Side A – Yasgrid
Listening to Kayelle spin a highly embellished account of their battle against the Troubles wasn’t a particularly comfortable experience for Yasgrid but she was able to find a silver lining to it.
“I’ve heard that Troubles are impossibly fast,” Marianne said. “Does Endings give you heightened reflexes while you fight them?”
“Not at all,” Kayelle said. “A lot of the fight just comes down to focus and having something to fight for.”
Kayelle’s strategy seemed transparent to Yasgrid. If “Nia” had something to fight for in saving her sister, how much better wouldn’t she fight if she had a lover who was depending on her to come home safely? Neither Marianne nor Salana had made that particular leap yet, but Kayelle was making a less than subtle effort to bring them around to working it out.
For Yasgrid the important thing was that Kayelle was buying into the notion of fighting better because she had something worth fighting for. Given that Kayelle’s pledge to Endings had been an unfulfillable promise to eradicate all of the Troubles in the Darkwood, Yasgrid was pleased to see that there was an angle she could work on to get Kayelle to connect with something that might be worth living for. That might not be enough to get Kayelle to abandon her impossible task, but anything that kept Nia’s sister from pitching herself into an unwinnable fight was a good thing in Yasgrid’s books.
“Do you know which Troubles you’re going to go after next?” Salana asked. She cut apart a few of the roasted vegetables which surrounded her Crystal Bass filet, reminding Yasgrid that she needed to keep pace with the others or she’d be the last person eating.
“I want to do some research on Bluefalls’ history,” Kayelle said. “I don’t think the Troubles we fought made this area their home, but they were close enough that they might have come from someone who lived here within the last few decades.”
“What will that tell you?” Marianne asked. “You already defeated them didn’t you?”
“We did, but there were three of them working together,” Kayelle said. “Where there’s three, who’s to say there aren’t four, or four dozen.”
“But that’s not possible, is it?” Salana asked, the idea horrible enough that she paused with her fork midway to her mouth.
“Four dozen shouldn’t be,” Kayelle said. “Even the three we faced weren’t working directly together, and if there were many more than that I think it would be inevitable that they’d tear each other apart.”
“Unless they shared a compatible origin,” Marianne said.
Yasgrid’s initial shock at meeting Marianne had faded to the point where there was little more than Yasgrid’s normal social awkwardness keeping her from taking a full share of the conversation. Even if she’d been eager to speak though, Yasgrid would have held back. Listening was so much more enlightening.
Among the things she’d picked up simply by observing the conversation was that Salana hadn’t traveled beyond the general area of Bluefalls, and tended to defer to Marianne as being more experienced, despite Marianne being a year younger. Marianne, meanwhile, earned that deference not by being more widely traveled but because she had a mind that was as sharp as the fiercest north wind.
“Right,” Kayelle said. “Either our first encounter was an unlucky one, or there’s a cluster of Troubles who all feed off one another’s misery, and if so, I’m betting we haven’t seen the end of it.”
Side B – Nia
Amidst the cacophony inside the Black Orchard Nia was forced to admit that she’d met her match. The noise, the danger, even the smell, they were all overwhelming. Yasgrid’s body may have held a Stoneling’s heart, but Nia felt very small inside her borrowed skin.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to escape from too. Claiming that the sewer water the Black Orchard served as a beverage had left her with the urgent desire to vomit would have been nothing but the truth if she cared to use it as an exit strategy.
One trip outside and she could be home free, with sufficient reason to swear off ever repeating the mistake she had clearly made.
It would be so easy. Too easy.
The image of her mother quieting the bar with a snap of her fingers danced on the edges of Nia’s vision. It wasn’t something Nia could do. Not now, not ever. She wasn’t her mother. She would never command the dignity and respect that Naosha M’Kellin would.
She got up from the bench.
“Are you leaving?” Belhelen asked, understanding and concern resting gently on her.
“No,” Nia said, forcing sparks into her tiny heart and a crooked smile onto her lips. “I thought I’d get to know the rest of the band. You know, make an impression on them.”
She looked down and saw an empty mug on the end of the table. Margrada met Nia’s gaze when Nia nodded at the mug. Nia hadn’t expected support but, though Margrada looked confused, she stood up along with Nia.
Nia didn’t waste any more words than that. She did waste the empty mug though, smashing it to pieces over the back of someone’s head who’d decided to pick up one of the chairs.
The guy might have been in the Shatter Band. Or Not. It didn’t really matter.
The next gentleman who requested a dance with her did so by phrasing the request as an elegant hammerfist to her jaw. Had he been slightly less drunk, the blow might have landed. Had he been more drunk, he might not have minded the colossal headbutt Nia landed on his face in return.
The gentleman’s friend, feeling left out of the conversation, tried to interject a rebuttal in the form of a haymaker aimed at Nia’s left earn. Nia turned in time to see Magrada interrupt that interjection with a treatise of her own. It was a treatise written primarily in left jabs with punctuation in the form of a several right uppercuts and while the grammar was barbaric, it more than adequately got her point across.
The Black Orchard somehow got louder after that and, in and among the flurry of fists and feet, Nia found herself in the surprisingly comfortable position of standing in an outward facing ring with the other newcomers to the Shatter Band as they took on everyone foolish enough to step up to them.