Side A – Nia
Nia opened her eyes to find a giant looming over her.
“That was quite the tryout,” Yasgrid’s mother said, offering Nia a wry smile.
Nia blinked and shook her head. Yasgrid’s mother was a lot taller than Nia had guessed she would be. Broader too. The pink and purple hair should have been surprising as well but the messy tangle of it framed Osdora Kaersbean’s face in a such a natural way that Nia couldn’t imagine it being any other colors.
“Not exactly what I expected,” Nia said, pushing herself up to rest on her left elbow.
She knew who Osdora was from the same well of hidden knowledge her capability with the Stoneling language came from. With the awareness that she was in the presence of Yasgrid’s mother came the sense of a far deeper history lurking on the edge of Nia’s perception though. Nia couldn’t draw on Yasgrid’s memories but she did have a vague feeling for the shape of Osdora and Yasgrid’s relationship.
Like the one Nia had with her own mother, Yasgrid and Osdora’s bond was less of a smooth, all-embracing circle and more a squiggle with an uncounted number of sides, sharp edges and interlocking whirls.
“Looks like Halfhid managed to help you polish your skills pretty well this year,” Osdora said. Her tone was light but her gaze was unblinking and her expression more intense than her words suggested.
Nia thought she could guess where the maternal concern was coming from. From Osdora’s perspective her daughter had barely managed to escape the fallout from the disastrous concert. That had to be upsetting to even hear about much less have been an active participant in.
How had Osdora felt playing at the center of maelstrom? She’d been one of the desperate few who’d been at the heart of the chaos, struggling through the instruments to contain and overcome the divine wills that railed against them, while at the same time knowing that her daughter was caught in the storm’s deadly periphery.
Nia could imagine the agony she would have felt if she had a loved one in a battle where she couldn’t even be certain of saving herself much less protecting anyone else. But Osdora was a master drummer, had it been like that for her? Or had she been able to focus so deeply into the beating of her drums that all other thoughts but doing what needed to be done had drifted away? Has Osdora come out of the haze of playing and only then understood the peril her daughter had been in?
Either one would have been nightmare enough to explain the gravity on her face, and in both cases, Nia felt like she owed Osdora an apology. If the real Yasgrid had been there, then things might not have gone as poorly as they did.
Or Nia could have skipped the Calling. Yasgrid had been ready to agree to that until Nia talked her into trying the, in hindsight foolish, plan of playing the Shatter drum together.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t better at it,” she said. “I kind of wrecked my drum.”
Osdora blinked and leaned back from the bed before letting short chuckle escape her lips.
“They said you finished with nothing more than a broken drum top,” Osdora said. “I’d say that you’ve definitely found what you were missing before. The official announcement will go out tomorrow or the next day I think, but I wanted you to hear it from me, since everyone knows already. Welcome to the Shatter Band.”
Nia could hear the boisterous delight in Osdora’s voice, a delight she’d never heard in her own mother’s voice because Naosha M’Kallin was never boisterous. It should have cheered her up. She’d pulled off the impossible and won Yasgrid a spot on the Shatter Band just like she’d always wanted!
Except Yasgrid didn’t want it anymore.
And what did Osdora think Yasgrid had been missing?
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid wanted to step over and help Nia. Osdora Kaersbaen was lot to handle and the thought of leaving Nia to navigate those crumbling slopes on her own seemed to be asking for even more than asking Nia to stand in for her at the near cataclysm that was the recent Calling.
Unfortunately that wasn’t option.
Endings needed an answer.
“Is there more that you wish to know?” Endings asked. “I can tell you of the troubles that remain, or at least the ones which my previous Bearers have fought against and failed to defeat.”
“Don’t you know what all of the troubles are though?” Yasgrid asked. “The people offer the troubles to you don’t they?”
“I receive and remember all of the troubles offered,” Endings said. “Those are not all of the troubles which are within my purview to end though. I am charged with jurisdiction over any trouble which cannot be fought, cannot be borne and cannot be put aside. Even the ones which people do not, or cannot, speak of to me.”
“Aren’t a lot of those going to be very personal things though?” Yasgrid asked. “I mean what can you do about something like grief that someone can’t escape?”
“So long as it has not spawned a monster, grief can be borne, though the effort can feel overwhelming,” Endings said. “I am for when problem like that grows outside the scope of a single heart.”
“Does that mean Kayelle’s created a monster from her problem?” Yasgrid asked. “Or, wait, have I?”
A hundred questions flooded her mind about the nature of the switch she’d made with Nia and the bond between them. It wasn’t natural, but could it monstrous?
“Your troubles lie within you still,” Endings said. “They teeter on the border between your inner world and the world without, which is why you will be able to see the monsters we must fight, and why you will be able to wield me against them.”
“And if I defeat these troubles, will anything be lost in the process?” Yasgrid asked.
“Yes,” Endings said. “Those whose hearts are still weighed down by the trouble will lose the burden the trouble places upon them. They will not be healed, or suddenly changed, but they will be able to heal, and free to change over time should they so choose.”
Yasgrid thought about that, and considered the vast array of ancient troubles the Darkwood must hold after so many generations. She thought of Nia saving Frost Harbor and the unfathomable debt she owed the elven woman. And she thought of Kayelle, so driven by some unknown trouble that she would pledge herself to rid the Darkwood of every monster before leaving it forever. With all that, her decision really wasn’t hard to reach at all.
“I know which troubles I will carry you to end,” she told the crystal sword. “We can start our journey now.”