Tarsan is a strict, patriarchal society where the husband is socially, legally, and financial responsible for his wife and all his daughters. In his house, he is the master of everyone within his walls.
— Kasadil da Robin, Responsibilities of the Father
Linsan didn’t know if it was the relief of finding news of their quarry or the joy of talking about music and her family for an hour, but her good mood carried her back to the center of Fanasis Village. She had been only in the village for less than a day, but she still recognized one of the paths leading to the village center and followed it. As she did, she skipped over the roots and screes until she came up between the village general store and the blacksmith.
Inside the store, she spotted a couple speaking to the storekeeper. She had met all three of them earlier. They all had many unpleasant things to say about Tilbin and the others, but none of them knew if they had passed through town toward Stone over Moon Waters or down to Geb’s barn in Little Rock.
Adjacent to the general store was the village blacksmith. When Linsan had first started asking questions, it was cold and unoccupied. She peered inside to see if the situation had change but no one was working. Linsan was about to look away when she noticed what appeared to be a pleated skirt discarded on the floor near the anvil. She smirked, at least she knew why the blacksmith wasn’t banging on his forge.
Linsan made her way across the square. The other side had the public house and a house without a sign on it. She switched her violin case to the other shoulders and focused on her destination.
Brook stood up from a bench outside the public house. She had not changed out of her fancy dress. The shades of blue caused her stand out on the dirty planks that made up the deck between her Glasscoaster and the open doors leading inside. She put one hand on her hip. “Where have you been?”
Linsan prickled at the tone. She pushed down her annoyance and gestured toward one of the smaller roads leading “I found someone who saw them heading to Little Rock only a few days ago. No one in the village has seen them come back through toward Moon Waters, so they are still down south.”
Brook’s scowl faded. “Truthfully?”
Linsan smiled broadly and then nodded. “I wouldn’t lie about this. I also found out that if they don’t come up through this village, it’s at least a hundred leagues out of the way to find another route to Moon Waters.”
Brook sighed and waved her gloved hand. “You did better than me. I couldn’t find anything about anyone here. No one wanted to talk, even when I offered to buy things.”
She seemed annoyed that her money couldn’t give her the answers she needed.
Linsan wondered how far Brook had actually gone or who she had asked, but it didn’t matter.
With a sigh, Brook stepped off the deck and brushed the dust off the ruffles of her dress. She looked pleased with herself. “However, I did have a lovely talk with the mayor. He has a field behind his house that we can use. There is a ridge between his place and the field, so my blast shouldn’t break any windows.”
Surprised, Linsan smiled. “Wow, I’m impressed.”
Brook looked at her in confusion, gave a hesitant smile, and then started walking toward the house. She had to hike the hem of her dress to keep it from the ground while she stepped off the planks.
Linsan’s expression froze. “You aren’t changing?” she asked as she gestured to the ruffles and lace.
Brook turned with a confused look on her face. “No, why should I? What’s wrong with this?” She gestured down to her dress. The ruffles rippled in a light breeze.
“I’ve been walking around these trails for hours. They are really rough and your boots are… are…” Linsan had no clue how to phrase it delicately. “They are very pretty and they have narrow heels.”
Linsan wanted to say something but she couldn’t. Instead, she sighed and shrugged. “Let’s go.”
Her fears were confirmed when Brook lead her around the mayor’s house and down another trail. It quickly became ragged, with roots crisscrossing the path and large rocks.
Brook strode forward. Her gloved hands caught one of the branches to pull herself up.
Linsan hung back.
The shiny boots slipped on the ground. Brook slid back with a grunt.
Reflexively, Linsan reached up and caught Brook. Her palms crushed the ruffles of the dress before they smacked against Brook’s buttocks to stop her companion’s slide.
With a shriek, Brook stumbled forward but then slipped further down. Her leg caught Linsan’s and the dress tangled both of them.
Linsan stumbled. Grabbing her violin case with one hand, she snaked her arm around Brook’s waist and braced herself.
Together, they slid a few feet before coming to a ragged stop.
