Side A – Yasgrid
Kayelle was unhappy, but Yasgrid wasn’t concerned. In response to Yasgrid’s pronouncement that she wasn’t going to let Kayelle get herself killed fighting the troubles that were hunting them, Kayelle had huffed and turned away. It was a better reaction than Yasgrid had expected, though she guessed the real fight over that issue was merely delayed rather than resolved.
“Get some sleep,” Kayelle said. “We’re going to need to take off early tomorrow.”
“Or as soon as something catches up with us,” Yasgrid said. “As long as we’re inside the Darkwood, they can come for us from anywhere and at any time right?”
Yasgrid considered asking Endings how the other bearers had dealt with that problem. It seemed like the odds were stacked pretty heavily against a single bearer surviving for a full year since they needed to be on guard at all hours and the monsters only needed to find one moment where the bearer was defenseless to end things in their favor. Kayelle might have agreed to let them stop running but Yasgrid didn’t think ignoring Kayelle for an extended period in order to talk to Endings would send quite the right message.
“If something catches up with us then whoever’s awake can use Endings to deal with the thing,” Kayelle said, without turning to face Yasgrid. She was weaving blades of grass into something that Yasgrid couldn’t quite make out. A charm of some sort maybe?
“That works as long as they’re not able to group up,” Yasgrid said, trying to peer around Kayelle’s shoulder to get a look at the charm.
“Most of them aren’t smart enough to use tactics like that,” Kayelle said. She threw the woven strands of grass to the far end of the clearing where they landed with an odd sparkle.
Yasgrid wasn’t sure how they’d traveled as far as they had. Even wadded up, a little bit of grass like the one Kayelle had worked together shouldn’t have had the weight to fly very far. The grass charm’s flight hadn’t surprised Kayelle though, and without pausing she began to fashion a second one.
“Most isn’t all,” Yasgrid said. “Bearer’s do fail, and I’ve got to imagine that more often than not it’s to the troubles that have learned to be patient, and careful, and clever.”
From what Endings had said some of the troubles were centuries old. Even if they’d begun as feral, mindless beings, it seemed nearly certain they would have developed a deadly degree of cunning over the long years of being hunted by, and in turn hunting, the best the Elves had to offer.
Endings hadn’t withheld answers to any of the questions Yasgrid had asked so far either, which suggested she could probably learn about what those earlier encounters had been like from the blade that had been most intimately involved in them. It would give her an advantage, but not a unique one she guessed. The elves who’d carried Endings before her had almost certainty come up with the same thought and, at least versus some of the troubles, it hadn’t been enough to win the battle.
“That’s why we’re going to hunt those trouble first,” Kayelle said. “They’ll be hanging back, trying to understand what we bring to the fight. Tomorrow we start hitting them before they have a chance to figure out more about us than we know about them.”
“That’s a plan I can get behind,” Yasgrid said. “Are you sure you want the first watch though?”
“Yeah, you’re beat,” Kayelle said. “If something attacks us now and I’m asleep you’re going to fall over just trying to lift Endings.”
She wasn’t exactly wrong in that evaluation Yasgrid had to admit. Without waiting to be asked, she passed Endings over to Kayelle, and turned to settle down on the grass. Sleeping on the ground had never been her favorite option, even as a kid she’d preferred to be a nice bed, but the soft grass around the pond was as comfortable as an overstuffed downy mattress.
Yasgrid could feel the current of her fatigue pulling her down as soon as she closed her eyes, but she fought to remain conscious for a little longer. She still had one more thing she needed to take care of before she could rest.
Side B – Nia
Nia felt ill. Brushing up against the temptation to claim Yasgrid’s life as her own wasn’t something she could walk away from easily. For as much she knew she couldn’t replace Yasgrid, for as much as she told herself it wasn’t what she was doing, she still couldn’t avoid digging that hole even deeper.
“Playing like we had to was really different,” she said, twisting the truth as good as her mother ever could have. Of course the Calling would have seemed to different to Yasgrid, no one had played in a disaster like that ever before, and if Belhelen took that as an indication of how the magic had transformed Yasgrid into someone new, in a metaphorical sense, Nia was under no obligation to explain that she was someone new in a literal sense as well.
“That was definitely the most intense audition I think anyone’s ever had at a calling,” Belhelen said. “I couldn’t hear what was happening with you folks but it sounded like you were doing fine until everything went to hell?”
“The first bit wasn’t what I expected, but we seemed to be holding together until that first drummer lost it,” Nia said. Again, just the right twist to the truth. Yasgrid might have been surprised by playing for real in front of an audience where Nia had actually been surprised at the entirety of what Shatter drum magic entailed. Nia had managed to ‘hold it together’ in only the loosest of senses. From the first notes her mind and spirit rang with the reality fracturing powers of the drum and it was only thanks to an unearned miracle that she’d made it through to the other side of the performance with any vestige of her former self intact.
“I still don’t understand what went wrong,” Belhelen said. “That’s for later on though I guess.”
“Next year?” Nia asked.
“No, the Council’s going to look into it as soon as people have had some time to recover,” Belhelen said. “We can’t risk any more major performances until we know what went wrong with this one.”
A new stab of worry spiked through Nia. Had it been her presence that set the volcano gods off? Would the Shatter drummers be able to figure that out?
“That’s a worry for another day though,” Belhelen said. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You should follow the doctor’s orders and get some more rest I think.”
“I guess I’ve got a big day tomorrow don’t I?” Nia asked, offering Belhelen a smile.
“Not too big for you to handle though, Shatter drummer,” Belhelen replied, mirroring Nia’s smile back at her.
Nia watched her amble painfully out of the room. The strength Nia had been holding onto drained right out her as soon as she was alone again and she sank bank onto the pillow.
When she awoke again, she was the only one in the room, but she wasn’t alone.
“I think we’ve finally got some time to talk,” Yasgrid said.