Me 2012

Please Don’t Go (62/80)

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In the morning, Ardent woke before Miro. She took care not to wake him as she climbed out of bed and checked on the logs the golem had made. Tracking fifty-eight different individuals had taken up more space than she expected, since the tracer recorded movements every minute, even if they’d only moved a foot or two. She set to work devising a spell that would take all the coordinates and plot them onto a three-dimensional map of the Moon Etherium for her. After an hour of flipping through the references on information magic she’d gotten from White Rose, Ardent sorely wished that Play Until Collapsing Dreams was still speaking to her. Reading her monograph from the Archive was not the same. Maybe I can make a bunch of really stupid golems who’ll do this for me? Except I want it plotted on a three-dimensional translucent map, which means one made of glamour. And marked with glamour. And there are no really stupid golems that cast spells. Not even basic glamour spells.

She still hadn’t figured it out by the time Miro woke, so she took a break then to discuss breakfast. Which somehow turned into Miro nibbling on her. And then she made aetherfood for him to eat off of her, and then he insisted that she had to eat too…

It may not have been the best food she’d ever made, but the presentation definitely more than made up for it.

Afterwards, they talked about the plotting problem. “I’ve gone from far too little information to way too much, in a format I can’t make use of at all.”

“Perhaps instead of making a nice plot of all the coordinates, you could devise a glamour that highlights the values that are in the right range? The last number is the distance from the center of the Moon Etherium, and the phoenix rose will only thrive .67 to .68 miles from the center. So any numbers in that range are the only ones we care about.”

“Ooh, I should’ve thought of that hours ago, sugar.” Ardent laughed and cast the suggested spell. “Got too focused on doing it the first way that came to mind.”

As that spell worked, the tracer golem barked from inside her locket to let her know Verdant and his cargo had returned to the fey shard. Judging from his progress by the minute, he’d be back in the Moon Etherium in a couple of hours.

The highlighting of the tracer’s logs revealed four locations in the right range. They had no other leads to look at while they waited for Verdant’s return, so Ardent turned Miro back into a mouse and teleported to each location with him to have a look. They all turned out to be public places: a couple of parks, an aerial racecourse, and a farmshare. Nothing promising, not even cacao trees in the farmshare. Ardent scouted the farmshare from far above. Her lockets and Miro’s mouse form used too much aether for her to take them into a farm, and she wasn’t about to leave them alone while she went for a long walk. She couldn’t see Fallen keeping the phoenix rose anywhere public, regardless.

While Ardent was scouting the farm from the air, she received a note from Whispers Rain: “I heard about Miro last night. Can I see you?”

Ardent read the message a few times, conflicted, before she teleported back to her room at the Underground. She retrieved Miro from her cleavage and held him in one hand. “Rain wants to see me,” she told Miro. “We’ve got a little while yet before Verdant gets back. I’m gonna invite her here, and leave you as a mouse, all right? She thinks you left the Etherium, like everybody else.”

Miro crinkled his whiskers at her, mouse ears flattening back. “Ardent…there’s something about Whispers Rain I should tell you.” His voice sounded strange coming from such a small body. “She…has an obligation to Fallen. A heavy burden.”

The satyress stared at him. What? No. Not my Rain, she wanted to say, and remembered the Queen telling her: ‘Fallen has holds over everyone. Even your former wife.’ Ardent’s stomach cramped. “You knew. At the party. When you first met her. You always knew.”

He ducked his head. “I didn’t know how to warn you.”

And why would I trust you, a stranger, over my wife of thirty-two years? Why should I trust you? ‘Fallen has holds over everyone.’ “You think she set us up. You think Rain came that night to distract me while you were attacked.”

Miro sank down in her hand, miserable. “I have no evidence of that. Or anything against her. She has a beautiful soul, Ardent, truly.” I know that, Ardent thought, angrily. What makes you think I wouldn’t know that? Of course she does. “But she’s been controlled by her fears before. And she’s indebted to Fallen. That’s all I know. I’m sorry, my lady.”

It’s not true. She wouldn’t do that to me. To you. No matter what she owed.

‘Go after him. I’ll take care of Mirohirokon,’ Rain had said.

Ardent sank to sit on the edge of the bed, shaking, angry, sick. “I still have to see her,” she said, mechanically.

“Yes, my lady.” His tone was diffident.

“You…stay out of sight.” At his nod, Ardent put Miro back into her cleavage. She sent a reply to Rain: “I’d love to, sugar. When’s good for you?”

