Chapter 24 of Lead Heart is ready to go! This one is a bit longer – I considered cutting it in half, but then I lose a bunch of impact of the scene. Tough it out, I believe in you all ❤
The emaciated crowd of men confronted Leliana immediately.. The smell of ozone mingled with wafts of acrid tang that made her throat recoil, and the deck was slick from the rain. There was a shadow of a rainbow sheen of oil floating atop a gunpowder slurry mixed with…something else. A few men hung back at the “rudder” and worked the boat around The Nightmare’s wild jabs.
The man in the floppy hat came at her with a sneer. Bulging fat which looked to be layered on a mountain of muscle rolled and danced endlessly at every step. It was mesmerizing. Until he spoke.
“I’m gonna wear your face while I kill your disgusting family!” His shrill, nasal voice pierced her ears and bewildered her mind.
The storm came back to start the fight again, the wind trying its best to toss her over a cannon while the rain stung like a thousand tiny shards of glass. The men had clearly learned to work as a unit, and wordlessly spread into a half-circle conveniently separating her from the fat one. The ship swayed dangerously in the unsteady currents and more than once she was bucked into the air without warning. Lightning left a streak of white floating in her eyes and she allowed herself the pleasure of the explosion to shake her to the bone. Reminded her of the night she…Wait. Why was she thinking about-
“Wait, what the hells did you just say?” She blinked the spots away. “You have such a stupid voice I almost missed your abhorrent manners. Shouldn’t you offer me a drink, juggle my balls? You’re the worst clown I’ve ever met.”
She didn’t wait for the circle to close.
A leap to the left put her boots into the chest of a snarling scrawny thing with a huge loop in his ear. She rebounded off him and wrapped an elbow around his friend while he pin-wheeled over the edge into the open sky. She squeezed and felt a familiar crunch, and grunted in satisfaction. “I don’t know what you did, but my pacifist captain was frothing at the mouth to get your head on a stick. You must be a piss poor person and captain.”
“Oy don’t you disrespect King King, tramp!”
“We gonna show you piss poor!”
Two Jesters collapsed the ring formation, snarling and baring chiselled teeth. She set them back on their asses.
“Dammit, is that why you put that weird crap in your body?” One of them wore a stupid looking earring with a bizarre half-snake thing, which apparently had been sharpened to a razor point at the tail. The other sported a rusted metal spike jutting from his jaw. Jagged cuts on her fist dripped a sloppy stream of blood down her new jumpsuit. “Aw da- Wait. King King? Is that…did your parents name you King?” Another arc of electricity hit the sky and highlighted movement in the corner of her eye. It was… Just a random harpoon popping up, 50 feet away in mid-air, like a surfacing whale. Where-
A chain dug itself into her throat while raucous laughter erupted from its owner. “You ain’t got nothin’ to brag about, whore.” He reeled her in, hot breath slithered across her neck. She almost retched. She’d cleaned latrines less fragrant than this clown. His bony chest pressed into her as three others stepped in to take shots. Darkness ebbed around the edge of her sight and two of the attackers had found studded planks. Scat. Leliana kicked one in the face and tried to use her weight, but two of the jeering crowd ran forward and grabbed hold so she stayed aloft. Damn it. One of the bastards shattered his plank over her gut, driving the wind out of her. Then he jammed the remnants of the filthy plank into a tear in the jumpsuit.
She curled up instinctively, frustrated as the group tried exposing her middle again.
Then the world erupted.
Wood and steel shrieked as The Nightmare ran itself across the lesser ship’s deck. Cannons busted loose to frolic with abandon, downing a few of her foes for her. The impact slammed into the small group and then scraped a wide swath of destruction all the way to the “bow.” Leliana had a brief impulse that Jovi may still be unaware she were down here. No time to care about that – she’d managed to get an arm under the chain and yanked her captor over her shoulder onto his head. A quick flick of the metal had wrapped the chain around his neck and she tried to throw him. Her arms and lungs screamed their refusal. Leliana raised the chain up for a snap but instead went tumbling forward, end over end in a tangle of limbs with two more. They’d all rolled a lot closer to the unguarded edge of the ship than she was comfortable with. A pair of hands grabbed at her hair, but she kept that crap short for a reason.
Then she was crushed, pinned face-down with the weight of the world threatening to crack her ribs. Cackling like school children, they took turns kicking while she was pinned.
