Chapter 27: Invasion

Hello internets

Chapter 27 of Lead Heart is up!

_________________________________________________________________-

 

Broken teeth and gnarled jaws snapped inches from his heels as Rat sprinted on the dirt road. He hadn’t expected wolves this far West this early in the autumn. He’d been running for what seemed like hours, tossing a few caltrops here and there to slow them down.

 

His lungs burned and threatened to quit if he didn’t figure something out quick. The heavy bag on his back must have weighed a thousand pounds, turning his legs to jelly. It also contained hundreds of hours of patience and work and he was not about to lose it.

 

No, it stayed.

 

Thunder rumbled in the distance the direction he was running. Great. The sky was clear, but one shouldn’t underestimate the world’s ability to dump on him at a moment’s notice.

 

A black streak crossed the road and he stopped mid-stride, his feet sliding another foot and wheeling his arms to keep from falling onto the long tendril of shadow snaked across the path.  It twitched back and forth, and he leapt when the limb bent back toward him. The tendril instead wrapped around one of the wolves, yanking it into the thick bushes. He shuddered. Definitely don’t remember those being here.

 

The rise looking over Barley’s Bowl felt about a million miles away, yet he finally caught sight of it. Elation put his heart in his throat; he’d made it! The creatures behind him had flagged and fallen behind, and he’d slowed his pace to a slow run. That beautiful ridge was finally his. He glanced over his shoulder to check for immediate threats.

 

Boom

 

An explosion shattered his hopes of a relaxing stay before he ever caught a glimpse of the town.

 

He finally made it over the hill into the bowl shaped valley the town was named after. It didn’t look good. Squads of police and soldiers formed a barrier between the city and an ocean of tainted animals and insects. He could even make out men with empty, glass eyes and shiny black and purple skin mindlessly crashing through corpses heaped on the battlefield.

 

Groups of civilians and police ran back and forth setting blaze to the dead within reach.

 

Following the tide of monsters back to the forest’s edge with his eyes, Rat noticed the trees had been burned back further than he’d ever seen them before. Even then, saplings and brush sprouted up through the new ash, as though a little fire were no obstacle.

 

A squelch dragged Rat’s attention behind him. A shiny, hairless panther dragged its broken body toward him on two front paws, the rear legs sticking out at odd angles. Another panther fell out of a tree beside the first. The animal’s jaw shattered outward in a mosaic of bone and gore. The animal picked itself up and ran after him.

 

He wasn’t giving up this close! Rat bolted downhill. Wind and dirt hit him in the face as many disgusting animals took swings at hime while he ran.

 

A group of police swung his direction, all bringing at least one firearm to bear.

 

“Wait, wait! I’m normal, don’t shoot!”

The men popped dozens of shots off, adding to the cacophony of bellows and cannonfire and explosions. Moments later, Rat’s pursuers littered the road behind him as he stood, relatively unscathed.

 

“You’ve picked a terrible time to visit stranger!” A few armored men pulled him into the center of a ring of police. The one on his left belted out a series of orders to the others before turning back to Rat. “Get yourself down this road 200 meters and the captain’ll tell you what to do. Go, MOVE!”

 

A fluid reflex on the soldier’s part had a sword singing out of its sheath by his side, a shiny-black forest glider crashing to the dirt in halves.

 

The man dispatched a young boy, probably no older than 12, to guide Rat. The stone road into town was clogged with messengers and soldiers, and ended in a small square. A series of canvas tents littered the plaza, filled with people and provisions. The runner dragged him straight to the biggest tent and explained his situation to the man in charge.

 

“What in the father’s name are you doing running out of a forest crawling with nightmares, son?” The captain was a grizzled man with more scars than teeth with a voice like pitted iron.  He glowered into Rat’s eyes, then shifted, focusing behind him. “What’s in the bag?”

 

They spent a few minutes discussing the contents of the bounty hunter’s bag. The captain sifted through containers and tools, weapons and jars of oil, asking few questions and being constantly interrupted by runners. Finally –

 

“Listen…er, Rat. I’d love to let you into town to cower behind the women and children. Fact is, I need you and your bag. We can use all the help we can get right now. Thirty years in the city watch and I’ve never seen something like this” He spread his arms wide, half-smile on his face. “Think of it like a bounty, except the bounty is 10,000 little bastards.”

