Mava looked at the young girl at the bar and felt nothing. Not fear, not hope, not even weariness or euphoria. Her mind seemed to simply stop, unable to process what she was perceiving.
Gwena Sunsworn was her sister, in spirit and duty if not by blood. Mava loved her as she loved each of the Elites of the House of Days. She loved her and one hundred thousand years ago she’d ordered Gwena to stand and die in defense of the House’s last refuge.
Across the long centuries and millenia since then, Mava had mourned Gwena and the rest of her sisters. She’d raged at the fate that separated them. She’d drunk to their memories and fled into the forgetfulness of every substance and distraction she could find.
At one time, Mava’s dreams had been filled with visions of Gwena or Aloka or the others appearing out of the blue. In the haze of midnight, she’d been able believe some miracle had put the world right again. Or prevented it from ever being as bad as it appeared.
Too many times she’d awoken from those dreams and been confronted with the chilling light of another day without them. Hope is a tenacious thing, even moreso for those pledged to the House of Days, but it can’t last forever. Or, Mava thought, hers couldn’t.
“I should kill her,” Nyka said.
Mava held her beer steady. The cheap plastic was a terrible choice for a weapon, but you made do with what was available.
“Settle down, I’m not going to,” Nyka said. “I’m too old to go picking fights with you, what makes you think I want to tangle with a young, spry thing like that?”
“Not sure why you’d want to kill her in the first place,” Mava said. “Didn’t we just decide the war was over?”
“We did, and it is,” Nyka said. “That’s why I should kill her.”
“Is that an example of your strategic brilliance or the explanation for why we beat you so often?” Mava said.
Nyka chuffed out a short laugh.
“Probably both,” she said. “Listen, did you plan to meet me here today?”
“Seeing as I didn’t even know you were alive? That would be no,” Mava said.
“Exactly, and I didn’t plan to meet you, which I know you’ll have to trust me on, and given our history I’m sure that’s not easy, but humor me for a while. We’ve got our beers to finish if nothing else right?”
“You make an excellent point,” Mava said and took a sip from her stein.
“If it was just the two of us there’d be a chance that this meeting was accidental. We’ve both been wandering around the world for enough time that it was bound to happen sooner or later,” Nyka said.
“But it wasn’t an accident if another one of us shows up?” Mava said. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“Someone is planning something, and offhand I can only think of one reason to bring us back together starting with you and me,” Nyka said. “There’s only one piece of unfinished business between your house and mine after all.”
“We’re not going to start the Last Battle again,” Mava said, crushing the handle of her mug as her hand balled into a fist.
“No, we’re not,” Nyka said. “But she might. That was why I said I should kill her. I’m not going to of course. Too much trouble, you’d probably kill me for old time’s sake, and if something is bringing us back, then she’d probably just get better again. And be annoyed at me.”
“We could talk to her,” Mava said and found a wall of reluctance rising up within her.
It was too long since she’d dreamed of seeing her sisters again, and the old hurts were too well buried. There was a beer in her hand, and unexpectedly pleasant company at her table. Plus she was so old, and so tired. She didn’t have the strength to bear any more disappointments. Not ones on that scale. Mava felt the weight of all that pressing her into her chair.
She was on her feet before she consciously made the decision to rise.
“I’ll keep your drink cold,” Nyka said as Mava strolled over to the bar to stand beside Gwena, or at least the girl who held Gwena’s magic and sunshine.
The girl looked young to Mava’s eyes. Younger than Gwena had been at the last battle. Whether she was old enough to patronize a place like Nicky’s was hard for Mava to tell. Everyone who was devoid of wrinkles looked like different varieties of children to her.
“What can I get you Mava?” Samantha asked from behind the bar as Mava claimed the seat next to where the girl was standing.
“A plate of wings,” Mava said, still unsure how to begin.
“Are they good here?” the girl asked, looking up from the menu Samantha had given her.
“Carlos in the kitchen has a knack for them,” Mava said. “I can honestly say it’s been decades since I tasted any that were as good.”
“Maybe that’s what brought me here then,” the girl said, offering Mava and quick smile.
