Arcite shoved his way through the watering-pool square, baking from the heat of so many lobsters packed together, trying to figure out what to say. At each of the pool’s four corners, guards wrangled the morning water-seekers into queues. A sea-priest, from the shade of a tiny shack, blessed the bounty the ocean had sent. Arcite stifled a laugh by turning it into a cough, not a difficult sound to hide.
“You know this place can’t last much longer, ma’am,” he said to the woman next to him, who was carrying two young larvae on her back. “This hole is drying up. It’s already at less than half. If you follow the key–”
The woman slapped Arcite across the face. “My children know that much. Next teach me the sky is blue, O prophet.”
She scuttled to another line. Arcite rubbed his eye as Eventhe sidled up. “You need assistance.”
“From you? I already tried threatening to knock them senseless. Didn’t work.”
“I am perhaps less suited to this than you.” He’d never seen her less comfortable.
“Well, this is the longest conversation I’ve had since we started. Want to try some more?”
Eventhe glared. “We are not here to talk with each other.”
Arcite felt light shoves from the throng, trying to sort him into a line. He disentangled himself, stalking to a quieter spot under the walls.
To his surprise, Eventhe followed. The few lobsters around them covered their full buckets defensively.
“Are you going along with this?” he asked. “Crusading?”
Eventhe watched the priest step out of his shelter and try to cut into the front of the nearest line. The Guard shoved him, and he stumbled backwards into the sand.
“This is not what I voted for,” she told him. “Petitions. Campaigns. I understood we were to go to the Forbidden Expanse ourselves, and make the Clearing our own.”
Arcite pictured himself living in a tower the size of the Pupil, with only Eventhe for company. “Why don’t you?”
“Foolish.” She scuffed a leg in the dirt. “I only fight when I have already won. Fighting past the Expanse alone, I have lost.”
“Hey, Ev.” Arcite lit up. “Do you want to go for a walk? Stroll around the water plaza and pretend to be normal for a little while?”
Eventhe adjusted her mask. “I fail to see the appeal.”
“Of course you don’t. You’ve never tried.” He set off, staying to the right to avoid foot traffic. “Don’t jump or roll or anything. Walk.”
Eventhe fell into step beside him. They walked in silence. The heat oppressed them, and Arcite was soon sweating.
“So, tell me about the mines,” he said.
The mask scrunched, like a furrowing brow. “There is nothing to tell. The work was dangerous and dull. I left as soon as I could.”
“Something must have happened. Did you–”
Her right claw lashed out and pulled him into a chokehold. Gagging, he saw they were attracting stares. “Now wouldn’t be a bad time to talk about the key…”
“I worked,” Eventhe said. The fabric of the mask brushed his face. “I grew strong. I left. Do not ask me again.”
She thrust him away. As she stalked off, a Guard appeared across the crowd, rushing toward her. Arcite swore. On top of everything, they were going to get kicked out of the plaza.
But the policeman barreled right past them, fast enough to scatter sand. He said something inaudible two of the guards keeping order in the lines. These two gathered the others in the square, and the whole phalanx marched for an exit, blades at the ready.
The lobsters waiting with buckets cheered. Led by the disgruntled priest, they leapt one by one into the watering hole, crowding it to the brim.
Eventhe ran back to Arcite. “Where are the others?”
He tried to remember. “We came northeast to get here.”
“The Guard headed southwest.” Eventhe broke into a run.
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