“She’s close,” Sable said finally. “Come. I’ll take you to her now. What a reunion this will be. ”
They exited the hall and moved back into the shadowed corridors. Aria tried to memorize their path, but the halls twisted and turned and then climbed narrow stairs and turned again. There were doors and lamps along the walls, but no windows or distinguishing marks to help her remember the way. A trapped feeling crawled over her, reminding her of a labyrinth Realm she’d been in once. An image of a dungeon flashed before her eyes, raising the hair on the back of her neck. Where was Sable keeping Liv?
“How is the young Blood Lord of the Tides faring?” Sable asked over his shoulder. She couldn’t see his expression, but the tone in his voice was light and casual. Aria had a feeling he knew Perry had lost part of his tribe. The question seemed to be a test more than a search for information.
“Faring,” Roar said tightly.
In the darkness Sable laughed, the sound smooth and engaging. “Carefully put. ” He stopped in front of a heavy wooden door. “Here we are. ”
They stepped out into a large stone-paved courtyard loud with the cheers of a crowd. Around her the castle—it was the best word she could come up with for Sable’s rambling stronghold—rose up hundreds of feet in the same disjointed arrangement of balconies and walkways she’d seen from afar. The sheer gray face of the mountain soared higher still, sharing the sky with the roiling web of Aether.
She followed Sable toward the crowd gathered at the center, her pulse racing, conscious of Roar moving beside her. Above the cheers, she heard the ting ting of clashing steel. The spectators parted when they saw Sable, stepping aside to let them through. Aria glimpsed flashes of blond hair up ahead.
And then she saw her.
Liv swung a half-sword against a soldier who was her size—nearly six feet tall. Her hair, dark and light streaks of blond, reached halfway down her back. She had wide-set eyes, a strong jaw, and high cheekbones. She wore leather boots, slim pants, and a sleeveless shirt that showed lean, defined muscles.
She was strong. Her face. Her body. Everything about her.
Her fighting style was all power, no hesitation. She fought like she was diving into the sea with every move. They’re very alike, Roar had once told her about Perry and Liv. Aria saw that now.
Liv looked comfortable and in control, hardly the captive Roar had imagined finding. Aria glanced at him and found his face ashen. She’d never seen him look so shaken. A surge of protectiveness moved over her.
Liv ducked to avoid a high, slicing blow from her opponent, but he followed with a forearm that caught her flush across the face. Her head whipped to the side. She recovered in an instant and stepped in where almost anyone would have rolled out, stunning the man with a punch to the gut. When he doubled over, she drove an elbow into the back of his head, unyielding, dropping him to his knees, where he stayed, coughing, reeling from the force she’d put behind the blows.
Smiling, Liv nudged his shoulder with her foot. “Come on, Loran. Stand. That can’t be all you’re good for. ”
“I can’t. You cracked a rib. I’m sure of it. ” The soldier lifted his head, looking their way. “Talk to her, Sable. She shows no mercy. It’s no way to train. ”
Sable laughed—the same smooth, seductive sound Aria had heard in the corridors. “Wrong, Loran. It’s the only way to train. ”
Liv turned, spotting Sable. Her smile widened for an instant. Then she saw Roar. Seconds passed, and she didn’t move. Didn’t look away. Unblinking, she reached up, sheathing her sword at her back.
As she walked over, all Aria could do was stare at a girl she’d been hearing about for months. A girl who controlled her best friend’s heart. Who had the same blood as Perry running in her veins.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. The blow she’d taken across the cheek had left a red welt, but the color had drained from the rest of her face. She looked as pale as Roar.
“I could ask you the same. ” Roar’s words were cold, but his voice was hoarse with emotion, and the veins at his neck stood out. He was barely holding himself back.
Sable looked from one to the other, and smiled. “Your friends have come for the wedding, Liv. ”
Aria’s blood went cold.
Sable saw her surprise. “Didn’t you know?” he asked, his eyebrows lifting. “I sent word to the Tides. You arrived just in time. Liv and I will be married in three days. ”
Married. Liv was going to be married. Aria didn’t know why she was so shocked. It was the deal that had been made between Vale and Sable—Liv’s hand in marriage in exchange for food—but something felt terribly wrong.
Then she saw how close Liv and Sable stood. How they stood together.
Sable reached up and brushed his thumb along the welt on Liv’s cheek. His touch lingered, his fingers sliding down her neck, the gesture slow and sensual. “This will be a perfect shade of purple by then. ” He slipped his arm around Liv’s waist. “I’d punish Loran, but you’ve done it for me. ”
Liv’s focus hadn’t left Roar. “You didn’t need to come here,” she said, but her meaning was clear: She didn’t want him there. Liv wanted to marry Sable.
Rage coursed through Aria. She bit the inside of her lip and tasted blood. Roar had turned to stone beside her. She needed to get him out of there. “Is there someplace we can rest? It was a long trip. ”
Liv blinked, noticing her for the first time. She looked from Aria to Roar, her breathing focused. “Who are you?”
“Excuse my manners,” Sable said. “I thought you knew each other. Liv, this is Aria. ” He motioned one of his men over. “Show them to the guest rooms by my quarters,” he said. Then he smiled broadly. “I’ll have supper arranged for the four of us later. Tonight we’ll celebrate. ”