“Alright, hold on tight. I think we’ll be fine.”
“You better not drop me!”
Teena tightened her death-grip around Leliana’s neck. Leliana wheezed in one last gulp of air before she slipped over the city wall, letting gravity do its thing. The wind whipped Teena’s pigtails free in what was a mercifully, terrifyingly short trip back to the ground. Leliana cradled the smaller girl in her arms as she landed the most perfect tuck-and-roll she’d ever performed. The excess momentum was still too great however, and both still took a mouthful of scraggly grass for their trouble.
“Are you okay?” Karina, taking a much slower and safer route, padded over nearly a minute later. Teena spat raspberries to dislodge the dirt and grass from her mouth and slapped playfully at Leliana, who still lay on the ground and gasped for air.
“You big jerk I got dirt all in my mouth eeewww.”
Leliana giggled. “I didn’t drop you. You didn’t say anything about eating dirt.”
Teena grumbled and accepted her sister’s hand to her feet. She did a double take, looking from the wall to the battlefield. “Now what! We made the distraction but everyone is still out here smashing and shooting and…and…UGH! What even was the point!” Leliana’s smiled faded as Teena surveyed the scene.
“I can’t tell who’s winning…” Karina sighed. The stench of gunpowder and the copper tang of blood was strong, even this far from any of the actual fighting. “I can’t see anyone I recognize”
A monstrous shriek split the air without warning. All three snapped their attentions to the mouth of the mountain pass where a herd of refugees fled in terror from a …thing. A big, ugly thing. “What is that!” Leliana demanded.
“I can’t tell,” Karina fought the bile in her throat as she spotted Jovi on the hill leading away from the pass. “But we need to get up there now.”
Leliana hoisted Teena onto her back and took off running, slowing only to drop the tiny woman at Jovi’s position as she sped by. It seemed like no time at all before she was ass-deep in slimy ichor, teeth and claws gnashing and snapping so close they fanned the sweat from her forehead. Once she joined the fray an unearthly howling began, slowly at first, until every creature was singing the same haunting note. They went into a frenzy, ripping each other apart and diving Leliana en masse like a wild orgy of death, spraying the most foul smelling liquids she’d ever had the misfortune to taste.
“Girl!” Some ripped guy muscled a disintegrating moose out of the way to talk to her. “More on the way, they’re focusing on you! See if you can pull them to the enemy!” A wrinkly wolf leapt onto his back to get at her and Leliana grabbed it by the throat, using its body to beat back another.
“Okay!” It was nearly impossible to be heard over the chorus of snarling, shrieking, and barking. She plowed through a family of ground birds to get some perspective, seeing at once that the fighter was right. Nearly all of the beasts clustered around her, leaving the refugees to flee in relative peace. That didn’t mean the Gungrave soldiers were mitigated as a threat to them, however.
Leliana sprinted to the edge of the overlook, slipping on the recently-frozen gravel. Realizing she had no time to find a safe route downhill, she did the only thing she could think of.
I can do it I can do it I can do it she chanted over and over, remembering her leap of faith over the cliff when she’d chased Vea through the woods. The beasts slavered mindlessly after her, flying and running and tumbling end over end, hot on her heels all the way down. Leliana braced herself as the ridge sloped out, slamming into the ground at a near vertical sprint. At least a quarter of the beasts ended their chase at the bottom of that ridge.
She shrieked, in fear, or excitement. Or both? Before she had a clear idea of what was happening, she was halfway across the battlefield with a host of rampaging monsters at her back. Her lungs burned as she closed the distance to the nearest Gungrave bunker. They were busy shooting at a group of war brothers hiding behind a big metal suit, not noticing her impromptu raiding party until the beasts slammed into the flimsy log walls.
“Hi guys,” she yanked a rifle out of the group as the palisade fell and unloaded it into the middle of the rotting army.
It did nothing.
