Side A – Nia
It’s always a surprise when people who seem mild turn out to have a spark of fire you hadn’t seen before. Margrada’s shock and wariness at Nia’s bite turned back to disbelief as Margrada narrowed her eyes.
“You never trash talk anyone,” she said, the words a dare for Nia to try.
“Maybe I’ve forgotten that too,” Nia said, refusing to the rise to the taunt both because she wasn’t going to let Margrada dictate anything to her and because she didn’t have a sense yet for what the most effective putdowns would be for a Stoneling.
“Must be so hard,” Margrada said, her irritation scraping the words clean of any dregs of comfort they might have unintentionally tried to convey.
“I wouldn’t know, now would I?” Nia said, his smile a taunting knife’s edge driven by the glee of refusing to engage with Margrada in the contest Margrada seemed so eager for.
Margrada scowled at Nia’s unreachable calm. Yasgrid would have responded to the bait. Poorly probably. Nia didn’t suffer from the same insecurities Yasgrid did though and so different slings and arrows were required to wound her spirit. Taunts which would have sunk deep into Yasgrid’s heart and drawn her in to a conflict she didn’t want to be near, instead bounced harmlessly off Nia and left her feeling somewhat smug.
“I don’t get you,” Margrada said.
“Did you ever?” It wasn’t a question.
“What like you were some big mystery before?” Margrada said. “Destined daughter of greatness.”
“No one ever called me that,” Nia said and checked with Yasgrid’s memories to see if there was any dim echo of a title like that.
“Oh that’s right, you were going to earn your position in the Band fair and free,” Margrada said.
“I thought we were done dancing around that?” Nia said, flickers of more-than-mild annoyance sparking from her lips.
“Sure,” Margrada said. “You’re clearly past all that. No special treatment for you anymore.”
Nia’s calm rallied, reminding her that Margrada had a point about the benefits Yasgrid had in getting onto the Band, even considering the disaster that had been this year’s Calling.
“It’s not all that special to get in when they had to fill the missing seats with someone,” Nia said. As she spoke the words, the wound they exposed gaped before her eyes and she frowned wishing she could bite her tongue hard enough to draw them back in.
Margrada had worked hard to get into the Shatter Band. Harder than Yasgrid, Nia was certain. Margrada had skill and Nia had seen skilled performers before. She’d seen ones who relied on their native talent alone and ones who pushed themselves ever farther and higher. Margrada was definitely among the latter.
Nia didn’t know what Yasgrid’s normal playing was like via first hand experience, but she remembered Halfhid’s concerns that first day, and Yasgrida’s prompting which had lead them both through the initial drum beats. Yasgrid was probably a better player than Halfhid knew and better than what she asked Nia to be, but Margrada was in a league beyond anything Nia had seen so far.
Even in the face of the world teetering on the bring of collapse, Margrada had played on, and it had been all Nia could do to simply support her.
The invitation to the Shatter Band should have been a recognition of that, and a celebration of what Margrada had driven herself to attain, but thanks to the losses the Band had to fill, the invitation said nothing more than “we guess you’ll do”.
Side B – Yasgrid
Marianne froze into block of deathly stillness. Only her eyes seemed to be alive and churning with emotion.
“It’s. On. Me?”
“Yes,” Yasgrid said as Endings adjusted her vision so that the Trouble’s camouflage faded away.
It was a small thing, just as Kayelle and Endings had predicted, but still horrifying. How Marianne couldn’t feel its serrated talons digging into her skin, or the spiny fangs in its mouth resting against the back of her head seemed to be an impossibility but even the creature’s weight appeared to have no effect as Marianne moved her head slowly looking for it.
“Where?” Marianne asked. The knife in her hand quavered, and for a moment Yasgrid worried that Marianne might stab herself in the head if Yasgrid answered her question.
“I can get it off you,” Yasgrid said, carefully turning Endings in her hands to be ready to strike. There wasn’t any method of doing that which wouldn’t say ‘I’m about to stab you’ since that’s exactly what she was planning to do, but Yasgrid held out hope that by moving slowly and carefully she wouldn’t set off any panic instincts in the woman in front of her.
“Where. Is. It.” Marianne’s insistence didn’t seem panicked, but it didn’t seem entirely rational either.
“Its on your back,” Yasgrid said, reiterating what she’d already revealed and remaining at least technically truthful in the process. “I can make it go away though.”
“All Endings has to do is cut it,” Yasgrid said.
“So you want me to turn around?” Marianne pronounced each word with deliberation, as though the need to get the instruction precisely right was all that was holding her together.
“Yes,” Yasgrid said and then added, “Wait! Let me test something. Here try to tap the point of the blade. Lightly, if you can.”
Marianne reached out her hand and gingerly stuck her finger on Endings point. Yasgrid hardly felt any back pressure but from how sharply Marianne withdrew her hand, Yasgrid had the answer to her question.
Endings could hurt regular people too.
The trick she’d used with Kayelle would have been disastrous to try with Marianne.
“It’s sharp,” Marianne said, not pulling her hand away any further lest she move her body more than was absolutely necessary.
“It is,” Yasgrid agreed. “Do you trust me?”
Many answers flashed behind Marianne’s eyes until she eventually settled on answering a question with a question.
“Who is the Trouble from?”
“Not me,” Yasgrid said, answering with certainty for both herself and Nia.
Marianne considered that a long breath before relaxing into a smile which only graced the edges of her eyes and offered a single “Yes” as her answer.
Before she could draw another breath, Yasgrid struck.