Hello dear internet readers,
Chapter 36 of Lead Heart is up!
Leliana and the big man found common ground unexpectedly easily. Once he revealed it was his own javelins that she’d been playing her macabre game of dolls with while fighting the Jesters, the two flew into a world of artillery and siege weapons. For his part, Bristol was enamored with her tales of violence from the last couple of weeks. He was especially interested when she enlisted onto the Nightmare.
He was currently coming to terms with the fact that her last employer had made use of a diminutive woman to build their vessel. “This big you say?” He pointed to his knee. “How did she? I mean, how could she?”
Leliana giggled. “As far as I know, she had a big dude, bout your size, to do some of the heavy lifting. She was mainly the brains of the operation.” Leliana said. “She was damned adorable too, wish I knew where they were.” Haunting shrieks and cries echoed between the foothills. The constant noise was even worse than the wooded areas further south, where she’d been traipsing it alone.
Bristol pshaw’d her concerns. “If she’s got a guy like me handling things, she’s fine.” He puffed out his chest with a smile. She doubted those words, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it until she fully recovered.
The last few hours really highlighted how much she’d fallen since…well, falling.
“I hope you’re right.” She said at last. She felt a chill breeze brush against her neck and noticed for the first time that the clearing was shrouded in shadow. The sunlight was practically set, and the sky paraded a procession of deep reds and oranges to herald the night. The brazen buzz of the insects finally drown out the songbirds as the latter sheltered for the night, and Leliana looked uneasily over her shoulder. It was somehow worse being exposed in the open like this than it was sleeping under the forest canopy.
“Bristol?” She asked.
“Does your team always stay out here?”
“Well where else would we stay, lass?” He replied, confused.
“I mean, I almost ended up as excrement in less than five minutes during the daytime. You guys just march about at all hours of the night?”
“Of course! We’re the ones supposed to be managing those rascals, after all.” He chuckled. “It wouldn’t do for the people supposed to be protecting you to need protecting, would it?”
She considered that. “I would’ve put wrestling that green snake as beyond the capabilities of any single human I’d ever met. You’re right though. Vea, was it? Didn’t really seem worried about it. She just kind of…slapped it around for a while. Wait.” She was hit with a flashback to that encounter. “She did something to it. I don’t know what it was, but it stopped me dead in my tracks. What was that?”
Bristol laughed. “Caught you in the area of effect, did she? Vea must like you, if you were allowed to be that close while she worked her art on that creepy crawly.” He said. “I can’t say too much, not my place. Suffice to say, that woman knows how to shut em up.” He settled back against a cushion near the front to admire the star-speckled sky. “Most things in the world ain’t out looking for a fight, they’re just looking to eat. You gotta make yourself more trouble than you’re worth.” He punctuated this with a loud clap and vigorously hand gestures. “That, and making sure to travel in pairs. Too easy to get snuck up on out here. Even if you know what to look for”
“What about you?” She asked. “You’re here all alone?” The thought of being surrounded by giant snakes in the dark made her shudder.
“True enough.” He agreed. “We used to be six and I’d be out there with the rest. Things happen, and now we’re five.” Bristol seemed wistful. “I’m here to hold down the fort, as it were, seeing as how it’s my fort!” His tone brightened suddenly and he hopped into the tall grass. “Well, not your problem lass. Looks like prot himself has come to chat. Look lively now!”
Grass crunched underfoot as she panicked, trying to look in every direction at once. “What!?” She hadn’t seen anything? Now that he mentioned it, there was a definite scaling down of the forest symphony behind them. The sun was fully set, leaving them with naught but moonlight.
Seconds later, a wiry figure materialized out of the shadows. His tattered brown robes adorned with some straight and stern looking letters. The letters were foreign to Leliana, but they exuded authority and she could guess at their intent. His warm eyes twinkled out of an otherwise unadorned face and bald head.
“Protector!” Bristol shouted, embracing the smaller man roughly. Though he was only half the big man’s size, the protector seemed, bigger, somehow. Almost like he towered over Bristol, yet only half his size. “It’s been a turn and a half old man. What have you been up to?” The two embraced warmly, Bristol hauling the other into the air like a child.
“It is good to see you well, old friend.” The protector’s voice was soft and inviting, like being verbally wrapped in a warm blanket. “Zimi told me there was a lamb in need of a shepherd.” He added. “Is this she?”
“I don’t need a shepherd.” Leliana cut in before Bristol said anything scandalous. “I only came out here because the speaker asked me to.” She held her chin high under the intense scrutiny of the smaller man, daring him to refute the statement. When he said nothing, she continued. A little more subdued. “She wanted me to train with the war brothers?”
“I see.” Was the only reply. Crickets chirped merrily all around them, and the older man rocked backward into a relaxed stance. Bristol hopped back up into the cart with a smile, hands in his lap. “To join the brothers, you must pass the test.” The Protector made a show of stretching and cracking his knuckles before he settled back to face her. “Begin.”
The words thundered in her ears, though she couldn’t immediately comprehend the meaning. “Uh. I. What? What’s the test? Do we fight?” Her eyes bounced between the two men, but the Protector just smiled. His eyes were cloaked in shadow, so she couldn’t tell if the smile was vitriol or humor. His legs were wide and shallow to make an easy pivot or change as warranted, and he wiggled his upturned fingers at her in a challenge.
“The test is yours to make.”