The Glass Thief--by oracle93, Chapters 16-18, Fantasy

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The Glass Thief--by oracle93, Chapters 16-18, Fantasy

Post  oracle93 on Sat Apr 07, 2012 8:42 pm

When Staever and his gang of lobster thieves--second-in-command Wrest, lookout and strategist Emaria, demolitions expert Arcite and martial artist Eventhe--hijack a land vessel hauling precious glass to the wealthy center of The Eye, they expect to once again fence the loot to the crooked Gattick and call it a job well done. What they don't expect is to discover an ancient key that could hold the power to save their dying seaside city. Staever knows that the lobsters of The Eye must make a pilgrimage back to the homeland they lost centuries ago; he also knows, however, that when the slums know him as an outlaw and his only allies are his mother and an out-of-favor governor, his chances of saving his people are slim at best. But if there's one thing Staever and his gang can do, it's think on their feet--and although he's in the crosshairs of a conniving politician and his brutal enforcer, this thief's day may be about to dawn...

Sweeping from a high desert, across a barren wasteland spanned by graceful bridges, and into the swamps and forests of a land known only to legend, The Glass Thief is a tale of treason, swashbuckling adventure, despicable villains, historical power, romance, action, humor, and fear. By the end, a continent--and a world--will be forever changed.

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CHAPTER 16

The streets of The Eye became only marginally quieter at night. Some merchants would wheel away their carts, seeking a harried rest before another day’s work, but others would take their place. Crabs and shrimp that had been lowing and chattering as the sun set were now asleep, but the rumble of noises that accompanied so many people living so close together would continue, unceasing. Lobsters that lived their lives in the daylight laid in their homes and hovels, some in each others’ arms, but those whose lifestyle was better suited to darkness would prowl the streets until the morning forced them back underground.

Emaria crouched in the corner of a lighthouse, counting on the bright flame to shield her from the street. With her heart pounding, she silently thanked the city for its vibrancy. Tonight she would get closer to the job than she ever dared.

On a neighboring building, a broad shadow raised his claw above his head: all clear. Emaria looked at the alley below her, hoping that the heavy patrols were enough to scare civilians away from the compound. She vaulted the lighthouse’s ledge and scampered away from the pool of illumination coming from the lamp. On the razor-thin divide that led to the next building, she faltered, but Wrest locked his strong claw into hers and made sure her balance remained steady.

On the structure neighboring the compound—an empty ammo dump, as her daytime recon had revealed—they joined Arcite, who was placing a long tube into the ruins of what might have been a third-story window, and Eventhe, who was watching him with a hint of amusement.

“It’s an invention of mine,” he explained proudly, when he caught Emaria looking. “I burn a cache of yellow clay, here at the base, to propel some red clay through the tube, here, at the target. It can bomb from quite a distance.”

“Incredible,” Eventhe muttered. “The first union of the two most powerful forces known to lobsters and you have made it into a weapon. I cannot believe you.”

Emaria smiled. “I knew I could count on you, Arcite. Can you take out the barrier?”

“I can take out whatever I damn well want,” Arcite replied, “which, luckily for you, princess, happens to be that barrier.”

The target lay diagonally across the street, behind a cluster of guards betting wood pieces on who could burn cloth faster in the shipping compound’s fence. They would each hurl their piece between the towers interlinked with yellow clay, and cheer them on as the current between the power sources burned them to nothing.

“Hold on!” Wrest said. “Wait for the rags to burn. Then the guards all clump together. Take the shot then.”

“This a military thing?” Arcite said, narrowing his eyes.

“It’s a common sense thing. Do it.”

Arcite slashed his claw along the barrel of the gun and ignited it with sparks, hurling a fireball through the night sky and into the core of the nearest tower. The guards screamed and yelped as flames tore the energy pylon down the middle, ripping it in half. From the edge of the roof, Emaria saw two of them hurled by the force and knocked unconscious. The third had managed to remain at a safe distance, and was now rubbing his head, glancing around frantically.

“That guy’s going to raise the alarm!” Wrest hissed.

