Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid’s slumber wasn’t interrupted by a noise, or a Trouble, or any other form of wakefulness, but by a presence.
Whatever she’d been dreaming faded away as she felt herself drift onto a different shore than sleep had ever carried her to before.
“Oh my little Yas, you’ve gotten so big,” Grandma Lokona said, her voice a sharp departure from the liquid haze of dream sounds that had.
Yasgrid winced as she opened her eyes. She was still asleep. She knew that. Whatever she was seeing wasn’t real in any tangible sense. It couldn’t be. Her grandmother had died years ago.
“You still like my grilled Larkfish though, don’t you?” Grandma Lokona asked, gesturing to the small fire on the sand in front of her and the rack of fish sizzling above it.
Yasgrid’s nose filled with the familiar scent of her grandmother’s favorite dish. Simple. Quick. Mouth-wateringly succulent. After her grandmother had passed, Yasgrid had only tried to make it twice and in neither case had she managed to capture the perfect state of doneness that her grandmother seemed to effortlessly evoke. Yasgrid attempts had been such pale reflections that she thought she’d lost her taste for the otherwise bland Larkfish, but the aroma from the campfire proved her wrong.
“Grandma?” she asked, stumbling to her feet and feeling the silty grains of sand she’d been lying on fall away. The shore she’d arrived on held no ocean that she could hear lapping against it. No moon, and no stars that Yasgrid could see hung in the sky above them. The campfire illuminated her grandmother’s familiar, weathered features, but gave only a hint of the vast, towering forest that lay behind her.
Despite the sense of an enormous landscape looming around them, and the shadows that concealed even vaster spaces and depths, Yasgrid didn’t feel overwhelmed or exposed. She was with her grandmother, so she was safe. Her bones knew that even if her mind was struggling to take in a milieu that seemed as impossible as it was alien.
“Am I dead?” Yasgrid asked. It was the simplest explanation she could think of for the feeling of disconnection that pervaded her.
“No my dear,” Grandma Lokona said. “That’s my job.”
Tears welled up in Yasgrid’s eyes as the grief of her grandmother’s passing struck again as fresh as the day she’d learned the horrible news.
“It’s not as bad as all that,” Grandma Lokona said. “I had a good life, and I left behind some good kids. You’re doing a great job carrying on with things.”
Yasgrid croaked, her words jamming up in her throat at the thought of how she was running away from that life.
“Here, have a bite to eat,” Grandma Lokona said. “Normally there’s not a lot of food here. We don’t really need it, but one of the privileges of being a grandmother is that you can feed your grandkids all the stuff they really like.”
Yasgrid took a skewer with one of the Larkfish on it. It popped and sizzled and smelled like perfection. She looked at her grandmother trying to understand what she was supposed to do. Was it okay to eat the food of the dead? Would it be rude to refuse? Her grandmother just smiled and nodded.
Yasgrid bit into the tender flesh and the warm meat of the fish nearly melted in her mouth. It really was her grandmother’s cooking. They really were together again.
“I guess the Larkfish tastes just as good to elven taste buds as it did to your old ones?” Grandma Lokona asked with a gentle smile.
That was when Yasgrid noticed that she was still wearing Nia’s body.
Side B – Nia
Music moved through Nia’s fingertips. It sang in pounding ripples through her hands and up her arms, gathering in her chest and filling her heart. Around her the cosmos echoed with her song and she was one with even the most distant of stars.
“You always had this in your heart didn’t you?” Ayas M’Kallin asked.
Her father’s words startled Nia, not the least because she knew him more by his absence than through any conscious memories of him behind ghostly shadows from her earliest childhood.
“Papa?” she asked, looking around and finding him sitting at the edge of the shadows in the small, moonlit room she’d been playing in.
“Aye, always my Ni-ni,” he said, tears turning his eyes glassy.
“How are you here?” Nia asked, before stopping to consider where ‘here’ was. She was asleep, but not dreaming. Which was strange. She seemed to be in her family’s old library stacks, but the titles on the bookspines were ones she was reasonably sure not only weren’t in the M’Kallin family collection but had, in fact, never actually been written. The odd books weren’t what struck her as strange though. Talking with a dead man. That won the contest for Strangest and Most Unexpected Turn of Events hands down. “Are you haunting me?”
“Something of the reverse I think,” Ayas said. “Oh, but you’re not dead. Not any more than I’m alive at any rate.”
“That’s not particularly reassuring,” Nia said. She hadn’t thought to worry about being dead, despite being in the presence of a ghost. She could feel the music still stirring inside her and as long as she had that, she was alive in every way that counted.
“I guess I’m not a very reassuring ghost,” Ayas said. “It’s fitting I suppose. I wasn’t able to be there to reassure you in life, and in death we don’t change all that much.”
Nia frowned. She could see the fondness in his eyes. She could hear the warmth in his words. What she couldn’t find was a reason he’d decided to appear before her.
“Are you here to scold me?” she asked. “I know I’m not supposed to be doing this.”
There was a Shatter drum in her lap. She’d never owned one, but it was hers all the same.
“I don’t think so,” Ayas said. “Even if you needed me to, I don’t know if I could ask you to stop doing that.”
“Mom would,” Nia said, not bothering to hide the discontent in her voice.
She’d always imagined her father to be someone who secretly supported her, secretly understood why she did the things she did, even when her mother was crystal clear on what the proper mode of behavior was and why. Another part of her though had always suspected that acceptance was something she could never expect because it wasn’t something she truly deserved.
“You mother might surprise you,” Ayas said. “I mean, she’s the one who asked me to come talk with you after all.”