 

This was not a tempting offer.

 

“Captain, I’d rather n-”

 

“Or I can kill you and give your stuff to my people.” The smile stayed as the captains’ eyes glinted with steel.

 

“Like I was saying, I’d rather not have your men hurt themselves on my equipment. I’ll see what I can do.” He turned, and was gone.

 

Well crap, he thought. What am I supposed to do about those? Damn these small city states.

 

When he returned to the fight, there were even more animals than before. The hillside  swelled and writhed, washing over more and more of the defensive line.

 

Perfect.

 

He had no idea if traditional tranquilizers worked on these things. They bled, right?

 

Rat unfurled a brace of darts already dipped in a concoction of his own devising. He selected a black deer a few feet away, slunk up behind it, and jammed the dart deep into the beasts neck.

 

It howled an unearthly shriek and whirled to confront him. The deer snapped at his face and threatened to gore him, taking an unsteady step forward. Then another. Then collapsed before its third step.

 

The soldier he saved spurted the body with a flask of lamp oil. A dirty young man, battered and bruised, and full of resolve, ran from behind the wall to light the oil and disappeared again.

 

“Well, I may be able to help after all.” Muttering to no one but himself, Rat counted a quick inventory. He had a few braces of tranq darts, but that was a pointless gesture with the scene in front of him. The monsters were endless and swarming. Smashed together, especially susceptible to… something with an area effect. “Blast it all.”

 

Rat retreated behind the front lines and loosed a few select ropes of the enormous bag. A few moments later, and the bag had unfurled into a mobile workstation. “These are no use to me if I die, but they’re still a pain in the ass to make.” He pulled a string of small bombs. He pulled a small cloth with his symbol printed on it, draping the cloth over a broken stone wall. The wind was gently drifting East. Well, at least he didn’t need to worry about bombing himself with the backdraft for now.

 

One by one, his 5 second bombs flew as far and as quickly as he could muster.

 

BoomboomboomBOOM

 

This design was Rat’s own, so he took  a moment to be proud of his handiwork. The poison inside those bombs needed to be an intense concentration, and then further pressurized inside their containers individually. When the explosives fired, the viscous liquid absorbed a lot of the energy and converted into the clouds of purple smoke wafting parallel to the defensive force now. Huge swaths of the monsters dropped where they stood.

 

Cries of alarm sounded behind him. A small squad of young men rushed forward delivering oil and fire with wild abandon. While they completed their grisly job, something caught Rat’s eye.

 

A small crowd of tainted foxes was twitching, or convulsing he could say. Odd, there were no-

 

The shiny, black skin of the hairless foxes began boiling. The animals’ limbs fired in all directions as they jerked back and forth as a group.

 

Was this some sort of defense mechanism on the part of the foxes? He considered himself well-traveled, had visited more city-states than most people had a right to, and spent a good majority of his time in the wilderness coaxing mushrooms and flowers to bloom. He’d never encountered anything like this though.

 

Suddenly, a small black spike pierced out of the fox’s eye, wriggling like a sharp little worm.

 

Rat’s heart leapt into his throat. His feet stumbled over themselves to be the first to get away from the abomination. The tiny, alien, thing, pulled itself free of the eyeball just in time to be set on fire by the converging crowd of boys. Rat noted dozens of similar tiny appendages wiggling and sticking out of the other unconscious animals. In minutes, there was a wall of fire a hundred meters long.

 

His vision darkened around the edges as he fought the urge to spew his stomach all over the ground. If pre-pubescent boys were man enough to deal with it. Ugh. What a nightmare. He did some quick recalculations. The freakish little things were still moving, so they probably weren’t susceptible to the sleeping gas. The animals they hosted were though, and the doses in these bombs were a bit strong. He had a thought.

 

He lit one of the fuses. 1, 2, 3, THROW!

 

Boom

 

The bomb exploded 20 feet above the animals. That purple haze expanded far more than when he threw the bomb on the ground, and it looked to be more than twice as effective ,judging by the sheer number of paralyzed monstrosities .

