She pictured Talon’s legs swinging over the pier. If she failed, how would she get him out? Would it be the end of Reverie? Aria shook her head, pushing away the worries. She couldn’t let herself think that way.
“You think Sable will want to bargain?” she asked. They planned to tell him that they’d come on behalf of Perry, who, as new Blood Lord of the Tides, wanted to rescind the betrothal Vale had arranged a year earlier. They’d also try to buy the information of the Still Blue’s location.
Roar shook his head. “I don’t know. The Tides already accepted the first half of the dowry. The only way Perry can repay him is in land, but with the Aether getting worse, that might not be enough. Who would take on new territory just to watch it burn?” He lifted his shoulders. “It’s a long shot, but it might work. From what I know, Sable’s greedy. We’ll try it first. ”
Their second tactic was to snoop around and figure out the Still Blue’s whereabouts, get Liv, and run.
As they fell into silence, Aria reached into her satchel for the falcon carving. She ran her fingers over the dark wood, remembering Perry’s smile as he’d said, Mine is the one that looks like a turtle.
“If he’s hurting her, or forcing her in any way—”
She looked up. Roar was staring at the campfire. His dark eyes flicked to hers before moving back to the flames. He hunched down into his coat, firelight dancing on his handsome face. “Forget I said that. ”
“Roar … it’ll be all right,” she said, though she knew it wouldn’t bring him any comfort. He was trapped in the pain of not knowing. She remembered feeling the same way when she’d been searching for her mother. A cycle of hoping, and then the fear of hoping, and then just fear. There was no way out except to learn the truth. At least he’d have that tomorrow.
They fell into another stretch of quiet before Roar spoke again. “Aria, be careful around Sable. If he scents you’re nervous, he’ll ask until he learns why. ”
“I can hide my nerves on the surface, but I won’t be able to stop feeling them. It’s not something that can be turned off and on. ”
“That’s why you should keep away from him as much as possible. We’ll find ways to look around quietly for the Still Blue. ”
She scooted her feet closer to the fire, feeling the heat soak into her toes. “So I’m supposed to stay away from the one person I’m trying to get close to?”
“Scires,” Roar said, like it explained everything.
In a way, it did.
After a few hours of restless sleep, she woke at dawn and slipped her Smarteye out of her satchel. She’d seen Hess twice during the week, but he’d kept their meetings short. He wanted news, and apparently walking day and night with freezing hands and feet didn’t qualify. He’d refused to let her see Talon again. Refused to tell her anything about Reverie’s condition. Whenever she asked, he fractioned, leaving her abruptly. Now she decided she’d had enough of being kept in the dark.
With Roar sleeping nearby, she applied the Smarteye and called the Phantom.
Seconds after she selected the white mask, Aria fractioned. Her heart leaped as she recognized the Realm. It was one of her favorites, based on an ancient painting of a gathering along the Seine River. Everywhere, people in nineteenth-century dress strolled or lounged, enjoying the sunshine as boats glided through the calm water. Birds twittered cheerfully, and a gentle breeze rustled the trees.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away from me. ”
“Soren?” Aria asked, scanning the men around her. They wore top hats and suits with coattails, while the women wore bustled skirts and held colorful parasols. She looked for thickset shoulders. The aggressive tip of a chin.
“I’m here,” he said. “You just can’t see me. We’re invisible. People think you’re dead. If anyone saw you, there’s no way I could keep that from my father. Even I have limits. ”
Aria looked down at her hands. She didn’t see them—or any part of herself. Panic washed over her. She felt like she was nothing more than a floating pair of eyes. In the real, she wiggled her fingers to shake off the feeling.
Then she heard a voice she’d known all her life.
“Pixie, you’re blocking my light. ”
She followed the sound to the source, her heart thudding in her chest. Caleb sat on a red blanket just a few paces away, sketching in a notebook. His tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth—a habit he had when swept away by his creations. Aria took in his gangly limbs and ruddy hair as he moved a pencil across the page. He looked so much like Paisley. She’d never realized how alike they were until now.
“Can he hear me?” she whispered, her voice high and thin.
“No,” Soren said. “He has no idea we’re here. You’ve been saying you wanted to see him. ”
She wanted much more than that. Aria wanted hours, days to spend with Caleb. Time to tell him how sorry she was about Paisley and how much she missed spending every day with him. Caleb was there with other people now. Pixie sat beside him in silence, watching him sketch, her jet-black hair trimmed shorter than Aria remembered. Aria wondered how Soren felt seeing her. Less than a year ago, they’d been dating. Rune was there as well with the Tilted Green Bottles’ drummer, Jupiter. They were tangled in a passionate kiss, oblivious to anyone else.
Something about them—about all of them—seemed distant and desperate.
“Congratulations,” Soren said. “You’re officially nothing. ”
She panned the empty space beside her. It was strange hearing his voice and not being able to see him. “Soren, this is eerie. ”