Chapter 54 of Lead Heart is up!
Gib crushed the air from her in a sprawling tackle, a wagon wheel soaring harmlessly a few inches over their heads.
“Thanks, love!” She admitted to herself how little she’d been paying attention after the third time. She knew two ships had been shot down, one was even a shot she’d aimed herself. The survivors had surrendered immediately.
Even now, smoke billowed in lazy rings as a third ship spiraled in a controlled crash behind her.
No time to think about that.
Jovi had spent every second of the battle engrossed in the aerial maneuvers of her adversaries. It was her against twelve of Triad’s best, and she’d managed to keep going for… Skymother’s arse, what time was it?
“Gods I’m good,” she murmured as another ship turned to flee, chasing two others already disappearing over the horizon.
The battle had taken its toll. The ships carried a lot of air-to-ground munitions, far beyond what she would expect a normal warship to be outfitted with. Most likely for the ‘plague’ the two scientists warned about – whether that story was a cover for something else or not, she hadn’t decided.
Still. Her ears rang, her eyes watered, and she’d have a headache for weeks. Not to mention the cracked ribs from Gib’s life-saving tackles.
She turned her attention skyward. A few ships seemed on the brink of bolting. She needed to encourage that – her family on the ground wouldn’t hold up to much more abuse, she knew. “Bristol!” She shouted. “Those two are moving in tandem, they have to be coordinated internally. Get someone up there to shake one down. One flees, and the other will follow!”
Bristol followed her gaze, then smiled and rubbed his hands. He tossed down a multicolored smoke flare, and three winged beasts appeared in minutes. He bellowed instructions and they took flight. Five minutes later, the two ships turned tail and fled, a newly blooded trio of fliers raining severed limbs onto the deck to encourage retreat.
She was suddenly aware of a speck on the horizon. The features of the ship were barely distinguishable, but she could already tell it was more fearsome than the rest. The vessel was shiny, brilliantly reflecting sunlight, with no visible smoke-trails or balloons keeping it aloft.
The battle raged on, but it never really had Jovi’s full attention after that. She was a cog in the machine, handing ammunition to Bristol or aiming the cannons, never truly diverting her attention. It swam through the air like a shark, lower in altitude by at least half than the others.
“Gib,” she asked, “do you see that?”
“What do you suppose it is?” Gib’s rough hands manhandled her to the side, deftly avoiding the storm of splinters one wagon wheel had just become.
“If my eyes do not deceive, that appears to be the ship you told Sekkel you could not believe!” Gib laughed despite the destruction and plopped her onto his shoulders for a better view.
“Damn,” she realized, “I think you’re right. He did say she had one of those, didn’t he?” The Speaker boomed the monks to a halt from just behind her, and Jovi’s heart nearly leapt out of her throat.
She looked around, suddenly a bit guilty about the nonchalance she and Gib held for the fight. A glance around was all it took to realize how lucky she’d been. Bodies, steel-plated and unclothed alike, were strewn about like so many discarded food wrappers at a festival. Three ships smoldered where they fell, survivors in custody and the dead lined in rows respectfully.
The warships overhead circled hungrily, but had stopped the assault. Of the original 12, only four remained. Everyone waited. For the shiny airship to approach? For the remaining warships to do something? .
A bright light slammed into the distant ship without warning. Jovi couldn’t see its source, but seeing a similar ship to this one so high up earlier that day couldn’t have been a coincidence. Right? A translucent bubble shimmered into existence around the ship as it buckled under the pressure of the light beam. The ship nearly scraped the ground as it fought the…whatever it was.
“Speaker!” A young man mounted upon a green serpent whipped his mount to the ground with a breathless warning. “The lands where yon light touches… Sir. They’re in flames!”
Before he could reply, the metallic ship responded, firing an invisible ball straight back at the source of the light. The clouds disintegrated until the invisible ring finally reached the monks. An explosion of force knocked Gib and Jovi to the ground. There was a moment of panic as those on the ground picked themselves up and ran to catch those plummeting from the sky.
“Skymother save us,” Jovi whispered.