In her grip, Brook trembled. Slowly, she looked up with wide eyes and a flush. “Lin?”
Linsan wasn’t sure how to respond. There was something in Brook’s eyes that wasn’t spite or anger. She stumbled for a response before finally she said, “You might consider better shoes out here. You can twist your ankles with those heels.”
Brook cleared her throat and looked away. “Could you help me up?”
“Oh,” Linsan blushed. She stepped back and helped Brook to her feet. Then she stepped apart until they were only holding hands. “Come on, need help?”
Looking down at her boots, Brook sighed. “I don’t have anything better to where.”
Brook nodded slowly. “It isn’t lady-like.”
“Makes it hard to get into a field to practice though.”
Brook sighed. She was still trembling.
Linsan squeezed her hand.
Glancing down, Brook stared at their hands and then yanked hers away. “W-We should practice.”
With the air between them uncomfortable, both Linsan and Brook headed over the ridge and into a farrow fields. The knee-high grasses tugged at Brook’s dress as they made their way to the middle.
“So,” Brook said with a sigh. “How do we practice this?”
“I don’t really know.”
Brook tugged her hat off, the black lace catching on her nose before it came off. She looked around for a moment, as if she was trying to find a table. With a sigh, she held it to her side. “Should I hire someone to attack us?”
Linsan grinned. “No, I’m sure we can find something. Remember during the garage, we had to work in sync?”
“You mean when you called me a stupid cow?”
Linsan froze. Her blood ran ice-cold.
Brook’s lip curled in a smile. “I might have deserved it. Were you thinking about when you told me when to clap in time with your music?” She took a deep breath and fluttered her hat against her hip.
“That is exactly what I had in mind. What songs do you know?”
Brook looked up and swayed her hips. “Mostly Guder, Padorsin, and Rag.”
All three were composers for symphonies. Sedate ones that that, with grand sweeping music that rose and fell like the waves of the ocean. It was the music that was perfect for dramatic scenes for her mother. However, none of them had the steady beats and rhythm that would let Linsan’s magic be used aggressively.
Brook rolled her eye and gave an exasperating sight. “What? Wrong type of music?”
“Well, Guder’s music more heavily focuses on wind instruments with less emphasis on strings or percussion. Even if we focused on his elemental period, he never wrote many pieces—”
“I don’t need to know the damn history about the music. It’s the right music. The type good people listen to.”
It was Linsan’s turn to be frustrated. “If we are going to use music to fight, then we need to use music that takes advantages of our powers. That means we need to pick ones that have a steady beat for your magic and a melody for mine!”
She then registered the second part of Brook’s statement. “And what do you mean, the type ‘good people listen to?‘”
Brook waves her hand dismissively. “You know… good people.”
“Good people?” Linsan wanted to throttle Brook. “What do you mean, good people?”
“You know what I’m talking about. People like… m… Daddy.. and me.”
“You mean rich people?”
When Brook nodded, Linsan said, “Is that why you are always wearing dresses and fancy shoes? And the shoes? Just to show everyone you are the richest person in Penesol?”
“We aren’t the richest—”
“Your family is richer than most of the town. There might be a few others about as rich as your family, but your daddy owns,” she cleared her throat. “Your daddy owned the largest bank, three other businesses, has at least five different cars, and can afford to send his daughters to any school in the country. You are rich and you want everyone to know it.”
Brook squirmed. She crushed her hat in her hand as she glanced away. The muscles in her jaw tightened, one muscle flexing along the bottom edge. Some of her anger was returning and Linsan had no interest in hearing the sharp tones.
“Any other music you know? Wave, folk, Hidanork, rhythm—”
Her companion held up her hand. “You don’t have to show off that you know a few songs.”
“My father writes about music.”
“Well, not the right types.”
“He wrote plenty of papers about Padorsin and Rag if you bother to read them. We were your friends before all this happened.”
Brook’s fingers flexed. She brought one hand away from her hip. She appeared to be clearing her hand.
Linsan held up her hand. She took a deep breath and let it out with a long exhalation. “Look, we need to find something.”
“Well, I’m not going to stoop down to things like damned ass song.”
