Chapter 10: Guarding a bodyguard

Hello internets,

Here’s chapter 10 of Lead Heart!

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Antros recovered from the shock of near miss and watched the girl leap impossibly up to the railing on the second floor. He noticed from the corner of his eye a pale shadow in the dark corners of the ceiling. He called a warning as he watched the girl knock a sudden group of dirty men down the stairs, “watch out above you!”

Well slag he thought. This was supposed to be a quick stop so his weapons weren’t on him. The last of the thugs from the second floor landed in a pile of his friends at the bottom of the stairs. He watched as she hopped onto the chain holding a chandelier and yanked, rocketing up into the darkness. A confused shout and a volley of grunts and punches followed, though whose he couldn’t quite make out.

Back on the ground floor, diners had taken poorly to the raining of men down the stairway. First one, then a second, then five and six rose from their table to make an escape via the front door. By the time they reached Antros, he had to flatten himself against a wall to avoid the small stampede of mild-mannered townspeople. The first threw the door open and was practically ejected by the press of the crowd behind him. There was yelling and confusion and everyone started backing up, three rough men herding them back into the common room.

“Aye, nobody leaves ’til the boss says they leave.” A beast of a man with more scars than skin crossed his arms with finality, “Sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy your meals.”

Antros flicked his eyes upward, listening to the wacks and thwacks punching out of the darkness, then backward as a movement caught his eye. The dark skinned owner of the inn, affectionately known as Aunt Em, flipped backward over her front counter and came up with a smooth-barrelled shotgun. “I’ll have none of this in my house! I suggest you ‘n your men disappear right quick, y’pasty faced clap slappers.” Several men shrunk back from her commanding aura, though the ones by the door remained unflinching.

“Put it down missy.” The brute never uncrossed his arms as the lackies behind him each drew a pistol. “Tonight isn’t about you.” The guy to his left trained the barrel at Antros for a moment, though he was slapped immediately to the floor. “Idiot, that one’s for the boss.”

“But I don’t see the boss!”

“Said he was comin’-”

The floor splintered as a heap of pale flesh rained onto the three from above. A huge, blubbering mess of a man lay atop them, clutching his swollen face.

“Boss!”

Scars hefted the weeping man away from him and vaulted to his feet, scanning the rafters. “Who’s up there!?” He narrowed his eyes, keeping them trained on the ceiling and plucking a gun from one of his fallen men.

A chair went through the front window across the room and a press of desperate dinner-goers dove through in pairs, leaving smears of blood on the jagged glass.

“‘Ay, ‘ay none of that!” The innkeep waved a fist at the dwindling patrons.

Now

While everyone’s attention was on the window, Antros kicked off the wall and grabbed for the gun in front of him. Or, he would have if –

Slam

Booted feet stood in the remains of one of the door guards’ head, one hand extended toward himself.

“Ah, ah, big guy. You just stay right there. I’m going to protect your dainty ass and you are going to take me flying.”

“Are you serious right now, kid?”

“Leliana.”

Antros reached out to warn her. “Watch-”

Bulging arms wrapped around her waist and locked at the hands, hoisting her off the ground. The pair struggled for a several seconds. Antros moved to help Aunt Em, who was in the middle of a slowly tightening circle of bandits. He checked his rear, falling into a defensive stance. He counted three behind and 2 in front, closing in.

“Aaaaaah”

A body sailed over him, crashing face-first into one of the guys behind him.

Okay 2 behind, 2 in front.

The other two made to help their comrades up and Antros stole a glance forward. A greasy, disheveled, weasel of a man was using his shirt to staunch the absolute torrent of blood painting the wall next to him. Leliana and the bruiser were locked into a grapple, red-faced and panting. The match concluded as she hammered her head into his face and flung herself around him, bouncing off his legs to buckle them and then dropping him to the ground with a snap.

Who the…WHAT the? She’s a monster.

“Hey!”

Antros started as Leliana yelled at him. Wait, no not at him, the guys behind him. He about-faced to witness the three conscious guys bolting for the backdoor. He recoiled as a knife sang between he and Em, end-over-end, burying itself into the back of the one who still had hair. The other two made it out the door safely, screaming like children.

“You disgusting wench. How dare you touch me. My family.”

Antros started again, whipping back to the front of the inn where Leliana and Babyface were locked in a deadly embrace. Muscles trembled and the wood beneath them cracked, throwing shards of wood everywhere.

