Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid felt her body blown away into the wind. Across the uncounted miles that lay between them, Nia took the full brunt of her drum exploding and Yasgrid’s body which she wore lost its cohesion. Magic with enough force to fracture a mile of stone reached into flesh and bone and sent each molecule drifting away to the farthest reaches of the cosmos.
A chain reaction had begun, and Yasgrid saw, in the last moment of her connection with Nia, that her people had failed to rise to their gods’ challenge. From the loss of the first drum, the situation had been dire, but with so many more breaking and so many more drummers being lost, all that was left was an inexorable tide of lava, and fire, and doom.
The gods would break from their self-imposed bonds, unafraid at last that anyone remained who could stand against them.
The volcano would erupt on a scale never before known, devastating the land around it to the horizon’s horizon and covering the world in the ashes of the Stoneling’s failure.
The enormity of it all terrified Yasgrid. It wasn’t that she couldn’t imagine destruction on that scale, it was that the images were all too easy to conjure in her mind, and all too real in her imagination.
The horror of what she saw was too wide for her to fully take in though. It passed through her mind and settled into her bones, leaving behind a smaller, more singular emotion.
Nia was gone.
The young elf woman was the first victim of the calamity who’s passing cut into Yasgrid’s soul.
It wasn’t fair that Nia had been there. Whatever cosmic joke had swapped their bodies could only have come from cruelest of hearts if it ended with a small, defenseless woman being reduced to nothing for the crime of trying to help someone she barely knew.
Yasgrid felt her throat clench and hot tears simmer at the edges of the eyes that had once been Nia’s.
In the short time they’d been together, Nia had been nothing except gracious and kind. She’d been braver than Yasgrid under far more difficult conditions and she’d suffered and endured more than Yasgrid could ever have asked even her dearest loved ones to, all to keep alive a hope for Yasgrid to achieve a dream that Yasgrid’s soul was still divided on.
And in the end, all she’d earn was laughter.
In the storm shadowed distance, under the baleful, choking smoke that surged above Yasgrid’s home, the booming, chortling glee of the the Stoneling’s gods shook the earth to its foundations. They ran drunk with delight at the ruin of those who dared to speak against them. Every gust of wind and tremble of the land held the reverberation of their mocking intent.
They hadn’t won because they’d worked for a victory over the drummers. They’d won because they were surrounded by failures. By people who could never live up to the example that had been set by those before them. By people who deserved the pitiful, ignominious end which they had always been destined for, because they were broken, unworthy, and unwanted.
Yasgrid’s rage burned inside her with the incandescence of a star, but she wasn’t the one who spoke the word.
Side B – Nia
“No.” Nia repeated herself.
Yasgrid’s body was gone, blasted to dust. Nia had nothing left to speak with, and no home for her spirit. She was lost to the world, a silent voice adrift forever in the cosmos.
“No.” Magic boomed within her. She was a vibrating string on the loom of fate. She was an echo with weight and power still.
The music that had flowed through her had never left. Over and over she’d put herself back together in the timeless instant of the drum beat. In the wake of her drum shattering, that instant gained breadth and length, stretching from nothingness, to a second, to the beat of a heart, but it was still familiar to her.
She couldn’t come back, the god’s whispered. Only in the moment when magic was the entirety of her reality could she reshape the world and herself.
“No.” There was cold fire in the word.
As terrible as her ordeal had been, it had worked a curious alchemy on her. The magic of the drumming had infused her so thoroughly that Nia had only the barest understanding where the magic ended and she began. Her body was gone but she was alive in the energy of the gathered magic, a burning, glowing avatar of the power called forth by the Stonelings demand for life and renewal.
She was too new to drumming to do anything with that though. She had lost control in the music because she couldn’t harness the magic, couldn’t control it the way even the most junior apprentice of the shatter drums could do.
“No,” she said, hard and final.
It wasn’t about control. Nia wasn’t working magic. She wasn’t casting a spell like an elf would.
She reached out with hands that were solid, because she said they were solid. She lifted the fracture top of her drum from the ground, calling it back because it was the only part of the instrument she cared about.
There were only a few drummers left still playing. Jarben was down. Unconscious. Probably dead.
“No.” He wasn’t.
Magrada was clutching her drum, holding onto the last of the rhythm with an iron tenacity that could only end in her obliteration.
“No.” She was stronger than she knew. They were all stronger than they knew, because none of them had ever been tested so far before, had never had to discover what true reserves they could call upon when faced with extinction.
Nia slammed the drum top on the ground.
There would be no extinction.
She slammed the drum top down again.
The laughter of the gods would not be the last sound they would hear. The gods would choke on that laughter. Nia would ram each evil cackle right back down the divine throat it came from.
She slammed the drum top down again, and again, and over and over.
No. No. No.
The old story the music told couldn’t hold, the rhythm they had been building had fallen and been proven a lie, but it didn’t matter.
There was still a voice left to speak against the gods and the volcano and the ending of the world.
A voice with power because it wouldn’t allow itself not to be heard.
A voice that was not alone.
“NO!” Every remaining Shatter drummer screamed against the unjust heavens and the world around them had no choice but to listen.