Graphus’s Secret

Staever felt heavy as a brick, empty of emotion, and perhaps Emaria could tell. He sighed. “What now?”

“You must subvert the council, while they’re as confused as everyone else,” Graphus said. “You’ll need their power to avoid another Eye.”

He spoke as though the manatees had been a phase in his plan. Something else dawned on Staever. Bring them three at a time if you have to.

Staever climbed a dune, facing the plain where the lobsters gathered. He could see and smell enough refugees to know how many lobsters a hundred thousand meant. They sat with their families, gathering driftwood or breaking sleds to build burial rafts. Staever made a note to send runners to tell them not to do that. They would need the sleds.

“All of them,” he called down to Graphus. “We’d have to take all of them to the Clearing. It can’t be done.”

“They’ll build the same dry city as before, while they die in the open. Thirst. Wind. Bandits. Another Eye would end life on this continent.”

“How are we going to water them all?” Staever hopped down. “What about food for when there’s no water? What about shelter?”

“What about the Forbidden Expanse?” Wrest put in.

“I keep saying it wouldn’t get that name accidentally,” Staever agreed, “and–Graphus–will you quit saying you? How is any of this up to me?”

Over the dunes, a hundred thousand dumbstruck lobsters murmured a low rumble. Graphus stared at Staever, Emaria at Graphus, and Wrest at everyone. Wier and Alta couldn’t take their eyes off the ruined Eye.

“You have to lead them,” Graphus said, though his tone was dark, strangely apprehensive.

“A condemned glass thief with bad luck?” Taiga and Graphus’s words pounded inside of Staever’s skull. “Wrest commanded a platoon. You ran a city, as best you could. Half the crowd would be more qualified.”

“Did they criticize the council to their faces? Did they go under the axe for it? Who else could start a riot like you did?”

“I didn’t start that riot. We did, with the petition, and by showing the key around…”

“…which was your idea,” Emaria finished, addressing Graphus.

The governor bowed his head. “Staever, there’s something I have to tell you.”

Staever, Wrest, and Emaria moved together without meaning to.

“When I recognized you at council, I knew you were in trouble. You were unmasked, using your real names, and your proposal was too audacious for Crane to ignore. Not only would he never agree, he would order you dealt with, especially if Xander had his say.”

“I wanted them to trust us…” Emaria lapsed into silence. Something empty was starting to grip Staever.

“I went out my study window, chased after you, and set up that scene in the garden. Then I called you all to Foerhant’s lighthouse.”

“You sent us on a mission,” Staever said. “To get power from the people, instead of the council.”

“I sent you to spread your message…and so Xander’s guards would find you.”

Everything slid into place.

“You set me up!” Staever lunged at Graphus’s throat, claws outstretched. Wrest held him back with a vice grip.

“To be a hero, a rallying point!” Graphus pleaded. “To raise the Whites to your cause. I never planned for you to come so close to the axe.”

“What did you expect?” Staever snarled as Wrest tightened his grasp. “Crane would rap me on the head and tell me not to do it again?”

“I expected what happened. The Cuttlefish came to save you.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Staever growled, scraping his throat hoarse. As his friend made another monumental bid to strangle Graphus, Wrest lifted Staever’s legs off the sand, leaving him on his back against Wrest’s bulk.

“You put me in danger!” he shouted. “You put my gang in danger! All five of us could have died in the coliseum, but who cares? You’d have your riot either way!”

The weight of Taiga’s death, of the Field and the manatees, fueled his rage, until he was no longer even speaking words. Graphus didn’t lift a claw to defend himself. At long last he went quiet, the flame of passion burning itself out.

Wrest laid him back on the ground. Staever found something had replaced his lust for violence, something cold and personal. “Your plan worked, but you made one mistake,” he told Graphus. “I’m the hero, you’re right. The people will follow me. Not you. I’ll take every damn one of them to the Clearing. And nobody–ever again–will manipulate me.”

He spun and walked back up the dune, motioning for Wrest and Emaria to follow. They did so mutely. Alta and Wier went with them. Graphus went to the crabs, but, haunted by the memory of his whip, they shied away.

“You’re right,” he said, “Never again.” Except for one last time. His lie, in the end, did not matter as much as telling the truth at the right time.

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Loss

The runaway sled lay upside-down, far from where the soldiers were building tents. Five lobsters surrounded it: two small, one large, one aged and murmuring to the sled’s crabs, one sleeping against the board.