She watched The Nightmare came in for another hit, to the stern this time. The crash was brutal, and Leliana was ready for it. The others were tossed haphazardly onto their faces while she used the momentum to spring to her feet and whip around, she grabbed- “A CANNON?!” The clowns rolled back to their feet – one of them was just in time to catch that same cannon when she whipped it around. The man wrapped his arms around the big gun and plummeted. “You bastards…Used…A cannon…” She growled between ragged breaths. Two others advanced, the ones that didn’t have a rudder to steer any more. She stepped low and felt the ribs crack beneath her fist. He doubled over, taking a knee this time. That one flipped onto his stomach while the other leapt high with a half-scream half-giggle. Leliana whipped a left hook that he ducked under and followed it with a right, which he also ducked under. “Quit dancing around you little rat.” She’d backed up to smash an elbow into him, but he deftly rolled out of reach with a toothy smile.
“Come on welp! You can’t catch ME, heeheehee!” Filed, metal teeth were accented by a dirty silver spike jutting out over each eye. They wobbled to and fro when he broke into a little jig, only to tumble out of the way of her next few blows. “Nope nope nope! Little girls like you have no hope! Hahahaha.”
He needed to die.
King King emerged from the single room on deck with a short barrelled shotgun in one hand, huge curved sabre in the other. They were chipped and battered, but she wasn’t keen to test them out. The huge man ran at her gun-first.
The ropes holding the odd balloon in place had taken a beating from that last impact and several flailed wildly overhead. Leliana launched up to grab one, soaring across the deck from that big barrel. She landed atop one of the other bastards, taking him by surprise. His scream muffled to a gurgle as his jaw turned to confetti. The girl bounced off him and wrapped her hands through the long hair of another. She whipped him around head-first, using his limbs like a chunky whip to slap his friends around. Somewhere along the way he’d stopped screaming. Her poor arms burned with fatigue and she went ahead and tossed him into the swirling storm.
Lightning exploded everywhere, providing a brief glimpse of the destroyed vessel. Rain hung like tiny jewels suspended mid-air in that bright flash before joining the slurry of remains and debris on the deck. She was suddenly face-to-face with King. Years of muscle memory launched her at him before he could pull the trigger. The blast knocked the sound out of her left ear and set the right to ringing. None of the actual pellets landed a hit, but damn was her face on fire from the muzzle flash. Leliana’s forehead broke his beefy nose and she kicked both feet off his chest, bounding across the deck before he got a swipe in with the blade.
He stomped after her. “King King does not permit you to live, wench!” Droplets sliced the air as the blade flew inches from her face.
She’d barely had time to wipe her eyes when the burning set in. “AH!”
“Heee heee heee.”
The mental map she’d built of the deck rose to the front of her mind as her eyes refused to open. It was like she’d put her eyes into a campfire.
“Do you like it?” His freakishly high voice sang from somewhere to the left. A heavy step landed a split second before she jerked back, a thin line of drops hitting her face again. “It’s the finest blend of fire pepper seeds and salted scorpion.” He kissed the air. “Delicious and painful. Such a symbol of life, no?” He stomped forward. Leliana blocked left, agony screaming up her left arm as the blade bit deep. Swinging right, she felt another satisfying crunch of bone and snatched the sword. She caught glimpses through a series of fast blinks to try clearing her eyes. The dick-faced one came around his boss with a cannonball over his head. The momentum of the cannonball carried him over the edge behind her with the blade deep nto his chest.
She blinked furiously and the rain cleared up her vision a bit. Three on one now. That wasn’t so bad. She landed a fist to the big guy’s gut and the air whooshed out of him. The other two jumped her at the same time, the dancing one from earlier flipping impossibly over her head and wrapping his arms around her own. “Time for your judgement wee one.” She kicked his partner, but King grabbed that leg and pulled her up in the air again. “The King King presides in this court!” The giggly bastard behind her was strong, she couldn’t break his grip.
King’s weasley laugh sent a chill down her spine. The Nightmare crashed through the cabin on deck and the back-half of the ship fell to pieces, tumbling to the ground below. The balloon jerked above, desperate to escape. “If we die tonight, we die fulfilled!” Two fists raised to the sky and smashed her into the deck with the force of the storm. Leliana’s eyes rolled back, but she refused to let go. Another huge weight pinned her down. It was a person this time, and King straddled her to the deck.
She bucked and kicked but the two others were putting their all into keeping her down. King leaned closer. Crooked, rotting teeth greeted her with fetid breath that the wind blew straight into her mouth. “Give us a kiss!” The two beside him giggled like madmen. Well, were madmen. She got a hand free and pushed his face to keep it back. The bastard didn’t react, he just giggled and kept pressing in on her hand. She was suddenly extraordinarily aware of the emptiness underneath her head. She glanced instinctively, immediately wishing wishing she hadn’t. The ships were losing altitude fast but the dizzying height still made her head spin. Rain pounded down onto her face, rushing to fill up her eyes and nose and mouth. Everything blurred together as the edges of panic set in. For a split second, Leliana was a scared little girl in a dark basement somewhere. Coughing and retching, forced under the water again and again. The rightful punishment for being ungrateful, they said. The sounds of water dripping into a filthy, stinking basin drown out the storm; the darkness closed in like a funeral blanket. Dirty fingernails cut her scalp, scars she could find years later. The punishment for disobedience, for speaking out of turn. Crying for her parents.
