Sondra woke from a dream she shouldn’t have been having. It was barely past dinner and yet she’d fallen asleep, fast down and drooling, at her desk. The hum of the fluorescent lights told her she was still at work and that knowledge took care of sending her to full and complete wakefulness.
“Going to be burning the midnight oil?” Steven asked. He had his arm propped up on the side of her cube and was holding what was probably his tenth cup of coffee in his other hand.
Sondra shook her head without looking at him.
“No, just a couple hours of overtime tonight,” she said, tabbing through the documents that were still open on her screen.
None of them were particularly incriminating. All work related, all current projects. No personal websites, no sign of any life outside the company whatsoever. That didn’t make it easier to be caught sleeping but at least that was all she had to defend.
She looked at the clock. She remembered it being 5:45. The clock read 6:01. It didn’t matter that she was fully outside of regular working hours. A fifteen minute nap was forbidden at any time of the day that someone happened to be working. It was bad for morale and productivity according to the Competency Trainers management had sent around.
“Sure you don’t want to cut out early?” Steve asked. “We could stop for dinner and I could take you back to my place so you could get some rest.”
Sondra focused on the screen more intently.
“Sorry, I can’t tonight,” she said. Couldn’t tonight and didn’t want to any night, but saying that to a guy like Steve could be dangerous. All she wanted was to be left alone.
Just forget me, she thought. Better yet don’t even see me.
Invisibility, at least of the social kind, was a gift in Sondra’s eyes. Unfortunately, Steve had her in his sights, and like a hunting beast, he wasn’t about to give up easily.
“C’mon,” he said. “You look tired. How much are you really going to get done tonight?”
“I really can’t,” Sondra said. “I’ve got plans already.”
“Oh, a hot date?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, she’d coming to pick me up at 8:00,” Sondra said.
“That’s awesome,” Steve said. “You could both come over to my place and ‘rest’ if you want. I got a nice big ultra-king sized bed. Like to keep things large in the bedroom if you know what I mean.”
Sondra suppressed a groan.
“Can’t, we have tickets to a movie,” Sondra said. “So I really need to get this done, ok?”
“Sure,” Steve said. “That’s fine. Just remember to keep your eyes open. Easier to do the work like that.”
Sondra could feel his heavy footsteps as he stalked off, which colored her relief with an ugly shade of delayed fear.
She didn’t have a date to go to. She didn’t have a girlfriend either. Better a plausible lie than spending any time with a guy like Steve though. She shuddered to think how long he’d been standing over her, watching her sleep. Even just imagining it made her want to take the rest of the week off. Or find a new job.
She grimaced and threw that notion away. She’d worked too long and hard to get where she was. She wasn’t going to give up a position she’d fought for years to get just because she had to deal with a creep like Steve.
Shaking her head, she tried to put all thoughts from the last few minutes out of her mind and get back to work. She didn’t have a date to get ready for, but she did intend to get out early. For values of ‘early’ that included only three hours of overtime at least. She’d promised herself the reprieve so that she wouldn’t get totally burned out. For just one evening she was going to treat herself like a queen.
Except every time she looked at the screen, her vision drifted out of focus and she found herself replaying the images from her dream.
Three warriors. Her warriors. They’d fallen in a battle she couldn’t quite comprehend. She knew it was only a dream but the memories had a clarity that no other dream had ever possessed.
In her mind’s eye, she watched the Chrysalstones reach out towards the Earth. Metal, far more abundant than they were used to, answered their call and tore apart at their touch.
They had almost formed their bodies, were almost ready to seek her out, when a strange voice called to them in a familiar tongue. The old woman who spoke commanded their obedience, but while she invoked the right ritualized orders to compel them, she had not yet sworn a pledge to the Throne of Night in this new and unfamiliar world. Her authority over them was incomplete, a false shadow of the authority their true queen and those who were pledged to her possessed.
Before the Chrysalstones could strike down the false General they were confronted by a greater threat. A true enemy. A warrior of the House of Days.
Sondra felt the thrill of battle quicken within them and then be extinguished in an unrelenting blizzard that tore her soldiers to pieces.
