Side A – Nia
As Nia opened her eyes, the drum beat rolled on by her. It had felt like an eternity that she’d been stuck in the shattered world but from what she could see only one beat of time had passed for anyone else.
The rolling beat reached the end of the line of drums and was picked up by the line behind them. Each new drum that spoke sent a thrill down Nia’s spine but none as all consuming as striking her own had been.
When the last drum was struck and the walls of the volcano stopped reverberating with the sound, the drummers relaxed, emerging from a collective hush of tension and turning towards their Drum Master.
“Decent,” Pelegar said. “You kept good time. Stick to that. Kaersbaen, you went a bit hard. Tone it back and stay with the others. This wasn’t a solo.”
Nia almost missed that Pelegar was talking to her, the Drum Master was looking from one drummer to the next as she spoke, but she finished with her gaze landed directly on Nia and their eyes met. The disapproval there made it clear that Pelegar knew Nia had messed up.
Nia shrugged and tried to look apologetic, but that only soured Pelegar expression more.
Stonelings didn’t make any sense.
“Show off” Magrada whispered without looking over at Nia.
Nia couldn’t fathom how almost losing her mind counted as showing off, but Yasgrid had mentioned that Shatter drummers both sought after and tried to avoid the state Nia had wound up in.
Nia thought about that, and even without Yasgrid’s guidance, she was able to start piecing together the contradiction of intents there.
Yasgrid has said the drummers were assembled for “The Calling”, a once yearly ritual to call the sun back on midwinter’s day. She’d assumed the ritual the Stonelings performed was ceremonial in nature and that the drumming was simply meant to mark the occasion. That was before she’d felt the power of the dums though, and before she’d seen their effect on the lava that was boiling below them.
With confirmation that the act of playing the drums was magical, new realms of possibility opened to her. What Yasgrid had described as ‘The Resonance’, the state that Nia had fallen into, was clearly a part of how the Shatter drummers drew in the power of their magic.
Nia had only guesswork to draw on, but it seemed plausible that to work their enchantments, a Shatter drummer would need to feel the magic called by the drum beat and shape it as it flowed through them. Each time they played, each time they sought to bring magic into the world, they would need to experience the same tumult and world shattering that Nia had been deluged by.
No one could survive being upended like that with every beat they played though. Nia’s nerves still felt like they were dancing with electricity, and that sort of rush would leave her a burned out husk well before any song could be completed.
The other drummers couldn’t be experiencing the same thing Nia had therefor, and when she glanced over at them that was apparent in everything from the relaxed set of their shoulders to the unconcerned intensity of their eyes.
These were people awaiting a competition, but they were well established in their craft. There were signs of jittery nerves, but no one was overwhelmed. None of them seemed to regard their quick performance as anything of note.
They’d learned to hold back the tidal wave of power that crashed through them when a shatter drum was struck.
But they couldn’t hold it back entirely. If they isolated themselves from the beat, if their hearts remained unmoved by the music, Nia guessed it wouldn’t be a part of them, and they wouldn’t be able to shape it at all.
She had no idea what would happen then. Maybe the magic would fizzle and the beat would die for a measure, a hollow note in an otherwise powerful performance. Or maybe the results would be much worse.
Nia bit her lip. Striking the drum had produced the magic. If she couldn’t control it, or if it burned her out, would that allow the power to run wild? Would it do to the world around her what she’d seen it do to the one inside her?
The sun was ascending into the sky, and when it reached its zenith, Nia knew she was going to find out.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid had been mid-leap when Nia’s subconscious cry for help had pulled them both into the Resonance. They’d talked for what felt like either minutes, hours, or years (time in a Resonance was unfathomable), so when she emerged she was briefly shocked to find herself stil in flight, soaring in a long arc and following Kayelle towards a large dome that seemed to be grown out of a rainbow of different flowers.
“Remember, if mother asks, this isn’t my fault,” Kayelle said.
“Agreed,” Yasgrid said. “And thank you. I think some time meditating will let me get back in harmony.”
Kayelle raised her right eyebrow and stared hard at Yasgrid.
“You really aren’t feeling ok, are you?” she asked.
Would the real Nia have apologized? Would she have claimed to be looking forward to a period of meditation? Did she simply not use words like ‘harmony’ to describe her emotional state, or was harmony something she would have avoided under normal circumstances?
Yasgrid felt Nia bite her lip and mirrored the gesture.
She wanted to tell Kayelle the truth. Trying to pretend to be someone she wasn’t could only end in tears, failure, and (at least among Stonelings) a brawl. Yasgrid wasn’t in the mood for any of those things but Kayelle spoke before Yasgrid could think of any words to use to broach the idea of who she really was.
“Just try to hold it together until tonight ok?” Kayelle said. “You can crawl back into your room and hide out from the world all you want once the ceremonies are done.”
And just like that Yasgrid had a new goal in life.