The Clockwork Sea

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Clues

The journalist and the priest sat in the underlit confines of the shrine. Rays of turmeric orange seeped through the paper walls surrounding them, casting long shadows that overlapped their figures.

Terret Tale glared at the man known as the medium. In that moment he despised everything about the man of cloth, from his tin features to his brown robes that pooled around his legs. A cup of copper tea rested next to his own violet robes, a dried rabbit foot next to that.

“This won’t do, visitor,” said the cross legged medium. “You need an essence of a beast to complete the spell as well as personal connection to whoever you summon.”

Terret dragged his hand across his face and spoke in a sigh, “So I can’t summon the Mad Tinker is what you are saying?”

“Yes.”

“The man who I spent a sprocket for in order to get to?”

“Yes.”

“The man who I spent months researching how to contact and promised to write about?”

The priest nodded, “Yes. But--”

Terret sprang to his feet and kicked his tea cup, sending the ceramic thing skidding and spilling tea along its way.

“Visitor?” pressed the priest.

Terret breathed hard and slowly. He remembered the technique for calming the nerves. Deep breaths, he reminded himself, in then out. It was his father who had introduced him to the mind doctor that taught him that. And it was that doctor who revealed to him that lies were told to strengthen bigger, more prominent mistruths, the strings that ruled all.

Terret found himself calm again, thinking. He sat down and motioned at the priest. “I don’t understand,” he said. “How did the boy do it then? What essence did he use? Did he truly know who he summoned?”

The Priest, still distracted by the cup and its fallen contents, shook his head at the man a moment later. “I cannot say,” he said.

Terret frowned. That was a lie. Violet robes fluttered.

When the priest tried to speak again, Terret swiped him up by his collar and held him near.

“V-visitor?”

“Is that all you can say? Visitor, visitor, visitor—Pah! Answer my question damn it!”

The priest squirmed as Terret held him closer, “I… c-cannot say…”

Terret’s eyes glimmered brightly. Something clicked within his coat. “What are you hiding?” asked the journalist.

This time the priest hesitated. Terret could tell by the bound of the priest’s eyes and the oil that dropped like sweat off his forehead, that the man knew what Terret had in his coat.

“D’you know,” said Terret, pressing his gun against the priest’s ribs. “They say Rabbit is the Beast of luck. Is that good luck? Or is it bad?”

The priest shut his eyes and muttered the words Terret did not want said, “I cannot say.”

A telling pang echoed as the pistol whipped across the priest’s face. He fell back, released from Terret’s grasp and codling the dent that had formed there.

Terret stood with his gun postured at the priest. A turn could lose a limb without dying. All his limbs if need be. The drainage of bodily fluids would do nothing, nor the inhalation of once deadly poisons. On paper it would seem nothing could kill a full turn. But that was a lie. Because a gun could.

A single shot to the head or heart would sever the life that called itself immortal. A single shot that severed the connection between the heart and head would do it to. Terret wavered. The gun lowered. He couldn’t shoot, for as much as Terret saw ugliness in the creature before him, the man was still the only medium in city and Terret still needed him. Sheathing his gun, Terret took a breath.

“Fine,” he breathed, “Where did my manners go, honestly? I’m your guest, not harasser.” He took out a cheque book from his lower coat pocket. The edges of it had been tattered and its green cover faded from age. He counted the notes as he flipped through. “How much to overlook this? A hundred, two hundred cogs?”

The Priest glanced away. “Three hundred,” he said sorely.

“Three hundred. Done,” Terret ripped the notes from his books and tossed it over the priest. He snorted as he saw the man scramble to pick them up. “Typical.”

He knew the moment he walked the steps that the shrine had been a poor place. Rabbit or whatever Hours-cursed thing the cretins called it, was supposedly a humble god. Never one to want for money, so the people gave none. By the lack of fresh garments on the priest or repairs on the shrine, Terret could tell his money was the first the priest had seen for some time.

“I’ll be leaving now,” continued Terret as he paced to the sliding door at the end of the room. “It seems I was mistaken to pursue you first.”

The Priest looked up from the crumpled notes to the swish of the door.

“Oh yes,” hummed Terret, glancing back from the exit, “I’ll be back. Soon too I hope, and with the boy of whom you cannot speak.”

He left the shrine quarters to the wash of evening rays. The chill of autumn was stinging here. It had been too close to the walls where winds from the outside swept in headily. Terret shivered as he walked out. Leaves gusted his way and he swatted at them listlessly.

