Mava strode into battle feeling strength and power coursing through her that she hadn’t called on since before the pyramids were built. It was glorious. It was intoxicating. It was definitely going to suck to walk around for about a week afterwards.
Concerns of age and stamina were for another time though. With the heart of the Caverns of the Night before them, there was only time for the considerations of battle.
With their first step forward, the land in front of them tried to fall away. Mava reached out and clutched the threads of reality that ran down into the Earth. The ground was stable. It was rock. It was solid. It had stood for billions of years, changing only across aeons. It wasn’t going to disappear into the gulf of gravity now.
She spoke those words to the land in a voice that issued no sound. It was memory and will and hope and the land responded.
Even at the center of the Throne of Night’s power, the force of Mava’s will could work miracles.
But the Throne wasn’t stymied by one denial of its desires.
If the rock wouldn’t fall away, then the magma could rise and cover the land with burning, choking death.
Unlike the rock of the land, the lava wasn’t being asked to violate its primary mode of existence. Rising to the surface felt perfectly correct to the lava and so it surged upwards, erupting through newly formed cracks that shattered the landscape.
Creatures emerged from the lava, fire spirits riding bodies sculpted from the molten metal dredged up by the lava’s eruption.
“Those are yours,” Mava said to Ally who unleashed a tempest on them, the rain falling with such force that the metal not only cooled by was worn through by the abrasive spray.
“We can bear you farther still,” Light Racer, Mava’s unicorn, said.
“Thank you but it’s easier to fight at this pace,” Mava said. “If we utilize your speed, we could hit a trap that I won’t see coming.”
“How may we serve you then?” Light Racer asked.
“You’re our safety net,” Mava said. “If either one of them falls, or is seriously wounded, get them out of here. Take them somewhere you can heal them and then leave the rest to me.”
“Can you defeat the forces that lie within the castle?” Light Racer asked.
“All depends on how badly they want to win,” Mava said. “I can promise you that I won’t lose to them though.”
“That is an odd promise to make,” Light Racer said.
Mava talked the erupting lava into flowing downhill, something it felt was correct and natural despite the Throne of Night’s instructions to run across the ground and drown the Elites where they stood.
“It’s not a loss if you take them all with you,” Mava said.
“The cosmos is a startling place that you managed to live so long still believing something like that,” Light Racer said.
“Didn’t say I would be happy about it.”
“Then let us help you more,” Light Racer said.
“You can help by keeping yourselves safe,” Mava said. “That’s one less thing I’d need to worry about.”
“Excellent, we shall tend to the point defenses then,” Light Racer said.
“I didn’t say I wanted you in combat.”
“True, but you’re also not in a position to stop us.”
Mava ground her teeth and cursed in Equine, to which Light Racer only laughed.
The unicorn was correct however. Mava’s attention was too focused on the metaphysical assaults the Throne of the Night was launching at them to pay attention to much else that was going on.
When the lava turned out to be only an inconvenience, the Throne tried to replace the oxygen in the air with nitrogen. Not an inherently deadly or unrealistic state, but without oxygen, the Elite’s would suffocate, and with nitrogen taking oxygen’s place they wouldn’t notice any shortness of breath to tip them off that it was happening.
Mava spoke the atoms of the air apart, fusing and fissioning them into the proper mix of gases so that her party could move forward unimpeded, all the while directing the energy released into the pool of sunlight she carried within her. Atomic alchemy was a core part of a star’s nature and with magic to support her, Mava could do things that stars could only dream of accomplishing.
The Throne tried to distort the length of the pathway that led to the Castle of Night and Mava flipped its command around, shortening the gap and placing them at the castle’s gate in an instant.
Ally and Renata blew the gate off its hinges. Physical obstacles were in their domain.
So were the hordes of creatures waiting inside the gate.
Mava lost focus on them as she bore the brute force of an attack from the Throne. Rather than trying single specific manipulations, the Throne reach out and called for the physical dimensions around the Elites to collapse inwards in sharp, jagged spikes.
Mava unraveled the tangled skein of spacetime before it could tear them to shreds and fashioned a dome out of the Throne’s broken commands.
In her youth, Mava would have found battling the Throne of Night exhilarating. To contest with a cosmic power and win was everything she’d dreamed and hoped for when she swore herself to the Throne of Days. As she fended off attack after attack though, she found that the awesome magics she wielded were only as valuable as the safety they provided the people with her and the possibility they allowed for saving Gwen.
