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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.

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.

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.”

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