Side A – Nia
Nia felt ready to take on the world. A quiet anger burned in her heart that she was aching to release, an anger the drum before her seemed to be begging her to let loose. The only problem was, she didn’t know how.
“The key with Shatter drumming is to feel the beat echoing inside you while at the same time letting it pass through you and resound against the world outside,” Yasgrid said.
Nia had called Yasgrid the moment the dummer’s silent meditation had ended. If the times worked out right, the meditation ceremony her family (and by extension Yasgrid) was at in the Darkwood would continue on until well after the Stoneling’s “Calling” was completed. Nia hadn’t made an extensive study of astrography or time keeping but she felt marginally safe in the bet she was making. In the worse case, she reasoned, nothing interesting was going to happen at the elves’ ceremony so Yasgrid could fake being asleep if need be.
“I don’t know if that’s going to be as easy to pull off as it sounds,” she said, silently, to Yasgrid, who had manifested on the opposite side of the drum from her.
“It’s not as hard as it sounds,” Yasgrid said, “but to be fair, it is something new drummer trip themselves up over a lot.”
“Is there any way I can practice it a bit more?” Nia asked. “We only got to play one beat before and, as warm ups go, that seems a bit underwhelming.”
“That was just a safety check to make sure none of the drums had gone still,” Yasgrid said, inspecting Nia’s drum far more carefully than Nia herself had.
“Still?” Nia asked.
“A Shatter drum is made from living stone,” Yasgrid said. “They can go still if they’re not maintained properly. A still drum makes no sound when struck.”
“And no sound means no magic?” Nia asked.
“It’s worse than that,” Yasgrid said. “A still drum swallows the magic around it, like a hole in the world. One bad drum isn’t enough to overcome an assembly like this but it can diminish the impact a lot and the last thing you want during a Calling is to have problems bringing the sun back.”
“Yeah, you mentioned before that the purpose of this ceremony is to honor the sun,” Nia said. “Why do you hold it in a volcano filled with rude gods?”
“It’s not in honor of the sun, it’s literally about calling the sun back,” Yasgrid said. “During the ceremony, the volcano will spew forth cloud of toxic smoke that cover the sky in darkness.”
“That sounds sort of bad. Especially the ‘toxic’ part.”
“It is, but it’s also necessary. Our gods are a great source of power, but if we let the power build up too long without release it can shatter the mountain itself.”
“So you release the power once per year to keep the volcano in balance?” Nia said.
“Exactly,” Yasgrid said. “But the power which escapes, and the physical manifestations it brings with it – the smoke, the flames, and so on – those must be dispersed and scattered so that they neither harm anyone in Frost Harbor or are allowed to build up over the years to the point where they can become a problem.”
“And if a Calling fails?” Nia asked.
“Then the ash cloud will rise uncontrollably, blot out the daylight and rain poison down on my home. By the time the sun returns, no one will be left in Frost Harbor or anywhere within the sound of a drumbeat from it.”
“Nice gods you’ve got there,” Nia said.
“They are many thing, but nice is not one of them,” Yasgrid said. “You know that somehow though? You called them rude earlier. Did one of the other drummers speak against them?”
“No,” Nia said. “They made that plain as day all by themselves.”
Yasgrid’s expression grew grave.
“What do you mean?” she asked, frozen in place with her gaze locked onto Nia.
“They decided to talk to me when I tried to meditate. And torture me. Because I was ‘unworthy’. I guess that’s their idea of fun?”
“You spoke with the gods?” Yasgrid asked, her words swirling in disbelief.
“Yep. Just like I’m speaking to you, except I don’t want to hit you till some of your divine teeth are missing.”
“This is less than good,” Yasgrid said, shock written across her face. “Much, much less than good.”
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid tried to process Nia’s words. The elf wasn’t lying. Nia wouldn’t have any reason to lie, and the anger she carried suggested an actual brush with the divines.
