Chapter 3: Tactical Retreat

Hello Internet:

Chapter 3 of Lead Heart is up! Sometimes you just have to GTFO.

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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.

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Chapter 2: The Second Swipe

Hello internet,

Here’s chapter 2 of Lead Heart!

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Leliana was irritated.

“My dear, that rock is worth more trouble than gold, I’m doing you a favor!”

Hells take his insufferable smug face and his insufferable stupid guards. Fantasies of daring assaults and widespread carnage filled her eyes if just for a moment. At least until she remembered the two score pistol barrels pointing her way.

Glaring daggers at the little weasel in front of her, Leliana untied the heavy bag behind her and let the metal core slam to the ground with a clang.

She noticed someone in the crowd she recognized as she replaced the pack and stepped away. “Antros, you’ve picked a real winner here. I hope you got paid up front.” Her lazy tone didn’t bother to hide the irritation she felt, her eyes barely turning to address the tall, dark and ugly to her left.

Her clean-shaven opponent mouthed a small o and squinted, turning to look behind him. “Have you met?”

A rough bodyguard stepped forward before answering. “We’ve seen each other in a professional capacity.” His deep voice grating her ears. “Meaning I’ve professionally seen her swipe enough junk to know there’s no way she found this piece lying on the ground.”

“Tut tut number 4. We can’t brigade about the countryside insulting nice young ladies,” he wagged a finger at Antros. “Run along little girl, I’ll be here for a few days if you find yourself in need of… Well me.” He flashed his most winsome smile and whirled with a flourish, waving her off.

The emotion drained from her body, replaced by a coldness she was all too familiar with. Images unbidden welled to the front of her mind.

“Run along little girl”

She took a slow breath.

“Are you just letting her walk free?” Antros frowned. “I’ve seen her at work and she’s definitely the type to retaliate. I don’t think-”

“I don’t pay you to think, number 4. I pay you so I don’t have to worry about letting little urchins run freely about their disgusting lives.” The dripping sarcasm washed over the gathered crowd. Scattered snickers grunted out of the men. “Am I wasting my money? Number 4?”

“Stupid brat.”

Phantom fists rained down around her, causing her to wince. The hiss of her own sharp intake of breath snapped her from the memory. The heat returned to her cheeks as she found the clearing silent, and staring.

She smiled.

“Surely you’re not afraid of a little girl, number 4.” Leliana emphasized the stupid name.

Antros’ frown turned into a scowl. “You’re the boss, forget I said anything.” He crossed his arms and stepped back to his place by the tent flap

Leliana backed up a few paces, watching the stone-cold faces with their stone-cold firearms. The guards lowered their guns at a wave from the trader, closely monitoring her retreat. She ran backward a few minutes, until she was far enough away to trust they probably wouldn’t shoot her in the back, then turned and sped down the road. Clever, to set up a faux trading post in such a clear, flat field.

The setup was good, she gave him that. The hired muscle wore carefully crafted colors to give the impression of multiple trading groups. It seemed legit at first glance. Looks like the actual traders were finding highway robbery just as profitable as she was.

She entered the treeline and immediately fell to the forest floor. Slowly, she crawled back to the edge of the clearing, hiding on a slope. Pulling the collapsible scope from her belt she ducked low and peeked up just until she could see the group. She groaned immediately.

“Of course you have a sniper. Everyone has a sniper.”

Grumbling to herself, she let her sack fall to the ground and stayed out of sight of the sharpshooter. There was no way she could kill them all, that would be foolhardy. She couldn’t just leave though, that would only encourage him in the future. There was no way to build a reputation if three dozen crappy mercs started tattling about your cowardice. She fumed for a moment, remembering the unwanted memories forcing themselves upon her. He was definitely paying for that.

It wasn’t hard finding a vantage point they weren’t watching – almost every eye in camp was staring down the road she’d used. Leliana skirted the camp carefully, settling behind some tall grass in close proximity to the forest beyond.

