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Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky 12
The Dweller with the black gloves kept coming. Perry had no weapon and Talon’s temper had left him trapped between panic and rage. He backed away, retreating into the sea. The Dweller followed him, stepping unsteadily in the bulky suit as the surf crashed into his knees. A wave rolled past, spraying his helmet. Moles wouldn’t know water, Perry realized. He was ready when the next wave came. Perry lunged and tackled the Dweller. They fell together. Saltwater surged into his nose, bringing him a shot of clarity. Back to himself.
He pried the clear sword out of the man’s hand as they tumbled into the shallows. The wave slid back to the ocean, leaving them locked together, grappling in a foot of water. The Dweller reached up to shove him off. Perry brought his head down and sank his teeth into the man’s gloved hand. His canines punctured the material immediately. He tasted salt and blood and felt the give of muscle. He bit until bone kept him from going further.
The Dweller’s scream came garbled through his helmet. Perry rolled to his feet. The Dweller dragged himself out of the water and curled around his hand. Perry slammed his boot down on the Dweller’s helmet. It cracked, putting out a burst of air that Perry recognized, noxious and thin. One more kick and the man sagged against the wet sand.
Perry wrenched the eyepiece out of the pocket in the Dweller’s suit. Then he lumbered up the sandbank, snatching up his bow and quiver.
He didn’t see his nephew anywhere, only the Hover floating in place. The hatch sealed shut. With a blast of sand, it shot into the distance.
He ran home in a mindless haze, his arm pressed against the spearing pain in his side. He stopped at the top of a ridge. From this far, the compound looked like a circle of stones in the valley below. A sky teeming with Aether flows and dark clouds made night of the late afternoon. Perry tilted his head, searching for scents on the storm winds. No trace of Dwellers that he could tell.
He smelled the sharp tang of bile. Wylan jogged up, a hand pressed to the knot the Dwellers had given him at his hairline. Wylan had vomited twice on the way back. The reek still clung to him.
“Hate to be you right now,” Wylan said. He had a dark, feral look in his eyes. “I heard those Moles. They came after you. Vale’s going to tear you in half. ”
“He’ll need me to get Talon back,” Perry said.
Wylan leaned over and spat. Then he laughed. “Peregrine, you’re the last person Vale needs. ”
Perry found everyone in the clearing, speaking in cheerful tones that mixed with festive music. Torches around the perimeter added a golden glow to the gathering, setting it apart from the cool light surrounding the compound. A few couples danced. Children wove through the crowd, hiding behind women’s skirts and laughing. It was a strange scene, as if they didn’t see the Aether roiling above them. Didn’t care that the sky might rain fire at any moment.
Vale sat on one of the crates by the cookhouse, talking to Bear at his side. He held a bottle in his hand and looked relaxed. Content to watch the celebration.
“Perry!” Brooke called, then she grabbed the arm of the person next to her. Her alarm rippled through the rest of the crowd, bringing the music to a halt. Now Perry heard the frightened brays and bleats of the stabled animals.
Vale stared at Perry, the smile easing off his face. He hopped off the crate and came forward, searching the crowd behind Perry. “Where’s Talon? Where’s Talon, Perry?”
Perry swayed. He could see the bronze flecks in Vale’s green eyes. “The Dwellers took him. I couldn’t stop them. ”
Vale handed his bottle off without looking away. “What are you talking about, Peregrine?”
“The Dwellers took Talon. ” He couldn’t believe he’d spoken the words. That they were true. That he was there, telling Vale his son was gone.
Vale’s dark eyebrows drew together. “That can’t be. We’ve done nothing to them. ”
Perry took in the stunned faces around them. He shouldn’t have told Vale here. When the fog of disbelief wore off, the news would destroy him. But Vale, as Blood Lord, as Talon’s father, shouldn’t have to endure it in front of the tribe.
“Let’s go home,” Perry said.
Vale hesitated. He looked as though he was going to follow Perry until Wylan spoke up. “Tell him here. Everyone should hear this. ”
Vale stepped closer. “Start talking, Peregrine. ”
Perry swallowed hard. “I . . . broke into the Dweller fortress. ” It sounded ridiculous to him now. Like a prank. “A few nights ago,” he added. “After I left. ”
Vale would know, without Perry saying it, that he’d gone after their fight. That he’d acted like a frustrated child and done something rash, as he always did. In the silence that followed, Perry’s breath came fast, like he’d just sprinted. He scented dozens of tempers. Anger. Astonishment. Excitement. The flashing weights and colors and temperatures so potent that he felt sick.
Vale’s face tightened with confusion. “They came for my boy because of what you did?”
Perry shook his head. “They came for me. Talon was just there. ”
He couldn’t look at his brother any longer. He stared at the jumble of footprints on the ground. In the next instant, his head rocked to the side and then his shoulder slammed against the earth. He looked up at Vale, a shot of heat flooding his veins. He was at his brother’s feet. He should stay there. He deserved this. But he couldn’t.
