Chapter 31: Escape?

Hello dear internet readers

Chapter 31 of Lead Heart is up! Hopefully I’ve scheduled it for the right 12 this time; our heroine gets to escape the clutches of that unruly serpent, finally. Right?

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Leliana’s chest was going to explode. She choked on the dust being squeezed out of the tree while the serpent did its best to make a Leliana-shaped impression in that thick mountain pine. The wood squealed in protest, and jagged cracks opened up around her. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t breathe. The first licks of panic blurred the edges of her consciousness.

And that was infuriating.

There was no way to win a contest of strength against the thing, it was massive. Still, the pine didn’t seem like it was going to last much longer either. She needed a plan.

Ideas whizzed past a mile a minute, discarded just as fast. It was hard to think clearly with a shiny bastard doing his best to huge the life out of you. She gagged every time she managed to breathe the slightest bit, with the sweet pine unable to mask the scent of rancid reptile. It tasted like the undertaker’s sweaty underwear, something she learned by trying to bite it. Ugh, kill me faster.

If there was something she hated more than being killed, it was being forced to wait to be killed.

She needed to focus, to get control. ‘A panicked soldier is the first to die’ according to the wrong end of the baton which had been her teacher for so many years. Leliana grit her teeth at the memory. She obediently slowed her limited breathing and counted her heartbeats, listening to the rasp as she drew breath.

In…Out…In…Out…

This wasn’t really the best time to practice those control exercises, but she didn’t really have any other obligations at the moment.

In…Out…

The scaly hide shifted, rearranging the loops of the body in front of her. Curious, she waited. Two of the segments of coiled serpentine body in front of her split just a few inches to reveal a huge cerulean eye peeking in at her.

She punched it.

Furious growls rocked her in the clutches of the snake and shook her to the core. A few seconds of what she imagined was the snake swearing at her in its own language and then renewed the attack with a vengeance. The pine which had been her brother in resistance up to this point shattered into powder, and the cavernous coils of the serpent closed in to smash her with brutality. She vomited. Darkness tinged the edges of her vision while her own bile was smashed into her face and hair.

“Worth it.”

Leliana pulled herself into a tight curl, limbs trembling to hold. Damn, she thought, that old lady was right. The girl punched feebly at the muscle walls binding her from the inside. She was absolutely certain that this scaled bastard didn’t feel any of it, but it made her feel a little better. She was starting to get the inklings of an idea.

The serpent was strong, overpoweringly so, but it had a hard time getting a good grip with which to snap her like a twig. Judging by the cracks and crevices that remained when it wrapped her up, this thing was prone to going after much larger prey. It would still kill her, just not instantly as it apparently hoped. She put her hands together and forced two segments of body to part, just a little.

Well that would’ve been helpful, if she was stronger.

Spots were dancing through her field of vision now, tiny lightning bolts seeming to coalesce around her. This was a good example of a reason she might have asked around all those people for a gun, or a knife. Literally anything.

Sigh

The world quieted around her, perhaps in reverence to her impending demise. She felt a soothing warmth washing through her. She closed her eyes to take it in.

BOOM

Something shattered the world around her. It felt like she’d been punched in the gut and had every bone broken simultaneously. At first she thought the beast finally finished the job, but it was a different kind of pressure this time. That and-

And the snake had gone slack, the coils almost falling away from her for a second before they pulled back into the deadly embrace. She managed a huge lungful of air, if not outright escape.

What the nine hells was that?

What sounded like another tree exploding hit her ears. It was muffled to unrecognizability, but something was definitely going on. She was jerked one way and then another, shuddering at one impact and then suddenly weightless before the next. Then it seemed the serpent was in motion; the body around her stayed firm, but not crushing. A prison, but not the press. The shifting gravity and constant flipping was pretty fun, as long as she didn’t think about the end of the ride. One such move unpinned her arms enough to get a good swing and she flailed at the inside of the scaled stomach using her bound feet for leverage.

“Just you wait!” She gasped between swings. “I’ll bust out of here. Break your stupid neck. Roast you over the longest bonfire I’ve ever seen!” She felt a satisfying crack beneath her fists.

BOOM

Another explosion of force pulsed through her entire body and she couldn’t move for a second or two. She recovered quickly, noting that the serpent had gone slack again too. Leliana coiled, ripping her legs free of the beast, and rocketed to freedom just as the walls snapped closed again.

“Haaaaaa!”

Nothing could stop the gasp of pleasure she released at that first breath of fresh air. Clean, crisp pine and dust filled her entire body. The pins and needles of circulation returning made her eyes water and almost laid her out. She wobbled on all fours, skidding to a stop on her face, before hazarding a look back.

The serpent’s huge mouth was locked in a contest of strength with what must have been the strongest person she’d ever seen. Bulging muscles sprouted from other bulging muscles beneath glistening dark skin. She’d have placed them somewhere in the seven-foot-tall range, bald head coated in some of everything on the ground and a brown robe which had the sleeves ripped off unevenly.

The struggle intensified when the snake’s jaw hit the forest floor and it thrashed the relatively smaller human back and forth like a child’s toy. The monk held on stubbornly, wiggling and waving in the erratic thrashing of the beast. Then the monk’s legs were locked around the upper jaw while a flurry of blows mangled those big, blue eyes.

“Steamed hells!” She cried as the figure hit the ground nearby. Thick, brown cloth billowed as the monk whirled to face her. When they settled, the outlined the outrageous curves of the most hulking woman Leliana had ever seen in her entire life. “I…you…who?!”

The woman opened her mouth, then leapt to the side. A hooked beak gouged the forest floor where she’d been standing seconds ago. Without warning it was suddenly in Leliana’s face, barely allowing enough time for her to instinctively grapple that enormous jaw. Moments later she was dangling from about 20 feet up, and the snake bolted away from her would-be savior.

This is going well, she thought.

Chapter 22: Snacks and Stories

Hello internet friends,

Lead Heart chapter 22 is up, please leave comments with any feedback!

