Chapter 25 of Lead Heart is up! Please feel free to comment with any suggestions or feedback – I always love hearing from you guys.
Wind whistled in her ears as Leliana hurtled to the ground. Landing gently at the last minute.
Her parents swung her up into the air once more before setting her loose into the annual fair crowd. She couldn’t make out their faces from this angle, but that was just a trick of the sun. It had to be. She was enveloped into the sudden sweet, spicy embrace of the smell of unhealthy fair food.
Everything smelled and looked and sounded so amazing her tiny body was already going into an overload. She was acutely aware of how many more of her she wished there to be versus the reality of how many of her there were to go around. Dad had given her a fresh set of pennies to spend on snacks while mum had wrapped her up in a fabulous pink and yellow scarf so she were easier to spot. Just one thing left to do then. She flung both hands into the air to frolic when-
A burst of air threw her golden locks all over her face. What!? She spun around. “Dad!” Leliana put hands to hips, her father hastily hiding a huge balloon behind his back.
“It…wasn’t me.” He said.
“I saw you!” The two laughed and she tried circling behind him to get the evidence. The distant trumpeting of a baby elephant drew her attention immediately and she sprinted off to the petting zoo. “Elephants! YES!” The sun was only a couple of fingers above the horizon and she expected she only had an hour or so. Well, until they started looking anyway.
The rest of the night felt like it lasted mere moments, everything flying by in a blur. Baby animals and games of skill (that she was pretty sure were rigged) and all kinds of sugar in different forms.
It was one of these that she was visiting then when she caught sight of a couple wearing the same garish pink and yellow scarves down the boardwalk. Oh no! Leliana threw herself behind the lemonade man’s cart and pulled the scarf into her shirt. The tall man smiled through rough stubble, white hair piled high like a thunderstorm as he pantomimed buttoning his lips. She thought she could make out her father’s leather jacket still, over by the big dome tent with the animal tamers inside. That tent was huge and bright white, a stark contrast to both the red and white stripes of the other tents, as well as the muddy brown of her fathers’ jacket. She looked across the fairgrounds for a hiding place. The big slides and carousel were really fun she’d be wide open. The haunted house was…no.
The fun-house was just across the walkway separating the rows of small wood and canvas buildings. Most were littered with shoddy wooden carvings and toys, but the fun-house stood alone. Through a window she saw there must have been at least a million mirrors inside. She’d tried getting in last year, but the ticket taker wouldn’t let her in. “I’m basically a grown up now. Grown ups aren’t scared of mirrors!” Little eyes darted to and fro, forming a diabolical plan.
A minute later, she collapsed onto a wooden table. “Oh no, I hurt my leg! Someone help!”
No one helped.
“Grr.” She’d been sure that would work. The ticket taker stood at the entrance to the house of mirrors, scowling at anyone who dared approach. She noticed a chair midway between the table she was lying on and the old man barring her way to excitement. She hopped up off the table, calmly walked to the chair, and slowly walked it back to the wooden table.
“Hey!” Skin wobbled angrily as he came after her. “Put that back where it was!”
Leliana’s heart thundered, but she sat still as though nothing were amiss. He was about ten feet away still when – “Bye mister!” She bolted around him like a tiny lightning bolt. She left his croaks and cries behind, swiftly vanishing into the tent.
“Oy! Get on out here, or I’m gonna throttle ya!”
She knew exactly where he was, if the grumbling were any indication. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The heavy fabric of the tent walls trembled violently. It made her shudder. The wind must have blown some candles out too, because it was even darker in here than it was outside. She set off, more than once bumping her stubby little nose straight into a mirror. Leliana wandered about for some time in the near-blackness inside the tent. She didn’t hear the old guy grumping anymore, and the windows of the tent were pitch dark now.
“Mister, are you in here? I’m ready to leave now!” She hushed, straining her ears. Nothing. “Mister?” Nobody answered. Dang, he was right behind her a few minutes ago. The little girl whirled, staring herself in the face.
But it wasn’t her.
It was an old lady, mean and scary. She was smeared in blood from head to toe, and she was staring straight at Leliana.
