I dangled from the cliff face with the fist of my clockwork arm jammed into a crevice I happened upon while falling, and I fought the gusts of wind trying to dislodge me. It wasn’t easy. I’m a little guy, only five foot two, and skinny as a rail. There were no handholds to climb, and the drop down to the water looked pretty deadly. On the other hand, the wedge with my mechanical hand was pretty strong, and it wasn’t takin’ any effort to hold it other than keeping myself steady against the wind.
So I flopped around a bit, dangling, pretty much bored. There is only so long you can be suspenseful whilst hanging over the abyss of death, you know? The human condition is predisposed towards boredom. I watched the Airjunk fleet for a bit, about half of em were on fire. Scratching my bottom— hey it itched— I watched as fiery Airjunks drifted down to the glittering wet expanse below.
While waiting for my rescue, I got to thinking about how I had ended up in this predicament. Here’s the story, fer your enjoyment.
Let me start with an introduction. My name is Hummingbird. It’s not my born moniker, which has been lost to the depths of time, but it is an accurate one. I’m a gun slinger from the territory of Colorado. I know, I know, but they hadn’t got Statehood yet when I left. As I was sayin’ my name is a fitting one. I’m tiny, don’t weigh much, and one of the fastest draws in the world. Humble too.
During the Great War, almost two decades ago, I lost my right arm to a piece of artillery at the ripe old age of nineteen. Rather than get one of them clockwork monstrosities they call an arm in the West, all gears and pistons, I came to the East instead. Here in the Orient, some clever fella had designed a new type of clockwork limb, using something called acupuncture.
The long and short of it bein’ I have fourteen hundred needles stuck in my body, protected by two pressure plates that cover half my torso, and each needle is connected to a little steel thread that mimics a muscle fiber inside my arm. I had to study Tai Chi for three years just to be able to use the thing. While my body was healin’, I was in this thing called a wushu hospital.
Wushu is pronounced like woo-shoe, which confused me when I first came over here. I thought people were directing me to get hitched with some footwear. I’ve seen some brides as ugly as a boot, true, with husbands who were generally worse, but I ain’t never seen a man actually marry outside the species. But, if’n you think it through, you’ll realize we must sound pretty danged funny to folks as don’t speak English.
To pay for all this, and save up some silver for my trip home, I started bounty hunting for the Chinese government. That’s how I met my buddy Inazuma. He was a bounty, and I caught him whilst he was running a con on me. Rather than rat out that he was takin’ credit for crimes he didn’t commit, then collecting his own bounties, I decided to work with him. He has a noble quest, and all that jaser. When he was a kid his dad was a ronin samurai who got killed by his old daimyo, and despite being raised by a British family and educated at Oxford, he followed the path of the sword.
Well, usually he did. Okay, sometimes. Mainly he was a grifter, or con artist, and he was teaching me. We used the combination of our skill sets to catch criminals, and had a reputation as the best hunters in the East. Which is why we got handed the bounty to steal the Dragon’s Horde in the Cagayan Canyons.
I figured we’d be going to the mountains. I’m from the west, so I hear canyon and I think of places like the Grand Canyon, a massive crack in the ground that looks like Nature opened its maw to swallow a whole city or three. I may have bitched to Inazuma a bit about how stupid it was to track a warlord through a canyon. All them twists and turns make for pretty good ambush spots for two soon to be dead Bounty Hunters. Yet we were flying there anyway.
The South China Sea glittered far under us. As I leaned on the bow railing of the Airjunk I watched the sparkling expanse below. “Ina, when Baojia handed this to me, I near gave it back.” I flicked the edge of the file he was reading with one of the fingers on my clockwork hand.
“Hummingbird.” Inazuma glanced at me from his perch, seated on the edge of the railing, his lips flat. The man has balance better than one of them weeble wobble trainin’ dummies.
“Sorry, I’ll let you read.” I sighed and went back to watching the South China Sea.
Even from this height, you could smell the salt water on the breeze, it was a scent I had never rightly gotten used to, growing up with the smell of dust everywhere, in the land of spiders, scorpions, and lizards. The scent of the sea, a vast savannah of rolling sapphires, reminds me constantly of dragons and tigers, mysticism, and rice noodles. My stomach growled a bit. I loved the noodles over here.