 

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The skies were unpredictable the closer to the sea they flew. Lightning storms would surround them in brilliant displays of white and blue, deafen everyone for a few hours, and then scatter just as quickly. Leliana saw many ships along the way over the next few days as they drew closer to the main shipping lanes. Well, at least that’s what Karina had said, after she’d brought some cold sandwiches up to chat . Several uneventful days started to dull the excitement of flying. Weren’t there supposed to be pirates and monsters and stuff up here?

Sigh.

“Leli darling, I’d like to have a chat.”

Here it goes, she thought. Jovi didn’t seem like the type of captain to throw people overboard, but Leliana checked the parachute in the back of her jumpsuit anyway.

“Hey. What’s up.”

The older woman hoisted herself up and sat down a sack of food and a bottle of mead. “Gib and Teena had something to say about an issue a few nights ago. Something about her breaking a box. I wanted to hear your side.” She offered up a piece of bread and some fruit, though Leliana made no move to eat.

“Yeah, sorry about that. Bad dreams, you know. I started sleeping up here to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

“Is that why you’ve been up here all this time? I thought you were sulking because I was averse to your killing spree.” Jovi forced a small laugh and the two picked at the fruit in silence for a few minutes. “Gib had something to say about it too, darling. He told me you’d been… crying before you woke up. His descriptions were exceedingly all too familiar to my own a couple of years back.”

What? “To your own what?” Leliana forgot her problems as the captain opened up about her own past.

“My own dreams. Terrors, really. I drank myself to sleep every day back then. Gib was always there to hold me down in my fits and help me regain control.” Jovi regaled Leliana with stories of insane pirates and heroic saviors. Night terrors pushing her to the brink, and a huge friend to keep her anchored through it all. Apparently the crew of The Nightmare used to be bigger, but most had been pushed away by an angry drunken captain frivolously throwing their wages into casks of alcohol. The only ones left were the 3 from the beginning and Sekkel, an old retiree to whom Jovi was just a drop in the bucket as far as angry captains went.

They chatted most of the morning away. Clear, blue skies gave way to a darkness gathering at the horizon.

Leliana was wiping tears of laughter by the time the story finished. “You punched him so hard you broke your hand? Hot steam I would’ve loved to have seen that.”

“Oh, no you wouldn’t have. I was a wreck. Makes me embarrassed to remember it.” Jovi’s cheeks were bright pink, flushed with mead or embarrassment or a combination of the two. “But I’m also incredibly grateful to have the crew I do.”

Something on the earth below caught Leliana’s eye. It looked like a centipede or a skinny worm, but visible from a thousand feet in the air. She dug out her scope while Jovi gazed into the distance. “Huh. There’s a bunch of people walking through the middle of nowhere down there. Bunch of guys in brown coats.”

“Really!?” Jovi retrieved her own spyglass to have a look.”Oh! Those are the traveling monks. The Wandering Monastery they call themselves.” The group was some hundred strong with bruised and battered people huddled between them. Some wore backpacks, others had nothing. Two large carts, pulled by 4 garbed men each, pulled up the rear. One was laden with bundles and boxes, the other bore several people laid out in various positions. “They’re the saviors I was telling you about. I lived with them for almost a year before I met Gib.”

“Are they, like, taking slaves down there or…” The name ‘Wandering Monastery” sounded pretty cool to Leliana, but there was a clear divide between the upright, robed individuals and the others.

“No, not at all. At least they weren’t when I was a girl. They walk between cities, picking up animals and people along the way. Anyone can join them for as long as they like.” Jovi handed Leliana the spyglass for a better look. “Here, check it out.”

Leliana took the offered device and marveled at how much clearer things were. “Man this thing is way better than mine.” Jovi laughed. She was right about the situation on the ground, Leliana could tell now. Several men gingerly carried children and small animals. One man standing atop a cart was feeding a bandaged panther, who lapped at a bowl in the monk’s lap.

Leliana felt a tremor in her ear. The hair on her neck raised, and she felt the sudden prickly sensation that screamed caution. Two more tremors followed in quick succession. She looked to the storm. It was certainly headed this way, but not what she was hearing. A cold wind picked up, throwing a bowlful of berries overboard.

“Haha, oh no!” Jovi merrily swept the remnants of the improvised picnic back into the bag. “We better get inside girly.”

There was the tremor again, almost audible this time.

Leliana loosed the ropes around her and scurried up the mast to have a better look. After a few minutes, she spotted it. A ship running in front of the storm. “Hey Jovi, question.” She yelled to be heard above the brisk wind blowing now, so she jumped back down.

“Yes, Leli darling?”

“You know anything about a red flag with a…clown?” She’d zoomed in for the best possible look, but nothing else really came to mind. Pasty white face, black rimmed eyes and a freakish red smile. Looked like a knife or spike sticking out of the right eye. Reminded her of some of the old carnival comics she’d burned through one winter. Something else tugged at the edge of her mind. It felt so familiar. “I think I’ve seen that somewhere…”

“Leliana, hand me that glass please.” The woman’s smile was plastered in place, but her voice was harsh, commanding.

“Sure thing boss.”

Jovi’s hands trembled while she gazed at the bizarre airship in front of them. A rainbow of sickly hued reds and yellows and greens were painted haphazardly everywhere, a huge blimp roped to the ship to keep them afloat. Minutes of silence whooshed by in the growing wind. The metal tube suddenly squeezed out of the captain’s fist, hurling itself overboard.

Leliana snatched it, though she almost dropped it herself after a glance at the captain. Despite looking the calmest she had been since the two had met, Leliana’s fighting instincts recoiled from the vitriol exuding from the small woman. A thump-thump-thump caught Leliana’s attention and she saw Gib walking across the deck. “Hey big guy, I think you better come over here.”

Gib changed mid-stride from a walk to a frolic, his wavy black hair floating through the air as he bounded to the watch nest. “What can I do for you today, o’ friend of mine and pretty maid?”

“Pretty what the hells did you… Nevermind. Liste-”

“Gib. Dearest. The Jesters have come to play.” Jovi smiled as Leliana back away from her suddenly cheerful voice. “It seems they’ve taken a fancy to shooting at my old friends, as well.”

