Chapter 43

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The City is quick to heal and so am I.

Days blend into one another and I feel myself growing stronger, my arms and legs stretching gloriously when I help to lift a plank of wood up a scaffold or clamber to the rooftop to patch a hole. I am perched upon one such roof, nails in mouth and hammer in hand as I secure a final board in place. Mopping my brow I look out from my perch, my heart lifting at seeing the hustle and bustle of life down in the former Commons. The streets are filled with every type of person imaginable. Miners, Wasters and Babelonians pop in and out of canopied entryways, their shouts to one another intermingling with the.gleeful shrieks of children and the rumbling of carriages.

A shrill whistle from down below tells me that the work day has ended. I raise my hand in acknowledgement, taking my time in putting away my tools while the rest of the crew heads toward the pub. Dusting my hands off on my pants I stride across to the roof, placing one foot on the raised ledge as I consider the distance. A cooling breeze lifts my hair from my shoulders and I imagine joining the wind in flight, dashing along the rooftops to the greater unknown. Stepping up and standing with both toes hanging over the ledge I lean out as far as I dare. My bad knee trembles in warning as my heart tempts me with a soft lie. Exhaling an impatient huff I spin around and pick a deliberate path down to the street, my hands finding the windowsills and rough rocks almost without thought.

Jogging lightly down back alleyways, I zigzag my way across the City and arrive at The Beacon just as the lamplights are being lit. Shoving my way inside I keep my eyes averted and make a beeline for our usual table near the back.

"There she is!" I cringe when a booming voice rings out.

Harry waves enthusiastically, shoving a mug of ale into my hands when I slide into my spot beside Frye. I give Lara a cordial nod as I loosen my scarf and sip my drink, allowing my friends' familiar banter to wash over me. My thoughts drift and I watch Gordy glowering moodily in a corner, his wrist tucked into the crook of his elbow while Harry regales us with a story of rescuing bags of flour from the flood and nearly missing the last airship. When Marc and Gus stop by our table I pull them down beside me and badger them for details of the work Luca and Will are performing in the Wastelands.

"Latest report is that early treatments are showing great promise." Marc looks pleased to deliver the news. "They're reliant on electricity out there but the wind farms are still operational so no concerns for the time being."

"Lucky that Kay's bombs didn't reach that far." Gus teases.

I force myself to laugh along with the others, rubbing the back of my neck and looking away.

An image of Will convulsing atop one of the Vane's arms flashes before me and I startle, sending droplets of ale over the rim of my cup. The resulting surge of electricity would have killed anyone human but ended up being the key that the Technicians needed in order to turn the Brutes back. Will's revival proved that high voltage compromises the Brutes' mechanics and undoes their dependence on the horrible, tar-like poison that the Madam kept them pumped full of.

Someone asks whether the power lines will be able to run into the City once the Brutes are recovered and the boys dive excitedly into the City's plans for the future. As they talk I turn into myself, imagining Luca and Will working to cure the Brutes out in the desert while I recuperate in the City. For the millionth time I consider joining them before remembering that I can be of the most help, right here. New constructions are needed in the space between our Wall and the Outer City as more and more displaced Babelonians appear at the gates. It was my finger that pulled the trigger on an entire civilization and the least I can do is take part in the building of a new one.

"Hey."

A bony elbow nudges me and I look up, smiling at finding Frye's freckled face. My brother raises his brows in question, inclining his head toward the door. I nod, bidding my goodbyes and averting my gaze from the quick kiss that Frye exchanges with Lara. We ease our way around packed tables and escape into the night air, tracing old paths lit by lamplight.

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