Please excuse my tardiness, this chapter took a little longer to get where I wanted it this go ’round.
Wood smoke tickled her nose from the deck of the commandeered ship. Two hundred or more cottages and farmsteads blazed in the wake of the huge ship dominating the horizon. The destructive light show was getting more and more active the closer they flew to Gungrave, blue and red and white flashes of light buzzing the air and giving the air an electric taste for miles.
They were going to pay for that.
But how? Leliana frowned. The crack and boom between the invaders and the Gungrave military was a constant as the ship started intruding into the airspace over the city. Huge cannons, measuring their range in miles, volleyed explosive charges while a steady stream of rockets streaked from buried silos surrounding the city. It was an amazing display of force.
Amazing, but useless.
The ship was obviously almost unaffected by the maelstrom of destruction directly below it. If she squinted, Leliana saw a nearly invisible wall ten, maybe twenty meters out from the hull. The crew stared, transfixed, while Teena navigated the ship ever closer.
Dammit. Six months she’d spent trying to purge the training that had been beaten into her for years. Now she found herself scouring her head for the same lessons. What in the hells were they up against? She’d never been to another continent, but was it possible something so alien existed without her knowing?. She glanced at her slightly blue hands uncomfortably. Nobody else was staring at least, for that she was grateful.
Still. The situation was winnable. It had to be.
“They’re definitely setting up above Gungrave,” she finally broke the silence. “Any ideas?”
“See how the red lights go for miles, but the blue ones only stay directly under them?” Bristol said. She nodded. “I’m thinkin’ they’re higher and lower powered, the high powered being shorter.”
Leliana’s eyes flit between the rapid, blinking beams of light. Staring directly at the underside of the ship was painful and left pinprick of shadows across her eyes. Two white beams concentrated on the city wall. One by one, the city’s prized cannons went up with a concussive blast she felt all the way up here. “What do you think it means? And why would they attack the wall if the guns can’t hit them?
“Their defense must be finite,” Vea said.
“Maybe,” Bristol said. “More likely is that they have a new weapon to show us, much shorter rage, much higher power, and they don’t want shot at while they get it ready. Could be they’re afraid of that shield bein’ dropped before they use it!”
Leliana was barraged with concentrated bursts of orders before each beam of light lit up another target. It was distracting, and she hated how much energy it took to concentrate. If that thing were full of blue bastards, why didn’t they just teleport to the ground and wipe the defenses? Or at least have sent backup when she’d turned the last one to mincemeat.
“I don’t think they have the army they want us to think they have,” Leliana said. “Too cautious, too reliant on guns. I say we run this junker straight up their ass and kill them all.”
“I forgot what a reckless psychopath you are,” Antros sighed. “They may not have an army, but you do remember how they wiped the floor with us just a minute ago, no?”
Her left arm hung limp and useless at her side. A reminder. And then she was airborne.
It didn’t last long, and pain rocked her skull as she hit the deck face-first.
A larger ship, flying the same flag, had careened into the bottom of them unexpectedly. Teena jerked the wheel and kept them from capsizing somehow, the ship rocking back and forth violently in the wind. The whole damn sky to fly in and this bastard couldn’t steer around them? She had no time to consciously process her actions as Lilith thumped onto the deck. She flashed behind the older woman, pinning her arms, in less than a heartbeat.
In a monumental feat of self control, Lilith’s lifespan was longer than that one heartbeat.
Some deeper part of Leliana whispered treachery, suggesting Lilith was here for a purpose. That she didn’t do anything without cause.
But she was here.
To be killed.
Lilith’s smooth, exposed throat brushed Leliana’s calloused fingertips teasingly. Lilith grunted as she was hugged tight, blood from Leliana’s left arm smearing her neat smock. Leliana’s fingers twitched.
Jovi’s face loomed in the shadows.
Stop it! Leliana closed her eyes, eager to let the darkness take over. Yet, curiosity kept Lilith breathing.
“What.” Leliana growled. She was vaguely aware of the others’ stares, but it was impossible to care.
