Chapter 37

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Finally free of my demons, I soar through the desert.

Rain pelts me but I barely notice. My breaths are even as I tear across the open expanse, travelling so swiftly that I leave scarcely a mark in the pitted sand. The tracks left by the Wasters are long-gone but I don't need them. I know that Jaron will be lingering near the City and keep my instincts tuned to the other clues leading to their whereabouts.

Running spurs my thoughts, unearthing voices far kinder than the cruel whispers I've become used to.

I hear my loved ones, both living and lost. Frye pleading with me to open up. Meg's warning about the price of power. Luca's goodbye.

I listen to Cade and wish that I understood what he was trying to teach me while he was still alive. I wasted far too much time being angry about the past, when I should have been confronting it.

I listen to Will, letting his last words echo over and over until they begin to sting just a little less. I tried. Gods can't say I didn't try. I fought for him with everything I had but lost sight of myself in the process. I let my obsession with the Madam colour what Will and I had together and I can't...I won't subject his memory to any more ugliness.

Lightning flashes and I finally spot the Waster encampment. Racing toward the canopies, I wave a greeting to the scouts guarding it's entrance. The sodden pair look surprised at my arrival but don't try and stop me when I streak by. Jaron's tent is easily distinguishable; patched and ragged from a thousand journeys. I call out for the chief as soon as I am in range and Jaron appears, shoving his way through the flaps of canvas and storming into the pouring rain.

I draw up before him, chest heaving as I realize that running all those miles didn't magically conjure the right thing to say.

Jaron's dark eyes flick over my shoulder. "Where is your army?"

"I don't have one."

He snorts. "I figured that the day the Runner finally emerged from Babel would be the day we faced another war."

"Babel is gone." I tell him.

"Gone?" He raises his brows. "Did you misplace it?"

"No, I buried it."

Jaron's expression remains stony but for a slight twitch near his lip. "For thunder's sake, Runner. Is there nothing you have touched that you have not also destroyed?"

"I'm working on that."

He folds his arms across his thick chest, any trace of amusement wiped from his face as he considers me.

"What is it you want?" He demands.

"To make amends." I state simply. "And to ask for your help."

"I see that your madness persists."

I shove my hair back from my face, wanting him to see me clearly. "I'm sorry, Jaron," I tell him. "For all of it."

As the warlord's huge hands ball into fists I begin to doubt the wisdom of my plan.

"I'm sorry for lying to you." I rush on before I lose my nerve. "For promising that we would have an equal share over Babel when I knew that I couldn't hold to it. I'm sorry that I took your title. I never deserved to be a Chieftain, Jaron but are one of the finest leaders I have ever seen. You care so much about your tribe, you treat them as family. At a time when I needed it, you were my family." I scratch absently at the tattoo circling my arm, "I understand completely why your warriors are so loyal. You earned your place as Chieftain. I stole mine." I trail off, selecting my next words carefully. "But I stand by my stance on those good-for-nothing mercenaries you found. Tell me, how did that alliance work out?"

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