That tremor hit Leliana’s ear once again. Something clicked, and she whipped around to stare through the glass at the men and women below. A plume of dust and rock and smoke puffed out of the hillside near one of the now-abandoned carts. The robed figures were all carrying a man, woman, child or beast and scattered in all directions. She let out a small whistle. They were split and each carried a burden, yet they all migrated as one unit. Well, a small group had split and run for the forested hills at a sprint.

“Damn, even wandering monks have cowards huh?” Jovi was suddenly not behind her anymore. She was below. Gib had one hand on her back, and one on his own chest. They were breathing in sync.

“There we are, Jovial. You’re doing a tremendous job. You shall slay these demons yet one day.”

Outwardly, Jovi was calm and in control. Yet to any observer, the energy coming out of her was more wild than the lightning in the approaching storm.

BOOM

Leliana’s ears perked. Speaking of lightning.

Jovi laughed defiantly into the oncoming storm. The captain pulled a wide, metal hammer from the center-most mast and looked to Leliana and Gib. “Not one day, Gib.” She brought the hammer against the mast.

Clang

“Today.”

The metal anchor inside the mast echoed wildly through the ship.

Clang

“I have a chance to save my own saviors. The Skymother ushers me toward them as we speak. My own nightmares have presented themselves for retribution. I can’t deny such a clear path my friend. I slay my demons today.”

Clang

I’ll not have that blood on my hands.

Sparks of their last encounter flickered through Leliana’s mind. The Jovi a couple of days ago and the one in front of her were not the same person. The crew emerged from below at a run.

Clang

Clang

Clang

The last tone was allowed to die as the distant rumbles picked up, both of thunder, and now cannons.

***

A heated discussion followed regarding their course of action. Jovi’s plan was apparently for everyone to abandon ship while she drove it into the Jesters’. Gib was only the first objection.

“Nay, captain. Many years you’ve looked out for me. I’ll not be departing so easily.”

“Are you kidding me?! The months of design I spent preparing just for this.” Teena was next. “Not to mention the years it took to build the little minx. There’s no way I’m letting you get away with her!” The small woman climbed up to Gib’s shoulder and pointed dramatically back to the stairs. “Onward, Gib! To the war room!”

“Aye-aye, mini capt’n.” Gib saluted nobody in particular and they disappeared below-decks.

Sekkel and Karina ran below to secure all the important stuff and ready a huge batch of sealing foam.

Jovi looked to the two security guards. “This isn’t your fight, I apologize I must ask this of you, but you’ll need to hop overboard and chute to safety. The Wandering Monastery has come back from worse than this, go to them if you need.”

Antros’ frown deepened as he furrowed his brow. “My contract technically states that I’m here purely for defensive measures.” He crossed arms and looked to the watch-nest. “That being said, I’m curious how the girl is going to handle this one. There’s no way she’d leave a fight, right?” He tightened his own parachute. “I’ll keep an eye on her for now.”

***

Leliana’s heart pounded as she tied herself and the rifle to the watchtower. Snippets of her own past flashed in her mind. Brutus with a syringe. The executioner’s hammer. A faceless overseer and an electric collar.

If she couldn’t exact her own revenge, then she was damn well going to enjoy someone else’s.

Antros stood over her with the captain’s spyglass, Jovi having retreated to the wheel-room to fight the steering wheel. “That’s a long shot.”

“Yep.”

From this distance she could tell the… Men? On deck were all wearing white and black makeup, just like their flag. Most of them were whooping and hollering, tossing cannonballs between each other. A row of cannons bolted to the deck on each side, though only one side was manned at the moment. An angry clown with a big floppy hat and a spike in his right-eye stood among them, hand raised. He yelled something and dropped his hand, and another volley thundered onto the scattered monks below.

“Damn, looks like those shots are actually hitting.” Antros was keeping an eye below and above. The element of surprise was important when ambushing a force larger than your own. So far, none of the clowns had bothered looking up. “You ready?”

“This is literally what I’ve lived for.” Her dirty blond hair whipped at her face as she sighted the enemy. Leliana had 5 figures already picked out of the group, and had memorized positions and behaviors. The flag was a lot more prominent from this distance. It was easy to see the tears of blood now. And the clown didn’t have a red mouth, it just had lips dripping in blood the same color as the background. The flag took turns whipping this way and that as the blustering winds continually changed directions. 5 shots was probably pushing it from the distance she was willing to take the shot from, but the thunder might mask the first shot or two anyway.

Boom

The storm was rushing in. Jovi was roaring into the wind as it tried wresting the wheel from her. “You’ll have to do better than that, you piddly clown infested whore of a storm! AAAH!”

Leliana almost felt bad about how much better she liked the woman in the throws of psychotic fury. Almost.

She smiled.

The scope highlighted the enemy captain’s sick grin, and she led the shot a few inches to the right. She swung the gun back and forth a few times, getting a feel for the wind and how much to lead the shot. She swung it back to the captain. His sick grin flipped upside down as their eyes met. The wind hushed as time slowed. Her heart skipped a beat.

Oh. Scat.

She pulled right a few inches and hammered out the shots.

Bangbangbangbangbang

5 shots, 4 corpses. The clown in the big hat bellowed in rage, and some 37 eyes whipped her direction.

Chapter 11: Breakfast and company

Hello dear readers

Chapter 11 of Lead Heart is up, please enjoy!

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Leliana grabbed Antros’ hand and let him haul her up.

“C’mon kid, let’s get this room picked up. If you thought the hooligans were tenacious, wait ’til you see aunty Em get fired up.”

They shared a laugh under a withering gaze and set to work putting things in order. Shattered wood to the fire pits, bodies tossed to the gutter, bandages for the cuts and scrapes, and boiled water for the bloodstains.

“I must say, I’m a little impressed. The only injuries in that entire raid were to you and the idiots with the window.” He looked thoughtful a moment, “The gutter trash too, I guess. They had it coming.”

Leliana smiled. “Thanks. Never doubted myself. There weren’t enough of ’em.”

“Seriously though. Where’d you train? I’d be interested to pay them a visit sometime. Or at least know if I need to worry about more of you.”

She looked away. “Er.” Then brightened, raising a finger “monks in the icy mountains. They raised me and sent me out to complete my training.”

She bowed.

He stared.

“C’mon, that’s a good one. My mentor guided my training until the day I beat him, and he set me out on the world.” Leliana mimed a series of what she imagined to be exotic fighting stances.

