Chapter 21: The Past Returns

Cold steel cut her wrists. She felt blood oozing from a dozen different cuts all over her body, even if the iron mask blocked her vision. She struggled helplessly, muscles screaming in concert.

“Did you think we wouldn’t find you? That we couldn’t bring you back?”

*Crack*

“That we wouldn’t have the sense to follow the trail you blazed? Stupid girl.”

*Crack*

White-hot pain followed this time as the unseen torturer pressed a glowing iron into the wound, something he enjoyed randomly.

*Hiss*

“We’ve caught you so many times, yet you continue to try.”

*Crack*

“That’s enough, executioner. It doesn’t appear to be working.”

*Tsss*

The brand seared into her one last time. The deep baritone voice reverberated endlessly inside the heavy iron helmet. “I think this time, we’ll break both legs.”

Leliana’s heart raced. Cold sweat dripped from the mask onto her lips. She sprayed it in a wide arc between ragged gasps. “I’ll kill you.” The hoarse whisper was everything she could manage.

He laughed.

“No. You won’t.”

The chains binding her wrists lowered, forcing her to bow. The harsh squeal of a rusted lock pierced her mind. A jarring note against the buzz of the overhead lights. A cold, hard bar was forced painfully against the front of her thighs. She bit her tongue. She wouldn’t give this bastard the satisfaction of hearing her cry again.

“Proceed, executioner.”

The nerves on the back of her thigh lit up like a forest fire and she felt the crack of bone. It washed through her in a sickening wave. She screamed. In agony, in fear, in rage. The sledgehammer, a familiar punishment, slammed into the other leg. Sparks of light danced across the darkness while she fought unconsciousness. Her blood boiled. She squeezed her eyes. She was not going to cry. “I hate you.” The metal pressing into her eyes glowed a brilliant white. “I. HATE. YOU!” The mask was gone, molten iron carving little rivers into her flesh as it flowed freely.

*Crack*

She snapped as pain blossomed across her neck. Leliana ripped the chains from their bolts. The pitted metal frame bent and shattered on the stone floor. She glared at the executioner. He took a step back. She stalked forward as he retreated until his back met the cold concrete wall. She grabbed the whip, grating bones and grunts of pain brought a smile to her face. Moments later, a hooded head squelched against the suited man back by the rack.

“You’ve finally managed to do something right. Bra-vo.” Shiny black shoes kicked the head away while fine white gloves raised another whip. This one was barbed and, she knew from experience, coated with a painful toxin. He snapped it at her face.

*CRACK*

“YOU!”

Leliana hurtled across the room and grabbed a fistful of suit. She yanked him off his feet and raised his sneering face, pulling back to smash him apart.

“EEEEK!” His cruel face emitted a tiny squeal as he hit her over the-

What?

Leliana froze. Brutus? The forest. The escape. The ship?

Teena’s pink pigtails trembled behind shaking hands. Her feet dangled helplessly above a small broken box. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to drop it I know everyone was sleeping but I just wanted to fix a little hole I missed earlier because it was really cold and drafty and I-”

“Teena?” The reality of what she was about to do hit her like a brick wall. The room tilted and swam around her and she forced the contents of her stomach back down.

Gib watched from his own hammock, one foot on the ground. “Easy does it little friend. Let’s put Teena down, and count to ten.” He stood slowly, breathing deeply, then slowly exhaling. Leliana allowed herself a slow breath, and set the small woman gently on the floor.

“Teena I’m…” No words came to mind. What could she say? The buzz of the overhead lights and those cruel eyes shined brightly at the forefront of everything. She fled from those tiny frightened eyes and took Antros’ spot in the nest.

***

Over a hundred miles from the sailing ship, someone else was living their own nightmare.

“What the hells is going on?” Ricken stomped through his tent’s flap. “How am I supposed to pack the dynamite if you lot keep…” Tools littered the clearing while their owners disappeared into the distance. “HEY! Get back here! Stupid, flea-bitten, ugly sonof-” Tents flew in every direction as an explosion hit the clearing behind him. He dropped to his knees as the world shook. An ear-shattering screech thundered across the forest.

He whipped around to see the demophant corpse struggling to rise. Spasms rippled across its tube-like body like the rings in a lake on a windy day. Everything around him was sucked toward it as the beast leapt into the air. This time, the blast flung him through the camp. He narrowly missed being impaled when a rotted tree snapped like a twig. He gagged as he was covered in a slimy coat of entrails.

An inky darkness he mistook for a shadow slowly grew in size. A small dot under the creature’s eye at first, the dark pool was thrice the size of a man now and boiled like a pot of disgusting soup.

