Side A – Nia
Nia wasn’t sure how viable it would be to have a cat made of night and dreams (and needle sharp tiny little claws) perched on her shoulder for the rest of her life, but she also recognized that, as a cat, King would leave her shoulder if and when he chose to. Any attempts to remove him sooner might be successful but would earn her the ire only a cat could display. Given that she still wasn’t sure exactly what King was Nia decided that avoiding said display of ire was definitely in her best interests, and so on her shoulder he stayed.
“All of this means that we do have a problem on our hands,” Nia said, gesturing at the temple’s empty entryway.
“Osdora’s not here,” Pelegar said.
“And our Cloud Divers took off,” Nia said and turned to Margrada. “Can you drum them back?”
“Maybe. Probably,” Margrada said. “We don’t have the meat and drink for them that we had before, but the original bargain isn’t complete yet. As long as they see it like that too, they should be willing to come back and carry us back to the tavern. If we can afford to go back that is?”
“Won’t find Osdora back there,” Pelegar said. She was eyeing the runes which were carved into the frame of the temple’s central doorway.
Nia glanced at them and, thanks to a borrowed skill from Yasgrid, read them as being warnings. Very specific warnings. “Do not pass the arches with a lie on your tongue”, “Do not step into the darkness without a shadow on your heart, and three words of deception which bear the ring of truth”, “Listen to all things within, Act on them, Believe none of them.”
“Can we pick up her trail again?” Nia asked. “She tricked us with a false one, but there’s got to be some counter-trick to pick up her real trail, right?”
“There is,” Pelegar said, and Nia saw her clench her fists and release them, over and over.
“Without tangling with the gods in their home?” Nia asked.
Pelegar chuffed out a small laugh.
“Well now you’re asking for everything,” she said.
“Hold on,” Margrada said. “We may not need to disturb the gods at all. Osdora moved her trail over here, but she still flew to her destination on the Cloud Divers she summoned. I can ask our Cloud Divers where Osdora’s Cloud Divers flew to.”
“Will they tell you?” Nia asked. “Or, can they even tell you?”
“Not in words, but I can ask them to take us there and explain that they’ll need to check with the other Cloud Divers to find out where ‘there’ is.”
“You can do all that with one Shatter Drum?” Nia asked.
“It’s not the drum exactly,” Margrada said. “It’s the magic the drum calls into being.”
“But we can’t hold onto that,” Nia said. “It just has to flow through us doesn’t it?”
“That’s what we tell everyone who’s still a novice,” Pelegar said. “Helps keep people from pushing too far past what their skill can handle.”
“But I’m not a novice,” Margrada said, as she began to play a rhythm which carried Nia into the unfettered sky once more.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid felt her spirits rising as she mentally prepared for a battle with the Fate Dancers. A battle of wits and words, unless they chose to make it into something more.
And part of her was dearly hoping they would make it into something more.
That they’d proven capable of seriously injuring a Bearer who was willing to leverage Troubles in a lethal manner should have given her pause, and it did, but the pause she felt holding her back seemed worryingly brief.
“Before we turn our attention to the Fate Dancers, there is another matter we should discuss,” Naosha said.
“You would like to speak with Nia?” Yasgrid asked.
“Yes. Dearly. Though only when she is safe, and only in a manner which will not compromise that safety,” Naosha said. To Yasgrid’s eyes, Naosha’s expression was one of perfect serenity, as though the sentiments she was expressing were ones which a manual on proper discourse had instructed her to say. When Yasgrid tried to correct that view to account for her own Stoneling biases though, she was shocked by the tension and longing that underpinned Naosha’s statements.
If Yasgrid was reading the minute signs correctly, Naosha was in agony waiting to speak to her daughter, and yet was fiercely determined to take no action and call for no action which might in any way endanger Nia.
“That should be simple enough to arrange,” Yasgrid said, hoping to reassure Naosha. Only speaking with Nia would really accomplish that, but it seemed kind to at least try what she could. “Night falls earlier in the Stoneling lands than it does in Darkwood. She should be settling in while it’s still early here.”
“Good. Speaking in a quiet hour is preferable to a time when interruptions might occur,” Naosha said. “That is not the matter I was speaking of however. You have shared you identity with us. From how you present yourself and the style of your speech, I do not doubt that you are someone other than my daughter. I wish to understand more than that however.”
“I’m happy to share what I know, but I’m not sure how much I can offer on what caused this situation to occur,” Yasgrid said. “Neither Nia nor I can recall anything which might have triggered our transmigration between bodies.”
“While that remains an intriguing puzzle to solve, I am content to wait until more information arises which might point to an explanation,” Naosha said. “For now though what I desire is to understand who you are, rather than simply who you are not.”
“I’m not sure where to begin with that,” Yasgrid said, stumbling over what a proper introduction to herself might sound like.
“Tell us about your people,” Kayelle suggested. “What we know of the Stonelings comes from texts written by those who trade between us, rather than Stonelings themselves.”
“I believe you’ll receive an oddly biased account on that subject from me,” Yasgrid said. “I lived my entire life as a Stoneling up until the beginning of this year, but in the short while that I’ve been here I’ve seen with some clarity that this is where my true people are.”