Side A – Yasgrid
Marianne failed to scream. She failed look disgusted. She even failed to act surprised.
“You tell them to sleep?” she asked, her eyes narrowing with sharpened interest. “Why?”
“It felt like the right thing to do?” Yasgrid said, trying to find words to put to her intuition. “They’re not what I expected them to be. I think each of of them may have become more than they were.”
Marianne looked puzzled, but not as horrified as Yasgrid had imagined she might.
“We know they can grow over time,” Marianne said. “Were these older Troubles?”
“No, I think the ones I’ve run into so far have all been younger,” Yasgrid said. “Maybe not from this year, although the one on you might have been that recent.”
“Why give them a chance to grow then? Can you use them against the older Troubles?”
They were still walking, but Marianne had turned around to face Yasgrid and was walking backwards as they talked. Yasgrid expected her to stumble eventually, but Marianne was the epitome of Elven grace and seemed to float over the land given how light her footsteps were.
“Not as weapons,” Yasgrid said. “Not directly at least. I think some of them might be able to help in a battle, but I didn’t keep them for that.”
“Is your sister keeping them too?” Marianne asked.
Their path wound around a small public green with benches which were aglow in the moonlight. Marianne steered away from them though, navigating as though she would know the town blindfolded.
“No. She ended the Trouble she fought like any other bearer would have,” Yasgrid said.
“Does she know that you kept the ones you fought?” Marianne asked.
“It…never came up in conversation,” Yasgrid said, disliking how that sounded.
A faint smile brushed Marianne’s lips. She could see the Yasgrid’s uncertainty over her decision, and the risk Yasgrid was taking for an uncertain reward.
“So do you need me to keep this a secret too then?” she asked.
“I can’t ask that of you,” Yasgrid said. “I just know Kayelle’s struggling with enough things that she didn’t need to be worrying about me too.”
That much was honest, at least as far as Yasgrid could see. Kayelle had taken on the challenge of ending all of the Troubles in the Darkwood as a precursor to leaving her life there behind. Yasgrid could see all too clearly how an impossible quest like that might allow Kayelle to leave her life in the Darkwood behind in another sense if she failed, and given Kayelle’s unhappiness with having Yasgrid along, Yasgrid had to wonder if Kayelle was looking forward to the wrong one of those two possibilities.
Yasgrid’s ruminations on Nia’s sister’s fate were cut short when she bumped into Marianne who’d stopped walking altogether.
“You really aren’t Nia are you?” she asked, though it didn’t sound like a question at all.
Side B – Nia
Nia didn’t feel like a trap had clamped onto her leg. Leg traps were things animals could gnaw off body parts to escape from and that seemed like both a wonderful idea and impossible for her at the moment.
“You’re Belhelen,” she said, hoping to buy time and maybe obfuscate the fact that she couldn’t respond to Belhelen’s question with any words which wouldn’t hurt the other woman.
“I’m glad you know that much.” Belhelen’s smile didn’t touch her eyes. Part of her knew what the real answer to her question was.
Nia wracked her brain, trying to reach out to the ephemeral pool she could occasionally draw Yasgrid’s memories from. It was an inexact talent at best though, and not one which always responded well to stress.
“Do you remember the time we found the sea lark with an injured wing and hid it for a week while we nursed it back to health?” Belhelen asked. There was the kind of hope in her voice which was wrapped in thorns, terrible to hold onto but impossible to let go of either.
Nia breathed in, trying to see if there was anything she could glimpse of the event.
She knew she could call on Yasgrid directly. It wouldn’t take much for Yasgrid to speak through Nia’s lips. Just a slight delay as Nia parroted the words for her.
But that wasn’t what Belhelen was asking for.
Nia stopped her struggle with the distant memories and brought her awareness into the moment she was sharing with Yasgrid’s dearest friend. In the other woman’s eyes, Nia saw the conflicting tides that pulled at Belhelen’s heart. The sense of loss at the distance which had come between them, and the awareness that what they’d had together wasn’t there anymore, while at the same time struggling with the reality of Nia sitting across the table from her just as Yasgrid always had, speaking with the same voice as she always had.
That could become a Trouble, she thought. Except Frost Harbor wasn’t the Darkwood, and the gods of the Stonelings had left their progeny a different set of challenges than the elven gods had.
It didn’t mean Nia was free to turn away from it though. Yasgrid had cared about Belhelen. Cared about her maybe even more than Yasgrid had ever been willing to say. In a sense Nia owed it to Yasgrid to take take care of the pieces of her life which had made taking her place so appealing.
That wasn’t what filled Nia’s mind though.
She didn’t choose her words out of a sense of duty. Or a sense of pity for what Belhelen was going through. She didn’t harbor the same feelings for Belhelen as Yasgrid did either.
Her regard for Belhelen was much newer than Yasgrid’s, but in the short time Nia had known her, she’d grown to like the boisterous, and cheerful Stoneling woman.
Belhelen hadn’t asked her to be someone she wasn’t. She hadn’t demanded that she be the friend she’d always been. In all their encounters, she’d approached Nia as someone who was figuring things about, and even their dinner date didn’t seem to hold an air of judgment, but rather a sincere desire for the connection they’d once shared.
“Tell me about it,” Nia said. “It sounds like a pretty awesome time.”
Faking old connections wasn’t going to lead to anything but tears in the future. Building new connections though? Nia was delighted with imaging what that might bring.