Maldynado sat up and examined himself to see if any important body parts were missing. Everything seemed to be intact, though more than one crimson stain marred his ivory shirt. The fringes dangling from the hem hung in a dirty, snarled mess. He sighed when he spotted his latest fur cap wedged beneath a warped metal panel, blood and grease stains competing for prominence. When Maldynado had agreed to join Amaranthe’s team, he had assumed that the mercenary life would include perils to his body, but he hadn’t known how devastating it would be to his wardrobe. Ah, well, Sergeant Yara had thought the raccoon-tail cap silly anyway.

Yara! She’d also been in the navigation cabin, alternately yelling advice and cursing at him, when the dirigible crashed. Maldynado spun about, looking for her.

She lay crumpled in the corner. With her broad shoulders and strong jaw, nobody would call the six-foot-tall woman fragile, but at the moment…

Maldynado crept toward her, a hand outstretched. Eyes closed, neck bent awkwardly, Yara wasn’t moving. He wasn’t even sure if she was breathing. For that matter, he wasn’t sure if anyone was breathing. The only sound coming from the rest of the dirigible was the trickling of water.

Maldynado touched Yara’s shoulder. “Lady Gruff and Surly, are you awake?”

Her eyes didn’t open.

“Are you… alive?” Maldynado asked more quietly. The woman was terse, rude, and utterly lacking in femininity, so he had no idea why he cared; nonetheless, a feeling of concern wormed its way into his belly. He shook her shoulder. “You better not be dead. This team is already overflowing with ankle spankers. I was looking forward to having more women around.”

Yara’s eyelids fluttered open. She blinked a few times, focused on him, and frowned. “Ankle spanker? The only thing you’ve got that’ll reach that far is your ego.”

“Now that we’ve reunited with the others, there’s no need for you to continue as Chief Maldynado Insulter.” He offered her a hand. “Books has been fulfilling that role for the last nine months.”

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