You can tell a lot about a country, in my opinion, by the way the poor cook. Here, they can make a feast out of what most people would consider scraps to be thrown away like knuckles and snouts. That told me something important, which is that they were used to going with very little because some other bloke was eatin’ the good bits. It also told me they were a hardy and tough people. I had found, over the years, I had a deep respect for the folk here.
We had received the bounty privately from another friend of mine, Lead Inspector Baojia, out of the Guangzhou constabulary offices. As it was the oddest bounty I’d ever seen, and I was already a bit put off. We were asked, as the best freelancers in the region, to bring in a fortune.
You heard me right—a fortune.
Inazuma finished reading the information in the bounty packet and spoke, his heavy British accent flavoring every word. “What, exactly, did your contact tell you we would be doing?” That accent always sounded funny coming out of his kimono clad six foot tall Japanese body.
I fidgeted a bit with my Colt Peacemaker, toying with the handle and holster. “There’s this Philippine guy named The Dragon who stole a lot of money from the Chinese government. He’s a pirate, or a warlord, or a raider, dependant on who you talk to. He brings this whole pack of Airjunks with him and raids up and down the coast of the South China Sea.”
I grinned a bit, already seeing my buddy’s gears turning. I could see the con brewing in his brain. “Perpetratin’ coastal raids for several years has amassed quite a fortune for the man and his merry band o’ thieves, and that’s a pile o’ cash the provincial governments want back.”
I drew my Colt, flipped it around my finger by the trigger guard, and slid it back into the holster. “We have a reputation for bringing in the bounties no one else can. I suppose that’s why we were selected for this job. We need to steal his money from his hideout in the Cagayan Canyon and bring it back in to the Central Administration Offices in Guangzhou.”
I went on, letting my thoughts just spill out. “Nothing about this is gonna be easy. About the only good thing about this job is the pay. Five percent of everything we recover, up to five thousand pesos, then one percent of everything after. Even if we only manage to recover a couple hundred thousand in loot, we were still looking at a six grand payout.” I may be bad at readin’, but I’m good at numbers. A footnote on Pesos, for those who aren’t familiar with China. Pesos are Mexican currency, but a because a single silver Peso is worth about a thousand Wen, the Chinese coinage, most folk use Pesos.
Which brought up another stray thought in my mind. “Inazuma, I just thought of a major problem.”
He idly played with the cuff of his kimono, eyeing me askance and barely containing his grin. “And what might that be?” He obviously knew something I didn’t, and I was starting to itch to know what that was.
“How the hell are we going to move a fortune?” I flexed the fingers of my clockwork arm. It made me a damned sight stronger than most folk, but not strong enough to move a couple hundred thousand in silver.
Ina held up a piece of paper from the bounty packet. “We beard the lion in its own den using these.”
I stared at him. I’m not a stupid. By my reckoning, I’m actually a bit clever. But he was mystifying me. “We do it using pages from the bounty packet? What?”
He barked out a laugh. “Sorry, no, that is not what I meant. We do it using paper.”
I raised an eyebrow in response, waiting for him to explain. The man could pull hen’s teeth from a horse’s mouth, so I knew this’d be a gem.
He explained. It took most of the ride, and frankly, I’m going to omit said conversation, so as not to spoil the fun for you. I will say I learned a lot, and by the end of the journey, as we were approaching the dock at Santa Praxedes, I was excited.
Santa Praxedes drifted into view, and it was a strange little town. It was naturally suited for an Airjunk port, bein’ at the top of a small mountain and one of the highest elevations in the area. It had boomed since air traffic had come to the islands. Some mad bureaucrat had decided the Airjunk port needed to be isolated from the town proper, so they had blasted away at the mountain, turning the half mile tall slope into a shaped cliff-face on the east side, with docks and gantries all up and down the sheer drop.
Our ship docked at 3B, which is the third tier down from the top, about two hundred feet or so. Luckily, we didn’t have to climb stairs to the tops. Each dock has a lift attached to a central motor which pulls ‘em up and lets ‘em back down.