 

The fire brigade lunged forward to light the blaze but was pushed back under the onslaught. A police officer cut in, level 2 by the look of him, whirling a sword so naturally it was hard to tell he had a weapon. A small blaze caught and spread quickly, and Rat watched as the little bastards shriveled and wilted under the flames.

 

Fire wielding children surrounded the bounty hunter. “Sir! If you have any more tricks in that bag, we can stick by and help with the cleanup.” A stocky boy of about 15 saluted and signaled his group behind Rat.

 

“Alright boys, let’s see what we can do.” Inwardly, Rat was hoping not to empty his stores. It was nice to be backed up for once though, even if it was just a gaggle of boys.

 

A loud whistling overhead drew his attention. The men behind the walls had strung giant, makeshift slingshots and were hurling huge sponges soaked in something foul-smelling overhead. A contingent of riflemen atop the walls opened fire with incendiary rounds and flames erupted across the war zone.

 

Time was a blur as wave upon wave of these little bastards smashed into the town defenses and, in some cases, converted several humans to their side. The sun traveled its lazy arc across the sky until it hung just above the mountaintops. The tide slowed. More and more of the defending force were allowed a drink and rest before swapping out with someone still embattled. A small group of civilians who hadn’t evacuated were used to run water, food and bandages to the front to ensure their best chances of survival.

 

Rat’s muscles tingled as they rested after a long day. The group of young men lying on the ground and covered in soot and grime from the hard fight.

 

“Did we do it?” One of the young men asked. A slight boy with bushy red hair, though the hair was slick and matted to his head.

 

Rat shushed him. “Never ask the W-question lad. It’s bad luck.” He stretched, pulling his tight muscles loose, and lay on the ground with the boys. It felt good to stop moving. He could still feel the telltale vibration of his explosives in his body as he lie still.

 

boom

boom

boom

 

Wait a second.

 

Rat sprang to his feet. Companies of guards dotted the city’s-edge uneasily, nibbling at rations and looking nervously into the lengthening shadows.

 

Boom

 

Boom

 

BOOM

 

BOOM

 

SCREEEEEE

 

A gigantic black worm jutted up out of the treetops with a horrifying squeal. The children smashed their hands to their ears and cried. The blackened worm fell, crashing back to the ground as if in slow motion. Trees exploded into a hail of shrapnel under the beast and the assembled defensive force felt the strong winds from a hundred meters away.

 

“D-DEMOPHANT!”

 

Chapter 26: Waiting

Antros blinked stars from his eyes, taking a deep breath to steady the spinning world. He rose slowly, feeling the groans and creaks of his bones on the way up. “My ancestors would disown me if they saw me flung by a small child.” He smiled wryly at the young man a few feet away. His neck cracked, loudly, and he winced as he ran his fingers across his ribs. “Think you could teach me?”

The young man bowed, bald head glistening in the warm noon sun. He pulled rough, over-sized robes over the top of a tight-fitted cotton jumpsuit. He tossed a departing wave to Antros before resuming his place on the infirmary cart.

Antros took a few minutes to catch his breath. The last few days had been an excellent teacher of just how much he had to learn. The sky was dazzlingly blue in the wake of the storms that rocked the plains for the last three days and it felt good to just stare up into it.

How the hell had he ended up here?

He hopped up into the large cart beside him. Well, platform with wheels really, just a rolling floor. Leliana lay clutching the light blankets they covered her with and shook her head back and forth furiously. A few days ago he’d have thought she were on the verge of waking up. “Any idea how she’s doing?”

The young man shrugged halfheartedly. Those big blue eyes trained on Antros with a tinge of regret.

Antros sighed. “Well damn.” He let his gaze drift from the sleeping woman.

The nightmares seemed less frequent now, at least based on the obscenities belting out of her mouth. Her eyes fluttered. She murmured something incoherent. The two brown-robed men on the cart and Antros stepped back a pace.

She frowned, eyes closed. Her body coiled. Suddenly her fists whipped the air feverishly overhead. A few moments later and she was still.

“Now I know why you kept sleeping outside the bunk room.”

