«UNDER THE NEVER SKY»
For Luca and Rocky
They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod “the Death Shop.” A
million ways to die out there. Aria never thought she’d get so close.
She bit her lip as she stared at the heavy steel door in front of her. A
display screen read AGRICULTURE 6—NO ENTRY in flashing red letters.
Ag 6 was just a service dome, Aria told herself. Dozens of domes supplied Reverie with food, water, oxygen—all the things an enclosed city
needed. Ag 6 had been damaged in a recent storm, but supposedly the
damage was minor. Supposedly.
“Maybe we should turn back,” Paisley said. She stood beside Aria in
the airlock chamber, nervously twisting a strand of her long red hair.
The three boys crouched at the control board by the door, jamming
the signal so they could exit without triggering an alarm. Aria tried to ignore their steady bickering.
“Come on, Paisley. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Aria meant it as a joke, but her voice sounded too high so she tacked
on a laugh. That came out sounding mildly hysterical.
“What could happen in a damaged dome?” Paisley counted on her
slender fingers. “Our skin could rot off. We could get locked out. An
Aether storm could turn us into human bacon. Then the cannibals could
eat us for breakfast.”
“It’s just another part of Reverie,” Aria said.
“An off-limits part.”
“Pais, you don’t have to go.”
“Neither do you,” Paisley said, but she was wrong.
For the past five days, Aria had worried constantly about her mother.
Why hadn’t she been in touch? Lumina had never missed one of their
daily visits, no matter how engrossed she was in her medical research. If
Aria wanted answers, she needed to get into that dome.“For the hundredth—wait, thousandth—time, Ag 6 is safe,” Soren said
without turning from the control board. “You think I want to die
He had a point. Soren loved himself too much to risk his own life.
Aria’s gaze rested on his muscled back. Soren was the son of Reverie’s
Director of Security. He had the kind of flesh that only came with privilege. He even had a tan, a ridiculous upgrade considering none of them
had ever seen the sun. He was also a genius at cracking codes.
Bane and Echo watched at his side. The brothers followed Soren
everywhere. He usually had hundreds of followers, but that was in the
Realms. Tonight just five of them shared the cramped airlock chamber.
Just five of them breaking the law.
Soren straightened, flashing a cocky smile. “I’m going to have to talk
to my father about his security protocols.”
“You did it?” Aria asked.
Soren shrugged. “Was there ever a doubt? Now for the best part. Time
to turn off.”
“Wait,” Paisley said. “I thought you were just going to jam our
“I’ve been jamming them but that won’t give us enough time. We
need to turn off.”
Aria brushed a finger over her Smarteye. She had always worn the
clear device over her left eye and it was always on. The Eye took them to
the Realms, the virtual spaces where they spent most of their time.
“Caleb will kill us if we’re not back soon,” said Paisley.
Aria rolled her eyes. “Your brother and his theme nights.” She usually
cruised the Realms with Paisley and her older brother, Caleb, from their
favorite spot in the 2nd Gen Lounge. For the past month, Caleb had
planned their nights around themes. Tonight’s theme, “Feeding Friendzies,” began in a Roman Realm where they’d feasted on roasted boar and
lobster ragout. Then they’d cruised to a Minotaur feeding in a Mythology
Realm. “I’m just glad we left before the piranhas.”
Thanks to her Smarteye, Aria had kept daily visits with her mother,
who had followed her research to Bliss, another Pod hundreds of miles
away. The distance had never mattered until five days ago, when the link
with Bliss broke.
“How long are we planning to stay out there?” Aria asked. She only
needed a few minutes alone with Soren. Just long enough to ask him
A grin broke over Bane’s face. “Long enough to party in the real!”
Echo pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Long enough to party in the
Echo’s actual name was Theo but few people remembered it. His
nickname suited him too well.
“We can shut off for one hour.” Soren winked at her. “But don’t
worry, I’ll turn you on later.”
Aria made herself laugh, smoky and flirtatious. “You better.”
Paisley shot her a suspicious look. She didn’t know Aria’s plan. Something had happened to Bliss, and Aria knew Soren could get the information from his father.
Soren shifted his thick shoulders like a boxer stepping into a ring.
“Here we go, Glitches. Hold on to your pants. We’re shutting off in three,
Aria startled at a shrill ringing that came from deep within her ears. A
red wall crashed over her field of vision. Hot needles of pain stabbed into her left eye and then spread over her scalp. They gathered at the base
of her skull and then shot down her spine, exploding through her limbs.
She heard one of the boys swear stiffly with relief. The red wall vanished
as quickly as it had come.
She blinked a few times, disoriented. The icons for her favorite
Realms had disappeared. The messages in the queue and the news crawl
in the lower part of her Smartscreen were gone as well, leaving only the
airlock door, which appeared dull, filtered through a soft film. She
looked down at her gray boots. Middle Gray. A shade that covered nearly
every surface in Reverie. How could gray seem less vibrant?
A sense of loneliness crept over her despite being in the crowded little
chamber. She couldn’t believe people lived this way once, with nothing
but the real. Savages on the outside still lived this way.
“It worked,” Soren said. “We’re off! We’re strictly meat!”
Bane hopped up and down. “We’re like the Savages!”
“We’re Savages!” Echo yelled. “We’re Outsiders!”
Paisley kept blinking over and over. Aria wanted to reassure her, but
she couldn’t concentrate with Bane and Echo blasting around in the
Soren spun a manual release bar on the door. The chamber depressurized with a quick hiss and a rush of cool air. Aria looked down,
stunned to see Paisley’s hand clasped to hers. She had only a second to
absorb the fact that she hadn’t touched anyone in months, since her
mother left, before Soren slid the door open.
“Freedom at last,” he said, and then stepped into the darkness.
In the shaft of light that spilled out of the airlock chamber, she saw
the same smooth floors that ran everywhere in Reverie, but these were
coated with a layer of dust. Soren’s footprints stamped a trail into the
What if the dome wasn’t secure? What if Ag 6 crawled with outside
dangers? A million deaths in the Death Shop. A million diseases might
be swimming in the air rushing past her cheeks. Inhaling suddenly felt
Aria heard beeps from a keypad coming from Soren’s direction.
Tracks of lights flickered on with a series of loud clicks. A cavernous
space appeared. Farming rows stretched back as even as stripes. High
above, pipes and beams crisscrossed the ceiling. She saw no gaping hole
or other signs of wreckage. With its dirty floors and solemn quiet, the
dome simply looked neglected.