The assault had the intended effect. Leliana wove a path through the Gungrave forces, leaving a trail of terror everywhere she went. The creatures were single minded in their pursuit, snapping and smashing anything that stood in their way. The many of the remaining soldiers ordered a retreat to consolidate their forces. The monks, shocked by the violence of the monsters, leapt into the fray to protect Gungrave’s wounded and fallen from the onslaught. The small, sharp-winged fliers pop out of their dead hosts like a boiling pot of water and are gunned down just as quickly.
After nearly an hour, the last of the infected withered under a hail of bullets. Finally, no more came to join them. An uneasy silence falls over the field, the men and women uncomfortable with resuming a fight against those who’d they’d just teamed up with against a common enemy. Leliana stealthily made her way back to the monk’s side of the field. As she did, a deep, brass horn pealed through the silence from the direction of the city.
Gungrave soldiers across the field came to attention, never letting their weapons leave their hands. The Overseer and a woman, Lilith, marched onto the battlefield. They strode confidently out into the peaceful chaos until they stopped in front of Leliana, guarded now by the Speaker and the Protector.
“You!” Leliana shrank back, ready to flee but too tired to do so.
“Hello Leliana.” Lilith purred. “It’s so nice to see you again.”
“Why do you attack my people, Mortimus?” The Speaker demanded. “The fourth section of The Peace accord strictly allows free passage-”
“Of all natural born Amica nationals, I know.” The Overseer sneered. Then he smiled. “But you’re not from Amica, are you?” He took one step forward, hand on his pistol.
“Enough.” Lilith shoved the Overseer aside. “I didn’t come out of my warm laboratory to freeze my ass off and watch you two piss all over each other. Speaker, hand over that girl so I can end this farce and you can get back to killing each other. I might even be willing to sell you something beautifully destructive, if you cooperate.”
Mortimus and the two monks looked at her with open mouths.
“Don’t you play this game with me, Atreides.” Lilith said. “You saw as well as I did how those things reacted to her. They went rabid.”
Leliana retreated a step and put her chin out. “No!” Her fists came up, daring anyone to approach. “I’ll never go back to that hellhole of a torture prison. I live my life on my terms from now on. I have friends now. I’m going to find my mother and father and then commandeer a ship and fly around the world. Under my own rule.”
Lilith giggled. “Allow me to check one off your bucket list then, little girl,” she said. “You’ve found your mother, I’m right here. Though daddy is all locked up hundreds of meters under that ‘torture prison’, I’m afraid. There’s no meeting him unless something goes catastrophically wrong.”
Leliana’s mind screeched to a halt.
“W-what? No, no you’re not my mother. You’re some two-timing, conniving, deceptive, evil bitch!” It wasn’t possible.
“Believe me or don’t, I don’t care. All that matters is that we stop this ridiculous infection. We have another project after that, you and I. And soon.”
The peace shattered as another shrill scream signaled a new horde of things lumbering out of the cold pass, knocking each other down the steep slopes in their hunt for Leliana.
The Speaker looked uncomfortably at the Protector. Protector Atreides turned to Leliana.
“I think her words ring partially true, at the very least Leliana. Those things did react differently to you.”
“Brutus whipped them up after utterly failing to find you himself, if that brings you any sense of pleasure.” Lilith chimed.
“No…” Leliana stepped back again. “You won’t take me. You can’t.”
“I don’t want to give you over to this woman, of course.” Atreides raised his empty hands in a gesture of peace. “Yet, if your cooperation would save thousands of lives, do you not feel it to be your responsibility to at least try?”
“No! It’s not my responsibility that they unleashed some demo-scat all over themselves and now they need me to clean it up for them!”
Protector Atreides and the Speaker looked at each other for a long moment, and then sighed. The Speaker took a step toward Leliana. “The Ilth es Trada have always moved to help the people of this wounded land Leliana. We will ensure your safety after the danger is passed, but we need to insist on getting your help out of this one.”
Leliana’s breathing came ragged as the world closed around her.
“I really would appreciate working through this together.”
Leliana, the Speaker, and Atreides flickered from view for a scant moment, suddenly standing a dozen meters away locked in fierce embrace.
“You’ll kill me first, you rotten bastards.”