Hello internet family,
Chapter 29 of Lead Heart is up, our girl is awake!
A lonely eagle drifted on the warm air over the dusty plain.
Leliana lie on her back and stared at that bird for a long time before she realized she was finally awake. The gears turned in her head, slowly coming back to life. The eagle screeched into the empty, blue sky before soaring back toward the mountains behind her.
The dust rattled in her lungs, and she could feel every fiber of her body. Not in a good way. She picked herself up.
“Ooooh. Ugh, what in the 9-” Her back popped in a dozen places all the way down and her legs almost quit on her. Soft blankets fell to the floor and she noted that she’d been sleeping in the middle of a wooden cart, surrounded by an assortment of blanketed bundles she assumed were others like herself. “This is new.”
Over the edge of the raised platform she made out a score of small fires scattered between a few hundred people. Most everyone was sitting around the fires engaged in conversation in the afternoon sun.
There were no signs of storm clouds. “Gross, how long was I out?”
Everything looked so different from the ground than it did from above, it was hard to find any familiar landmarks.
A brown-robed figure leapt up into the cart suddenly, stubbled face grinning and arms wide. Leliana readied her fists. “Who are you?” The loose fitted clothes hid his figure, so it was hard to get a read on him. His right eye was closed and shriveled, likely for the same reason he sported a shiny crescent scar over the right side of his face. He beckoned and jumped back to the ground.
She whistled low drawing near the edge. That must’ve been an 8 foot drop.
She let herself drop to the ground. Her knees gave out and slammed into a clump of pointy grass. ”Ah!” Dammit legs, she thought. The robed man offered a hand, but she didn’t take it.
He shrugged, indicated for her to follow him and took off across the camp.
Leliana’s head swiveled non-stop while she passed through crowds of people. There were a lot of men and women sporting the loose brown robes. There were just as many, and maybe more, who were clearly outsiders. She walked through a group of women who’d be more modestly dressed if they’d actually just stripped naked. Then she walked around the group of men admiring those women from a distance.
The crowds thinned quickly, and she found herself staring at the back of a familiar head. Straight, clean black hair sitting atop a straight-backed, olive-skinned-
“Antros?” The last time she’d seen him was right before- Oh, right. Right before she’d fallen unconscious a thousand feet in the air.
How long had she been trapped in that damn dream, everything seemed so unreal. Wait. Was she actually awake though or-
“Leliana, you’re awake! How you feeling, kid?”
“The hungriest I’ve ever been in my life.” She answered. “You got any spare aurocks hanging around?”
“Understandable.” Antros nodded. “You were asleep over a week, I was getting a bit concerned myself.”
Over a week?
“Wait go back. When you say over a week. You mean like, a day. Two days?” It was hard to remember a time she’d slept longer than a few hours.
Antros glanced at a gnarled old woman stooped over an iron cauldron bubbling merrily over a fire. She nodded in turn, gesturing a young girl forward. “A bowl for our guest, darling.” Her whispy voice was barely audible over the crackling flame.
Leliana’s stomach roared despite herself. She glanced down, then back to Antros.
“Sorry kiddo, I mean more like 11 days. Heck of a fall you took, I’m surprised you’re up and walking around.” He raised his hands in the air, slamming one fist into his palm. “Broke a tree straight in half! You’ll need a bigger chute if you ever want to work on an airship again.”
The girl returned then with a bowl of steaming white rice. It was scented with some earthy, herby nonsense that Leliana would’ve killed anyone in the world to eat right now. The girl paused near the old woman to allow a ladle of soup to be dropped in, then handed the bowl to Leliana.
“Eat, child. We will restore your strength, and then your memories.” The old woman bade them sit down.
They watched in amusement, and no small amount of amazement, as she ate enough for a small army. The old woman only smiled, refilling it each time.
Finally, she could eat no more. She slumped to the dirt and stretched in the hot sun. “Whoooa I’m so full. If I’m still trapped in a dream, I’m about to die a happy woman.” She stayed sprawled in the dirt as dozens of others showed up to eat from the cauldron.
Antros and Leliana caught up while the speaker met with the rest of the travelers.
“You jumped out of a perfectly good airship just to pull my parachute? That’s…pretty stupid.” She was impressed.
“I didn’t like the idea of being on the same ship as the deranged queen driving like a madman.” He waved offhandedly. “Besides, I helped introduce you to the job, it would be pretty impolite to let you just die, right?”
“I liked her better after she dropped the act.” Leliana smiled. “People who are too nice always have something to hide. I’m just glad she was hiding a maniac.” She yawned, then jumped as she realized the speaker standing right behind her. “Hey! When did you get there?” How did she not notice?
“Are you well, child?” The speaker’s face was gentle and she had an easy smile.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. It’ll take more than a fall to stop me.” The girl flexed, then frowned at her diminished muscle. “Dang 11 days of sleeping sucks.”
“What’s on your mind, speaker?” Antros ventured.
“I merely wanted to ask your intentions now.” She said. “Many are those who seek refuge with us. Many, too, are those who seek our help and part ways.”
“I thought we could stay on at least until the next city.” Antros replied. “I’m familiar enough with the area, but it’s always safer in numbers.”
“Wait what about Teena and Gib, the crew?” Leliana interjected. “Shouldn’t we figure out where they went?”
Antros frowned. “They were careening out of control in the middle of a storm. They could be anywhere.”
“But they were cool. Fun to talk to.”
“There’s a lot of people around here to talk to.” Antros offered.
“I’m not really a fan of crowds.” She countered. “Puts me on edge.” She looked at the people assembled around them. There really were people of all types mingled here. “Besides, I think I was on the verge of being friends with Karina.”
“Don’t get invested in the client, kid. First rule of being a guard.” He said.
“Shouldn’t ‘keeping the client alive’ be the first rule of being a guard?” She giggled when he scowled. “Besides, I’m more about the travel than the guarding.”
The speaker interrupted. “We will be crossing the Pladitus mountains, soon.” She said. “You can get a good view of the plains from up there.”
“That sounds like a good start.” Antros said.
“I guess, but I hate walking.” Leliana replied.
“You’ve been asleep for 11 days.” He countered.
“You seem like a great warrior, young lady. You may travel with the War Brothers to train while we travel, if you like.” The speaker gestured vaguely to the distant forest.
“I hate training too.” She said sheepishly.
The speaker shrugged. “They wrestle wild animals with their bare hands. You strike me the type to enjoy that. A chance to regain your strength, once you’ve fully healed.”
Leliana’s ears perked. “Wait, I mean, I guess I could give it a try.” She stretched, popping what felt like every joint in her body. “I’m probably fine.”
Antros smirked and shook his head. “I’ll sit this one out, kid. You’re on your own.”
“I’m surprised you can walk, with the condition you were found in.” The old woman nodded. “I have no doubt you can handle yourself.” She walked to the edge of the clearing, pointing to the edge of the forest about a mile away. “If you are ready, just enter the woods straight ahead, they’ll find you. Ask for the protector.”
“Woo okay. I need to burn off some of that food anyway.” She waved and ran the mile to the shelter of the trees. The wild growth on the forest floor probably made the easiest method of travel here to be by treetop.
“I’d fall on my head if I even tried.” She decided. “How far do I have to go anyway. The protector? Weird guys. Maybe I can be ‘The Killer’. Do we get to choose our own names?”