Emaria and Wrest fell a few paces behind Staever, who made it clear he didn’t want to talk. Ten minutes later, when the Pupil’s terraces had flattened into Iris alleys, he said, “They’re going to attack the Field.”

It startled them both. “We could save them,” Staever went on. “Start a rebellion here, divert the militia.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Wrest paled. “They’d batter the Whites into the ground. Kragn’s a carpet-bomber. He’d dig our bodies out of the ashes and behead them.”

“One city at a time,” Emaria touched Staever on his back. He placed his claw over hers, but didn’t look at her. His mouth was moving, reciting a bit of sea-verse. Did not your ancestors bear thirst? Does not the sea bear storms? Shall you then not bear judgment?

One alley over, someone shouted for help.

Staever, closest to the noise, tore around the corner. He squeezed through a gap, vaulted somebody’s fence. In a small coral garden, a pair of lobsters with swords drawn backed a stooped lobster against the side of a house. They wore the immaculate scarlet cloaks of the council guard.

“Donation for good luck,” one of them said, rapping the old man on the head with his claw. “Buy a guard a sludge bath, he’ll do you a favor.”

“Like letting you keep your claw,” the other guffawed.

“Good thinking.” The first raised his blade. “Let’s take a bit off, see how generous he feels.”

Staever threw himself on the guard’s back and seized his sword claw, striking with the other. The lobster roared, cutting blindly at the air above Staever’s head. By the time the other could brandish his blade, Wrest and Emaria entered the garden from the long way around. The second guard swung his sword, trying to menace all three Cuttlefish.

“That will be all.”

The guards stopped cutting. Staever eased his grip. The words had come from the old man, who was not so stooped after all. Each of his legs stood straight, his cloak was groomed, and his voice commanded respect.

Staever clambered off the guard’s back and bowed his head. “Governor Graphus.”

Wrest and Emaria sank to their knees as well. Graphus ushered them up. “You aren’t hard to find, Staever,” he said as he shook the thieves’ claws. “Look for a lobster who’ll rescue anything crying.”

“You could have sent a message through Gattick,” Staever replied. “You didn’t need to order your own guards to attack you.”

“You’re sea-damned right,” said the one Staever had fought. His face was a mess, and he spat out a gob of blood, staining a piece of coral blue. “I’m gonna need some yellow clay to patch this one up.”

“Take it from my stores,” Graphus told him. The two guards filed out to the street entrance, the one with the wounded face throwing Staever a dark look.

Graphus turned back to the thieves. “You were discussing a coup against the council in broad daylight. Not to mention you attacked two uniformed council police. It seemed easier to get you in private this way.”

Staever studied a bit of coral, swearing to stop letting anger get the better of him. One more outburst and he’d wind up in prison, where Graphus would not unkindly disown him.

Graphus said to Wrest and Emaria, “How soon could you gather the others?”

The three Cuttlefish exchanged looks. Finally, Wrest said, “If it’s urgent?”

“It’s urgent.”

“Two hours.”

“Good.” Graphus waved his guards away, and they disappeared to seek out Graphus’s yellow clay, the one Staever had pummeled leaning on the other. “Meet in the North Arc, under the lamphouse by the Foerhant watering hole.”

“Is this about a job?” Though it was a stroke of luck for another to come so quickly, there was nothing he was less in the mood for.

“A little more. I’m resurrecting your petition.”

If you liked this chapter, check out the rewards available on my Patreon! I’m a self-supported writer, and even $1 a month helps.

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