Brooke (Under the Never Sky, #2.5)

Brooke (Under the Never Sky, #2.5)

Veronica Rossi


The breeze that wafts by me is deceptive. It carries the scent of burning sage, a scent we associate with happy occasions, like marriage ceremonies and harvest festivals. Marron believes the herb will lift our mood and help us all forget we’re living in a cave.

Like that’s possible.

The sage does not mask the reek of illness and brackish water. It does nothing against the cold in here. Cold that is bone-cracking. Skin-splitting. Nor does the sage have any effect on the darkness, darkness so complete it sucks you under like a riptide, pressing the air out of your lungs and teasing nightmares from your imagination. The sage does not keep me from seeing stone walls everywhere I look, rough and gouged surfaces, like meat clawed from an animal.

There is no forgetting where we are. No amount of good smell can take my mind off this cold, stale grave, or the Aether that’s put us here by destroying the world outside.

I look around me, at the Dweller cavern where I am stuck helping Molly. This place is the most desperate of all.

“Help me,” someone rasps behind me.

“Water,” moans another voice off in the shadows.

The sounds of the Dwellers wheezing and moaning have not ceased since I arrived.

They are sick. Every one of them is struggling to survive out here, out of their home, the Dweller Pod.

I kneel by a young Dweller girl wrapped in wool blankets. She is around my sister’s age, eight, and has a complexion as gray as ash. Her eyes are rolling back with fever and she looks a little monstrous, but I can’t make myself care. My sister has been back less than a day. I should be with Clara instead of this stranger.

Seeing her sorry condition, I don’t even bother trying to give her water. If I do, it’ll just run down the side of her face, like it did for the last three people before her. So I stand and move on to the next Dweller.

“Everything all right, Brooke?” Molly calls from across the cavern.

I stop mid-stride, the jug sloshing a few drops onto my hand. “Yes, Molly. Everything’s great.” I’m sure my disgust for the Dwellers is apparent on my face. “Just trying to figure out which one of them looks the worst. It’s not easy to do.”

Twelve hours ago, the Moles arrived on a ship with Perry and his new toy, Aria. The Dwellers were forty-some in number. None has succumbed to illness yet and died, as far as I know. When they first saw us, every one of them looked terrified, like they expected us to roast them alive for supper. I enjoyed that moment.

Not even an hour later, the first Dwellers fell ill with fever. And then it was like an avalanche of illness as they dropped off, one after another, until they were all teetering on the edge of consciousness. Molly had them brought back here, to this isolated cavern in the deeper recesses of the cave, to sweat and moan and fight for their lives.

Gren told me most of this, because I left right after their arrival. The Dwellers weren’t the only ones who came from their Pod on the Hover. My sister, Clara, did too. As soon as I set eyes on her, I didn’t see anything else. Clara had been gone for a year, and I had missed her every single day she was gone.

“Just keep going in order,” Molly says to me now. “Take them one at a time. They all need help.”

I glance around me at the shivering, sickly bundles. What they need is a miracle. “Why do we keep giving them water if they just throw it back up?”

“Because they’ll dehydrate otherwise.”

“But they’re not keeping it down.”

Molly rises from the Dweller she’s been helping and comes over. She grunts a little as she kneels at my side. With the added work and the moisture in the cave, her joints are bothering her more than usual.

“They might keep a little down,” she says. “We have to hope for that.” She studies the Dweller before her—a girl my age—and her face softens with sympathy. The girl is delicate as a bird, with short black hair that spikes up like the leaves of an artichoke. Her green skin color only enhances the resemblance. Like that of all the Dwellers around me, her immune system collapsed. She looks ready for a burial at sea.

“Her name is Rune.” Molly runs a hand over the girl’s head, smoothing down her hair. “I spoke with her briefly when she stirred a little while ago. She’s one of Aria’s friends.”

I can’t believe she touches them. “And you’re telling me this why?”

Molly’s amber eyes find mine. She shakes her head slightly, but her expression is kind. “You could make more of an effort, Brooke.”

“I’m making an effort, Molly. Many efforts, in fact. I’m giving them water. I’m holding buckets while they retch. You know the boy? The burly one—Soren? He vomited on me ten minutes ago. Spewed on me. Look at my sleeve.” I hold it out, showing her. How much more am I supposed to do? I left my sister’s side to be here.

Molly watches me like she’s not sure if she wants to say something else. I notice the lines around her eyes. Her face holds a sheen of perspiration, a few heavier drops beading over her thin lips. She’s exhausted. She’s been here since the Dwellers came in. I wish she didn’t care so much about everyone. It’s sucking the life out of her.

Her attention shifts, her eyes twinkling with reflected lamplight as they take in the feverish Dwellers around the cavern. “You’re right.” Molly pushes a strand of hair away from her face and lets out a long sigh. “We need to find another way to handle this. I’d better have a talk with Marron to see what else we might do.” With a muffled groan, she stands. “You’ll need to stay here alone for a few minutes.” She hesitates. “Try to be nice, Brooke?”

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