The End

We’ve reached it at last: the final post of The Glass Thief. It’s been an amazing, epic ride working on this for two years. I’ll put my thoughts more thoroughly into words in a bit, but know that if you’ve read this far, I’m grateful and honored.

Let’s finish this story.

Her boat was beached far from the city.

It was different from the salvaged from the fleet, all of which reminded her of lobsters sewn together from mismatched bits of shell. She’d assembled hers in the old way, gathering driftwood from the beach, cutting it to size.

Eventhe always knew she would set off at sunrise. Her destiny was to cross the sea, like Arcite, and she would share his hour of departure, so as to always remember.

She stowed the mooring lines and pushed her vessel into the tide before leaping aboard. It was a modest boat, smaller than King Crab who had carried them down the river. She raised the mainsail, caught the wind right away.

We are always Cuttlefish.

The tide swept her through the crystalline water of the harbor. Beneath her, she caught the scent of clay from ancient vents, but banished it from her mind.

The Clearing, the new city, the oldest city, was awakening. Watching from the stern, Eventhe touched her claw to her face, then raised it in salute. Then she turned away, eyes alight, searching for mystery in the twin seas of water and sky.


The New City

Here it is: The second-last ever installment of The Glass Thief!

They’d floated Arcite the day after the storm. Eventhe sent the last of his red clay with his body on the driftwood raft. Most floats burned until they drifted over the horizon, but as Staever recited the verses, Arcite’s raft exploded in a mighty fireball, rivaling the sunrise. The blast sent a wave crashing over the beach, soaking the Cuttlefish and the other mourners, and Staever knew for certain Arcite had passed beyond the twin mirrors to somewhere Turner and the creature had never seen.

After the smoke cleared, Staever noticed Eventhe’s pockets were empty. She’d slipped her conch from the birthing pools into Arcite’s red clay.

Next day, when he awoke in his chamber at the palace, Eventhe was waiting. She wore a new mask, the color of sand, unlike the black one that had matched her shell. After waiting for a half-awake Staever to determine she wasn’t an assassin, she declined his offer of a spot on his new council.

“I am sorry,” she told him. “There is nothing for me here.”

“Crayfish piss. You’re as strong as a regiment and you have more discipline than anyone on the council, myself included. I can’t build this without you.”

“You can.”

“Fine.” Staever tied on a light cloak. “I don’t want to.”

“They fear me, Staever. They have assumed you are using me to crush dissent.” She turned away, looking out his great bay window over the harbor. “They looked at me and Arcite the same way. As weapons, not lobsters.”

Staever joined her by the window. “I don’t think you’re a weapon.”

“I know. First I scorned you for not using me as a tool. Now I thank you that you didn’t. But either way, I must leave.”

“What will you do?”

“Sail,” she answered. “I would find out what is on the other side of the sea. I may have business there.”

“What business?”

“I will not know until I arrive.”

He’d stood, for a long time, then finally said, “You know, I’m your king now. I could order you to stay.”

“You could not order me to do anything.”

“You’re right,” he admitted. “Not even when we were thieves.” He pulled her close and hugged her, briefly but firmly. “Be safe, all right?”

“I have my claws.” He saw her smile.

“You’re always a Cuttlefish. There’s always a place for you at the Clearing.”

Since then, she’d spent her time putting a new ship together, there being none left intact that pleased her. Staever, Wrest, Emaria, and the children visited her, but nobody could get her to change her mind.

The Cuttlefish agreed to let the people choose leaders to serve alongside them by the end of the first week. The votes took a week to count, as over a hundred lobsters came forward as candidates, but the result was worth it: the new council consisted of himself, Wrest, Emaria, an ex-Pupil merchant, a priest, an engineer, a captain, a shipyard owner, a farmer, and a scroll-bard coasting on his charisma. Two weeks later, nobody had tried to throw Staever out of the palace.

He received no more early visitors, except Emaria, waking him up for the meetings he called. She had to bang on the door, or in extreme cases tip him off his mattress, but he always awoke in time for council.

The day he planned to open the canals, he was up before she knocked. “Time already?” he asked, in answer to a few short raps.

“Time already,” came Emaria’s voice. She tended be at the reception room no later than first light, drinking hot foam and choosing scrolls from the shelves. She woke easily, and her lodgings were around the corner.

Staever’s chamber adjoined the much larger visiting room that took up the second floor. Worrying the palace was too large, he’d turned most of it into the meeting place for the new council. He didn’t mind keeping the rest. Growing up, he’d hardly dared dream of a private library, much less a bubbling pool of water in his living room. He was rarely thirsty these days, though he sometimes caught himself eyeing the palace’s fine china, or taking routes through the shabbiest parts of town.

He left the bedroom wearing his cloak of state to see Emaria stowing three scrolls back on their shelves. She read the look in his eyes right away, and reached out to touch the seam in his skeleton, above his left leg. “Does it still hurt?”

