Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid didn’t mean to summon Endings to her hand, but there was a threat hanging over her. Clear and present danger. Peril to her immortal soul.
“Calm,” Kyra said. “Breathe and stay calm. I’ll need to bring us back if you can’t.”
The words could have been a threat but Yasgrid heard them as a gentle plea instead.
Kyra had stabbed her, but Kyra wasn’t her enemy.
Yasgrid breathed in slowly and pushed away the dread that took the place of the air in the strange land.
“Are you okay?” Nia asked quietly over their bond.
“Yes. I think,” Yasgrid said. She wanted the terror that had gripped her to flow away but her senses were still screaming at her. “Are you?”
“No. But that’s not new,” Nia said. “Tell me if you need anything okay?”
“I will,” Yasgrid said and felt her heart lighten. She could still sense horrible danger but there was an eye of clarity in the storm within her heart. “And thank you.”
“Can you put that away?” Kyra asked, gesturing to Endings with her free hand.
She was still holding Yasgrid’s hand but had stepped to her side, as far away from Endings as she could get.
“It’s somewhat comforting to hold,” Yasgrid said. “Is it a problem here?”
“It can be,” Kyra said. “Weapons in general are.”
“Why?” Yasgrid asked. She wasn’t inclined to contest the point, not when she didn’t need to specifically draw Endings in order to use it, but blindly following orders seemed unwise under the circumstances.
“The Lost Roads respond to aggression,” Kyra said. “There are things here which hate and will try to kill us. Weapons draw them to us rather than keep us safe.”
“Understood,” Yasgrid said and closed her hand returning Endings to Kayelle’s side.
“I’ll need a moment to find Denar,” Kyra said. “Perhaps longer. Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll have to be,” Yasgrid said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No,” Kyra said. “This is Fate Dancer magic. I shouldn’t even be showing you that we can do this.”
“I’ll turn away then,” Yasgrid said and pivoted to look out at forest that bordered the road of bone.
Or was it a forest? Those weren’t trees, were they?
Yasgrid tried to peer at them more closely.
Were they moving?
Were things moving behind them?
Was something watching her?
“Don’t do that,” Kyra said. She hadn’t let go of Yasgrid’s hand. In fact she had it in a vise like grip. “Look at me. Watch me. Stay focused on here and now.”
“I’m sorry,” Yasgrid said and tried to give Kyra her full attention.
It wasn’t easy.
There were things out there.
The trees that weren’t trees.
In her heart, a blinding red fury rose.
“Oww, what are you doing?” Kyra asked, her hand trembling but still locked on Yasgrid’s.
She wasn’t doing anything.
The Troubles inside her however? That was a different story.
Side B – Nia
In spite of herself, Nia was swept away by the rhythms that rose as the Shatter Bands began to play.
There was magic in the air, and it wasn’t friendly. Drums boomed and were answered by a matching beat from the other side, charging the space between them with power that grew visible within seconds, sparks flying in a shower of reds and silvers and blues.
There was anger and competition and a will to overcome in the beating of the drums, but, though neither side had rehearsed it, their songs wove together too.
The timeless, eternal instant Nia always felt when her hand struck the drum was beyond her. She wasn’t a part of the song, didn’t have a place in it.
But it found a place in her.
Wordless, voiceless, it wrapped around her and passed within her, filling an aching empty space inside and fanning a flame that she’d feared had been extinguished.
She was on her feet without thinking about it, oblivious to the pain, and ignoring the limits of her own voice, a wild cheer tearing from her throat as the bands built to the first crescendo.
And she wasn’t alone.
Beside her, Grash, Horgi, Belhelen and Peligar were all on their feet too. So was everyone around them. So was everyone. The crowd wasn’t booing or cheering the bands. The driving energy of the performance had carried them well beyond that. It was the song, the performance itself, from both bands, that drew the yells and applause and screams of delight.
And it was loud.
The cheers. The performance. Even the banging the crowd added, trying to join in on the magic the players were making.
Nia felt more alive than she ever had, the music surrounding her the antithesis of the refined entertainment her mother had tried to school her in. There was no set structure, no formal rules of musical theory the bands adhered to. Had Nia been listening to it with elven ears she might have called what was being played a clamor, or a catastrophe. All noise, nothing but a savage, chaotic, frenzy.
Except that it wasn’t any of those things.
Within the chaos there was meaning, questions and answers, attacks and reprisals. The drummers weren’t aimlessly assaulting each other with an unplanned cacophony, they were discussing something using words that couldn’t be spoken, only felt.
Witnessing the scope of the battle, Nia felt herself shaking. She’d thought she could play but could she have played well enough to be a part of the spectacle before her? Even if she’d been uninjured and as practiced as she could be, could she manage the intricacies of the rhythms the real Shatter Drummers were playing?
She wanted so much to find out, but she knew all too well that it would have been a mistake to try.
That didn’t mean she couldn’t learn though.
As the crowd around her flailed in excitement over the rolling majesty of the conjoined songs between the two bands, Nia stepped back two inches. She was still there, still absorbed by what was happening but that narrow gap of distance gave her the chance to examine what the drummers were doing, to understand the mechanics and technique without getting lost in the music.
And that was how she saw what her enemies were doing to Margrada.