Side A – Nia
Nia was expecting torches and openly brandished weapons as the time the caravan rolled inside Shale Shard’s gates and the town did not disappoint her.
Her wagon was towards the back of the caravan so the riotous crowd of the locals who had gathered seemed to include most of the city. Here and there a blade or spear was waving in the air and more than a few people were swinging torches back and forth. Despite all that though, Nia didn’t feel the wave of hostility she was expecting.
The people waving the mirror bright swords were cheering with the blades, slicing the air above their heads in complicated patterns which were as much a dance as any form of martial display. The torches too seemed to be in on the reverie, passing from one person to the next in an elaborately choreographed pattern which saw them winding above crowd like Elven Water Casters.
Poking her head up higher, Nia heard cheers and boos, though the latter seemed more good natured than she could quite believe.
“Aren’t they supposed to be a bit more murderous of a mob than this?” she asked, noticing that neither Horgi nor Grash seemed to be paying any attention to the teeming horde.
“Oh, what? Nah, they don’t want to kill you,” Grash said. “This is your audience. They’re all looking forward to seeing their band stomp you into the dirt.”
“Yeah. Killing you would ruin the entertainment,” Horgi said.
“So what was all that about people trying to stab me?” Nia wasn’t as offended as she sounded but that was entirely because of how unreal the situation seemed to be.
“Well, the other band’s going to want to get all the advantages they can, right?” Grash asked. “So, stabbing.”
“Why stab me? I’m the weakest drummer the band,” Nia said.
“You’re new,” Horgi said. “They don’t know how you play. Stabbing you means they don’t need to worry about figuring you out.”
Nia paused, swallowing her objection.
With what the Shatter Drums could do taking out the competition outside of the competition didn’t seem particularly unreasonable.
Some part of her wondered if she should be more concerned about the competition itself. Drumming was hard enough for her still. Drumming in opposition to someone else should have been terrifying.
Nia cast a glance down to her up turned palms. Her hands weren’t shaking. They weren’t hesitant. Thinking about the competition to come they tingled with anticipation.
There were drums around her. Carefully secured drums, but not so carefully secured that she couldn’t get to one and start playing.
It was a terrible thought, and Nia banished it easily enough, but it forced her to admit to herself how much she wanted to play. Not to change anything even, just to drift in that eternal moment again. Even the simplest beat centered her more than all the hours of Elven meditation she’d endured had ever managed to.
“How much longer till we get to the inn we’re staying at?” she asked.
“Probably another hour with everyone having to unload,” Horgi said.
“Sounds like I could walk there faster?” Nia said.
“Probably,” Grash said. He got that far before Nia slung herself from the cart and started making a path for herself through the crowd. Within the first three steps she was too far to hear Grash add, “But it’d be a big mistake to try.”
Side B – Yasgrid
Sitting on the small park bench wasn’t something Yasgrid was given any choice about. Marianne had quietly but firmly planted Yasgrid there and was waiting patiently while Yasgrid picked a place to begin explaining what had happened.
“It’s really stupid,” Yasgrid began. She saw Nia shake her head in disbelief before gesturing for Yasgrid to continue.
“It’s not, but you’re tired so I won’t stab you for insulting my friend,” Marianne said, and offered Yasgrid a small smile rather than a small puncture wound.
Having already been stabbed once in the previous twelve hours, Yasgrid took Marianne’s words to heart and laid out in simple detail what she could remember from the melee with the Troubles in the graveyard.
“Then, cause I’d stabbed her, the Fate Dancer stabbed me back,” Yasgrid said. “Things didn’t go great from there. I think I took a few other hits? I remember being generally unhappy, but then she was swinging me away and, I don’t know, healed me I guess? I was pretty out of it by that point.”
“You do look generally unperforated,” Marianne said. “What happened after that.”
“I tried to get her to bring me back to the fight, but she wouldn’t. I think she was mad at me. The last thing she said was that they didn’t need me.”
“And then she left you there? Alone in the woods?” Marianne asked.
Yasgrid noticed that a knife had appeared in Marianne’s hand. Or both her hands to be specific. Nia nodded in agreement with Marianne’s unspoken sentiment.
“She said there was a lot of fighting left to do,” Yasgrid said. “And she was right. I didn’t get to take out many of the Troubles at all. They were stuck handling almost all of it. And they did. I walked through there a little while ago. The graveyard was empty. They captured or drove off all the of the Troubles.”
Yasgrid expected Marianne to be puzzled about why that would be a problem. As she spoke the words it seemed like such a silly thing to be upset over.
Except it wasn’t. Yasgrid could still hear the anger that burned behind Kyra’s words. The Fate Dancers really did seem to hate Endings Bearer. That had seemed ridiculous when she’d been told about it but coming face to face with that hatred had left her shaken and she still couldn’t quite understand why.
“You’re concerned that she’s right, aren’t you?” Marianne asked.
“I don’t know,” Yasgrid said. “What if they could have handled this with less theatrics and less risk?”
“Let’s go talk to them together and find out what they have to say for themselves,” Marianne said without sheathing her knives.