Chapter 58 of Lead Heart is up, please enjoy it!
“Captain.” Geoff, the scrawny teen she’d appointed runner, sprinted over the broken down warehouse doors. He had to take a minute to catch his breath. “Police Chief Rotham is at fifth and Cannister flying the white ribbon, ma’am. Officer Gently ordered me to fetch you!”
“Police Chief?” Leliana narrowed her eyes. “White ribbon? Sounds like a trap, eh?”
“I’m not sure, ma’am. I met Riggs and Staples on my way here, they both said the shooting stopped all at once.”
Damn. They were a few hours from controlling a full twenty five percent of the city after their wild recruiting successes overnight. This fool better not be trying to ruin my plans. She allowed herself to be escorted through the decimated streets, shattered glass and craters revealed all too clearly the struggles they’d fought through. She walked up Fifth avenue for about a mile. She noted with mild amusement that the intersection was just down the street from the original site of the protest. Gods, that was yesterday! Leliana felt as though she’d aged at least a year since that first demonstration. She crouched behind the brick-and-wire barricade next to Gently.
“Alright, I’m here,” she whispered. “What’s the situation?”
Gently frowned. “Dunno, cap. Suits stopped shootin fer awhile and then ol’ Chief sends me a sharp dressed lad waving the white flag, askin’ for a meetin’ to discuss our terms. Do we have terms?”
Leliana clapped him on the shoulder, thanking the man before she sauntered into the intersection. This had been a particularly tough nut to crack, Gently’s crew had been stalled here for hours. The air was sour with burnt gunpowder and sulfur, and the street had been chewed up into gravel by this point. Gently had a good head on his shoulders though, that’s why she’d assigned him to attack the barracks and security offices.
She arrived at the midway point and stopped.
Several faces peeked out from the stone barriers on the other side, disappearing immediately. She wasn’t kept waiting. Police Chief Rotham stepped smartly out into the street, the white ribbon around his shoulder flapping gently in the wind. The man had red-rimmed eyes like he’d had a rough night, yet that didn’t detract from the overwhelming sense of authority he exuded. He came to a stop two meters from her, hands crossed over a cane so she could see them both. “Good morning.” He called. “I am Police Chief Rotham de Victor. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with, today?”
A million cool sounding names whizzed through her mind before she halted that train of thought. No no, remember the last time I tried making something up. Outwardly, she wiggled her own empty hands and crossed her arms. “Leliana. Just Leliana.”
He gave a small bow. “Leliana. You are behind this sudden rebellion, are you? It’s never gotten quite so out of hand before. You must be a skilled orator.”
“Thanks.” She ignored the statement. There were two dozen men behind the chief, all armed but not aimed at her. Despite herself, she glanced behind and noticed her own men affecting a similar stance. It welled an odd sense of pride in her. Good job, guys.
“I’ll get right to it, then.” He clapped once, and a young man came to stand behind him holding a pen and notepad. “What is it you want?”
“Uh, want?” She looked behind her, dirty clothes hanging off lean frames that hadn’t eaten since yesterday. “Ah, we want…better food! And better pay!”
“Yeah!” The Poors’ chorused.
“Yeah, we get scat to eat around here, it’s damn unfair. And cleaner air! And tear down those gates – we ain’t children, we don’t need no damned curfew.” She mentally ticked the short list of things she remembered hearing the men complain about, hoping it was enough. She put on a look she hoped was intimidating. “We’re human, after all. We deserve to live like one!” More disgruntled affirmations from the men. Word had gotten around to the other companies about her meeting, and there was a growing crowd of the Poors residents listening in.
“Alright.” Rotham nodded, flicking a hand at the young man who started scribbling furiously. “Done. Shall we stop all this, then?”
“…What?” There was a stunned silence that quickly broke into an excited clamor. “W-wait!” She had to stall. “It’s a trap, obviously! Nobody would give in that easily after what we’ve done.”
The silence fell again.
Rotham stood a little straighter. “No trick, I assure you. Men, holster your weapons.” They obeyed at a wave from the chief. “I’ve been authorized in the name of the Overseer to approve any reasonable demands. These are reasonable, I think, and perhaps long overdue.”
She felt a little bad, trying to sabotage the needs of all these people. But she had an agenda to keep! While she stumbled over her own thoughts, Rotham upped the ante. “I’ll have crews to dismantle the gates within the hour.” He sensed her hesitation and latched onto his advantage with expert precision. “In good faith, I also tell you this. Confidential information until now. A grave danger approaches our town, even now. A monstrous plague, and an army of vagabonds! Both, individually, would pose no problem. Together, they could spell our doom.”
He leaned over the cane to stare into their faces, her little force paying rapt attention.
“I think it only fair, with these concessions, you use the arms you took up against Gungrave once again, this time in its defense, beyond the wall.”
It fell deathly quiet. Leliana started to believe she’d be able to turn this around.
“Any man who takes a post will be paid five red galleons per day.” And just like that, she lost them.
Leliana was suddenly in the middle of a smiling, laughing group of men and women, hugging and thanking her before running over to offer their services. She smiled and waited until the streets were a chaotic mess of bodies, then melted back into an alleyway to make her escape. “Dammit. DAMMIT!” This was the OPPOSITE of what she was going for.
