Leliana stretched in the crisp morning air, drinking in the view. From the top of the watchtower, Gungrave looked like little more than a steel campfire smoking in the morning light. “Ready?”
“Almost,” Teena poked and prodded, hammered and torqued the mechanism of a huge artillery cannon with a critical eye.
“Do you think this is necessary?” Karina hesitated to look over the railing. “You said those guys yesterday sounded familiar right? Shouldn’t we run as fast as we can?” A mess of red curls bounced every time she took a step closer to the ledge, only to jump back when the wind kicked up again.
“Yeah. I owe one of ‘em a lifetime of torture,” Leliana shoved her hands in her pockets. “If I run away now, I might miss my golden ticket.”
“I told you about the army, right?” Karina’s brow furrowed. “You against how many?”
“It’s what I was trained for. Be a waste not to at least try,” Leliana shrugged.
“I think I got it!” Teena chimed. “It seems fairly straightforward, at least. We can rotate cardinal direction using the orbital trajectory modifiers clipped on either side of the seat and then there’s a pitch modulator you can rotate with your feet to adjust the angle of attack, see?”
Leliana blinked. “Okay so… spin these, left and right.. Turn these, up and down?”
“That’s what I said!”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Karina kept glancing to the distant city, nervous they would be spotted any moment. The fifty meter vertical drop on every side made her dizzy, and she gripped the railing until she was white in the knuckles. “Maybe Teena and I should go, find a safe place to wait for all this to blow over?”
“No way!” Teena hopped to her feet. “Gib and Jovi are depending on us to take out that city! After we take a good look around of course. And pick up some tools and hardware first.” She paused to take a good look at the city walls. They were only about ten meters high, but miles of copper tubing criss-crossed and ran over themselves in a tangled mess. Squares of steel perforated the top, Teena’s best guess being that they were gun bunkers and copper coolant lines. “Yeah! We’ll rough em up right after we get in and take a look at those walls! And I heard a long time ago that Gungrave pioneered moving buildings, maybe we’ll see one of those! And then we rough em up!” She punched a tiny fist into an open palm.
“Whoa, easy killer,” Leliana giggled. “We’re only supposed to turn some heads away from the pass.” She reminded. “I’m confident in my ability to be eye catching. Less confident assaulting a military capital with three people.”
Karina retreated into the bunker. “And you think painting a target on our backs is the best way to do that?” She stepped gingerly over the bodies of the tower’s previous occupants.
“There’s a huge gun in the sky and it’s my job to make trouble.” Leliana looked at Karina pointedly. “How could I not? Remember, let me know the second you see any navy ships coming this way.”
“Right well…you’re the expert.”
“Alright Teena, you’re my loader!” Leliana hopped into the gunner seat, wiggling the barrel back and forth to get a feel for it.
“Roger!” Teena kicked open a hatch, exposing clean rows of meter-long artillery shells. “Better put these on you guys,” she doled out thick earmuffs.
Leliana smiled, her heart raced. She’d never shot something this big before. She kicked the rotary pedals until the gun lined up with an identical tower to the East. “Here we go!”
A fireball erupted from the mouth of the cannon, and the BOOM rocked her entire world.
“Oh yes. Again, again!”
“Down four notches!” Teena commanded, shoving a new round into place with a clang.
In the distance, Leliana saw a cloud of dust poof up on the other side of her target. Damn, Teena was right.
Without thinking about why she was suddenly taking orders, Leliana notched the barrel down a few degrees and squeezed the trigger again. Every inch of skin tingled ferociously after the second shot.
“Alright, kick it one-eighty!”
“Wait, shouldn’t we-” Leliana started, stopping short when the distant tower went up in flames. The huge gun twisted free of its anchor and plummeted to the ground.
“Don’t question me!” Teena kicked the ammo door shut. Leliana couldn’t stifle the laugh this time.
“Aye, captain. Tell me when!”
They spun the cannon and disabled the gun to the West even as it started turning their direction. “Nice!” Leliana yelled. “Alright cap, what next?!”
Shot after shot, the cannon blazed a trail of destruction through the countryside. Food stores and any grounded ships took the brunt of the assault, though they tore through a complex almost a quarter-mile wide or more too. That turned out to be a dry-dock, judging by the number of half built ships they tore up inside.
“Damn Teena, I never knew you could shoot!”
“I never knew you couldn’t!”
The two shared a laugh.
“Time to go!” The panic in Karina’s voice rained in like a splash of cold water. A trio of cruisers drifted through the black haze over the city.
“Oh slag, that’s close. Karina, you know what to do!” Leliana launched out of the seat and almost face-planted – everything was so numb from the constant firing. She hauled Teena up onto her shoulders and took the stairs three at a time. Her legs burned, and her lungs were on fire. A rope swooshed past when she was about halfway, and Karina slid to an easy stop at the same time Leliana finally reached the bottom. She huffed, leaning on the rail for support. “Where did you find a rope?”
Karina laughed. “It was in the box next to the stairs labeled ‘rope.’”
Teena strapped into the springy sprinters and they were off, racing across a half mile of manicured grass to the shadows of a barely-constrained forest. “Did you rig the -” The tower erupted into white-hot flames, disintegrating the top half.
The three warships approached cautiously, orbiting the tower for several minutes. They met in mid-air close to the wreckage, then scattered in different directions.
“Uh oh, let’s go deeper.” Leliana brute-forced a trail through the forest for the other two, crushing tree limbs and ripping through springy vines.
“Where to now?” Karina puffed. “We’ve made a diversion, can we leave the rest to them?”
“We’re going to Gungrave!” Teena bounced. “I thought we decided that already?”
“You decided that already,” her sister grumbled.
Leliana gave a small laugh. “I’m afraid I thought the same thing. Gungrave, dead ahead.” She pointed through a break in the trees.
There were more ships in the air now, drifting dangerously between them and the city. Just a scant few miles away, an eternal column of black soot and smoke choked the air. A blemish in the otherwise cloudless sky. Gungrave was a squat town, most buildings built low to duck under the smoke of the charcoal factories. A sparkling river frolicked out of the Watchers from the South and through the industrial part of the city, only to come out thick and sullen with ash and debris on the other side. On the Northwestern side of the city sat a cluster of big warehouses and hangars all set up around a wide sliding gate inset into the wall.
“How are we going to get in with all these bastards looking for someone to shoot?” Karina eyed the skies warily. Four more airships flew in over the city, making twelve in total.
Leliana’s trigger finger itched. They’d given her a flare gun to signal the war brothers when she’d turned all the heads she could, but it wasn’t enough yet. Her gaze fell to a burning barn about a mile away, and the steam buggy parked next to it.
“I have…a plan.”