Side A – Nia
Touring with the Shatter Band was supposed to be an honor. A select few from Frost Harbor were being organized to spend the time between the major rituals in Frost Harbor traveling to the other Stoneling cities to “perform for and be inspired by the local performers in turn”. Nia had been concerned that, while her fighting prowess was sufficient for her to be included, her drumming wouldn’t be. Listening to Yasgrid describe what awaited her though made her wonder if either skill set would be enough to keep her alive.
“I’m guessing if elves have the idea of a ‘Battle of the Bands’ it’s more of a metaphor for a regular performance?” Yasgrid asked.
“With judges, and prizes, but yeah,” Nia said.
“Well, for a Stoneling ‘Battle of the Bands’, the battle is less metaphor and more literal,” Yasgrid said. “Drum Master Pelegar should have explained that though?”
“The orientation meeting got pushed off by a week,” Nia said. “She said they weren’t able to find enough suitable candidates. I guess the guys Margrada and I wrecked in the arena lost their nerve afterwards.”
“There will probably be some more dropouts once Pelegar lays out the details,” Yasgrid said. “For a Shatter Band Tour, you’ll have to pit your playing against the local band. In theory everything is resolved through the music.”
Nia saw the problem with that immediately. Shatter drumming wasn’t like making music on a normal instrument. There was magic in the drums which reached out and reshaped the world with each beat. Putting two of those in opposition to each other seemed like the height of madness.
“The better drummers could really mess up the weaker ones, couldn’t they?” Nia asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah.” Yasgrid nodded. “If it’s a clean contest, the losers probably only wind up a bit roughed up. Maybe a few cracked bones, maybe some temporary blindness. Nothing too permanent.”
“And if one side doesn’t keep things clean?”
“If there’s serious animosity between the bands?” Yasgrid said. “It can get messy. Drummers have been erased. Or transformed. Or just broken. Like whatever was in them that let them play? It was just gone afterwards.”
“That’s…why would anyone perform in one of these? Why would the organizers even hold one?” Nia asked.
“It’s a form of warfare,” Yasgrid said. “Rather than sending troops against each other and getting lots of people killed, we send the bands out to battle one another. Ultimately if we tried to fight like the humans do, with their armies arrayed on the field, it would come down to the Shatter Bands anyways, so this saves everyone time and hassle.”
Nia could see the wisdom, even while she grew to hate the idea more with every moment. A human army that tried to march on one of the Stoneling cities would be in for a very bad time of it when the air around them turned to shards of glass. Or their blood transformed to molten lava. Or, if the Stonelings were feeling kindly, all of the roads they walked down led them back to where they started, but minus all of their supplies and food.
Stonelings weren’t immune to those effects either, but their own drummers at least had a the chance to beat a different story into the world.
Nia looked down at her hands, so small in the dreamspace she shared with Yasgrid, and knew that they’d never been tested with carrying that sort of weight.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid was glad the Battle of the Bands was in Nia’s hands. She had no idea how Nia would face the battles, but she knew that Nia would manage them better than she ever could.
“It’s possible it’s just a limited tour,” Yasgrid said. “After the issue with the Calling, the Council may be concerned with the reaction our nearest neighbors will have. They’ve got a reason to want to ensure that our gods remain dormant too.”
Nia wrestled with that. Not looking particularly reassured by Yasgrid words.
“I’m tempted to try to talk Margrada into turning down the invitation,” Nia said at last.
“There’s no shame in bowing out,” Yasgrid said. “The more people who go, the stronger the band is, but also the more people the opponents can use against us.”
“So if you think you’re weaker than your counterpart would be, its worth it to drop and take them out of the competition as well?” Nia asked.
“It depends on a lot of factors, but broadly speaking, yes.”
“Oh, this is such a bad idea,” Nia moaned after another moment of reflection.
Yasgrid stared at her for a moment, puzzled, but understanding flowed into her mind with each breath.
“You’re not going to drop out,” she said. “Are you.”
“I can’t,” Nia said. “Or, wait, I should be honest. I don’t want to.”
“Why?” Yasgrid asked, unable to sense if Nia herself had worked out what motivated her.
“A lot of reasons,” Nia said. “Most of them probably not good ones.”
“Give them a try on me,” Yasgrid suggested.
“Ok, well, there’s the obvious one; I’m vain and convinced I’m a better player than I really am, and this is a chance to prove myself.”
“And that’s a lie,” Yasgrid said. “You’re not vain, and you deserve to think better of yourself than that.”
“How about; I know Mar’s not going to be willing to drop and if something happened to her because I quit, I might start a good old fashioned war, no matter how Stoneling’s normally handle such things.”
“That sounds more honest, but you haven’t known her for that long,” Yasgrid said.
“Long enough to break things for her, but not long enough to actually have dinner with her,” Nia said. “It’s kind of pathetic isn’t it?”
“It’s sweet, by some lights,” Yasgrid said. “And probably something you should change, but you already know that.”
“I do,” Nia said. “And I think that’s why I have to go. It’s not for her, or to prove myself to anyone else. It’s the challenge. I have to face it. I think whatever change I’ve been going through, however I’ve been growing since I stepped into your shoes, to keep moving forward with that, to really be myself, I can’t back down like I always used to. To be me, I’ve got to act, or at least stand with those who need me.”