Unzipping the hidden pocket on the inside of the sack, she slowly pieced together her own rifle. A prize from a hundred years ago at least, the sleek, black, long-barreled rifle was like a sister to her. A sister that could kill someone at a thousand feet. Digging a small trough into the hillside and under the grass, Leliana settled in to get comfortable. Watching that cowardly old buffoon laughing behind his guards set her on edge, but patience was a fundamental virtue in this game.
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Leliana snapped from a trance-like state, the crunch of boots on gravel smacking her awake. The normal patrols were back in rotation; still, they were a sloppy bunch. They were probably used to bullying travelers unable to retaliate against a force this large, and that was fine by her. A lazy dog is a good dog.

Her breathing was slow. It felt like every part of her body were asleep, but she couldn’t move to ease the fierce tingling now. Fidgeting while stalking a camp of armed mercenaries was a fantastic way to get shot.

The unseen guard stepped a few paces in front of her, allowing her to make out the thick wooden shoes and the irritating camo pattern of their pants. Who the scrap wears brown camouflage to a forest. He looked like a huge pile of-

Oh, that weasel bastard was comfortable. His stupid white teeth were biting into a huge chunk of meat across the table from Antros.

She smiled.

The young woman took a few steadying breaths and selected one of her improv bullets – the quietest, a wasp stinger, because she could afford to waste one and because the poison would finish the job if her aim were off.

Her? Miss? She snorted softly.

The gravel crunching stopped and her heart followed suit.

Woops. She chastised herself mentally.

An intense minute of sweating later and the guard continued his round.

This needed to get done. The longer she lingered the greater the chance of discovery. She dropped the makeshift bullet into the chamber and slid it home, then readied her bag for a panicked flight. Okay, now time it right.

Still feeding his face, don’t want to shoot through that hunk of meat. Nope, jerks in the way. Not yet, not yet…grabbing a drink, perfect.

Smooth inhale. Sight down the barrel. Smooth exhale. His head tilted as he gulped at the wine.

FIRE.

Serialized Stories

Hello internet friends – Kris here!

Whew! It’s been quite a delay since our last entry. Tina and I have taken up going to the gym, lots of crafting projects, and other general non-keeping up our blog type things. This is pretty sad though and I’ve been wanting to get into a serialized story to help polish my skills whilst my super-long-take-20-years-to-finish novel is in the works. It’s a working title.

So here’s the first chapter of what I hope to be at least 15-20 chapters of the story of Leliana, a feisty girl who generally likes to shoot first and ask questions never.

Lead Heart

Chapter 1: The Swipe

Leliana stalked between the rows of jagged teeth. A shadow slinking in the darkness. The gargantuan demophant had more than enough teeth to hide her approach, still, it would hurt her pride to be discovered prematurely. It wasn’t difficult to find a hiding place among the reeking yellowed spikes. She took a moment to breathe slowly, coiling her muscles, ready to spring into action the moment she heard her cue.

There was a team of stocky men with picks and machetes and shovels flailing away at the back of the creature’s throat. She visualized them now; marking their progress over the last 2 hours, she’d stowed her spyglass and headed in when she realized they were basically done.

“AH HA!” A gruff cry of delight, followed by a sickening squelch and rushing air.

She Smiled.

Palming three sleep bombs, she vaulted off a few teeth larger than she was and scattered the explosives to surround the small party. Using her own pick, she suspended herself from the roof of the dead demophants’ mouth to get a better view. A yelp escaped from the mercenary hired for protection as one of the bombs hit him square in the mouth, the other two landing behind a group of idling specialists and the actual diggers in the very act of freeing the creatures’ first heart. Everyone froze and turned to face the burly guy nursing a loose tooth.

Woops, bad habit.

