Chapter 81:

Chapter 81 - Mars Rising


Marka threw up his arms against the ravages of a great, billowing dust cloud. His eyes watered, his forearms were riddled with tiny scratches, but even worse was the doubt. He couldn’t help but think that roaming the town in search of a speedy way back to the valley had been a waste of everyone’s time. There had been no horses or vehicles to speak of anywhere in Toothless, and their fruitless hunt for them had robbed them of the chance to track Bubba Lee’s descent.

By the time they noticed what was going on in the middle of town, the man was already seconds away from touching down; if it hadn’t been for Marka’s tendency to scan the skies every few minutes, they might’ve missed it entirely! Not that it would have mattered. As it was, the trio had been too distant to effect any kind of change from their place on the outskirts. All they could do was break into a run, looking on helplessly as Morgan threw himself to the ground from an irresponsible height…

…And as Beretta’s hiding place reversed course, rising far beyond everyone’s reach.


Then, without warning, one of the bubbled buildings collapsed to the ground atop their foe, throwing up the very storm of dust and debris he was weathering now. Marka squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the sandy squall to pass. There could be no action, no resolution, until it was over. He knew this. Yet every fiber of his being screamed at him to act–to claw his way up to Beretta’s height by any means necessary. However, in his heart of hearts, he knew that such a thing was impossible, dust storm or no.

It was making him sick with worry.

“MORGAN!” he heard Roulette shout through the haze. He could feel her beside him, forging stubbornly ahead through the wall of biting sand, and soon found himself matching her pace. The act of plodding doggedly toward the town’s core brought up old feelings. Anger. Determination. Impatience. The qualities that had propelled him to the top of the Moukahla family hierarchy.

Qualities he had tried so very hard to ignore since his hasty exit from Port Pistola’s criminal underworld.

Eventually, the dust cleared, revealing Morgan’s crumpled body lying some distance away. Roulette moved to charge ahead, desperate to administer whatever aid she could to their fallen friend… But Marka had other ideas.

He raised his arm to block her path.

“Wha– Marka!?” she sputtered, looking up at him incredulously. “What are you doing?”

He ignored her, striding forward to seize Morgan by the collar. The Truvelan colossus hefted the man to eye level, leaving his broken legs to dangle lamely in the air. He cried out in pain, but the sound rang hollow in Marka’s ears.

“What have you done!?” he hissed through clenched teeth. “How could you leave her like that?”

He was dimly aware of Mimi and Roulette gasping behind him. Their words of protest came harsh and frantic, and he felt them pulling at his arms, trying to restrain him with all their might.

It wasn’t enough. Marka shrugged off their grasping hands and thrust his helpless victim skyward, forcing him to confront the consequences of his carelessness. Above them, the safe containing his daughter rose higher and higher, now little more than an infinitesimal speck on an endless backdrop of blue.

Morgan shuddered and let out a rattling cough. “D-Did the best I–”

Lies!” Marka snarled. It took every ounce of self-control he had to refrain from throwing Morgan to the ground; instead, he dropped his arm low and discarded the man as a toddler would a ragdoll, leaving him to writhe in the dust at his feet. “She is lost to us now! With Bubba Lee dead, we have no way of bringing her back to earth!”

“Marka, it’s okay,” Mimi soothed. “We have the Skywind! If we can locate her position in the air, we should be able to pick her up!”

If? Should!?” Marka stalked away from them with all haste, trying to put as much distance between him and his companions as possible. “That is not good enough! This is Beretta we are speaking of! Who is to say we will even be able to reach her, once we have gathered fuel and brought it back to the airship? Who is to say we will even find fuel here in this backwater? It is as if none of you care about her at all!”

After he’d wandered far enough from the group to avoid doing any more harm, he spun to confront them. Rather than the defiant expressions he’d expected to find, Marka saw nothing but fear and worry written across their features. Mimi stood with her hands at her sides, looking as uncomfortable as he’d ever seen her, while Roulette kept her eyes to the ground. She cradled Morgan’s head in her lap while he groaned through the pain of Marka’s manhandling, whispering words of reassurance all the while.