Then as he drew his eyes from relentless gusts to find refuge below, he saw something marked in the dirt. It had been worn from the gusts but he could still make it out.

“Find… him? At the highest… clockship dock of the city?”

Terret smiled and crouched to feel the marks. They were cut deep and jagged as if an animal had clawed the dirt to leave it there.

“Well,” said Terret, “I guess you can say.”

“It had been a cruel and stormy night. The hero—nay legend—could not have been born on a day less deserving. For his would be a story of many trials, both daring and trying.”

Nerves twitched in the seawolf’s head. “I said after you met the supposed love of your life, not your life story,” she groaned.

“But it’s all important!” bickered Franco from where he sat on the stairs.

“Aye,” she sighed. “Just as important as your dead mechanical squirrel or that dog you thought was yours for two weeks but belonged to your local Navy officer.”

“Carlo was a great companion—nay a legendary one!”

Gemjo growled with a flick of her paw, “Would you please get on with it?”

“Sorry. With what?” said Franco.

Telipei his skinny companion, nudged him and whispered, “The pledge remember? The Pledge.”

“Ah,” said Franco. “Yes that. On the day after my daring defeat. Master Capicho officially took me in as a student. He was moved utterly by my fighting spirit, and I, the ever humble, handsome, charming, and manly Franco accepted. He nearly kissed my feet when I did. Hah!”

“Shut up,” said Lansha.

Gemjo sighed from below, “Please don’t. We’ll be here all day if he takes a break.”

“So Master Capicho, after inducting me into his school thought it best to challenge me with a pledge. You see, fist fighting is revered in these lands, as an art both fearsome and necessary. Every fist fighter must commit himself to brutal training and in between training he must also give back to society. In this, I was tasked with fighting nere-do-wells in the local militia.”

Lansha rolled his eyes, “We train in morns and nights and patrol in between. In other words, guard duty.”

“A duty indeed! I bested the very streets. I tussled with terrible boredom and worst yet, the wiles of innumerable beauties.”

Lansha slouched on his arm, “We passed the red light district. Passed mind you, not through.”

“I could smell them from minutes away, their suggestive chuckles and chirps like water to my parched lips. A younger Franco would have buckled, but not me. My heart, being owned by the love of my life, who I met the day prior, had kept me sober. No amount of lascivious birds nor suggestive sandcastles could sway me, Franco Cantino.”

Gemjo blinked, “Did he say suggestive sandcastles?”

“So, with slavering hardship, I bested this first and clever trial of Master Capicho. I overcame my mortal chains and I ascended. They’ll sing about this in my song you know.”

“I’m sure,” said Gemjo. “But really, what’s this about sandcastles?”

“Eat,” cried the Matron above, “Come on loves, your food getting cold.”

They adjourned momentarily to the rumbling of stomachs. The matron had made up meals for the lot of them as promised. Gemjo suspected an ulterior motive from her quest giver as the woman happily directed the four men to their seats on one side of the table and Gemjo to the other. Their unassuming host came in now and then to see whether her guests enjoyed the food. She’d comment on how strong Franco and his companions looked, how growing fighters needed strong meals if they hoped to get stronger. It was all a farce. Gemjo had expressed how they needed fighters. Well here they were.

Franco started again as they munched on salads and bread, “Sho, here I wash tashked with mffl—sorry—patrolling the streets east of Lion’s way when I encountered my first foe. Now we weren’t supposed to fight, but I took the initiative. I knew there was trouble when I heard a woman gagged and dragged into a darkened corner. Naturally, I followed… Alas! It was a trap!” He said, slamming the table. A chunk of bread crumpled to the floor. “Suddenly I was surrounded by ten men—no twenty—no! Fifty men. Tough as nuts. I said to Lansha, I said ‘we’re done chaps. This is it.’ But Lansha told me ’no, you’re Franco Cantino. The Franco Cantinio’ I daresay we rallied to that.”

Fvanco,” said Telipei besides him, swallowing before he spoke. “There were five men, not fifty, and Lansha had advised us to retreat.”

“But we didn’t! We pressed on and we won.”

“Aaaand shortly retreated,” added Telipei. “We beat the five men with our three, but realised we were outmatched when Lansha and I examined their outfits.”

Lansha nodded where he sat on the other side of Franco, “Yes, they were Mai’s men.”

“Mai? As in Matron Mai?” asked Gemjo.

“Aye,” said Telipei, “she runs an orphanage down Lion’s Way, one of the three biggest to. Among the twenty original orphans, only Mai and seven others remain, but that’s enough I think. They serve as commanders in Mai’s personal army.”