Leliana lost awareness of the weight on top of her, couldn’t feel his smiling face beneath her hand. Her world devolved to fear and pain. Flashes of manacles and chains and bars flew by. Damn it. All these years and she was still helpless to fight back. Damn it. Fire raced through her veins. Fear evaporated in a pool of boiling rage. “DAMN IT!”
Her body was white-hot, the normally pallid complexion flushing crimson under the already bright rivulets of blood seeping from every inch of her body. Muscles bulged, fingers tightened, and King squealed. An explosion of blood and bone and brain mingled with the rain pouring onto her face. She clung to the remnants of his disgusting skull, that stupid smile plastered on even in death. The other two shrieked. In the second of shocked silence that followed, Leliana rocked herself forward and used King’s bulk to launch straight to her feet. Another harpoon had been flung at some point and jutted straight up through the deck. The distance between the smallest clown and Leliana disappeared so fast he didn’t have time to scream until he was sliding down the shaft of that huge spear. Sounds unbecoming of a pirate swept away on the wind. She roared furiously as the shifty one grappled her from behind again. “I’m gonna rip you in half!”
“You horrid peasant! DON’T TOUCH THE KING!” The clown’s teeth tore jagged rips down the back of her neck and behind her ears.
She whipped her head into his face and yanked him by the hand. The black and white face radiated fury and he dug his fingernails in where the skin sagged open on her left arm. The two struggled for dominance, edging ever closer to a dangling propeller still stuck to the ship somehow. The Nightmare rushed in out of nowhere and battered the maimed vessel. The Nightmare itself was littered with jagged holes and Leliana caught sight of Gib stretched taught, struggling to hold a sail to its mast. Antros was hacking at the cabin door with a fire axe, and…And there was a tiny figurehead of Teena at the bottom of the prow of the ship.
How had she missed that?!
She was forced to her knees as he flipped and landed on her back. Needles shot through her when his teeth ripped off the skin of her left shoulder. “GRRAAAAH!”
Leliana gripped one of the frayed ropes whirling about and hauled them both up. Sharp, ragged gasps of air sucked in mouthfuls of rain and threatened to choke her. They hung, suspended by an unraveling rope. One fighting to keep consciousness, the other trying to take it away. She glanced down. The deck seemed miles away, her vision swam and dimmed erratically. One more inch. One more. More. More. Why was this so hard. Damn these clowns.
Time stopped. Sound stopped. A single stroke of lightning wreathed the two ships beautifully.
Forever, it seemed.
She gazed into the brilliant light and caught glimpses of herself. A little girl at the city fair. Then older, underground. Suddenly she was watching the demophant from a treetop. Teasing Antros and killing his employer. A lifetime of prison and these clowns cut her freedom to a single month? Leliana plucked a single raindrop from the air.
What horse piss.
Ten years of tears and screams and beatings rocked her. Eyes wide, she grabbed the bastard’s arms to keep him pinned, free-falling backward. The impact drove the air from her lungs. What was left of the deck shattered, splinters stabbing deep into the clown beneath her.
She hobbled to her feet and scooped him up. He leered and slapped feebly, blood and snot spouting freely from them both. Together, they stumbled back to the harpoon stuck fast in the thick wooden planks.
“Hey! Hey! Shush now, listen to me.” Frayed lines overhead snapped and the balloon edged closer to freedom. The deck swung wildly, Leliana somehow keeping her footing. “I want you to look at me big guy. That’s it. Yeah, look. I get it.” They gazed into each others’ eyes as she raised him over her head. “Sometimes you fall in with the wrong crowd. Get caught up in weird cults. Kidnap people.” His eyes bulged and rolled wildly, and Leliana fought to keep control of his jerking, flailing limbs. “Sometimes you have to kill a poor girls’ parents, you know? Sometimes you get skewered like a pig by a low-life like me. Hey, it happens.” Lifeless eyes stared back, the huge spear simultaneously holding him aloft like a scarecrow and draining the lifeblood out of him. She glanced around the deck…Victoriously?
One of the last ropes holding them aloft whipped up and cut the bulging bag of gas. The hiss of escaping air blended into the cacophony of the storm. Leliana sagged to her knees.
The Nightmare came back one last time, splitting the derelict vessel in two. The balloon finally won its freedom, fleeing on the wild winds.
She wanted to jump, or scream, or leap onto the departing ship. But she didn’t. She collapsed. Muscles trembled and turned to mush and she fell on her face.
Dammit. I’m not finished.
She caught sight of Antros just before the darkness fell. Far away, safely watching from the other ship. Was that pity? Better not be.
The world went black.