“By the gods!” Instincts took over and he sprinted after the others. First the power core, now this? It was time for a new job.

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Chapter 20: Visitors

Hello friends

Chapter 20 of Lead Heart is up!

__________________________________________

The world hung silent, just for a moment. Six pairs of eyes stared up into one very sheepish pair. The ship jerked to the side as someone latched on from below. Leliana’s instincts took charge and she was standing on deck with a cut rope before anyone else registered what was really happening. She sprinted to the closet she knew held the docking rope and tied it to the same one she’d been wearing all day. The door to the stairs smashed open as Sekkel flew through it.

“Captain, there is a giant hook sticking into the hold from below.” He splayed his hands roughly 3 feet wide. “Have Teena bring her toolbox down, quick!” Everyone on deck scattered, all hands getting ready to repel the attack. Leliana had no time for those distractions.

“Catch!”

The rope snaked through the air, landing on Gib. His huge hands wrapped around the cable as she sprinted the opposite direction. “Got it!” His triumphant smile flipped upside down as she sailed over the edge. “WAIT!” The rope pulled taught and his feet gouged the deck all the way to the railing, saved at the last minute by Jovi and Antros. The ship lurched sideways and swung slowly like a pendulum as the girl passed under it.

Below, a huge blade ruthlessly dealt with the attackers. One man whizzed past two others clinging to a rope. Moments later, his arm followed. Another dangled unconsciously from two hooks embedded into the ship. A scrawny girl flailed at Leliana with a torch, eyes wide. She wore a similar set of hooks and had started to burn a hole through the wood. The harpoon was embedded solidly in the center, and held the rope the two men clung to.

Leliana rebounded off the opposite wall and shot across the ship like a bullet, forcing the ship itself to jerk upright. She spun and watched two men on a rope and one unconscious guy plummetting through the air, cleanly cut free. The two puffed up with their own wingsuits after about 200 feet. Damn.
She was suddenly reeled in by the panicked trio on deck. “There’s still another one attached, she’s going to cut through the hull!” Leliana hopped up onto the railing, but was engulfed in a massive hug from behind. “Ack!”

Jovi rushed over. “You nearly flipped us over girly! Leave the last one to Antros and help me check the other side.” She was yelling to be heard above the wind and consfused shouting on deck, and Leliana handed over the harness reluctantly. “But I…”

“Got it!” Antros threw on the gear while Gib ran the rope around the mast. He crouched low and heaved a couple quick breaths, then disappeared overboard with a roar.

“Right, I’ll get the ones that escaped!” Muscle memory assembled the rifle for her and Leliana was sighting over the opposite edge in a heartbeat.

“Escaped?” Jovi ran after her. “What do you mean escaped?”

“They were on a rope but I cut ’em free so I could fight the torch lady.” She selected a couple of heavy, metal bullets – the improvised ones would be far too light. The men were gliding fast, she needed to concentrate.

Load the chamber.

Line up the shot.

“But the bastards are all wearing some weird flight suits so…” She trailed off to lead the first target.

“STOP!”

The shot missed by a mile, Jovi’s singed hands gripping the hot steel. The drifting men starting screaming and zigzagging slowly.

“What are you doing!?” Leliana’s nostrils flared. The price of the bullet sprang to mind for a split second.

“They’re not a threat anymore, why are you going to kill them?”

“Wha- Er, I mean.” The girl glanced between Jovi and the two men below, her hands grasping for answers. “They’ll get away. They’ll just come back and hit us again. Strategically it’s in our best interest to -”

Jovi’s hands shot up. “No.”

Leliana’s eyes shot open. “What! Those guys probably have a team somewhere, they might just land and start shooting at us with something bigger!” She was gesturing wildly now, yelling to be heard over the whistling sails.

“And they may not!”

She pointed at the men with the barrel of the rifle. “They started this fight, they could’ve killed us. We can’t just let them leave!”

NO!”

Two pairs of eyes stared into each other, raging wills struggled for control in a suddenly silent world. “I don’t need that blood on my hands.” Jovi’s lip quivered as her voice dropped, but her eyes were hard.

“But I’m the one-”

Jovi’s eyes shot wide open. “I am the captain. I am responsible for every single thing you do on this ship. That includes making sure people don’t sneak up on us, and that includes murder. Do not kill those men.” Jovi suddenly towered over Leliana, regardless of who actually stood taller.

Leliana shoved the gun back into her bag. “Fine.” She found herself, arms crossed, tracing lines on the wood with her eyes. A technique she’d picked up back “home” to keep control of herself. The ship creaked and groaned as Gib helped Antros back up, a long, black streak running the length of his forearm.