As we ascended, I looked over to Inazuma. “So, I get the mechanics of the con, but where we headed first?”
He thought about it for a moment. “I think the bar. We need the lay of the land, to see how his crew interact with each other, what their social dynamic is.”
I nodded. “Sounds like a plan.” We left the docks, getting directions to the local watering hole. Everything in this town was within a fifteen minute walk of everything else, so it didn’t take us long. Despite the early afternoon hour, the place was bustlin’ with activity.
We worked our way to a table in back, passing lots o’ cutthroat looking folks, and just watched. The place was rough, filled with members o’ the Dragon’s army, all ready to tumble. Several tables had cards at ‘em, players deep into dividing their Pusoy hands. We ordered drinks, waiting for the big man to arrive. Our information said the Dragon came to the bar here every night.
Leaning over to tap Ina’s knee, I pointed to a large man wearing the oddest clothing I had ever seen. Metal bars ran all over the outside of his getup, with gearing visible at each of the joints, and a dragon in flight emblazoned the back of his shirt. It looked like he was wearing a second skeleton on the outside.
“That’s your man, Hummingbird. He’ll be the lieutenant. You need to cozy up and get in good with him.”
I nodded. “All right. See you later tonight then?”
Ina stood, tossing back the last of his drink, and glanced around the bar one last time. “Yeah. See you at the bank. Four hours.”
Ina left and I stood, wandering over to the card game my mark was playing in. The other three were serious looking men, but my guy was at ease, winning and laughing. I pulled out a coin purse, filled with pesos, casually dangling it from my hand while eyeing the guy that was almost out of coinage. “You gents mind if I buy in?”
They all looked up to me, then their eyes drifted to my hand. The losing gent shrugged. “I’m out of money anyway.” Pusoy uses all fifty two cards in a deck, dividing them between the four players, so there isn’t room for a fifth.
My mark nodded his head. “Yes, I think fresh money at the table is a good idea. I am Rizalino, what is your name stranger?” He gestured to the table, welcoming the other player to leave and me to sit.
I tipped the brim of my Stetson in thanks. “Folks call me Hummingbird.” I sat at the table, dumping my Pesos out in front of me.
The two other gents introduced themselves as Kao and Afiq.
Rizalino started dealing. “You know the rules?”
“I think so,” I organized my coins into neat stacks. “If’n I recall, I have a front hand, a back hand, and a middle. Front is three cards, other two are five cards. All I gotta do is beat you fellas to win.” It can be a pricey game to play. In truth, every player who beats one of my hands I owe the bet to, but every player I beat owes me. “What’s the table bet?”
Rizalino finished dealing the cards. “Three pesos.” I nodded. Worst case, if I lost every hand to every player, I’d be down twenty seven Pesos a hand.
I led by losing the first couple hands, learning how my opponents structured and played. I also watched Rizalino’s movements carefully. That metal getup made him stronger, that was obvious. He was careful and delicate with all of his movements, even with his drink and the cards. I realized the gloves he wore covered the skeleton all the way down to his fingertips. I carefully chose which hands to lose and win, stretching my pile of cash out to last.
“So what brings you to our little town, Hummingbird?” Rizalino asked.
I grinned, organizing my cards. “Gun for hire, looking for work.”
“In such a small place as ours?”
I chuckled. “Only for a couple days. Learning the area before I head to Hong Kong. I hear there is plenty of money to be made there. In the mean time I play cards.”
He watched me, then sorted his cards, dropping his three hands face down. “Well, I wish you luck. You won’t make money to carry you to Hong Kong here though. I am unbeatable.”
I moved my cards around, choosing three play hands. The trick here to extend my stay at the table was to lose to Rizalino while beating the other two. I played a strong front hand, and sabotaged my others.
Rizalino laughed when he saw my reveal. “My western friend, you must be new to the game!” I had won three hands but lost six. “You cannot play to one hand without losing them all. You have to distribute your strength.”
