“Pull it up and then across,” Reef said. “Slow and firm, and don’t stop, no matter what. And be quick about it. We need to get inside. ”
Perry shut his eyes. Huge hands closed over his wrist; then he heard Bear’s deep voice above him. “You won’t like this, Perry. ”
Body shaking with nerves and cold, Perry climbed up to his loft, clutching his arm to his side. Awkwardly, hissing at the ache in his shoulder, he pulled his sopping shirt over his head and flung it across the room below. It landed with a splat on the fireplace mantel, hanging there. He lay back and drew breath after breath into his battered lungs as he watched the Aether through the open sliver in the roof. Rain dripped through it, tapping on his chest. Rolling to the mattress beneath him.
Just a few minutes. He needed some time alone before he had to face the tribe.
He closed his eyes. All he could see was Vale, making speeches. Vale, sitting at the head table of the cookhouse, calmly overseeing everything. His brother had never so much as tripped in front of the Tides. And what had Perry just done?
It was the right thing, going after Old Will. So why couldn’t he slow down his breathing? Why did he feel like punching something?
The door swung open, banging against the stone wall with a crack and letting in a cold gust.
“Perry?” someone said from below.
Perry winced in disappointment. It wasn’t the voice he wanted to hear. The only one he’d listen to right now. Had Roar found her?
“Not now, Cinder. ” Perry listened for the sound of the door closing. Seconds passed with nothing. He tried again more forcefully. “Cinder, go. ”
“I wanted to explain about what happened. ”
Perry sat up. Cinder stood below, soaking wet. He was holding his black cap in his hands. He looked determined and calm.
“You want to talk now?” Perry heard his father’s angry tone in his own voice. He knew he should stop himself, but he couldn’t. “You show up when you want to, and run when you don’t? Which is it going to be? If you’re staying, I’d appreciate you not burning our food. ”
“I was trying to help—”
“You want to help?” Perry jumped down from the loft, muffling a curse as pain lanced through his arm. He strode up to Cinder, who stared up at him with wide, piercing eyes. He waved toward the open door. “Then why don’t you do something about that?”
Cinder glanced outside, then back at him. “That’s why you want me here? You think I can stop the Aether?”
Perry caught himself suddenly. He wasn’t thinking straight. Didn’t know what he was saying. He shook his head. “No. That’s not why. ”
“Forget it!” Cinder backed away, moving toward the door. The veins at his neck had begun to glow blue, like the Aether. It seeped like branches beneath his skin, spreading up over his jaw, across his cheeks and his forehead.
Perry had seen him this way twice—on the day Cinder had burned his hand, and when he’d laid waste to a tribe of Croven—but it stunned him again.
“I never should have trusted you!” Cinder yelled.
“Wait,” Perry said. “I shouldn’t have said that. ”
It was too late. Cinder spun, and shot outside.
Roar ran up a short while later, as Aria approached the compound with Molly. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” he said, wrapping Aria in a quick hug. “You made me worry. ”
“Sorry about that, pretty. ”
“You should be. I hate worrying. ” He clutched Molly’s free arm, and together they pulled her as quickly as she could manage to the cookhouse.
Inside, the tribe was packed together, crowding at the tables and along the walls. Molly left to check on River, and Roar went to see Bear. Aria spotted Twig, the lanky Aud who’d been with her on the journey there. She slid onto the bench beside him and scanned the buzzing hall. People were in a panic over the storm, talking over one another in brittle voices, their faces tight with fear.
She wasn’t surprised to see Brooke a few tables over with Wylan, the fisherman with dark, shifty eyes who’d cursed her under his breath at Perry’s house. She saw Willow nestled between her parents, with Old Will and Flea nearby, and the rest of the Six, who never strayed far from Perry’s side. As her gaze moved from one person to the next, a sense of dread rolled through her, making her fingertips tingle. She didn’t