Warm sweat sprinkled the air with every twist and turn, burning her eyes and helped her remember what it was like to be alive. “Not so tough without the old man, are you?” The blue monster of a man she faced off planted a fist into her shoulder in reply. Her entire being shuddered on impact. Damn, how did they hit so hard?
She pivoted with the force of the blow, narrowly avoiding the follow up. Leliana ducked inside his defense and hammered her forehead into his face. She smiled as thick fingers tangled her hair and yanked, then disappeared moments later when their owner’s eye split down the middle.
All these months ignoring self maintenance had payed off. Long nails were actually pretty nice.
Leliana threw herself backward as a spear sang its way into her personal space. She sprang out of a roll and winced as the pain hit. The bastard must have split her ear. She clapped the blade as it stabbed at her face and yanked its wielder off-balance. Vea destroyed him from behind, the light in his eyes extinguished before he slumped to the ground.
“Hey, that one was mine!”
“We have plenty of fish to-”
Radiant pain lit up her mind as a mental shriek exploded reality. Leliana vaguely recognized even her friends being affected from the corner of her eye. Flashes of blue scales and white hair imprinted her eyes. Complete and utter terror etched a location into her senses and she bolted, joining her brothers to the Watchers’ aid. They had to be alright. They had to be protected, or all was lost.
The ground rushed up to slap her in the face without warning. She suddenly couldn’t breathe. “Get off me!” She bucked and bit and flailed to get free. Dammit why now, why her? If the Watchers were in danger…
Electric fire hit like a lightning strike.
When the fog cleared, she was herself again. Struggling to breathe under the combined weight of no less than four people. “Guys…” she wheezed. “Guys it’s okay.”
She made a mental note never to give cause for Bristol to tackle her ever again.
Leliana ripped a piece of shirt off to stymie the renewed fountain of blood spurting from her left arm. “Sorry I thought this was working.”
“No harm, lass. We all felt it, must have been a wallop!”
Bristol was out of his mind if his idea of ‘no harm’ constituted crushing someone to death. She let it pass. “What happened, where are we?”
“We’re almost there, actually.” Karina rounded the bed ahead. “They just crashed a party Carkus was having with Zimi. Teena’s in there, c’mon!”
Leliana’s lungs unwillingly permitted a light jog, and she fell slowly behind the others. She rounded a corner into a gargantuan corridor lined with windows and absolutely devastated with gore. These were the Watchers.
Well, used to be.
Two blue guys rushed Carkus. Sharp teeth ripped the throat out of the first guy. A fountain of green added to Carkus’ macabre mask and the growing lake of blood. She’d never heard him make the sounds rumbling out of his throat as the second foe grappled him from behind, eyes wide with terror. Slick with blood, Carkus twisted and popped a blue arm free from its owner. He blinked to a window nearly three meters away and ripped the Watcher screaming from their chamber.
For the first time in memory, Leliana shuddered and looked away from the carnage.
In a far corner, the remnants of the Sha gathered around the old man. Golden staff in hand, the geezer had gone almost white. Served him right. His goons held hands and began the baritone chanting anew. She couldn’t make out whatever the old man was saying this far away, but she definitely saw the living Watchers begin to glow a bright white. Scat, that couldn’t mean anything good.
Someone rained screaming out of the sky and bounced with a sickening thud, and Zimi swooped down to pounce a guard behind Carkus moments later.
Carkus charged the survivors in the corner, howling and clawing against an invisible barrier. He paid no heed to the swirling vortex of light forming above him.
Atreides leapt into action, wrestling Carkus to the ground. Tooth- and claw-marks crisscrossed the smooth floor before he was finally pinned. Zimi dove to his friends’ defense, his momentum used against him as Vea flipped him ass-over-heels. He wound up on his wings in a headlock to the powerful woman. The Protector flipped Carkus around and slapped the blood clean off his face.
“WHAT THE HELLS IS WRONG WITH YOU STUPID ASS SCAT LICKING PIECE OF-”
Another smack echoed off the walls.
“OW OKAY I GIVE UP.”
“I apologize, old friend.” Atreides planted Carkus on his feet, who ran to soothe Zimi. “Three hours since we met with Lilith approaches, friends. We must leave. Now.”
Karina peeked a corner, cradling a pouting Teena. “I think I know the way!”
Leliana took one look at the old man, glowing brilliantly behind his men, and sprinted to catch up with Karina. She heard distant thunder as the ship rocked to one side. She almost went face-first into the floor. What now? Her chest was tight, she couldn’t breathe. Dread wrapped its icy fingers around her neck and squeezed with a terror like she had never known. Why? What in the hells? She couldn’t resist a look over her shoulder.
An ethereal dragon stretched from the golden staff, golden teeth extended to bite her in half.
“GO GO GO!”
Everyone cast a glance back before panic put a new wind in their sails.
Who the hell…WHAT were these guys?
The pace quickened until both Teena and Karina were hefted onto someone’s back to keep up. The ghastly image of death swam hot on their heels snapping and growling.
“Throw me!” Teena squeaked over Bristol’s shoulder.
The ship groaned as they scrambled aboard. That wasn’t a good sign. Teena rocketed off Bristol’s shoulder into the driver’s den and accelerated every remaining propeller to a screeching frenzy. Leliana nearly collapsed as the translucent wyrm plowed into their vessel mouth-first.
Apparently, ‘see-through’ wasn’t a problem for this things’ teeth.
