Side A – Nia
The drum in Nia’s hands was alive, but very soon a whole bunch of things wouldn’t be.
“You..shouldn’t…” Grash wasn’t that drunk. Not so much that he couldn’t have stopped Nia. He was however that surprised.
People didn’t reach for Shatter Drums out of the blue. People especially didn’t reach for other people’s Shatter Drums. Shatter Drums were sacred. They were priceless.
And they were dangerous.
Nia knew that, but she was well past caring. Cloud Divers were attacking and no one else was awake enough to do anything about it.
She drew back her hand, focusing her scattered thoughts on riding the impact it was about to make.
Thanks to still being in possession of a sense of self preservation Hongi grabbed her arm before she could unleash the Shatter Drum’s magic.
So Nia used her head.
She couldn’t find Hongi. He was twice her size. Plus she liked him. And he was really big. And she owed him for all the rotgut she’d stolen from them. And, seriously, he was just muscles on top of muscles. Like biceps for days.
Nia really wanted to arm wrestle him.
She wanted Margrada to watch her arm wrestle Hongi, if she was being honest with herself. Or maybe she just wanted to wrestle with Margrada.
That sounded fun.
All those thoughts went through her head in the instant before she slammed her noggin onto the top of the drum and then they were gone.
A moment of transcendental clarity.
She was inside the wave of magic her single strike had unleashed. The universe was crumbling to dust and reforming as the clear boom of the drum rang through it.
“You’re playing?” Yasgrid asked, reaching out across the void to grasp Nia’s hand.
“Not my best idea, I’ll admit, but the caravan is under attack,” Nia said. It was nice not being drunk for a moment, but she knew it couldn’t last.
Sure, it was possible for her to drum the inebriation away but Halhid had made explicit something she’d understood intuitively. Changing yourself through a drums magic always came with a cost and that was if you were lucky. If Nia let go of the drunken, hangover-doomed, self that she knew, she could lose far more than a nasty headache.
“You’re fighting Cloud Divers?” Yasgrid asked, pulling the information from Nia’s senses as much as from her memories.
“Hopefully fighting them,” Nia said. “I know this was a bad idea but I had precisely zero better ones to work with.”
“You can make it work,” Yasgrid said. “I know you want to attack them, but you don’t need to do much directly. Your intention’s already set, just let the magic do the rest.”
Nia exhaled into the void and opened her arms, offering no resistance as the magic within her blossomed outwards.
It was too much to hold. Too much to even channel. She felt like a tiny stream bed someone was pouring a mighty river down.
Would the magic hurt something other than the Cloud Divers? She should temper it if so. Direct it so it did no harm, and control the backlash.
But that was the path of self destruction.
As the magic overwhelmed her, Nia closed her eyes and placed her trust in the the wish she’d made when she struck the drum.
Side B – Yasgrid
Calling upon someone after their lights were out was a social faux pas, but calling on Naosha M’Kellin after her lights were out was closer to declaring war.
“I didn’t expect to see you both again until tomorrow?” Naosha said, perfectly composed despite the late hour of Kayelle and Yasgrid’s arrival.
Yasgrid looked for any hint that they’d awakened Naosha unexpectedly, but not a hair was out of place and no hint of fatigue was visible under Naosha’s eyes. If Yasgrid didn’t know better she would have suspected Naosha had been waiting for them the whole time.
“You need to be a part of this before then,” Yasgrid said. She couldn’t be as subtle or poised as Naosha and since Nia wouldn’t have been able to either, Yasgrid saw no reason to even try.
“We would like your counsel mother,” Kayelle said.
“Come in,” Naosha said. “Has there been an assault? Or movement of the Troubles?”
She directed them to a small table in her apartment where a pot of tea awaited them.
Yasgrid was pleased to see the faint wisps of steam rising from it.
Naosha had been waiting for them.
That wasn’t a sign that Yasgrid and Kayelle were likely to get the help they wished for, but Yasgrid felt it was nice to see that she could predict how Naosha thought. At least a little bit.
“Tonight is quiet,” Yasgrid said. “There’ve been no attacks, and on our patrol we saw no sign of any lurking about.”
“And what concerns you about that?” Naosha asked, though Yasgrid could see Naosha already had several ideas for why that was a concerning development.
“It means that they’re ready to launch their first serious attack,” Yasgrid said.
“You’ve considered that there may be other reasons?” Naosha asked.
“We have,” Kayelle said. “It’s possible that the Troubles have decided to claim an easier target, or that they’re fighting among themselves.”
“And you discounted those possibilities?” Naosha asked.
“We have,” Yasgrid said. “We’re their target. So long as we hold Endings, they will never be safe, and any move they make will only lead us closer to them.”
“The can’t choose a different city to assault or they’ll lose track of us,” Kayelle said.
“If that is a state which places them in peril, then should you arrange for it to be true regardless of their actions?” Naosha asked.
Yasgrid smiled. Naosha was indeed predictable, moving to the arguments to get her daughters out of danger as soon as the conversation allowed her to.
Fortunately, Yasgrid already had a response prepared.
“We can’t do that,” she said. “We can’t leave you in harm’s way. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost, we need to protect you.”