“Eventhe, get—“ Emaria began, but the masked lobster was already on her way. Eventhe’s black shell seemed to flash as she cleared the parapet and sailed through the air, barely pausing as she hit the ground. Emaria wasted no time following; Wrest dragged Arcite onto his back and ground his legs into the side of the building to slow himself down. To her surprise, Emaria landed nimbly next to the other two thieves, just in time to see Eventhe launch the guard into the wall opposite the compound. “Let’s go!” Emaria shouted, and the Cuttlefish made for the gap Arcite had blown in the fence.

“The compound’s mostly open behind the fence, except for an office and a security barracks,” Emaria told them as they stepped over the fallen tower. “Security’s lenient, although the crew on board each individual ship has the ability to lock themselves in.”

“How’s the guard strength?” Wrest asked.

“Nothing scarier than those guys outside. The plan—“

“You sound pretty sure of yourself, considering I probably woke up everybody in the damn city taking out the fence,” Arcite cut in. “If we’re not locked out of every vessel by now we will be in the time it takes to get to any one of them.”

“If you’ll let me finish,” Emaria said, “the one we’re here for hasn’t arrived yet.”

Wrest flexed his claws. “Everyone, we have to take out the points of major resistance first. We’ve got another fifteen seconds to talk before the minutemen in the guardhouse draw a bead on us.”

“Is this a—“ Arcite started.

“Yes. This is a military thing.” He turned to Emaria. “I recommend we split up. Keep the conch and let us know when to converge.”

“Right.” Emaria, remembering their tight schedule, tried not to falter. “Wrest, Arcite, distract the troops in the guardhouse. Eventhe, come with me. When the time’s right I’ll need you to override the ship’s lockdown.”

Wrest nodded, and, drawing his shell-blade from the sheath at his abdomen, pulled Arcite along toward the pool of light coming from the shack. They slowed up several paces from the door, flinging up the sand as several lobsters, each carrying identical shell-blades emblazoned with shipping insignias, cut off the light from the door.

“Just what the hell are you doing?” one of them sneered.

Wrest searched their faces, remaining unreadable. “Stealing a ship,” he said.

“Yeah,” Arcite walked up beside him. “Maybe you’ve heard of the Cuttlefish Gang?”

Another lobster stepped forward, sliding his blade out halfway. “Staever’s boys, eh?” he grinned. “Excited to see your boss die tomorrow?”

“We’re not counting on that,” Wrest replied, and stepped out of the way as the lobster slashed downward with his blade. He readied his own to parry but almost dropped it as another guard hurtled into him from behind, knocking him off balance. “Arcite, help me out!” he called.

Arcite flipped his goggles over his eyes and reached for his satchel. “Stop him!” one of the guards shouted. “Don’t let the little guy take anything out of the bag!”

Two of the lobsters went for Arcite immediately, but Wrest, shrugging back one of the swordsmen, got to his feet and charged them. He smashed the edge of the blade on a guard’s skull, dropping him, and stopped a thrust from the other one. Arcite feinted away from the action, belted out an indistinct war cry, and tossed a small shell into the center of the crowd of swordsmen.
---
Eventhe rattled the hatch that lead to the bridge of a schooner, which didn’t move an inch. “Another lockdown!” she called down to Emaria, who was pacing back and forth by the entrance gate.

“This is bad,” Emaria was whispering, “very bad! It should be here by now!”

From along the ramp that led from the compound down the city slopes to the desert, a long, mournful conch note sounded, followed by a crescendoing slice of wood through sand. Hardly daring to breathe, Emaria watched the darkness beyond the ramp, and soon enough saw a deck lamp—with the conch, the universal signal of approach. “Eventhe, stay up there! Use the prow for your jump point!” she shouted up to the masked lobster, who tapped her front claws together. She blew a long note in response—permission to approach.
---
Coughing and hacking, Wrest lumbered out of the cloud of opaque white smoke to meet Arcite, who was lounging at the fringes of the melee as though he wanted Wrest to be pleased with him. A guardsman, who had stopped swinging his blade to avoid hitting his allies, blew three short blasts on his own conch: the signal for danger.

“What was that?” Wrest asked as he and Arcite broke into a run for the ship gate.

“Another invention of mine,” Arcite said. “Come on, we’ve gotta meet them now or we won’t be on that vessel!”
---
Emaria was undeterred by the danger signal, as the ship she was targeting already had too much momentum to stop. It had drawn in view quickly, and, as Arcite and Wrest rushed up form behind to join her, was close enough for Eventhe to leap onto the deck.