“So you fought them and ran away?” said Gemjo.

“Tactfully retreated,” reworded Franco.

“That woman you described must have been my sister,” those gathered by the table turned to the woman who spoke. The Matron greeted them, standing at the head of it. She had just brought out a new plate of bread, “Tell me, was she unhurt?”

Franco began to speak but then shook his head, “I don’t know.”

“Beasts…” hushed the Matron.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” said Gemjo, focussed on the bread, “But less of that. This food. How is it you managed to get so much of it in the last few days?”

“Ah,” said the Matron. “You know how I work nights? Well, I got a different job now.”

“The Matron worked in a tavern,” whispered a nearby Hul. She had been listening intently around Gemjo. In fact most of the children were enthralled by Franco as they stood around Gemjo and listened. Enthralled, she thought, but still not brave enough to approach him.

Franco’s cone hair tipped as he ripped another bread loaf with his mouth and Gemjo caught the sight of Remy and Toji well behind the man. They had been sitting side by side at the top of the stairs. Remy had finished her meal in record time and left for isolation as soon as she could. It seemed Toji had stopped her retreat. That, or they had been talking.

“The quiet ones have gathered,” she thought aloud. Even with her hearing, it was hard to tell what they were talking about with Franco’s story and worse with Hul’s pointed recollection of the Matron’s employment history.

“… First, second and third fifth of every month,” said Hul. “Those were her shifts at the Heavy Hare.”

“The Heavy Hare?” said Gemjo. That got her attention. “The place that got attacked?”

The Matron nodded, “Wasn’t working that night.”

“Then you’ve got less money to spend.”

Her target of interrogation shifted uneasily. “Long story,” laughed the woman.

“Long story?” said Franco. “Well please do tell after mine. Now where was I? Ah yes, I was-- Gem, are you even listening?”

She had her eyes on Remy again. Slightly, just slightly she saw the scarf move, a tip of that black haired head as if she had been talking with Toji.

“Gem!”

The seawolf rolled her eyes to Franco and her paws pushed her cheeks as she answered, “Yes?”

“Are you listening?”

“Of course. I’m listening… albeit only to the important bits.”

“All of it’s important!” he shot.

“Right. Important,” said the seawolf. “From what I’ve been hearing, your story tells me nothing of the Professor nor Tig. Not even Mor’de. Did you see any of them?”

Franco shook his head, “I was hoping you did.”

She shrugged. He was right to think that. She did have her nose after all. Considering Remy and Franco were with her now and without the Professor, regrouping would have been their best course.

The seawolf focussed on her sense of smell and remembered the scent of Tig. The Professor, the night he had disappeared had also somehow extinguished his scent. Well, he had done so everytime he shifted into that rabbit thing, so losing his scent again was not new. So Tig was a start.

She sniffed a couple times and found a trail of where Tig had gone, but not immediately of where was currently. She swore softly. She would need time. Especially, she thought, with so many distractions.

The loudest distraction continued, “Now where was I? Yes, my second foe…”

Franco listed each of his battles as if they were entries in the war annals. There were surprisingly many for a two day span, and unsurprisingly made mostly of outmatched instances. A glance at Lansha’s exhausted expression told her that maybe, just maybe, Franco had stretched the truth.

Again her eyes shifted to Remy as she sought out Tig’s trail. She was sure of it now. The two were talking. But of what? Of who?

She didn’t know why she wanted to know, just that she did. Toji barely talked to her and somehow Toji was important. For the first time in a long time, Gemjo found herself yearning to know what went on in the head of her least favorite rich girl.

Remy shuddered.

Franco was loud.

But her breathing and thump of her heart seemed immeasurably louder. It had been minutes. Minutes of failed attempts on Remy’s part to pardon herself from the boy who stared at her for uncomfortably long.

Each time she tired, she shied back meekly, her heart beating twice as fast. It was if his gaze had seen what lay underneath her goggles, as if he knew. This child, barely half her age, was different from the others. He didn’t talk for one, only stared. Normally when turns talked, Remy had time to adjust, to respond the moment she felt comfortable, but not him.

His natural eyes held her like a snake’s ready to pounce. She controlled her breaths. The scarf was warm against her and she hid in it thankfully. She wandered to her happy place deep inside her conscious and as Franco spoke on she remembered the day’s events. Had it been any other day, she was sure she would have bested her steely eyed foe. But not today. Not after what was said.