Soren jumped in front of the doorway, bracing the frame.
“Blame me if this turns out to be the greatest night of your life.”
The food grew from waist-high plastic mounds. Row after row of decaying fruits and vegetables spread out around her in endless lines. Like
everything in the Pod, they were genetically designed for efficiency. They
had no leaves, and needed no soil and little water to grow.
Aria plucked a withered peach, cringing at how easily she’d bruised
the soft flesh. In the Realms food still grew, or pretended to grow virtually, on farms with red barns and fields under sunny skies. She remembered the latest Smarteye slogan, Better than Real. It was true in
this case. The real food in Ag 6 looked like old people before aging-reversal treatments.
The boys spent the first ten minutes chasing each other down the
aisles and leaping over the farming rows. That turned into a game Soren
dubbed “Rotball,” which consisted of pegging one another with produce.
Aria played for a while, but Soren kept aiming for her and he threw too
She took cover with Paisley, ducking behind a row as Soren changed
the game again. He lined Bane and Echo against the wall execution-style
and then fired grapefruits at the brothers, who just stood there laughing.
“No more citrus!” Bane yelled. “We’ll talk!”
Echo put his hands up like Bane. “We give, Fruit Reaper! We’ll talk!”
People always did what Soren wanted. He had priority in all the best
Realms. He even had a Realm named after him, SOREN 18. Soren’s father created it for his eighteenth birthday a month ago. Tilted Green
Bottles played a special concert. During the last song, the stadium
flooded with seawater. Everyone had transformed into mermaids and
mermen. Even in the Realms, where anything was possible, that party
had been spectacular. It had set off the underwater concert craze. Soren
had made caudal fins sexy.
Aria rarely meshed with him after school hours. Soren ruled the
sports and combat Realms. Places where people could compete and be
ranked. She normally kept to art and music Realms with Paisley and
“Look at this messy thing,” Paisley said, rubbing at an orange smear
on her pants. “It won’t go away.”
“It’s called a stain,” Aria said.
“What’s the point of stains?”
“There isn’t any. That’s why we don’t have them in the Realms.” Aria
studied her best friend. Paisley wore a pinched expression, her brow
overlapping the edge of her Smarteye. “Are you all right?”
Paisley waved her fingers in front of her Eye. “I hate this. Everything’s
missing, you know? Where is everyone? And why do I sound so
“We all do. Like we swallowed megaphones.”
Paisley lifted an eyebrow. “A what?”
“A cone people used to make their voices louder. Before
“Sounds mega-regress,” Paisley said. She scooted around, squaring
her shoulders to Aria. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on? Why
are we with Soren?”
Now that they were shut off, Aria realized she could tell Paisley her
reason for flirting with him. “I need to find out about Lumina. I know
Soren can get information from his father. He might already know
Paisley’s expression softened. “The link is probably just down. You’ll
hear from her soon.”
“The link has only dropped for a few hours before. Never for this
Paisley sighed, leaning back against the plastic mound. “I couldn’t believe it when you sang to him the other night. And you should’ve seen
Caleb. He thought you’d broken into your mother’s medicines.”
Aria smiled. She usually kept her voice private, something strictly
between herself and her mother. But a few nights ago, she made herself
sing a sultry ballad to Soren in a Cabaret Realm. In minutes that Realm
had reached full capacity, with hundreds of people waiting to hear her
sing again. Aria had left. And just as she’d hoped, Soren had been chasing her since. When he’d proposed the idea for tonight, she’d jumped at
“I had to get him interested.” She flicked a seed off her knee. “I’ll talk
to him as soon as he calls off the fruit war. Then we’ll get out of here.”
“Let’s get him to stop now. We’ll tell him we’re bored . . . which we
“No, Pais,” Aria said. Soren wasn’t one to push into anything. “I’ll
Soren leaped on top of the farming row in front of them, making them
both jump. He held an avocado, his arm cocked back. His grays were
covered in blotches of juice and pulp. “What’s wrong? Why are you both
just sitting here?”
“We’re bored with Rotball,” Paisley said.
Aria winced, waiting for Soren’s reaction. He crossed his arms, his
jaw working side to side as he stared down at them.
“Maybe you should leave then. Wait. I almost forgot. You can’t leave.
Guess you’ll have to stay bored, Paisley.”
Aria glanced at the airlock door. When had he closed it? She realized
he had all the codes for the door and for resetting their Smarteyes. “You
can’t trap us in here, Soren.”
“Actions precede reactions.”
“What’s he talking about?” Paisley asked.
“Soren! Get over here,” Bane called. “You need to see this!”
“Ladies. I’m needed elsewhere.”
He tossed the avocado into the air before he jogged away. Aria caught
it without thinking. It popped open in her hand, becoming a slick green
“He means we’re too late, Pais. He already locked us out.”
Aria checked the airlock door anyway. The panel didn’t respond. She
stared at the red emergency switch. It was wired directly to the mainframe. If she hit it, Reverie Guardians would come to help them. But
then they’d also be punished for breaking out and probably have their
privileges in the Realms docked. And she’d lose any chance to speak with
Soren about her mother.
“We’ll stay a little longer. They’ll have to go back soon.”
Paisley pulled her hair over one shoulder. “All right. But can I hold
your hand again? It feels more like being in the Realms.”
Aria stared at her best friend’s extended hand. Paisley’s fingers were
twitching slightly. She took her hand, but fought the urge to pull away as
they walked to the far end of the dome together. There, the three boys
stepped through a door Aria hadn’t noticed before. Another set of lights
clicked on. For a moment, she wondered if her Smarteye had reactivated
and she was actually seeing a Realm. A forest loomed in front of them,
beautiful and green. Then she looked up, seeing the familiar white ceiling above the treetops, run through by a maze of lights and pipes. It was
a huge terrarium, she realized.
“I found it,” Bane said. “How champ am I?”
Echo jerked his head to the side, his shaggy hair shifting out of his
eyes. “Champ, man. It’s unreal. I mean, it’s real. Zap, you know what I
They both looked at Soren. “Perfect,” he said, his gaze intent. He
pulled off his shirt, tossed it aside, and ran into the woods. In the next
moment, Bane and Echo followed.
“We’re not going in, are we?” Paisley asked.
“Not like that.”
“Aria, be serious.”