“First the mutt. Now his bitch.”

The quiet yet high-pitched whining set his teeth on edge. Antros swept the room with his eyes, returning back to the fight in front of him after confirming they were the last 4 standing. Aunt Em kept the gun leveled at the two fighters, but didn’t shoot.

“You should have just left us alone. We only wanted what was ours. What was STOLEN from us! WE ONLY WANTED WHAT WAS OURS!”

Antros felt his hair stand on end as the whining turned to snarling, and the snarling rose into screeching. Babyface was spitting and shrieking nonsensically in Leliana’s face and Antros was getting a bit concerned. Althought wait a second….Leliana was…Smiling? Antros took an involuntary step back.

The pair took turns trying to dislodge the other with kicks and acid, blood spitting and freakishly long teeth snapping in the open air. Leliana’s entire body glistened with a sheen of sweat and blood, cuts and bruises and shards of wood decorating her body. Babyface lunged with his face, but was instead run straight into the wall with that momentum. Inhuman howling put a shiver down Antros’ spine as his would-be murderer released his pain and anger in a wild cry. Babyface dug his own sharpened fingernails into his tear ducts, then whirled and slapped Leliana with an echoing crack.

Antros winced. The handprint immediately started opening up, the acid eating her face.

Leliana rolled beneath the second swing, stopping a moment to toss an unspilt glass of water at the side of her face, then swung on the chandelier again, across the kitchen counter to retrieve her knife.

Babyface, in single-minded focus, sprinted between Em and Antros and leapt over the counter growling all the things he was going to do with her corpse.

Leliana stopped, held up a hand. “Wait, wait. Just hold on a second,” she wore an expression of concern. “What’s that on your face big guy?” She pointed to her own nose.

Babyface stopped short. Confused, still sneering. His hands scratched around his scarred and pitted cheeks.

“Whoa it looks just like my fist,” she shot a jab to his nose, giggling.

He roared and wailed, wildly swinging to maim and hurt, clawed hands scraping the open air. Antros caught himself holding his breath, unblinking, waiting for the conclusion.

Pots and pans flew from the shelves as the two danced to their own deadly song of rage and fear and prideful jeers. A few bits of furniture bounced off Antros in a final flurry of blows and both fighters vanished from sight.

Antros hesitated, then took the gun from Em. He approached cautiously.

“WHEW!” Leliana giggled with exhaustion as Antros sidestepped the grotesque head she tossed at him. “I did it!”

Aunt Em’s wide eyes took in the shattered window, broken furniture, splintered floor and dead bodies littering her inn. She set her slack jaw, marched over to look down at the girl’s foolish smile. Then she narrowed her eyes, and cracked her knuckles.

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Chapter 9: Reacquainted

Hello internet,

Please enjoy chapter 9 of Lead Heart!

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“Of all the people I’ve ever met in the field, it’s hard to think of many I’d’ve liked to run into less.”

Leliana laughed as Antros stiffly took the seat across from her. The door squeaked shut.

She couldn’t stifle the smile. “And yet here you are, sitting at my table. You can’t resist me.”

He scowled at her brazen reply.

“In the collective fifteen minutes we’ve known each other, I’ve witnessed three deaths and lost over five hundred silvers. Honestly I’m impressed, but you can’t blame me for being cautious. It’ll be easier to dodge a bullet if I see you aiming”

She liked the way he glowered when he spoke. Like his face realized the monotony of his voice, and wanted to place emphasis on the words anyway. “Hey, hey. I only killed one guy, don’t pin those first two on me. They jumped on their own, I wasn’t even close.” She shrugged, finishing the rest of the warmed brew in front of her.

“So did you pinch enough for me?” He waved his hands over the empty dishes.

“No! I paid for this, you..” Her nose scrunched up for a second, “whore’s ass.”

He held back a smile.

“Where’d you get the cash?”

Leliana crossed her arms and stared at a fat guy licking a stack of plates. “I earned it, basically.”

Gravelly laughter erupted from Antros and he relaxed visibly, uncrossing his arms to wave the waitress over. “I’m surprised to see you here though. I thought you were heading South last I saw, figured you’d head to Bolton or Chadwick. Barley’s not really a good place for petty thievery.”

“Petty thievery? That makes it sound small and weak. That stone your boy yanked was hella heavy and you should’ve seen the moves I put on to get it. Petty would’ve been something like surrounding the first team with guns and just demanding it.” Her narrowed eyes glared pointedly at the mercenary.

