Under the Never Sky 8
Page 8was a rare sign of bounty. A good omen for the winter ahead. For the following growing season as well. That was why Vale had called the tribe back to the compound. He wanted everyone there to see him coming home with his prize.
Talon had stirred his food for a while, making lumpy mounds with his spoon. Now he looked everywhere but at his bowl. It pained Perry to see his nephew looking so drawn.
“We’re hunting, right?” Perry asked. Hunting would give him an excuse to get Talon away from the compound. Perry wanted to give him the apple, Talon’s favorite. Vale always bought a few in secret just for Talon when traders brought them around.
Talon stopped stirring. “But the Aether. ”
“I’ll keep us clear of it. Come on, Tal. We could go for a bit. ”
Talon scrunched his nose, leaned forward, and whispered, “I can’t leave the compound anymore. My father said. ”
Perry frowned. “When did he say that?”
“Umm . . . the day after you left?”
Perry pushed down a flare of anger, wanting to keep his nephew from feeling it too. How could Vale deny him hunting? Talon loved it. “We could be back before he knew. ”
“Uncle Perry . . . ”
Perry glanced over his shoulder, following Talon’s line of vision to the table in the back. “What, you think the Ears heard me?” he asked, though he knew they had. Perry whispered a few suggestions to the Auds. Ideas for what they could go do to themselves, rather than listen to other people’s conversations. His suggestions brought several hard stares.
“Look at that, Talon. You’re right. They can hear me. Should’ve known. I can smell Wylan from here. You think that reek’s coming from his mouth?”
Talon grinned. He’d lost a few milk teeth. His smile had the look of calico corn. “It smells like it’s coming from his south side. ”
Perry leaned back and laughed.
“Shut up, Peregrine,” Wylan called out. “You heard him. He’s not supposed to leave. You want Vale to know what you’re doing?”
“Your choice, Wylan. Tell Vale or not. You want to deal with him or me?”
Perry knew the answer. Vale’s form of punishment meant halved rations. Outhouse duty. Extra rounds of night watch in the winter. Miserable, all, but to a vain critter like Wylan, better than the beating Perry could give him. So when the whole lot of Auds stood and charged him, Perry nearly knocked the bench over getting up. He put himself in the alley between the tables, Talon well behind him.
Wylan, at the lead, stopped a few paces away. “Peregrine, you streaky idiot. Something’s going on outside. ”
It took Perry a moment to understand. They’d heard something outside and were simply heading out. He stepped aside as the Auds poured past him, the rest of the cookhouse hurrying after.
Perry went back to Talon. His nephew’s bowl had spilled. Gruel dripped through a knot in the table. “I thought . . . ” He glared at the worn planks. “You know what I thought. ”
Talon knew better than anyone how Perry’s blood was primed. He’d always had an edge, but it was getting worse. Lately, if there was a scuffle to be had, Perry found a way to mix himself into it. The Aether in his blood was gathering, growing stronger every year with the storms. He felt like his body had a will of its own. Always looking. Preparing for the only fight that would satisfy him.
But he couldn’t have that fight. In a challenge for Blood Lord, the loser died or was forced to disperse. Perry couldn’t imagine leaving Talon fatherless. And he couldn’t force his brother and his sick nephew out in the open. There were no laws in the borderlands beyond tribe territories, only survival.
That left one choice. He needed to leave. Dispersing was the best thing he could do for Talon. It meant that Talon could stay and live out the rest of his days in the safety of the compound. It also meant he’d never help the Tides like he knew he could.
Outside, people crowded around the clearing. The afternoon air thickened with excited tempers. Brisk scents. But no traces of fear. Dozens of voices chattered, muddled to his ears, but the Auds had surely overheard something to make them dart outside. Perry caught sight of Bear creating a wake as he moved through the crowd. Wylan and a few others followed him out beyond the compound.
“Perry! Up here!”
Brooke stood on the tile roof of the cookhouse, waving him up. Perry wasn’t surprised to see her already there. He climbed the farming crates stacked to the side of the structure, pulling Talon up with him.
From the roof, he had a good view of the hills that formed the Tides’ eastern border. Farmland stretched back in a patchwork of browns and greens, woven through by a line of trees that followed the underground river. Perry could also see the stretches of Aether-blackened earth where the funnels had struck early in the spring.
“There,” Brooke said.
He searched where she pointed. He was a Seer like Brooke, saw better than most during the day, but his real strength lay in seeing in the dark. He knew of no other Seer like him and tried not to call attention to his vision.
Perry shook his head, unable to make out anything distinctive in the distance. “You know I’m better at night. ”
Brooke shot him a flirty smile. “I sure do. ”
He grinned at her. Couldn’t think of anything to say besides, “Later. ”
She laughed and turned her keen blue eyes back to the distance. She was a strong Seer, the best in the tribe since her younger sister Clara had disappeared. More than a year had passed since Clara had gone missing, but Brooke hadn’t given up on her coming home. Perry scented her hope now. Then how it wilted with disappointment.
