213 The Faithful and the Faithless*
Iah had waited all afternoon for her sister to return. She'd kept telling herself that the figure she'd seen on the cart couldn't possibly be her sister, but the nagging feeling in the back of her mind was persistent. Because, what if it was? Her sister never lied to her so what reason could Sharli have for not doing as she'd said? Olly's warning echoed in her mind.
Poised on a cliff...Poised on a cliff.
Cannot follow...Cannot follow.
It had distracted Iah all day, and she'd barely gotten anything done. She'd even manage to cut herself on the papers she was arranging for when they were to take their next lesson.
Finally, as she was preparing dinner. Sharli returned. Iah almost breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the basket with herbs in Sharli's hands, if not for the distant look on her face.
"Hey, are you okay?" asked Iah, "You've been out all day, did you get held up or something?"
Sharli turned to her sister, shaking her head as if throwing her thoughts aside, "Uh? Yes, there was quite a wait for the herbs. I think there must be something going around".
Sharli put down the basket and took off her scarf, moving to help Iah in the kitchen, "Get anything good at the market".
Iah smiled, "Well somebody insisted that we were unintentionally feeding a family of mice with our cheese so of course we would need more".
Sharli turned to where Meg sat at the table, munching on a small wedge of cheese. She smiled warmly, "I see, well then of course we can't let the family starve".
"Of course not," Iah nodded in agreement.
"Where do you need help?"
Iah pointed at the vegetables to the side, "I'm making some vegetable soup if you could help with the chopping".
Sharli got to work.
"Funniest thing, I could have sworn I saw you at the market earlier," Iah said.
"Oh?" Sharli asked, her knife hesitating as she went to peel the potatoes.
"Yeah," Iah said, "There was this woman on the cart, could have sworn it was y-"
"Ah!" Sharli hissed as the knife sliced at her finger.
Iah rushed over quickly, "What are you doing? Careful!"
She pulled her sister over to the sink and turned on the tap. She'd been so grateful to Rassa for the running water.
She looked over at Meg, who was looking over worriedly, "Go and get the bandages please, Meg".
Meg put down her cheese and hurried to comply.
"I'm fine, it's just a little cut," Sharli insisted.
Iah sighed, "Where is your mind? You seem distracted".
Sharli shook her head, "I just need some sleep. That's all. I'll be better in the morning".
Iah could practically see her sister's walls go up. She sighed. Fine, if she couldn't get her to talk now, she'd try again in the morning when she didn't have the same excuse.
"Fine, maybe you should go rest then. I'll bring some food up to you later," Iah said, "Besides, I'd rather not have you bleeding all over the food".
Sharli nodded as Meg returned with the bandages. Meg helped her bandage the cut before Sharli disappeared up to bed.
"Is Sharli okay?" asked Meg.
Iah smiled, "Of course, she's just tired is all. She'll be better in the morning".
Meg nodded and sat back down with her cheese.
Iah was pretty sure the sun had yet to rise when she was roused from a deep sleep. The movements were only quiet, barely audible apart from a faint rustling, yet the movement alone was enough to push her consciousness to the forefront. She opened her eyes, heavy as they were from her sudden wakefulness. She squinted in the dark across the room to her sister's bed.
"Sharli?" Iah mumbled.
The figure who was standing beside the bed froze, looking over towards Iah.
"What are you doing up?" asked Iah, yawning as she sat up, "Is something wrong?"
Sharli didn't reply as Iah rubbed her eyes. Instead, she hurriedly placed a few sets of clothing into a bag.
"Sharli?" asked Iah again, more alert now, "What are you doing?"
Sharli tied up the bag and slung it over her shoulder, "I've got something to do Iah. Something that needs to be done?"
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Iah frowned, "What are you talking about? Where are you going?"
Sharli walked to their bedroom door, opening it and pausing in the doorway, "I'm going to find Rassa".
Iah was awake now. She hurriedly threw away her covers and followed her sister out, hissing her words in the darkness of the hall so as not to wake the children.
"What are you talking about, Sharli? You know we don't have the resources to go out and find him," Iah said.
"We don't," Sharli replied as she entered the kitchen, taking a few of the apples and a wedge of bread and cheese and wrapping it before adding it to her bag.
"So who does?" asked Iah in the silence.
Sharli paused, then looked to her sister, "Someone who has just as much of a reason to find him as we do".
Iah frowned for a moment as she thought about it. Her sister leaving the room. Suddenly, Iah's eyes widened in realisation and she hurried after Sharli, "You can't be talking about Ishta".
Sharli was busy putting on her boots as Iah came to pause in front of her. Sharli only glanced up at her and Iah's frown deepened.
She grabbed the bag from Sharli, pulling it off her shoulder, "You...why would you even consider him as an option?"
Sharli sighed as she stood, "Give me the bag, Iah".
"You're not going," Iah insisted, "This is stupid and you know it".
"This is our only choice!" Sharli snapped, her voice loud enough that Iah flinched in the otherwise quiet darkness. Sharli seemed to notice she'd scared her sister, and her expression softened somewhat before she continued, "Rassa can solve all of our problems, Iah. Everyone knows it. You're all just in denial".
"Sharli, he may have set us on a specific path, but we're supposed to walk it without him, that's what he wanted," Iah insisted, "If you go running after him you're betraying his trust in you".
"So what!" snapped Sharli, snatching back her bag, "It's better than blindly walking on that path as if everything will turn out okay. Okay at least means that our family is together. We wouldn't have had to send Kit away if he was here, tell me that's not true".
Iah couldn't deny that. She knew Rassa would have found a way to keep them together. Her moment of indecision was enough for Sharli to open the front door and step out into the street.
"Wait, Sharli!" called Iah, running after her sister, her heart in her throat as she turned to begging so that her sister wouldn't leave, "Please! Please you can't leave! You're my sister, you can't leave".
Iah clung to Sharli. And Sharli froze for a moment, as if considering this point. Then Sharli took a deep breath and pushed Iah with enough force that Iah fell back onto the street.
"Enough, Iah," Sharli said, "I've made my decision. This needs to be done. For our family".
Iah's eyes welled. Olly had been right. And there was no way that Iah had been able to stop it. But that didn't mean she wouldn't try now. Iah pushed herself onto her knees as she reached for her sister.
"Please, Sharli, don't go-"
An damp shadow grew between her and her sister, and Iah recoiled from it with a gasp. She looked at her sister as she noticed a woman seem to meld from the shadows around them and stand beside Sharli.
"Come, we'll be late otherwise," the woman said.
"Inktress," Iah breathed.
Sharli paused for a moment, as if unsure, then nodded and stepped forward.
Iah could only watch as they walked away, covering her mouth to keep from crying out in her distress as tears tracked a path down her cheeks.