Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid had never heard a Shatter drum break. Despite their name, Shatter drums were the most durable instrument a Stoneling ever used. They were the tool which broke all of the other tools. The first thing any drummer learned was to care for and respect their instruments, and the last thing any Stoneling would do was endanger a performance by allowing a flawed drum to be included in the beat.
This performance was special however. This performance had someone who wasn’t a Stoneling playing. Someone who had never been taught how to care for a Shatter drum. For an instant Yasgrid felt panic surge through ever corner of her being. Had Nia doomed them all?
But it wasn’t Nia’s drum which shattered. Against all odds, she wasn’t responsible for the stone sheering note that tore out of the drum which disintegrated in the heart of the Shatter Band.
Yasgrid felt her body being ripped in half by sound that filled the caldera. She blinked, opening her eyes to find that she was still in Nia’s body, and still sitting in the Darkwood Elves’ meditation chamber. She had spasmed so violently though that Nia’s mother and sister were both looking at her with concern.
Without a word, she shook her head and closed her eyes, trying to return to her ‘quiet meditation’ and resync her awareness with Nia’s situation. Yasgrid’s mind was spinning too much to attain anything like a meditative state and as she forced herself to take slow, deep breaths, she noticed a strange flickering light playing on her eyelids.
She thought about opening her eyes briefly to see what had changed in the meditation chamber but distant laughter drew her attention firmly back to Nia.
Nia was in pain, and the gods were delighted.
The drum that broke had been distant from Nia. Down in the area where the Shatter Band was playing. Only the audience was farther removed from it than Nia had been, but even so the pressure of the untamed magic had slammed into her with enough force to split her lip open in a bloody gash and leave a line of searing pain from the top of her head, down her face, and neck, and body.
Nia’s right arm was a numb mess of discordant feeling as though it had taken the brunt of a massive blow. What was more worrisome though was the oven-like wall of heat that pushed Nia away from her drum. The lava was rising and the cackling of the gods was rising with it.
“Don’t stop playing!” Drum Master Pelegar said, and began the next section of the rhythm they had to perform.
Yasgrid understood the order. If the music stopped, the story they were weaving would reach an entirely different ending. Rather than singing of the triumph of the Stonelings, the silence would speak to the eventual triumph of the gods in freeing themselves.
In the best case scenario, the cloud of ash that had accumulated over the volcano would linger and rain down on Frost Harbor, carrying with it all of the concentrated toxins the earlier verses in the song had funneled up and out of the volcano. The cleanup effort would require months to years of effort, if the town could be saved at all.
Yasgrid was pretty sure a failure of the performance wouldn’t result in the best case scenario though. With the soul chilling sound of the god’s laughter ringing in her ears, she couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if the gods broke free of their self-imposed bonds.
With an unfettered will, and the power to reshape their creation as easily as a sculptor formed wet clay, the god wouldn’t just erase Frost Harbor. They would remake the entire world, casting it into new shapes and binding it with new natural laws which changed with their mercurial whims. The new world would be many things but “able to support life in the long term” was not likely to be one of them.
Nia struck her drum.
Her right arm didn’t have much feeling in it but her left was fine and still strong.
Just like her spirit.
Side B – Nia
Nia knew she should have been terrified. Fear as cold as the deepest winter should have frozen her soul and her limbs. She didn’t have Yasgrid’s experience but she didn’t need it to know how catastrophic the loss of a drum was to the performance.
Down in the Shatter Band’s playing area there was chaos. The performers who were nearest to the fractured drum were splayed away from it, unconscious or possibly dead, Nia couldn’t tell. The drummer who had the misfortune to strike the broken drum was warbling in and out of solidity, their body fading and rippling in a loop that seemed to be tearing them apart molecule by molecule.
For all that though, Nia didn’t feel afraid. The laughter of the gods was inches from her ears and it was beyond forbearance.
Hitting her drum felt like riding a wave which had frozen and then shattered into icy spikes, but she blazed through the ice with the livid rage she wanted to direct at the gods, yearning with each new hit that Yasgrid directed her to make to hit one of the Stoneling’s deities in the face with all the force that she was sending into her drum.
To her right, Jarben was matching her strokes, each of his beats leading into hers, despite the strain she could see etched into his face. None of the pledges looked ok as they fought to bring the magic of their drums together to make up for the missing players. They were all suffering from shouldering the extra strain. All of them except Magrada, on Nia’s left, the one who had been so quick to judge her as unfair competition.
Magrada was focused and intent, her movements were sharp and unflinching. One of her eyes had swollen shut from the force of the blast when the drum exploded but she played on without hesitation.
Nia knew that the brief lessons Yasgrid had given her weren’t enough to make her a real Shatter drum player, but in Magrada she could see up close what a true professional looked like. Nia felt that if she could just keep up with the basic rhythm, she might be enough support that Magrada and the other top tier drummers could salvage the performance and bring it to conclusion they had to reach.
That was when the next drum in the Shatter Band, over taxed and damaged by the first failure, exploded as well. And the next one after it. And the one after that.