Time to catch up with our sisters!
“You better keep your hands to yourself you evil mongrel, or I’ll keep them for you!”
Karina sighed, her cheeks warming as Teena put up her fists.
“Wha-? I can’t even reach that low to the ground, shorty. Back in line!” The grey-uniformed man shoved Teena with the butt of his rifle, recoiling as it was yanked it from his hands. He grabbed for it, and she pivoted and shattered the weapon all over the pavement.
“Ha! Just as I thought. Flimsy piss-iron for a flimsy man. Bet your gran smelted the ore in her oven before a nice round of biscuits.”
Karina covered her crimson cheeks with her hands and allowed her hair to drape over her face. She’s so embarrassing. She jolted when she was jabbed between the shoulder blades, muttering while she resumed walking.
“Stop pestering the prisoners.” An older man barked, this one in a blue uniform. “Overseer wants ‘em in his office yesterday. Move!”
“Make me!” Teena took another swing.
“You’ve had your fun, girly. You been caught, now it’s time to face the music.” He growled.
“I bet the music is as bad as your hardware,” Teena huffed under her breath, then obediently turned and followed.
The girls were escorted through a wild maze of increasingly complex wires and tubes and gauges, all cramming together tighter and harder until the walls were a solid mass of copper spaghetti. They marched parallel to the southwestern wall for about twenty minutes, as far as Karina could figure. It was easy to keep track of time with the huge wall-mounted cannons firing rhythmically every sixty seconds, but they’d cut off about midway through the forced march.
The city was like an overturned anthill, thousands of bodies all crammed in the streets, all trying to be on their way at once. It was almost a relief when they finally sidestepped the busy street onto a well-manicured plaza. There was a small patch of grass and a few scraggly trees surrounding the most dour looking fountain Karina had ever seen. They were in a sprawling complex of simple, squat bunker-like buildings. They were all single story, splayed in a wagon-wheel pattern with the ‘spoke’ of the wheel clearly the command center. It was taller, twenty, maybe thirty meters high, and built like it was supposed to stand against the end of the world.
“Now this is architecture,” Teena’s eyes sparkled. “Do you still have the lift? Can I see the engine room? Give me five minutes to take it apart. I’ll be good, I promise!”
Teena crossed her arms. “No wonder the guys in the South say Gungrave was the technological capitol of the-”
“I said QUIET!” He snapped.
“Teena,” Karina chimed in. “You’ll hurt their feelings if you keep being so mean.” She was awarded a sharp look and a deep sigh from the officer.
“Gods, let’s use the lift. Anything to get them out of my life faster.”
The lift turned out to be a box of solid steel grates connected to a pulley somewhere inside the building. It slid up and down the outside wall on a track, “which would probably be a lot faster if they let it hang free instead of scaling the side of the building.” Karina giggled as her sister belted out a verbal essay on the working conditions of the machinery and promised to make it run more efficiently if they’d just give her a chance. As soon as the doors to the third floor opened up, she and Teena were practically hurled into the waiting soldiers’ arms.
“Here, take them. By the gods take them from me now!”
Karina stumbled into a dimly lit corridor, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. There were windows every few meters down the length of it, but they were all shaded from the outside. There was no other decor. They were pushed into a room on the far end moments later to a dour-faced welcoming committee.
“What is this?” A big guy in a wrinkled uniform snarled as the door opened.
“The two female captives, sir. We caught them against the South wall artillery, CDE Scapps ordered them directly to you sir.”
Overseer Mortimus snatched up the sealed letter and scanned its contents. His eyes widened. “I got word that we’d fixed the guns. These two are responsible?”
Teena laughed. “It’s not like you really tried to stop them from being hijacked. I coulda broke those things one eye and two arms short!”
“Not sure how you’d survive getting any shorter,” the Overseer said. “Nevertheless, that does answer my question, in a manner of speaking. What do you have to say for yourselves? How many countless lives had to be lost for your bloodlust to be sated?”
“Now you listen here-!”
