Side A – Nia
The gods laughed when Nia hit the Shatter drum, just as she knew they would. The laughter was cutting and harsh. It sought to split open her chest and tear out her heart and all the courage it held. It told her that whatever she had accomplished, it was only by luck, and those accomplishments didn’t measure up anyways. Also, the whole ‘tearing out her heart’ thing was going to be quite literal thanks to the magic of the Shatter drum and her own ineptitude.
So she’d managed to survive the Calling, the gods laughed? Was survival an exceptional thing given how many other people had managed it? Or was it only notable because of how weak she was?
What in her life, the laughter asked, offered any proof that she was more than a slow witted failure? Things she struggled with other people understood easily. For each accomplishment she could name, there were at least two failures that no one should have had problems with.
Nia didn’t try to deny it. The drum was struck, and she hung inside the timeless moment when the magic was still within her.
You can’t use magic to fix what’s wrong with you, not when you would just screw that up too, the laughter said, casting an image of the drum’s magic flaring out of Nia’s control and reducing her dust.
That didn’t wasn’t a problem. She had no intention of changing herself with the magic.
Without the magic though she would never be more than a pale, flawed shadow of the woman she was supposed to be. She would continue to fail, and it wouldn’t be long before everyone saw through the lies that protected her.
She was going to fail. Nia knew that. It didn’t break her though. She’d failed before, she’d even failed in the Calling when success mattered the most, but she’d picked herself up from failure, just like she would when she failed again.
There are failures that cannot be recovered from, the laughter told her, showing images of death and ruin. Harm done to herself and others. She wasn’t just risking herself with the Shatter drum. She could destroy everyone around her if she reached too far, and even a single stroke on a Shatter drum called for skill far outside her reach.
Except it wasn’t. Nia drew that thought from her mind like a blazing sword.
She wasn’t pretending to anything when she touched the Shatter drum.
She didn’t have the training she was supposed to, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t play. The drums spoke to her and she’d spoken through them.
That was her answer to the god’s laughter. To her doubts.
She played not for them, not to pass some external test, or overcome an external demon. She played for herself, not to correct any failings, or to make a lie into reality, but to speak the truth of who she was loud enough to drown out all the laughter of the gods and the whispers of doubt that plagued her heart.
The timeless moment broke as the magic within her rippled outwards, carrying the truth Nia had discovered and been waiting so long to express. She was a Shatter drummer and no one would ever take that away from her.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid plunged Endings through Kayelle’s chest with no more resistance than if it were passing through smoke.
She’d selected the center of Kayelle’s chest as her target because of the cover Kayelle was providing to the Trouble behind her. Right behind the center of Kayelle’s chest lay the Trouble’s head and, this close, even the Trouble’s inhuman speed wasn’t enough to allow it dodge the blow.
Where Kayelle hadn’t offered any resistance to Endings, plunging the blade into the Trouble’s head sent a shock coursing up Yasgrid’s arms.
For a moment it felt like she’d stabbed a lightning bolt.
Then she was inside the Trouble’s world.
Or the Trouble was inside her.
“I have broken the tangle of mystical energy which this one wove its existence around,” Endings said. “What remains is yours to dispose of as you see fit.”
“Dispose of?” Yasgrid asked, blinking. Her eyes were open but the only world she could see around her was a gushing swirl of red. “I thought you handled that?”
The red swirl fragment into rivers of varying hues. A tight band in the middle was the color of frustrated anger. One above it was the paler tone of hopeless sorrow.
“We hunt these Troubles because they exist beyond the bounds of the ones they arose from,” Endings said. “Their existence pulls pieces of the tapestry the gods formed creation as a part of. I return those pieces, but the core Trouble, the part that was a natural element of this world before it broke free? That is beyond my reach. It is not given to me to end any part of my creators’ work, except under very special circumstances.”
“I don’t understand what I’m seeing here though,” Yasgrid said. “Or what I can do with it. Are we inside you? Is this like the room you called me into before?”
“We are always together, but what you see if not within me,” Endings said. “This is the heart of the Trouble, and here you may do as you please with it.”
Yasgrid reached out her hand and let it alter the flow that swirled around her. The band of anger burned, but the burning faded the moment she drew her hand back.
“How do I control this?” she asked.
“Speak to it,” Endings said. “If you wish to destroy it, simple tell it to stop. That is what most of my other Bearers have done. Tell the Trouble you will have no part of it and with no other connection to the world, nothing else to make it real, it will fade away to nothingness.”
It sounded like a reasonable choice to Yasgrid. Let the problem finally be resolved and forgotten so that it couldn’t generate any new troubles.
She started to speak but let her hand drift through the pale band of sorrow and felt its oppressive weight settle on her.
It took her a moment to catch her breath after pulling her hand free, but that was long enough to see that the answer wasn’t as simple as Endings made it out to be.
“I can’t tell this to stop,” she said. “There are things that can’t just be forgotten.”