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Cooper emerged from the multi-purpose room with Joel on his heels

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Cooper emerged from the multi-purpose room with Joel on his heels. At first, he didn't see them sitting there on the stairs, giving Zelda a moment to observe him. She searched for any sign of the patients' identity, but if Cooper knew who they were, he gave nothing away.

Joel clapped a hand on his back and said something she couldn't hear before taking off down the hallway in the opposite direction.

"How are they?" Kaede asked, springing to her feet before Zelda could get the words out.

Cooper's eyes went first to her and then to Kaede. He was covered in mud and what looked like algae. "Alive," he said. "We'll have to wait and see if they pull through."

"Bitten?"

"Not that we can see."

Kaede nodded, satisfied with his answers. "If anyone needs help with anything, I'll be upstairs." Then she turned on her heel and retreated, leaving Cooper and Zelda alone in the hallway.

While they'd been talking, Zelda's heart was sinking. It wasn't them. It couldn't be. Cooper would have told her right away. The disappointment stung, but it hurt less than she thought it would.

"You should change," she said. "You're dripping on the floor." It wasn't what she wanted to say. What she wanted was to demand every detail.

The corner of Cooper's mouth lifted, and he glanced down at his feet where a small puddle was spreading. He smelled like he had taken a swim in a pond. A very scummy pond.

"I suppose I should." The hint of a smile faded, and then he confirmed her suspicions. "It's no one we know."

Zelda schooled her face into a neutral expression, as if she didn't care. "I didn't expect it would be." The lie was bitter on her tongue. She had wanted so badly for it to be them, or someone who might know them. Then she would never have to consider leaving.

"We think they're from the north. Maybe two cities up."

"They told you that?" She followed Cooper up the stairs. The squelch of his shoes echoed off the empty walls.

Two cities wasn't that far away. It was possible they might still know something or know someone who did. Hope flickered back to life. If she could just talk to them . . .

"No, but that's what Oscar thinks. We will have to wait for them to wake up before we know for sure. Oscar thinks they somehow ended up in the river—either on purpose or accidentally—and floated down here."

"Something must have happened in their city. Probably dragons," she said, stepping into his room.

"That was my guess, too." Cooper shucked off his dirty shirt and dropped it on the floor.

Zelda politely averted her eyes while he finished changing. "When do you think we will get to talk to them?"

"Tomorrow, maybe? Alisha said they will likely be asleep at least that long. She thinks they are mostly okay, just exhausted from the river."

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