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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.

Kid Rabbit

“Of course I’m worried,” snaps Blow the Skin. “And you should be too! Rotten Gamble and Dragalong never returned from this awful place. If I told you half the things I’ve heard about this Papa Bosom–”

Grit squeals in Kid Rabbit’s exasperated gears. Once again he’s trundling through the desert with a message in his heart, but the place seems crueler now than it has before: dawn pinks the sand like blood in the water. They crest a dune and come upon a crenellated maw, blind ancient iron, too dry to rust.

“I’d better knock, I suppose,” mumbles Blow the Skin.

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