“He did it because you were attacking me,” she snapped. “Don’t forget that part. And you better think again if you’re coming Outside for revenge. Perry would destroy you. ”
Soren put his hands up. “Easy, tigress. I was just asking. So what do you want me to do—babysit the kid?”
She shook her head. “Make sure Talon stays safe—no matter what. And I want to see him. ”
“Right now. ”
Soren worked his jaw side to side as he stared down at her. “Fine,” he said. “I’m curious. Let’s go see the little Savage. ”
Ten minutes later, Aria sat on the pier and watched as Talon taught Soren how to cast out. Athletic and competitive, Soren actually wanted to learn, and Talon picked up on that. As she watched them prattle on about bait, she felt unexpectedly optimistic. Somehow the two castoffs were getting along.
Soren had a fish on the line as she left them and moved through the commands to shut off the Eye. Aria slipped it back into her satchel and woke Roar.
It was time to meet Sable.
A week after the raid, Perry woke in the darkness. The house was still, his men lay scattered in slumbering mounds across the floor, and the first tinge of daylight bled through the cracks in the shutters.
He’d dreamed of Aria. Of the time months ago when she’d convinced him to sing to her. His voice rough and breaking, he’d sung the words of the Hunter’s Song while she listened, nestled in his arms.
Perry pressed his fingers to his eyes until he saw stars instead of her face. He’d been such a fool.
He pulled himself to his feet and wove past the Six to the loft. Gren still hadn’t returned from the journey to Marron’s, and as Perry had feared, the Tides were going hungry. He saw it in the new angles in Willow’s face. Heard it in the sharp edge in the Six’s voices. A constant ache had settled in his gut, and yesterday he’d needed to cut a new notch in his belt. He didn’t feel it yet, but he worried that weakness would come next.
Perry couldn’t spend any more effort on fields that might end up burning. Between overhunting and Aether storms, tracking game was nearly impossible. So they relied on the sea more than ever and managed, most of the time, to fill the cooking pots at the end of the day. No one complained about the taste of food anymore. Hunger had done away with that.
Their position by the coast was an advantage other tribes wanted. Reports came daily from his patrol of bands sniffing at the edge of his territory. Perry knew he couldn’t wait for Marron’s help anymore. He couldn’t wait for the next storm or the next raid. He needed to do something.
He climbed a few rungs until he could see into the loft. Cinder lay sprawled across the mattress, snoring softly. The night of the raid, he’d scurried up there, terrified and teary, and it had been his place ever since. His eyes twitched in sleep, a bead of drool slipping down the side of his mouth. His black wool cap was crumpled in his hand.
Perry was reminded of Talon then, though he wasn’t sure why. He guessed Cinder to be about five years older than Talon, and they were nothing alike in temperament. Perry had been with Talon every day of his life until he’d been kidnapped. He’d held Talon in his arms and watched him drift asleep, and seen him unfold, day by day, into a child who was gentle and wise.
He knew next to nothing about Cinder; the boy hadn’t breathed a word about his past, or his power. When he did speak, it was often to snap and bite. He was guarded and reactive, but Perry felt a bond with him. Maybe he didn’t know Cinder, but he understood him.
Perry jostled him lightly. “Wake up. I need you to come with me. ”
Cinder’s eyes flew open, and then he climbed down with a clumsy, noisy thump.
Reef and Twig woke. Hyde and Hayden too. Even Strag did. They looked at one another, and then Reef said, “I’ll go,” and rose to follow Perry.
It was just as well. Perry had planned to ask Reef along anyway.
Since the raid, the Six were as protective over him as ever. Perry let them be. He grabbed his bow by the front door, glimpsing the scars Cinder had given him. Like everyone, Perry was made of flesh and bone. He burned and bled. He’d survived the raid and the Aether storm, but how many times would he cheat death? There was a time for risk and a time for caution. Always he struggled to choose between them, but it was something he was learning.
Aether spread across the sky in waves, blue and glowing. Thicker than he’d ever seen, even in the harshest winters. The sun would rise and the day would brighten a bit, but they would still be in the blue, marbled light.
With Cinder and Reef at his sides, Perry took to the northern trail beyond the compound, passing a field of dead wood that tickled his nose with fine ash and left Reef sneezing. Neither of them asked where Perry was taking them—for which he was grateful. With every step, his pulse beat faster.
He glanced at Cinder, who was anxious, his temper vibrant and green. They hadn’t talked about what had happened in the raid. Perry had taken him aside a few minutes a day and showed him how to shoot a bow. Cinder was terrible—skitty and impatient—but he tried. And he seemed to have grown closer to Willow, who’d likely saved his life. They sat together in the cookhouse now, and a few days ago Perry had run into them on the harbor trail and seen Willow wearing Cinder’s cap.
The dirt path narrowed as it wove farther away from the compound. The earth was uneven and rocky here, no good for farming, but it was a good place to hunt—it had been, when that was how he spent his days. After an hour, the trail cut west and brought them to a cliff overlooking the sea. Below, the bluff wrapped around a small cove. Black rocks of every size jutted up along the beach and out on the water.
Perry glanced back at Reef and Cinder. “There’s a cave down there that I need you to see. ”