“Only some days,” he lied. “Ready to open the canals?”

“Meeting with the governors first,” she said, still concerned, but willing to change the subject.

He frowned. “Don’t call them that. Our council serves the people. It doesn’t get in the way like the old one.”

“By effort, not design. It’s up to us to keep it honest.” Emaria coaxed him closer to the stairwell, then stopped.

“What’s the matter?” he asked when he caught up.

“Well…” She wouldn’t meet his eye. “What do you have planned for the canal ceremony?”

“A big feast from Wrest’s fields. Everyone’s invited. Speeches. Music–can you believe somebody got a water organ all the way here?”

“I’m sure it’ll be stately.”

“Regal.” He pushed past her. “C’mon, they’re waiting for us.”

“Staever.” She caught him. The sun was rising, shining behind her with vivid hues of orange and yellow. “Can I…see you, afterward?”

A smile played at his mouth. The side of his face where she’d touched him on the dam burned, as much as the blood around his graft but not at all the same way. “Are you asking the king of the Clearing to sneak off?”

“I…want to talk to you about something important.”

“I’d love to talk about something important.” Trying and failing to look unaffected, he held the stairway hatch for her. “Tonight, Governor?”

She laughed beautifully, a night’s worth of tension released in an instant. “Tonight, your Majesty.”

He followed her into the sunlit hall, rejoicing in the sea breeze.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

The First Harvest

I apologize for the lateness on this one–call it reluctance to end. The final chapters will be out on schedule, don’t worry!

Wandering the path through the outlying farmland, Wrest imagined the Clearing’s first harvest. The storm broke the dry season in the south, so if the farmers planted early, they could reap two crops before rain stopped coming from the sea. Twice a year, during the wet season, they’d carry cartloads of seaweed and saline bushes into the city to sell for food, paper, sludge, or medicine. During the dry months when the winds blew from the continent and their field-swamps lay fallow, they’d raise crabs and crayfish, and trap insects.

Wrest sniffed the air. The salt breeze carried the ringing of tools and the grunts of lobsters smoothing the walls of new storehouses. A crab team dragged a plow through a desert field, and its driver bowed his head to Wrest, who waved in return.

He cut between two flooded fields and headed toward the sound of waves, breathing deep. He’d been coordinating projects from the military office for the last month–it was high time for a look at the province he’d put together. Corin could handle headquarters for a day.

It had been his idea, not Staever’s, for him to remain general, but he’d broached the topic because he knew his friend was working out how to ask the same thing. They’d been walking along the waterfront during a rare free moment.

Staever had blinked. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve got some barracks picked out already.”

“I was going to offer you the palace…” For a second, Staever was lost for words. “Why?”

“Something I thought of during the battle.” Wrest himself had trouble explaining without the context of electricity and rampaging abominations and singing children. “The way I act in war still scares me. But that kind of energy doesn’t have to be a weapon. If I had the soldiers as a workforce…”

Staever clasped him in a hug, obviously relieved. “They’re going to get bored, Wrest.”

“After everything else?” Wrest smiled as they separated. “They’re begging me to bore them.”

So Wrest had ended up in charge of development outside the walls. Soldiers cleared roads, and explored territory, and guarded civilians against feral isopods and digging shrimp in the wilds at night. Emaria took on rebuilding the walls themselves, along with the harbor and gates, while Staever kept work within the city for himself. A month later, he announced the official opening of the canals would take place the next day, welcome news for the settlers stuck uphill.

Wrest would be there. Right now, he had another appointment. The sea was over the next hill, so this was where he’d left…

His brother and sister bowled into him in a rare coordinated attack, laughing as they clung onto his legs. Wrest flipped over in the sand, then flipped again, landing on top of them and holding them down until they admitted defeat.

Dusting himself off, he said, “How was the sea?”

“Perfect!” Alta got to her feet. “I hope we can go a few more times before it gets cold.”

“Shouldn’t be hard.” Wrest helped Wier up. “As long as you two sweep the house like you’ve been putting off for a week.”

“I’m tired,” Wier protested. “Why do we have to live right next to the forum? Merchants dragging their carts back and forth all night? They should be asleep.”

“If I can sleep in the house, you can too.” Wrest bent to his brother. “A lobster should be soothed to sleep by night merchants. Carts mean money in the city. It’s like the Clearing is breathing.”

“Like it’s snoring,” Wier muttered.

“Did you see anything interesting in the farms?” Alta asked Wrest.

“I thought a lot.”

“About what?”

“All this new land we have.” He set them both on his back, one after another. In a year, they’d be too big to carry. “How far we could run the canals. How much desert we could turn into swamp. If we built villages out here…”

He allowed his eyes to rest on the green hills of the river valley, on the forests where the Wall had stood, and the faraway mountains.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

In the Forum

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By the time he snuck in the back of the forum, a crowd threatened to overflow the broad space. Some of the wilier lobsters broke into buildings to climb their balconies for a better view.

