Chapter Thirteen

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Takashi slid back on the bench, stretched his feet onto an overturned bucket, and rubbed his aching chin

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Takashi slid back on the bench, stretched his feet onto an overturned bucket, and rubbed his aching chin. Slamming his jaw onto the beam at the toss of the ship nearly cost him a deal of pride along with the pain. But whatever embarrassment he reserved for himself was quickly overtaken by the spritely pilot at the wheel. Since he'd hinted at lowering his opinion of her, Harlow had put all her concentration on flying. Snapping her goggles on then bending against a wheel she could barely see over, her small arms stretched out to grip the pegs with all the confidence of a bear.

He chuckled.

Perhaps he'd finish the conversation he tried to have with her yesterday. That'd been a complete waste. All he'd tried to do was talk to the girl, yet she backed away with horrified eyes. She didn't even know what he was going to say. Unfolding the map and peering over it, Takashi studied his redheaded conundrum.

What goes on in that pretty little head of hers?

She needed to hear the truth about him soon, before she found out some other way. Taking his feet off the bucket, he scooted forward. "Harlow, there's something—"

"Land ho!" shouted Felix from the bow.

Land? Up here? Were they about to hit a mountain?

Takashi jumped up from the bench and moved to the railing. In the distance, puffs of clouds gathered around a massive floating object off the starboard side of the ship. From every direction, vessels of all kinds appeared out of nowhere, descending on the city in the air like arrows soaring toward a target. When had the skies become so crowded? Most airships resembled the dirigibles he'd heard England was known for. Their bulbous oblong balloons were dressed in every color imaginable. It was as if a rainbow exploded into bubbled fragments across the heavens.

"Amazing, isn't it?" He didn't turn at Harlow's voice. He had the feeling she didn't look at him either. How could anyone tear their gaze from such a wonder?

Upper Portsmouth itself was the strangest city he'd ever laid eyes on. The dark sooty architecture of London was an adjustment. This place was all together awe-inspiring. Houses, windmills, and clock towers all perched precariously on the outer rim of the city, surrounded by hordes of trees that extended to the very edge. Behind them, towers of all sizes jetted out from the city's center, shimmering like marine-colored glass in the morning sun. And everything, absolutely everything, sat on one gigantic rock suspended in the sky. As the clouds ebbed and swayed like an ocean's current, massive propeller blades embedded in the rock peeked out beneath them. He had no idea how, but the blades must have something to do with the city's perpetual flight.

"Brier," called Harlow down to her sister. "Get everyone on deck. Tell them we're about to dock."

"Aye, aye, captain." Brier put her hand to her forehead to mock a salute.

Harlow muttered something about a thorn bush then turned the ship toward the harbor. Or at least he assumed the giant tunnel-like structure the airships were plunging toward was called a harbor.

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