She could only nod. She could only keep going.
One step at a time, she inched toward the other balcony. As she neared, she saw a pair of double doors. They were open, but there was only darkness beyond. She waited, forcing back her eagerness to be off the slippery ledge, letting her ears tell her what awaited inside.
She didn’t hear anything. Not a sound.
Aria hopped over the low wall and dropped into a crouch. She set a hand down, needing just a quick connection with solid gro
und. Roar landed soundlessly beside her.
Together, they skimmed across the balcony. A quick testing glance through the doors showed an empty, darkened room. They stepped inside, silent, weaponless.
Only the Aether light flowing through the doors illuminated the chamber, but it was enough to see that the space was bare—possessing no more furniture than a few chairs pushed to the corner. Roar moved swiftly toward them. She heard two muffled snaps. He returned and handed her something. A broken horn spur. Aria tested the feel of it in her hand. It was roughly the same length as her knives. Not as sharp, but it would do as a weapon.
Moving to the door, they listened for sounds in the hall. Silence. They slipped outside and hurried toward Sable’s room. Lamps flickered along the way, creating pools of shadow and light. She firmed her grip on the horn handle. She’d spent the winter practicing her fighting skills with Roar. Learning speed. Momentum. Stealth. She felt ready, the rush in her blood on the edge between eagerness and fear.
Liv’s room was close, and Sable’s wouldn’t be much farther.
Aria heard footsteps. She froze. Ahead of her, Roar tensed. Two strides echoed to her ears. Both heavyset, the knock of their heels firm against the stones. The sound bounced—in front of her one instant, behind the next. She saw the same uncertainty in Roar’s eyes. Which way? There was no time.
They surged forward together, feet gliding, devouring the stone hall. They’d either avoid the guards or run right into them.
They reached the end just as a pair of guards came around the corner, and then they moved like they’d rehearsed it. Roar lunged for the largest man, closest to him. Aria sprang on the other.
She rammed the horn into the guard’s temple. The strike was solid, the impact jarring, shooting up her arm. The man rocked back, stunned. She grasped the knife at his belt and drew it, ready for her second strike. Ready to cut. But his eyes rolled back, and he was fading. She jammed the hilt of the knife into his jaw, knocking him out, and still had time to grasp the sleeve of his uniform, softening the sound of his fall.
For an instant she stared at the guard—at his ruddy complexion and slack mouth—soundly defeated on the floor, and she felt a confidence that a tattoo could never give her. She turned to see Roar straighten over the other guard’s body. He slid a knife into his belt, his dark eyes flicking to hers, cool and focused. He tipped his chin, gesturing down the hall, and then hoisted the man he’d slain up over his shoulder.
Aria couldn’t carry the other guard alone, and there was no time to second-guess. She sprinted for Liv’s room. Pulling herself short at Liv’s door, she grasped the iron handle, and stepped inside.
Light from the hall spilled into the darkened room. Liv lay on her bed, awake, on top of the covers. When she saw Aria, she shot to her feet, landing on the floor with a quiet thump. She wore her day clothes, down to her boots.
Liv looked from Aria to the door. Then she bolted into the hall without uttering a word. Aria shot after her. They passed Roar, carrying the guard over his shoulder. Silently, Liv held the man Aria had knocked out beneath the arms. Aria took him by his feet. Together, they carried him into Liv’s room and set him down against the wall, where Roar had set the other man. Aria darted back to the open door. Carefully, she eased it closed, listening to the hardware click softly into place.
Then she turned and saw Roar and Liv locked in an embrace.
Perry sat in the cookhouse after supper in a daze, his mind stuck on Aria. She hadn’t betrayed him. She wasn’t with Roar. He hadn’t lost her. The thoughts ran through his mind in an endless cycle.
The Aether had built all day, leaving everyone anxious, waiting for the storm to hit. Reef and Marron sat at his sides, both of them quiet. Nearby, Kirra talked with her men, speaking in quiet tones.
Only Willow carried on normally. She was across from Perry at the table, chattering to Cinder about the day she’d found Flea.
“It was four years ago,” she said, “and he was even scrabblier than he is now. ”
“That’s scrabbly,” Cinder said, trying not to smile.
“I know. Me and Perry and Talon were coming back from the harbor when Talon spotted him. Flea was lying on his side, just off the trail. Right, Perry?”
He heard his name and surfaced to answer. “That’s right. ”
“So we got closer and saw a nail speared through his paw. You know the soft webby part between his toes?” Willow splayed her fingers, pointing. “That’s where the nail was. I was scared he’d bite, but Perry went right up and said, ‘Easy, fleabag. I’m just going to take a look at your paw. ’”
Perry smiled at Willow’s imitation of him. He didn’t think his voice was that deep. As she prattled on, he looked down at his own hand, flexing it. Remembering the feel of Aria’s fingers in his.
Did she hate him? Had she forgotten about him?