Side A – Nia
Nia slept. Activity buzzed around her, and she slept. Discussions were held, decisions weighed in which she had no voice, and she slept. The Stoneling’s gods railed in their nightmares, furious at having been successfully opposed, and Nia slept, dreamless and undisturbed.
Far away, in her homeland, the Darkwood Elves prepared themselves for the changing of the year, and Nia slept, already set upon the road she would walk in the new year.
Over her sleeping form, a thin blanket clung to her, wrapping her in warmth from within and without.
Side B – Yasgrid
As a rainbow played across her eyes, Yasgrid found herself wondering what sort of misfortune she might be.
“You said you slay the ‘blights’ and ‘ruins’ that try to hang on from one year to another,” she silently asked the crystal blade. “How do you find them? What do they look like?”
“Each has their own manifestation,” Endings said. “Some are pleasing to mortal eyes, some foul, but through me their illusions are revealed.”
“Are they material things? Or spirits? Or dream wisps?” Yasgrid asked, not entirely sure which category she herself fell into.
“Dream wisps?” Endings asked. “You are well studied. Your people have not encountered dream wisps since I entered their service.”
“Why is that?” Yasgrid asked. She didn’t have personal experience with the nebulous, nightmarish entities but dream wisps featured in enough Stoneling horror stories that she was surprised to discover them absent from elven lands.
“They are a remnant of the shaping of the world,” Endings said. “Once they were numerous but their existence is brief even by mortal standards. They only spawn in the wake of divine mandates and from fractured pieces of godly nightmares.”
Godly nightmares like the dreams the Stoneling gods had bound themselves in. Yasgrid held her breath for a moment, concerned that she’d given away too much of her true heritage but Endings continue on without betraying any awareness of who or what she truly was.
“The gods who once shaped this realm do not plague it with dream wisps because they do not sleep within it,” Endings said.
“They left their creation?” Yasgrid asked, aware that she was admitting to a complete lack of knowledge concerning the gods an elf should have been most aware of. Or at least would have been most aware of if they were Stonelings.
In Yasgrid’s experience the gods were an obstacle to be overcome, much like the weather, or illness. They were something larger than any one person, while also being something that each person had to confront and refuse to submit to. Fate might decree that a storm would leave you adrift on wind wracked seas, or bedridden with a terrible fever, or afflicted with cursed luck but against each of these the only answer was to refuse to give in. To fight for whatever you could manage to retain of safety, and health, and the brighter days to come.
The gentle music which wafted through the elven meditation chamber spoke of a different relationship between the people of the Darkwood and their gods however.
“The gods of the Darkwood remain within their creation always,” Endings said. “They surround us, growing as one with the trees, and the roots, quickening the pace of both predator and prey, and dancing in the songs which echo through the trees. They rest not in the dreams of the land but within the life that flourishes upon it.”
Yasgrid frowned, struggling with the concept.
“If they are so active, then they must punish their people constantly?” she said. “Don’t they seek vengeance for the wrongs the elves do? Or for the changes the elves make to their creation?”
The chromatic light from the crystal blade played over Yasgrid’s eyes in a pattern that suggested amusement to her.
“The Darkwood gods are not creatures of vengeance,” Endings said, the touch of his mental voice light. “They do not act upon their creation any longer. They live within it because they wish to experience the world they made. To change it further would be to strip it of the uniqueness from themselves it has developed.”
“But, what about sorrow, or pain, or loss? Why would they want to experience those things? Or jealousy? Or hatred?” Yasgrid asked.
“They accept all which their realm has to offer in order to be closer to the people who dwell within it,” Endings said. “When a child is lost, they are in the tears her father sheds, just as they are in his laughter when the child is found again.”
“And they’re gods? Real gods? Not dreams themselves?” Yasgrid asked, still struggling to believe the Darkwood could be so different from her home.
“They brought life to the world, and offered that life as host to the spirits and souls of the creatures and people who call it home,” Endings said. “Beyond their power, this is the truest mark of their stature.”
“How do you know so much about them?” Yasgrid asked.
“I am a part of their creation,” Endings said. “No thing ever begins as perfection, not even the worlds shaped by the gods. Each thing must change and grow over time, and part of that growth must include mistakes, often the more mistakes, the more profound the growth. I was created to help correct those mistakes which would otherwise linger on past their ability to inspire new growth and development.”
“Why do you need an elf to wield you though?” Yasgrid asked. “Wouldn’t it have been better to make you able to strike on your own?”
“As with every other power in their world, my creators fashioned me to be a choice,” Endings said. “I am not a hidden vestige of their will. For the mortal world to be saved, a mortal must choose to save it. Time and again.”
“Ok, but why wouldn’t someone choose to save the world? Is that really a choice?” Yasgrid asked.
“Why, how, and in what way; those are questions only my wielder can answer,” Endings said.
“Who will that be this year?” Yasgrid asked, remembering Nia’s sister Kayelle promising to be the one who would bear the blade if it chose from their family.
“I look for the elf who is the closest to the gods of the Darkwood,” Endings said. “Their reverence and faith are not a guarantee that I will be used wisely or well, but in the hands of one without the capacity to love this world, I can be turned to truly disastrous ends.”