“Now’s fine, if you’re not busy?”

“Sure, just give me a minute. You want to come to me?”

“I’d be happy to. Whenever you’re ready.”

Ardent went to the locale globe of the chamber and dialed through different places while she tried to pull herself together. No point in seeing her if I don’t know how to play this. Oh Justice, Loyalty, Duty, I don’t know how to play this. Does she want to see me, or did Fallen ask her to? Is Fallen distracting me again, playing for time while she waits for her extractor to be complete? Do I confront Rain or play along and see what she lets slip? If I poke her in the right place, will she confess?    

I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this. Not to Rain. Justice desert us all. Ardent selected a fairy-tale meadow, with green grass and flowers and dappled sunlight filtered between trees that reached without end towards an impossibly blue sky. Big white mushrooms offered unexpectedly plush seats. “Now’s good,” she told Rain, and gave the room’s wards permission to let Rain in.

Rain arrived in an unfolding flower, dressed in tights and a bodysuit made of straps. They crossed over her chest and ran between her legs to form a straight line between her wings and up her back. She launched herself into Ardent’s arms and the satyress caught her up. “Oh, Ardent, I’m so glad it wasn’t true!”

Ardent blinked, caught off guard despite every intention to be wary. She struggled for a cautious reply. “…what?”

“About Mirohirokon. I couldn’t believe you’d do it, make a slave of another fey. Not for anything. It’s not like you.” She had her arms wrapped behind Ardent’s neck. The satyress held her carefully in return. Miro was well-warded now and being squished between them wouldn’t hurt him, but even so. Rain gave a little laugh. “I should’ve known it was some scheme to help him.”

“Oh. That. Yeah.” Ardent sat on one of the mushrooms, putting Rain in her lap. “Funny, I thought it’d sound more plausible as me being selfish and wanting power.”

Rain giggled and slid an arm around Ardent’s waist. “Maybe to someone who didn’t know you.”

“Oh, c’mon. Everyone knows I always wanted the power to actually stop people. As opposed to the power to say ‘you naughty boy, don’t do that again or I’ll call you naughty a second time’.”

The faerie-winged woman braced her tiny feet against Ardent’s opposite thigh as she perched on Ardent’s other leg, and tilted her head to look up. Rain had turned her oversized eyes the same blue as her hair, vivid in her warm brown face. She shook her head. “No. Not to hurt people. You wouldn’t ever take advantage of a helpless fey, not even in the service of some greater good. You’re not that kind of person.”

“Heh. I don’t want to be that kind of person, anyway. Not so sure that I ain’t.”

“I am.” Rain leaned into her, pillowing her head against one breast, and Ardent’s heart twisted at the rightness of it. The wrongness of it. I don’t know how to do this. “Are you all right? I only heard gossip, but it sounded like a bad fight.”

Ardent nodded, kissed the top of Rain’s head because it was the normal thing to do, because it was what she wanted to do, because what else could she do? “You know me. I’m tough. And his highness will be a lot safer back in his own Etherium. Do you know, some goons tried to steal him again? Justice. I was afraid somebody’d kill him outright eventually, trying to get him for themselves.”

Rain nodded. After a moment’s silence, she said, “You never really meant to stay, did you? For good. You’ll go back to Try Again, soon.”    

Ardent felt ashamed. I guess she’s not the only one who lied about her real motives. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Rain squeezed her, slender arms barely reaching around Ardent’s broad back. “It’s just as well. The Moon Etherium…it’s no place for good people, Ardent. It hasn’t gotten any better since you left. Everyone’s petty and self-absorbed and false and…and…I want to say I’m surprised that they’d try to hurt your friend…and I guess part of me is…” Ardent felt a dampness against her chiton, and realized with a start that Rain was crying. “…but I shouldn’t be. It’s not unlike this place. It is just like this place. Everyone is so selfish they can’t tell what really matters. It’s no wonder you left. There’s nothing good here.”

The satyress lifted Rain’s chin with one hand, to meet her tear-filled eyes. “You’re here,” she said, softly.

“Yes.” Rain closed her eyes and pulled away. “And just as bad as all the rest.”

No you’re not. It’s not true. Ardent’s throat felt tight, too choked to speak.

“You should leave, Ardent. You should go now. It’s only going to get worse, and you can’t – I know you want to save Jinokimijin, but you can’t. You can’t save any of us, and we don’t deserve it even if you could.” Rain drew her arms back and wrapped them around her own shoulders. “I’m afraid, Ardent. I heard what happened to Contemplation After the Storm. If you don’t get out…they’ll find a way to hurt you, too.”

