Side A – Nia
Nia’s first thought when she saw the shadows swirling in a circle around them was to reach for a Shatter Drum.
She didn’t have a Shatter Drum though.
So that was a problem.
Her next, and far more natural reaction was to look for whatever was casting the shadows.
Except, of course, nothing was.
No, that wasn’t right either.
Nothing physical was casting the shadows.
She and Margrada and Pelegar were definitely not alone though.
“Osdora.” Pelegar’s growl turned the name into a profanity, but for Nia it also served as a reminder.
The entity which had surrounded them loomed like the mountain its temple adorned. It was vast and ancient and unknowable. They’d stumbled into the domain of a god and the Stoneling gods were neither kind nor benevolent.
And Osdora knew that.
And she’d been being playful, not malicious.
An echo of Osdora’s music caught the edges of Nia’s awareness, and Nia cast off the dread that had been building in her chest.
Yes, they were surrounded.
Yes, an ancient god held them in its clutches.
But they were Stonelings, and Stonelings did not fear their gods.
Their gods feared them.
Osdora hadn’t sent them to their dooms, or into the clutches of unconquerable terror. She’d misdirected them but she never would have placed them in true peril.
Which meant for as much supernatural terror as the churning shadows were radiating, they weren’t a true danger to her.
Nia smiled and let her a small chuckle escape her lips.
“Osdora” being a profanity was so easy to see if this was what Pelegar routinely needed to deal with when it came to Yasgrid’s mother.
“Care to share?” Margrada asked. Margrada who, unlike Nia, did have a Shatter Drum in her possession.
“This thing puts on a good show, but it’s not going to do anything to harm us, is it?” Nia wasn’t exactly asking a question, but she cast her gaze over to Pelegar for confirmation anyways.
“Not if it knows what’s good for it,” Pelegar said. She’d already reached for her drum and held it with her hand poised ready to strike.
“Does it?” Margrada asked. “This thing doesn’t seem solid enough to know anything.”
“Oh, it knows exactly what we are,” Nia said, potentially unwarranted confidence blossoming in her chest as she began to walk forward. “And it’s going to get right back inside the little hidey hole we made for it before we give it a lesson in why it needed that spot in the first place.”
“You shouldn’t take the lead here,” Pelegar said. “Not without a drum.”
“It’s okay,” Nia said, calling back to her companions before lowering her voice to speak only to god in front of her. “I’ve talked to things like you before. There were a lot of them. You’re all alone here. You don’t want to have that same conversation with me, do you?”
The churning in the shadows slowed and withdrew from Nia, but she wasn’t certain that they were fleeing from her advance.
Not when she noticed that she had a new companion walking along at her side.
“Oh, uh, hi King, when did you get back?”
Side B – Yasgrid
With the Troubles within her quieted once more, Yasgrid turned her attention back to Naosha and Kayelle.
“There was no proof as to the mechanism of how Elshira committed the murder, but the fact that it had been a murder was plain enough for almost all to see,” Naosha said.
“Almost all?” Kayelle asked.
“There were those who, even when faced with the evidence of her crimes, refused to believe Elshira had done any wrong,” Naosha said. “There are those who still believe that.”
“Could they have been harboring her all this time?” Yasgrid asked.
“They would certainly have offered her aide,” Naosha said. “Though I wonder if they would have been able to keep silent over the return of a dead woman? The ones who would aide a creature such as Elshira became are not usually the most subtle.”
“How convinced were they that she was dead?” Kayelle asked.
“The Fate Dancers who eventually cornered her and dealt the fatal blows made a rather specific example of Elshira,” Naosha said. “Their battle, or their final battle I suppose, took place at the Warming Sun festival, in the Garden of Renewals.”
“They didn’t clear the crowds first, did they?” Kayelle statement was met by a small nod of confirmation from Naosha.
“Who laid her corpse to rest?” Yasgrid asked, wondering if there might be a lead to pursue there.
“No one,” Naosha said. “There wasn’t a corpse left when the fighting was done.”
“Why assume she was dead then?” Yasgrid asked.
“Because relatively few people survive for long when their body is sliced in two, and the that was where the Fate Dancers work began, not where it ended,” Naosha said. “In Elshira’s case however I would venture to guess the burning rot which we saw consuming her was more of a transubstantiation than a disintegration.”
“Were the Fate Dancers acting under your orders?” Yasgrid asked.
Naosha smiled and Yasgrid caught the look in her eye that said she’d been foolish to assume Naosha would have been so unrefined as to directly order the Fate Dancers to kill Elshira.
“The Fate Dancers have never answered to me,” Naosha said, which wasn’t technically a lie, even though in practice it was roughly as far from the truth as it was possible to be.
“You provided them the evidence they needed?” Kayelle guessed but Yasgrid knew that wasn’t correct either.
“No. She spoke to the people who could influence the ones who knew the truth. She didn’t need to tell them to go to the Fate Dancers and report what Elshira was doing. They did that all on their own,” Yasgrid said. Because why act at a single remove when you could expend so much less effort and act through several layers of proxies instead.
“What Elshira was doing and what she had become,” Naosha said. “The latter was more important to the Fate Dancers than the former. They are no more fond of murder than the rest of us, but they draw a sharp and deadly line at those who seek the power held by the Troubles, even when the seeker is the Bearer. In truth they would have eventually acted without my efforts. Elshira was a fool to discount their capacity to overcome Trouble-based magic and their absolute conviction that no one can be allowed to harness or harbor Troubles. It’s the central tenet of their existence and yet she thought them so beneath her that they didn’t merit concern. At least until she met their knives.”
Except, Elshira had apparently been right. The Fate Dancers knives hadn’t been enough to destroy her. They’d only made her more powerful in the end.
That wasn’t the thought which concerned Yasgrid though.
She was stuck on the declaration that a Fate Dancer would always kill someone who harbored a Trouble, and what that might mean for Kyra if it ever came to light that she’d helped Yasgrid, especially given who and what Yasgrid was sheltering.