“No one saw him do it,” Roar said, reading his mind. “He ran before anyone could catch him. ”
“He’s gone?” Perry asked.
Roar rolled his eyes. “You know how he is. He’ll come back. He always does. ”
Perry flexed his scarred hand. If he hadn’t seen Cinder lay waste to a band of Croven with his own eyes, he wouldn’t believe it himself. “The damage?”
Bear tipped his head toward the door. “Might be easier if I show you,” he said, heading outside.
Perry paused at the threshold and looked back at Aria. She gave a small shrug of understanding. They’d been there less than ten minutes, and already he had to leave her. He hated it, but he had no choice.
The storeroom in the back of the cookhouse was a long stone room lined with wooden shelves, which were stacked with containers of grain, jars of spices and herbs, and baskets of early spring vegetables. Usually scents of food hung in the cool air, but as Perry stepped inside, the smell of burnt wood was thick. Beneath it he caught a trace of the sting of Aether—a smell that was also Cinder’s.
The damage was contained to one side of the room. Part of a shelf was gone, burned to nothing.
“He must have dropped a lamp or something,” Bear said, scratching his thick black beard. “We got to it quickly, but we still lost a lot. We had to throw out two bins of grain. ”
Perry nodded. It was food they couldn’t afford to lose. The Tides were already on tight rations.
“The kid’s stealing from you,” Wylan said. “He’s stealing from us. Next time I see him, I’ll run him off the territory. ”
“No,” Perry said. “Send him to me. ”
You all right?” Roar whispered as the house emptied.
Aria let out her breath and nodded, though she wasn’t quite sure. Aside from him and Perry, everyone who’d stood in this room despised her because of who she was. Because of what she was.
A Dweller. A girl who lived in a domed city. A Mole tramp, as Wylan had whispered under his breath. She’d been preparing herself for that, especially after days of Reef’s cold stares, but she felt shaken anyway. It would be the same if Perry entered Reverie, she realized. Worse. Reverie Guardians would kill an Outsider on sight.
She turned away from the door, her eyes drifting across the cozy, cluttered home. A table with painted chairs to one side. Bowls and pots in every color along the shelves behind it. Two leather chairs before the hearth, worn but comfortable-looking. Along the far wall she saw baskets with books and wooden toys. It was cool and quiet, and smelled faintly of smoke and old wood.
“This is his home, Roar. ”
“Yes. It is. ”
“I can’t believe I’m here. It’s warmer than I expected. ”
“It used to be more so. ”
A year ago, this house would’ve been packed with Perry’s family. Now he was the only one left. Aria wondered if that was why the Six slept there. Surely there were other homes they could occupy. Maybe a full house helped keep Perry from missing his family. She doubted it. No one could ever fill the void her mother had left. People couldn’t be replaced.
She pictured her own room in Reverie. A small space, spare and neat, with gray walls and an inset dresser. Her room had been home once. She felt no longing for it. Now it seemed as inviting as the inside of a steel box. What she missed was the way she’d felt there. Safe. Loved. Surrounded by people who accepted her. Who didn’t whisper Mole tramp at her.
She had no place of her own now, she realized. No things like the falcon figurines on the windowsill. No objects to prove she existed. All her belongings were virtual, kept in the Realms. They weren’t real. She didn’t even have a mother anymore.
A feeling of weightlessness came over her. Like a balloon that had slipped free from its tether, she was floating, made of nothing more than air.
“You hungry?” Roar asked behind her, oblivious, his tone light and cheerful as always. “We usually eat in the cookhouse, but I could bring something for us here. ”
She turned. Roar rested a hip against the table, his arms crossed. He wore black from head to toe, like she did.
He smiled. “Not as comfortable as Marron’s, is it?”
They’d spent the past months there together while he’d healed from a leg wound. While she’d healed from deeper wounds. Little by little, one day after another, they’d brought each other back.