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Under the Never Sky
Under the Never Sky 44
His temper was calm and steady. Thoughtful.
The other men went quiet. Their eyes turned to Perry, waiting for him to speak.
He told them then about the Still Blue. For a while after he’d finished, he and Reef had stood watching the rain beat down on a charred field. Listening to the hiss it made. Perry knew he and Roar could discover this place. Reef and his men would help. Marron and Cinder, too. They’d learn where it was and then he’d take the Tides there.
“We’ll find the Still Blue,” Perry said. “If it exists, I’ll get us there. ”
It came out sounding like what it was. Like he’d made a pledge to his men.
After a week of skirting storms, they approached the Tide compound under a night sky lit bright with Aether. Perry strode across a field that crunched like tinder beneath his feet, inhaling the familiar scents of salt and earth. This was where he needed to be. Home with his tribe. He had no illusions of the welcome he would receive. The Tides would blame him for Talon and Vale. But he hoped to convince them that he could help. The tribe needed him now.
A torch flickered to life at the edge of the compound and then he heard shouts of alarm, telling him they’d been spotted by the night watch. Within moments several more torches appeared, blazing spots in the blue night. Perry knew the Tides would think this a raid. He’d been a part of this situation dozens of times before. He would have been the archer on the roof of the cookhouse, where he now saw Brooke.
He waited for an arrow to pierce his heart, but Brooke shouted down. He heard his name again, volleyed from voice to voice. He heard them calling, “Peregrine. Peregrine is back,” and his feet stumbled. Within moments people poured out of their homes and clustered together, forming a mob at the edge of the compound. Tempers churned in the passing breezes. Fear and excitement, filling the air in bold, fragrant slashes.
“Keep walking, Perry,” Reef said quietly.
Perry prayed for the right words, now when he needed them. When there was so much to explain and make right.
The frenzied whispers of the crowd fell off as he closed the final distance. He scanned the faces before him. Everyone was there. Even the children, who were half asleep and confused. And then Perry saw Vale come forward, the silver links of the Blood Lord chain flashing against his dark shirt.
For an instant relief crashed over him. Vale was free. Not a captive in the Dweller Pod. Then he remembered Vale’s last words to him. Telling him he was cursed. Telling him to die.
Perry’s legs twitched, unsteady beneath him. He didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t expected this. He could see that Vale was just as shocked as he was. Vale, always intent and cool, looked pale and shaken, his mouth set in a grim line.
Finally Vale spoke. “Back, little brother? You know what this means, don’t you?”
Perry searched for answers in his brother’s face. “You shouldn’t be here. ”
“I shouldn’t be? Haven’t you got it backward, Peregrine?” Vale gave a dry laugh and then tipped his chin at Reef. “Don’t tell me you’ve come to make a play for Blood Lord with your little pack here? Don’t you think you’re a bit outnumbered?”
Perry struggled to make sense of things. “I saw Talon,” he said. “I saw him in the Realms. He said you were there. He saw you in the Realms. ”
Darkness flashed across Vale’s features. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. ”
Perry shook his head, recalling the way Talon had made Perry prove his identity. Talon couldn’t have been wrong about seeing Vale. And he had no reason to lie about it. That meant Vale was lying. A sick feeling bloomed in Perry’s stomach. “What did you do?”
Vale reached down to the sheath at his belt and brought out his knife. “You better turn around right now. ”
Perry sensed Reef and his men bracing behind him, but he just stared at the knife in Vale’s hand, his mind churning. The Dwellers hadn’t just been looking for the Smarteye that day on the beach. They had gone after Talon.
“You had him kidnapped,” Perry said. “You set me up. . . . Why?” Then he remembered the Dweller dome with all the rotting food. So much. Enough to waste. “Was it for food, Vale? Did you get that desperate?”
Bear stepped forward. “Our stores are full, Peregrine. Sable’s second shipment came last week. ”
“No,” Perry said. “Liv ran. Sable couldn’t have sent the food. Liv never went to the Horns. ”
For a moment no one moved. Then Bear shifted, his thick eyebrows knotting in suspicion. “How do you know that?”
“I saw Roar. He’s looking for her. He’s coming here in the spring. He might have Liv with him by then. ”
Vale’s face tightened with rage, the last of his guard vanishing. He was caught. “Talon’s better off in there!” he growled. “If you saw him, you’d know he is!”
Shouts of surprise erupted around them.
Perry shook his head in disbelief. “You sold him to the Dwellers?” He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it earlier. Vale had done the same thing to Liv. Sold her for food. Only it was justified by custom. Archaic, Aria had called it. Perry saw that now.
How many times had Vale lied to him? About how many things?
He caught sight of Brooke in the crowd. “Clara . . . ,” he said, remembering Brooke’s sister. “Brooke, he did it to Clara, too. He sold her to the Dwellers. ”
Brooke turned to Vale and screamed. She lunged forward, arms swinging as Wylan stepped in and held her back.
“Vale, is this true?” Bear’s voice boomed.
