The Whites were littered with flophouses understanding enough not to ask questions when Staever paid rent a season at a time. However, when Graphus was late with payment, when the council Guard launched one of its crusades, or when–like tonight–secrecy was paramount, he kept a tiny hovel in the south-seaward corner of the Eye. It was a single room, strewn with loose sand, squatting at the back of a warehouse where farmers stored their crops before sale. The Cuttlefish were already inside, taking up most of the space, when he returned from ensuring the coast was clear.
Nobody moved, save Arcite, who teetered over a bucket half-full of vomit. Emaria had the key. The gold was out of place amid the insect shells in the sand and the empty crates Staever had repurposed for furniture.
He cleared his throat to buy time.
“You all know the story,” he said. “You know what that key is. I want a simple vote, majority wins. Do we sell the key and split the profits, or do we petition the council to let us take it to the Clearing?”
Wrest spoke up. “Can’t we do it without involving the council at all?”
“Not an option. They’re the ones decided the Forbidden Expanse was forbidden. They have half the army guarding the pass.”
“I vote for the petition.” Wrest raised his claw. “With a large enough force, provisioned and trained, we could cross the Expanse. But we’d never get that without council support.”
“All right, Wrest votes for the council,” Staever noted.
“Don’t put it that way,” Wrest complained. “You’re spinning the situation. Nobody likes the council.”
Arcite looked up from his bucket between retches. “So you want to take a whole army of lobsters over the mountains to follow that shiny rock?”
“Arcite, maybe you’d better wait…” Wrest stretched out a claw toward him.
Arcite swatted it away. “I’m fine, damn it. I vote no. Watch our own skeletons first. This city can dry out, so long as the glass keeps coming.”
“It’s already drying out.” Emaria looked ready to break Arcite’s vomit pail over his back. “And the Pupil is going to let it happen. I vote yes. Lobsters were never meant to live here. We have a chance to put that wrong right.”
The stakes are too great. It’s not my game to play. The Eye needed the key. Who was he to keep it, when only pure chance gave it to him in the first place?
“I vote no,” he said. “My plan is the same as ever. Fence the key and use the money to water the Whites.”
“For how long?” Emaria protested. “A season? A year? All the glass in the sea won’t keep the city in water!”
“Emaria.” Eventhe, resting on the wreck of a bed, spoke for the first time since arriving. “I have not voted yet.”
“All right, Eventhe. Two for, two against. Break the tie.”
The desire to lose the vote seized Staever. He reminded his impractical half he’d made his choice, that this sort of boldness killed thieves every day, but to no avail. Something new, a malignant dream, had taken root.
“It seems to me,” Eventhe said, “a city of abundant water with no need for clay would break the power of the council utterly. There is nothing I would enjoy more.”
The mood in the room shifted. Wrest and Emaria did not cheer. Arcite rubbed his temples. Staever had a vision of the five of them gamely putting their names on a death warrant, of the walls of his room closing in.
He plunged ahead. There was no sense letting the two halves of himself fight anymore.
“Right. No sleep tonight, everybody. Arcite, run a lap of the building, and someone find me some seaweed. We just became politicians.”
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