Side A – Nia
Nia wasn’t familiar with where they came to rest in the Darkwood. She’d never seen the trees that rose above them, never walked the path beneath her feet.
But she was home.
Even moreso than when she projected to be with Yasgrid, she could feel the land and forest around her. The air that filled her lungs carried with it the scent of roots which were sunk deep into her soul.
And she was an elf once more.
Across from her, Yasgrid sat on the other side of the drum which remained between them, clothed in Nia’s old body, and wearing it like a comfortable dress cut to a perfect fit.
“What is this?” Margrada asked. “Is this the Darkwood?”
She towered over Nia, as awe inspiring as the trees she seemed to equal.
“These are not trees endemic to our lands,” Dr Prash said. His notebook was with him and Nia saw his feverishly filling it as he looked around the area they were in.
“There’s music here,” Osdora said, her gaze lost in the distance as the sounds of the forest filled her ears.
“Oh, oh my,” Doctor Prash said. “They’re still playing. But they’re…”
“Different?” Margrada said, wonder stealing across her face like the light of dawn. “This is what you looked like, isn’t it? Before. I mean when you were an Elf?”
Nia looked up to her, feeling smaller and more naked than she ever had before.
“Yeah. This is the real me,” Nia said. “Or the me that I was. Yasgrid’s handling that now. And doing a better job of it than I ever did.”
“It seems to me like you’ve both been doing an incredible job of things,” Margrada said.
“Thank you,” Yasgrid said, her voice as high and light as elf’s should be.
“Stop playing for a moment,” Osdora said, without looking down at either Yasgrid or Nia.
“When the song ends, so will our connection,” Yasgrid said.
“No, there’s music here,” Osdora said.
“I don’t hear anything, or not any music at least,” Dr Prash said. “There are a number of fascinating noises from the local fauna though.”
“You don’t hear that?” Osdora asked, turning a searching look on Prash and then Margrada.
“I can only hear the song that Yasgrid and Nia are playing,” Margrada said. “Is the forest harmonizing with them?”
“I don’t think so,” Osdora said. “That’s why I want to hear it alone.”
“Is there anything here that anyone else wants to see?” Nia asked. “Dr Prash, is this something that we could be doing if all of this was some kind of ghost thing Yasgrid was doing?”
“I don’t know,” Prash said. “This feels too real to be a Shatter drum vision. I can taste the air here. And none of this looks like anything like what Yasgrid could have experienced in Frost Harbor or a trip anywhere near there. It could be all be made with Shatter drum magic, but if so its magic far beyond anything I’ve encountered professionally.”
“It’s not Shatter drum magic,” Osdora said. “It’s something more.”
Yasgrid’s hands vibrated with their impacts on the drum. The magic she and Nia were shaping was deeper and more complex than anything she’d ever heard of being attempted. If she’d tried to work it alone it wouldn’t have destroyed her only because she couldn’t have summoned up enough of its structure to do more than suggest the hint of a fading memory. Together though, she and Nia were holding onto it, driven as much by the rhythm as it was by their hands. For all the richness of the power that flowed through her though, her mother was right.
There was a music in the Darkwood.
One Yasgrid hadn’t heard before.
One she wasn’t sure she could hear over the rhythm of the drum under her hands.
But one she could feel swirling around them nonetheless.
Answering the drumming, but not harmonizing with it.
Or, not answering.
“I think the Darkwood is curious about us,” Nia said, looking into Yasgrid’s eyes and finding an understanding that only they could share.
“That might not be a good thing,” Yasgrid said.
“Are you going to be okay?” Nia asked.
“The snows haven’t settled on that one yet,” Yasgrid said.
“Does the Darkwood feel unhappy to you?” Nia asked.
“No. Just interested,” Yasgrid said. “Some of the people in it though are not so happy with me at the moment.”
“You’re alone now?” Nia asked.
“I’m never alone anymore,” Yasgrid said.
“Fair point. Are they anyone I can help with?” Nia asked.
“I don’t think so,” Yasgrid said. “If they saw you, they’d think it was more Bearer nonsense and it would probably push them away even farther.”
“I want to stay,” Osdora said. “For the music, and for you.”
She was looking down at the elves playing at her feet.
At her tiny, precious, daughters.
“I don’t think you can,” Yasgrid said. “You and Margrada and Prash aren’t really here. Even if we could play forever, I think your bodies would starve eventually.”
“Also, we need you back with the Shatter Band,” Nia said. “There’s more Battle of the Bands to go still right?”
“You can win those without me,” Osdora said. “With you two, the Shatter Band’s going to do fine.”
“I think this is something unique to this time and place,” Yasgrid said. “Nia can’t take a whole audience here. We wouldn’t have the same connection to them that we do to you three.”
“But if I leave…” Osdora’s words trailed off as she looked away.
“Then we’ll be parted again,” Yasgrid said. “But it’s not that different from when you went on the road and we were separated because of a tour or something, is it?”
“Of course it’s different,” Osdora said, anger briefly flaring in her voice before the flames were drowned out by the sorrow she was holding in check. “You’re not coming back.”
Yasgrid was quiet. Everyone was quiet. Only the drum spoke.
“No. I won’t be,” Yasgrid said at last.