“Man she got me good, but I shook ’em loose. No more that I could…” He looked from face to face. “Uh. Everything alright up here?”
Leliana counted grains in the wood.

“We’re all alright, thanks to you two.” Jovi replied breathlessly. She looked at Leliana, then back to Antros. “Let’s get below and check everything out, fire is definitely something to worry about.”

Chapter 19: Soaring skies

Hello readers,

Chapter 19 of Lead Heart is up!

__________________

“Aaahh.”

Leliana swung lazily from the mainmast watch harness. An ocean of
trees swept over mountains in every direction, and a cold breeze tickled
her face.

“Normal people generally stand in the crow’s nest. The ropes are just for accidents.”

“Normal people are boring. “She glanced at Karina from the corner of a droopy eye. “What’s up?”

“They’ve been talking about that map for hours, thought I’d jump
overboard to cure my boredom.” Karina slouched against the wooden frame
and took a deep breath. “I always love flying over mountains. It smells
so clean.”

Leliana opened both eyes then. “Are there things you don’t like flying over?”

“Cities and deserts mostly. It either smells like filth, or it’s hot
enough to make me smell like filth. Not a fan. One time we flew over
this huge canyon in the middle of nowhere filled with weird purple and
green stuff growing out of it, like a boiling pot frozen in time. We
circled it to get a better view and the ship reeked like rotting fish
for weeks. I think Sekkel’s the only one who could stomache food for a
few days.”

“Cooool.” Bad smells didn’t bother Leliana, but checking out weird,
bad smelling things was definitely on the to-do list. “Do you remember
where it was?”

“Ugh, not a chance.” Karina shuddered. “There’s other things to remember to check out without going back there again.”

“Like what?”

“Hmmm.”

She screwed up her face and got lost in thought for a few minutes.
Leliana zoomed in on Antros and Jovi’s conversation, using her rifle
scope to check out the map through their windscreen. Antros was trying
to explain that losing a couple of days was better than encountering the
gang of mountain-folk who’d setup shop at the choke in the faster
route.

“Oh.” Leliana almost dropped the scope as Karina bounced out of
thought. “There was an expedition off the coast one time looking through
an old city. They were pretty far down, but their lights lit up the
ocean floor like the damn sun, I could see all kinds of buildings and
stuff.” She gazed at the forest below, remembering what it looked like.
“I would love to check something out like that someday.”

Leliana definitely agreed.

“Kari!”

The girl departed as her tiny sister called across the ship. Leliana was once again suspended in her own imagination.

Technically she was supposed to be on watch, but she’d “watched” the
trees earlier and woke up who knows how much later. So now she was
discovering.

“Once we shoot out of the Northern pass here, it’s basically just a
straight shot Southeast to get to Gaffsgrave. It’s about 300 miles due
East from there to Rosewood.”

Antros’ baritone voice droned on, working in sync with the cool breeze to sink Leliana once again into the embrace of slee-

“AH!”

She slapped her cheeks and did a suspended work-out to get the blood
flowing. “Who knew staying awake was so hard.” She pulled the rifle
scope back out of her pocket, muttering as she peered through and looked
for curiosities. “Whoa, cooool. A fishing quillbear.” She’d never seen
one alive before, but she’d seen them dead a time or two when the
hunters brought them back to eat.

She swiveled the glass to and fro, smiling to herself. A spotted
flycatcher digesting a tiger? Holy scrap that’s a big flower. A bunch of
hag bees taking down a huge worm. Gross. Cool there’s an old dude with a
harpoon on a cliff above us.

Wait.

“Uh? You guys?”

She raised her voice above the wind, but nobody answered. “You gu-”
She stopped as the old man spread his arms and leapt from the side of
the mountain. Through the magnifying glass, she followed him over as
big, billowy wings puffed up between his arms and legs. Instead of
plummeting to his death, he was headed straight for them. “Slag in my-”

Crack

Silence fell as a spear pierced the hull. She could feel six pairs of eyes burning into her from below.

“Oh, uh, hey guys. I think someone’s out there!”

Chapter 18: A New Threat

Hello Internet Friends –

Chapter 18 of Lead Heart is up!

____________________________________________________________________

Several hundred miles from an airship take-off, someone else was preparing for a new flight of their own.

“Cock!”

A bulky scientist dressed in thick leathers hopped up and down, wringing his hands. “You little bastards.” The grate squealed as he slammed it with his hip, shuttering the cave entrance behind it. “I will certainly not! If she’s going to waltz about wasting everything I’ve put into her, I’m damn well going to use her for something else!” The shorter of two men sprayed the other with spittle, grunting as he coated his bleeding fingertips with a clear solution. “What’s it to you anyway? You’ve been asking a lot of questions lately. Why?”

