Staever’s back foot caught on a rock and tumbled it into the culvert. The lobsters advanced, swallowing the priest. Staever pressed against the rock as clan after clan converged, hundreds of dry voices shouting at once.
“Where’s the water?”
“You lied to us!”
“We’ll take you down with us!”
“Quiet!” It came out as a squeak his conch couldn’t amplify. He needed water.
The rough rock scraped his tail, then his legs–
–the rock was damp.
Water trickled through the trench, branching into new cracks, mixing with the dust. The first drops were halfway to being mud. Staever drank them as fast as his thirsty shell could.
He risked a look uphill. The dry wash cut through the prairie before jumping up a precipice dark with clouds.
It rains up there, we get it here. Like a canal.
Those at the front pressed close, like Staever was about to perform a magic trick. The roadmen felt the trickle too: they hunched in the mud, grubbing for water, ignoring everyone. He burst past them to climb the cliff. “Move aside! Get out of the ditch, stand higher up!”
Wrest appeared, Emaria behind him, both baffled. Staever sent them off to part the camp while he rushed to and fro–moving tents and fires, setting crews to drag ships clear.
The stream crashed down the mountains, filling a ditch he hadn’t noticed before. The bunches of dead grass must have hidden dormant seeds for this moment.
The mob dispersed into the camp and spread out along the banks, everyone embracing the water. At first, nothing could get past the thirsty lobsters near the mouth of the gully, but then the squall behind the flash flood moved over the plains and opened up the sky.
People carried the sick and weak into the downpour. Rich and poor alike climbed onto the moored sandships, dancing, jumping to get closer to the rain. Children threw it on their parents, who grabbed buckets and bottles and filled them to the brim.
Staever organized those who could carry water, and sent them doubling back to find as many dryout victims as they could. Refugees clapped him on the back and shook his claw as he gave them directions. Half the groups returned within an hour, telling him the long gully watered all but the tail end of the column, and others had beaten them there.
Moments before, his people had nearly torn him apart, but what choice did he have but to forgive them? He hadn’t believed in the monsoons either.
The map sheltered under a scrap of canvas strung up in the camp. This rain would sweep south, over the highlands and plains, into the forests where the Clearing waited to receive them. Only Cyprus, the fearful governor, had been able to dream of it all, knowing he would die without seeing it.
In that downpour, Staever could stand to be Cyprus’s son.
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