Side A – Yasgrid
Having the undivided attention of both Naosha and Kayelle M’Kellin was a less pleasant experience than many in the Darkwood might have imagined it to be.
“If you can provide a suitable reason for your actions, I would be delighted to hear it,” Naosha said, offering Yasgrid a completely empty smile.
“That’s not what you need,” Yasgrid said. “You’re not looking for an explanation, or a reason. There is nothing I can say that will convince you that we have to act as we are going to.”
“Then why are we speaking?” Naosha asked, still pleasant despite being on the edge of her anger breaking her calm demeanor in half.
“Because this isn’t about us convincing you of anything. We are going to stand against an unheard of army of Troubles. We’re going to defend the people of Blue Falls and everyone else in the Darkwood. The challenge before us is impossible, but it’s not one we will run from.”
“Why?” The smallest of cracks in Naosha’s facade let a squeak of heartache out with that one word.
“Because it’s ours,” Yasgrid said. “Our choice.”
“Our vow,” Kayelle said.
“Our chance,” Yasgrid said.
“Chance for what? To throw your lives away?” Though her voice was still soft, Naosha’s facade was fracturing more with each breath and letting tiny gasps of emotion out with each word.
“No,” Yasgrid said, a quiet calm settling over her. “Our chance to make our lives matter.”
Naosha looked up and opened her mouth to speak but Yasgrid continued.
“The choice Endings offered us was to define what our lives would be,” she said. “We could have sidestepped the burden that was offered. We could have left the world just as it was. We could have passed it off. Let the other one shoulder the load alone, or pass Endings on to someone else entirely.”
“I wish you had.”
“No. You don’t. You want us to be safe. But if safety required standing by and allowing countless others to suffers because we refused to even try to help them? You couldn’t want what that would do to us.”
“I could.” Naosha’s voice was barely more than a whisper.
“No. You couldn’t. You taught us to be better than that,” Kayelle said.
“And it’s a false choice. Keeping the body alive while the spirit rots? What’s left when all you do is sacrifice others to avoid dying can’t be called living,” Yasgrid said.
“You don’t understand,” Naosha said, her voice perfectly flat. A void from which no emotion was allowed to escape.
“I do,” Yasgrid said. “This is the worst thing we could do to you. Killing you would be kinder. No promise, no words will take away your fear, or dull its edge. You could lose us here and the only consolation would be this; if we fall, it will be because we stood for something that was worthy because we refused to less than worthy ourselves.”
Naosha was quiet, her eyes staring to a point that was far away and along ago.
“What was your vow?” she asked, her gaze distant and empty.
“Kayelle vowed to defeat all of the Troubles in the Darkwood,” Yasgrid said. “Mine was to save three people, and two of them are sitting in this room now.”
Side B – Nia
The Nia who stumbled back to her wagon was generally the same shape as the one who’d left to go to the Roadies party, but many parts of her felt lumpy and bruised, and that was through the rapidly clearing haze of alcohol. The morning would see a complete dissipation of the effects of the rotgut she’d drunk but the brawling injuries were going to be another matter.
Her plan on leaving the Roady party had been to wander in the direction of her wagon and plop down either in it or beside it. Either would be fine since she probably wouldn’t get stepped on, run over, or mistaken for a corpse when people awoke. When she reached the outlying spot where Horgi had parked though, Nia found that someone had pulled up the wagon’s cover and lit a candle inside.
The ground beside the wagon was tempting – and certainly far easier than navigating into the wagon – but the candlelight intrigued her.
With great care, Nia made it to the rear of the wagon where a flap in the canvas top acted as a rudimentary door. It should have been easy to push back the flap but the world was a little “spinny” still so it took her several tries. Once she had that in hand though, pulling herself into the wagon was as simple as flopping forward. And then wriggling a bit. And then rolling over.
To find Margrada observing her with a serious expression.
Nia gulped. Was she in trouble? She was probably in trouble. She remembered their last meeting. The kiss had been really nice. Margrada storming off in a wordless rage had been less nice.
“Hi.” Nia managed to throw in a small wave but neither greeting changed Margrada’s mood.
“Did you really strike the drum for me?” Margrada asked, her eyes fixed on Nia’s.
Nia inhaled. Was admitting that wise? Would Margrada take it as an insult for Nia to claim Margrada was related to the improper use of a drum? Would it get Margrada in trouble with the rest of the Shatter Band?
It would be so easy to tell Margrada no. To say that she’d just been scared of the Cloud Divers and that the line about it being for Margrada had just been a stupid thing to impress her.
“Yeah, I did,” Nia said. She didn’t want to lie. Didn’t want to create that space between them. Just the opposite in fact. “I wasn’t thinking too clearly, so I know it might have been wrong. Was wrong. Everyone made that really clear. But yeah, I thought of you and I wanted you to be safe. I couldn’t let them hurt you.”
Nia expected Margrada to explode like Osdora had, for the wagon to be filled with more shouting, which she knew she deserved.
Instead Margrada was beside her, and Nia was drowning in a kiss she hoped would never end.