The taller man shrugged. “I suppose if you have too much money on your hands, it’s a good way to lighten the load. But wasn’t stealth and evasion one of the first skills you gave her?”

“This is different. I trained her, yes, but gave her? No. I gave her many things. Free will was not supposed to be one of them.” The stocky scientist stuck his hand into a large hide glove, the furred inside smooth and comfortable. “I have fixed in them all of her flaws. As a matter of fact, it’s feeding time. Would you like to watch? Tomorrow this flight is freed for me to start the next.”

The second shivered. “Ah, sure. Thanks Brutus, I’ve heard a lot from Mikhail about the creatures. Seeing them in action should be interesting.”

“Indeed.”

They strode from the dank underground room until the bright sun beat down from the courtyard. It was still early, the air cool and pine scented. “I’ve spent weeks infusing her scent into this batch’s feed. Who knows if they’ll ever find her, but if they do…” He trailed off, rubbing his hands together with a sick smile.

Brutus motioned his colleague to stop and stepped to a tripod holding a long, bronze tube next to an open cavity in the wall. He pointed the large end at the hole, then his cheeks puffed full out as he blew it. They both felt, more than heard, the shrill whistle permeating the air. He was still panting as he trotted over and hit a button on the wall.

The loud warning alarm issued three times. The wall slowly pulled up, grating against the frame with painful squeals. Inside the small garage, a huge lizard with an enormous wingspan and elongated head roared, lunging. The roar choked off as it hit the limit of a chain.

Brutus guffawed before turning to help his colleague back to his feet. “Sorry, sorry. I can’t resist Tilly.” He tossed a pair of thick earplugs. “These will protect against the paralysis, if not the rattled skull should it roar again.”

“Blasted steam pipes and piss on a brick, Brutus. You have a sky eater in here?” Tilly shoved the earplugs in and rubbed the back of his head where he’d hit the ground. “Do the leads know about this?”

“Of course. Do you think I locked this up myself?” Brutus scoffed and led the way to a concrete room near the entrance. “Now let’s let it go, shall we?” Tilly locked the door. Brutus, tentatively, put his hand out of a small opening to pull the pin to the chain. He shrieked and flung himself against the wall when the sky eater bit the glove suddenly. “Blasted filthy piece of- I HATE WHEN IT DOES THAT!”

Red-faced in the wake of Tilly’s deep laugh, he yanked the pin and flung it. “Alright, you’re free! Go on! Go get eaten!” He flipped his sneer into a smile as the huge animal tried futilely to smash the concrete barrier.

“Er, this wall is reinforced, I’m assuming?” Tilly swallowed loudly as the room shuddered with every deafening explosion of force.

“You’re welcome to step outside if you don’t trust it.”

The sky eater, satisfied the humans were sufficiently threatened, pivoted and jetted through the doorway. The two men’s ears popped as it swung its monstrous wings, clearing the walls in a single stroke. Out of nowhere, small, black specks darted in and latched themselves onto the beast. Comparatively tiny black blobs whose only distinguishing trait was the thundering buzz of a sudden swarm of wings and the bizarrely white, sharp teeth contrasting with the absolute blackness of its body.

“What in the hells?”

“Watch this.”

In a matter of seconds, the beast sprouted more than a dozen little black monsters. Each time a new one appeared, a flurry of teeth set to work grinding away. From each one sprouted dozens of smaller black dots which enveloped the monster entirely before vanishing into it. The sky eater was panicking mid-air, gnashing left and right to dislodge the attackers from its back, dropping several squishy mouthfuls to the ground before another took its place.

Seconds later, the huge lizard froze in place mid-flight. Tilly trembled inwardly as his heart fell with the beast, his feet shaking with the earth as it made impact. The small monsters screeched a guttural, gargled shriek as they fell upon it, burrowing into the skin.

After a few minutes, Brutus left the bunker and blew the whistle again. A swarm of the monsters rose out of the fallen sky eater, departing like a scorned shadow. In its wake, a bloody skeleton and little else.

Brutus laughed at the stricken look on Tilly’s face. Tilly smiled, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. This could be bad.

Chapter 17: Away we go

Hello internets,

Chapter 17 of Lead Heart is up!

__________________

The crew used the next 30 minutes for flight preparations and Leliana
rebundled her parachute for what seemed like the thousandth time.

