They’d arrived just before supper—unfortunate timing. Dozens of people milled around, waiting for the call to eat. Others stood at their windows and crowded their doors, watching with wide eyes. One of Gray’s boys pointed, while the other giggled at his side. Brooke rose from a bench in front of her house, looking from him to Aria and back. In a guilty flash, Perry remembered a conversation he’d had with her over the winter. He’d told Brooke they couldn’t be together because he had too much on his mind. That too much had been Aria—the girl who, at that time, he thought he’d never see again.
Nearby, Bear and Wylan stood talking with Reef. They looked over, falling silent. Some instinct kept Perry moving toward his house. He’d deal with them soon enough. He didn’t see the one person whose help he could use right now: Roar.
Perry stopped before his door and nudged aside a basket of kindling with his foot. He looked at Aria standing beside him and felt like he should say something. Welcome? You’ll be safe here? Everything seemed too formal.
“It’s small,” he said finally.
He stepped inside, cringing as he saw blankets scattered across the floor and dirty mugs on the table. Clothes lay tossed in a pile in the corner, and a stack of books along the far wall had toppled over. The sea was half an hour away, but there was a dusting of sand on the floorboards beneath his feet. He supposed it could’ve looked worse for a house shared by half a dozen men.
“The Six sleep here,” he explained. “I met them after you …” He couldn’t say left. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t say the word. “They’re my guard now. Marked, all of them. You’ve met
Reef, Twig, and Gren already. The rest are brothers: Hyde, Hayden, and Straggler. Seers, the three of them. Strag’s name is actually Haven, but … you’ll see. It suits him. ” He rubbed his chin, forcing himself to shut up.
“Do you have a candle or a lamp?” she asked.
Only then did he notice the dimness. To him, the room’s lines were cut in sharp relief. To Aria—or anyone else—they’d be lost. He was always aware of being a Scire, but he forgot about his vision until times like this. He was a Seer, but the real power of his eyes was the keenness of his sight in darkness. Aria had once called it a mutation—an effect of the Aether that had warped his Sense more than others’. He thought of it more as a curse, a reminder of the Seer mother who’d died bringing him to life.
Perry opened the shutters, letting in the murky afternoon light. Outside, the clearing buzzed with gossip as news of Aria’s arrival spread. Nothing he could do about it. He crossed his arms, his stomach clenching, as he watched her absorb the space. He couldn’t believe she was there, in his house.
Aria came to the window beside him and studied Talon’s collection of carved falcons, which rested on the sill. Perry knew he needed to see Bear and Wylan, but he couldn’t move.
He cleared his throat. “Talon and I did those. His are the good ones. Mine is the one that looks like a turtle. ”
She picked it up and turned it in her hand. Her gray eyes were warm as she looked up and said, “It’s my favorite. ”
Perry’s gaze moved to her lips. They were alone. This was as close as they’d stood since she’d last been in his arms.
She set the carving down and stepped away. “You’re sure I can stay here?”
“Yes. You can have the room. ” From where he stood, he could see the edge of his brother’s bed, covered with a faded red blanket. He’d rather she not stay in there, but saw no better choice. “I sleep up there,” he said, tipping his head to the loft.
Aria dropped her satchel against the wall and glanced at the front door, smiling at a sound beyond the reach of his ears. A second later, Roar blew into the house in a dark flash.
“Finally!” he bellowed. He wrapped Aria into a hug, lifting her off the ground. “What took you two so long? Don’t answer that. ” He glanced at Perry. “I think I know. ” He set her down and then clasped Perry’s hand. “Good you’re back, Per. ”
“What did I miss?” Perry asked, grinning.
Before Roar could answer, Wylan, Bear, and Reef arrived, crowding in as the house fell into a thick silence. They stood for a long moment, all eyes fixed on the only stranger among them. The tempers in the room sharpened, heating up and bleeding red into Perry’s vision. They didn’t want her there. He’d known they’d react this way, but his hands curled into fists anyway.
“This is Aria,” he said, fighting the urge to step toward her. “She’s half Dweller, as Reef’s told you. She’ll be helping us find the Still Blue, in exchange for shelter. While she’s here, she’ll be Marked as an Audile. ”
The words felt like gravel rolling from his mouth. They were true, but a partial truth, which felt more like a lie. Perry saw the questioning look in Roar’s eyes.
Bear stepped forward, wringing his big hands. “Excuse my asking, Perry, but how’s a Mole going to help us?”
Wylan muttered something under his breath. Aria’s eyes snapped to him, and Roar tensed. Auds both, they’d heard him clearly.
Perry felt a flash of heat, and had the urge to cuff Wylan. He realized that what he felt—what gripped him—was Aria’s temper. He drew a breath, grasping for control. “You have something to say, Wylan?”
“No,” he answered. “Nothing to say. Just checking if her ears work. ” He smirked. “They do. ”
Reef dropped a hand on Wylan’s shoulder with enough force that the smaller man winced. “Bear and Wylan were just telling me what happened while we were away,” he said, changing the subject.
Perry prepared himself for their latest argument. “Let’s hear it. ”
Bear crossed his arms over his broad chest, his thick eyebrows drawing together. “We had a fire in the storeroom last night. We think it was the boy who came back with Roar. Cinder. ”
Perry glanced at Roar and Aria, alarm running through him. They were the only ones who knew about Cinder’s unique ability to channel the Aether. They protected Cinder’s secret by unspoken agreement.