Chapter Twenty-four

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"Your brother?" Harlow cried, gaping at Takashi. Her squinted eyes had gone from desire to bafflement in one swift second. Her hands slipped from the spokes of the ship's wheel, and she fumbled for composure. "But that makes no sense."

Takashi shivered from the wind sliding over the sweat on his brow. How he wished he were wrong. But the only doubts he had right then had everything to do with his reactions to the stunning girl at the helm and nothing to do with that ship. No, he knew exactly who flew behind them.

"It's my brother, Harlow, trust me."

He picked up the telescope that rolled by his feet to look once more for certainty's sake. The distance between the two vessels had closed in further, giving him a better view. Lit by hanging torches that made the whole thing look like it breathed fire, a large rotor replaced the sails at the center of the black ship along with several smaller rotors spinning their blades at the stern and bow.

"There's no mistaking it. If you know of any other Japanese kurofune airships with black dragon figureheads, let me know. Otherwise, it's him," he said, tossing the scope back on its original spot.

How could he forget the years his brother had spent remodeling the ancient ship by the seashore back home? It was to be one of the country's first trading vessels when Japan opened its borders. But its purpose—and his brother—had changed drastically in the months following its completion.

Gertrude jerked forward. Harlow's instructions must've reached Meriwether. Her small frame tightening, Harlow struggled to steady the ship. A moment later, she regained control and relaxed. "Fine, we'll say that's your brother. Why on earth is he chasing us?"

"The Northern Kingdom is paying him to. I said he's a bounty hunter. That's what he does. Brings his prey back dead or alive—whichever's most convenient." Good Lord, saying the words out loud felt surreal. How can this be happening? Takashi fought back a wave of dizziness threatening to throw him off balance.

"But he's your brother. So, the alive part applies to you, right?"

"No, not necessarily. He and I aren't on the best of terms."

A heart stopping whistle pierced the air. Something shot past them off the starboard side. In a blur, the projectile nicked one of the ship's masts, casting splinters of wood across the deck. Their bodies lunged to the side from the sudden impact.

"He fired at us!" she exclaimed, using the wheel to pull her body upright.

"So, we're not on good terms at all."

The thumping stomps of someone climbing the sterncastle turned his attention to the portside stairs. Brier soon emerged with a large bag hung over her shoulder, and Felix trailed close behind. With eyes wide, goggles strapped on the top of her head and around her neck, she gave Takashi the impression of the mad scientist he'd assumed all smiths were before he came to this country. She dumped the contents of the bag on the deck. All sorts of arsenal tumbled forth.

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