Mava noticed climbing the steps out of the bar. There were only three of them but the creak in her left knee acted up on the second one and she had to grunt and force her right leg to hold her weight a moment longer than usual.
“Charging into battle ain’t like it used to be is it?” Nyka said.
“This isn’t supposed to be our battle,” Mava said. “I figured that out years ago. Guess senility must finally be setting in.”
The tearing scream of metal announced that the battle was less of “invitation-only” and more “general admittance”. A series of human screams indicated that audience participation was not only encouraged but mandatory. The only real question was exactly how large the splash zone would be and what the clean up afterwards was going to entail.
“Here, this’ll help,” Nyka said and placed her hand on Mava’s back.
A refreshing chill radiated from Nyka’s palm and Mava felt aches and pains she hadn’t even been aware of fade away.
“That didn’t repair all the much, just dulled your pain sensitivity a bit” Nyka said.
“Cavern Magic?” Mava asked. She all but immune to surprises but receiving a blessing of her enemies magic was something she could confidently say she’d never expected.
“I always wondered if it would work on one of you House warriors,” Nyka said. “Guess we’re not as different as we seemed to be.”
“Maybe that’ll be enough to keep us alive,” Mava said as she stepped out of the bar and caught sight of the monsters that were rampaging.
“Chrysalstones?” Nyka asked, staring at the creatures that were still in the process of manifesting.
The Crysalstones were an enemy of old and Mava knew them well. In her prime she’d slaughtered tens of thousands of them. She was far enough from her prime that tangling with ten thousand would be inadvisable, and even the three that she could see were going to be unpleasant to put down.
Chrysalstones were creatures from Counter-Time. They could manifest on Earth as well but they had to form their bodies from the materials present in the environment where they wished to appear. Without bodies, or while forming them, the Chrysalstones were still dangerous though. They had innate powers of telekinesis that allowed them to shred stone and metal to shape into earthly bodies. Once they had fully crafted bodies they were more vulnerable to disruption but their strength was amplified tenfold. Not the most enjoyable of opponents to fight, Mava recalled, even when she’d been feeling up for a battle.
The Caverns of the Night, Nyka’s people, had designed and deployed Chrysalstones as one of their standard shock troopers. In Counter-Time there were fissures where they bred easily. Mava had made it a point after the Last Battle to cave in each and every one of those fissures. It had taken years of work, but in the aftermath of the war, when she wasn’t pulled into enchanted slumber, her attention had been keenly focused on preventing any resurgence of the Cavern’s forces, ever again.
“Guess I missed some,” she said as she watched an SUV being ripped in half and then half again.
“These shouldn’t be here,” Nyka said. “They’re gone. I checked on their lairs a hundred times. They’re extinct.”
“They’re probably thinking the same thing about us,” Mava said. “Any chance they’ll still listen to you? You are their commanding officer after all.”
“Indirectly,” Nyka said. “I never used them for my personal troops. I can try though. If they remember who I am they should be bound by my words.”
“Good, I’ll find Gwena,” Mava said. “Keep her from getting involved in this.”
With the destruction from the three Chrsyalstone’s rampage, it wasn’t hard to locate Gwen. The young girl was crouched behind the remains of a pickup truck trying to staunch the bleeding on a man who’d taken blow to the head.
Since he still had a head attached to his shoulders, Mava didn’t consider him seriously wounded, but the long gash on the side of his temple was spewing enough blood to look dramatic.
“You don’t want to be out here,” Mava said, bending down and sliding her arms underneath the man. She knew enough about battlefield medicine to know that moving injured people was a risky proposition. She also knew enough about battlefields with Chrysalstones in play that not moving him would be far more dangerous.
Whatever the Chrysalstones were looking for, they weren’t going to be gentle in pursuing it. Their telekinesis let them shred stone and metal, but their fully formed bodies would let them shred anything, or anyone, they could get their hands on.
“What are those things?” Gwen asked. She was trembling, but it wasn’t with fear. Mava could see the sunshine coiled within her leaping and straining to escape. She remembered that feeling well. The rush of power and purpose that came with answering the call to duty.