But the gods didn’t speak to people. Or they hadn’t in millena, if they ever had at all.
“Is there anything we can do?” Nia asked, her expression growing steadily more worried as Yasgrid struggled to forge an understanding of what had happened.
“I…I don’t know,” Yasgrid said. “Let me tell you of the First Calling. It was before Frost Harbor was settled, when my distant ancestors were still more stone than Stoneling.”
“They were what now?” Nia asked, leaning forward, her concern turning to curiosity.
“Our legends say that the first Stonelings rose from the earth as spirits clothed in stone with gems for eyes and lava for blood,” Yasgrid said.
“But you’re not literal stone now so how can that be?” Nia asked.
“The story goes that our distant ancestors lived only when sufficiently warmed. At first the sun brought us life, and we could move about under her loving rays but by night we would grow still and silent, waiting for a source of heat to revive us.”
“That sounds like me during most of the winter,” Nia said.
“We don’t know how long we lived like this, but by passing in and out of stillness, the early Stonewalkers lived punctuated lives that skipped down through the years like stones, extending far beyond the length of our lives these days.”
“But then something changed, didn’t it?” Nia asked.
“It did. We found great mountains where the world’s fire poured forth, the volcanoes of the north lands, inside them we were able to remain alive and active even in the cold and the dark.”
“But you don’t live in the volcanoes anymore?”
“No. Frost Harbor is near one because it is one of our oldest settlements, but we have progressed beyond the need for the fire to warm us to life. With time at last to explore and understand the world, my ancestors discovered something else, something beyond fire and beyond stone.”
“Your magic,” Nia guessed.
“It was the gods who showed it to us,” she said. “Though they never meant to. They saw us as unworthy, just as they see all of the life which crawls, or swims, or flies across the world.”
“Wait, they hate everyone?” Nia asked.
“We are not their creation,” Yasgrid said. “They shaped this land to be pleasing for themselves, but they never meant to call us forth to life, so to them we are unwelcome pests. An invasive species that is despoiling the artistry of what they created.”
“Why didn’t they wipe you out then?” Nia asked.
“They tried to,” Yasgrid said. “Their words hold both creation and destruction and as soon as they saw us, they spoke against our being. The shattering force of that divine pronouncement rolled across the mountains, scouring them clean of the life that had taken root on their slopes and within their calderas.”
“Why are you still here then?” Nia asked.
“Because they were mistaken,” Yasgrid said. “We were alive, and life is no less divine than they are. They broke us, that much is true, but the first Stonelings fought back. They clung to who and what they were. The gods smashed them again, and so the Stonelings changed, becoming something more than what they had been, and screaming their defiance of the fate the gods ordained for them so loudly that the cosmos itself couldn’t help but hear it.”
“They changed from beings of stone to ones of flesh and blood?” Nia asked.
“Yes, and they would have changed further still,” Yasgrid said. “If the gods had kept up their assault, the first Stonelings would have broken and reformed themselves a hundred or a thousand times, with each step bringing them closer in form and power to their foes. When the god saw this, they at last sued for peace.”
“And now they live in the volcanoes and provide your people with magic and power year round?” Nia asked.
“They sleep in the heart of the mountains, bound in chains of their own forging,” Yasgrid said.
“You enslaved them?” Nia asked.
“Far from it,” Yasgrid said. “The chains are a cage inside of which their will holds absolute dominion. The chains shield us from the gods’ wrath and excess, but their primary function is to protect the gods from us. What power we draw from the gods leaks from their cages as the overflow of their more vibrant dreams. In the Calling, they come as close to escaping their chains as they ever do, but they never wake, because they would never wish to leave their perfect dream worlds. Each year though they make a small feint, a tiny push of their divine might, to test if the world has withered and faded enough that they can re-emerge without fear of meeting their equals.”
“But they talked to me,” Nia said.
“Yes, and we’re going to have to pray that it never happens again.”