The sight of it nearly caused Marka’s temper to fizzle out. These were his most trusted allies–his only friends. Surely they didn’t deserve this kind of treatment?

They obviously cannot protect her, he thought stubbornly, and neither can I. Coming here was a mistake.

This was ALL a mistake.

Against his better judgment, Marka allowed his indignation to flare out of control. How could he have put his only family at risk for Roulette’s sake? He barely knew her–barely knew any of these people. As always, he’d allowed his impulsiveness and lack of foresight to threaten those he cared about most. He’d left his role as Blunderboss behind, yet here he was making the same mistakes!

He was a brainless brute. He always had been.

How had he tricked himself into believing he could ever be anything more?

He turned on his heel and stomped off in the direction of the one person he had yet to punish: the weathered-looking man who’d ended Bubba Lee’s life so thoughtlessly. The man had climbed down from his place on the rooftop with Conrad in tow, and seemed to be busy examining Bubba Lee’s weapon for signs of damage. Marka came to stand just behind him, intentionally positioning himself in such a way that his imposing frame shrouded the stranger in shadow.

“Mind taking a step or two to the left, friend?” the older man said. “You’re in my light.”

“Who are you,” Marka asked in a monotone, “and why did you ruin my daughter’s best hope of survival?”

The man turned his head and squinted up at him, appearing strangely unperturbed by Marka’s size. He rose up from his haunches and turned to face him with Bubba Lee’s gun clutched in his offhand. “Sheriff Sorghum. I’m the law ‘round here,” he said. “Now, what was that you said about your daughter?”

Marka pointed aggressively toward the sky. “She is still up there, trapped in a safe. But she is anything but safe. Thanks to you, she has no way down!”

“No way down…” Sorghum repeated. A second later, his eyebrows perked in a show of sudden realization. “Ah! You think I killed Bubba Lee!”

“You did. I saw you do it,” Marka growled, folding his arms over his broad chest. “Now my only chance to retrieve her is by airship. And by the time I am able to do that, she may have run out of oxygen, risen too high to reach, or been cooked alive by the heat of the sun!”

“Hold your horses, big guy,” the sheriff replied. “I think we’ve got a misunderstandin’ on our hands. Y’see, Bubba Lee is alive and well. You think I’d let him kick the bucket when I’ve got people of my own to look after?”

He gestured toward the one building still remaining in the sky, then: Parge and O’Fleef’s law firm. “Conrad here tells me that his buddy’s still up there. I wouldn’t be much of a sheriff if I crushed the only guy capable of gettin’ him back down, now would I?”

Marka narrowed his eyes. “I do not understand.”

Sorghum waved in the direction of the fallen sheriff’s office and started off toward it, leaving Marka to follow along behind him. “I’ve been trapped in that damn office o’ mine for over a month now,” he explained on the way, stooping beneath the cracked threshold of its ruined front door as he made his way inside. “I know it better ‘n’ I ever wanted to. I know where the desk is, I know where the can is, and most importantly…”

Once inside he paused for dramatic effect, giving Marka the time he needed to push his overly large body through the cramped doorway. “...Most importantly, I know where the cells are,” Sorghum continued with a smile. “And since this damn fool ripped out half the holding area’s floor when he bubbled me up to kingdom come, I knew just how to drop it to catch him like a rat in a trap!”

Sure enough, the moment Marka straightened up, he was met with an unbelievable sight:

Bubba Lee, alive and well, glaring at them both from behind bars.



First of all, thank you for keeping up with the story thus far. Your support means everything to me :)

I'm just popping in to make a brief announcement: I will be going on vacation starting today, August 4th 2023. During that time, no new chapters will be posted; regular releases will resume on August 14th 2023.

However, in the interests of leaving things at a good stopping point and giving you lovely readers something to tide you over, I am posting two chapters today!

This chapter and the next represent the end of vol. 2's Bubble Battle arc, so you can expect to start fresh on August 14th with a whole new set of adventures for Roulette and co!

Thanks again for reading. I will see you all in 10 days :)


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