Ardent touched Rain’s cheek, fingers curving under her chin. The delicate woman let her turn her face up again. “Is that what you want, Rain?” she asked, as gently as she could. “Or is it what Fallen told you to do? Talk me into leaving.”

Rain closed her eyes again, blue lashes bright on dark cheeks. “Yes,” she whispered. “And yes. I’m sorry, Ardent. It’s just…Shadow of Fallen Scent is too powerful. Even the Queen can’t stand against her any more. Even if she wanted to, and I don’t think she does. Fallen is the only piper now, and everyone is dancing to her music.”

“I’m not,” Ardent said, her voice harsher than she intended.

“Then you don’t understand—”

“When you came to my apartment after the party,” Ardent said, interrupting her, “you were following Fallen’s orders then, too. The message you got, that ‘reminded’ you to block messages. And reminded me too. That was from her. You were to distract me and get me to block messages. So I wouldn’t hear Miro when he called for help.”

Rain shuddered. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know why—”

Ardent stood, pushing her former wife away. “You didn’t ask! Justice, Rain! He could have died. Did you even think about it? Why did you think she’d want me distracted?”

“I don’t know!” Rain wrapped her arms around her stomach, doubled over. “I didn’t want to think about it! I know I shouldn’t’ve but Ardent, you have no idea what she’s capable of. You can’t take her on and win. Not even with a Sun prince channel, and certainly not without one. Don’t you understand? You have to stop. You have to get out! While there’s still time! While it’s still safe in Try Again. While it’s still safe somewhere.”

“No,” Ardent said, breathing heavily. “I don’t understand.” There was a tinny banging from inside her new locket. “And I’m not going to leave. Because someone has to stop Fallen. While there’s still time. I’m not running away from this. Tell your master that, Whispers Rain.” She opened the locket, hooked out the golem inside and looked at the latest coordinates. Verdant Generosity was in the Moon Etherium. “I have to go.”

“Where are you going?” Rain asked, desperately.

The satyress gave her a cold look. “What, by all that remains and all that was Sundered, makes you think I would trust you?”

“Ardent, wait,” Miro’s voice said. Ardent froze, startled, as he poked his mouse’s head over the neck of her chiton. “Whispers Rain – I forgive you.”

Miro what are you doing—

“Prince Mirohirokon?” Rain’s big blue eyes grew even wider.

He nodded. “Yes. I just want you to know – whatever happens next – I know you did not want to see me hurt. I know you don’t want to see Fallen succeed. I know how hard it is, when everyone with power is against you, not to go along with what they want. I know how reasonable they can make it seem, when you already owe them, when it’s just some little thing, and you know they will get what they want one way or another, with your help or over your body. I understand. It doesn’t make you a monster. It just makes you a person. I bear you no ill-will for that.”

I do, Ardent thought. You could have died, Miro.

Rain bowed her head. “Thank you,” she said, softly. “You…really think you can stop her?”

“I believe we must try.”

Ardent glanced at the log again as the tracer golem wrote new coordinates down. Verdant Generosity and the two marks were no longer in the same place. The marks were now at a coordinate 0.6742 miles from the heart of the Moon Etherium. “Goodbye,” she said to Rain, and ported away.



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Poll RPG: So Unreasonable

Licorice's favorite of the dishes proved to be little pasta-wrapped dumplings, pan-fried and full of spiced meat.  She closed her eyes in bliss at her first mouthful. "Oh, Smoke, you have to try these!"

It was mouthwatering, if not as spicy as Smoke preferred. Most of the dishes were a little bland for their tastes. Hallston, the city where Courthall was located, didn't see as much trade as Smoke's native Crescent Bay. Maybe spices were scarcer here, or tastes simply different. Still, the food was well-prepared otherwise, and some dishes Smoke loved even without spice, like the thin-sliced steak grilled so briefly it was almost raw, hot and dripping with juices.

As they shared morsels from one another's plates, Smoke asked Licorice, "So is there a particular title with too many syllables that you covet? Or do you like your current work?"

Licorice washed down her latest mouthful with mulled cider and waggled brown fingers at Smoke. "It's all right. I like it when they trust me enough to give me tricky assignments. Like figuring out the problem with that hatch!" she said, with a touch of pride. "But it's not what I planned to be back when I was an apprentice."

