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Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky 14

Page 14

 

  Aria drew up the blanket and gasped. Her feet were already bandaged. The Savage had tended to her feet.

  He’d touched her.

  She gripped the edge of the case, steadying herself. This was a good sign. If he’d tended to her feet, then he couldn’t mean her harm. Could he? The logic was sound, but just thinking of him brought a fresh wave of fear.

  He was a beast. Immense. Muscular, but not like Soren. The Savage reminded her of the Equestrian Realms, how every movement in a horse showed a chorus of lean muscles rolling and shifting beneath skin. He had tattoos, just like in the stories. Two patterned bands around each bicep. When he’d turned his back, she’d seen another design on his skin, some sort of hawk with wings spanning shoulder to shoulder. His hair looked like it had never seen a brush. Snarled blond ropes, all uneven in length and color, coiling in every direction. As he’d spoken, she could’ve sworn she’d glimpsed teeth that were slightly too canine. But nothing was more hideous than his eyes.

  Aria was accustomed to eyes of all colors. There were fads in the Realms. Purple had been the popular color just last month. The Savage’s eyes were bright green but also reflective, like the eerie gaze of a nocturnal animal. And she realized with a shudder, they were real.

  She turned, biting her lip as she looked around. A cave. What was she doing here? How had this happened? The fire had dwindled. She could no longer see the wall she’d sat against. She didn’t want to be in this cave in the darkness, with no noise and nothing to see. She fastened the navy blanket into a toga, belting it with gauze so she could move better, and then went outside.

  She found him sitting on a rock at the edge of the jagged slope where she’d fallen. He had his back to her, hadn’t yet heard her. Aria stopped within the cave’s mouth, a dozen feet away. She didn’t want to move any closer so she stood, hugging the blanket close to keep it from shifting with the wind.

  He was shaving down a long piece of wood with a knife. Making an arrow, she guessed. A caveman fashioning his weapons. The tattoo on his back was of a falcon, judging by the sleek head. The eyes appeared to be masked with darker plumage. In the Realms people used moving designs. They chose new ones whenever they wanted. She couldn’t imagine having an image on her skin forever.

  The Outsider turned and glared at her. Aria glared back at him, hiding a jolt of fear. How had he known she was there? He slipped his knife into a leather sheath at his belt.

  She stepped closer, careful not to limp and to keep a good distance between them. Aria pushed a strand of her hair back behind her ear. She realized he’d handled the knife with the same habitual ease.

  The Aether flowed in gentle ribbons of blue light, swirling above scuttling gray clouds. She wasn’t fooled this time. She knew how terrible it could be. Below she saw the valley they’d crossed in the storm, mottled with uneven light.

  “Is it twilight?”

  “Dusk,” he said.

  She glanced at him. Wasn’t twilight the same as dusk? And how did he manage to drawl such a brief little word? Dusssk. Like the word could go on all day. “Why did you bring me here? Why didn’t you just leave me out there?”

  “I need information. Your people took someone from me. ”

  “That’s ridiculous. What use could we have for a Savage?”

  “More use than they had for you. ”

  Her breath caught as she remembered Consul Hess’s lifeless eyes and empty smile. The Savage was right. She’d served her purpose. She’d taken the fall for Soren and been put out to die. Out here, with this beast.

  “So you want to get into Reverie? To save this person? Is that what you were doing that night?”

  “I will get in. I’ve done it before. ”

  She laughed. “We disarmed the system. And that dome was damaged. You got lucky, Savage. The walls protecting Reverie are ten feet thick. There’s no way you could ever get through them again. What’s your plan, anyway? Are you going to hurl dung patties? Or maybe use a slingshot? One well-aimed stone would probably do it. ”

  He spun and came toward her. Aria darted aside, her heart leaping into her throat, but he strode past her, disappearing back into the cave. Moments later he stalked back out. His eyes gleamed as he held something up.

  “Is this better than a dung patty, Mole?”

  For long seconds, Aria stared at the curved object in his hand. She never saw Smarteyes off people’s faces. Seeing one in the possession of a Savage, she nearly didn’t recognize it.

  “Is that mine?”

  He nodded once. “I took it. After it was torn from you. ”

  Relief shot through her limbs. She could reach her mother in Bliss! And if the recording of Soren was still there, she could prove what he and his father had done to her. She looked up. “It’s not yours. Give it to me. ”

  He shook his head. “Not until you answer my questions. ”

  “If I do, then you’ll give it to me?”

  “I said I would. ”

  Aria’s heart pounded. She needed her Smarteye. Her mother would rescue her. She could be on another Hover within hours on the way to Bliss. With Lumina’s help, she’d expose Consul Hess and Soren.

  She couldn’t believe she was considering helping an Outsider get into Reverie. Wasn’t that treason? Hadn’t Hess practically accused her of that very thing? She’d never do it. Whatever he asked about this missing person, she’d give him false information. She’d tell him what he wanted to hear and he would never know otherwise.

  “All right,” she said.

