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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.

See Me

See Me feels ice burn away from his fingertips, his nose, his chest, and he racks his body with choking sobs. Water gouts from his mouth and he claws at the floor, unable to stand or feel the Wish Power. Cold. Terror. There was someone here, someone he had to fight, his sword–his Princess–in danger–

“Just relax for a moment,” croaks an awful voice. “You’re free of the fleshscrub swaddling. You have hibernation sickness.”

“I can’t see,” See Me chokes.

“Your eyesight will return in time.”

“Who are you?”

“Someone who loves you,” coos the Speaker, stroking his face.

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

The Heavenly armada’s icebreakers shriek and boom, furnace-heated bronze hydrofoils throwing gouts of steam, but they’re not fast enough to reach the Mjish Binn base: that’s what their cargo is for. The noise of the war-saddled mammoths charging matches even the ships.

See Me straps into his snowsled while Scoop Dozen runs up the sail. “Feeling all right, sir?” Scoop calls.

“Just like new, Scoop. How about you?”

“Right now I feel I could take on the Heavens myself!”

“I know what you mean,” murmurs See Me, his blood hot and thrilling with the memory of his Princess’s skin.

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.”