Mava struggled to keep a stern look on her face, fighting the grin that kept threatening to burst forth. It had taken Gwena and Aloka until the end of an age to find each other. They were two of the most courageous people Mava had ever known but that courage had ended inches away from telling one another what their feelings were for far too long.
A new life meant a new chance to start over though, and this time, maybe, they’d be able to build something they could explore outside of moments stolen away from battles and obligations.
Assuming of course that they didn’t all die again before they could stop the Throne of Night.
“I think we’re here,” Renata said as she finished climbing the loose trail that lead to the top of the ridge in front of them.
On the other side, the House of Days rose on a wide, unending field that was always bathed in the light of the sun.
The House may have once been a simple dwelling. If so that was so long before Mava’s time that even the rumors had faded before she heard them. Through the whole, long term of her service, the House had been as it appeared before the four Elites.
Massive walls and spires of every hue rising from countless dwellings that all joined together to make one grand and supremely guarded domicile. In the center of the city, the highest spire rose, soaring impossibly high so that at noon, someone standing on it’s tallest tip could touch the sun itself.
Mava understood the modern observations of the universe. She knew the Earth was not the center of the universe, and that the sun was both millions of miles away and far too large and hot for a human ever to touch.
It wasn’t new information to her when she’d awoken and found people talking about Galileo and Copernicus and the models they’d proposed for the orbital dynamics of the solar system. The scholars of the House of Days had understood such things too.
They knew the Earth was round and revolved around the sun. They mapped the sky in greater detail than anything humans would achieve again until the dawn of the 20th century and were struggling with some of the same questions that even 21st century scientists grappled with.
But those were questions about the Earth, and the wavelength of the greater cosmos that it inhabited. Within Counter-Time, there were different questions to be asked and different answers than one could find or apply to the Earth.
Magic and science didn’t speak to different things for the people of the House of Days, but rather different elements of a much greater whole. Science was the tool used to study what one could observe. Magic was more akin to Technology, being the application of science based on the laws that governed a particular wavelength of the cosmos.
On Earth, things like fire behaved predictably and could be used as part of far more complicated designs. In Counter-Time, fire behaved predictably as well, but not in the same manner as it did on Earth, and not in a manner governed purely by mathematics.
That was why the tallest spire of the House of Days never burned when it touched the sun, and why after a hundred thousand years of standing in the sunshine, the House could look the same as it did when Mava had first laid eyes on it.
“I forgot how big a place this was,” Ally said.
“Where are we even going to start looking for the Queen in there?” Renata asked.
“The Throne room,” Mava said. “Maybe the Throne of Days will be feeling chatty and will show us where she’s hiding.”
“You’re sure she’s been called back?” Renata asked. “We could be looking in there for a long time if she’s still living a normal life, or hasn’t even been reborn yet.”
“For all their differences, the two Thrones are pretty similar in the end,” Mava said. “If one of them called back their queen, there’s no chance at all that the other one didn’t too.”
“Could a queen resist a call?” Renata asked.
“I don’t know,” Mava said. “It was never an issue before because the queens always knew what their destiny was from when they were young. This is the first time one would have grown up as a normal person instead of a Princess.”
“This was our final bastion, wasn’t it?” Ally asked.
“Yes,” Mava said. “This is where the Last Battle took place.”
“Why doesn’t it look destroyed then? I don’t see any sign of the damage that the Nightfolk inflicted on it.”
“It showed its wounds for a long time,” Mava said. “I checked in here from time to time. Once every few centuries or so. More pieces were faded out on each visit.”
“It doesn’t look faded out anymore,” Gwen said.
“I think it’s been building back to this,” Mava said. “The faded pieces started reappearing a thousand years ago. They were ghostly still but repaired. Like the House was forgetting the damage that had been done to it.”
“When did it turn solid again?” Ally asked.
“Bits of it were opaque the last time I was here back in the 1800s,” Mava said.
“So this place could have been a ghost town still today?” Gwen asked.
“With you three back? I didn’t think so,” Mava said. “And if it had been, that would have told us something too.”
“What’s that?” Renata asked.
“That Throne of Days wasn’t ready for what was happening,” Mava said.
“So since the House is rebuilt, you think it’s part of the effort to restart the war?” Gwen asked.
“Like I said, the two Thrones aren’t really that different,” Mava said. “If one got a terrible idea like that in its ethereal head, then you can bet the other thought of the same thing at the same time.”
“So why are we fighting for the Throne of Days then?” Renata asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just threw our allegiance in with the Throne of Night and settled the war like that?”
She managed to take another step before doubling over and clutching her stomach.
Mava caught her before she fell and wave the other two off. A moment later, Renata straightened up again, the pain having apparently passed.
“Oh, that’s why,” she said.
“What?” Ally asked. “What did you see?”
“We’re bound to the Throne of Days by the pledge that makes us Elites,” Renata said. “If it falls, so do we.”
