“no,” the guy agreed. “I’m not sure what'll stop them.”
the guy finished smoothing the melted mirror and placed a new one in the pot. the woman quietly left the kitchen. she returned twenty minutes later carrying three pots.
“this way we can work faster,” she said, setting the pots on the stove and placing a mirror in each one. “so, what’s your name?”
“Birke,” said the guy, pouring melted mirrors onto the sheet pans. “yours?”
“Indigo,” said the woman. “Birke. that’s a mountain name.”
“yeah,” said Birke, going red.
“no wonder you thought shattering was the best method,” said Indigo, shaking her head. “I’m sure your region has lots of Crafters.”
“yeah,” said Birke. “they’re everywhere.”
“you hide your accent well, though,” said Indigo, eyeing him carefully before smoothing the silvery substance.
Indigo considered his words for a moment. “well, you’re not the first hitchhiker I’ve met from the mountains. I’m just glad I found you; the mirror trade around here’s pretty desperate for recruits right now. wandering around like that could get you into trouble.”
“I’m glad, too,” said Birke. “I don’t want anything to do with them. and I won’t be here for long, I’m on my way to Canby.”
Indigo's hand paused over the substance, then she began smoothing it again.
“what're you hoping to find there?” she asked, meeting Birke’s gaze.
“work,” said Birke, before kneeling down and freeing a new batch of mirrors from their wrappings.
a buzzing sound filled the air followed by ringing; Indigo pulled her phone from her pocket and answered it. “hello,” she said. “just melting. yes, he called. two? okay, I want to talk to them. I’ll be right over. thank you.” she stowed her phone away and turned to Birke. “we have to go.”
“what about these?”
“they’re okay, someone else is coming to melt them. but grab your duffle, I don’t know if we’ll be back.”
Birke grabbed his belongings from the living room and they hurried out of the house to the car.
“where are we going?” he asked.
“something important's come up.”
Indigo drove on zig-zagging roads and up and down hills, racing the sun ascending on the horizon. then she took a hairpin turn into the driveway of a hillside cottage, slamming on her brakes to narrowly avoid hitting the truck parked there.
“here we are,” she said, already halfway out of the car. without hesitation, she strode up the hill and knocked on the cottage door.
when Birke caught up to her, the cottage door was opening to reveal a woman with a kind, beige face and hazel eyes.
“Indigo,” said the woman, with a smile. “come in.”
“thank you, Dara,” said Indigo. “Dara, this is Birke.”
he shook Dara’s hand and then she ushered them into a cozy kitchen with a fire crackling on the hearth. a young woman with long brown hair sat absorbing the warmth while holding a nearly full cup of tea. she met Birke’s gaze before looking at Indigo. another person sat with their back to them, their face hidden beneath a hood.
looking closer, Birke saw the hooded person was a young woman. she met his gaze but her shoulders began to shake. she looked away and adjusted her hood to better hide her face.
“would you like some tea?” asked Dara.
“yes, thank you,” said Indigo, smiling warmly.
Dara poured two cups of tea and handed them to Birke and Indigo, then pulled up chairs for them. as they sat and sipped their tea, Indigo gently studied the two young women. the hooded one hadn’t touched her tea - the cup sat on a small wooden table beside her. the other one sipped slowly, her eyes glowing with fear.
Dara was offering them all biscuits and jam when a man entered the kitchen. his dark brown face was flushed and he wore an apron splattered with silver. he extended a hand to Indigo, who shook it.
“finished most of the crate they brought,” said the man, before noticing Birke. “this must be who Oriel mentioned.”
“yes, Ashton, this is Birke,” said Indigo. “I'm glad the melting's going so well. thank you.”
“you're most welcome,” said Ashton.
"do you need any help?" asked Birke.
"sure," said Ashton. "follow me."
Birke followed Ashton out of the cottage and up the hill to a tower. when they entered, Ashton whisked an apron from a hook and tossed it to Birke. after passing him a pair of tongs, Ashton led the way into a room with a large vat bubbling with silvery liquid.
“wow,” said Birke. “this is huge!”
“it’s more permanent than what Indigo uses at the safe house,” said Ashton. “can you grab a few mirrors?”
Birke helped Ashton melt the rest of the mirrors from the crate and found the process went much faster and smoother than it had at the A-frame.
“the last one’s over there,” said Ashton, motioning to a shelf under the windows.
Birke retrieved the mirror. it was identical to the ones in the crate except that it was shattered. he looked at its cracked surface and shuddered, then brought it to the vat.
"thanks," said Ashton, placing the mirror in the vat. it quickly dissolved in the bubbling liquid. "and we're done."
they shucked off their splattered aprons and went outside, relishing the cool breeze after the stuffiness of the vat room.
“messy work,” said Ashton, “but it’s better than having them rebuilt and used again."
"yeah," agreed Birke.
"it's nice to see another mountain person working with Indigo," said Ashton. "she's been good to Dara and me."
"I'm just lending a hand for a bit," said Birke. "I'm on my way down to Canby."
“Canby, huh?" said Ashton, frowning. "you struck me as more sensible than that. but, if you’ve made up your mind, who am I to stop you?”
“what’s wrong with Canby?”
Ashton sighed and shook his head. then he walked to the cottage, leaving Birke standing alone.
Birke slowly made his way to the cottage. when he got inside, Ashton was nowhere to be seen. Indigo and Dara were standing in the living room talking quietly and they looked up when Birke entered.
“Birke,” said Indigo. “thank you for helping Ashton and me with the melting. I can give you a ride to the bus station, now, if you’re ready?”
“we made a couple of sandwiches for you,” said Dara, “for the road.”
“oh,” said Birke. “thank you.”
Dara went to get the sandwiches in the kitchen. Birke looked around the living room, then turned to Indigo.
“you don’t have to drive me,” he said to her, “I can always-”
“you’re not hitching there.” Indigo’s tone was sharp.
“you’ve done enough, really.”
“I don’t know much about you, but I know about Canby. I understand you want out of your mountain life, but you’re running to somewhere that’s not any better.”
“I need to work,” he said. “I’m not staying in some teeny mountain village to become a Crafter, just like I won't stay here to join the mirror trade.”
“we could always use your help,” said Indigo, her voice softer.
“oh. well, I, um.” he looked around the room. “thank you,” he said. “but I’ve been looking forward to Canby, the ocean.”
she nodded and Dara entered, carrying a brown paper bag. “I also put a couple of apples in there,” she said. “water and a few biscuits, too.”
“thank you,” he said.
Dara gave him a hug and then he went to the car with Indigo.
when they arrived at the bus station, Indigo was inside before Birke had even opened the back door to retrieve his duffle.
she returned, ticket in hand, as he was walking to the station. they sat together on a bench outside to wait.
when the bus arrived, Indigo put her hand on Birke's shoulder. “good luck,” she said.
“thanks,” said Birke.
he boarded the bus and Indigo went to her car. seconds later, she had driven out of sight. the bus pulled onto the road as the sun was setting; he was headed to Canby.