The mercenary was the first to react, eyes bulging as he noted the object which had smacked him a second ago and shrugging a large metal shield into his left hand, right hand instinctively grasping the small arm at his side. One of the specialists cowered as he pulled his colleague in front of him with a whimper, the latter yelling in outrage and wrenching himself free to throw himself backward, hands protecting his head. The dig team recoiled against the inner wall of the throat of the monster they were performing their macabre surgery upon, one fellow falling into the breach they had just opened up with a cry.

Leliana found an odd glee in allowing a second of realization before actually springing herself on her prey. She waited, all eyes on the bombs. When nothing happened, the mercenary called for everyone to get out of the mouth as quickly as possible, leading the charge. The other dozen or so men scrambled to follow, slipping back and forth on the slimy tongue.

Tapping the detonator on her wrist against the ceiling, she set the bombs to spewing shrapnel and sleeping poison in a large radius, simultaneously creating a haze of fog. The mercenary slumped to the floor mid-stride, most everyone else following suite. She shook the pick free, folding and storing it in her belt on the fall down. She landed on the unfortunate mercenary who’d been riddled with spikes full of the potent poison and took the opportunity to toss his gun among the creatures’ teeth. Even if it took only a minute to find, that was a minute not chasing her down. She leapt between a few of the specialists, sliding and hopping over the diggers into the tight quarters of the first heart’s chamber.

Allowing herself to slide around the unconscious brute to the opposite side of the chamber, she unclasped a thin, flexible knife and filleted the human head-sized chunk of metal that was the power source to the first heart from the wall. Stowing it inside the lead-laced canvas bag on her back, Leliana tied the bag quickly and slid back out the entrance of the cavernous mouth.

She lowered herself to the ground and snuck back through the workers’ camp, lifting a few bombs from a sleeping guards’ belt. He probably wouldn’t find enough work to use them after today anyway. The stealthy rogue spent a few moments scattering the collected firearms into the underbrush surrounding the clearing; they were too trashy for her to bog herself down with, but they were still deadly enough not to want them close at hand when this lot woke from their bad dream. The ground beneath her trembled, a distant thunder caught her breath.

Holy scrap that was close. She vaulted into the nearest tree and raised herself high enough to make out the towering monster slowly walking in her direction. Seeing a living demophant took her breath away every time, and she took a moment to admire that monstrosity crashing in her direction. The fact that each tooth was only about as big as she was gave evidence to this one’s young age. The single, wide fluorescent green eye fixated hungrily on the corpse below. Time to go.

They could only see irradiated plants and animals so she wasn’t afraid of being seen or eaten. They bunched their fat, serpentine bodies and bounded forward in a thundering explosion of movement which easily splintered trees and would displace an entire lake’s worth of water. Those posed a lot more of a risk. It was common knowledge they flocked to the death of their own kind, feasting on the body for days. It was also common knowledge that this was a bad time to be sleeping in the mouth of the dead one. Common knowledge to her, anyway. There was only one close enough to worry about for now though, and that was easy enough to work around. She dropped to the forest floor, setting a brisk pace for herself opposite the direction of the still living carnivore.

Two hours later she was facing a problem.

A large clearing full of people seemed to be a makeshift trade camp. She’d been planning to head to Imperious or Triad or some other city to sell off her stolen prize, but if she could get rid of it now there’d be no reason to stuff herself into one of those terrible places. The crowds, the smells. The guards. She’d almost give this thing away for a ham sandwich to be honest, it was definitely worth something, but it was also toxic and heavy. If she were being honest with herself, she only took it because someone else had been trying to get it first.

If it were a trap though. That would be real irritating.

NEWS TIME!!!

Hello Friends!

Tina here. I am excited to announce to you all that Kris and I will be moving our blog/talk time to Fridays. Because of this very sudden change, Kris suggested I write a short story but I would rather share an amazing site with you and task you to try some prompts yourself, or tell me which one you might like to see expanded!

The Site: plot-generator.org.uk

Prompts:

1. You’re about to embark on a dangerous mission. Write a letter to your loved ones for them to open if you don’t make it.

