Side A – Yasgrid
The Darkwood lived up to its name the moment Yasgrid and Kayelle stepped beyond the bounds of the light from the last outpost. The canopy above was so dense it eclipsed the stars and bloated out all of the moonlight which could have reached the forest floor.
Even without any clear source of light though, Yasgrid found she could still see.
“How?” The word escaped her lips before she could stop it. Regretting the slip, she bit back the rest of her wonder and gazed mutely at the alien landscape around her.
Strange colors accented the bushes and overgrowth that choked the floor. The tree limb above her shone in a color that wasn’t purple and the roots below her feet pulsed with a low, slow stream that wasn’t red.
Turning to Kayelle was the strangest sight though. Against the darkness of the forest, black should not have been visible as a color, but whatever weird light illuminated the world below the canopy had bathed Kayelle’s face in hues of polished obsidian.
Yasgrid looked closer. No. It wasn’t external light at all.
The deeper Yasgrid stared, the more she became convinced that what she was seeing was simple darkness overlayed with an illumination that streamed from within Kayelle. The way the light moved on the obsidian features of Kayelle’s face was too vibrant, too alive, to be anything but a part of Kayelle herself.
“What?” Kayelle asked, her natural grace slipping into annoyance, perhaps because Yasgrid wasn’t letting her carry Endings, or perhaps because they’d left an area where someone else could oversee them.
“How are we supposed to find a trouble at night?” Yasgrid asked, trying to cover both her verbal blunder and her staring. “Shouldn’t the quest start in the day time?”
“Sure, if you want troubles swarming all over the city trying to get us, that would be a great plan,” Kayelle said.
Right. They were as concerned about hiding as they were about tracking down their first quarry. Yasgrid hadn’t forgotten that but finding out that Elves literally saw with different eyes than she was used to had thrown her off.
What other differences could she look forward to discovering she wondered?
She wanted to speak with Nia, but as long as Kayelle was leading them forward at a near run through the brambles and thorny paths of the forest, Yasgrid knew she needed to keep her attention centered on working Nia’s body.
Of course, she could also feel Nia’s yearning to speak with her, and could sense that Nia was stuck in a similar situation where her immediate attention was required in Yasgrid’s body.
Their day had been fouled up so much, Yasgrid had to wonder; could they have been switched as a punishment of some kind? It would make as much sense as anything else. Poor Nia had been subjected to the most nightmarish Calling that had ever been held as far as Yasgrid knew, and referring to the elven Mid-Winter ceremony as an “ordeal” would be, at best, a kind and charitable description of what had happened.
If it was a punishment though, what were they being punished for?
Side B – Nia
Nia was becoming convinced with every passing second that in switching with Yasgrid she’d traded up in terms of lives. Whatever sins Yasgrid might have committed couldn’t have amounted to much of anything at all given the love and support the people around her showed.
“Looks like you’ve at least got all of your limbs attached,” Belhelen said with a wry grin. There was a tension to the grin which acknowledged the gallows humor of what she’d said. Too many people had lost too much in what should have been been a joyful celebration.
For as bad as it had been while she was living through it, Nia was beginning to rank the Calling as one of the more fortunate experiences of her life. That she was living afterwards was obviously a big part of that, but that it showed her how much people cared about Yasgrid was another. Even receiving that love second hand and undeservingly still left a part of Nia feeling warm.
She knew she couldn’t keep up the facade of being Yasgrid forever, and couldn’t really connect with people at all under a false identity, but damn was even pretending to be Yasgrid for a bit fun.
“Next time, you’ll probably want to sit a bit closer to me,” Nia said. “It doesn’t look like you picked a great spot.”
“Ha! Next time, you’ll be sitting right beside me if what I heard is right,” Belhelen said. “Oh, wait! Your mother was in here already right?”
“Yeah, she told me that I’m probably going to get an invite to join the band,” Nia said. It didn’t feel right to claim that Osdora was her mother, regardless of how nice a thing that might be.
“No ‘probably’ about it,” Belhelen said. “The only question is how soon you’ll feel up to playing again.”
“When’s the first practice session supposed to be?” Nia asked. She knew Yasgrid was planning to turn the Shatter Band down, but gathering information wouldn’t hurt and it seemed like the sort of thing people might have expected Yasgrid to do.
“Tomorrow,” Belhelen said. “Nobody expects the new players to be ready to climb back behind a drum that quickly though.”
“Do you think any of them will?” Nia asked.
“I think we both know Margrada would in a heartbeat,” Belhelen said.
Nia thought back to the woman who’s been angry at her for the supposed favoritism Yasgrid was destined to receive. The same woman who’d hung on till the end of the Calling, one of the last players still beating her drum when other people were literally falling apart, when Nia was reduced to slamming a broken drum top on the ground to beat the last dregs of magic out of it that she could. That woman. The one who’d fought the whole way through to save them all.
“If she gets an invite at all,” Belhelen said.
Something in Belhelen’s tone made Nia think the invite wasn’t just in question but actually unlikely and that kindled a blaze in Nia’s heart that she hadn’t imagined she had the strength left to feel.
“If they want me, they damn well better invite her,” Nia said, before she really had a chance to consider what her words meant.