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

“And you think I don’t?”

Aria worried too—more than either of them—but she bit her lip, leaving them to argue.

“Well, you’re good at hiding it, if so,” Molly shot back. “All I see you do is lecture him about what he’s doing wrong.”

Reef glanced over his shoulder. “Should I start slapping him on the back and telling him he’s wonderful? Will that do us any good?”

“You could try it once in a while, yes.”

Aria stopped listening to them. The hair on her arms lifted as her ears latched onto new sounds. Moans. Whimpers. Sickly sounds that swept toward her through the tunnel. A chorus of need.

She broke away from Molly and Reef, clutching her wounded arm to her side as she rushed ahead. Rounding a bend in the corridor, she arrived in a large, dim cavern, lit along the perimeter by lamps.

Spread across the floor on blankets lay dozens of people in varying states of consciousness. Their faces were ghastly white against their grays—the same clothes she’d worn her entire life until she’d been cast out of Reverie.

“They took ill immediately after you all arrived,” Molly said, catching up to her. “You went to Perry’s tent, and they came here, and that’s how it’s been. Perry said this same thing happened to you when you first came out of Reverie. It’s the shock to your immune systems. There were inoculations onboard the Hover you arrived in. A supply for thirty people—but there are forty-two here. We administered equal amounts to everyone, at Perry’s request. He said it’s what you’d have wanted.”

Aria couldn’t respond. Later, when she could think clearly again, she would recall Molly’s every word. She’d consider the way Reef watched her with his arms crossed, like this was her problem to fix. Now she moved further inside, her heart stuck in her throat.

Most of the people she saw were still as death. Others shook with fever, their complexions sallow, almost green. She didn’t know which was worse.

She searched the faces around for her friends—Caleb and Rune and—

“Aria . . . over here.”

She followed the voice. A pang of guilt hit her when she spotted Soren; he hadn’t come to mind. Aria stepped past the quaking bundles, kneeling at his side.

Soren had always been so burly, but now the thickness in his shoulders and neck had deflated. Even wrapped in a blanket she could tell. She could see it in his hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, which were heavy, half-lidded, but focused on her.

“Nice of you to come by,” he said, clearly more lucid than the others. “I’m a little envious you got private accommodations. Pays to know the right people, I guess.”

Aria didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t absorb this level of suffering. Her throat was choked with it. Tight with the need to help. To change this somehow.

Soren blinked tiredly. “I can see why you love the outside,” he added. “It’s mega champ out here.”


HarperCollins Publishers




You think it’s Roar and Twig?” Gren asked, pulling his horse alongside Perry’s.

Perry inhaled, searching for traces of the riders who’d been spotted earlier. He smelled nothing but smoke.

Ten minutes ago he’d left the cave, eager for fresh air. For light and the feeling of openness and movement. What he’d gotten was a thick gray haze from the morning’s fires blanketing everything, and the stinging sensation of the Aether like soft pinpricks over his skin.

“I’d be surprised if it was someone else,” he replied. “Hardly anyone besides me and Roar knows this trail exists.”

He had hunted these woods with Roar since they were kids. They had killed their first buck together not far from here. Perry knew every bend on this path, which cut through land that had once been his father’s, then his brother’s, and then—half a year ago when he’d become Blood Lord—his.

It had changed, though. In the past months, Aether storms had started fires that sheared through the hills, leaving wide, charred stretches. The temperature was too cold for late spring, and the smells of the wood were different too. The scents of life—earth, grass, and game—seemed buried beneath the acrid stench of smoke.

Gren tugged his brown cap down. “What are the odds they have Cinder with them?” he asked. Cinder had been kidnapped while under Gren’s watch, and he hadn’t forgiven himself.

“Good,” Perry said. “Roar always comes through.”

He thought of Cinder, of how weak and frail the boy had been when he’d been taken. Perry didn’t want to think about what was happening to him in Sable and Hess’s hands. They had joined forces, Horns and Dwellers, and abducted Cinder for his ability to control the Aether. He was key to reaching the Still Blue, it seemed. Perry just wanted him back.

“Perry.” Gren reined in his horse. He angled his head, turning to better catch sounds with his keen ears. “Two horses. Riding hard right toward us.”

Perry couldn’t see anyone yet as he scanned the trail ahead, but it had to be them. He whistled to let Roar know he was there. Seconds passed as he waited for Roar’s answering call.

Veronica Rossi's Books