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Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky 33
First Rose. Now Marron. Perry could no longer deny that it was common knowledge. Aria was the safest path to him. He wondered what he had done that sent that message so loudly. Wondered how after a lifetime of scenting others’ feelings, he could be so poor at shielding his own.
Aria took the device. “We’re going to do the biotech first—just applying the device. You’ll feel pressure, like it’s sucking up your skin. But it lets up and then the inner membrane will soften. You’ll be able to blink again when that happens. ”
Perry nodded stiffly. “Right. Pressure. Can’t be that bad. ”
He held his breath as Aria brought the clear patch to his left eye, digging his fingers into the soft arm of the couch as he struggled to keep from blinking.
“You can close your eyes. It might help,” Aria said. He did and saw a shimmer of stars telling him he was about to pass out.
“Peregrine. ” Aria placed her hand on his forearm. “It’s all right. ”
He focused on her cool touch. Imagined her delicate, pale fingers. When the pressure came, he sucked in a breath through his teeth. The force reminded him of an undertow. How it felt bearable at first, but then came stronger and stronger until you feared being carried off. On the edge of pain, it let up suddenly, leaving him panting.
Perry opened his eyes, blinked a few times. It felt similar to walking with one shoe. Feeling and movement on one side. On the other, a heavy sense of protection. He could see clearly through the eyepiece, but he noticed differences. Colors were too bright. The depth of things seemed off. He shook his head, clenching his teeth at the added weight on his face. “Now what?”
“A moment, a moment. ” Marron fuddled with the palette as Roar watched over his shoulder.
“We’ll go to a forested Realm first,” Aria told him. “There won’t be anyone else there and it’ll give you a few seconds to adjust. We can’t have you calling attention to yourself once you’re in the CGB’s research Realms, and we’ll have to move fast. While you’re getting used to fractioning, Marron will check to see if the link with Bliss is back. He’ll do all the navigating for you. Everything you see, we’ll see on the wallscreen. ”
Ten different questions popped into his mind. He forgot them all when Aria smiled and said, “You look handsome. ”
“What?” He couldn’t think about a comment like that now.
“Ready, Peregrine?” Marron said.
“Yes,” he answered, though everything in his body said No.
A hot sting ran up his spine and over his scalp, ending with a burst in the back of his nose. On his right, he saw the common room. Aria staring at him with concern. Roar close over her shoulder, bracing the back of the couch. Marron saying, “Easy, Peregrine,” over and over. On his left a wooded evergreen forest appeared. The scent of pine burned deep into his nostrils. The images blurred and flashed before his eyes. Perry looked one way and the other, but he couldn’t make anything stick. Dizziness came hard and fast.
Aria squeezed his hand. “Calm down, Perry. ”
“What’s going on? What am I doing wrong?”
“Nothing. Just try to relax. ”
The images shook before his eyes. Trees. Aria’s hand grasping his. Pine branches swaying. Roar leaping over the couch to stand in front of him. Nothing was still. Everything moved.
“Take this thing off. Take it off!”
He pulled at the Smarteye, forgetting to use his good hand. He couldn’t get it off. Pain burst across the back of his burnt hand, but it was nothing compared to the daggers that stabbed deep into his skull. Saliva coursed into his mouth in a warm rush. He shot to his feet and darted to the bathroom. Or thought he had, because he was dodging trees as well as walls, and poorly at that. He ran smack into something hard, shoulders and head connecting with a solid thud. Roar caught him as he fell back. They exploded into the bathroom together, Roar holding him upright, for Perry no longer trusted his balance.
He felt cold beneath his hands. Porcelain. No more trees.
“I’ve got it. ”
He was alone with the toilet now and that was how he stayed for a good long while.
When it was over, he pulled his shirt off and draped it over his head. It hung heavy and damp with his sweat. He still felt dizzy and queasy, like he was coming off the worst seasickness he could imagine. How long had he lasted in the Realms? Three seconds? Four? How would he find Talon?
Aria sat beside him. He couldn’t summon the courage to come out from hiding. A glass of water appeared in front of him.
“I felt the same way when I first came to your world. ”
“Thank you,” he said, and drained it.
“Are you all right?”
He wasn’t. Perry took her hand and turned his face into her palm, resting his cheek. He breathed in her violet scent, drawing strength from it. Letting it settle the trembling in his muscles. Aria’s thumb ran back and forth over his jaw, making a soft brushing sound over his scruff. There was something dangerous about this. About the power of her scent on him. But he couldn’t think about it. This was what he needed now.
“How’d you like the Realms?” Roar asked.
Perry peered from beneath his shirt. Roar stood at the bathroom door, and he could see Marron out in the hall.
“Not very much. Try again?” he said, though he seriously doubted whether he could manage it.
When he returned to the common room, the lighting had been dimmed. Someone had brought in a fan. The efforts embarrassed him even though he found they did help settle his nerves. Perry tried to explain what he felt.
