Chapter 2

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Knowing that a couple hours remain until Jaron and the rest of the troops arrive in the City, Luca and I detour into the Commons. We scramble up the sides of decrepit buildings and leap across the rooftops towards my old hunting grounds, eyes peeled for familiar faces.

I spot Harry before he spots me, his hulking figure is a dead giveaway amidst the other people making their way through the market. I throw myself off a ledge, landing in a striped canopy shadowing a cart full of fruit and rolling to the ground. Harry's great, booming laugh greets me when I straighten and I am at once surrounded by the scent of freshly baked bread as he crushes me to his chest.

"Why, if it ain't the fabled Runner!" My old friend declares, pushing me back and studying me carefully, his eyes crinkling above his unkempt beard. "This is a sight for sore eyes."

"How you been, Harry?" I grin.

"Never better, never better." Harry nods over my shoulder. "Luca, always good to see you, mate."

I only half-listen as Luca and Harry exchange pleasantries, my brow furrowing as I take in Harry's appearance. His normally rotund form has lessened since I last saw him, his clothes hanging off his wide shoulders. There is scarcely a soul in the City who hasn't felt the effects of our rationing. Since the siege on Babel and the subsequent increase in Mech-Enforcers, our desert oasis' have been stripped bare. We try to compensate by sending people further and further into the Wasteland in search of food, but still our stomachs remain unfilled. I lick my sand-dried lips, imagining Babel and the stolen rain falling unbidden from the dome above. For all her cruelty, the Madam's citizens were well-fed and it's difficult to ignore the sting of jealousy.

"Are you headed to the pub?" I ask Harry.

"I am indeed, m'dear." Harry pulls his baker's apron over his head and stuffs it in his back pocket. "Care to tag along? There happens to be someone joining us who's keen to see you."

My heart soars as I fall into step between him and Luca. "Lead the way."

We arrive at The Beacon just as the sun is setting and the pub is beginning to brim with customers recently off their work shifts. The dim lantern light shows me a scruffy orange mess of hair and I release a shout, fairly leaping over the scattered tables in an effort to clamber towards him.

"Frye!" I throw myself forward, laughing as my brother scrambles to jump to his feet and catches me at the last instant.

"Hey, sis." Frye's hazel eyes spark with mischief. "Didn't think I'd be seeing you back in this neck of the woods so soon."

"I figured you might need a hand managing these goons." I reply happily, at once forgetting my lingering hunger.

"Right you are about that." Frye releases me to accept a couple watered-down mugs of ale from Harry, handing one over to me and grinning. "Rowdy bunch, this is."

"Don't I know it." We knock our mugs together and sip.

Lively conversation hums around us, the smell of soured ale and tobacco filling our nostrils and warming our bones. I laugh with Frye and Luca, feeling my heart grow lighter and my tired muscles loosen as I settle into the ease of my oldest friendships. I lean against my brother while he gestures grandly in his story-telling, for the millionth time uttering a silent prayer of thanks to the gods who protected him in that pit below Babel. The circumstances that took Frye from fighting in the Wastelands to being enslaved along with countless others by the Madam are still fresh wounds; the anger I feel for our lost years never far from reach. I shut my eyes tight as I fight the memory, my sense of peace suddenly obliterated by a white-hot rage. I shudder, ale sloshing over the rim of my glass and soaking my sleeve.

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