Staever, Wrest, Graphus, Alta, and Wier stuck to the Iris, passing empty craft shops with shell cobbled into the walls. Staever clung bareback to one of the crabs–the sled had only proven large enough for Graphus and the siblings. He went airborne every time they jumped a step.
He couldn’t look away from the ruins. With its squares empty, its spiral towers broken off at their midsections, the Eye looked three times the horror it had been. Nausea pushed up through his throat.
On a north-sloping road, he heard the clash of swords and the clatter of skeleton against skeleton. Graphus pulled to a halt.
“The counterattack.” Wrest jumped off the sled and scampered up to a balcony for a better view.
“Do you see a way through?” Graphus asked.
Wrest shook his head. Staever gulped mouthfuls of air, but the ground refused to stop spinning.
“I need the full picture.” Wrest took his place between Weir and Alta, who looked as though their claws would need to be pried off the raft. “The only big enough gap is the highway. Can we get there?”
“Left, right, left, right.” Staever sketched the alleys in the air. “Bit of a squeeze in this thing, but possible. Is the way clear?”
“If it’s not, we’ll hide until it is,” said Graphus. Staever clambered onto the other crab, hoping for a smoother ride.
The northern road was empty when the sled arrived, so Wrest called another halt, hitting the ground before they stopped. Staever tiptoed after him, expecting to find the Field still cramming the lower end. But everyone but them had reached the desert. He could see the Eye and Field in spaces framed by the market bridges.
“Sea preserve us,” he said.
It was a slaughter, not a battle, and he couldn’t tell who was dying. The Field’s desert armor rendered them invisible, so the Eye Militia swung their swords at a malevolent wind, dying by paces. Survivors massed awfully close to the sea of civilians, who were hiding behind the wagons and ships they’d escaped with.
Wrest gestured movements for both sides. “We give them a wide berth. Cut left, toward the sea. Watch for an opening to slip back into the crowd.”
“Or we could wait for somebody to win,” Staever said.
Wrest and Graphus both looked askance at him. “What do you mean?” Wrest asked.
“The Field isn’t here for killing, and they don’t want hostages. They want to break us, to ensure we’ll never start anything again. We’re not soldiers. We stand a chance of getting out.” They could hide their swords before talking to anybody from the Field, then drop to their bellies and beg. With the Field in charge and the council deposed, he and his friends could walk free, and pick up the pieces of his shattered thieving operation.
“How will they ensure that without a statement?” Graphus gazed down at the battle. “Did you forget who you’re travelling with? I’m important enough to threaten all of us.”
“Plus we can’t stay here.” Wrest wrenched his eyes from the fight. “Kragn is most dangerous when he’s cornered, and he sure as sea is cornered down there. The Field could retreat. Or shoot boulders at the north arc this time.”
The children watched them from the sled. “They’re in stalemate,” Staever said. “We’ve got time.”
“Not much. The sun is already…” Wrest broke off. “That can’t be right. It’s afternoon.”
Alta pointed through the skyline. “Something’s blocking out the sun.”
Staever could still see the sun, but as glittering points of light scattering over the surface of an object in front of it. The thing was a perfectly smooth ellipse, large enough for its shadow to spill over the desert. It hung above the sea, and as he watched, grew larger, closer.
“What’s going on?” Wier tugged at his cloak. “The sea’s flying?”
“No,” Staever told him. “Something’s flying it.”
The ellipse hovered closer, revealing rows of dark shapes within: lacking claws or limbs, but alive. Nausea hit Staever again. He searched for scripture, but none came. Priests had never imagined the sea, creator of life, could be yoked and harnessed.
The craft contorted as it banked south, its long side and its pilots facing the five on the Eye hill.
“In all my days,” Graphus said, “Nothing has made me wonder like this.”
“It’s the Field!” shouted Wier. “They have some other new weapon.”
“What makes you think it’s a weapon?” Wrest said. “It’s not armed.”
“If it’s not the Field, is it someone here to save us?” Alta asked.
“Perhaps,” Graphus told her, “though whatever the reason, we may not be standing in the best place.”
The sun passed through the edge of the watery ellipse and shone on their faces.
“It’s going to pass us,” Wrest said.
“No it isn’t.” The sun was hot in Staever’s eyes. “It won’t. It’s here for us. It took the sea and it’s here for us.”
The watercraft slid to a halt. One of the pilots touched an object that glowed yellow. Orbs of water fell from the craft, probes shot into the Eye.
The drops hit a market bridge, staining it dark. The bridge warped, sagged, and collapsed in a heap.
What makes you think it’s a weapon? Wrest asked in Staever’s head. Easy, he answered. They have a waterfall. We have sand.
“We’ve got to go, now!” Staever jumped back onto the crab.
“Into the battle?” Wrest climbed onto the sled, and Wier and Alta huddled close to him. “You wanted to wait.”
The watercraft came to a stop again, this time over the Pupil, revealing the pilots: creatures without exoskeletons, with shapeless grey bodies.
“Manatees,” Graphus said.
Then those glowing things are coral. Every manatee now worked his tools. Grazing the top of the Pupil tower, the craft contorted for the last time, shedding its elliptical shape.
The sea roared out, a cascade like ten canals bursting their banks, drenching the Pupil tower, staining the gold-brown walls. The gardens sagged. Sand engulfed the rainbow kelp. Arches drooped, and seconds later, the grand edifice leaned, like a broken landship blade.
“Drive!” Staever shouted at Graphus. He and Wrest drew swords, Wrest enfolding Alta and Wier with the other arm. Graphus snapped the reins.
“Whatever happens, keep going!” Staever clug to his crab as they tore down the slope. “For the love of the sea, do not stop!”