  His hand snapped shut over the device and then he crossed his arms. Aria stared in horror. Her Smarteye was buried in a Neanderthal’s armpit.

  “Why were you out there?” His mouth curved with satisfaction. It was the same question she’d avoided before. But now she’d have to answer him.

  She made a sound of disgust. “There were only two of us who survived. One was the son of a Consul—of a very powerful person in our Pod. I was the other. ”

  He grew silent. Her gaze darted to his chest, where she saw the tracks her nails had left on his skin. She looked away quickly, repulsed that she’d touched him. Did he have a problem with clothes? It wasn’t exactly warm out. She shivered as a gust swept past, deciding Savages must not feel cold.

  “Do you have any allies on the inside still?” he asked.

  “Did you just say allies?”

  “Friends,” he said sharply. “People who’ll help you, Mole. ”

  Paisley came to mind. Pain came in a wave, threatening to sweep her off. Aria breathed for a few moments, pushing it back. “My mother. She’ll help. ”

  The Savage’s gaze narrowed. He watched her too closely. She kept herself from fidgeting, but couldn’t help adding, “She’s a scientist,” like it would mean anything to him.

  He held out the Smarteye. “You can reach her through this?”

  “Yes,” she said. “I think so. ” If Hess was trying to track it, the Eye might have been reactivated.

  “Could she learn about a stolen person?” the Outsider asked.

  Aria narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t see why that would ever happen. Why would anyone want a disease-ridden Savage? But disagreeing wouldn’t help. “Yes, she could. She’s respected because of her work. She has some influence. She could find out something. If there’s anything to find out. Give that to me and I’ll help you. ”

  She was proud of herself. The lie slid out smoothly.

  He came right up to her, bending close. “You will help, Dweller. It’s the only way you’re going to live. ”

  She leaped back. “I said I would!” What was wrong with him?

  He thrust the Smarteye at her. Aria clasped it in both hands and walked away. Just holding the Eye, she felt closer to home. She wondered how much disease she couldn’t see on it. The Outsider didn’t look terribly filthy, but he had to be.

  “Get to it. ”

  She looked over her shoulder. “Who should I
ask about when I reach my mother?”

  The Savage hesitated. “A boy. Seven years old. His name is Talon. ”

  “A boy?” He thought her people had taken a child?

  “I’ve waited long enough, Mole. ”

  Aria placed it over her left eye, feeling the tenderness over her eye socket. The biotech worked immediately. The patch suctioned to her skin, the inner membrane loosening and softening. The consistency turning from gel to liquid until she could blink as easily as with her uncovered eye.

  She waited for her Smartscreen to appear, her muscles rigid with anticipation. She tried her pass codes. She tried to reset the system, the same thing she’d done in Ag 6. Nothing appeared. No “Songbird” file. No icons. She was simply looking through the clear patch, seeing the bleak earth fading into darkness and the sky moving with Aether.

  The Outsider loomed over her. “What’s happening?”

  “Nothing,” she said as a raw ache built in her throat. “It’s not responding. I thought . . . I thought they might have linked it back up, but I don’t see anything. Maybe it shorted out in the storm. I don’t know. ”

  He muttered something, shoving a hand into his hair. Desperately Aria ran through more commands as the Outsider paced. Every failed attempt brought her closer to crying. The Outsider stopped, turning toward her. What now? Was he going to leave her there? Or worse?

  “I need that back, Mole. ”

  “I told you it doesn’t work!”

  “I’m going to get it fixed. ”

  Aria couldn’t hold back a sputter of laughter. “You know how to fix this?”

  His glare was scathing. “I know someone who can. ”

  She still couldn’t believe it. “You know a person—an Outsider—who can fix this?”

  “Do you have to hear everything twice, Dweller? I’ll be back in less than two weeks. There’s enough food and water in there to last you. Just stay put. No one comes out this way. Not this time of year. Have that thing off by the time I’m done packing. ” He strode back into the cave.

  Aria rushed after him, staying close enough to follow the pale streaks of his hair through the gloom. The fire had dwindled to embers. He tossed a piece of wood onto them, sending a scatter of cinders upward.

  “I’m not staying here alone for a week. Or two weeks, or whatever. ”

  He moved to one of the cases and began stuffing things into a leather bag. “You’ll be safer here. ”

  “No. I’m not staying! I may not live—” Her voice broke. “I may not have that long. My immune system isn’t made for out here. Two weeks might be too late. If you want my help, I need to come. ”

  He considered this awhile. He set his bag on the ground. “I won’t slow down for you. That means walking days on those. ” He nodded at her feet.

  “You won’t have to slow down,” she said, relieved. At least she wouldn’t be left alone or separated from her Smarteye.

  He sent her a skeptical look and then opened another case. The fire was burning again, illuminating the rough walls of the cave. As he turned away, she noticed he had a patch of blue bruising beneath one arm that spread across his ribs. Aria watched the way the tattoo on his back moved as he moved. She was a falcon too. Her voice had a broad range, but in opera she was categorized as a falcon soprano. That’s where Lumina got her nickname. Aria shuddered at the coincidence.