Minutes passed in silence before Sable jerked upright. He looked around the room, and then removed the Smarteye. “Unbelievable,” he said, staring at the device in his hand.
“What did Hess say?” she asked.
Sable drew a few slow breaths. “I told him what I need. He’s looking into it. ”
“So we wait?” Aria asked. “How long?”
“A few hours. ”
She gasped. That was soon. She couldn’t believe the plan was working. She felt like she’d just taken her first step back toward the Tides. Toward Perry.
Sable rose from the table. “Let’s go, Olivia,” he said, walking to the door.
Aria shot to her feet. “Wait,” she said. “The Smarteye. I’ll bring it back when it’s time. ”
He turned back to her. “No need. I’ll keep it. ”
Liv came to her side. “Sable, it’s hers. ”
“Not anymore,” he said, and then spoke to the guards by the door. “Keep them here overnight. I might still have need for the Dweller. Then see them out of the city at first light. ” Sable’s steel-blue eyes moved to Liv. “You understand, I’m sure, why your friends can’t stay. ”
Liv glanced at Roar, who stood a few feet away, frozen. “I understand,” she said. Then she followed Sable from the room without a backward glance.
Hours later, Aria sat at the table with Roar, watching the rust-colored drapes stir in the wind. The dining room was cloaked in darkness, the only light coming through the open balcony doors. Every so often, she heard the muffled voices of the guards posted in the corridor.
She rubbed her arms, feeling numb. Sable had surely met with Hess again by now. He had used her and discarded her. She shook her head. He was just like Hess.
Outside, the rain had stopped, leaving the stones on the balcony slick, reflecting the glow of the sky. From where she sat, she could see currents of Aether. Bright rivers, flowing against the darkness. They’d see another storm soon. It didn’t shock her anymore. Eventually, the storms would come every day, and it would be just like the Unity. Decades of constant funnels crashing across the earth, coating it in destruction. But it wouldn’t spread over everything.
In her mind, she pictured an oasis. A golden place that shimmered in the sunlight. She imagined a long pier, with seagulls wheeling in the blue sky above. She pictured Perry and Talon together, fishing at the end, content and relaxed. Cinder would be there too, watching them, holding his hat to keep it from blowing away. She imagined Liv and Roar nearby, whispering to each other, planning some kind of mischief that would lead, inevitably, to someone being tossed into the water. And she would be there. She’d sing something gentle and pretty. A song that would hold the sway of the waves and the warm feel of the sun. A song that would capture how she felt for all of them.
That was what she wanted. It was her Still Blue, and every breath she took, every second that passed, she could choose to fight for it, or not.
She realized it was no choice at all. She would always fight.
Aria stood and motioned for Roar to follow her to the balcony. As she stepped outside, the ghostly moan of the wind raised the hair on her arms. Below, she saw the Snake River, its black water rippling with Aether light. Smoke lifted up from the chimneys of homes along the banks, and she could see the bridge she and Roar had crossed only yesterday. In the darkness it stood as an arc dotted with points of firelight.
Roar stood beside her, his jaw tense, his brown eyes tight with anger.
She reached for his hand.
We’re going to steal the Eye back. We can take the ledge to the next balcony and slip inside. I can get us to Sable’s room. I need the Still Blue for Talon. For Perry. If it’s on the Eye, then we’ll have what we came for. We’ll get Liv and get out of here.
It was a desperate plan. Flawed and dangerous. But their window for action was closing by the minute. In hours, they’d be thrown out of Rim. The time for risks was now.
“Yes,” Roar whispered urgently. “Let’s go. ”
Aria peered over the low wall that bordered the balcony. A small ledge ran to the next balcony, about twenty feet away. It was just a small lip of stone, barely four inches wide. She looked down. She wasn’t afraid of heights, but her stomach clenched like she’d been punched. The drop to the Snake was sixty feet, she guessed. A fall from this height could be lethal.
She swung her legs over the wall and stepped onto the ledge. A gust set her shirt flapping. She gasped, curling her back at the chill that raced up her spine. Digging her fingers into the grooves, she drew a breath and took her first steps away from the balcony. Then another step. And then another.
She skimmed her hands over the stone blocks, grasping cracks and edges as she kept her gaze on her feet. She heard the soft brush of Roar’s feet behind her, and the drift of a woman’s laughter from somewhere above.
Her gaze darted over. Halfway there.
Her boot slipped. Her shin smacked the ledge. She grasped desperately at stone, fingernails lifting, tearing. Roar’s fingers clamped onto her arm, steadying her. She pressed her cheek against the stone wall, every muscle in her body clenching. As close as she pushed herself to the wall, it wasn’t enough. She breathed, forcing her mind away from the feeling of falling backward.
“I’m right here,” Roar whispered. His hand splayed on her back, firm and warm. “I won’t let you fall. ”