Mava woke to the taste of concrete and blood. The concrete was new, the last time she’d been knocked out it hadn’t been invented yet, but the blood was like an old friend. The kind of old friend that Mava had broken up with many times, who she never wanted to see again, and yet who somehow kept finding a path back into her life.
She raised her head up, wiped her lips and felt around in her mouth for any serious damage. She’d split her lip when she fell but there weren’t any missing teeth. It was a small blessings but still worth celebrating in her book.
Rising back up to her feet, brought a chorus of protest from muscles and bones and ligaments who were united in their protest over the treatment she’d given them.
Stun spells weren’t a kindness. They hurt like hell and left the body a discombobulated wreck. Mava looked at the sight lines to her position and shook her head. If the Freeman Gallery had been standing she would have had decent cover. As it was the building was a crumbled wreck and there were at least a dozen good positions her attacker could have shot from.
The only good news was that they hadn’t killed her while she was stunned. That was generally the proper follow up move if the shooter’s goal wasn’t to capture their target.
Against the groaning protests of her legs and back, Mava stumbled forward and forced herself into something like a purposeful march. Gwen and Ally were where she’d seen them fall, and both were breathing.
“The miracles keep coming,” she said as she lifted Ally up and heard sirens closing in. “With the police not far behind. Ain’t this just the best day ever.”
“Whaa?” Ally mumbled, rousing to consciousness slower than Mava had.
“On your feet, we need to be somewhere else before too many people show up with too many questions,” Mava said. She didn’t let Ally go at first though, waiting instead for the tall woman to find a measure of stability before they both walked over to Gwen.
The paralytic poison had knocked Gwen and Ally out of their transformed state, which was good in the sense that they were less drained than they would have been. Even with that Gwen was difficult to wake though.
“We need to step into Counter-Time,” Mava said. “Do you remember how to do that well enough or will I need to take two trips?”
Ally massaged her left elbow, wincing at the pain.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, go ahead.”
Mava eyed her dubiously. She’d heard that sort of reassurance from too many neophytes who were going to be anything but fine. Under the circumstances though, she had to give Ally the benefit of the doubt. She was one of the Elites, or she at least had partial memories of one of the Elites, and she’d already proved she could move between Counter-Time and Earth easily enough in Mava’s apartment.
That was good because Mava wasn’t looking forward to making the trip twice.
Pulling Gwen across the boundary into Counter-Time felt like being sliced by thirteen razor sharp shards of glass. Counter-Time didn’t like uninvited visitors. If you were good at traveling between the two realms, the transition could be made with a minimal amount of discomfort. Dragging someone across the border when they weren’t actively helping though? That always hurt.
Mava collapsed to her knees as she finished taking the three agonizing steps into Counter-Time. The first step of the ritual took the traveler out of the Earthly world, the second placed them within the void between worlds and the third landed them on the world they were traveling to. Only three small steps but they came with so much fatigue that Mava though she was going to topple over again.
“Don’t pass out yet Commander,” Ally said. “We have guests.”
Mava looked up and saw that a pack of Dust Wolves had them surrounded.
The creatures looked like massive, smoke covered versions of Earthly wolves, but there was one important difference between them and their mundane counterparts.
“This is new,” the spokesperson of the Dust Wolves said. “Do you appear in our lands with a purpose or as prey?”
Mava grunted and rose to face the spokesperson from a standing position. At her feet, Gwen stirred and began to come around too.
“Between those? Definitely purpose and not prey,” Ally said.
Mava let her talk for the three of them. As the oldest that was traditionally Mava’s role, but the Dust Wolves respected forthrightness and Aloka was nothing if not plain spoken.
“I am Iishil, speak your purpose so that we may know if we are enemies or not,” the wolf pack’s spokesperson said.
“We got our butts kicked, and we’re heading to the training halls so it doesn’t happen again,” Ally said.
“You admit to weakness?” Iishil asked.
“More stupidity than weakness,” Ally said. “Didn’t execute our battle plan well.”
“You are young for a warrior, yes?” Iishil asked.
“Not as young as I look but definitely out of practice,” Ally said.
“Out of practice enough to be a good meal?” Iishil asked.
Mava rolled her eyes, and stood up straighter.
“Iishil, if you want to make a meal of me you’re going to have to come down here and give me a chance to rip those fangs out of your head,” Mava said. “You know I’ve always wanted them for my dagger blades.”
