The Limit

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

Staever hurried along the harborfront, rain lashing his face. He’d yet to meet any of the engineers–perhaps Arcite had drawn them all.

The storm rolled over the Clearing, warping the city into the landscape of nightmare. He’d sprinted the length of King’s Clearing, but he could not stop. Not when Emaria was alone.

He stepped on a gap in the tile, twisted his foreleg, and dropped, fighting for breath. Gulps of air rattled. His lungs ached like they’d been stabbed. A short rest. Count of ten.

Ten came. Then another ten. Each left him wearier.

He forced himself to remember the desert pit, how one drop of water gave him the strength to fight on. He gulped rain, but the second wind stayed away.

He’d fallen next to a low seawall, a lobster-height from the cauldron. The yellow clay bubbled, whipped into a froth by the storm. He could touch it from where he lay.

Touch it…

If water couldn’t keep him running, maybe something else could.

No. I’ve never been dosed. Even when I got the graft.

He could see the dam. Spray washed across the top, falling into the enclosure, where the yellow clay consumed it. One shadow, slender and compact, backed along the walkway, with a larger shadow advancing.

Staever reached below the seawall and scooped out yellow clay, rubbing it on his thorax until it couldn’t be undone. It felt clammy, and smelled worse, but dissolved into his bones.

He began to walk, then run.

He shrugged his drenched cloak from his back as he reached the headland, ablaze from within. Why had he never used medicine clay before? Whenever he’d gotten his claws on any in the Eye, he’d sold it for fuel. Unforgivably stupid. He could have broken into sixth-story windows with this kind of energy, scaled the Pupil itself, stopped glass-haulers with his claws. If he’d persuaded the rest of the gang…

As sand gave way to dam, he drew his sword, bearing down on Emaria and the engineer. No doubt he’d get there in time. With the yellow clay, he could run as fast as a wave.

The shadows grew larger. The engineer turned from Emaria.

Recognizing the Architect didn’t slow Staever down. He’d built his life on the idea that a deranged thief charging and waving a sword would surprise even an immortal abomination, and saw no reason to lose faith.

He ran until Turner flew into him, breaking his strength, paralyzing his legs, struggled against his every move. The rain died, the thunder shut off. For the second time today, the world went dark.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Advertisements

Ancient Eyes

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

Emaria saw the rolling watercraft as a half-dome sliver atop the city walls. If the manatees were invading, whoever survived would run for shelter inside the Clearing. They’d meet Turner and his engineers, ranting about their awakening.

The dam was framed by packed sand, like most of the city, but she could also see a wooden frame under the seawall. Steeling her will against the thought of Wrest and Alta and Wier slaughtered and laid out on the dunes, Emaria drew on everything she knew about yellow clay. Way back in the Eye, Arcite had demonstrated how it could be set alight with flint, but he’d skimped on details. Instead of setting a fire, was she about to turn the whole harbor into a bomb?

Arcite had to be close–he’d be able to explain. She hurried to the center of the dam, to see people coming from the farthest possible distance in both directions, then tripped over a wooden crossbar, bruising her chin. Annoyed at being caught off guard, she turned around to examine the protruding spar, and saw a shadow.

The lobster raised a claw in greeting, and said something a rumble of thunder swallowed. Should Arcite have been alone? Weren’t Eventhe and Staever and two dozen Militia with him?

She tensed to run. It had to be an engineer stalking toward her now, saving its breath, perfectly efficient.

“You won’t destroy it,” the lobster called.

Arcite would never say something can’t be set on fire.

Yet it had spoken, unnecessarily.

“Tell me who built the dam,” said the lobster, his voice raised over the weather but calm. He closed the distance with blinding speed, unchecked by wind or rain, like he himself was part of the storm.

“Tell me who built this!”

Rage flooded his ancient eyes. Turner’s veneer was washed clean. His skeleton had grown dark with old scars: two hundred years of cuts, healed by yellow clay but recorded, Turner’s bones a canvas of suffering.

