Thunder rumbled in the icy valley of Blind Man’s Pass, vibrating the frigid metal beneath her feet. The sharp crack of another boulder shattering made her wince, and the thunder rumbled anew. Mixed with the howling plague monsters in the periphery, the world sounded like an impending hurricane.
Karina’s fingers had confounded all attempts to light this damnable wood for at least ten minutes, and were staging a full-on rebellion against her for their icy working conditions. “Stupid wood light your stupid ass on stupid fire AAAGH!” Her assortment of twigs and yellow grass withstood showers of sparks without so much as a smolder. “Next time you guys can haul your own stupid snow.”
An enormous log splintered somewhere with a gigantic crunch as the Titanic Teena snapped it like a twig. She really did come up with the stupidest names.
“Hey!” She shrieked up at the cockpit from a staging platform just far enough away from the boiler not to benefit from its heat, but far enough above the nearest steam vent that any blasts of gloriously hot vapor clung to her boots as shards of ice.
“Yeah?” Teena popped her head out of the control room.
“Give me some of that stupid gel so I can light these stupid sticks!”
“No!” Teena was shocked. “We need those for go-time!”
“I’m gonna go, alright,” Karina mumbled. She knew how excited her sister got for new toys, but why was it suddenly her responsibility to make it run? What a crock of-
“AAH!” Bristol must have come up the ladder while she’d been distracted yelling at her sister. “What!?”
“HAHAHA. I got you some more wood, lass! How fares it?”
She thrust the firestarter into his hands in disgust, retreating up to bask beneath the boiler. It was an unfairly short amount of time before Bristol had a merry little blaze smoking her out of the most comfortable spot on the…Titan.
The trio had managed to slink up the steep slope of the pass under the cover of night, even with soldiers shooting flares onto the battlefield just a few steps behind them. They’d sneaked around the slavering horde and retreated into a well-sheltered alcove in the pass. Just a divot in the mountaintop glacier really, but it put several layers of rock and ice between them and the site of the explosion.
Twilight cheered into morning as the sun dawned on the wasteland of boulder corpses from Teena’s long hours of practice. No rock or tree was safe, and she’d scratched offensive words all over the side of the ice wall. Dexterity practice my ass.
Watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain, Karina couldn’t help but feel just the slightest bit rejuvenated. At least until the warships showed up.
Then the deep throated roar of the heavy ships started in a low drone, like a pissed off beehive coming for revenge. It wasn’t long before the specks on the horizon swelled in size, a squadron of five tailing a sixth, gigantic beast of an airship. Eight rows of propellers both above and below, matched by four more in front and back. It had a couple of rows of empty air-sacs down each side, but was definitely meant for the props to provide main power.
Ohhhh…I bet those boilers rooms are the warmest place in the world. She shook the thought away; this was no time to daydream. She held onto the railing as Teena maneuvered the titan into place, nestled further into the small alcove.
The huge ship at the front of the aerial group made a pass and tossed a package overboard that began drifting into the small canyon at the end of a parachute.
Metal hummed as Teena plopped down next to the boiler. “Alright! It’s go time!” She growled.
Karina kept as far back as possible as Bristol and Teena delicately pulled a huge block of the fire jelly. She looked again at the semi-translucent tower of sludge, measuring at least a half meter or so in length, and took another few steps back.
“Alright B, you know the plan?” Teena asked.
“Aye,” he replied. “Close valves, open door, light jelly, chuck it in and slam the door.”
“Right! Ready? Goooo!”
Hinges squealed as the huge steam pipes were locked on both sides of the boiler, and the pressure gauge jerked into the red immediately. Bristol flung the top wide, bathing Karina in that sweet, sweet hot air, just as Teena sparked the accelerant and dropped it with a squeak. The boiler lid smashed back down under Bristol. The needle stayed in the red even after the valves were opened back up.
“Woohoo!” Teena scurried back into the cockpit, Bristol and Karina cramming in after her.
It was time to find out if they’d calculated their distance correctly, or if they were going to boil alive in this titanic coffin.
The world flashed white.
It wasn’t two seconds before the heat and shock waves ripped the ice and snow to pieces. The titan slammed into the cliff behind them hard enough to shatter stone.
Karina’s vision blurred through a stream of unending tears while she tried keeping her eyes peeled, but it was like staring into the sun. By the time she could see again, the titan stood knee-high in a trembling lake. It was miserably hot, but not deathly hot.
