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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.”
“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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