Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #3)(11)

“Have I?” she asked, though she knew she had. They used to spend afternoons cruising the art Realms. Seeking out the best concerts, the best parties. She barely recognized the girl she used to be.

Caleb nodded. “Yes. You have. When I get better, I’m going to draw you, changed Aria.”

“Let me know when you’re ready. I’ll get you some paper.”

“Real paper?” he asked, brightening. Caleb had only drawn in the Realms.

She smiled. “That’s right. Real paper.”

The spark of excitement left his eyes, his expression turning serious. “Soren told me what happened. About Ag 6 . . . and Paisley. Have you forgiven him?”

Aria glanced toward Soren, who had fallen asleep nearby. She nodded. “I had to, to get you out. And Soren has DLS—a disease that makes him volatile. But he’s on medications to control it now.”

“Are we sure they work?” Caleb said, with a weak smile.

Aria smiled. If he was making jokes, he couldn’t feel that terrible.

“He wasn’t the reason Pais died,” Caleb said. “It was the fire that got her that night. Not him. He was crying when he told me that. I never thought I’d see Soren cry. I think . . . I think he blames himself. I think he stayed and helped us get out of Reverie because of that night.”

Aria believed it because it was true for her as well. She’d brought Paisley to Ag 6. Because of that night, she’d never again leave someone she loved in need, if she could help it.

Caleb squeezed his eyes shut. “Pain is such a pain, you know? It’s very taxing.”

She knew. Aria lay down, settling in beside him, feeling like she’d found part of herself. She saw her past in Caleb. She saw Paisley and the home she’d lost, and she never wanted to forget them.

“Not exactly the Sistine Chapel, is it?” she asked after a while, staring at the jagged shapes that pierced down from the darkness.

“No, it’s rather purgatorial,” Caleb said. “But if we squint really, really hard, we could imagine it otherwise.”

She pointed with her good hand. “That big one there looks like a fang.”

“Mm-hmm. It does.” Beside her, Caleb’s scrunched his face. “Over there. That one looks like a . . . like a fang.”

“And just to the left? Fang.”

“Wrong. That is clearly an incisor. Wait, no . . . it’s a fang.”

“I’ve missed you, Caleb.”

“I’ve mega missed you.” He peered at her. “I think we all knew it was going to come to this. Everything started to change after that night. You could feel it. . . . But you’re going to get us out of here, right?”

She stared into his eyes, finally clear about where she was needed. She’d do more good on the mission than she would here, regardless of her arm or any lingering tension between her and Perry.

“Yes,” she said. “I am.” She told him about Hess and Sable, and about the mission she’d be part of in the morning.

“So you’re leaving again,” Caleb said when she’d finished. “I guess I’m all right with that.” He yawned and rubbed his left eye, where his Smarteye would have been, then smiled tiredly at her. “The Outsider you were with when we left Reverie—is he the reason you were sad?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “What happened was my mistake, mostly. A few weeks ago, I was trying to protect him, and . . . I ended up hurting him instead.”

“Tricky, but I have an idea. When I fall asleep, go find him and apologize.” He winked at her. “Mostly.”

Aria smiled. She liked that idea a lot.


HarperCollins Publishers




Have you chosen your team?” Reef dropped more kindling onto the fire, coaxing the flames to life. “Who are you taking tomorrow?”

Perry rubbed his jaw, watching as the rising firelight brought his friends out of the darkness. The rest of the Six emerged. Molly and Marron, too.

It was late—hours after supper—but he had chosen fresh air over sleep. They followed him outside, one and then two and then eight of them, settling in a circle on the small beach. His closest friends, except Roar and Aria.

Now he saw Reef’s question in all of their eyes. Perry had considered the team he’d take for tomorrow’s mission, and he was sure about his choices, but he expected them to raise some debate.

“Everything here will be fine while you’re away,” Marron said, picking up on his hesitation. “No need to worry.”

“I know,” Perry said. “I know it will be.”

Before he left, he would give the Blood Lord chain around his neck to Marron, entrusting the Tides to his care once again. No one was better suited to look after them.

Perry leaned back, his gaze moving south to a knot of Aether—a storm heading their way. The red flares were mesmerizing. They could have been beautiful.

Looking at Reef, he forced himself to say what needed saying. “You’re staying here.” He found the rest of the Six. “All of you are.”

“Why?” Straggler said, straightening. He was still shorter than Hyde and Hayden, who slouched at his sides. “Did we do something wrong?”

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