“There are no monks in the icy mountains, I’ve been through there a hundred times.” He stopped scrubbing blood to wave questioningly.

“Well of course. Masters of stealth, we are. You’d probably never see them if you walked right through the village.” Leliana nodded.

They paused to provide some details to the police who’d made their way around. The officers promised Em to have the corpses picked up by dawn, but ler her know they likely didn’t have the manpower for a full investigation.

“Fine, gentlemen. Thank you for your time.” She slid one of the deadbolts home, then stopped and looked to the gaping window and sighed. “Thank you Antros. This place is as good as it’s going to get tonight, go on home and get some rest. And you,” she eyed Leliana. “You’re the only one who paid for a room and didn’t run into the night, so I suppose you can take your pick.”

Antros hopped out the broken window to the streets below, calling over his shoulder. “Meet me here tomorrow at noon then, I’ll give you an introduction to the cap at least. Remember, you’d be stuck with me and some dirty sailors in close quarters for weeks.”

Leliana turned to head upstairs, almost knocking over Em in the process. “Ah! Woops, sorry. I uh..”

Ahem

“My thanks girl. Ye kept a lot o’ people safe tonight, whatever the reason. I reckon it’ll be some time before I see another full house, but least I can do is put you up for the night.” Em flipped a coin Leliana’s way and headed presumably to her own room. Leliana considered the coin for a moment. One she hadn’t seen before, a woman’s face made of gold set into a flat silver disk.

“Wait, I-”

Slam

Too late. What even was this? Ah well, it was pretty cool at least. She dragged herself up the stairs, trudged through the first door she came to, and was asleep before she hit the pillow.

***

The next morning, Leliana groggily sipped a strong tea with milk and honey while Em busied herself readying the days’ meals. She burnt her tongue in surprise when the door slammed open behind her.

“Hello lovelies! I ‘eard this was a grand place for a bite and a fight. Tell me, am I right?” An unshaven monster of a man bounded through the doorway spouting some odd poetry, spinning on one heel at the end and stopping with a flourish.

Leliana stared.

“Pay no heed to the thespian dears, it only encourages him. Is your kitchen open yet mum? I’m starved like you wouldn’t believe.” A busy woman, curly black hair threatening to engulf her at any moment, hurried into the common room and plunked down at Em’s bar. The big guy moved behind her, but Leliana caught him stealing glances her way.

Aunt Em pulled the woman into a big hug, “Jovi, how wonderful to see you! Breakfast is just finished, let me take care of that one first.” She plopped a bowl of sweetened oats and milk heaped with fruit onto Leliana’s table, then retreated to the kitchen and did the same for the newcomer.

“Oh thank the almighty, you’re a dear Em. Can you get my friend one? A triple, he can eat all day.” Jovi and Em gossiped over the counter while the big guy practically inhaled more food than Leliana had ever seen someone eat at one sitting.

Her attention wandered, sipping at the tea and cereal in front of her. She made some tentative plans for the day. Definitely needed to swing back around to that candy shop, money was tight but priorities were priorities. Also-

A huge face slowly materialized over her shoulder.

She stared into his eyes. “….Hello.”

“What’s your name?” He jabbed her a couple times with a giant finger.

“Excuse me,” she chimed to the chatting women. “I think your thespian is touching me. Can you, uh, call him off?” She thought about just elbowing the wind out of him, but that felt a little like kicking a dog or something. She wasn’t a monster.

“Ah, sorry about that. He gets like this when he sees someone he likes. Gib, hands to ourselves please.” The tired woman turned back around without a second thought.

Ugh.

He raised his hands as high as they’d go and sat opposite her at the table. “I’m Gib, I’m a real big guy. My friend likes me to go places and carry big stuff. I’m real good at carrying big stuff. I could carry you too probably, you want me to try?”

He didn’t even pause for breath. What the.

“Hi Gib. I don’t like being carried, but I’ll bet you could.”

He sat up straighter, wiggling his hands at the tops of his arms.

“You bet I could! What’s your favorite color? What do you like to eat? Have you ever been to Melgrave? They have amazing chocolate!” A torrent of words washed over Leliana as she accidentally opened the floodgates. An amusing way to finish breakfast.

“Mmhmm. yeah. Oh. Okay. Yeah I like pink, but my favorite is-”

Clink

Leliana’s hand gripped a small arm as a squeal hit the air. She raised a small boy up by the arm, plucked her coin from his fingertips, and put him down. She stared through narrowed eyes as the flustered boy backed up a few paces, and bolted through the door.

“-and I threw him over the rail. HA! Hahaha!” Gib wrapped up a story, gesticulating wildly as the door slammed.

The big-haired lady took the seat next to Gib.

“Leliana, I presume?” She offered a hand while the big guy crossed his arms.

Chapter 8: Tears

Hello internet friends

I’ve got chapter 8 of Lead Heart for you, drop me a line if you have any comments!

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The sizzling of burning flesh tickled the still night.

The cries of his new victim were delicious and he felt tingly all over. Sadly, this one was broken now. The acid finally too deep in its own hunger.

A skeletal shadow rose to its full height in the darkness between two buildings and flung its head like a wet dog. He wiped his eyes on the dead guys’ shirt and lumbered out into the road and back home.

The trip through the poors was as melancholy as ever. His giddy smile dwindled after just a few minutes, slumping into a grimace as a waft of sick bodies hit his nose.

Disgusting.

He tripped over something…some*one* in the street and the dog gnawing its former owner growled up at him. His nostrils flared, lashing savagely, kicking the dog in the face and stomping the body on the ground. Stupid, sniveling, rat-infested excuse of humanity. He was beyond this, beyond *them*. How dare they force him to live in destitute poverty. Grrr.

His grimace curled into a feral sneer as he opened the door to the crumbling shack. He resisted the pulse inside him that wanted to rip the rotten door apart and set everything on fire.

He closed his eyes.

Breath in.

Breath out.

Footsteps.

“Hey Babyface, er, boss, you feeling okay?”

