Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid felt the force of the Shatter drum echo through her bones. For a sliver of a moment her eyes fluttered open, breaking her out of the meditation she’d sunk into. The drumbeat had been so loud that she was shocked it hadn’t erupted from Nia’s body and roused the elves throughout the Darkwood. Only the rustling of an undisturbed forest surrounded the meditation chamber though.
Apart from Yasgrid and Nia’s connection, their two worlds were still far distant from one another.
Closing her eyes, Yasgrid focused her attention back to Nia’s side and slipped into the timeless moment the magic had called forth.
“You’ve mastered this before,” Yasgrid said. “You can do it again.”
“I hoped it would get easier,” Nia said, her voice sounding like a distant echo reflected off the dome of the heavens.
There was laughter around them, from voices Yasgrid had only heard faintly before. The gods were closer than she’d ever felt them and with their presence came the promise of unbearable heat to scorch the world clear and begin again from the ashes.
“It doesn’t get easier,” Yasgrid said. “But you will get stronger. ”
“If I survive,” Nia said, the sound fading away as though being lost to a gulf of centuries.
“You will,” Yasgrid said. “The ferocity of great drummer lives within you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to call forth so much magic from the drum.”
The laughter around them turned to a cackle at that claim, but Yasgrid heard something else in the hollow hate of the gods. Something beyond their contempt.
There was fear in that laughter.
And Nia heard it too.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice growing firm once more.
Side B – Nia
Nia ended the drumbeat and opened her eyes. As Yasgrid had said, it wasn’t any easier that it had been, but knowing what to expect had helped tremendously.
A moment later Yasgrid was pushing her other hand down.
“We can’t stop,” Yasgrid said, and Nia felt their place in the rhythm drawing her in like a whirlpool.
The music was building on itself.
The beats were simple but they were growing in complexity and impact.
The fledgling drummers were speaking to the volcano and the gods it held.
We stand here today.
We will stand here tomorrow.
Each strike on the drum broke Nia into a thousand shards, and each time she pulled herself together. Under Yasgrid’s masterful hands, Nia felt her connection to the music grow beyond the trauma of a single note and become part of the great chorus they were weaving.
We follow those who came before us.
We will guide those who come after.
The gods moved close, their fire crisping Nia’s skin in the moments when she struck the drum and as the air in the volcano became sweltering.
Today is not our day, but our day is coming.
Sleep now and sleep then, as you always have, and always will.
It wasn’t a plea. Or a suggestion.
Nia slammed her hands onto the drum, each strike precisely as Yasgrid directed, each a commandment to great forces that surrounded them.
She could have held back. She wasn’t the lead drummer, and the ceremony did not depend on her. She could have refused to stand out and have escaped the attention of both the Stonelings who were judging her and the fiery gods who sought the weakest link in the chains which bound them.
Nia couldn’t do that though.
Her spirit had become a liquid thing. Shattered with each strike, and brought back together in the wake of each beat, Nia found that she couldn’t hold herself back.
Her thoughts were her own but they were morphing into new patterns, flowing between the person she’d been and the one she was becoming.
Who was she? Who had she been? As the music twisted her around and filled her up, she clutched onto the things she believed about herself.
She was her mother’s child, cast in the likeness of gentlest and wisest of beings.
Her handhold on that image turned to river water.
Nia had never been gentle, and the wisdom she carried wasn’t her mother’s wisdom.
“It’s not gentleness that you need here,” Yasgrid said.
The drums didn’t respond to a soft touch. No feathery brush of her fingertips, however lovely, would draw their song from them.
But her mother had always made grace seem so natural and uncomplicated. Just be calm, always, and serene, so that the world never touches you. It was what a person was expected to be. Or at least what Nia was expected to be.
“Have you never seen her get angry?” Yasgrid asked.
No, Nia thought, but she knew that couldn’t be true. Other people spoke of avoiding her mother’s anger, but Nia couldn’t remember ever seeing it.
All she could remember were the times she herself had lost her temper. How ashamed she’d been to let a spark of rage slip out of her control. Each flash of temper had illuminated how much she wasn’t what people wanted her to be.
“The drums don’t expect you to be anyone,” Yasgrid said.
They only demanded that she be herself.
That was the price she had to pay. She was so deep into the music, so swept away by it, that the only person she could rebuild herself to be was the person she truly was.
Not on the outside. The body she wore didn’t define her, but her heart did, and with each beat she struck, Nia found herself staring into the blind spots within her heart and questioning the things she’d taken for granted about herself since she was a child.
She wasn’t calm and serene. She wasn’t going grow up someday and become so. She wasn’t going to become her mother.
She didn’t know if who she was would ever be valued, but with the music raging around her, it didn’t matter. She was who she was, and in that moment that was all that mattered.
This is our world, and we will stand against you should you raise even a finger against it.
The fledglings cast their drumming down into the volcano and pushed back the rising force of the gods’ wrath.
Their technique wasn’t flawless, and their fury far from unmatched, but it was a good performance, better than many, and strong enough to lead into the full Shatter Band joining them into the closing piece.
Nia breathed in relief, she and the others had passed the test they had to face alone. All that was left was the culmination of the celebration and the return of the sun.
Then the first drum broke.