His breath was on Emaria’s face. She hid the piece of red clay under her claw.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

The Battle of the Storm

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

Wrest caught a glimpse of Thesal’s flank sweeping north before his army hit the manatee line. Frigid water splashed across his sword arm, and a deep-green blade swung at his head. He ducked, wrenched his arm from the sphere, backed away from an advancing manatee.

“Don’t let them trap you!” Wrest shouted. “If you’re in the water, you’re dead!”

Others cried the same. His opponent had strapped pilot coral to his tail, and manipulated it so the front of the sphere conformed to his body, allowing him to breathe and fight at the same time. His metal staff floated behind him.

“Hold steady!” Thesal’s voice drifted, conch-amplified. “Do not give a pace!”

Wrest was beyond fear. He’d been a fool not to embrace the love of the fight born in him. Battles were the center of history.

He thrust at the manatee’s heart. The manatee knocked his sword out of the way lazily enough to enrage him. His lunges became fast, erratic, throwing his enemy’s balance.

The soldiers to his left and right had fallen away. His line was broken, but the manatees were split too, everything slipping apart in the sodden sands. The fighter he’d charged beside died close by. Wrest saw no blood. The lobster was swallowed by the storm.

His blade caught the manatee’s, shell screeched on coral, and they wrestled face-to-face. The manatee’s strength equaled his own–some part of Wrest had expected them to be gods. Mobs formed around them, both sides pushing for advantage, lobsters taking the worst.

“All fall back! Reform at the second line!” Wrest commanded.

The manatee took a flipper off his sword, reaching for a dagger of the same dark green coral. Wrest dove forward into the water, caught the manatee around the throat, and shoved his tail out of the back of the sphere, taking the coral with it.

The water disintegrated. The manatee lay in the sand, gasping for air that wouldn’t come, reaching for his wand.

The clash of swords, the wash of rain, the shouts of Corin and Thesal merged into a dull roar. The manatee looked into his eyes, the thing which had been his enemy, pleading.

If he did not kill the manatee, it would drown in the air–yet his bloodlust failed him. He’d rushed into battle drunk, and awakened afraid and alone.

He was powerless to change history. He couldn’t touch his own fate.

A shell-blade struck home. Eryle the huntress planted a foreleg on the body and freed her sword. “General, you all right?”

“I–” Eryle’s gaze bored into him. “Yes. Thank you.”

“I got word from Nodens. The first army hit heavy resistance trying to gain ground seaward. Corin’s going to rendezvous with us at the fallback line.” She glanced at the metal staff. “Going to take that?”

“Won’t work. They all have them. One absorbs one.”

“Can’t hurt.” Eryle scooped up the weapon. Wrest lost sight of her as she yelled, “I’ll see you on the rampart!”

Keep moving. Stillness let sorrow enter and roost. When he’d fought Kragn, he’d hardly slowed, but the loyalists had died quickly, and none empty-clawed.

He ran from the sea, searching for the fallback behind the hasty sandworks. In front of the civilians.

“Hold your dunes! Defend the Clearing!”

Wrest was not certain if he or Corin or Thesal had shouted. A wall of combat blocked his way, lobsters and manatees splashed with mud, bleeding red and blue. Two lobsters were caught up at the end, water from a hunter’s sphere reaching out to drown them.

He could save them. Letting out a wail, he brought his greatblade down. The manatee shunted his sphere clear, and the sword squelched into mud.

The manatee turned. Scars lined his cheeks. He had a pilot coral in each flipper, and a ring of daggers floating around his midsection–a warrior to be feared, a killer, on a battlefield where most were survivors.

Wrest heaved his blade from the soaking sand, upwards into the sphere. The manatee diverted the surface. Wrest hit air. He cut again, and the water closed on his sword.

The sphere spun. Angular momentum grasped Wrest’s blade and pulled it from his claws. The two corals must allow that trick, Wrest thought, before instinct replaced thought.