Her cheeks reddened as she found Franco in the corner of her eyes. He knew.

Thankfully, he had skipped that part of the story, mentioning how they had found what they were after there before returning to the fight. But he knew. As if the memory had not been done justice left unsaid, she recalled it vividly.

They had just made it to the Palace of Knowledge after Franco’s eleventh foe. It was marked by two porcelain white columns just as Telipei described it and it lay east of the central plazas, closer to that end of the city. Rays of dusk made the pillars seem more orange than white.

She had spotted those columns some distance away and assumed something remarkable waiting at the bottom of them. But once they defeated the rolling hill that hid the majority of the structure she could only frown. This was no palace. The building was more of an inn, complete with wooden arches and hollow flooring. It was longer than it was wide and much shorter than either. It had a single floor with a pyramid roof. They were by the entrance in minutes.

Designs of silver flowers pocked the nigh translucent white walling and oblong shadows, which darkened the white, hinted of long bookcases behind it. Remy spotted a few half turns by the steps to the Palace reading scrolls. However small the place was, there was no mistaking its purpose.

The door slid before they got there, and a few scholarly types wandered through. They bowed when they saw the two and Franco bowed back, bowing his head on the low rise entry as he attempted to raise it. Remy quietly followed.

There were rows upon rows of book cases that populated the Palace. Thousands of scrolls within those.

“Excuse me,” came a shrill voice from their side.

Remy placed the voice at a counter that hugged the wall there. It was from an old full turned woman made of lacquered maple. Her hair, which was combed under her wooden ears, was slick and a darker shade of maple.

“Do you have permission to be here?” continued the wooden woman.

Franco hesitated form answering. She wore glasses. Normally that distinction would not have warranted any pause from neither Franco nor Remy, had it not been for how the woman’s eyes had turned to paper.

They studied her paper eyes for longer than they should have.

“Um your eyes?” started Franco

“Yes yes, them. I can see quite well thank you. Now your business, foreigner? Have you the Emperor’s seal to be here?”

Remy stepped ahead of him and attempted to answer in a mess of stutters, drawing a few looks from the few turns that attended the bookshelves.

“Master Capicho has spoken for us,” said Franco, relieving the red faced girl.

“Capicho?” she raised a finger as she foraged for something through various sliding shelves behind her. “Ah yes,” she said, unfurling one of the many scrolls she took out. She glanced at the two then back to the scroll again, “You do fit the description. Very well, thrice great grandson of Fronesto and his unnamed companion, you are free to access our maps.”

The woman raised her gnarled hand and pointed a row of bookshelves far behind her, “You will find them in the south wing. I’d give you the corresponding letter but given your unfamiliarity with our written language, look instead for the letter that looks most like a butterfly.”

“We will,” said Franco with a bow. “Thank you.”

The two traveled down the north wing, eyeing the many book shelves as they tapped passed them. It smelled of old books and dust, but in a pleasant way that reminded Remy of the grand library of Verace. She had been too young to understand the world of books that her sisters loved. Then she had merely enjoyed how they looked and how massive the library seemed to her. How wondrous it was filled with silent figures flipping through pages and pages of ancient texts.

That sound was gone now. Books were replaced with roll down scrolls. The figures were silent. Quieter still near the further end of the library where few, if any, turns remained. She heard a cough, the odd scrap of a scroll.

“Over there,” she whispered, pointing at one of many symbols hanging of the tops of each shelf. Franco cocked his head. The symbol that marked it was that of a butterfly.

“I suppose—yes that’s it,” he decided. “Thank you. Why is it you’ve chosen to follow me by the way?”

Remy glanced about anxiously as they slowed to the row with the butterfly.

“I wanted to know,” she said quietly.

“About what?”

“Why you want to topple the Navy.”

“Ah that,” shadows covered him as he stepped between the looming rows. “A good question but not one I’ll answer before you tell me why you’ve chosen to follow the Professor.”

Something caught in Remy’s throat and she distracted herself by pulling at the scrolls one after the other.

Franco shook his head, “Won’t answer, eh? Well then you won’t pry anything from me.”

She kept at the scrolls.

He frowned as he worked at the scrolls himself, one eye always on the girl, “No matter.” he continued, “I’ll be just as stubborn, nay more so! I won’t speak,” he puffed. “No matter how much you ask I won’t. don’t even try, ok? I’ll shut up now. Just you wait.”

Silence except the scraping draw of scroll after scroll.

Franco sighed, “D’you know you ought to open them to.”