I hate packing them too. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.” Karina
was stuffing her own into the back of her suit. “You can trust me when I
say that you’d rather re-tie this thing a million times over falling
out of the ship and having it wrong even one time.” She smiled
comfortingly, translating the other girls’ expression as fear.

It was in fact, not fear, but remorse. Leliana replayed a vision over and
over in her head about leaping from the ship mid-flight on the glider
she’d killed last night. Damn. Maybe she could find one with her
earnings and climb a mountain.

She was directed to the bow of the
ship where a seat had been bolted in place, and grew quickly bored while
the rest did their thing. Scenes played over and over in her head as
were wont to do when she was forced to sit idle more than a few seconds.
Replaying the short-lived flight of the glider, the tattoo on the
hunters. What about Babyface? There was a memory she wasn’t dying to
repeat actually, nevermind.

The whump of a box being
dropped had her raising a fist to block an attack before she remembered
where she was. Probably best not to drift off around people she liked
just yet. A question had popped up though. “So has anyone ever fallen
overboard?”

Karina giggled, though Teena’s tiny voice was the one she heard. “Nooooo! That doesn’t count! The ship was still on the ground.”

The younger sister had a mischevious glint in her eye. “Nobody was asking
about where the ship was, she just asked if anyone had fallen
overboard.”

“Well if you hadn’t pushed me, I wouldn’t have.”

“I was strapped to the other side of the deck! And who do you think had to
figure out how to work the stupid controls because her older sister is
such a clamped-”

“You shouldn’t have taken off without me, that was your own fault.” The small figure had hopped up on the railing to
see eye-to-eye with the other, now crossing her arms and turning away.

Karina couldn’t hold back any longer. She dropped to the floor, tears of
laughter raining onto the wood. “You lit the fuse!” She struggled for a
minute, stuttering out half sentences and setting herself off again.

Jovi turned her back on the trio. an obvious effort to hide a smile. Sekkel
sat on a stool of his own and quietly chuckled along.

Karina took a few breaths to steady herself. “She was up on the rails.” Another struggle for composure. “She was counting the seconds the fuse took to reach the plug. When it got there, she just kept writing notes making
exclamations.” Karina was pantomiming her story. A little hand person suddenly slammed into her other hand and bounced onto the deck while their owner laughed hysterically.

Teena’s face was glowing. The
visible part anyway – most of her facewas obscured by the mechanic mask she had just put on. “Oh sure laugh it up you…You tall jerks!” She
plucked a small tin from the seat and headed down the ladder. “I have
important work to attend. And you better hope it’s not sabotage!”

Jovi chimed in as Teena disappeared. “Do try not falling off Leli, darling.
Took us two weeks to get back to Teena after that happened. None of us
really knew how to land the ship. Also we’d really rather not be
waylayed that long just now.”

Antros piped up. “I took a gig with a
group a few years ago hunting some mysterious monster out over the
waste. Wanted me to keep the competition from killing them when they finally caught it.” He leaned on the railing and looked at the ground
below. “One night, one of ’em hit the cask hard and fell off. Screeched
like a hive of hag bees until he remembered he was wearing a chute.”

Everyone chuckled. Drinking was one of those things most knew mixed poorly with airships, but some sailors didn’t let that discourage them

“Found him passed out 12 hours later drenched in his own…Well, they said the smell was going to chase off the thing they were hunting and called it
off.”

“The last ship I worked we had a guy black out and fall overboard.” Sekkel jumped in. “He…Uh, he didn’t wake up in time for the parachute to help.” He cast his gaze down, forgetting the darker details of his own story until they were already out. “Erm, well but
plenty overboard before that and only a couple didn’t make it. You’ll be
fine.” He patted Leliana’s back and mozied on over to his own place to
lace down.

Finally, everything was latched and everybody had a place to get tied down for the launch.

Teena counted down the fuse, safely away from the rails, until a deep rumble signaled the cannister had been lit. Seconds later, the air was ripped
apart by the deafening roar of a monstrous flame starting their ascent.
Karina let out a woop while Leliana covered her ears against the sudden
blast. The town slipped beneath the bow, then the mounted cannon
pillars, and finally the tree covered mountains.

They rose slowly at first, going ever faster as the wind blasted her in the face more with every passing second. A flock of scaly birds caught unaware
shrieked out of the way as the ship went screaming past, and the ropes
holding her in place squeezed and loosened wildly and unpredictably as
the ship rocked back and forth.

The creak of rope and hiss of the
wind was deafening. The ship shook and rattled so loudly that there was
hardly a chance for anyone to pick up the telltale crack of a weakening
joint.