The seaward entrance brought Staever to the broad porch he’d seen the day before. Wrest clapped him on the back, then pulled him inside the doorway of the airy public building behind the porch. His grip relaxed once they were in the shade of the echoing great hall lined with high windows.

“You don’t need to drag me,” Staever muttered. “I can walk.”

“Not the concern. I’m worried you’ll try to bolt.”

“Nah. Every time I run, this new blood acts up. Like somebody’s lighting a flint under me.”

“Look,” Wrest said, “you need to talk to these people, all right?”

Staever contemplated that this was Wrest’s revenge for leaving him in charge of the army, but like nobody but Wrest could have fought the Battle of the Storm, nobody but Staever could set the Clearing on a course.

At least, that was the theory. Staever rubbed his eyes. “You don’t understand. I’m going to have to tell them they can’t use yellow clay anymore. They’re not gonna take it well.”

“Why mention it? You don’t need them to associate it with you.”

“And have them find out I kept secrets? No way. I have to tell them everything. Turner, what the creature really was…Arcite…”

Wrest looked him in the eyes. “We’ll be there with you. Em and I. Start to finish.”

“This isn’t what I do. You can whip troops into a frenzy, Emaria talked her way to a freaking revolution at the Wall, but I…”

His own memory got the better of him. He remembered guiding the exodus through the mountain crevices, keeping a mob from rioting using the first monsoon. They’d followed his instruction at the Great South Wall, despite the danger, knowing it would lead them to freedom.

“You’re their leader,” Wrest said. “The sooner you remind them, the sooner we can settle this place on our terms. Otherwise we blow our chance and wind up with another Eye.”

Staever had no answer. Not to mention, thanks to injuries, Wrest could catch him if he ran.

He stepped through the doorway and out before his people.

Emaria waited at the top of the steps, having set up the amplifying conches in a row. She and Wrest flanked him as he walked across the porch. The weight eased a little.

The crowd had been talking amongst themselves, but the noise died when they saw Staever. Thousands of pairs of eyes settled on him in the quiet. He summoned up the memory of a field by a different sea, last time a city full of lobsters had hung on his words.

Carry it to the end, whispered Cyprus in his head.

“We made it,” he said, because nothing else fit. A few lobsters cheered.

“Now we have this city, we can’t forget why we set out. Here in the Clearing, water is free. The shore is open to everybody.”

That, at last, got a real cheer going. It was a strong lead, but an audience in a good mood could only help so much. They wanted answers. Worse, he had them.

“I guess some of you heard what happened in the city last night. Those of you who have might know it was connected to the thing that attacked during the battle.”

“Was it really Turner?” shouted a farmer in the front row.

In a sense it was true, but explaining needed more detail than he was willing to grapple with right now. “Yes. Or no. The monster and Turner were both part of something else.”

Silence, mixing suspense and confusion. Emboldened by Staever’s having answered the farmer, other voices spoke up. Some had their own conches and drowned out the rest, but enough of those piled up to render even amplified words gibberish.

“I can tell you–”

Words boomed out and he recoiled. Emaria had set up the conches well: slightly raising his voice resulted in exponentially louder speech.

“–we killed yellow clay.”

The amplified tumult slackened. Apparently, confusion was the best way to keep them in line. It would have been ideal had Staever not been so confused himself.

“Imagine if yellow clay was the flesh and blood of something that had once been alive,” he said. “Or rather don’t imagine, because that’s exactly the truth. It’s–it was–from a long way off. Mindless, coming this way because Turner promised it a brain.”

Wrest nodded in encouragement, and Emaria gestured vigorously for him to keep going.

“We killed it because somebody activated a device left by a lobster who once ruled here. We destroyed its mind, and you all broke its body. Now it’s dead…” He took a deep breath. “We won’t be able to use yellow clay anymore.”

He’d imagined this. Everybody rich enough to have counted on yellow clay exploded, while the poor folk hardly reacted. The former Pupil-dwellers and merchants pelted him with questions about how they were supposed to rebuild, about the wounded whose chances of recovery he’d slashed by making this decision without consulting anybody. Staever was about to ask if they would have preferred trying to reason with the creature, when somebody, perched on the building they’d taken for a tavern, shouted through a conch.

“It wasn’t Staever! Don’t blame him! Arcite turned the machine on!”

A dull ache fired in Staever, nothing to do with his injury. The air in the forum changed. Wrest held his ground, expressionless. Emaria bit something back. The lobsters that had shouted about losing their clay were now cursing Arcite, the rebel who’d finally done what the Field wanted. But others swiveled to stare down the old Pupil lobsters, defending Arcite with every foul word they knew.