“We don’t have to do My Ass for a Glass of Milk.”
Brook screwed her face in disgust. “It’s a terrible song. Proper people don’t listen to songs like that.”
Linsan bristled. She glared back. “That was very popular at the inn! I had a standing ovation and they asked me to keep playing.”
“It’s a song about butts!”
Linsan opened her mouth for a moment and then shrugged. Brook wasn’t wrong, but at the same time, it was an almost perfect melody to start with. Even a little girl could learn how to play it. “It’s a simple song.”
Brook shook her head and then turned around. She started to put her hat back on but realized she had ruined it. She shook her head and then gathered it in both hands.
Feeling dejected, Linsan knelt down and pulled out her violin. Her mind furiously spun through her father’s lessons. Talking about the ass song gave her an idea for other melodies that were simple and catchy. Some might even Brook’s self-importance.
“We don’t have to sing the words, right?”
Linsan looked up with surprise. “N-No. It’s just the beat and melody we are about.”
“I just wish it wasn’t that disgusting song.”
With a smile, Linsan finished pulling out her violin and set it against her neck. “If it helps, the song was originally a Tarsan drinking song called A Mass for a Glass of Crass, a song about being forced to go to church after an epic swearing session. It wasn’t until about sixty or so years ago when… the ass song became popular in this area of Kormar.”
Brook blinked and her shoulders seemed to relax. “Really? T-That is better.” Her voice grew more wistful and she ran her finger along the edge of her hat. “Tarsan is the very definition of high society.”
Linsan’s opinion of Tarsan wasn’t nearly as rosy. The country was known for being heavy-handed and obsessed with social order. Women were treated as nothing more than property and almost slaves. Her mother hated shows in Tarsan. However, it was obviously important to Brook. She made a non-committal grunt.
“We can start with that, right? The crass version?” The hope in Brook’s voice was ephemeral and delicate. “That’s much better.”
Linsan grinned. “It’s popular.” She brought the bow and rested it on the strings.
“It’s still disgusting.”
Linsan smiled and cocked her head. She played the first few bars of the song. The clear tones of the violin rippled along the grasses around them. Behind the notes, translucent waves of energy danced in the air and glittered off the leaves.
Brook’s face twisted into more of a grimace. She tugged the bottom of her gloves. Then she hovered her fingers over her palm. “When is the beat?”
The muscles in Linsan’s back tightened.
“I don’t know music.”
Linsan thought for a moment. “Let’s start with the basics. Music is based on fives. Five beats a second but the one you care about is usually the fifth one. At least for these songs. We can talk about the desert’s and the tribe’s fondness for four-beat songs.”
To demonstrate her point, Linsan played a bar at quarter speed. As she did, she ducked her body with each beat until she got to the fifth where she gestured to Brook. She also fought her desire to speed up the music so she could dance, but when she started to sway, her magic swelled and the ground trembled.
At first, Brook stared with confusion. Then, as Linsan played again, realization dawned on her face. She held up her hands, the blue gloves bright in the sea of grasses. When her beat came, she brought her hands together but didn’t quite touch.
Linsan realized she was tense. Even though it had been years since Brook had used her concussion blast against her, the memories were still raw.
Brook glared at her and shook her head with disappointment. She held up her hand.
With a blush, Linsan played the melody again. She spoke out the notes as she played. “One. Two. Three. Four. You. One. Two. Three. Four. You.”
Brook mimed clapping her hands in time with the music. “You can say five.”
Linsan grinned. “… Four. Five. One. Two…”
The music danced around the both of them, translucent ripples of power that stirred their hair and ruffled Brook’s dress. Without being directed toward something by Linsan’s will, the magic only stirred the air and flashed in time with the melody.
Brook’s gaze drifted up to the dancing patterns. Even as her jaw dropped with surprise, her hand still mimed clapping in time with Linsan’s music.
Linsan was surprised how easily Brook kept up with the time. Without hearing the clapping, it seemed like she was keeping up perfectly with the melody. She started to play the music faster, to bring it up to five beats per second,
Still keeping in time, Brook stared around them. The air was glowing now, responding to the faster beats with brighter lights and more energetic swirling. It felt like they were in the middle of a storm, or under a porch in the rain.