“This bitch,” Teena yelled, “dropped a light atom bomb on top of Leliana? I’m gonna rip her apart!” The Titanic Teena moved with new steam in its step as the giant fireball in the sky slowly stopped glowing. Teena made sure to snag a couple of boulders along the way, lobbing them into the returning airships as they crested the hill. Most of the boulders fell short and wide. One lucky rock landed on the deck of a smaller escort vessel, rolling across it lengthwise and scraping off men and machine before it fell.
The wing split formation, making them harder to target.
The prison holding Leliana captive was much, much smaller than the day before. It was partially submerged in the center of the new bowl-shaped canyon, torrents of new melt boiling away as it came in contact with the red-hot steel. Black and red sludge coated everything in sight.
The huge ship dropped a massive chain and hook through an equally massive bay door beneath it. They were headed straight for the loop jutting from the top of Leliana’s container.
“You wretched bastards!” Teena kicked the titan into motion, sliding dangerously across the goo that had been the plague a few minutes ago. The science crew reached Leliana before the titan, and slipped the hook into the loop with practiced ease.
They flipped the ship in full reverse, looking to put as much distance between themselves and the walking giant as possible.
It didn’t work.
Titanic Teena grappled the glowing shell as it cleared the water. Karina’s ears popped as the pressure increased dramatically. Gears groaned as the two played tug-of-war with the imprisoned girl. “Let GO!” The real Teena growled. She heaved on the controls, pulling the airship off-balance for a moment. The moment was all she needed. The Teena grabbed the propeller nearest to it, mangling both blade and hand in a horrific jumble of sparks and metallic shrieks. Teena didn’t wait for the vessel to recover – she reached out the stub and jammed it into another propeller, robbing the vessel of much needed power. The scales slowly tipped in the titan’s favor, the heavy lifter being dragged slowly closer and closer until-
Water shot onto the giant as a cannonball fell short. Karina swung around, noticing the other ships moving to surround them. “Sis!”
“I see it!” The air was thick with hissing steam and the overpowering drone of the airships, making speech difficult. Then another sound started to cut in: the deep groan of bowed wood and snapping beams.
The lifter was forced to release the chain before gutting itself, and the titan flew backward, smashing into the steep slope.
“We got her!” Karina nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Break the shell, lass. No way we’ll make it with that big lolly in our only hand.” Bristol warned.
“You’re right…” Teena jammed a frayed end of the iron ball against the left arm stump, scraping at it until the edges started opening up.
“STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING.” The airships moved into position as quickly as possible, but they weren’t fast enough. With a final shriek, the cage holding Leliana was shredded as the outer plate tore free.
Teena lobbed it overhead, onto the ledge behind them. “Woohoo LELIANA!” She called. A diminutive figure rolled out of the capsule and stood, peering around for a moment. Karina had just opened the cockpit door when the figure vanished, a blur of motion headed due South.
Karina was blinded suddenly, and a brilliantly reflective airship hovered near enough to make out the fury of the woman inside.
Leliana’s feet were a blur, like the landscape as she sprinted through the pass. Snowflakes and drops of slush sizzled as they came into contact with her. She could feel the fear and grief radiating from behind her, but she also felt malevolence, hatred and greed. Her mind was all in a fog. After days of intrusions on her mind, she didn’t even know who she was anymore. But she knew one thing.
She had to get away.
Pebbles cascaded beneath her as she ran up a small rock face, throwing herself up and over the edge in the blink of an eye. It wasn’t fast enough. The hatred and greed had caught up with her. A small, reflective ship zipped into view, hovering just above her.
Then she was on the ground, shrouded in a familiar bright blue glow. It seemed to add about a thousand pounds.
Then Lilith was there, familiar iron rod in hand and panting heavily. “Do you have any idea how much DEMO SHITE I’ve had to crawl through to get you back!”
Leliana cried as the rod snapped something in her lower back.
“Months of GODS FORSAKEN hunting. And for what?”
“Are you listening? They’re on their way, maybe even now, Leliana. Do you care? You think you’re worth more than all of humanity?”
Ah, so it could still do that. Cavernous booms echoed through the canyon in the distance, and the terror from afar began to overpower the hatred emanating from this horrible woman. A familiar terror.
Lilith panted, hands on her knees, glaring at Leliana with a scowl that would kill a lesser man. “You’ll die too, you know? Your father was very specific on the consequences for mixed breeds among his people.”
An overwhelming need to fight washed over Leliana at the mention of her father, though she had no idea where it was coming from. She was suddenly full of rage, and determined to make those who’d wronged her pay dearly for it.
She looked at Lilith, who took a step back.
“You do understand.” It was a statement, not a question. “I was unsure if you’d retain your human intellect once the inhibitor broke. So you do understand? They’re coming, girl, come back with me. This is your purpose. This is what you were created for.”
