“How is that even possible? Where are their parents?” Jamie, who hadn’t been exactly keen on me hanging around, had a hand pressed to her chest.
“Some were homeless or in group homes or something similar before the invasion, and just forgotten in the chaos,” I said. “But one of the kids told me there used to be more children—there used to be parents, families, but many of them didn’t survive the first year.”
“Oh my God,” whispered Jamie. “That is … I don’t even have words.”
“I have so many questions right now,” Zouhour said. “How did you two even get past our patrols? We have guards constantly patrolling the outer edges of the city.”
“The kids know this whole area. They know exactly where the guards are going to be at any given time—their schedule.”
“Well, add changing up the guard routine to my mental to-do list,” muttered Eaton. “I can’t believe we haven’t seen any of them when we’ve done our sweeps. We’ve scoured every inch of that city in the last four years.”
“Like I said, they know how to hide and not be found,” I told him.
“What do you mean they’ve been living there?” Jamie asked. “There’s nothing in the city. No food. No real useful supplies other than just what they can take here and there.”
“That’s where some of the food has been disappearing.” Viv cleared her throat with a slight grimace.
I scanned the group for expressions of censure, but all I saw was shock and dismay. “I wanted to say something as soon as I discovered them, but I knew if anyone came looking for them, no one would see them again.”
“How do they look?” Viv asked.
“Underfed. I get the impression that there have been infections, mostly from cuts and bruises. Things that I imagine if they were living under better conditions they wouldn’t have to deal with.” I looked at Viv closer. Her cheeks were flushed. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah. Allergies.” She sniffed. “Too bad the EMPs didn’t knock them out. Why haven’t they come here for treatment? We would’ve helped them.”
“They’re scared,” Luc stepped in. “I haven’t seen any of the kids myself, but that’s what they’ve told Evie. They’re scared of us—of all the Luxen here.”
“Good God,” Quinn murmured, running his thumb along his chin. “Have they seen the Yard? Is that why?”
“I don’t know what they’ve seen, but there’s a man who’s sort of fashioned himself as their guardian,” Luc continued. “He’s got them scared out of their minds when it comes to the Luxen, and I imagine he’s got them thinking only he can protect them, and since he’s human, he felt familiar to them.”
“But he’s not protecting them. His name is Morton. He’s using them. I’m willing to bet most of the food and supplies go to him, and he’s been abusing at least one of them. I’m sure it’s more,” I said. “I just saw Nate, and he had a black eye and had been limping. I asked if it was Morton, and Nate said yes.”
Kat’s hand fisted where it rested on the table. “That is unacceptable.”
“It is,” I agreed. “And none of them have confirmed this, but I think … I don’t know, but it’s awfully convenient and strange that all these kids survived, but only one adult did? Morton could have something to do with the other adults not making it. I’m just saying, I met him once, and he just gives those kind of vibes.”
“What I’m hearing is making me stabby,” Dee said.
I nodded. “I’ve told them we can help them. I mean, we would, right? They’re just children, but they’ve been too scared to accept help.” I drew in a shallow breath. “Until tonight. Nate said they’re ready. They want help. I told them we would. I know I’m not on your unofficial but totally official council, and I don’t speak for any of you, but I have to believe that the kind of world you all are building wouldn’t let kids starve or turn a blind eye to them being hurt.”
Gazes left mine and were exchanged all along the table until, one by one, they nodded. My breath halted as I shot Luc a nervous, hopeful look.
“How many children are there again?” Cekiah asked.
“At least twenty. There could be more. They are all very skittish and move around a lot. Hard to keep track of,” I answered. “If we do help them, and I am hoping that we do, a large group can’t go in there. There can only be a few of us. Otherwise, I’m afraid some will bolt even if Nate has rounded them up.”
“Finding lodging for all of them will be difficult.” Zouhour was looking at Cekiah. “But we could set up temporary housing here until we figure out what to do with them.” She glanced over at me. “How old is the youngest you’ve seen?”