Gwen had stepped into the bar on a lark. She passed it every day heading back and forth to class, and she’d always felt a pull to check it out but she wasn’t a barfly and she’d been too busy to spare the time for an out-of-character curiosity.
College, it turned out, was both harder than she’d expected and a better fit for her than she’d hoped. Her Bio classes were challenging, but for the first time she wasn’t the only one who appreciated that. With grades being assigned on a curve, her classmates were also her competition, just like they would be when it came time to apply for medical school, but the material was hard enough that people were all too willing to join study groups and share notes.
She didn’t felt “at home” on campus, but her time there was a welcome change from the social isolation chamber that high school had been.
In the face of basic happiness and well being she had to question why she’d stepped off her usual path and ventured into the bar that was haunting her dreams. She’d watched horror movies her whole life. Nothing good ever came of happy people poking their noses in places where they didn’t belong.
Walking past Nicky’s though, it didn’t feel like she didn’t belong there. Almost every time she passed the front door, there was a twinge that felt more like home than college, or her apartment, or even her real home ever had.
Weird impulses didn’t rule Gwen’s life though. She was more self possessed and rational than that. Her mind was her greatest tool and it had kept her safe since she a little girl. She wasn’t going to give in to superstition no matter how much it itched at her mind. In the end, therefore, it was her stomach that got her.
One missed breakfast, followed by a class that ran late enough to eclipse lunch and the end of the day saw Gwen starving but with no commitments that she had to rush back to her apartment for.
So she’d at last given in to her curiosity and gone inside Nicky’s, only to find that it was a perfectly typical bar and grill.
The staff and patrons were friendly, the Diet Coke wasn’t watered down too much and the menu was reasonably cheap. It avoided being mobbed by college students only by virtue of the fact that there were a dozen similar bars closer to campus.
But none of them had Mava.
The elderly lady didn’t resemble anyone famous but there was something maddeningly familiar about her. Gwen wanted to press her on that but a lifetime as a social wallflower left her unsure how to say “Don’t I know you from somewhere” without it sounding really weird.
Before she could work up the courage to blurt it out, the car alarms started going off, followed by the sound of crashing metal.
As a pre-med student, she knew more than most about how unqualified she was to help a serious accident victim, but she was first aid and CPR certified. While that didn’t give her the duty of care that a physician had, she still felt called to act. Or more than called. Driven perhaps.
Walking out of the bar she felt a light touch of giddiness on her mind. The thought of describing her whacky day filled her with a mad spark of glee, but what happened next was too unreal for her to process fully.
She’d expected to see a horrible car accident with at least one vehicle smashed into random pieces. Instead she found several cars that had been smashed to pieces in a very deliberate manner.
The creatures that were pulling the pieces together into something that resembled humanoid bodies were incredible to watch. Bit of torn metal folded and integrated into their insectoid bodies forming both their basic exterior and complex inner workings that resembled mechanical organs.
That the creatures weren’t friendly was proven by the injured people who littered the street and small parking lot where the monsters were forming.
Gwen raced to the nearest one and began checking for signs of life and then any obvious injuries. The man had a bad gash on the side of his head,and the blood loss from it wasn’t doing him any favors.
When Mava showed up, Gwen was relieved rather than surprised. Taking orders from the old woman seemed like the most natural thing in the world, but that could have been the shock of a surreal situation speaking Gwen decided.
Beyond just the weirdness of the the monsters, the whole world took on the quality of a technicolor dream. Mava wasn’t an old lady but some titanic angel, magnificent beyond words or years. That was strange and impossible and Gwen has no idea what she was supposed to be doing but, at the same time, she felt like everything was right, at last, and that she was exactly where she needed to be.
Which was ridiculous.
I should be terrified, she thought. Why am I not terrified? Why do I feel like rejoicing?
Nothing was making sense as Mava started walking away with the man in her arms. Gwen felt pulled in a hundred directions despite running away as far and fast as possible seeming like the only sensible course of action.
Fleeing the battlefield, covering Mava’s back, on some level that was intrinsically right and proper, but Gwen couldn’t resist looking backwards to see what the monsters were up to and that was her undoing.
Another old lady, as pale as Mava was dark, had hobbled out to the center of the empty parking lot and was trying to talk to the monsters. For a breathless moment it worked and then the silent peace shattered and Gwen’s world shattered with it.
