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

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

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