Lizzie and Monty shared a swift look, mouthing the words, “I love you,” before parting ways. The prince led his immediate subordinates to the front of the assembly, while the human joined her siblings. Maggie, Lori, and Hank had been standing off to one side with the demons, and Lizzie wondered for a short moment if they felt more comfortable around the teenage outcasts than they did the Iuppiter Court.
Can’t blame them–if the Semes Tribe had come around and recruited my friends just a year or two ago, then I’d probably feel closer to the Phebeans than I would Monty.
As she stood with her siblings, it suddenly struck Lizzie how much had changed in the past year:
She was reunited with Monty, her Jovian friends, and her family–only to lose one of her younger brothers.
She went from not knowing how she would contribute to the colony to witnessing the dark side of the colonists, leading her to open up the first boarding home for neglected and abused children, and she loved each and every one of them as if they were her own kids.
Lizzie graduated from the colonial school without having to stay past the average graduating age–a feat that astonished her teachers and the school’s principal, seeing as she had never set foot in an educational environment before the age of fourteen–and she became a scout, defending the borders of the colony that had been her sanctuary for the past five years.
Some of her nearest and dearest friends were recruited by a roaming tribe of demons, but at the end of the day they were still the same rambunctious teenagers with whom she shared many secrets over countless emotionally-charged days.
She worked up the courage to ask Monty out, and while they had had their ups and downs over the past twelve months, they ultimately had a healthy and stable relationship.
All in all, Lizzie was satisfied with the direction that her life was taking her. Happy, even.
Then why do I feel like something bad is going to happen?
“Thank you all for coming,” Monty began. His words snapped Lizzie out of her own mind, pulling her back to the situation at hand. Stay focused, Liz. “As you’re all aware, there’s been a rise in bandit raids to our neighboring colonies. As of last weekend, Fayetteville and Washington have fallen, and our colony has seen an influx of humans seeking shelter. Those were the two nearest colonies–vital trading hubs on the East coast. With them gone, we’re forced to reach as far out as Kansas City and Boston, which presents its own set of problems.”
Gabby raised her hand from Lizzie’s left, catching Monty’s eye. “Yes, Gabby?”
“Um, hi everyone!” she waved at the court nervously, an amicable simper on her lips. Several of the angels couldn’t help but smile at her greeting; most of them had met Gabby when she was still a resident of the halfway house, so they were well aware of her friendly nature. “So, um, I get that Boston and K.C. are far from here, which gives the traders a higher chance of being ambushed, but what other issues could there be?”
“If I may,” Benji piped up from Gabby’s left, their own hand-raised casually. When Monty nodded, they turned to their soul mate. “The two colonies that fell were almost as big as Savannah, and Savannah is considered by many in the southeast as a stronghold. The Boston colony, on the other hand, is small and focused on training its people. They were reliant on the Washington colony for goods, but without them, they’ll be forced to only trade with the New York colonies. Those three push out more man-made goods than food–they themselves are reliant on the food they receive from the smaller colonies along the border of Maine and New Brunswick. There’s no way the northeastern colonies will be able to provide Savannah with enough goods to cater to its growing population. That means that trading with Boston is out, leaving only K.C. as a viable option.”
“Oh.” Gabby pondered for two short seconds. “Then what’s the problem with trading with K.C. in the meantime?”
“K.C. is the Midwestern stronghold; they’re at least four times the size of Savannah,” explained Benji. “All that land means more homes for refugees, and all those refugees mean more laborers to create or farm goods. This makes them self-sufficient–and a self-sufficient colony doesn’t need to trade in order to make ends meet. There’s a good chance they’ll turn away traders who do make the trip.”
“Smart kid,” Remi mused from Desideria’s right. The prophetess simply smirked at the teenager’s detailed explanation, while Aldo eyed them, an impressed expression on his face.
“There’s another reason y’all can’t risk the trip to K.C.,” Lori spoke up from off to Lizzie’s right, shoulder-to-shoulder with Maggie and Hank. She cocked an eyebrow at her younger sister’s direction and added, “I’m surprised you didn’t tell ‘em.”
Lizzie narrowed her russet eyes at Lori in turn. “I didn’t have to. They already know about Pappy’s reach.”
“ ‘Pappy’?” Tawni asked. She and Koji snickered amongst themselves–until the Peter siblings threw glares in their direction. “S-Sorry.”
“They talkin’ bout our mama’s daddy, Frank Shaw,” Hank revealed. “He controlled all the gangs from no man’s land to Philly–they got a base ‘round there, so they prolly been watchin’ the traders for ‘while now.”
“ ‘Cept Pappy’s dead, so Uncle Jermaine took over,” added Lori. “He only do what Uncle Clyde tells ‘im to, though. Been that way for a couple years now.”
“Wait–how the hell do you know all of this?” Lizzie demanded. “You said Clint got you outta Jesup after he brought me here. Did he tell you that?”
Lori scoffed. “Like Clint’d tell us a damn thing. You were his favorite.”
Lizzie’s blood ran cold as her expression hardened. “What’s that gotta do with–?”
“Stop! Both o’ ya!” Maggie hollered. When her younger sisters quieted down, she turned to Monty. “Look, we shoulda told you when we first got here, but we didn’t know anything new ‘til this week, a’ight?”
Monty frowned. “What are you talking about?”
She sighed. “When Clint got us out, he told us someone would leave us messages wherever we went, warnin’ us ’bout bandits near us an’ all that. Someone from the inside’s been feedin’ us intel–an’ they left us another message at the border on Monday.”