the sisters sat with Dara by the fire until Ashton arrived with wood for the firewood box. when he was finished filling the box, he joined them.
“this is Laurel and Sadie,” Dara told him.
“glad to know your real name, Laurel,” he said. “those garbled things Sable calls names are a waste. though, Sadie, Indigo told us you weren’t part of the trade after all; sorry for the confusion this morning.”
“thank you,” said Sadie. “I didn’t even know what it was, or that Laurel was in it, before last night.”
“well, you're lucky,” he said with a smile.
they sat in the flickering light of the hearth for a few moments longer, then the sisters helped Ashton and Dara make dinner.
Laurel was getting flour from the pantry when her hood slipped off; her cheeks went red and she fumbled with it trying to get it back up.
“may want to keep it off,” said Ashton, “it gets pretty warm in here when we’re baking.”
“and it’s nice being able to see your eyes, dear,” said Dara, carrying the bag of flour to the counter.
“she has our mom’s eyes,” said Sadie.
Laurel kept her hood off as they worked.
when they were setting the table, Indigo returned.
“it looks delicious, Dara!” she said, filling a jug with water for the table.
“thank you. Laurel and Sadie were a big help,” said Dara.
“oh,” said Indigo, smiling at the sisters. “I’m glad.”
after dinner they did the dishes and then sat sipping tea.
a knock came at the door and Ashton went to answer it.
“Oriel!” said Ashton. “come in.”
Ashton led a tall man with short grey hair into the kitchen. Oriel's beige face, a network of shimmering white lines, was drawn into a serious expression and he looked quite tired.
“Indigo, Dara,” he said, greeting each with a hug. “nice to meet you,” he said to the sisters. he gave Laurel a smile, which shone in his iridescent amber eyes. “you were very brave. in times like these we need more people like you.”
“thank you,” muttered Laurel. she went red, but did not try to put up her hood.
Oriel sat down and Dara poured him a cup of tea.
“it’s very good tea,” said Sadie. “I like the orange, though the mint this morning was good too.”
“so, there are nine now,” Oriel said to Dara, with mock resignation. “you’ve perfected your healing tea in nine varieties, when I could barely manage one!”
as Sadie sipped her tea, she realized it had been making her feel better; her arms were no longer achy from canoeing and her blisters had completely healed.
“and she’s experimenting with a tenth,” said Ashton.
“is that right?” said Oriel.
“hey, you got Dad’s brawn,” said Dara, smiling; “I never could wrangle molten silver as well as you.”
“that’s true,” he said. “and you married Alchemist Ash.”
“I dabble from time to time,” said Ashton, smiling modestly. “but that year we worked with Sable, I had gotten so used to the method we used at the factory, I ended up melting an entire batch of mirrors by accident; he was so pissed!”
“actually,” said Oriel, shifting in his seat, “there’s something I need to tell you. wasn’t sure how to…well…Sable died yesterday.”
Indigo set her tea down. Dara went pale. Ashton’s jaw became tense. Laurel’s eyes went wide. Sadie wasn’t sure how to react.
“it happened at the House he ran,” Oriel continued, “with one of those orbs his father taught him how to make.”
“and did he take the whole place with him, like his father?” asked Ashton, his tone bitter. “or was it just him?”
Oriel glanced at Indigo, who met his gaze.
“what is it, Oriel?” she asked.
“well, I was able to have a quick look around before the trade came snooping. there were holes blown in the House and the doors were in pieces. when I saw a delivery of mirrors melted in their crates, I dug around in the office debris until I found this.” he pulled a dented tin from his jacket pocket. “had to pry it open, but it was worth it,” he added, handing the tin to Indigo.
she pulled a notebook from the tin; Dara and Ashton read it with her.
“Eaton was the last to deliver there,” said Ashton. “so much for him not wanting to be found. he’s lucky this book was found by you and not Sable’s friends!”
“after what he did for us, I figured it was only fair,” said Oriel. “but yes, he certainly was lucky. he was the only Seller there yesterday and, although Sable's transaction book doesn’t tell us when he left, the trade could certainly twist it however they wanted if they find out he was on the property.”