Get it. Get the sword. He splashed into the sphere, up to his eyes like with the other, stopping when the cold edge of a dagger touched his throat.

“Do it!” Wrest shouted. “Stick me like you stuck the others!”

“You command them, don’t you?”

“Sea damn you, if you’re not going to kill me, give me my sword back!”

The sphere rushed away, and his greatblade fell in the sand, revealing this fighter’s blue-light wand.

“Order your forces to yield,” the manatee said. “Take them to shelter outside the city.”

“Why won’t you use them? Because of the awakening?”

“Go, General. There is still time.”

Wrest’s claw found his sword, but nothing to hit: the manatee was gliding seaward. All around, the spheres retreated. Some remained to fight the lobsters who pursued, but others drifted over the beach as deliberately as they’d first emerged. Each had his or her movements synchronized with all the others, nearing the river or the sea–

–clearing, in the center of the battlefield, a wide open space.

Racing up a dune, he saw Thesal’s third army in disarray. Some had charged, not noticing the obvious trap–waded through the dunes to strike at the backs of the manatees. They killed a few. The manatees routed them in turn until the trickles between the dunes ran with blood.

The manatees had gotten what they wanted: a tired enemy, and a swift end. His resistance had been a mere distraction. They’d opened a chance to spring their trap.

Wrest’s greatsword rested on the ground, shaking in his claws. Someone shouted to him, but he did not hear, watching the dark sea rise.

The watercraft drifted towards the beach, lower half dragging in the surf. Unlike the one at the Eye, this craft was too heavy to soar. Not that it mattered. A bolt of lightning struck it, diffusing an electric web around the colossal surface.

“Retreat to the civilians!” Wrest ordered. Lobsters poured from the sandwork, running for the ones they loved. “Protect them with your lives!”

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Staever and his Thieves

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

A breeze coaxed Staever to his senses. Every bit of him ached. Something heavy sat on his left claw.

Sea damn it all, I’m alive.

He opened his eyes. The light was too weak to see what had him trapped.

A bolt of lightning flashed out at sea, shedding brief light. He was lying in a gap in the rubble barely larger than he was. His eyes adjusted to thin light from a crescent-shaped gap where the foundation had shifted. He must have fallen through the floor after the ceiling knocked him out.

He tugged on his left arm. No good.

Dark clouds piled up outside. It could be any time of night. Any night.

Staever had to twist uncomfortably to reach the chunk of sand trapping him. Grimacing as he held himself in place, he pushed with his right claw. He’d barely budged the sand before he dropped back to the ground, unable to stay upright.

I’m grateful she saved me, but Ev’s not the type to think three moves ahead. Speaking of which, where was she?

He didn’t move for a moments, sucking in wet air through the vent. A raindrop fell on him.

Someone shouted. He lifted his head. The engineers didn’t say “hey.”

“Eventhe! Staever! Eventhe!

He found his voice. “Arcite! In here!”

The footsteps stopped, confused. “Where?”

“Under the tower.” He massaged the stem of his left claw. The pain was intense, but a claw that hurt was one he could use. Letting it numb scared him.

“Where under the tower?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see anything! Look for a hole.”

Blocks shifted above, Arcite digging for him. He said, “I can see some sky.”

The digging stopped. Arcite’s face appeared in the gap. “You shouldn’t be alive,” he said bluntly. “This building is eating itself.”

“It looked worse from inside,” Staever grunted. “Help me move this.”

“Right.” Arcite thrust his claws through the gap.

Staever rolled over again, and forced his weight against the block while Arcite shoved from outside. It teetered, flipped on its edge, and landed with a scrape of protest. Staever tried to lift his freed claw. The feeling was gone.

Arcite offered his claw, and Staever took it, stuffing himself through the opening. Massaging his dead arm, he saw he’d been under the ocean side of the tower. They stood on the narrow path over ten-pace waves which burst forth to batter themselves against the rocks. Staever pulled his cloak tighter. He hadn’t realized how hard it was raining.

