She drew a shaky breath. “Roar,” she said.
He rolled to his feet without a word. The suddenness of his movement startled her, and she wondered if he’d ever been asleep.
He stared at her with unfocused eyes. Stared through her. She remembered feeling that way when her mother died. Detached. Like nothing she saw looked the same. In one day, her entire life had changed. Everything—from the world around her to the way she felt inside—had become unrecognizable.
Aria stood. She wanted to hold him and sob with him. Give it to me, she wanted to scream. Give me the pain. Let me take it from you.
Roar turned away. He picked up his jacket, banked the fire, and began to walk.
As they hurried to put the Snake behind them, clouds moved in, casting a mottled darkness over the woods. Aria’s right knee throbbed—she must have sprained it on the fall from the balcony—but they had to keep going. Sable would be after them. They needed to get away from Rim and find safety. It was all she let herself think about. All she could manage.
They traveled along the crest, stopping in the afternoon in a dense pocket of pines. The Snake curved along the valley below, the water rippling like scales. In the distance she saw a wall of rising black smoke. Another stretch of land decimated by a storm. The Aether was growing more powerful. No one could be in any doubt.
Roar dropped his satchel and sat. He hadn’t spoken once yet today. Not a word.
“I’m going to look around,” she said. “I won’t go far. ” She left to scout their position. They were protected on one side by a shale slope. On the other by an impassable cliff. If anyone came after them, they’d have fair warning.
When she came back, she found Roar hunched over his knees with his head in his hands. Tears streamed down his cheeks and rolled off his chin, but he wasn’t moving. Aria had never seen anyone cry that way. So still. Like he didn’t even realize he was doing it.
“I’m right here, Roar,” she said, sitting by him. “I’m here. ”
He shut his eyes. He didn’t respond.
Seeing him that way made her hurt. It made her want to scream until her throat was raw, but she couldn’t force him to talk. When he was ready, she’d be there.
Aria found a spare shirt in her satchel and tore it into strips. She wrapped her knee and put her things away, then had nothing else to do except watch Roar’s heart bleed out before her eyes.
An image sprang to her mind, of Liv smiling sleepily and asking, Are you the bird, or is my brother?
Aria clamped her hand over her mouth and scrambled away. She darted past shrubs and trees, needing distance because she couldn’t cry silently and she wouldn’t make it worse for Roar.
Liv should’ve been married tomorrow, or she should have run away with Roar. She should have seen Perry as a Blood Lord, and she should’ve been Aria’s friend. So much had vanished in a second.
Aria remembered being in the dining room with Sable. She’d had a knife in her hand, and a clear shot at his neck. She hated herself for not having done it. She should have killed him then.
Eyes swollen, her head pounding, she limped back to Roar. He was asleep, his head resting on his satchel.
She found her Smarteye and fought back a wave of fresh tears. If Liv hadn’t stolen it, would she still be alive? Would she be alive if Aria had given the Eye back to Sable on the balcony?
It nauseated her to think of Hess and Sable’s meeting. Their deal to go to the Still Blue together meant turning their backs on countless innocent people. She thought about Talon and Caleb and the rest of her friends in Reverie. Would they be chosen to go? And what about Perry, and Cinder, and the rest of the Tides? What about everyone else? The Unity was happening again, and it was more horrific than anything she’d imagined.
The thought of seeing Hess made her stomach turn, but she needed to. She’d connected him with Sable. She had done her part in helping him find the Still Blue. Now he needed to follow through on his part of the deal—and if he failed her, she’d contact Soren. She didn’t care how it happened. She needed Talon back.
Pulse racing, she applied the Smarteye. The biotech worked, attaching to her eye socket. She saw that the recordings were gone. Only the icons for Hess and Soren remained on her screen. She tried Hess and waited. He didn’t come.
She tried Soren next. He never showed either.
Later, Perry climbed up to the roof of his house and watched the Aether coiling in the sky. He’d plunged into the ocean after Kirra left, needing to wash her scent from him. He’d cut through the waves until his shoulders burned, then returned to the compound, his body tired and numb, his mind clear.
As he rested his head against the roof tiles, he could still feel the movement of the ocean. Closing his eyes, he drifted on the blurry edge of a memory.
He remembered the time his father took him hunting, just the two of them, on the afternoon Talon was born. Perry had been eleven years old. A warm day, the breeze as soft as a breath. He remembered the sound of his father’s stride, heavy and sure, as they’d walked through the woods.
Hours passed before Perry realized his father wasn’t tracking, wasn’t paying attention to scents. He stopped abruptly and knelt, looking Perry in the eyes in a way he seldom did, spots of sunlight dancing on his forehead. Then he told Perry that love was like the waves in the sea, gentle and good sometimes, rough and terrible at others, but that it was endless and stronger than the sky and the earth and everything in between.