Mava watched the stone armored warriors depart. She wanted to run away with them. It was possible. All she had to do was look around and find a clever loophole, some method of dodging out on duty and obligation that would still follow the letter of the laws that bound her. It wouldn’t be that hard to do and it would certainly make everything else easier.
Except that she wasn’t bound by any laws. She hadn’t pledged herself to the Throne of Days again, and she hadn’t felt its calling. She could walk away from all of the new insanity that was brewing and simply refuse to be a part of it.
But Gwen couldn’t.
And Ally couldn’t either.
Even without knowing anything about it, Renata too was trapped by the cycle that was spinning around again.
Mava knew that the women who stood with her weren’t the sisters she’d known. They bore the same souls, they remembered pieces of their old lives, but they weren’t as Mava had known them to be. They had new lives which shaped and defined them in unexpected ways.
Aloka wouldn’t have shown mercy to a foe like Ally had. Lightning doesn’t consider things all that much. It strikes fast and destroys what it touches. That was what Aloka had been like, but Ally was different. She was, in some senses, what Aloka had hoped to become and Mava had to cheer for that, even if it was aggravating and inconvenient under the present circumstances.
Gwen and Renata were the same. So similar to the sisters that Mava knew, truly the same at heart, but the heart wasn’t the only part of a person. There were layers that were new to each of them. Layers that called into question the old loyalties they once held to one another.
Mava knew she could run away with the stone armored warriors. She could escape from the fate that was reaching out to pull her into a sea of madness. She also knew that she wasn’t going to.
Gwena, Aloka, and Zia might be so long gone that even the dream of them had faded but their memories were part of what Mava clung to in order to define herself. Abandoning them would be just as easy as the left side of her heart choosing to leave the right side behind.
“Where do we go next?” Gwen asked.
“That is an excellent question,” Mava said. “Renata, where are you feeling pulled?”
“Nowhere. I’m not feeling pulled towards anything anymore,” Renata said.
“I’m feeling pulled to a massage table or the nearest personal trainer,” Ally said. “I don’t think I cracked a rib but that did not feel good.”
“Want me to check you out?” Gwen asked. “I’m not a doctor but I’m first aid certified.”
Ally started to wave off Gwen’s offer but their eyes met and Ally changed her tune.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” she said.
“Come and sit down over here then and I’ll see what I can do.” Gwen indicated a small pile of rocks that vaguely approximated a seat for Ally to sit on.
“What does it mean that I’m not feeling an indication of where to go anymore?” Renata asked Mava as the other two stepped away.
“I think it means you found what the Throne of Days wanted you to find,” Mava said. “Namely us.”
“What is this Throne of Days?” Renata asked.
“It’s hard to put in words,” Mava said. “And the Throne I knew doesn’t seem to be the same as the Throne that’s calling you.”
“Is it a god?” Renata asked.
“No, definitely not,” Mava said. “It’s barely even sentient really. More of a broad force than a singular will and consciousness. It’s one of two underpinnings of the cosmos.”
“The other being the Throne of Night?” Renata asked.
“Yes, they exist in opposition to each other and for a time, through us, they ruled the Earth.”
“What happened?” Renata asked. “It sounded like you knew those warriors. Did you fight them before?”
“What happened was a war, and yes, I fought them and other servants of the Throne of the Night, with you and Gwen and Ally at my side,” Mava said. “It didn’t end well though. For anyone.”
“We died then?” Renata asked.
“You did,” Mava said. “I watched you fall. All of you.”
“So the Thone of Night is strong?” Renata asked. “Stronger than we are?”
“It wasn’t before,” Mava said. “We were so evenly matched before that we annihilated each other completely. At least as far as I know.”
“Why do you say that?” Renata asked.
“I didn’t see either our queen or the queen of the Caverns of the Night fall,” Mava said. “The healing pod I was secured in couldn’t keep me awake that long without letting me die, so it sank me into an enchanted slumber that lasted nigh unto forever.”
“So there’s a chance our queen is still alive like you are then?” Renata asked.
“Our queen? Does that mean you’re taking this seriously?” Mava asked.
“I do not have memories of the things you speak of, but I do feel that your words are true, and as you say, I am standing in an impossible place, so perhaps believing in the impossible is not so hard here.”
“That’s good. If you believe me, then you’ll believe when I warn you about the dangers we’re facing,” Mava said.
“I have a family to get back to,” Renata said. “I will not leave my daughter without a mother. So yes, I will take your warning very seriously.”
“A daughter?” Mava’s smile lit up her face like the noonday sun. “Oh Zia!”
