Side A – Nia
Nia trusted Yasgrid. She wasn’t sure why exactly. Maybe it was because they seemed to be able to share their thoughts. Maybe it was because she didn’t really have any other choice given how their lives had become tangled together. Looking down at the sleeping body nestled against the sun dappled tree trunk though, Nia understood it went deeper than that.
Trusting Yasgrid not to be evil was simple enough. Nia could feel the undercurrents of emotion that ran through Yasgrid. If the other woman was unhappy, or held any malice over Nia taking over her life, it would have been painfully clear. The trust Nia felt went beyond faith in Yasgrid’s general good will though. Yasgrid had strengths that she’d never been recognized for. Nia could see that in how well Yasgrid was handling the challenges of being the younger M’Kallin daughter. Nia didn’t just trust that Yasgrid had good intentions, she trusted that Yasgrid was remarkable enough to pull them off.
“You’re a better me than I am,” Nia said, brushing a lock of hair that had once plagued her as being perpetually unruly. Through other eyes she saw it as a nice decoration to offset a face she’d always felt looked too sharp and too hard.
“I can’t believe how well she did today,” Kayelle said.
Nia’s eyes went wide thinking that her sister was somehow speaking to her. When Yasgrid projected back to Frost Harbor no one was able to see her, and Nia has assumed the same was true in reverse. Could Kayelle have known more than she was letting on this whole time? Had she caught Nia at last in a deception that Nia had fully embraced days ago?
“But that’s how you always are, aren’t you?” Kayelle asked, her voice soft enough not to wake her sleeping sister.
Nia felt a wave of relief pass over her. Kayelle was looking where Yasgrid lay sleeping, not towards the tree Nia was resting against.
“You always do more than anyone thinks you can,” Kayelle said. “Even when you damn near kill yourself trying it.”
“I had to push that hard,” Nia said, knowing her sister couldn’t hear her, but it wasn’t like that was a new thing. “You were always the perfect lady. I couldn’t begin to measure up if I didn’t tear myself apart.”
“And now you’re here,” Kayelle said, dropping her head into her hands. “I didn’t want this for you. This is supposed to be my burden to bear.”
Nia scowled. She heard the words but they came with echoes of so many other words, spoken so many other times. Fights and slights and taunts and cuts. So many wounds that their whole relationship seemed to be nothing more than a battle that never quite ended.
Of course Kayelle didn’t want her sister along. Why share the glory? Why have to depend on someone who was as much of a screw up as Nia was? Why have a sister at all when all she would be was a Nia?
Nia felt an ugly squirming in her guts.
“I’m not a burden!” she yelled. Yasgrid stirred in response and Nia felt a pang of guilt lance through her. She was being stupid.
And Kayelle wasn’t saying what Nia thought she was.
“I didn’t want you to be in this kind of danger, but without you, I’d be dead now,” Kayelle said, her voice soft as she wiped a tear from her eye.
The ugliness that was twisting Nia up inside fled away to some dark and unreachable place.
“I don’t want to need you,” Kayelle said. “It’s not fair. You deserve better than that. But I do.”
Kayelle tightened her grip on Endings’ hilt.
“I always have,” she said.
“That’s not true,” Nia whispered. “You’ve never needed me. You were always Mom’s favorite.”
“You don’t remember,” Kayelle said, still speaking to the unhearing, sleeping form she stood watch over. “All the times when we were little, how Mother would make me play with you? Those were the only times I could relax. If something went wrong, it didn’t matter. It was just play. And it was just you. I didn’t have to be perfect for you.”
“But you were!” Nia said. “You were always better. At everything.”
Because she was older.
Nia looked at her sister and saw, for the first time, not the rival who was better than her in every measure, but another young woman who bore wounds so very similar to her own. In Kayelle, Nia saw someone who had been forced to shoulder the same expectations she had. Someone for whom none of the challenges Nia had faced had been any easier but who had been given even less room to fail.
Kayelle hadn’t excelled because she was better than Nia. She excelled because she had no choice but to pay the cost that excellence required, even when that cost was enough to convince her to leave the Darkwood behind forever.
“I’ll tell you all this someday I guess,” Kayelle said, and then let her lips break into a faint smile. “It’s not like I haven’t given you a hundred kinds of hell all these years. The least I can do is tell you how important you are before I leave.”
Nia saw it. Even in the brightest of futures, the one where Kayelle’s mad quest against the Troubles of the Darkwood was successful, Nia was still going to lose her sister.
One day or another, there would be a time when Kayelle would say goodbye and Nia would never see her again.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid awoke from a long and surprisingly restful sojourn into deep and dreamless slumber to find Nia still standing watch over her.
The elven girl was watching her but was curled up and leaning against a sister who couldn’t feel her weight or know that she was there.
“I don’t want to lose her,” Nia said. “It’s ridiculous. Two weeks ago I would have cheered to hear she was going away. I wouldn’t have believed it but I still would have baked a cake, hung up some banners, and been a proper jerk about it. Now I’m sitting here like a great big puddle of misery. It’s so stupid and it’s so me.”
“I’m going to keep her safe,” Yasgrid said, wondering for a moment if another Trouble had attacked while she slept.
“I’m not worried about that,” Nia said. “You dropped three Troubles last night. The rest aren’t going to know what hit them.”
Yasgrid frowned and tried to think of how else Kayelle could be lost. She’d been so focused confronting the Troubles she’d lost track of everything else.
Then she remembered the conversation she’d had with Kayelle the night they first took up Endings together.
“Don’t worry,” she said, offering Nia a secretive smile. “The future’s never what we think it’s going to be.”