Side A – Yasgrid
Kyra’s efforts to locate Denar were quiet, subtle, and apparently entirely internal. From the strain that gathered in the furrows of her brow, Yasgrid could see that the effort wasn’t a trivial one for Kyra, but it also wasn’t one where Yasgrid could offer any meaningful aid.
Yasgrid bit back the urge to ask any of the dozens of questions that were storming her mind.
How was Kyra tracking Denar? Was she listening for him? Was there a scent she could find? Had he been through this spot on the Lost Road? If Kyra could find him, did that mean the things in the forest could too? If not, would those things be able to follow them to Denar?
On and on Yasgrid’s mind rolled, but it was only curiosity. The Troubles slept soundly, perhaps used to the silly scrabbling of their hosts thoughts, or perhaps being naturally alert to only negative emotions.
In either case, Kyra’s closed eyes and insistence that they not risk separation left Yasgrid will little to do beside take in the curves and lines of Kyra’s face from less than an arm’s length away.
The Fate Dancer was older than Nia, though only by a few years if Yasgrid was able to judge Elven ages properly. Where Nia’s features were soft and gentle from a lifetime of sheltering by Naosha, Kyra’s were drawn in sharper tones.
Elves tended towards a much finer bone structure than Stonelings, and the miles on Kyra’s face had cast those features into the kind of chiseled edges which Yasgrid was only used to seeing on the strongest of Stoneling laborers.
The rest of Kyra’s muscles followed suit, with her arms easily twice as thick as Nia’s and her overall frame wiry and taut like a bowstring.
Yasgrid suppressed a smile at the thought of how much easier all the physical things she’d been required to do would have been if she’d switched with Kyra instead of Nia.
But that didn’t feel right.
She couldn’t have switched with Kyra, even if it would have made running through the forest for a week easier.
Even if it would have prevented Kyra from stabbing her.
It had to be Nia. Yasgrid wasn’t sure why that seemed so definite, but her gut was clear on it.
And if she had switched with Kyra, they certainly wouldn’t be here, together, and Yasgrid found that, despite her lingering mistrust of both Kyra and the Fate Dancers, she was glad to have wound up at this spot, in this moment.
Kyra opened her eyes as a look of appreciation dawned across Yasgrid’s features. The expression was met with a puzzled one from Kyra, who stood uncertainly, pulling Yasgrid up with her.
“He’s still running,” Kyra said. “We’ll need to move quickly.”
Yasgrid nodded. Questions or explanations would only slow them down and time wasn’t on their side.
“To catch him, I’m going to need to take us off the road,” Kyra said. “We absolutely will not be safe. Fate Dancers who try this are lost more often than they return. Are you sure you want to continue?”
Side B – Nia
The music didn’t stop with the blood. Nia had been warned that it wouldn’t. She’d been told by Osdora, by Grash, by Belhelen, by random strangers on the trip. Battles of the Bands weren’t for the faint hearted. Some of them were simply stellar performances. Some of them were technical contests. Those were still intense and took everything the drummers had to win.
But some bands didn’t play like that.
Some contests weren’t about winning.
They were about survival.
Nia had been resigned to that. There was obviously a reason the tryouts for the tour had involved a steel cage match with a distinct absence of rules. She’d known that the battle was likely to be quite literal and that some blood would probably be left on the stage before everything was done.
Being at peace with the concept though was a world different than accepting what she was watching happen to the woman she loved.
The blows were invisible. The beats from the Shale Shard band slamming into Margrada’s jaw and stomach and eye as unseen fists that couldn’t be dodged and could barely be blocked by the beats from Margrada’s drum.
A solid shot from the right side caught her in front of her temple and left a gash across her forehead that sent blood cascading down into her eye. Nia didn’t see the effect of the blow until another spun Margrada’s head to the side revealing the sheet of red that covered the right side of her face.
That didn’t stop Margrada from playing through.
Nia heard the beat from Margrada’s drum rise above the din, a rhythm of Margrada’s own design pounding out as both a shield and a hammer against the blows directed at her.
The attacks on her were slipping past the other Frost Harbor drummers, but Margrada was able to meet them head on, sending a rhythm smashed out with hands and elbows back to bloody the nose of the drummer sitting directly opposite her while warding off a pair of beats with a defense that crashed into a shower of sparks to her left and right.
Nia could feel the swell of the music, could almost see the tension between the beats. She may have been incapable of playing with her shattered hands but her heart could follow each rise and fall of the drum’s magic.
That was what told her something was wrong.
It was an unconscious certainty at first, her intuition rebelling against the scene playing out in front of her, not out of horror at the damage being done to Margrada but as a scream from her drummer’s soul.
She watched with a singularity of focus as Margrada continued to fight back.
It wasn’t fair.
Too many attacks were directed at her.
More than the Shale Shard band should have been capable of unleashing. Not with the Frost Harbor band playing against them.
Playing better than the Shale Shard band was.
Nia could hear that clearly. The Frost Harbor band was overwhelming the Shale Shard band. Except the contest was still even somehow?
Even except against Margrada.
Nia listened as one of the Margrada’s counter attacks landed. It damn near snapped the neck of the drummer who sat opposite her. She’d put her all into it and suffered in exchange as her defenses were overwhelmed.
But her opponent wasn’t playing.
Nia’s eyes snapped open, and she saw all the confirmation she needed.
Margrada’s opponent was reeling, his eyes unfocused and his hands off the drum.
And she was still being attacked.
Nia closed her eyes and listened again.
It wasn’t hard to follow the beats when that was the only thing in the world she wanted to focus on.
It wasn’t hard to find the ones who were responsible.
The players sitting in the stands.
The ones who weren’t supposed to be there.