Emaria ran toward them. Alta bounded into her arms, followed by Wier. She hugged them both close, then turned to their older brother and clasped him as well, making sure he was real. “What happened in there? How did you escape?”

“I don’t remember a lot of the last part,” Wrest admitted. “And not all of us escaped. We ran into Gattick.”

“Then who…?” Emaria knelt by the sleeping lobster. Staever was out cold, but breathing. The aged lobster must have been Taiga–but didn’t have the old thief’s face.

Emaria bowed hurriedly, but Graphus waved her off. “My scepter’s in there someplace.” He pointed to the soup of flotsam. “If I find it, then you can bow.”

“If you’re here, gov–Graphus–where’s Taiga?”

Graphus pointed silently at the new channel.

Grief for her home wormed in through the hole Taiga ripped. Little losses came first, like the cool of the library’s deep stacks, the cart that sold crayfish jerky from an Iris kelp garden. Then the great ones. The faces of her youth, her first life, annihilated. The Eye would be flowing away from her forever.

“Taiga didn’t die in vain,” Graphus said. “There’s something else…”

Wrest help up the key. Touching it restored a bit of her sensation. “You must have taken it–”

“–from Gattick’s corpse, yeah,” Wrest said.

A muffled groan came from the sled. Wrest went over to shake Staever. “You awake?”

“I was having a nice dream,” Staever mumbled. “Sailing in the sky on a boat made of glass…why’d you wake me up?”

His question died in his mouth as Emaria swept him into a long hug. “Wow,” he said when they broke apart. “Guess I should jump ship more often.”

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Eventhe’s Dream

Eventhe stayed. She’d dreamed for years of the moment when the Eye would suffer for its sins–but not like this. Sometimes when she couldn’t meditate, she would picture the miners who lolled outside her door taking up their picks and giving them to their Pupil landlords, who would work to death in their own mines. She’d never wanted this.

She would wait at the other end of the sandbar, away from the refugees, Arcite and Emaria and everyone else. No use going farther; she hid in deserts. The whole world was desert now.

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Two Worlds

Emaria saw the crab-sled first. A loaded wagon, passengers hacking all around with swords, crossed the plain seconds before it flooded, crashing in a sandbank. Five lobsters rolled clear.

The ones with the swords, could have been Staever and Wrest, but she couldn’t be sure until she got close–and wouldn’t be able to rest if she did not.

Kragn ordered the Militia to pile sand to keep the new channel from leaking into the camp. Scaling this berm, Emaria saw the river bubbling up from below as the sea washed away a whole slice of desert. Lobsters had dug tunnels under the sand to bring the ocean. The ocean planned to take the wells back.

There were legends about destruction like this: heroes who leveled evil mountains and cast dark islands back into the sea. But they never ravaged cities. There was no freedom in the Eye’s imagining for the death of a city. If Emaria had read the whole library, she would have lacked words for this.

Something in the water caught her eye: a glowing shape, smaller than her head, was bobbing against a chunk of wall embedded in a sandbar.

If she stretched out her claw, she could reach it. She lifted it out, letting it drip dry. It was a piece of coral–a manatee’s backup engine, dropped from the hovercraft during its first sharp turn. She pocketed it. She might use it later to put up a shelter.

Eventhe and Arcite came up while she fished out the coral. Arcite stalked a few paces ahead. Emaria couldn’t blame him for not talking–he’d lost two worlds in one stroke. How could any of them relate?

Two worlds. The Pupil no longer stood. I’ve lost both of mine as well.

“This whole thing is too damn convenient.” Arcite said suddenly, pacing in a circle. “So nobody wants to know why the manatees came. Doesn’t matter though, so long as the Field is gone, right?”

He caught sight of Emaria and Eventhe nearby, and snapped, “Leave me alone!”

“Go to the sled,” Eventhe told Emaria. “There is nothing we can do.”

Out of alternatives, Emaria went.

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The River Flows to the Sea

The sled jumped the broken bridge, went airborne, splintered as it hit the ground. The children shouted. The impact jarred Staever’s skeleton, the scorch of air whistling through cracks in his bones. His graft was working its way loose.

Curtains of water obliterated the Iris, spraying the passengers. Graphus no longer steered, just hung from the reins for support. The waterfall paces behind them, they careened onto the battlefield.