“Dagger blades?” Iishil said. “The only one who ever wanted my teeth was a crazy warrior of Days who was going to grind them up for an aphrodisiac.”
“As you get older your interests change,” Mava said.
“Sunsworn?” Iishil asked, surprise plain even on his wolfish.
“Yes Iishil, in the flesh, or what’s left of it anyways,” Mava said.
“How did you get so old?” Iishil asked.
“Time passes differently here than it does on Earth,” Mava said.
“Then why do you stay there?”
“I believe my companion here mentioned stupidity? Let’s go with that,” Mava said.
“And you wised up and came back here now why exactly?” Iishil asked.
“We’re headed to the Training Halls,” Mava said. “Took a slight detour that didn’t go quite how we hoped it would.”
“Your companions, are they…?” Iishil asked and trailed off, trying to find a tactful method of broaching a sensitive subject.
“Two other members of the Elite? Yes,” Mava said.
“But weren’t they all…”
“Killed long ago? Yes, they were, and before you ask, no, I have no idea why they’re back, or why the warriors from the Caverns of Night are back either. On the likely chance that things are going to suck for everyone though, we’re heading to the Training Halls so that it will hopefully suck less for us than it would otherwise.”
“You two know each other?” Gwen asked.
“We do,” Mava said. “Iishil and the Song Followers were a serious threat during the last war. They were too cunning by far, and too good at raiding our supplies.”
“Yes, we ate well in those days,” Iishil said. “Until an overly driven Elite chased us halfway across the world and smoked us out of our best hiding holes.”
“I needed a hobby that week,” Mava said. “You just caught a bad break.”
“Bad? Good? It’s hard to say. If it had been anyone else we might not have resolved our differences quite so peacefully.”
“So you didn’t kill each other then?” Ally asked.
“We are both still here are we not?” Iishil asked.
“As someone who’s been killed at least once, I’m not sure if that’s relevant,” Ally said.
“In this case it is,” Mava said. “We talked it out and the Song Followers pack became allies of a sort.”
“Mava didn’t mind that we were raiders, she just wanted us to raid the right resources,” Iishil said.
“We gave them information on the Cavern’s supply lines, and they disrupted them. Worked out well for everyone,” Mava said.
“Except for the Nightfolk right?” Ally said.
“Speaking of which, where is Nyka?” Gwen asked.
Both of them looked around, at last aware of the absence of their old enemy.
“She’s gone,” Mava said. “Probably left with the Cavern forces that assaulted us.”
“How do you know that?” Ally asked.
“Because we’re alive,” Mava said. “Nekkabrutes aren’t used when you meant to leave your opponents alive, and yet they did, so someone, obviously Nyka, convinced them to change their mind.”
“Why would she do that?” Gwen asked.
“I think she’s being honest when she says she doesn’t want the fighting to start again. I know I certainly am.”
“Why leave us though?” Ally asked.
“Could be lots of reasons,” Mava said. “We’ll have to ask her next time we see her.”
“Do you think there’s going to be a next time?” Gwen asked.
“At this rate? Yes, I’m pretty certain there’ll be a next time,” Mava said.
“You don’t sound happy about that,” Gwen said.
“It’s because I suspect I won’t be when it happens,” Mava said.
“Maybe you would be more interested in meeting another old friend?” Iishil asked.
“”It’s probably best if we don’t get you tangled up in this,” Mava said.
“Ah, but I was not speaking of myself, or the Song Followers,” Iishil said. “You are not the first Elites of the House of Days we have encountered this hour.”
“You saw another Elite?” Mava asked. “Zia? It had to be her right?”
“We didn’t get her name I’m afraid,” Iishil said. “We asked of course, but her answer to the purpose or prey question was to summon a wall of flame around us. It was a good answer. Very direct.”
“That’s Zia,” Ally said. “Just hearing about it brings back memories of our little firebug.”
“What was she doing?” Mava asked. “Where did she go?”
“You’re in luck,” Iishil said. “She was heading towards the Halls of Training as well. If you hurry you might catch her.”
“We’re going to have to!” Mava said.
The last of the inner sisterhood of the Day Elites was walking into one of the most deadly environments in all the realms and she was doing so alone. Mava had seen what happened to neophytes who did that and whatever it took she wasn’t going to let the same fate befall Zia.