She spied at him with her unflinching goggles, “These are all of the Twelve Seas.”

That caught him off guard. None of the scrolls had pictures on their canisters, only writing in above lander words. “Hold off. Remy, can you read their writing?”

A nod.

Hours you really are rich. Gemjo was right. They say only the well-off get educated in the people’s tongue.”

Remy frowned. She spoke as she scrutinized each scroll quicker and quicker in machine like order, “I would not describe it as well off.”

“Why not?” asked Franco as he listed the points with his silver fingers flicking out, “Money, education, social standing, fame, and did I say money?”

“Expectations,” she muttered to another pull of a scroll.

“Such as?”

Her frown deepened, only now she directed it at Franco.

“Answering when asked,” she said sharply.

“Ah that, well funny thing that,” he laughed. “Ahem. Fine. Fine! You win. Where to begin?”

Remy held a scroll out midway. Her goggles remained fixed on the contained literature as she lipped the words bitterly.

“The Navy.”

Franco stepped back and crossed his arms. His eyes trailed the wall ahead of him. Hundreds of scrolls, if not more, awaited his search but only one Remy Le Ricci awaited his answer. She wondered what he thought of her. A pest? A threat? A girl who would use him as an excuse to get what she wanted? She was their newest addition, sure, but so was he until a week before.

“I suppose I owe you an answer. As one new crewmate to the next,” he said.

Her breath caught.

“We’ve always known about them,” he started. “Siblesey being an island, the Navy held sole jurisdiction there. We’d see them the doing the rounds once a month, twice on festival months. Sometimes the soldiers would tell us half turns stories,” he smiled and puffed. “Foolish little tales that would make us gush over the strength of her majesties forces. We all knew of the four Admirals, though only by name. I swear if I had known that was Mor’de when I first met, I would have… I would have…” he shook his head, “But I digress. We knew of them and how strong they were, so it was only naturally for most kids to want to join them when they fully turned. Me? I wanted the opposite. I wanted them beat.”

“But why?”

He smiled at her, “Why else? The man who bested the Navy would become synonymous with legend, worthy of the name ‘Cantinio’.”

The girl paused her searching.

“A name’s a heavy thing you know?” continued Franco. “Especially mine. Hours, we’re only here because my thrice great grandfather happens to be Fron. Not just Fron, but The Fron. So I thought I’d best the Navy and that be that.”

Remy nodded to herself, “I think… I think I can rela—”

“That was my reason anyways.”

Slowly, perhaps nervously, Remy pivoted her head to meet the monstrous man’s height. His unflinching gaze seemed to waver just that once. His crossed arms tightened. The air stilled. Their breaths became howls between bottomless cliffs.

“I had someone close to me. Long time ago. She dreamt of becoming a captain since before I wanted to topple the Navy. We were just half turns, dreaming as half turns do. But she meant it. One day we were playing as always by our favorite spot on the cliff, the next she had been swayed by some lofty sailor to set sail. D’you know, the same gits that told us those navy sotries. After that?” he asked, his voice quieting. “Well, after that she was gone.”

The air in the library seemed to churn. Someone, somewhere had left a window open, and a chilly wind rattled a few of the bookshelves. The creaks and moans of wood joined the quiet ruckus.

Remy did not know what to say. A moment before she thought she had found someone she could connect with, someone who shared her trouble that which she had not shared with anyone, but now it was different. There in the eyes of Franco Cantinio lay an unmistakable grief, an eternally wallowing pain that no Remy Le Ricci, with her pitiful dilemmas, could ever understand.

She dipped her head, finding refuge in the maroon carpeting. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

The window that had been open shut abruptly and she jumped to find Franco staring at her, speaking to her.

“They searched for three days and nights. Nothing. But I say she’s still out there. Alive. Probably traveling the seas right now and yet to leave a mark.”

“You… you want to find her?” she managed to ask.

Franco nodded, prodding his chest with renowned vigor, “No. She’ll find me. I’ll make a name for myself that’ll spread everywhere in our world,” he turned to the wall of scrolls, “and the next. And then she’ll know I’m out there.”

The mechanisms in her eyes whirred and adjusted focussing on the smallest details on Franco’s face. She shook it off. That was a malfunction of hers, a known hiccup. Her eyes had a tendency to readjust on things that fascinated her.

She took a breath, pushing a scroll she had taken out back in. “I follow you because you are my best chance at finding the Professor,” she said. “And I follow him because he’s promised to undo a mechanization.”

