The driftwood frames emerged from the cloud of sand and haze, six of them arrayed among the Field’s army. Lobsters loaded three of them with stones and slipped three ropes. The moving parts of the towers sprang up, launching the rocks at the south slope of the city while Arcite, transfixed, followed with his eyes.
Wrest gave Eventhe the helm. The ship rounded the hill, sucking every breath of wind, desperate to gather speed. Ahead, around the arc, Gattick’s stairway came into view, with the old glass pit beneath.
Seeing the dark vault and rickety bridge rammed something back into Staever’s memory. He hadn’t made a clean break from the Eye at all.
“I have to go back,” he said.
“Are you insane?” Arcite wailed. “How many times do I need to explain? They’ll kill you!”
Emaria turned her back on the bombardment. “You can’t. Even for the key.”
“No!” Staever shouted. “Gattick has the key, and I sent my mother looking for him. I put Mom up to this, and I’ve got to get her out safe. Plus, as much as I’d like to let the key drown, we need it.”
“Wait.” Emaria processed this. “How do you know Gattick took the key? And you sent Taiga after him?”
“I wanted her to have something to do besides await my execution. Ev, slow us down.”
“No!” said Arcite and Emaria at the same time. Emaria added, “If Taiga finds us and says Gattick stole the key, we can find him later.”
“Later?” Staever paused by the port rail, twisting to face Emaria. “When he’s got a mob of evacuees to hide behind? We’ll never see him again.” He at the stones falling across the skyline, then at the army off their stern. “This could be the end of the city. Crane and the council have no idea how to handle invasion. If Gattick gets himself buried under a pile of sand somewhere, I’m not going to be the one trying to dig out the sea-damned key!”
“I will slow down for one moment only,” Eventhe said. “I will not endanger this vessel.”
Staever prepared to jump. While he decided how he could land without cracking his shell, Wrest materialized at his side. He had one sword at his belt, and held another out to Staever. “I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not,” Staever told him, though he slid the sword into his belt. “Wrest, I can’t ask more of any of you.”
“One year in the army says Arcite’s right,” Wrest said. “The Field wants to overrun the city. This is about me not trusting Graphus to get my brother and sister out quickly enough. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
Staever tensed on the rail. No time left to argue. “Ev, lean us over!”
Emaria hadn’t moved from his side. To his surprise, she took his claw in hers. She swallowed. “We didn’t steal a ship for you so you could die. Come back.”
“This is my city. They can’t hurt me here.” Staever hoped he sounded confident. “See you over the hill.”
Eventhe steered to port for a split second, long enough for Staever and Wrest to jump. They hit the ground together.
Wrest pointed to the nearest wooden scaffold winding up into the streets. Ahead and above, the Whites were desolate of lobsters. Without a word, the two thieves climbed towards the Eye, as the Field marched on from the south.
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