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Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky 35
He had rendered to her.
“We might be able to handle a dozen,” Roar said, “but fifty?”
Perry paced in front of the glass cases in the common room, eyeing the image of the Croven’s camp on the wallscreen. In morning light, the image was much clearer than when he’d seen it last. Black-cloaked figures moved around the cluster of tents in the plateau. Red tents. A fitting color. He wanted to draw his bow and fire at them right through the screen.
“There are more than fifty Croven out there, Roar,” he said. The camera only showed some of them. Early that morning, he and Roar had been up on the wall, moving from tower to tower, using all the power of their Senses. It had taken them hours, but they’d detected another dozen Croven scattered around the perimeter. Sentinels, there to sound an alarm should he try to escape.
Roar crossed his arms. “Sixty Croven then. ”
Marron turned a ring around his finger. “One of the old mining tunnels looks promising, but it’ll take weeks to excavate safely. ”
“That’s well into winter,” Perry said. By then the storms would be moving in constant sets across the sky. Travel would be too dangerous.
“I can’t wait that long,” Aria said.
She’d been quiet, her legs tucked beneath her on the couch. What a fool he must seem to her, peeling for the door with barely a word in parting. She had no idea what had happened last night. Perry pinched the bridge of his nose, remembering the weakness rendering had brought him with Talon. Not being able to choose with freedom. Thinking of his needs as an afterthought. He couldn’t have that spell cast over him now. He’d do what he promised. He’d take her to Bliss, then do what he should and get to the Tides. They’d part ways soon enough. Until then, he’d just keep his distance. And try not to breathe when he was around her.
“I can give you some of my men,” Marron said.
Perry looked up. “No. I can’t have your people dying for me. ” He’d put Marron through enough. “We won’t meet them head-to-head. ” On the screen, the plateau spread around the Croven, wide and open. He wanted to be there. Outside. Moving free under the Aether. That was when it hit him.
“We could leave during a storm. ”
“Peregrine,” Marron said. “Leave during an Aether storm?”
“The Croven are out in the open. They’d need to take shelter. It would put them off their guard. And I can keep us away from the worst of the Aether. ”
Roar pushed himself off the wall, his smile eager. “We could clear the sentinels and head east. The Croven won’t follow us. ”
Aria’s eyes narrowed. “Why won’t they follow us east?”
“Wolves,” Roar said.
“Our best choice is to leave during an Aether storm and head toward wolves?”
Roar grinned. “That or sixty Croven. ”
“All right,” she said, lifting her chin. “Anything but the Croven. ”
That afternoon, Perry strode across the roof with Roar. They’d spent the morning plotting their route and readying their packs. Now there was nothing to do but wait for a storm to build. The Aether moved in steady streams above. They wouldn’t see a storm today, but maybe tomorrow. It couldn’t come soon enough.
How was he going to wait? Waiting meant stopping. It meant thinking. He didn’t want to think about what was happening to Talon and Vale, stuck inside the Dweller Pod. How could Talon want to stay there? How had Vale been captured? Why was Liv roaming the borderlands when she knew what the cost was to the Tides?
Roar caught him hard across the shoulders, tackling him. Perry thudded onto the cement before he knew what had happened.
“One to nothing,” Roar said.
“You jaggy bastard. ” He pushed Roar off and the game was on.
He usually had the upper hand when they wrestled, but he took it easy because of his hand, and that kept them more evenly matched.
“Talon wrestles better than you, Ro,” he said, helping Roar up after earning a point. Perry’s mood had begun to lift. He’d been idle too long.
“Liv’s pretty good too. ”
“She’s my sister. ” Perry lunged for him but broke away the instant Aria stepped out of the elevator. No way he’d let Roar in on his thoughts when she was around. He couldn’t help noticing that she’d changed into fitted black clothes and pulled her hair back. Roar looked from him to Aria, a knowing grin spreading over his face. Perry knew he was in trouble.
“Did I interrupt something?” Aria said, confused.
“No. We were done. ” Perry grabbed his bow and stalked away. Earlier he’d dragged a wooden crate across the roof to serve as a target. He took aim, pain thudding dully in his hand.
“Perfect timing, Aria,” Roar said behind him. “Watch this. You know, Perry’s known for his skill with the bow. ”
Perry fired. The arrow bit into the pine with a crack.
Roar whistled. “Impressive, isn’t he? What a great shot. ”
Perry spun, halfway between laughing and wanting to kill Roar.
“Can I try it?” Aria asked. “I should know how to defend myself when we get out there. ”
“You should,” he agreed. Anything she learned would help them all when they ventured beyond the wall.
Perry showed her how to hold the bow and set her feet, keeping himself upwind where he could avoid her scent. When it came to nocking an arrow, it wasn’t enough for him to tell her what to do. Drawing a bow smoothly took strength and calm. Rhythm and practice. To him, it was no more difficult than breathing, but he saw right away the only way to teach her was to guide her through the motion.
