Side A – Nia
Nia wasn’t alone when she woke up. So that was a plus. The rest of her body though? That was a whole series of checks in the negative column.
Left eye? Not opening so good. Ribs? Left side pretty bruised. Right side kinda busted. Jaw? Intact but still complaining about the abuse. Ears? Ringing. Head? Bruised, busted, intact but complaining and definitely rung like a bell.
“You’re awake?” Margrada asked. “I thought they hit you harder than that.”
“They did,” Nia said, sitting up and taking stock the situation.
The first thing that was abundantly clear was that she shouldn’t have sat up. Having a bigger, tougher body had fooled Nia into thinking life would be less painful, barring extraordinary events like the gods physically smiting her inside a volcano. As it turned out though, the Frost Harbor guards were also quite capable of smiting her and being bigger than an elf appeared to only mean that the was more of her to feel the bruises than if she’d been in her original body.
“Probably shouldn’t have hit them first,” Margrada said. There was a note of amusement in her voice that Nia hadn’t heard there before.
“The hell I did!” she said, wincing at the twinges her exclamation sent rippling through her body. “They jammed a bag over my head!”
“Yeah, apparently they thought that would take the fight out of us,” Margrada said. “Must be used to old people who don’t hold their drink well or something.”
Nia scowled. She couldn’t claim to have been completely sober, but she was hard pressed to imagine a scenario where she left the Black Orchard under her own power and didn’t react poorly to someone blinding her like that.
The notion that it had been the Frost Harbor Watch who she’d been fighting penetrated her ringing brain finally and the obvious question followed in its wake.
“So,” she asked, looking around the cell she shared with Margrada, “how much trouble are we in exactly?”
“And just like that she assumes that because she’s in trouble, I must be too,” Margrada said, regaining a little of her usual disdain.
“Well, you’re either in here because they decided you needed to be arrested too, or because they wanted to punish me,” Nia said. “I think they’d want me awake for my punishment though and I can’t help but notice that your leg is shackled pretty much the same as mine is. So, since we are literally in this together at the moment, how much trouble are we in?”
“That depends,” Margrada said. “Is your mother going to bail you out of this and make it all go away?”
“That’d be nice,” Nia said. “Have you seen her at all?”
“I’m over here Yas,” Osdora called from the next cell down the hallway.
“That’s not a good sign,” Nia mumbled and asked in a louder voice, “Why?”
“She decked one of the guards too when she saw them carrying you,” Margrada said.
“That’s not true,” Osdora said. “I decked two of them. It’s not my fault one of them was able to get back up.”
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid felt an inexplicable desire to smack a family member.
No, wait, it’s entirely explicable, she decided.
Kayelle stared at her with an innocent expression, but the wheels turning in her mind couldn’t have been more obvious if she had cogs for pupils.
“What Trouble is following Marianne?” Yasgrid asked, her voice so measured and calm that Kayelle should already have been running away.
“I don’t know,” Kayelle said. “Endings pointed it out though.”
“And, why, exactly, didn’t you deal with it then?” Yasgrid asked.
“Eh, it’s a little one,” Kayelle said. “Not much of a threat. Also, I’ve got to see about a place for us to sleep tonight, so, here, you can handle this one.”
She didn’t toss Endings to Yasgrid. Not exactly. It was a holy artifact after all. If Yasgrid hadn’t instinctively grabbed for it though, Endings definitely would have plopped onto the road as Kayelle bounced away with a smile on her face.
“Are you…?” Yasgrid’s question fizzled before she could ask it. Of course Kayelle was going to leave this to her. It fit in so nicely with her plans for “Nia and Marianne”.
For a moment Yasgrid contemplated racing after Kayelle and working out a method of stabbing her with Endings that would actually hurt. It would take some doing, but motivation could accomplish wonders.
Growling, she pushed that idea aside and turned in the direction Marianne had left. Yasgrid followed the road for five minutes before she was forced to consider that she was either lost or Marianne had taken a different route home than the one they’d taken to the restaurant.
Endings, can you still tell where the Trouble you noticed before is? she asked.
No. It is small and distant enough that I no longer sense it directly, Endings said, replying with a voice only Yasgrid could hear.
Can you follow its trail if I bring you back to where Marianne was?
Most likely. It’s rare that a Trouble can cloak itself from me completely.
Is this one as small as Kayelle said? Yasgrid asked, wondering how well a Trouble could manage to obscure its true size even if it couldn’t completely obfuscate its presence.
I believe so, Endings said. If it was older it would have recognized me.
Why, what do Troubles do when they recognize you? Yasgrid asked.
If they are weak, they flee. If they are strong, they attack.
The strong ones attack the Bearer? Yasgrid asked, hoping that was the case. She broken two of them already. She was confident she could do the same to others.
It depends how strong they are, Endings said. Many will not approach the Bearer at all but will try to strengthen themselves by inflicting what pain and misery they can on whoever is within their grasp.
Why? Yasgrid asked. Why not just flee?
It’s a form of immortality for them, Endings said. If they cannot survive themselves, then they will burrow into what hearts they can and spawn new Troubles to take their place.