Sondra watched her hand burn with fire that shifted from purple to green to blue and orange and yellow and every color she could imagine. This was the heart of her realm. The chair she sat on was the physical embodiment of the Throne of Night she served. The castle that surrounded her was the ultimate bastion and last redoubt for the Nightfolk she ruled.
So why was she so certain she was in the wrong place?
“It’s been a long time since I saw you practicing a novice’s tricks,” Kelian said. He was alone, but Sondra knew he carried with him the concerns of all her rapidly returning subjects. Or rather all of her rapidly returning troops, since those were the only subjects the Throne of Night was calling back into service.
“It’s been a long time since having my hand on fire didn’t require an immediate trip to the emergency room,” Sondra said.
“It’s not easy to get used to is it?” Kelian asked. “Up until yesterday the closest I got to doing magic was cheating at a three card monte table when I was in grade school.”
“Something feels off,” Sondra said. “Maybe it’s lack of practice, or gaps in my memory but it feels like I’m having to focus a lot more on control than I ever had to before.”
“Maybe because we moved the castle into Counter-Time before the Last Battle?” Kelian asked. “There seems to be plenty of starlight to draw on here.”
“Maybe,” Sondra said. “My memories of the Last Battle are still fuzzy, but I don’t recall it being this hard to keep the light inside me under wraps then.”
“We moved the castle late in the war, so I don’t know that any of use got fully used to it,” Kelian said.
“Could be that I came back defective too,” Sondra said.
“I don’t think so,” Kelian said, his voice soft. “When I saw you, I was sure. You have Sanielle’s soul, you have her power. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just more than you used to be.”
“Let’s hope that’s true,” Sondra said. “If I fall apart…”
“I’ll pick up the pieces,” Kelian said.
Sondra smiled but let the expression fade wearily away.
“I know you’ll try,” she said. “But sometimes the pieces don’t go back together.”
“Well, I suppose if the entire world explodes and time ends, then, yes, that’ll be a slightly bigger jigsaw puzzle than I could sort out,” Kelian said.
“You know, in this life at least, I always hated jigsaw puzzles,” Sondra said.
“You hated them as Sanielle too,” Kelian said.
“We had jigsaw puzzles back in the old world?” Sondra asked. “Why don’t I remember that?”
“Because you always hated doing them,” Kelian said. “I tried suggesting them to get you to take a break, three times in fact, and each one went worse than the time before.”
“What did I do?” Sondra asked.
“The first puzzle I gave you lost several pieces,” Kelian said. “I later found them embedded in the castle walls. The second puzzle was returned to me as a box of dust with a note that read, and I quote, ‘it was easier to make them fit together like this’.”
“Huh, I never thought of using a blender to solve things, that was clever,” Sondra said. “What happened with the third puzzle?”
“It exploded,” Kelian said. “I took the hint after that.”
“And yet you didn’t leave me, despite all the puzzle abuse?” Sondra said.
“I didn’t then, and I won’t now,” Kelian said.
“We had a history then,” Sondra said. “It’d be nice to think we have a future now, but I don’t want the one to imply the other.”
“What do you mean?” Kelian asked, confusion clouding his expression.
“Your memories are more complete than mine,” Sondra said. “You have a better sense of who Sanielle was than I do, and I am her. Sort of.”
“Sort of?” Kelian asked.
“I was missing something my whole life, and remembering Sanielle’s life is bringing pieces of that back to me,” Sondra said. “But I still have my own life, Sondra’s life, as a part of me too. A big part of me. And Sondra wasn’t a queen. I can feel the Throne of Night. I know the burdens and responsibilities that I need to bear, but I’m facing them with the strengths and weaknesses I’ve developed in this life mostly.”
“Ok, but what does that all mean about us?” Kelian asked.
“You look at me and see Sanielle, and, let’s be honest now, since I think we couldn’t be then, you loved her. And she loved you,” Sondra said.
“That’s not…inaccurate,” Kelian said, looking faintly sheepish.
“You would describe our past lives differently?” Sondra asked, a grin tugging the weariness out of her face.