“Pais, look at this place.” She stepped forward. Rotten fruit was one
thing. A forest was a true temptation. “We’ve got to see it.”
It was cooler and darker under the trees. Aria ran her free hand over
the trunks, feeling the rough textures. Pseudo-bark didn’t grip like it
might bite into her skin. She crushed a dry leaf in her palm, creating
sharp crumbs. She stared at the patterns of leaves and branches above,
imagining that if the boys quieted down, she might be able to hear the
Aria kept track of Soren as they headed deeper into the woods, looking for an opportunity to speak to him, while trying to ignore the moist
warmth of Paisley’s hand. She and Paisley had held hands before in the
Realms, where touching happened. But it felt softer there, unlike the
constricting grip she felt now.
The boys were chasing one another through the woods. They’d found
sticks, which they carried as spears, and they’d rubbed dirt on their faces
and chests. They were pretending to be Savages, like the ones that lived
on the outside.
“Soren!” Aria called as he darted past. He paused, spear in hand, and
hissed at her. She jerked back. Soren laughed at her and ran off.
Paisley pulled her to a stop. “They’re scaring me.”
“I know. They’re always massive scary.”
“Not the boys. The trees. It feels like they’re going to fall on us.”
Aria looked up. As different as these woods felt, she hadn’t thought of
that. “All right. We’ll go wait by the airlock,” she said, and began to backtrack. A few minutes later, she realized they’d come to a clearing they
had already passed. They were lost in the woods. She almost laughed at
how unbelievable it was. She let go of Paisley’s hand and rubbed her
palm against her pants.
“We’re going in circles. Let’s wait here until the boys come by. Don’t
worry, Pais. It’s still Reverie. See?” She pointed up through the leaves at
the ceiling and then wished she hadn’t. The lights above dimmed,
flickered for a moment, and then came back.
“Tell me that didn’t just happen,” Paisley said.
“We’re leaving. This was a stupid idea.” Was this the part of Ag 6 that
had taken the damage?
“Bane! Get over here!” Soren yelled. Aria spun, catching a glimpse of
his tanned torso jogging through the trees. This was her chance. She
could talk to him now if she hurried. If she left Paisley there alone.
Paisley gave her a shaky smile. “Aria, go. Talk to him. But hurry
Soren was hoisting a stack of branches into his arms when she found
“We’re going to make fire,” he said.
Aria froze. “You’re kidding. You’re not really . . . right?”
“We’re Outsiders. Outsiders have fires.”
“But we’re still inside. You can’t, Soren. This isn’t a Realm.”
“Exactly. This is our chance to see the real thing.”
“Soren, it’s forbidden.” Fire in the Realms was a rippling orange and
yellow light that gave off a gentle warmth. But she knew from years of
Pod safety drills that real fire must be different. “You could contaminate
our air. You could burn down Reverie—”
She broke off as Soren stepped closer. Water beaded on his forehead.
It cut clear trails through the mud on his face and chest. He was sweating. She’d never seen sweat before.
He leaned in. “I can do anything I want in here. Anything.”
“I know you can. We all can. Right?”
Soren paused. “Right.”
This was it. Her opportunity. She chose her words carefully. “You
know things, don’t you? Like the codes that got us here. . . . Things we’re
not supposed to know?”
“Of course I do.”
Aria smiled and slipped around the branches in his arms. She rolled
up onto her toes, inviting him to whisper. “Well, tell me a secret. Tell me
something we’re not supposed to know.”
The lights flickered again. Aria’s heart gave a lurch. “Tell me what’s
going on with Bliss,” she said, making her best attempt at sounding
Soren stepped back. He shook his head slowly, his eyes narrowing.
“You want to know about your mother, don’t you? Is that why you came
here? You’ve been playing me?”
Aria couldn’t lie anymore. “Just tell me why the link is still down. I
need to know if she’s all right.”
Soren’s gaze dropped to her mouth. “I might let you persuade me
later,” he said. Then he pushed his shoulders back, shifting the branches
higher. “Right now I’m discovering fire.”
Aria hurried back to the clearing for Paisley. She found Bane and Echo
there as well. The brothers were building up a pile of branches and
leaves at the center. Paisley rushed over as soon as she saw Aria.
“They’ve been doing this since you left. They’re trying to make fire.”
“I know. Let’s go.” Six thousand people lived in Reverie. She couldn’t
let Soren risk everything.
Aria heard the clatter of sticks falling just before something struck her
shoulder. She cried out as Soren spun her to face him.
“No one’s leaving. I thought I made that clear.”
She stared at the hand on her shoulder, her legs softening beneath
her. “Let go of me, Soren. We’re not getting involved.”
“Too late.” His fingers dug into her. She gasped at the shock wave of
pain that ran down her arm. Bane dropped the large branch he’d been
dragging and looked over. Echo stopped midstride, his eyes wide, wild.
The lights shone off their skin. They were sweating too.
“If you leave,” Soren said, “I’ll tell my father this was your idea. With
our Smarteyes shut off, it’s your word against mine. Who do you think
Soren let her go. “Shut up and sit down.” He grinned. “And enjoy the
Aria sat with Paisley at the edge of the tree line and fought the urge to
rub her throbbing shoulder. In the Realms, falling off a horse hurt.
Twisting an ankle did too. But pain was just an effect, sprinkled in to
boost the thrill. They couldn’t actually get hurt in the Realms. This felt
different. Like there was no limit to the pain. Like it could go on forever.
Bane and Echo made one trip after another into the woods, bringing
back armfuls of branches and leaves. Soren directed them to place more
here, more there, as sweat dripped off his nose. Aria eyed the lights. At
least they were holding steady.
She couldn’t believe she’d let herself—and Paisley—get into this situation. She’d known going into Ag 6 meant risk, but she hadn’t expected
this. She had never wanted to be part of Soren’s clique, though he’d always interested her. Aria liked looking for the fissures in his image. The
way he watched people when they laughed, like he didn’t understand
laughter. The way he curled his upper lip after he said something he
thought particularly clever. The way he glanced at her occasionally, like
he knew she wasn’t convinced.
Now she realized what had intrigued her. Through those fissures,
she’d seen glimpses of someone else. And out here, without Reverie
Guardians watching, he was free to be himself.
“I’m going to get us out of here,” she whispered.
Tears pooled in Paisley’s bare eye. “Shhh. He’ll hear you.”