He stepped behind her, bracing himself. When he inhaled, her temper shot through him, her nerves adding to his own. Then came her violet scent, drawing his focus completely to her, to the way she looked this close, just in front of him. He fumbled with how to hold the bow. Her hand was where his usually was and he didn’t want the bowstring to snap back on her.
Roar didn’t help. “You need to get closer to her, Peregrine,” he called out. “And her stance is all wrong. Turn her hips. ”
“Like this?” Aria asked.
“No,” Roar said. “Perry, just do it for her. ”
He was sweating by the time they got themselves set. On their first try shooting together, the arrow clattered to the cement a few feet in front of them. On the second, it landed just in front of the crate, but the bowstring grazed her forearm, raising a red welt on her skin. By the third, Perry wasn’t sure which one of them was making the bow shake.
Roar hopped to his feet. “Not your weapon, Halfy,” he said, striding over. “Look at his shoulders, Aria. Look how tall he is. ” Perry shot away from her and then shifted on his feet, self-conscious at the way she sized him up. “A bow like that has a draw weight of ninety pounds or so. It’s made for small giants, like him. He’s a Seer on top of it. All the best archers are. It’s his weapon, Aria. Suited for him. For who he is. ”
“It’s second nature to you, isn’t it?” she asked him.
“First. But you can learn it. I can make a bow for you. Your size,” he said, but he could see and scent that she was disappointed.
Roar slid his knife out of its sheath. “I could teach you this. ”
Perry’s heart stopped cold. “Roar . . . ”
Roar knew exactly what he was thinking.
“Knives are dangerous,” he told Aria. “You can do more harm than good if you don’t know how to use one. But I’ll teach you a few things. You move easily and you have good balance. If a situation comes up, you’ll know what to do. ”
Aria handed Perry his bow. “All right,” she said. “Teach me. ”
Perry had to come up with something to do while he watched them. He found a branch from a tree inside the courtyard and cut it down. Then he sat against the crate making practice blades as Roar showed Aria the different ways to hold a knife. R
oar had a passion for the knife. He gave her too much information about the advantages of each grip, but she listened, rapt, absorbing it all. After an hour of constant talk, they settled on a hammer grip as the best for her, which Perry had known from the start.
Next they covered stances and footwork. Aria was a quick learner and her balance was good, just as Roar had said. Perry watched them moving past each other, his gaze turning from Aria to the Aether. From the flow of her footwork to the flow of the sky.
By the time Roar asked for the carved practice knives it was late in the afternoon. Roar showed Aria the best places to strike, angles to strive for, and bones to avoid, fluttering his eyes when he told her the heart was as worthy a target as any.
And then she was ready.
Perry stood as they began to move, their wooden knives held at guard. He told himself that it was Roar. That he’d made the edge of the practice knives as dull as his thumbs. But his heart was beating too fast for just watching simple drills.
They prowled for a bit; then Aria made the first move. Roar darted past her and struck, drawing the blade firmly across her back. Aria jerked back and whirled, her knife falling out of her hand.
Perry shot forward, lunging for Roar. He pulled up short a few steps away, but Roar glared at him, his eyes full of suspicion.
Aria was breathing hard, her temper bright red, pure wrath. Perry’s muscles shook, wound tight with surprise and rage.
“First rule: Knives cut,” Roar said, his tone brutally cold. “Expect it to happen. Don’t freeze up when it does. Second rule: Don’t ever drop your weapon. ”
“All right,” Aria said, accepting the lesson. She picked up the blade.
“You staying, Scire?” Roar asked him, lifting an eyebrow. He knew Perry had rendered to her.
“Why would he leave?” Aria said. “You’re staying, right, Perry?”
“Yeah. I’m staying. ”
Perry crossed the roof and then climbed on top of the elevator box, the highest point on Delphi, and watched her train in stunned silence. He shook his head. How had he ended up rendering to a Dweller?
Aria was a quick study, daring and confident with the blade, like she’d only been waiting for a chance, a method to bring that out into the open. He’d been a fool, teaching her to find berries when this was what she’d needed. The knowledge to protect herself.
Darkness forced them to stop. The Croven’s bells rang in the distance. Perry took a final glance at the sky, disappointed when he saw no change. He climbed down, careful to keep upwind and well back as she and Roar came toward him.
Roar crossed his arms in front of the elevator. “Fine work, Halfy. But you can’t leave without paying me. ”
“Pay you? With what?”
“A song. ”
She laughed, a chirky, happy sound. “All right. ”
Roar took the wooden blade from her. Aria closed her eyes, turning her face up to the Aether as she drew a few slow breaths. Then she treated them to her voice.
This song was softer, quieter than the last one. He couldn’t understand these words either, but the feel of it, he thought, was perfect. A perfect song for a cool night on a roof surrounded by pines.