Sondra watched the doors to her throne room open and saw the Elites of the House of Days step in. Her age old enemies. Her only hope for survival.
And she recognized them.
“Mava?” The word left her body along with all of her breath.
Sanielle knew of Mava. Sanielle had read report after report detailing the various plans the leader of the Elites had overthrown. Sanielle knew Mava’s work very well but she had never met her foe in person.
Sondra, on the other, hand knew Mava personally. Like Mava was her oldest, dearest friend. The rock that she leaned on when all other hopes had failed her. The one person she knew she could count on no matter the challenge that confronted them.
“Ulidine?” The expression on Mava’s face mirrored the one on Sondra’s. Disbelief at war with familiarity.
Aloka and Zia were the next to enter the room and Sondra recognized them instantly as well.
“Uh, what the hell is happening here?” Ally asked.
“What’s wrong?” Renata asked.
“Ulidine,” Mava said and blinked, struggling to find the rest of her words.
“Okay, this is not how I was expecting things to go,” Nyka said, closing the throne room doors behind her. “Did you cast an illusion that only they can see?”
Sondra shook her head, as memories of standing at Mava’s side, of watching Aloka command her troops, of ordering Zia to her death, kept flooding in no matter how hard she fought to keep them out.
She buried her head in her hands and dropped forward until her face was resting against her legs.
“I’m going to assume that translated as no,” Nyka said. “Which means I officially have no idea what’s going on here.”
“Our queen seems to be sitting on your throne,” Mava said.
“Why…how is she there?” Ally asked.
“That’s not Ulidine,” Nyka said. “That’s Sanielle, our queen.”
“She’s full of sunlight,” Mava said. “She can’t possibly be Sanielle.”
“Well, now, that’s interesting,” Nyka said. “When you look at her, you see sunlight?”
“And you see starlight don’t you?” Mava asked.
“Yes,” Nyka said.
“Aren’t those the same thing?” Renata asked.
“On Earth? Yes. In magic? No,” Gwen said, closing the door behind her as she entered from a side passage.
Sondra recognized her too. Gwena. Her youngest Elite. Her smartest Elite.
“How do I know you all?” she asked. “This doesn’t make sense.”
“Are they playing some kind of trick on her?” Kelian asked, rising from the seat he’d silently occupied beside the throne.
“I don’t think so,” Nyka said. “If anyone’s pulling a trick here, I think it’s Sanielle and Ulidine.”
“I’m not doing anything!” Sondra said, as she watched a new memory of listening to Nyka present the tactical briefing to the remaining Generals just before the Last Battle.
“Not you, your predecessors,” Nyka said.
“What do you mean?” Kelian asked.
“We don’t remember how Sanielle or Ulidine died do we?” Mava asked. None of us were living or conscious when it came down to just the two of them.”
“That’s true, I think,” Nyka said. “Aloka killed me but I don’t think she lived long beyond that.”
“I didn’t,” Ally said. “I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the moment of knowing I was doomed and then being swallowed by darkness.”
“That was probably literal, we had some potent spells with us,” Nyka said. “In killing me you probably left yourself open to a counterattack from one of them.”
“How does that help us?” Kelian asked. “What does it mean that none of us were alive at the end.”
“We don’t know how they died,” Mava said.
“Or if they died,” Nyka said.
“They died,” Sondra said. “I know that much. Both of them. Though not at the same time or from the same thing. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be them.”
“How can you be both of them?” Kelian asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It might,” Gwen said. “In fact it might make some of the things I’ve been reading make a lot more sense.”
“The Unmaking Pledge, it welded them into one person didn’t it?” Mava asked.
“I don’t think so,” Gwen said. “I think they’ve always been one person.”
“I think we would have noticed if our queen was commuting to the other side of the world every day to tend the enemy’s realm,” Ally said.
“She didn’t need to commute. She was already in each place,” Gwen said. “Our spirits aren’t bound by the normal flow of time. We normally think of reincarnation as taking place after a person has died, but the past and the future don’t mean the same thing when you exist outside of normal space-time. We can reincarnate in the past as easily as we can reincarnate in the future, or even reincarnate as another lifetime with the span of the lifetime we just lived.”
“So you think Ulidine reincarnated as Sanielle?” Mava asked.
“I suspect it’s more likely to be the reverse,” Gwen said.
“Why would she do that?” Kelian asked.
“I think that might be what the monarch who served the Thrones of Night and Day has always done. Lived alternating lives dedicated to each of the thrones. By serving both balance between the two extremes is maintained.”
“We would have known about that before now though.” Kelian said.
“Would we?” Gwen asked. “It was rare for the common folks to see their queens at all and we never saw Sanielle except in pictures and painting, and they would have had no more memories of their past lives that we did before today.”
“Even if you’re right, why am I remembering both of them now?” Sondra asked. “You all are only remembering one earlier life aren’t you?”
“I’ve only had one to remember,” Mava said.
“And I’ve had plenty but they’re not quite the same as the rest of you,” Nyka said.
