Hello dear internet readers
Chapter 31 of Lead Heart is up! Hopefully I’ve scheduled it for the right 12 this time; our heroine gets to escape the clutches of that unruly serpent, finally. Right?
Leliana’s chest was going to explode. She choked on the dust being squeezed out of the tree while the serpent did its best to make a Leliana-shaped impression in that thick mountain pine. The wood squealed in protest, and jagged cracks opened up around her. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t breathe. The first licks of panic blurred the edges of her consciousness.
And that was infuriating.
There was no way to win a contest of strength against the thing, it was massive. Still, the pine didn’t seem like it was going to last much longer either. She needed a plan.
Ideas whizzed past a mile a minute, discarded just as fast. It was hard to think clearly with a shiny bastard doing his best to huge the life out of you. She gagged every time she managed to breathe the slightest bit, with the sweet pine unable to mask the scent of rancid reptile. It tasted like the undertaker’s sweaty underwear, something she learned by trying to bite it. Ugh, kill me faster.
If there was something she hated more than being killed, it was being forced to wait to be killed.
She needed to focus, to get control. ‘A panicked soldier is the first to die’ according to the wrong end of the baton which had been her teacher for so many years. Leliana grit her teeth at the memory. She obediently slowed her limited breathing and counted her heartbeats, listening to the rasp as she drew breath.
This wasn’t really the best time to practice those control exercises, but she didn’t really have any other obligations at the moment.
The scaly hide shifted, rearranging the loops of the body in front of her. Curious, she waited. Two of the segments of coiled serpentine body in front of her split just a few inches to reveal a huge cerulean eye peeking in at her.
She punched it.
Furious growls rocked her in the clutches of the snake and shook her to the core. A few seconds of what she imagined was the snake swearing at her in its own language and then renewed the attack with a vengeance. The pine which had been her brother in resistance up to this point shattered into powder, and the cavernous coils of the serpent closed in to smash her with brutality. She vomited. Darkness tinged the edges of her vision while her own bile was smashed into her face and hair.
Leliana pulled herself into a tight curl, limbs trembling to hold. Damn, she thought, that old lady was right. The girl punched feebly at the muscle walls binding her from the inside. She was absolutely certain that this scaled bastard didn’t feel any of it, but it made her feel a little better. She was starting to get the inklings of an idea.
The serpent was strong, overpoweringly so, but it had a hard time getting a good grip with which to snap her like a twig. Judging by the cracks and crevices that remained when it wrapped her up, this thing was prone to going after much larger prey. It would still kill her, just not instantly as it apparently hoped. She put her hands together and forced two segments of body to part, just a little.
Well that would’ve been helpful, if she was stronger.
Spots were dancing through her field of vision now, tiny lightning bolts seeming to coalesce around her. This was a good example of a reason she might have asked around all those people for a gun, or a knife. Literally anything.
The world quieted around her, perhaps in reverence to her impending demise. She felt a soothing warmth washing through her. She closed her eyes to take it in.
Something shattered the world around her. It felt like she’d been punched in the gut and had every bone broken simultaneously. At first she thought the beast finally finished the job, but it was a different kind of pressure this time. That and-
And the snake had gone slack, the coils almost falling away from her for a second before they pulled back into the deadly embrace. She managed a huge lungful of air, if not outright escape.
What the nine hells was that?
What sounded like another tree exploding hit her ears. It was muffled to unrecognizability, but something was definitely going on. She was jerked one way and then another, shuddering at one impact and then suddenly weightless before the next. Then it seemed the serpent was in motion; the body around her stayed firm, but not crushing. A prison, but not the press. The shifting gravity and constant flipping was pretty fun, as long as she didn’t think about the end of the ride. One such move unpinned her arms enough to get a good swing and she flailed at the inside of the scaled stomach using her bound feet for leverage.
“Just you wait!” She gasped between swings. “I’ll bust out of here. Break your stupid neck. Roast you over the longest bonfire I’ve ever seen!” She felt a satisfying crack beneath her fists.
Another explosion of force pulsed through her entire body and she couldn’t move for a second or two. She recovered quickly, noting that the serpent had gone slack again too. Leliana coiled, ripping her legs free of the beast, and rocketed to freedom just as the walls snapped closed again.
Nothing could stop the gasp of pleasure she released at that first breath of fresh air. Clean, crisp pine and dust filled her entire body. The pins and needles of circulation returning made her eyes water and almost laid her out. She wobbled on all fours, skidding to a stop on her face, before hazarding a look back.
The serpent’s huge mouth was locked in a contest of strength with what must have been the strongest person she’d ever seen. Bulging muscles sprouted from other bulging muscles beneath glistening dark skin. She’d have placed them somewhere in the seven-foot-tall range, bald head coated in some of everything on the ground and a brown robe which had the sleeves ripped off unevenly.
The struggle intensified when the snake’s jaw hit the forest floor and it thrashed the relatively smaller human back and forth like a child’s toy. The monk held on stubbornly, wiggling and waving in the erratic thrashing of the beast. Then the monk’s legs were locked around the upper jaw while a flurry of blows mangled those big, blue eyes.
“Steamed hells!” She cried as the figure hit the ground nearby. Thick, brown cloth billowed as the monk whirled to face her. When they settled, the outlined the outrageous curves of the most hulking woman Leliana had ever seen in her entire life. “I…you…who?!”
The woman opened her mouth, then leapt to the side. A hooked beak gouged the forest floor where she’d been standing seconds ago. Without warning it was suddenly in Leliana’s face, barely allowing enough time for her to instinctively grapple that enormous jaw. Moments later she was dangling from about 20 feet up, and the snake bolted away from her would-be savior.
This is going well, she thought.