Chapter 35 of Lead Heart is ready to go!
“Who. Are. You?”
Leliana’s arms dug into her sides painfully, and she struggled to wrench them free. Muscle memory kicked in and she mentally skipped down an internal checklist.
First, she loosened her shoulders and let her feet fall from under her, jerking her arms up to dislodge the ones around her. She was satisfied as the man grunted and nearly toppled, but didn’t let go. Before he righted himself, she planted her feet again and tried to spring backward over him. He didn’t let go. She hammered her head back toward his face, but missed. Finally Leliana sprinted perpendicular to the attacker and he almost let go. Instead, his feet wrapped around her waist.
Everything happened so fast, the whole thing only took a couple of heartbeats; Leliana had forgotten the audience and thus had paid no heed to their amused expressions.
Leliana’s ingrained training handed control of her body back to her when it realized they were still caught. Irritated at her automatic responses, Leliana decided to try brute force. She clasped her hands in front of her chest-high and used them as leverage to break the hold. She was satisfied when the gruff voice cursed and the feet fell away, giving her the freedom to dive and come up facing her attacker. Pinpricks lighted softly on the exposed flesh of her windpipe, and she found herself staring into the yellow eyes and slitted pupils of a naked…
His disheveled white hair looked like it’d been used as a bird’s nest recently, and the tanned leathery skin covering his body had a visible sheen of hardened calluses covered in scratches and scrapes. His pointed teeth smiled from chest height, one of his clawed hands hovered beneath her chin. “That’s enough of that.” He growled.
His smile shallowed when the deep baritone of the bulky woman called somewhere to Leliana’s left. “Indeed it is Carkus.” Carkus glared around the girl’s side at the rest of their grinning faces.
“Who asked you?” His voice was like a normal person with a mouthful of gravel.
“She is under my parole until prot arrives yon, so she is under my protection.”
Leliana recoiled when the small figure leapt to his hands and bolted through the tall grass on all fours. The woman continued.
“Besides, you would know who she is if you’d been listening before you sneaked up on her.” She put her hands to her hips, looking like a mother admonishing a boy.
“It wasn’t my fault I didn’t hear.” Carkus’s voice had moved from deep and growling to shrill and whiny. “She should’ve talked louder so I could hear her.”
“So who is she?”
Leliana stood slack-jawed while her rescuer filled in the crowd. Her fighting instincts profiled them as she stared, taking care to remind her that she was most likely hopelessly outclassed by every single one. Maybe even the lizard. The thought was more exciting than she cared to admit.
“You better not expect me to do any babysitting this time.” Carkus complained. “I’m the one who took care of the last two and one of them wouldn’t stop talking. For hours!”
The huge man in the weird wagon was next. “She’s free to stay with me, Vea. That girl’s the one what fell from the sky, no?” The strong woman nodded. “It’s a rare opportunity to talk to someone at the other end of my aim.”
Leliana could tell he was trying to be quiet, but he seemed to be struggling to talk at anything lower than booming shout. Even his whispers were loud.
“That is agreeable.” Vea replied.
“Fine by me.” The scrawny man chimed in an airy, singsong voice. “I have things to do.”
Trees rustled in a light breeze and a silhouette glided smoothly over her. Moments later Carkus squealed in surprise as he flew to the ground under a blue blur.
He rolled, tumbling end over end in a tangle of blue scales and tanned hide. The two rolled to a stop, the reptile coming out on top. Its tailed lashed back and forth and its mouth hung in what Leliana was pretty sure was the closest thing to a smile she’d ever seen on a lizard. Two batlike wings buffeted the man on the ground with dust and sand. The two wrestled until the small man gave in.
“Okay, okay, you win already. You cheater!” The smile returned to his sharp teeth as he stood and waved. “Alright, Zimi is back. We’re out! The two bolted on all fours until they were swallowed by the dark forest. The afternoon sun cast long shadows. Vea called Leliana to the wagon.
She was still struggling to comprehend exactly what in the hells she had just witnessed, and found herself stopping in front of the cart before she realized she’d moved.
“You will remain with Bristol until the protector arrives.” Her dark skin was almost invisible in the dying light beneath her dark-brown robe. She and the blue-robed figure with silver hair departed across from where Carkus and the…And Zimi? Her head spun trying to keep it all straight.
Bristol could’ve given orders to a fleet of airships on a stormy day.
“Come on up!”