Aria noticed the brittle crackle of the leaves beneath her and
wondered when the trees had last been watered. She watched the pile
grow one foot high, then two. Finally, with the pile at nearly three feet,
Soren declared it ready.
He reached into his boot and brought out a battery pack and some
wire, handing them to Bane.
Aria couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “You planned this? You
came here to make fire?”
Soren smiled at her, his lip curling. “I’ve got other things in mind
Aria sucked in a breath. He had to be kidding. He was just trying to
scare her because she’d led him on, but she’d had no choice.
The boys huddled together as Soren muttered, “Try it like this,” and
“Other end, stupid,” and “Just let me do it,” until they jumped back,
away from the flame that flickered up from the leaves.
“Oh, zap!” they yelled in perfect unison. “Fire!”
That was the word that came to Aria’s mind. An old word, from a time
when illusions still mystified people. Before the Realms made magic
She moved closer, drawn by the gold and amber tones in the flame.
By the way it changed shape constantly. The smoke was richer than anything she had ever smelled. It tightened the skin along her arms. Then
she saw how the burning leaves curled and blackened and disappeared.
This was wrong.
Aria looked up. Soren had frozen in place, his eyes wide. He looked
bewitched, just as Paisley and the brothers did. Like they were seeing the
fire without really seeing it.
“That’s enough,” she said. “We should turn it off . . . or get water or
something.” No one moved. “Soren, it’s starting to spread.”
“Let’s give it more.”
“More? Trees are made of wood. It’ll spread to the trees!”
Echo and Bane ran off before she’d finished speaking.
Paisley grabbed her sleeve, pulling her away from the burning stack.
“Aria, stop or he’ll hurt you again.”
“This whole place is going to burn if we don’t do something.”
She glanced back. Soren stood too close to the fire. The flames had
nearly reached his height. The fire made sounds now, pops and crackles
over a dull roar. “Get sticks!” he yelled at the brothers. “The sticks make
Aria didn’t know what to do. When she thought of stopping them the
ache in her shoulder flared, warning her of what might happen again.
Echo and Bane ran up with armfuls of branches. They threw them ontothe fire, sending sparks into the trees. A surge of hot air blew past her
“We’re going to run, Paisley,” she whispered. “Ready . . . go.”
For the third time that night, Aria grasped Paisley’s hand. She
couldn’t let Paisley fall behind. She wove through the trees, her legs
churning, as she tried to keep them on a straight course. She didn’t know
when the boys started chasing them, but she heard Soren behind her.
“Find them!” he yelled. “Spread out!”
Then Aria heard a loud wailing sound that brought her to a halt.
Soren was howling like a wolf. Paisley’s hand clamped over her mouth,
stifling a sob. Bane and Echo joined in, filling the woods with wild, keening cries. What was happening to them? Aria broke into a run again, tugging Paisley so hard that she stumbled.
“Come on, Paisley! We’re close!” They had to be near the door leading
back to the farming dome. When they reached it, she’d trip the emergency alarm. Then they’d hide until Guardians came.
The lights overhead flickered again. This time they didn’t come back.
Darkness slammed into Aria like something solid. She went rigid. Paisley rammed into her back and cried out. They tumbled blindly to the
ground, their limbs crashing together. Aria scrambled upright, blinking
hard as she tried to orient herself. Eyes opened or closed, what she saw
Paisley’s fingers fluttered over her face. “Aria! Is it you?”
“Yes, it’s me,” she whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us!”
“Bring the fire!” Soren yelled. “Get some fire so we can see!”
“What are they going to do to us?” Paisley asked.
“I don’t know. But I won’t let them get close enough to find out.”
Paisley tensed at her side. “Do you see that?”
She did. A torch wove toward them from the distance. Aria recognized
the solid tromp of Soren’s stride. He was farther than she expected, but
she realized it didn’t matter. She and Paisley couldn’t move without
crawling and feeling along in front of them. Even if they knew which way to go, moving a few feet would hardly help.
A second flame appeared.
Aria groped for a rock or a stick. Leaves disintegrated in her hands.
She smothered a cough against her sleeve. Every breath tightened her
lungs more. She’d been worried about Soren and the fire. Now she realized the smoke might pose the worst danger.
The torches bobbed across the darkness, drawing closer. She wished
her mother had never left. She wished she’d never sung to Soren. But
wishing wasn’t going to get her anywhere. There had to be something
she could do. She turned her focus inward. Maybe she could reset her
Smarteye and call for help. She reached for commands as she always
had. Even in her mind, she felt as though she were fumbling in the dark.
How did you restart something that had never been turned off?
It didn’t help her concentration to see the torches closing in, or the
fire burning brighter and louder, or to feel Paisley quivering against her
side. But she had no other hope. Finally she felt a tap in the depths of
her brain. A word appeared on her Smartscreen, blue letters floating
against the smoldering woods.
Yes! she commanded.
Aria tensed as hot nails dragged across her skull and down her spine.
She gasped in relief as a grid of icons appeared. She was back on, but
everything looked strange. All the buttons on her interface were generic
and in the wrong places. And what was that? She saw a message icon on
her screen labeled “Songbird,” her mother’s nickname for her. Lumina
had sent a message! But the file was stored locally and wouldn’t help her
now. She needed to reach someone.
Aria tried contacting Lumina directly. CONNECTION FAILURE flashed on
her screen, followed by an error number. She tried Caleb and the next
ten friends who came to mind. Nothing went through. She wasn’t linked
to the Realms. She made a final attempt. Maybe her Eye was still
REVIEW, she commanded.
Paisley’s face appeared in the playback square on the upper left of her
Smartscreen. Paisley was hardly visible, just the contours of her
frightened face and the glint of the fire catching on her Smarteye. Behind her a glowing cloud of smoke seeped closer. “They’re coming!”
Paisley said in a frantic whisper, and the recording ended.
Aria commanded her Eye to record again. Whatever happened,
whatever Soren and the brothers did, she’d have proof.
The lights flashed back on. Squinting at the brightness, Aria saw
Soren scanning the area, Bane and Echo at his side like a pack of wolves.
Their eyes flared as they spotted her and Paisley. She jumped to her feet,
pulling Paisley up once more. Aria ran, holding tight to Paisley, tripping
over roots and pushing through branches that snagged her hair. The
boys’ shouts were loud, rumbling in Aria’s ears. Their feet pounded right
Paisley’s hand tore from Aria’s grip. Aria spun as she fell to the
ground. Paisley’s hair splayed over the leaves. She reached for Aria, crying out. Soren lay half on top of her, his arms wrapped around her legs.
