“That’s good, Talon. ” She remembered Perry telling her that Talon had been ill on the outside. “I’m going to get you out, and back home to the Tides. I promise. ”
He scratched his knee but didn’t say anything.
“Do you ever fish with a friend?”
“Clara used to come with me. She’s Brooke’s sister. Do you know Brooke?”
Aria swallowed back a laugh. “Yes, I know Brooke. Why did Clara stop fishing with you?”
“She got bored. She thinks this Realm is too slow now. No one likes to fish this way. ”
“I like it. Maybe we could do this again sometime?”
Talon gave her a sidelong glance and smiled. “All right. ”
For the rest of their time together, Talon told her about all the fish he’d caught here. Using what sort of bait. At what time of day. Under what weather conditions.
He tipped his head to the side when his voice grew softer. His legs never stopped swinging over the edge of the pier. A few times, when he smiled, she had to look to the sea and breathe; he was so much like his uncle. She hugged him as the counter wound down to zero, promising she’d come see him again soon.
Aria fractioned into another Realm—an office. Hess sat at a sleek gray desk with a glass wall behind him. Through it she saw Reverie’s Panop—her home her entire life—with its circular levels coiling up. The view stole her breath and beckoned her forward. She’d been in the Realms dozens of times with Hess since she’d been cast out, but she hadn’t seen the Pod, her physical home, until now.
Hess spoke before she’d taken a step. “Pleasant visit,” he said. “He’s not suffering, as you saw. I hope we can keep it that way. ”
Pledge, Vale,” Perry said, as he held the knife to his brother’s throat. His voice sounded too harsh, like his father’s voice, and his hands shook so badly he couldn’t hold the blade steady. He had Vale pinned to the grass in an empty field.
“Pledge to you? You can’t be serious. You have no idea what you’re doing, Perry. Admit it. ”
“I know what I’m doing!”
Vale started laughing. “Then why did they leave you? Why did she leave you?”
“Shut up!” Perry pressed the blade against his brother’s throat, but Vale only laughed harder.
Then it wasn’t Vale. It was Aria. Beautiful. So beautiful beneath him, on Vale’s bed. She laughed as he held the knife to her throat. Perry couldn’t take the blade away. It trembled in his hand as he pressed it against the smooth skin at her neck, and he couldn’t stop himself and she didn’t care. She just kept laughing.
Perry lurched out of the nightmare and shot upright in his loft. He cursed loudly, unable to keep it quiet. Sweat rolled down his back, and he was out of breath.
“Easy. Easy, Perry,” Reef said. He was perched on the ladder, brow furrowed with worry.
The house was dim and deathly silent. Perry didn’t hear the usual snores of the Six. He’d woken everyone up.
“You all right?” Reef asked.
Perry turned toward the shadows, hiding his face. Two days. She’d been gone two days. He reached for his shirt and pulled it on.
“I’m fine,” he said.
Bear was waiting for him when he stepped outside. “We’re leaner than ever, Perry, I know that. But I need my people rested. It’s too much, asking them to work a whole day in the fields and then do the night watch. Some of us need sleep. ”
Perry tensed. He slept even less lately, and everyone knew it. “We can’t afford to be raided. I need people on watch. ”
“I need help clearing drainage ditches, Perry. I need help tilling and seeding. What I don’t need is people snoring when they should be working. ”
“Make do with what you have, Bear. Everyone else is. ”