Side A – Nia
Nia was reasonably sure her house was made of living wood, grown and crafted over the course of her life to fill the roll of offering her shelter, comfort, and privacy. She also knew that she was standing in her house with Yasgrid, who was still present, and Kayelle, who was not. Neither of those explained why the walls around her were shifting to iridescent crystal, nor why she suddenly felt as though there were eyes upon her from every direction.
“Endings?” Yasgrid asked, glancing around the transforming room with the same perplexed wonder that Nia felt. “Is this you?”
“Yes Bearer,” Endings said, speaking from all directions in the room at once. “Before we spoke in your mind, now that you hold me we can speak within mine.”
“Am I supposed to be here?” Nia asked. She was clothed in Yasgrid’s tunic and breeches, but her insides squirmed like she was naked in front of a grand assembly.
“Of course Bearer,” Endings said. “I only commune like this with those I have selected for the journey ahead.”
That was surprising. No one else had been able to sense Nia’s projection, or hear her when she spoke.
“Which one of us is your bearer?” Yasgrid asked, looking to Nia for either an answer or confirmation that the question was one she should have asked. Nia only shrugged in response. This was well outside of what she knew about Endings and the Bearer’s relationship, she was flying as blind as Yasgrid.
“Both of you are,” Endings said. “Only my Bearers can grasp my hilt.”
“Both?” Nia asked. “But you only call one Bearer at a time.”
“What I have done and what I can do are not the same,” Endings said. “I am no more limited by my past than you are, Daughter of Stone.”
“What about Kayelle though?” Nia asked. “How can she carry you?”
“You are both my Bearer,” Endings said. “While only one hand may wield me at a time, there will be foes that no one Bearer can overcome alone.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Yasgrid asked.
“On Mid-Winter’s night, the Bearer’s journey begins,” Ending said. “You know this from the lore of your people, but what you will not know is the First Choice. No Bearer enters my service unwillingly and I serve no master who refuses the call to service. To understand your calling though, you must know of the troubles you face.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Nia said. “I don’t remember anyone ever refusing to carry you though.”
“Many have refused, though few have abandoned me outright,” Endings said.
“How could someone abandon you?” Nia had never felt any particular depth of piety in her soul, but the thought of walking away from a literal instrument of divine mercy appalled her.
“The desires of the heart, and the capabilities of the mind and body are not always met by a sufficient strength of spirit,” Endings said. “The choice I offer to each Bearer is the same – what, I ask them, is the greatest trouble we shall face? When will our purpose be fulfilled?”
Side B – Yasgrid
A question was burbling in Yasgrid’s mind so loudly that she almost missed what Endings said, catching only the last bit about their purpose.
“What did Kayelle chose?” Nia asked. Yasgrid heard a brittleness in the question, and turned away from the crystal rainbow-scape around them to see Nia gazing intensely at a spot in Ending’s mindroom that corresponded to where her sister had been standing.
“Her path,” Endings said. “As you must choose yours.”
“I don’t understand,” Yasgrid said, seeing Nia’s jaw set and eyes narrow at Ending’s non-answer. “If she’s already chosen a path for you, what’s left to chose? You can’t be taken to two places at once can you?”
“The path my Bearer walks with me can take us anywhere,” Endings said. “Our only limitation is the bounding of a year, and even that isn’t as impenetrable as you might imagine.”
“But if Kayelle has chosen to end her troubles as your purpose for the year, can you have another purpose as well?” Yasgrid asked.
“My purpose is not limited to ending only one person’s trouble unless that is as far as my Bearer chooses to carry me,” Endings said.
“Wait, Endings, how many people offered you troubles this year that you accepted as worth dealing with?” Nia asked. She was looking around the room as though trying to locate a single spot for Endings to be.
“Three,” Endings said.
“And Kayelle was one of them?” Nia guessed.
“Yes,” Endings said.
“And I was one of the others?” Nia asked.
“Yes,” Endings said.
Yasgrid remembered Nia speaking of the anger that burned within her. The anger Yasgrid had seen pull Nia back from the oblivion of the Shatter drum’s magic. The idea of Endings slicing that away from Nia seemed fundamentally wrong.
For a moment that thought eclipsed a more personal one – Nia had spoken of her anger but Yasgrid had spoken of the fear that had fractured her heart. Would she give that up? Predictably, the thought was terrifying.
Endings was a blade. That didn’t suggest a gentle restoration to resolve the problems it faced. What would it be like to have her heart sliced open and the fear cut out of it? What would be left of her without it? Could she call the thing that remained Yasgrid anymore?
“Are those the only troubles we have to resolve?” Nia asked, resolution growing in her eyes. She saw a fight coming, one she was used to losing, and one she absolutely wasn’t going to avoid no matter how much running away was what she desired.
“No,” Endings said. “Every trouble which a Bearer has not overcome remains for us to resolve.”
Nia blinked and rocked back slightly on her heels.
“The ones from past years?” Nia said. “But I thought the Bearer the following year would take care of those first?”
“Bearer’s choose which troubles they will stand against,” Endings said. “They know the limits of their own strength, and their own hearts, or they discover those limits in wielding me. Each one who turns away from the troubles which exist in their year leaves those troubles as a challenge to the future, as does each Bearer who falls striving for more than they can achieve.”
Yasgrid felt a chill run through her. Had the Darkwood always been known as that or had the darkness grown year after year as Ending’s Bearers reach the limits of their strength with tasks unfinished?
“How many did Kayelle want?” Nia asked, her voice cold and low. “How many did she set as your purpose for ending this year?”
“All of them.”