The vessel was smaller than any they had seen in the compound so far, built to deliver small quantities of food to the Pupil stores. It had hardly begun its sliding turn when Emaria leapt for the rungs ascending the hull, found purchase, and began to climb. By the time she arrived on the deck to see Eventhe toss the single terrified pilot overboard, it had almost skidded in a circle. There was no wheelhouse, only a locking mechanism on the wheel that the pilot hadn’t had time to engage. Eventhe unhooked an enormous pole from a rack along the gunwale and dropped it to the ground, keeping the ship anchored and upright while Emaria raced to the wheel and spun it, propelling the vessel in a second circle that gave Wrest, and Arcite hanging off his tail, a chance to board. Before they had made it onto the deck, Eventhe lifted the pole, Emaria steadied the wheel, and the Cuttlefish soared off down the shipping ramp, while the tiny red clay clusters thrown by the guards popped and fizzled far behind them.

CHAPTER 17

Staever tossed and turned through the night, getting no comfort from the hard-packed sand floor. At some points, deep within waking dreams, he would feel himself trip over something that wasn’t there and land on the cell floor, unable to move his legs, with the walls swimming around him. Towards dawn, as he tried in vain to blink himself into either sleep or wakefulness, he thought he had a visitor. He dreamed of a stately lobster in council robes, with a skeleton the same shade of red as his own. Staever knew immediately who he was.

You’re Cyprus, he thought. You’re my father.

Cyprus did not reply, but only stared at his son, his eyes clear but mired in deep sorrow. Staever dreamed that they were outside together, standing in deserted city streets; and his father slipped away towards an alley.

Don’t go, Staever pleaded. We need you.

But Cyprus would not stop, and as Staever pursued him, never gaining any ground, the buildings of the empty Eye began to sink into the sand. Staever could only sit down amid the crumbling city, losing all feeling, waiting for the tears to come as the world died.

Don’t leave me again, you bastard, he tried to yell. Finish something for once. Stop running—stop it—stop—

“No, we’re not gonna stop.”

Suddenly awake, still wearier than he’d ever been, Staever tried to jump upright but ended up crashing into the back wall of his cell. The guard who had spoken swung the door wide and grabbed his claw; his silent companion took the other one.

“There’s no need for that,” Staever told him, annoyed. “I’m not going to run off.”

“The promise of a thief,” the guard laughed. “I’ll put my trust in hard fact, thank you very much.” He locked a clamp set on one end of a wooden rod around Staever’s right claw, then fitted it to his left, prying them uncomfortably far apart. Staever winced. “Come on then,” the guard said, grabbing hold of the rod and pulling Staever along, causing him to stumble.

“Right.” Staever grimaced. “Wouldn’t want to keep the crowd waiting.”

“Keep your head down when we get outside,” the guard replied.

Parked outside the jail was a crab-drawn wagon, which the two guards bundled Staever onto, slamming the back gate shut. Staever surveyed the scene. With the freedom to move his claws and all the alertness usually present in his mind, he could easily leap over the low wall—but he had neither of those, and the guards were heavily armed.

The wagon was to travel a short half-circle around the coliseum, and as soon as they were underway, Staever began to hear shouting. The guards tensed, gripping their blades and red clay tightly.

As they rounded the corner he saw the crowd. It was split evenly into two groups: a dirty mass opposite the arena’s walls, rallying and shoving towards the circular edifice while producing most of the noise; and the much smaller detail of elite council police and soldiers that had been assigned to guard him at all times. Staever noticed a disgruntled Kragn on the arena steps, at the back of the group. When the cart turned into view of the entrance, the turbulent mob raised a number of discordant chants.

Staever felt his spirit truly lift for the first time since his petition. He had had no idea how far his message had spread, and how fast—but here the people were, the Whites and the Iris together, crying out for his freedom. Let’s hope they get it.

The security detail parted to allow the crabs to proceed up the ramp and into the enormous central ring of the coliseum. Some of the lobsters at the front made a run for the gate, and the police surged from formation to push them back. Though this made Staever angry enough to snap the rod binding him in half, he put his feelings on hold to scan the crowd for familiar faces. He recognized none, but tried not to worry. Whatever plan Emaria came up with would probably require deep cover.

