If the battlefield noticed Leliana’s fall, it did not show it. Wave after wave of gooey monstrosity crashed against the city’s defenders and Ilth es Trada talents holding their own in the field. A disturbance in the pass stymied the flow of plague, though it was unclear as to the cause. The Gungrave gates opened in the distance with a BOOM as a convoy of vehicles powered through full-steam.
Chaos swirled around Vea as slumped under the girl’s immense weight.
How does this girl make sense? Then she shook it off. This was neither the time nor the place to ponder frivolities.
The Gungrave frontline split as she landed, most shooting into the flood of diseased animals coming from the pass with about a third flipping about-face to defend, should Vea try anything. She did not blame them. She had a bad feeling about the convoy headed this way though, and hastened to the safety of her own people.
“Thank you, Vea.” The Protector commended. Many assembled war brothers glanced uneasily at the girl in her arms whom some knew had just recently been their guest. It did not sit well with them, she knew, to betray a friend who’d given over her trust.
“You are welcome. I do not think it wise to hand the girl over to Lilith Freely, Protector.” A lot of heads nodded around her.
“I know ‘em better’n most, prot.” Bristol said. “Be better on the lass to feed her to the things and just get it over with.”
Atreides was interrupted as the fight reached their small group again, everyone breaking formation to dish death to the monsters in their own way. Vea and Atreides fled the scene with the girl, unconscious but still stirring. They were a quarter-mile from the front when the convoy pulled alongside them, one massive tank in the lead surrounded by half a dozen smaller vehicles. Vea backed behind the Protector and was joined by a huffing Bristol and Speaker.
The tank was painted Gungrave gold and red, roaring with power as its treads ate up the open ground. There was a blast of steam, and a solid steel door clanged open. The Overseer climbed out, planting himself to the side as Lilith slid to the ground after him. “Ho criminals!” He called. The monks clustered as they approached, Lilith’s two hulks in tow. A reinforced steel cage no bigger than 1 meter cubed bounced out after them.
“Excellent work all, hand her over and we’ll spring the trap on this disaster.” Lilith reached for the girl as Vea stepped back.
“What do you mean NO!” She looked nervously as the creatures swelled ever closer even now. “We need to get this circus under wraps girlie, or we’re all dead. Understand?” She stepped forward again.
“Yes,” Atreides intervened. “We understand, which is why we have subdued the girl. Tell us how to stop them and we will be happy to execute your plan.”
“Now you wait just a damned minute!” A tiny voice called over the fray. “What’s going on here?! You better not be handing Leliana over to that witch after all we’ve done for you!” Teena stomped into the middle of them all with her hands on her hips. A harassed looking Karina stumbled in behind her sister, battered and bruised and gripping a bloody pair of knives.
“Stay out of this you tiny freak,” Lilith growled and turned back to the monks. “A very sophisticated, very destructive superweapon is on its way from my headquarters and will be here in less than a week.”
“A week!” Teena cut her off. “That ship is fast as hell!”
Lilith growled. “Yes. It is. It is also mine, and there’s only one. I NEED her to corral these bastards away from the city so I don’t have to bomb it into dust so give me the damn child before I kill you all!” Spittle splattered out as she ascended into screaming.
“Don’t even think about it.” A new voice growled behind Bristol. Antros sidled around the big man, shouldering a shotgun at nobody in particular. “Just what the hell is going on here.”
Overseer Mortimus snapped, and a score of barrels swiveled on the backs of the vehicles. “This is ridiculous, hand over the girl so we may end this farce.”
Antros whistled a single, piercing note. It was returned immediately, and the Drifters materialized at his back a moment later – locked and loaded.
Mortimus spat. “Who the hells is this one?!”
“I do not think it needs to be said, but this cage will not keep the girl safe from those monsters.” Vea moved forward. Leliana was moving a lot more now, and Vea wasn’t looking forward to still be holding the girl when she awoke.
Lilith scoffed. “The cage isn’t to protect her, it’s to keep her. My team is assembling the breech shell as we speak, it’ll be done by dusk,” she spat. “That is a very special girl you’re holding, and she has a very special role to play. I don’t get that girl, we all die.”
She let the threat hang in the air.
Special? Thought Vea. “Is that why she is so heavy? Because of what you’ve done to her?” Lilith waved the question away.
“Likely a combination of factors,” she dismissed. “The alien architecture of her biology releases a bacterium which reinforces traumatic damage to her body from the inside. The side effect of that is a condensed musculoskeletal system with no limits that I’ve been able to find on her father. And she’s only fifty percent them.” She narrowed her eyes.
Vea exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Bristol.
“What the devil are you on about?” Mortimus spun on the woman.
“Shut up, Gregory.” She snapped. “You don’t need to understand, none of you needs understand it. Or believe it,’ she added.
“I do not doubt you, Lilith.” Atreides jumped in. “Yet we hold the bargaining chip and the power in this. The girl will not sleep forever. Provide us the cages and the instructions and we will do as you bid.”
“And we want a getaway ship for when it’s done!” Teena peeped.
“YOU!?” The Overseer spun on Teena as if he just remembered who she was. “You get your tiny arse back to my city and fix that gods damned cannon wall!”
“You still haven’t fixed that yet? It’s been hours it should’ve been pretty easy for whoever designed the wall to…” Teena’s eyes suddenly sparkled in the sunlight. “Alright.”
“What!?” Karina asked.
“What?” The Overseer mimicked.
“Yeah I’ll do it.” Teena said. “Let’s go, I’ll tell you what I want for it on the way. Consulting fees, you know?” Red-faced and spluttering, the Overseer chased after as she leapt into the open tank.
“Haha, now THIS I gotta see!” Bristol laughed. “I’m going with the girl to make sure she stays in one piece!” He yelled over his shoulder and muscled his way into the open hatch. It slammed shut, and the tank took off with another roar. The small convoy followed, leaving Lilith and the two brutes alone.
“I could take her by force.” She said quietly.
“You and I both understand what a bad idea that is,” The speaker said. “Be reasonable woman. If truly the existential threat exists as you say, give us some specifics. You need us. It’s what the Ilth es Trada were made for, it’s in our blood.”
She glares death at each of them in turn, face turning an unhealthy shade of red. The two brutes behind her take a step back. A long minute passes before she lets out the breath she’d been holding.
“Very well,” she straightened out. “We’ve known each other a long time Mirin, and I’m impressed you’ve lived for so long.”
The speaker nodded.
Lilith lifted a finger. “The protective shell will be assembled and dropped in the pass by nightfall. Get the girl inside as you see fit. Put her in this cage or it won’t hold her.”
She lifted a second finger. “I’ll also drop a folio of extremely sensitive information, known only to a handful of people on the planet. I’ll give it to that pipsqueak on her way back. You and I are enemies now, and I suggest you take the data back to your homeland. Provided you survive this demoscat.”
Third finger. “The trail of creatures is three days long. I deploy my weapons in five, at noon. I don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re ready or not, it’s going off and I’m on my way. You can explain the girl’s duty to her, if you care for her so much.”
“Don’t.” She interrupted the speaker. She turned on her heel, walking back toward town.
Vea looked to the open cage just a few meters away. The open door loomed ominously in her mind. Leliana must’ve been dreaming, because she crushed the woman in a bear hug for just a moment. Vea choked.
“Kahlin,” Protector Atreides yelled to his alchemist as the other war brothers pulled back, “how long will the girl be down, by your estimation?”
Kahlin held up a few vials and counted absently with one hand. Finally, “the dose she took was enough to put everyone here to sleep for a week. Best I can tell, maybe an hour?”
Leliana growled, just once.