He snarled, wrestling with himself, before flashing his underling a crooked smile. “Hahahaha. I’m fantastic Kay, fantastic. Thank you.” Was he still growling? He unclenched his jaw. “Has Harley brought me anything since I’ve been gone?” He stepped into the small candlelight, pale skin aglow. The itch under his eyes was unbearable. His eyelids twitched.

“Um, not yet I’m afraid. He said he had a good feeling tho-”

“I DON’T CARE ABOUT HIS FEELINGS.”

Breath in.

Breath out.

He closed his eyes.

“Forgive me Kay. I understand your brother places a great emphasis on his feelings.”

He opened his eyes, unclenched his jaw.

He smiled, though his voice still trembled.

“You know how I get when I want something, I just can’t control it sometimes.” He hefted his hands apologetically. His breathing came quick and ragged and his hands curled slowly inward. “The mutt took our brothers, Kay. He took the money. He took everything from us. We can’t allow this Kay. We can’t let him get away with this.”

His eyes blurred again, his smile trembled.

“We can’t just let this monster run free Kay.”

He felt the tears burning the whites of his eyes.

“I can’t let myself rest easy until I BURN HIS EYES FROM THEIR SOCKETS AND EAT HIS DISGUSTING MUTT BRAINS WHILE HE CRIES LIKE A BABY DASHED ON THE WALL” The small room echoed the screeching into his own ears. He felt the scabs on his cheeks being dissolved by the freed tears. Tasted copper as blood oozed out of his chapped lips. Rage exploded when he caught the fear in his subordinates’ eyes.

After all they’d been through this little bastard was still afraid. Everything they’d shared together. How dare he. How dare he.

“Do you WANT TO BE FRIGHTENED KAY. DO YOU NEED SOMETHING-”

A ragged gasp tore from Kay as he unsuccessfully dodged a long swipe. He tore at the bloody fingertips biting into his wrist, but those hands were like iron.

Babyface forced Kay onto the ground, face-up. Gibbering incoherently, he pinned him down with misshapen hands and knees. Kay was gasping, averting his eyes. Where were the others?

A drop wet his cheek. White, hot fire seared nerves as the skin was eaten away.

Drip. Drip.

The smell of his own flesh cooking.

The door to the small room slammed open. A thick boot lowered to the ground as the newcomer entered the room calmly. “Boss. Get off Kay.”

Blood, acid and his own real tears mingled on the dirt floor as Kay wept openly. His brother’s appearance elicited both relief and shame, and he squirmed out of Babyface’s disgusting hands. He fled to the interior of the house.

“Kay, I’m so sorry. Kay forgive your big brother. Kay do yoU HEAR ME!” Babyface trembled violently as the young man scrambled away, but Babyface didn’t follow. He knew Harley wouldn’t let him kill that little-

“Boss. Get control of yourself”

Babyface’s sickly limbs curled under him as wracking sobs rocked him. He shrieked and sobbed and choked on his own blood. Finally, the room fell silent.

“I already brought you something to play with tonight, boss B. Why are you hurting Kay.” Harley moved slowly and dabbed the open wounds on the scarred face.

“He was looking at me like I was a freak Harley. I’m not a freak. I’m not a freak.” His voice thick with emotion as he repeated himself over and over.

“Kay doesn’t think you’re a freak big guy, he looks up to you. We all do. You can’t hurt people who look up to you, we’re your family.” Harley kept the irritation out of his voice, but he was thankful the other man was still closing his eyes. “Alright, we’re back buddy. You got this, you’re ready.”

“Ready for what?” The tall figure rose up to his full height and shook his head like a wet dog. The pitted wall gained a few more holes as his tears splattered and hissed. His eyes opened wide. “Did you find him. Did you find the monster that broke my pets.”

“I just watched him walk into the Cakewalk Inn on the other side of town. I left some guys to tail him if he left but they ain’t gonna touch him. They know he’s yours. Let’s go get him, huh?”

Seven feet of pale, scarred flesh hopped on two feet, giggling giddily. “Let’s go, let’s go, LET’S GO!”

Chapter 5: Camping

Lazy smoke curled around the campsite as Leliana’s eyes slid lazily down. She slumped a bit and then jerked up, slapping at her cheeks to help wake up.

“Smoking meat is so boring, ugh, why does it taste so good.”

Three of the legs she’d swiped from the tiger the day before hung from a makeshift wooden rack to dry and smoke so she didn’t have to waste any. The last one had been devoured, having been the first meat she’d seen in months. She stood to yawn and stretch, jumping a bit as the fire crackled behind her.

Dammit fire.

The dense forest was a cacophony of freaky noises as it turned out. She almost wished something would show up to fight just so she could stop jumping at her own shadow. Well the campfire seemed to keep most of the irritating things at bay for now, so she tried to relax. She cast her eyes around for something to do. The small pile of debris next to the dead tree she’d used as a chair reminded her that she already crafted as many sniper shots as she had material for, another 10 or so. It wasn’t a lot, but she didn’t need a lot.

She ran her hands across her pockets briefly, and discovered a shattered glass tube in a small leather pouch fitted to her belt. Well scrap, there went the last antidote she’d taken from the lab. With an irritated sigh, Leliana realized it was about time to try her luck in town to refresh some supplies. Hopefully a small town. Bigger cities were cheaper by far, and had access to more variety, but that convenience was nestled among too many police for her taste. The only “family” she’d ever had used her as a convoy guard during their regular trips to the nearest towns, and the police were by far the worst part of the trip, pushing and shoving and demanding her about while the quartermaster sat in a steambuggy lying about on pillows. Well, okay they were all bastards.

Though, she recalled the disgruntled mercenary earlier and his…advice? Being a muscle for hire would probably be pretty easy money. It was probably more likely to find that kind of work in the bigger towns. More people, and more need. Though in her experience, a lot of people underestimated just what she could do based on her outward appearance., so she may not even find any buyers. Antros’ bulging muscles, scarred eyes and gravelly voice probably got him all kinds of work.

 

Then again. If she were still in reach of the facility, she couldn’t afford that kind of leisure.

She’d run for a week after she slipped out, and had kept moving the same direction ever since. The mountainous path was her best bet due to the limited driving space for the buggy, meaning they’d have to follow on foot. Not many people back there would expend the effort of walking on their own legs, not while they could invent something to do the work for them.

