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Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky 22

Page 22

 

  “What tribe’s he from?” Perry asked.

  Roar took another drink before he answered. “I don’t know. He has the look of a northerner. ” He glanced her way. Did she look like she was from the north? “But I couldn’t get it out of him. Wherever he’s from, believe me, I’d love to send him back. He’ll show up. He always does when his hunger gets the better of him. But don’t expect much from his company. ”

  Roar handed her the black bottle. “It’s called Luster. You’ll like it, trust me,” he said with a wink.

  “You don’t look very trustworthy. ”

  “Looks can be misleading. I’m reliable to the core. ”

  Perry grinned. “I’ve known him his whole life. He’s full of something else to the core. ”

  Aria froze. She’d seen a glimpse of Perry’s smile earlier when he’d heard Roar, but now she saw it in full, directed completely at her. It was lopsided and punctuated by canines that couldn’t be ignored, but it was this fierce quality that made it so disarming. Like seeing a lion smile.

  She suddenly felt like she was staring at him. She took a hasty drink from the bottle. Aria sputtered into her sleeve as the Luster rolled down her throat like lava, spreading heat across her chest. It tasted like spiced honey, thick and sweet and pungent.

  “What do you think?” Roar asked.

  “It’s like drinking a campfire, but it’s good. ” She couldn’t look at Perry. She took another drink, hoping this one would go down without all the hacking. Another wave of fire seeped through her, heating her cheeks and settling warm in her stomach.

  “You going to keep it all to yourself?” Perry asked.

  “Oh. Sorry. ” She handed it to him, her face growing hotter.

  “How’s Talon?” Roar asked. “And Mila? She and Vale have any luck making Talon a brother?” His voice held a hint of wariness beneath the lighthearted words.

  Perry sighed and set the bottle down. He ran a hand over his hair. “Mila got worse after you left. She died a few weeks ago. ” He looked at Aria. “Mila is . . . was my brother Vale’s wife. Their son is named Talon. He’s seven. ”

  Blood rushed in Aria’s ears as she put the information together. This was the boy taken by her people. Perry was trying to rescue his nephew.

  “I didn’t know,” Roar said. “Vale and Talon must be in hell. ”

  “Vale is. ” Perry cleared his throat. “Talon’s gone. I lost him, Roar. ” He brought his knees up and bowed his head, lacing his fingers behind his neck.

  Even by the soft candlelight, Aria saw the color drain from Roar’s face. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

  Perry’s wide shoulders drew together like he was containing something vast, keeping it trapped inside him. When he looked up, his eyes were glazed and red. In a hoarse voice, he told them a story Aria had been part of but had never heard. Of how he’d come into her world for medicines, to help a sick boy. A boy who’d been kidnapped by her people. He told Roar about their deal. Once Marron fixed her Smarteye, she’d reach her mother. He’d get Talon back and Lumina would bring Aria into Bliss.

  They sat in silence after he’d finished. Aria heard only the stir of leaves when a breeze swept past. Then Roar spoke.

  “I’m in. We’ll find them, Perry. Both Talon and Liv. ”

  Aria turned her face toward the shadows. She wished Paisley was there. She missed having her friend at her side.

  Roar muttered a soft curse. “Prepare yourselves. Cinder’s back. ”

  A few moments later, the screen of leaves rustled then parted. A boy stood in the gap, his eyes dark and feral. He was shockingly thin. No more than a skeleton in filthy baggy clothes. He had fair skin. Nearly as fair as hers, Aria realized.

  Cinder dropped beside her with a thump and leered at her through matted strands of dirty blond hair. His shirt hung so loose that Aria could see the way his collarbones stuck out like sticks.

  Cinder’s gaze roamed over her face. His eyes were half-lidded with fatigue. “What are you doing out here, Dweller?” he asked suspiciously.

  He sat too close. Aria scooted back. “I’m on my way home. To my mother. ”

  “Where’s she?”

  “In Bliss. It’s one of our Pods. ”

  “Why did you leave?”

  “I didn’t leave. I was thrown out. ”

  “You were thrown out but you want to go back? That’s barmy, Dweller. ”

  She guessed by Cinder’s expression that barmy meant something close to crazy. “I guess, when you put it like that. ”

  Roar tossed a piece of bread onto the ground. “Take it and be gone, Cinder. ”

  “It’s all right,” Aria said. Cinder might lack manners, but it was a cold night and where would he go? Out there by himself? “He can stay. It’s fine with me. ”

  Cinder picked up the bread and bit off a piece. “She wants me to stay, Roar. ”

  Aria could see his jawbone moving up and down as he chewed. “My name is Aria. ”

  “She even told me her name,” Cinder said. “She likes me. ”

  “Not for long,” Roar muttered.

  Cinder looked at her, gnashing at the bread with his mouth open. Aria looked away. He was being crude on purpose.

  “You’re right,” he said. “I think she already changed her mind. ”

  “Shut your mouth, Cinder. ”

  “How am I supposed to eat?”