He smiled good naturedly. Well, she thought it was a smile.

“Alright, alright, fair enough. Creet was a slag sucker to be sure. But he was financing my trip to Triad, so I’d rather he sucked a bit longer at being alive instead of feeding scavengers under a bench.” Coins clinked as he dropped them into the Innkeeper’s pocket. She dropped a plate with a steaming mountain of vegetables atop, next to a glass of clean water.

Leliana flipped another coin at the woman and asked for a second beer. It wasn’t the best she’d ever had, but it had something of a spicy and sweet aftertaste and she was into it. The smell of the wood fire and the din of the others eating in small common room had an invigorating effect on her appetite. She was looking forward to drowning it. “I don’t really have a direction. I had a bit of a…strict upbringing, Now that I’m free I just wander around looking for things to get interested in. What about you though? You’re the only guy I’ve seen more than once out here.”

He waved the question away with a handful of purple broccoli. “I’m a bodyguard, I go where the work is. You have a knack for stealing from my clients. It’s not unusual for me to brush up against gangsters more than once.”

He stared into a fire across the room as he worked through a mouthful of food. Leliana finished her second cup and looked around suspiciously. Her gut was calling her attention, and not for more beer.

“I’ve spent a couple cozy years around this place,” Antros turned back to finish a thought, “but truth be told, the cannons popping off at all hours is almost as bad as the mosquitoes nowadays. So where’d you grow up? It’s pretty uncommon I run across a professionally trained ass kicker with no affiliations.”

Leliana looked away from the balcony above him for a moment to answer. “Oh, a small place over the mountains. You probably wouldn’t have heard of it. Also, I watched those cannons kill some freaky lizard thing outside town. They probably don’t just shoot off randomly. You have any luck finding work in this place?”

“Just because they’re useful doesn’t mean I can’t hate them. And you killed my last paycheck, I’m not about to tell you who I’m working for two days before I sail out of here. Meet me in Triad and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Sail

Leliana felt her breath catch as she eyed him. “You got a job on the flying boat!? Scat and slag take me with you!” She smacked the table for emphasis.

“No.”

“C’mon I’ll be good. I promise.”

“You give that ship a wide berth until it takes off, you hear me? They’ve paid half my fee already. If I see you skulking around I might have to kill you.”

She was incredulous. “I don’t want to kill the boat, are you crazy? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, I never even knew you could sail a boat in the sky. I just want to stand at the top and look at the ground.”

“I have no interest in being murdered after I finally get a way out of here.” He finished the food on his plate and drained his cup. Then he rose.

“Killing you in an enclosed space in the middle of the sky on a vehicle I can’t operate would be suicide. Surely you can’t think I’m that stupid.” She reached into the canvas bag behind her, sliding the hunting knife from its sheath.

“I don’t know anything about you kid. Sorry, but I’m not hiring, and I don’t trust you enough to let you that close to the captain.” He did seem mildly apologetic, which she appreciated.

She smiled and narrowed her eyes.

“If I can protect you right now, will you think about it?”

He glanced around skeptically. Everyone was absorbed in their own world, nobody was even looking this way. “Protect me from what exactly?”

Tss

Tss

Tss

He jumped back as the table smoked and sizzled. Leliana dropped the bag hiding her blade and glanced up.

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 7: Civilization, at last!

This week we finally get out of the bug-infested woods. Whew!

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*Flip*

Catch.

*Flip*

Catch.

*Flip*

Catch.

The well balanced throwing knife flipped end over end, ending up handle-first in Leliana’s outstretched palm. She almost wished she would miss once, if only to have something to break up the monotony of walking. “What idiot invented walking anyway,” she yawned. “should’ve evolved wheels instead of legs I’m just sayin’.”

After a hideously safe couple hours of walking, she was slowly descending into madness. The city was a lot further than it looked from the foothills. The trees encroached right up to the road and grew thick, with a wild underbrush and an extremely solid canopy. She let her mind wander for a bit, wondering if she’d really seen some of the things she’d seen in the last few weeks. Spiked cats, flying ships, radiation-eating worms the size of cities.