He asked, “Where’s Em?” at the same time Arcite asked, “What happened to Eventhe?”

They both paused. “Ev first,” Arcite insisted.

“Fine,” Staever said, though his own question burned. He felt a tingle in his injured claw. “She couldn’t fight the engineers, so she fought the building. You know how she can meditate and kind of store up power?”

Arcite nodded.

“This was longer than I’ve ever seen her meditate.”

“I don’t understand.” Arcite’s claws were on the wand. “Why drop you through six floors? Why put herself in danger?”

“To buy time against the engineers. She must have known part of the room could survive the fall.”

“How? She never goes inside!”

“Probably from hanging out with you,” Staever said. Arcite rocked on his back legs, staring around, capable of taking the Clearing apart with a good enough reason. “Maybe she didn’t killed them, but they’ll have fun digging out of all this.”

“Fine.” Arcite paced. “Where is she now?”

“I don’t know. We got separated when she did it.”

Arcite started along the path, calling Eventhe’s name. “Quiet!” Staever hissed, following. “I’m not betting on how long the rubble holds them down.”

“I don’t care what they hear.”

“They’re not all under there! Ev and I heard Turner before we ran. There are more in the city, and one supposedly doesn’t belong, which hardly makes me feel better.”

“Always with the shushing,” Arcite said. “You and Emaria–” He stopped short. Staever ran into his back, shunting them both onto safer ground. “You wanted to know where she was.”

“Yes. But quietly.” No engineers on the street, but a hundred hiding places, a road bristling with blind alleys and half-curtained by rain.

“I saw her before the tower fell. She took a crab-sled to the harbor.”

“Why would she go to the harbor?”

“She had some idea about burning off the clay. I told her it might have been plausible, and she rode off before I could explain all the reasons it wasn’t.”

“Burning off the clay.” To demoralize Turner, or to distract him? “I’d better find out from her.”

Arcite was not listening. His attention was fixed on part of the street, where something floated in a puddle. He walked over and lifted out Eventhe’s mask.

She made it this far.

“She never leaves it behind,” Arcite stammered. “You can’t leave your own face.”

Staever scanned the ground. “Look.”

A snarl of footprints surrounded the puddle. The wet ground left two sets of tracks as clear as words on a scroll: one from a lobster with small feet, walking unevenly, injured. The other gargantuan, larger than the engineers’. These came from a shadowed garden and led away the other set away, as the latter became a gouge, vanishing around a corner.

“These aren’t her footprints. They’re too weird.” Arcite examined the long cut. “Maybe she dug this to trick them?”

“Then who left the tracks?”

“Maybe she caught one.”

Arcite would never believe him. He hadn’t seen Eventhe bucking in the engineer’s grasp. “They took her.”

“You can’t capture Ev. She’d die first.”

Arcite clapped his mouth shut, regretting right away what he’d said. Staever shivered. Eventhe was far from clean.

“They did it once already, in the tower. She barely escaped from the run, she was tired, maybe hurt. She isn’t a machine.”

“I know she isn’t!” Arcite unhooked the wand from his back. “I’m going after her.”

“Not without a plan.”

“I have a plan. Blow up everything until I find her.”

“That’s not a plan.”

“What’s yours?” Arcite was bursting at his seams, aiming at the skyline.

I’m scared for her too, he wanted to shout, and for Em, and we’re being stalked by mutant psychopaths, and I’m out of ideas. “Follow the footprints. Keep in the shadows. Don’t use the wand unless you’re sure it’ll work.”

Lighting flashed off Arcite’s goggles. “Are you coming?”

”I have to help Em set fire to a bay. Listen, if you can’t fight them, get out of the city and find Wrest. I’ll meet you there.”

“And we’ll take the place back? Run these engineers over?”

Staever saw the look in his eyes and surrendered. “Yeah. We’ll take them all down.”