I put on a perplexed expression. “I think I get it. I have played before. Just getting’ my feet warm.” Always lead your mark on, make yourself weaker than them. I played to stay even. I played for hours, holding my pile steady, letting it slowly bleed over to Rizalino while I kept half an eye on the window, watching the Dragon’s Airjunk fleet. But only at first. As the afternoon wore on to night, I pressed him harder and harder. I had his number.
Smoke filled the air of bar, and conversations slowly died. I locked Rizalino in place, trading pots with him as player after player fell to us. We were surrounded by a crowd of salty Airjunk brigands, all watching their boss locked in battle with me over the card table.
“I think, mister Hummingbird, you didn’t have to lose the first hands you did.” He lit a cigar, studying his cards. I could hear anger under his tone.
“Nonsense.” I leaned back in my chair, rolling a Peso across my fingers. “If’n I didn’t lose a few hands, I wouldn’t a been able to learn. I’m a quick study, that’s all.”
“A little too quick, a little too studied, I think.” He drew a pistol, placing it on the table.
I raised an eyebrow. Finally, a ship detached from the main fleet, and through the window I watched it descend to the town proper. It was the main ship, sporting the Dragon’s masthead. “Funny. It’s the first time I’ve been threatened with a shootin’ iron for not winning.”
He gently stroked the handle of the pistol, watching me and thinking. I had him hooked on the con, time to reel him in. “I’ll tell you what. You put away the iron, and I’ll go all in on the next hand. We settle it all. My whole purse.” I reached for the cards with my right arm, to start my deal.
His hand snaked out and grabbed my wrist. “You think I am a fool? You offer an all or nothing on your deal? No. We double your purse and I deal.” His fingers were a clamp, that metal skeleton making him almost as strong as me. A fact he had no need to know.
I winced a bit, like the pressure was painful. “Fine.”
I rubbed my wrist after he released it. He dealt. I watched the cards carefully as he shuffled, then scooped up my hand. The cards were what I expected, and I organized them quickly. “Tell you what, Rizalino. Let’s put a private bet on this. Say a triple up?”
A shark grin spread across his face. “Done. How do you propose to pay when you lose?”
I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter. I won’t lose.”
He dropped his cards, and I did the same. We both had the other two players dusted, as I knew we would. But he had me dead to rights. I stared at the cards and Rizalino laughed. My money pile had nowhere near the mileage needed to cover this.
I pulled in six wins but had to pay out twelve on the losses to him. Each win was equivalent to one third of my pile of pesos, which was sitting at about three hundred. Which meant I was six hundred short. A little perspective for ya, the average bounty pays twenty pesos.
I held up my hands. “Nice win friend. I shouldn’t have let you shuffle.”
In one motion he smashed the table aside, cards and coins flying, and stood, holding his pistol on me. In his left hand sparks jumped across his fingertips from the exoskeleton he wore. I held up my hands, trying to diffuse them. “I’m not saying you cheated. Hold it steady, pardner.” I had watched him stack the deck, but again, he needed to think he had me bang to rights. “I’m just saying that lady luck favored you, and she might not have with a different dealer.” Mind you, while I needed him off balance, I also didn’t particularly want to get shot by a member of Dragon’s gang.
I flashed my most winning smile. “I lost. I’ll pay. Somehow.”
Rizalino cocked the pistol. “With what? Since that was your purse, do you propose to work it off?”
I shook my head. “Don’t need to friend. I have plenty to cover it at the bank. All we have to do is stroll over there so I can get it out.”
Looking left and right, he motioned to two of his goons with his head. They got up and flanked him. He flicked his pistol’s barrel at me. “All right. We go to bank. But you don’t try pulling a fast one on me or you end up with a bullet in your head. Fair?”
I nodded. “Fair’s fair. Shall we?”
Afternoon was wearing thin, the sun lazily making its descent towards the horizon, as we shambled to the small city’s bank. My timing had been perfect. The Dragon’s airjunk landed as we moved out the front doors of the bar, and I caught my first sight of the man from just a few hundred yards away.
