Side A – Nia
Nia felt bound to the earth she stood on. It was though her shadow weighed more than the rest of her body, despite the only addition to it being one rather small cat who was, to all appearances, composed of nothing more than shadows himself.
“Will you be staying there long?” Yasgrid asked, eyeing the spot where the cat should have been.
“I am tired,” the shadow cat said. “I will rest now.”
Nia looked at Yasgrid, but neither woman knew what approach they were supposed to take. Interplanar Diplomacy and Etiquette might have existed as a course of study somewhere, but if so it wasn’t one the Darkwood Elves or the Stonelings had experience with.
“Is it ok if I move?” Nia asked. In theory the cat had crawled into her shadow to move out of the light of the late day sun. Before she provoked its ire by letting the day’s last shards of sunlight fall on the living shadow being, Nia decided a little normal diplomacy might be a good idea.
“You may go where you wish,” the shadow cat said.
“What if my shadow goes away though?” Nia asked.
“Your shadow never goes away,” the cat said. “Even in the brightest of lights, your shadow remains. It is simply inside you then.”
Nia was assailed by by the image of standing in a perfectly bright room, candles all around, with no darkness to be see, only to find that the shadow cat had followed her shadow inside her. She shivered at the notion but she didn’t have time to reflect on it fully before a more pressing matter arose.
“Hey, you taking in guests?” Osdora, Yasgrid’s mother, said from outside the small house as she knocked on the door.
“That is a terrible question,” Yasgrid said, glancing between Nia and her shadow and back.
There were plenty of bad answers to that question to that question but Nia settled on the simplest neutral one she could think of.
“What’s up?” she said, opening the door to let Osdora in.
Nia smiled as she did, greeting Osdora with a warmness that Yasgrid’s mother betrayed a little surprise at seeing.
“Halfhid said you made some good progress today,” Osdora said. “Says you’ll be leading the band in no time.”
“Sure, I could do that,” Nia said. “I mean we already had one disaster this year, what’s another one?”
Osdora blinked, and Nia smiled more broadly to show her complete lack of seriousness at the prospect.
It was oddly easy to speak with Osdora, Nia found. Or at least it had become easy. At first Nia had been terrified of being discovered and ‘not Yasgrid’. That had turned to a less heart stopping level of terror at the prospect that Osdora would simply find her to be unworthy of playing on the Shatter drums.
It hadn’t been that many days, just over a bit over a week, but both those fears had faded substantially.
Osdora was so different from Naosha M’Kallin, Nia’s mother, that Nia wasn’t quite able to see Osdora as a mother at all. She didn’t fit the mold Nia had for what a mother should be. If anything she reminded Nia more of Kayelle on the rare occasions when her older sister was willing to let Nia into her confidence.
“We’ll have you there before you know it,” Osdora said, nodding at the practice Shatter drum which Halfhid had left with Nia.
“Maybe not soon, but I am going to keep working at it,” Nia said. The idea of having an alien shadow entity attached to her was horrifying but since the cat didn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, Nia let her thoughts and feelings be swept happily along by Osdora’s imagination.
“I know,” Osdora said. “But all work can wear you out. It pays to take a break once in a while too.”
Yasgrid choked back breath of disbelief but didn’t offer any specific commentary. Nia didn’t need to dip into their shared mind space to gather than Osdora hadn’t often suggested that her daughter work less hard.
“I’ve been resting since Halfhid finished his lesson,” Nia lied.
“That’s good,” Osdora said. “But it’s good to get out too.” She hesitated before continuing as though expecting her daughter to start withdrawing at the first sign of where the conversation was going. “Since you’re part of the band now, you should come by the Black Orchard tonight. It’s nothing official, but some of the band will be there to welcome in the new members.”
Yasgrid’s eyes were wide but Nia felt only confusion and surprise from her in response to the invitation, but without a sense of danger to go along with it.
“That sounds great,” Nia said. “What time should I head there?”
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid wanted to tell Nia everything about the Black Orchard, from it’s long history as one of the Shatter band’s favorite hang outs, to the number of drunken brawls that broke out there on a nightly basis, to the fact that Osdora had absolutely forbidden her to go there as a child and had shown no sign of relaxing that restriction even after Yasgrid had moved out on her own.
She wanted to tell Nia all of that, but another issue grabbed her attention before she could.
“You fall asleep again?” Kayelle asked as she rose from the small bough they’d used as a bed to recover their strength after their long run and battle with the Troubles.
“No,” Yasgrid said. “Just lost in thought.”
“You looked like you were a thousand miles away.” Kayelle said.
Yasgrid laughed. If only Kayelle knew the truth.
“Probably even farther than that,” she said. “But nobody ate either of us, so I’d say we’re good.”
“That’s very comforting,” Kayelle said. “At least if I go, it’ll be in my sleep.”
“And many years from now,” Yasgrid said. Kayelle was going to have a nice long life, even if Yasgrid had to drag her kicking and screaming into it, she’d decided. The sooner Kayelle got used to that idea, the better it would be for all concerned.
“I want to change course a bit,” Kayelle said. “We had to get away to keep the Troubles who were hunting us from going through other people to get at us. I think after last night, we might have scared the general horde of them a bit. I’m sure the old ones are watching us and planning for what we might do, but the smaller ones could have made another try at us any time today and we haven’t seen any sign of them.”
“Beating three of them at once probably made an impression. Where do you want to go though? To hunt for one of the bigger ones?”
“No, not yet anyways,” Kayelle said. “We took off from home with basic supplies but we’re going to need a lot more if we’re going to head into the deep groves.”
“So back to a town then?”
“We’re pretty close to Bluefalls,” Kayelle said. “I thought we could stop there and get supplies and sleep in a real bed for a night before heading on.”
“Ok, that sounds good,” Yasgrid said, before noticing the look of intense scrutiny that Kayelle was giving her and the moment of shock that flickered across Kayelle’s face as her reply.
“What’s special about Bluefalls?” Yasgrid asked Nia, guessing that she’d made a tactical mistake in the conversation.
From how Nia’s expression paled at the mention of the town, Yasgrid was pretty sure she was correct.
“That’s where Marianne lives,” Nia said, her voice slightly distant and haunted.. “She’s the girl I was in love with. The one I gave a trouble to Endings for this year.”