From her expression, Gwen had no idea what was making her feel so exhilarated. If anything made her stand out as a different person than Gwena had been, it was that. More than the difference in skin tone. More than the unfamiliar face. That uncertainty was an alien look for someone who shared Gwena’s eyes.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Mava said, hoisting the man into her arms. He was a regular at Nicky’s. Nice enough in that he didn’t bother her, but she had no idea what his name was. “Let’s get him somewhere that none of us will get crushed under a Buick.”
“Ok,” Gwen said, standing but stuttering in her steps as she tried to follow.
Mava turned to look at her, searching for any injuries Gwena might not be aware of. It was easy to let adrenaline sweep away the pain of injuries during intense situations. It could also be fatal.
There were no rips in Gwena…Gwen’s clothes though, and the only blood on her looked like it came from the man in Mava’s arms. It wasn’t pain that held her back. It was something deeper.
Gwen raised her head to meet Mava’s gaze.
“What are you?” she asked, peering at Mava out of eyes that were all frosted blue and billowing swirls of white.
No human had ever peered through eyes like that, and Mava knew the young girl wasn’t seeing anything Earthly through them either.
Mava’s magic was old, but it still burned within her, the star on her brow as bright as the morning and the sunshine in her heart as scorching as a summer day. In Counter-Time she looked like some ancient thing, or so she imagined. Mirrors in Counter-Time did not work like their earthly counterparts.
“A friend,” Mava said and the words echoed in her ears, too true and not true enough.
“Do you know what’s going on here?” Gwen asked.
“Not everything,” Mava said. “I can explain it later though. When we’re safe.”
“Ok,” Gwen said and started to follow Mava.
But she couldn’t resist casting one last backward glance.
Mava sighed. She knew what was coming.
“Wait, there’s another old lady out there,” Gwen said. “She’s too close to the monsters.”
From the earth at her feet, pinpricks of light began to shine.
No! Mava thought and started to reach out to stop Gwena.
It was already too late though and things moved too fast.
In the center of the destruction, Nyka called to the Chrysalstones in the High Tongue of the Night. They turned and raised their newly formed arms against her.
Nyka spoke again. A single command word and for a moment they paused.
For a moment, Mava thought they might all escape the dreadful tide that was pulling them in.
Then the Chrsyalstones shook off their paralysis and started advancing on Nyka again. That was all it took to wake Gwena’s magic free from its long ages of slumber.
Light flared from the complex sigil that sprang to life beneath Gwen.
Mava watched in Counter-Time as the young girl before her transcended her human form and limitations. Thread by thread, the sacramental robes of an Elite of the House of Days wrapped and solidified the star bright glowing body of the girl who had once been Gwena, once been Gwen and was again, as she had been in an age forgotten to the world, something far more.
Nyka called out another command but also raised a shield around herself of shadows. The closest Chrysalstone to her tried to shatter the dark dome and lost its newly constructed arm as the shadows from the dome raced into it and dissolved it to ash from within.
Mava shuddered. The warriors of the Caverns of the Night did not fight gently or with any noticeable traces of mercy.
Gwen finished her transformation and sagged as though the robes she wore weighed hundreds of pounds. The clothes didn’t but Mava guessed the memories that came with them were significantly heavier than that.
The Chrysalstones noticed Gwen’s arrival and together turned towards her, focused on the girl with an intensity that drew their attention completely away from Nyka.
Mava watched her former enemy, expecting one of the traditional Nightfolk magic attacks to strike down the injured Chrysalstone, but instead Nyka sagged to one knee and drew in a pair of ragged breaths.
That left Gwen alone, relatively speaking, against the three monsters. Mava was just about to change that when Gwen straightened up.
From her hands, streams of icy mist started to rise and, with holy words that thrilled Mava’s soul to hear, Gwen spoke a blizzard into being.
Ice magic had always been Gwena’s forte and whatever powers Gwen had regained, her attack on the Chrysalstones showed that her prowess was undiminished.
Winds and crystal shards froze the three Chrysalstones in place, crusting their limbs in a solid frost that stole both heat and magic from them. As the storm raged around the three invaders, heavier crystals formed, daggers and then swords, that flensed the magical bodies into ribbons.
The tightly constrained winter maelstrom raged until the very cores of the Chrysalstones were exposed and then shattered into dust.
They would not be coming back.
The warriors of the House of Days were not known for their mercy either.