He was impressive. Inazuma looked slight standing next to him, more than a foot shorter. Towering height wasn’t all he had either. A silver metallic frame surrounded shimmering red armor, covering his body the same way it did Rizalino, only Dragon was muscled like a buffalo. Shaggy hair, giant muscled, and a huge exoframe made the man look like a real dragon, and it looked from here like he even had a pair of fold out wings attached to his armor.
A retinue of scurrying accountants flocked behind the giant, being ignored by Ina and Dragon who were deep in conversation. I did my best to slow our pace, buy Ina some time, and strolled casually. Right now we were about two minutes behind them, and Ina would need about eight.
A pistol nudged me in the back. “Hurry up.”
I stopped and turned around, holding my hands up to show I wasn’t being hostile. “I has a question for you friend. I’m thinking about how much money that is, and how long it’ll take ta re-earn it in Hong Kong. If’n I was to work it off for you, how long would it take?”
His lip twisted a bit in frustration. “I would rather have money. If you work for me to earn off money. Say… six months swabbing decks.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Hows about we say two weeks with me slinging for you?”
He shook his head. “No one is so good as to earn off six hundred in two weeks. No one.”
I held up a finger and turned sideways. I drew. Not at full speed, and not facing them, but fast enough to toss both of my pistols, dodge the knee jerk firing of Rizalino’s gun, catch both pistols and reholster them in the opposite sides.
Rizolino looked startled and I held up my hands again. Having never made a move in his direction, I had still bated him into firing.
Constables came running down the street, drawn by the sound of gunfire, while I stood still and grinned. My large gambling buddy shouted in Tagalog, the local language, as the constables skidded to a halt around us. Glancing nervously between each other they backed off a bit, cowed by Dragon’s Lieutenant shouting at them. Without a word spoken, they all turned and fled the moment he was done yelling. Good to know the gang had an iron grip over local law.
Rizalino turned his attention back to me. “Very impressive, Hummingbird. I will let you work it out over the space of two months.”
I tilted my head at him. “Three weeks.”
I thought about it for a moment. “Naw. Too long. I can earn it again in less than a month.” I shrugged. “Let’s just go to the bank and do this.”
He grinned. “I prefer the money anyway.”
Enough time had passed, Ina should be good to go, so I walked towards the bank, a small structure that edged its rear end right up to the cliffs.
As we walked into the front doors guards wearing Dragon’s livery waved us by. Apparently they owned the bank, or had heavy security here on account of the boss being on site. We were directed to the office of a cashier, next to the room that Ina and the Dragon were in. I listened carefully, thanking the Lord for the thin walls of the region.
“As you see, the account is good. Here is a transfer for one hundred thousand.” I heard Ina say.
“Very good. We can proceed then. Here is your ninety thousand change.” I grinned a bit as I filled out the cashier’s paperwork. We had counted on Dragon being a cheat and we weren’t disappointed. You can’t con an honest man, as an integral part of any con is exploiting greed.
“Wait a moment, good sir. I signed a good faith deposit of ten thousand to bond my accounts. Now you give me ninety for one hundred, that keeps you twenty in the black. I believe your rate was ten percent, not eighteen. On the next transaction, the ten needs to be made up. Here…” he paused for a moment.
I signed my paperwork and handed it to the cashier, Rizalino looming over me. I heard Ina start the conversation back up. “These are my accounts which need laundering. I have corrected the error. I will deliver these two for four hundred, receiving three sixty back on them, balancing the debted one hundred with an offset from you for ninety back.”
I grinned as the cashier walked back towards us, looking nervous. I heard Dragon, greed dripping from his voice, spring on the ‘mistake’ Ina had made. “Agreed. Transfer the account holders.”
The cashier reached us. “I am sorry sirs. The account you attempted to access only has one hundred Pesos in it.” I ducked.
Sure enough, Rizalino’s fist smashed into the cashier’s face passing right through where my head had been. That tamed lightning which had been cascading over his fingers jumped to the cashier and he went flying through the wall dividing the two rooms.
I spun around, still low, scything Rizalino’s feet out from under him. The large man toppled and I sprang over him at the two goons he had brought with. To give credit where it is due, they were fast. Both almost had guns drawn when I reached em. My Tai Chi training kicked in as I reached first.
