Side A – Nia
If Nia could have roasted someone alive with a fiery stare, several of Shale Shard’s drummers would be smouldering piles of ash. As it was, Horgi and Grash had to restrain her from getting up in the middle of a particularly impressive juggling act, a feat they managed while thankfully alerting no one else.
“Pain acting up?” Grash asked. “We can take you back to your room. You know. If you need to lie down.”
From the emphasis he put on the words, Nia was clear on the fact that he was making a threat rather than an offer. Apparently interfering with the other team was frowned upon. Or at least it was frowned upon if it was done in full view of everyone. Fights in back alleys were clearly fair game with no repercussions.
“No. I’m fine.” Being angry didn’t make Nia feel better but it did help take her mind off the fact that being back in her bed didn’t sound like the worst idea she’d ever heard.
“Your girl will be okay,” Horgi said. “I mean, sure, it’ll be a rough performance this time. I don’t think either side’s going to play it soft, but she’ll be okay.”
“We saw her practicing today,” Grash said. “She’s good. They come at her and her beats are going to crack them like egg shells.”
It was reassuring hearing their praise for Margrada, even more so than it had been from Osdora. Not that Osdora couldn’t evaluate drummers, but Nia was aware of the bias Osdora had to be carrying. Horgi and Grash may not have had Osdora’s playing skill, but they had plenty of experience listening to Shatter Drum performances and at least the semblance of objectivity.
“How much longer until they start?” Nia asked, wishing the answer could be ‘ten minutes ago’.
“Pretty soon. They got the Flag Troop coming in now,” Horgi said.
The jugglers left the stage to be replaced by a six pairs of people who were holding brightly colored flags larger than their bodies. With a grace Nia hadn’t expected to find in people as large as the Stonelings, the flag bearers dipped and turned and spun into a dance that made them seem weightless.
The colors they held swirled around and behind them, blending together to form not specific images, but a flowing river that spoke as eloquently as any elven poetry Nia had ever heard.
For a moment, she felt like she was back in the Darkwood, watching a dance troop there. She’d hated attending events as part of her mother’s entourage but, despite that, the fluid beauty of the dancers had always held her rapt attention.
She was so caught up in the spectacle before her that she only noticed the music which had begun to play along with the dance after it rose towards its first crescendo, chasing away the dancers like leaves before on oncoming gale.
The Battle of the Bands had begun at last.
Side B – Yasgrid
Kyra’s hand was cold. Yasgrid wasn’t sure why that came as a surprise. They were still in the middle of winter. The room was warm though. It puzzled her, but then a lot of her thoughts seemed to somewhat askew.
“We’ll need to be quiet and quick,” Kyra said. “It’s early enough that there will still be people out and I don’t want them to see us.”
“You’re not supposed to be doing this?” Yasgrid asked, before her mind jumped to the more worrying hypothesis that if they were unnoticed then no one would think to blame the Fate Dancers when one of the two Bearers mysteriously disappeared.
“If they see us together, the other Fate Dancers might try to beat us to Denar,” Kyra said.
“They hate him that much?” Yasgrid asked, wondering how she could ever have worked with people who would treat a child like Denar was being treated.
“It’s not hate. It’s fear,” Kyra said. “We don’t always win against the things we fight. Sometimes that means we’re injured. Sometimes it means we die. And sometimes…”
Yasgrid searched Kyra’s eyes for insight. She could see the pain that twisted at the corner of Kyra’s lips and knew that the alternative to death at the hands of a Trouble could be horrible.
They hadn’t left the room yet. Yasgrid had given Kyra her hand but there was still a wall between them, a barrier to trust that held them each back. It was comfortable to let it stay there, but Yasgrid knew they needed to move on.
“Sometimes you come back as something else,” she said, extending the shreds of empathy she had left to conceive of how bad that could be.
“We have skills and abilities other people haven’t mastered,” Kyra said. “Tools that keep us safer and let us fight the things you’ve seen. Very few of those work against people who know how they’re done. If Denar was corrupted? He would be able to hunt us as we hunt the Troubles.”
“He’s not corrupted,” Yasgrid said and gave Kyra’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Take me to him. By whatever secret paths you need us to walk.”
“Do you mean that?” Kyra said. “We can follow his trail without walking the Lost Roads.”
“Will they bring us to him sooner?” Yasgrid asked.
“If we follow the right ones,” Kyra said. “Navigating them is difficult though, even more for two than for one.”
“Will the other Fate Dancers risk these Lost Roads?” Yasgrid asked.
“Some might. If the Elders make up their minds and pass their judgment on Denar, there are someone who will seek him as fast as they can.”
“Then we don’t have a choice do we?” Yasgrid asked.
“There’s always a choice,” Kyra said. “This is dangerous and I can’t promise I’ll be able to shield you from that danger. I may even have to lead you deeper into it for us to get through.”
“Take us there,” Yasgrid said, her heart calm and her voice gentle. “Take us to him.”
“This isn’t why I came here,” Kyra said. “I didn’t mean to drag you into this. I just wanted to hear you say that you didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“He was hurt because of me,” Yasgrid said. “It was my plan that led to his injury. It wasn’t my intent, but that doesn’t change that he was hurt. I didn’t intend to hurt him when I unbonded him from the Trouble either, but that has shattered his world. I may hurt him again still, but I’m not going to give up on him.”
“I think that might make all the difference,” Kyrea said and pulled Yasgrid in close before taking a spiraling step which swung them both wildly around.
When they stopped, Yasgrid was no longer in her room. She and Kyra stood upon a road paved in bone above which a strange violet moon had risen.