Side A – Nia
Drunkenness and debauchery. Nia wasn’t opposed to them. At least in theory. In practice, she didn’t have all that much experience with either one. That had seemed like a terrible shame when she was living a life hedged in by her mother’s mandate for decorum and proper presentation to the world. Tucked in the back of a Roadies’ wagon in between crates of rations and chests of clothing, a treasonous thought slithered through her mind.
Maybe mother wasn’t entirely wrong.
It certainly wasn’t something she would admit aloud, but as the two drivers of the cart began their thousandth rendition of a bar song which had no end, Nia began to wonder what sort of bribe she could possibly offer Grash and Horgi to get them to just shut up for a few hours.
“Not able to sleep?” Yasgrid asked, manifesting on top of the crate beside Nia.
“It’s not that they’re singing,” Nia said speaking silently to Yasgrid. “It’s not that they’re singing badly. It’s not even that they Just. Won’t. Stop. It’s that they keep getting halfway through that damn song and then flailing around until they cut back to the beginning.”
“Mom always complained about that too,” Yasgrid said. “She said getting the load carriage in the caravan meant being the first one to meet any attackers or roving monsters but it was a small price to pay for being as far away from Roadies as possible.”
“I’m going to be a wreck tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep,” Nia said. “Can I just tell them to be quiet? I mean, the whole point of this is for the Band to outplay our competition right?”
“It is, but these a Roadies. They don’t exactly…” Yasgrid shrugged.
“Follow the same rules? Have anything on the line? Know what we’re doing here?” Nia said.
“Care,” Yasgrid said and offered another shrug. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. They’re still all-in for Frost Harbor, but Roadies aren’t part of the Band. They have their own little subculture. Right now, you’re new and not very important. They know that because you got stuck back with them.
“Aren’t they supposed to serve everyone in the Band though?” Nia asked, trying to workout what her social standing was as the lowest ranking member of the Shatter Band.
“Serve? No. Not at all,” Yasgrid said, glancing towards the front of the wagon as though to make sure the Roadies couldn’t hear her inaudible voice. “They’re all volunteers, but it’s not the Shatter Band who picks them out.”
“Who does then?”
“They do. They’ve got a whole self-directing community setup. They have tests and guidelines and professional standards.”
“But can’t just anybody haul stuff?” Nia asked, glancing towards the front of the wagon and trying to envision how the drunken louts could measure up to any standards, professional or otherwise.
“I asked that too,” Yasgrid said. “Then my Mom reminded me that these are the people entrusted with moving Shatter Drums without letting them get so much as a scratch or a chip, no matter what kind of roads they travel over, or what sort of monsters attack.”
Side B – Yasgrid
Being there for someone isn’t always easy. When Kayelle returned to their shared apartment, Yasgrid had a bottle of wine waiting for her and a map set out on the table.
“I thought you would be out hunting?” Kayelle said and moved with slow grace to observe both of the offerings Yasgrid had prepared for her.
Yasgrid paused a moment before responding, searching for hints of Kayelle’s true emotional state. Whatever direction the conversation with her mother had taken, its effect had been to bring Kayelle much closer in expression to Naosha than she had before.
During their flight through the forest, Yasgrid had seen a freer side of Kayelle. The woman standing before Yasgrid wasn’t necessarily less honest, but was certainly more controlled.
And more distant.
Very like Naosha M’Kellin.
“I thought we could go together tonight,” Yasgrid said.
“That is why you have this map,” Kayelle said, glancing to the pins Yasgrid had marked various spots with. “And the wine?”
“Thought you could use something other than tea to clear your head,” Yasgrid said, certain that Naosha had made her conversation with Kayelle an unconscious tea ceremony, the same as she’d done with Yasgrid.
A small and puzzled smile cracked the measured calm around Kayelle’s lips.
“I didn’t know we had a variety of wine which could clear the senses,” Kayelle said, choosing the seat on the adjacent side to Yasgrid’s.
“Sometimes we clear our heads by forgetting,” Yasgrid said, quoting a Stoneling drinking motto Osdora had used several times. Kayelle’s slightly widened smile suggested it was applicable for Elven hearts as well.
“You’ve picked out spots for us to hunt?” Kayelle asked, accepting the glass of wine from Yasgrid and scrutinizing the map more intently.
“Not precisely,” Yasgrid said. “Some of these areas are places where we’ve found Troubles already. Others are where it seems like they should be, and others where people seem to be safe from them.”
“Those last two are highly conjectural aren’t they?” Kayelle asked, taking a longer sip of the wine than Yasgrid had expected.
“They are,” Yasgrid said. “I didn’t lay this out as a map of what we know though. I wanted something to start with for building a theory out of.”
“You think there’s a greater pattern for where the Troubles are striking?” Kayelle asked.
“I think there has to be,” Yasgrid said. “We know there’s an army of them on move. You’ve seen it too, right?”
“Yes. Several times now,” Kayelle said.
Each time they dispatched a Trouble, they caught glimpses into its heart and for each of the ones they’d discovered over the last few days, the images had been the same. Troubles gather. Troubles moving together. Troubles becoming legion.
“We’d expected an all out assault on Blue Falls, but it hasn’t come yet, I think because we’ve been blinding their scouting efforts. You and I have gotten rid of so many of them so far, that our enemy doesn’t yet have a good read on us. So they’re hanging back, trying to figure out what our weak spots are before committing their forces.”
“And what do you think we can do about that?” Kayelle asked.
“I think you can tell me where I’m wrong,” Yasgrid said.