Brook let out a gasp. “Oh, I can feel it.”
Elated with the rush of using magic, Linsan gestured to her palm. “Try yours.”
Brook started to and then turned to the side. She held out her hands.
She glared at Linsan before lightly tapping her fingers against her palm on her beat. Despite it being the lightest of touches, the air thudded against Linsan’s face and the grass in a two yard arc in front of her flattened instantly.
Even thought the beat was just a hair off in timing, the field of energy surrounding them responded instantly. It flared up with colors that Linsan had never seen before. The colors traced the wake of the concussion wave before fading.
Both Linsan and Brook stared in surprise.
“What was that?” asked Brook. She had resumed miming her clapping.
“I don’t know.” Linsan as she continued to play.
Brook stirred and then resumed her clapping. The timing was off, but not slow or fast. To Linsan’s surprise, Brook had the rhythm almost perfect, only that she was off.
“Your timing is off. Just a bit too fast.”
Brook’s brow furrowed. One of her claps came off harder than the others, sending flares of color around them. Then, she turned back to the quieter. “I’m following your beat.”
“I know… how? I mean, your sense of timing is amazing.” Linsan meant her compliment.
Brook grinned but kept her eyes toward the waves of grass ruined by her clapping. “I stare at a RPS gauge every time I drive. I know how to handle something slow like a five beat.”
Linsan giggled. “Slow?”
“My engines run between eighty to one-twenty. I can feel the pistons shaking the chassis and the spin of the axles through the floor. This is easy.” Brook smirked.
“Well, then can you shift your beat forward just a hair?”
“That feels wrong. It feels slow that way.” But, even as she spoke, she beat faster and then resumed the five-count. The flashing energy surged for a moment and Linsan felt an incredible rush of excitement before it faded with the colors.
Beads of sweat ran down Brook’s neck. The short hairs clung to her skin.
“It isn’t. My father says you have to learn your body when you play. How long it takes for you to swing takes a bit of training. Just a tad slower. Now faster. Just… a bit faster.”
Brook’s jaw tightened by she obeyed.
They continued to work, shifting and adjusting. Linsan’s hips swayed with the music until she clamped down to avoid letting her powers respond with anything besides colors.
Then they got the timing right.
Brook’s clap struck at the perfect moment and all of Linsan’s energies flared up in response. Colors blossomed around them in a shower of brilliance. A rush of euphoria flooded through Linsan and she couldn’t help but let out a moan of pleasure and relief.
Brook’s clapping faltered.
Linsan shook her head. “W-What?”
“My blast, when we got it, it stopped right at the edge of your energies instead of doing further. How?”
Without another word, they focused on their timing again. The simple melody rolled off the bow and filled the air. Brook’s blasts shook the now crushed grass in a ragged pattern.
When they got it right again, the wave of energy from the clapping appeared to pour into Linsan’s music instead of radiating away from Brook. It strengthened it and gave it a structure. The ripples of power seared the air for the briefest of moments.
Brook gasped. “I felt that.”
“I-I did too!” Linsan smiled broadly.
“Why doesn’t it go anywhere?”
“What? Oh, the music?”
“In the fight, you were sending it out in waves.” Brook wiped the sweat from her forehead. Beads of sweat glittered along her neck and soaked her lace collar.
“I’m not dancing.”
Brook did a double-take. “Really? Is that why you are always spinning around?”
Linsan nodded. “As long as I don’t move, the music is going to just hang around us. But if I move, I can direct it.”
There was a look in Brook’s eyes, one of anticipation and hope.
“You want to see it?”
Brook’s eyes turned to focus on her. There was something else in her attention. Her bright brown eyes almost glowed and she looked like she was on the edge of saying something.
Unexpected, Linsan’s chest felt tight for a moment. She cleared her throat and then motioned with her chin toward their surroundings. “Want to see?”
Her friend nodded.
