Eventhe trailed prints through the mud left by the monsoon, leading Arcite and Staever. Occasionally she stopped in the middle of a vortex of footprints and reorient herself. The lack of bodies on the path heartened Staever–the rain must have overtaken them as they beat their way northeast.

But it perturbed him as well. If Xander’s clan had drunk their fill, why hadn’t they turned around? Were they under Xander’s power, or afraid of something else?

The scrub fell away, then the dirt, leaving the trio on rocky trails. The blade-edge of the mountains hove into view, growing gloomy as the sun set under clouds. Eventhe had to spend more time picking scratches out of the natural marks on the surface of the rock. Arcite kicked pebbles over cliffs and hummed to himself.

“Can you shut up?” Staever asked after a few minutes.

“You got it.” Arcite fell silent. The only sound was their feet crunching on the path and water sloshing in their skins. The quiet got Staever thinking about how little he’d planned this. What if Xander was setting up an ambush?

“Changed my mind. Start humming again.”

“Don’t know what you want from me, boss,” Arcite said, and quickened to join Eventhe.

Sunset ended too soon, leaving them in the grip of a chill. They kept warm by marching in place while Eventhe searched for signs. Staever was too unnerved, Eventhe too disciplined, and Arcite too outvoted to rest.

The Land Moon was high above them, and the valleys had deepened into canyons, when Staever called a halt. Eventhe reminded him of Xander’s headstart.

“If we get too tired we’ll lose time,” Staever declared. “Besides, three can always move faster than a hundred.”

The plateau was smooth from eons of wind and whipping rain. Prospects for a warm hollow were bleak. The others wandered ahead.

Soon Eventhe called his name. Arcite’s voice floated down as well: “Boss, come check this out!”

They’d stepped down to a ledge on the side of the plateau. Staever followed their calls, then stopped in his tracks.

A bridge spanned the chasm: springing from their ledge to a lower plateau hundreds of paces away. It was made of a patchwork of materials–a packed-sand body with rock struts bored into the opposite faces, supporting the center.

Staever held his breath: from the bridge, the sweep of rock seemed an ocean, mountains tumbling over each other like a storm frozen at its peak. He, Arcite, and Eventhe became castaways, clinging to the shore, fearing their first steps into the void.

“There’s yellow clay here somewhere,” Arcite said.

Staever agreed. There was no other way the bridge could stay up. It floated on air.

Arcite grabbed Eventhe by her claw and pulled her onto the bridge, forcing Staever to chase them both over empty space. At once, the thought of rest disappeared. A third of the way along, two shadows twisted as Eventhe let go of Arcite’s claw and hurtled down the bridge. Arcite skidded after her, his footing awkward. Eventhe turned around, and lifted her mask enough for Staever to tell she was grinning. The emptiness around her entered her. The air made her whole. He’d ever seen her move so fast without a target ahead.

Staever ran like he was treading on nothing. If only Emaria could see this. The grandeur of the Clearing, right here in the sky. Turner himself might have been here.

Halfway along, he saw another bridge leap out near this one’s end. Other spars of sand connected the next plateaus: an aerial network so large the Land Moon could not show it all.

At the end of the bridge he found Eventhe and Arcite in a notch of the rock, lying against each other. Arcite snored. Staever dropped nearby, shut his eyes, and slept.

***

Eventhe watched Staever fall asleep, Arcite’s weight against her, her shell warm where he’d laid his head. Only when she was certain both were asleep, certain the alcove was safe and concealed, did she drift off, listening to Arcite breathe.

If you liked this chapter, check out the rewards available on my Patreon! I’m a self-supported writer, and even $1 a month helps.

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