Well, she knew that last one was real, if only because she’d been inside the mouths of more than one. But still, her education had been remarkably void of some of the greatest parts of the journey so far. A steady diet of warfare and covert tactics and boring crap like that was all she’d known for ten years – they wouldn’t even teach her to drive the buggy they did have. What a bunch of bastards after all. Leliana heaved a sigh into the empty air, slumping her shoulders and plodding along, hands practically dragging in the dirt. She crested the top of a small hill…and promptly fell over, slack jawed and wide-eyed.

The small rise overlooked an enormous bowl shaped valley with a river tumbling down from the same mountains she was leaving. The main tree line stopped a few meters in front of her, though scraggly bushes and saplings dotted the rest of the fields as far as she could see. The landscape looked like a warzone, pockmarked with craters and corpses and burnt greenery and what she could imagine used to be a few buildings of some sort. In the middle of it all grew a thick clump of buildings; concrete and brick and mortar for the most part, though there were definitely stacks of lopsided wooden hovels decorating the far end of town near a sheer edge.

About 100 feet from the the outer streets of the town was a line of stone boxes with slanted roofs. As she drew nearer, she watched the roof of one of the pillars roll to the side, revealing a familiar, rounded steel tube narrowing at the tip.

“A canno-” An air shattering kaboom punched the question out of her. The shock wave hit her bones, like she’d run skeleton-first into a wall.

Two more pillars flipped their tops as a few uniformed men rushed up the first with a steel ball and a bag to reload the first.

BOOM

BOOM

An acrid tang flooded her mouth as a sickly cloud of smoke enveloped her.

Blinking back tears, she looked around for whatever they were shooting at. A spiked lizard 20 feet high and half as tall popped out of camouflage, trying to avoid the cannon fire. Gore geysered up as a steel ball pierced its shoulder, hurling it to the ground. The beast fled, shrieking over its shoulder and disappearing into the trees. A few smoking craters marred the grass where it stood a few minutes ago.

The uniforms atop the pillars finished reloading all three cannons and flipped the tops back into place.

“Hot slag that was loud.” The young woman moved and massaged her poor, ringing ears, running her face into a wall.

Oh. Not a wall. A very tall man with very impressive muscles.

He crossed his arms sourly as she bounced off him face-first. “Name and business.”

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Twenty minutes later, Yani Lana was waved on through the gate dismissively. “On your way then.”

It’s not like she was infamous or needed an alias, but it still felt pretty cool wearing a new identity, like the old spy novels she was allowed to read. Not the most creative name, obviously, but it was a rush job. She’d be more exotic next time.

Her first impression of this new town was…smelly. She watched a balcony door fling itself wide open as a dour woman in a black garb lugged a bucket outside and tossed the contents over the rail into a gutter next to the walkway. Yikes.

She wandered the streets for a few hours, allowing the crush of the crowds to smother her in noise and smell and sweat while she aimlessly drifted. She stopped at a street stall to buy a handful of candy at one point. The sweet and sour drops melted in her mouth. It was as amazing as she’d always imagined. Tingles ran up and down her arms and she allowed herself to bask in the sun, floating lazily in the ocean of humanity. Several times the retort of the cannons split the air, but it was so much less shocking when you weren’t standing in front of them.

Finally, the shadows lengthened and the sky darkened. The streets drained surprisingly quickly. She selected a loud, clean multi-story building with bright windows running around it and figured it was a likely place to find a bed.

Heat and light blasted her as soon as she opened the door, and she took a step back. The night air was cool and dry, and the air inside hot and humid to a ridiculous degree. “C’mon in miss, take a seat anywhere and I’ll get to ya.” She followed instructions, sliding into a chair by the door as a tall, dark-skinned woman set what must have been 10 pint glasses onto a nearby table. Not a drop spilled. The server was suddenly in front of Leliana’s, er, “Yani”‘s table. “What’ll ya have dear.”

“I’m looking for a room for the night, does this place rent beds? How much is a beer and a plate of food?” Some consistency in pricing would be nice someday.

The woman must have been used to these questions, rattling numbers off quickly.

“The drink and dinner are 5 dollars together, the room 15. Unless you need help warming it.” She eyed Leliana up and down for a minute, then stood and wiped her hands on a rag. “We got thorngills or hare soup for meat, or you can have a plate o’ veg with bread. Think about it and I’ll be right back.”

So 20 including dinner, that was less than she was expecting. Although what the hells was a thorngill? She definitely didn’t want vegetables for dinner, she’d be starving by midnight. Holding the bag under the table, she counted 20 coins without looking then secured the bag behind her. She parted with the money as the other returned. “Hare soup, please. And an empty bed.” She got a quick smile and a pint as the poor waitress dove back into the crowd.

