Side A – Yasgrid
Letting go of the safety rope was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. Yasgrid didn’t fling herself away from it though. She wasn’t intent on falling to her doom, she only wanted to test a theory.
As expected, gravity worked! The instant Yasgrid let go, she began plummeting towards the forest floor just as fast as she’d plummeted off the rooftops when she was younger.
Unlike when she was younger though, this time she was able to stop herself.
All it took was closing her hands around the rope. She’d been expecting to burn her hands a bit from the friction of stopping her fall but what should have been a tremendous shock on her arms and shoulders felt instead like she was able to stop her fall with little more than her wrist strength.
Nia’s body was a lot smaller than Yasgrid’s but even that didn’t explain how easy stopping the fall had been. Yasgrid had been thinking of the Darkwood Elves as small Stonelings, but the lightness of Nia’s body demonstrated that they were something very different.
Releasing her grip again, Yasgrid allowed herself to plummet farther before stopping again. There was a bit more force to counteract the second time but it was still easily manageable.
In retrospect that made sense. The Darkwood Elves allowed their children to climb along the ropes between their houses, and they used the ropes as their primary form of passage for day to day business in the trees. There might be some danger in traveling like that, but it had to be extremely minor. No society could thrive if they had to face mortal peril every time they left their homes. Simple accidents would have decimated their numbers too quickly.
Yasgrid wondered for a moment if it was the ropes rather than the elves that were responsible for the ease of falling gently but guessed that wasn’t the case. The ropes might be masterfully woven, or even enchanted, Yasgrid wasn’t an experiment on Darkwood magical techniques by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed like it would be too easy for someone who was fooling around (so basically all of the children at one point or another) to fall too far away to reach the ropes.
Also, a race who didn’t fear falls would be more likely to build their dwellings high up where predators couldn’t easily reach them. A people who knew how to make enchanted ropes would probably know how to craft enchanted walls or other safeguards that would be less hassle to maintain than a network of treetop dwellings.
Cheered by her insight, Yasgrid decided she’d check with Nia to see if it even approached the truth. Once they were past the headaches of the day that lay before them.
Releasing her grip on the rope, Yasgrid let herself fall freely. She was terribly late, but maybe there was still time for her join the meditation session before anyone noticed or cared about her absence.
Side B – Nia
Nia debated whether faking a vomiting session to explain being absent from the warm up session would attract too much attention. She also debated whether the vomiting would be fake or not giving the tumult her insides were in.
“If you’re feeling worried, that’s a good thing,” Drum Master Pelegar said. “Cause you don’t want to screw this up.”
Jarben and Margrada took their seats, settling in behind their drums along with the rest of the Pledge applicants. Nia followed suit, adjusting the position of her hands above the drum to match the position Jarben was holding. She double checked with Margrada to make sure the drummers didn’t have unique or personalized forms, but if some experienced ones did it didn’t seem to be the case for the Pledges. Margrada held the same pose as Jarben, which was the same as the other Pledges that Nia could spy without being too obvious.
“We’ll start simple,” Pelegar said. “Give me a basic roll, starting with Hergen.”
She nodded to a woman at the end of the line to Nia’s right.
Hergen struck her drum and the deep boom that resonated out was more than sound. The space around Nia flexed inside out. Hergen’s hand struck the drum and the world shattered. Just for an instant.
Nia felt a wave of force trail along in the wake of the drum beat, pulling the shattered world back to itself, but charged with an energy, a life, it hadn’t possessed a moment earlier.
Then the next drummer struck their drum and the world shattered again.
Nia’s breath stopped. For all that she could tell her heart might have stopped too.
This wasn’t drumming. This was Stoneling magic. Deep, powerful, Stoneling magic.
Another drum beat, and Nia felt dizzy. And electrified. She wanted to stand up and scream. She wanted to hide under a rock.
The others could feel the energy that was building. Nia could see it in their eyes, but they were used to this. They knew what they needed to do.
It was too new to her though. She felt like she was rushing forward towards something unknowable and immense as the beat drew closer.
Jarben struck his drum and excitement and dread filled Nia to bursting.
She knew music. She understood tempo and could feel the timing between the drum beats. She’d watched the other drummers as they clenched their hands into fists. She followed how high they’re raised their hands. How fast they’d struck their drums. It was the simplest thing and she’d watched how it was done carefully.
It wasn’t enough to prepare her.
When she slammed her drum it wasn’t the world that shattered. She did.
The sound that erupted didn’t come from the stone top of the drum but from within Yasgrid’s body. It broke through Nia’s consciousness and threatened to scatter the bits of her mind to the farthest shores imaginable.
Nia couldn’t form a plan. Coherent thought wasn’t possible in the fractured space of the drum beat. No one was there to help her either. The world had fallen away like dust blown apart by a cosmic wind. All Nia had was herself and, without her thoughts, without her memories, she didn’t know who that was anymore.