Halfway to the balcony, Staever stopped them both again. The door, with its carvings of Khalis, stood ajar, swaying in the breeze.

He remembered the soldiers, marching in their column right below. The Field rebels made little sound of their own, lost in private fears. Only their dragging feet disturbed the silence.

This was a stealth job. He signed to Wrest, I’ll go first. Blind spot inside second room.

How do you know?

Fallen for it before.

Past the door, his mother struggled to rise from a wooden bench stained blue with blood. His instincts saved him, the thief in his head telling him Gattick had moved her to keep him from checking the bedroom.

He threw his blade up to catch Gattick’s downward thrust and cut at the fence’s head. Gattick parried, snarling, his surprise ruined. In one of his back legs he clutched the key.

Staever drove Gattick towards the back room, kicking the front door open with his tail.

Wrest barreled past and tackled Gattick. The fence sprawled on the bed of soft sand, but slipped under Wrest’s claws and bolted for the swinging door.

Staever whipped his sword at Gattick again, but Gattick caught it and wrenched it out of his claw. It slid across the floor and hit the leg of the bench where Taiga lay. As Staever watched for a second too long, the fence burst through the door onto the bridge.

Wrest hurtled through in pursuit. Taiga, her claws moving sluggishly, signaled to him with signs she’d taught the Cuttlefish.

Go. You can’t let him have it.

I won’t leave you.

I’ll still be here.

Outside, the Field continued to march. Wrest and Gattick faced each other down in silent tableau. Gattick held a sword in one claw and the key in the other, over the street full of soldiers. He needed no signs to say one step closer, and I’ll give it to them.

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