“It’s Vale,” she said. “He’s bringing in something big. It looks like a buck. ”
Perry should have been relieved it was only his brother coming home from hunting. Not another tribe raiding them for food. But he wasn’t.
Brooke stepped toward him, her gaze settling on his bruised cheek. “That looks like it hurts, Per. ” She traced a finger along his face in a way that didn’t hurt at all. When her floral scent reached him, he couldn’t stop himself from bringing her closer.
Most girls in the tribe were wary around him. He understood, considering his shaky future with the Tides. Not Brooke. More than once as they’d lain together in the warm summer grass, she’d whispered into his ear about them becoming the ruling pair. He liked Brooke, but that would never happen. He’d choose another Scire to be with someday, keeping with his strongest Sense. But Brooke never gave up. Not that he minded.
“So it’s true what happened with you and Vale?” she said.
Perry let out a slow breath. There were no secrets with Auds around. “Vale didn’t do this. ”
Brooke smiled like she didn’t believe him. “Everyone’s down there, Perry. It’s the perfect time to challenge him. ”
He stepped back and swallowed a curse. She wasn’t a Scire. She could never understand how it felt to be rendered. No matter how much he wanted to be Blood Lord, he could never hurt Talon.
“I see him!” Talon said from the edge of the roof.
Perry darted to his side. Vale was crossing the dirt field that skirted the compound, near enough for all to see. He was tall, like Perry, but seven years older; he had a man’s build. The Blood Lord chain around his neck shone under the light of the sky. Scire Markings coiled around Vale’s biceps. One band on each arm, single and proud, unlike the two cluttering Perry’s. Vale’s Naming Mark cut a line on the skin over his heart, rising and falling like the lines of their valley. He had his dark hair pulled back, giving Perry a clear view of his eyes. They were steady and calm as ever. Behind Vale, on a litter made of branches and rope, rested his quarry.
The buck looked to be well over two hundred pounds. The head was doubled back to keep the enormous rack from dragging. A ten pointer. A huge animal.
Below, the drum began to pound a deep rhythm. The other instruments joined in, playing the Hunter’s Song. A song that got Perry’s heart pounding every time he heard it.
People ran toward Vale. They took the litter from his hands. They brought him water and praised him. A buck that size would fill all their stomachs. A beast like that
Perry looked down at his shaking hands. That buck should have been his kill. He should be the one hauling in that litter. He couldn’t believe Vale’s luck. How had he brought in a buck like that when Perry hadn’t tracked one all year? Perry knew he was a better hunter. He gritted his teeth, pushing back his next thought, but failing. He’d be a better Blood Lord, too.
“Uncle Perry?” Talon stared up at him, his scrawny chest heaving for breath. Perry saw all the jealous rage inside of him crossing his nephew’s drawn face. Tangling up with Talon’s fear. He breathed in the desperate mix they made and knew he should never have come back.
Aria followed the Guardians through the curving corridors. She wanted out of the real, where things rusted and cracked. Where people died in fires. She wished she had her new Smarteye so she could fraction and escape to a Realm. She could be gone right now, somewhere else.
She began to notice more Guardians in the halls and in passing glimpses of chambers that looked like cafeterias and meeting rooms. She knew most of them by face, but they were strangers. They weren’t people she meshed with in the Realms.
The Guardians brought her through an airlock chamber labeled DEFENSE & EXTERNAL REPAIRS 2. She stopped in her tracks as she entered a transportation hub larger than any space she’d ever seen. Hovercrafts were lined in rows, rounded iridescent vehicles she’d only seen in the Realms before. The sleek ships looked hunched, like insects poised to take flight. Aerial runways marked by blue beams of light floated in the air above. Laughter erupted from a cluster of Guardians in the distance, the sound small and stifled by the drone of generators. She’d been within walking distance of this hangar her entire life. All of this went on in Reverie, and she’d never known it.
One of the Hovers in the distance lit up with a shimmering glow. It hit her then. She was actually leaving. She never thought she’d leave Reverie. This Pod was her home. But it didn’t feel the same. She’d seen its rotten fruit and rusted walls. She’d seen machines that turned her mind blank and her limbs into anchors. Soren was here. And Paisley wasn’t. How could she go back to her life without Paisley? She couldn’t. She needed to leave. More than anything, she needed her mother. Lumina would know how to make things right again.
Eyes blurring, she followed the Guardians to a Dragonwing. She recognized the vehicle. It was the fastest model of Hovers, built for raw speed. Aria climbed the metal steps, hesitating at the top. When would she come back?
“Keep moving,” said a Guardian with black gloves. The cabin was surprisingly small, lit with dim blue light, with seats along both sides.
“Right here,” said the man. She sat where he indicated and fumbled with the thick restraints, her fingers useless through the Medsuit. She should’ve asked for grays, but she hadn’t wanted to waste time and risk Hess changing his mind.