Side A – Nia
Nia’s collapse was inevitable. She had burned too hot and spent too much of her fury on defying the divine wills sunk in the volcano’s depths to have the energy left to stand for more than a handful of seconds after the performance finished.
As silence returned to the caldera, Nia felt her knees, or more specifically Yasgrid’s flesh and blood knees, buckle under her. Having a material body meant having a miserable lump of agony, but also an irrefutable sign she’d survived, which sent her spirit soaring into the blue sky she saw clearing above them.
The drummers had done it. The volcano rumbled no further. The toxic clouds were transmuted and dispersed to the far corners of the northlands where rather than choking out life, they would nurture and sustain it. Nia didn’t know what price they’d paid to achieve their victory, but she could tell from the glimpse of the devastation she saw and the empty seats that it had been a high one.
“We need some help here,” someone close to Nia said. Consciousness was difficult to cling to though and her vision was wobbling as her eyes struggled to find a common focal point.
“Give her room,” a man, maybe, said. Jarben? Or had he been blown to dust? The candlelight of Nia’s memories was growing dim as a mountain of fatigue a hundred times the size of the volcano crashed down on her.
“I don’t think she’s breathing,” a distant voice said. Nia felt lips on her own and wondered at the fleeting sensation. She was breathing, just slowly, and why wouldn’t they just let her sleep already?
Hands on her chest rudely asked her to wake up, but her heart was fine. She could hear the nice, slow, steady pulse in her ears. She could have even forced herself to spit out a word of comfort to whoever was working on her but the fatigue was unbearable and after the morning Nia had been through, fighting another heroic battle without a chance to rest was not something she particular cared to do.
Instead, she spoke to herself in her native tongue, casting her mind into a gossamer web of dreams and relaxed into a deep and music free slumber.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid opened her eyes and expected to find devastation everywhere around her. It felt wrong that anywhere in the world should have been spared the cataclysmic force of the drum battle she’d witnessed Nia take part in.
The meditation chamber was unchanged though. No great concussion had shattered the chairs, and no fiery blast had burned the walls. Peace and tranquility continued to reign within the woods, leaving Yasgrid feeling even more alien than she had before.
She tried to recapture the calm heart that she’d glimpsed when she first reclined into her chair, but her mind was buzzing too loudly with the outcome of the Stonelings’ Calling ceremony.
Drummers had been lost. A lot of drummers. Her mother wasn’t one of them though. Yasgrid knew that without being able to recall any conscious memory of seeing her mother among the players once the performance started. Even with that reassurance, there would still be people she knew, even possibly people she admired who would be gone.
Had Drum Master Pelegar survived? Yasgrid couldn’t remember and didn’t have the same sense as she did with her mother. In the wake of that uncertainty, and the uncertainty of so many other fates, closing her eyes and searching for tranquility seemed not only impossible but wrong.
By Stoneling tradition, the dead were mourned in the loudest of voice. Those left behind would speak for them, at least once last time, before the echoes of the departed’s words left the world behind. Nia didn’t know that tradition, and from the last that Yasgrid had seen was in no position to act on it even if she’d been made aware of it.
Reaching out to Nia was like reaching out to sleep itself. Yasgrid could feel the terrible weight of the fatigue Nia bore trying to drag her into an abyss of slumber as well. Yasgrid backed away from that contact, knowing that she couldn’t afford, and didn’t need, the same recovery time that Nia did.
Neither could she pretend to meditate further though. Her heart was too restless. Instead she opened her eyes and risked attracting attention by taking in the chamber the elves had gathered in.
The elven meeting hall reminded her at first of a tiny caldera of roots and leaves and flowers. While nowhere near the size of Frost Harbor’s volcano, the domed chamber had the same sloping descent to a central point, and the same sense of encompassing all within it.
The magnificent flower stage at the center and the glittering sword that hung suspended above it was a feature unique to the elves’ place of worship though.
Yasgrid focused on the blade, marveling at the magic that help it aloft and the natural design that let it catch stray rays of light and send them racing out across the chamber in rainbow flashes which followed a complex but also soothing pattern.
Nia had said that the ceremony within the chamber was part of the Darkwood Elves’ Mid-Winter celebration. It was where the elves symbolically slew the troubles of the previous year so that the new year could start fresh.
Yasgrid wondered what that meant as one of the dancing rainbow fragments flickered across her eyes, followed shortly thereafter by another one which lingered in place.
“It is not always symbolically.”
The words echoed in her mind, without disturbing the silence that enfolded her ears.
“What?” she asked without vocalizing the word.
“The purpose of the ritual you have begun, to slay the problems which must be laid to rest, is not always a matter of symbolism. Often, only deeds can end the troubles which grow in the garden of our lives, Daughter of Stone.”
Without sound in her ears, it was almost impossible for Yasgrid to tell where the voice was coming from, but looking up into the rainbAow that was shining in her eyes, she saw that the sword atop the flower stage had ceased spinning and was focusing a beam of scattered light directly at her.