Emaria, he thought, and dreamed her face up. I don’t think she’ll ever know how badly I want to see her again.

The two guards unhitched the crab from the wagon, and the talkative one led it away, giving Staever an exaggerated salute. The silent one took hold of the reins himself and pulled the cart through a towering archway that opened directly onto the arena. In here, the commotion from outside was muffled, and only the cheers of the wealthy pupil-dwellers in the audience could be heard.

“Isn’t this funny?” Staever said to the guard, as they crossed to the center of the ring. “They’re supposed to be the most civilized people in the city, and here they are begging for my blood.”

The guard did not reply, and Staever felt his brief bout of good humor drop away as he saw the apparatus in the center, with Xander himself standing at the head, holding a heavy blade. The guard shoved him roughly down from the cart and flipped him onto his back with startling strength, leaving him helplessly mired on the low wooden platform. Xander stood back and smirked as the guard unlatched the wooden rod and used pieces of woven reed to bind each of Staever’s claws to two poles at the corners of the platform. Staever sank bank, taking deep breaths.

“Good ladies and gentlemen of the fair eye!” Xander shouted. He raised his heavy blade for silence, with a visible effort. Staever chuckled.

“You have come here today to see a thief and a traitor cut down by the swift axe of justice!” Xander began.

“Oh, for the love of the sea…” Staever muttered. Xander shot him a look before continuing.

“This Staever, the leader of a band of ruffians intent on disrupting the fair trade of glass along our thoroughfares, has attempted to turn his sights upon our very ship of state. He has failed!” Another round of raucous cheering greeted the last sentence. The guard, meanwhile, made a sign of acknowledgement and stepped over to Xander.

“Commotion outside, governor,” he whispered.

“It can wait,” Xander hissed. He raised up his claws. “Who is ready for the passage of the law!?” he shouted. The Pupil-dwellers roared in approval as he gripped the handle of the oversized shell-blade. “Does the convicted have any last words?”

“You’re a barnacle on the back of this city, Xander,” Staever said, “but I choose my last words carefully. Which is why I haven’t thought too hard about these.”

“Let’s see how well your wit serves you when you’re being floated on a pauper’s raft,” Xander snarled, and raised the blade.

CHAPTER 18

Staever closed his eyes. There were no last minutes left. His hope was diminishing quickly.

Something raised another cheer outside and he looked up to the arena security scuttling disorganized into the field, the stands, or along the side passages. Some of the unwashed lobsters from outside were leaking in now, heralded by some enormous shadow.

Having held the blade up too long, Xander overbalanced and fell towards the back of the platform, dropping it behind him as the shadow materialized into a glass-hauling ship from the council yards, half the size of the one from which he had first stolen the key.

The blade dug into the arena’s sand as the crew, whooping and hollering, began a wide turn.

“They’re here for the prisoner!” shouted Xander, who had picked himself up. “Don’t let them near the platform!”

Some of the guards made a feeble effort to intercept the cruiser but were forced to dive out of the way again as the creaking, scraping vessel beat a path toward the platform. Seizing his chance, Staever began to squirm, trying to loosen the knots around his claws. His breath caught as he realized that the ship appeared to be heading directly at him, its shadow looming, with no intention of slowing down. He briefly heard the sounds of an argument coming from the deck, and once or twice saw the vessel waver, but the ship did not divert before it collided with the apparatus, pitching the bow upward.

Staever hunched up his skeleton as the execution platform splintered, pieces of wood pitching in all directions. The pilot of the wobbling ship was trying to smash Staever’s prison with the vessel’s blade—a good idea in theory, but one he’d rather have seen practiced first.

When the blade sliced through the rope binding his left claw he shook feeling back into it as quickly as he could, flipped over, and cut his right claw loose before having to entrust his fate to the ship a second time. The ship, for its part, careened to the left and jolted free of the platform, swatting Staever with the hull and sending him flying into the dust.

Picking himself up, he dashed towards the ship, which was attempting to make another turn. Just as it tilted, however, Staever was horrified to see Xander, still wielding the axe, advance from behind and hurl it at the vessel’s hull. With a final shudder and creak of protest, the glass-hauler pitched sideways and came to rest, immobile in the sand.