He sprang up. Vale drew his knife. Perry brought out his own blade. People cried out and pushed away from them.
Perry couldn’t believe this was happening. Talon should be here, not him. He should be long gone. “I’ll get him back,” he said. “I’ll get Talon. I swear I will. ”
Rage burned in Vale’s eyes. “You can’t get him back! Don’t you see that? If you go after him, the Dwellers could destroy all of us!”
Perry tensed. He hadn’t thought of that, but Vale was right. The Dwellers could have dozens of Hovers like the two he’d just seen. Hundreds of men, ready to fight. He felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. Then worse for not caring.
“It’s Talon,” he said. “We have to get him back. ”
“There’s no getting him back, Peregrine! You did this! Father was right. You’re cursed. You destroy everything!”
Perry’s legs shuddered beneath him. He couldn’t mean it. Perry had survived his father’s tirades because of Vale. After all the thrashings, it was Vale and Liv who’d saved him by telling him he wasn’t to blame for what happened. For what he considered the greatest mistake of his life. Until now.
“I didn’t know. . . . It wasn’t supposed to happen. ” There wasn’t anything he could say that would help. He just needed to find Talon.
Vale pressed the back of his hand to his mouth like he might be sick.
“I’m sorry, Vale. . . . I’m—”
Vale lunged at him suddenly. Perry dodged to the side. For the first time in months, he knew exactly what he needed to do. Perry shoved Vale as he blew past, buying a few feet of space. Then he plunged into the crowd.
People cried out in surprise. For all his flaws, he’d never been accused of being a coward. He bore the shame and ran, knocking people down as he fled.
Vale wouldn’t fight for Talon, but he would. He was Talon’s only hope now.
Aria walked toward hills in the distance until night forced her to stop. She looked around her. What now? What spot of dirt should she choose to rest against? Would she just end the day where she was?
She sat down, shifting onto her side. Propping herself onto an elbow and then laying on her back. She wanted a pillow and a blanket. Her bed. Her room. She wanted her Smarteye so she could escape into the Realms. She sat back up, hugging her legs. The Medsuit, at least, was keeping her warm.
The Aether looked brighter than it had earlier. It knotted on the horizon in glowing blue waves. She watched the sky until she was sure. The waves
were rolling toward her. Aria closed her eyes and listened to the flap of the wind blowing past her ears, rising and falling. There was music somewhere in the wind. She concentrated on finding it, on slowing her racing pulse.
She heard a crunching sound. She tensed, her eyes desperately searching the darkness. The Aether churned in eerie whirlpools above her now, casting rippling blue light across the desert. She’d been in a daze, but she knew she hadn’t imagined the sound.
“What are you?” she said, straining to see in the shifting light. No answer came back. “I heard you!” she cried.
A flash of blue lit up the distance. Aether dropped from the sky, whirling and twisting downward in a funnel. It struck the earth with a tremor that rattled the ground beneath her. Frenzied light spread across the empty desert. But it wasn’t empty. A human figure charged toward her.
Aria slithered back on her hands, trying to get her feet under her. The funnel spooled back into the sky. Darkness returned just as an immense weight pushed her down. The back of her head struck the dirt and then a hand gripped her jaw.
“I should have let you die. I lost everything because of you. ”
The Aether flashed again, showing a fearsome face she vaguely recognized. But she knew that wild hair, snarled and streaked through with blond, and those gleaming, animal eyes.
“Get going. And don’t try to run. Understand?”
She almost didn’t understand him. Words sounded pulled and stretched the way he spoke them. The Savage yanked her up and shoved her without waiting for an answer. She stumbled back, losing sight of him in the marbled darkness. Another funnel came down. In the flash of light, she saw that he was only a few feet away.
“Move, Mole!” he yelled, then turned away from her and swore.
A warm gust rushed past Aria’s face. The Outsider collided into her again, crashing into her back and wrapping his arms around her. Fear exploded through her as he muscled her forward. She tried to shove back, but he trapped her in a crouch.
“Don’t move,” he yelled in her ear. “Close your eyes and put—”
This funnel was much closer. The light blinded her but the sound when it struck the earth was an unbearable horrid shriek. Aria pressed her palms over her ears and screamed as the skin on her face seared with heat. Every muscle in her body seized, gripped by a force far stronger than her.
When the noise and light faded she peered up, blinking furiously as she tried to regain her senses. Wherever she looked, eruptions of light lashed down from the sky, leaving glimmering trails of fire across the earth. She had feared Aether storms all her life from the safety of Reverie. Now she was right in the middle of one.
The Outsider let her go. He turned one way and another, his movements calculating and precise. Aria stepped away from him unsteadily, her mind dazed and slow. She wasn’t sure whether her legs or the earth trembled. Her ears felt like they had burst. The horrible scream of the Aether strikes was muted now. She touched the dribbling warmth beneath her nose. The fingers of her glove shone with dark liquid. She was oddly disappointed. Blood was supposed to be bright red, wasn’t it? She suddenly realized she shouldn’t be taking inventory of her wounds. She needed to get away.