Vale flung a hand at the sky. “You don’t know what it’s like getting food out of this!” Then he scanned the crowd, stunned, like he realized he’d lost the Tides. He turned back to Perry and drove his knife into the dirt at his feet.
Perry let his own knife fall. They were brothers. This wouldn’t happen with something as cold as a blade.
Vale didn’t wait. He charged low, slamming into Perry’s waist, the power driving through him explosive. In the moment they collided, Perry knew Vale was the toughest opponent he would ever fight. Perry surged backward, his teeth slamming together, but his feet weren’t quick enough.
They fell together, Vale’s shoulder thrusting the air from Perry’s lungs. The instant after Perry hit the ground, he took a blow across the jaw that stunned him. He blinked hard, unable to see, bringing his arms up to cover his face as punches hailed down on him. Perry couldn’t gather his bearings. For the first time it occurred to him that fighting might come as easily to Vale as it did to him.
With his vision returning, Perry heaved up with all his strength. He grabbed hold of the chain around Vale’s neck and pulled, driving his head up. Perry had aimed for Vale’s nose but caught him in the mouth. He heard the snap of breaking teeth as Vale rolled off.
Vale pushed himself to his knees. “You bastard!” he yelled. Blood poured from his mouth. “Talon is mine! He’s all I have left. All he wanted was you. ”
Perry rose to his feet. His right eye was already swelling shut. Vale was jealous? Perry felt like he was going to break. He remembered the Dweller with the black gloves chasing him into the ocean. The Dwellers had taken the Smarteye and Talon, but they had still come after him. They had wanted Perry dead.
“You asked the Dwellers to kill me. Didn’t you, Vale? Was that part of your bargain too?”
“I had to get to you first. ” Vale spat blood onto the dirt. “I did what I had to do. They wanted you anyway. ”
Perry wiped the blood that ran into his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. His brother had done all of this behind his back. He’d lied to the Tides.
Vale launched himself at Perry, but Perry was ready this time. He dodged to the side and wrapped his arm around Vale’s neck. Perry pulled him down. Vale hit the ground face-first and struggled but Perry had him pinned.
Perry looked up. All around him he saw shocked faces. And then he saw his knife glinting on the ground. He picked it up
. Perry pulled Vale around and laid the steel against his throat. They weren’t brothers anymore. Vale had lost that privilege.
“Talon will never forgive you for this,” Vale said.
“Talon’s not here. ” Perry’s arms shook and his eyes blurred. “Pledge, Vale. Swear to me. ”
Vale’s body relaxed, but his breath still came fast. Finally he nodded. “I swear on our mother’s grave, Perry. I’ll serve you. ”
Perry searched his brother’s eyes, trying to read what he couldn’t scent. He looked over at Reef, who stood a few paces away, flanked by the rest of his men. Reef knew exactly what Perry wanted. He took a few steps forward and lifted his head, his nostrils flaring as he breathed in deeply, sifting through the hot stench of anger, searching for truth or lie.
He shook his head slightly, confirming what Perry knew, but didn’t want to believe. Vale would never serve him. He could never be trusted.
Vale looked at Reef. He tensed with realization, and then grabbed for the knife, but Perry moved faster. He drew his blade across Vale’s throat. Then he stood, Blood Lord of the Tides.
“What should I tell him when I get there?” Roar asked.
They stood together in Delphi’s courtyard. Spring sang its chattering music into Aria’s ears. Flowers burst up all along the wall, the colors bright against the gray stones. Winter had left broad bare spots on the mountain and the smell of smoke in the air. Now it was time. After months together at Marron’s, Roar and Cinder were heading to the Tides.
“Nothing,” Aria answered. “Don’t tell him anything. ”
Roar smirked. He knew how much she missed Perry. They’d spent hours talking about Perry and Liv. But she hadn’t told Roar about her deal with Hess. Perry would have enough to handle as a new Blood Lord. That burden was hers.
“You have nothing to say at all?” Roar asked. “Better have a look at her, Rose. I think she’s ill. ”
Rose laughed. She stood with Marron by Delphi’s entrance, resting a hand on her round stomach. Rose was due to have her child any day now. Aria hoped she’d still be there for the birth.
Roar crossed his arms. “Do you really think he’s not going to learn you’re out here eventually?”
“Well, you don’t have to tell him. ”
“If he asks, I won’t lie to him. It wouldn’t help if I did. ”
Aria sighed. She’d been thinking about this moment for weeks and she still didn’t know what to do. She knew Perry’s fears. She wasn’t a Scire. She was no different than Rose or the girl in his tribe. Perry could already be with her again. Just thinking that made her stomach tighten with hurt.
“Roar!” Cinder growled, waiting by the gate.
Roar smiled. “I better go before he gets angry. ”
Aria hugged him. He was close, his cheek pressed to her forehead, so she passed a secret message to him through her thoughts. I’ll miss you, Roar.
“Me too, Halfy,” he whispered, low enough that only she could hear. Then he winked at her and sauntered to the gate.