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Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky 23
“There are some differences between the Senses. Scires tend to be tall. They’re the rarest Marked. Seers are the most common. Seers are good at looking and good-looking, but before you start wondering, no, I’m not a Seer. Just lucky. ”
Aria smiled despite herself. She was surprised by how at ease she felt in his company. “What about your kind?”
“Auds?” He flashed a mischievous grin at her. “We’re said to be sly. ”
“I could’ve guessed that. ” She looked down at his bicep, imagining the tattoo hidden beneath his dark shirt. “How well can you hear?”
“Better than anyone I know. ”
“Can you hear emotions?”
“No. But I can hear a person’s thoughts when I touch them. That’s just me, not all Auds. And don’t worry, I won’t touch you. Unless you want me to. ”
She smiled. “I’ll let you know. ” This was unreal. There were people who could smell emotion and hear thoughts. What was next? Aria cupped her hands, blowing warmth into them. “How can you be friends with him, knowing he . . . knows everything?”
Roar laughed. “Please don’t ever say that in front of him. He’s cocksure enough as it is. ” He tilted the bottle and drank. “Perry and I grew up together, along with his sister. When you know someone that well, it’s something like being a Scire. ”
She supposed it was true. She’d been sensitive to some of Paisley’s moods. Caleb’s too. “But it feels . . . imbalanced. He never talks but he gets to know what other people are feeling?”
“He’s quiet because he’s scenting tempers. Perry doesn’t trust words. He’s told me before how often people lie. Why would he bother listening to false words when he can breathe and get right at the truth?”
“Because people are more than emotions. People have thoughts and reasons for doing things. ”
“Yes, well. It’s hard to follow a person’s logic if you don’t know how they feel. And you’re wrong. Perry does talk. Watch him. You’ll see he says plenty. ”
She knew this. For days she’d been translating his actions into meaning. Noticing how he walked in a dozen different ways. With utter quiet. With barely contained violence. With easy animal grace.
“What about his sister?” she asked.
“Olivia,” Roar said, and then added more softly, “Liv. ”
“Is she a Scire also?” Aria didn’t even like the word. It sounded like a warped version of scare.
“As strong as Perry if not more. We never could decide who has the keener nose. ”
“What happened to her, Roar?”
“She was betrothed to someone else. Someone who wasn’t me. ”
“Oh. ” Roar was in love with Perry’s sister. She sucked on her bottom lip, tasting the sweetness of the Luster. She didn’t want to be forward and ask too many questions, but she was curious. And Roar didn’t seem to mind. “Why not you?”
“She’s a strong Scire. She’s too valuable. . . . ” Roar stared at the bottle in his hand like he was searching for the right explanation. “Blood is our currency. As Marked, we make the most skilled hunters and fighters. We overhear plans for raids and sense shifts in the Aether. Blood Lords surround themselves with people like me and Perry and Liv. When it comes to mating, they choose the strongest of their kind. If they don’t, they risk losing the Sense. Some say they risk worse. ”
Aria had a hard time with how casually he’d said mating. “Couldn’t a child get two Senses with different parents? Is that what happened with Perry?”
“Yes. But it’s rare. What Perry is . . . it’s very rare. ” After a pause, he added, “It’s best you don’t ever mention his parents. ”
She slipped her hands into the sleeves of her coat, digging her fingers into the fur. What had happened to Perry’s parents?
“So as a Scire, Liv has to marry a Scire?” she asked instead.
“Yes. It’s what’s expected. ” Roar shifted against the trunk. “Seven months ago, Vale promised her to Sable, the Blood Lord of the Horns. They’re a large tribe to the north. Ice-cold people, Sable the coldest of the lot. Vale was to receive food for the Tides in exchange for her. Half of which they may never get. ”
“Because she didn’t go. ”
“That’s right. Liv ran. She disappeared the night before we’d have crossed into Horn territory. It was exactly what I had wanted us to do together. I’d been thinking about it the whole way there. She left before I could ask. ” Roar paused and cleared his throat. “I’ve been searching for her since. I’ve come close to finding her. A few weeks ago, I heard a couple of traders speaking of a girl who could track game better than any man. They’d met her in Lone Tree. I’m sure it was her. Liv’s not one you easily forget. ”
“She’s tall—barely shorter than me. And she has the same hair as Perry, only longer. That alone is enough to draw attention, but she has this quality. . . . You watch her because just that will fascinate you. ”
“They sound very alike. ” Aria couldn’t believe she’d said that aloud. It had to be the effect of the Luster, loosening her tongue.
White teeth appeared in the dark. “They are, but thankfully not in every way. ”
“Did you go to Lone Tree?”
