Side A – Nia
Nia felt her thoughts twist and turn sideways for a moment. Language does more than express thoughts, it shapes and defines them as well. To Nia, it felt like she was still thinking in Ki’lianelle, the principal language spoken in the Darkwood. When she tried to think of the different words for “body of running water” though they felt mildly dissonant, like they didn’t exactly fit with the rest of her thoughts unless she concentrated on them and forced them into position.
“Stone. Stone,” Yasgrid said. “Interesting. Those words feel like they’re the same but I can still hear them as different. They haven’t lost their meaning, but they feel, I’m not sure, distant somehow I guess?”
“Those sounded the same to me,” Nia said. “Say them again.”
“Stone,” Yasgrid said, and Nia knew she meant a solid piece of earth you could pick up and carry around.
“Stone,” Yasgrid said again, but the sound of it was different. There was another word being used there. Nia didn’t have to guess what it was either. It was the word for a solid piece of earth which was still part of a larger natural structure. A piece of a mountain rather than a loose piece of rock. A fundamental distinction to a Stoneling’s ears where Nia had never paid the difference any mind before that moment.
“Now what are you waiting for!” Halfhid had turned around and looked ready to explode from exasperation at Nia standing in the middle of the street mumbling to herself.
Nia glanced up at him.
“Am I ready for this?” she asked, as much to herself as to Yasgrid and even more distantly to Halfhid. Taking Yasgrid’s place was still the best plan Nia could think of but that didn’t necessarily mean it was a good one.
“Yas,” Halfhid said with a sigh. “You’ve been ready for this since you were old enough to reach the drums. It’s not your training you need to worry about. It’s being yourself and not your mother.”
Nia cocked her head to the side and fit that piece of advice into the picture she was building of Yasgrid. Nia knew all about living up to someone’s expectations but this seemed to be something more specific.
“Be myself?” she asked, finding it to be potentially the least useful advice she could imagine. “Yeah, that might be what I’m struggling with.”
“Don’t,” Halfhid said. “Don’t think about it. Don’t plan. Don’t try to be something. Just play. Let the drums take care of the rest. That’s how we’ll see the real you.”
Nia frowned. Allowing people to see the ‘real her’ was exactly the sort of disaster she was trying to avoid.
Side B – Yasgrid
The rest of the trip to the Gods Dome, where the Calling would be held, was cut short for Yasgrid by the arrival of someone in her, or rather Nia’s, room.
“It’s time to rise, the sun will be fully up soon,” a woman said as she drifted into the room.
Yasgrid couldn’t help staring at her. If Nia appeared frail to Yasgrid’s eyes, then the woman speaking to her was like gossamer and moonlight given form. Older than Nia, but age didn’t touch the elves of the Darkwood the same is it did other races. Instead, it seemed to refine and burnish them, allowing ever more of the natural luster of their being to shine though.
“Is it that late?” Yasgrid asked, trying to find something to answer the gentle question in the woman’s eyes.
“I know this is well before you normally choose to rise, but today is special,” the woman said as she placed a pile of clothes on dresser near the door. “We’ll need you by the fountain once you’re dressed.”
Despite the calm grace the words were spoken with, Yasgrid had no problem hearing the direct order behind them. “Once she was dressed” was meant to be as soon as she could possibly get the clothes on, not when she felt up to venturing into the strange world of the Darkwood elves.
“That was my mother,” Nia said, appearing beside Yasgrid with the same lack of fanfare as when Yasgrid appeared beside her.
“Today is special for your people as well?” Yasgrid whispered.
“It’s Midwinter Morning,” Nia said. “We have ceremonies to slay the troubles of the previous year so that they won’t pursue us into the new year.”
“We may have a problem then,” Yasgrid said. “I don’t know if I can help you drum if I need to pay attention to things here.”
“We should be ok,” Nia said. “I can kind of walk and do this at the same time. You’re just very hazy.”
“When do your ceremonies take place?” Yasgrid asked.
“Throughout the day but the only complicated one is at noontime,” Nia said.
“The Calling is when the sun reaches its zenith as well,” Yasgrid said.
“That should be perfect then,” Nia said. “Frost Harbor is well to the east of the Darkwood. Noon in Frost Harbor should be an hour or more before noon in Darkwood.”
“Strange that we woke at the same time to the sunlight then isn’t it?” Yasgrid said.
“Not necessarily,” Nia said. “You overslept didn’t you? And I woke much earlier than usual. We were on opposite sides of the dawn.”
“Tell me how I can find this fountain then, and what is expected of me when I arrive there,” Yasgrid said. “The next thing you will need to contend with in Frost Harbor is setting up for the Calling. Just go where Halfhid tells you and spend some time inspecting the drum he places you in front of.”
“Is there anything I should look for?” Nia asked.
“Yes, many things,” Yasgrid said. “They require a practiced eye and a familiar ear though so we will have to hope that drums are in good shape and are ready for use. It’s not a wild hope fortunately. The drums are kept in a pristine state and reviewed by the Shatter Band well before being placed out for the Calling.”
“Good, I should be able to handle inspecting something that doesn’t actually need an inspection,” Nia said. “You have it a bit easier. The meeting at the fountain is for the Dawn’s Prayer. It’s why I woke early. You’ll just need to listen while the prayers are spoken, and then meditate silently until the Klaroo bird sings. That usually takes about an hour. After that is breakfast.”
“Let us hope things go as they should and no further crises arise,” Yasgrid said, knowing that neither of them would be that lucky.