As he hurried onwards, Staever could see the crew—his crew—vault the gunwales and take their positions for a relaunch. He was barely ten paces from them when Xander stepped in between, cutting him off.

“Surround them!” he barked to his security. “Back them against the ship—don’t let them get away!”

Staever drew up the strength in his legs and leaped, but Xander turned around at exactly the wrong moment, caught him in midair, and sent the two of them flying in a sprawling heap. Staever managed to throw the governor off as they landed, his back now to the ship, facing Xander.

“So your friends from the eel pits came out to save your skeleton,” Xander snarled. “This means nothing but more executions on the schedule.”

“This crowd’s going to have to walk,” Staever replied coolly. “I wouldn’t expect you to know what this means, Xander. After all, who’d come to save you?

Xander grinned. “Emaria would.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t have time to find out!” Staever yelled, and tore off towards the glass-hauler once more, leaving Xander far behind in his dust.

In the shadow of the ship, Wrest, Emaria, Arcite, and Eventhe were each clutching one of the ship’s four detachable poles, having braced the ship upright against them. Staever skidded in behind them and turned to face them. “Everyone, the guards are closing in!” he shouted. “Force it one more time, then get the hell on board! Wrest, will you be the last?” Wrest nodded. “Good! So, push!”

The Cuttlefish heaved the rods with all their might; as the ship righted, Arcite and then Emaria broke ranks and sprinted up the ladder onto the deck. Staever followed, then Eventhe, until at last Wrest was left straining at the end of the last pole.

“Arcite, get some yellow clay in the engine!” Staever ordered. “We need momentum!”

“You got it, boss!” Arcite shouted, and tossed a lump of the fuel into an open engine hatch on the deck. “I have to warn you, this isn’t a clay vessel—this burner’s only meant to get it moving. After that we have to rely on the wind.”

“Understood,” Staever said. “Eventhe, hoist the sails; Emaria, get Wrest on board!”

As she leaned over the ladder to grab the other end of the pole, Emaria could see the ranks of guards spilling in through the gate, threatening to close around them. She gathered the rod on board as the ship began to ease forward, first slowly, then faster. Wrest, running alongside it, dove for the ladder; Emaria caught his claws in hers and helped him clamber over the rail. Eventhe dropped down, having unfurled the sails to their full length, and all five Cuttlefish took positions on the deck.

“Entrance dead ahead,” Arcite said grimly, “and we’re out of clay. Now either we catch a breeze or we all die.”

Staever and Wrest gripped opposite sides of the wheel; Staever, facing the gate, told Wrest where to turn. With the shadow of Xander still in the background, bawling fruitless commands, they soared over the scattering security detail, through the gates, and onto the street, into the midst of the cheering throng of poor White-dwellers. Emaria checked the sails and pronounced a favorable wind, and Staever collapsed, spent, on the wooden boards, watching the city slide past.

“I knew you guys would come,” he choked out, smiling broadly. “I knew it! At the last minute, sure; with the most dangerous possible plan, fine; but I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

“I worked hard on that plan,” Emaria murmured, but stopped as Staever swept her up into a hug.

“It was brilliant,” he said, and released her. “No thief is worth his cape without a gang he can trust. If I didn’t have you guys I’d have died so many times I don’t want to think about it.”

“Yeah, well,” Arcite said, shutting the hatch to the clay-burner, “without you I’d probably be drunk somewhere right now, instead of here!” He glanced around, smirking. “Who could ask for more?”

“I want to get out of here,” Eventhe said, dropping from the sails behind Staever and making him jump. “If you, Staever, are the one to follow, so be it.”

Wrest said nothing, keeping his claws on the wheel and adjusting the ship’s movements to keep them squarely between buildings.

“By the way, Emaria,” Staever said, turning to her, “Xander mentioned your name when I fought him. Do you know what—“

He never finished the sentence. A glowing fireball, hovering above the horizon and in Wrest’s eyes for some time, completed its descent towards The Eye, and exploded into a twisting tower, reducing it to sand and ash that sprinkled over the Cuttlefish as they carved their trail toward the desert.

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Can the Cuttlefish escape from their pursuers? Who just fired on The Eye? Does Staever have a chance to foment revolution? Read on!

oracle93

Posts : 5
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Join date : 2012-02-16
Age : 25
Location : Walla Walla, WA

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