Side A – Nia
Fire evokes primal responses from any people who use it. It was impossible for the flames leaping up from the stage to go unnoticed. In any other circumstance, they would have been enough to start a stampede. The music should have stopped then and there. People should have fled for safety. The madness of the Battle of the Bands should have ended.
But of course it didn’t.
Nia felt the musical, magical blows that were directed at her flow into her body and feed the rage of the Trouble that was coursing through her veins.
It wasn’t the whole of the Shale Shard Shatter Band who was playing against her. That was good for everyone involved, since Nia wasn’t sure what feeding a Trouble that much power would do. Free it? Turn it into something else? Turn her into something else?
She was riding a perilous line as it was, one that part of her was all too willing to ignore and race right past, but there was still a small voice inside that demanded she hold onto the person who she was.
Or maybe it wasn’t so small of voice.
She’d spent her whole life holding on to the self that she truly desired to be. Despite the best efforts by one of the most influential and successful manipulators in the Darkwood, Nia had clung to her truth and not allowed herself to become a tiny copy of Naosha, even when that would have been so much easier.
Hey, we’re in this together, she told the Trouble she carried. You’re doing great, but don’t think you’re alone. All this fire? We’re going to put it to good use.
The roar of the flames within Nia’s mind went silent in confusion for a moment.
The Trouble wasn’t a creature with a reference point for someone offering it support. It, by definition, wasn’t supposed to exist. It was born from situations that should never be. It hated, it raged, it hurt, and it destroyed. No aspect of it was touched with comfort or happiness.
But Nia knew those things down to her bones.
Margrada filled her with happiness.
Osdora, and Belhelen accepted her as she was.
And, for all that they’d been forever in opposition, Naosha, her mother, had done her best to comfort the strange, surly daughter who she’d never understood but still, clearly, loved nonetheless.
Something unwound in Nia’s heart as she saw that, not for the first time, but with new eyes.
The music was growing louder, shaking the arena, shaking the bedrock of the mountain, but for Nia there was a moment of profound silence, a moment of untouched possibility, in the awareness of the love she’d always been surrounded by.
In her breast, down in the darkest corner of her heart, where the Trouble had sunk itself and spread roots to hide from the inevitable agony of betrayal, the quiet pause in the furious storm of magic offered more than a moment of respite.
Nia hadn’t struck a drum. She hadn’t called for a wave of magic to shatter and remake the world. Nonetheless, what had been was broken, and something new arose.
Side B – Yasgrid
Darkness doesn’t always contain light. Sometimes it doesn’t even contain hope.
That’s when you need to make your own.
Yasgrid wanted to call out to Kyra. She wanted to yell for Kyra to pull her free. She wanted to scream for Kyra to let her go before Kyra got pulled in too. With the tar-like substance of the trunk smothering her though, Yasgrid didn’t dare open her mouth at all.
Instead, she turned to listen to the beat of her own heart.
It wasn’t a Shatter Drum, but there was still a rhythm there, too fast and too loud, but she was used to that. She’d been scared so often when she was learning to play. Being swallowed by a tar monster wasn’t quite same as worrying about failing a drumming test, but in the end fear was fear, and listening to her own heart beating, even for just a few thumps let Yasgrid start to get a handle on herself.
Her first impulse had been to drawn Endings but she’d fought that, in part due to what Kyra had said about drawing a weapon making things worse and in part because the trunk wasn’t crushing her to death or dissolving her. It was smothering her, which wasn’t going to be good in the long term of a minute or so in the future but for the moment she had time to think and some capacity left to act.
The substance of creature was awful stuff, seemingly impossible to escape but it wasn’t solid. It had been able to draw Yasgrid in and encase her but it couldn’t stop her from moving within it.
Spreading her free hand like a claw, she began to tear through the trunk reaching outwards to freedom.
Or at least it felt like she was.
Kyra’s hand was still pulling on her own, so she had some sense of how deep in she’d fallen and how far she’d have to reach back out so that Kyra could grab her other hand to have a firmer grip to pull her out with.
All of that was sensible and level headed. As plans went it was hands down the best option open to Yasgrid. Simple, executable, and few failure modes aside from the fact that it would have taken too long.
Kyra either had some familiarity with the monster that held Yasgrid or she was able to do the mental calculations on how quickly she could pull Yasgrid free and came up with the answer that Yasgrid would have suffocated long before then.
So she dove into the trunch too.
Yasgrid only understood what was happening when she felt the pulling force Kyra was exerting lessen, only for something, or more precisely someone, to slam into her.
The trunk had muffled all sound. It had been eerie but there was a peaceful quality to it as well.
That changed rather drastically the instant Kyra drew her knife.