Previous – Next
Gwen blinked her eyes as the dazzling light from Ulidine’s final act faded away. The vision of the past was done and they all stood in Sanielle’s Throne Room once again. For a long minute, no one spoke. Silence being the only proper response to observing so fateful an act.
“What did she do,” Mava asked at last.
“Bought us a future I think,” Nyka said.
“I don’t understand what I just saw,” Renata said.
“Ulidine handed her crown and her position to Sanielle,” Gwen said. “She made it impossible for the Unmaking Pledge to ever trigger.”
“Why though?” Renata asked. “Why can’t it trigger I mean?”
“Because the two thrones are now held by one person, and only with her defeat will the war be considered over by the terms of the Pledge,” Mava said.
“But since you can’t defeat half of Sondra here, there can be no victory for one side over the other,” Nyka said. “If she falls, both Thrones lose, and as long as she lives neither Throne has won.”
“That’s perfect then, isn’t it?” Ally asked “If the Unmaking Pledge can never trigger then we don’t have anything to worry about.”
“I can go back to my family?” Renata asked.
“It’s not that simple,” Mava said.
“She’s right,” Sondra said. “But how did you know?”
“I didn’t, but it’s never that simple,” Mava said. “Let me guess, the Unmaking Pledge is still going to kill us all right?”
“That’s what the Throne’s believe,” Sondra said.
“They’re probably right about that,” Gwen said. “It’s been a hundred thousand years. That’s not an inconsequential number. The Unmaking Pledges must be close to reaching their end.”
“The longest spell I’ve ever seen was the one you bound me into the healing capsule with,” Mava said. “That was self-reinforcing and was buried in a pool of unending sunlight, and even with that it only lasted ten thousand years.”
“But the Unmaking Pledge was special. It’s written on the heavens,” Ally said.
“Even the heavens change,” Mava said.
“That’s what Ulidine and Sanielle were counting on,” Gwen said. “And it worked. They managed to buy us and the world a ton of time.”
“The question is, was it enough?” Nyka asked.
“No,” Sondra said. “I don’t think it was.”
“What are the Throne’s telling you?” Nyka asked.
“They’ve been trying to resolve this for a long time,” Sondra said. “They’ve tried to call me back dozens of times in the past.”
“Tried? What happened back then?” Ally asked.
“One would call and the other would too and I’d be left in the middle between them without a clue of what was going on,” Sondra said. “This time they called hard enough that I couldn’t resist I guess. And they called in reinforcements.”
“Don’t they understand that if they reignite the war they’re both going to lose?” Kelian asked.
“No, they don’t think like that,” Sondra said.
“I don’t think they can think like that,” Mava said. “They have a focus and a purpose that defines what they are. Resisting the other, being ‘not the other’, is what they are as much as it’s what they do.”
“Who’s bright idea was it to have cosmic forces with the reasoning capacity of goldfish?” Ally asked.
“As cosmic forces go, they’re on the brilliant end really,” Nyka said. “Ever try to have a conversation with gravity?”
“It usually goes something like ‘you suck’,” Mava said.
“Followed by a splattering sound,” Nyka said. “Yeah, that’s always a fun time.”
“On a more important note,” Renata said. “Why do you think the Queens’ Gambit didn’t buy enough time?”
“The Unmaking Pledges still exist,” Sondra said. “The Thrones are sure of that, and they’re also certain that the Pledges are going to trigger soon.”
“But I thought it was impossible for there to be a winner as far as the pledges could determine?” Renata said.
“That may not matter anymore,” Gwen said.
“Found something in our spellbooks have you?” Nyka asked.
“Lots of somethings,” Gwen said. “And none of them add up to anything that’s good for us.”
“What a surprise, General Shadowsender, are you as shocked as I am?” Mava asked.
“Now is not the time for sarcasm my dear Commander Sunsworn,” Nyka said.
“Go on please,” Kelian said.
“What Sanielle and Ulidine said in that vision about the heaven’s changing is true,” Gwen said. “Even in Earthly terms, our galaxy is always in motion. The distances are so vast that we don’t perceive a lot of change but it is visible over long periods of time. The same is also true for the heavens of Counter-Time.”
“But I thought that was supposed to be a good thing?” Renata said.
“Well, compared to what Ulidine and Sanielle were faced with, I guess it does count as a good thing,” Gwen said. “They traded certain oblivion for ten times the length of recorded human history in additional time. So, not bad for something they came up with on the spur of a moment. But the changing heavens don’t necessarily make things more stable. In fact that seems to be our problem at the moment.”
“The Thones ran out of patience?” Ally asked.
“No, they’re terrified,” Sondra said.
“And they should be,” Gwen said. “If I’m right, the Unmaking Pledge has shifted over time and is probably just a short bit away from firing without a trigger condition.”
“Which means?” Ally asked.
“That we’re all going to die,” Mava said.
“Essentially, yes.” Gwen said. “Without the triggering event of one side being the victor, the spells will both fire and release all of the energy they have stored up since they were cast.”
“It was nice having a timeline, and an existence,” Nyka said. “I’d say see ya in the next life, but I’m guessing we don’t get one of those either do we?”
“If both spells fire?” Gwen said. “No. We don’t get another life. Those associated with Thrones don’t get a next life either and the Earth itself runs out of time. Literally.”
“How can that happen?” Renata asked.
“Basically the spells will dump so much energy into the Earth that it’ll be twisted into a blackhole. Add on top of that, we’ve got the spells’ effort to rewrite the timeline to remove four billion people from the present. Thanks to that even the blackhole will be shredded.” Gwen said.
“That’s fairly apocalyptic,” Ally said.
