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Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky 11

Page 11

 

  As soon as they reached the beach, Wylan put on his Aud cap, pulling the padded flaps down over his ears. With the wind and the surf crashing, he apparently had more noise than he wanted, just as Perry had hoped.

  Perry staked his quiver in the sand and took his bow. A few seabirds wheeled in the clouded Aether sky. They made meager catchings, scrawny as they were, but good practice for Talon. Timing was important. Gauging the wind. Reading the animal.

  Talon did well enough, but Perry saw how he grew tired. The draw weight of Perry’s bow was too great, and he wished he’d thought to bring Talon’s bow along. Perry took a few shots also. He didn’t miss once. His aim was never sharper than when his blood was up. After a time, Wylan grew bored of watching and walked off.

  “Want to see what I’ve got for you?” Perry said, keeping his voice low.

  Talon frowned. “What? Oh, yeah. ”

  He’d forgotten Perry had a surprise for him. That raised an ache in Perry’s throat. He had a fair idea what was pulling Talon’s temper down. Pulling him down too.

  “You have to keep quiet about it, all right?” Perry dug inside his satchel for the plastic bundle. He brought out the apple, leaving the eyepiece in the plastic.

  Talon stared at it for a few moments. “You saw traders?”

  Perry gave a slight shake of his head. “Tell you later. ” Wylan might have his cap on, but he was one of the keenest Auds Perry knew. “Better get to it, Squeak. ”

  Talon ate half the apple with a smile on his face, pieces poking through the gaps in his teeth. He gave the rest to Perry. Perry finished it in two bites, including the stem and seeds. Seeing his nephew’s teeth starting to chatter, Perry pulled off his shirt and dropped it over Talon’s shoulders. Then he sat, leaning back on his hands, savoring the sweet aftertaste. Deep on the horizon, clouds lit with flashes of blue. Outside of the winter months, they didn’t suffer Aether storms on land, but rogue storms were always a danger out at sea.

  Talon rested his head on Perry’s arm, drawing in the sand with a stick. He was a born hunter like Perry, but he had his mother’s artistic side too. Perry closed his eyes and wondered if this was the last time he’d feel this way. Like he was exactly where he should be. Like for a few minutes everything was in balance. Then he felt the balance shift as a prickling sensation pierced the back of his nose.

  Through gaps in the clouds he saw the Aether flowing fiercely, churning like white caps on rough seas. The beach held a blue glow, cast from the light above. Perry drew the cool ocean air down into his lungs, tasting the salt on his tongue. This was it. He could never go back to the compound. He couldn’t trust himself to hold back from challenging Vale any longer.

  Perry looked down at his nephew. “Talon . . . ,” he began.

  “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

  “I have to. ”

  “No, you don’t. You don’t have to stay here forever. Just until I’m gone. ”

  Perry leaped to his feet. “Talon! Don’t talk like that. ”

  Talon scrambled up. His tears came suddenly, rolling down his cheeks. “You can’t go!” he shouted. “You can’t leave!”

  Talon’s dark hair blew into his eyes. His jaw trembled with rage. A startling red color bloomed at the edges of Perry’s vision. He had never seen this side of his nephew. This sort of fury. He had to work not to let it overtake him. “If I stay, either your father will die or I will. You know that. ”

  “My dad promised he wouldn’t fight you!”

  Perry froze. “He promised that?”

  Talon swiped tears off his face and nodded. “Now you promise. You promise and it’ll all be fine. ”

  Perry put his hands through his hair, striding upwind so he could think without Talon’s anger riling him up. Had Vale really made that promise? It explained why he hadn’t made a move earlier in front of Talon. Perry knew he couldn’t make the same pledge. The need to take Blood Lord came from too deep.

  “Talon, I can’t. I have to go. ”

  “Then I hate you!” Talon yelled.

  Perry let out a slow breath. He wished that were true. Leaving him would be easier.

  “Peregrine!” Wylan’s voice sliced above the dull surf. He sprinted toward them on the hard-packed sand by the water, his cap in one hand, his knife in the other. “Dwellers, Perry! Dwellers!”

  Perry snatched his bow and quiver and grabbed Talon’s hand. Fear poured off Wylan’s skin as he ran up, biting cold as it entered Perry’s nostrils. “Hovers,” Wylan panted. “Coming right at us. ”

  Perry ran up the bank and scanned the distance. A pale glint appeared on the farthest ridge, a plume of sand rising behind it. Seconds later another Hover appeared.

  “What’s happening, Uncle Perry?”

  Perry pushed Talon at Wylan. “Cut up the old fishing trail. Get him home. Stay on him like you’re his shadow, Wylan. Go!”

  Talon dodged out of Wylan’s reach. “No! I’m staying with you!”

  “Talon, do what I say!”

  Wylan caught him but Talon struggled, digging his feet into the sand.

  “Wylan, pick him up!” Perry yelled.

  Wylan sank into the sand with Talon’s added weight, moving too slowly. Perry ran toward the Hovers. Stopped a few hundred paces away. He had never been this close to them before. Their blue surfaces shimmered like abalone shells.

