The two brothers were jarred from sleep by a loud, insistent knock at the door. Sultry bolted upright from the floor and yelled, “Wardens!”
“Hush,” Tinker hissed in annoyance.
“But what if they’ve tracked me back here, just like you said.”
Tinker rolled his eyes in the darkness. “By the Light, you’re as bad as Glance. Wardens don’t give fugitives a courtesy knock. But if it is a Warden and they’ve heard you, you’ve just given them reason to be suspicious. It’s probably Glance finally coming home for the night.”
Sultry nodded then whispered, “What if it’s a Shadow?”
Tinker sighed. “Then we’d already be dead and would be having this conversation in the Abyss. Now shut up.”
Tinker threw his covers aside, pulled the hood off of his lamp, and walked to the door. A short, hunchbacked man with a long white beard stood in the hallway. He squinted as if the light of Tinker’s lamp hurt his eyes.
The old man walked in without invitation. “You’re awake.”
“Mash,” Tinker snarled, “you pest. What’re you doing? It’s the middle of the night.”
The old man ignored him and pushed toward the work bench. There, he started rummaging through the drawers, muttering incoherently.
“Where’re the stones?” the old man insisted. “I know you’ve got some.”
Tinker grabbed the codger’s arm and spun him around. “What are you talking about? Get out of my drawers.”
Mash’s free hand was still rattling around in a drawer behind his back. His eyes went wide as he found what he was looking for.
“Ha,” he exclaimed. “Found one.”
Frowning, Tinker looked down to see the old man holding up his fat-handled screwdriver—the lead-lined one with sunstones hidden inside. He snatched the tool out of the man’s wrinkled hand, “Leave my tools alone, you old fool.”
Mash pulled away and walked to the cupboard. The door banged open as he dove head first inside, rooting through the sparsely stocked shelves.
“There’s more in here somewhere,” the oldster’s voice was muffled inside the cupboard. “Looks like you got a little sneaky with this batch. What did you do? Stick it in a lead-glass jar?”
“What’s going on?” Sultry demanded. “Who’s this old coot, and what’s he looking for?”
Tinker’s face was a thundercloud. “He’s a crazy old man who moved into the building last month,” Tinker seethed through clenched teeth. “I get a visit like this about every other day, but never in the middle of the night before.”
“You let him rifle through your stuff like this all the time?”
“No, he’s never done this before either.”
Tinker grabbed Mash by his rope belt and yanked him out of the cupboard. The heavy glass jar he’d been holding fell from his hands and hit the floor with a heavy thud. Mash chased it around the room, clumsily kicking it away from himself each time he came close. Tinker tried to corral the man while Sultry made an effort to catch the jar himself, but they only ended up adding to the clatter. The old man started laughing gleefully, as if the whole thing were a sport.
Tinker’s downstairs neighbor started yelling in protest, threatening to call for a Warden if they kept up the racket. An empty threat, Tinker ignored their vexation in favor of his own.
Fed up, Tinker caught his brother by the arm, then kicked out a leg to trip up Mash as he clambered past. The old man tumbled to the floor and his hand pushed the jar hard across the floor. It spun under the bed and broke against the wall with a crash.
“I don’t believe it,” Tinker rolled his eyes toward the heavens.
Mash scrambled after the jar. “Whoo!” his muffled voice came from under the bed, “found some more.” Then he grew suddenly still and the brothers heard nothing more than a sniffing sound.
Mash finally pushed out from under the bed and struggled to his feet. “Whew,” he screwed up his eyes, “you’re going to need to clean that up. What a stench! What was in that jar?”
“Rotten cabbage,” Tinker’s clenched his teeth.
“Um, big brother,” Sultry asked, “why were you saving rotten cabbage in your cupboard?”
“What better place to hide sunstones?” quipped Mash.
Sultry backed away in shock. “You’re hoarding sunstones,” he sputtered.
“Yell it a little louder, little brother,” Tinker said. “I don’t think the new Warden upstairs heard you.”
Sultry open his mouth to retort then thought better of it once he caught the steel in his brother’s eyes. He shut his mouth and swallowed hard.
Tinker rounded on the old man. “How did you know?”
“I can feel them, can’t you?”
“You’re a Sniffer,” Tinker’s eyes went wide in realization. “But how did you sense them through the lead?”
“Bah!” Mash waved a hand, “A tiny layer of lead like that don’t help much. I could feel them calling me, keeping me awake until I couldn’t stand it no longer. I keep going and going until I can’t stay awake no more because I collapse. They were singing so loud I couldn’t wait any longer.”
“Is that why you’ve been pestering me every other day since you moved in, to see if you could find my sunstones?”
“Yeah, I needed to introduce myself so I can get some shuteye.”
“Introduce yourself?” Tinker frowned. “What does that mean?”
Mash stared up at Tinker as if he were dimwitted. “Don’t you know anything? I need to touch them, boy. Hold them in my hands so they won’t call out to me anymore with their song. Why else do you think they let you sleep through the night, you’ve touched them all and gotten acquainted.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Sultry waved his hands at the old man. “You’re saying my brother, my plain old surly brother, is a Sniffer too?”
“Of course he is, boy. You’re a lightspinner, so why wouldn’t he be?”
Sultry gave Tinker and accusing look. “You’ve hid it all these years, even from me.”
Tinker stood there facing the charge, offering neither confirmation nor denial. “You know it tends to run along family lines. It’s a wonder you never guessed.”
“I thought it missed every once in a while.”
“It does,” Tinker shrugged, “but not as often as you’d think. Sniffers can hide it pretty easily, especially since sunstones are rare to start with, not to mentioned outlawed. It’s not hard to never show any hint of ability.”
“That’s true,” said Mash, “until they start singing to you, then you just can’t stand it.”
Tinker looked down at the old man ruefully. “If I get my whole stash out and let you handle it, you’ll leave me alone?”
“Sure, at least until you get your hands any new stones, then I’ll be back.”
“Great,” Tinker rolled his eyes, “I’ll send you an invitation.”