Side A – Yasgrid
Two stations down. Three to go. Yasgrid didn’t like their odds of making it to the fifth station without provoking a major incident.
True, they’d managed to deal with the first two stations before things got out of hand. And what they’d deduced about approaching the stations seemed to make sense. They both had to make a silent offering to the station or they were somehow offending the Elven gods. Yasgrid could accept that. What she couldn’t shake was the feeling that the universe was inherently out to get her. Something was going to go wrong because something always went wrong.
“Our next stop is the Station of Abandoned Troubles,” Nia said. She sounded cheerful but her voice held lingering notes of uncertainty that suggested she was as worried about what was going to happen as Yasgrid.
“People don’t seem to be pausing long at that one either,” Yasgrid said, though she was aware that part of the compression of time was probably her nerves frazzling.
“This one is for acknowledging the troubles that you haven’t resolved but that you’re not going to bother fighting anymore,” Nia said. “People tend to spend a little less time here than they should because no one likes to admit that they’re giving up on something, especially not a whole bunch of somethings.”
“Does it matter though?” Yasgrid asked. “Everyone is being silent so no one knows what you’re admitting defeat on right?”
“That’s true to a point,” Nia said. “I know Kayelle though, for example, so I can guess at the kind of things she might be offering the station. If she stayed in front of it for a while, I’d know that was a bad sign.”
“Because she shouldn’t have that many troubles to abandon?” Yasgrid asked.
“Nah, we all have troubles,” Nia said. “Big and small. I’d just be worried if I saw her staying there for a long time because it would either mean there was something she was really torn up about giving up on, or she was so far at the end of her rope that she was giving up on everything.”
“I see,” Yasgrid said. She’d thought something like that might be more of a problem for Nia’s people than her own. Stonelings had a more expressive, boisterous culture than the elves did from what Yasgrid had seen, so it was easy to imagine the elves kept things more bottled up. Attending an elven ceremony where people silently offered up their problems as prayers helped solidify that belief, but only to a point. On reflection, she had to admit that the Stoneling habit of exclaiming loudly about their woes could be used to hide the troubling things as easily as elven silence could.
“That’s kind of the problem of doing this ceremony in public,” Nia said. “Knowing that there are eyes on you tends to change how long people stay at each of the stations. You’ll see people scurry away from the Abandoned Troubles because they don’t want anyone else to know how difficult a year they’ve had and all the things they’re letting fall by the wayside. We have this reputation as a secretive people and, it’s not true in general, but sometimes we really live up to it.”
“For some people though this must be good right?” Yasgrid asked. Traditions could endure past the point where they had any use or relevance but at least Nia’s family was approaching this ceremony with what appeared to be genuine reverence.
“It can be, I guess,” Nia said as Kayelle nodded to the station and walked away without wasting more than a single breath before it. “If someone wants to send a sign that they need help, this is at least one chance they have to do so. It’s why we watch each other I guess, even silence can speak volumes sometimes.”
Side B – Nia
Nia watched her mother pass through the Station of Abandoned Troubles with only the barest of pauses. That was always how their visits to this station had gone, and how Nia had believed things were supposed to be for the longest time.
“Do you know what offering you’re going to make? Or can we skip this one?” Yasgrid asked.
“I used to skip it a lot,” Nia said. “But not this year. Come on, let’s get this over with. I’ll go first if you want? Give you time to think of something.”
“Sure. Thank you,” Yasgrid said, furrowing her brow.
Nia stepped forward as Yasgrid did, standing side by side with her so that Yasgrid’s distance from the brazier wouldn’t look weird to the people behind them.
“I stopped trying to master the Deep Roots,” she said. “I haven’t told Mom yet, but I think she knows. I’m not going to carry on our family’s special calling and I’m ok with that. Mostly ok. But I know for sure it’s not for me. I know Mom will be disappointed. And Kayelle’s going to hate me for it since it blemishes our generation, but working with the hidden magics of life doesn’t call to me.”
“That sounds profound,” Yasgrid said and asked, “what are the Deep Roots though?”
“I can explain later,” Nia said. “You should do yours before we get another flare up.”
In the back of her mind, Nia grappled with another, deeper truth. She knew it belonged to this station, despite how much she didn’t want to admit to that. With a silent prayer, she begged the gods to accept the offering she’d given and the one Yasgrid was going to submit as sufficient for their needs.
“I’m not going to be part of the Shatter Band,” Yasgrid said and Nia nearly choked. Before she could find her voice though Yasgrid continued. “I made myself the promise that I would do my best at the Calling and accept the judgment that was given. I thought if I had a true gift for drumming like my mother does, it would shine through when I had to play in a real situation, but I could never have done what you did Nia. Shatter drumming is in my blood, but I missed the Calling and all I feel is relief. If this is a place to be honest, then I need to admit something I’ve known for a long time. The Shatter Band isn’t a place for me, and that’s okay. At least I think it might be.”
“It will be,” Nia said. “If you’re sure about it then any other problems that come up will be their own troubles, which you can deal with on their own terms.”
“If that’s true, then why is the flame turning blue?” Yasgrid asked, her eyes growing wide in alarm.
Nia knew the answer but she held back until the flames began to surge higher from the pressure of her silent unwillingness to speak.
It wasn’t about offering the words to the gods though. She knew she had to speak to them for herself.
“I’m going to move on,” she said at last, stepping forward close enough that the flames would devour her if they roared any higher. “I know it’s over between me and Marianne. She told me months ago and I’ve been hoping and hoping that something would change her mind, but that’s not going to happen. She doesn’t love me anymore. Maybe she never did. I’m all alone.”
The flames subsided as Yasgrid’s hand found Nia’s.
“No,” Yasgrid said. “You’re not alone.”