Side A – Nia
The best place to be in a bar fight is in another bar. Nia didn’t need a long brawling history under her belt to figure that one out. By the time she’d taken two steps into the Black Orchard she had that idea firmly decided in her mind.
For all the sound and fury swirling around her though, the only punches being thrown were between people who were smiling and laughing with each other both before and after their fists went flying.
“What are the chances I leave here with as many teeth as I arrived with?” Nia mumbled to herself. She didn’t need to worry about keeping her voice low, even her best shout would barely have been audible a few feet away.
“Are you in peril?”
The voice came from behind her. It was bored, in a lazy, dangerous sort of way.
Nia whirled around to find no one waiting there. Just her shadow, stretching from the light of the tavern out into the night.
Her shadow with two pale yellow cat’s eyes within it looking back at her.
Nia gulped. She’d forgotten about her stowaway.
“No, I’m ok,” she said. “Thanks for asking.”
No one was staring at her as she looked around the room for any familiar faces, but talking to her invisible shadow cat still felt it was going to draw the wrong kind of attention.
“You will inform me if that changes?” the shadow cat asked.
It was something between a question and a command, almost as though Nia’s capacity to recognize peril was too questionable to be reliably dictated.
“Were you planning to help me keep an eye out, or do anything if I was in peril?” Nia asked. She wasn’t sure which answer she was hoping for. Having someone to watch her back would be handy, and it was possible that the shadow cat’s help in a fight might not be disastrous. Then again, that didn’t tend to be the direction her luck ran in.
“No,” the shadow cat said.
“Why should I tell you then?”
“Because I wish to know,” the shadow cat said.
“I don’t even know who you are,” Nia said. “Why should I tell you anything?”
The yellow eyes blinked. Nia tried to remember if they’d been yellow before? Was he still changing? If so, was that a bad or a good sign?
“I am King,” the shadow cat said.
Nia wondered if that was a proper name, or a title. Or if there was any difference at all in the cat’s case.
Side B – Yasgrid
Night was just starting to fall as Yasgrid picked a path through Bluefalls. She was spared the trouble of asking for directions by Kayelle catching up with her.
“Where are you going?” Kayelle asked, her eyes wide with the sort of amazement which left Yasgrid wondering how Kayelle could look at her and still imagine she was seeing her sister Nia.
“I was thinking we’d get dinner,” Yasgrid said. “Unless you want to arrange for the supplies first. I’m hungry but I can wait a bit if we need to.”
Kayelle glanced back and forth between her and down the road Yasgrid had chosen. It was a long street lined with regularly spaced, moderately sized houses and only a few small trees growing here and there. Unlike Nia’s hometown, Bluefalls was built almost entirely on ground level. At the end of the road, the land sloped up a small hill and ended at a larger walled compound.
“The Water Keeper’s estates, ” Nia offered, in response to Yasgrid’s unasked question about what the walled area might be. Nia hadn’t projected herself over to Bluefalls, since her attention was needed in the Black Orchard. And there was the small matter that she didn’t want to be in Bluefalls at all. “That’s where Marianne’s family moved to.”
Yasgrid paused, processing that information. It explained Kayelle’s reaction. Kayelle clearly thought Yasgrid had intended to walk right up to her old flame’s house, despite that being something her sister never would have done normally.
“Did you have anywhere in particular you were thinking to go?” Yasgrid asked. She was fine with any destination, and allowed that to show in her tone and posture. It might have been fun to see Kayelle’s reaction if Yasgrid had gone up and knocked on the estate’s door, but they had gone a while without a good meal and though Nia’s former body wasn’t in terrible shape, she hadn’t been used to long periods of strenuous exertion fueled only by trail rations either.
“Yeah, I’ve heard the Fall’s Terrace has good food,” Kayelle said, still glancing occasionally back to the Water Keeper’s estate. She started to move away from it, leading Yasgrid down another road, casually weaving them through the thin crowds bustle off towards wherever they went at the end of the day.
Yasgrid wondered if Kayelle was spooked by how eagerly Yasgrid seemed to be jumping into the plan of “reconnect with Marianne”.
Nia didn’t think Kayelle knew that much about her relationship with Marianne, at least not beyond the basic fact of its existence. Yasgrid could see that Kayelle watched her younger sister a lot more than she let on though, and knew Kayelle probably had a very good idea of how much Marianne had meant to Nia, and how much it had devastated Nia to lose a girl she loved for so long.
Kayelle’s plan to reconnect the two and keep Nia safe from the dangers of being one of Ending’s Bearers was doomed to failure but Yasgrid had to admit it was at least well intentioned.
“Nia? Is that you?” the voice was unfamiliar, but as Yasgrid turned she knew there was only one person it could belong to.
Marianne stood with a few of her new friends, heading back home as the day drew to a close. They all looked surprised to see the somewhat forest bedraggled M’Kellin sisters wandering through their town.
Yasgrid felt a shock of surprise too. Growing up as a Stoneling, she had a very different standard of beauty than Nia did. Despite that, her breath caught at just how lovely Marianne was.
Lovely and breathtaking, since Yasgrid found herself trying to form the words for the casual response she’d envisioned making but failing to exhale even a syllable of them.