2. Imagine you’re a wolf for a day. How would you spend your time?

3. Think of a wish. Now imagine the granting of the wish has unexpected consequences.

4. Take the names of the songs on your favourite albums. What if they were chapter headings?

5. You find a hard-boiled egg by the side of the road. How did it get there?

6. Think of the person you’d least like to spend time with. Imagine you’re trapped in a drain and he/she is the only one who can help.

7. Think of your favourite place by the coast. Describe the scene if the sea level were 10 metres higher.

8. You wake up in the wrong body. Whose body are you in and why?

9. Ask your parents how they met. In what way would their first meeting have been different if your dad had had a parrot on his shoulder?

10. Look at the last message you sent. What would have happened if you’d accidentally sent it to your mum?

11. What was the last thing you lost that never turned up? Write a story describing something that may have happened to it.

12. Would you ever license a robot version of yourself?

13. You find a letter from your grandfather that was never sent. Why not?

14. Imagine you can travel back in time to give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?

15. Think of a child in your life. Write a page designed to make him/her fall on the floor with laughter.

16. Think about the more prudish person you know. Now sit him/her next to somebody behaving inappropriately on a train.

17. What is the least convenient personal habit for a detective? Write about that detective.

18. Look into your family tree. Is there somebody who moved away? Make up an explanation.

19. Think of somebody younger than you – a brother, sister or friend. Imagine he/she wants to become your superhero sidekick. How would he/her try to impress you?

20. You pick up somebody else’s coat accidentally. Something in the pocket makes you suspect the owner of supernatural talents.

A tale of two tales

Hello Internets – Kris here,

Tina and I had a bit of a longer chat this week discussing the upcoming month of writing our butts off as well as a quick 20 minute project we did for funsies. Our project was to write for 10 minutes to get a story setup, and then trade and finish the others’ for the next 10 minutes. It’s good practice, and a bit silly – highly recommended if you have anyone nearby who’s fun and likes to use their imaginations!

I’ll go ahead and post the stories below the blogcast in their mostly un-edited forms (to better illustrate differences in writing styles) for your perusal; leave us a comment if you have any topics or story starters of your own and we’ll be happy to take ’em for a ride! Fair warning, the stories are super short on account of being written in 20 minutes by two people, and also have a bit of a potty mouth in case any impressionable eyes are wandering nearby.

 

Story 1

“God damn it!”

Jessica was so pissed. These damn curbs had been built purposefully just to piss her off and she was THIS close to stomping one into dust.

Bzzz.

“Oh!”

The problem of course was the interviewer at the other end of this email chain wasn’t going to wait for her to rent out a bulldozer or something. She drafted up a quick reply and bolted across the street to catch the light.

Stupid tequila, stupid brad. Stupid alarm! The best shot of her entire career was flushing itself down the proverbial toilet. Jessica cursed and muttered to herself as she shouldered aside both young and old, man and woman. She remembered a shortcut behind the shoe warehouse and ducked under the gate, hoping to God it wasn’t locked at the other end.

It was locked.

“Oh hell! I wish it was last night again!” Caution to the wind, she flew like a bat out of hell, flailing out of control as she slipped on yet another storm drain.

“AAARGH!”

She hurled her purse across the parking lot into the shadowed alcove of the-

Shadowy alcove?

Her heart skipped a beat. It was mid day seconds ago, why was it night?

“What in the hell?”

“You really shouldn’t throw your things into dark holes.” Brad chirped from behind her.

“Jessica spun on her heel to see Brad wearing the same attire as last night. The street behind him also showed a flurry of activity only known to the city during what Brad called “party time.”

“I-I was just…” She trailed off looking down to see not the smart dress suit she had fallen asleep on and wrinkled to hell, but her cute gold shimmer dress and heels.

“Girl, get your bag!” Brad looked around. “Some creep is gonna try and mug us if you don’t hurry and I love this watch!”