“at least we know the boxes aren’t labeled,” said Laurel. “how horrible would it be if each of the boxes had the Seller’s symbol!”
“even without the symbol, the trade only needs to look so far to realize which Seller Sable had chosen for that House; he had wanted to keep Eaton close,” said Indigo. “Oriel, was Sable's book the only evidence you found? was Eaton's truck there? or Miki?”
Indigo studied the book intently.
“and the trade didn’t give you any trouble?” asked Dara. “they didn’t see you?”
“no,” said Oriel.
“do you think Eaton wanted out?” asked Laurel. “do you think he would’ve intentionally hurt Sable?”
“I don’t know, to be honest,” said Oriel. “he was born into it, but so were we and we got out. as for intentionality-”
“you may’ve been born into it but, in the past seven years, Sable’s changed the game plenty,” said Indigo, irritated. “which is why, even though he’s gone, the Houses and Huts will keep on working. he built it to withstand splintering; he knew what happened at the factory.”
“it’s not all to their advantage, though,” said Laurel. “aren’t the weak spots easier to find with all the divisions? wouldn’t that make it easier to take them down?”
“hopefully,” said Oriel. “as long as we can contain it before it gets too far out of control; just look at Canby!”
“well, Hollis is there with a pretty capable team,” said Dara, “and Fern’s putting up a good fight in the mountains; that’s something.”
Oriel’s phone rang and he glanced at the caller ID; “it's Culley.” he went into the hall. “hey, Culley, what’s up? okay, I’ll be right over. I’ll bring some friends. no problem.” he finished and returned to the kitchen. “Ash, can you come with me? there’s trouble at Culley’s place.”
“sure thing,” said Ashton. he stood, kissed Dara, and followed Oriel into the hallway. “you drive, I’ll call the others on the way.”
and then they were gone.
“I’ll call Fern,” said Dara, taking out her phone. “better for a fellow Melter to tell her about Sable than for her to find out another way.” then she glanced at the sisters. “in the living room there’s a chest full of blankets. you can take the spare room. make yourself comfortable.” then she went outside.
“that leaves Hollis,” said Indigo, looking worried. “help yourselves to more tea.” then she too left the house.
when Sadie and Laurel finished making up the guest room bed, Laurel groaned about being too warm. she shucked off her sweatshirt and sprawled onto the bed. the lines on her ears and face, as well as those wrapping the parts of her arms and neck her t-shirt left exposed, were quite visible. Sadie flopped beside her.
“why’d you try to disappear?” asked Sadie.
Laurel sighed. “it just was getting to be too much,” she said. “it’d been getting worse ever since your birthday.”
“my birthday was months ago.”
“yeah, and you turned eighteen. Sable may not have had the principles Indigo does when it comes to who can disappear, but he was careful to only recruit adults - less messy that way. and he didn’t recruit just anybody, he wanted loyal people. even…family.”
“he wanted me?”
“he would’ve if he’d known about you. that’s why I didn’t want you to come, why I tried to distance myself.”
“oh.” Sadie turned away. “then I’m sorry.”
“no, I didn’t mean...” Laurel sat up. “I wanted to visit with you, but like old times, like our treasure hunts when we were kids.”
Sadie turned toward Laurel. “but you didn’t have those lines when you picked me up from the airport, you only had them after I went canoeing.”
“I had the mirror in the truck and, after I dropped you off, the pressure got worse. my plan had been to keep my distance and make sure you were safe, in case any trade people showed up while you were canoeing. then, when you were done, I’d go pick you up.” Laurel pulled her sweatshirt onto her lap. “but then I got thinking about everything that had happened between us, everything Sable wanted, and thought ‘maybe if I disappear…’ so I tried, but then it became unbearable and I had to let go.” she twisted the drawstrings of her hood as she spoke. “I only wanted to leave the trade stuff here and be done with it and never have you know, but it’s gone too far now. I’m sorry I ever got involved. I’m sorry for everything.” tears slid from Laurel’s eyes over the lines on her face and heavy droplets fell onto her sweatshirt.
“Laurel,” said Sadie, her voice cracking. warm tears filled her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her sister, who didn’t pull away. “just because you’re older doesn’t mean you have to be strong all the time.”