Foerhant, the Eye’s first governor, was not a hero the way Khalis or Boralus was, though not for lack of trying. His name turned up plastered on monuments and footpaths all over the city. In the North Arc, he’d dedicated a lighthouse square, a lantern on a high pillar surrounded by a vacant lot. No lobster was allowed to build within ten paces of a lamphouse, lest they obstruct its light, and since anybody who walked in could see what you were doing, they were poor spots for robberies–though good for private conversation.
Perhaps knowing Staever intended to accost Arcite and Eventhe as soon as he had the chance, Graphus started speaking the second the two filed in on Wrest’s heels. “Do you know why I hired your gang, Staever?”
“Because we’re the best.” When he said this looking at Eventhe and Arcite, it was hard to hold onto his contempt. “We have experts, specialists, who set us apart from the rest. We make deals. We plan our jobs instead of running in and smashing everything.”
The light from the fire in the tower played on Wrest’s face as he spoke up. “People don’t expect us, sir. We don’t beat you until you give up your valuables, we loot your home and extinguish all your torches as we go. We don’t chase your hauler, we blow up its blade.”
“A fine notion. Don’t call me sir.” Graphus stared past the lamphouse, watching stars appear in the sky. “Thinking of the ingenuity you bring to crime makes me wonder why you went about saving this city in the most conventional way possible.”
“Governor…” Emaria had not yet gotten over the strangeness of sneaking around back alleys with a member of the council. “Nothing else occurred to us. The council has the keys to the Forbidden Expanse. We have the keys to the Clearing. When you’re trying to save a city, you can’t break its laws, right?”
“The laws are wrong,” Graphus said. “I know, because they wouldn’t let me make them. The council was never going to help you–there is only one thing they’re more afraid of than change.”
“I’m not playing their game anymore.” Staever said. “I’m going to the Expanse without permission. Somebody has to do this.”
“Staever, you can’t,” Emaria told him forcefully. “It’s not the Guard out there, it’s the Militia. They’ll shoot you on sight.”
“So there’s no way.”
“Are we finished here?” Eventhe asked.
“Don’t get me started on–“
“There is another way.” Staever made a mental note to ask Graphus how he broke up fights by speaking once.
“Blast through, right?” Arcite spoke faster than the flame in the lamphouse danced in the wind. “Run right over the guards. They’ve got to be getting pretty lazy, out there with nothing to do.”
“Walk through,” Graphus said, as though both he and Arcite were acting perfectly reasonable.
Eventhe stalked around the pavilion. “I do not know if all of us are so capable of moving swiftly and quietly.”
“You’re suggesting we not ask permission, not fight, and not sneak?” Staever couldn’t have been hearing them right. “What’s left?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t ask me what the council fears more than change,” Graphus said.
“Will it answer my question?”
“You will walk onto the Forbidden Expanse,” the governor continued, “and you will do so with all the people of the Eye behind you. If you can’t unseat Crane from his throne, remove everything it sits on, and leave him king of an empty desert. That is what he most fears.”
“What…you mean…you want me to start a rebellion? To get to the Clearing?”
Graphus smiled. “Not a rebellion. An exodus.”
Emaria’s eyes lit up. She’d thought about this before. “You said you have a plan?”
Graphus met her gaze. “Do you have the key?”
She pressed it into the governor’s claw. Graphus turned it over and over, examining different angles, marveling like a child at the play of sparkles over the ancient metal.
“Carry it to the streets. Take turns holding onto it. Don’t wave it around, but make sure as many people see it as possible. Whenever you reveal it, explain what it means. Tell them,” coughing buried his words for a few seconds, “Tell them to follow you. Tell them you’ll show them the way to water.”
“Hold on.” Staever stepped between them. “I want to hurt the council too. I would’ve taken them all right there in the chamber if I could. But I can’t make people follow me into battle. I’d be sending them to their deaths.”
“Not if the Militia came with you,” Graphus said. “The army is also made up of the people.”
Wrest looked at his feet.
Staever edged away from the others while Emaria asked Graphus excited questions. He was not a preacher. He might have been able to stir up a rebellion, given a year’s time and access to twice Arcite’s clay stash, but Graphus was talking about bypassing the fight and removing the entire Eye.
Even if it worked, who would lead them into the Expanse? Staever was only leader of the Cuttlefish because he understood how to keep them from killing each other. He pictured himself stranded high on a mountain pass with ten thousand Arcites, and shivered. His ardor of the past few hours had drained in minutes. It had been a phantom, nothing he was willing to risk his life for, like Graphus evidently was.
“Sorry, Graphus,” he said, “but this isn’t our business. We’ve done what we could.”
Emaria objected at once. “Staever, we voted.”
“We voted on whether to go before the council, and we went before the council.” He took the key back. “We’re getting rid of this thing as soon as I can find someone who’ll take it. It’s too much trouble.”
Other voices joined Emaria’s as she regaled him with all the reasons she’d found in the Library why they couldn’t sell the key. Eventhe’s silence was cold enough to suck the heat from the summer evening, and even Arcite had taken to the idea of revolution with disturbing alacrity. Graphus waited for a lull before he spoke again. “I’m sorry to hear that, Staever.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sorry to say it,” Staever replied with a glance at Emaria, hoping to convey this wasn’t easier for him than it was for her. “There’s no doubt the key is important. But it’ll be important for somebody else.”
“Then you’ll understand when I say I have no more need for your services,” Graphus said.
Staever managed a feeble “What?”
“I paid you all to do what you needed to do to keep this city on its legs. I thought you understood that meant more than stealing glass. I suppose I was wrong.” He turned toward the road on which he’d entered. “Farewell, Staever.”
“Wait!” Staever raced to catch up with him. Wrest and Arcite looked as gobsmacked as he felt, but Emaria, he could have sworn, suppressed a smile.
Graphus stopped at the entrance to the square. “Yes?”
“You’ll never find another gang like us,” Staever said, cutting off Graphus’s escape and looking him in the eyes. “The others all fall apart in a few years. They kill each other for the payoffs, do you understand me?”
“That suits my purposes,” Graphus said. “I’ll hire more. There are always more.”
“No!” Staever couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He respected Graphus, esteemed him above all the other governors. “You won’t be able to trust them.”
“Why not?” Graphus challenged, and it started to dawn on Staever why defiant Emaria wasn’t intervening. “Why is it better the way you do it?”
“This is blackmail.”
“Answer the question!”
“Because we think!” Staever roared. “About the future, and this sea-damned city and how it’s killing everybody in it! We trust each other because the future together matters more than the haul today! We steal for something!”
“I don’t believe you’ll go back to mugging in the streets,” Graphus said.
Staever glared at him. He’s already won. Why does he have to hold that over my head? Everybody knew what he had to say next. He looked for any other option and came up empty.
“If I say yes,” he said, “you want us to sell the Clearing?”
“Not quite,” Graphus replied. “I want you to steal the Eye.”
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