Side A – Nia
Nia expected a hostile world to await her outside the warm confines of Yasgrid’s hut and the city of Frost Harbor did not disappoint on that score.
In place of the graceful contours of the vast trees that made up Nia’s home, Yasgrid’s city of Frost Harbor was hewn into rough edges and sharp peaks from the silver-lined black stone that the northern lands were famed for. There was a palpable force to the architecture, heavy and earthbound, which seemed sunken into the roots of the earth to Nia’s more arboreal accustomed senses. She could have spent the day wandering around and drinking in the strangeness of it all if her attention hadn’t been captured by a more immediate concern.
“Crumbly nethers Yasgrid, what took you so long! You were supposed to be up hours ago!” Halfhid’s breath washed over Nia like a wave of fire. Among her people raised voices were used only in the most extreme of circumstances. Disturbing the forest was taken as an offense against everyone who could hear you, and for a moment Nia couldn’t even make out Halhid’s words due to their volume.
“Damn, he’s right,” Yasgrid said from behind Nia. From what Nia could see, whatever connection they shared did not extend to the rest of the world as Halfhid gave no sign of being aware of the real Yasgrid’s presence. He was focused entirely on Nia.
She couldn’t believe how large he was. Yasgrid’s body was significantly larger than Nia’s, and Halhid towered both head and shoulder’s over Yasgrid. He was tall enough that, despite the extra height she was borrowing from being in Yasgrid’s body, Nia found herself looking into the bottom tip of his white-blue beard, unable to bring herself to meet his eyes directly while he was so close and loud.
“Tell him I was practicing the Five Principles and got lost in the meditation,” Yasgrid said.
“I was practicing the Five Principles,” Nia repeated, finding her voice and fighting to put some fire in it as well. Just because the Darkwood elves spoke more softly than the Stonelings didn’t mean Nia was unused to people yelling at her. The volume was new but the feelings it evoked weren’t.
“You were being awfully quiet about it then,” Halfhid said, stepping back a half pace.
“He always says to practice with just your mind and heart and now he’s complaining that I was being too quiet?” Yasgrid’s voice was loud enough that Nia flinched at it as well.
“Did you, or did you not, say that quiet was how I was supposed to meditate on the Principles?” Nia asked letting her surprise out in short, angry bursts with each word.
She expected Halfhid to come back at her with even more volume and rage. When two elves got into a screaming match it more often than not ended in blood being drawn.
Instead he gave a short guffaw from the bottom of belly and clapped her on the side of her right arm.
“You picked a fine day to start listening to me then,” he said, his tone approving even if the volume he spoke at was disconcerting. “Maybe there’ll be some chance of you getting into the Shatter Band yet!”
“Let’s hope,” Nia said, the muscles on her back losing some of the tension that had gathered in them.
“Let’s do more than hope,” Halfhid said. “Past time we go up to The Calling. Be quick now!”
“Right,” Nia said and cast a glance back to Yasgrid.
“I’ll show you how to get there,” Yasgrid said, the image of her remaining clear and strong as she stepped into the early morning sun.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid felt the faintest flickering of hope kindle in her heart. Nia had almost wilted when she came face to face with Halfhid, and Halfhid was one of the nicer people Yasgrid knew. That spelled doom for any attempt at impersonation but then Nia had rallied. Her quiet, controlled anger was what Yasgrid had always had trouble with expressing, and exactly what meditating on the Five Principles would have helped her process better. If Yasgrid was honest with herself, she wasn’t sure she could have struck as good a balance as Nia had if she really had spent the whole night in meditation.
“Does he hate you?” Nia asked under her breath as Yasgrid led her up the winding streets from the Low Quarter where her home was to the Gods Dome at the city’s summit.
“Halfhid?” Yagrid asked. “No. He’s nice enough. He just doesn’t like seeing me fail to live up to my potential.”
“Why was he yelling then?” Nia asked. Her voice was barely above a whisper but Yasgrid could hear her like she was speaking at a normal Stoneling volume. Given that they were physically farther apart than either could reckon, that didn’t seem like the strangest thing about their conversation.
“He was yelling?” Yasgrid asked, and paused to reconsider the conversation.
“He was speaking much louder than you are,” Nia said.
“Oh,” Yasgrid winced at that. “That’s a problem I have.”
“Speaking normally is a problem?” Nia asked.
“I don’t speak normally,” Yasgrid said. “I’m usually too quiet. It’s not a good thing for a shatter drummer. Or anyone I guess.”
“You sound perfectly fine to me,” Nia said, flashing a faint smile at her disembodied companion.
“You’re the only one who thinks so,” Yasgrid said. “My mother is always trying to get me to express myself more.”
Nia suppressed a chuckle.
“You’ll have to meet mine then,” Nia said. “She’s always concerned that I’m too loud.”
“But some things can only be said loudly. If you say the words quietly, they mean something else.”
“That’s…interesting,” Nia said, her pace slowing. “What language are we speaking?”
“Low Quand,” Yasgrid said, naming the common tongue of her people. She knew High Quand as well thanks to her mother’s insistence of teaching her the High Forms for shatter drumming. Apart from that she’d picked up a smattering of vocabulary from half a dozen other languages thanks to traders who came into Frost Harbor’s ports.
“I don’t speak Low Quand,” Nia said. “I’ve read a bit of it, but I’ve never been out of the Darkwood, or met one of your people in person.”
“But you’re speaking Low Quand now,” Yasgrid said.
“And you’re speaking Ki’lianelle,” Nia said. “With a native’s tongue I might add.”
Both women stopped at stared at each other. Swapping bodies was one thing. Swapping languages an entirely different level of unsettling.
“Try saying a word that you know from Low Quand,” Yasgrid suggested.
“Kaltashak,” Nia said and heard the syllables she intended to say as well as the word “home” emerge from her lips.
Yasgrid and Nia looked at each other in shock. Whatever connection they had, it went deeper than simply switching bodies.