Renata had never expected to be charging into battle on a unicorn for the very obvious reason that unicorns weren’t real. It disturbed her that she had to think of that in the past tense. It disturbed her more though just how fast unicorns turned out to be.
She wanted to talk to Mava, or Ally, to question them about what they were doing and why, but tornadoes had less wind speed than the air that raced by them. Hanging on to Fire’s Wrath, the unicorn who had selected her, required magic that she’d only barely remembered in time.
That a unicorn was willing to bear her into battle also came as something of a surprise. She had a daughter after all and her husband had been very much involved in making that happen.
“Humans have strange ideas about us,” Fire’s Wrath said. The magic that bound rider and unicorn together covered sharing thoughts and conversing as well.
“We have strange ideas about a lot of things,” Renata said. “And we haven’t seen one of you in forever I believe.”
“Does that surprise you?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“I suppose it doesn’t,” Renata said. “If I had the choice to avoid humans for centuries at a time, I might opt for that too.”
“You’re not all bad,” Fire’s Wrath said. “But the worst of you can be troublesome.”
“I wish I could say that anything in our history proved you wrong,” Renata said.
“You don’t remember me do you?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“No, should I though?” Renata asked.
“I knew you when you wore a different name,” Fire’s Wrath said.
“That was a very long time ago. How old are you?” Renata asked.
“Still young,” Fire’s Wrath asked. “Only thirty of your years.”
“How is that possible?”
“When we fled the Desolation War, we ran to the Evergreen Fields,” Fire’s Wrath said. “For me, one day has passed, over and over again since that time. So for me, I last saw you only yesterday.”
“A lot has changed for me since then,” Renata said. “I don’t remember the woman you know at all.”
“Do you want to?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“It would be convenient,” Renata said. “Everyone speaks of this long gone time and the war we waged, but it’s all lost to me. I don’t know who they are or who they think I am.”
“Is who you are now important to you?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“Of course,” Renata said. “I have a life, a family, a daughter who needs me.”
“The Zia I knew, the one I fought with, the one who sent me away yesterday to survive, she took no family though her desire for one burned so brightly that it was plain for all to see,” Fire’s Wrath said. “I don’t think she would begrudge you forgetting her.”
“It seem unfair to forget her friends though,” Renata said. “Especially if I’m going to ask them for favors like going into battle with me.”
“You saved me from an unwinnable battle,” Fire’s Wrath. “It is not too great a favor to ask me bear you into one where hope still remains.”
“It better be winnable,” Renata said. “I have to make it home.”
“You could leave this fight to the others,” Fire’s Wrath said.
“I don’t think I can,” Renata said. “I don’t remember my past life, but I was still called. Mava said if I go back the Throne will call my family too.”
“Calls can be refused,” Fire’s Wrath said. “You taught me that. We were called to fight in the Last Battle, and you made it possible for us to escape. Ordered us to in fact.”
“So if I asked you to carry me home you’d be able to do it?” Renata asked.
“I would carry you anywhere,” Fire’s Wrath said.
Renata felt the innumerable miles sailing away beneath them. They’d run farther than the circumference of the Earth. Fire’s Wrath could get her back to Spain in seconds if she asked.
“I can’t,” she said, finding tears on her face.
“Why? You don’t know these people, or this battle,” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“I think I do,” she said, images battering at the doors of her mind, held out only by the teeth gritting force of her will. “Gwen, Ally, Mava. I don’t recognize them, don’t remember them at all. But I know them. I’ve known them my whole life.”
“You are no less perplexing in this life than you were in your last,” Fire’s Wrath said.
“When I was little, I had an imaginary friend,” Renata said. “She was named Zia and she was a powerful warrior, but she was always sad. I wanted to be like her, but she told me that I should be like myself, not her. That I should be brave enough not to fight.”
“You remembered yourself?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“Maybe I did, even if I didn’t want to,” Renata said. “I think she’s there now, waiting for me, waiting to become me again once the crisis becomes too severe. But I need to stay Renata, I need to be my baby’s mother. I need to be my husband’s wife. I can’t give up who I am now.”
“I cannot suggest that you should,” Fire’s Wrath said. “Zia would be proud, and quite jealous I believe, of the family you’ve found. To lose that would be her deepest grief.”
“Thank you,” Renata said, wiping the tears away.
“Shall I take you home then?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“No,” Renata said. “No. My daughter needs her mother, but as her mother it is my job to protect her and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“Are you sure?” Fire’s Wrath asked.
“May God have mercy on those who stand against us, because I certainly will not,” Renata said as a ring of fire flared to life at her back.
“Good,” Fire’s Wrath said. “Because there’s no turning back now. We’ve arrived.”
The rushing wind fell away and Renata found herself standing before the massive and indomitable might of the Castle of Night with Mava and Ally at her sides.
“I’m going to need you two to handle the riff raff,” Mava said.
“Riff raff?” Ally asked.
“Yeah, any enemies that try to stop us from reaching the Throne of Night so that we can demand to know where they’ve hidden Gwen,” Mava said.
“We’re supposed to fight all of the enemies?” Renata asked.
“You’re going to fight the physical, visible enemies,” Mava said. “I’ll deal with the metaphysics.”
“What metaphysics?” Ally asked. “What are those?”
“We are on soil not only sovereign to the Throne of Night but sacred to it,” Mava said. “The realm, and those who serve it, can change the nature of space and time around us. If we let them.”
“That sounds bad,” Ally said.
“If you enjoy air in your lungs rather than flourine gas, then yes, it is bad,” Mava said. “There’s a reason we never did this during the war.”
“And you think it’s a good idea to try now?” Renata asked.
“Sure, Nyka told me so,” Mava said.
“How did she do that?” Ally asked.
“She attacked the House,” Mava said. “She could have swooped Gwen away at any time but she made it a point to demonstrate how our defenses weren’t fully functional because we do not have the people back to protect our castle. She came herself to point out that neither do they.”
“That sounds tenuous at best,” Ally said.
“It is,” Mava said. “But it’s a plan that gets us Gwen back.”
“I have no complaints,” Ally said.
“I do, but let’s get this over with,” Renata said.
“Battle forms then people,” Mava said and changed before Renata’s eyes.
It was like watching the sun rise. From five feet away.
Gone was the old woman who had walked and ridden beside them. In her place stood an ancient being of light and majesty, beautiful as the promise of a new day and wreathed in holy light.
Ally was next, dropping away her human visage to reveal the storm that raged within her. Though she stood no taller than she had a moment before, her hands touched the sky and stirred the clear night above them into a maelstrom of chaos.
Renata turned to look at Fire’s Wrath and the other unicorns and saw glory unfold that she couldn’t find words for in a dozens languages.
Unicorns, at their essence, were creatures of the sun, bright and radiant and fierce as the angels in heaven. Be Not Afraid, the angels would say when they spoke to humans, but no unicorn every spoke those words. They were carved from celestial power and awe was their birthright. No dragon or demon or beast from the abyss had ever stood against a unicorn’s might, and none ever would.
Clutching her chest so that she could feel the beating of her heart, Renata called on the magics she couldn’t remember learning and let herself ascend.
Fire, pure and hot and clean consumed her as she drew it in. Her essence had been born in the forge of the stars, and human though she was, the fire of the sun was hers to wield.
Against them stood the grand towers and gates and walls of the greatest bastion of the Throne of the Night. The absolute answer to deny the power they carried.
As she took the first step forward and felt the Throne of Night gather it’s strength against them, Renata knew that no wall, no army, no cosmic will would bar her path. The Elite of the House of Days had come to reclaim their own and nothing would deny them.