Antros grunted and hopped down off the med-cart. His eyes were drawn to the poor man who had been tending the girl when they first learned of her sleep-fighting episodes and fought back a smirk. It was the only time in three days he’d heard any of the group laugh. Antros weaved through packs of men, women and children – some robed, others not. Everyone was mingling and getting ready to move again. He moved straight for the head of the column where he knew the speaker’s place was.

This week, the speaker was an older woman who was still strong enough to break him in half with leisure. Deep wrinkles etched into thick, leathery skin from years of toil and abuse. The sun shone off of her bald head, and she gave a small bow at Antros’ approach.

“Be welcome, Antros.”

Both speakers he’d met had raspy, whispered voices. He wondered if this were an effect of not speaking for a year at a time, or if people with throat trauma just gravitated toward the monk lifestyle.

“Be welcome, Speaker.” He bowed in turn, hand-on-fist at his chest. “I’m afraid my friend is still unwell, so I’ll travel a bit further with you.” He used the formal speech he knew they preferred. “Do you have any tasks I might assist with while we’re in your care?” He already knew the answer, but walking was excruciatingly tedious. He might well sweep the dusty plains before their feet if she would just ask.

“I am appreciative of your offer, child. Caring for your friend is enough. Seek your peace while we travel, my son.” She touched his arm with a gnarled hand. “You are troubled. Those with troubles must help themselves before they may be of assistance to others.”

“Thank you speaker.” Antros bowed once more and shuffled back to the rear.

Dammit.

“Aah!”

The young man who he’d sparred with earlier flew in an arc and Antros bolted forward to catch him. They both tumbled end over end. “Are you alright!?”

The monk gestured at the cart. “The girl!”

Waiting for the fall

So often my life has been full of great chances or experiences followed by huge falls. I often tell people that I don’t have a fear of heights, just a fear of falling, because I know how much it hurts when you land.

I find that this has slowly been changing for me. As I work on bettering myself for me, I have found that I take great pride in my ups and lessons in my downs. No longer do I fear the fall because it will hurt. I understand that falls happen and that if I breath and use my tools I can learn from them and grow in a new or better way next time. So, Let’s talk about what I am pumped about doing.

So far I have lost over 10lbs. Which is amazing for me. Not just a loose it and gain it back like normal but a good month or two of being down in my weight. Or as my handsome husband likes to say, “Making new lows and lowering our highs.” He is right. When I stopped looking at it as a loose or you lose, I started noticing that yes sometimes I go up, but I have been rocketing down so even as I gain a little here or there, they are my new high which is still much lower then my old high. With that I have been pushing on. Focusing on my body and what I eat. Pushing myself to do more and move as much as I can without hurting myself.

Another thing I have going is my business. I started a new company called Mochi Photography. I had an idea a year and a half ago to have a booth where cosplayers or families could come and take pictures during their convention. I am also selling plushies and other crafty things I make in my spare time. I am now working on my sales pitch to get into daycare centers and other children rich areas where I can take pictures for them.

My other ongoing project is school! I am now in my second year of school to get my business degree. I am proud to say that my grades are awesome, my work is…. in by the due date, and I have really enjoyed the classes so far. I am so proud of myself for having stuck to my schooling and keeping up with it regardless of how I am feeling that week. I keep reminding myself that I started this school at the same time as Nik to keep me accountable. If he can do it so can I!

And one of my greatest ongoing joys is that Nik is doing so great in school. He is even leading the pack in the emergency drills and keeping focused on his work without a teacher or helper around to help. This is a big change from last year at the end of the year and a huge relief to my anxiety!

With all that said, I still have one more thing I am picking up in the next two months or so. I will be doing NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I am going to focus down and split up my current novel work into a few novellas. So my project in November will be writing every day, and a deadline to finish the first draft of my Novella by the end of November.

So much to do, I am feeling a little tired just talking about it. Guess I should take a nap really quick before getting back to my homework, Mochi plushie making for this weekend, and taking care of Nik…… Nahhhhh I got this!