“More importantly though you’ve got an option none of the rest of us have,” Mava said. “Ask the Thrones.”
“Do what now?” Ally asked.
“She’s the queen. Or both queens,” Nyka said. “She can have the Thrones show her what happened.”
“I thought the Thrones were nearly mindless though?” Renata asked.
“Not mindless, just not at all complex,” Mava said. “They remember everything, but they understand very little of it.”
“How do I ask them?” Sondra asked.
“That’s a queen’s gift,” Mava said. “So we can’t help much there, but Sanielle or Ulidine or both of them should know.”
Sondra searched her memories and found what she was looking for faster than she recalled any other memory.
“Show me the last moments.of Sanielle and Ulidine,” she commanded the Throne with the voice of her heart.
Time rewound and the walls of the Throne Room of the Caverns of the Night fell away to be replaced by the Throne Room of the House of Days at the end of the Last Battle.
The stone was chipped and scarred from the attacks that had left the House’s defenses a ruined patchwork of rubble. Fires still raged outside but aside from two labored breaths, the world was silent.
Sondra, Kelian, Mava and all the others stood in the Throne Room but they were no more present than a misty cloud. The only solid figures were two women who looked more similar than anyone had ever recognized.
“It has to end here,” Sanielle said, drawing motes of brilliant starfire from the shadows around her.
“I agree,” Ulidine said. “We’ve taken this too far for stand down now. Our dominions are covered in lakes of blood and our lands will be an age in recovering from the horrors we’ve released on them.”
“It didn’t have to be like this,” Sanielle said. “If you’d returned to the Princess of the Lost Deeps to us, we would have paid the blood price for your Prince.”
“There were a thousand paths we could have followed that wouldn’t have led to this day,” Ulidine said. “But here we are.”
“Is there anyone left beside us?” Sanielle asked.
“I don’t know,” Ulidine said. “None that I can see, but perhaps some of yours have hidden themselves away?”
“Then they are no longer mine,” Sanielle said.
“Then we are the last,” Ulidine said.
“Or perhaps the first,” Sanielle said. “Whoever wins, the other will be gone, and all of our forces will be restored.”
“No, the Unmaking Pledge never promised that,” Ulidine said. “It’s mandate is that the losing side is swept from history. It is not a restorative magic. Those who were lost will remain dead, all that will change is the cause of their death.”
“Then our world is at an end,” Sanielle said after a long moment of silence.
“Yes,” Ulidine said. “Whichever of us prevails today, our Throne will stand alone, and unbalanced.”
“Eternal night, or eternal day, the Earth will be a lifeless husk no matter who wins,” Sanielle said. “How long have you known?”
“Since the morning after I swore the pledge,” Ulidine said. “Though I only let myself believe it today when I saw what was left for us to fight over.”
“If I could have one wish it would be to know that your words were lies,” Sanielle said. “But they echo in my heart as the truth.”
“And yet here we are with no moves left to make except one,” Ulidine said.
“There is always more than one choice,” Sanielle said. “Though rarely are those choices pleasant or sure.”
“The Unmaking Pledge is unstoppable,” Ulidine said. “We engraved its words in the heavens and neither of us has the power to erase them.”
“No, we don’t,” Sanielle said. “But maybe we can delay them?”
“To what end? All is lost around us,” Ulidine said.
“Time passes and changes all things,” Sanielle said. “Surely over enough time even the words in the heavens will lose their focus and power?”
“We can’t predict what would happen then,” Ulidine said.
“But we can predict what will happen now, and anything is better than that,” Sanielle said.
“You propose a truce between the two of us until the heavens we know are no more?” Ulidine asked.
“If that’s what is required, then yes, better that than to take the final step into oblivion,” Sanielle said.
“How much pain couldn’t we have saved if we’d had this conversation a decade ago?” Ulidine asked. “Sadly it’s too late now. Neither of us will live to see the changing of the heavens and when the first one of us dies, the war will be ended in the other’s favor.”
“So you will give up then? The Queen of the House of Days will finally abandon her subjects and break faith with her cause?” Sanielle said.
“No, I will never break the faith placed in me by those who have fallen in my name,” Ulidine said. “But there is something I can and must give up.”
She reached up to her head and removed the blazing crown of sunlight that sat on her brow.
“My heir is slain, and my subjects are lost, but so long as there is someone to whom my title can flow and someone who can carry the sunlight I bear, the House of Days will stand and not know defeat.”
“But there’s no one left to carry your crown or bear you power,” Sanielle said.
“Oh yes, there is,” Ulidine said and strode forward to place her crown in Sanielle’s hands. “I name you my heir Sanielle, Queen of the Cavern of the Night. May you bear the title of Queen of the House of Days and all the sunlight that is mine to give.”
“You can’t do this!” Sanielle said, but Ulidine held her arms firmly.
“Just watch me,” the Queen of the House of Days said as the room filled with an unbearable brightness of sunlight.