The early afternoon was pleasantly cool, warmed gently by the late autumn sun. Leliana took a moment to breathe in the fresh scents of…well war and destruction now. And coal, there was a ton of coal smoke in the air. Gross.
“This is the best Gungrave has to offer?” She teased a cluster of men trying desperately to take her down. They were actually pretty good, she’d already been hit twice. The last two groups had fallen over the ledge without landing a shot. “How ‘bout I let you gents go free so you can call your mommies to wipe your asses and we can get to business?”
She giggled as they raged, ducking between and over the hail of bullets, landing in their midst. Before they could react, she kicked a few over the side of the wall and threw one more for good measure.
Things were going well.
“Fall back!” The guy with the most stripes ordered a disorganized retreat, and Leliana decided to let them. They scampered away while she dug lead balls out of her arm. “Scat!” She’d been shot dozens, hundreds of times in her lifetime, but it never stopped hurting like hells. She allowed Her vision to wander while she idly picked at the holes in her forearm. They’d heal up in a couple of-
Steel manacles cut savagely into her wrists, already soaked in blood as she was hauled inside from a beating in the courtyard. There was an ear-splitting boom. She whipped her head up, tossing the cloth wrap to the ground. There it was – a brilliantly shining, wedge-shaped airship.
“What is she doing here?”
Countless blisters burned against the wooden broom handle. Ugh, she’d been out here for hours. Were they serious with this scat? A pale, skinny woman sauntered out of the lab doors, not even deigning to look at Leliana while she passed by.
“OOF” Leliana slumped to the ground as an enormous fist piled it into her gut.
“Do be sure to remember your manners, girl.” The woman said, sounding bored as she boarded her small, shiny ship.
“Oh no. No no no.” Leliana saw that hungry look in the driver’s seat now, fixed on her. She flipped a few rude gestures at the woman.
“We haven’t taught her to unlock the inhibitor yet, mistress.” Brutus sounded whinier than usual as he pleaded with that tall, skinny bitch. She just stared daggers at the small man. “She’s unruly, she could be dangerous. To herself, and us!”
“Gods’ sakes man, pick your dignity up off the floor,” she said. “You know as well as I this attack could happen anytime. The girl has to be ready, or we’ll die anyway.” Lilith bent over, her face inches from Brutus’, and said something in a deadly whisper. Leliana couldn’t make it out, but it must have been terrifying judging by the way he started whipping on her after that.
“I’m not going back,” Leliana promised herself. Fear bubbled up with every passing, unwanted memory. It clutched at her stomach, a feeling she hadn’t had to deal with in nearly half a year.
In an explosion of light, a dazzlingly bright beam streamed out of the sky and smashed the ship into the ground with enough force to embed it up to the wings. Leliana couldn’t make out the source of the light. Hells, she could barely see anything with this light in her face.
Then the ship started to rise. Shaky at first, then faster and more steady. Instincts took over, throwing her off the wall to the winding streets below.
“Leliana-?” A tiny voice called her name, but she didn’t recognize it. She didn’t care. The men suddenly swarming the narrow walkways, leveling their weapons and yelling orders. That was what was important. She had no idea what they were saying, and she didn’t want to. It took less than a minute to plow through the craven maggots who tried to take her for… For that woman.
Flimsy barricades practically melted as she whizzed by, running as fast as she ever had. She couldn’t make out faces, but she didn’t need to make out faces. The enemy was all around her. She just needed to escape.
It wasn’t until she knocked a railcar full of soldiers off its rail when she remembered the empty warehouse. She was close. She blitzed the city streets, smashing anyone aside who dared stand in her way. In a matter of minutes, she was breathless and alone in the dark munitions warehouse she’d spent yesterday emptying. There’s no way Lilith could-
The world erupted into light again. The ground trembled beneath her feet. The heavy walls and empty racks simply rose into the air and disintegrated.
She was exposed.
With that bitch in the air, staring at her again.
Without a second thought, she was a quarter mile away jumping a fence, heading for the North exit. She had to get away.
The cold wind felt amazing as it rushed through his hair. Carkus always loved being up here with Zimi.
So much that he’d almost forgotten what he was supposed to be doing. The explosions reminded him.
“Hey pal, you and I are gonna hit this galleon with the fat balloons, alright? Let’s fly above the top and we’ll get the bottom one last.” Zimi growled and flapped to gain altitude.
An intensely reflective ship zipped out of the blue, moving so fast it nearly cut them in half. Carkus toppled from his saddle.
Zimi dove in an arc and neatly plucked his rider out of the air. Then he growled again.
“Thanks, I owe you brother. What the hells was that?” They watched the ship come to an instant stop over front wall of the city. The air shimmered for a moment, and then a brilliant bolt of light pounded it into the grass. Zimi turned abruptly, knowing full well that losing his sight would cost them their lives.
“Let’s see where that came from!” Carkus ordered, tears freezing to his face unheeded. They wove circles around the enemy ships as everyone’s attention was dominated by the illuminated struggle. The metal ship slowly trembled to life, rising into the air, before –
A sound like glass shattering was deafening. Then both the heavenly light and the ship below had vanished. “WHAT?!”
Carkus was ordering his friend to investigate when the air next to his head erupted into fire. “HOLY SCAT ZIMI! Let’s take care of those ships!” They pushed the bizarre attack to back of their minds for now; they had a job to do.
The tiny infant in Jovi’s arms was the most adorable thing she’d ever seen. “Boobooboo, it’s okay baby!” She swished her hair all over the girl’s face. The babe’s parents were nearby, leading a pack of stray children while Jovi took care of their own. “Aunt Jovi is going to keep you nice and warm, and we’ll get in a bit of a jog before tea time tonight. Okay?”
She almost smiled, but the war happening downhill startled her into crying again.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” She checked to be sure everyone else was accounted for. One hundred and four scared wanderers and three talented monks to protect them. Judging by grumbling, the war brothers had never been in quite so tight a spot before either. She watched in awe as Vea and Mandel took out crew after crew, knocking out the mobile artillery nests Gungrave had set up to shell the mountain path. Wait… That was the last one!
“Alright everyone, time to go. Nice and orderly please!”
The moment her group stepped out of cover, the Omega team member running interference on the western ledge jerked back and forth and sprouted a dozen bullet holes. Despite the screaming and panic, the crowd just hugged the mountain a little tighter and ran a little faster. We’ve got to make it. We’re going to make it!
In what would otherwise be a pleasant descent down a grassy slope, Jovi faithfully led the band of gentlefolk unerringly through the outskirts of the fighting. They had to stop and detour a few times, taking cover when things got too intense. The huge wall cannons were still singing their deadly song and kept the bulk of Gungrave’s army at bay.
She had to believe the girls were alright. She’d see them in the foothills, once this whole thing blew over. Teena’s bouncy pigtails, Karina’s cynical sarcasm.
She had to.
The ground shook, accompanied by a series of deep explosions and plumes of black smoke rising over the city. A deep throated whistling slowly rose in pitch and volume, until it was all she could hear. In a violent explosion of crunched metal, five big blocks plowed into the ground between Jovi and the escape route.
One by one, the front panels popped off in a blast of steam. One by one, five bipedal, steam-powered combat suits stepped onto the field.