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Dog Shouting

Out on the Salt Sea, the Princess Leaves smacks bolts aside with her father’s sword, but they hit the deck of the yacht and leap immediately to flame. Dog Shouting dangles from the deck of a skiff while the hideous mouth of the Garbage Killer snaps blindly toward her. Rotten Gamble and Dragalong try to haul her up, when over their shoulders she spies a man wearing blue armor and a demon’s mask.

“Splitting Scar!” snarls Dog Shouting.

He raises his crossbow.

“Splitting Scar?” gasps Blow the Skin, “Splitting Scar? Where?” and knocks a pile of convenient fireworks into the flames.

The Princess Leaves

The Burning Armory is four fathoms tall and its stubby fingers are pierced with sharpened bone. Its half-blind eye searches out the Princess Leaves as she coughs sand and struggles to her feet; above, Dog Shouting grips the pit’s edge, and the Papa Bosom’s mottled crew cheer and place bets.

Very few of the bets are in her favor.

The Armory snacks on a guard-turned-victim, and the Princess closes her eyes. The Wish Power is with her. The enormous portcullis rises; the Armory tries to follow her under it; the portcullis falls.

“Oh dear,” says Blow the Skin.

The Princess Leaves

“I’m taking Reaching the West Reaches and my friends,” says the emissary, cool and cocksure, silk-robed in black. “You can either profit by this or be destroyed.”

Papa Bosom laughs and laughs.

“You’re standing on–” Dog Shouting tries to hiss in warning from her lounging spot on the floor, but a yank on her leash chokes her off.

“There will be no bargain, Hopeless Warrior,” purrs Papa Bosom in his wet and backward language. “I shall enjoy watching you die.”

The guard’s bolter flies to the Princess’s hand: a flash and a crackle, a scream, and then the floor disappears.

Dog Shouting

“Ready for the jump,” says Rotten Gamble tightly.

The Heavenly dreadnought looms, bolters charging like infernal bees, but the Loveblind Bird races dead on for the reef. Belowdecks, Dragalong and Kid Rabbit scramble to swap crackling hoses.

“Princess, we’ll find him,” Dog Shouting mumbles in her wounded fever. “I promise.”

The Princess presses a cold cloth to Dog’s head, eyes huge and dark.

“Punch it!” shouts Gamble.

The ship booms; power arcs down through salt water. The Loveblind Bird leaps up to ride over the reef on rails of lightning, and lands hard on the other side.

“Ow,” Dog Shouting grunts.

Rotten Gamble

The basket climbs its endless tether, winding upward into the mist.

“You truly belong here among the clouds,” Rotten Gamble coos to the Princess.

“Aren’t you afraid the Heavens will shut you down?” Dog Shouting says quickly.

Gamble grunts. “No, not actually. We don’t fall into their, uh, jurisdiction. Our operation is small enough not to be noticed… and our customers are anxious to avoid attracting attention to themselves.”

Dog Shouting grins. Gamble catches it, grins back.

“I’ve just made a deal,” he says, “that will keep the Heavens out of here forever.”

The basket opens.

The Speaker is waiting outside.

Dog Shouting

“Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler!” growls Rotten Gamble, stalking toward them down the pier with guards at either side.

“Me?” mouths Dog Shouting, like a bad actor.

They embrace, then, laughing, until the caped man glimpses baleen scars down the flanks of Loveblind Bird. “What have you done to my ship?”

Dog Shouting’s eyebrow quirks. “Yours? You lost her to me fair and square.”

They pause and eye each other for a moment, grins a little edgy now.

“Well, he seems friendly,” remarks Blow the Skin.

“Yes,” says the Princess Leaves, watching the two of them. “Very friendly.”

Dog Shouting

The Loveblind Bird lies beached on a heaving gray shore, deep in the half-flooded grotto. Strange white bats chirp and circle them as Dog Shouting prowls around the ship with a sling dangling from one hand. The Princess Leaves follows, and her lantern casts leaping shadows.

“You’re trembling,” observes Dog Shouting.

“I’m not trembling,” the princess says, but her eyes keep casting back to the cave entrance: See Me’s absence is silent and heavy between them.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” she mutters.

Dog Shouting whips a sling stone at one of the bats.

That doesn’t go well.

See Me

See Me is a silver fish flitting through mangrove shallows. Sometimes he sees other places: the future, or the past, or old friends long gone. Ships skim. Dog Shouting screams. Ratio Tile and Reaching the West Reaches converse, watched by a little green man.

As his wrist heals, they wean him gently off the opium, and the dreams give way to the glowing braziers of the hospital cave. Finally, he finds himself fully awake. The Princess is there, in the darkness: her breath in his ear, her hand beneath the sheets.

“It’s good,” she whispers, “to see you fully functional again.”

See Me

They meet atop the sixth of eleven mounds, the reliefs cut into their chalky flesh buried in the howling storm. The great dogs bell and shake off the snow already crusting on their flanks; Dog Shouting and See Me grip their saddle horns to stay seated.

“There isn’t enough life on this ice-rock to fill a cruiser’s hold,” snorts Dog Shouting. “The traps are set. I’m going back.”

“I’ll follow shortly. There’s a piece of moonstone that hit the ground near here.”

Dog Shouting frowns at him.

“I want to check it out,” shrugs See Me. “It won’t take long.”

Reaching the West Reaches

The Loveblind Bird plumes dust, skidding down the wall of the canyon on a single foil. Bolts shatter the water. The Heavenly orbs are spinning shards of hot metal; one slices through See Me’s sail.

“You’re all clear, kid!” roars Dog Shouting.

See Me leans forward and drives his proa toward the tunnel, down into the heart of the moon.

Deep below, turning slowly, Reaching the West Reaches breathes hazy clockwork air. Something goes bright above him; seconds later, the water picks him up and carries him away at impossible speed.

He shuts the lacquer lids of his eyes and Wishes.

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