Chapter 48 of Lead Heart is up, please enjoy it.
Thunder washed over the small clearing before dawn broke, the stars still twinkling in the sky. The jagged mountain peaks to the North were obscured by a thick blanket of clouds, though Leliana wasn’t seeing any sparks in the storm just yet. There was a swirl of dead leaves as Vea jumped down from her elevated vantage point to land between Leliana and Teena.
“That is going to be a problem,” she grimaced. “We will need to leave early today, to offer our aid in beginning the march in earnest.” She thumped the top of Bristol’s wagon as she spoke before collecting her bag. Leliana frowned.
“Why does it matter?”
“We march through Blind Man’s pass in less than two weeks’ time,” the monk flattened her hand, pointing the direction of the pass. “There is no way through the Watcher mountains for hundreds of miles. If we do not make it through before the snows come, many in our care will die.”
Teena hopped down from her perch atop Bristol’s cart, the fruits of yesterday’s inventing strapped securely to either foot. “I’m ready!” She was roughly equal to Leliana’s chest now, standing on two metal stilts each with a thick spring wound around one collapsible limb, while a second piece supported her weight fully.
“What the hells is that?” Leliana dropped to the floor to get a closer look.
“My springy sprinters!”
“Do you name anything normal names?”
“Not if I can help it!”
Leliana smiled in spite of herself. The small girl’s excitement was too damn infectious. “Alright, what do they do. Springy sprint?” Teena hopped back and forth from foot to foot with barely constrained glee.
“They’re my new shoes,” she excitedly performed a backflip.
“I made them yesterday while you were out with Vea and now nobody’s gonna have to carry me on their shoulders anymore because I can run just as fast as everyone else thank you very much.” The tiny tinker streaked across the field, stopped herself by bouncing off of a tree, and zoomed back. A fifty meter trip in under twenty seconds, a far cry from what she could’ve managed the day before. “The pegs recoil after hitting the ground to minimize the chance of them getting caught ommmhmmm nmmhmm.” Teena didn’t stop talking until she completed her explanation, despite the big hand materializing over her mouth halfway through.
“More importantly,” Leliana rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “You think they could fit me?”
“You’re fast enough!”
They laughed as they got ready together, and Leliana realized she’d allowed herself to relax in the last couple of days. Probably shouldn’t get used to that, she thought to herself.
“I don’t get it, Vea,” Teena wondered. “Why did everyone take a break for an entire week if we’re suddenly behind schedule?” Bristol’s booming voice nearly knocked her off the sprinters. “Waah!”
“They’ve been walking for months, lass!” He popped out of the wagon like a prairie dog. “Most o’ the folk we pick up out here are half-starved or hurt, after all. We can’t expect ‘em to march hundreds of miles and then climb a mountain at the nips of winter!”
“I guess that makes some sense.”
Leliana pestered Teena about making a bigger pair of springy sprinters to play with, and possibly rename, while Bristol made a series of adjustments to his cart. He flipped a couple of flaps and latches with a practiced hand, and ducked beneath the front of the wagon so it rested on his shoulders. The wood and joints groaned as the big man rose to his feet, and the newly-detached parts of the cart fell around him like a wood-and-steel suit of armor. Complete with the two multi-purpose prongs jutting over each shoulder, each outfitted with a small cannon. Bristol hefted a shotgun big enough that Leliana thought she could’ve slept inside it, stuck it in a holster at his back, and struck a proud A-pose as the girls’ jaws hit the ground.
“Like it?” He smiled.
“What in the actual-” While Leliana dug for words, Teena gushed more than enough for the both of them.
“Ohmygosh that is the coolest thing I’ve ever SEEN!” She springy-sprinted over to the touch the wooden frame and fawn over the complexity of the joints holding everything together. “Woooow that’s so cool how did you do it can you show me the schema someday?”
A shadow flitted across the rising sun. There was a flash of blue scales, and a very naked Carkus vaulted into the center of attention. “Vea, trouble ahead,” he growled. “The guys from Gungrave are doing something weird.” While he spoke, Carkus bent down and scratched a rough approximation of the pass into the dirt, drawing circles here and there. He spoke without stopping, allowed no questions until he was finished. “Zimi and I smelled something weird in the wind and went to check it out. That thunder we’ve been hearing? Not thunder. Those guys are blowing holes into the mountain, lining up the boulders and building…stick houses. Or wooden boxes. Or something I don’t know.”
This bodes ill. Did you speak with anyone there?” Vea’s face darkened.
Carkus ran a clawed hand through his previously white hair. Leliana stifled a giggle when Vea noticed the crimson stains for the first time. “I…tried?”
“They started it!”
Her mentor heaved a frustrated sigh. “I will go personally to investigate then. Bristol, can you escort them back and report to the speaker alone?”
“Wait a second,” Leliana cut him off. “If these guys are doing some shady scrap then I think we should go with you. We can help!” She pleaded.
“Come on,” she whined. “What if they put up a fight? Who knows how many of them there are out there.”
“I will be fine. Your words betray your intentions, girl. I do not intend to fight anyone. You will return with Bristol to where it is safe.”
“Carkus!” Leliana changed tactics, yelling in a stage whisper to the small, angry man. “Take me with you.”
“No,” he growled as he swung up onto Zimi’s shoulders. “I’m not a babysitter.”
“Girl-” Vea warned.
“I’ll tell the protector that Vea was the one who killed those guys.” Leliana countered.
Vea’s eyes shot wide open. “What?! Stop this-”
“Done,” Carkus laughed. “There’s no way he’ll buy it, but I love to watch the captain blush. HAHA!” He and Zimi launched into the sky, beckoning the way.
“Woooo!” Leliana bolted, dodging left and jumping right to avoid the livid monk hot on her heels as they plunged into the forest.