Staever realized two things. First, he could never abandon these people. The whole exodus, he’d comforted himself, thinking it was only a temporary thing to run a city, that someday he could pass the job to somebody capable. But now, giving up the burden was more painful than bearing it.

The second thing he realized was something he could say to ensure they wouldn’t abandon him, either.

“Regarding Arcite,” he shouted, “I’m making a declaration as your king!”

Arguments died. Lobsters tried to figure out if he’d said what they thought he’d said. They’d been following Staever for months. Wrest had the support of the military, Emaria had the expertise to make the Clearing habitable, and the nobles were terrified of meeting Eventhe in a dark alley. Who else had a leg to stand on?

“This is an edict for the fallen,” Staever said. “For Arcite, and Crane, and Graphus. For the soldiers who died defending a home that wasn’t theirs, for the sake of people they loved. For the ones who would have died in the desert because they gave all their water to their larvae.”

He swallowed, forcing a lump down his throat. “The Eye had its heroes. Khalis, Boralus, Foerhant. Soldiers and statesmen. The Clearing will have heroes too. We’ll carve them on our doors and walls. We’ll remember every day how they died for us so we could live for something.”

He spread both claws wide. “But for what? So you could fight over who took your clay? Is this price too high to pay? We’re the lobsters who crossed the Forbidden Expanse. We put down Kragn’s coup. We turned a land fleet into an ocean fleet without slowing down to breathe.” He wondered if this was how Wrest and Emaria did it, hit a stride and let the words write themselves. It was more gambling than he had a taste for. “The manatees had to fight us for every pace yesterday. Can the lobsters who survived all that truly say they can’t build a city without yellow clay?”

There was some uncertain murmuring.

“Answer me!” Staever leaned toward them. This time, he heard, or imagined, several definite “no!”s.

“We’ll build a city for the noblest creatures on land. A city to put our forefathers to shame, worthy of those who died to let us live here.” Even the ones I can’t name, because the people would never understand. My mother. My father. My brother.

All the lobsters were cheering again. He raised his voice over them.

“There are more than enough homes for everyone. Find a place, and make it your own. If you get stuck farther from the sea, you have first water gathering rights until we get the canals flowing. Nobody goes thirsty.”

“What about merchants?” somebody asked.

“The area around this forum is the trade district. For now we have to barter. We’ll introduce driftwood pieces when the time is right.”

More lobsters threw out questions, and he answered them. Occasionally, Emaria whispered something he relayed verbatim. Only when the questions ran out did Staever remember he wanted to run and hide.

The voice of a sea priest stopped him. “Brothers and sisters, wait!”

What could he want to know? Theology? How the sea slowed the creature? That’s not a flight for my wings.

“Did not the Clearing of old affirm its kings?” the priest said. “Can we call one king without this?”

The people of the exodus had started their journey with a cry. They finished it the same way.

They chanted Staever’s name.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.


Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

The manatees filed away at the break of dawn. The spheres returned to the formation in which they’d emerged from the sea, now smaller: in the middle of the night they had taken their dead somewhere they hadn’t permitted lobsters to follow. They barked no orders to disturb the morning stillness, gliding off the beach like the receding tide.

Atop the Clearing’s broken walls, Staever watched them go. By the time lobsters awoke to blow out the embers of their campfires, the last of the manatees had disappeared.

They would probably dismantle their wands now they’d served their purpose. The manatees lacked the bloodlust to turn them against each other. They settled the sea so sparsely it made no sense to have enemies.

Speaker had promised not to retake her name until she’d convinced every tribe the Clearing was not to be harmed. Staever wished her luck. He himself still had trouble believing the Eye had been washed away by a misunderstanding, but new trade with the manatees might smooth that over.

Footsteps interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see Colonel Corin crossing the square. “Staever,” she said, tipping a claw in greeting. “Wrest sent me to find you.”

“Where is he?”

“There’s a situation in the forum. He said only you could help.”

Situation? Wrest couldn’t expect him to fight. He hadn’t slept. Hiracus’s coral-and-blood surgery was astonishing–he felt better than he had any right to–but his veins still burned as the manatee blood took hold, and bandages kept him from walking faster than a limp.

Corin searched for words. “Last night, it…got out among the camp. The story of what happened in here during the battle.”

While he lay awake, lobsters had entered the gates by clan. He’d left that up to Wrest to sort out, and Wrest must have decided it was safe, because by the time he left a dozing Emaria to watch the manatees depart, half the camp was depopulated.

People wanted to see the Clearing. He knew the feeling, as surely as he knew they would now be asking what to do next.

The forum. The pain in his side twinged, like Turner’s blade was still inside him, twisting.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Your War is Over

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It was a night of two moons, a tranquil night, like from the Eye of Wrest’s youth.

