He returned to the clearing and organized the handling of the slain raiders. First they stripped the valuables from the dead. The tribe would reuse weapons, belts, and shoes. Then they loaded the bodies on horse carts, making one trip after another over the sandy trail. At the beach, wood was stacked to form a pyre. When it was ready, he dropped the torch that lit the wood, speaking the words that would release the souls of the dead to the Aether. He did this with some amazement at himself. Here, in the aftermath of battle just as during, neither his voice nor his hands wavered.
It was well into afternoon by the time he took the path back through the dunes to the compound, his legs shaking with fatigue. Perry slowed his pace, and Reef matched him. They let the others pull ahead.
Bloodstains covered Perry’s shirt, his knuckles throbbed, and he was pretty sure he’d broken his nose again, but Reef had managed to come through the raid without a scratch on him. Perry didn’t know how he’d done it. He’d seen Reef fighting as hard as he had been, maybe harder.
“What’d you do this morning?” he asked.
Reef smirked. “Slept late. You?”
“Read a book. ”
Reef shook his head. “I don’t believe you. You look worse after you read. ” He was quiet for a moment, the humor disappearing from his face. “We got lucky today. Most of those people had no idea how to fight. ”
He was right. The raiders had been desperate and disorganized. The Tides wouldn’t be that lucky twice. “Any idea where they were from?” Perry asked.
“South. They lost their own compound a few weeks ago. Strag got it out of one of the injured before he drove them off Tide land. They were after shelter. My guess is they got word of our weak numbers and decided to take a chance. They won’t be the last ones to try. ” Reef tipped his chin at Perry. “You know you probably wouldn’t be standing here if you’d been wearing the chain? They’d have targeted you. Take the leader down and the rest is easy. ”
Perry stopped. He reached up, feeling the absence of the weight around his neck, and then noticed that Reef was carrying his satchel.
“It’s in here,” he said, handing it over. “Strange thing about you, Peregrine. Sometimes it’s like you know things are going to happen before they do. ”
“No,” Perry said, taking it. “If I could predict the future, I’d have avoided a lot of things. ” He slipped the chain out of the leather pack. For an instant he held it in his hand and felt a connection to Vale and his father through it.
“They’re calling you a hero for this,” Reef said. “I’ve heard it a few times already. ”
Were they? Perry pulled the chain over his head. “First time for everything, I guess,” he joked, but it made no sense to him. What he’d done today felt no different from trying to rescue Old Will during the storm.
As he walked up, he found the tribe waiting at the compound. They spread into a circle around him. The clearing had been washed down with buckets of water, but the mud beneath his feet held traces of ash and blood. At his side, Reef muffled a grunt, reacting to the scent that hung in the afternoon air. Pure fear was hard on the nose.
Perry knew they wanted to be reassured—to be told that it was safe now, that the worst was over—but he couldn’t do it. Another tribe would raid them. Another Aether storm would come. He couldn’t lie and tell them that everything was fine. Besides, he was terrible at speeches. If there was som
ething genuine and important to be said, he needed to look a person in the eye and say it.
He cleared his throat. “We can still put in the better part of a day’s work. ”
The Tides looked at one another, unsure, but after a few moments they broke off to fix the protective walls and the roof tiles, and make all the other repairs that were needed.
Reef’s voice was quiet beside him. “Well done. ”
Perry nodded. The tasks would help put them at ease. Repairing the compound would calm them more than any speech he could give.
Then it was time for him to do his own work. He started from the western edge of his territory and made his way east. He found the Tides, every one, in the stables, in the fields, at the harbor, and looked into their eyes and told them he was proud of what they’d done today.
Late that night, with the compound silent, Perry climbed up to his roof. He gripped the heavy links around his neck until the cool metal warmed between his fingers. For the first time, he felt like their Blood Lord.
Ready?” Aria asked Roar.
They’d made camp by the Snake River, which would lead them the rest of the way to the Horns. Branches were strewn across the harsh, gravelly banks, and the wide river ran smooth as a mirror, reflecting the swirling Aether sky. They’d moved swiftly through the afternoon, keeping ahead of an Aether storm. The distant shriek of the funnels carried to her ears, prickling the skin on the back of her neck.
Roar leaned back against his satchel and crossed his arms. “I’ve been ready since the day I woke up and Liv wasn’t there. You?”
They’d spent the past week climbing Ranger’s Edge, a frigid mountain pass bordered by sharp, soaring peaks that looked like shredded metal. Between her ears and Roar’s, they’d steered clear of encounters with other people and wolves, but they hadn’t been able to escape the constant wind that sliced through the pass, trapping it in what felt like perpetual winter. Aria’s lips had chapped and cracked. Her feet had blistered, and her hands were numb, but tomorrow, two weeks after they’d left the Tides, they’d reach Rim at last.
“Yes. Ready,” she answered, trying to sound more confident than she felt. The magnitude of her task was hitting her. How was she going to discover protected information from Sable—a Scire who despised Dwellers? A Blood Lord who trusted no one with the secret he guarded?