Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid had never imagined what the end of the world would sound like. Hearing one Shatter drum detonate after another though, she discovered she would never need to imagine it. It was going to haunt her memories for the rest of her life.
The Stoneling’s rhythm faltered. Beats were missed. Chaos swirled and churned in the heart of the volcano.
“Carry on!” Drum Master Pelegar demanded. “Carry on!”
How Pelegar’s voice rose over the faltering drums, and over the roar of the venting gases that screamed up from the lava in a barely controlled tornado, Yasgrid couldn’t guess, but she blessed the Drum Master for standing unmoved in the face of the disaster that was unfolding. The drummers had a job to do, a job only they could do, and Pelegar was going to see them through it.
“I can’t find the rhythm,” Nia said, her hands shaking with effort of playing.
Yasgrid couldn’t either. The Shatter band was trying to make up for the missing pieces of the performance, trying to weave in patterns that would re-establish the flow and lead everyone back to safety. It was grueling complicated work though. Half strokes and double beats mixed with interrupted brushes and rapid strikes that landed faster than the eye could follow. The result has passed beyond music into the realm of abstract mathematical relationships between timings and wave amplitudes.
Another Shatter drum buckled under the load, sending crystal howl up along the edge of the tornado the other performers had conjured to pull the deadly gases away from the crowds.
“We can’t keep up with them,” Yasgrid said. “Bring it back to basics. Pelegar’s drumming has the core beat. Reinforce that.”
Nia exhaled a shout and wiped away the sweat that was pouring down her brow. To her left, Magrada was struggling to keep up with the Shatter band, pushing her drum to its limit as a spider web of filaments began to crack through its structure. Jarben, on Nia’s right, wasn’t in any better shape. He’d been trying to keep up as well but his beats lost focus, his hands faltering into brush strokes when he meant to slam in a heavy beat and knocking out a pattern of rapid notes a crucial half second out of time.
Nia’s drumming resumed with faltering steps, each hit pushing her another hairsbreadth outside of herself. Yasgrid felt her own hands, moving under Nia’s control, growing ever warmer as she played. The air in the volcano was searing, but Nia was burning even hotter, her temperature climbing the deeper the music drew her in.
Little by little her strokes gained strength and power too.
Jarben faltered at last, losing his place and pausing for a long moment in disoriented exhaustion. When he drew himself back together, it was Nia’s lead that he followed, taking up the core rhythm with her and supporting the senior drummers when he couldn’t keep up with them.
He exchanged a quick glance with Nia and offered a smile of gratitude. Nia was too focused on following Yasgrid’s directions to process it but Yasgrid knew what he was saying. To be a Shatter drummer meant rising to the challenge. The act of drumming cast the player’s inner being against the cosmos and required the player demand the cosmos listen to them.
That sort of attitude didn’t allow for admitting weakness or failure easily. Without Nia’s example, Jarben and several of the others who were joining them in carrying the core beat would have kept struggling to be the superstars Shatter drummers are “supposed to be” in both their own imaginations and the imaginations of too many people who look up to them. The pledges would have played beyond their endurance and beyond their skill, and collapsed or suffered a worse fate rather than continuing to add to the performance’s expression in a way that was true to who they were.
Yasgrid smiled. If it had been her at the drums, she never would have thought to pull back. Whatever else happened, Nia had saved Yasgrid from destroying herself like too many of the Shatter band had already.
Side B – Nia
Nia understood the beat she was playing. The magic of the Shatter drums had torn her apart so many times that she couldn’t not understand the beat. It was a part of the music and the music had consumed her, had become one with her. She was flesh and blood, but at the same time she was vibrating with every note and every echo of the performance that rang through the volcano.
Stoneling? Elf? Both of those felt like things she’d left behind an eternity ago. When she moved, it was with the changing of the song. With each strike, when the magic flowed out of her drum, she drank it in, becoming more luminous and connected to the world that she held onto when her body proved too tiny to contain the power that surged through the rhythm.
Yasgrid’s hand were cool and gentle, despite the sharp focus which moved them. Nia felt less like she was following Yasgrid’s leads and more like Yasgrid was playing the Shatter drum through her. Or perhaps simply playing her. In Nia’s mind the boundary between drum and drummer had grown as faint as morning mist.
Riding the music, she felt the missing pieces in it. She couldn’t see how to fill them though, couldn’t follow the complex turnings the master drummers were improvising to bring the piece back to the narrative it needed to reach.
They had to tell the volcano, and the gods, and the whole world, that they lived and they would keep living. They had to show that even in the face of so profound a calamity as the loss of several key drummers, that they were still in control, that they could still shape the world to be what they needed it to be.
Magrada was last of the pledges holding out on the Shatter Band’s level. Nia watched as the magic from Magrada’s drum reached out and blew frost onto the lava that pushed it back. When Magrada’s playing soared upward, it carried a puff of the toxic gases above the lava with it, putting them up into the gathering clouds where the other drummers were building a rhythm to disperse the gases harmlessly.
Nia saw the strain Magrada was under and reached out to her, moving as part of the music rather than with her hands or even her gaze.
Yasgrid was surprised when Nia deviated from the direction she was providing, but she caught on quickly as Nia began adding minor embellishments to the core beat, little things to amplify what Magrada was doing.
What had been a small puff of frost on the lava became a frosty wind. The puff of gases being vented out became a long lungful. Nia and Magrada’s playing wasn’t perfectly synchronized but their drums danced together, and Magrada ran with that, doubling her intensity with Nia’s drumming as a backstop to help control the magic she summoned.
Jarben joined them after a few moments, and then Hegen, the pledge drummer who had started off their first drum roll. One by one the remaining pledge drummers joined them, adding their strength together with Magrada’s and Drum Master Pelegar’s playing.
The mood in the music became hopeful as the drummers efforts surged together, clinging to the belief that they were turning the tide.
Nia knew they weren’t though. She could hear the ringing fractures in the music.
When Drum Master Pelegar’s drum split in half, the blast it released was strong enough to reduce the three drums nearest to her to black dust. Nia reached out with her drumming, picking up the missing parts to buy the drummers a chance to pull themselves back together from the insubstantial state their magic had cast them into.
But then her drum shattered too.