"Mm? What field did you apprentice in?" Smoke asked.

"Enchanting," Licorice said, and then winced. "Not that I was any good at it! Please don't quiz me, master enchanter!" She cringed in mock fear.

Smoke grinned, though they were inwardly surprised. Licorice had asked what enchanter's sight was like earlier in the day, and that was something apprentices usually learned early. "Why did you leave?"

"Oh, um, turned out the master and I had an irreconcilable difference of opinion."

"On what?" Blackwood asked.

"On how much time it was acceptable to spend napping when one's master thought one was running errands." Licorice ducked her head sheepishly.

Smoke bit back a grin. "And how much napping did your master regard as acceptable?"

"None! Can you believe it?" Licorice sighed melodramatically. "So unreasonable." She licked dumpling sauce off her fingers.

"Is maintenance more, er, reasonable on this count?" Blackwood pricked his long ears. "I may have gone into the wrong field."

"I don't know." She frowned as if in thought. "I haven't really needed a nap during work shifts at Courthall. Maintenance must be less tiring than enchanting."



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Me 2012

Don’t Take It Seriously (61/80)

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Lovemaking and channeling blended together this time. Miro’s hands pushed up her chiton while she was still drawing him in. He caressed her rear as she curled over his body and felt the slow intensity of sun aether filling her. The fey man pulsed his clothed hips against her until she gave in and used aether to undress him so she could feel his body enter her as well. So they could be linked by flesh as well as aether. When they climaxed, she closed the channel, and this time it felt right. She was replete, satisfied, not hungry to take more.

When she moved off him to lie at his side, Miro burrowed against her, body relaxed and expression blissful, contented. “I love you, Ardent,” he told her, and while she was still staring at him in shock, he fell asleep.

Well, that was…unexpected. Drunken. Right. He doesn’t mean love-love, it’s just the pleasure of release combined with the way channeling destroys his inhibitions. Just a momentary passion. Don’t take it seriously. Tears pricked at her eyelids. Definitely do not cry over it. Stop that right now.

“I love you too, Miro,” she whispered, and wiped the foolish tears from her cheeks. And you don’t mean that either, she tried to convince herself. You’ve only known him for a few days. What do you know about him? Nothing. Just that he’s brave, and determined even in the face of mortal danger. And sweet, and articulate, and resilient, and considerate, and treats me like an Ideal, and oh Love this is only gonna make it worse. You can’t really get to know someone in a few days, anyway. Maybe it’s all an act. Well, except for the bravery and willingness to face death for the people he cares about. Obviously. Can’t fake being articulate, either. Or resilience. I mean, you either fall all to pieces when you get violently assaulted or you go “nope, I’m ready for another helping of Extreme Danger, why haven’t we dived back in yet?” The sweetness and courtesy could be an act, though. Ardent sighed inwardly. This is my own story and even I’m not buying it.

She held him for a little while as he slept, but channeling invigorated her even as it drained him. Her restless energy at last drove her from the bed and into a comfortable chair. She read Jino’s notebook while she analyzed the wand she’d taken from Fallen’s catspaw. Without the notebook, she wouldn’t have been able to figure it out. Its power source was so unlike aether Ardent didn’t realize it was a form of power at all until she’d been over it several times. That power had been funneled into it from the phoenix rose’s extractor. A few tests were informative: the wand was designed to siphon aether and convert it to this strange un-aether. But the conversion was inefficient; it lost more un-aether than it regained during use. It was only good for destroying spellwork, but it was excellent at that. It looked like it had about half of its power supply remaining. Ardent refrained from any serious tests that might drain it significantly.

After a couple of hours of study, Ardent found her eyelids starting to droop. She crawled into bed next to Miro, who immediately snuggled into her, making cute sleepy pleased noises without actually waking. Oh, I forgot to include “cuddly and adorable” on my list of good qualities and enough, girl, just let it be. I’ve never been able to argue myself into or out of a feeling before, I don’t know why I think I can start now. On that note she fell asleep.

§


Ardent woke during the night to a muffled, tinny sound. Miro nosed sleepily at her shoulder. “Why is your chest barking?”

“Uh.” She fumbled at her locket, and hooked out a disgruntled tracer golem.

It stopped barking to snarl grumpily, “I ran out of paper. And it’s hard to write in there. And I found two of the new marks you wanted me to look for and tell you special if I found.”

“Oooh, that’s promising. Which marks?”

