Side A – Yasgrid
The walk through the forest wasn’t peaceful. It’s hate had intensified rather than abating. Like a string held to prolong a single note though, the sense of menace faded for Yasgrid as she and Kyra approach the forest’s border.
“So my mother turned to me and without a word of warning, kicked me off the edge of the cliff,” Kyra said, concluding the story of how she’d learned to catch the air currents the Fate Dancers could sometimes ride.
“Are all the Fate Dancer tests like that?” Yasgrid asked.
The forest was the most likely to try something against them within the next hundred yards. They were almost back to the Lost Road and vastly farther along their journey than they would have been. That last short distance was going to be the forest’s last chance to vent its rage at their existence. Its last opportunity to ensure that no future Fate Dancers dared trespass through its scrap of reality.
And it was hesitating.
Which was smart.
Yasgrid walked calmly forward, but that was a cover. The forest was used to wanderers within it pretending to hide their true feelings. Most thought that if they could cover up their fear, they wouldn’t accidentally summon forth any nightmares. Hiding fear did nothing to diminish it though, and even the strongest willed people who’d walked through the forest hadn’t been good enough to disguise the telltale signs the forest used to craft the horrors which could tear them apart the most completely.
Yasgrid’s calm was as easily seen through as any of the others, she had no special gifts at deception. In this case that worked in her favor though.
When the forest gazed upon the two creatures trespassing through it, one, Kyra, was simply a cipher, an emptiness in space hidden behind a skin of rainbow light. It was easy to ignore that one when the other was so easy to read though.
Yasgrid didn’t radiate fear because Endings wasn’t afraid.
Far from it.
Endings wanted a fight.
Yasgrid walked calmly and was chatting lightly with Kyra not to distract either of them or to fool the forest. She was keeping Endings in check. Endings, the divine instrument tasked with cleaning up the glitches left in the gods’ grand design. Endings who had understood what the forest was at last and with the singular focus of an eternal blade wanted nothing more than to slice the parasitic abomination Yasgrid was walking through until not even a scrap of thought remained of it.
It wasn’t entirely clear which of the two would win that engagement.
Endings had been crafted by divine hands and was capable of fulfilling its purpose no matter the obstacle put before it. The forest though wasn’t a Trouble, and could manipulate the basic physical laws which defined its own existence and the existence of everything within it.
If it dared to.
Sometimes the instinct for self preservation is more powerful than even a deep and abiding hate though, and so the forest refrained from taking a final stroke against the trespassers. It would never forget and definitely never forgive, but as Yasgrid and Kyra stepped from its border and returned to the Lost Road, it abandoned them, dissolving to exist anywhere but where they were.
“We made it?” Kyra said, her eyes wide and her breath shallow.
“Yeah. The easy part’s done, now we have to deal with the hard stuff,” Yasgrid said and squeezed Kyra’s hand one more.
Side B – Nia
Margrada hadn’t run away. Nia was so deliriously happy over that fact that she could barely process anything else.
“That…that is a lot to take in,” Margrada said when Nia finished a longer than intended monologue that sketched out the details of what had happened with her and Yasgrid changing bodies on News Year’s morning.
“I know, and I am deeply aware of how ridiculous it sounds,” Nia said. “And I know it would make more sense if I could prove it, and I know I can’t and…”
“Hey,” Margrada said, putting a gentle hand on Nia’s shoulder. “Breathe. It’s okay.”
“It’s okay?” Nia asked, wanting an itemized list of all of the things that were ‘okay’.
“Yeah,” Margrada said with a quiet smile and a nod. Nia couldn’t tell if Margrada believed her yet or not, but she wasn’t running away and that was a profoundly important point to hold onto.
“You’ve got to have a thousand questions,” Nia said. “Or have you decided that I’m just definitely out of my mind but cute enough to keep anyways?”
“I’d call you more adorable than cute,” Margrada said. “And I don’t think you’re out of your mind. I might be. Or maybe we both are. This though, you being someone else? That makes more sense than it doesn’t, if that makes sense?”
“For what it’s worth, I’m the same me that you’ve known since the Calling,” Nia said.
“And see, that’s where this starts making sense,” Margrada said. “You didn’t feel like the Yasgrid I’d known at the Calling. I mean, not that I knew Yasgrid that well before all this, but Frost Harbor’s not that big and we’ve both lived there our whole lives. You felt different somehow. And then after the Calling and the fugue state you were…wait a minute, there never was a fugue state was there?”
“No, sorry,” Nia said.
“How did you know the Shatter Drums can do that sometimes then?” Margrada asked.
“I didn’t. It was Yasgrid’s idea,” Nia said. “She helped me get acclimated to life here the same as I helped her.”
“Okay, you said she wasn’t gone, but you two could talk to each other? Can you still do it?”
“Yeah. We can kind of show up where the other one is too, like stepping into a dream where we can see what’s going on around each other. We’re not really there, so no one else can see us, so we can offer advice without it being obvious.”
“Can I talk to her?” Margrada said.
“In person? Sure, but I think we’d need to go to the Darkwood. Or did you mean through me?” Nia asked.
“Neither one,” Margrada said. “I have an idea, if you’re willing to try it?”
“As long as it doesn’t involve either of us getting stabbed,” Nia said. Margrada gave her a questioning look so Nia added, “Yasgrid’s had some stabby problems while she was in my body. What’s your idea though?”
“We can’t drum together, we’d see too much of each other from what your mother said, but maybe I can drum myself to her?” Margrada said.
It was a wild plan, and Nia knew that her recent experiences had taught her better than to try risky and dangerous plans.
But it was for the woman she loved, the woman who’d saved her life and whose life she’d saved. And more than that, burrowing deeper, Nia found a solid bedrock of certainty to stand on as she answered.
“You can,” she said. “For me. I know you can. On the stage, when you were playing, your music wrapped around me. It knew me, and so I know you can do this.”