the entire continent, from Fel to Ancora and back to Belldorn. There was no other place with such an enormous concentration of them, though.
“Would you like to feed them?” Smith asked.
“I don’t know if we should slow down that much …” Mary checked her pocket watch and frowned slightly. “I suppose we’re a bit ahead of schedule.”
Alice looked up, drawing her gaze away from the Dragonwings. “Yes!”
Mary brought the throttle down a gear, and the howling of the wind past the cabin receded a bit. “You’re just a big kid sometimes, Smith.”
“This way,” Smith said with a laugh.
Alice almost flew out of the hatch to the cabin when he cracked it open. The wind was still intense out on the deck, but not so much it felt like it would knock you over. Smith brushed his hair out of his eyes, but the black mass was immediately thrown back across his face.
“We keep a trunk of bait bugs, just in case we are in need of a distraction.”
“From what?” Alice asked.
Smith shrugged as he made his way toward the aft deck. “Sky Needles, usually, but you run into some stranger things every now and then in the skies.” Smith cracked open one of the large wicker trunks, revealing dozens of Sweet-Flies. He handed Alice four of them and then let the trunk slide closed.
Alice looked up at the fabric-covered gas chambers above them and followed the edge until it dipped in a bit, leaving the railing exposed from above. She adjusted the Sweet-Flies and walked over to her chosen spot.
“You have a good eye,” Smith said.
Alice sat three of the bugs at her feet and held the last between her hands. They were close enough now that she could hear the buzz of wings and the blast of air when one of the Dragonwings got curious.
She leaned over the railing and looked down at the wasteland below. “It’s all dead.”
Smith joined her at the railing and peered over the edge. “It only looks dead. It may not be as active as Ancora’s lands, or even Bollwerk’s, but there is far more life in those sands than you would suspect.”
One of the Dragonwings slammed onto the railing beside Alice. Smith hesitated to call it a landing, because he could feel the bone-rattling impact through the wood. “Keep your fingers clear.”
“I know,” Alice said. “I used to feed the Spider Knights, you know.”
“Samuel does not seem so likely to bite your hand off.”
Alice turned slightly and gave him a put-upon look before turning her attention back to the Dragonwing. Their visitor had a deep-blue body with four prismatic wings that caught the light and shattered it into a million colors. Where the wings met the back, the Dragonwing was almost furry, but it was always the eyes that grabbed Smith’s attention. Enormous, faceted, and oblong, the eyes were mesmerizing. They met in the middle of the Dragonwing’s forehead and seemed to change colors when the creature tilted its head back and forth.
Alice raised the Sweet-Fly, and the Dragonwing took two quick steps forward. It nosed the Sweet-Fly, and then its mouth opened like a vertical hatch, snatching the Sweet-Fly off Alice’s hand as its front legs closed around its snack. Alice rubbed her hands together and grinned.
“His face is all scratchy, like he has stubble.”
“If you are slow, and careful, you can pet him below the wings. Do not make sudden movements. Docile as they are, if they feel threatened, you are not likely to survive.”
Alice didn’t even hesitate as she took a slow step closer to the Dragonwing. It cocked its head a bit but didn’t move when Alice reached out and rubbed the furry spots below its wings.
“The Midstreamers used to weave the hides together to build mattresses. Not the most comfortable, mind you, but not terrible.”
The Dragonwing finished its Sweet-Fly and shifted to face Alice. It perched on the railing, all six of its legs close together and its tail sticking out in the wind. Alice