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Zelda was finishing off her braid with her one remaining hair tie when Kaede stuck her head in the doorway

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Zelda was finishing off her braid with her one remaining hair tie when Kaede stuck her head in the doorway.

"I'm not late," Zelda said, reaching for the harness for her pipe. She looped it over her chest and fastened the ties to hold it in place.

"Doesn't matter. Patrol is canceled today."

Zelda's head snapped up. "What? Why?"

Her first thought was that somehow Cooper had found out about Deon's offer and had arranged for her to be taken off the assignment because he was afraid she would go.

It was a ridiculous notion.

Even if he had somehow found out, he would never do anything like that. He may not like that she put herself in danger by going out there, but he'd never go behind her back to put a stop to it.

Her guilty conscience must be getting to her. They didn't keep secrets from each other, and now here she was, keeping Deon's offer to leave with them from him.

She was so lost in her thoughts she almost missed what Kaede said.

". . . two people."

"Say that again."

Kaede sighed. "I said they found two people."

Zelda's heart stopped. "Like living people?"

"For now."

"What—"

Kaede cut her off. "I have to tell the others about the patrols. If you want more details, go downstairs."

It took a few seconds for Zelda to move after Kaede left. Wild hope burned through her as she tore out of the room and headed for the stairs.

Could it be? Maybe . . .

Her heartbeat thudded loud in her ears. At the bottom of the stairs, she paused to take in the chaos. The normally quiet hallway was rife with activity. People darted back and forth. Their arms filled with supplies while others stood around in small clusters, whispering to each other.

Zelda scanned the faces, looking for Cooper, but she didn't see his familiar red hair among them. Maybe he hadn't been alerted yet. She should go back upstairs and find him, but first, she wanted to learn what exactly was going on. Besides, she reasoned, Kaede said she was letting others know the patrols were canceled. She'd probably tell him too, and then he would come looking for her.

She stepped off the stairs and sidled over to the nearest cluster. The three women had their heads ducked together and didn't appear to notice her.

"Do you think they'll live?" Lana was asking. Her brown eyes were wide with worry as she played with a string bracelet, turning it round and round on her wrist.

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