Side A – Nia
It wasn’t hard to find her quarry. Nia was faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces, most screaming at her, though their words were hopelessly lost in the torrent of music the Battle of the Bands had become.
Any one of the wild, power maddened people before her could have been her enemy.
Or they could all have been.
But Nia’s vision was clear. The music wasn’t hammering on her anymore. She wasn’t drinking it in and turning it to living fire. The drummers who were attacking her had seen their mistake. Magic wasn’t going to stop her.
So they were trying to hide instead.
Except they couldn’t.
Nia walked into the crowd without anyone physically by her side, but she was far from alone.
At her back, the thunder from the Frost Harbor drums pushed her onwards, and guiding her forward, Nia felt the trembling rhythm that Margrada was hammering out just for her.
Unsurprisingly, the first row of the crowd on the Shale Shard side, the one’s who’d seen Nia’s blazing march across the stage, had no interest at all in impeding her progress. She wasn’t on fire any longer but, from their perspective, was that something it was worth betting wouldn’t change? No. No it was not, and at least a dozen of them scrambled away from their seats, parting before Nia like songbirds fleeing a stalking predator.
It was a wise decision. The flames that burned within Nia were quiescent because she wished them to be. The madness that had lifted her from her seat wasn’t exactly in control of her, but the effort of keeping both it and the flames, contained, left almost nothing to tolerate further insults with.
Insults such as the one the drummers who were hidden in the spectator seats were giving her.
She wasn’t stupid.
Did they really think she couldn’t find them because they’d dropped their drumming to light and barely audible strokes? Did they think she couldn’t tell they were scrambling to find another mode of attack? That they didn’t have friends who were gathering in response to the cheater’s alarm and consternation?
Did they not know who she was!
Probably not. Nia wasn’t sure she knew who she was any more.
How did she know that the drummers were two more rows back? How could she hear their continued playing despite it being completely drowned out by the crowd, the performance which screamed around them, and even the beating of their own hearts?
On the other hand though, how could she not? The music was still there, even if it was playing softly. Quiet didn’t stop the magic from happening, it just meant the effort to contain it was even more difficult.
Nia pushed past the last two people between her and the oathbreaking drummers. Her bones complained and her muscles rebelled at the effort, but she didn’t slow down until she stood in front of the five extra drummers who were playing drums they’d hidden underneath their seats.
They all looked up as she pushed apart the empty seats in front of them.
They’d expected an avenging demon of the pit. They’d been preparing for the arrival of an all powerful master of Shatter magic.
Instead, what they got was one broken and scowling young woman, who lacked the strength to fight even one of them
Side B – Yasgrid
Giving up when all hope is lost is generally seen as an understandable reaction. Yasgrid had a different idea though.
“We should keep moving,” she said, tugging on Kyra’s arm in what might have been the direction they’d been heading before the tar trunk.
“It’s not going to be that easy,” Kyra said. “It’s awake now. Before our size and speed meant that we could skim across its awareness. There’s nowhere we can run now that it won’t be able to see us. We might have to fight.”
“Does the forest have weaknesses? Can we strike a spot where it would have to leave us alone?” Yasgrid asked, willing to consider alternatives to the plan that was forming from the half grasped bits of understanding she’d drawn from Kyra’s description of the the world around them.
“No. Or at least none that we can damage,” Kyra said. “Fate Dancers have tried to burn a path through, and we believe some have tried to cut down the trunks in a wide radius to create a glen of safety.”
“Neither worked I take it?” Yasgrid asked. Kyra’s phrasing wasn’t specific but ‘we believe’ spoke quite clearly that no one who’d tried that approach had survived to report back.
“The wisdom we hold is often gathered at terrible costs,” Kyra said. “We hold dear the memories of those who won it for us, even if all we gained was the barest glimpse of a truth.”
She paused, seeming to wait for Yasgrid to belittle the Fate Dancers losses, or condemn the Fate Dancers for failing those who had fallen. Yasgrid did neither one.
Her thoughts were carried back to the drummers who had died in the Calling. They hadn’t needed to die. Nor had any of the other drummers who’d been lost in years past. The Stonelings had a different manner of showing reverence for the fallen. They would still joke about those who’d been lost, and tell wild and unlikely tales about them. In some cases there wouldn’t even be a hint of solemnity but no matter how lightly they seemed to take the deaths, there was always a core of deepest respect for any who perished so that others might live.
“We are an unlikely pair,” Yasgrid said. “Could that give us an edge our predecessors didn’t have?”
“I should say yes,” Kyra said. “If we lose heart, we are done. We exist here only so long as we can struggle to continue existing. I don’t want to lie to you though.”
“You don’t have to,” Yasgrid said. “Your honesty means more than a comforting lie ever could.”
“Even if it’s lead you to your death?” Kyra asked.
“I chose to be here,” Yasgrid said and squeezed Kyra’s hand in reassurance. “And I’m still willing to fight. We’re not done yet, and I think that means we can still win. I think I even know how.”