“If they’ve got her, I’ll bring the moons down on them!” Arcite cried to the wind. He backed down the road, holding the weapon high. “They scare you, not me!”

I should have gotten the key back. But Arcite was gone, following the trail. Staever ran full speed for the harbor, missing his crab-sled.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

To the Harbor

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

The crab was so swift it might have been dosed with clay too. Its legs pumped through the swamp the storm made out of the streets. She took a new route, fearful their earlier path might send her over the cliff. Hemmed in by sand and stone, she chose every downhill road.

The crab careened onto a paved street, the mud on her sled leaving a streak across the tile. Emaria threw her claw to the ground to stay aboard. Another right turn took her into an alley so thin the crab barely fit between rows of windows. Emaria bounced back and forth–until the alley opened up into the forum. Before she reached it, the sled skidded, and she flew clear.

She landed, lighting up all the aches from falling through the window: back, tail, the sockets of both arms. The crab had jumped a piece of broken column in their path, sled and all, and was waiting for her to board again.

“Good boy!” She clambered over the sandmasonry. This was not the crab equivalent of an engineer. She was its driver now, and it carried its drivers safely.

She crossed the forum in a blur, and the harbor was upon her. She tied the crab to someone’s garden fence and hurried down toward the dam. Arcite’s bit of clay bounced in a pocket on her belt. If she used it to ignite the cauldron, the whole port would catch fire, but would any spot work? Would the rain snuff out a chain reaction, or any reaction false hope, with the sky dumping half the Greater Mirror on her?

Loose sand gave way to a hard-packed walkway, the south end of the dam. Low seawalls guided her. Emaria ran with open water on her right and the seething harbor on the left. This close, she could see the clay pooled against the center of the long dam, perhaps attracted to the clay in the structure. She would venture to the middle.

Visibility was better here. The headlands formed a windbreak, preventing sheets of opaque rain, allowing her a clear view to the shore beyond the walls. Encouraged by the open path, Emaria glanced out to sea.

What she saw did not register at first, though she flashed back to the last moments of the Eye, the shadow on the sun. Then her awareness caught up with her vision. She staggered to the seaward guardrail and threw up.

A mass of water rose upward to reveal the entire outline of a watercraft, larger than the one which had destroyed the Eye, coral-lit with perfect clarity. Thirty manatees rode within, cruising toward a landing on the beach.

Once again, the manatees had judged them unfit to live.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Arcite Before the Wind

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

The tower had sunk below the street, sealing the front doors shut. Arcite pounded on them, not caring who heard. He wasn’t going to assume his staff didn’t work on Turner’s guards without several rigorous experiments.

A final, magnificent crack of sand shattering in two, and Arcite stumbled backward, seeking safety up the road. Eight stories sat back like an old man settling into bed, the foundation wobbled, and the top half of the tower collapsed onto the bottom.

Eventhe!” he shouted. The crenellations disappeared. He ran to the door, lined it with clay by reflex, blasted it open, scrambled away as loose sand poured out, revealing rubble piled up to the top of the doorway.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Immortal

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

“I was standing guard like boss said, when it started raining, so I ran into a doorway. Then you flew out the window!” Arcite blathered a hundred paces a minute while Emaria scanned the street for engineers. “You must have said something stupid.”

He waved a claw in front of her face. Emaria didn’t respond. “Emaria, is Ev in trouble?”

If she told him, Arcite would race inside to obliterate everything he could reach with the wand. The crossfire would catch Staever and Eventhe, and the blue light might not even affect engineers.

A tremendous rending of sand made the decision for her. She pulled Arcite into a shop to shelter from rain and debris. “That was her. Probably not in trouble.”

Another several cracks. “What if it wasn’t?” Arcite asked.

“Then you don’t want to be in there with whatever it was.”

“Something threw you out a window. There’s no way I could make it worse.” Arcite drew his staff.

