Somewhere in the billowing smoke cloud, a guardsman blew three short blasts on his own conch: the signal for danger, loud enough for any approaching vessel to hear.

Every muscle in Emaria’s body tensed. The ship would have heard. But it had too much momentum to stop, and no space to turn around.

“Emaria!” someone shouted below, followed by a higher voice calling “Eventhe!”

“Up here!”

She slid down the ladder. Arcite and Wrest met her.

The newcomer vessel, the target, was smaller than any in the compound. The pilot had a steering pole out, and planted it the instant his blade crossed the edge of the ramp. His ship wheeled into a sliding turn. This brought it near enough to the mooring berths for Eventhe to leap from a deck and throw herself at the hull.

She missed the ladder, but hooked her claws into the gaps in the boards and climbed. Vaulting aboard, tossing the terrified pilot into the dirt, she grasped his pole and held on to keep the ship upright. Emaria, Wrest, and Arcite ran toward her.

Conches answered conches as the entire barracks awoke. Emaria saw them converging, armed with everything she saw in her nightmares of jobs gone wrong–shell blades, bows, red clay satchels.

Wrest was the second aboard. He raced to the wheel while Arcite measured out a piece of yellow clay. “Ready?”

“Wait for Emaria!” Arrows struck the helm. Wrest ducked behind it, flicking levers for the blade treads.

“Red clay!” the coughing swordsman shouted. “Better to blow her up!”

Lobsters flooded into the open space. Emaria was aboard before she could understand how terrified she was. “Arcite! Now!”

Arcite dropped the clay. The treads propelled the vessel with the planted pole as a pivot. When the prow pointed towards the desert, Eventhe lifted the pole, Wrest centered the wheel, and the Cuttlefish soared off down the ramp, while the red clay clusters thrown by the guards popped and fizzled like fireworks on Springtide’s Day.

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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