Side A – Yasgrid
With three of the five stations down Yasgrid thought she should have felt more hopeful. They’d worked out the rules for how to handle the stations. They both needed to speak, and they couldn’t hold back anything that was too important. The last two stations should be easy to deal with.
Yasgrid looked at Nia beside her and frowned. Nia was quiet, lost in a sea of thoughts that even their strange bond didn’t give Yasgrid any insight into.
“The next station is for Troubles Contested,” Nia said, swallowing the sadness that was written on her face. “It’s for the problems that you’re committed to continuing to try to resolve.”
“The line doesn’t seem to be moving very quickly this time?” Yasgrid asked.
“Yeah, people tend to linger on this one,” Nia said, her voice still heavy. “Partly it’s because it looks good if you’re working on your troubles. If there’s something about you that annoys someone else, they’ll assume that you’re promising to fix it.”
“Is the largest part of this ceremony about appearances?” Yasgrid asked. She watched as a man at the front of the line stepped forward and bowed his head, assuming a posture that spoke of penitence and grave thoughts.
“I used to think it was,” Nia said. “My mother talked about how the gods are always listening to us but on Mid-Winter’s Day they will sometimes speak back. I thought she meant literally, so, when I was a kid, I was always waiting to hear the fires say something.”
Yasgrid knew that feeling. Not the desire to hear from her gods – that wasn’t the relationship any Stoneling had with their gods – but rather the desire for something to be true despite what her senses were showing her.
“It seems like your gods don’t need to speak,” she said. “Assuming they’re the ones who are making the fires flare up.”
“Yeah, I think it’s them,” Nia said. “I think they’ve sunk so far into the Darkwood that they don’t have things like ‘words’ anymore. It’s weird, but since I touched your Shatter drum I feel like I understand them better. If they made the world, or at least this part of it, they must exist somewhere like the place the Shatter drum’s beat sends you.”
“That’s possible,” Yasgrid said. “The beat touches on something that has to be divine. If it didn’t, I don’t think it could keep the gods locked away in their dream realms.”
“I can’t imagine living like that,” Nia said. “Always in the moment of creation, I mean. And maybe they couldn’t either? I’d never thought about it from their perspective but even with only a little drumming experience I can see the appeal of melting down into land and being very solid for a very long time.”
“You won’t have to worry about that again at least,” Yasgrid said. “I am wondering what surprises this next station will throw at us though?”
“There’s another part to this station,” Nia said. “It’s really supposed to be the whole point of it in fact. The idea is you’re supposed to offer up the troubles that you’re still working on resolving but along with each of them you’re supposed to tell the gods what you plan to do next for each of them. Ideally, you should leave the station with a real idea on how to proceed. If you don’t have that then any trouble you offer here is in practice, indistinguishable from a trouble you’ve given up on.”
Side B – Nia
Yasgrid was silent a moment, contemplating Nia’s words.
“I guess this is not the place to speak of the switch that’s happened to us then?” Yasgrid asked.
Nia nodded, her lips pressing into a grim line.
“I don’t know what our condition qualifies as to be honest,” she said. “And I don’t have any idea what we can do about it either.”
“I was wondering if going to sleep would fix anything, but you tried that and nothing happened,” Yasgrid said.
“Once the ceremonies are done we should have more time to figure something out,” Nia said. “Which could be all we need for this station. If the flames go wild again, it might be acceptable to say ‘we don’t know how to fix it but we’re going to talk about it once our immediate crisis is resolved.’ According to my mother, the gods don’t expect us to have all the answers, sometimes even knowing which questions you need to ask can be enough.”
Yasgrid breathed in and seemed to accept that, lapsing into silent consideration while the line moved forward. For her part, Nia let her thoughts tumble back into the disorder that had consumed them.
Part of her had been planning to offer her hope for reuniting with Marianne at the Station of Contested Trouble. It was a childish notion, the idea that by simply refusing to give up she could kindle an emotion in someone that they no longer felt. Or never had. Even giving up that fantasy though, Nia could still feel the gravity of its hold on her. Her thoughts curved around the void that Marianne had left in her heart but for the first time she felt like she could see the void for what it was, could trace its outline and see the extent of what was lost.
“We’re up next,” Yasgrid said, breaking Nia out of her reflections.
In front of them, Nia watched as her mother completed her stay at the station. She had the sense that her mother hadn’t been there long. It didn’t surprise her. Her mother never stayed at any of the stations for a noteworthy amount of time.
“I don’t know which of my troubles I’ll be able to fight,” Nia said, stepping forward and letting the mess inside her spill out as honestly as she could. “I guess the ones that are a part of me? The bits I don’t like? Those are things I can work on, the rest is stuff I can’t ask Yasgrid to tackle and I wouldn’t even if I could. It’s not someone else’s job to come in and straighten up my life for me. I know that won’t work. What I’m going to try instead is using this situation to see things from a new perspective and get a better handle on them. If Yasgrid’s willing to help me with that?”
“If you’ll do the same for me?” Yasgrid said. “Because my story’s the same. I think my old life was going to be over today no matter what happened, and I don’t think even if I’d woken up in Frost Harbor instead of here I would have been able to see what the new one needed to look like.”
“As long as we’re in this, we’re in it together,” Nia said, taking Yasgrid’s hand and giving it a phantom squeeze.
The flames of the fourth station made no complaint about that and simmered on contentedly.