Side A – Yasgrid
The journey of a thousand troubles, predictably, began with the single, most obvious one.
“You’re done with Endings?” Kayelle asked when Yasgrid opened her eyes.
“Yes,” Yasgrid said, looking down at the blade she cradled in her arms. She’d made her decision, and by proxy Nia’s decision, but her heart was far from settled.
“And you agreed to come with us?” Kayelle asked with concern? Anger? Her tone and voice were muted compared to Yasgrid’s expectations. Reading elves was difficult when they didn’t want to express their emotions, at least compared to the Stonelings she knew.
“I did,” Yasgrid said, hoping a simple, short answer would present the same level of ambiguity and not communicate things she didn’t meant to say.
“We should decide who’s going to carry it then,” Kayelle said. There was a soft, elegance to her voice and posture that surprised Yasgrid.
At first glance, it seemed as though Kayelle was happy to have her sister along for what was likely going to be a brutal and miserable series of tasks. At face value that made sense. The support Nia could offer might be invaluable on what was otherwise an impossible quest. That wasn’t the sort of relationship the two of them seemed to have from Yasgrid’s observations though, and there was the hard, cold edge to Kayelle’s gaze that set any thoughts of happy unity as a far distant prospect at best.
“We won’t need it until we find the first trouble, will we?” Yasgrid asked.
If she’d been among her own people, Yasgrid knew that the issue of who was going to carry a valued object would have been settled simply. If someone wanted it, they would have taken it. If more than one person wanted it, they would have either argued or fought for it.
Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. In practice, Yasgrid knew there were a lot of people like her, where even if they desired something, they’d often feign indifference to avoid the hassle of a battle for it. If necessary they’d might try to push away something they wanted just to make sure other people who didn’t want to fight for everything still managed to get enough.
The bits of the Darkwood culture that she’d seen so far suggested that the elves were far less likely to fight over something as racously as Stonelings might, but she couldn’t believe they didn’t fight over valuables via their own methods.
“It’s not the troubles we hunt that will be the problem,” Kayelle said. “It’s the ones that come hunting us.”
“And the hunt began the moment I finished talking to Endings, didn’t it?” Yasgrid asked, knowing intuitively that it was true.
“Yeah, that’s why the Bearer’s journey begins immediately,” Kayelle said. “We need to move so that we’re harder to find, and so that when the first trouble does track us down, we’re not where other people are going to get hurt.”
Yasgrid swallowed. That was what she’d signed up for. A year of being hunted by monsters. A year of living apart from a world she barely knew. A year of throwing herself into danger because there was no one else who could.
No one except the woman who was asking, with a simple gesture, for the weapon that would be their shield and salvation.
“Let me keep it for now,” Yasgrid said, defying her natural inclinations, “I think I’ll need it sooner than you will.”
Side B – Nia
There’s only one thing to say when someone offers you your dream job.
“Thank you,” Nia said, blinking in the same stunned surprise that she supposed Yasgrid would have felt at the invitation to join the Shatter Band.
“No need for thanks,” Yasgrid’s mother said. “You earned it. The hard way.”
Osdora seemed more cheerful after hearing Nia’s reply, like the simple thank you had unlocked some weight that was holding her down. Nia had to wonder if that happiness would remain after Yasgrid officially turned down the offer.
At least, that’s what Nia assumed Yasgrid was going to ask her to do. Yasgrid had said she wasn’t interested in being part of the Shatter Band anymore, but until Nia had a chance to talk to her at length she wasn’t about to make any long term commitments in either direction.
“Is anyone else getting in?” Nia asked, wondering at the fate of the other applicants who’d been playing beside her.
“Strictly speaking I’m not supposed to comment on that,” Osdora said. “There’s a split in the Council’s thinking. On the one hand, you’ve got the people who think we should be taking all of the candidates in this year to fill the positions we’re missing. On the other, there’s the people who are afraid that taking everyone means we’re even more likely to see a repeat of this next year.”
Nia could appreciate both side of the debate there. Having the band play with reduced members meant the gods trapped in the volcano would have it that much easier if they pushed to get out again. Having a bunch of poor performers playing though could leave openings too big for the gods to ignore.
“Any guess which direction more of them are leaning?” she asked.
“Right now, I think the traditionalists have louder voices,” Osdora said. “There are some of them calling for even higher standards to be applied. They say today was proof the acceptance criteria have gotten too lax.”
“But that’s not true!” Nia blurted out. She didn’t know what the criteria were like, but she did know what had caused the catastrophe. “It was the gods! They were more active than they’ve ever been!”
“That’s true,” Osdora said. “But the people who weren’t playing didn’t feel that. To them it was the beat itself that broke down.”
“So they think the Shatter drummers did it? That somebody just screwed up that badly all on their own?” Nia felt her blood boiling, and cut back her words before they could reach a scream. Her mother would disapprove of her agitation, and would have been able to handle the situation effortlessly Nia was sure, but for the ten thousandth time she understood that she was not her mother, and never would be.
She glanced at Yasgrid’s mother out of reflex, her childish side expecting to see the subtle hint of reproach her mother would have displayed to reprimand her for the near outburst. Instead there was the most puzzling expression in the world on Osdora’s face.
Where the ghost of a frown would have suggested itself on Naosha M’Kallin’s face, Osdora’s was instead lit by a brilliant smile and she looked for all the world like she wanted to pull Nia into a hug.