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A breeze coaxed Staever to his senses. Every bit of him ached. Something heavy sat on his left claw.
Sea damn it all, I’m alive.
He opened his eyes. The light was too weak to see what had him trapped.
A bolt of lightning flashed out at sea, shedding brief light. He was lying in a gap in the rubble barely larger than he was. His eyes adjusted to thin light from a crescent-shaped gap where the foundation had shifted. He must have fallen through the floor after the ceiling knocked him out.
He tugged on his left arm. No good.
Dark clouds piled up outside. It could be any time of night. Any night.
Staever had to twist uncomfortably to reach the chunk of sand trapping him. Grimacing as he held himself in place, he pushed with his right claw. He’d barely budged the sand before he dropped back to the ground, unable to stay upright.
I’m grateful she saved me, but Ev’s not the type to think three moves ahead. Speaking of which, where was she?
He didn’t move for a moments, sucking in wet air through the vent. A raindrop fell on him.
Someone shouted. He lifted his head. The engineers didn’t say “hey.”
“Eventhe! Staever! Eventhe!”
He found his voice. “Arcite! In here!”
The footsteps stopped, confused. “Where?”
“Under the tower.” He massaged the stem of his left claw. The pain was intense, but a claw that hurt was one he could use. Letting it numb scared him.
“Where under the tower?”
“I don’t know, I can’t see anything! Look for a hole.”
Blocks shifted above, Arcite digging for him. He said, “I can see some sky.”
The digging stopped. Arcite’s face appeared in the gap. “You shouldn’t be alive,” he said bluntly. “This building is eating itself.”
“It looked worse from inside,” Staever grunted. “Help me move this.”
“Right.” Arcite thrust his claws through the gap.
Staever rolled over again, and forced his weight against the block while Arcite shoved from outside. It teetered, flipped on its edge, and landed with a scrape of protest. Staever tried to lift his freed claw. The feeling was gone.
Arcite offered his claw, and Staever took it, stuffing himself through the opening. Massaging his dead arm, he saw he’d been under the ocean side of the tower. They stood on the narrow path over ten-pace waves which burst forth to batter themselves against the rocks. Staever pulled his cloak tighter. He hadn’t realized how hard it was raining.
He asked, “Where’s Em?” at the same time Arcite asked, “What happened to Eventhe?”
They both paused. “Ev first,” Arcite insisted.
“Fine,” Staever said, though his own question burned. He felt a tingle in his injured claw. “She couldn’t fight the engineers, so she fought the building. You know how she can meditate and kind of store up power?”
“This was longer than I’ve ever seen her meditate.”
“I don’t understand.” Arcite’s claws were on the wand. “Why drop you through six floors? Why put herself in danger?”
“To buy time against the engineers. She must have known part of the room could survive the fall.”
“How? She never goes inside!”
“Probably from hanging out with you,” Staever said. Arcite rocked on his back legs, staring around, capable of taking the Clearing apart with a good enough reason. “Maybe she didn’t killed them, but they’ll have fun digging out of all this.”
“Fine.” Arcite paced. “Where is she now?”
“I don’t know. We got separated when she did it.”
Arcite started along the path, calling Eventhe’s name. “Quiet!” Staever hissed, following. “I’m not betting on how long the rubble holds them down.”
“I don’t care what they hear.”
“They’re not all under there! Ev and I heard Turner before we ran. There are more in the city, and one supposedly doesn’t belong, which hardly makes me feel better.”
“Always with the shushing,” Arcite said. “You and Emaria–” He stopped short. Staever ran into his back, shunting them both onto safer ground. “You wanted to know where she was.”
“Yes. But quietly.” No engineers on the street, but a hundred hiding places, a road bristling with blind alleys and half-curtained by rain.
“I saw her before the tower fell. She took a crab-sled to the harbor.”
“Why would she go to the harbor?”
“She had some idea about burning off the clay. I told her it might have been plausible, and she rode off before I could explain all the reasons it wasn’t.”
“Burning off the clay.” To demoralize Turner, or to distract him? “I’d better find out from her.”
Arcite was not listening. His attention was fixed on part of the street, where something floated in a puddle. He walked over and lifted out Eventhe’s mask.
She made it this far.
“She never leaves it behind,” Arcite stammered. “You can’t leave your own face.”
Staever scanned the ground. “Look.”
A snarl of footprints surrounded the puddle. The wet ground left two sets of tracks as clear as words on a scroll: one from a lobster with small feet, walking unevenly, injured. The other gargantuan, larger than the engineers’. These came from a shadowed garden and led away the other set away, as the latter became a gouge, vanishing around a corner.
“These aren’t her footprints. They’re too weird.” Arcite examined the long cut. “Maybe she dug this to trick them?”
“Then who left the tracks?”
“Maybe she caught one.”
Arcite would never believe him. He hadn’t seen Eventhe bucking in the engineer’s grasp. “They took her.”
“You can’t capture Ev. She’d die first.”
Arcite clapped his mouth shut, regretting right away what he’d said. Staever shivered. Eventhe was far from clean.
“They did it once already, in the tower. She barely escaped from the run, she was tired, maybe hurt. She isn’t a machine.”
“I know she isn’t!” Arcite unhooked the wand from his back. “I’m going after her.”
“Not without a plan.”
“I have a plan. Blow up everything until I find her.”
“That’s not a plan.”
“What’s yours?” Arcite was bursting at his seams, aiming at the skyline.
I’m scared for her too, he wanted to shout, and for Em, and we’re being stalked by mutant psychopaths, and I’m out of ideas. “Follow the footprints. Keep in the shadows. Don’t use the wand unless you’re sure it’ll work.”
Lighting flashed off Arcite’s goggles. “Are you coming?”
”I have to help Em set fire to a bay. Listen, if you can’t fight them, get out of the city and find Wrest. I’ll meet you there.”
“And we’ll take the place back? Run these engineers over?”
Staever saw the look in his eyes and surrendered. “Yeah. We’ll take them all down.”
“If they’ve got her, I’ll bring the moons down on them!” Arcite cried to the wind. He backed down the road, holding the weapon high. “They scare you, not me!”
I should have gotten the key back. But Arcite was gone, following the trail. Staever ran full speed for the harbor, missing his crab-sled.
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