Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid’s argument was unacceptable. Naosha’s expression barely wavered but the her posture grew knife edges. Violence wasn’t in the offing but Yasgrid knew that was only because Naosha’s most effective tools lay elsewhere.
“That is a simple matter to resolve then,” Naosha said. “If you feel you must protect me, then we shall all leave together. I am prepared to depart immediately.”
“And which of us will you have depart with you?” Yasgrid asked.
It wasn’t exactly the same as asking ‘which of your daughters do you love more’ but held a similarly cruel undercurrent. Yasgrid had guessed her thrusts would land on the most brittle areas of Naosha’s psyche. It was likely both ill-advised and dangerous to plant seeds in ground which was so ripe for a harvest of Troubles. That Naosha had held her issues back from blossoming into nightmarish monsters since the death of Nia’s father was a sign of her remarkable self possession, but that self possession had to have limits and Yasgrid knew stepping past their borders might carry a terrible cost.
“Both of you of course,” Naosha said. “We will all be together, or one of you will be left defenseless.”
Yasgrid weighed her options. Naosha wasn’t their enemy, and keeping secrets from her would do them no good in the long run. On the other hand, keeping some information in reserve might be valuable in terms of bargaining later.
“We will not be defenseless. We are Ending’s Bearers. We’re more than what we were before,” Yasgrid said, electing to put her cards on the table.
“Ending’s Bearer is not invincible,” Naosha said. “They hold an advantage but against the army of Troubles you have each described, that advantage can be easily overwhelmed.”
“It can be,” Yasgrid. “But it won’t.”
“Ending’s does not provide the gift of foresight,” Naosha said.
“I don’t speak from knowing the future,” Yasgrid said. “I offer a promise.”
“Promises can be broken, even when backed by sincerity and the best of intentions,” Naosha said.
“They can,” Yasgrid said, aware of Kayelle’s growing tension beside her. “Circumstances can spiral out of control, the unforeseen always awaits us, strength can turn to vulnerability, and the wisest of actions can lead to ruin.”
“Yet we must still act in wisdom,” Naosha said. She knew she hadn’t won the discussion yet, and a part of her seemed to be intrigued by the presentation Yasgrid was giving. It was out of character for her role as Nia, but perhaps what Nia would have said if her awe of her mother had been tempered by a much louder lifetime, far away.
“And that is why we must stay,” Yasgrid said. “All of us. We cannot foresee all outcomes but we know if we flee to safety, Blue Falls will suffer. An army of Troubles may be able to birth another army from the misery they inflict here if we abandon this city. Perhaps those new Troubles will be short lived, but the losses may run deep and with every person we fail to save the threat before us will grow stronger and deeper.”
“We can face them alone, if we have to,” Kayelle said. “But we’d rather face them with you.”
Side B – Nia
Nia woke to find she was in no pain. The sun was beating down on her closed eyelids and, beneath her, the road rumbled along agreeably, with a nice, soft cushion preventing her head from rumbling along with it.
“Are you awake?” a gentle, quiet voice asked.
Nia spent a moment considering the question. She was on the border of wakefulness to be sure, but did she want to commit to rising up to full consciousness or tumble back down into the warm and restful dreams she could dimly remember were waiting for her?
The dreams were tempting but softness beneath her felt an awful lot like a lap, and the voice above her sounded so appealing.
Margrada was holding her.
Nia’s eyes snapped open.
“I’m awake,” she said, smiling as she saw she’d been correct.
Margrada’s eyes held a look of relief and her lips were so deliciously close.
“Good,” Margrada said, leaning in for the kiss which Nia had been hoping to receive for days.
All too soon though it was done and Margrada was pulling back with a very different look in her eyes.
“Good, because that means I CAN SCREAM AT YOU NOW! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! AHHHH!!!”
“Oh good, she’s awake now is she?” Osdora asked. “Give me a turn at that when you’re done.”
Nia flinched back, but really had nowhere to escape to. Elves, or at least the Elves Naosha M’Kellin allowed near her children, didn’t scream at each other. Shatter Drumming had toughened Nia up considerably, but it did nothing to prevent the overwhelming sense of bewilderment she was gripped by.
Why were people lining up to scream at her? What had she done?
Her sluggish, scattered memories tossed up the event of the previous evening.
That was what she had done.
Nia felt a terrible sinking feeling in her gut.
“Is the drum okay?” she asked, fearing the worst.
Margrada paused her screaming to mirror Nia’s bewilderment.
“What?” she asked, failing to process Nia’s question for a moment.
“The drum’s fine,” Osdora said, laughter dancing around her words.
“Of course the drum’s fine!” Margrada returned to shouting. “You’re the one we were worried about you idiot!”
“Did it stop the Cloud Divers?” Nia asked, hoping she’d managed some good from her rash actions.
“Oh yeah,” Osdora said. “Well, not so much stopped as spread out evenly across the length of the caravan but the bits weren’t exactly moving once they hit the ground.”
“Oh.” Nia hadn’t quite pictured what ‘stopping’ the Cloud Divers might mean but apparently the drum’s magic had been able to work out a solution on its own. “Wait, was anyone else hurt?”
“No,” Magrada said. “Just you, you imbecile. What were you thinking?”
“I was pretty drunk, so maybe I didn’t make the best choice, but I had to do something!” Nia protested. “I didn’t want them to hurt you.”