Chapter 3 of Lead Heart is up! Sometimes you just have to GTFO.
The merchant was jerked from the bench violently in the same instant Leliana hauled ass to the treeline. There would be a few seconds of confusion and she needed it to disappear. She recoiled as the tree inches to her left exploded in a burst of shrapnel and splinters. Holy scrap, that sniper was quick. The telltale retorts of pistol fire followed soon after and she saw puffs of dirt and bark popping up all around her.
She sprinted about 100 meters into the trees and bolted up a short evergreen. She hopped back and forth from branch to branch and only stopped to rest once she was high enough to confirm the hit and dismantle her rifle. A fight had broken out near the storage tent and a few burly men were vanishing into the distant woods. Likely his bodyguards, having pocketed any money on his person. She could also see a line of armed men sweeping over the ridge she’d been hiding behind a minute before.
Time to go.
She stowed the rifle parts and tested the heft of the bag. It’d have to do. She yanked the three bombs she acquired earlier that day and pulled the pins, hurling them to the forest below. Then she pulled back a solid branch and used it to slingshot herself away from the advancing troop.
Her gut hit the back of her throat as she sailed through the canopy, narrowly missing a couple of solid hits and scratching her arms to hell. She grabbed a branch to slow her momentum and dropped onto a young tree below. The limber sapling hooked the canvas bag and absorbed most of the speed from the fall, dropping to the ground with a grunt and a roll. The tree snapped back into place and the cacophony of breaking twigs made her wince. Almost simultaneously, the bombs exploded in unison and she was rewarded with shrieks and howls of pain and surprise. Leliana vaulted once more to a low hanging branch and swung up into the tree next to her. They’d still probably be able to tail her, but it would take a lot longer to spot the trail and she’d be long gone by then.
Thirty minutes later, Leliana strolled through a bit of fern whistling tunelessly. She’d lost a good power stone, but at least she put some mercenaries in their place. She still heard the occasional gunshot in the distance but who knows what they were shooting at anymore.
The flicking of leaves had her instinctively jerking her head back, yanking the quivering knife from the tree next to her and sending it tumbling back at the thrower before her mind registered anything was amiss.
“Nice to see you again.”
That gruff hello put her heart into her throat. A throwing knife flashed into her right hand, her left raised to block.
Even if she’d forgotten that grating voice in the last few hours, the ugly criss crossed scars across his eyes were extraordinarily memorable. The look of incredibly calm rage was pretty adorable if she said so herself.
It was less adorable as it was flying her way though.
She twisted aside and shoved his incoming bulk against a tree, then bounced back a few paces to put some distance between them. She was mildly impressed as he caught himself before he fell and caught the second knife she’d sent sailing.
“Here to shake me down some more for your pig owner?”
His eyes narrowed. “Don’t play stupid, you know damn well Creet is dead. Watched him sprout a new orifice in front of my eyes.”
She smiled again. “Revenge, then?”
“Dead men don’t pay for revenge.”
She stepped back as he bounced off the tree and crossed the clearing in a single bound, avoiding the sweep of his leg but catching his fist with her face. He used the confusion to latch onto her and heaved her up over his head, throwing her backward at the nearest tree. Leliana curled up mid-air, hitting the tree feet-first and kicking off of it to plant her boots in his teeth. His grunt of surprise made her giggle as he toppled like a felled tree.
She crouched into a fighting stance as he rolled to his feet.
“You’re pretty good, why are you screwing around with petty thievery and potshots anyway.” He leisurely stretched and flexed his arms, spitting a gobful of blood into the soil. “I just wanted to kick your ass for losing me a week of pay, but now I want to kick your ass for wasting that fighting skill.”
Leliana scoffed. “You mean take money from lazy bastards to protect their idiocy? I’d rather fight for myself. I don’t take orders well.” She rushed him then, keeping her center of gravity low and vaulting at the last minute. She grabbed his hands, outstretched to absorb the incoming blow, and crossed them over his shoulders, pulling him off-balance as she landed behind him. To his credit, Antros let himself drop backward, his own weight wrenching his hands free of her hold. He rocked back as he hit the ground and catapulted himself back up, landing a kick that tossed her backward onto her back. She sprang back to her feet, but he raised his hands briefly.
“Sure, sure. Don’t take orders, but don’t really get a chance to eat or relax either. Nothing like a cold pint to wash away the stink of an old, rich bastard.” He wrenched the knife she’d thrown earlier and sheathed it in his own vest. “It’s been fun, but I need to get back and find me a new bastard to keep alive. Next time I see you on a job, I won’t just be here to kick your ass though.”
“Hey you warned him, it’s not my fault.”
“You shot him. It’s literally your fault.”
She laughed. “Okay, that’s fair. I’ll be sure to look for that handsome mug next time I need to fence something.”
He laughed, or coughed, she wasn’t sure which, and strode from the clearing.
Whistling low with appreciation, leliana respected the silence and haste with which he’d vanished. “I’ll have to bring that man some flowers.”
The muted shouts in the distance gave her an idea of the kind of lead she still had over the rest of her persuers. Antros had a point, though. Dead men don’t pay, and there were a lot of armed thugs combing the trees now, angry about a paycheck they’d never see.
Her stomache growled furiously. Dammit, he was right about that too. She imagined it would be too much to chance the idiots behind her leaving all their food unprotected at the campsite.
She nursed a swollen eye as she dragged herself into the forest. Time to hunt.