“You need to try to forget about here,” Aria said. “About this physical space. Turn your focus toward the Smarteye and it’ll start to feel right. ”
Perry nodded like that made sense, as she and Marron continued to instruct him. Relax. Try this. Or maybe try that.
Then Roar said, “Per, act like you’re sighting down the length of an arrow. ”
He could do that. Shooting an arrow had nothing to do with his stance or his bow or his arms. Not for a decade had he thought about any of those things. He thought only of his target.
They brought up the forest again. The images battled for his attention like before, but Perry imagined aiming at a curled piece of bark that shuddered past. The woods fixed around him, bringing a sudden, shocking stillness. Somehow the others must have known because he heard Marron say, “Yes. ”
The longer he focused on the woods, the more he felt them settling in place. Perry’s body cooled under the current of a soft breeze, but this wasn’t from the fan. This breeze carried a pine scent. Cone pine, though all he saw were spruces. And the odor was too strong. He scented fresh sap, not just the breath of the trees. The air held no traces of human or animal scents, or even the cluster of mushrooms he spotted at the base of a tree.
“The same but different, right?”
He turned, looking for Aria in the woods. “It sounds like you’re in my head. ”
“I’m next to you out here. Try to walk, Perry. Take a few more seconds. ”
He found that doing so took only the thought of walking. It wasn’t like being in his own skin. He was still dizzy and unsure, but he was moving, one step after the other. He was in the woods now. It should’ve felt like home, but his body held on to the feeling he’d had since he’d come to Marron’s. The same feeling that drove him up to the roof at every chance.
Then he remembered something and knelt quickly. With his good hand, he swept aside the dry pine needles and scooped up a handful of dirt. It was dark and loose and fine. Not the hard-pack earth he usually saw in pine forests. Perry shook his hand, letting the dirt sift through his fingers until a few rocks rested in his palm.
“Do you see?” Aria said softly.
He did. “Our rocks are better. ”
On the wallscreen, Aria watched through Perry’s eyes
as he stood and brushed dirt from his palms like it was real. Like it would stay with him.
Aria met Marron’s gaze. He shook his head, his signal to her that he hadn’t detected a link to Bliss. She wouldn’t find Lumina today. She’d been prepared for that. Aria pushed down the blow of disappointment. They had to find Talon.
“We’re going to take you into the research Realms, Perry. It’s a little strange hopping to another Realm. . . . Just try to stay calm. ”
DLS 16 appeared in red lettering on an icon, suspended in front of the woods. She and Marron had spent the night hacking into her mother’s files, organizing everything. She knew Perry couldn’t read, so Marron was controlling Perry’s location through the palette. Perry turned his head, the icon tracking with his movement.
“Here we go, Peregrine,” Marron said.
Perry swore at her side as the image on the wallscreen rearranged itself into a tidy office. A small red couch with neat proportions and square cushions sat opposite the desk. A fat fern rested on a low coffee table. To one side of the office, a glass door gave to a courtyard with boxwood hedges and a fountain at the center. To the other, evenly spaced along the wall, there were four doors: Lab, Conference, Research, Subjects.
Aria felt light-headed. She’d never seen her mother’s office before. Her gaze lingered on the empty chair behind the desk. How many hours had Lumina spent in that chair?
“Perry, step through the fourth door,” she told him. “The one on the right. Subjects. ”
He walked through it, arriving at the end of a long corridor lined on both sides with more doors. He ran to the nearest one.
“Amber. ” Aria read the name on the small screen. He moved on to the next. “Brin. ” And then to the next. “Clara. ”
Perry didn’t move. He stayed in front of the door marked CLARA. Aria couldn’t tell what was happening. She was looking through his eyes. She couldn’t see his face in the Realms. Beside her, he looked calm but she knew he wasn’t. “What’s going on?” she asked.
Roar cursed at her side. “She’s one of us. A girl who disappeared from the Tides last year. ”
Marron sent her an urgent look. “Aria, he has to keep going. We have little time. ”
Perry sprinted now, past Jasper. Past Rain. To Talon. He burst through the door, into a room with walls covered with animated drawings of soaring hawks, swirling blue skies, and fishing boats casting in the sea. Two comfortable stuffed chairs sat at the center. They were empty.
“Where is he?” Perry asked desperately. “Aria, what have I done wrong?”
“I’m not sure. ” She had thought that opening the door would summon the children into that Realm, but she didn’t know. All of this was new.
She was right. Talon fractioned at that moment, appearing on one of the chairs. His eyes flew open and he shot across the room, away from Perry.
“Who are you?” he said. He had a commanding voice for such a young boy. A voice full of fire and daring. He was a rangy little thing. He had green eyes, the color deeper than Perry’s, and dark brown hair that fell in the same twisting locks. He was a striking child.