Side A – Nia
Being spoken to by one god was something Nia had never experienced. She imagined it would be overwhelming. It would have to be because being spoken to by a whole pantheon of them went so far beyond overwhelming that holding a pleasant conversation seemed like the only conceivable option available.
“Hello. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said, opening neither her eyes nor mouth. The gods seemed to be able to speak directly into her mind; hearing her thoughts wasn’t going to be a major problem for them.
“You are unworthy,” the gods said.
It wasn’t going to be ‘pleasant’ conversation. This didn’t surprise Nia.
“I am aware of that,” she said. She’d known it from the moment she heard the first drum struck. She wasn’t a Shatter drummer, and even pretending to be one was fraught with problems she wasn’t sure she could overcome.
Despite the very likely possibility of failure that hung over her, and the fact that she was speaking to entities who were clearly divine, Nia felt an still pool of calm in her soul. Maybe there was a limit to the number of times her mind could be shattered in a given day, or maybe it was different because the beings speaking to her were not ones she pledged any faith or devotion towards, but it felt more like the act of recovering herself from the Shatter drum had given Nia a much stronger sense of the bedrock that lay within her.
She was speaking to gods, the divine majesty of their voices made that impossible to ignore or refuse to believe, but that didn’t mean she was going to shrivel under their glare. Even a tiny pebble is still hard as a mountain.
“You will fracture. You will be as dust before us. We will consume you. We will consume all,” the gods said. In her mind’s eye, Nia saw flames and felt the heat from the volcano’s heart reach up to stroke her with searing fingers.
It hurt. Beyond measure or relief.
And the bastard gods laughed.
She bit back a scream and forced her awareness back into her own body. Her skin wasn’t blistering, or bursting aflame. It was undamaged. The pain wasn’t real.
She hadn’t failed yet.
They were taunting her.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Nia said, her jaw taking on a hard set as her brow furrowed darkly.
The air around her was hot but an icy fury pumped through her veins. The Stoneling’s gods wanted to break her. They craved the chance to run loose and destroy everything around them, and they saw her as the weak link in the chains that bound them.
But she remembered the lava that boiled in the caldera below. She remembered how it rose as they gathered and she remembered how it retreated when she played.
The gods wanted a fight? Fine with her.
It wasn’t a question of winning the competition for the Shatter Band spot, or even playing well enough to lose the spot but survive the ceremony. She couldn’t just do ‘well enough’. Nia was going to show the Stoneling gods just how mistaken they were to play with her.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid wasn’t sure if she could bear the trial that was before her. Sitting quietly sounded like the easiest thing in the world. Just stay still, and do nothing. It requires literally no effort, and yet it was still one of the most difficult things Yasgrid could imagine doing.
It wasn’t the physical inactivity that was taxing. Yasgrid had waited patiently in front of a Shatter drum more times than she could count. Reclining in a chair carved in the shape of a flower was restful to the point of being sleep inducing, but Yasgrid’s focus kept her from drifting off as some of the other people around her had clearly done.
Refraining from talking with Kayelle, who was seated in the chair to her left, or the stranger on her right, wasn’t difficult either. She had no idea what to say to either of them. Her desires were all bound up in making it past the ceremonies to when she could talk freely with Nia and hopefully sort out the bizarre exchange that had occurred between them. So the external quiet was a blessing in her view.
What was throwing Yasgrid off and making her grind her teeth was her inability to quiet her mind down.
She craved serenity, but with every breath where she tried to conjure a calm image to focus on, she found her worries rising up like a chorus of drums beating for her attention.
Within the flower dome, the strings of a harp whispered a few soft notes into the air. It was joined by another, only slightly louder, taking up the notes and adding to them to make a melody.
Yasgrid gave up her struggle to blank her mind out. There was too much of a storm inside her to be pushed behind a blank white wall. Instead she let herself follow the music.
It was so quiet that at first she couldn’t be sure she was really hearing it. It barely registered as music compared to the cacophonous crashings of the Shatter drums she was used to experiencing.
Bit by bit though, as the music gained in volume enough to be heard if you listened for it, Yasgrid was able to pick out the threads of meaning it conveyed.
Elven harp music was a foreign language to her, but as with elven speech, Nia’s expertise was something Yasgrid was able to draw on without conscious thought.
The harpers played of the passing year. There were strings of sorrow and trills of joy. Each blended into the other, always present, though rarely equal.
The point of the meditation wasn’t to listen to harpers perform. Their music was a background, a reminder of the days they’d lived through, days which had grown into parts of the people’s lives.
When the strings at last reached the present, they paused for a brief silent instant before continuing on with a new and fanciful arrangement. Not a prediction of how the future would be, but a reminder of what the new year might bring. New sorrows, fresh challenges, unexpected happiness, the harps recalled the past to help in remembering all the things that the future could hold.
Yasgrid opened her eyes and felt like she was waking up for the first time in days. She hadn’t been asleep but in pursuing the music, she’d passed into the eye of the storm within herself and found clarity. She couldn’t cast away her problems, or ignore them, but by focusing on the moment she was in, she could find refuge from the uncertain future before her and the complicated past that trailed behind her.
“It’s time,” Nia said.
Yasgrid understood. The Calling was about to begin within the volcano and Nia needed her. With the harp music echoing in her ears, Yasgrid closed her eyes again and joined Nia to play for her people and her gods.