Chapter 63 of Lead Heart is ready to go!
Cold, crisp mountain air filled his lungs as Antros breathed in his newfound freedom. The Continental Drifters were laid back enough to sleep in until noon, and disciplined enough to roll out of bed ready to march. No slacking, no moaning.
His kind of people.
“Bout ready to go, boy?” Gramps was the unofficial leader of the corp. Having traveled in merc bands for over a decade and still counting all four limbs, it was a good idea to follow his lead anyway.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, old man. Where to?”
Gramps shrugged. “Never much one for planning,” he said. “Figure we head West ‘til we hit the coast, turn South if nothin’ comes up.” The two walked in step back to the rest of the group. “Shame them fellers went North for the winter. No money to be made that way,” he grunted.
“It was a nice reprieve if I’m honest,” Antros drained his water skin and moved to refill it. “I’m used to working with idiots. Was real nice working with-” A hair-raising screech split the air, cutting him off and turning twenty pairs of eyes skyward.
“Sky eater?” Silliby’s magnifying glasses, always near to hand, were to his face in a second. Everyone hushed while they listened for the second cry.
“Awful low, init?” Romper broke the silence to ask. Odd pairings of prey and predators soared overhead, undeviating from a straight path back toward Blind Man’s Pass.
Odd…” Gramps commented after an extended silence. “Ain’t usually see birds go North for-”
Antros ducked into a roll a fraction of a second before two giant talons would’ve cleaved him in two. “WHAT -” A massive beak smacked him mid-dive and sprawled him across the dirt. A roll to the left saved him, barely, from getting skewered like a kebab. He finally got a good look at the thing; those wings must have been at least fifteen meters wide! The sky eater’s skin was sick and slimy, rotten flesh sloughing off every time it flapped its wings. The moment of hesitation cost him, and a huge, yellowed beak clamped down on his hips and lifted him into the air.
“AHHH!” He’d never felt anything like it. White-hot pain exploded from his knees to his ribs, each bone in the affected area screaming for relief.
“MAN IN THE MIDDLE!” Gramps bellowed.
The squad went full business mode at his command, fanning out into a loose ring with the winged lizard in the center. It had enough time to get a good look at the men around it before they laid into the beast with everything they had. Gunshots and small explosives choked the air with a thick fog that infiltrated noses, mouths, and eyes.
The beast shrieked, a shrill sound known for paralyzing prey at a distance. Through tear-soaked eyes, Antros saw the outline of the animal with a marked lack of wings. The men tore into the monster methodically, as a well trained unit, until it finally crashed to the ground.
Antros ripped himself free of the spasming beak. The enormous body jerked and shook in a freakish way while half a dozen little black… things clawed their way out of it, not unlike what he imagined it would look like if your own skeleton clawed its way out of your skin. He shuddered, unholstered his revolvers, and emptied both cylinders into the little bastards.
When the smoke cleared this time, everything not human lay dead.
“Scats’ name, what is this thing? What are those things!”
Antros caught a nose full of putrescence while the zombified animal was being riddled with holes and gagged when he tried to reply. His mind reeled from the reality of the twisted animal in front of him, and yet…
Something told him he should know something about this. Gramps appeared to his left, dripping concern, but Antros held up a finger. If he lost his train of thought now…
There it was. The Speaker and that crazy lady, right after they’d just finished beating on that meek navy with the monks. “These must be what that old lady was talking about,” he said, mainly to himself.
“Come again?” Romper asked.
“That crazy flit with the lackeys and the weird-ass ship a few days back,” he explained. “She told the Speaker she was chasing an infection that kills…everything.” Another memory popped up, unbidden. He swallowed hard.
The freak with the lizard plopped into the middle of negotiations. “Prot slipped that new Leliana girl…” And that evil bat practically wet herself, “It sounds like my cure might be there too”
“Aw damn.” He sighed. “I think I just morally obliged myself into another rescue.”
“Morals? HA!” Gramps elbowed him in the ribs. “Only morals I got are the ones in my wallet, Antros m’boy. Those monks can handle a few wild birds, besides!” He chuckled, then took a look at Antros and sobered up. “You serious?” The older man turned to follow his gaze.
Antros looked to the horizon, drawing another deep, putrid this time, breath, dreading his near future. The skies over the forest to the South were no longer the placid, peaceful skies he’d sailed through a month ago. The air was clogged with every sort of flying thing he could imagine, swarming like a pissed off hive of hag bees. He definitely spotted at least one more sky eater.
“Never better. Least this time I won’t have to jump from an airship.”