Moments later, a steaming bowl of soup and a numbered key were dropped in front of her, and she fell on it like an animal. The soup was gone in less than a minute. Mmmm, it was good though. She nursed that beer for about a half hour when the door nearby creaked open. She felt a cool breeze and turned, suddenly staring into a set of criss-cross scars.

What the.

Antros recoiled, eyes wide and hand automatically resting at his hip.

She laughed. “Hey you.”

Chapter 6: A Cry for Help

Hello internet friends,

Here’s chapter 6 for Lead Heart – any feedback is definitely appreciated as I’m always hoping to learn something,

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A strange wooden ship, like the Galleys from her history books, glided smoothly into the sunset. It was difficult to make out much detail while staring into the setting sun, but she didn’t really care about that for now. It was a flying freakin’ ship, how long had that even been possible. How many times did she watch the birds enviously while she plodded along. Off in the distance she made out a bit of geometric shadowing on the horizon, probably a city, in the path of the airship.

Well that’s perfect, she needed to go there anyway.

She dropped a couple of branches before realizing it was about bedtime. She’d spent all day crossing this valley to get another glimpse of that amazing ship. Well, she was out of steam, so at least falling asleep wouldn’t be a problem. Leliana munched a bit of smoked meat while she surveyed the surroundings and picked a spot to nap. A couple of firs entwined their limbs with each other making a few cozy nests where she didn’t need to worry about falling, She picked a spot and made herself comfortable, or as comfortable as you can be in a tree with no blanket, and drifted off.

The next morning was cool and clear, with a brilliantly blue sky overhead. The sounds of the early morning woods were becoming a music of sorts, something to look forward to. Though, compared to waking up in silence on a steel mat to stare at some concrete, it was likely literally anything would become music to her ears.

“SOMEBODY HELP”

A panicked cry for help cut the air. The sound had carried quite a distance, but she was pretty sure it came from the direction she was already headed. Might as well check it out and see what was up.

A few minutes and a few miles down the scraggly dirt “road” she found an interesting situation.

Two women hid behind a tree in front of her, and a younger man crashed to the ground just as she came into view. Three men loomed in the shadows, one sidling down the path while the other two joined from the forest. Cruel grins and missing teeth marred their otherwise hideous faces. She almost gagged just imagining the smell.

“Heh heh heh, ain’t you a firecracker. Too bad you’re such a little-”

“You leave Leon be, you..you cowards!”

The younger of the women grit her teeth and gripped what appeared to be a kitchen knife in both hands. Her mother, Leliana guessed, was as white as snow and stood tight-lipped, wide eyed and silent.

The boy was a teenager, or had been recently. He scrambled to his feet with balled fists. “Fine, just take it!” He heaved a bag and hit one of the men square in the chest with a clink, though the robber ignored it outright.

“Oy kid, that’s not enough. What about them things you said about my mother? I’m hurting real deep inside, I’m gonna need some…healing.” His greasy face looked the two women up and down with a sick grin, before scowling as he spotted the newcomer.

“Who the hells are you?” His cronies noticed Leliana for the first time with a start, the lankier of the two moving toward her.

She glanced over to the uptight mother; well she was useless. “Hey,” she waved to get the others girls’ attention, “how much money is in that bag?”

The young woman was bewildered. “What!? I don’t know, like 100 silver dollars I guess, what the hells does it matter run away!”

“Is that a lot? How much food would that buy?” She had no idea what a silver dollar was, but if it was equivalent to the dollar notes the quartermaster carried, it was enough for a few comfy days in town at least. Some actual bullets might be nice. “Never mind, I’ll figure it out.”

All eyes were on her now, so she might as well use that to her advantage. The loudmouth had a knife in his belt, but the other two appeared unarmed So she targeted them first. If they were comfortable robbing people bare-handed, they were either stupid, strong, or had something to hide.

She sauntered as she closed the distance to the tallest of the three men, hips rocking side to side. “What’s your name big boy?”

His face held the same, “Did I step in something?” expression while his mouth opened to reply, not even changing as her fist drove his front teeth from their sockets. She followed it up with a couple knocks to the head and then swung him into the stabby guy who was advancing with his knife. The two smacked together, flying into the overgrown weeds next to the road from a heavy roundhouse from Leliana. The third, and biggest, moved to crouch in front of them with his hands ready.