Karina trod on her sister’s feet to shut her up a second. There were times for posturing and times for finesse, and this was no time for posture. “If I may, your lordship. The cannons were a diversion, a protective barrier between our friends and your soldiers, so they could escape before you turned the guns on us. We certainly didn’t kill anyone, according to our lookout.”
“She escaped before we were taken. I don’t know her name.” Karina said.
He grumbled into his hand, stroking his chin for a moment. Then he glared at a withered old man in a bathrobe on the other side of the war table. “Is she lying?”
The older man hesitated. “I don’t…believe so, Overseer. Reporting appears to agree, at least. A trench of craters half a dozen meters deep now runs South away from the wall, in fact.”
The Overseer paced the room, occasionally stopping to look out a window or read through a scrap of parchment. “These gods-damned vagabonds, why can’t they leave us in peace.” Then he seemed to remember they were in the room with him and directed his question, less rhetorical this time. “Why can’t you bastards leave us in peace? What did you hope to gain from the attack this time?”
Teena piped up again, and Karina tripped as the engineer took a half step forward to avoid being stepped on again. “What do we hope to gain? How dare you! You bunch of bullies, we were just passing through! We’re not the jerks setting up a whole army to keep some poor refugees off our doorsteps.”
“Passing through? Last time you passed through your people left half my city in shambles. It took years to recover economically.” He growled.
“The last time I was in Gungrave I was choking on your smoggy garbage air from the deck of an airship, I didn’t break nothin’.” Teena countered.
“And what are you doing hijacking our most important defense, exactly? Wait-” The Overseer double-snapped at a teen behind him, “how did you hijack our most important defenses?” The page at his back whipped open a yellowed notebook and began scribbling furiously.
“Well. It all began when I was back in school in Vinyard next to Craggy bay.” Teena started. “I was on a field trip to the-”
“PLEASE START WITH THE EVENTS THAT TRANSPIRED TODAY.”
Teena scoffed. “Alright but you should know this sort of impatience is why you’re losing your touch as a military leader of the world.” Karina wasn’t sure whether to laugh at her sister, or cry at her inevitable hanging. “So there we were, slinking through the dark like a couple of ne’erdowells on a clandestine mission through hostile territory.” Teena recounted the day’s events with excruciating detail and speaking in a conspiratorial whisper the entire time. By the time she’d started in on the elevator scene the Overseer had had quite enough.
“Enough, ENOUGH. I get the-” Mortimus rifled through a stack of fresh reports wearily and suddenly cut off. He stomped to the nearest window. “Thrice damn that cursed woman. General Smite,” he whirled on the old man, “that infection of Lilith’s has arrived. We need to shift focus, defense, fortify the men. See if we can’t use those bastards in the field as a meat-shield.”
“YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” Teena broke from her guard to peek through the window. “They could be killed, we have to wave them through! YOU GUYS!” She waved through the window. “RUN YOU GUYS!”
Mortimus shoved her away. “Take them to the basement, I don’t have time for this anymore.”
“You bastard I’ll kick your-” Teena broke off as her sister intervened.
“Not now. They’ll take care of themselves,” she whispered. Better to break out of a prison cell than be shot in the streets or, whatever served as capital justice around here.
They were surrounded immediately, but that didn’t deter Teena from shooting her sister a dirty look and stomping through the open door. “Fine!” The rest of the party scrambled to catch up and get control of the situation, Karina fighting through the soldiers to walk next to her sister.
Without warning, the window to her left exploded inward, spraying shards of plate glass every which way. Before she recovered her wits Karina found herself in a hard embrace, picked up off the ground like a babe, followed by Teena’s cry of surprise.
One man went flying through another solid window on the opposite side of the corridor, smashing it out of place. The wind whistling in her ear told her she was plummeting out the window before her mind caught up with her eyes to see the same. Karina’s heart leapt into her throat as the ground rushed up to meet her.
Karina was set gently on her feet.
Teena was elevated just above eye-level, her arms wrapped around the shoulders of a sturdy blond girl, a smile plastered to them both.
“Hey guys,” Leliana said. “Long story short, we gotta go. Run!”