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The guys stared around, for once in complete agreement. They clearly didn’t know what we should do next. But … maybe I did.
“Longshot might help us,” I said. “He did once before.”
I led the way over to the wagon, half the length of the enclave. Longshot stood watch while men unloaded. He glanced over at us with a friendly air. Through my gla.s.ses, I noticed the lines on his face in the daylight more. He had a long, droopy bunch of hair on top of his mouth, and I’d never seen that on anyone before, either.
“Something else I can do you for?” he asked.
I nodded. “Is there anywhere we can stay while we wait for news of our friend?”
In truth, we needed a permanent place because we’d find a way to fit in here. There was nothing better out there; we already knew it. But one step at a time. Given our dirt, we’d sure need his help in securing shelter.
Longshot thought and then said, “Momma Oaks will take you in. She has a couple of spare rooms now. Lost one boy to Muties, and the other’s married.” He paused, looked us over, and added, “Say I sent you.” He went on to describe the house and how we could find it.
“I can’t thank you enough.” Then I realized I could help in turn. “We saw Freaks—that is, Muties—not too far from here. They’re smart too. You need to be prepared to fight.”
Unlike Silk he didn’t dismiss the warning. Instead he hefted the weapon he’d called Old Girl. “We’re always ready.”
I followed his gaze to the Hunters on the walls. “Do you get many attacks?”
“Less than we used to,” he answered. “But we haven’t gotten comfortable. Seen too many outposts pay the price.”
I relaxed a little, seeing tragedy wouldn’t repeat itself here. They were alert and wary. With a nod, I went to collect our belongings. It wasn’t much, but the few things I had in my bag—that was all that remained of the College enclave—the underground tribes, as Stalker called us. Longshot gave us a wave and then went back to supervising the work.
Stalker roved ahead of us, taking in the sights; local girls paused and gazed at him wide-eyed. He returned their looks with a wolfish grin. Fade walked more slowly, head down, sorrow in the set of his shoulders.
I touched him on the arm. “Don’t worry. Tegan will get better.”
He looked at me with his black eyes and nodded, but I wasn’t sure if he believed me. We’d lost a lot of people along the road. I thought maybe he looked at Tegan, and saw Banner and Pearl. I had to trust Doc Tuttle could save her. Any other outcome would break my heart.
This time, Fade led the way; this settlement wasn’t too big, but it was so bright and lovely that it hurt me a little to look around, not just from the sun. I wished the brats could see all the marvels, particularly 26. She’d like it here.
We found the place easily. It was bigger than some of the other buildings in town, taller too, and it had been coated with white paint that made it shine in the sun. Dark wood offered a pretty contrast, and there were even plants out front, blooming pink and red and yellow.
I slicked back my hair nervously and then drummed my knuckles on the door. The woman who opened it had to be as old as Longshot. I couldn’t get over the shock of it, no matter how many of these faces I saw. She drew back at the sight of us, and probably the smell as well. Her eyes widened when she noticed Stalker’s ink and his scars. Wisely, the boys left the talking to me.
“What do you want?” Her tone wasn’t friendly.
“Longshot sent us over. He said you might let us sleep in your spare rooms.”
“And why would I do that? You lot are filthy.”
This wasn’t going well, so I dredged up my best manners, learned through trying to appease the elders—and Silk, of course. “Please, sir. We’ll clean up outside and we can help with work if you tell us what needs doing. We’ve come a very long ways.”
“Oh?” That piqued her interest. “From where? Appleton?”
At first I couldn’t remember the name of the ruins. I’d seen it, I thought, at the library. I squeezed my mind tight, trying to dig it out, and then I had it. I said the name out loud, though probably wrong.
Her face paled. “You lie. n.o.body lives there anymore. Not since the evacuations.”
“It’s not a lie,” Stalker growled.
I put up a hand, not wanting him to scare her. She was already upset with us. If she thought he was dangerous, she’d shut the door, and then where would we be?
“Show her the book,” Fade said softly.
I smiled, dug into my battered bag, and pulled out our copy of The Day Boy and the Night Girl. She took it with reverent hands, examining the age of it, and then she opened it and flipped to the back. An old yellow card was stuck there, stamped with the letters PROPERTY OF THE NY PUBLIC LIBRARY.
Her eyes lifted and met mine. “You do come from the city. I must tell the town council at once. Edmund!” she called to someone out of sight. “Listen, there are people living to the south in Gotham.”
“Are there?” a man asked.
I heard movement and then he stood beside his wife, peering at us. He, too, was old in a way that lightened my heart. His face spoke of years lived, not lost to the withering sickness. Maybe living here could grant us that health.
Momma Oaks murmured, “Come in. You must tell me your story, child.”
I almost said, I’m not a child, I’m a Huntress—the very last, but then I looked on her kindly face and knew the truth would scar her in ways she might not be able to bear. When she opened the door to us fully, we went inside.