She couldn’t help herself. She had to hug her second in command.
Renata reacted with the stiff confusion of someone completely perplexed by an unexpected show of emotion.
“I’m sorry,” Mava said, wiping a tear from her eye. “You always wanted children. Bushels and bushels of children.”
“Well I don’t know about bushels,” Renata said. “One is a lot more work than I expected, but I was thinking it would be nice for her to have a sister. And maybe a brother too.”
“How old is she?” Mava asked.
“She will turn two next month,” Renata said.
Mava couldn’t wipe the smile off her face for a long moment. Not until her thoughts turned back to their present circumstances.
“Is there someone who can care for her now?” Mava asked, her smile fading into a small frown.
“Yes, my husband was with her when I was swept off,” Renata said.
“Good,” Mava said. “He may have to watch her for a while more.”
“I don’t think that’s good,” Renata said. “He needs me there.”
“He needs his wife, and the mother of his child,” Mava said. “If you return now though, while the Throne is wrapping your fate up with its own, you won’t be returning to them as wife and mother, you’ll be carrying the mantle of an Elite of the House of Days.”
“What does that mean?” Renata asked.
“The Throne has called you,” Mava said. “If you refuse its call, it will start bringing those close to you into its plans. It will try to be helpful but the Throne’s idea of helpful would be to give your husband a suit of magic armor and an enchanted sword. Or turn your daughter into a dragon-caller.”
“That would make them targets too,” Renata said.
“Yes, it would,” Mava said. “From the Throne’s point of view it would be arming its allies, because it’s not capable of understanding that there are people who are not on the side of the Throne of Night but who also don’t want to fight a war on the side of Days either.”
“When can I go back to them?” Renata asked.
“When this is over,” Mava said.
“And when is that?” Renata asked.
“When we conquer the Throne of Night or when we can get both Thrones to call off their vendetta against each other,” Mava said.
“That doesn’t sound easy. How do we get them to make peace with each other?” Renata asked. Another new layer. Zia would have been focused on conquering the enemy rather than preventing the fight before it began.
“With great difficulty,” Mava said. “The Thrones are fundamentally incompatible. That’s what we’re for. They don’t rule us, they only guide and empower. We’re the ones who act to because we can see farther and more broadly than they can. We have the wisdom they lack.”
“Humans? Wise? Now I know you’re telling me a fairy tale,” Renata said.
“It’s all relative,” Mava said. “You’re wiser than your daughter is now, right?”
“Some days,” Renata said.
“It’s the same with the Thrones, except they’ll never ‘grow up’. They are what they are and that’s it. They need us to be any more than that,” Mava said.
“So how do we do that?” Renata asked. “Can we talk to the queen of the night, or whoever she is, and get her to call off the war before it starts again?”
“Yes and no and maybe,” Mava said.
“As answers go that is impressive,” Renata said.
“Yes, the Queen of the Night is who we would need to parlay with to end the war. No, we cannot parlay with her because we are not the Queen of Days. Maybe because I don’t know if even the two queens can call this off.”
“I thought you said they were the only ones who could?” Renata asked.
“They’re the only ones who can speak directly for the Thrones, but I don’t know if that’s enough,” Mava said. “They have the most power, but they’re also the most subject to the whims of the Throne they serve. I think Nyka was trying to warning me about that with the attack she sent against us.”
“Who is this Nyka?” Renata asked.
“She’s one of our oldest enemies,” Mava said. “And, I think, one of our newest friends. She’s working for the Nightfolks but that attack wasn’t meant to kill us. She sent troops that she knew were looking for a chance to get out of the fight and who wouldn’t ambush us. She wanted us to know that we have to fight but that she’s still working against that.”
“Or she only had some very disloyal troops to work with,” Renata said.
“Maybe,” Mava said. “Maybe I just want this to be over so much that I’m seeing things that aren’t there. I’m lucky though, I’ve got my second in command back and she can make sure I don’t fall for any obvious traps.”
“Who’s your second in command?” Renata asked.
Mava beamed a smile at her.
“I did not sign up for this,” Renata said, shaking her head.
“I’m afraid you did,” Mava said. “And just in time, because now we get to have some real fun.”
“What sort of fun?” Renata asked, her voice low and dripping with suspicion.
“We were going to train, and we still need that, Ally should have been able to take that warrior out before we could blink,” Mava said. “Instead of the training halls though we’re going to go someplace really fun.”
“Where?” Renata asked, her voice still low.
“The old Royal Palace,” Mava said. “If the Queen of the Night has ascended her Throne then we need to see about finding ours too or this is going to be a very short war.”