Fabulous Fun Fictions for…playing

Kris here

With all my talk lately of building Dads ‘n Dragons(notTM) I’ve been reading up on a lot of board games and other tabletop RPG games out there. Both for inspiration or creative techniques around boring stuff, but also because it would, you know, really suck to spend a year making something that already exists. I’m primarily making it for me to play with my local group anyway. But if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing RIGHT dang it! Wait no I take it back oh no I’m my daaaaaad~~~

Right, so I’ve been reading up on all that stuff and I figured it would be a good opportunity for another round of “What weird crap is Kris thrusting onto us this week!” Dearest reader, I only want the best for myself, and for everyone who likes me. So I’ve rounded up a small list of games you can play with your families that I never heard of before playing it with my family (and friends). Non-video games of course, do you think I’m some uncouth heathen? Sheesh!

Dixit  – Dixit is a hilarious game in the right crowds and the art style is so danged cute. Tina and I have played this with grumpy old men, happy not old ladies, and grumpy AND happy young children, and they all think it’s fabulous. You choose a picture, make a tiny story up, and everyone else throws in a card they think matches the story. The non story-tellers then all guess which is the main card, and everyone gets points! The rules are quick and easy so I won’t deliberate too long here, but it’s really good practice for on-the-fly creativity.

Betrayal at House on the Hill  – Holy crap you guys. I’ve probably put a hundred hours into this game and if someone came over to my house right now with a group and asked to play, I would…send them away. I mean jeez I’m not even dressed, it’s practically bedtime. But if someone called and asked if I’d like to play in ten minutes, HELL YEAH I’d zip out like a fly on picnic day. The game is essentially exploring a creepy old mansion for a while until Watson rolls 6 blank dice and starts the haunt. And then Tina wins the haunt. But the process of losing is just so fantastic!

Arkham Horror – I’ll be honest, I freaking love this game, but I play it far less than Betrayal at House on the Hill. The reason being just because it’s quite a bit longer of a game, and it’s a BIT rules intensive to explain sometimes. Also, it’s really only amazing with 4 or more people and our on-hand number of board game players is 3. But seriously it only takes like 90 to 120 minutes most of the time and it’s AMAZING. Not many other board games end my turn just because I’m scared of the scary tongue god. (http://www.arkhamhorrorwiki.com/God_of_the_Bloody_Tongue)

Love Letter  – Alright, that’s probably good with the board games already. Let’s turn to card games! Love Letter is about getting your love letter to the princess. You draw a single card each turn, and whoever has the highest card at the end is the winner! Except there are also things each card does, like the guards will let Tina actually guess the exact card you have in your hand right now it doesn’t matter what turn it is. Yeah you. You’re out. Sorry. Don’t get attached to winning if you’re playing against my wife not that I’m bitter or anything. We don’t actually have Love Letter anymore, but we do have Love Letter Batman. It’s identical, except the princess is the Joker and Robin can protect you against anyone, anywhere.

Munchkin – Munchkin is technically not a board game, because there’s no board! Though we did technically make one, it’s paper and I’m not including that. Most people have probably seen or even played Munchkin, but since it’s Nik’s favorite game to play with us, I figured I’d go ahead and include it in the list. You draw cards to your hand with things like “The Kneepads of Allure” or “The Boots of Butt Kicking” that you can equip to yourself with different bonuses, or curses, and you kick down imaginary doors to a dungeon and fight monsters. Some monsters are nice. The potted plant at level 1 won’t even hurt you, that’s how nice it is. It’s a silly game you can play with basically anyone who can read, and it generally takes about an hour to finish.

We have an animal cage literally brimming with board- and card games, but these are the 5 I find myself playing most often. For better or for worse. Let me know if you guys have any suggestions of your own, we’ll be happy to check ’em out!

Unless you say Settlers of Catan. If you say Settlers of Catan we can’t be friends anymore.

Dang it Kris!

Tina here.

Whatever Kris let in to this house got me bit bad. Metaphorically speaking of course. He has chatted my ear off about his rpg and his back and forth on setup and how it works. Last night he gave me a break and picked up a YouTube video by a guy documenting his progress in making his own rpg. Well damn if I didn’t make him pause and start over after fetching my notebook cause I had an idea.