Suddenly, a squeal cut the air and snapped Leliana into work mode.

“EEEEEEEE!”

Teena was holding for dear life to the tatters of ropes that had recently
held her down, whipping violently against the deck as gravity and wind
fought over dominion of her body.

In seconds, Leliana was free of
the straps holding her down and leapt across the deck to land on poor
Teena. She remembered the disparity in their sizes at the last minute
and landed heavily on an outstretched hand.

Crack.

She tucked the small girl beneath her right arm, then used the injured one to entangle in the ropes flailing away at her face.

“Teena! Leliana!”

Everyone watched in shock, knowing they’d probably just make the situation worse were they to help.

“It’s okay!”

Leliana grit her teeth as the jarring vibrations tried to wrench her arm from its socket, and hugged down on Teena to keep them as flat as possible.
The ship jumped as it hit a patch of rough wind, jerking everyone in
their seats and throwing the two unfortunate passengers against the
railing.

Teena yanked down on Leliana as they both went airborne a moment, then collapsed again.

The ship sped carelessly into the sky, sails snapping freely as a layer of
lazy clouds drifted around and below them. They lurched downward again.
This time, the bounce easily sending them sailing over the wooden rails.

Tears of pain and adrenaline blurred Leliana’s vision as she single-mindedly
focused onto the feeling of the rope around her arm – and their only
connection to the ship. She felt the weight of the world dragging her
down, trying to rip the smaller woman out of her hands. At the same
time, the rope holding her up was stretching and groaning with some
alarming noises. Muscles trembled from sheer exertion.

A loud snap signaled gravity’s final victory. In slow motion, she watched the end of the rope float past. The air felt like molasses while she struggled
to get her free hand up to the rail. The ship kept a steady acceleration, keeping just out of reach. She wasn’t going to make it.

Oof.

A huge hand enveloped her own. Gib slipped himself between two rail posts
and spread his knees wide. He roared into the air while fighting the forces trying to separate his friends. “I’ve come to your aid dear friends, our journey has yet to meet its end!”

The seconds ticked by and finally, somehow, the roar of the engine quieted. First a whisper, then silence. The Nightmare itself continued upward with a hushed voice until it, too, came to a stall. The wind fell silent and everyone lept out of their seats to
check on Teena and Leliana. Gib jumped up and, leaving the two in
everyone’s care, cleared the jump onto the mast to open up the sails.
The enormous canvas flaps billowed and they started cutting easily
through the air.

Gasping from the deck, Teena posted up off one arm, slowly coming to a sit. “This,” she was gasping through adrenaline and terror, “Is why she’s called THE NIGHTMARE!”

Chapter 16: Let’s get going

Hello internet peeps

Chapter 16 of Lead Heart is up! I think it’s about time we get this boat on the road,

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A dripping shadow slipped aboard the quiet ship.

She crawled behind the cabin, falling asleep instantly.

5 hours later, Leliana’s eyes snapped open, staring into an excited pair of blue eyes.

“Goooood MORNIIIING.” Teena cried cheerfully from her perch atop the sleeping girl. “Why are you sleeping out here silly, Karina showed you a hammock you could’ve slept on!”

As she spoke, Teena sat comfortably across Leliana’s stomach and, with unnerving calm, was screwing a huge spike into a metal glove on her left hand.

“Wha? Teena. Why are you sitting on. Wait.” Leliana took a look at the sun, barely finished climbing over the mountains. Dang, she’d wanted to look at the stars before she fell asleep. “Uh hey, good morning. Are we headed out already?”

“Oh no, no not at all. Everyone on the ship is such a late sleeper that we’ll probably be around until at least noon. Can’t do much work in the dark so I’m early to bed, early to rise. I was just headed over to-” *Gasp!* “Hey maybe you could help me get the plug ready to go!” The tiny engineer blasted Leliana with far more positivity than she was ready for right after waking up, proceeding immediately to the weird requests.

“Er…what’s a plug. What are we plugging?”

Teena was unlocking a massive hatch door. “It’s how we get off the ground. The plug is just an old aluminum barrel I found that I use to make up a big batch of sweet stuff.” She threw the hatch open and hopped down the short stairs into the smaller of the storage holds. “C’mon!”

Much grunting and groaning later, Leliana panted against an enormous metallic drum at the top of the stairs.

“What kind of heavy slag is stuffed into this thing!?” She had a gnawing fear that Teena was about to tell her to roll a million pounds of barrel down the crew stairs and put a hole straight through the bottom of the ship.

Teena giggled. “I told you already, it’s rocket fuel!”

