Side A – Yasgrid
The image of Naosha M’Kellin working dread and dire magics was only slightly more ridiculous than the reality that she’d researched them, but Yasgrid found she could believe at least the latter. Naosha, Yasgrid suspected, allowed for very few rules or societal conventions to inconvenience her when it came to the ones she loved. That people saw her as a proper and elegant lady at all times wasn’t quite an illusion either though. If it had ever been a disguise, it was one Yasgrid imagined Naosha had worn willingly for so long that it shaped her as much as she shaped the events around her.
Yasgrid felt a curious urge to linger far longer than she knew she should. The idea of who you choose to be becoming who you really were was a supremely enticing one after all of the years she’d spent believing that no matter how much she tried to pretend she was a good and dedicated Shatter Drummer, it would always be a lie that people only humored her in because of her mother.
“We should decide what we’re going to do about Elshira,” Kayelle said. “If she’s moving again after being dormant for years something must have reached a tipping point.”
“She may have been consolidating her power,” Naosha said. “There are no writings about rituals to control the Troubles, but I can make what I believe will be reasonably accurate guesses as to the broad strokes of what she’s accomplished.”
“That will be invaluable,” Yasgrid said. “Where we may have some difficulty though is in guessing where that will lead her. She was pretty far from forthcoming about her motivations or goals when we spoke.”
“It seems that was meant to be a recruitment mission,” Kayelle said. “Given your refusal, I would expect her to create opportunities to change your mind.”
“We should welcome those,” Naosha said. “So long as she is focused on you as a goal, she won’t act on your presence as an obstacle.”
Meaning that while conversion was an option, attempted murder would be on hold.
“I’m not sure she has any weapons she can threaten me with,” Yasgrid said. “If her powers are mostly based around the Troubles she controls, she’s probably aware of what sending them against one of the Bearers would mean.”
“That’s doubtless why she approached you as she did,” Naosha said. “Which is somewhat worrisome as it shows she’s gained a measure of awareness she lacked in her previous life.”
“Which leads to another question we’ll need the answer to,” Yasgrid said. “No magic can reach the dead, and nothing can pull them back, correct?”
“Yes. The question of how Elshira managed to return from her demise is a puzzle as well,” Naosha said. “The two most prominent options seems to be that she either never truly died, or that, while mortal magic cannot reach the dead, there is no similar prohibition to prevent the dead from crafting a working that brings them back to the living lands.”
“There is a third possibility,” Yasgrid said, a cold pit forming in her stomach at the mere contemplation of the idea. “You said mortal magic can’t pierce the veil? Is there anything to prevent the magic of a god from doing so?”
Side B – Nia
The view down the river did not contain the answer to Nia’s dilemma. She knew it wouldn’t. She knew exactly where the answer lay, right inside her, and she knew was it was, that she shouldn’t lie about who she was, not even by omission.
Knowing something and acting on that thing are very different beasts though.
“How far is Gossma likely to travel with Osdora?” Margrada asked, buying Nia a few more moment to wrestle with her demons of doubt.
“She was packed and ready to go on a moment’s notice,” Pelegar said. “Either she never dropped the torch she used to carry for Osdora, or Osdora made a hell of a good argument in her dream message.”
“I don’t think she’s been carrying much a torch for her old flame,” Gossma’s mother said. “She’s had other flings here and there.”
“She travels a lot?” Margrada asked, casting a glance back towards the tiny village that certainly couldn’t have been home to a wide array of romantic options.
“We moved around for years,” Gossma’s father said. “Only settled down here about a year ago.”
“So Gossma knows more of the terrain than just the river then?” Margrada said.
“Sure does,” Gossma’s father said. “She could take Osdora down to the sea and back if they wanted to travel that far.”
“What if they wanted to go farther than that?” Nia asked, not entirely wanting to know the answer.
“Gossma’s done some sailing too. If Osdora was looking to go somewhere mad like across to the human lands though they’d need to find a real ship and crew for that,” Gossma’s mother said.
Somewhere mad like the human lands? The ones that were far closer than the Darkwood? The ones that weren’t shut against all outsiders? If the human lands were ‘mad’ then what did that make her homeland?
It made them Trouble and Nia shivered.
Chasing Osdora. Revealing who she was. She felt like she stood at a tipping point. Any decision she made would move her safely off the precipice but even knowing that didn’t let her step away from the knife’s edge.
It was a problem she couldn’t back away from, and one she wasn’t sure she could resolve. It was exactly the sort of thing that could birth a Trouble.
Except that wasn’t an issue in the Stoneling mountains.
Troubles didn’t live here. They weren’t a part of the fabric the Stoneling gods had woven when they formed the home for their peoples.
So she was safe.
She had to be safe, didn’t she?
She didn’t need to voice the question to know she wasn’t.
However much she loved being a Stoneling, she was still a child of Darkwood. Her heart might beat with the Shatter Drums, but she’d been shaped by root and branch, bower and canopy.
There was a magic in her that was older than the Stoneling’s mountains and deeper than the darkest shadows of the wood she’d been raised in, and that magic could be very dangerous.