Chapter 73:

Chapter 73 - What About Mimi?


Morgan winced as he came up on deck, lifting a hand to curb the intensity of the harsh Wesson sun. A dry heat had set in since they’d landed–a heat he was all too familiar with. The kind of heat that made you want to lie down and give up before you’d even left your doorstep. Fortunately, every member of the posse was well-accustomed to the ravages of an unrelenting sun.

…Though some were more apt to complain about it than others.

“The climate of this oversized dustbowl is murder for my skin!” Mimi whined from somewhere up on the bridge deck, transforming Morgan’s wince into a cringe. The airship voyage had been a restful time for him largely because, as the only two pilots on deck, he and Mimi hadn’t seen much of each other; when one of them was flying, the other was typically off somewhere sleeping or relaxing.

Sadly, now that they’d landed, those days were over. He’d have to put up with her again, just like everyone else.

“Well, look who it is.”

He looked up to find Mimi leaning over the railing with a condescending grin on her face. She’d let her long, blonde hair down for the first time in many days–something most men would probably gape at the sight of when taken together with her indisputably good looks.

Not Morgan. If anything, it made her all the more insufferable to him. She looked too much like that vision of his wife–a woman he’d only just got done recalling–and the thought of someone so obnoxious bearing any resemblance to somebody he’d once loved didn’t sit right with him at all.

“Rou told me the whole thing,” she continued, lifting a hand to check her nails as she went on: “You got your ego stroked, decided to play drill sergeant for a bit, told everyone you could dodge a bullet… And to absolutely no one’s surprise, ended up making an absolute fool of yourself.”

Mimi stood up straight and crossed her arms under her bust. Was she trying to titillate him?

If she was, it wasn’t working.

“I hope you enjoyed your drug-addled recovery time, ‘Dodger’,” she simpered, “because we’re done waiting around for you. We’ve got a lot of yokels to interrogate before the day is done.”

“Mimi, stop actin’ like a horse’s ass,” Roulette fumed from behind. She clomped up from belowdecks and frowned up at the imperious blonde, her hands planted squarely on her hips. “We’ve got too much ahead of us for this kind of infightin’. Also, what did I say about callin’ me by that idiotic nickname?”

“I give all my friends nicknames, Rou,” Mimi replied with a toss of her hair. “You should feel honored!”

Morgan took the opportunity to excuse himself from the conversation, wandering off toward the far end of the deck before their exchange could degenerate into a full-blown argument. Normally he’d have been keener on the idea of clapping back at Mimi, but something about the resurgence of his most recent memory had left him feeling… Drained. Empty.


The sun was getting low in the sky, which explained why he’d practically been blinded after coming up from the living quarters. Typically, the airship’s balloon kept the entire deck shrouded in shade; only in the mornings and late afternoon did they have to contend with any measure of sunlight. Now that he’d had some time to adjust, though, he found himself appreciating the effect it was having on the surrounding scenery.

Craggy, pink-purple cliffs enclosed the airship on every side, leading Morgan to believe they’d landed inside a shallow valley. The sun peeked out at them over the crest of the western escarpment, but only just; it’d be out of sight before long, leaving the dirigible alone in the dim. And alone really was the word–everywhere he looked, he saw nothing but patches of cacti and desert scrub standing out against a backdrop of copper-colored dust. No bugs. No critters.

And, as a matter of fact, no Toothless.

“Hey!” he called from his place by the starboard side of the airship, “Where’s this town you were tellin’ me about!? I thought we’d be comin’ down somewhere near civilization!”

“Ah! I can field that one for you, Dodger,” Mimi called back, neatly hopping the railing and crossing the deck to meet him (and completely ignoring Roulette’s latest verbal assault in the process).

“Don’t call me Dodger,” he grumbled as she approached, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.

