Please enjoy chapter 45 of Lead Heart –
The days following their introductions to camp, time whizzed by in a blur. Leliana was dragged from clique to clique behind the other two girls on a mission to meet everyone and see everything. Led Mostly by Teena. She spotted unique and interesting things every single day that she simply had to talk to the owner about. A backpack that folded out into a tent, a tamed panther. Anything shiny. And while her muscles felt every second of inactivity, Leliana decided that she enjoyed learning about other peoples’ pasts too, their reasons for escaping their old lives, and their future aspirations.
Antros, surprisingly, had hit it off with a collection of mercenaries and was seriously considering joining their band. If only for the travel opportunities.
She learned that the ‘main camp’ was, in reality, just a wandering mob of people with a protective ring of trained monks. She knew all too well what they needed protection from, shuddering involuntarily as she remembered the enormous jaded serpent. Leliana cringed when she passed a score of new mothers breastfeeding around a campfire on the third night. Her imagination helpfully supplied an image of the huge snake having its way with these people. The monks covered the basics: food, water, and protection, but not much else.
The entire mob was mobile during the day, walking at a constant, lazy pace. Lazy enough that a person in the middle of the pack could stop to rest, conduct business, or even nap, and would have almost a half hour before the end of the column caught up to them. It didn’t seem like a march so much as a leisurely walk through the open plains. At night, the center of the camp was transformed into a bazaar in which services and objects were traded in the absence of any real currency. Things like pastries, candy, herbs, fur, leather, dried meats and new shoes could all be traded for.
Leliana was surprised to learn that a majority of the roughly one thousand people in the traveling horde were refugees. Large cities waging war over territory, people, or resources, had a habit of wiping out small settlements in order to build something better. Many of the inhabitants were run off into the wilds, and many didn’t survive. The reputation of the wandering monks preceded them, and many poor and working class people living in slums had abandoned their old lives for a chance at some change.
Of course, this meant that a lot of the travelers were used to living rough, taking what they wanted from whom they wanted. This created some friction when two belligerent personalities clashed.
“OY! I wuzzn’t talkin’a you, bitch.” A scrappy looking guy, dressed in tatters and with bloodshot eyes, gripped a terrified Teena by the collar and slurred at Leliana. “But ‘f you wanna go I’ll be happy to oblige. It’s been too long since me knickers dropped.”
“I…” Leliana had no idea what the hells she’d just heard, but she was pretty sure she was offended. “You don’t make any sense. Put my friend down or I’ll break you in half.”
“She’ll do it!” Teena squeaked, her feet kicking the air.
“Oh ho ho.” With his free hand, the drunk snapped his fingers, summoning two misshapen cronies to his side. “Clem. Dog. Hold that one down and stuff her. We gonna drag her out to the woods tonight.” His slick sneer twisted Leliana’s stomach.
Why in the hells was this guy under the monk’s protection? There was a flash of dark red hair and suddenly Karina was whispering into Leliana’s ear. Leliana’s eyes darkened.
Without a word, she stepped into the biggest crony and knocked him senseless with the back of her hand. Before his eyes had even rolled back, she’d grabbed and tossed him into the air. When his waist was level with her head, Leliana’s hands wrapped around the man’s feet, swinging him into his friend like a club. They collapsed with a sickening crunch.
They hadn’t even hit the ground before Leliana was halfway to their leader.
“H-hey now.” The man’s eyes bulged and he held up Teena like a shield. “You can just stay right there, or I’ll..I’ll hurt your f-AAAAH!” She hadn’t even slowed, pleasure welling inside of her as his wrist bones ground and separated in her clenched fist. Teena fell and made a hasty retreat while her attacker’s hand suddenly jutted at the wrong angles.
“You sag sucking, scat licking son of a beggar.” Leliana spit. He slapped at her weakly, drool pooling on his tunic. She couldn’t deny how good the tears rolling down his face made her feel. Damn, it had been a long time since those bastards at the lab had brought her a prisoner to break, hadn’t it? She crushed his nose with her forehead and dropped him with a solid kick to the gut, her vision tinged red at the edges. Leliana dragged him onto her shoulders, then over her head-
“Wait!” Karina shouted. She’d rushed over to check on her sister and was even now hoisting the small woman onto her own shoulders. “This isn’t the place for that.” She said, quieter and with a meaningful look into Leliana’s eyes.
“I warned him. Now I’m going to break him in half.” Adrenaline surged and Leliana’s nostrils flared before she tossed him up again.
“Don’t you do it.” Her friend repeated.
She sighed, and the man’s body crumple to the ground.