People were calling it the Battle of the Storm. It was a perfect fit, since the storm blew itself out along with the battle. The lobsters gathered at the wreckage of their fleet, salvaging decking planks and cabin roofs for their families to sleep under. Some made rafts with the wood to float their dead, but not many. Tomorrow, Wrest heard one family saying, gathered around a raft just big enough for a child. Tomorrow at first light.

Under the shadow of a skiff jammed into the sand, Wrest touched the sleeping Wier and Alta on their brows and drew a blanket of reeds over them.

Then he made his way to the shore. The rare concert of Sea and Star Moons bathed the camp in silver, shot through with flickering fires like orange pearls. Wrest felt he was in the clouds, touching nothing, floating apart from his own body. For the hundredth time, he reminded himself Alta and Wier were safe.

Yet, though it was warm, he shivered. He didn’t understand half of what had happened, and while Emaria assured him everything was over, he couldn’t rest. If the creature had come from nowhere, it could come back. The looming talk with the manatees didn’t help.

Emaria lay on her back at the edge of the tidal line. Staever was closer to the waves, letting them wash over his legs and tail, resting one claw on a jagged pile of driftwood. Neither of them sat up to greet Wrest: Hiracus had given Staever strict orders to move only with Emaria’s permission, and it pleased Emaria that neither of them should move.

“How’s Eventhe?” she asked.

“By the river.” Wrest flopped down beside her. “The whole estuary’s kicked out of shape. She said she wanted to watch it.”

“Anything about…”

“That’s all she said.”

Wrest stared over the water, trying to convince himself others had paid a higher cost. Other lobsters had died, lobsters he’d risked. They had families. Arcite only had us.

A tiny flame winked on and off as Staever struck and doused a red clay match. “Are you all right?” Wrest asked.

“Why?” Staever replied. “Because my body is full of a stranger’s blood that doesn’t want to work right? Or because I sent one of us to die?”

Hiracus had returned to Staever three times during the evening. Each time his patient had been in agony as his lobster and manatee blood encountered each other. However, Staever had admitted through clenched teeth that the attacks were getting less painful. The healer said Staever would have a hard night, and wake up in the morning with a single stable bloodsteam.

He struck the match again, to light Emaria’s fierce glare. “Don’t,” she said. “Do not go on believing that.”

“That’s not how it works.” The match snuffed out.

“I saw him too! Remember? Before he went after Eventhe? He would have gone to save her if you’d tied him up. There was nothing we could have done.”

Staever flicked the match. The clay was burning low. “I’ll have a hard night. Maybe believe in the morning.”

“What did Arcite do?” Wrest asked them both. “Eventhe made it sound like he killed the creature.”

“Here’s my theory,” Emaria said. “We were right about the key and the Last King. Sort of. Toward the end, he started working against Turner.”

Wrest had pieced together that Staever, Emaria, and Eventhe had met Turner the Architect, drank hot foam with him, and killed him, presumably for a good reason. “The key was there to clean the city.”

“To go partway, at least. Arcite stumbled on his machine, and turned it on, and it cancelled out the yellow clay within the walls. He meant whoever put it in the altar to do the rest of the work.”

“Like clearing out the harbor,” Staever put in. “Em couldn’t have done it without Arc. It killed the creature.”

Emaria was about to explain something else when Staever touched her gently and pointed up the slope. She helped him to his feet to face three manatees in perfect spheres. Wrest stood up.

The six halted across from each other. The manatees had the Sea Moon on their faces, while the Star Moon shone on the lobsters. They regarded each other, the waves the only sound.

The manatee in the lead broke the silence. “We know your names,” she told them. “For these proceedings we give up our own. I am called Speaker. This is Recorder, and Watcher.”

“What makes Watcher different from–” Emaria began, as they all noticed Watcher was the only one with a sword.

“We have what you came for,” Staever said. He lit his short clay torch and kept it on, shining the warm light behind him. The pile Wrest had taken for driftwood was in fact three staffs, one broken into two pieces.

“Where was the third one?” Wrest whispered to Emaria.

“Arcite brought it into the city. He thought we might need to fight.”

Wrest clenched his claw. Arcite had pilfered one of the weapons and not seen fit to inform anybody, knowing full well what the manatees could do to retrieve it. It was Arcite’s fault they hadn’t been able to make peace with the envoy, Arcite’s fault lobsters had died. The idiot deserved what he’d gotten.

Emaria read his expression. The manatees watched them curiously. “Arcite?” asked Speaker. “The one who died?”

“Saved us,” Emaria corrected, still looking at Wrest. “Without it he never would have reached the failsafe. I couldn’t have destroyed the dam. The creature would have killed us all.”

The thought passed, leaving Wrest bereft for even considering it. Arcite had planned to be back before anybody missed the wand. He’d only wanted to help, only ever wanted to understand why the joy he felt destroying things made no sense to the world. He hadn’t deserved to die.

