Side A – Yasgrid
The first Trouble had caught them unaware and had come to them. Against the second Trouble, they’d flown like night sparrows carrying death’s most precious gift. For the third and final Trouble though Yasgrid and Kayelle took a different approach.
Speed was no longer quite as essential. They weren’t going to be met by more foes than they could defend against anymore. Instead the challenge shifted to ensuring that the predator which was attempting to hunt them didn’t learn that it had become the prey until it was far too late for the Trouble to get away.
The sweet scent of a crushed sparkleberry teased Yasgrid nose, sinking her into a revelry of foreign memories, a gift from Nia’s subconscious which drew Yasgrid’s awareness out into the forest as far as she could see. Breathing in the thousands faint airs that wound like gossamer through the trees left Yasgrid feeling like she was the forest itself.
The crushed berries were a tiny bruise showing where the Trouble had passed and when it had stood where she did.
Yasgrid moved through the Darkwood with that as a guide, following a ghostly afterimage of the Trouble formed from impressions left in moss and dry twigs, and colored by the scents it carried from areas far away.
She was walking closer to danger with every silent step and she could feel the ringing of a song growing along her nerves with every step. She’d never hunted before, and didn’t think she would have enjoyed it if she had, but this? This was different. Her prey was no innocent animal. The Trouble reeked of malice wrapped in cruel desire. It could hurt her and it would love doing so.
But it wasn’t going to get the chance.
Yasgrid glanced over to Kayelle who still held Endings. She only knew where Kayelle was through the same ghostly awareness the Darkwood offered which revealed the Trouble, although, in that vision, Kayelle was nothing more than the suggestion of a wisp of smoke where the Trouble called out its position like a raging bonfire.
To the Trouble’s credit, it was a patient nightmare. It had found the hidden path the sister would have fled down to escape the other two Troubles if the ambush had been detected too soon. It waited above the path, silent except for a heart that beat with cruel glee, talons extended from fingers that had once been modeled on elven ones.
Yasgrid pointed to herself and up into the tree. Kayelle tightened her hold on Endings and looked to the spot below the Trouble’s perch.
Understanding had been attained.
Yasgrid didn’t fly into the tree but scaling it took such little effort that she could hardly call it climbing either.
The Trouble didn’t hear her coming, but some other sense warned it of her approach. Before she could get a footing on the tree limb it hung from, it rose to confront her, baring fangs as long her torso and claws that glittered with corrosive green light. It was ready for a battle in the treetops as well as the ground.
Yasgrid didn’t give it one.
Without concern for her safety, she flew from the trunk and passed inside the reach of its claws. The Trouble tried to tear into her with its fangs but Yasgrid clamped her hands around its throat, and hurled the both of them down the long fall to the ground below.
Side B – Nia
The sea surrounded Nia. In every direction, except up, there was water.
Halfhid hadn’t been content to take her own into the bay Frost Harbor was settled on. No, his long oar strokes had carried them out of the mouth of fjord and into the unfathomable expanse of blue beyond, until Nia thought that the land she saw at the horizon might be nothing more than a memory or a wish that remained.
“You’ve lost a lot,” Halfhid said. “But I think you’ve gained something too in the bargain. Do you remember when I first brought you out here?”
Nia shook her head wordlesly.
“I didn’t expect so,” Halfhid said. “That’s all the better though. Tell me what you see now.”
“Blue. Everywhere. And shelter nowhere,” Nia said. She reached for some unconscious reassurance in Yasgrid’s memories to combat the hysteria her elven soul felt at being so horrifically exposed, but found little to draw on. Apparently Yasgrid hadn’t been much of a sailor up till now either.
“Yes, good,” Halfhid said, closing his eyes and lifting his face to the sky. “And what do you feel?”
Nia was tempted to say “terrified” but she knew that wasn’t what Halfhid was looking for. Instead she copied his gesture and closed her eyes.
Their boat rocked with each swell that passed underneath them. The air carried the salty tang of the spray. No matter what she tried to imagine she couldn’t hide from where she was.
But the sky was the same.
The feeling of the sun playing on her eyelids was still familiar.
And the wind, though it carried new scents, it pushed on her back with the same gentle touch she’d felt a thousand times before.
The thought that she wasn’t alone bubbled up and she felt her chest lose a tension she hadn’t noticed she was carrying.
“I feel the ocean moving under us,” Nia said, feeling the edges of the lesson Halfhid meant to share with her.
“What does it say?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” The ocean was too vast to be understood.
She listened again, feeling the next swell pass through her as much as through the water. One rise, one fall. Then another, and another. The tempo was steady but changing. There were variations within it.
She couldn’t hear what the ocean was saying, but she knew she didn’t need to. That wasn’t the lesson Halfhid was trying to teach her. He hadn’t brought her out into the blue to make a sailor out of her. He was making her into a drummer, and drummers saw the world in a very special way.
“It’s music,” she breathed, feeling the beat as it rolled on past them.