“The rest of the universe should be fine,” Gwen said. “Heck most of the other planets in the solar system should be in good shape. Unless the Sun is on the Unmaking Pledges target list.”
“What happens then?” Ally asked.
“It’ll receive a portion of the spell’s energy, which, if my calculations are correct, will be enough to push its effective mass up to the point where it goes super nova,” Gwen said. “That doesn’t matter as far as we’re concerned. The only downside is that we’ll miss the prettiest light show in the universe but since we’ll be obliterated it’s not like we’ll mind much.”
“What can we do?” Kelian asked.
“Say our prayers?” Renata suggested.
“That can’t hurt, but there has to be something more we can do too,” Mava said.
“Sondra, you got any ideas?” Nyka asked. “You’ve got three minds kicking around inside your head and two of them managed to beat this problem the last time it showed up.”
“We didn’t beat it,” Sondra said. “We came up with a temporary work around.”
“We’ll need more than that this time,” Gwen said. “One way or the other, the Unmaking Pledge isn’t going a problem for long.”
“How long do we have?” Renata asked.
“Hours,” Sondra said. “The Thrones think the Pledge will fail before the next sunrise on Earth.
“No, that’s too soon,” Renata said.
“It doesn’t leave us with many choices does it,” Nyka said.
“But there’s always more than one, even if they’re not easy or sure,” Gwen said, an idea beginning to dance in her mind.
“What are you thinking?” Mava asked, recognizing the burst of creativity behind Gwen’s eyes.
“We tried to work out how to disarm or disable the Unmaking Pledges, Nyka and I,” Gwen said. “And we found nothing. It’s just not possible. But things change. We’re not dealing with the Unmaking Pledges from the spellbooks. We’re dealing with something new.”
“They’re degraded,” Nyka said, hushed understanding quieting her voice as hope lit her face with nervous joy. “There might be something that could disarm them now that couldn’t manage it before!”
“Right,” Gwen said. “But we have to get to them.”
“They’re in the same place, the two pledges,” Sondra said. “Sanielle and Ulidine carved them on opposite sides of the same star.”
“That’s convenient,” Nyka said.
“But the star’s moved and I don’t know which one it is,” Sondra said.
“And that’s what I expected to hear,” Mava said.
“How do we find one star out of all of the ones in the sky?” Renata asked.
“Science!” Gwen said.
“If you tell me you know which star it is, I’m going to kiss you right here,” Ally said.
“We’ll form a line,” Mava said.
“I really wish I’d done the math already then,” Gwen said. “The kisses might have to wait though. What I need now is to know if the star Ulidine and Sanielle chose was in a special position? I’m guessing it must have been if they both picked the same one right?”
“Yes, it was the northernmost star on the night of the vernal equinox,” Sondra said.
Gwen jumped a little hop of joy.
“Yes! We can find it then!” she said. “In fact it should be pretty easy.”
“It’s just the north star isn’t it?” Kelian asked.
“Sort of,” Gwen said. “I’m a biologist, not an astronomer. Well, in this life anyways. Gwena has a ton of information that I am totally going to cheat the rest of my classes with. Anyways, I remember enough to know that what we call the north star changes. We know how many years ago the Unmaking Pledge was made though, so we can work out which star was closest to being ‘above’ the Earth’s north pole, at that time.”
“We’ve got star charts downstairs,” Nyka said.
“What I really need is wifi access,” Gwen said. “It’ll be a lot quicker to send a text than to pour over charts labeled in a language I can barely remember.”
“How will you explain what you’re asking for?” Renata asked.
“I won’t have to,” Gwen said. “Astronomy’s cool – especially to astronomers. They’ll wonder why I didn’t ask the question sooner.”
“While she takes care of that the rest of us should work out how we’re going to get there,” Mava said.
“The central spires of both castle’s reach to the sky here in Counter-Time. We can climb them,” Sondra said.
“There’s only one problem with that,” Mava said. “The portals to the heavens can only be opened if both queens agree to it.”
“How is that a problem?” Sondra asked. “I am both queens and I’m pretty sure I agree to it. Oh wait…”
“Ah, remembered the ritual did you?” Mava asked.
“She needs to be in both spires at the same time doesn’t she?” Nyka asked.
“Presents a little bit of a problem doesn’t it?” Mava asked.
“Chopping her in half is out of the question I suppose?” Nyka asked.
“Yes. Definitely out of the question,” Kelian said.
“Maybe it’s not,” Sondra said, a calculating gleam in her eye.
Mava looked over to Nyka.
“Has it ever been a good thing when Sanielle had that expression?” she asked.
“Not in my experience, how about Ulidine?” Nyka asked.
“I’d run if I thought I could beat you to the door,” Mava said.
“She’d just slam it on us anyways,” Nyka said.
In Sondra’s hands two identical tiaras materialized. Starlight glistened from dark gems that were held together with a latticework of crystal sunlight.
“I can’t divide myself in half, but I can give you both the authority to speak in my name,” Sondra said. “From now on you two get to run the two dominions.”
“You can’t do that!” Nyka said.
“She’s right, you can’t recreate the chance for one side or the other to fail,” Mava said.
“Oh, I’m not doing that at all,” Sondra said. “I’m not giving one of you the Crown of the Night and the other the Crown of Day. I’m giving you both Crowns for both of the Thrones. You’re ruling both of them together.”
“But what does that make you?” Nyka asked.
“A check and balance on the two of you in case either one gets out of hand,” Sondra said.
“So, let me get this straight, we get all the headaches of ruling two dominions and you get to sit back and relax unless we screw up?” Mava asked.
“Yes, it’s good to be the queen isn’t it?” Sondra said with a delighted smile.
Previous – Next