“The minions are falling back pretty easily,” Ally said. “So this is a trap, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Mava said. “Nyka wants us somewhere.”
“Do we want to go there?” Renata asked.
“Probably not,” Mava said.
“Then where do we head?” Ally asked.
“Up,” Mava said. “To the Throne Room.”
“Isn’t that the most dangerous place is the castle?” Renata asked.
“No, the most dangerous place in the castle is wherever we are,” Mava said.
“Going to be a lot of resistance to getting there,” Ally said.
“That’s good,” Mava said. “The more we push through the fewer there’ll be to stop us from leaving once we find Gwen.”
The passageway they were in tried to turn into a shaft leading down through a cloud of diamond razors. Mava kept gravity where it was and swept the razor cloud ahead of them, clearing the path up to the next rising stairway.
Fire and lightning scoured the walls and floor and ceiling as they pushed into the castle. Most of the defenders ran from the approaching wave of annihilation. Those that were immune to the ravages of stellar fire and planetary thunder, tried to push forward but were met by the hooves and horns of the unicorns.
“So far we’re fighting only minions and constructs,” Renata said. “There must be some mortal troops in here too. What are we going to do when we find them?”
“Better yet, we’re getting close to the throne room. What are we going to do when we find their queen?” Ally asked.
“We could end the war right then, couldn’t we?” Renata asked.
“There’s a few problems with that,” Nyka said.
She stood before a doorway, barring their path with her body. She hadn’t changed to her battle form. She didn’t appear to be ready for a fight at all. Nonetheless Mava stopped.
“You don’t want to stand against us Nyka,” Mava said.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Nyka said.
“We’re not leaving here without Gwen,” Ally said.
“Nice try, but no, I know that too,” Nyka said. “I’m afraid though if you want to see her again, you’ll have to surrender and become my prisoners.”
“Why in God’s name would we do that?” Renata asked.
“Beer’s a good reason,” Nyka said.
Neither Ally nor Renata seemed to have the first clue what Nyka meant by that. It took Mava a second to parse Nyka’s meaning but when she did she let her battle form drop.
“What are you doing?” Renata asked.
“So you’ve been torturing Gwen right? What did you get out of her?” Mava asked, ignoring Renata for a moment.
“Oh yes, terrible torture, making her read the most difficult of textbooks and you know how she despises learning,” Nyka said. “She pleaded with me to tell you that she enjoys tea and hot springs and wishes to share them with all and one of you.”
This was sufficiently different from the answer Ally and Renata expected that they paused and looked to Mava for guidance on where to go.
Mava sighed and shook her head. She couldn’t explain to the others the grip that the Throne would have on Nyka inside the Castle of Night, or the limits of its understanding. If Nyka said that teaching Gwen was a horrible torture then clearly it must be as far as the Throne was concerned. And Gwen begging for tea and hot springs was just an inscrutable human plea like so many others it heard.
The tea was a reference to the drinks they’d shared at Mava’s place and while the topic of hot springs hadn’t come up, Mava remembered enough of Gwena and Aloka’s history to know what that was likely a reference to and who it was meant for.
“You have us caught and beaten then,” Mava said. “Clearly we are under your power now.”
Renata and Ally looked at her, stunned and aghast at the suggestion that they’d lost. Mava waved them both down, indicating for them to change back to the mortal forms. Being vulnerable in the castle of the enemy wasn’t ideal but conserving energy was always a good idea in Mava’s playbook.
Neither woman looked eager or willing to follow that plan until Mava rolled her eyes in frustration and gesture empathically again.
Once the women and the unicorns were in the natural state, Mava turned to Nyka.
“You’re going to take us before your queen now aren’t you?” she said.
“Yes,” Nyka said, her shoulders dropping in relief that bubbled up to lift her mouth into a smile. “She’s waiting for you inside already.”
Mava lead her party in. If she’d judged Nyka wrong, she was determined to be the one to bear the brunt of an assault that hit them. What she wasn’t ready for though was the sight that awaited her on the other side of the Throne room door.
Upon the manifestation of the Throne of the Night sat Ulidine, Mava’s Queen, the sworn defender of the Throne of Days.