Talon was all he had now. He was the only family Perry had left. He glanced at Aria’s arms, wrapped tight around him. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he had more.
As they neared Reverie, a sharp scent carried on a warm gust, rustling through the trees. It brought a chemical taste to his tongue that he remembered from the night he’d broken into the Pod in the fall. Though he couldn’t see Reverie yet, he knew it was burning.
Soon after, the horse locked beneath him as they crested a hill, rearing up, nickering in terror. The broad valley that spread before him was a sight unlike anything Perry had ever seen. They’d ridden for hours—it was sometime in the middle of the night—but Aether lit up the flat expanse. Hundreds of funnels lashed down from the sky, leaving bright red trails across the desert. Perry tightened his grip on the reins as the horse stamped and tossed its head. No amount of training would quiet its instincts now.
Terror speared through him as the rounded form of the Pod came into focus. It sat directly beneath the thick of the storm, spewing clouds of smoke as black as coal. Much of it was concealed, but he remembered its shape from other times he’d been there. An enormous central dome like a hill, surrounded by smaller domes that branched off like the rays of the sun. Somewhere in there, he’d find Talon.
The horse wouldn’t settle. Perry turned in the saddle. “We can’t ride any farther. ”
Aria jumped to the ground, no hesitation. “Come on!”
Perry grabbed his bow and ran after her, legs heavy from hours in the saddle. As they tore across the desert, he tried not to think of their odds, running miles through an Aether storm, with no shelter, no place to take cover.
Funnels struck down, each one louder, closer, sending searing waves across his skin. A sudden shriek exploded in his ears; then a flash of light blinded him. Forty paces away, a funnel of Aether twisted down, ripping across the earth. Every muscle in his body clenched, pain shuddering through him. Unable to soften his fall, he thudded onto the ground, the wind driven out of his lungs.
Aria crouched a few paces away, tucked in a ball, her hands jammed over her ears. She was screaming. The sound of her pain carried above the Aether, cutting through him. He couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t move to her. How could he have brought her here?
The brightness receded suddenly as the funnel spooled back up. Quiet roared in his ears. He fought to bring his feet beneath him and stumbled toward her. Aria shot toward him at the same time. They collided, slamming together, grasping for each other as they found their balance. Their eyes locked, and Perry saw his own terror mirrored on her face.
An hour passed in a heartbeat. Perry didn’t feel his weight. Didn’t hear his steps as he ran. Brilliant slashes of light surrounded them, and the deafening roar of the storm was constant.
They closed in on the Pod’s massive form, stopping half a mile away. Smoke billowed around them. Perry’s eyes and lungs burned. He couldn’t scent anything anymore. From where he stood, he could see that much of Ag 6, the dome he’d broken into months ago, had collapsed. Flames spewed a hundred feet in the air. He’d hoped to enter Reverie through it again. Now he saw they had no chance.
The smoke shifted with the wind, drawing back like a veil. He saw another dome shimmering with blue light and spotted a vast opening. As he watched, two Hovercrafts streamed out of it, looking small as sparrows against the dome’s massive scale. They cut a seam through the desert, their lights fading into the smoky, flashing darkness.
“That has to be Hess,” Aria said. “He’s abandoning it. ”
“That’s our way in,” he said.
They ran closer, huddling together at the side of the opening, which soared hundreds of feet tall. Inside, he saw Dweller ships lined in rows. He recognized the smaller craft from when they’d taken Talon. Bodies shaped like teardrops, sleek and shimmery as abalone shells. Beyond them loomed a ship that dwarfed the others, its form segmented like an earth crawler. Armed soldiers moved in controlled chaos, loading supply crates, directing the flight of one Hover after another in a rush to leave the Pod.
As he watched, a craft nearby sparked to life. Wings spread from its underbelly, a set of four like a dragonfly. Lights shot down their length, and then the air thrummed as the craft lifted off the ground. He flinched as it shot past with a deafening, buzzing sound.
Aria met his eyes. “The airlock into Reverie is at the other end. ”
Perry saw it. The entrance was hundreds of yards away. He honed in on a group of men close by, his gaze finding the compact pistols at their belts.
“We can sneak past them,” Aria said. “They’re focused on leaving, not on defending the Pod. ”
He nodded. It was their only shot. He pointed to a cluster of supply crates on palettes halfway down the hangar. There was a gap between them and the wall. “When the next Hover powers up, run for those crates. We can take cover behind them. ”
Aria shot forward as soon as the Hover lifted off the ground. Perry sprinted, staying with her. They were almost to the crates when a cluster of soldiers saw them. Bullets struck the wall behind him, the sound quiet compared to the buzz of the Hovers. He reached the crates and pulled his bow off his back.
“We need to keep going!” he yelled. They couldn’t give the soldiers a chance to get organized. Aria drew her knife as they sprinted along the narrow corridor.
When they came through the other side, he saw a group of soldiers standing between them and the entrance. Three men. Two had drawn their weapons; the other one looked around in confusion. The only way he’d reach Talon was by getting past them.
Perry fired as they ran. His arrow struck the first man in the chest, sending him flying to the ground. Slashes of red cut past him as the Guardians shot back. The steel crates behind him clanged loudly. He fired at the second man, but it wasn’t enough. Aria surged ahead. She threw her knife at the third man, hitting him in the stomach. The man reeled back, firing his pistol.
Perry’s heart seized as he watched her fall to the ground. He put an arrow clean through the man who’d shot her. Then he dashed to her, grabbing her by the waist and scooping her off the ground. She held her arm as they ran, blood running through her fingers. Perry pulled her with him, stooping to the floor to grab a pistol that had fallen by one of the downed soldiers. Across the hangar, people shouted in confusion as an alarm sounded.
More soldiers opened fire at them, but Perry noticed that most barely paused in their evacuation efforts. Perry’s finger found the trigger. He fired again and again, a distant part of his mind amazed at the ease and speed of the weapon.
With each step she took, Aria leaned more of her weight on him. They tore up a ramp and into the airlock chamber as people yelled behind him, their voices fading in and out of the alarms. He jammed at the door’s controls. It slid open, revealing stunned soldiers on the other side.