“That’s probably something it should have mentioned when it called to us,” Gwen said.
“It’s too simple to understand that,” Mava said. “Which is another reason why we need Ulidine back. If we Elite are the Throne’s fists and our people are the rest of the body, then the Queen is the brain. Without her, the guiding force of our fate is the Throne and it has nothing but unfettered desire with no ability to look beyond the present moment.”
“Then we need to find her quickly,” Renata said. “Because I think there’s more at stake here than we know. The Throne was looking to the future and it was terrified.”
“That’s a bad sign, but not surprising I guess,” Mava said. “I don’t think Nyka would be working with the Throne of Night again if the stakes weren’t Earth shattering.”
“Why do you say that?” Renata asked.
“Even back before the Last Battle we’d spent so long fighting each other that I got to know how she thinks pretty well. And vice versa. I might be an old fool, but when I spoke with her today I felt like she was being honest with me. Stars above know all our old reasons for hating each other are long since dead, buried and forgotten.”
“Do you think she’ll help us?” Gwen asked.
“She already did,” Mava said. “If it wasn’t for her, the Nekkabrute would have finished us all off. I just hope that’s still an option for her.”
“Why do you say that?” Ally asked.
“She’s bound by vows the same as we are,” Mava said. “And then there are vows that bound all of us back then.”
“The Unmaking Pledge,” Gwen said. “I wish I hadn’t remembered that.”
“Yeah, that was the big one,” Mava said.
“What is this Unmaking Pledge?” Renata asked.
“It was a vow sworn by each of the queens and inscribed into the heavens themselves,” Gwen said. “After the Eldest Son of the House of Days was killed, after we had our revenge and they had theirs and we had ours, a hundred times over, the Queens, both of them, pronounced a spell that echoed across the worlds. One side or the other. That was what it had to be. We couldn’t stop fighting until one fell and the other stood victorious.”
“But both Night and Day fell, didn’t they?” Renata asked.
“That seems to be the problem,” Mava said. “The Pledge wasn’t until death or defeat. It was unto annihilation. One side needed to win, but both sides lost, so the Pledge couldn’t tell which side needed to be sent to oblivion.”
“And it’s still in effect? Can a spell last that long?” Ally asked.
“I’ve never heard of one that could,” Mava said. “But then I don’t know that there was ever a spell like the Unmaking Pledge cast before, so who knows?”
“We really need to find our queen,” Renata said.
There was no argument to that.
The arguments began when they stepped inside the House.
“We need to split up,” Ally said.
“I didn’t see the stone warrior drop you on your head,” Mava said. “Gwen, did she get the sense knocked out of her?”
“I’m serious,” Ally said.
“So am I,” Mava said. “We’re not splitting up.”
“We have to cover as much ground as possible as fast as possible,” Ally said. “I’m remembering more of the layout of this place with each step we take, but it’s all the areas around my quarters and my troop barracks. I can search those a lot quicker than I can the Queen’s spires.”
“Search them and do what?” Mava asked. “What if you run into the Nightfolk, or any of the million different creatures that could have snuck in here in the last century?”
“Then I’ll fight or I’ll run,” Ally said. “We’re the Elite. We take the risks other people can’t Mava. That hasn’t changed.”
“You’re a fledgling,” Mava said. “I am not going to send you off alone.”
“You’re not sending me,” Ally said. “I’m going and I’ll be safe.”
“The defenses do seem to be repaired as well,” Renata said.
“What? You want to wander off too?” Mava asked.
“No,” Renata said. “I don’t remember any of the layout yet. I’m better off staying with you in case there’s something to find in the Throne Room.”
“I’m remembering my apartments too, and my lab,” Gwen said. “Even if the queen isn’t here, I should check that out. If my old notes are there, they might help me remember a lot more. Like how to navigate Counter-Time.”
Mava grimaced and shook her head.
“In the history of bad ideas…” she said.
“We’ve had a lot worse ideas than this,” Ally said.
“We apparently didn’t survive all of them though,” Renata said.
“We’ll make it back this time,” Gwen said. “If someone attacks us here, the House itself will help us fight back.”
“I hate this,” Mava said. “I should order you to stay together.”
“But you’re not going to,” Gwen said. “You know we need to do this.”
“Go.” Mava said. “You have twenty minutes. If you run full out you should be able to make it to your quarters and then to the throne room. If I don’t see you in twenty minutes in the throne room, I’m going to come looking for you. Do not make me come looking for you.”
“Right boss!” Ally said.
Gwen didn’t even waste time with words. One moment she was in her earthly clothes, the next she was leaping to the top of one of the nearby spires and wearing her sacramental robes.
She arrived at her lab first, judging it to be the more vital location to explore.
Barely five minutes had passed, so she reasoned she had plenty of time to look around in the hopes that something interesting would catch her eye.
As it turned out, it only took ten seconds.
“Hello Gwen”, Nyka said, stepping from the shadows. “We have some things we need to talk about.”