Paper,” it said, insistently. “And it’s too crowded in that locket. I haven’t got space for all this. How’m I supposed to work in these conditions?”

She made it a new set of notebooks and it started writing. While she waited for it to catch up, she expended some sun aether to make a new miniaturized office in a second locket, just for the golem.

The marks it had found were the ones she had pre-arranged with Wind Sought to mean ‘alabaster in Verdant Generosity’s possession’ and the same thing for ivory. They were at the same spot as Verdant Generosity, who was still in the same city as before, judging by the pattern of their movement. “It worked.” Miro smiled. “So far.”

“Now we wait for it to come back. Good work, Trace,” she said, and kissed the top of the golem’s head. “Thanks. Here, I made you a better workspace. I appreciate you waking me to tell me. If Verdant Generosity or either of those marks enters the area of the land shared with the fey shard, please wake me again.”

The golem peered inside the new locket, and looked mollified. “Will do.”

She tucked it inside the locket, and fastened it around her neck. “I feel like a snail,” she told Miro. “Carrying my home on my back.”    

He ran his hands over her back, rear, and furred crooked legs. “You don’t feel like one to me,” he said, and kissed her.

“Mph. No being adorable at me, you. We need more sleep.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, unrepentant. Snuggled together, they fell back to sleep.



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Poll RPG: The Quarry

"The Quarry does sound interesting." Smoke licked their lips. "I do like meat."

"You'll love this place, then. Would you like to ride? I was going to fly, it's a couple of miles from here."

Licorice bounced on her toes. "Yes please!"

After three hours of flight earlier in the day, some of the novelty has worn off, but Smoke was still perfectly willing. Blackwood shifts to his dragon form, and flies the two of them there. Licorice wrapped her arms about Smoke's waist as they straddled his back, and rested her cheek against Smoke's back. "You make the best friends, master enchanter!"

"You should call me Smoke," they answered. "'Master enchanter' is way too many syllables."

Licorice giggleed. "Some day I want a title with too many syllables in it. You'd think a janitor could be a high-muckity-muck, we do enough mucking-out-the-muck!"

"You were in an elevated position when we met," Smoke replied, teasing.

Blackwood flapped his great charcoal-grey wings to rise higher above the city. "And are again now!"

Licorice squeaked and clung tighter to Smoke. "Are you suggesting I shouldn't try to rise above my station?"

"I thought I was suggesting you already had, miss," Blackwood replied.

"Oh. Well, the view's great and all, but I guess I'll stick with just Licorice for now. No 'Miss' required."

The Quarry was busy, but the maitre'd recognized Blackwood, and ushered him and his party promptly to a table near the back. The service did not take orders: instead, they brought around plates of food on rolling, steaming carts. Some of the plates were small, and some large platters. The majority of them were meat dishes in a wide array of styles: grilled steaks, breaded and pan-fried cutlets, deep-fried chicken, lamb kebobs, ground meat mixed with sauce and grilled, nuggets of beef smothered in sweet sauce, and dozens more.

Blackwood took three platters for himself, filling his side of the table. "I have an account here," he explained at Licorice's stare. "One of the reasons I like the Quarry. A draka messenger eats a great deal."

"All those hours in dragon form?" Smoke guessed. When they'd stopped for lunch, he'd eaten in dragon shape, and a proportionate amount to his size.

"Just so."

The waiters encouraged the kith and human to try one or two of the small plates, and take more later as they came by. Licorice took two plates, one of batter-fried shrimp and another of sliced lamb cut fresh from a spit. She ate like a ravenous rat, although she could not match Blackwood's brisk efficiency in putting away food.



This entry was originally posted at http://rowyn.dreamwidth.org/603245.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Me 2012

Poll RPG: Hunting Down Food

Smoke pinched the bridge of their nose and shook their head, curly black ponytail falling over one shoulder with the motion. "Well, it's a big building. Ants aren't going to eat it all tonight." The staff in the kitchen looked more alarmed by this remark than reassured, so Smoke added, "Really. If you ignore carpenter ants for years, they can make a building structurally unsound. But in weeks? No. I don't mean to keep you all late, please, go back to your duties."

The kitchen staff nodded and went back to work. Licorice lingered, as if disappointed, or uncertain if that included her. "Thank you for your help, Licorice." Smoke clasped the woman's hand. Licorice beamed up at her, black eyes bright. "If you need anything from me to let your supervisor know what you were doing, I'll be happy to oblige. I didn't realize how late I'd kept you."