Before Aria could think, she slammed her foot into Soren’s head. He
grunted and fell back. Paisley twisted away but Soren lunged for her
“Let her go!” Aria stepped toward him, but he was ready for her this
time. His hand shot out, clamping onto Aria’s ankle.
“Run, Paisley!” Aria yelled.
She struggled to get free but Soren wouldn’t let go. He rose to his feet
and grabbed on to her forearm. Leaves and dirt stuck to his face and
chest. Behind him, smoke tumbled through the trees in gray waves,
moving slow and fast at the same time. Aria looked down. Soren’s hand
was twice the size of hers, rounded with muscle like the rest of him.
“Can’t you feel it, Aria?”
“This.” He squeezed her arm so tight she cried out. “Everything.” His
eyes darted around, not settling anywhere.
“Don’t, Soren. Please.”
Bane ran up, holding a torch and panting for breath.
“Help, Bane!” she cried. He didn’t even look at her.
“Go get Paisley,” Soren said, and Bane was gone. “Just you and me
now,” he said, stroking a hand through her hair.
“Don’t touch me. I’m recording this. If you hurt me, everyone will see
She hit the ground before she realized what had happened. His
weight crushed her, driving the air out of her lungs. He glared down at
her as she gasped, struggling to draw a breath. Then his focus moved to
her left eye. Aria knew what he was going to do but her arms were
trapped, squeezed between his thighs. She closed her eyes and screamed
as his fingers dug into her skin, prying up the edges of her Smarteye.
Aria’s head snapped forward and then slammed back to the ground.
Pain. Like her brain had been torn out. Above her, Soren’s face looked
red and bleary. Warmth spread down her cheek and pooled in her ear.
The pain lessened and became pulses, beating in time with her heart.
“You’re crazy,” someone with her voice slurred.
Soren’s fingers clamped around her neck. “This is real. Tell me you
Aria still couldn’t pull in enough air. Spears of pain shot into her eyes.
She was fading, powering off like her Smarteye. Then Soren looked
up—away from her—and his grip loosened. He cursed and then his
smothering weight lifted.
Aria pushed herself to her knees, gritting her teeth at the piercing
shriek that erupted in her ears. She couldn’t see. She swiped at her eyes
to clear the murkiness, her legs quaking as she rose to her feet. Framed
against the roaring blaze, she saw a stranger step into the clearing. He
was shirtless, but there was no mistaking him for Bane or Echo.
He was a real Savage.
The Outsider’s torso was almost as dark as his leather pants, his hair
a blond Medusa’s snarl. Tattoos coiled around his arms. He had the reflective eyes of an animal. They were bare eyes, both.
The long knife at his side flashed with firelight as he came forward.
The Dweller girl looked at Perry, blood running down her pale face.
She took a few steps, backing away from him, but Perry knew she
wouldn’t stay on her feet for long. Not with pupils dilated like that. One
more step and her legs gave out, bringing her down.
The male stood behind her limp body. He looked Perry over with his
odd eyes, one normal and one covered with the clear patch all the
Dwellers wore. The others had called him Soren.
“Outsider?” he said. “How did you get in?”
It was Perry’s language but harsher. Edged where it should have been
smooth. Perry brought in a slow breath. The Dweller’s temper hung
thick in the clearing despite the smoke. Bloodlust gave a scorching red
scent, common to man and beast alike.
“You came when we did.” Soren laughed. “You came after I disarmed
Perry spun his knife for a fresh grip. Didn’t the Dweller see the fire
closing in? “Leave or you’ll burn, Dweller.”
Soren startled at hearing Perry speak. Then he grinned, showing
square teeth, white as snow. “You’re real. I don’t believe this.” He
stepped forward with no fear. Like he held a knife instead of Perry. “If I
could leave, Savage, I’d have done it a long time ago.”
Perry stood a head taller, but Soren easily outweighed him. His bones
were buried deep beneath muscle. Perry seldom saw people that big.
They didn’t have enough food to grow that thick. Not like in here.
“You approach your death, Mole,” Perry said.
“Mole? That’s inaccurate, Savage. Most of the Pod is aboveground.
And we don’t die young. We don’t get hurt, either. We can’t even break
anything.” Soren looked down at the girl. When he looked back at Perry,he stopped walking. It happened too fast, his momentum rocking him up
on his toes. He’d changed his mind about something.
Soren’s eyes flicked past him. Perry drew in a breath. Woodsmoke.
Burning plastic. The fire was heating up. He inhaled again, caught what
he’d expected. Another Dweller’s scent, coming at him from behind.
He’d seen three males. Soren and two others. Were they both sneaking
up on him, or just one? Perry drew another breath but couldn’t tell. The
smoke was too dense.
Soren’s gaze dropped to Perry’s hand. “You’re good with a knife,
“Have you ever killed a person? I bet you have.”
He was buying time, letting whoever was behind Perry draw nearer.
“Never killed a Mole,” Perry said. “Not yet.”
Soren smiled. Then he surged forward and Perry knew the others
would be coming too. He spun and saw only one Dweller, farther away
than he’d expected, running with a metal bar in his hand. Perry hurled
his knife. The blade sailed true and sank deep in the Dweller’s stomach.
Soren thundered up behind him. Perry braced as he turned. The blow
came from the side, slamming into Perry’s cheek. The ground reared up
and back. Perry wrapped his arms around Soren as he blurred past. He
pushed but couldn’t bring Soren down. The Mole was made of stone.
Perry took a shot to his kidney and growled, waiting for the pain. It
didn’t hurt as much as it should have. Soren hit him again. Perry heard
himself laugh. The Dweller didn’t know how to use his own strength.
He pushed away, throwing his first punch. His fist smashed into the
clear eye patch. Soren seized up, the veins in his neck standing out like
vines. Perry didn’t wait. He put his full weight behind the next blow. The
bone in the Dweller’s jaw snapped with a crack. Soren fell hard. Then he
tucked in slow, like a dying spider.
Blood ran through his teeth. His jaw hung too far to the side, but he
never took his eyes off Perry.
Perry swore, stepping away. This wasn’t what he had wanted when
he’d broken in. “I warned you, Mole.”
