When it came into sight, it looked like a a long, flat building. It took a little bit more of relentless cranking of the dust scooters’ accelerators before the riders could properly appreciate the ship for what it was: a colossal seafaring vessel, easily ten times the size of the HMS Clarent.
It was perhaps three or so kilometers away when the Swordsman heard his scooter’s engine splutter and die, its staccato, pumping beats dying away, leaving only the sound of the rushing wind in its wake. The dust scooter carried on by pure momentum, but under the Swordsman’s weight and that of the remaining three steel fuel tanks, the friction between the underside of the scooter and the sand it skidded on quickly wore its speed away. Ever present, Rayna sensed this and pulled her vehicle up beside the Swordsman’s, stopping her engine when she did.
‘Should’ve gotten you one with a better engine,’ she said, watching the Swordsman climb off his vehicle. ‘What now? It’s a short walk from here – twenty minutes, maybe?’
‘We should bring these vehicles along,’ he said. ‘We do not yet know if we may need them later.’
‘Better to have and don’t need than to need and don’t have,’ Rayna said, shrugging. With that, she too got off her scooter. ‘Best get going,’ she said. ‘This sun isn’t getting any colder.’
Side by side now, they pushed their dust scooters along towards the ship that towered before them.
The mess of broken, blackened wood should have smelled like something moldy and damp. It might have, in a time long ago, but all that was left to greet the Swordsman and Rayna when they came was brittle dried wood.
‘Even a ship this big can’t keep out the heat,’ Rayna said, anchoring her scooter while the Swordsman did the same. ‘Looks pretty empty too, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.’
He thought to say that feelings were irrelevant, but chose to remain silent, and glance up at the ancient wreckage instead. ‘It is a big ship, indeed,’ he remarked, then looked at her. ‘How easily would you be able to climb to the highest point?’
Now Rayna glanced up and saw the crow’s nest, or what used to be a crow’s nest high above them. Her eyes scanned the wood of the ship, its splintered edges, and noted the footholds and handholds along the way.
‘Ten minutes,’ she said conclusively. ‘Seven, if you paid me well enough.’
‘I have nothing to pay you with,’ he said. ‘Survival is its own reward.’
‘Don’t ya worry about it, Stubs,’ she said, already hopping up onto the nearest platform. ‘I know you don’t.’
The girl moved nimbly, weaving a path through obstacles with an agility and alacrity only known to youth. Navigating her way from the ground to the destroyed upper deck was the easy part; but even as she leapt onto the mast and began climbing up it with nothing more than a gloved hand and another holding her dagger, she showed no signs of slowing down. There was an unlikely focus that came upon her as she did this, and her eyes were set – fixed upon the oversized wooden tub that stood awkwardly near the top of the mast.
With a graceful swing, Rayna dropped herself into the crow’s nest, and the sound of her boots hitting the dry wood could be heard from the ground.
‘Ten minutes!’ she poked her head out over the edge, looking down at the Swordsman. ‘Told ya I could do it!’
‘What do you see?’ he asked.
From where she stood, Rayna raised her eyes a looked out into the area that had been obscured from view by the ship beneath her feet – and her eyes went wide. She let loose a long, sharp whistle as she took in the sight. Some two hundred feet below her, the Swordsman waited patiently for her answer.
‘Christ, you have to see this to believe it,’ she breathed, looking out into the graveyard of ships of every shape and size, all wrecked and scattered as far as she could see – artifacts of a time long forgotten. Most of the ships were smaller than the one she stood on, but there were some that were larger still – and in the distance, towering over the rest of them like a mountain overlooking some nice little hills, the enormous ship stood like something straight out of a legend:
The ship of Zheng He.