"Oh, she's usually understanding. I'll tell her to see you if she has questions. You're calling it a day?"

"Yes, I'm going to hunt down some dinner." Smoke glanced to her and smiled. "Would you like to join me?"

Licorice's expression took on an odd cast, either intrigued or alarmed: human features are hard to read, with no ears or whiskers for cues. Then she grinned. "Sure! As long as I'm ordering from the menu and not on it."

Smoke grinned back. "Deal. Um. Do you think Blackwood would like to come? I don't want to requisition him in his off hours ..."

But Licorice's face lit. "I have no idea! Let's find out." She slipped her arm through Smoke's and led them to the main hall. "He's adorable, isn't he? Those wings! He's like Master Corydalis only not terrifying."

Smoke laughed. "Is Master Corydalis so bad? Blackwood spoke well of him."

"Oh, I don't mean he's bad, or cruel, or anything. He's just ... " Licorice gestured with her hands, as if to sketch a colossal figure. "Enormous. And important. And the kind of person who could get you doing something before you realized you'd been asked. You know. Terrifying."

Smoke had no idea. Licorice asked the guards in the main hall about Blackwood, but they didn't know. Undeterred, Licorice rummaged through the deserted receptionist's station for clues. "Oh, look, there's a note for you." She handed the sealed envelope to Smoke.

It was from Blackwood, and contained hotel reservations for Smoke, and a packet of meal vouchers. It also said that Master Corydalis wanted to see Smoke in the morning, at their earliest convenience. He'd also left his directions in case Smoke needed anything else. He had an apartment at the Courthall, on the far side of the park. "Swank!" Licorice remarked.

Smoke had some misgivings about disturbing Blackwood at home. But surely he would have told them to talk to the duty officer or somesuch if Blackwood had been bothered by the idea.

As luck would have it, they met him outside his building. His face lit when he saw them. "Smoke! I hope everything's gone all right? Is there any way I might be of assistance?"

"Well ... you could recommend somewhere to eat? And perhaps keep us company?" Smoke asked. "If you wanted, not as an obligation. It seems I've some meal vouchers now, but I don't know what the commissary's like. Or how good it is."

"It's pretty nice," Licorice said.

Blackwood did not contradict her, but his ears had perked at the invitation and then dipped at the mention of the vouchers. "It would be my pleasure to join your party, Smoke. I was on my way to The Quarry, it's a meats-variety place. But I've no strong preference."

"I've never been there!" Licorice tilted her head, intrigued. "My favorite place near Courthall is The Big Cheese. They don't just have cheese, though. I promise!"



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Me 2012

No Romance (60/80)

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Ardent returned to a new room in the Underground. This one she’d set to look like a bedroom, with a massive canopied bed and extra privacy wards that were drawn with its curtains. She crawled into the bed and pulled open her chiton to look down into her cleavage.

The bright black eyes of a large mouse looked back at her. He’d been smaller when she was concealing him on the Promenade and outside of the Etherium, but the space here was more expanded, and that meant he couldn’t be shrunk as much.

“I should make you sleep like that,” she told the mouse. “Maybe that’d keep you out of trouble for a while.” The mouse turned a circle atop one breast, then made a show of snuggling down between them. She stifled a ticklish giggle and fished the rodent out. “Here.” She set him next to her on the bed and offered a homunculus to the animal.    

The mouse accepted it in both paws, and turned back to Miro’s normal strong, slender human form with long indigo hair, wearing a simple tunic over slacks. “Thank you, my lady,” he said, and kissed her. She returned the kiss, and let him push her back and down against lilac-scented sheets. He knelt over her, long hair hanging to one side of their faces. “Though I will feel terribly guilty if Wind Sought does get abducted in my place.”

“Eh, we warned him of the risks. And they’ll be pretty surprised if they manage to haul him back here, because the first thing he’ll do is teleport away from em.”

“I know.”

“It’s a good plan. I wouldn’t have gone along with it otherwise.” She caressed his cheek, brown hand dark against his golden skin.

“Does that mean you’ll channel from me again, too?” Miro asked. She moved her hand to his throat, and gave a little nod. He took a deep breath and sank down against her.

Ardent stroked his neck and shifted his loose, vivid hair to lie on the other side of his body. “But, first…could we talk a bit?”

“Of course, my lady.” He rolled to lie beside her, head propped in one hand, the length of his body still pressed close.

She curled into him, nervous, and tucked her head against his shoulder, mindful of her horns. “Should I just assume you’ll want to make love after channeling?”

