Side A – Yasgrid
Yasgrid tumbled out of the darkness, her arms wrapped around Nia’s shivering form. The Darkwood, though shadowed and secretive as ever, seemed to be ablaze with light by comparison to the dark empty void they’d escaped from.
“Ok, that’s not an experiment that we’re going to repeat again all too soon,” Nia said through chattering teeth.
“What happened?” Yasgrid asked, trying to rise but collapsing onto her side.
Rescuing Nia had taken no more than two steps in the void. One to bring her to Nia’s side, and one to bring them both back out. Just that had been more exhausting than running through the Darkwood for an entire day though.
“I don’t know,” Nia said, the tremors slowly fading from her body. “I went to check on the travel bread you threw and I wound up wherever that was.”
“Were you trapped there? It didn’t feel like you could get back,” Yasgrid said.
“I couldn’t. Everything felt disconnected. I tried to return to Frost Harbor but I couldn’t shift my focus there any more than I could bring it back here.”
“We should check what’s going on there,” Yasgrid said.
In a blink they were both back in Yasgrid’s house. No crisis seemed to be waiting for them, but Nia wasn’t moving Yasgrid’s body with any more energy or speed than Yasgrid felt capable of moving Nia’s with.
“Whatever that was, it took a lot of us I think,” Nia said. “I feel like your muscles are made out of mud.”
“Hopefully that’s only a short term problem,” Yasgrid said. “I’m starting to feel a bit better. Like being here is giving back whatever that place took away.”
“Here as in Frost Harbor, or as in this room?” Nia asked.
“Here as in ‘our world’, instead of whatever that big empty darkness was,” Yasgrid said, happy to see the late afternoon sun of Frost Harbor shining in through the windows. There were shadows inside her house, but they were pale and harmless and, most importantly, familiar.
“I don’t know what that places was exactly, but I do know one thing about it,” Nia said. “It definitely wasn’t empty.”
Side B – Nia
Even without sight, Nia had been able to perceive the shapes around her in the void once she started playing a rhythm on the ground. Creatures had moved in those shadows, both near and much farther away than even her elven sight would have been able to reveal had she been using her natural vision to perceive them. No two creatures were the same, or even seemed to be cut from the same cloth but, for all their alien strangeness one thought had stuck with her about them.
“I think we were the terrifying outsiders there.”
“What do you mean?” Yasgrid asked. “What did you see?”
“It wasn’t exactly sight. I could sort of feel them as I played. You know how you feel the notes that you’re playing? Well it was like that only at a distance.”
“But that’s not how drumming works,” Yasgrid said. “The beat lives inside us.”
“It’s there too, but it doesn’t stay there,” Nia said. “I mean, we can get stuck on it and follow it out into the world unless we’re careful right?”
Yasgrid looked at her with her eyes narrowed and mouth slightly ajar.
“We should come back to that,” she said. “For the moment I want to stick with this. What was it that you perceived where we wound up?”
“They’re hard to describe. I didn’t see them with my eyes, so I’m not sure what they looked like and the shapes I could make out weren’t static either. They weren’t blobs though. It felt like they had elements that were fixed but moved around.” Nia made a discontented face as she struggled to find the world to express a concept that didn’t feel like it fit inside any of the words she knew.
“I don’t think I’m following that at all,” Yasgrid said.
“The one nearest to us, it had features that might have been legs. Legs like ours. But as the creature moved, the legs became its arms, and then its body I guess?”
“I don’t know if I can picture that.”
“I’m not sure I want to try drawing it,” Nia said. “I get the feeling that attracting their attention isn’t something we want to do if we can avoid it.”
“But you said that we were the terrifying outsiders to them?”
“Yeah, I don’t think that was meant to be a place for us,” Nia said. “I mean, we’re clearly not designed for living there, but it was more than that. I felt like a ghost haunting the place. Like I was something outside of the natural order that had no right to be there. The only thing that seemed to change that was the drumming and even there, I don’t know if I was fitting in with what those creatures were as much as I was changing that place to be closer to what our world is like.”
“That’s some very deep drumming you’re talking about,” Yasgrid said. “Worlds aren’t made by mortal hands, and even the Shatter drums can’t change the fundamental nature of the gods’ creations. I think.”
“I was just playing the practice rhythm Halfhid gave me, but it felt pretty powerful,” Nia said. “Maybe there’s something about that place that makes it more malleable?”
“That would fit with the creatures as you’ve describe them,” Yasgrid said. “Getting that kind of effect without a Shatter drum is worrisome though. What were you drumming on?”
“Just the ground,” Nia said. “Each time I touch it there was a little bit of light that came into the world.”
“But the ground isn’t…” Yasgrid’s objection trailed off as a worrisome conjecture occurred to her. “The ground isn’t magical, except you weren’t touching the ground, you were touching the substance of that world.”
“And maybe it was magical too? The whole place? Like one giant Shatter drum?” Nia asked. “I guess I could buy that. I mean, we can talk to each other like this, which has got to magical in some sense, so I guess getting lost when we tried that experiment could lead us to an even more magical place.”
“What worries me is that if you had unusual magic in that place, what happens if one of those creatures tracks us back here?” Yasgrid said. “It might start remaking our world the same as you were remaking its, and I don’t think that would be good for anyone.”
Yasgrid looked to Nia for confirmation of her theory and saw that Nia was frozen, looking over Yasgrid’s shoulder.
“I think we’re going to get to test that a lot sooner than we wanted to,” Nia said, pointing at the multi-limbed beast that was rising out of the shadows behind Yasgrid.