“I’m a farmer, Perry. I need to do what I know,” said Rowan. He waved a hand toward Brooke. “I got no business shooting a bow when I have this to deal with. ”
“Learn it anyway,” Perry said. “It could save your life, and more. ”
“Vale never had us do that, and we were fine. ”
Perry shook his head. He couldn’t believe his ears. “Things are different now, Rowan. ”
Gray stepped forward. “We’ll starve next winter if we don’t seed soon. ”
The tone in his voice—sure and demanding—streaked Perry. “We may not be here next winter. ”
Rowan balked, his eyebrows drawing together. “Where will we be?” he said, his voice rising in pitch. He and Gray exchanged a look.
“You’re not really serious about moving us to the Still Blue?” said Gray.
“We may not have a choice,” Perry said. He remembered his brother ordering these same men, with no arguments. No convincing. When Vale had spoken, they had obeyed.
Brooke walked over, brushing sweat from her brow. “Perry, what’s wrong?” she asked.
He realized he’d been pinching the bridge of his nose. A burning sensation spiked deep in his sinuses. He looked up, a curse slipping through his lips.
The clouds had broken apart at last. High above, he saw the Aether. It didn’t run in lazy, glowing currents, as was normal for this time of year. Instead, thick rivers flowed above him, glaring and bright. In some places the Aether coiled like snakes, forming funnels, which would strike at the earth and unleash fire.
“That’s a winter sky,” Rowan said, his voice filled with confusion.
“Dad, what’s going on?” asked one of Gray’s sons.
Perry knew exactly what was going on. He couldn’t deny what h
e saw—or the burn in the back of his nose.
“Get home now!” he told them, then sprinted to the compound. Where would the storm hit? West, over the sea? Or directly on them? He heard the blast of a signal horn, and then others farther away, alerting farmers to take shelter. He had to reach the fishermen, who’d be harder to alert and bring in safely.
He shot through the main gate of the compound, into the clearing. People rushed to their homes, shouting at one another in panic. He scanned their faces.
Roar ran up. “What do you need?”
“Find Aria. ”
The rain began suddenly, carrying on a gust that hit Aria like a cold slap. She sprinted back to the compound on the trail she’d been wandering all morning, lost in thoughts of Realms that suddenly glitched and froze. Her knives drummed a reassuring rhythm against her thighs as she followed the path through the woods, the wind whipping around her.
At the sound of a horn, she skidded to a halt and looked up. Through the gaps in the rain clouds she saw thick flows of Aether. Seconds later she heard the distinctive shriek of a funnel—a ripping, high-pitched peal that sent ice through her veins. A storm now? The storms should’ve already ended for the year.
She ran again, picking up her pace. Months ago, she’d been right under a storm with Perry. She’d never forget the burn across her skin when the funnels struck close, or how her body had seized.
“River!” called a far-off voice. “Where are you?”
She froze and listened for sounds through the hissing rain. More voices. Everyone yelling the same thing, their shouts of distress sharp to her ears. She squeezed her numb hands into fists. Who was she to help? The Tides hated her. But then another voice called out—closer this time—the sound so desperate and fearful that she moved without thinking. She knew how it felt to search for someone who was gone. They might not accept her help, but she had to try.
She jogged off the trail onto thick, slippery mud, sounds guiding her to a dozen people scanning the woods. Her knees locked when she recognized Brooke.
“What are you doing here, Mole?” Soaked, Brooke looked crueler than usual. Her blond hair lay dark and slick against her skull, her eyes cold as marbles. “You took him, didn’t you, child snatcher?”
Aria shook her head. “No! Why would I do that?” Her eyes moved to the weapon over Brooke’s shoulder.