“Compelled by chicken?” Mava said. “Wouldn’t be the strangest thing I ever heard.”
“She said she’s been dreaming of this place,” Samantha said. “Told her I hope the furnishings measured up to her imagination.”
“You’ve been dreaming about going to a bar?” Mava asked, goosebumps rippling down her arms. Dreams didn’t mean much on Earth. For most people they weren’t anything more significant than naturally produced hallucinations that might or might not reveal hidden elements of your psyche. For anyone connected to Counter-Time though, dreams could be very different.
There were creatures that lurked in the sort of magical dreams that Counter-Time allowed. Spells and premonitions could float freely though the sleeping minds of the unprotected too. What was fuzzy and chaotic during sleep for the people of Earth was often literal and deadly for anyone who could travel between both worlds while they slumbered.
“Not a bar,” the girl said. “This one specifically. It was so weird. Night after night, I kept walking in here in my sleep and it felt like everyone knew me.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen you in here,” Samantha said.
“Did you used to go to a place like this back home?” Mava asked.
“No, I’m not much of a drinker,” the girl said. “Kind of tough with all the parties on campus but you can’t kill any of the old grey cells if you’re a bio major. Or I can’t anyways.”
“So what were the dreams like?” Mava asked.
“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Not creepy or weird. More, like, ‘right’ if that makes sense. Like I was coming home after being away for a long time and everything had changed but I could still recognize the parts that remained. It made me feel very comfortable but I can’t describe how exactly.”
“How does it feel now that you’re here?” Mava asked.
“Just kind of normal I guess,” the girl said. “Which isn’t bad. I wasn’t expecting a big revelation or anything. I just wanted to see what my brain was so worked up about.”
“It’s the wings,” Samantha said. “You’ve been craving them and you didn’t even know it.”
“Don’t build Carlos up too much,” Mava said. “Going to give the girl expectations that no one can live up to.”
“My name’s Gwen by the way, what’s yours?” the girl asked.
It was a heart stopping word to say. Up until she heard the girl’s name a part of Mava had been ironclad in her denial that she was looking at Gwena. Magic was tricky after all, and she could have been seeing what she wanted to instead of what was there.
The subtle movements. The folded hands when she spoke. Even the cadence of her speech, excited and restrained, trying to connect but struggling not to appear too eager. Each was a piece of the woman Gwena had been and each was exactly duplicated in the Gwen who sat before her.
Mava waited for a rush of understanding to fill Gwen’s face. She searched for a sign of recognition in the girl’s eyes.
“Nice to meet you Mava,” Gwen said, without a change in her demeanor. “Are you one of the regulars here?”
“I’m here most days,” Mava said, years rolling away as the old bonds wrapped themselves one by one around her heart. She’d never been one to hold things back, but somehow she couldn’t deluge the girl before her with the ocean of questions that flooded her mind.
“She’s been here since my grandfather opened the place,” Samantha said. “Guess its the steady diet of beer that keeps you so well preserved?”
“Clean living,” Mava said. “Clean living and staying out of trouble.”
She hadn’t finished the last syllable when the first car alarm went off outside the bar. Glancing towards the door, she saw Nyka looking in that direction too as a second car alarm began squealing.
Then there was the crashing sound.
Mava knew that kind of sound. Only something big made metal tear like that.
“Where are you going?” Samantha asked as Gwen hopped off her seat.
“I’ll be back for the wings, I just want to see if anyone’s hurt out there. We might need to call an ambulance.”
Before Mava could find the words to stop her, Gwen was out the door and vanished from sight.
“I better go too,” she said. “Creature that young is bound to find trouble even if there’s none there to find.”
“I’ll have the wings waiting when you get back,” Samantha said.
Mava strolled to the door, feeling the aches and pains in her knees and back make a desperate plea that she not abuse them too badly.
“There are monsters out there,” Nyka said as Mava walked by the table.
“Heard that too did you?” Mava asked.
“Going to fight them?” Nyka asked.
“I’ll join you then, might be fun for a change, and maybe we can keep that girl of yours from getting herself killed again.”
“Miracles, apparently, can happen.”