Chapter 13: The Crew

Leliana’s eyes rolled back as she lost consciousness.

Almost.

She jerked upright just in time to miss indenting the deck with an imprint of her face. Teena, the tiny engineer, had just given Leliana the most complete and brutal verbal beating of her life. But at least she momentarily knew everything about flying ships.

“Goodness, are you okay?” Teena didn’t even halt mid-sentence, she just transitioned what she’d already been saying into concern for Leliana as she lost her footing. “Sorry you’ll have to watch your feet until I’ve had a chance to clear up all this grease, it can really be quite slick if you’re not used to it I know.”

Leliana fought back a sudden wash of nostalgia, irritably wiping a tear that almost slipped out. Teena was a miniature version of Tilly, whom she didn’t realize she’d been missing. I wonder if he got in trouble after I got out. Her thoughts were interrupted by the most hideous screech she’d ever heard in her life.

“What the-”

“Oh woops! Gib!”

A billowing explosion of steam popped the propeller out of its base along the side of the ship, dissipating once the shaft drove back into place. This sequence played over and over, getting faster and faster. Teena flung herself at Gib, who in turn hefted her onto his shoulder. He got a good grip on the girl, then spun a few times and launched her across the ship.

Leliana’s jaw dropped while Teena’s screams of glee –

“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

Turned into screams of woe.

“eeeeeooooohhhHNNOOooo!”

Fading quickly as she sailed over the rail.

Leliana bolted, hitting the same railing a few seconds later. She was about to leap when she noticed a grappling hook already wedged into the side, right where she was about to go over. She peeked over the side, coming face-to-face with a smiling Teena. The girl was perched atop a nest of red hair belonging to a pale, freckled young lady climbing a rope.

“Catch me!” Teena bounced to Leliana, hands out. Leliana caught and hauled her up, and the girl hopped into the round propeller base and started hammering away.

Leliana helped the other girl to the deck as well, who gladly took the offered hand.

“Thanks. She’s a lot heavier than she looks!” She gasped between breaths, letting herself fall to the deck with a spatter of sweat.

The hatch next to the cabin slammed upward, and an old weather-worn face slowly materialized from below. The old man slowly walked on deck with a squinty smile. “Ah, Karina you’re back. You look dehydrated, drink some water.”

“I’m not dehydrated gramps! I just like to sprint long distances sometimes for no reason, and then catch stray women who can’t keep their hands off my tools.” Karina went to grab some water as the old man joined the growing party on the ship.

“Hello Sekkel, and Kari I’m glad you made it back as well. I wanted to introduce you to Leliana, she’s the second half of our security force. She’s already agreed to hop onboard with the same terms as the first gentleman, any objections?”

Leliana started when she heard her own name. So much went down in the last two days that she forgot she was supposed to be disguised. “Hey actually, I was using another name in this town. Is it alright if I keep an alias, or….?”

Jovi panned slowly to look at her. “Why, exactly? Are you wanted?” Those wide eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“No, no. Nothing like that, I just was toying with different names, that’s all. It’s a good way to test ’em out, don’t you think? Just announce it at the gates and, you know.” She trailed off, feeling the eyes on her. “Or not, I don’t want to complicate things.”

“We’ve had a bit of bad luck with false names historically, Leli dear, let’s stick to normal ones if it’s all the same to you.”

“Yeah, that’s fine then.” Leliana hoped.

“Hi Leliana pleased to meet you, I’m Kari.” The redhead shook her hand excitedly. “Teena’s responsible, older sister.”

Teena’s ears perked up. “Wait, what. Older?! You’re 3 years younger than I am!”

“Being responsible makes you prematurely old, so I’m basically older.” Kari shrugged and hopped side to side while Teena tried to tackle her knees.

“Get back here you rust headed b-”

“Greasemonkey!”

The two pounded across the deck, playfully knocking each other down and yelling mild obscenities.

Jovi pointedly ignored them.

“Sekkel, Leliana mentioned that she still needed to make a pick up from the market later, have you already inventoried the supplies below?” Jovi’s booted food already jammed in door of the only room above-deck and checking items off of a clipboard.

“Yes, I have. The only thing I should need is a pin-up of her gloriou-”

“Did you know she beheaded a man last night. Lopped his head right off I was told. Big guy too. An interesting anecdote I thought you might appreciate. On that note, Kari, can you show her below-decks where she might store her belongings, point out a free hammock? Best show her where all the peepholes are while you’re at it.”

Sekkel rumbled a deep, gravelly laugh with no hint of shame. “I haven’t opened up any new ones since last time.”

What in the world was she getting into?

***

A pair of eyes watched the merry crew onboard from darkness. They narrowed as Leliana slunk below.

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Chapter 12: A new home

Hello internets!