That’s right. I am also making an rpg. However mine is aimed at nerdy families with younger kids. So if your friends are to busy trying out that new beer place in downtown Austin, you can just rope your family into game night in the guise of family time.

Really I know so many parents who are gamers and would love to play something like the established rpgs with their kiddos but the setup and explanations seem a bit daunting to explain to someone who you just finished explaining why you HAVE to wash your hands after you poop.

Now not to get you all hyped but I am excited and after I make a working model I will need a cast of various kinds of kids to be sacrificed to my little game. I promise to return them eventually. So yeah be on the look out for that and if Kris hunts you down to talk about magic vs physical fights, take a deep breath and enjoy the math and science he is about to throw at your face.

Troubled waters

Tina here!

Back with some more life happenings. Recently we have been running into issues with our youngest and his behavior at school. This has caused me to have extreme anxiety and worry about things that shouldn’t matter to me. Such as what the school thinks of me and my parenting, what other parents think, and what they expect me to do. Because at this point I am lost.

I expected him to have a fabulous time in school. To make tons of friends, maybe some problems with trying to talk too much but overall to enjoy the learning experience. He loves to learn new facts and information, he loves talking to anyone and everyone. This is the child who would seek out the grumpiest looking person and y’all to them till they smiled for him.

What I wasn’t expecting was randomly walking/running out of class and trying to escape the school. Kicking his fellow student over things such as them laughing at him or as children tend to do, ignore each other by repeatedly saying the same word over and over again. He has been destructive to other people’s belongings, stealing from his teacher for rewards he feels like he should have had. He was dangerous to other students and was suspended from school for a day.

What is going on? When I was asked to come in and pick him up I saw some child that was definitely not my sweet boy. I was worried he took something he shouldn’t have and was reacting to it violently. We will be starting Threopy this Friday not just for him but for Kris and I to understand how to best help him and work on these things together.

As Kris so wisely said to me,”Remember, this is not us vs him, but Mom, Dad, and Nik vs these problems. We are a team and will work them out as a team.”

What problems have your team helped you defeat?

Short story Saturday but shorter, more Nik’ier

Hi everyone – Kris here

This week I wrote a silly story for Nik to read on our trip to Oklahoma City. But then I also forgot to have him read it. So instead I’ll just paste it here and hopefully he’ll have already read it by now! The story is simple and meant to be read by a hyperactive 6 year old. If you have one of those, see if they can read along!

Tick-Tock’s Great Adventure!

__________________________________

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. The clock on the wall was very loud. Tick Tock the kid sat on his chair wondering how to get the clock.

“I know!’ He had a great idea. He could use TNT! Old Bob kept some under his desk.

Tick Tock opened the door to his playpen very sneakily, using a screwdriver he had disguised with a mustache. He opened the door to the hallway.

SQUEAK! The door was crazy loud!

Tick Tock dove under a table and froze in place, to make sure nobody had spotted him.

He covered himself with a blanket so he could hide on the go. Looking both ways, he saw the coast was clear and snuck away. He tiptoed down the hallway as fast as a tiger. No! As fast as a dragon!

He flew down the hallway like a dragon, using the blanket for wings. Vrooooom!

OH NO! A grown up! Tick Tock dashed out of sight into the laundry room. No one would suspect a blanket in the laundry room of sneaking about. The old people walked by and noticed the blanket on the floor.

“Say, why is this blanket on the floor?” One of them asked.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, someone will pick it up” the other replied.

Whew! His cover had almost been blown. Tick Tock snuck into Old Bob’s room like a ninja. Like a moving shadow! “Let’s see,” he said. “One stick should be enough, but I better grab extra in case I need it.” Tick Tock packed up ten sticks of TNT and ran back to his room as fast as lightning. Success!

He stuck the TNT into his pocket and climbed up a chair. Then he stacked another chair on top of that chair and climbed it too. Finally he was face to face with the enormous clock. “Okay, now I just have to put the TNT into the tube and it will blast the clock onto my bed.” Tick Tock checked his pockets.

“Oh no, I have nothing to light the fuse!” He sat in his chair to think.

“Maggie has a flamethrower in the kitchen, that would be perfect!”

Tick Tock ran off to another big adventure!