They rose after a minute of yelling and bleeding and drooling. The last thing she wanted was to give them time to regroup, so she stalked menacingly at the big guy standing and almost missed the toothless one raising a hand to point at her. She barely had time to gasp and duck aside at the last second before –

*BAP* *BAP*

The gunshots set her ears ringing and the big guy still on his feet cowered out of the way. “Oy you idiot, watch it!” He fled aside, leaving Leliana and the gunman clear.

Damn, she’d bet on the other one having the gun.

She faked left, then dodged right a few steps and slung the knife from her vest pocket at the big guys’ face before ducking left again.

The small guy hopped up in front of his friend and plucked the blade from the air, landing with a tucked roll to keep out of the way. This forced the other to stop shooting momentarily, giving her time to close the distance – large hunting knife at the ready. He pulled the six shooter back hastily but missed and took a knee to the groin as Leliana heaved her full weight into the strike. She tried to lash out with the knife, but bowed backward just quickly enough to prevent being skewered by the second assailant.

Her larger knife deflected his blows easily enough, but he had two, including the one she’d thrown earlier, and he was fast. Once, twice,thrice the hot sparks flew as she blocked just in time. He wasn’t the only one she had to worry about though, and she was forced to split her focus to keep him between her and the one with the gun. The other big guy kept trying to get-

“Gotchya!”

His arms encircled her from behind, yanking her off her feet into the air. She huffed and went limp to try dropping to the ground, but his meaty fists grabbed hold of her hands before she’d slid all the way free.

Leliana flipped backward and used his face to launch herself at the ground, expertly breaking his grip. She caught herself on both hands and used the forward momentum to jump onto the knife guy feet-first. He’d relaxed when his friend grabbed her a moment ago and didn’t brace for the weight of the impact, so he tumbled backward and grunt as the air whooshed out of him. Leliana was caught off guard by how easy he was to knock over and fell forward, tucking into a roll to bound back up facing the trio again.

She was surprised to see the gun-wielder lying face down on the ground, that little kitchen knife sticking out of his back near the neck, and the young man holding the firearm 2-handed.

“Get back!”

The atmosphere shifted and other two raised their hands in a gesture of peace. “Aye kid, you’ve got the gun now. Let us grab that meathead on the ground and we’ll leave.”

They advanced slowly, the young man uncomfortably shuffling backward at the same time. “Fine, but I’m..I’m warning you!”

Leliana watched suspiciously, monitoring the two and counting back how many times the gun had already been fired. Hmm. She caught the one on the ground looking up at his team, the smaller man giving an almost imperceptible nod.

She narrowed her eyes and ran to catch up. She was about 10 feet away still when they stooped to pick up their friend, the small man palming a knife as they rose. She knew it! The two others covered his movement. She bounded forward in two strides and yanked her knife out of his hand as he pulled back. The two large men made way for the throw. The teen caught sight of the knife and fired wildly, gunshots ringing in the still morning air. An explosion of blood erupted from the the small guy.

He screeched and yelled incoherently, grasping at the other two and they carried him hastily into the forest.

Leliana smiled and moved toward the trio. “Good thinking, getting the gun. You three alright?” The youth swung the weapon in her direction, his panicked breathing running ragged. Sweat dripped off his face like he’d just taken a swim. “Relax, I’m the one who saved you remember?” Besides-” she reached out to grab the gun as he fired. Well, clicked.

“It’s empty.”

She pocketed the gun and sheathed her own knives, setting off toward town again. “And by the way,” she kicked their bag up off the ground and poured its contents into her own, the three watching in shock. “You’re welcome.”

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

Chapter 4: Hunter

Leliana stared intently on her quarry below a lofty branch in a tall tree.

He wished he could see what she were staring at. If it were a deer or a bunny or something harmless he could just drop her now. He had enough tranquilizers on him to put her to sleep for a week if he needed. The same thick underbrush keeping him hidden for now was a two-edged sword of sorts, keeping him from seeing anything ahead. If it were something dangerous, or even another hunter, he’d risk losing a big payday. That just wasn’t worth losing patience over.