Leliana snapped away from the drum so hard she almost fell down the stairs. “Rocket fuel? Isn’t that dangerous?” She’d read probably every book on using rockets in the entire world, but none on the actual crafting of. Still.

“I guess it would be if you were on fire and it wasn’t wrapped in metal.” Teena was not sympathetic. “Now come on, you’re going to wake the others if we keep shouting. Let’s get this under the ship!” Teena kicked the door closed with a kaboom and secured the lock, then bounded down the gangplank. “Hook it to the crane on the other side!”

What?

Ugh. Leliana rolled the drum around the cabin, the deck making some concerning sounds along the way. She found a metal rod held aloft on the other side with a thick cable running around it. “Whoa.” She obediently attached the two handles of the drum to the hooks and pushed the barrel out over the side.

“Okay!” Teena was yelling from the ground now. “Now just push on that lever a couple times to lower it!” They navigated the heavy package to a landing spot toward the rear of the ship.

Once the thing was in place, Leliana learned why Teena usually had Gib doing this part. “Okay now I just need you to hold it in this cavity for a few minutes while I screw in the bolts.” Teena was wiggling her fingers, covered with weird metal gloves. Each hand was headed by a giant spike. On closer inspection, these spikes were grooved and had a couple of threads winding around them.

Waking up Gib was sounding pretty good right about now. Leliana grit her teeth and let the crisp air fill her lungs, permeating the grumpy morning sleepiness.

No! This adorable tiny grease monkey was asking for her help and dangit she was going to help.

Exactly 1 eternity and 2 gallons of sweat in the future, the rocket was in place. Leliana collapsed to the wooden airdock and closed her eyes. She did it!
A shadow fell over her.

“She suckered you into it huh?” Antros stood, arms crossed and cocky grin the only thing she could see in the glare of the sun. “I figured you might go for it.”

Teena stood to the side, tying her gloves to a tool-belt. “Hey! Don’t make fun of her you meanie, you couldn’t even pick it up!”

Antros coughed a few times suppressing a smile. “Hey I’m a security professional, my job is to protect you guys. I can’t do that lying on the ground like a stuck pig, can I?” The rumble in his chest emphasized the light-hearted nature of the jab.

“Hey she’s totally safe. Unless you’re planning to beat up on tiny Teena, then I’m gonna have to kick your -”

“Don’t call me tiny! I’m not tiny!” Teena grabbed Leliana and shook her back and forth until the bigger woman’s eyes were rolling back in her head. “I’m efficiently sized!”

The trio laughed it off and Teena set out to review the ship before launch. “If I check everything now it’ll be totally fine, but if I don’t check her out before we go up then I’m 100% positive the ship will explode and kill everyone. That’s why she’s named the Nightmare, because she gives me nightmares.” She pulled her puffy pigtails and cursed the levitating ship as she departed.

“What do you suppose that means?” Leliana felt a quiver of concern at the mention of exploding and dying.

“The brotherhood, eh? What happened there?”

She about-faced to find him, arms crossed and one eyebrow cocked, peering intently at her.

“I was totally minding my own business, don’t you pin that on me!” How had he even found out this fast? Word must really get around in this place. “Those bastards were trying to tranq me from a glider in the dark, they deserve everything they got.”

Antros sighed. “Yeah, I actually believe you this time. I have no love for bounty hunters, though I am curious why they were after you. Brothers don’t pick up small bills.” His iron gaze didn’t waiver.

“Oh, yeah I don’t know. I didn’t even know who they were. I just stopped them from having their way with a sweet damsel like myself.”

He gave a half-hearted chuckle and they headed back onboard.

Now that she had..erm..some experience flying, she started drawing parallels between the glider she’d smashed and the ship’s design. The whole thing looked like it was actually just a big hang glider with some pivot-able propellers jutting up from the sides in the fore and aft and then a platform to hold people.

Hours later, the sun was starting its descent and Leliana was watching the sixth patrol of the day swing through the square to question people. Jovi strode on-deck.

“Alright ladies and gentlemen, let’s get going!”

Chapter 15: Not quite flying

Hello readers

Chapter 15 of Lead Heart is up! I wanted to give her some fun before she was cramped into a stuffy airship, but she’s unfortunately pretty bad at decision-making. Please feel free to comment any suggestions

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“Ow!”

Leliana bounced around, flailing her hand in pain.

“You bastard.”

She loomed over the aggressor. Then bent down to try again.