The wooden doors of the tower leered from across the way. Before Arcite made it into the rain, Emaria said, “Turner is alive. He lives up there with a squadron of lobsters that thing may not work against.”

Arcite stopped in his tracks. “Crayfish piss.”

“If only. He’s been treating himself with yellow clay for two hundred years, and he thinks he’s immortal, and he’s right.” She guided Arcite back into the shop. “I need to get to the harbor.”

The whole fortress shifted on its foundation. The crenellations on the roof sank toward the Clearing.

Emaria had heard Arcite say one of his principles was being far away from things when they exploded. “You’re right,” he said. “Can’t go in there. Ev knows what she’s doing.” Though he didn’t put away the wand. “Why the harbor?”

“It’s complicated, and we don’t have time–”

Wiping his goggles, Arcite looked sidelong at her.

“–and you’re a clay expert. All right. I have a theory.”

They dashed to where the crab sat with rain sloughing off its back. Emaria stroked the animal’s head and began to unknot the rope tying it to a post, while Arcite flipped the sled upright. “Turner gathered yellow clay in the harbor because having it in one place is magnifying its powers. In the Eye, it couldn’t have done anything like this. Going beyond healing is native to the Clearing.” She hitched the crab to the sled. “I need to get rid of that mass behind the dam. It won’t kill those things, but it might slow them down enough for the army to have a chance.”

“Beyond healing? What things? You’re not making sense.”

Emaria situated herself on the sled. “Turner’s guards. The people your wand maybe couldn’t kill. They’re bigger than lobsters should be. Swords don’t cut them.”

“No way,” Arcite spluttered. “The dosage alone should have killed them.”

He lifted his goggles to massage his eyes. Emaria was struck, as never before, by Arcite’s youth. He was a genius with the heart of a child, up against his nightmares.

“If you’re telling the truth, so’s Turner,” he finished. “But two hundred years…he’s replaced everything that made him a lobster.”

“Come with me,” she told him. “Help me burn the harbor. I’d be stupid not to bring you.”

The tower shifted another degree downward, then settled, sturdy as a knife on its tip.

“We can’t do it without Eventhe. She’s the one who stopped the air demon, I just got lucky. She destroys things better than I do.”

“Arcite.” Emaria let go of the reins and took his claw in both of hers. “You love her. I know. I love–I love them too. But I have no idea if this will work. I don’t…exactly…know what to do.”

The crab scratched at the ground. The ocean boomed, a beast below them.

Arcite said, “I’ll get Ev and Staever out of the tower. Then we’ll meet you at the dam. Staever can bring reinforcements.”

Loath as she was to start the job alone, this was a surprisingly good idea. She nodded.

Arcite offered her a piece of red clay. “You said you were going to burn the yellow. You’ll need this.”

Coming from Arcite, it was a gift as precious as glass. She took it.

“Good luck, Em,” he said.

“You too.” She smiled, and took the reins again. “Onward!”

The crab dug its legs into the muddy street. Behind her, Arcite raised the weapon over his head, charging the tower doors. Then the wind blew a curtain of rain between them.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Repair

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

The seventh floor consisted of a lantern-lit antechamber with three doors. “Which way down?” Staever asked.

“I do not know,” Eventhe said. “I was watchful as we entered, but I faltered here.”

Staever grimaced. “Can’t blame you for being distracted.”

The two doors on either side opened, each revealing an engineer. Staever caught Eventhe’s eye through the mask. “Forward?”

“Forward.” She flung open the door. Another staircase wound down. Staever and Eventhe descended at a gallop.

One room took up the sixth floor, containing nothing but lobster-high slabs of hard sand in rows. If the engineers slept, they might have done it in this oversized cell. Their lives were empty of anything worthwhile.

He refused to die at the claws of hollow jars. Four engineers stalked in through the opposite door, blocking the exits. The two from the seventh floor rumbled down the stairs.