She could hear the smile in Miro’s voice as he answered. “My body is unconvinced that channeling for you is not lovemaking, I’m afraid. And my mind is inclined to agree. But if you’re not interested…”

“Oh sugar.” A little laugh. “I am. Trust me, I am interested.”

He dipped his head down and kissed her shoulder. “Good.”

“So.” She traced a finger over his tunic, and laughed again. “I don’t want to act like this is…more than a fling, or necessity, or whatever you want to call it. I mean. I don’t know how seriously folks in the Sun Etherium treat intercourse, but here, especially among the younger generations, fey aren’t serious about it, I know. Especially if it’s just ‘I’ve known you two days, let’s have sex’. I don’t mean to conflate that with romance.”

“My lady is very wise,” Miro said, and she wasn’t sure how to take that, except that she didn’t think he was mocking her.

“Hah. I was just…curious. Do you have anyone waiting for you in Sun Etherium? Spouses? Betrothed?”

“No. I’ve had a few lovers over the years, but none that lasted. For one reason or another. My mother has tried to arrange matches for me on multiple occasions, never with anyone I could tolerate. Being ninth-to-eleventh favorite did not make her terribly invested in the process, so there was that mercy.”

Ardent shuddered. “What about, um, fidelity? I know the Sun fey aren’t monogamous, obviously, but…”

“It varies by relationship; there is no true standard any more. My mother is considered a traditionalist, in that she insists her husbands be faithful to her alone. Dad said she doesn’t even let them engage in bodyplay with each other.”

“That sounds…selfish.”

“The Sun Queen in a single word. Some of the High Court, especially my better-beloved siblings, follow that example. But most of the Sun Host does not have such a high opinion of themselves. Multiple marriages, group marriages, and open ones are all common. And many take lovers without marrying. As I have done.”

“So…what kind do you prefer? For yourself?”

He hesitated. “I don’t know. Well, I know I despise my mother’s model. But beyond that…I’ve always thought that marrying one fey and expecting that relationship to last for eternity, each committed to only the other, was absurdly optimistic. Two of my mother’s husbands detest her, and none of them admire her for herself, only for the position she affords them. On the one hand, I don’t feel a driving need to bed others for the sake of, I don’t know, variety? Proving my virility? My desirability? Wealth? Power? Whatever it is that my mother is trying to prove. On the other, I do not understand possessiveness very well. I have never been in an exclusive relationship.” He leaned in to kiss her fluffy hair. “What of you, my lady?”

“Oh, I…used to dream about that one marriage that lasts a lifetime. When I was a little girl, that was what everyone still did. Immortality wasn’t widespread until I was about forty. When you weren’t going to live forever, it seemed a lot more reasonable. Maybe wasn’t anyway, but still. Anyway, I got over it eventually. And then I met Whispers Rain, and she made it…fun. To have multiple lovers. Before I met her, it was more as if I thought ‘I guess I have to tolerate this so I will, but I hate sharing’. And then Rain threw herself into my arms and said ‘Sharing is the best! I’m going to prove it to you!’ And she did.”

He laughed. “That’s wonderful.”

“She is. Yeah.”

“How long were you married to her?” “Thirty-two years.”

Miro smiled. “She was very fortunate.”

“I was, anyway.” They were silent for a moment, then Ardent said, “You want to know why we got divorced but you’re not going to ask because it’s rude or something, right?”

“…perhaps.”

“It was because I left. She really doesn’t like the Broken Lands. Being out of aether. It suffocated her. Rain came to visit me, at first. And I’d visit her, whenever I came back. But there was always a lot to be done in Try Again, and there wasn’t always aether for boots, and boots were a lot slower back then even when there was aether, and…well. After two years, she visited me one last time, and she said she didn’t think it was fair to stay married. That it was unfair to me. ‘Because I know you. And you won’t ever look for a barbarian wife or husband while you’re married to me. And you deserve a spouse who can live with you. Or at least who’ll visit more than once a season. And I…can’t.’” Ardent sighed. “And I said all right, and that was it.”

“And you didn’t look for a barbarian spouse,” Miro said, softly.

Ardent shook her head. “No. Just…not who I am.”

“Is a fling with a pitiable eleventh-favorite Sun prince more your style?” he asked, lightly, teasing.

“Apparently.” Ardent mock-growled into his tunic, then toppled him onto his back and straddled him, one hand on his shoulder. She pressed her face against his neck and bit down, making him gasp with pleasure. “You ready to give me all your power, your highness?”