It was all well and good for the residents of the Poors, and she was happy for them…kind of. Tomorrow hung over her like a black cloud. “Better find the other two.”
Climbing to the top of a multi-story shopping plaza, Leliana got a good lay of the land. The garage they parked the buggy in was pretty close, actually. That meant the industrial shopping district Teena ran off into was just a bit South, toward the mountains.
She drifted aimlessly uphill, dodging potholes and breathing fetid air, unwashed bodies and smog mingling into something more powerful. There was no concept of the passage of time while she ruminated on how horribly she’d failed.
“OY! You come down from there RIGHT NOW!”
“That sounds familiar.” Leliana followed the crowd to the scene of the commotion. A fat, squinty-eyed man clung gasping to the bottom of a… giant, metal man?
The design was rather crude, almost more of a stick figure, but impressive nonetheless. And there, dangling from the jaw, was her tiny, pink-headed quarry. Teena was wearing a big pair of goggles secured with a leather strap and hung onto the metallic surface like some pink-haired monkey. She was elbow deep in the neck, yelling at the poor man sliding down the metal shin. “This is amazing!” She was ignoring his desperate attempts to get her away. “I think if you substituted these Atlas cogs for a set of three-and-one it would give you better torque, even if the speed was marginally decreased. Do you need to turn the head that fast anyw- LELIANA!” She suddenly spotted her friend looking up from the crowd.
Everyone paused to look around.
Then Teena was airborne, giving something of a tiny warcry all the way down. “Woooooo!” Leliana’s heart skipped a beat and there were gasps and screams from the onloookers. Leliana shoved her way through a myriad of gawkers, vaulting into the air to catch Teena.
Teena wrapped her arms around Leliana’s neck once she was safely in the other girls’ arms. “You won’t believe the things we’ve seen here it’s so WONDERFUL I’ve bought so many things it’ll be such a shame to blow it all up!” Most of the crowd was dispersing into the market, though many were alarmed at that last remark. The proprietor whom Leliana assumed was in charge of showcasing the metal giant stomped over to glare them down. “She with you!?” He was still yelling. “This one has been up my arse three ways to Sunday! The guards is already on the way so you stay right here!”
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” Leliana slapped the man on the back, tossing him to the ground. “Let the guard know if she’s caused any damage to your toys, they should be able to spot you the money.”
He sputtered and spat, but wasn’t to his feet in time to stop the two girls from retreating.
“Sooo, how did your riot go?” Teena sang once they were alone.
“How did you know that was me?” Leliana jogged generally downhill, away from the crowded upper market to get their bearings. “Where’s Karina, anyway?”
“She was right behind me, I thought? Ah, there she is!” Karina padded down the street the same way Leliana had just come from, rosy cheeks nearly as red as her tangled hair.
“Damn, you’re a mess,” Leliana said, “you alright?”
“Fine,” Karina replied breathlessly. “I was just trying to finance my sisters’ impossible spending habits. How did your riot go?”
“Waaah!” Teena fell flat as Leliana’s arms went limp.
“How did you both know it was me?”
“Well we left you alone for more five minutes in a crowded metropolitan area,” Teena was nodding sagely. “Something like that was bound to happen.”
Karina laughed. “It was Teena’s guess, since we didn’t see you the entire day.”
Leliana sighed. “Not good. Or… good? I led an army of oppressed lower class against their oppressors, but the city up and gave in to their demands just a little while ago.” She looked away. “Now they’re sending those guys to reinforce the pass.”
The other two gaped. “That’s…” Karina hesitated.
“We’re supposed to make fewer armed guards, not more!” Teena shouted.
“I know, I know. I was going to shoot off that flare soon! Damn.” She punched a fist into one hand. “I should’ve just taken the time yesterday when all those ships were buzzing around away from the mountains.”
Teena grinned evilly, tapping her fingers together and glancing around all shifty-eyed. “Speaking of yesterday,” she said quietly.
Karina’s eyes narrowed, and Leliana got to one knee to listen.
“I did some reconnaissance, and I came up with some ideas about how we could reroute one of those wall turrets to allow manual control. I bought everything we need!”
“Reconna- now wait just one blasted minute,” Karina crossed her arms. “Is that why you dragged me on that stupid tour?”
Teena giggled. “Yeah, well the important bits I needed were just the teensy in the middle,” she spread her two index fingers just a hair’s width apart, “but you have to admit the rest of the tour was REALLY interesting!”
Karina was stupefied. “But…That’s what you had me lugging all the way across this godsforsaken pit of a town?” She crossed her arms and huffed. Teena giggled again.
“Gentlewomen. Step into my office.”
Lilith pressed her fingers into the bridge of her nose and sighed. “You lost control of a quarter of the city and opted not to inform me?”
The Overseer bristled. “Now you see here, this is still my town Lilith. I don’t require permission to end an uprising when you say we’re about to be overrun by, by monsters!.”
Well, noon didn’t seem like too early to start drinking after all. Lilith poured herself a glass of wine and stared out at the city. “Where to next, girl?”