The lights had gone out again. Smoke moved through the trees in
rolls, glowing with firelight. He went to the other male to retrieve his
knife. The Dweller began to cry when he saw Perry. Blood gurgled from
his wound. Perry couldn’t look him in the eyes as he slid his blade free.
He came back to the girl. Her hair fanned around her head, dark and
shiny as a raven’s feathers. Perry spotted her eyepiece resting on the
leaves by her shoulder. He prodded it with a finger. The skin felt cool.
Velvety as a mushroom. Denser than he’d expected for looking so much
like a jellyfish. He slipped it into his satchel. Then he hoisted the girl
over his shoulder as he carried larger game, wrapping his arm around
her legs to keep her steady.
Neither of his Senses were any help to him now. The smoke had
grown thick enough to cloak all other smells and block his vision, making him disoriented. There were no rises and falls in the earth to guide
him either. Only walls of flame or smoke wherever he looked.
He moved when the fire inhaled. He stopped when it exhaled in
bursts of heat that scorched his legs and arms. Tears streamed from his
eyes, making it harder to see. He pushed on, feeling skitty and drunk
from the smoke. Finally he found a channel of clean air and ran, the
Dweller girl’s head lolling against his back.
Perry reached the dome wall, followed it. At some point there had to
be a way out. It took longer than he hoped. He stumbled up to the same
door he’d come through earlier, stepping into a steel room. By then
every breath felt like embers kindling in his lungs.
He set the girl down, closed the door. Then for a good while, he could
only cough and pace until the pain behind his nose let up. He swiped at
his eyes, leaving a streak of blood and soot on his forearm. His bow and
quiver rested against the wall were where he’d left them. The curve of his
bow looked stark against the room’s perfect lines.
Perry knelt, wobbling as he did, and looked the Dweller over. Her eye
had stopped bleeding. She was finely made. Thin, dark eyebrows. Pink
lips. Skin as smooth as milk. His gut told him they were close in age, but
with skin like that he wasn’t sure. He’d been watching her from his perch
in a tree. How she’d stared at leaves in wonder. He nearly hadn’t needed
his nose to know her temper. Her face showed every small emotion.
Perry brushed her black hair away from her neck and leaned close.
With his nose blunted by smoke, this was the only way. He drew in a
breath. Her flesh wasn’t as pungent as the other Dwellers’, but it was still
off. Warm blood but a rancy, decaying scent as well. He inhaled again,
curious, but her mind was deep in the unconscious so she gave off no
He thought about bringing her with him, but Dwellers died on the
outside. This room was her best chance to survive the fire. He’d planned
to check on the other girl too. No chance of that anymore.
He stood. “You better live, little Mole,” he said. “After all this.”
Then he sealed the door behind him and stepped into another chamber, this one crushed by an Aether strike. Perry ducked through the
crumbling dark corridor. The way grew tighter, forcing him to crawl over
broken cement and warped metal, pushing his bow and satchel ahead of
him, until he was back in his world.
Straightening, he drew a deep breath of the night. Welcomed the
clean air into his singed lungs. Alarms broke the silence, first muted
through the rubble, then blaring all around him, so loud he felt the
sound thrum in his chest. Perry looped the strap of his satchel and
quiver over his shoulder, took up his bow, and pulled foot, sprinting
through the cool predawn.
An hour later, with the Dweller fortress no more than a mound in the
distance, he sat to give his pounding head a break. It was morning,
already warm in the Shield Valley, a dry stretch of land that reached
nearly to his home two days to the north. He let his head fall against his
Smoke clung to his hair and skin. He scented it with every breath.
Dweller smoke wasn’t like theirs. It smelled like molten steel and chemicals that burned hotter than fire. His left cheek throbbed, but it was
nothing compared to the core of pain behind his nose. The muscles in
his thighs twitched, still running away from the alarms.
It was bad enough he’d broken into the Dweller fortress. His brother
would cast him out for that alone. But he’d tangled with the Moles. Probably killed at least one of them. The Tides didn’t have problems with the
Dwellers like other tribes did. Perry wondered if he’d just changed that.
He reached for his satchel and rummaged through the leather pack.
His fingers brushed something cool and velvety. Perry swore. He’d forgotten to leave the girl’s eye patch behind. He brought it out, examining
it in his palm. It caught the blue light of the Aether like a huge water
He’d heard the Moles as soon as he’d broken into the wooded area.
Their laughing voices had echoed from the farming space. He’d crept
over and watched them, stunned to see so much food left to rot. He’d
planned to leave after a few minutes, but by then he’d gotten curious
about the girl. When Soren tore the eyepiece from her face, he couldn’t
stand by and watch any longer, even if she was just a Mole.
Perry slipped the eye patch back into his satchel, thinking to sell it
when traders came around in spring. Dweller gadgets fetched a sizey
price, and there were plenty of things his people needed, to say nothing
of his nephew, Talon. Perry dug deeper into the bag, past his shirt, vest,
and water skin, until he found what he wanted.
The apple’s skin shone more softly than the eyepiece. Perry ran his
thumbs over it, following its curves. He’d bagged it in the farming space.
The one thing he had thought to grab as he’d stalked the Moles. He
brought the apple to his nose and breathed in the sweet scent, his mouth
filling with saliva.
It was a stupid gift. Not even why he’d broken in.
And not nearly enough.
Perry strode into the Tide compound near midnight, four days after
he’d left. He stopped in the central clearing, inhaled the briny smell of
home. The ocean was a good thirty minutes’ walk to the west, but fishermen carried the scent of their trade everywhere. Perry rubbed a hand
over his hair, still wet from his swim. Tonight he smelled a bit like a fisherman himself.
Perry shifted the bow and quiver over his back. With no game slung
over his shoulder, he had no reason to follow his usual path to the cookhouse so he stayed where he was, taking in fresh what he knew by heart.
Homes made of stones rounded by time. Wooden doors and shutters
worn by salt air and rain. As weather-beaten as the compound was, it
looked sturdy. Like a root growing aboveground.
He preferred the compound like this, in the dead of night. With
winter coming and food in such shortage, Perry had grown used to
anxious tempers clotting the air during the day. But after dark, the cloud
of human emotions lifted, leaving quieter scents. The cooling earth,
opened like a flower to the sky. The musk of nighttime animals, making
paths he could follow with ease.
Even his eyes favored this time. Contours were more crisp. Movement
easier to track. Between his nose and his eyes, he figured he was made
for the night.
