Side A – Nia
The funny thing about punching someone’s face in, Nia decided, was how sore it left her fists. Looking at the wreckage of the cretin on the floor though, she felt fairly please that she was in a position to complain at all. “Mr. Other Muscles” as she’d called him would be complaining eventually too, but it would be sometime well into the future before he’d regain the capacity.
“Ok, that’s two down, how many more do you think we need to go?” Belhelen asked slightly out of breath. She was looking around the room at the men and women who’s evening drinking they’d either spoiled or put on an entertaining show for, depending on one’s point of view.
“One, two, three, four, lots,” Nia said, counting out the people who seemed more put out than amused by their antics.
“So, do you want the left half of ‘lots’ or the ones on the right?” Bel asked.
“First come first serve maybe?” Nia suggested.
She knew they weren’t going to hold up to many more challengers. Taking down the second brute had required both of them and, even working together, they’d taken some hard shots.
She had no one to cry to about the beating she was about to take though. It was entirely her idea to come back to Black Orchard and start trouble over something they could have easily walked away from. There was a method to her madness though.
On the one hand it was a chance to bond with Belhelen like Yasgrid had. Bel wasn’t like any of Nia’s elven friends, and if Naosha M’Kellin had known that her daughter was out instigating drunk bar brawls, she might have finally disowned her youngest offspring, but Nia felt good about standing back to back with Bel nonetheless.
Or maybe “good” wasn’t the proper term.
Standing with Bel against a room full of bruisers felt “right” somehow. Like they both were glad to be there for the other and neither would forget the occasion. Yasgrid and Bel had a constellation of shared memories, but this one would be a moment which was just between Nia and her new friend.
Bracing for inevitable, Nia squared off her shoulders and brought her arms up, fists closed, into a middle guard. She wasn’t supposed to know how to fight, but learning things her mother didn’t want her to know had been one of Nia’s prime sources of joy, even if she’d never been able to practice the few things she’d picked up.
Fortunately for her, being in a young, strong, and most importantly sober, body made up for her lack of trained reflexes by slowing everyone else way down.
“Who in the salty pits is busting up my tavern now?” the tallest Stoneling Nia had ever seen asked as he stepped up from what might have been the basement.
“Technically, these two,” Nia said, gesturing to the two unconscious men near her. “They fell down.”
“Looks like they had some help,” the owner of the Black Orchard said.
“That they did,” Nia said. “Seems like a lot of people in here need some help…learning how to answer a damn question when its put to them.”
The owner was silent for a moment before bursting out in laughter.
“I like these two,” he roared. “Give ‘em a drink and bring ‘em downstairs. We’ll let ‘em win their answers like all the rest.”
Side B – Yasgrid
The rays of the winter sun in Blue Falls held no warmer than than the ones Yasgrid was used to in Frost Harbor. If anything Nia’s smaller body should have felt the cold more sharply, but as daybreak turned to early morning and the sun cleared the horizon, Yasgrid couldn’t help but feel comfortably toasty.
Someone knew who she was. She’d thought it would be terrifying to be exposed, but all she could feel was relief and joy to have met someone who could see who she really was.
“We should probably do something for breakfast,” Marianne said, picking herself up off the grass she was laying on beside Yasgrid.
Yasgrid rose as well, marveling that she didn’t feel any of the aches or pain from resting for hours on winter frosted earth.
In part Nia’s elvish heritage was to thank for that. Elves seemed to do far better in contact with their environment than Yasgrid had ever managed as a Stoneling. A greater reason though was that the winter chilled ground was far from cold. The air carried the proper crisp sting of frost for the time of year, but the ground bloomed with life and a gentle warmth as though it held summer buried only a few inches below its soft surface.
“I kind of want to go hide somewhere and make Kayelle have to search to find us,” Yasgrid said. “Would serve her right for not dealing with your Trouble immediately last night.”
“She was just trying to be a good older sister and give you a chance to impress me,” Marianne said.
“She was really into the idea of hooking you and Nia up again,” Yasgrid said. “Which is theoretically kind, to Nia at least. Kind of rude to you though.”
“Yeah, a little bit,” Marianne said. “Sort of used to it though. ‘Oh look at Marianne, who will win her heart? Why whoever can score enough points of course.’ I wonder if they expect me to dispense tickets?”
“It’d be easier to keep track of,” Yasgrid suggested. “You could have a prize list too. Five hundred tickets gets someone a kind word. A thousand and you refrain from stabbing them when they say something stupid.”
“People would run out of tickets rather quickly,” Marianne said.
“See. Problem solved.”
“And if I want to talk to someone, or don’t feel like stabbing them?” Marianne asked.
“They’re your tickets,” Yasgrid said. “Give them out however you want. Sort of like ‘here’s a thousand tickets, I’ll take them back now so that I don’t have to stab you.’ It could work.”
“And if I really want to stab someone anyways?”
“Then you say ‘we’re sorry, prizes can not be redeemed at this time’. Whether you say that before or after the stabbing is entirely up to you.”
“And how many tickets would this advice be worth?” Marianne asked.
“I don’t want your tickets,” Yasgrid said. “I’ll just say what I want, and if you stab me, I’ll stab you back.”
“Says the girl with the magical sword.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll use a butter knife.”
“Wouldn’t that hurt more?” Marianne asked.
“Isn’t that the point of stabbing someone?” Yasgrid asked.
“Pain generally is the point of stabbing someone, yes,” King said, emerging from Yasgrid’s shadow. “Am I to take it that you two will not be mating?”