  Talon’s screams were terrible, shrill sounds. Perry fought the urge to turn and run for him. As the Hovers sped closer, the charge in the air stung Perry’s arms and seared deep into his nose. They were stirring the Aether. Attracting its venom. Perry had an idea for using that to his advantage and hoped it wouldn’t kill him first.

  From his satchel, he took a thread of copper he used for traps and quickly wound it around the shaft of an arrow. A shock shot up his arm when his fingers brushed the steel arrowhead. Perry nocked the arrow to his bow. He only had the one wire. One shot. He aimed high, so his arrow would soar far enough to reach the craft. Perry imagined the arc he needed. He adjusted for the wind and let it loose.

  Things slowed to kill-time after that, crisp and clear. The arrow sailed true. At the highest point, as the arrow began to level, a spool of Aether wove down from the sky, meeting it. Perry winced, shielding his eyes as the arrow dropped, drawing the Aether with it. His shot now carried all the violence of the sky at its tail. It came down with a hellish, gut-grinding scream.

  He struck the first Hover clean. The arrow bit into the metal. Then the veins of Aether wrapped around the Hover, strangling the vehicle. Sucking it dry. Perry flinched again as the Aether rejoined in a brilliant ray and shot skyward, diving back into the bright currents above.

  The mangled Hover skidded over the dunes like a skipping stone, shaking the ground beneath Perry’s feet, until it stopped with a burst of sand. A hot gust blew past, carrying the smells of molten metal, glass, and plastic. More potent was the stench of scorched flesh.

  The other Hover slowed right away and settled on the sand. The door slid open, a crack in the perfect shell. Dwellers jumped to the ground. Perry counted six men, helmeted, covered in blue suits. Six against him.

  Two knelt immediately. They held weapons Perry didn’t recognize. He took out the first man right away. Nocked another arrow and fired again. Perry hit the second Dweller as the man struck him, a blow that felt like a slap to the rib, just under his left arm. He put an arrow in another Dweller, but as the three men who were left came at him, he stumbled, his legs and then his arms going numb. He toppled forward, unable to break his fall, his face thudding into the sand. Perry tried to lift himself up but couldn’t move.

  “I got him. ” Someone grabbed his hair, pulling his head up. Sand plugged his nose. Scraped at his eyes. Perry tried to blink but his eyes only twitched.

  The Dweller brought his helmeted face close. “Not so dangerous anymore, are you?” His voice sounded metallic and far. “Didn’t think we’d forget to pay you a return vi
sit, did you, Savage?”

  He let Perry’s head drop. Perry took a kick to the ribs, but he didn’t feel any pain, only the blow pushing him to the side. Something pressed between his shoulder blades.

  “What’s this?”

  “Some kind of hawk. ”

  “Looks like a turkey if you squint. ”

  Laughter.

  “Let’s get this done. ” They rolled him onto his back.

  A Dweller pressed a clear sword to his throat. He wore black gloves, the material thinner than the rest of his suit. “I’ll take care of him. You get the other ones. ”

  “No!” Perry groaned. He could feel his fingers now, prickling like they were thawing from cold, and pain waking in his ribs.

  “Where’s the Smarteye, Turkey?”

  “The eyepiece? I’ll give it to you! You don’t need them. ” His words came out garbled but the Dweller must have understood.

  He took the clear sword away. Perry fought to bring his arms back, but his muscles were numb.

  “What are you waiting for, Savage?”

  “I can’t move!”

  The Dweller laughed at him. “That’s your problem, Turkey. ”

  A wave of hatred fueled Perry to battle for control of his limbs. He pushed himself to his feet and turned up the beach, swaying, his legs quaking beneath him. Two Dwellers ran toward Talon and Wylan. One caught Talon, the other swung at Wylan with a short club, catching him on the head and sending him down.

  “Uncle Perry!” Talon yelled.

  “Move, Savage!” yelled the Dweller with the black gloves. “Get the Smarteye. ”

  Perry stumbled to where he’d left his satchel, falling to his knees twice. He’d regained some feeling, but now he felt the ache in his ribs, threatening to swallow him whole. He turned toward the Dweller with the clear sword, holding up the eyepiece. “Let him go! I have it!”

  The two Dwellers had Talon trapped between them. Talon wouldn’t stop struggling.

  “Stop!” Perry yelled at his nephew.

  Talon wrenched an arm free and punched one of the Dwellers in the groin. The man buckled, but the other one reacted quickly, kicking Talon in the stomach. Talon tumbled onto the sand. He came up slow, bearing his knife. Perry’s old knife. The Dweller was ready and backhanded him, sending the blade and Talon flying. Eyes blurring, Perry watched his nephew’s body go still, the waves breaking against the beach behind him.

  A gust carried Talon’s temper to Perry, as staggering as any blow he’d ever taken. He couldn’t fight the Moles this way, shaking with terror. With legs that couldn’t hold him upright.

  “Enough! Take it!” Perry threw the eyepiece at the Dweller.

  The man caught it in his gloved hand and shoved it into a pocket at his chest.

  “Too late,” he said. Then he came toward Perry, the clear sword raised and ready. Down the beach, one of the Dwellers picked up Talon and carried him up the bank. Toward the Hover. Perry couldn’t believe what he was seeing. They were taking Talon.

  “No!” Perry yelled. “I gave it to you! You’re dead, Moles!”