Home > Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky #3)

Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky #3)
Author: Veronica Rossi



Aria lurched upright, the echo of gunshots ringing in her ears.

Disoriented, she blinked at her surroundings, taking in the canvas walls, the two bed pallets, and the stack of battered storage trunks, finally recognizing Perry’s tent.

Pain pulsed steadily in her right arm. She looked down at the white bandage wrapped from her shoulder to her wrist, dread swirling in her stomach.

A Guardian had shot her in Reverie.

She licked her dry lips, tasting the bitterness of pain medication. Just try it, she told herself. How hard could it be?

Aches stabbed deep in her bicep as she tried to make a fist. Her fingers gave only the slightest twitch. It was like her mind had lost the ability to speak with her hand, the message vanishing somewhere along her arm.

Climbing to her feet, she swayed in place for a moment, waiting for a wave of dizziness to pass. She’d come to this tent as soon as she and Perry had arrived days ago, and hadn’t left since. But she couldn’t stay there a second longer. What was the point, if she wasn’t getting better?

Her boots sat on top of one of the trunks. Determined to find Perry, she slipped them on—a challenge one-handed. “Stupid things,” she muttered. She tugged harder, the ache in her arm becoming a burn.

“Oh, don’t blame the poor boots.”

Molly, the tribe healer, stepped through the tent flaps with a lamp in hand. Soft and gray-haired, she looked nothing like Aria’s mother had, but they had similar demeanors. Steady and dependable.

Aria jammed her feet into her boots—nothing like an audience to motivate—and straightened.

Molly set the lamp down on the trunks and came over. “Are you sure you should be up and about?”

Aria swept her hair behind her ear and tried to slow her breathing. Cold sweat had broken out along her neck. “I’m sure I’ll go insane if I stay here any longer.”

Molly smiled, her full cheeks glowing in the lamplight. “I’ve heard that very comment a few times today.” She pressed a rough-skinned hand to Aria’s cheek. “Your fever’s down, but you’re due for more medication.”

“No.” Aria shook her head. “I’m fine. I’m tired of being asleep.”

Asleep wasn’t really the right word. For the past days, she had a few murky recollections of surfacing from a black abyss for medicine and sips of broth. Sometimes Perry was there, holding her and whispering in her ear. When he’d spoken, she’d seen the glow of embers. Other than that, there’d been nothing but darkness—or nightmares.

Molly took her numb hand and squeezed. Aria felt nothing, but as Molly probed higher, she sucked in a breath, her stomach clenching.

“You’ve had some nerve damage,” Molly said. “I suppose you’re figuring that out for yourself.”

“But it’ll heal, won’t it? Eventually?”

“I care for you too much to give false hope, Aria. The truth is I don’t know. Marron and I did the best we could. We were able to save the limb, at least. For a while it looked like we might have to remove it.”

Aria drew away, turning toward the shadows as the words sank in. Her arm had almost been removed. Taken off, like some expendable part. An accessory. A hat or a scarf. Had she really come that close to waking up and finding a piece of herself missing?

“It’s the arm that was poisoned,” she said, tucking it close to her side. “It wasn’t much to start with anyway.” Her Marking, the half-finished tattoo that would have established her as an Aud, was the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. “Will you show me around, Molly?”

Aria didn’t wait for an answer. The urge to see Perry— and to forget about her arm—was overwhelming. Ducking through the tent flaps, she came to a dead stop outside.

She looked up, overcome by the sheer presence of the cave, a hefty immensity that felt both close and everywhere. Stalactites of every size emerged from the darkness above, darkness unlike what she’d experienced in her medicated haze. That had been empty, an absence. This darkness had sound and volume. It felt full and alive, droning low and constant in her ears.

She drew a deep breath. The cool air smelled brackish and smoky, the scents so strong she could taste them.

“For most of us, the darkness is the hardest part,” Molly said, coming to her side.

Around them, in neat rows, Aria saw more tents, ragged ghosts in the gloom. Sounds carried from farther off, where torches flickered—the crunch of a cart wheeling over stone, the steady trickle of water, the pleading bleat of a goat—all echoed frenetically in the cave, assaulting her sensitive ears.

“When you can’t see more than forty paces off,” Molly continued, “it’s easy to feel trapped. We aren’t, thank the skies. It hasn’t come to that yet.”

“And the Aether?” Aria asked.

“Worse. Storms every day since you arrived, some right on top of us.” Molly threaded her arm through Aria’s healthy one. “We’re lucky to have this place. Sometimes it’s not easy to feel that way, though.”

An image of Reverie crumbling to dust came to Aria’s mind. Her home was gone, and the Tides’ compound had been abandoned too.

