Side A – Nia
There was the impossible and then there was the ridiculous and it did not surprise Nia in the slightest that her sister had chosen to shoot well past the former and deep into the latter.
“Has anyone ever signed up for ending every trouble before?” Yasgrid asked.
“Yes,” Endings said. “Several of my Bearers have pledged themselves to purge the Darkwood of all the troubles which plague it.”
“And have any of them succeeded?” Nia asked. It wasn’t inconceivable that in the early years, a few Bearers might have faced a small enough amount of leftover troubles that they were able to keep the Darkwood nice and tidy.
“No,” Endings said. “Every Bearer who has elected to stand against all of the troubles there are has fallen, usually sooner than later.”
“Has any Bearer had a backup before though?” Yasgrid asked.
“A backup?” Endings asked.
“Have there ever been multiple Bearers before?” Nia asked.
“Oh, yes,” Endings said. “It has been a long time since I called more than one Bearer, but it is not without precedent.”
“How many troubles did those Bearers try to take on?” Yasgrid asked.
“In both previous cases, the Bearers stood against one issue from the past,” Endings said. “In neither case did they resolve it though.”
“I’m going to guess no one else has ever resolved it either, right?” Nia said. “So that’s on our docket too?”
“Your decision is not yet made,” Endings said. “What your sister chooses to do does not have to determine the path you take.”
“In other words, I can choose to pursue some more sensible goal and then leave her leafless against all the rest?” Nia said.
“Your path is your own to walk,” Endings said. “Whatever constraints you feel of filial loyalty and the expectations of others are still your own feelings. Ultimately you are the only one who can choose to accept or reject them.”
“Yeah, except it’s not that simple is it?” Nia said. “It’s easy to say I can just walk away from Kayelle because she’s being an idiot but that’s not just rejecting her idiocy, it’s accepting her dying alone and overwhelmed because there’s no one to help her when she needs it most.”
“But the other choice might be dying along with her, right?” Yasgrid asked.
“There are outcomes other than death,” Endings said. “And you should know that some of them are far worse.”
Nia let her head sink into her hands. This was her sister in a nutshell. Always trying to be so much better, so much more, than anyone else. Nia could picture the outcomes Endings was speaking of. There were twisted abominations that lurked in the hidden corners of the Darkwood. Where had they come from? Fools like Kayelle who had to dare too much, who couldn’t just let themselves be normal, or average, or anything but the most special and extraordinary person in the room.
Well, the most extraordinary apart from their mother.
And yet, Kayelle said she was going to leave the Darkwood when their quest with Endings was done? How could those two things fit together? What was the point of winning the game if you packed up and left before you got to enjoy the victory?
Nia started to think about what she knew of her sister, and wondered which pieces were missing in the picture she’d built of Kayelle over the years.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid had heard of avalanches since she was little. With the winters being as harsh as they were around Frost Harbor, and the mountains so high, there were plenty of tales of travelers and the unfortunate being caught unaware as a cataclysmic amount of snow and rock let loose on them. Yasgrid had always believed that she was too clever, and listened to the stories too well, to ever be caught in such a situation herself. Between the disaster at the Calling with the loss of so many Shatter drummers, and the insane challenge Endings and Kayelle had put before them, Yasgrid had to revise her previous belief.
Life is more than capable of throwing avalanches at you, no matter how clever you were, or how well you listened, or how far away from a mountain you might be.
“When do you need our answer?” Nia asked, addressing the crystal room around them.
“I need your decision now, before we move forward,” Endings said.
“Can we change our minds later?” Yasgrid asked.
“Your choice is never taken from you,” Endings said. “You can put me down at any time. But the longer you remain committed to your choice the more powerful you will find it becomes.”
“So we could just pledge to finish all the troubles too and then quit when it gets too hard?” Nia asked.
“You always have the choice to abandon your pledge,” Endings said, “But that in its own right can become a trouble which will plague later Bearers.”
“Well, that’s just great,” Nia said and turned to Yasgrid. “I think we need a minute or two to sort this out.”
“You can take as long as you wish, but we will not begin until you do,” Endings said.
“What are we supposed to do here?” Nia asked in a low voice. “If we follow Kayelle we’re going to die. And make the Darkwood an even worse place. If we don’t though, then she’s going to die, leave the Darkwood a worse place, and do it with a lot fewer troubles cleaned up before hand.”
“I don’t know,” Yasgrid said. “For all that Endings talks about choice, I don’t see very many good ones open to us.”
“In that case, I guess…” Nia didn’t get to finish what she was saying though. Yasgrid felt the nearness of their connection fade as Nia withdrew her consciousness back to the Yasgrid’s body. With a spare thought, Yasgrid saw why.
Someone had come into the room where Nia was laid out sleeping to recover from the titanic effort the Calling had drawn from her. Under normal circumstance no one should have disturbed her for hours, but the events of the day had been far from normal circumstances and Nia’s visitor was far from just anyone.
Standing over the bed, Yasgrid’s mother was reaching down and shaking awake the woman she thought was her daughter.