Side A – Nia
Nia was driving the wagon when the attack came. Nia wasn’t supposed to be driving the wagon and there weren’t supposed to be any attacks this close to Frost Harbor. In the sea of rotgut which had replaced her brain, those two facts added together into one big mess and then canceled out into a hilarious punchline.
“We’re gonna die!” She was neither afraid, nor unhappy about the prospect of the being consumed by the pentagonal flying creatures with appendages that looked like crystal studded chains of woven flesh. Being eaten by whatever the hell those were wasn’t her preferred form of demise, but, bright silver lining, if she was gobbled up, there’d be no hangover the next day.
“We’re gonna die!” Nia shouted again, delighted and cackling with joy at the notion.
Grash burped. It was deafening. The sound was going to echo off the walls of the canyon they rode through until the stone crumbled to dust. And the smell. Nia was sure she saw the face of the God of All Pestilences as the cloud from the belch washed over her.
“Should probably keep ‘em from touching the drums,” Grash said.
He was right.
There were fates worse than death.
Even if it cost her life, Nia couldn’t let the monsters damage the drums. Master Pelegar would kill her.
And Margrada would be unhappy.
One of the Cloud Divers plunged down towards the cart. It wasn’t aiming at the drums, which in theory could have saved it, but Nia was too drunk to make that distinction.
She was also too drunk to miss.
Up close, the Cloud Diver’s body was slightly larger than Nia’s, a bit taller than a typical Stoneling and with substantially more reach thanks to its crystal spiked arms.
The thing about arms though is that they can be as much of a liability as a weapon.
Nia’s certainly didn’t feel good as the crystal spikes dug into her flesh but with a speed she might not have possessed while sober, she spun the tentacles around, coiling it around her forearm and dragging the Cloud Diver in towards her.
She only meant to hit the thing hard enough to knock it out. She hadn’t expected that was the best she could hope for however hard she hit the thing. What she hadn’t foreseen was just how dense and sturdy a Stoneling body was.
The Cloud Diver exploded in a shower of dust and glittering fragments.
For a moment there was silence.
Then the other Cloud Divers screamed and took flight.
“Oh hey, I drove ‘em off,” Nia said, waving to the flying monsters which were gathering high above them.
“Nope. You did not,” Grash said, pointing at the cluster of shapes which were linking together.
“Is that good?” Nia asked. “I feel like that’s not good.”
“It’s not good for us,” Grash said. “Kind of good for them.”
“Yeah, you made them decide to flock up,” Horgi said. “Give ‘em a second and they’ll be back for their revenge.”
“We’ll see about that,” Nia said, reaching for one of the Shatter Drums.
Side B – Yasgrid
The problem was one which couldn’t be solved by brute force.
“I’m taking you at your word that Ending a dozen Troubles at once is doable,” Marianne said. “But even with that, I think you’re going to run into some insurmountable difficulties with this approach.”
Yasgrid watched as Marianne placed tokens representing the Troubles they expected to be able to entice into ambushing them. Their projection was on the low end but even so it was a lot of enemies gathered around the two spots where Yasgrid and Kayelle would be waiting for them.
“Even if they have abilities we’re not accounting for, that many should Troubles still be manageable,” Kayelle said.
“Planning around unknown capabilities is an uncertain science at best,” Marianne said. “You have a fairly flexible strategy laid out, which is a good start. You appear to be isolated but can move to eat other’s aid more quickly than is readily apparent, which is great. The problem lies over here.”
She tapped an unmarked section of the map.
“What’s there?” Yasgrid asked.
“Nothing,” Marianne said. “Except people. The same as over here, and over here, and at this spot too.”
She picked three other locations, seemingly at random and a cold dread crept down from Yasgrid’s fingertips.
“We can’t protect the entire town though,” Kayelle said. “It’s why we’re trying to act as bait.”
“As one of the people you’re luring the Troubles away from, allow me to cheer that idea,” Marianne said. “If you’re looking to provoke a serious battle though, we have to assume to your opponent is going to play to win.”
“Which means they’ll be more than willing to lose some of their forces if it opens up holes in our plans,” Yasgrid said.
“We know Troubles don’t work together normally, so its entirely possible our mysterious general will be fine with losing all of the Troubles serving under them if it means eliminating the two of you,” Marianne said. “Our side does not have the luxury of expendable resources though.”
She stated the fact as though testing that Endings two Bearers possessed the proper mindset and resolve. At one point Yasgrid would have worried about Kayelle’s answer. In the light of their recent time together though, Yasgrid thought, or at least hoped, that Kayelle was willing to try a less self-destructive path.
“We can’t lose the battle, but we’re not expendable,” Kayelle said. “There’s too many Troubles who won’t be here, even if we lure in the bulk of the army that’s out there.”
It wasn’t quite the forceful embrace of life Yasgrid hoped to inspire in Kayelle, but for the time being it would do, she decided.
“So how do we cover the areas that we can’t get to?” Yasgrid asked, seeing in Marianne’s eyes that an answer was already waiting for them.
“You do the unthinkable,” Marianne said.
“I don’t like where this is going,” Kayelle said, showing the same concern which gripped Yasgrid’s heart.
“Yes, you’re going to need to work with your mother.”