Side A – Yasgrid
No one was in the small clearing with them. Kayelle and Yasgrid were as alone as they could be, despite Blue Falls being only a few stone throws away. Kayelle had chosen well in terms of ensuring their privacy.
But Yasgrid still didn’t think they could speak freely.
“There have been eyes upon us for quite a while now,” she said, instead of answering Kayelle’s question. “Not always but possibly at any time we speak and we’re not shield from observation.”
Kayelle sighed and held out her hand. From her palm, a stream of light, flowing through every hue, rose and spread into a dome large enough for them to stand comfortably apart within it.
“What?” Kayelle asked, seeing Yasgrid’s surprise. “Did you think you were the only one who had learned to do more with Endings than swing it like a sword?”
“I didn’t think Endings remit covered things like blocking scrying magics,” Yasgrid said.
“It doesn’t,” Kayelle said. “But it also doesn’t cover performing surgery to heal an injured boy and you didn’t let that stop you.”
“Did I break Endings?” Yasgrid asked.
“Endings can’t be broken,” Kayelle said. “You know that. You did break the complacency of how I’d been thinking about it though. So, thank you.”
“You’re welcome?” Yasgrid said, trying to imagine how she could shape Endings into a barrier like Kayelle had managed to.
“We could speak privately inside Endings too,” Kayelle said. “This will allow you to lie if you choose though.”
“Why would I lie?” Yasgrid asked.
“I don’t know,” Kayelle said. “I also don’t know why you haven’t answered my question already.”
“My pledge was much smaller than yours,” Yasgrid said.
“It could hardly be larger, could it?” Kayelle said with a laugh edged in regret.
“It would be challenging to try to do more than you,” Yasgrid said. “Which I suspect explains a few things about Nia.”
“I never competed with her,” Kayelle said and then, with downward glanced, amended, “Or not often.”
“Her experience was somewhat different from yours then,” Yasgrid said.
“It is for all of us.”
“Even your mother?” Yasgrid asked which was met by a laugh in return.
“No,” Kayelle said, shaking her head. “For someone to compete with her, they would have to be her equal and I can’t think of anyone who can claim that distinction. My mother is beyond compare.”
“Having met her, I do not disagree,” Yasgrid said. “Which I suppose makes her experience unique as well. And uniquely challenging to understand.”
“You’re still straying from my question,” Kayelle said.
“I don’t mean to be mysterious,” Yasgrid said. “My pledge to Endings seemed simpler to keep to myself but, if it will help you to know, where you pledged to eliminate all of the Troubles in the Darkwood, I pledged to save three people.”
“Only three?” Kayelle asked, the confusion in her eyes emphasizing how much she’d expected Yasgrid’s pledge to be something far more profound.
“Three might be overreaching myself,” Yasgrid said. “I may not be able to save even one of them.”
Side B – Nia
Nia woke just as Margrada pulled back from the flap at the end of the cart.
“You’re awake?” Margrada asked, seeing Nia half sitting up.
“Yeah, something’s up with Mom,” Nia said, sleep still covering her thoughts in a fuzzy haze.
“Mom?” Margrada asked.
“Oh, uh, Osdora,” Nia said. “I probably shouldn’t call her that.”
“How do you know something has happened with her?” Margrada asked.
Behind her the light of the early morning was waiting to seep in and fully open Nia’s sleepy eyes.
“My Dad,” Nia said. “Elven Dad. Ayas. Was talking to him in my dreams.”
Nia heard herself and stopped, shaking her head.
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “Wasn’t quite awake there. Still kind of fuzzy.”
“You’re also right though,” Margrada said. “Do you talk to your Dad often in your dreams?”
“Oh, uh, no,” Nia said. “Last night was special I guess? But what’s the deal with Osdora?”
She definitely was going to keep a lid on calling Osdora ‘Mom’, even if it felt as natural as calling Naosha ‘Mother’.
“She wasn’t at practice session this morning,” Margrada said. “Did she stop into see you? One of the Roadies said she’d come over this direction.”
“If she did, she didn’t wake me,” Nia said. “She never misses the practice sessions, does she?”
“I gather that’s not entirely true,” Margrada said. “Apparently, she has missed them in the past but it’s never for a good reason.”
“Not good as in ‘she was too hungover to deal with playing drums’?” Nia asked.
“More in the ‘kidnapped by a group of hill bandits’ sense,” Margrada said. “Though, there aren’t any hill bandits in the area, so people seem a little confused.”
“Do you think she went out to clear her head somewhere and is still thinking about everything I dumped on her last night?” Nia asked.
“Maybe? It’s a lot to take in,” Margrada said.
“I know. I’m sorry,” Nia said.
“Don’t be. I’m not complaining. It’s just amazing to think of all the possibilities and implications. I mean, we stood in the Darkwood. Through Shatter drum playing. That’s never been done before. At least as far as I know.”
“I don’t know if anyone’s ever been in the situation Yasgrid and I are,” Nia said. “Hey, are any of the Shatter Drums missing?”
“Not that I know of, but I didn’t check either,” Margrada said. “Why? Do you think Osdora is off playing somewhere?”
“I don’t know,” Nia said, a suspicion growing in her gut that threatened to displace the last three meals she’d eaten.
“She was taken with the music of Darkwood,” Margrada said. “Do you think she could be trying to recreate it? Some place far enough away that it wouldn’t be a danger to any of us?”