“Jessica turned and went to pick up her purse when she noticed her good luck charm had fallen out. She retrieved the shiny silver token that had been given to her by her father, shortly before he was killed by a freak lightning strike that night. He had told her it was a faeries token, stolen or given by the fae to her way back Grandmother in Ireland. It made it across the ocean and survived the Titanic with her grandmother.

[End]

For bonus points, see if you can tell where the story swapped hands! Tina and I are horrendously opposite as storytellers so it should be pretty easy.

Story 2

 

The vampires didn’t just appear overnight. It wasn’t like a newly formed species that came from space. Some of them had been here for much longer than any living being had a right to exist.

Then again, when you live that long are you really alive?

Some of the myths that were quickly dashed when they came out was that you had to die to become one. Really, it didn’t take a death to change you. Just a pact and some sort of magic ritual. Oh, and magic was real.

My name is Sonny and I’m a plumber. Yeah, yeah. Like Mario. However, in this new world of vampires, my job is to plumb people. Rather crude, but I set up some vamps with willing humans and discard or remove defective or broken ones. I am human, however, my payment is in extended life without the thirst for blood. I’m not faster or strong, just 30 for a couple hundred years longer than others. Some of the nerds started calling humans like me Elves, based on old fantasy lore.

Well if they could hear what I hear, they would clamor to become a plumber too.

A couple of the big ones started talking the other day about some trick they had in mind. Sounded like a big operation, whole cities turned to feeding ground. Humans penned like cattle. You know the drill. One of ’em was talkin’ about how the plumbers were gonna be kept in separate apartments from now on for safety; you know, some of the young ones get overzealous when they start sucking that stuff.

Well I might be selfish, rich, and young, but I ain’t stupid. I know that fella with big ears heard me in that hallway so I set out to record this message in case they come for me. It’ll ship out to every country in the world if I don’t reset the calendar each week.

Why a week? Well listen, sometimes when I’m out gettin’ the stink eye from those normies, I just wanna snap, you know. It’s been over a hundred years since I got laid over here! Still, I can’t wish everyone dead. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness was never rich, even if the broads are clamoring for magic nowadays.

So you’re probably wondering why this letter is in your fine hands. Well my friend, I am dead or dying I can only assume, since the timer seems to have expired. You can bet your Betty-who’s that they’ve read the message by now and probably the addressees as well. I’d estimate you probably have about two hours from the sent stamp to copy this and get the hell away from there.

Remember: New York, Boston, London and Berlin may be first, but the whole damn world is about to get drained if you ain’t quick.

[End]

Short story Wednesday!

Kris here,

It’s sadly been a while since I’ve posted any short stories, so I figured I’d give it a go. I saw a 30 minute writing sprint pop up in a discord channel I’m subscribed to and Tina said “do it!”, then told me to write a Snowflake story. All I had were a pen and paper, but if my ancestors could do it, then dangit so can I. Snowflake is a snow wolf in the novel I’m writing and she’s been a favorite of anyone who’s read the story so far, so I wrote her last day before meeting our protagonist::
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Birds chirping merrily in the treetops were her first sensation.

Damn birds she growled.

She’d been up until the sun shone through the treetops hunting, those birds better have a good reason for making this much noise. Yawning quietly, she stretched liberally and padded off to find her pack.

Striding into the clearing, she sniffed tentatively. The strong haze of blood smothered her nostrils, stinging in the frigid air. The wind ruffled her fur pleasantly and took the odor with it, leaving her wanting for the spoils of last night. Curious, she allowed herself to follow the scent on the wind, keeping an eye out for her pack. They should be around here somewhere. The screaming started then, tingling along her spine like an itch.

Seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere, the high pitched wail suffocated the forest with its persistence. The savage squealing was getting louder with every passing day, alongside whatever screeches and echoes it had accompanied these many, many days. Her pack had discussed hunting down the annoyance before it could become a threat, but surely they’d have awoken her before leaving? The unearthly wail cut short, a deafening silence rising to take its place. Snow crunching beneath her feet seemed to echo in the trees.

