Side A – Nia
Nia wasn’t exactly an intimidating figure. Yasgrid was a giant by the standards of a Darkwood elf but, compared to other Stonelings, she wasn’t anything extraordinary under the best of circumstance, and her present circumstances weren’t even on the same continent as the best of circumstances.
The three illicit Shatter drummers stared at her as she shuffled to a stop in front of them.
The bandages she wore drew their eyes second, right after the pained, unnatural quality of her gait told them that something was wrong with the person – assuming it was a person – who was glaring back at them.
Around them all the deafening ruckus of the Battle of the Bands raged making speech impossible but it was easy to follow the thoughts of the illicit drummers as they flashed from one face to another.
Are we caught? Do the Shatter Bands know? Guilt crashed over three faces and receded just as fast, swallowed by the denial driven by the fact that Nia was clearly not an official Shatter Band drummer. Not here, not for this performance.
So she was clearly nothing.
The three had stopped playing despite it being far too late to hide the fact that they each had Shatter drums on the ground in front of them.
Nia had pushed the chairs away as she crashed through the crowd but even with their cover gone, the three players didn’t seem worried. The Frost Harbor band was too busy with the battle they were embroiled in to look at the audience and they’d been too clever to be caught.
Except for the part where some weird wreck of a woman had found them.
But did she really matter?
Sneers and shakes of the head.
No. Of course not.
She didn’t have a drum, and it looked like a stiff wind could blow her over.
Whatever weirdness was happening in the battle, it had obviously come from the Frost Harbor band, but since the Frosties were on the backfoot and barely able to defend themselves none of their tricks were going to matter a damn.
Should they break this one first?
Was it even worth the trouble?
The middle drummer spit at Nia and waved her away.
She wasn’t worth even a single beat.
Or could they sense something?
They hadn’t started playing yet and it would have been the work of a single hand slap to unleash the power of a Shatter drum and destroy her in any manner they chose.
And they liked breaking people.
Liked killing people?
Maybe. Nia couldn’t be sure of that, but she could see the desire to hurt at war with something deeper and more primal within them.
On some level they knew that Nia shouldn’t be standing there.
She shouldn’t have been able to walk through the music as she had.
Even if they hadn’t noticed the flames she’d been wreathed in, they knew that the woman who stood before them was dangerous.
They just had no idea how much.
Nia raised her broken hands for the men to see.
The middle one, the leader, broke into a wide grin. He didn’t understand. He thought it was an admission of helplessness.
He raised his hand high to clear away the trash in front of him and Nia kicked him in the face.
It hurt her more than it hurt him.
But that didn’t matter.
What mattered was that it surprised him.
Made him rear back, clutching his nose in shock.
Nia couldn’t play the Shatter Drums with her broken hands.
So she slammed her head onto the drum instead.
Side B – Yasgrid
The forest hated them. That was impossible to ignore. The forest wasn’t a forest. That was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as well. As a result of the first two truth, they were doomed.
Except that was the lie the not-forest creature needed them to believe.
Needed to the same extent that Yasgrid needed air.
“We don’t need to run anymore,” Yasgrid said. “But we do need to keep going.”
“Yes,” Kyra said. “Better to resist for as long as we can. Maybe we can scar this thing somehow to leave a trace of our passage for other Fate Dancers.”
“We can do better than that,” Yasgrid said. “Denar needs us to catch up to him and we’re not going to let him down.”
“Yes,” Kyra said, her face a rigid mask behind which the certainty of death was being held in place only by walls built without an ounce of hope in them. “We can try racing along the taller treetops. At its edges it will take the forest longer to pull us under.”
“We don’t need to race. We’re not running, but I would like you to walk with me. If that’s okay with you?” Yasgrid asked.
“I…I owe you that I suppose,” Kyra said, accepting the strange response to their certain demise that Yasgrid had apparently settled on.
“You don’t owe me anything,” Yasgrid said, leading Kyra into a pleasant stroll in the direction Denar was in. “I probably owe you in fact. I didn’t know what it would cost you or your people to help us save Blue Falls. I should have talked with you sooner, found out more about what you know. My ignorance is partly to blame for Denar’s current predicament, a couple of times over.”
“What? No! That’s ridiculous,” Kyra said. “This isn’t your fault at all. I stabbed you! I nearly killed you when you were trying to save me. You…you’re supposed to hate me.”
“I would be lying if I said that being stabbed didn’t sour my opinion of you for a while,” Yasgrid said. “Of course you did fix me up, and it didn’t look like that was particularly easy for you. And you came to me tonight. And chose to work with me. Those mean a lot.”
“Maybe I was just trying to kill the Bearer? Fate Dancers have done worse things before,” Kyra said.
“That occurred to me,” Yasgrid said. “It sounds like a Fate Dancer for a Bearer would be a trade some of your people would consider to be a fair one too.”
“They would,” Kyra said with a sad nod.
“But not you,” Yasgrid said.
“At one point, maybe,” Kyra said. “And for some of the Bearers? Maybe even more. But not for you.”
“Good,” Yasgrid said. “I’d hate to think I was ruining your plans by saving us both.”
That was when the razor vines lashed out, seizing both of them by the throat and squeezing.