Leliana snorted and laid her dirty blonde head on the now-empty bag. It smelled like crap, but at least the sand from the river had done a good job removing the viscous blood.

Come to think of it, she could probably dye her hair with blood, would that just make her smell like a snack out here though? She felt herself drifting, crackling fire and the buzz of the insects dragging her into unconsciousness.

Lelianas eyes snapped open after the cracking of a twig all too close.

The cold remains of the fire and the ever so slight brightening of the sky hinted at the time passed while she slept. The crisp air felt good and she filled her lungs quietly, holding it in for a second before jumping off her back into a crouch. The atmosphere was pleasant, the early morning birds chirping and a slight breeze rustling the canopy above was normally a nice wake-up.

The guttural growl behind her, however, THAT wasn’t her favorite.

Frozen in place, she slowly formed a plan, casting her eyes around the vicinity and making a checklist.

Knife? Check, she couldn’t sleep without it.

Something for cover? This big log she was using as a chair seemed fine. Check.

She heard up a faint scuffle as whatever it was eased forward in the tall grass beyond the clearing. Nerve to fight off a scary forest monster?

That was a negative.

Clawed feet scraped against rock as the animal leaped from its hiding place, carving a jagged gash in the soil she’d been sitting on moments ago. She felt the breeze of the swipe against the nape of her neck, heard the snapping jaws as it tried grabbing onto her while she darted away. Leliana tucked the blade in her left hand safely under her arm, vaulting over the fallen tree and turning just enough to toss her throwing knife from a vest pocket before raising the knife as she landed. The knife dug into the terrifyingly close face of a gigantic black cat, which halted its charge and sprang back in surprise. The panther had gorgeous, jade-green eyes and narrowed, slit pupils looking hungrily through her. A line of sharp, bony spikes dotted its spine through the velvety black coat, which itself looked clean and smooth.

The clean coat was bad sign for her. This one was either too young to know when to back off, or good enough at killing not to care who it went after.

She kept the 30-inch blade between them, the log protecting her lower half. The cat was pacing on the other side, waiting for a gap in her defenses to open up. Though, that didn’t seem quite right. It wasn’t advancing or prowling or stalking, it was just walking back and forth…directly between her and the smoked elk legs hanging over the fire.

“Ohhh, that’s what you want.” She giggled and stood a little straighter. This slag sucking-

Swapping the knife to the other hand, she took a few steps back and plucked one of the newly made bullets she made yesterday. The barbed point stuck out an inch or two from the tip of the narrow, 5-inch bullet. Hopefully this cat had never been stung by the giant fire wasps further south and this was going to be a big surprise, enough at least to run it off. She made a mental note not to throw all her weapons away or have them stolen in the future.

Her grip tightened on each weapon, and her stocky frame launched over the fallen tree. “No! Bad kitty!”

A feral hiss set her hair on end, but therewas no way she was giving up this much meat. She caught a heavy paw with the flat edge of the knife, deflecting those sharp claws away from her face once, but was forced to retreat as two new swipes breezed by less than an inch from her eyes. She feinted in and jumped back, leaving a deep cut between two clawed toes. The scariest sound she’d ever been subjected to leapt from the cats’ mouth and she went on the defensive under an angry onslaught. She wouldn’t have called it holding her own, but she did manage to just avoid a brutal death by mauling as she slipped out from under leap after leap of a snarling hellbeast.

She ducked right again and again, the panther seemingly getting faster each time, until they were actually just running in a circle. She sliced at it with her own blade, cleanly cutting the air as the cat let the swing go by.

Those beautiful green eyes watched the sharp knife in her right hand as she hefted the rifle round in her left, then chucked it as hard as she could. Barbed wasp stinger pierced deep into its left eye as it turned back to face her and the cat went wild. Spitting and clawing and screaming in a fit to dislodge the bullet.

Leliana bound behind the dead tree to avoid the maelstrom of murder going to town on the campsite, though she couldn’t help feeling a little bad. The fire wasp venom wasn’t going to kill this big, beautiful hunter, but it sure was going to hurt. Well, it was trying to steal her food, she couldn’t feel that bad. The panther probably got to eat meat everyday, but it had been months for her. The yowling grew more frantic and panicked, the smoke rack and campfire in shambles, and the leopard smashed through the thick underbrush as it fled.

That was a lot of noise and blood she just threw out into the wilderness, and she had learned that to be a good way to meet new friends. Friends with teeth and claws and appetites. The sun was basically up, so it was time to go. She tossed the weapons where they belonged and crammed the legs into the bag, sealing it tight. A once-over of the camp confirmed she wasn’t missing anything, she took a step to leave when-

“What the hells!?”

The clearing around her turned black again, just a few seconds before brightening again. She watched a patch of inky blackness move away in confusion, before realizing it was just a huge shadow. Unable to fight the curiosity, Leliana climbed the tallest tree to check it out. She popped out of the canopy and blinked in the early sunlight, eyes adjusting just in time to watch a ship smoothly gliding over the top of a huge hill.

A ship? What the FU

Time for Triple S (short story Saturday)

Hi team, Kris here

My amazing wife hung out with the silly six year old so I could hurry and finish this story she definitely stole and I hadn’t lost earlier this week. I’ve been working on an RPG system that I can use to play some steampunk games with and I had to get the flying airship out of my system somehow before that’s done! Not as much of a kids read as there are some “bad” words, but it’s not too bad.

The Nightwatch
_______________________

Mando’s vision blurred as his eyes sank backward. Hand slipping from its perch, his knees finally gave way and he collapsed.

Face-first into his undisturbed cup of coffee. Steaming black liquid catapulted into his face right as his jaw made contact with the wooden floorboards.

“AAH! OWWW!”
“AHAHAHA”

Mando rolled around the floor clutching his burning face while his partner doubled over laughing, nearly losing his grip on the ladder. The old man gave the wooden floor a hearty punch to distract his mind from his face. “Leeroy you bastard, don’t just stand there and watch!” He removed his greasy shirt and was fanning his face to cool it. Thankfully he’d finally gotten around to shaving.

