“Kragn,” Wrest said, “don’t be a fool. We need to get out of here.”
“My men have taken control of those ships, and can go wherever they want. What you need to do now is listen.”
The black shapes squatting on the canyon ridges were real, shouts and thuds echoing from them. I should have been buried alive.
Kragn thrust the metal rod towards him. “Do you know what this is, Lieutenant Wrest? Stealing my journal should have told you.”
“They’re your subjects. They’re for killing.”
“Thievery is an imprecise game. I’ll fill in the parts you missed. We captured these from manatees.”
“Let us through!” someone shouted.
Other lobsters raised a cacophony, pushing against the general’s thin line. The woman carrying her father let him go, making sure he could stand before joining in.
Kragn raised a claw. A surly lobster with one claw lifted his metal wand and twisted an implement jutting from its base.
A jet of light leapt from the tip, lighting the cloud blue. It didn’t have far to travel. Anger turned to surprise on the young woman’s face. The next instant, as though engulfed by the dust, she was gone.
Like lightning. That old weather legend.
“There’s no limit to how many times I can do that,” Kragn said. “Nobody will pass without my approval.”
The walls showered them with pebbles. Some screamed, others shielded them, but nobody was brave enough to approach the general.
A dark hole formed inside Wrest. He should have killed Kragn, not pranced around stealing from him.
“I lead this expedition now,” the general said. “I revoke the powers of the thieves and will treat them as the criminals they are.”
Wrest managed to say, “We’ll see how that goes when Staever gets back.” Whether by the murderous staffs or the disintegrated bits of the canyon walls, the others were too scared to agree.
“If anyone objects, they may take their chances scaling the walls,” Kragn continued like he hadn’t heard.
As though on cue, a whole embankment shifted, dumping a raft of pebbles, burying lobsters to their thoraxes. More screams, and a sulphurous smell, as loved ones pulled each other clear. It occurred to Wrest that Emaria, at the back, might not know what was happening.
“This is pathetic,” said the gunner on the other side of Kragn: Shael.
“Cover your targets, Shael,” Kragn answered. “Give them time.”
“Time for what?” Shael burst out. “You told me you were going to give them a choice.”
“The choice is to submit or die. I’m not interested in bringing dissenters to the Clearing.”
The hole in Wrest’s gut grew. The Clearing. His failure would keep rolling until it ate up everything the Cuttlefish dreamed of.
“Shael, if you object to not being given the choice yourself, lay the wand down. In fact,” Kragn searched the row, “give your weapon to Lieutenant Wrest. He knows how to use it.”
“You can’t.” Wrest blurted, “I’ll never–”
Magnam pointed his staff at Wrest. Its tip crackled with blue sparks. Wrest’s mouth closed.
Kragn stepped close. “You stole from me. Be grateful the sentence is this light. I intend to be harsher on thieves than my predecessors.”
You stole from me, Wrest wanted to say. You invaded my memory, you broke my family, you took a year of my life.
“Wrest!” shouted a boy’s voice from high on the cliff. “Wrest, don’t do it!”
Wrest clenched his mouth, closed his eyes. Wier’s calls mixed with the screams in his head.
“Count of three,” Magnam said.
The battlefield mindset took over. A commanding officer had given him an order. He could only remain safe by obeying.
He walked forward. Shael whispered an apology, touching Wrest’s claw as he passed the weapon.
Kragn, Magnam, and Wrest covered the pass with the rods. The first lobsters submitted to Kragn’s will with a quick “yes,” hurrying forth to safety.
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