Chapter 44

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It is a few days later that we begin to notice the change in weather.

A humid breeze skips across rooftops and through alleyways, catching the leaves of the palm trees and sending shopkeepers scurrying to bring their wares indoors. I hang onto the bough of a tree, waiting until the wind settles before swinging over to the next branch and hurrying to fill my bag. Vegetation lines the newly-carved streets, sprouting between the rocky groundworks that will eventually become rows of homes. Sounds of construction explode around me as I reach for another cluster of dates, my hand stopping in midair when an odd shape appears from behind a cloud.

An airship.

A muted whoop escapes me and I scramble to the ground, discarding my bag and taking off uphill. Loose sand turns into cobbled path as I soar beneath the front gate and cut a crooked path up toward the hangar.

The ship is already docked when I arrive. I dart through the busy station, scanning the platform for familiar faces. Scores of people pour down the gangplanks, each of them wearing identical looks of bewilderment as they take in the fleet of hovering ships and the sky-high rafters.

"Kay!" Will materializes through the crowd and scoops me up. His scruffy hair has grown out and the scent of desert that clings to him fills me with a painful sense of longing. Before I can collect my thoughts my feet land back upon the ground and I'm spun sharply around as Will points me back toward the ship.

"Recognize them?" His breath warms my neck.

I fight to concentrate on the scene and not him, squinting at the disembarking travellers. Their halting strides and wide-eyed stares eventually give them away and I gasp, my hands flying to my mouth as I recognize the murderous horde I locked inside the Great Hall. Someone near us unleashes a shriek and I jump, stumbling into Will as a young girl shoves her way past us and runs toward the ship. The wan face of one of the new arrivals lights up when he spots her and they embrace, laughing and exclaiming over one another. I watch in stunned silence as more and more people find one another, their shouts of joy ringing from every corner of the expansive station.

"My gods..." I choke on the swell gathering in my throat. "You did it."

"We did it." Will corrects me fiercely.

The station platform turns into utter pandemonium as the ex-Brutes continue to spill out of the airship and are found by friends and long-lost family. I scan the sea of faces once more, searching fruitlessly for a dark mop of curls while Will's large hand wraps around my own.

"Come on," He has to shout to be heard. "I have a lot to tell you."

I allow myself to be tugged from the hangar and into the gusting outdoors, my head and chest still abuzz with the fever of wild reunion. Once on the street Will freezes, a strange, lost look coming over his handsome face. I take the lead, flagging down a carriage and telling the driver our destination. Will shoots me a grateful look as he settles into the bench across from me and we rumble down the street.

Will dives into talk of how the Brutes were cured, speaking quickly—almost nervously—and sparing no detail about what Babel's recovered Technicians were able to accomplish. I don't mind in the least and listen raptly, eyes stretched wide as he relates how his own injuries and subsequent recovery were studied and applied using the bunker's ready stock of scientific equipment.

"A few sessions of carefully-applied electric shocks and the Techs were able to whittle down the equipment they installed in us." A slight edge to his voice betrays the disdain that he still feels for Babel's scientists. "We expel the suppressing chemical she kept us fed full of and our organs begin working on their own, again. The recovery period was...not pretty. Lucky that the facilities in the bunker were top-notch."

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