“Ha! Watch? You’re lucky the coffee did it this time. After the captain’s reaming I took by myself this morning I was about this close to nailing your ass to the nest so you didn’t sleep all night again.” Leeroy’s rippling muscles sprang him lightly onto the platform from the ladder as he glared daggers through the smaller man.

Mando didn’t believe the uptight youth would actually nail him to the tall lookout platform, but sometimes there were risks in life it was best not to argue with. “What’s the big deal? It’s the first time this week don’t be such a-”

“It’s the FIRST day of the week!”

The two watchmen growled at each other a few minutes longer, exchanging accusations and lame excuses.

“Why are you even up this late? I thought you went to bed before the children to get your beauty sleep.” The older man glowered at his peer while sucking on what was left of the bitter brew from his cup.

“You’d go to bed at a reasonable time too old man, if you weren’t sleeping through every shift.” The young man hopped to his feet and went through a brief but vigorous workout to help him wake up. “The geezer said we almost hit a mountain last night, woke up to a goat staring at him through the window. Took me off days and told me to babysit your ass all night.”

Mando chuckled at the mental picture but then frowned. He’d expected to have been taken off the night watch eventually for his neglegent behavior, not to be put in the command of a young punk with a try-hard attitude.

“What about Cow? How many people really need to watch a boat drift along at night?”

Leeroy hopped up to the spotlight above them and shone it into the blackness. Twinkling waves reflected up from the choppy waters far below, but all else was still. “CAL,” he began, emphasizing the pilot’s name, “was relocated to the AM so they could yell at him all day. Honestly you two picked a helluva time to drink yourselves under. Cap abandoned the job since we were too far off to make any money, we’re going to see if we can get some value at the flats instead.”

Mando’s grizzled face broke into grin as he was filled in. “Serves you all right. I’m a poor old man, I need comfort food and soft women to live out my twilight.”

Leeroy thumped onto the deck next to the hatch. “You’re a lazy middle-aged has-been with no useful skills, you can at least watch for danger while the rest of us sleep. If I get back from checking the rounds and you’re asleep I’m throwing you overboard old man. Maybe over the water.” He tossed the hatch up a bit and slid through it, forgoing the slowness of the ladder to drop the 15 feet soundlessly. He made a quick survey of the gauges on the bridge and compared the course log against their current speed and direction. They all looked fine, but he needed physical activity if he was going to survive working these hours.

Running slowly along the deck, each of the float fans was checked for noise and friction meticulously. Leeroy rigged himself to the balloon cage – a series of interwoven thick ropes securing the thick, gas filled balloon that provided most of their buoyancy – and climbed around it looking for holes and checking the patches already in place.

He paused for a few minutes to stand atop the massive inflated balloon to relax. Standing alone in the blackness, twinkling stars overhead. Nothing but the sounds of the wind almost therapeutic swish of the rotors. This was the most peaceful place he could think of during the day, but he never imagined it could be so tranquil overnight. He breathed the night air and let his body relax, just for a minute.

Sighing, he shimmied his way to the fore of the elongated balloon to spy on his counterpart. The old man sullenly stared into the darkness and sipped from a flask, laying over the rail to stay awake. Alright, time to get back to work before I have to make good on that promise. Leeroy quickly made his way to the deck below and finished the above-deck checks. Snapping a glowstick, he descended into the inky blackness of the ballast hold at the very bottom of the ship. Giant, steam pressured tanks all registered an even weight except the few at the fore of the ship. They were a bit heavy so the ship was probably moving faster than they should overnight; he went ahead and leaked the tanks back into the main so the ship would lose a bit of forward momentum over time.

Perfect.

His footsteps rang hollowly as he climbed the wooden ladder to the crow’s nest again. Might as well make peace with the old guy if they were going to be stuck together. Might be able to talk him into doing something useful if he were promised an early release, who knew? Leeroy’s head peeked through the hatch slowly, expecting the slumped figure of a sleeping old bastard. No?

Twisting his head this way and that, Leeroy expected for a moment for Mando to leap out and try surprising him, but the leap never came. “Mando? Where you at buddy?” He hopped up into the spotlight seat to check it out, but the night was silent. “Good one man, where’d you get to hiding?” This old son of a… Probably fell asleep and fell out of the nest. Ha, good. Except there’d been no impact, no screaming.

Leeroy finished sweeping the parts of the deck he could reach with the bright light and gave up. The glowstick had a good few minutes left of usable light left so he whipped it out and started looking in the usual napping spots. Not in his bed, not in someone else’s bed, not under the wheel. Hmmm. The old man was getting creative.

“Damn useless garbage.” He tossed the dim glowstick overboard, doing his best not to stomp while crossing the ship to get another. Useless glowsticks. Useless crewmates. Next thing he knew one of the damn float fans woul-

WOOSH

The two fans at the fore of the ship suddenly spun-up madly, jerking the front of the ship upward.

“I take it back!” Leeroy scrambled for a handhold to keep his footing and raced back to the entrance of the ballast hold. He snapped three glowsticks and grabbed an oil lamp, wedging himself into a corner to maintain his balance and hit the wick with a striker. Bursting into a strong yellow glow, the lamp lit quickly. Luckily the ship seemed to have stabilized in angle, but it still made walking difficult. Leeroy ran to the stairs and damn near fell headfirst down them over the unexpected body he kicked in front of the first step.

“Mando? What the hell are you doing!” Setting the lamp carefully to the side, he shook the old man ferociously. The thought of tripping down the stairs and the lamp oil scattering everywhere. The entire ship burning up with the sleeping crew inside. He successfully did not hit his unconscious partner, but it certainly wasn’t off the table. “I’m putting you up for auction the second we hit the flats you forsaken mother of-”

The light of the glowstick twinkled off a stream running down the stairs and caught him short. In a panic he grabbed the lamp to keep the flames away from the stream of oil before he realized he was an idiot – the dark stream was on the far side of the old man from the lamp, there’s no way leaking oil could….Blood? He grabbed Mando and checked for breathing and a pulse. He was alive. His head was gashed in the back and blood was freely running running in a little river down the stairs. Leeroy’s mind raced a moment for the best course of action. The ship came first, he knew.  Mando would have to wait. He rolled the older man into a corner where he wouldn’t slide off into danger and rushed below.

