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The Wall itself was covered with red clay, end-to-end like a creeping vine. The blasting material wound toward the battlement, where a lobster was spreading more along the edge.
Eventhe made out Arcite’s helmet and goggles. This was where he’d gone– ahead of the column, enslaved for Kragn’s getaway.
But how? Wrest had gone to Kragn to keep his siblings safe, but what did Arcite have for the general to exploit?
Aside from me?
That couldn’t be it. Arcite never would have betrayed the Eye for protection she didn’t need. Unless…
Eventhe steeled herself. There wasn’t time to moon about anyone’s feelings. Wrest had trusted her to step in if Wier and Alta needed help. She decided they needed help now. If nobody intervened, they would ship downriver.
She’d been seconds away from forcing a path to the Wall, but someone crashing over the foliage sounded ready to beat her to it. She stepped back as Wrest and Staever burst from the undergrowth.
“You have come,” she said, faster than she meant to. “I tried to meditate, but could not. I was…worried.”
“Good thing then you didn’t see the state this guy was in an hour ago,” Wrest remarked.
“It’s a wonder what water and shade can do,” Staever said. “Can’t talk long. I read what’s going on over there as well as you can.”
“Arcite is almost finished coating the Wall with clay,” Eventhe replied. “I assume this, Wrest, is the ‘something big’ you meant.”
“Damn right,” Wrest replied. Staever spread the detail of Turner’s map on the ground, so all three could read it. “It’s bigger than Kragn now. Look at the pictograph.”
“Do we have time?”
“This is important. Please look.”
She did. “Is it this stain? A warning against being careless with food around the maps doesn’t merit the delay.”
“This isn’t a great time for you to finally learn sarcasm either,” Staever shot back. “That’s not a stain.”
“See how it fills the Wall, then expands underneath the glade?” Wrest said.
Eventhe superimposed the image over the landscape: the red blob squatting beneath the entire column. “What does it represent?”
“Red clay,” Wrest said.
Eventhe understood the smell. “Turner laid a trap to catch those who would penetrate the Wall–”
Wrest cut in, “–which connects to a monstrous underground clay deposit–”
“–all of which Arcite is about to blow up,” Staever finished.
Eventhe bent down, scraping the dirt with her claw. The soil was soft enough to sink half her claw before removing a lump of red clay the size of Arcite’s head.
She wiped it on a tree. “We must move. Kragn will soon be ready for his final show.”
After two paces, she turned to find Staever and Wrest staring at her. “Come on! Everybody is in danger!”
“Ev, you’re the only one who can climb the Wall without a rope,” Staever said. “Wrest and I will stall Kragn. You…”
Eventhe blanched. “Finish!”
“You have to stop Arcite.”
He might have done it to protect her, or done it for the Clearing. He might have wanted to be helpful, or to be needed. None of these actions necessarily deserved to be stopped.
“I don’t know why he’s working for Kragn,” Staever explained, “but convince him it’s not worth it. You’ve always been able to talk to him.”
“What if it is worth it?”
“It can’t be,” Staever said. “Arcite is one of us. Whether or not he wants to blow the Wall up, I’m certain he doesn’t want to do it for Kragn.”
He met her eyes through the mask, letting understanding pass between them like he’d done since hiring her. She turned and ran.
“He’s almost done,” Wrest said. “Let’s go!”
Staever and Wrest hurried from the grove. Eventhe followed the riverbank toward the Wall, mulling Staever’s final words. I speak easily with Arcite, but after today, will he ever speak to me again?
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