A trail of blood marked Taiga’s path to the bedroom door. She lay in the arch, drawing shallow breaths.

Staever walked her to her bed like he’d done only a few days before. A lump in his throat made him want to choke, but he refused. She can cry, not me. Not the last thing she’ll see.

“Is it bad?” Taiga managed a grin.

Staever’s breath caught. “Better than it looks.”

“My time’s been coming for a while. I don’t want you to sit here mourning. I want you to go.”

“I can get help.”

“I said listen,” Taiga said. “The continent’s hit a crossroads. You can save these people, Staever.”

For half his life, he’d thought a thief was responsible only for himself. As he got older, he learned the lives of his gang depended on him too. But an entire city…

He couldn’t bear to, and he couldn’t bear not to. Taiga was right. He’d fought the council, and he had the key. Who else was there?

“What if Kragn wins?” he asked. “What if nothing changes?”

“Then go, with as many as you can, while he can’t spare soldiers to guard the Forbidden Expanse. Bring them three at a time if you have to.”

Her eyes were losing focus. She was echoing Graphus.

“There’s something else.” Staever cradled her head, like his claws could breathe life into it. “Cyprus travelled after he left me…farther than he ever told anyone…except…”

Her mouth twitched with the ghost of a happy memory, pleasant for dying on a summer day.

“I did see him,” she said. “Once or twice more.”

The scroll was coming apart at the seams. Part of its pattern he knew, the landscape around the Eye. But there was more. “A map?”

“Look closer.”

Lines swept across the land in wide arcs and spirals. Every one was marked with numbers, increasing as they moved east to west.

“They’re dates. Mom, what does this mean?”

Taiga lurched into a coughing fit. “The…weather…”

“Don’t talk,” Staever pulled her closer. “Not if it hurts.”

She had no strength left. Sea-scripture jumped into his head, and he recited, hot tears staining his face as he talked her out of the world.

“Lobsters came from the sea, but the sea did not leave lobsters. As the sky, it watches over us and protects us. It refreshes us when we grow weary and it calms us when we fall ill. When we are ready, it takes us into its embrace, and those of us it did not take may rejoice for we know a long gale has ended, a harsh wind will blow no more…”

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