Hello internet friends
Chapter 43 of Lead Heart is up, please enjoy it.
A cold autumn day dawned over the dense forest. Leliana’s breath came out as steaming clouds, huddled close to the cooking fire and pressing up against Karina for warmth. Mostly she was just happy to have someone to chat with, but the stories themselves were undeniably exciting in their own right. Leliana paid rapt attention as the red-haired girl described an ‘excavation’ she’d performed in a lost city a couple of years ago.
The drown city had been recently discovered by the Toro and Missi city-states, who’d locked down access until they had a chance to pick it clean.
The Nightmare slipped under the cover of darkness, allowing Karina to drop in from about one hundred feet into the icy water. She wore a dive suit, SCUBA gear, and a mesh bag. Three hundred feet below the waves lie the ancient city. It was beautiful. Coral covered almost every surface in bright pinks and greens and yellows, with huge schools of colorful fish weaving between the sunken giants.
Also it’d been night. And terrifying. The old buildings jutted at odd angles where they’d fallen, ancient bodies looming in the silent graveyard she was in the act of defiling. “I only managed to swipe a couple containers full of silicon wafers.” She said ruefully. “They still sold for a solid fifty gold, but I had to make a run for it after someone spotted me. One minute I was picking safes, the next I was ducking harpoons.”
Leliana felt a thrill down her spine, imagining being able to explore a lost city in the dark, dodging sea monsters and ducking bad guys. “Do you still have that SCUBA?”
Karina shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, I sold it about six months ago.” She gestured toward her tiny sister traipsing all over the wagon. “I never used it and Teena wanted this chemical station aboard The Nightmare. It was worth it in the long run, I guess.” They were distracted as Teena fawned over Bristol’s tool collection and assorted wagon attachments.
“What is this?!” Teena was shouting.
“Ah, my favorite all-in-one!” Bristol’s booming voice rattled Leliana’s skull, even from this distance. “We’ve got a caliper, a vice-grip, c-clamp, wire-cutters-”
Leliana couldn’t help but whistle at the sheer number of gadgets that bulky tool was hiding.
“Ohmahgad you have these?” The pink haired engineer hurled tools from a cache in the vehicle, some as large as herself. “Oh I love this! And this! I think I had one of these once but they pinched me and I threw em into the ocean, haha woops. Ah this is very nice.” After amassing a small mountain of iron and steel beneath the cart, Bristol and Teena set about actually dismantling the huge wagon itself. He stood back and let her figure things out for herself, although Teena’s practiced hands managed to dismantle it entirely in under twenty minutes.
“Oh HO, very impressive lass. Now can ye’ put it back together?” Bristol’s huge smile issued the challenge, and Teena rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
Leliana shook her head, smiling, and left the two to their work. Curious, she glanced around the clearing to check on the others, now that everyone was awake.
Sekkel wore a pair of thick gloves, helping Kahlin mix a dozen flasks of a concerning looking slime. Each completed glass was glowing an iridescent green. They steamed in the chill air, and the two men were stuffing them into a cloth sack over Sekkel’s splint once they were stoppered. That’s a pretty good idea, she thought to herself. Experience told her how painful a sprained limb was going to be in this cold.
Carkus and Zimi wrestled far too closely to their own blazing bonfire, a tiger and a goat roasting on a huge spit. Zimi’s face was freshly smeared in bright red blood, a treat from his half of the tiger. The winged lizard landed atop Carkus, pinning him to the ground and licking his face with abandon.
“EEWWW YOU’RE GETTING BLOOD IN MY MOUTH!”
The naked man struggled to free himself from the clutches of his reptilian counterpart, but there was a clear weight disparity and he was on the losing end.
Gib nursed a hungover Jovi at the edge of the clearing, plying her with food and water in abundant quantities until she could finally carry herself. Leliana wasn’t sure what was going on with the captain, but it didn’t seem like something she should interfere with – even if she did want to go say hi to Gib.
The Protector had vanished overnight, though the other monks assured them this was a very normal occurrence. Chances were good that he’d be back soon. He’d charged the small company with monitoring the still smoldering corpse of the plant monster for another two days, and had given them free reign to do whatever they wanted otherwise. The monks had also agreed to allow the crew of The Nightmare to stay with them for the day, to get some rest.
Breakfast and lunch were an odd assortment of clashing tastes. A long table was set out with plates of bacon, ham, and sausages produced from the now-dismantled wagon. There were heaping trays of the roast goat that Carkus and Zimi had provided. Even Kahlin had produced several exotic varieties of flower and herb that most of them had never seen before. Leliana bit into a juicy, bright blue succulent. Thick gel flooded her mouth at the first bite. Rather than being disturbing, the viscous liquid was tangy, with a sweet citrus bite that reminded her of the orange she received for a birthday one year.
Leliana closed her eyes for a minute to let the sweetness take over.
Kahlin was quick to warn about the dangers of wandering through the woods eating brightly colored plants. These were ones he knew to be safe through years of research, and it was his pleasure to share part of himself with the rest of the group this once.
Day stretched into evening, the bright sun marching beneath the treeline much too early for anyone’s liking. Storm clouds threatened to make the night even colder than the one before. The wide clearing was completely shrouded in shadow by the time the protector ambled in. “Hello brothers and sisters. All is well, I hope?”
They all nodded an affirmative, offering him some of the leftovers that had yet to be stowed. He accepted gratefully, sitting in the freshly rebuilt wagon and catching up with everyone. He got down to business once he’d finished eating.
“I believe I have found a suitable group to place you five with.” He said. “Another small group, a ship crew, newly come to the main body. I’ll be happy to take you once it’s a bit more safe. Tomorrow morning, most likely.”
Karina and Leliana shared a glance. They weren’t quite ready to be separated again.
“Leliana,” he continued. “I believe I have also located a suitable position for you, if you still wish to train yourself. However-” He raised a hand, preempting her objection. “You are in no condition for training right now. You are in remarkable shape all things considered, but I’ll come to check you again in one week’s time. It should be interesting to see how you fare, even if you’re not fully recovered by then.”
She felt a little guilty about the relief that washed through her at those words. It’s not like she had anything pressing to be doing, she tried to remind herself. The urge to train every single day hadn’t subsided since she’d left the facility, and even now her muscles ached to be used. Well, that didn’t mean she had to spent the whole week sitting on her hands. She would use the time to eat, regain her strength, and get to know her peers a bit. Who knew, she might even make a friend or two.