Staever swung back through the hatch in the deck, past the gash in the driftwood where Wrest had punched out the lock. His shadow fell on Wrest and Emaria, still laboring to add glass to the stack. He hastened to pile the cargo on the sleds Arcite and Eventhe had brought.
The battle-ready captain had put them enough behind schedule to make him uneasy. Seeing more than three ships in a day was rare on this road, but the council guard from the Eye could range this far from the city. Worse, the settlement of the Field lay somewhere beyond this desert, camouflaged and concealed against the landscape, populated by rebels and defectors with a habit of interrogating and imprisoning stragglers from the Eye.
He heard Wrest call his name. He and Emaria were staring at the floor. “What’s this about?”
“We thought you’d want to see this,” Wrest told him.
“See what? It’d better be worth the time.”
He’d jumped back and forth through the hole three times since they’d broken the hatch, and took the swing more quickly this time. Right as his abdomen crossed the threshold, his grip on the top side of the portal slipped and he struck his side on the frame. He cried out, sprawling half in and half out of the hold. Wrest ran to help him.
“Was it the graft?” he asked.
“Yeah.” With Wrest’s help, Staever wormed his way through the portal to land on his feet. The part of his shell he’d banged twinged whenever he tried to move, like a knife twisting. Wrest tried to peek under his cloak, but Staever brushed his claw away. “It’s fine.”
“It might have shifted.”
“It always feels worse than it is. Hurry up and show me this thing.”
Emaria watched, looking concerned and a little mystified. Staever had explained his shell graft to her when she’d joined, but made it clear nobody was ever to bring it up again, unless he desperately needed help. Wrest took liberties with the latter decree.
Emaria traced an outline in the dust. “Take a closer look at this spot on the floor.”
Through the faded, dusty half-light of the back of the hold, the concealed hatch was almost invisible, but now he knew it was there, Staever could easily discern its shape. Quite the lookout.
Emaria added, “Wrest actually found it.”
“I tripped,” said the big lobster, not meeting anyone’s gaze.
“Are we opening it or what?” Staever asked. The second trapdoor intrigued him, but they were as helpless as grazing crayfish out here.
“It’s locked,” Emaria said. “Wrest couldn’t break it.”
“Of course it’s locked. Give me a second.” He blew some dust from the keyhole and began chiseling away with the glass shard in his claw.
Emaria moved to stop him. “Careful. That’s treasury glass now.”
“Em, think about the value of one shard versus the value of whatever’s in here.”
“Might be a privy.” Wrest lifted another load of glass and staggered outside.
“It’s not well-secured, for an underworld ship,” Emaria mused. “All this glass under only one trapdoor.”
“You’re right.” Staever sped up as curiosity edged out nervousness. “The glass wasn’t the cargo, it was cover. The crew might not have known this was here. So what’s so valuable you need a pile of glass to keep it hidden?”
“I can’t think of anything. Maybe land, if it’s right beside the Pupil.”
“Exactly what I mean. Think of fencing this, Em. We can sell off our contract with Graphus. Buy three years of water each and move into the tower.”
Talk of life in the wealthy heart of the Eye always quieted Emaria for some reason. Staever finished picking the lock in silence. He twisted the shard once more, and the lock clicked open.
Wrest returned, and the three thieves slid their claws into the crack. The hatch creaked and protested the whole way up.
The space underneath was much smaller than Staever had expected, smaller than the trapdoor used to cover it. The square compartment contained only one thing: a key, like some of the more fearful Iris-dwellers used to seal their apartment doors, but wrought out of a glittering material he could not recognize. He held it up for the others to see.
“That’s metal,” Emaria whispered. “Gold. I never thought I’d live to see it.”
The teeth were intricate, a repeating pattern of shapes and sizes: triangles, cylinders, arches. Staever turned it over, marveling at how much lighter it was than it looked.
“We’re not moving to the Pupil,” he said. “We’re buying the Pupil.”