“Maybe,” Nia said. “There was something she was more taken by then the Darkwood’s music though. Something she was a lot less willing to let go.”
“Yasgrid,” Margrada said, understanding dawning in her eyes.
Side A – Yasgrid EXTENDED!
Kayelle sat down with a thump. Her eyes were adrift in confusion and her mouth twitched with unspoken of words of disbelief for a long moment before she finally said, “But you don’t really know us? Any of us?”
“There’s always more to learn about people,” Yasgrid said. “You’re correct though. I didn’t make the pledge I did because you were family, or even my friends.”
“Why then? Why sign up for any of this?”
“Because you needed me. Because I owed Nia an immense debt. Because I saw your pain and I wanted to believe I could make at least that tiny bit of the world better. Because it was something I had the chance to do that my mother never could,” Yasgrid said. “I can’t say how much truth there is in each of those weighed against one another. It would be as truthful to say that it felt like the right thing to do at the time. And that it still does.”
“But our problems aren’t ones you can solve,” Kayelle said.
“I know. I can’t change any of you, or change the relationships between you. What I can do is protect you and give you the space you need to make those changes yourselves, if you choose too.”
“And if we don’t?”
“That’s your choice in the end. I’m only here to help make things possible. And to keep you from harm as best as I can,” Yasgrid said. “Any miracles are ones you will need to make for yourselves.”
“But what do you get out of it?”
“A sister,” Yasgrid said. “Or two I suppose. And a mother who might understand me a little better my Mom does. Oh, and a sword that can do that.”
She pointed at the fountain of rainbow light that was streaming from Kayelle’s hand.
“I don’t have your cultural understanding of what Endings is and represents, but, I mean look at it. Who wouldn’t want to carry something like that?” Yasgrid asked.
There was a silent moment which Kayelle broke only after forcing herself to meet Yasgrid’s eyes.
“Me,” Kayelle said.
It was Yasgrid’s turn to be stunned into silence.
“You can lay down your burden,” Yasgrid said at last. “No one who matters will think any less of you for it.”
“I’ll think less of myself for it,” Kayelle said.
Silence again, but softer.
“I’m with you,” Yasgrid said. “Whichever choice you make, you won’t face it alone.”
“I’ve already made my choice. When Endings asked me to become a Bearer.”
“You made a choice then,” Yasgrid said. “You can always make new choices.”
“Choices have consequences,” Kayelle said. “And they come with responsibilities.”
“Yes. Those responsibilities include a responsibility to yourself though,” Yasgrid said. “Can you say you made the choice you did because you believed it was the right one?”
“How can saving the Darkwood be wrong?” Kayelle asked.
“Because you were going to destroy yourself in the process,” Yasgrid said. “And I think become a far greater Trouble in the process than any we have slain so far.”
Side B – Nia EXTENDED!
Osdora wasn’t anywhere to be found. Nia and Margrada had split up to cover as much ground as they possibly could. They’d recruited Belhelen, and Doctor Prash, and Horgi, and Grash, and even Jarben as they’d grown increasing convinced that Osdora wasn’t with the band’s caravan anymore.
“None of the Shatter Drums are missing,” Drum Master Pelegar said. “But she does have her own. Did you check her tent?”
Nia bit back a curse. They’d started with Osdora’s tent and had all but ransacked the place. The absence of a Shatter drum hadn’t been noticeable since Nia hadn’t been expecting to find one there. In hindsight though she knew she should have guessed Osdora would have one.
In hindsight, she felt like she should have guessed a lot of things though, starting with the fact that Osdora had always had a closer relationship with Yasgrid than Naosha and Nia had ever enjoyed. Of course learning the truth of who Nia was, and then seeing her real daughter for the first time in months, and then seeing where she was in the Darkwood had been enough to push Osdora to try something rash.
“Do you think she tried to drum herself back to the Darkwood?” Margrada asked when they were alone again.
The implication was more dire than the simple question suggested. If Osdora had tried to replicate the feat Nia and Yasgrid had pulled off, her absence could only mean a few different possibilities were in play. If by some miracle Osdora was able to play the same rhythm to the same effect, then she was in the Darkwood, a strange and alien presence there. That was the best of the possible options. Nia didn’t want to think of what the other possibilities were.
Osdora could not be dead. That simply wasn’t allowable.
“I can check with Yasgrid, but Yasgrid wasn’t staying around where we met her. She’s heading back to Blue Falls, so she’s probably still on the road. I don’t know if Osdora could reach her even if she could drum herself back to the Darkwood.”
“Let’s see what we can find here before we worry Yasgrid,” Margrada suggested.
Nia didn’t like the idea of keeping secrets from Yasgrid, and wasn’t sure if it was even possible, but she conceded that finding out more sooner rather than later would make explaining what was happening far easier and more useful.
Sooner turned out to be another half hour. That was how long it took Belhelen to find them with the first new of Osdora’s whereabouts.
“I went to the village we passed yesterday afternoon,” Belhelen said. “The Inn Keeper there saw Osdora at the crack of dawn this morning. She bought supplies from him. A lot of supplies. He said it was like she was setting off to see the Sunrest Peaks.”
“What are those?” Nia asked.
“They’re the home of the farthest west settlement of Stonelings in our holdings,” Margrada said. “It’s the longest trip she could take.”
Nia’s suspicions turned to lead in her stomach and she slowly shook her head.
The Sunrest Peaks weren’t the farthest trip Osdora could take.
Not when her daughter lay far beyond the Stoneling lands.