Side A – Nia
As an elf of the Darkwood, Nia had some deeply ingrained ideas about what made for a defensible position. Those ideas did not include being trapped in a stone hut with only a single exit door.
“Halfhid, go away, I’m getting dressed!” the strange woman who had appeared beside Nia said.
“I’m serious Yasgrid, it’s time to get going!” Halfhid said, speaking over Yasgrid as though he couldn’t hear her.
“Give me ten minutes!” Yasgrid said, pacing around the room as Halfhid said, “I’ll be back in ten minutes, and this door better be open by then or I’ll open it myself!!”
“I don’t think he can hear you,” Nia said, feeling foolish for stating the obvious but not knowing what else to say to the strange Stoneling woman whose life she had apparently usurped.
A series of emotions rapidly played across Yasgrid’s face. Anger, confusion, fear, before finally settling on a quiet practical expression.
“Do you have any idea what has happened?” she asked, a forced calm measuring her words out evenly.
“No,” Nia said. “This makes no sense to me.”
“Nor to me,” Yasgrid said. “I am Yasgrid Kaersbaen, First Daughter of Osdora Kaersbaen.”
“I am Nia M’Kallin of the Windrush Grove,” Nia said. “Are you a sorcerer?”
“No, I am a shatter drummer, or I hoped to be,” Yasgrid said. “That’s what Halfhid was summoning me to.”
“He said something about ‘The Calling’?” Nia asked. “That’s a ceremony isn’t it? To celebrate the passing of the Sun through the darkest day of the year?”
Yasgrid’s calm expression flickered with surprise.
“You know of my people’s traditions?” Yasgrid asked.
“Not very much,” Nia said. “I studied the people of the Northlands last summer and we touched on the cultural practices of the Stonelings, the Cloud Dwarves, and the Iceblooded from a few manuscripts that my school has.”
“I didn’t know that the Darkwood elves had schools?” Yasgrid said. “I thought your people followed a oral tradition for passing on their knowledge?”
“That’s because most people only meet our bards,” Nia said. “Pure scholars tend not to leave our enclaves much. I’m surprised you know about us at all though. I thought we were regarded as a minor race compared to the Tide Elves and the Moonsingers?”
“We are all minor races compared to the Imperial Dawn,” Yasgrid said.
Nia huffed in agreement. Humans. How they weren’t part insect given the speed at which they reproduced and devoured the land had always escaped her, but there was no denying the grip they held over their dominions.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Yasgrid Kaersbaen,” Nia said. “But I don’t think we have much time until your friend Halfhid gets back. Is there anything we can do to fix this? Anything at all?”
“I haven’t studied magic outside of the songs of the shatter drums,” Yasgrid said. “Maybe if we hold hands? Or smash our heads together.”
“It can’t hurt to try,” Nia said and offered her outstretched palms to Yasgrid.
Side B – Yasgrid
Nia was correct. It did not hurt. Neither of them were physically in the same place so when they touched, the contact was fleeting and ephemeral, more the memory of the other’s hand (or forehead) than anything else.
“We need to try something else,” Nia said. She was pacing around the room as well, looking to Yasgrid’s eyes like the slight elven woman she was, which left her amusingly out of place in Yasgrid’s Stoneling sized dwelling.
“There’s not going to be time,” Yasgrid said, resignation and despair chipping away with their cold blades at her calm facade.
“Can’t we explain it to your friend?” Nia asked. “I wouldn’t expect him to believe me at first, but we can prove what we’re saying, I think.”
“Maybe we can, but it will take too long,” Yasgrid said. “Today is The Calling, which is not only when we call back the sun, but when we call people to a new life. I needed to be able to play today to be judged worthy of being inducted into the Shatter Band.”
“I didn’t learn much about the Shatter Band,” Nia said. “To tell the truth, I don’t think our books even mentioned them.”
“The Shatter Band is one of our mystical traditions,” Yasgrid said. “My mother is a Master Drummer and she’s trained me all my life to follow in her footsteps. I missed my chance last year to play in The Calling because I caught the Star Pox. My mother was able to reserve me a space for this year but if I miss it again, there might never be another opening available for me to perform in.”
Nia wasn’t comfortable with the change she’d undergone, but her discomfort didn’t eclipse her capacity for empathy. She was in a weird situation, but Yasgrid was in a disastrous one.
“Maybe we can still salvage this,” Nia said, the words all the more terrifying because of the dreadful idea they led into.
“How?” Yasgrid asked, throttling the hope that sought to rise in her breast. “Is there an elven trick to breaking this enchantment?”
“No, or at least not one that I know yet,” Nia said. “Perhaps I can play for you though?”
“That won’t work. You haven’t trained as a shatter drummer,” Yasgrid said.
“But you have, and this is your body I’m in,” Nia said.
“My bones may remember the rhythms but the patterns are complex, and the fury the drums call for takes years to evoke,” Yasgrid said.
“I don’t have your knowledge of the patterns of the songs, or your understanding of the ceremony, but my reflexes are sharp, and I’m not as mild as you might think,” Nia said.
“Sharp reflexes will not enough to play something you have never heard before,” Yasgrid said.
“Not on their own,” Nia said. “But maybe they’d be enough to let you play the drums through me.”
Yasgrid shook her head. “I can’t possess you,” she said. “I’m not a ghost.”
“Not like that,” Nia said. “Like this”
She put her hands on top of Yasgrid’s and began to tap out a rhythm. The Stoneling caught on almost immediately, moving her hands as Nia directed. Nia placed her hands under Yasgrid’s and they reversed their roles.
The elf was good. She responded as fast as Yasgrid could direct her. Nia’s idea might be able to work.
“Time’s up!” Halfhid shouted, smashing the door to Yasgrid’s hunt with enough force to send tremors through the floor.
They had no choice. Nia’s idea had to work.