“I need your help.” Lilith said.
“Assist me with this, and I’ll disappear. Forever.”
Leliana squeezed a little tighter. The slight rasp from Lilith as she did was intoxicating. “Pretty stupid to throw your life away like this.” She adjusted her grip and –
Hope. Millimeters from her death and this bitch had the audacity to hope.
Leliana growled, and tensed.
But her hand stayed.
“This day is the reason for your entire existence. You can feel that, can’t you?”
The gang crowded, breathlessly waiting to see what she would do. Now she felt every single stare burning holes into her. Even Teena was there.
Damn it to the nine hells.
Lilith’s haughty calmness pissed her off, made her twitchy. “What’s in it for me?”
It was gratifying to hear the throatiness as Lilith spoke with a clenched trachea. “As I’ve said, you would be free. No more running.”
“No point in saving the world if I can’t live in it, old lady. What about money. A ship? How about you tell all your lackeys right now to never set foot in my direction for rest of my fucking life.”
Leliana lost her grip. Lilith smelled like irritation and impatience, but it was hard not to be cautiously optimistic. Lilith flagged her own ship. The hands tightened around her throat again as her two enforcers stomped aboard. She used them to relay orders back to the captain, with instructions to signal the rest of the fleet. Lilith’s gaze was hungry when she turned back this time.
“…what’s my job?” Leliana released her throat, but kept her arms pinned.
“First I need to know what you can do. You’re as blue as ice, so you’ve clearly broken the inhibitor. Can you read minds? Did you inherit the telepathic projections?”
“Are you telling me this scat is permanent?” Leliana raised an arm.
“FOCUS.” Lilith commanded. “Minds. Can you read mine? Do you hear theirs?”
“Read them?” Leliana scoffed. “I can’t read anything. I can…feel them, I guess. I know you’re oozing curiosity, and about as bitter as an old bag right now, for instance.
“Interesting,” Lilith yanked free and started to pace. “You get nothing from the Sha? No commands or suggestions, does your body move against your will?”
“We have hours before this city is transformed into a molten puddle of ex-humanity. I’d love to answer every stupid question you have, I really would. But not now.”
Leliana’s face heated, though she managed to reign herself in. Barely.
“I get flashes. It was really strong in the cage, stronger when they boarded my ship. It never fades completely, but they’ve never controlled me.”
Everyone stared while Lilith paced the deck, chewing a thumbnail as she muttered to herself. The song of destruction picked up as the huge ship crept closer to the center of town and the East, West and South wall cannons pivoted to join in the attack.
“This can still work,” Lilith whispered. “The primary advantage of the Sha is their empathic link. Like an intelligent hive-mind. It’s also,” she tapped her forehead, “their biggest weakness. The only reason I took your father alive was because of a sonic decompression-”
“My father?” Leliana stopped her. “What did you just say?” White, hot fire shot through her left arm while she pulled Lilith against her again.
“I told you this days ago, pay attention! Your father is Sha. Rior’Da. We caught him slinking around twenty years ago and killed everyone in his landing party. You were the only seed that survived, and only because I bore you myself. The complications of interspecies breeding turned out to be more insurmountable than I thought.”
She’d known, of course. The blue skin was…but not this. It had to be a lie.
One look at Lilith’s unconcerned face made it easy enough to believe. But it didn’t make sense…
Leliana took a steadying breath. She felt herself spiraling. She needed to focus. Get through this, at least. “If you already beat them once, why do you need me?”
“I don’t have the tools to ensonify something that big. I don’t even know what that would do to the atmosphere,” Lilith said. “The tricks I used last time won’t work at this scale. But if what we learned two decades ago still holds, that fortress is almost empty. If someone, you, were to plant my sonic amplifiers in the right places, I believe we’d be able to disrupt anything and everything that relies on the supersonic transmission spectrum to function on board that ship. Perhaps permanently.”
Leliana’s head ached. “You sound just like-” She glanced down at Teena’s bulging eyes. “Nevermind. Just tell me what to do.”