“If you want to be accurate, I would say I was a teensy little bit obsessed with you,” Kelian said. “To the point where I think I died for you with a smile on my face.”
“I remember wishing I’d kissed you a thousand times each night on a thousand nights as I saw the light fade from your eyes,” Sondra said. “Being queen kinda sucked in that regards.”
“Oh but it let our souls burn with such ardent passion,” Kelian said. “I mean I’m not saying that I wrote a warehouse full of terrible poetry in your honor, but I am kind of glad that some of the things that were lost don’t seem to have been recreated.”
“That’s a good point,” Sondra said. “Remind me to burn Sanielle’s diaries if they ever turn up. To ash.”
“Yes, definitely I will do that,” Kelian said, fighting to keep a smile off his face. “Reading them before hand is not something I am dying to do, no, not at all.”
“God, I feel like an old lady and a schoolgirl at the same time,” Sondra said. “And I guess that’s the problem. I remember being Sanielle, but I don’t feel like Sanielle. I remember loving you with the passion of ten thousand burning suns, but I know I’m not that person anymore.”
“So if I still love Sanielle, then I’m in love with the woman you were and not the woman you are,” Kelian said. “That’s a fair concern. I mean I found you because of how much of Sanielle I can see in you, and the Sondra that I’ve seen so far seems pretty amazing too, but I suspect I’m a little biased. I even have to wonder how much of who I am at the moment is me and how much is what the Throne needs me to be.”
“It called to you first,” Sondra said. “I wonder why that was?”
“It couldn’t find you,” Kelian said. “So it called the person closest to you.”
“How did you know where to go to find me?” Sondra asked.
“The Throne stuffed me full of magic and crammed a ton of my old memories back into my head,” Kelian said. “I mean, I remember my life in this time still, but I think it’s the reverse of your condition. I have so many memories of being Kelian, and being with you, that it’s hard to remember who I’ve been for the last twenty six years.”
“I suppose what matters is who we’re going to be next,” Sondra said. “My guess is that it’ll be different people than either our current lives or past lives were, assuming the Unmaking Pledge doesn’t decide to wipe us from history.”
“That would be inconvenient,” Kelian said. “Though also par for the course given our luck.”
“If we do survive, I’d like us to start fresh,” Sondra said. “No overwrought poetry, no pining silently while we’re kept apart by our station and duty. Just whoever you are now and whoever I am now figuring out if we fit together.”
“I’d like that too, but I don’t know if it’ll work,” Kelian said. “Whatever happens, if we’re in a position to sort that kind of thing out, you’ll still be my queen.”
“Let’s jump that hurdle when we come to it,” Sondra said.
“I have to be honest too, the other hard part is separating my feelings for you from my feelings for you,” Kelian said. “I can’t say I’d be starting over with a blank slate, because I don’t know that I can ever put aside the feelings I remember.”
“I suppose I can’t either, not completely,” Sondra said. “But I don’t want you swearing devotion to me, when you still need time to see who I really am.”
“That seems fair,” Kelian said. “I know it’s old fashioned, but the even idea of getting to woe you properly seems immensely thrilling. I mean, we’ve waited a million billion years already, so why not take things slow and savor them.”
“Yes, savoring things, you are definitely not allowed to read Sanielle’s diaries,” Sondra said with a wicked smiles.
“Oh that’s fine my queen,” Kelian said, adopting a look so innocent it was sinful. “I’ll just have to use my imagination.”
“Go and organize the troops you tempter,” Sondra said, smiling and looking forward to the view as he left.
“If you’re going to practice more I feel like I should stay,” Kelian said. “Maybe with a fire extinguisher if I can find one.”
“I don’t need help with practicing the basics,” Sondra said and flicked her wrist to hurl a deep purple rose at his feet.
What landed before Kelian was not a rose. It was a flower, but not one which had ever grown in earthly soil.
Spreading up from the ground between Sondra and Kelian, a single crystal of light, sculpted into the shape of a rose, blossomed with a brilliance that illuminated the entire hall around them.