Side A – Yasgrid
The last time Yasgrid had flown through the trees with Kyra, one of them had been stabbed by a blade of spiritual force and the other had been stabbed by a plain old metal blade. Yasgrid found that even with the forest around around them bent on tearing both their bodies and psyches apart, their current trip was the more pleasant of the two.
She wanted to ask Kyra if Denar’s trail was still clear. She wanted to ask how much longer they would need to move from branch to trunk to ground and back into the air again like arrows fired from an endless series of bows. She wanted to ask any number of questions to take her mind off the still pervasive dread the forest produced. She kept her silence though. Distracting Kyra seemed like a terrible idea in general but her instincts rebelled at the idea of speaking for a more primal reason.
Things were listening to them. Things that would consume any words that were spoken. Things that could follow them, could track them, by the sound of their voices and the shape of their words.
Yasgrid had no desire to leave any part of herself in the unsettling forest, not even the echo of her voice.
That hope was lost with her first scream though.
They were making fantastic speed when Yasgrid landed on a sickly green trunk. They’d been taking turns, hurling each other onwards once Kyra had seen that Yasgrid could tell which direction Kyra wanted them to move in.
The trunk wasn’t part of anything Yasgrid would have considered a tree. Trees didn’t move like the trunk did. Trees didn’t wail. Trees weren’t made of a viscous tar that offered far too little resistance to Yasgrid’s impact.
The first scream was unintentional. The second was intended as a warning. When Yasgrid’s feet struck the surface of the trunk, they found so little resistance that she sank to her knees before she was able to react.
Instinct jerked her arms forward, pushing back on Kyra’s hands to slow the other elf’s impact. It was too late for Yasgrid to save herself but her reflexive effort slowed Kyra’s fall enough to make a difference.
Kyra landed away from the spot Yasgrid had hit. On a section that was more solid and with less force to drive her into the mass beneath her. Kyra wasn’t trapped, but it came at the cost of shoving Yasgrid even deeper into the green tar.
“Hold on!” Kyra said, her feet sunk to her ankles in the trunk.
That was helpful in the sense that it allowed her to stand sideways on the trunk and use her leverage and weight to try to pull Yasgrid free.
It didn’t work though.
The green, clinging mass which engulfed Yasgrid had a mind and a will.
And it hated her.
Not just for who she was either. It seemed to hate the essence of what she was. The molecules of creation she was built from.
Kyra pulled with all the force she had, but the forest dweller pulled harder.
The last thing Yasgrid saw before the tar pulled her completely within the trunk was Kyra’s face, red with effort, struggling not to lose her grip on Yasgrid’s hand.
Side B – Nia
Nia was on her feet from the crash and swells of the music. Everyone was.
Nia stepped forward. Stepped onto the stage. No one else did that.
No one else could do that.
Horgi reached for her. Grash reached for her. Belhelen and Pelegar reached for her.
The stage was not for people without a Shatter Drum.
There weren’t bouncers or security or even ropes anymore.
The magic in music itself kept the space clear of interlopers. It would push them back. Batter them. Destroy them if they were persistent enough.
Nia was inexorable.
The magic that slammed into her blew the others back and wreathed her in bursts of iridescent flame.
No one had to call out to the Shatter Bands that someone had violated the sanctity of the stage. They couldn’t help but notice the change in the rhythm as the music washed over Nia’s broken body.
Washed over, sank into, and was drunk down like a cheap ale.
Nia’s focus was all on Margrada. Together they could fight back. Four broken hands on one drum was insanity but it was an insanity they could make work. Margrada was amazing and Nia was beyond the point where impossible was an option.
Margrada turned and saw Nia approaching. She should have missed a beat. She should have been surprised or thrown off her stride enough to fumble the beats she was carrying.
Their eyes locked and Nia saw no shock in Margrada’s gaze. She’d known Nia would come for her. They were caught in the same rhythm, their hearts already playing the same beat together.
For a second, for less, for the timeless, magic moment of a single strike of the drum, they breathed as one, the fractures in Nia’s body and the injuries piling on Margrada forgotten in a breathless window of peace.
The ones assaulting Margrada were going to have none of that though.
Nia was a drummer without a drum. A target with no protection. Weak. Helpless. The perfect prey.
A strike on Nia would either lead to the delight of obliterating someone who had broken the rules and deserved their fate, or it would force the Frost Harbor Shatter Band to shelter her. Would force Margrada to defend her. And then they’d have the clearest shot at Frost Harbor’s fledgling drummer they’d had so far. They couldn’t lose.
Nia’s laughter joined the deafening beats of the contest and the wild, fiery joy in her eyes told Margrada, without words, to let the blow land.
Magic smashed into Nia’s body. Pure force seeking the weakest points, looking to blast her to fragments. It wasn’t a beat to win the contest, it was a beat to kill because killing was allowed in that narrow circumstance, and more importantly, killing was fun.
The Trouble in Nia roared in recognition of the broken, twisted intent behind the magic and flared.
On its own the Trouble would have formed a deadly, horrifying body from the magic it swallowed and stole.
But it burned within Nia and had all the body it needed.
So, instead, the magic became raw power and the stage itself began to burn.