Light engulfed her, radiating out from inside her and swirling in from across the cosmos.
In her mind, Gwen danced, her body burning bright as a star. With each step in the dance, memories returned, crashing into her mind with the force of a storm tossed ocean.
She saw glimpses of another life. Her other life. For a brief moment the rainbow of light that surrounded her was a mirror, reflecting the woman she’d been. Someone wholly different, alien in feature and form, but undeniably herself too.
“You’re who I was,” Gwen said, her words echoing in the timeless void.
“You are who I will be,” her mirror image said.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Gwen said.
“Yes you do.” Gwena raised her hand and Gwen matched the gesture.
When their fingers touched past met present and across uncounted years a pledge was renewed.
“Yes, I do,” Gwen said, and let go.
The child of the stars, light given substance and life, drew in the rainbow around her and stepped once more into the world she so dearly loved.
There was danger.
Of course there was danger. There was always danger. That’s why she was needed.
The three Chrysalstones were advancing on her. That was foolish. They didn’t recognize who they were dealing with.
Some of her sisters, Gwen faintly remembered, would have joked and laughed as they played with a foe like the Chrysalstones. Gwen wasn’t a joker. She could laugh along with them and share their company without reservation but, on her own, her heart was as cold as the ice she wielded.
The blizzard she called was precise, less a storm and more a single, ever changing crystal shard that tore her enemies apart and stole from them the energy they needed to move, or breathe, or live.
As the last of them fell, Gwen let the power around her dissipate. Sustaining a transformation was doable. Sustaining one without letting things from Counter-Time slip into the world when you weren’t looking was much less likely and Mava had always been clear that the risks far outweighed the advantages.
As the sacramental robes lifted away and faded back into light, Gwen felt her connection to the past dwindle too. She knew some things about who she was, and could grasp pieces of other memories but in releasing her power the details of her Earthly life rose back to the foreground of her mind.
“What just happened? What did I do?” she asked, knowing both exactly what had happened and exactly what she had done.
“Time to talk about that later and somewhere far less public,” Mava said, taking her hand and nearly dragging her away from the disaster area.
The other old woman, Nyka, joined them as they crossed the street and headed down a side alley.
“Is anyone going to be looking for us?” Gwen asked, feeling naked.
“Us, no. You, maybe,” Nyka said. “World hasn’t seen a show like that in a while.”
“And it’s not going to see one like it again,” Mava said, leading them across the next street over. Gwen couldn’t tell if she had a destination in mind or was picking the fastest route away from where the fight had happened.
“Shouldn’t we go back and make sure no more of the Chrysalstones try to manifest?” Gwen asked. She felt unnerved at the thought of leaving an enemy staging point unguarded. It was more unnerving though how quickly that thought occurred to her.
“If more come through there won’t be three of them, and they’ll be ready for opposition,” Mava said.
“But don’t we have a duty to protect…” Gwen started to say.
“No,” Mava cut her off. “No we don’t. Not anymore. Listen Gwen, you’re a college student. You have a good life it looks like. You do not have to give that up.”
“I don’t want to give up my life, but what just happened, it was incredible. I mean, I can’t believe I did that, but it was like I was waiting all my life for that moment. I can’t just walk away from this!”
“Yes you can. This isn’t your fight. Not anymore. If they come back, we’ll deal with them, but you’ve already given everything you had to give. You’ve got a second chance now, you are not going to throw it away.”
“Is that an order?” Gwen asked.
“Yes, if you remember anything of what we were, then yes, that is a direct order,” Mava said.
“I respectfully decline to acknowledge it then,” Gwen said. “I’m staying here.”
“Oh stars above this is a delight,” Nyka said. “You have no idea the number of times I wished this sort of insubordination on you. I am so glad I lived to see this day.”
“You’re not helping,” Mava said.
“Of course I’m not,” Nyka said. “You know she’s right. We have as much chance of just walking away from this as we do of waking up and discovering it was all a bad dream and we’re the princesses of the earth and everyone loves us and it’s night forever.”
“Remind me to hit you again,” Mava said. “I’ll pick somewhere it’ll only hurt for a few months.”
“Getting soft in your old age,” Nyka said.
“Where are we going?” Gwen asked, pulling free from Mava’s grasp at last.
Her leader heaved a heavy sigh and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“Back to my place,” she said. “If everything’s going to go straight to hell we might at least pack a meal for the trip.”