“I did. By the time I got there, she was long gone. ”
Aria let out a slow breath. Though she felt sorry for Roar, this was exactly what she’d needed. A break from her own mind and body. A chance to forget for a few moments about fixing the Smarteye and reaching Lumina. She had the urge to reach for Roar’s hand. She would have, if they’d been in the Realms. Instead she dug her fingers deeper into the fur of her sleeves.
“What are you going to do, Roar?” she asked.
“What can I do but keep looking?”
Having Roar along changed everything. They walked through the morning and though Perry hadn’t caught any traces of the Croven, he knew they weren’t clear of danger. It worried him that they hadn’t been confronted yet, but with Roar’s help, they could make better time to Marron’s. Whatever signs of danger Perry missed with his pine-dulled nose, Roar would catch with his ears.
Aria hadn’t spoken to him since he’d told her about his Senses. She’d been hanging back all morning, walking with Roar. Perry had strained to hear what they were saying. Even found himself wishing he was an Aud. That had been a first. When Perry heard her laugh at something Roar said, he’d decided he’d heard enough and pulled out of earshot. In the span of a few hours, Roar had spoken with her more than he had in days.
Cinder kept his distance, but Perry knew he was there. The kid was so weak that he walked in noisy, dragging steps. It didn’t take being an Aud to hear him shuffling in the woods behind them. Something about the boy’s scent had set the back of Perry’s nose thrumming last night. It stung, just as it did when the Aether became agitated, but when Perry had looked up, he hadn’t seen the sky churning. Just the wispy streaks that still held above. He wondered if the Luster had muddled him, or if it’d just been the pine messing with his Sense.
He hadn’t had any trouble picking up the boy’s temper, though. Cinder’s wrathy attitude might throw Roar and Aria off, but Perry knew the truth. The icy fog of fear clung to him. Roar had guessed him to be thirteen, but Perry put him at least a year younger. Why was he on his own? Whatever the reason, Perry knew it couldn’t be good.
Around midday he picked up a boar’s trail, the animal’s smell strong enough to cut through his stunted nose. He headed downhill, then he told Roar the best path for driving the animal to where he waited.
They had hunted this way their whole lives. Roar could hear Perry’s directions clearly from that far, but it was more complicated for Roar to communicate with him. Mimicking natural sounds came easily to Auds, so over the years they had adapted the calls of birds, turning it into a language between them.
Perry heard Roar’s whistle now, alerti
ng him. Be ready. He’s coming.
Perry got a shot right into the boar’s neck and then another into its heart after it fell. As he knelt and retrieved his arrows, it struck him that this was the purest use of his abilities. He’d missed the rush of doing something simple and doing it well. But his satisfaction didn’t last. As soon as Roar jogged up, Perry knew something was off.
Roar was normally a real rooster after they made a kill together, showing off and claiming he’d done all the work. Now he glanced at the boar and then closed his eyes. Angled his head in quick, sharp movements. Perry knew what was coming before he spoke.
“The Croven, Perry. A whole piss barrel of them. ”
“Hard to tell. Seven miles or so on the wind. ”
“Could be more on land, most of it hill. ”
Roar nodded. “We’re looking at half a day’s lead at best. ”
Perry cut the boar into strips and seared them over a fire. The Aether had roused, flowing in agitated rivers. Setting off the sting in the back of his nose. A storm would complicate things. He ate with Aria and Roar, the three of them hardly bothering to chew the meat. They’d need the strength of a meal in their stomachs to outrun the Croven. Marron’s compound was still two days away, and he knew they couldn’t stop until they reached it.
He built up the fire before they set off, adding a stack of green wood. Smoke would help mask their scents for a while. Then he staked a cut of meat he’d set aside with a stick and told Aria and Roar he’d catch up.
He found Cinder curled against the root of a tree. Dappled light shifted across the boy’s dirty face as he twitched in fitful sleep. He looked smaller. More frail without the sneering look on his face. Perry pinched the bridge of his nose as the stinging sensation flared. “Cinder. ”
He shot up, disoriented, blinking and rubbing at his eyes. When he finally focused on Perry, panic flashed across his face.
“Leave me alone, Scire. ”
“Steady,” Perry said. “It’s all right. ” He held the stick out. Cinder glanced at it, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. He wouldn’t take it, so Perry wedged the stick into the ground. He backed away a few steps. “It’s yours. ”
Cinder snatched it up and sank his teeth into the meat, ripping at it in a fury. Perry’s gut clenched at the desperation in the boy’s face. This was nothing like the meal he’d just rushed through with Aria and Roar. This was true hunger. Fierce as any fight for life. Perry remembered Cinder gnawing at the bread rudely last night. He realized the boy had just been hiding the depth of his need.
He should tell Cinder what he had to say and leave. Perry didn’t want Cinder pulled into the mess he was in with the Croven. He glanced east, toward Marron’s. Roar and Aria wouldn’t get too far ahead. He could spare a few moments. Perry slid his bow off his shoulder and sat.