An invisible ball rolled in my hands, connecting with the first goon at his elbow and wrist as I rolled the ball around my body. I heard his arm snap as his body flipped into the space between me and the second goon. I continued the momentum into a roll, flipping goon one into goon two and letting my body follow. I ended up kneeling over a pile of goon, and two quick jabs with my clockwork arm put them both down for the count.
I stood up, dusting off my pants, and gave Rizalino a moment to stand back up. His gun had been knocked across the room as he went down so he pulled two short fighting sticks, escrima, out of a holster on his belt and squared up against me. “You just made a very foolish mistake, my friend.”
Bouncing from foot to foot in a boxer’s stance I winked at him. “You aren’t as fast as me, big fella.” My hand snaked out, lightning fast, and I ripped a swath of cloth off his right arm. A spring loaded deck of card was exposed under his torn sleeve. “And you might not have won if ya hadn’t cheated. I don’t give my money to cheaters, sorry.” A quick glance showed me that Dragon and his entourage were raptly watching the confrontation. Inazuma was not.
Rizalino lost his head. I had gotten under his skin deep, and those two short sticks came at me, a whirlwind of pain flying through the air. Now me, I ain’t so much a fan of pain, and I find it’s better to put down anyone offering it, and to do so quickly. I drew my peacemaker with my left hand and shot both the sticks out of his hands. They shattered, falling to the ground in pieces, and Rizalino blinked in surprise.
A blink was about all I needed. I sprang into his guard and unleashed my best uppercut. My clockwork arm connected against the beefy lieutenant’s jaw with a satisfying crunch, and he launched into the air. With a loud crunch he landed on the remains of the wall, demolishing it, completely unconscious.
I locked gazes with Dragon. “He’s one of yours, right.”
The man unfolded as he stood to his full seven foot height. Now that I was closer, I could see the armor and exoframe were forged together. Steel cables connected to cogs at all of his joints. The man was literally armored like a dragon, down to steel fangs framing his mouth. It was a bit intimidating.
“He is, yes. And you have offered him violence.” His voice was deep and strong, almost like he was trying to hold back a roar.
Inazuma was still working quietly behind him and I sighed. I was going to have to keep playing distraction. “Your man cheated me. I only offered him violence here instead of at the bar to cut down on the number of thugs I’d have to fight.”
He flexed his fingers and I could hear his knuckles pop. “A coward’s route, to isolate the lone man. Better to have fought him in strength. To earn honor.”
I holstered my pistol, bringing my fists back up to a boxer’s stance. “I rather thought I was doing you a favor. If’n I’d fought there, against at least twenty men, I’d’ve had ta kill. Here I could spare their lives and just reclaim my money.”
“My man has dishonored himself, getting caught cheating. But you have dishonored me, by fighting them here.” He flexed his shoulders and the wings popped out, snapping onto the exoframe on his arms. Freaking wings. Their purpose was revealed too. They weren’t for flying. Instead, they made his arms two blades. I’d have to stay inside his guard if I didn’t want to be shredded by them. “I will have to show you the error of your ways, little man.”
I stilled myself, dropping my hands to rest on my belt buckle, looking back from the wings to his eyes. “Then show me.” Time to dance with the dragon.
Dragon launched himself forward, a flash of red covered the space between us with one quick step. His left fist flew by me, the blade coming dangerously close to my chin, then he hopped in place, spinning like a tornado with a right back fist. I dropped with a low kick, which he neatly dodged with his hop, rolled to his right and jumped back a pace. He was dangerous. As large as he was, I was still barely faster than him and I had to manage to keep his back to Ina.
A gout of flame landed in the spot I had been and I gaped. Those fangs he sported, they weren’t just for show. Somehow there was a mechanism in them allowing him to spit fire. I feinted to his left, then jumped into his guard.
He fell for the feint, and when I landed inside his guard, I rabbit punched at his guts. He grunted, despite the armor protecting him. He went for the bear hug, trying to catch me and crush me, so I dropped down and landed a shot right in his manhood. While down there, I snuck a peek between his legs into the other room. Inazuma was done, grinning while he watched me fight. Above me, Dragon yelled in rage.
