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Chapter 24, Part 1

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Hattie and Erin's rambling through the streets became both more conspicuous and somehow less so as the city came to life. As they rushed past, people caught glimpses of their shawls carried in the breeze behind them, of Erin's mangled feet, and of Hattie's distressed countenance.

Nearly an hour later, they arrived at the Oathtakers' mission home, just as the sun made its way fully over the eastern horizon.

Hattie knocked, not loudly, but insistently: rap rap rap, pause, rap rap rap, pause, rap rap—

The door opened. Faith stood inside, her eyes glowering at her unexpected guests. "What's the meaning of this ruckus? You beat upon the door as though death itself was chasing you!"

"It is!" Hattie exclaimed. "Faith, don't you recognize me?" She was panting. Portions of her long gray-streaked hair had escaped their confines. Although the morning was cool, her brow was moist from her exertions. She had her arm around Erin, who grimaced in pain.

Faith squinted. By her fussy hair, it appeared their knocking had awakened her. "Hattie, is that you?"

"Yes! Faith, quickly, where's Ted?"

"Come. Come in! What's this all about? And who's this with you?" Faith turned her attention to Erin, her eyes narrowed. "You look familiar. Do I know you?"

Erin shook her head. "No."

"Come in. Come in."

"Faith, where's Ted? This is an emergency!" Hattie cried.

Faith gestured for her guests to enter. They stepped over sandals and toys on their way. "Sit down," she urged. "Ted likes to get an early start. I expect him shortly. What's this all about?"

"Oh, Faith, have you heard? Lilith is coming to Polesk today."

"Yes, Ted and I talked about this last night. He was concerned because of our last run-in with her. He left last night to look into some things. He says the Select are bound by certain rules and—"

"Your last run in?" Hattie interrupted.

"Yes, just recently. Lilith arrived at sanctuary and insisted a dear friend of Ted's return with her to the palace. The next thing we heard, she planned to take him to the City of Light for a hearing. But the fliers and criers had it all wrong."

"You mean Dixon Townsend?"

"Yes. Do you know Dixon?"

"No." The stray strands of Hattie's hair fluttered about her head. "I read in the fliers about him, and the claims about what he'd done."

"Yes, well, don't believe everything you read."

"Trust me, I don't."

Hattie glanced at Claire, then back up. "Faith, I have to see Ted right away."

As though on cue, the front door opened, and Ted entered.

Hattie rose to meet him.

"Hattie," he asked, smiling, "is that you?" He approached, then turned down the blanket covering Claire's face. "She's a beauty. But what are you doing here? And so early? Why it's barely daybreak."

"Ted, it's good to see you. I just wish it were under better circumstances. Oh Ted, we have a problem!"

He looked carefully at her, then at Erin. He cocked his head. "Do I know you, young woman?"

"No."

"Ted, this is Erin. Erin, Ted." Hattie covered Claire back up, then sat back down.

Erin hadn't moved. Dried blood surrounded the cracks and cuts on her feet. Scratches from brambles she'd forced her way through along the roadside covered her legs. The tabby cat jumped into her lap and rubbed itself against her hands and face, begging for attention.

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