The new chapter of Lead Heart is up, please let me know how you like it. I’m playing with pacing and details, so do feel free to comment if anything is confusing!

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A mess of coins clinked playfully into Leliana’s hands.

“Here’s the advance to get outfitted darling. Head on over later today and I’ll introduce you to the crew.” Jovi pocketed the list she’d had Leliana write up of her own talents and swept from the room, Gib in tow.

The common room was still pretty sparse, but was slowly filling with patrons and gossips alike. Elaborate stories and exaggerations were flying more freely than oatmeal. She didn’t pay them any mind, instead replaying this interview in her mind. The captain certainly fit the part; she was all smiles and handshakes until business was broached, then the woman exuded authority. Leliana stowed her belongings. The first thing she needed was a way of carrying stuff without flailing this enormous sack about.

She was fond of it, to be sure. She liked hiding things inside and having a soft armor of sorts. Trudging around town with a 50 pound coin purse just drew some sorts of attention she didn’t want. The instructions from Jovi were crisp on the white parchment in her hands. A couple of uniforms, new shoes, food, and ammo? This was basically why Leliana was in town in the first place, and now somebody else was buying them for her?

Maybe Antros was right about that whole career thing.

***

Six hours later, she stopped to admire her new home. Well, temporary home. And workplace. And bedroom. Okay it wasn’t the biggest ship, but right now the biggest thing it represented was freedom. An escape from locked doors and steam guns and chains. For that, it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever set eyes on.

About 15 feet tall by her estimation, something like twice as wide and four times as long. It felt like a squat warehouse with a pointed bottom levitating a few feet off the ground.

Cool

Captain Jovi waved Leliana over to where she sat poring over a stack of papers. “Goodday Leliana. How goes it?” Even though her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark glasses, anyone could hear that she was about four seconds from falling asleep. Probably using the papers for a pillow.

“So far so good. I need to pick up a uniform at sundown, but I grabbed everything else.” The heavy canvas bag was indeed filled to bursting, as well as a new bag fastened at her hip. A thick belt she’d taken fancy to wrapped twice around her, holding an assortment of new bullets, knives and a few small explosives.

“I certainly hope you overdressed for the job,” Jovi quipped. “I”m not about to complain about my security detail being too armed, though. Last fellows figured a gun each would suffice and ended up…Well, it wasn’t enough. Let’s get you settled. First to take stock of the added weight.”

They stepped to a small plank held by a joint in the middle, so a platform at one end was raised while the other was on the ground.

“Step here please.”

Leliana hopped onto the lowered platform while Jovi clambered up the raised one. Jovi made a small frown as nothing happened. “What on earth is in that bag? Can you put your things on the ground a moment.”

Leliana set everything aside and they tried again. The platform didn’t move. Jovi peered over her glasses. “Oh. Okay. Uh, Gib, be a dear and stand here will you.”

Gib frolicked to the seesaw and hopped up. The platform slowly evened out, both figures suspended about 2 feet up. Jovi didn’t hide it this time, and spoke with open-mouthed astonishment. “Skymother above, where do you keep it all?” Gib went ahead and set Leliana’s packs on the platform he’d been standing on, and the board leveled out once again.

“Okay, okay. I’m not even going to ask. Please tell me the uniform isn’t a steel pillbox or something. I’m not confident we’ll be able to take off in that condition.”

Leliana laughed nervously. “Ah, no it should be pretty light.”

Jovi waved the matter aside. “Well it’ll be fine, the cargo from here to Rosewood is just a crate of logic cards so we should be fine.” They marched up the gangplank, the heavy board bowing dangerously in the middle as Gib and Leliana walked side-by-side.

Leliana stowed her belongings in a small sealed chest next to the only cabin on deck and then she and Jovi took a quick tour. Fore, aft, starboard, port, the ship was surprisingly similar to some of the clippers in the strategy books she’d memorized years ago. The sail design was a bit odd though. Each sail was held aloft by two masts on either side of the ship with a couple of support beams in between. She said as much.

“That’s because these sails slide on the air like a glider, so the forces exerted upon the mast structure is all pulling away from the ship and need the extra stability.”

A girl with enormous, fluffy, pink pigtails popped up in the raised base of a vertical propeller near the ship’s peak. It was Leliana’s turn to gape as the tiny girl continued in a tiny voice.

“It was quite a challenging design feature to implement if I were to be honest but we increased the ships flight range by 100% so I’m definitely glad we perfected it.” The mousey girl waved, holding a wrench almost as big as she was. “Hi captain!”

Leliana leaned to Gib and whispered. “She’s. Adorable.”

Gib whispered back. “Yes!”

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.

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.”

*******************************************************************************

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,

_____________________________________________________

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.”