She returned to the cave to look for clues, and food. The place smelled heavily of fresh kills and dominance, but nothing abnormal. While she poked around, that shrill screaming started up once more, the caverns around her suddenly feeling much more threatening and malicious as they carried the echoes to and fro. She stalked outside, pinpointing the sounds’ source, determined to do whatever it took to shut it up for good.

A single howl, its baritone note piercing right through her, stilled her feet. The warning call signaled trouble.

Her pack!

The thought of her siblings blazed in the front of her mind. Flying off in a blur of powder and permafrost, she’d gone a hundred steps before she even realized she was moving. Ducking and leaping from side to side to avoid the thick, twisted branches that threatened to ensnare her frenzied journey, she sped at a breakneck pace until she could make out individual yelps just over the ridge. Relying on sound now to guide her path, she rounded the hilltop and ran into a fog of stench like a cave wall – the copper and earth smells mixing into an overwhelming cacophony of death. She bounded out of the scraggly winter foliage into a clearing and the blood froze in her veins.

In the valley below she made out a few of her own brothers and sisters alongside many pack-mates from further away. They were all locked in a lethal struggle with hideously deformed, yet diminutive little creatures. Their broad tails and beady eyes were but deformed mockeries. Wicked fangs jutted from every jaw, and dirty, clawed hands all gripped long branches that they used to keep the wolves at bay. She watched her only younger brother clamp down onto the throat of one of the monsters proudly. Her pride was replaced with grief, and then rage as he was surrounded and stabbed over and over with those same sticks.

Racing downhill like a scream, she barreled into the monsters attacking her brother in a flurry of teeth and claws, maiming 2 and feeling the snap of another’s neck before they backed out of range. She felt, more than heard, the growl of thanks from beneath her, and glanced down to see his eyes close for the last time. Her ears rang with the din of the anguished howl she didn’t remember starting. Anguish fueled the rage boiling inside her. She felt the sharpened spike scrape against her ribs as the monsters approached.

Come to me

She revealed the grin only the feast of a wolf can ever see, and tore one of the creatures in half before he could raise his accursed stick. The others raised theirs to ward her off, but she lodged them into herself with a leap and crashed down into the middle of them. The creatures hissed and snapped at her, the expression they kept when she separated them from their heads. Time slowed down and skipped by her all at once. Nothing existed outside this clearing, nothing mattered but revenge against those who dared to hunt her family. To hunt HER.

Seeing two of them carrying a dead wolf on their flattened tails, she sprang through the air, determined to kill them all at any cost. She crushed one beneath her into a fallen tree and watched it impale him, before realizing too late that she was next. Refusing to show pain, she motored her arms and legs, demanding them to work through sheer will. Those limbs refused her orders, weakly scratching the dead brute she lay atop.

Damn it!

She rocked the tree side to side in a vain effort to break it. She’d gathered quite a crown now and warily eyed the remaining bastards who encircled her. They tightened the circle just the tiniest bit too far and paid for it as she bit into the eyes of the biggest one. His screams rang into the darkening sky as he clutched at his face, yelling and hissing at those nearest him. They each backed away now, keeping a healthy distance. They squeaked and hissed at one another, before finally climbing the hill at her back. After a moment, the air was filled with the crunch of wood and an explosion of splinters rained all around her as they brought down a tree on top of her.

She watched as they stacked monster and wolf alike into a wheeled wooden box and disappeared into the shadowed wood. She growled, then whimpered, and sank into the darkness.

____

The snap of a branch whipped her into reality. Such a nice dream she was having, a pity she still lived.

She honed into the scent of an approaching…human? She watched through droopy eyes as it came closer. Another snapped branch made her twitch, setting off a river of pain flowing throughout her entire body. Growling, she narrowed her eyes as it approached, waiving a chunk of flesh…

Short Story Saturday the June’th

Kris here,

Komona is the final, unintroduced character played by our lovely roommate Watson. She’s a lady of …..quality, and, mystery.