The last hour, by her estimate, she’d spent trying to snap a stubborn glider wing back into place so she could play with it. So far, the only thing she’d managed was to snap herself repeatedly with the elastic band and, just now, punch herself in the eye. “Hnng!” She’d started initially stealthy and quiet, a shadow in the night. Something about giving yourself a black eye made it harder to care about being heard. The streets were quiet this time of night, naught but the occasional fight among the homeless or tavern-crawlers getting sick between the buildings.

She sat atop the highest building she could find in the dark fighting with her new toy. Well, one of them. Coincidentally the structure she’d chosen was an apartment, and at this point she almost hoped someone would show up to fight her, damn stealth and silence to the 9 hells!

Snap

“Hot steam in the jimmies!” She hopped enthusiastically as the wing snapped into place. “This thing is pretty cool.”

She waved it through the air a few times, watching the flexible metal arms sway and bend as the breeze caught the smooth material. A rope harness toward the back, metal handle and rope toward the top, and a metal frame around which the stretchy fabric-like wing itself slid into place – it seemed pretty straightforward to use.

The door to the rooftop thumped against the rope she’d used to lock it. “What the devil’s goin’ on out here?!”

“Whoa someone’s grumpy. Time to go!”

Leliana tucked the gear into the back of her new suit and hopped into the harness. She secured the fastenings, then remembered that the bit to hold her top half was currently irritating one of the locals. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming already.”

“Eh? Who the blazes-.” He cut off as Leliana yanked the door open, hands on hips.

“Excuse me, can I help you?”

“Wha-? Help? Well I-I just…Now wait just a blasted minute I’ll do the questionin’ ’round here missy. What are you doing up here in the middle’a the night?” It was hard to make out any details against the small lantern swinging behind him, but she definitely caught the limp as he hobbled on a wooden leg in her direction.

Ugh.

She definitely wanted someone to beat up on a few minutes ago, but she was not fighting a guy with one leg. It’s not like she hadn’t already taken her share of killing for the night so this was probably for the best. No need to risk losing control. She secured the rope around her chest to the wing while the grumpy resident continued his rant about manners and rooftop criminals.
“Ye damn thieves wouldn’t need to use the rooftops if you’d any respect and common sense anymore. My day, we used to pick scraps off the caravans that hauled-”

“Thanks for the lesson dad. I gotta get going, you get back to bed okay!” Leliana teased lightheartedly, then sprinted at the edge of the building. The edge came up a lot faster than she’d anticipated, and suddenly she was taking the leap over the side. Did I tie this thing right? Wait how do I know this even still flies? How far is it to the ground? How do I stop?!

She was assaulted by dozens of questions it was too late for in span of a heartbeat. The next beat, she spotted a flickering candle at street level some 50 feet down. Everything else shrank away from that small light, making it zoom up and fill her vision as her own stomach fell out from under her at the same time.

Her breath caught at her lips, everything slowed for a split second.
“Holy sheeeeeeeeeeeeee” Leliana launched herself from the rooftop, letting the wings snap into place behind her. The wingtips whistled as she plummeted toward the streets. “Aaahhhh!” Screams of terror she didn’t know she could make -“YEAH!” changed to screams of exhilaration as she pulled the nose up, the rest of the wing following. She split the peak of a fountain in an instant, street-lanterns blurred past at a dizzying speed.

“Shut! Up!’

The same tavern patrons that were puking all over the city fell back as she whizzed by, but the normal residents took to screaming from their windows. She didn’t care, this was the most she’d felt her blood race in the last decade.

Suddenly, the wide streets turned sharply, narrowing into a few scattered alleys. She nicked a window, shattering the thin glass and snapping off the end off the wing. “Wait!” She didn’t want to stop already! She fought a wave of nausea and the whirling descent she’d gotten into simultaneously, all while the ground hurled itself at her. She flipped the unbroken wing down and let it spark against the stone road, bowing and bouncing and finally snapping – sending her sliding across the street. The reverberations jarred her to the bone before she remembered she was wearing a brand new, very expensive armored jumpsuit. She bucked into the air, landing on hands and feet before sliding to a hasty stop against a lamp post.

“Owww…” The pain flared up like she’d accidentally went swimming in fire. At least she didn’t need to come up with a story about all the blood now.

Cuts and scrapes dragged up and down hands and face as she detached herself from the mangled contraption. Her breath ran wild for a few minutes. That thing was. Amazing. The sting of the wind and rush of the blinding speed was intoxicating more than any ale she’d ever had. “I wonder if Jovi has any of these.”

She looked sadly at the wreckage. It’s probably just as well, she thought. There’s no question that I’d have thrown myself overboard at one point. This might actually make my doom less inevitable.

She trudged through the night, leaving the glider where it broke and a trail of blood to shock the residents in the morning.