Let’s see those bastards in town call him a coward when he stamped their face on a wanted. Nah, waste of money. It was a good fantasy to pass the time though, what the hells was taking so long for her to make her move. Rat hunkered down to wait from his vantage in the brush. The girl had been moving extremely slowly for about an hour now and had finally stopped; she was setting up for some action, whatever it was. The bag was tied around her shoulders and slung to the back while she’d readied a big knife and fidgeted with something else in a sleeve.

Finally, about damn time.

He flicked a spider off his face and started blowing some of the insects and creepy crawlies away so they wouldn’t bite him when he hopped out of hiding. His contact told him she was a trained spy and soldier. If he missed his shot, he needed the leeway to get out of there without being paralyzed by some inconsiderate insect.

She waved her arms in slow circles, probably testing for wind he’d imagine. No respite in this forsaken jungle girly. As if proving his point, a drop of sweat slid off his greasy hair into an eye, causing him to blink fiercely. He blew his hair back and it stuck to the sides of his drenched head again, though agitated several bites and made his cheek itch like crazy. Once he turned this one in he was going to buy a ticket to a nice, frigid city and buy a lifetime supply of meat. No bugs, no sweat, no rotten cabbages to throw. He allowed himself a small pity session as he rose to one knee and pulled a smooth tube from its place around his waist, flicking a switch to lock it into the blowgun configuration.

He readied a sleep dart.

A flick of her wrist caught his attention then, the silence dotted with the flicking of leaves against whatever she just did – tap tap taptap.

Thunk

A small throwing knife impaled itself almost to the hilt into the meat of his thigh. He almost sucked down the feathered dart at his lips in surprise, catching it against the back of his throat just in time. “AAAAH” He smashed his hands into his mouth to muffle his screams and yank the poisoned projectile out just in time to hear a blood stopping roar. His bones shook against the impact, his vision vibrating in his head and bile rising to his throat.

A pissed-off tiger bounded to the top of a fallen tree in front of him, jade green eyes locked onto him as it issued another challenge. The blood smeared all over its face told him it was probably eating, and cats are not one to share as far as he knew.

Rat’s lanky form leapt back in panic, instinctively shooting his dart into the face of the monstrous animal. He shrieked and bolted as it ran after him, weaving between small trees and pulling branches to swipe at the beast as it chased. The dart was dosed for a human, it was unlikely to put down a tiger – but if he were lucky, it would slow the thing down at least. He yanked a bead off the belt around his chest and bit down hard, dropping it onto the forest floor. The whining buzz and angry growls gave him an idea of how much time he could expect to buy with this trick, and bounded up into one of the trees he knew to be painfully poisonous.

Rat gasped as the spines dug into the exposed flesh of his hands, gritted his teeth and climbed about 10 meters to settle on a thick branch. He plucked serrated spikes out of his hand as blood spattered everywhere, then grabbed a vial of a green slime and spread it over his poor hands. The fiery pain of the cuts lessened immediately, though he knew he’d probably be sick for a week with how much poison he’d just taken.

That stupid, good for nothing worm-bait girl was going to pay for-

An enormous yelp brought him back to his senses, as the tiger had almost leapt to his own height but had been unprepared for the pain of the armored tree. Below, it ripped the barbs out of its paws, blood flowing freely. Pissed was an understatement at this point.

He pulled on some gloves after another coating of slime and flipped the switch on the blowgun again, returning it to the flaccid form it normally took. He cracked it into the air above the beast like a whip, yelling to add his voice to the cacophony. He really didn’t want to waste anything else just to frighten off a cat.

A few minutes of his one-man circus eventually persuaded the tiger that he wasn’t worth the effort, and its eyes sagged heavily as it departed with a final roar.

Rat sat in the tree for probably another half hour, waiting to give the venom time to get fully incorporated into the tiger. It would be fine in a day or two, and he should be back in town well before that. He drew a hissing breath as the tree’s venom finally overpowered his weak antivenom. The antwood was going to make his life hell for the next couple of days, but it wasn’t threatening enough to blow his supply of antidote. Hells forbid he had to kill another nest of snakes to make more.

He dropped gingerly from his perch, rammed himself face-first into the jungle floor, and wearily headed back to town. He needed a new plan.
______________________________
Leliana wiped a bloody knife on the fur of the elk she’d just de-legged and listened to roar of the tiger in the distance. That cracking was enough to tell her it was still harrying that creep she spotted tailing her a few hours ago, but it was best not to press her luck. She sheathed the blade and grimaced as the animal legs spread blood all over the inside of her bag. Ugh, that was going to suck to get out.