Teena struggled to get them dislodged from the Spire in a deadly game of tug-of-war. Shards of wood splintered off in the maw of the beast as it crunched its way up the bow. Slowly, but steadily, the broken research boat ripped free of the crystal pyramid. Shattered wood and metal instruments poured into the belly of the beast.
Leliana cringed at the way the materials slithered into its throat, pulverized after few meters.
The deck shuddered as it was ripped in half. They were free! The creature raged and came after them.
The eight of them locked themselves inside the drivers’ area with Teena so they wouldn’t fall to their deaths while the ship rocked wildly back and forth. The huge windows cracked and splintered, it was almost impossible to see the shield through all that…shield? Where was the shield?
“You guys…what’s that?”
Karina pointed at the two suns burning brightly in the sky, except one of them grew larger by the second.
“I believe we should not remain here for long.” Atreides said.
“Aye lass, give it all you got!” Bristol added.
“I AM giving it all I got! It’s not enough!” Teena flailed at the instrument panel. Switches and levers clicked back and forth at random to try eking out a few more seconds of power. “I’m surprised we even got off the ground in this thing!”
Leliana’s stomach twisted into a knot as the loudest, most disgusting sound of crunching wood she’d ever heard tore the wall from their hiding place. Nails squealed in protest. The entire side of the ship exploded.
“AH HAHAHA. I GOTCHYA!” Jovi’s deranged grimace screamed over the gales of the atmosphere behind the wheel of an unfamiliar ship. A ship she had just driven straight through theirs. Leliana’s heart constricted. She respected the woman, but she might be safer with the ghost dragon. “That BITCH already fired her big gun! Le’s GO! We gotta go!”
Carkus and Zimi wasted no time jumping overboard and speeding away. Vea and Bristol snatched up Teena and Karina and made the leap into the open sky. They all landed ‘safely’ on deck. It was her turn. Leliana’s legs wobbled, but it was only a dozen meters. She could do that. She took a running lead and jumped-
She gasped when her left arm slammed into the new ship, her fingers numb. The ship jerked as it yanked free of the wreckage. Ah, dammit. She couldn’t get a grip, what a useless hand. She’d survived all that just to die?
Well actually, she’d fallen that far once, right?
Then the Protector was there. His entire body flexed as he fought to pull her up. She fought the panic rising in her throat as a crushing force bit down on her feet. That stupid dragon. Her hand slipped, but she caught him with the other. They both trembled under the strain. They were slipping. And then Bristol was there. And Vea, and Karina. Even Teena showed up. “Pull you slugs!” She peeped. “Put your backs into it!”
These idiots. Leliana couldn’t help but grin like an idiot the whole time.
Frigid wind blasted her bare feet as her shoes ripped free, and with them, the beast. Jovi held the remnants of the ship’s throttle triumphantly as they tore out of there.
She still hated them all for giving her to Lilith, but… They definitely had kept true to their word.
She curled in a heap, panting and fighting the waves of exhaustion that always struck after a fight for one’s life. The fireball in the sky was closer, thrice the size of the sun and twice as bright. She frowned. And it was screaming?
“Here’d COMES. ‘Ts COMIN!” Jovi slurred. Oh gods. Someone had to get control of that wheel.
Nobody heard her pleas over the shrill wail bearing down on the world. The fireball streaked out of the sky like a meteor and impaled the invader’s capital ship like a spear.
The concussive wave hit her like a grenade.
The massive ship disappeared inside a haze of plasma. The ship was knocked near-vertical by the resulting explosion. Jovi cackled, singing to the Skymother while she wrestled the belligerent wheel. The city of Gungrave loomed above them while the ship looped once, twice, thrice. Leliana was crushed to the floor as they rolled, all the different ways she was about to die playing across her vision like a mirage.
Any second, The ship would drop out of the sky or they’d explode or they were going to be cooked. Leliana burgers! Everything was happening all at once and she had no idea where to turn or how to keep up. Eventually gravity was able to pick a direction and stay that way, and she didn’t feel broken or shattered this time. Yet.
She opened her eyes.
Jovi fought the wheel as the ship raced at the front of the massive explosion. She’d lashed herself, upside down, to the reinforced steering column.
Leliana smiled. This was the real Jovi. The breeze gentled as the ship coasted to a glide after many, harrowing, minutes.
The city-sized ship demanded their attention as soon as the danger had passed. Flames poured out every window and surface. Blue and red and yellow fires ate at every exposed surface while molten crystal rained into Gungrave.
Leliana crawled to the edge, fearing the worst. Relief nearly brought her to tears when she discovered the city already evacuated, its people congregating on what was, days ago, a bloody battlefield.
Tears? What rotgut had poisoned her to be happy these strangers were alive? Ugh, she was getting weak.
Thunder cracked across the plains, though not a cloud was in sight. The dragon was gone, in its place naught but the rage from within as the Sha fought to save their ship. A roaring crevasse streaked the length of the hull as it sagged under its own weight. Gods, the generations it took to put that thing together were just…gone.
In spite of herself, Leliana longed to save that ship and her people, if only to preserve such a beautiful thing. She daydreamed of the relationships formed in its hallowed halls. At the-
She jiggled the spike in her arm again. “Oooh you slag eating scat bags. Burn in all the nine hells, and stay out of my head!”
Almost invisible behind torrential flames and crackling electricity, a tiny fleet of ships darted from the wreckage and zipped into space. The world herself screamed as the two halves of the ship became too heavy. Each half gouged canyons into the plains on either side of Gungrave. They screeched and scraped until her ears bled before finally coming to a rest, steepled above the ruined city and casting a perpetual darkness.
The city of Gungrave was in for a long night.