Side A – Yasgrid
The climb to the ground was not quick. Even under the best of circumstances, Yasgrid would have taken her time with so long a descent. With ropes which lacked proper climbing knots on them though, she felt compelled to proceed like at an inchworm’s pace, only advancing when she had a solid grip on the rope with either both hands, or one hand and both feet.
“Hey! What’s a matter?” a small elven girl asked as she scampered up from below on the rope Yasgrid was clinging to.
Without waiting for an answer, the girl clambered over Yasgrid, grabbing first the rope, then Yasgrid’s shirt, then Yasgrid’s arm, and continuing upwards without any appreciable loss of speed. Compared to the child, Yasgrid felt like an infant, but looking down left her with a dizzying swirl of vertigo behind her eyes. Going faster was impossible. She was never going to reach the meditation on time.
Could she change direction, she wondered? Climb back to Nia’s apartment, and feign illness? It was an awfully tempting idea, but both Nia’s mother and sister had already seen that she was well, and Yasgrid had no idea what sort of consequences there might for missing an Elven High Holy Day. It couldn’t be as cataclysmic as missing the Stoneling performance in the Gods Dome. Hopefully.
When she looked up though, Yasgrid noticed descended a lot farther than she’d thought. The climb back up would be as perilous as continuing onwards.
Strangely, despite the distance she’d traveled, her arms didn’t ache at all.
Yasgrid didn’t recall any tales of fantastic feats of strength being attributed to elves, and while it was possible they kept their might a closely guarded secret, she had to wonder if there wasn’t another reason for the ease they seemed to move around with.
It cost her time she didn’t have to spend, but Yasgrid paused and watched the elves as they moved around their treetop town.
The Lifting Ropes Nia had spoken of were easy to pick out. They ran straight up around each of the stouter trees, often in banks of six to ten. The ropes were on a pulley system which seemed to be constantly turning due to some clever mechanism or enchantment hidden in the top of the tree.
Most of the traffic saw people swinging from one tree to another, but the Lifting Ropes were seeing fairly frequent use as well, helping people rise between the top levels of the trees.
Or not all people.
Just the adults mostly.
The children Yasgrid could see had the same boundless energy as Stoneling children and were evidently uniformly unwilling to wait on the rising speed of the Lifting Ropes, choosing instead to fly up the static ropes two or three times faster under their own power.
Yasgrid couldn’t believe the level of physical prowess on display, until she noticed how the ropes themselves were moving.
If a Stoneling had tried to ascend the line Yasgrid was on, it would have snapped. Unless of course the forest elves could make exceptionally strong cords, which Yasgrid had to admit was likely the more she thought out it. She could feel the rope in her hands though, so she knew it wasn’t particularly heavy, however mystically strong it might have been.
When the children climbed it, or even when the adults did, it didn’t move as much or as fast as she would have expected it to.
If a Stoneline grabbed to one of the swing lines, it would have been like attaching a very large boulder to it. The same would have been true for a human too. But the Elves were different. When a rope swung carrying them, it didn’t appear to have much more weight on it than the rope itself provided.
Closing her eyes, Yasgrid felt electric fear race down her fingers. She had an idea she needed to try. One that would explain how Nia’s sister had descended so quickly.
Clamping her teeth closed so no screams could escape, Yasgrid drew in a breath and let go of the rope.
Side B – Nia
Being melted by an angry volcano god was not how Nia had pictured herself dying. It seemed messy, and unpleasant, and, unfortunately, increasingly more likely with every moment that passed.
“How many openings does the Shatter Band have this year? Have they said yet?” Jarben asked.
“They always take someone,” Magrada said, distaste squishing her mouth into a tight bunch and wrinkling her nose.
“Sometimes it’s more than one though,” Jarben said. He glanced at his drum, and Nia thought she could hear a tremor of concern in his measured voice.
“Sure, when somebody dies. Think the gods are going to ash anyone this year?” Madrada asked.
“That hasn’t happened in a long time,” Nia said, repeating what the Drum Master had told them.
“Yeah. Unfortunately,’ Magrada said.
Nia couldn’t be certain where the Stoneling woman’s attitude was coming from but there was an easy guess she found tempting to believe, based on some things she knew.
Things such as the fact that spots in the Shatter Band were limited. But new players still tried out for it every year. Also, Yasgrid had missed a tryout the year prior and had a spot in the current tryout thanks, in part, to her family connections.
Magrada had to be a good perforrmer or she wouldn’t have made it to the tryouts in the first place, which meant she had to have a shot at winning the competition, but it would have been a better shot with fewer competitors. Especially when one of those competitors was already being shown a degree of favoritism.
If their roles were reversed, Nia wasn’t sure she would have even been as civil as Magrada was being. No matter how much her mother tried to guide her to calm and serenity, Nia’s heart wasn’t one that suffered slights easily. Where her mother greeted adversity with tranquility, Nia’s reflexes ran to barred teeth and balled fists.
Her mother could see the good in all people, and let go of the bad in any situation it seemed. But Nia? She wasn’t sure if she couldn’t do that, or just really didn’t want to. She tried sometimes but insults that went unanswered left a burning itch in her chest.
At least when she had her own chest that was.
Inhabiting Yasgrid’s body, and life, Nia found that Magrada’s disdain passed right through her, drowned in the wave of certainty that a far worse fate was approaching. The only thing that gave Nia’s nerves any relief was the knowledge that Yasgrid would be there to help her when the time came. Whatever weird bond they shared had to have been made intentionally, so maybe, she hoped, it would be enough to see them through the ordeal before her. It seemed a reasonable assumption as long as the two women could work on the performance together once Yasgrid was able to start meditating in Nia’s body and let the happenings of the Darkwood drift out of her awareness.
Of course that didn’t happen.
“Inspections done? Good.” Drum Master Pelagar didn’t wait for any of them to respond, taking a seat at the drum in the center of them all instead. “The fire’s looking hot today. Let’s bang out a short test piece and see how well you can tame it.”