“We will consider that,” Speaker said, “but it does not justify your actions. You have stolen power and misused it. We must ensure this does not happen again.”

Staever pointed the torch at Speaker. “Our actions?”

“You’re not supposed to be moving.” Emaria put out a claw, but Staever pushed it aside and advanced on the three manatees, legs moving out of sync as the blood inside them burned.

“I got stabbed by a man who has been dead for two hundred and fifty years. I’ve fallen six stories. I’ve hallucinated things no lobster should ever see. Four days ago, I nearly dried out in a hole in the desert, and all–” he stopped a pace in front of Speaker, “–because you manatees decided you couldn’t trust us. For sea’s sake, you destroyed the Eye rather than have this conversation!

Watcher took his sword in his flipper. Speaker motioned him back.

“I will not apologize for our actions toward your city,” she said. “We arrived on land to discover a battle in which the thief of our weapons could have unleashed them at any time. We chose one act of destruction over the devastation of all land in this world. How were we to know?”

“You could have asked!” Staever shouted. “You want to own this world because nobody else can live in the sea, but we’re sea-beloved too, we deserve that much! Any three lobsters would have told you they had no idea what Kragn had done, let alone agreed with it!”

“Staever,” Wrest warned, “we’re supposed to be negotiating.”

Speaker glared at them both, and spoke in what Wrest could only assume was the manatee equivalent of a raised voice. “You claim our attack was unjust, yet the thief abused our weapons nonetheless.”

“That was our problem. Not yours.”

“Perhaps we should have eliminated all your tribes instead of one. Then it would have been nobody’s problem.”

“Yeah, and perhaps–” Staever broke off. The torch slipped from his grasp. “A single tribe?”

“A lobster tribe threatens war, and a manatee tribe responds to the threat,” Speaker said. “It is just.”

The three lobsters exchanged glances. Staever fell back, leaving his clay torch afire in the sand.

Emaria finally said, “It wasn’t one tribe. The Eye was our only city on the continent.”

Recorder raised a flipper, the first time he’d moved. “Hold, please. I–I lost track there.”

Speaker’s face was unreadable. “We have hundreds of tribes. A child of one may see only two or three others in her entire life…they are so far apart…”

She drifted to the bottom of her sphere, and lowered her head in a swift jerk.

“Watcher, the sword.” Watcher silently moved forward and held out the coral blade. “Staever, you must kill me.”

Wrest’s stomach knotted. He knew little about successful negotiation, but was sure it didn’t look like this. Staever backed up gingerly, a claw pressed against his bandage.

“No,” he said.

“It is just.”

“I’m not going to execute you.”

“Am I not enough?” Trembling, Speaker seized the blade from Watcher and thrust it at Staever hilt-first. “How many souls will pay for your Eye? Watcher’s? Recorder’s? My whole tribe?”

Staever’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. Wrest couldn’t read Speaker, had no idea if she was serious.

Emaria saved them. “One of you saved Staever’s life today. He wouldn’t kill you. As for the rest of us…” She walked up to the tip of the coral sword, which was poking out of Speaker’s sphere. Wrest flashed back to when she’d stood in front of Kragn’s gunners.

“There were two tribes. You took the home of one, but you annihilated the other. Lobsters who were fearful of clay, like you. We killed a lot of them ourselves. Now we live in the world they wanted.”

She took the sword from Speaker’s flipper, and held it out for Watcher. “We both have a debt to the dead. Join us. Pay it by living.”

Staever took the three wands and passed them to Speaker.

“Take them and go,” he told her. “Your war is over.”

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Nothing Stays

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The two healers turned to Eventhe after only moments. “How is he?” she asked.

Their faces told her everything.

“It has not been long enough,” she said. “You have not tried enough. You cannot know.”

“He is gone,” said one, as gently as she could. “There is nothing of him left.”

“Liars. The other healer believes Staever can be saved. Why not Arcite?”

“Even if we could repair Arcite’s skeleton,” said the other, “we cannot call his spirit back.”

Eventhe shoved past them and fell on the broken body. Her soul had been whispering the truth with every step since the hub. She’d carried him for nothing, fought Kragn for nothing.

She wished for her mask. The manatees were look at her naked, with revolting sympathy. She wanted to go back to hiding the world behind hatred and woven reeds. To forget the Cuttlefish and the Clearing and meditate until she died. But nothing stayed. Neither her love nor her face. Even the skill in her claws would fade. Arcite, her hunted, beleaguered bomber, had died and now she understood.

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Red Blood

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There were few good signs.

As Wrest returned, Emaria and Eventhe arrived with their own healers in tow. Three manatees exchanged worried glances when they saw Staever and Arcite stretched out in the sand.

“What happened to them?” Hiracus asked. One of the others smeared something mud-like over Staever’s wound from a jar. The second applied the same poultice to Arcite. “These do not look like battlefield wounds.”

