day.”
Outwardly, Jovi was calm and in control. Yet to any observer, the energy coming out of her was more wild than the lightning in the approaching storm.
Leliana’s ears perked. Speaking of lightning.
Jovi laughed defiantly into the oncoming storm. The captain pulled a wide, metal hammer from the center-most mast and looked to Leliana and Gib. “Not one day, Gib.” She brought the hammer against the mast.
The metal anchor inside the mast echoed wildly through the ship.
“I have a chance to save my own saviors. The Skymother ushers me toward them as we speak. My own nightmares have presented themselves for retribution. I can’t deny such a clear path my friend. I slay my demons today.”
I’ll not have that blood on my hands.
Sparks of their last encounter flickered through Leliana’s mind. The Jovi a couple of days ago and the one in front of her were not the same person. The crew emerged from below at a run.
The last tone was allowed to die as the distant rumbles picked up, both of thunder, and now cannons.
A heated discussion followed regarding their course of action. Jovi’s plan was apparently for everyone to abandon ship while she drove it into the Jesters’. Gib was only the first objection.
“Nay, captain. Many years you’ve looked out for me. I’ll not be departing so easily.”
“Are you kidding me?! The months of design I spent preparing just for this.” Teena was next. “Not to mention the years it took to build the little minx. There’s no way I’m letting you get away with her!” The small woman climbed up to Gib’s shoulder and pointed dramatically back to the stairs. “Onward, Gib! To the war room!”
“Aye-aye, mini capt’n.” Gib saluted nobody in particular and they disappeared below-decks.
Sekkel and Karina ran below to secure all the important stuff and ready a huge batch of sealing foam.
Jovi looked to the two security guards. “This isn’t your fight, I apologize I must ask this of you, but you’ll need to hop overboard and chute to safety. The Wandering Monastery has come back from worse than this, go to them if you need.”
Antros’ frown deepened as he furrowed his brow. “My contract technically states that I’m here purely for defensive measures.” He crossed arms and looked to the watch-nest. “That being said, I’m curious how the girl is going to handle this one. There’s no way she’d leave a fight, right?” He tightened his own parachute. “I’ll keep an eye on her for now.”
Leliana’s heart pounded as she tied herself and the rifle to the watchtower. Snippets of her own past flashed in her mind. Brutus with a syringe. The executioner’s hammer. A faceless overseer and an electric collar.
If she couldn’t exact her own revenge, then she was damn well going to enjoy someone else’s.
Antros stood over her with the captain’s spyglass, Jovi having retreated to the wheel-room to fight the steering wheel. “That’s a long shot.”
From this distance she could tell the… Men? On deck were all wearing white and black makeup, just like their flag. Most of them were whooping and hollering, tossing cannonballs between each other. A row of cannons bolted to the deck on each side, though only one side was manned at the moment. An angry clown with a big floppy hat and a spike in his right-eye stood among them, hand raised. He yelled something and dropped his hand, and another volley thundered onto the scattered monks below.
“Damn, looks like those shots are actually hitting.” Antros was keeping an eye below and above. The element of surprise was important when ambushing a force larger than your own. So far, none of the clowns had bothered looking up. “You ready?”
“This is literally what I’ve lived for.” Her dirty blond hair whipped at her face as she sighted the enemy. Leliana had 5 figures already picked out of the group, and had memorized positions and behaviors. The flag was a lot more prominent from this distance. It was easy to see the tears of blood now. And the clown didn’t have a red mouth, it just had lips dripping in blood the same color as the background. The flag took turns whipping this way and that as the blustering winds continually changed directions. 5 shots was probably pushing it from the distance she was willing to take the shot from, but the thunder might mask the first shot or two anyway.
The storm was rushing in. Jovi was roaring into the wind as it tried wresting the wheel from her. “You’ll have to do better than that, you piddly clown infested whore of a storm! AAAH!”
Leliana almost felt bad about how much better she liked the woman in the throws of psychotic fury. Almost.
The scope highlighted the enemy captain’s sick grin, and she led the shot a few inches to the right. She swung the gun back and forth a few times, getting a feel for the wind and how much to lead the shot. She swung it back to the captain. His sick grin flipped upside down as their eyes met. The wind hushed as time slowed. Her heart skipped a beat.
She pulled right a few inches and hammered out the shots.
5 shots, 4 corpses. The clown in the big hat bellowed in rage, and some 37 eyes whipped her direction.