“She’s not breathing,” Alex heard somebody say.
“Oh no,” he whispered, leaning heavily against the door frame of the hospital wing. “No. No.” He wanted to scream it. He couldn’t bear to lose her. Not now. Not after everything. He gripped his robe—the robe that Sky had hemmed for him so it wouldn’t drag on the floor. He stood on his tiptoes, trying to see around the crowd of nurses, trying to see her face. If only he could see her face. . . . “Sky!” he screamed. “Your mother—you have to breathe! We need to save your mother!” Several in the room turned to look at him, their faces growing scared.
“Alex,” Samheed said, his voice wretched. He gripped Alex’s arm tighter. “Pull it together, man.”
“Sky!” Alex yelled again, and then he stopped and shot Samheed a wild look. “Where’s Crow?”
Samheed shrugged, helpless. “I don’t know. I saw him, I mean . . . I think he’s fine.”
“Do you think she’s . . . ?”
“I don’t know, Al.”
Alex knew that he should try to find Crow, let him know his sister was hurt. Or dying. Or . . . dead. But he couldn’t move. His feet were cemented to the floor. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
More and more Artiméans rushed in carrying injured humans and creatures, filling up the beds.
“What are they doing to her?” Alex asked.
“It’s hard to tell,” Samheed said.
“She can’t die. Not after everything.”
Samheed looked on with Alex and nodded. “I know. It’s not right.”
Just then there was a flurry of activity at Sky’s side.
“Roll her on her side!” Ms. Morning shouted. “Quickly!”
Alex strained to see what was happening. “Sky, please!” he cried out as his insides ached and trembled. Samheed didn’t try to quiet him.
After a moment of stillness, there was another burst of movement. Henry lifted something in the air and shouted in triumph, “Okay, Sky—now breathe!”
Another agonizing moment passed. And then Alex thought he heard a hoarse cough.
“Atta girl,” Ms. Morning said. “That’s it. Get it all out.”
Before Alex’s eyes, Sky sat up, coughing and hacking, sucking in air.
A cheer arose. Alex broke free from Samheed’s grasp and ran to her bedside, squeezing past the people who surrounded her. She coughed a bit more, and when she stopped, Alex spoke her name. “Sky?”
She turned, seeing him for the first time, and smiled weakly. “Hey.”
Alex flung his arms around her. There was nothing that could possibly feel better right now than her dirt-covered cheek on his, and her ragged breath against his neck.
The New Unwanteds
While Sky was left to spend a few hours recovering in the hospital ward with the dozens of other injured, Alex and Samheed found Lani and Meghan at the shore hard at work. They and several others had all the people of Warbler lined up and shackled to keep them contained until Artimé could figure out what to do with them.
Simber and a bunch of squirrelicorns flew out over the water behind the fleet, plucking up any additional Warblerans who were falling off the sides of the ships as their spells wore off. They brought them to the shore, where Meghan took over, stripping them of their weapons, shackling their wrists, and walking them over to the others.
Almost all the newcomers were children, and they looked scared. Their ages varied, but most looked around ten or eleven, like Henry and Crow. Some a little older. They pleaded with their orange eyes. Others cried silently or looked at the ground. None of them made a sound, of course.
Alex looked them over carefully, not yet sure what he was going to do with them. They seemed harmless enough. He glanced over his shoulder at Meghan. “See if you can find Crow and ask him to come here, will you? He may still be in the library.”
“Be right back.” Meghan took off for the mansion.
Alex turned back to the silent prisoners. “Well, here you all are,” he mused. “Abandoned.” They didn’t look like criminals at all. “Look,” he said matter-of-factly, “when you surprised us by parachuting in, we didn’t know what we were facing. We cast some spells on you to keep the situation under control, but none of them were painful. Looking back, I now understand that somebody probably strapped a parachute to you and put you in a catapult, and you maybe didn’t have any say in that. But the reason I’m angry with you is that once you got here, you attacked us with knives and you hurt people. You did that all on your own. And I’m wondering why you’d do such a thing. Did we hurt you in some way when we went to Warbler to rescue our friends?”
Several Warbler children burst into silent tears. Alex couldn’t look at them. He had to figure out if there was evil in these children. He needed to know if they felt bad about what they did, and if he could trust them not to hurt anyone else. He took his time studying each face. By the time he had looked at them all, the entire group had dissolved into remorse.
Alex softened. “Listen, guys. We do things a little differently in Artimé.” His voice grew kind. “You see, we found ourselves here because we were Unwanted and Purged from our society in Quill, which lies beyond that wall.” He paused as the children of Warbler lifted their heads to look where he was pointing. “It appears your ruler has used you and left you for dead,” he said. “Which I guess makes you Unwanted too.”