Molly was right. This was better than nothing.

“I suppose you want to see Peregrine,” Molly said, leading Aria past a row of tents.

Immediately, Aria thought. But she said, simply, “Yes.”

“You’ll need to wait a little while, I’m afraid. We had word of people entering the territory. He’s gone out with Gren to meet them. I’m hoping it’s Roar and that he’s brought Cinder with him.”

Just hearing Roar’s name brought a rawness to Aria’s throat. She worried about him. She’d only been separated from him for a few days, but it was too long.

They came to an open area, wide as the clearing at the heart of the Tide compound. At the center spread a wooden platform surrounded by tables and chairs—all packed with people gathered around lamps. Dressed in browns and grays, they blended into the dimness, but their chatter drifted toward her, their voices tinged with anxiety.

“We’re only allowed to leave the cave when it’s safe outside,” Molly said, noticing Aria’s expression. “Today there are fires burning close by and a storm just south, so we’ve been stuck here.”

“It’s not safe to be outside? You said Perry was out there.”

Molly winked. “Yes, but he gets to break his own rules.”

Aria shook her head. As Blood Lord, he needed to take risks, more like.

By the stage, people began to notice them. Sun-bleached and salt-scrubbed, the Tides were an aptly named tribe. Aria spotted Reef and a few of his strongest warriors, a group known as the Six. She recognized the three brothers: Hyde, Hayden, and Straggler, the youngest. It didn’t surprise her that Hyde, a Seer like his brothers, spotted her first. He lifted a hand in a tentative greeting.

Aria returned a shaky wave. She barely knew him, or any of these people. She’d only spent a few days with Perry’s tribe before she left the Tide compound. Now, standing before these almost strangers, she felt a powerful longing to see her people, but she didn’t. Not a single person she and Perry had rescued from Reverie was there.

“Where are the Dwellers?” she asked.

“In a separate portion of the cave,” Molly said.


But Molly’s attention had moved to Reef, who left his men and stalked over. In the darkness, his features looked even harsher, and the massive scar that cut from his nose to his ear appeared more sinister.

“You’re finally up,” he said. His tone made it sound like Aria had been lazing around. Perry cared for this man, she reminded herself. Trusted him. But Reef had never made any attempt to befriend her.

She stared into his eyes. “Being injured is boring.”

“You’re needed,” he said, ignoring her sarcasm.

Molly wagged a finger at him. “No, you don’t, Reef. She just woke up and needs a chance to get acclimated. Don’t put this on her so soon.”

Reef squared his shoulders, his thick eyebrows drawing together. “When should I tell her then, Molly? Every day brings a new storm. Every hour, our food stores dwindle. Every minute, someone else comes closer to going mad inside this rock. If there is a better time for her to know the truth, I’d like to know when it is.” He leaned in, a few of his thick braids falling forward. “War rules, Molly. We do what’s needed, when it’s needed, and right now that means she needs to know what’s happening.”

Reef’s words shook any last wisp of fuzziness from Aria’s mind. They brought her back to where she’d been a week ago, alert and tense, a little breathless, with a sense of desperation curling inside her like a stomachache.

“Tell me what happened,” she said.

Reef turned his intense gaze on Aria. “Better if I show you,” he said, striding away.

She followed him from the gathering area, deeper into the cave, where it grew darker and quieter and darker still, her dread mounting with every step. Molly let out a sigh of exasperation, but she came along.

They wove through the melting formations—a forest of stone that dripped from the ceiling and rose up from the ground, gradually molding together—until Aria walked through a natural corridor. Here and there, the tunnel opened to other passageways, which breathed cool damp drafts against her face.

“Down that way is the storage area for medicines and supplies,” Molly said, gesturing to the left. “Everything that’s not food or animals. Those are kept in the caverns at the south end.” Her voice sounded a little too cheerful, like she was trying to compensate for Reef’s gruff manner. She swung the lamp gently as she walked, causing the shadows to tilt up and back along the cramped space. Aria found herself growing slightly light-headed and seasick. Or cavesick.

Where were they taking her?

She had never known darkness like this. Outside there was always Aether, or sunlight, or moonlight. In the Pod, within the protected walls of Reverie, lights always blazed. Always. This was new, this suffocating pool. She felt the pitch black fill her lungs with every breath. She was drinking the dark. Wading through it.

“Behind that curtain is the Battle Room,” Molly continued. “It’s a smaller cavern where we brought one of the trestle tables from the cookhouse. Perry meets with people in there to discuss matters of importance. The poor boy hardly ever leaves.”

Walking silently ahead of them, Reef shook his head.

“I worry about him, Reef,” Molly said, with plain irritation. “Someone has to.”

“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.”

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