“Injured in the city,” Wrest replied.

“I will care for him,” Hiracus said, striding over to Staever. “You two, see to the other.”

“Arcite,” the three Cuttlefish said.

“Arcite’s pain is more dire.”

The other two healers shooed Eventhe back. Moving like old clockwork, Eventhe allowed them room. Hiracus, Wrest, and Emaria gathered around Staever.

“The mud has bought us a few moments,” Hiracus said, “but he has lost too much blood for our usual methods.” The manatee produced a bit of blue coral and passed it back and forth over where the graft had been.

Emaria said, “I’ve read about ways to reverse blood loss. It’s not impossible.”

“It is not. Manatees and lobsters can both regenerate blood, but this fellow has lost too much. I might be better able to pay the cost.”

The healer took up his coral blade and slashed his own flipper open. Wrest jumped back, gaping, but Emaria stood resolute. Has she read about this?

Hiracus’s blood was red–strange enough, but then he laid his flipper against Staever’s body. The two colors mingled as Hiracus, unfazed, held the connection closed until his own blood had clotted and would not flow. Then he passed the rejuvinative coral across his own flesh.

“It’s the wrong blood,” Wrest said. “It’s–red. Have you done this before?”

“I am a donor, Wrest,” said Hiracus, holding the blade against his other flipper. “That is why I became a healer. But I’ve never given to a lobster. He will have a curious few hours.”

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A Gift for the Great Light

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As the rain slowed at last, Hiracus resolved to send a gift into the Great Light. Tending the wounded became twice as hard in a downpour. Rain wasn’t how a manatee was used to seeing water.

After the death of the creature, nobody wanted to keep fighting. The lobster prisoners looked perplexed when the manatees let them go. General Wrest surrendered, then asked for help carrying his wounded to dry land. Lobsters brought their own casualties from vessels the creature had struck, all silent, averting their gazes.

“Bite,” Hiracus said in his own language. He slipped his blade between his patient’s teeth, and snapped the dislocated flipper into place. Clamping down on the blunt edge muffled the scream, and Hiracus wondered if the bit was more of a favor to the patient or the healer. He offered a piece of blue coral.

“Hold this there until sundown to repair the tendons. Don’t use that flipper for two days.”

“Of course.” The manatee reshaped his bubble, gliding away.

Hiracus and the others had strung out along the beach, forming a net of healers to catch every casualty. To his surprise, a heavyset grey lobster approached him from the city. Hiracus dipped his head in salute. After the battle, he had great respect for General Wrest.

“The one I surrendered to told me to come here,” Wrest said, in no mood for ceremony. “Are you a doctor?”

“I act in that capacity.”

“Good. I’ve got two seriously wounded lobsters.”

“Bring them to me. I cannot desert my post.”

“Sir, they’re dying as we speak. We can’t move them.”

“I can’t leave.” Hiracus perceived Wrest’s emotions getting the better of him. “Others with graver conditions must be able to find me here.”

“They’re my friends!”

Hiracus started. “The Cuttlefish?”

Surprise crossed Wrest’s face. Lobster prisoners had said this was their leadership faction. Strange choice of name aside, intelligence hinted they knew the full story of the stolen weapons. He couldn’t let a patient with mission-critical information die. “Where are they?”

Wrest hurried off. “Follow me.”

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Don’t Let Go

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Emaria stumbled on the tilted walkway on her way to Staever, gulping in breath. “My cloak,” Staever wheezed. “Get it off.”

She peeled it away. “Turner?”

“He’s gone. Bind it. Please…” He sucked in air through a gritted mouth as she extracted cloth from the wound. Emaria stifled a gasp on seeing the festering hole where the graft had been.

“The engineers…” Staever said as she tied off the rag.

“If you’re going to tell me to run, don’t bother. How do you feel?”

Staever didn’t quite smile. “Bit tired. Wish this rain would stop.”

“Stay with me.” She stole a look at the bandage, the brown cloth staining blue. “Keep the pressure on. It’s not as bad as it feels.”

“A bold lie.” Staever’s voice had grown faint. “We’ll make a thief of you yet.”

“The army doctors treat worse than this every day. They’ll fix you.”

Across the dam, up the tiers, through the gate. Emaria looked north, and her throat closed. Between them and the headland, half the dam had fractured lower than the other half, slowly widening a gap. Emaria might have jumped it, but Staever had no chance.

She turned stubbornly away, ragged despair at the edges of her mind. If they took the long way, Staever could be dead on arrival.

A dark shape bounded toward them, trailing a bit of rope attached to a broken chunk of dam. The engineers’ crab came to a halt right by Emaria, bending down like it expected her to drop everything and stroke it.

Staever gained his feet. “We can jump it.”

Emaria touched the crab sorrowfully. “There’s no sled.”

