Side A – Nia
Nia wasn’t supposed to dream. She had made it a point to say her slumber prayers before succumbing to the embrace of sleep, and those should have ensured that her rest would be deep and untroubled.
“I guess Elvish prayers don’t work on Stoneling bodies,” she said as she pushed handfuls of stuffing back into the ripped fabric of her chest.
She was a doll in the dream. She knew she wasn’t a doll, not really, but within the context of the dream it wasn’t something she saw the need to question, so that is what she was until the dream changed.
Looking down at herself she was surprised at how poorly treated of a doll she was. Her seems were split with tufts of fluffy white stuffing spilling out everywhere she could see. She needed to get it back inside herself, but she wasn’t sure how it was going to stay there once she filled the hole in her torso.
A distant part of her mind tried to make sense of the images she was seeing, the rational side of her demanding to know how any of this made sense, and what kind of meaning it was supposed to have.
“You’re not a doll,” the woman on the opposite side of the mirror said. There might not have been a mirror near Nia before, but there was once she looked up at it, and that was all that mattered in the dream.
“How do you know?” Nia asked. The words echoed in the space around her, or she repeated the question to herself. It was hard to tell because in the dream both were true, depending on your point of view.
Everything that was happening was Nia speaking to herself.
Except for the woman in the mirror. There was something different, something alien and yet also comforting, about her.
“Dolls don’t put in their own filling,” the woman said, which seemed perfectly obvious once she said it.
“Why am I doing this?” Nia asked, knowing there was some deeper question that she wanted the answer to.
“I’m supposed to say ‘because you want to’,” the woman opened her eyes and Nia had the sense of falling into a sea of stars. “But that’s not what you’re asking. You want to know why you’re dreaming, and the answer to that is that you need to. You filled yourself up with magic to the point where you were about ready to burst and then poured it all out to help save the ceremony and the people taking part in it. That was very noble, but it left you empty inside. You lost bits of yourself. Now you’re trying to put them all back in.”
“Can I do that?” Nia asked. “Can I get everything back inside?”
“Probably not,” her reflection said. “I think there might always be an empty space in you after what you went though. Maybe not a big one, and maybe not one that you can’t fill with other things though, but I don’t think you’ll ever be quite the same as you used to be.”
“How do you know all this?” Nia asked.
“You observe more than you know, so you know more than you’re aware of,” her reflection said.
“Do you know what happened with Yasgrid and I?” Nia asked.
“You haven’t seen enough to know about that yet,” the woman said. “Just hang on, you’ll figure it out eventually.”
“When?” Nia asked.
“Maybe never, but I think it’s better to hold on to hope in that case. Giving up doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Side B – Yasgrid
A clear bell tone woke Yasgrid from her revelry. One moment she was speaking with Endings, the crystal sword at the center of the Darkwood Elves’ Mid-winter festival, and the next she was blinking her eyes open as the rainbow the crystal blade cast vanished from her face.
Another bell tone signaled for the gathered elves to rise from their meditation couches. Yasgrid was slow to get up. In part, she wasn’t sure whether standing was appropriate until she saw several other people around her get to their feet, and, in part, she had to clear her head and get a handle on the conversation she’d had.
The words were too clear in her memories to have been a flight of fantasy, but when she looked up at Endings, floating above the dias in the middle of the chamber, she couldn’t see any evidence that the blade was sentient at all. It hung there swings slowly in the wind and casting dancing splashes of color around the room as it shimmered in the midday sunlight which streamed in.
“How are you doing?” Kayelle, Nia’s sister, asked in a whisper, and Yasgrid needed a moment of consideration to decide what her answer should be.
“Better, I think,” she said. “I might have dozed off?”
She hadn’t, she knew that, but she didn’t have any better explanation for why Endings would have spoken to her of all the people in the chamber.
She wanted to ask Kayelle about the sword, but the words stuck in her throat. Endings might have spoken with everyone in the chamber individually, but Yasgrid doubted that, and if she was the only one, revealing that she heard its voice could lead to all sorts of complications that would be much better handled once Nia was awake and could act as a guide and a cultural translator.
Yasgrid had so many things to digest from her conversation with Endings too. From the unique relationship the Elven gods had with their creations, to the warning Endings had given about the terrible damage that could be wrought if the wrong hands wielded the crystal blade.
Only someone who was close to the Elven gods, and approached the matter with faith and piety could carry Endings on the task of hunting down the incarnated troubles which plagued the Darkwood Elves. Looking at Nia’s sister, Yasgrid saw a well of quiet resolve in the Kayelle’s eyes. The meditation had helped center her and she’d moved past the petty annoyances of dealing with a wayward younger sister to embrace the spirit of the ceremony. Kayelle had claimed she would carrying Endings this year if needed, and Yasgrid believed she would be capable.
From the outer edge of the crowd, four processions marched inwards, people stepping aside to make room for the torches each carried. When the met in the center, each torch bearer lit a brazier at one of the cardinal points around the central dias, speaking words of praise as they did to “the giver of the dawn”, “the giver of the day”, “the giver of twilight”, and the “giver of night”.
From the braziers the scent of rich incense rose and a song rose from the former torch bearers.
“It is time for us to begin the ceremony,” Nia’s mother said, gently touching each of her daughter’s shoulders.
Yasgrid reached out to find Nia, knowing that the time had come when she absolutely needed a native guide. All she found could feel though was a dark and wearying wall of sleep. Nia hadn’t yet woken and Yasgrid was all alone.