The Field was drowning in mud. A woman, armor torn, rose from a pile of sand and bodies and swiped her spear at them. Wrest dove forward, sheltering his brother and sister. Staever struck with his blade, wrapping his other claw around the crab’s neck.

The children were screaming about a river, but a spear blow came at him before he could look. Another two rebels emerged from the right and Wrest attacked them with all the strength he had left. Graphus jerked a rein, sliced the crabs away from them. Water licking the back of the sled swallowed the rebels.

Wrest lifted Alta onto his back, and Wier clambered up behind, escaping the river. The crabs dug their legs into a sandbar, heaved the sled onto dry ground, and dropped where they stood.

Staever rolled off, too disoriented to move, sword limp by his side. The cool waters of a lake lapped at his tail.

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The Shadow Deepens

Emaria, Arcite, and Eventhe took cover behind a wall of abandoned carts, concealed from all their pursuers. “All right, Emaria,” Arcite panted. “Ready to tell us what we ran from?”

Emaria stared at the Eye as though the clash of armies was mere distraction. “Look at the city.”

The watercraft poured itself over the slopes. Sheets of ocean soaked the towers and alleys, drenching the sand into slurry. Parapets leaned. The heavier towers drove themselves apart with their own weight, clogging the streets as the cityscape liquefied.

“It’s a manatee assault hovercraft.” Emaria spoke flatly. “A pure engine of war. The strongest force they can muster.”

“We have seen nothing of them for years.” Eventhe asked. “Why have they come?”

“They could be here to rescue the Eye. However they can.”

“You might be right,” Arcite said. “They’re coming back this way.”

The Pupil was swallowed by the horizon when the manatees, split from their craft in a sphere of water each, fanned out over the advancing rebel line. One poured a waterfall at a lamphouse on the Eye’s north fringe. It slid from the hill and collapsed, burying a band of fighters.

The smaller hovercrafts kept pounding the Field while half backed off to keep washing away the city.

“They’re fighting for the Eye!” Arcite’s expression entreated Emaria and Eventhe for explanation. “Why are they doing that?”

“I don’t know,” Emaria said.

“Like sea you don’t!” Arcite seized and shook her until Eventhe pulled him back. “This is all in your scrolls. I know people out there. There are children. Tell me what to do!”

She closed up, shut her mind away. Staever and Wrest, Alta and Wier, might be hiding in Staever’s warehouse hovel, suffocating under wet sand.

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The Fall of the Eye

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.

“It’s seawater.”

“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!”

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Empty Your Quivers

Kragn’s soldiers had a simple order: not to give a pace. Kragn himself raced back and forth, moving troops reinforce the line. Hiding fighters in the outskirts had helped, but while he’d succeeded in opening a second front, the Field was still pounding the first from three sides. Rebels poured at him down the thoroughfare.

“Empty your quivers!” Kragn commanded through his conch. “Pin them down!”

The archers fired rows of arrows into the rebel line. Before the first shots landed, the front ranks broke, the footsoldiers throwing up shields. Not enough died.

“Interesting,” Kragn told the captain of the archers. “Shoot to kill, at your discretion.”

“All archers shoot to kill!” the captain cried. “Notch, draw, loose!”

Kragn did not allow himself fear. He retreated as the rebel ground troops kicked up a sand screen, and the archers threw down their bows and hacked away with daggers. Shell smashed glass and bone. Glass pierced Eye Militia shells.

“Clay bombers to the forefront!” Kragn shouted. “Strike as far back as you can!” Let’s see you match this.

The explosions came staccato. Dozens of small bursts tossed fighters aside.

His commanders pulled the battalions in close, harried by the Field flanks. A rebel hurl his spear skyward so it caught a sunbeam before skewering one of his bombers. Two of the enemy, disarmed, threw an Eye swordsman into a sandbank ten paces from his position.

“Fall back! Form a perimeter!” The new lines closed in front of him. Captains in the rear protected the huddled civilians, reassuring them.

Shael appeared at Kragn’s side and pointed at three unarmed lobsters wheeling around a dune, running full tilt for the perimeter. A dozen more followed them. “Probing force left, General. Orders?”

“Let the three in the lead in. Terminate the others.”

Shael saluted, then stopped dead–staring at something over Kragn’s shoulder.

Half the remaining soldiers followed suit. The three runners–his people, clearly being chased–slipped past them.

Kragn slapped Shael to his senses. “Get rid of that dozen, now!