“I’m going to talk to them,” he told Eventhe. “Tell them I’ll take their clay. It’ll buy you time.”

The engineers from above blotted out the lamplight in the stairwell. Eventhe waited, immobile as a standing stone. “I do not intend for either of us to die here.”

“I won’t die.” Staever tried to watch both exits at once. They were surrounded, but though Eventhe had jumped higher hurdles than this, she remained by his side.

“You used to not care whether I lived or died, remember? You can get out if you jump now!”

Her mask twitched. Behind it, a ghostly smile. “I run when I have already lost. I fight when I have won.”

“Ev, dammit–”

She closed her eyes.

The circle tightened, engineers gliding among the slabs.

“Don’t come closer,” he said to the eight he could see. “We can talk about this.”

“You are a mistake,” one answered. “We repair.”

“Turner needs me alive. I’m the only one who can call off the army outside the gates.”

“We repair.”

“If you can still think,” he snarled, “if there’s any water left in you under all the clay–“

He backed into the unresponsive Eventhe. The engineers drew within range. He dragged her behind one of the sleeping slabs, shielding her with his body.

“We repair.” The engineer reached for him. He would die in this empty heart, a desert in a city. He couldn’t keep his thoughts from Ev’s mining barracks, where he’d disturbed her with Wrest…

He snapped into awareness. Eventhe was neither dead nor sleeping.

She was meditating.

As the engineers closed tighter, Staever swore he saw Eventhe in a dozen places at once, shaking the structure, knocking loose the ancient sand. The force of her attacks ground the floor from the walls. His last memory before the ceiling fell was of the engineers breaking their circle, running up and down, trying to hold up a tower being riven from its foundation.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Down the Tower

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

Through the window, doused with rain, flailing in empty space. Emaria thrust her sword into the tower wall. It sunk halfway to the handle into a gap in the sandmasonry. Emaria dug in, slamming her legs against the sand.

Rain slicked the hilt until her claws ached from trying to hang on. Her arms flared with pain, tugged from their sockets. Tears pooled in her eyes.

I can’t stay here, she thought with her last shred of consciousness.

There would be other cracks in the wall. She found one, down and to the right, and stretched out with her left claw. As she grabbed hold, the sword tumbled from its lodging, throwing her toward empty space again, swinging in the wind by one arm.

“Sea!” she shouted. “Damn everything!”

Below her were more cracks over a window ledge. She could reach with her legs. Each time the pain increased, she reacted by heading down.

Two stories above the ground, her claws gave out at last. Before she could panic, she hit the ground, bones shaking like an earth tremor. She lay for some time, her cloak drenched through, aching too badly to move.

Footsteps scampered toward her. They’d found her. She lifted her head, and gagged. A wave of nausea washed over her.

The footsteps stopped. Arcite knelt into view, goggles streaked with rain, manatee wand slung across his back. “Let it all out, Em. Then you can tell me what in the name of Khalis’s bastard is going on up there.”

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

New Orders

Don’t forget to vote for The Glass Thief on Top Web Fiction so we can bring in more readers. Click the link to vote, then enjoy the chapter!

“Will the others apprehend them?” Turner asked.

“Yes,” said the one who had fought Staever.

“Let the ones below summon them. I have new orders for you.” Turner crossed the room to the city window. From the eighth floor he could see over the walls to the shore. Lobsters the size of pebbles darkened the beach. “These new arrivals have forced our play. We can wait no longer for the awakening.”

The final function of the engineers had been written on their minds since Turner granted them new life in birthing pools of yellow clay. They showed no surprise.

“Go to the northern land gate. Welcome the body. Follow it into the mind. As for the invaders…”

He’d hoped to leave the new recruit underground, to adapt him to his new skin. But he could still think like one unaugmented, imagine worshipping the Last King and his key.

“Wake the new one. Send him to search.”

“Does not belong,” said one engineer.

“I’ve given you an order,” Turner snapped. “I declare he belongs.”

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Glass Thief. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.