Two Hearts One Beat – Chapter 5


Side A – Nia

Being in another person’s body was strangely liberating. Nia felt the unfamiliar mass of Yasgrid’s long limbs and the heft of her towering body but neither was burdened by a sense of heaviness. There was a weight and force to each step Nia took that she was unused to, but at the same time she felt impossibly light, her muscles propelling her up the long ascending road to the God’s Dome with only the barest effort.

“What must it be like when they dance?” She didn’t mean to whisper the question aloud. Yasgrid had faded from her view. Nia could still feel Yasgrid’s presence in her mind but she knew the other woman wasn’t actively aware of what Nia was doing or saying. Their bond was still new and untested, but parts of it made intuitive sense right away. If Yasgrid wasn’t focused on Nia, then there was no one to hear Nia’s whispering.

Or almost no one.

“What?” Halfhid asked, turning back and fixing Nia with a glare which suggested that she had better not be dawdling further.

Nia suppressed a yelp. He couldn’t have heard her. Not clearly.

“What do you think my chances are?” Nia asked, covering her earlier question up with one she was even more curious about. Halfhid seemed to think Yasgrid had the talent she needed, but Nia knew that talent is only ever one ingredient for success at any endeavor.

“Depends,” Halfhid said, turning away and continuing on with Nia intentionally letting him walk half a step ahead. “There’s some better competition this year than there was last, and there’s fewer First Performer positions open.”

The hesitancy in his voice was too familiar to Nia. It was the tone a teacher took when describing a promising student who hadn’t applied themselves to the degree they should have.

Despites their differences it seemed that Nia and Yasgrid had a few things in common at least.

“Do I have a shot?” she asked, not because she felt she had much chance of performing well, but out of concern for how much failing might ruin Yasgrid’s future.

“Wouldn’t be bringing you to it at all if I didn’t think you had a shot,” Halfhid said. “In the end though it’s not for me to say. You just focus on the drums. If you go in worrying about tomorrow’s troubles, you’ll never be able to do what you need to today.”

It seemed like good advice. Especially since thinking about the future sent Nia’s thoughts into an unpleasant spiral. Would tomorrow be an issue for her? She might go to sleep and wake up in her own body with no way to know how a disastrous performance turned out for Yasgrid.

Or worse, she might go to sleep and wake up still in the Stoneling’s body.

The question of “when and how” she and Yasgrid would return to their proper bodies was one Nia knew should be her top priority but since she didn’t have the first idea how to make that happen, taking care of more immediate concerns seemed like the best she could do under the circumstances.

“But, and I know I’ve said this before but it’s important, try not to aggravate the gods,” Halfhid said, opening a door in a wall that Nia had mistaken for the mountain above them.

A furious gust of scalding air rushed out and, inside, Nia found herself stepping into the largest open space she had ever seen. Brilliant red light painted the walls, illuminating statues that soared higher the tallest tree in the Darkwood.

The Gods of Frost Harbour looked down on her in their silent, earthen glory as below them the caldera of the volcano they guarded seethed with ancient rage.

Side B – Yasgrid

Yasgrid was aware of Nia’s surprise at seeing the Gods Dome for the first time. She was pleased that, whatever connection had been forged between them, it seemed to have given each a sense for the other’s mood and situation. Manifesting in the other’s presence carried the penalty of losing track of one’s immediate environment but even with her attention fully occupied by dressing in the unfamiliar clothes of the elves, Yasgrid still found it simple to keep tabs on Nia’s presence in her mind.

“This is impossible,” she said, though whether she was referring to existing in a stranger’s body, or more specifically getting dressed in the clothes Nia’s mother had left for her, Yasgrid couldn’t be certain.

It wasn’t that the clothes were especially complicated. The pants were a simple affair, with plenty of room for movement and a basic drawstring to cinch them tight around the waist. The fabric was unfamiliar, soft, and light, and more sheer than anything that could be worn in the northlands. Yasgrid guessed it was some form of silk, perhaps from the spiders the elves of the Darkwood supposedly kept as pets?

The thought was more intriguing to Yasgrid than revolting. The northlands had few spiders and none which a Stoneling had to be concerned about, so they tended to pass unnoticed. Meeting some of the elusive creatures could be an opportunity Yasgrid would never have had otherwise.

That was true of everything which lay around her though.

Including the top to Nia’s outfit.

As with the pants, it wasn’t complicated. No strange ribbons, or stays, or elaborate buckles, or belts. Just a relatively narrow band of cloth that was several times longer than Nia’s full height and a simple green linen shirt.

Yasgrid knew she could put on the shirt and be considered decent, but since she had to go to an official function, it seemed likely proper dress would be required.

Calling Nia was the obvious answer. The elf would certainly know how to dress herself, but Yasgrid could feel Nia’s concentration on the task that awaited her. She could risk interrupting that, or she could figure out how the Darkwood elves dressed in the other obvious manner.

She peeked outside the door to her room to take a look at how everyone else used the long swaths of fabric in their outfits.

That didn’t work so well though.

No one was outside for her to observe.

Because she was hundreds of feet off the ground.

The world swam around her but Yasgrid managed to catch the railing on the far side of the walkway before she went toppling over it.

Darkwood homes were not like the multi-room structures she was used to. They were individual rooms connected by walkways with everything grown or build around the giant trees the elves fashioned their cities from. Yasgrid panted and filed that information away for later review as she gazed around and took in the wonders of Nia’s home.

Yasgrid was used to spires that soared far higher than the great trees of the Darkwood, but not ones on which people lived and moved and…tumbled?

In early morning light, elves of every size and shape, scampered above and below her, along the winding paths that lead between the various suspended habitats.

Yasgrid watched as a pair of young girls played leapfrog along a vine bridge that swayed and rocked with every move they made.

On a higher path, an older elven man stretched, yawned, and casually toppled over the edge of the path, dropping a good twenty feet before catching onto a vine that lead to a large gathering area a few trees to the west.

Yasgrid wasn’t afraid of heights. She was just sensibly concerned about them. Especially the part where the forest floor was so far below that any impact with it would likely leave a rather impressive crater.

Yasgrid flinched and gripped the railing tighter. She was going to have to ask for Nia’s help, even if that meant distracting the elven woman when Nia needed to focus the most.

“Nia, you’re a half naked wreck as usual,” a woman said, landing beside her from the housing pod above. “But why should I be surprised? When is my sister anything but a disaster waiting to happen?”