Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid was supposed to go to a simple meditation session and be quiet for an hour or more. No one had had said anything about interacting with people who knew Nia, and most especially not Nia’s family members. That would have seemed colossally unfair if Nia hadn’t been taking a far greater risk for Yasgrid’s sake. As it was Yasgrid settled for adopting a frown and glaring at Nia’s sister.
She had no idea what their relationship was like but she had to imagine that elf siblings had similar squabbles to Stonelings.
“Get back inside,” Kayelle said. “If I bring you to the Dawn’s Prayer dressed like that, Mom will murder us both. Or be mildly disappointed, which would be a thousand times worse.”
Yasgrid did as she was instructed. She had no better plan of action and if Nia’s sister was going to help her dress that would at least exchange her immediate problem for a longer term one which was capable of speaking to her.
“Are we late yet?” Yasgrid asked, feeling the need to fill the silence as they stepped back into Nia’s apartment. It seemed like a safe question since Nia hadn’t been aware of the exact time and her sister’s arrival suggested there wasn’t much of it left.
“We will be if we don’t hurry,” Kayelle said, picking up the long strip of fabric that Yasgrid hadn’t worked out how to wear properly.
“I tried to get up early,” Yasgrid said, feeling slightly guilty. It was true that she had tried to fall asleep early the night before, when she was still in her own body. It was also true that she’d planned to rise early and be ready for the day that awaited her. Neither had worked out though.
Sleep had proven to be a wiley prey to capture, driven beyond her grasp by the baying of her anxieties clustered around the biggest day in her life. The Calling would determine the course the rest of her days would follow, either as part of the Shatter Band or as a disgraced failure of a drummer, unable to live up to even the simplest part of the legacy left by her mother.
Driven by strange dreams, she’d tossed and turned on a sea of wakefulness until at last she washed ashore in the strangest land of all. Another person’s life.
“Here, hold this and keep your arms out,” Kayelle said, handing Yasgrid one end of the cloth.
Yasgrid caught the piece of fabric and watched as Kayelle spun the bulk of it around Nia’s arms and body.
The simple shirt Yasgrid had put on was fine as far as basic modesty went, but the wide ribbon of cloth was what made the outfit into something with style and artistry. The loops running in intricate loops around both arms, across her chest and down to her waist each had a specific meaning from the seemingly well rehearsed mantra of prayers Kayelle said over each one as she swiftly assembled the garment into its final form.
“There, now you’re, well, let’s call it less of a disaster,” Kayelle said, standing back to review her handiwork.
“Wonderful,” Yasgrid said. “Can we get going then?” An hour spent in silent observation of the elves seemed like a wonderful idea after the practical lesson she’d just received in how little she knew of their lives and culture.
“Yeah, but we’ll need to take the Long Drops if we want to get any of the good seats,” Kayelle said.
Yasgrid didn’t like the sound of that, and liked it even less when Kayelle marched straight out of Nia’s apartment and hurled herself over the railing to plunge towards the forest floor below.
Side B – Nia
The last thing Nia was concerned about was falling. Gazing upon the writhing lava that waited below the carved performance hall of the Gods Dome, all she could think was whether the Stonelings could possibly know when the volcano was going to erupt.
It could be at any moment. She could feel the heat of the lava already from high above it and it looked like it was rising closer with every second that she watched.
“The Pledgers section is over there,” Halfhid said, indicating a space on the higher tiers of the Gods Dome where several other people were already gathered. “Go and inspect your drum, and remember the things I’ve taught you. You can do this Yasgrid. It’s not about your mother, or about me, or the girl you were. You, the woman standing here today, you can do this.”
Nia wished with all her heart that Yasgrid had been there to hear Halfhid’s pep talk. Maybe it would have been enough to calm her nerves. Maybe it would have given her the boost of confidence she needed to carry her through the performance before her with grace and elegance. All it did for Nia was remind her that she was a fraud, a fake Yasgrid who had no idea how to play her role correctly.
A fake Yasgrid was all they had though, so Nia breathed in the hot and oddly sweet fumes from the volcano and nodded to Halfhid.
“I’ll do my best,” she said and turned, leaving him behind.
The novice section that Halfhid directed her to was close to the lip of the volcano and so was already bathed in sunlight. Nia wondered at the newcomers getting the highest positions in the ritual but then reoriented her thinking. The seats and drums that were laid out for the “Pledgers” were plain and simple. The drums bore some ornamentation but lacked the gilding and gemcraft of the instruments even a level below them. The lower rungs were the ones closer to the living volcano, and, apparently, were the more prestigious for it.
Down towards the bottom of the Gods Dome the seats took on a splendor that even Nia, with eyes more accustomed to judging elvish art, could see where masterpieces of craftsmanship, just waiting for the sun’s rays to burst forth with light.
Assuming the lava didn’t swallow them first.
Which seemed more likely every moment.
“Kaersbean, you’re over here,” a tall, white haired woman said.
Nia didn’t register that as meaningful, or addressed to her until the woman stepped closer and added, “Do you want a written invitation? Come on, we’ve running late enough as it is.”
Nia blinked and followed the woman to Yasgrid’s assigned drum.
It was large. It was composed of grey stone all around, except for the top which was covered in a top of black stone shot through with silver and purple veins.
Nia reached to tap on the drum but the woman grabbed her wrist before she could make contact.
“Visual inspection first,” Drum Master Pelagar said. “Damn kids always so damn eager. I would have hoped that you’d be different at least with the extra year you had.”
“Sorry,” Nia said. “Late night last night.”
Pelagar’s shook her head, and sighed.
“Yeah, that’s how it is for all of us. Gods I do not miss those days. Just remember the beats and play like you’ve been taught. The rest is either there or it isn’t, so there’s no use worrying about it at this point.”
Worrying wasn’t an option for Nia. That was going to happen whatever she tried to do. Her only choice was what to do with that worry, and the best thing she could manage was to bury it and hope for best.
As plans went it wasn’t a wonderful one, but no others stood out as viable options.
“Maybe if I’m lucky the lava will sweep us all away before I have to start playing,” she thought to herself, as the molten rock below they began to rise at a noticeably faster pace.