“Yes sir!” The captain ran to fight off the intruders. Kragn cursed and turned to see what his forces found more interesting than the fate of ninety thousand civilians.

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The Shadow on the Sun

Whenever Arcite slowed to breathe, one of Morgan’s soldiers jabbed him in the back. He gritted his teeth. “I can’t be a traitor to both sides. I have to be working for someone.”

He startled himself by speaking, and startled more when Eventhe answered. “I should have known.”

“I didn’t do anything. Fine, I’m from the Field, I confess. But I was never a real double agent.” His voice sounded like a blubbering child’s. “This isn’t my fault.”

“Fault?” Eventhe walked beside him. “I should have known. You were different.”

“You’re…not mad?”

“Of course I am. You lied to me. Why would you keep your secret from the one lobster who belonged here less than you?”

“Not to the whole city? To you?”

Emaria picked the wrong time to speak up. “I’m not mad, Arcite, I’m afraid for you. If this gets out…”

“Then what?” Eventhe asked. “He has no reason to hide.”

Emaria flicked her claws against one another. “I’m sure there’s a good explanation. But nobody in the Eye will listen.”

“Of course there’s a sea-damned explanation. They wouldn’t let me work with clay.”

Morgan cocked an antenna.

“You know about the Field. Clay is dark, clay is evil, if you touch it, throw yourself into the sea before we do it for you. But I had a gift. And when you’re only good at one thing, you sorta want to do it.” He looked back at Morgan. “But you can’t leave the Field. They’d drag me back. So, I applied for espionage, and for some reason they hired me.”

“So we wouldn’t drag you back?” Morgan’s laugh grew more joyless every time Arcite heard it. “You have got to be the most incompetent–whatever you are–”

“I can knock down walls now. I hijack ships. I can drink my body weight in sludge…” He’d never in his life succeeded at talking his way out of anything. Now was an unlikely time to start.

He walked into the lead soldier’s back. They must have reached the battle, but there were no Militiamen. The soldier was watching the sky.

A shadow fell around him, but not the city’s solid shade: dappled darkness and light, sun scattered through a lens.

“Was there supposed to be an eclipse today?” he asked. “With a…translucent moon?”

“It’s a trick,” Morgan said. “You three, guard the prisoners. Everyone else, watch for an ambush.”

Emaria nudged Arcite and Eventhe from behind. “We need to run.”

“How?” Arcite whispered back, as three soldiers circled them. “Why?”

“I’ve read about the thing refracting the sun. I can explain it later. Right now we’ve got to be far away.”

Morgan marched her detachment around the last tower on the northern curve of the eye.

A cry came from above, though not from the shadow on the sun. A Militiaman with enough shell grafts to resemble a patchwork quilt leapt from the second-story window and buried his sword in the lobster next to Morgan.

“Now!” Emaria shouted.

The three guards forgot them. The landward flank hollered as half the Eye Militia poured from the Whites. The three Cuttlefish, Arcite glad to be among them, ran.

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Into the Battle

“Do you–” Graphus began when they reached the road.

“Yes, I have the key.” Wrest showed it to him.

“Who took it?”

“Gattick,” Staever said.

“I should have judged him more thoroughly.” Graphus looked contrite. “Did you have to…”

Staever pointed into the alley. All five of them could see Gattick’s crumpled form in the shadow of a window ledge.

Alta averted her eyes. Wier asked Wrest, “Bad guy. Right?”

“Right,” Staever answered for him. “Not a good guy at all. Graphus, there’s another body in that apartment.” His eyes were red. Right now he didn’t care if Graphus noticed. “We have space for one more.”

“We hardly have space for five of us,” Graphus said distantly. Perhaps, like Staever, something was affecting him more then he let on.

“I’ll ride bareback on one of the crabs. I’ve done it before.”

Graphus and Wrest exchanged a look. “The Militia’s window is rapidly closing,” said the governor. “I can shield you if we rejoin the Eye, so long as there still is an Eye.”

“But…” Graphus had a point, but the thought of Taiga’s body lying alone in her room would not stay down, and he might never go back again.

No. I will. After all, there was no alternative.

“So,” he said, “south?”

Graphus shook his head. “North. Climb aboard.”

Staever didn’t. “Into the battle? Between the people who tried to kill me and the people who want to kill everyone? Are we talking about the same north?”

“The Eye is still my city,” Graphus said. “Whatever happens next, I will not be absent.” His piercing look said, Neither will you.

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