  Roar sat up. “That’s enough. ”

  Cinder’s smile was full of challenge. “What are you going to do? Stop feeding me? You want this back?” He held the half-eaten bread out. “Take it, Roar. I don’t want it anymore. ”

  Perry reached out and plucked the bread from his hand.

  Cinder turned a stunned look on him. “You shouldn’t have done that. ”

  “You didn’t want it. ” Perry brought the bread to his mouth. He stopped with it inches from his lips. “Did you? Or were you lying?” His eyes gleamed in the dark. “If you tell them you’re sorry, I’ll give it back. ”

  Cinder snorted. “I’m not sorry. ”

  The corner of Perry’s mouth lifted into a smile. “You’re still lying. ”

  Cinder suddenly looked panicked, his eyes darting to her and then Roar and finally back to Perry. He scrambled to his feet. “Stay away from me, Scire!” He grabbed the bread out of Perry’s hand and barreled through the gap in the screen.

  A cool feeling crept up Aria’s neck as the sounds of Cinder’s getaway faded. “What just happened? Why did he call you ‘Scire’?”

  Roar’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Perry . . . she doesn’t know?”

  Perry shook his head.

  “What don’t I know?”

  He looked up at the night sky, avoiding her gaze, and took a deep breath. “Some of us are Marked,” he said softly. “That’s what the bands on my arms are. Markings. They show that we have a dominant Sense. Roar is an Aud. He can hear things more clearly and from farther away. Sometimes miles off. ”

  Roar gave her an apologetic shrug.

  “What about you?”

  “I have two Senses. I’m a Seer. Night-Sighted. I can see in the dark. ”

  He saw in the dark. She should have known with his reflective eyes. With the way he never stumbled at night. “And the other?”

  He looked right at her, his gaze brilliant green. “I have a strong sense of smell. ”

  “You have a strong sense of smell. ” Aria tried to process what this meant. “How strong?”

  “Very. I can scent tempers. ”

  “Tempers?”

  “They’re emotions . . . impulses. ”

  “You can scent people’s feelings?” She could hear her voice rising.

  “Yes. ”

  “How often?” she asked. She’d started to tremble.

  “Always, Aria. I can’t avoid it. I can’t stop breathing. ”

  Aria went cold everywhere. Instantly. Like she’d just taken a plunge in the ocean
. She shot through the path Cinder had cleared, diving into the darkened woods. Perry came right behind her, calling her name and asking her to stop. Aria spun.

  “You’ve been doing that all this time? You’ve known how I’ve felt? Have I entertained you? Has my misery amused you? Is that why you kept it to yourself?”

  He pushed his hands into his hair. “Do you know how many times you’ve called me a Savage? You think I wanted to tell you I can smell better than a wolf?”

  Aria’s hand shot up, covering her mouth. He could smell better than a wolf.

  She thought of all the horrible feelings she’d had over the past days. Days she spent with that pathetic, sad melody going round and round in her mind. The shame she felt at menstruating. Of being terrified, a stranger in her own skin.

  Was he smelling the way she felt right now?

  He tipped his head to the side. “Aria, don’t be embarrassed. ”

  He was. He did know.

  She backed away, but his hand closed around her wrist. “Don’t go. It’s not safe. You know what’s out there. ”

  “Let go of me. ”

  “Perry,” said a smooth voice. “I’ll stay with her. ”

  Perry looked down at her, frustration plain on his face. Then he let go of her arm and stalked off, branches snapping in his wake.

  “You can cry if you like,” Roar said when Perry was gone. He crossed his arms. In the darkness, she could just make out the glint of the black bottle of Luster propped on his elbow. “I’ll even offer up my shoulder to the cause. ”

  “No, I don’t want to cry. I want to hurt him. ”

  Roar laughed softly. “I knew I liked you. ”

  “He should have told me. ”

  “Probably, but what he said is true. He can’t help knowing tempers. And would it have changed your agreement?”

  Aria shook her head. It wouldn’t. Before long, she knew she’d be back to walking endless miles with him.

  She sat against a tree and picked up a pine needle, breaking it into tiny pieces. It seemed obvious once she thought it out. Basic genetics. The population of Outsiders was small. Any shifts had the possibility of running rampant in such a limited pool. A drop of ink in a bucket was more potent than a drop in a lake. And with the Aether accelerating mutations, the Unity had created an environment ripe for genetic jumps.

  “I can’t believe this,” she said. “You’re a subspecies. Is there anything else? Are there any other traits that have drifted? Like . . . like your teeth?”

  Roar sat beside her against the same large trunk. He wasn’t as tall as Perry, she noticed. Aether light fell across the smooth planes of his profile, all straight lines and perfect proportions. He didn’t have scruff over his jaw like Perry, either.

  “No,” Roar said. “Our teeth are all the same. Yours are the ones that are different. ”

  Aria pressed her lips together on reflex. It hadn’t occurred to her before, but he was right. Before the Unity, teeth had been uneven. Roar smiled and kept talking.