A cloud of dust hovered in the southern sky. The desert, maybe, toying with his mind. Kragn made a rapid sweep for other mirages. They appeared in groups.

The Eye lay to the north. West of his watchtower was the sea. On the landward side, the sun set over the Forbidden Expanse, and the tents of the lonely soldiers stationed to guard the end of the world.

No mirages. Yet the cloud of dust hovered.

Kragn’s watchtower rose as high as the dome of the city, so descending the spiral staircase gave him plenty of time to think. Shael, the young lieutenant, waited at the bottom.

“Did you verify the reports, General?” he asked, after Kragn put him at ease. The grit of a desert patrol streaked his mottled beige uniform.

“As closely as I could.” Kragn walked past Shael, who followed cautiously.

“You believe–”

Kragn halted in the road, and Shael nearly walked into the general’s formidable bulk.

“Lieutenant, I may question my own judgment, but never my scout’s. The Field is on the move.”

“Our troops can be marshalled within…”

Kragn stopped behind his sled. The two crabs tied to it dug nervously at the ground as he produced his flint. “Somehow the rebels uncovered our plans. Our luxury of time is gone.”

“General, do you assess…” Shael dithered beside the sled. “Are they capable of doing any serious damage to us?”

“I have dispatched the scouts to the council, asking for authorization to push up the invasion date.” Kragn glared. Shael was not getting a lift to the city. “Crane pays lip service to protecting the city. We’ll see if he knows what that means.”

He struck the two flint rocks together over the back of each crab, jolting them to life in turn. Issuing eerie, keening screams, they tore off along the thoroughfare, leaving Shael coughing and gritty-eyed in their wake.

A breathless scout flagged Kragn down at the outer reaches. Though wheezing from thirst, the boy delivered his report of the council’s decision: Crane required a militia detachment to maintain order at the execution of a known thief. He intended to make an example of the criminal, but worried about unrest in the Whites. Since Xander’s latest assault, some of the rabble had thrown rocks at guard posts, forced patrolmen out of the water plazas.

Kragn roared loud enough to startle his steeds back into a run, and sped up the ramp toward the Pupil.

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