Hello internet readers
Chapter 39 of Lead Heart is up! We’ve crossed the 50,000 word threshold and still going strong.
Leliana leapt out of the concrete bed, ready for a fight. Dull, grey bars of steel stood at attention around the perimeter of the “room.” White, hot pain flared,collapsing her to her knees. A trickle of blood seeped from the stitches down her chest she’d managed to tear open. Again.
“You’re able to walk already?” Brutus was laughing at her from outside the bars now. “Excellent, the operation seems to be a tentative success.” He rubbed his greasy hands together.
“What did you do to me?!” Sudden panic gave her the strength to rush the gate, pounding at the solid steel.
“HA HA HA HA!” His twisted face grew, the suddenly cavernous room filling with his disgusting smile. “Dance for me, you little worm!”
Leliana’s knees buckled, and she backed into the wall. This couldn’t be. She’d left it behind. She’d escaped! Cold steel bit into her knuckles as she hammered at the bars over and over again. They groaned under the onslaught and bent further with every strike. The bars exploded into a blizzard of dust and howling winds, blinding her. Brutus’ face emerged like a nightmare from the whirling sands and she realized the howling wasn’t the wind, but him.
Then his face started to melt.
Skin sloughed off in great blobs to pool at her feet, revealing the grinning skull of her former master. The skull was painted bizarre reds and yellows and a sudden thrill of realization hit her as metal spikes jutted up from within. A spiked clown?
Rotting hands jumped out of nowhere and dragged her to the ground. They rose up from beneath the slimy flesh, pulling her inexorably into its depths. She fought like a demon, fingernails ripped free in a desperate attempt to break them away. The cold, smooth embrace of the stone lapped at her ankles, then calves. She was knee-deep when self-control was wrenched from her by something inside. “AAAAAAAAAAH!”
Hands and half-eaten arms lost their purchase and she fought them off with renewed vigor, pulling the long knife out of its scabbard on her back. She hacked and sliced at the hands until she was blue in the face, but she was already chest-deep in the flesh. She couldn’t breath. The stitches spanning the entire front of her abdomen split to reveal herself again, five years younger. She gnawed the chain manacles for hours, waiting for someone, anyone to show up, to save her.
“At ease, child.” The world rumbled at her.
No, not the world. The Protector?
She noticed for the first time that the sandstorm was gone. Instead, the dark yellow specks coalesced into the brown and tan robes of a monk of gigantic proportions. Gone was the gooey flesh holding her fast. Instead she found herself in the clutch of an enormous fist. Blood raced while she tried to make some sense of just what in the nine hells was going on. She couldn’t breathe. The fist got tighter and tighter, driving the wind from her. Leliana pulled feebly, vision blurring at the edges as it faded to black.
The Protector began to speak, but no actual words come out. Her entire being trembled in that deep voice It droned on and on, never stopping. It’s going to shake her to pieces. She’s consumed with fury or panic, she’s not sure which. Flames explode in all directions, enveloping her. Her heart races, fire coursing her veins. Before she can be squeezed into paste she smashes free of the fist. His smiling face gets bigger and bigger and bigger, darkening the world until the only thing she can see is an eye as big as the moon.
What? No. This wasn’t right.
Nothing exists but the Protector. His pupils dilate out of existence, his voice the deep rumbling of the universe. Suddenly his eye is the moon. It drains the life from her until she collapses, scarcely able to open her eyes.
The moon shone in the night sky, stars twinkling into existence. The overbearing voice of the protector finally fades, a deep thrumming to the tapestry of pain that is her life. Leliana is exhausted. Everything hurts. She tries to rock forward to her feet, but no part of her will comply.
It’s all she can do. Suddenly the pale moon flares into brilliance, blinding her and setting flame to the excruciating headache she hadn’t known about yet. The gears of her mind were trying, but nothing was making sense.
Stars drew little circles in the sky and confounded any attempts to focus. They did a good job to help clear the contents of her stomach again, though. The retching brought new sparks of fire into her ribs. Damn, had her body always felt this heavy?
“Easy now.” A wispy voice laid a hand on her shoulder from behind.
Leliana gurgled meekly. She rolled across her left shoulder to spring to her feet, pivoted and ready to fight.
Well, she tried.
It was an unfortunate time to discover the lack of fine motor control, and she just managed to throw herself into the dirt face-first.
The voice stifled a giggle. “Hey, you’ll need to take it easy.” He managed to choke out. “The antidote needs time to work.”
“Wha…t?” The dust tasted remarkably fertile. Fresh and…dirt-y. Still, it would be bad to fill her lungs overmuch. Leliana made the long climb to her feet and she could feel the gears grinding again while they clamored to remember the silver haired beauty in front of her. His easy smile was almost disarming when the moonlight wove patterns in the air behind him like that.
“You really should sit back down.” Kahlin chided. “It’s a miracle you’re even able to open your eyes right now. I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in moving.” He gestured to a small bundle on the ground she must have just been laying on.
Leliana grunted. The fog was dissipating slightly around the edges, she just needed to get her blood flowing. She started a morning routine she’d never expected to be forced into again. Jumping, handstands, the inverted stretches. It actually felt pretty good.
She hated it.
“Where am I?” The forest behind her was dead quiet and glowed a bright orange. Across the clearing, 60 feet away, the team of elite monks pulled the enormous carcass of a burning monster clear of the trees. Most of them collapsed once it was free. One figure turned and strode her direction.
“Leliana.” The familiar, normal sized Protector hummed. “I am delighted to see you rational again.” She tried to pull away from the hand in the small of her back, but his other hand gently closed around one shoulder.
“Come. We have much to discuss.”