Side A – Yasgrid
The first Trouble to meet its end on Yasgrid’s blade wasn’t Faceless. To its credit it wasn’t foolish either. It came in with six others, all seven of them leaping in from a different direction and at different heights. Impossible for a single sword to parry all of them. Unfortunately for them, Yasgrid wasn’t parrying their attacks.
Endings moved in her hand and her body moved with it. Nia had never been a warrior, and Yasgrid was as far from trained in combat as she could imagine being. Brawling was more of an inherent capability in the Kaersbean family, and formal training was something Osdora barely managed for the Shatter Drums. Anything less important than that would never have been something she’d spent time on.
Endings however was purpose built by a divine will to be a tool of battle. As Yasgrid stepped into and through the cloven wreckage of the first Trouble, the sensation of dancing to a celestial symphony swept through her. It was playing a Shatter Drum but instead of the magic coming from within her, she felt joined to the rhythm of the world, not shattering it but infused with what was all around her.
For a timeless instant she stood in the heart of the Trouble, its cry of sorrow unheard for more than a century.
“Sleep in me,” she told it, gathering the last spark of the Trouble to herself as the malignancy which surrounded it sizzled away at Endings touch.
Her step had placed her a step further from the Troubles at her side, giving her room to slash out. The Troubles were committed to their attack. They came in fast and without hesitation and that was what destroyed them.
When Endings cut, its force was absolute. There was nothing in the Troubles that could resist it, so it passed through them with no more trouble than if they were made of smoke. In its wake the Troubles were left in ruin though, the twisting of the Darkwood’s magic which sustained them unraveling in fire.
Yasgrid passed through the next three Trouble hearts in less than a blink, her body reacting with the practiced ease only centuries of devotion to the craft of fighting could bestow.
For all that though, she was still going to lose the overall battle.
From behind one of the Troubles she impaled, another hurled toxin coated barbs which passed through the disintegrating Trouble just as Yasgrid pulled Endings back. She parried two fo the darts and dodged three others but there were far too many Troubles around her, with far too wide an array of abilities for her to outfight them all. For every handful she dispatched, another dozen moved in to strike at her, supported by twice as many the swarming meleers were acting as a shield for.
Seeing even more Troubles emerge from trees and burrow up from the ground, Yasgrid knew that In another moment more and the near perfect defense of Endings’ counterattack would falter and she would take wounds that would cascade into her doom.
So that was the moment the Fate Dancers took their first steps onto the battlefield.
Side B – Nia
Being devoured by wild creatures seemed like a cheerful though to Nia. Maybe a nice pack of Water Wolves was somewhere nearby. She’d heard they tore their prey apart almost instantly. That would absolutely be preferable to trying to face Osdora as Yasgrid’s Mom gave Nia and Margrada a lecture. A lecture which she hadn’t let them return to their wagon and retrieve their clothes for.
At least the blanket was a spacious one though.
And the company wasn’t bad.
“So any guesses why I’m not sending you back to your wagon?” Osdora asked.
She was entirely too happy with the situation, but underneath the surface levity, Nia saw a real concern lurking.
“To teach us a lesson,” Margrada said. It wasn’t a question but rather an expectation.
Nia’s heart twinged. Margrada’s experience was that punishments always came from things like that and those punishments were always harsh. They both knew they’d been caught violating one of the foundational rules of the Shatter Band. Playing a drum out of turn had been enough to earn Nia a day of reprimands and a beating from the Roadies and she’d had the welfare of the caravan in mind when she did it. Playing one again just for their own sakes wouldn’t come with even the sliver of implied understanding and forgiveness Nia had enjoyed.
Nia bit back a curse. In theory they could both be expelled from the band for something like this, but if past history was anything to go by, Nia’s position would be held safe while Margrada’s could be lost as a lesson for any other fools who were tempted to repeat their stunt.
But they couldn’t do that.
It was wrong.
She’d quit the Shatter Band.
If Margrada was cast out, Nia would quit the Shatter Band right along with her.
She’d…she’d…she’d go work for their opponents. She’d teach those…
“Exactly,” Osdora said, interrupting the boiling rage that was leaping up in Nia’s heart. “A lesson. And an important one too. One your teachers never get around to teaching because no one wants to talk about the stupid mistakes they might have made as kids themselves.”
Nia’s thoughts crashed into one another. It didn’t sound like Osdora was talking about reporting them for official discipline.
Osdora’s words sounded more personal than that?
Nia looked up and saw the echo of old regrets in Osdoras eyes.
“What do you mean?” Nia asked, though the question she really wanted to ask was ‘what happened to you’?
“You were going to play the drum together,” Osdora said and then raised her hand. “Don’t bother coming up with a story. If I wanted a story, we wouldn’t still be here. I don’t need to hear your story. I need you to hear mine.”
“You played the drum with someone,” Margrada said. “Someone you loved. And it was a mistake.”
“It was,” Osdora said. “But not for the reason you might think. So do you young fools want to hear an old fool’s tale?”