Something inside Leliana snapped.
She remembered the decade of prison, and beatings, and shame. And the feeling of freedom, ever since she’d escaped. The feeling of being her own boss, the wind in her hair from the deck of the…
Suddenly, the terror permeating the world around her sharpened into focus. She remembered that fear. It had stared at her, wide-eyed, after waking from a nightmare. On the Nightmare.
A single tear slammed into the dirt. “They came for me.”
“What?” Lilith snapped.
Leliana slowly rose, shuffling to her knees, then to her feet. The next swing of the rod never landed, Leliana’s white knuckled grasp pulling it free easily. “I’ve found a new family, mother.” Her voice felt raspy. “I can’t abandon them. They are who I will be protecting when your mysterious enemy shows its face. Not you.”
“You dare -”
The iron rod creaked as it bent in half, and she took aim at the other woman. Lilith stopped talking and took slow, measured steps back toward her ship. Leliana reveled in the cold breeze through her hair.
“This time, you run. I chase.”
Leliana drank the woman’s fear like a fine wine, waiting until Lilith had boarded the aircraft before putting the iron rod through the windshield. Lilith screamed in surprise.
The blue beam dimmed, then extinguished.
The ground blurred as she bolted after Lilith back toward the battle. She ran up a shallow side of the mountain, trusting her speed to keep her aloft. The path led her up and around a sharp left, giving her a swipe at Lilith as she leapt and nearly caught the rear of the ship. The game lasted almost a full minute before Teena’s…whatever it was came back into view. They’d gained the top of the hill and out of the water, but the science crews were still drifting listlessly a dozen meters or so overhead, getting into new positions to take shots at the giant metal man.
The annoyed indifference drifting out of the ship crews who were trying to bomb her terrified little friend bit deep. Teena was in no position to sling projectiles at the ships now that they were focused directly on her. She knew it, the crews manning the ships knew it, Leliana knew it. But it still pissed her off that they didn’t care. With a scowl at her former master, Leliana broke pursuit and diverted to her friends. Her family. She arrived just in time to catch an exploding barrel in midair, returning it to sender.
“Leli you came back omiGOSH I KNEW YOU WOULD!” Teena practically gushed out of a battered ball close to top of the construct, screaming her excitement to the world.
Leliana’s smile relaxed as Teena’s fear clicked instantly to excitement.
“Can you get me up there?” She yelled back, pointing to the ships.
“YOU GOT IT SISTER!” Teena disappeared, and the giant bent to scoop Leliana into its remaining hand. She was crushed to the bottom as gravity took over, pinned as the hand slung her upward at nauseating speeds.
Then the fist opened, and she jumped. She was airborne.
Leliana rocketed into the sky.
The nearest ship rushed to meet her, and she flipped easily over the edge and onto the deck. There was a moment of silence as the sailors lazily carrying out their tasks realized what had just happened.
Then all hell broke loose.
Men and women scrambled every which way – retreating into the main cabin or falling back behind crates of weapons for cover. Leliana’s body was electric as the nonchalance energized into a collective panic and bombarded her from three hundred and sixty degrees. She bounced into a burly woman coming out of the cabin with a shotgun, sending her and at least two others hurtling into the far wall. A man with a syringe was next, and she pumped him full of whatever he’d wanted to hit her with. She frolicked across the deck leaving pain and defeat in her wake until the entire crew had been immobilized.
She took a deep breath. She knew, in her mind, that she should kill them all. Maybe throw pieces of them at their colleagues for horror and humor. Yet somehow, she was content to leave them disabled… For now. Weird.
Then there was an explosion, and a cannonball whooshed over the top deck nearby. Psh, she scoffed. If they couldn’t hit her at this range, what were they even doing…
Every single man and woman, on every ship, no longer paid her any heed. Their frenzied panic tapered off.
She was hit with a wave of cold dread in its place.
“What the hells are you doing?” She called at the nearest sailor. He just looked at her, grim, then pointed North. Her gaze followed.
The biggest, most beautiful city she’d ever seen – in person or on paper – loomed over the plains, nearly a mile in the air. There must have been thousands of shimmering buildings clustered on top of one another, the entire complex pulsing in sync. It felt almost alive. It was encased entirely in glass, or something similar, and created an artificial night for the people of the plains below.
Watching the same scene unfold, Lilith was having similar thoughts.
Hello dear readers
I am moving next week and have a ton of packing to get done, so please enjoy this extended chapter in lieu of next week’s. There are just a few chapters left to dive through in the story! Please let me know your questions while I’m out moving and I’ll be happy to work them into the ending wherever I possibly can,