_____

 

Komona’s bleary eyes opened hesitantly against the bright sunlight. She draped the comforter back over her head and stretched warmly in the darkness, soaking in the silence.

Her client was supposed to have woken her up before he left for the day, but she couldn’t hear any sign of him from her perch.

Hmm.

She rose and dressed, using the full length mirror against the wall to fix her mussed hair. It’s not like she were late for anything, but it would be nice to get out of here before the streets filled with people. Sighing, she crossed the room to her shoes and, after some last minute glancing down the halls, took the nicer pair hanging by the dresser and replaced them with her own. If someone noticed, she’d have to give them back. If no one noticed, she had a new pair of shoes. No harm in trying!

“Oh yes. OH YES.” They felt like wearing a masseuse made of clouds to rub your feet after every step. Time to make herself  scarce.

Komona floated through the hallway and down the stairs, moving through the house like a whisper. No sound from the front or the back. She strained her ears, listening for sounds of life. As she approached the kitchen, she heard a muffled banging from below.

What was that?

She entered the bright kitchen warily, cautiously stalking over to where she’d last heard the noise. Something felt…off. Where was the noise from the streets? The housekeepers?  Finally getting a good look outside, she was shocked to see it was already mid-afternoon. How long had she slept! Had her client found the sleeping poison she hid and used it on her?

She yanked the small knife holding her hair in place and checked the secret chamber. It looked full?

Yes, something was amiss.

CRACK

She leapt over the island behind her as the wall under the marble counters slammed itself almost in half.

“Who’s there?!”

She grabbed a heavy knife from the block on the island and came back around to investigate. What in the-

CRACK

Komona stared into a pair of lifeless eyes, frozen by fear. The maid’s pallid face pierced her with a hungry stare, lacerations and gouges covering the rest of the horrific head. Where did all that blood come from?

“Are you…Are you okay?”

The angry older woman growled at her and flailed at the rest of the wall keeping her trapped in the cellar, splintering it to pieces.

Wide-eyed and fearing for her life, Komona flew from the kitchen and out the front door as fast as humanly possible. She slammed the door open and bolted into the empty streets.

Wait. Empty streets? Her mind whirled a mile a minute. She stowed the knife she’d been fleeing with into a bag. Probably for the best something terrible was happening, it would’ve gotten her arrested to run about the rich quarter with a giant knife at hand. She made for the gate – best to get home to stow her payments.

But the gate was closed.

“Why is the gate closed!” She said it aloud more to make a little sound in the creepy stillness hanging over everything than to get a response. The gatehouse was closed anyway.

“That’s what we’d like to know too, but there’s nobody around to ask.”

The slender woman nearly jumped out of her new shoes. She whirled to face the woman who answered. Strong and dour, with two holstered cats at her side. The woman glared for a minute, sizing her up.

“Where did you come from anyway? We’ve been looking all over for anyone still living. Any others locked up where you came from?”

Komona looked around the stout woman to see the old man and small girl she was traveling with. “No. I suppose you three are the first living people I’ve seen today too. What happened around here? Where is everyone?”

The trio took a few minutes filling her in. A plague cure, people littering the streets like rats, the deafening quiet smothering the city.

“Wow, a lot of things happened while I was asleep. Is it really Tuesday? I’m beginning to think I overslept more than I realized. What are you guys planning from here now with everyone gone?”

“Ah, they’re around here somewhere all right. Damned rich folk always have a contingency plan up their sleeves somewhere. What are you doing here anyway? Surely you’ve seen something. Colby-Jack by the way, these are Tess and Fenton. What’s your name girl?”

Komona introduced herself. “I’m a …messenger. I was. Messenging?”

Fenton cackled until he couldn’t breathe. “A messenger she says!”

“Well Komona, you’re welcome to tag along with us if you like, especially since everyone in the main districts seem to be dead.”

“Just as long as she washes her hands!” Colby-Jack smacked Fenton’s arm and he collapsed into laughter once more.