“A crab can carry two…it just…doesn’t like it…”

A crack resounded from the south end of the dam, sand warping and shifting. Symmetry. What happens if the other end goes?

Eyes widening, Staever pulled himself onto the crab’s back, then shifted over to make room. “It might go fast enough to clear the gap, if we shocked it,” she said. “I have the flint in my satchel.”

“No,” Staever’s voice, damning his injuries, was as strong as when he’d admonished lowlives at Lash’s tavern. “Don’t shock a crab.”


Never shock a crab!”

He tapped the crab’s shell under its eye, spurring the animal into motion.

The crab galloped, skirting a crack to the right, then nearly put a leg through another on the left. “How far…to the end?” Staever gasped.

“Sixty paces. I counted from the other side.” Emaria yelped. “Ahead!”

“The tear?”

“Coming fast!”

Both dam walls gave way as they pounded toward the gash. The disintegrating dam shifted another pace out to sea, and the crab’s legs brushed empty space.

“Around!” Emaria yelled, while Staever said “Jump–aagh…

His bandage had come loose. Blood pooled again in the wound. Emaria threw her claw out to help hold it in place as they hit the big fracture, four paces of empty space, an instant in the air lasting an hour.

The crab’s head lolled under Staever’s weakening grip. Emaria clamped her eyes shut and held Staever tight. I’m saving you. I will save you.

The crab dug in on the other side.

Emaria opened her eyes: thirty paces to solid ground. Staever’s life was ahead.

Then an entire chunk of their path crumbled–swallowed under the sea. The crab broke stride, keening like they’d shocked it after all.

Emaria grabbed Staever around the abdomen, pulling them both onto the remnants of the walkway. The crab scrabbled, caught in the gap. Emaria went for the reins, but she was too late, and Staever too weak, to save it as it lost purchase. The keening ceased as the crab fell into the waves, vanishing under the spray.

Emaria grabbed Staever’s claw. He pressed his wound with the other. They sprinted the rest of the way, turning on solid ground, hearts pounding, heads clouded.

“We should have shocked him,” Emaria said in despair. “He would have made it.”

Staever shook his head. “Wouldn’t have made the jump. Exhausted. Pain.”

Emaria touched him, and pointed at the harbor, retying the bandage tight. Most of the yellow clay was gone. What remained no longer bubbled, but drifted on the tide, mingling with algae and the softening patter of rain.

“There’s so much I need to tell you, Em,” Staever said. “He told me things about the world, about the sea. I want everyone to know.”

She took his claw. “You’ll tell them. Come on. I know the way.”

They reached the top of the harbor before Staever’s will to walk broke again. His eyes turned to glass. “Em…” he whispered doubtfully, “it’s cold. It’s really cold.”

“It’s not as bad as it feels.” Emaria gripped his claw harder. “It’s not so bad.”

“When we get there, I might not–”

“Stop!” She helped him walk, right legs, left. “You’re going to help me rule this place. We’re all going to live here.”

The journey back to the gate was a blur of endless washed-out streets, freezing mud, dripping forlorn trees. She chose roads by inner compass, seeking the north gate by landmarks–the forum, the urchin hole, the broad street. Staever walked some places, dragged himself others. Then suddenly Emaria was carrying him.

The rain slackened further as she helped him through the gardens. Far down a street, they saw the colonnade leading to the first alleyway.

“The gate’s through there,” she told him. “The medics! We made it!”

Staever was awake and drawing breath, but lacked energy to speak, let alone keep compressing the bandage.

“One more step,” Emaria pleaded. Her skeleton ached. “One more. One more.”

Staever stopped her. She opened her mouth to rage at him for giving up again, but the words never came.

The plaza was full of motionless lobsters as big as sand dunes, blank faces pointing ahead, rain dripping from their eyes.

Hundreds of engineers, maybe all of them, blocked the exit. Their eyes swiveled to fix on Staever and Emaria.

If she didn’t move, perhaps they wouldn’t give chase, if Turner had given them orders to stand guard. But Staever would be gone before they could reach another gate.

“Em,” Staever croaked. “Do you trust me?”

She nodded.

“Don’t…let go.”

Claw in claw, they entered the square.

As the Cuttlefish entered the engineers’ midst, the closest turned toward them, and Emaria froze, trembling too hard to walk.

“Hurry.” It was Staever’s turn to pull her along, though his tug was limp. “You said one more walk. This is it.”

The engineers sank to the ground. The others behind them followed suit, until the whole mob lay flat. Staever and Emaria kept walking, right to where the gate had been.

“They’re bowing,” she said.

The doors tipped drunkenly, but stayed upright, lodged in the wet sand. Something had shattered the wall around them. Emaria pointed out a path over the rampart, but Staever didn’t answer. His claw dropped, limp, out of hers. She took him in her arms and ran.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.