Linsan grinned and then let the tension out of her back. She had been struggling not to move while working on their timing. Dance had been part of her music since she was a little girl, it was difficult to fight the desire. Being able to move was a relief.
She closed her eyes and then swirled her foot. Her violin bow hummed along the strings.
The dancing energies around her shifted with her movement. Instead of swirling around them, it streamed out in the same direction as her sweet. A narrow whip of visible energies cracked through the grass, uprooting them in a deep gouge. Leaves, roots, and dirt burst out in a three yard-long line.
“Blessed Mother,” gasped Brook.
Clods of earth thudded on the ground.
Surprised herself, Linsan could only shrug.
“What happens if I clap at the right time?”
“Want to find out?”
Brook grinned. “Yes.”
They started to play again. It took a few tries to get their timing right again, but then Linsan felt when Brook was about to strike her palm at the perfect time. She spun around and dipped while directing her powers in a different direction.
Brook turned with Linsan so they were facing in the same direction. She slammed her hands together in a powerful clap.
The timing was flawless.
Brook’s power channeled through Linsan’s whip. The translucent shape became a burning white line of raw power that slammed into the ground with incredible force. The earth underneath them buckled violently as a hundred-foot long exploding line raced away from them in a blink.
Linsan almost lost her balance.
Brook did. She let out a shriek as she fell back.
Turning to try catching Brook, Linsan’s fingers caught one of the ruffles. The fabric tore as Brook hit the ground.
Then Linsan realized that the world had gotten suddenly darker. She looked up with growing dread. Seeing a cloud of earth and leaves above her, she swore and stumbled away.
Before she got through a few steps, she realized that Brook was helpless on the ground. Snatching her violin case, she lurched over to Brook and knelt down. Using the case as a shield for herself and her body as one for Brook, she held her violin close.
Brook let out a whimper as their bodies pressed together. She crossed her arms over her face.
Then a rain of clods slammed down on them. They hammered against Linsan’s back like a dozen fists. More of them hit Brook’s shoulders and legs and she screamed out.
When the rain stopped, Linsan panted. Even though her back hurt, she couldn’t help but smile. “That was intense.”
Brook peeked out from her arms. Then her body jerked as if she was crying.
“Brook? Are you hurt?”
“N-No,” Brook said. She relaxed her arms to reveal she was smiling. Dirt had streaked her face but she seemed in good spirits. “No, I’m fine. I’m just—” Her voice stopped sharply.
Linsan stared into her eyes for a moment. Then she stirred to pull herself off Brook and sat back. She pulled the violin to her lap and inspected it carefully. There were a few new scratches and a clod inside the case. She grunted with disappointment before holding it above her head and rolling it out.
“That is important to you, isn’t it?” Brook groaned as she sat up. “It’s it just a violin?”
Linsan stroked her hand along the warm wood. “My grandfather made this before I was born. My father borrowed it to make sure I had a Sterlig with me always, even if I was alone.”
Brook didn’t say anything.
“I was going to sneak out of the house and come after Tilbin. They figured it out and made sure I had, well, this.” She gestured down to the violin and sighed. “This will probably the only Sterlig that I will ever get to play.”
“How much did it cost?”
A wave of sadness swelled up and a tear ran down Linsan’s cheek. “My mother’s pride and reputation.”
When Brook didn’t respond, Linsan was almost thankful. She focused on clearing out the instrument and replacing one of the strings that looked weapon.
“What’s its name?”
Linsan looked up. “Name?”
“The other Sterlig had a name, right? Why not this one?”
“I never thought about it.”
“So give it one.” Brook inspected her dress. It had torn and ripped in three places. She glanced up at Linsan and shrugged. “That seems like the thing you would do.”
“I was three when I named Palisis. I was just a little girl!”
Brook shrugged. “Seems like one of the last Sterligs should have a name.”
“I’ll think about it. How is your dress?”
Brook sighed before she got to her feet. “Ruined.”
Linsan joined her. Together, they walked at the long line of torn up earth from their attack. It was impressively destructive. She toyed with the violin, wondering if they could do it again.
“I want to go again.”
Linsan smiled broadly. “Yes, please.”