It’s been a week,” Reef said. “You ever going to talk about it?”
Perry leaned his elbows on the table. The rest of the tribe had cleared out of the cookhouse after supper hours ago, leaving only the two of them. The sound of crickets chirping at the night carried to his ears, and shafts of cool Aether light slanted into the darkened room.
Perry ran his finger across the top of the candle between them, playing with the flame. When he went too slowly, it hurt. The trick was to go quickly. To not stop.
“No. I’m not,” Perry answered, keeping his gaze on the flame.
Over the past days, he’d cleaned and gutted fish until the smell of the sea seeped into his fingers. He’d stayed out on night watch until his eyes grew bleary. He’d fixed a fence, then a ladder, and then a roof. He couldn’t ask the Tides to work night and day if he didn’t do so himself.
Reef crossed his arms. “The tribe would’ve turned against you if you’d left with her. And they would’ve turned if she’d stayed. She was smart. She saw that. Couldn’t have been an easy decision for her. She did the right thing. ”
Perry looked up. Reef’s gaze was direct. In the candlelight, the scar on his face looked deeper. It made him look cruel. “What are you doing, Reef?”
“Trying to draw out the poison. You’ve got it inside you, just as she did that night. You can’t keep carrying this around, Perry. ”
“Yes. I can,” he shot back. “I don’t care what she did, or why, or whether it’s wrong or right, understand?”
Reef nodded. “I understand. ”
“There’s nothing more to say. ” What good did sitting around and talking ever do? It wouldn’t change anything.
“All right,” Reef said.
Perry sat back. He took a drink and grimaced. The well water hadn’t recovered since the storm; it still tasted like ash. The Aether had a way of invading everything. It destroyed their food and burned their firewood before it ever reached their hearths. It even seeped into their water.
He’d done what he could by sending word to Marron. Now he had no move to make. No way to get Talon out of Reverie. Nothing to do except wait for Aria and Roar to come back and try to keep his people from starving. That didn’t sit right with him.
Perry rubbed a hand over the back of his head and sighed. “You want to know something?”
Reef nodded. “Sure. ”
“I feel like an old man. I feel how you must feel. ”
Reef smiled. “Not easy, is it, pup?”
“Could be easier. ” Perry’s gaze drifted to his bow, leaning against the wall. When was the last time he’d used it? His shoulder had healed, and he had time now. He could find some food the way he always had.
“You want to hunt?” he asked, a surge of energy running through him. Suddenly nothing sounded better.
“Now?” Reef said, surprised. It was late, nearing midnight. “Thought you were tired. ”
“Not anymore. ” Perry pulled the Blood Lord chain over his head and dropped it into his satchel. He waited for Reef to object, and had his answers ready. It would be too loud if he had to run after prey, and too bright if he had to go unseen. But Reef just stood, a grin spreading over his face.
“Then let’s hunt. ”
They loaded their quivers and jogged out beyond the compound. After checking in with Hayden, Hyde, and Twig, who sat watch on the eastern post, they slowed to a walk and moved off the trails into dense, untouched woods. Putting a hundred paces between them, they began to track.
Relief loosened Perry’s limbs as he moved away from the compound. He inhaled deeply, catching the sting of the Aether. Looking up, he saw the same glowing currents that had hovered threateningly above all week. They bathed the woods in cool light. An offshore breeze swept toward him, perfect for bringing him the scent of game and for keeping his own scent hidden. He treaded softly, scenting, scanning the woods, feeling more energized than he had in weeks.
The wind died down, and he became aware of the night’s stillness and the loudness of his footsteps. He looked up, expecting a storm, but the currents hadn’t changed. He found Reef, who walked up shaking his head.
“I got nothing. Squirrels. A fox, but only an old trail. Nothing worth—Perry, what is it?”
“I don’t know. ” The wind had risen again, moving through the trees with a soft hiss. On the cool air, he caught human scents. Fear blasted through him, sparking in his veins. “Reef—”