Side A – Nia
Stoneling temples had a solidity to them the spiritual centers of the Darkwood not only lacked but eschewed completely. To Nia’s eyes, the edifice the Cloud Divers brought them to was choked and lifeless, more a fortress than a place of serenity or life.
Looking deeper into the shadows behind the colonnade in front of it though she had to revise that opinion.
It wasn’t a fortress. Fortresses were still living places. There was no life in front of her.
She was staring into a tomb.
“We’re not supposed to be here, are we?” she asked, keenly aware of the rigid tension that gripped Margrada and, more worryingly, Pelegar too.
“No,” was all that Pelegar said. She was searching the plethora of shadows and dark corners before them looking for Osdora.
Or Nia hoped she was looking for Osdora. Except Pelegar wasn’t moving forward. Which suggested that she was less concerned with performing a rescue and more concerned with avoiding becoming someone who needed a rescue.
“Why would Osdora have come here? This can’t have been her best option for traveling quickly,” Margrada said.
“It’s not,” Pelegar said.
“I don’t think she came here at all,” Nia said. “You heard her music too right?”
“That’s what’s worrying me,” Pelegar said. “Her music shouldn’t be anywhere near this place.”
“I don’t hear it anymore though,” Nia said. A chill ran down her spine. Something just out of her eyesight was moving. Something just a little too quiet was whispering. Something was out there tickling the edge of what she could perceive and it was looking at her with malice in its heart.
“That worries me more,” Pelegar said. “You two stay here. I’m going to go make sure that idiot didn’t do something I’m going to make her regret.”
“I don’t think she came here at all,” Nia repeated reaching out to stop Pelegar but hesitating to grasp the older woman’s shoulder.
“Huh?” Pelegar said, pausing and listening intently again.
“Osdora’s magic,” Nia said. “There’s a playfulness to it. She wasn’t desperate when she played it. She was mischievous. I don’t think she came racing here trying to desperately do whatever she could to get away from us at best possible speed. I think she guessed we’d follow her and played to make the sky trail bend here instead of her real destination. Or maybe she was just bored on the flight? I don’t know, does that sound like something Osdora would do?”
Pelegar stopped, the forward tension leaving her body. Her mouth opened to say something but a long moment of consideration consigned those words to silence. With a sigh, Pelegar found new ones instead.
“Yes. Yes she absolutely would do that. The tricky old rat. Oh I am going to box her ears in!” Pelegar’s anger was mild enough that it couldn’t completely hide her relief.
“So that means we can leave then?” Margrada asked, the tension gripping her still firmly present.
“The sooner the better,” Pelegar said.
Except it was already too late.
Nia finally caught sight of what had been teasing her awareness.
The shadows were moving, encircling them in fact, and the Cloud Divers were already lost somewhere beyond them.
Side B – Yasgrid
From Naosha’s choice of phrasing in specifying the ‘first body’ was found at noon, and the fact that Elshira hadn’t ‘died’ until after the next nightfall, Yasgrid knew many more dead bodies had been found as well, likely in a trail which led to the Elshira’s own.
“She didn’t use magic to cover up the first body?” Yasgrid asked.
“No. That one she was rather proud of,” Naosha said. “Or so she claimed. I found it telling however that she was not the one who revealed the corpse though.”
“Who had she killed?” Kayelle asked.
“Baylel Harsgrove,” Naosha said. “He was not well liked for what seemed to be good reasons at the time, but the manner of his death was gruesome enough that it did not provoke the sort of support Elshira possibly imagined it would.”
“Why wasn’t he liked?” Yasgrid asked, wondering if there would be a pattern to the deaths that would help her understand Elshira better.
“Baylel was an angry, spiteful man. Solitary not through choice but as a consequence of the choices he made,” Naosha said.
“Did he ever hurt anyone?” Kayelle asked.
“More than once,” Naosha said. “Never fatally, but the fights were often ones he provoked. His rages didn’t seem to entirely be of his own creation though, and certainly weren’t under any sort of rational control. Several of us tried to reach out to help him, but we never found the words he would listen to. That he was more cruel with his responses than he ever was with his fists persuaded most of the others to give up on him long before Elshira got to him.”
“How did she kill him?” Yasgrid asked, imagining all too easy how a rageful, largely disliked target would have been an easy starting point for Elshira’s fall.
“She claimed a Trouble was gestating within him and that with her newfound talent at harnessing them and Endings might, she had simply pulled it free, containing it before it could do anyone else any harm.”
“And no one had a problem believing that because it was too easy to believe that Baylel was the sort that Troubles sprange from,” Kayelle said. She was guessing but Naosha confirmed Kayelle’s theory with a small nod.
“Many believed she’d done what she claimed, but those who saw the body still knew it was wrong,” Naosha said.
“If he died why didn’t everyone know that? Why didn’t Elshira know that?” Kayelle asked.
“Because she wasn’t trying to extract a Trouble from him,” Yasgrid said. “She used a Trouble to kill him.”
She wasn’t guessing. She could see exactly how Elshira could have accomplished such a feat. The thought sent a wave of disgust down into her guts and left her stomach boiling. In her heart, she felt the sleeping remnants of the Troubles stir.
They didn’t need to wake for this.
She breathed in a slow breath and conjured a wave of reassurance to send to them. They were okay. Together they were safe. The bad thing was long ago and far, far away.
The calm thought soothed the remnants but they could feel the worry beneath it that Elshira was still out there and was more powerful now than she’d ever been.