Emaria sprinted the instant she heard Wrest and Arcite discovered. She lost Eventhe in the darkness, right as a stout mooring pole, wielded by a mate aboard one of the vessels, jabbed into the ground a pace behind her. She veered left to escape, heart in her throat. Another shadow, armed with a blade, approached through the gap.

Acting on instinct, she scaled the footholds carved in the wood next to her. A sharp edge nicked her tail. Her attacker threw down his sword to climb.

She jumped onto a deck piled high with sacks, each one marked with its contents: building sand. A throaty curse came from halfway up the ladder. Emaria set her claws under a pile of bags near the footholds. It was heavier than it looked.

The lobster’s head appeared at the top of the ladder. With a final heave, she upended the sandbags. The lobster unhooked his claws quickly enough to avoid them. He wasn’t nimble enough to land on his feet.

Emaria peeked over the rail to see his crumpled form lying in the dirt, groaning. She slid down to hide amid the cargo, gasping for breath, listening hard for her companions.

A long, mournful conch note rang from along the ramp to the desert, followed by a crescendoing slice of wood through sand. The ship was on its blade, under wind power, treads and propellers both retracted.

Hardly daring to breathe, Emaria crept to the bow, removing her conch from her satchel. A deck lamp flared to life in the night.

She blew a long note in response, granting permission to approach. Since the guards were indisposed dealing with intruders, it was only courtesy to shoulder their labor.

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