Side A – Nia
Older people call younger ones by diminutives all the time, but something about how the older, well dressed man said ‘daughter’ told Nia that he was not speaking metaphorically when he chose that word.
“What I’d like to know is really simple,” Nia said. “Who called the guards on us and why was I let out of jail so easily?”
The older man laughed.
“You take after your mother so much,” he said.
You should be glad that’s not true, Nia thought. Naosha M’Kellin was much nicer than her daughter. On the surface. She did not, however, suffer arrogant fools well and when she’d been affronted enough to move against the person in front of her, they never saw their utter destruction coming.
“See, now, that doesn’t sound like the simple answer I was hoping for,” Nia said. She judged that she could get in one good shot on him and began calculating what would have the most impact. A broken jaw perhaps? Or maybe a shattered nose? A throat punch might be over the line but then she wasn’t against destroying people who affronted her either, she just preferred the direct approach.
“Yes, well, we don’t always get what we want, do we?” he said, leaning in closer toward appraise Nia like he was inspecting a piece of art to see if it held any value.
Nia held her temper in check, not for any sensible reason but merely because losing it seemed like the sort of thing which would delight Yasgrid’s…father?
It occurred to her that she should check-in with Yasgrid on what kind of history she had with this man. His name had never come up between them, and he didn’t seem to occupy a noteworthy space in Yasgrid’s mind, so Nia guessed they were distant at best.
One more point of similarity between us, Nia thought.
Oh, I wouldn’t say that. It was the ghost of a whisper, so soft that Nia couldn’t be sure it wasn’t her imagination floating the words to her ears as a prank.
Another part of her though felt the flicker of warmth which accompanied the thought.
She wasn’t alone.
She never had been.
She blinked and shook her head, trying to hide the ripple of emotion which swept through her.
“No, we don’t,” she said. “So who do I have to beat up to change that?”
Yasgrid’s father leaned back and gave her a big, condescending smile.
“Now what makes you think there’s fighting to be had here?” he asked.
“Aww, quit playing with her Mourswin,” Feldrak said. “She’s got as much right to be here as the others do.”
“Do you think so?” Yasgrid’s father, or Mourswin apparently, asked. “She’s never shown the sort of talents that we’re looking for before.”
“She did about five minutes ago when she busted down my front door and the first two meatheads who tried to get in her face,” Feldrak said. It felt oddly like praise coming from him, but Nia pushed the bubble of joy at being recognized for her mayhem aside.
“Did she now?” Mourswin asked, his gaze returning to her.
“Yes. She did now,” Nia said and, remembering Bel’s presence, added, “We both did. Why what does that buy us?”
“Perhaps the answers you’re looking for,” Mourswin said. “If you’re willing to fight for them.”
“For the final time then,” Nia said, “who, exactly, do I need to flatten to find out what I want to know.”
“Me,” Margrada said, stepping out from behind Mourswin.
Side B – Yasgrid
As a child, Yasgrid had heard tales of the courage of hunters as they stood their ground against a charging, howling Glacier Prowler. Over and and over, the hunters spoke of the terror that came from being face to face with something larger and more deadly than yourself. In all their stories though, the Glacial Prowlers were always enraged. Always active. Aggression in motion. Death looming closer.
None of that spoke to the terror of seeing something every bit as deadly as a wild beast staring calmly and unflinchingly back from the lingering shadows in the early morning.
Endings was in her hands without a thought.
“What do you see?” Marianne asked, producing another knife from somewhere on her person.
“Another Trouble.” Yasgrid didn’t blink. The Trouble that was watching them was bigger than any of the ones Yasgrid had faced so far.
Bigger and more calculating. It wasn’t sitting still. It was stalking her. It didn’t move closer, or farther, but it did move to vantage points that made it harder for Yasgrid to make out its form.
“Can you catch it?” Marianne asked, peering in the same direction as Yasgrid without any luck in spotting the Trouble.
Yasgrid hoped the Trouble was sufficiently focused on Endings that it wouldn’t pay attention to Marianne, but it was too far away for Yasgrid to make out who its attention was directed at.
“Maybe,” Yasgrid said. “It’d be better if it came a bit closer though.”
Better only in certain limited senses. A large part of Yasgrid had no interest in tangling with the Trouble at all, while the rest knew, with deep regret, that she had to face it and worse if she was going to complete her quest.
“It won’t come any closer for now,” King said. “It’s not intent on attacking you.”
“What’s it doing then?” Marianne asked.
“Observing. Studying. Learning your weak points.”
“And if I attack it now?” Yasgrid asked, readily accepting the King’s appraisal. She had no problem believing he could think like an apex predator, though the thought was more comforting than she would have expected.
“It will flee,” King said. “It’s not ready for a confrontation.”
“I wonder if I can catch it?” Yasgrid mumbled the question as much to herself as anyone else.
“Unlikely,” King said. “Unless you can move faster than the other prey it feeds upon?”
“No, but I don’t have to stop chasing it either,” Yasgrid said.
“Then it will lead you into a trap,” King said. “When you reach a spot where it is ready for a confrontation it will turn and strike. It will be somewhere you will not see the attack coming.”
“That doesn’t leave me with many options,” Yasgrid said.
Throw me, Endings said.
Swords aren’t meant for throwing, Yasgrid said, wondering if she could hurl Endings that far with any accuracy at all.
I am not a sword.