“You see, Dodger,” she began, “You may or may not know this about the range, but it’s full of drunks and idiots… And many of those idiots not only have guns, but enough free time on their hands that they’ll shoot at just about anything for the sport of it. In your naïveté, you might have landed near such people, thinking they wouldn’t dare ruin a craft as expensive and sophisticated as ours. I, however, have no such illusions.”

Morgan nodded to himself. “Uh-huh. So, basically, because you have backward ideas about everyone livin’ out on the range, we all have to walk the rest of the way to Toothless. Is that about right?”

“That sums it up, yes,” she said with a semi-sweet smile. “Except my ideas are correct and decidedly frontward, though I’d hardly expect a self-confessed range-dweller like you to know the difference. In any case, it was my privilege as the current pilot to make a unilateral decision about where we landed. Maybe if you’d been flying, rather than working hard to earn your shiny new nickname, we could have had our main mode of transportation destroyed in the way you seem to want.”

The man sighed deeply at that, suppressing the urge to pick her up and heave her over the edge. He’d been getting good at that lately; at the very least, he had to admit that Mimi’s presence in his life was doing wonders for his self-control.

“Fine. When do we leave?”

“Immediately,” she answered. “Or was I not clear when I explained that we’ve all been waiting for you?”

“Alright, alright. Quit your squawkin’,” he growled, turning his back on her as he made for the stairs leading belowdecks. “I’ll get the gang together. You focus on reconsiderin’ your communication style.”

It only took a few minutes–and a shout down the stairwell–to collect Berry and Marka and get the gangplank lowered. Once assembled, the group disembarked and began hustling along at a steady pace, due in large part to Marka’s tradition of carrying Berry along on his hulking shoulders. After crossing the floor of the valley they came to a narrow path leading up the nearest cliffside, at which point Roulette saw fit to inform them all of what she’d seen of Toothless from her place in Morgan’s cabin.

“Somethin’ ain’t right about that place,” she said simply. “My eyes might’ve been playin’ tricks on me, but I don’t think they were.”

Morgan looked up from the ground, his interest thoroughly piqued. “How so?”

“Might be better if you take a look for yourself. I don’t want to sound crazy if what I thought I saw ends up not bein’ the case. All I’ll say is that I think a Gunslinger may have blown through recently.”

That seemed mighty cryptic to him, but Morgan didn’t bother pushing. Unlike his troubled relationship with Mimi–the state of which, he had to admit, was partly his fault–he and Roulette had been on somewhat good terms since they’d left Truvelo. And, in spite of his generally cantankerous nature, Morgan had been doing what he could to avoid jeopardizing that. He figured it was because, on some level, he’d come to respect her judgment; if she said something was wrong, he was inclined to believe it.

…And if she said it was something he’d better see for himself, well, that was cause for alarm.

After huffing and puffing their way up the slim, rocky path leading out of the valley, they finally crested the edge of the cliff and found a wide open tract of land stretching out ahead of them. It wasn’t unlike the valley floor, the only difference being that the sun had come into view again just in time to start drifting below the horizon. The sky above was perfectly clear; predominantly purple, with little pinpricks of starlight showing through the twilight haze. And there, standing in the middle of the dry, cracked plain they’d just set foot upon, Morgan spied a sad little settlement in the distance:


They moved to approach. And, as they did, Morgan’s attention turned skyward. It had been a long time since he’d seen the stars in Wesson–or maybe it hadn’t been, and it only felt that way. The sight of it warmed his heart all the same. He was finally home, and even Mimi’s relentless criticism couldn’t diminish the impact of that big, beautiful sky.

His gaze drifted downward after a time, back toward the quaint little town of Toothless. They were closer now, and he was able to make out little details: fences, livestock, farmsteads. But there, in that awkward middle-space between the rooftops and the dusky sky, Morgan saw something that stopped him cold. Something he couldn’t explain.

Some of Toothless had come loose, floating hundreds of feet off the ground. Buildings had flown free of their plots, rising high above the heads of the citizens who’d once owned them, and looked to be encircled by huge, glassy orbs–orbs that, as crazy as it was, could only be one thing:


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