She shook her head again, forcing the office to come back into focus. The memories of that battle, impossible though they were, couldn’t be a dream.
Which was terrifying.
If she was seeing visions, then the most likely explanation in Sondra’s mind was a brain tumor. She’d lost a grandfather to one and had held a guarded fear since then that it would prove to run in the family genes.
Her phone dispelled that worry and substituted a more profound fear.
With a familiar buzz, messages from various social media sites started to pour in. They linked to videos that had just been posted and news reports that were being broadcast live.
The battle she’d dreamed of wasn’t a dream. The visions she’d seen were playing out in dozens of hastily uploaded videos.
Each began with the formation of the Chrysalstones and the panic and destruction their arrival brought. Each ended with a woman surrounded by a blazing aura of pale blue and grey light unleashing an impossible storm of ice that cut the Chrysalstones to pieces.
Sondra rocked back in her chair, breathless, unable to stop watching the scene from different angles and with different commentary.
Official reports were labeling the event a terrorist attack. With the damage done to the vehicles and the people who were injured no one tried to make a case for it being a prank or a publicity stunt of some sort. The police had cordoned off the area and were searching for the glowing woman who called forth the blizzard. Even if it was all some elaborate setup, they were taking the event seriously.
And Sondra was connected to it.
The dinner she’d shoveled out of a microwaveable box turned in her stomach, and she fled to the bathroom, passing Steve in the hall who gave her a sneering look.
She made it into a stall before dinner resurfaced. It was a small miracle, given how upside down her world felt, but one she was willing to accept. With no damage done to her wardrobe, she could swish some water around in her mouth, clear out the flavor of vomit, rearrange her hair, clear the residual tears from her eyes and then go back to her desk like nothing had happened.
She got as far as clearing her mouth out before her plan went awry.
There was a man in the restroom.
He didn’t walk in, he was just there. Not there one moment. There the next.
Sondra froze in place. She could scream, but that wasn’t going to bring any meaningful help to her in time if the man was hostile. And he wasn’t hostile. He was familiar, though she couldn’t place his face or name.
As she struggled to recall where they’d met, Kelian did the last thing she could have expected.
He knelt before her and spoke two words.
“Kelian, why are you here?” Sondra said. “And how do I know who you are?”
Behind him, three spectres flickered into her vision. The spirits of the fallen Chrysalstones.
“I am the messenger of the Night, and you are our queen,” Kelian said. “I pledge my fealty to you and your throne, if you will take me into your service.”
Sondra blinked and the world turned into a swirl of vibrant shadows in her vision.
Kelian was one of her Archdukes. She had never met him, but she felt a lifetime of shared experience lurking behind a curtain in her mind she’d never noticed.
With each moment though it felt like the curtain was rising. Her earlier visions had let her peek beneath it and reclaim a few fragmentary memories, but Kelian’s presence was lifting the veil high.
What she saw concealed in a lifetime that predated spoken language left her speechless. A world that burned in an inextinguishable fire. Death run rampant, claiming the best and most beloved. Her people scattered and destroyed. Vengeance sworn and denied.
Sondra stumbled and caught herself against the sink she was standing near. Too many thoughts assailed her mind, too many old, lost faces called out to her. She closed her eyes to block them out and they faded away. All but one.
The Throne of the Night remained.
Calling to her through her dearest Archduke.
It was a call she couldn’t refuse. It was a call she’d waited for her whole life. She answered, assented to its claim over her and her claim over all sworn to it and she felt complete at last.
Sondra had slumped against the sink. It wasn’t quite Sondra who opened her eyes and straightened up though. In accepting the Queen’s Mantle, her old life slipped away.
Sondra didn’t need to climb the ladder of success. She didn’t need to fight for respect or recognition. She was the Queen of the Caverns of the Night. Her people slumbered across the Earth but in reclaiming her Throne, in reclaiming herself, she’d sent out a call and they would begin to wake to who they really were.
Night had fallen. Her dominion had been swept away by the ages, but in this new world, the world Sondra had known her whole life, the Queen of the Night’s star would rise again.