I rolled back, out of his reach, putting my back to the rear wall of the bank. Dragon charged forward, swinging those massive fists at me. I dodged, but not quickly enough. The twin strike landed square on my right pectoral and I flew backwards, through the wall. Hell of an exit strategy, eh?
As the wall parted and I sailed out over the cliff, I heard Inazuma say one last thing. “This is no way for business to be conducted. We are done here.”
I fell, which was an eventuality I hoped for. I pulled a grapple from its hiding spot on the back of my belt, hurling it at the cliff face. It caught, slamming me into the cliff face. I hung for a second, but the line snapped and I found myself tumbling down towards the rapids below, bouncing along the rocky incline. That I hadn’t planned for.
I did the only thing I could. I punched the cliff as hard as I could with my clockwork arm until I got lucky enough to jam it into a crack. The weight of my body jerked me down, sticking my fist fast into the crevice. Which is how I ended up dangling from a cliff. The sun drifted down, lighting the waters over the Cagayan canyons, a brilliant and fiery sunset. Finally it dipped fully below the horizon, leaving me hanging in darkness.
I flopped in the wind for another hour, bored, until a private Airjunk floated into view. It couldn’t get too close to me without crashing into the rocky face, so it floated above me. A figure attached by harness and rope lowered itself till it was even with me, then started swinging back and forth till it caught the cliffs. It was Inazuma, carefully climbing over to me.
“Took you long enough.” I was cheered to see him, though a bit annoyed at how long I’d had to wait.
He frowned as he looked at my hand wedged in the rock. “Sorry about that, chum. It took me bit longer than I had expected to extricate myself from the situation.”
I nodded. “Figures. The distraction work? You get all the account numbers?”
“Indeed.” Ina unhooked a second lead from his harness, attaching it to my belt. “He was so busy trying to make sure I didn’t notice the extra ten thousand he stole from me, he never caught on to the fact that I paid him with his own accounts.” He smiled. “As I like to say, you can always count on another man’s greed to do your work for you. We now have all of his numbers.” He jerked on my fist but couldn’t dislodge it.
“Yeah. I know. I was still worried. I was running out of time. I was gonna have to fight him for real if I didn’t want him killing me.”
“Agreed. I went as fast as I could. We have all of his accounts now though, full access to his hoard of gold.” He chuckled. “A bounty well earned, though I fear that we are about to spend a large portion of it.”
“What do you mean?” We hadn’t had any plans other than our efforts to continue tracking down the ronin who had killed Ina’s father.
“Your hand is stuck. We will need to repair it.”
“Repair it?” I asked.
In one smooth motion he drew his katana and sliced my hand off at the wrist. I fell. The secondary line Ina had attached to my belt snapped taught and I swung below him. I gaped at my arm, sans hand, while he kicked off the cliff and the Airjunk above started hoisting us up.
I climbed onto the deck of the ship, and the captain wheeled her around, heading to Guangzhou. I stared at Inazuma. He stared back, smiling.
I shook my stump at him and shouted over the wind. “Are you crazy? You know how expensive this was? With the money you lost in fees to Dragon, how are we going to afford this?”
He put a hand on my shoulder, leaning in. “When you distracted him, I did more than steal his account numbers. I shuffled the transfers. We paid him with his own money. That was what I meant when I said I used his accounts. We came out of it even, with the full bounty. Two million in accounts that will be drained by tomorrow.”
I whistled. “That’s over twenty grand in pay. Yeah, I guess we can fix my hand.”
Ina smiled. “I think we should walk with about twenty after fixing your arm, Hummingbird. While you were creating the distraction, I reversed the fees wire.” He grinned.
Slick. Real slick. We floated through the night, towards one hell of a payout, but I had a nagging feeling we hadn’t seen the last of the Dragon’s gang. It is said in China that with money, you are a Dragon, and without you are a worm. We’d just made a worm of a man, and as we sailed away on the wings of the night, I thought I heard a basso roar behind us, echoing over the Cagayan Canyons.