He drew in his last breath of open air, steeling himself, then stepped
into his brother’s home. His gaze swept over the wooden table and the
two ragged leather chairs before the hearth, then rose to the loft nestled
against the roof timbers. Finally he relaxed as his eyes settled on the
closed door that led to the only bedroom. Vale wasn’t awake. His brother
would be asleep with Talon, his son.Perry moved to the table and inhaled slowly. Grief hung thick and
heavy, out of place in the colorful room. It pressed in along the edges of
his vision like a bleak gray fog. Perry also caught the smoke from the dying fire, the tang of Luster from the clay pitcher on the wooden table. A
month had passed since his brother’s wife, Mila, had died. Her scent was
faded, almost gone.
Perry tapped the rim of the blue pitcher with a finger. He’d watched
Mila decorate the handle with yellow flowers last spring. Mila’s touch
was everywhere. In the ceramic plates and the bowls she’d shaped. The
rugs she’d woven and the glass jars full of beads she’d painted. She’d
been a Seer. Gifted with uncommon sight. Like most Seers, Mila had
cared about the looks of things. On her deathbed, when her hands could
no longer weave or paint or mold clay, she’d told stories and filled them
with the colors she loved.
Perry leaned his weight on the table, suddenly weak and weary with
missing her. He had no right to brood, with his brother who’d lost a wife
and his nephew who’d lost a mother hurting far more. But she’d been his
He turned to the bedroom door. He wanted to see Talon. But judging
by the empty pitcher, Vale had been drinking. A meeting with his older
brother now would be too risky.
For a moment, he let himself imagine how it would be, challenging
Vale for Blood Lord. Acting on a need as real as thirst. He’d make
changes if he led the Tides. Take the risks his brother avoided. The tribe
couldn’t go on cowering in place for much longer. Not with game so
scarce and the Aether storms growing worse every winter. Rumors spoke
of safer lands with still, blue skies, but Perry wasn’t sure. What he did
know was that the Tides needed a Blood Lord who’d take action—and his
brother didn’t want to budge.
Perry looked down at his worn leather boots. Here he was. Standing
still. No better than Vale. He cursed and shook his head. Tossed his
satchel up to the loft. Then he pulled off his boots, climbed up, and lay
staring at the rafters. It was stupid to daydream about something he’d
never do. He’d leave before it came to that.
He hadn’t yet closed his eyes when he heard a door whine and then
the ladder jostle. Talon, a small, dark blur, catapulted over the top rung,
buried himself beneath the blanket, and went still as stone. Perry
climbed over Talon to the ladder side. The space was cramped, and he
didn’t want his nephew taking a tumble in his sleep.
“How come you never move that fast when we’re hunting?” he teased.
Nothing. Not even a stir under the blanket. Talon had fallen into long
stretches of silence since his mother’s death, but he’d never stopped
speaking with Perry. Considering what had happened the last time
they’d been together, Perry wasn’t surprised by his nephew’s silence.
He’d made a mistake. Lately he’d made too many.
“Guess you don’t want to know what I brought you.” Talon still didn’t
bite. “Shame,” Perry said after a moment. “You’d have loved it.”
“I know,” Talon said, his seven-year-old voice bright with pride. “A
“It’s not a shell, but it’s a good guess. I did go for a swim.” Before
coming home, Perry had spent an hour scrubbing the scents from his
skin and hair with handfuls of sand. He’d had to, or one whiff and his
brother would know where he’d been. Vale had strict rules against roaming near the Dwellers.
“Why are you hiding, Talon? Come out of there.” He drew the blanket
back. Talon’s scent came at him in a fetid wave. Perry rocked back,
hands fisting, his breath catching in his throat. Talon’s scent was too
much like Mila’s had been when the illness came in force. He wanted to
believe it was a mistake. That Talon was well and would grow to see another year. But scents never lied.
People thought being a Scire meant having power. Being
Marked—gifted with a dominant Sense—was rare. But even among the
Marked, Perry was unique for having two Senses. As a Seer, he made a
skilled archer. But only Scires with noses as strong as Perry’s could
breathe and know despair or fear. Useful things to know about an enemy, but when it came to family felt more like a curse. Mila’s decline had
been hard, but with Talon, Perry had grown to hate his nose for what it
He forced himself to face his nephew. Firelight from below reflected
off the rafters. It outlined the curve of Talon’s cheeks with an orange
glow. Lit the tips of his eyelashes. Perry looked at his dying nephew and
couldn’t think of a single thing worth saying. Talon already knew
everything he felt. He knew Perry would trade places in an instant if he
“I know it’s getting worse,” Talon said. “My legs get numb sometimes. . . . Sometimes I can’t scent as good, but nothing hurts too bad.”
He turned his face into the blanket. “I knew you’d get wrathy.”
“Talon, I’m not—it’s not you I’m wrathy with.”
Perry drew a few breaths against the tightness in his chest, his anger
mixing with his nephew’s guilt, making it difficult to think clearly. He
knew love. He loved his sister, Liv, and Mila, and he could remember
feeling love for Vale as nearly as a year ago. But with Talon, love was
only part of it. Talon’s sorrow dropped him like a stone. His worry made
Perry pace. His joy felt like flying. In the span of a breath, Talon’s needs
became Perry’s own.
Scires called it being rendered. The bond had always made life simple
for Perry. Talon’s well-being came first. For the past seven years that
had meant plenty of roughhousing. Teaching Talon to walk and then
swim. Teaching him to track game and shoot a bow and dress his kills.
Easy things. Talon loved everything Perry did. But since Mila had fallen
ill, it wasn’t as simple anymore. He couldn’t keep Talon well or happy.
But he knew he helped Talon by being there. By staying with him as long
as he could.
“What’s the thing?” Talon asked.
“The thing you brought for me.”
“Ah, that.” The apple. He wanted to tell Talon, but there were Audiles
in the tribe with hearing as keen as his sense of smell. And there was
Vale, an even bigger problem. Perry couldn’t risk Vale scenting it. With
winter only weeks away, all the trading for the year was done. Vale
would have questions about where Perry got the apple. He didn’t need
any more trouble with his brother than he already had.
“It has to wait until tomorrow.” He’d have to give the apple to Talon a
few miles away from the compound. For now it would stay wrapped in
an old scrap of plastic, buried deep inside his satchel with the Dweller
“Is it good?”
Perry crossed his arms behind his head. “Come on, Tal. Can’t believe
you asked me that.”