The light beam faltered immediately, and had disappeared altogether in a matter of seconds. The metal airship settled down about one hundred meters away.
There was a hiss, and a door appeared at the top of a ramp. A platinum blond in a tight, silver jumpsuit swaggered down the ramp, tailed by half a dozen suited men hanging a variety of weapons from hips and backs. The two scientists from earlier marched behind who Jovi assumed was their leader.
The Speaker glanced behind him, as if seeking an approval. Jovi followed his gaze and saw an old crone with few teeth and less hair start to come forward through the aid of a staff. She moved excruciatingly slowly, and even the landing party waited patiently for several minutes while she made the trek. The Speaker held out an arm as the old woman arrived, and she accepted it with a smile.
“What is the meaning of this, Helga?” The woman demanded. “I need these men shooting monsters, not dying in the middle of some gods forsaken dirt patch!”
The old womans’ head bobbed up and down slowly. “Best be tellin’ them, Lilith.” She waved to the warships remaining. “Twasn’t my idea for a fleet of buggers to come a’knockin.”
“They said you started it.” The young woman scowled.
“Aye, flew their ships right overhead I did. Lined ‘em up pretty as a peacock.” The old woman chuckled. “Use your ‘ead dearie. Look around you.”
Lilith paused to consider, glancing at the broken bodies, ships and weapons. Then the Speaker chimed in.
“Your boys were pretty upset that I didn’t bark on command, threatened all sorts of death and demise to my people.” He crossed his arms. “Have you asked them about it?”
Her eyes narrowed.
The woman whirled and a hushed argument ensued, the two scientists gestured wildly as she glared. There was a crack and Brutus flew to the ground from a vicious smack. Lilith shrieked into the sky.
Then visibly wrestled herself under control.
“Death and demise, yes. But not from us-”
Before she could get more specific, a blue blur blitzed over the forest and smashed to the ground between both sides. “Speaker!” Carkus vaulted easily off of Zimi. “Gungrave have the pass pinched tight. Prot slipped that new Leliana girl and the redhead…through the mountains..” He gradually noticed the tension in the air. “He…said I should… Did I…Did I miss something?”
“Y’mean to tell me you didn’t smell fire and destruction when you flew right over it?” Bristol bristled. “I thought you could smell anything!?”
“I was distracted,” Carkus spat. “And I’ve eaten…well never you mind what I’ve been eating.”
Bristol turned pale.
“Enough,” Lilith both spat and cooed. “I was planning to visit the Overseer in Gungrave anyway. To enlist his aid in repelling the plague. It sounds like my cure might be there too, I should think he’ll be most helpful in retrieving it. Excellent.” Lilith pivoted and sauntered back toward her amazing ship. Then she stopped short, glancing over one shoulder.
“I’m going to Gungrave, you may die as you wish out here. Do not presume to stop me.”
She disappeared up that impossibly shiny ramp with a hiss and a puff of steam. The ship rose quietly and zipped into the distance.
The monks clustered around the Speaker and the mysterious old woman, most of them clamoring to know about the woman.
“Our priorities have shifted,” the Speaker interrupted, “and we find ourselves in need of a little haste. Let us put aside these questions for now. Gather our wounded and bury the dead quickly, and let’s get out of here.”
The old woman raised a hand, quieting the crowd.
“Lilith is a cruel, despicable woman whose greed knows no bounds. But she does not lie easily. I trust her word about the danger, at least. Let us forego burying the dead of the enemy this once. To better honor the safety of the living.”
The Speaker nodded. “War brothers, infiltrators – you scavenge from the wreckages,” he waved at the smoking warships. “Food, medicine, weapons, whatever you think is important. Inititates,” he addressed everyone else as the elite groups scattered, “check the dead and wounded. Bring the living here. The injured soldiers we’ll turn over to their comrades.”
Jovi looked up, noticing the four ships weaving a landing spiral. They’d be landed in just a few minutes. She broke free of watching the ships to assist her brothers and sisters just as another bone-shattering sonic boom rocked the clearing, from the direction of the mountains this time.
Stay safe you two!