Side A – Nia
The cheers and congratulations for Kayelle were as quiet and subdued as Nia expected them to be. What she hadn’t expected was the calm gravity with which Kayelle bore Endings.
“She said not to worry, that if anyone was chosen this year it would be her,” Yasgrid said. “How did she know? Does Endings talk to people before the ceremony?”
“I don’t think that was it,” Nia said. “Kayelle’s always been pretty driven. When she wants something, that’s all she focuses on.”
“Did it look like Endings was coming towards us?” Yasgrid asked.
“For a second there it did,” Nia said. “With everything that happened with the braziers, and with two of us speaking to the stations, I don’t know, I kind of thought it might single you or me out this year. Endings can’t be carried by a wielder it doesn’t accept though. If Kayelle wound up as the bearer then I guess whatever she told the stations was more compelling than what we said.”
“What if she just asked?” Yasgrid was watching Nia’s sister as they drifted at the tail end of the crowd exiting the meditation chamber.
“Asked? Who? Endings?”
“Yeah. I mean if she wanted to be the bearer, could she have just told Endings that when she spoke to the final station?” Yasgrid asked.
The idea struck Nia as odd but she couldn’t place her finger on why for a moment. Her thoughts nibbled around the idea though, probing the unexamined assumption she’d always carried.
“I guess she could have, but I don’t think it would have worked unless carry Endings was related to an unbounded trouble that she’s facing.”
“Could it be?” Yasgrid asked. “I mean what sort of problem would she need to carry a crystal sword and kill monsters to fix?”
“I don’t know,” Nia said. “Endings and its bearer usually spend the rest of Mid-Winter day in reflection together and then embark on their journey sometime before the next dawn.”
“Where do they go?”
“Wherever they’re needed. Down into the deep root caves or far out into the lost glades. I think Endings knows where to look, or the bearer will pick up a scent to follow.”
“And are they looking for actual monsters, or is that metaphorical?” Yasgrid looked back at the empty ceremony chamber with the eyes of stranger drinking in the foreign wonder of the place.
“I’ve heard of bearers helping people with problems that weren’t as unbounded as they seemed. Settling disputes and restoring losses, that sort of thing,” Nia said, trying to see the sparkling decorations with the same amazement she’d felt the first time she’d been permitted to be part of the ceremony. The room seemed a thousand times smaller than it had when she’d first wandered into it as a little tyke. “Mostly though its dealing with actual monsters.”
“What kind of monsters? Is it dangerous?” Yasgrid asked, following Nia’s mother towards one of the rising ropes that was carrying people back up to their treetop homes.
“It depends on the bearer,” Nia said. “Most can handle their year’s problems.”
“What happens when they can’t?”
“Endings selects a new bearer the following year to deal with what’s left of the failure from the year before.”
Side B – Yasgrid
The ride up the climbing ropes felt unreal to Yasgrid. Thanks to some kind of pulley system the the ropes rose continually upwards so all she had to do was grasp onto the spinning cord and let it lift her back up to the treetop layers where the elven homes were. Or at least that’s what it looked like as she watched the other people from the meditation chamber returning to their homes.
Nia’s mother grasped the rope and ascended like a wisp of smoke rising effortlessly into the air. Yasgrid mistrusted that. Everything about Nia’s mother seemed ethereal. For as light as they were, elves still had mass, and being yanked upwards by a spinning rope seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.
Despite her misgivings though, when Yasgrid grabbed onto the rope, she found herself floating almost effortlessly off the ground as well.
Nia rejoined her when the rope reached the level Nia’s home was on.
“Mom’s going to expect us to head to the main house for dinner, but no one’s going to notice or care that I’m not around before then,” Nia said.
“It sounds like people aren’t expecting me to be recovered for a while either after the drumming you did at the Calling,” Yasgrid said. “I’m sure someone will check on us there around dinner too but that should give us a chance to figure out what we’re going to do next.”
She followed Nia back to the small, pod-like home she’d awoken in that morning. It wasn’t truly familiar but her heart did a double beat at the sight of something she recognized even a little after spending so long in a sea of the unfamiliar.
Nia’s home wasn’t her home. It didn’t have the comfortable stability of the stones she knew but there was still something welcoming about it. Like she was meant to be there, when all the rest of the Darkwood felt at best alien, if not dangerous and hostile.
“This might sound weird, but this place looks smaller to me now,” Nia said once they were settled inside.
“Is something different about it?” Yasgrid asked.
“No, everything’s just like I left it,” Nia said. “It just feels…small.”
“I think it’s comfy,” Yasgrid said. “I like how you’ve decorated. Your walls are so colorful. Mine are just dull.”
“It was my frustrated inner artist trying to get out,” Nia said. “Only there’s a reason she doesn’t get let out much. I mean, color? Sure, I can splatter color around a whole bunch. Art though? Or anything even vaguely resembling aesthetic beauty? Not so much. I’m pretty much a lost cause there.”
“This doesn’t look lost to me,” Yasgrid said. “I’d be happy to have a house like this.”
“Maybe I can work on yours if I can make it back there without blowing up Frost Harbor,” Nia said. Yasgrid thought she saw a gleam of delight in Nia’s eyes at the idea of getting to paint the Frost Harbor house.
“I’d love to see that. I suppose the question though is what’s going to happen with us from here? Will we switch back before you can get near a can of paint, or will we grow old and weathered and still be switched around like this?”
“Which would you want it to be?” Nia asked.
Before Yasgrid could answer, before she could even marshall her thoughts well enough to decide on an answer, there was a knock on the door.
“That can’t be good,” Nia said. “No one should be looking for me for a while.”
“Should I get it?” Yasgrid asked, wondering which of their problems or transgressions were coming home to roost.
“Nia? Let me in,” Kayelle said. “We need to talk.”