“Why?” She snapped. Leliana put a finger to Karina’s chest, “you told me he was going to-”
“I know what I said.” Karina cut her off smoothly, speaking increasingly lower and looking nervously at the throng who’d gathered to watch. “But he’s defeated. Look at him. He couldn’t hurt anyone if he wanted to.” The three unconscious men lay still in the grass, presumably still alive. “I feel the same as you,” she continued under her breath, her words for Leliana alone. “But if we killed or maimed every depraved man who threatened us, we’d be killed in our sleep.” She stressed. “I don’t doubt that you could actually fight while you slept, but I sure as hell can not. And I’ve been by your side for days now.”
Leliana’s vision cleared while she considered the situation. She could recall more than one book she’d read which detailed the usage of friends and family as leverage against a target. The faces watching the spectacle weren’t all of fear either, she realized. There was a lot of malice staring back. “Well…” She grumbled, not wanting the smaller girl to be right. “Can I castrate them?”
Leliana stalked away through the crowd, most of whom gave her a wide berth. She spotted a few brown robes mingled among the people, most of whom seemed satisfied the hostilities were finished. One robed young woman caught her eye and nodded, a small smile tugging at her lips.
Still, the rage inside Leliana had been denied sweet release. She glared at everyone who’d meet her gaze. Most backed away, though several stared back. No clue where to go, Leliana let her feet carry her without direction until she found herself alone, outside the pack. A monk drifted by, nodding a silent greeting before moving on. Leliana spent many long minutes fuming, staring at passersby and entertaining ways she could’ve killed the drunken pervert. She’d met a lot of these people over the last week. They weren’t bad, she admitted. She’d shared more campfires with more people in the last five days than she’d been around collectively in the entire rest of her life.
But dammit, she’d been bred to fight.
The rush of violence coursed through her like a drug, addictive and uplifting in its promises. While wrestling for control of herself, she became acutely aware of the smell of sweat and copper. Was that blood on her shirt? Damn, she’d missed that. She must have looked like a crazed murderer storming through hundreds of people, death in her eyes and on her clothes.
“Hahaha.” Pent up fury deflated suddenly under wracks of laughter that gripped her without warning. “Hahahaha, HA HA HAAA!” Leliana laughed herself hoarse and collapsed to her knees exhausted. “Not killing people is harder than I expected.”
“Ah, Leliana. It is excellent to find you in a light mood.” Said a familiar voice.
She swiped her eyes and held a steadying breath. “Protector, hi.” She noticed Karina heading this way in the distance as she turned to face Protector Atreides. “What can I do for you?”
“I had hoped to have a word with you after my meeting with the Speaker, yet such serendipitous circumstances like these cannot be ignored. Are you free?” He waited for her silent nod before continuing. “I am sure you are aware that Bristol has invited Teena to study under him during the rest next week. I am overjoyed, for the shadow which has dampened his spirit since the loss of his last partner I can see dissolving.” Leliana kept her expression neutral, despite the whirlwind news that had just blown her mind. He continued. “We had some concern over her safety in the event he needed to be called away, or if another great monster appeared.”
He was much more chatty than usual, she realized, and wondered why. Was he actually this talkative all the time? She had gotten the impression that he was a particularly reserved man, at least among the war brothers who didn’t hold themselves to the vows of silence. Maybe he was just… Suddenly his smile faded, his eyes searching her own. Waiting.
He’d asked her a question while she was distracted.
“I’m sorry… What?” She asked dumbly.
“I asked if you would like to study under Vea while Teena is with Bristol. Then keep an eye on Teena if the rest of Vea’s squad are occupied.”
Another brain explosion. “Me? Vea? Why would, I mean, did you-” Leliana stumbled over the words, irritated at how girly she sounded. She coughed took a slow breath. “It would be my pleasure?”
He smiled. “Excellent. Bristol will be coming by tomorrow at the mid-morning meal, picking up supplies as well as Teena. Meet them behind the cook’s pavilion, in the North quarter.” They exchanged a few pleasantries and wished the other well before the Protector continued toward his meeting with the Speaker.
Karina waved to the man who’d saved her and the crew as he left. “We were going to tell everyone at dinner tonight.” She said. “Teena’s so excited to go back, she won’t stop talking to me about the tools he had.”
“I can appreciate professional pride in one’s tools.” Leliana smiled. She missed the rifle she’d lost in the airship battle. She found herself reaching for it occasionally, disappointed each and every time she turned up empty handed.
“I’d hoped you and I could hang out while she was gone.” Karina mentioned wistfully. “It’s been a fun week.”
“Yeah it has.” Leliana agreed. “It sounds like it’s just for a week though. And it’s only mid-afternoon, we should be setting up camp soon. Let’s grab dinner and find a quiet place to eat.” She suggested.
And they did.
The two girls ate the rice and vegetables offered that night slowly, talking well into the night.
Later the following morning, after the main group was well on its way, three men awoke still in the previous night’s encampment. Alone.