Talon muffled a giggle. “You smell like sweaty seaweed, Uncle Perry.”
“Yeah. The kind that’s been on the rocks for a few days.”
Perry laughed, nudging him in the ribs. “Thanks, Squeak.”
Talon nudged him back. “You’re welcome, Squawk.”
They lay for a few minutes, breathing together in the quiet. Through a
crack in the timbers, Perry could see a sliver of the Aether swirling in the
sky. On calmer days, it was like being on the underside of waves, seeing
the Aether roll and pitch above. Other times it flowed like rapids, furious
and blazing blue. Fire and water, come together in the sky. Winter was
the season for Aether storms, but in the past years the storms were starting earlier and lasting longer. Already they’d had a few. The last nearly
wiped out the tribe’s sheep, the flock too far from the compound to be
brought to safety in time. Vale called it a phase, said the storms would
lessen soon enough. Perry disagreed.
Talon shifted beside him. Perry knew he wasn’t asleep. His nephew’s
temper had grown dark and damp. Eventually it tightened like a belt
around Perry’s heart. He swallowed, his throat raw and aching. “What is
“I thought you’d left. I thought you dispersed after what happened
with my dad.”
Perry let out a slow breath. Four nights ago he and Vale had sat at the
table below, passing a bottle back and forth. For the first time in what
seemed like months, they’d talked as brothers. About Mila’s death and
about Talon. Even the best medicines Vale traded for weren’t helping
anymore. They didn’t say it but both of them knew. Talon would be lucky
to live through winter.
When Vale started to slur, Perry told himself to leave. Luster
sweetened Perry but it did the opposite for Vale. Turned him rabid, just
like it had their father. But Perry stayed because Vale was talking and so
was he. Then Perry made a comment about moving the tribe away from
the compound to safer land. A stupid comment. He knew where it’d
lead, where it always led. Arguments. Angry words. This time Vale
hadn’t said anything. He’d just reached out and cuffed Perry across the
jaw. Given him a sharp knock that had felt familiar and horrible at once.
He’d swung back, pure reflex, catching Vale on the nose, starting
them both grabbing and swinging across the table. Next thing he knew,
Talon stood at the bedroom door, sleepy and stunned. Perry had looked
from Vale to Talon. Same serious green eyes, both pairs fixed on Perry.
Asking him how could he give a new widower a bloody nose? In his own
house and in front of his dying son?
Shamed and still in a fury, Perry had left. He’d gone straight to the
Dweller fortress. Maybe Vale couldn’t find medicines to help Talon, but
he’d heard rumors about the Moles. So he’d broken in, wild and desperate to do something right. Now he had an apple and a useless Dweller
Perry pulled Talon close. “I was stupid, Tal. I wasn’t thinking straight.
That night should never have happened. But I do need to leave.”
He should have done it already. Coming back meant seeing Vale. He
didn’t know if they could keep pacing around each other after what had
happened. But Perry couldn’t let that be the last memory Talon had, him
slamming his fist into Vale’s face.
“When will you go?” Talon asked.
“I thought I’d try . . . maybe I can hang on . . .” He swallowed. Words
never came easy, even with Talon. “Soon. Sleep, Tal. I’m here now.”
Talon buried his face into Perry’s chest. Perry pinned his gaze on the
Aether as Talon’s cool tears seeped through his shirt. Through the crack
above, he watched the blue flows circling, churning in eddies this way
and that, like they weren’t sure which way to go. People said that the
Marked had the Aether flowing through their blood. Heating them up
and giving them their Sense. It was just a saying, but Perry knew it had
to be true. Most of the time he didn’t think he was very different from
the Aether at all.
It was a long while before Talon grew heavy in Perry’s arms. By then
his shoulder had gone numb, pinned beneath Talon’s head, but he kept
his nephew there and slept.
Perry dreamed he was back in the Dweller fire, following the girl. She
ran ahead of him through the smoke and flames. He couldn’t see her
face but knew her raven-black hair. Knew her off-putting scent. He
chased after her. Needed to reach her, though he didn’t know why. He
was just sure in that certain senseless way of dreams.
Perry woke sweated to his clothes with both his legs cramping. Some
instinct kept him still when he wanted to rub the soreness out of his
muscles. Dust motes swirled in the dim loft, how he imagined scents
must look, always churning through the air. Below, floorboards groaned
with the sound of his brother moving around. Adding wood to the
hearth. Getting the fire going again. Perry peered at the satchel by his
feet, hoping the worn layer of plastic would keep Vale off the scents
The ladder creaked. Vale was climbing up. Talon slept curled against
Perry’s side, a small fist tucked under his chin, his brown hair wet with
sweat. The creaking stopped.
Vale breathed just behind him, the sound loud in the quiet. Perry
couldn’t scent Vale’s tempers. As brothers, their noses skipped past the
tones, reading them as their own. But Perry imagined a bitter red scent.
He saw a knife reaching over him. For a panicked, mindless instant,
Perry was shocked his brother would go about killing him this way.
Challenges for Blood Lord were supposed to be held in the open, before
the tribe. There was a way of things. But this had begun over the kitchen
table. Wrong from the start. Talon would be hurt, no matter whether
Perry left or died or won.
In the next instant, Perry realized it wasn’t a knife. Only Vale’s hand,
reaching for Talon. He rested his hand on his son’s head. Vale held it
there a moment, brushing Talon’s damp hair from his forehead. Then he
padded down the ladder and across the room below. The loft flooded
with light as the front door opened and closed, leaving the house in
Aria woke in a room she’d never seen before. She winced, pressing her
fingers against the throbbing at her temples. Heavy fabric crinkled over
her arms. She peered down. A white suit covered her from neck to feet.
She wiggled her fingers inside loose-fitting gloves. Whose clothes was
She sucked in a breath as she recognized the Medsuit. Lumina had
told her about therapeutic garments like this. How could she be sick?
Reverie’s sterile environment eradicated disease. Genetic engineers like
her mother kept them physically well. But she didn’t feel well right now.
Gingerly she turned her head left and right. Even the smallest movements brought shocking aches.
She sat up slowly, gasping at the sharp pinch in the crook of her elbow. A tube filled with clear liquid poked out of a patch in the suit by her
arm and disappeared into the thick base of the bed. Her head pounded
and her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth.
She sent a hurried message. Lumina, something’s happened. I don’t
know what’s going on. Mom? Where are you?
A steel cou
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