The almost dazzling light of the lamp led him to the ballast hold and he ran to the fore-tanks. Full? He’d just evened these out not thirty minutes ago, there’s no way.

A floorboard creak set his nerves on edge. The flame wavered violently as he about-faced to confront the noise. The eerie quiet of the hold had a different feel than during the day. Almost sinister. He took a few steadying breaths and wiped the sweat from his eyes. First things first he, thought. The hissing steam passed out of the tank with a ghastly screech as it emptied. He reached overhead and did the same to the fan valves, which were similarly set. He let himself fall against the tank as the ship righted, felt the pressure ease up as it slowed.

His narrowed eyes darted as he slowed his breathing and tried to hear something over his drumming heart. Someone on-board had followed him in earlier. Someone had altered these tanks.

There was no way they weren’t staring at him right now.

Leeroy tossed a glowstick to where he’d heard the sound a minute ago. Something flashed out of the way just as the small stick bounced off the wall. Coiled muscles reacted and flung him toward the middle of the ship instinctively, hurlng another glowstick ahead of him before he’d realized what was happening. He caught sight of someone jumping out of the way again, further back this time. Leeroy sprinted to the stairs and chucked his last glowstick at the heavy thudding above, bouncing it against the head of whoever was running away.

“Get back here!” Heaving himself up the stairs two at a time, he caught up to the figure as it busted onto the equipment platform, his massive leg smashing them in the back and sprawling them across the floor. “You better have a damn good reason to be down with the tanks, sailor.” Leeroy’s fingertips sizzled as he put out the lamp. He strode across the room.

Rolling to its feet, the shrouded figure threw a tiny ball at his face. Before he could move out of its way his vision flashed, a sound like a mast snapping but a thousand times louder assailed his ears. He cursed as he clutched at his eyes. He’d been flash-banged before, but not at night.

A heavy thud and loud shouting jerked him back to the situation at hand. He swung a tentative fist at the air, keeping the attacker at bay. The sounds were slowly becoming more clear and yet, further away. Looking around the white spot in his vision, he realized he was alone.

Arms flailing, eyes watering, Leeroy felt his way to the main deck. He caught sight of a greasy bundle of clothes rolling about on the floor. His adrenaline-fueled legs shook with every step. He could see Mando now, wrestling with the mystery person for control of long knife that clattered out of reach. The old man’s face was swollen and bleeding as he took punch after punch. Too late the figure heard his approach, its head dragging the body sailing through the air. Leeroy shook his hand in pain, stomping loudly forward in hopes of waking the rest of the crew.

A beautiful face with a huge bruise popped out of the heavy clothing, listing to the side for a second before shaking her head clear. She flung herself to the railing and heaved the rest of the disguise to the ground. Leeroy leaped headfirst and caught a handful of shirt.

“Ah hahaha! This won’t be the last time we meet you beefy mancake.” The silky voice flowed over Leeroy like water.

“Shut your mouth and grab my hand, we can spend some quality time together.” He ground his teeth as he tried getting a better grip, but with a fluid motion, the shirt was cut free and she waved up at him as she was swallowed by the night. The dull snap of cloth in the still air told him a parachute had opened below.

Leeroy grumbled and lumbered over to help Mando to his feet. “You alright old man? You look like hell.”

“Mind your manners whipper snapper, you’d be sprouting knives if not for me!” The old man…smiled? Through the swelling on his face, slobbering all over himself in the process.

“When you’re right you’re right.” Blinking furiously to fix his vision, Leeroy had to admit the lout had probably saved his life. “Don’t let it go to your head, you still got trounced by a girl, after all.”

The two sat in silence. Finally, Leeroy rose.

“Better go wake the geezer, get some rest old man. You definitely need the beauty sleep now.” Leeroy grinned at his partner as the old man guffawed and shambled off to bed.

Kris’s random totally-not-procrastinating blog about a dream

Kris here,

I’m a big fan of scary stuff. Movies and games, stories, creepypastas, SCPs. Not the gory stuff, that’s actually terrible and I hate it, but if you throw me at a spooky world filled with ghosts or monsters lurking beneath, chances are pretty good that I love it. I think it’s because I accidentally watched one of the Poltergeist movies as a 4/5 year old after everyone had fallen asleep. Sitting in the dark listening to some tiny lady talking about some ghosts and go to the light child, it gave me nightmares for about a decade. Which was great!

I’ve actually spent a good while seeking out good nightmare stories on the internet over the years, so if anybody knows a fabulous one, go ahead and throw it my way.

I don’t really mind the scary dreams though, I kind of prefer them. I’ve had a bit of a recurring dream recently. Well, more like a recurring place. I’ve dreamt about this big spooky, dilapidated mansion 5 or 6 times in the last few months – but every time I do, I remember stuff from the last time I was there. Once I even brought Tina for some reason, and she was like “oh well we have to bring Nik” and dream Kris was like “are you crazy this place is haunted we can’t bring a 6 year old!” Obviously we did bring him and he gets lost and I wake up while my dream haunted mansion slams a door in my face with Nik on the other side.

Thanks dream, I really like a good adrenaline rush to get going in the morning.

For anyone out there like me, surrounded by people who hate being scared, here are some classic fallbacks I recommend:

http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/Anasi’s_Goatman_Story – This one might be hard to read if you’re not a fan of the greentext style, or the more casual (read: bad words) style of storytelling. I don’t let things like that get in my way but I understand we all have our sensitivities.

http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/The_Smiling_Man – This is a pretty brief story, nothing extravagent but still a good read.

http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-087 – Man this story is super classic, I’ve read it like 5 times. It’s just fabulous. The entirety of the scp-wiki site could honestly be featured here because there’s a lot of good writing, but not all of it is spoopy and I’ve only read about a hundred or so.

http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/Ted_the_Caver – I don’t have a particular affinity to creepypasta wiki or anything, but it’s a convenient aggregate of stories that I’ve read over the years so why not keep it simple? Ted the caver was such a sinkhole of amazing when I read it a few years ago, I can’t not recommend that everyone just take some time to read the whole thing right now.

Leave a comment and share your favorites, let’s make sure we sleep with the lights on for a week!