NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’m heading off into the Cascade Mountains to spend a week with a friend, and might not have internet to update during that time. If that turns out to be true, I will post all the missed updates as soon as I return. Thanks for understanding, and on with the story!
They found Wrest relaxing beside the Glass Gate of the Iris Library, enjoying the sights of the Eye’s middle district. A few ragged lobsters slumped in the plaza, while better-watered lobsters flitted between them, closely watching their coin satchels. The stores of the Iris’s skilled laborers and traders were shuttered, the great sand-pressing plants quiet. Staever wished for the sight of a plant manager whistling as he walked home with bricks he’d skimmed from the day’s product. Iris-crime, the sort that posed as honesty, was a sign of prosperity.
“Did you know the librarian order’s descended from the sea-priests?” Emaria said as they neared the door. “They were the ones who argued for gathering the scrolls somewhere public. The governors wanted them all in the Pupil. Now it’s the richest place in the Iris.”
“Because we stole everything else?”
Emaria made a face. “I’d never run a job here now.”
Staever watched a weaver shutter his shop and saddle a crab laden with buckets for seawater. “Crab-breeders and bucket-builders are doing all right.”
“Sea,” Emaria said as Wrest ambled toward them, “if only we could all live by the water…”
“Wouldn’t work. Winds. No good sand for the compression plants.”
“I know,” she snapped. “Still.”
Staever waved to a young girl hanging back by the library wall, who jabbed a boy dozing next to her. “Hey, Wier, wake up! They’re here!”
Wier, grey of shell like his brother and sister, snapped his eyes open and ran over to Staever, leaving the girl in the dust. “Hey, Staever! Steal anything good lately?”
Staever laughed. “Your brother gets mad when I try to turn you into little thieves.”
“Right,” Wrest added. “Wier, always be more like Alta and less like me.”
Wier grimaced. “She wants to be a librarian.”
“Not a librarian!” Alta glared. “An engineer!”
“Wrest, I don’t know if they should be here,” Emaria said, then hastened to add, “They might get bored.”
“You mean you don’t trust them. It’s fine, I don’t either.” He pulled his brother and sister to his side. “These two can’t keep their mouths shut.”
Wier and Alta started debating whose fault this was. “Don’t worry, they won’t be in the way,” Wrest told Emaria over their heads. “Alta wants to learn how to reopen the irrigation canals. Wier likes the romances about the old heroes. We’re here for history, right? No overlap.”
The Glass Gate was a circular pane of triple-reinforced sea glass, carved from top to bottom with images depicting the construction of the city. Lobsters worked together to lift great blocks of sand and pack them together, each shouldering a burden to build a sanctuary for an endangered people. The one thing missing, Staever reflected, was everything: the desperation of the people who filed in two and three at a time, hungry and thirsty, keen for any shelter, no matter how poorly located.
The five passed under the glass and emerged in the main chamber, where a low chatter filled the cool air. From the central plaza of the great domed room, stacks radiated out towards the walls, soaring as high as the ceiling. Between himself and the staircase alone, Staever saw more life than in the whole street outside–doctors arguing about thoracic incision angles, desert farmers studying the best solutions for hydroplanting, sea-priests mouthing psalms written by the ancient shoreline poets. The scrolls themselves were a wonder: long ribbons made of layers of kelp pressed atop one another, written on by tearing precisely through the deep-green paper with a stylus, in runes designed to carry as much meaning as possible in a single symbol.
Alta made a beeline for a group of engineers consulting weight-distribution charts while avoiding the pointed stares of those who blamed them for the past days of thirst. She grabbed a bundle of seaweed scrolls by her hero, Turner the Architect, as several of the engineers looked on in amusement. Wier darted off when they passed the epic poetry.
A freestanding spiral led to the second floor’ private studying chambers. Staever craned his neck toward them. “When do we get to see what you found, Em?”
“I collected all the weeds I’ve studied in the room at the end of the upstairs hall,” Emaria replied. “I need to pick up one more…” She dashed off toward an unlabeled section tucked in a far corner.
The top of the ramp revealed a view of the entire dome–a visual summation of the knowledge of the lobsters. Mid-verse, a priest doubled over in a coughing fit. Staever shook his head briskly, trying to clear out memories of the street urchins, and recited a verse for the sea-monk instead: “The sea did not ask us before it came. We need not ask it now. It will come unbidden.”
Emaria caught up to them in the bright second-floor hallway, and led them to the last room, a sunny chamber with a view over the Iris rooftops. The cell was well furnished, with a reed mat on one wall and a sand table over which Emaria had strewn a collection of scrolls.
“Do you still have the key?” Staever asked. Emaria held it up. “So, what is it?”
“This is something with roots as far back in history as we can read.”
“Let me guess,” Staever said, “it’s from the Clearing?”
Wrest dropped onto the mat, like a child expecting a story. His eyes gleamed with hope.