“Undo?” said the Franco, leaning low to meet her eyes. “Hours. Can that be done?”

Remy pressed her brows down and her head with it, “I don’t know, not for sure, but he’s my best chance at undoing what should have never been done. It’s my oldest sister,” she said slowly. “When she mechanized, the part of her that went was the part she needed for children.”

Franco muttered her words, “The part she needed for… oh.”

Remy nodded, “Her betrothed was set to marry me instead, so I may ‘carry on the family legacy’. Problem is... is…”

“You don’t want to?” he interjected.

She looked up to him, “I want her to. Things were good before she turned. I had my machines, Micette had grades, the books she always read, the love of her life… we were well off.”

“A tragedy of circumstance,” he named it. “It was just you then? No other sister to marry off?”

“There is, but she’s similarly betrothed to another family.”

Hours. You upper class types have no freedom. What a contradiction!” he said waving his hands at the innumerable scrolls. “You’re taught the languages you need to read any maps, given the funds to go anywhere you please, and yet you’re denied the choice to love who you want? I’d much rather be the opposite, illiterate and free.”

Remy reached for another scroll, “I have to find the mad tinker. I have to. For Micette.”

“Then you’ve chosen the right company,” remarked Franco.

She held the scroll and glanced his way, “You?”

Franco nodded, “Me, Tig, Gemjo and the Professor. We’ll find that tinker. Us five, I’m sure of it.”

The memory vanished as a chair toppled by the dining room table. It was Gemjo.

Franco had just barely ended his story. The others, stunned as Remy, stared at the girl expecting answers.

“Gem?” asked Franco.

“Why?” started Gemjo, glancing at Franco then Remy. “Why didn’t I notice? It’s Tig. He’s gone.”

“What do you mean he’s gone?” asked Remy, finding her composure return to her.

Gemjo shook her head, pacing madly, “It’s as if he’s left the city.”

Remy started, “He wouldn’t do that.”

“How would you know what he would do and wouldn’t, rich girl?”

Remy took steps to Gemjo who met her halfway. The two were breaths away when both stopped. Remy pressed close, “Am I wrong?”

For once, the seawolf hesitated.

“Aye, Remy’s right. Tig wouldn’t leave,” said Franco. “You sure you’re not mis-smelling?”

“I’m sure,” said Gemjo.

Telipei stood up second, prompting the others to turn to him with tense, fixating looks. He raised his hands, “Look. Your friend is gone, possibly left, is this reason to panic? Did he have something on him or know something damning?”

Gemjo, Franco and Remy shared a look.

Gemjo spoke first, “Point is, I can’t smell where he is now and my best guess is that he left this place with the Professor. I haven’t been able to smell that drunk for a while either.”

“That’s even less likely,” argued Remy. “The Professor will not leave without me.”

“Well he did, princess. Tig to.”

Before Remy could retort, Franco took to his feet with a scrap of his chair, “What about where he was then? Can you smell that?”

“I can,” said Gemjo, holding her chin low as she continued. “And if he did leave with the Professor, we’ll know that way to.”

Franco nodded, “Then that’s where we’ll go, captain’s orders. Lansha, Telipei, Chou, can you assist this woman in finding her sister?”

Lansha had been resting on his elbow, “Mai has an army by her.”

“Well wait for me then. Just make sure the woman’s safe.”

Franco made to the stairs where Remy and Gemjo waited. Before he took the first step however, he turned and looked at Telipei, Chou and Lansha. Remy could tell why. A vague command never did well for morale. The three Franco left behind seemed uncertain, sharing troubled glances and timid shrugs.

Franco cracked his shoulders and stole their attention with a punch of his palm, “Trust me on this,” he said. “We’ll save Ming. An army? Pah! That’s nothing. After all, I’m the man who’ll topple the navy.”

That made the others smile, albeit slightly. Even Lansha cracked a small grin.

“So you are,” said the larger man. “We’ll try our best. So do whatever it is you need to do and get back to us.”

Franco went ahead to that and Remy followed. She made it two steps before stopping. The Seawolf had paused midway down the stairs. She had her head balanced on her hand as if in mid thought.

“Navy, the device, the captured soldier… That’s it!” said Gemjo.

“What’s ‘it’?” hissed Remy.

“How we’ll beat Mai. How we’ll do all of it and quick so I might finally get some sleep,” said Gemjo.

Franco gripped her by the shoulders. “Oi, oi, Gem, you have a plan?” he asked.

Gemjo eyed the two of them and smiled lazily, “I do.”

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