Leliana gasped and sprinted away, running straight into a mirror face-first. Lightning crackled overhead, forcing her hands to her ears. Leliana was surrounded now. Some reflections were her, but most were the scary lady. She tried navigating the maze without touching the walls. Mom always said mirrors were a window to your inner beauty. But that lady wasn’t beautiful.
Arms wrapped around her from behind as one of the reflections stepped out of the mirror.
“AAH!” Leliana shrieked and pulled, the images were everywhere now, all staring. They looked pissed. Blood trickled from Leliana’s nose as the figures closed in. Leliana threw herself on the ground, sobbing into dirt and straw. She didn’t even care if anybody saw her, she just wanted somebody to find her. What kind of scary house was this? She screamed for her mum and dad time and again, but nobody came.
A long while later, or it could’ve been seconds, time didn’t matter, she awoke. Face-down in the dirt and filth and straw on the fun-house floor. It was pitch black, barely enough light to see the furious eyes collected on her from the mirrors. The world flashed bright white, blinding her just before another bellow of thunder. “Stop it! Leave me alone!” Leliana bolted through the outstretched hands, smashing bloody limbs aside like they were twigs. She bolted, knowing exactly the right way to go this time. She sprinted between heavy iron bars and concrete walls until she found the mirror she was looking for. This one was a one-way mirror, she now knew. She threw manacled fists into the glass, shattering the panes easily. A few empty chairs and an idle mastiff dozed alone.
She vaulted the chairs, and dodged the hunting dog as best she could. He was quick though, and the only hall to the outside world was suddenly full of snarls. Sorry pup. She feinted, and he lunged. Thick chains coiled around the dog’s throat and he was carried through the dim halls by his neck.
Woops, now there was a guard. Leliana hurled the do, both of them crashing to the floor in a tangle of limbs and angry teeth.
The mirrors around her bore her own reflection now: strong, blond, and alone. She sprinted through the security compound and exploded out the side door she’d neutralized earlier.
Brutus and the executioner, arms crossed, stood grimly next to the security gate.
“Well, well. Mrs. weapon. Back again? Is this a game to you?” The sneer on the short, ugly man was matched only in intensity by the executioner’s white-knuckled grip on his enormous hammer. The silent giant loomed behind Brutus and hefted the weapon easily. “How many times must we re-train you.” Brutus pulled a small, black disk from his jacket. His face was slick, smug even, as he pressed the button.
“Executioner, break her-”
He cut off, watching Leliana’s swagger instead of crashing into rippling seizures.
“What is the meaning of this? What did you do with your collar?”
“Go ahead and push that button. Push it all day. I left a surprise for you in my cell, I think you’ll like it.”
Brutus’ calm exterior cracked, his scarlet face snarling orders at the executioner before growling at her. “Blast it you fool, why won’t you accept your fate!? You could live a life of comfort. Luxury! I provide you food. I provide you safety! All you must do is-”
“Bark when you tell me, bite when you tell me. Jump when you tell me.”
She cut him off. She’d heard this scat a thousand times. “But there’s a problem with that, Brute. A big problem.” Leliana and the executioner closed in on each other. “You’re just a giant ass, brute. And I don’t take orders from ass. You should know. You’re the one who taught me to kick it.” She lashed out at the punisher, who blocked her attacks with the head of the hammer. Like always. She grabbed the hammer-head and hopped on, bouncing up off with the force of his sudden swing to flip behind him.
The executioner spun and reached for Leliana, but she ducked inside his reach. By the time he closed the gaps in his hands, she rolled clear.
The sky was black. No, the sun was black. She was showered in darkness and sudden wailing screams washed over her senses. Then the wind whooshed by her neck, the hammer scratching the tip of an earlobe. Steamed piss that was close. She whirled and dodged a second swing, then a third. “Don’t come after me Brute. You won’t want to come face to face again.” Leliana scaled the wall in two seconds.
Then the wall bucked and leapt under her. Lightning threatened to burn her to a crisp. The skies were thick suddenly with dark, angry storm clouds. She caught her balance once, twice.
A freakish, black-and-white painted man laughed in her face, close enough to taste his rotten breath. He picked her up like a child, and leapt overboard, plummeting a thousand feet to their doom.
A burst of air threw her golden locks all over her face. What?! She whirled, and laughed. “Dad!” Leliana put her hands to her hips as the tall man shuffled a giant balloon behind his back.