Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 23

“Warm and welcoming,” Emma said.

“If we have to leave this way,” said Cannon, “it’ll be warmer than the alternative.”

Emma pondered this and couldn’t find fault with it. The plan was to leave by the Albatross. If they couldn’t, well… Emma had heard better ideas. The skipper swore up and down it would work, which meant very little to her. Iseabail said the same thing, which carried more weight, but even so, she was doubtful.

The truck jostled over a narrow-gauge railway, then came to a stop at the outskirts of the village. Cannon hopped out of the cab. Emma blinked, then jumped to the ground and met the skipper at the back of the truck. He handed her a black kit bag and wheeled a heavy trunk off the bed.

Together, they trudged into the village. Cannon wheeled the trunk through an empty doorframe into a derelict house. Emma set the bag on top of it.

They returned to the truck. Cannon reversed, then turned around and swung a left onto the road up to Topside.

Bottom Side and the Long Tail were ruins and untamed wilderness. Topside could have been dropped in directly from London or Madrid. The border was abrupt; about a quarter-mile up the road and a few hundred feet above sea level, the dirt road suddenly gave way to cobbles, and wooden buildings whose second stories jutted out over the street crowded it on either side. The truck passed a few pedestrians, fewer than usual. Once or twice, a car squeezed past, pulling far to the other side of the road as Cannon nearly scraped the mirrors off against the buildings.

There were no side streets, though the occasional alleyway too narrow for an automobile cut between the buildings. That meant a street on the far side, Emma surmised, but she couldn’t see how to drive there.

She realized she was rubbernecking like some kind of tourist, and that the skipper was grinning. She stared straight ahead and said, “Where is everybody? Isn’t this place supposed to be bustling?”

Cannon shrugged. “Battening down the hatches, probably. Nobody wants to be outside for a monsoon.”

“Battening down? Dramatic,” said Emma.

“Appropriate,” Choufeng said, looking in her direction. “Topside is like a ship at sea. No land shelters it.”

Emma blinked. “He speaks!”

“Don’t expect much more out of him today,” Cannon put in. “Here we are.”

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