“One day,” his father had said, “I hope you understand. And I hope you’ll forgive me. ”
Perry knew how it felt to be haunted by a mistake whenever he lay down to sleep. There was nothing more painful than hurting someone you loved. Because of Vale, Perry realized he understood. No matter how hard he tried, there would be times when he couldn’t stop the rough and terrible from happening. To his tribe. To Aria. To his brother.
Shifting his back on the roof tiles, he decided that the one day his father had spoken of was today. Tonight. Right now. And he forgave.
The storm struck before dawn, wrenching him from a deep, restful sleep. The Aether turned in spirals, brighter than he’d ever seen. Perry climbed to his feet, his skin prickling, the acrid smell sharp and suffocating. To the west, a funnel wove down from the sky, turning toward the earth. The shrieking sound roared in his ears as it struck and spooled back up. He saw another funnel to the south, and then another. Suddenly the night was alive, pulsing with light.
“Perry, get off there!” Gren yelled from the clearing below. People rushed out of their homes, terrified, running for the cookhouse.
Perry sprinted for the ladder. Halfway down, everything turned shocking white, and the air shuddered. His legs tensed. He missed a rung and fell, tumbling to the dirt.
Across the clearing, an Aether funnel whirled down, striking Bear’s house. Shaking the earth beneath his feet. Perry watched, unable to move, as roof tiles exploded and popped. The funnel spooled back up, and the roof rumbled and toppled to one side. He shot to his feet and sprinted, knocking people over.
“Bear!” he yelled. “Molly!” He saw only a tumble of rock where the front door and window had been. Smoke seeped from the rubble. Fire burned somewhere inside.
Twig appeared beside him. “They’re in there! I hear Bear!”
People gathered around, watching in shock as flames licked up from the cracks in the sloping roof. Perry caught Reef’s eyes. “Get everyone in the cookhouse!”
Hayden pumped water from the well. Kirra’s people stood behind her, clothes whipping in the hot, swirling wind.
“What do you want us to do?” she asked, their time on the beach forgotten.
“We need more water,” he told her. “And help move rubble!”
“If we move any of this, the rest of the roof could fall,” Gren said.
“We don’t have a choice!” Perry yelled. Every second
they lost, the fire spread. He grasped the stones of the collapsed wall, heaving them away one at a time, panic setting in as the heat of the fire seeped through the rubble into his hands. He sensed his own men beside him and Kirra’s.
Seconds felt like hours. He looked up and saw an Aether funnel slash down to the cookhouse. The impact threw him sideways, down to his knees. When the funnel wove back to the sky, he stayed for silent, dizzying seconds, regaining his bearings. Twig stared at him vacantly, a trail of blood running down his ear.
“Perry! Over here!” Straggler called from a dozen paces away. Hyde and Hayden pulled Molly through a gap in the rubble.
Perry ran to her. Blood seeped from a gash on her forehead, but she was alive. “He’s still in there,” she said.
“I’ll get him, Molly,” he promised. He wouldn’t let Bear die.
The brothers carried her to the cookhouse, where she could get treated. Everywhere Perry looked, funnels lashed the ground.
Nearby, Kirra called her people into the cookhouse. “We tried,” she told him. She shrugged and walked away. That was how easily she gave up on someone who needed help. Whose life was on the line.
Perry turned back to the house just as the rest of the roof folded inward. The air rushed from his lungs, and screams of terror erupted around him.
“It’s over, Perry. ” Twig grasped him by the arm, tugging him toward the cookhouse. “We have to get inside. ”
Perry shook him off. “I’m not leaving him!” He spotted Reef across the clearing, running with Hyde. He knew they’d haul him away.
Then Cinder ran up with Willow, Flea barking at their feet. He looked at Perry, a fierce intensity in his eyes. “Let me help!”
“No!” Perry wouldn’t risk Cinder’s life too. “Get in the cookhouse!”
Cinder shook his head. “I could do something!”
“Cinder, no! Willow, get him out of here!”
It was too late. Cinder was somewhere else. His stare was empty, oblivious to the chaos around him. As he backed away, moving to the middle of the clearing, his eyes began to glow, and veins of Aether spread over his face and hands. Shocked curses and shouts broke around Perry as others took notice of Cinder—and of the sky.