Two Hearts One Beat – Chapter 194


Side A – Nia

Nia could feel the confrontation between Yasgrid and the Trouble sliding away, not towards resolution but towards perpetual uncertainty.

The Trouble was going to run. Nia didn’t need Yasgrid’s talents for empathy and insight to see that. It had been playing with her, trying to force her to engage it on violent terms so that it could justify a flight away from Endings.

Or, maybe not away from Endings. The more Nia observed the Trouble, the more she began to wonder which scared it more, the divine blade forged specifically to destroy it, or Yasgrid, who appeared to be nothing more than a typical elven young woman?

Except, Endings couldn’t destroy the Trouble on its own and Yasgrid’s appearance was deeply deceiving, a fact the Trouble was slowly waking up to.

It was going to run even without the excuse that it couldn’t stand against Endings.

It was going to run because it was growing steadily more terrified of Yasgrid as, step by verbal step, she backed it into a corner of its own making.

“Shall I try to make your argument for you?” Yasgrid asked, remaining where she was, refusing acknowledge that she knew the Trouble’s real location, and yet bearing down it on with each word she spoke.

Nia saw the Trouble twitch and almost leap away.

If Yasgrid could guess its argument would that be better or worse for it, Nia wondered. Once the idea was delivered, could it escape whatever orders held it in place? Or, since it had failed to be the one to deliver the message, would its master decide it was unnecessary and end it in some other method than a divine blade?

“You cannot know our plans. You cannot speak of the place that has been prepared for you,” the Trouble said. “Though it would be amusing to see you try.”

Its mood and attitude shifted so sharply that Nia braced for an attack. The Trouble hadn’t moved, but in place of mounting terror there was naked anticipation, just as if its fear had all been a ruse and it was revealing its true face at last.

Nia glanced at Yasgrid who gave the smallest shake of her head.

The Trouble’s terror hadn’t been a stratagem, and its new found courage wasn’t a hidden level of self control emerging.

Nia moved closer, trying to get a better look at the Trouble and stopped, freezing in place only a few paces closer to the Trouble.

She couldn’t see anyone with it. The air around it didn’t shimmer with power, and the shadows cast across its face where from the leaves of the Darkwood the same as all the rest of the shadows.

But someone was there.

A projection, the suggestion of a voice, the memory of a body, nothing real or substantial anyone could perceive save the one the distant visitor was in communion with.

Nia wanted to reach out and grab the other presence. 

She wanted to take up another Trouble from Yasgrid’s heart and pour a torrent of cleansing fire into it.

She wanted to strike at this architect of so many of Yasgrid’s woes but she stayed where she was. There was no one there beside the Trouble. It the absence of a person she was looking for, and even as far away as she was, Nia could feel the screaming vortex inside the Trouble’s master calling her to destruction.

Side B – Yasgrid

Yasgrid caught the change in the Trouble’s demeanor and recognized it as easily as Nia did.

The Trouble had heard from its master. 

Its mission had changed and it no longer needed to recruit her.

In theory that made it significantly more dangerous. In practice, the Trouble had been afraid of her for a reason, and it was a good and valid one.

Yasgrid wasn’t concerned the Trouble would harm or corrupt her. The danger it posed was more subtle. It was helping a far more dangerous enemy learn what Yasgrid could do and how she thought.

She considered playing the simpleton. Making up an argument for the Trouble that might seem plausible but would be so uninspired the Trouble’s master would lower their expectations of Yasgrid’s capabilities dramatically.

Yasgrid considered that but rejected it almost as quickly

It was a viable idea in terms of execution, but there was no real chance she’d be believed. 

Also, she didn’t want the Trouble’s master to underestimate her.

She didn’t need that.

Hiding what she was had been her first instinct for too long. Watching Nia blossom into a Shatterdrum player had shown Yasgrid just how afraid she’d always been to reveal how well she could play because she knew her best couldn’t measure up to the legacy she was expected to uphold.

But what if it had?

What if her best was a beautiful, amazing thing all on its own?

“If I’m going to do all your work for you,” Yasgrid said, “then I might as well talk to your boss directly.”

Ignoring the illusion of the giant Trouble in front of her, Yasgrid turned her head with deliberate slowness to stare directly at the Trouble’s real location.

“In fact,” she said as she started to walk towards it, “let’s cut out the middleman entirely.”

She held out her hand and Endings tugged free from the ground where she’d planted it tip first. In the blink of an eye, the blade tumbled end over end, flying through the forest to land with its hilt neatly in Yasgrid’s outstretched palm.

“As I said, you are not ready.” The Trouble’s voice was all triumphant glee as it faded away from view.

It was leaving, content to have given its master some new insights into Yasgrid’s abilities and the limits of her patience. It would return to bother and harass her whenever it wished, chipping away more secrets and steadily more of Yasgrid’s patience.

It was a shame Yasgrid’s patience had long since run out.

“No, you don’t get leave here,” she said and hurled Endings at a point a dozen paces behind herself, where the Trouble’s short teleportation hop had taken it.

Endings should have staked the Trouble to the tree behind it. The blade should have cut the Trouble’s spine in two, and severed the twisted cord of magic that gave it form. The threat the Trouble represented should have died without taking another step.

“Not yet,” a woman in robes made of liquid shadows said.

Grasped between her fingers, Endings hung poised in the mid-flight, it’s tip a single hair’s breadth from the frozen Trouble.