“Yes, please, my lady.” He turned his head to one side to expose more of his throat to her. She could feel him grow erect against the pressure of her hips. “Please, my lady. Yes.”

She slid an arm under his back and pulled him hard against her, and drank in his offering.



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

PollRPG: Ants!

Smoke straightened from her examination of the wards along the wall. "Would you show me where the ants have been seen?"

"All right," Licorice said. "But if you want to go to where the fleas are, I'm changing into boots first. Ugh."

"The flea problem is bad enough that they're biting humans?"

"Yes. The House of Chambers isn't too bad, but the House of Diplomacy has the worst flea problem. No one even goes into the fourth-floor conference rooms any more. You'd think the fleas would starve, but no luck so far."

"It takes a long time to starve fleas out," Smoke said. "Their eggs won't hatch if there's nothing around to eat, so they'll just lie in wait for months until something comes along and causes enough vibrations to make them hatch. Assuming they're not living off of someone's pets. Or," they added, thoughtfully, "the rats. Hmm."

"Yay," Licorice said without enthusiasm. She led Smoke back upstairs. It was late enough now that the halls were empty. Night had fallen outside, but the halls of the House of Chambers were well-lit by glow-globes in sconces along the walls. They went into a kitchen on the first floor. It had a relatively small footprint for such a large building, clearly intended more for snacks and drinks than to prepare meals. A few staff were on hand, cleaning up or preparing dough to be preserved for baking the next day. The room smelled of cinnamon and warm apples, strongly enough to remind Smoke that they hadn't eaten since lunch and it was after supper time. Licorice waved to an aproned man sweeping up. "Hey, Teak!"

Teak, a trim kith man with a slight build, strong arms, and ginger stripes, looked up with a wary look. "We don't have any leftover cookies tonight, Licorice, you're too late."

"Aww." Licorice pouted briefly, in that adorable big-eyed, out-thrust-lip way that only humans could pout. "It's fine, Teak, I'm not here for cookies. This's the new enchanter, she wants to see about the ant problem. Are you still seeing them?"

"Not so much. We cleaned out all the cabinets and threw out some canisters that weren't sealing properly, and they seem to have lost interest.." Teak leaned the broom against a counter and beckoned them to the rear wall, where he opened the lower cabinet doors. "These cabinets here were the worst affected, don't know if there's anything to see now."

Smoke crouched down and peered into them. Their freshly-scrubbed condition was evident from the spotless surfaces. Even the canisters for different kinds of flour and sugar had been cleaned. There were no ants or ant trails. But at the back of the cabinets were a few little heaps of dust, near cracks that made the fur on Smoke's neck prickle. They scraped at one heap with a claw tip. It was powdered wood. "Teak, what size were these ants?"

"I dunno. Ant-sized?"

Smoke closed their eyes. "I mean, were they very small -- " she held her fingers perhaps an eighth of an inch apart " -- or bigger, like rice-grain-sized? Did they smell bad when you squished one?"

"Oh, they weren't that tiny. More rice-size, I guess. I don't remember them smelling after they were crushed."

Smoke rubbed at their face and stood. "Those are carpenter ants. They're not here to eat your food."

Teak brightened. "Really? That's good."

"That depends on your idea of 'good'. What they're eating is the building."

Teak and Licorice exchanged looks, while the other staff glanced at Smoke in alarm. "That sounds not so good," Licorice said. "What were they doing in the kitchen, then?"

"Not sure. Might've been drawn here for moisture. You haven't seen them in other rooms?"

"Some of the other kitchens and the dining halls," Teak said. "That's it as far as I know.

Smoke flicked their ears back; carpenter ants did need water as well as wood, but it was still a little strange that their signs would only be in eating areas. "All the same size?"

"Uh. I didn't pay that much attention. I thought ants were just, you know. Ants," Teak said, sheepishly.

"When did people first start seeing them?"

"I dunno. Couple weeks ago?" Teak turned to others in the kitchen, who nodded concurrence with this estimate.

It's hard to tell how bad this is, although Smoke's gatherer should give some information about that in the morning. It's not likely to get significantly worse in the next few days, however.



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Me 2012

Poll RPG: Humane

"No." Smoke shook their head, and gave Licorice a half-smile. "Among other things, no one likes to deal with the corpses at the edge of the ward, or the scavengers that come for them."

Licorice laughed. "I'll say!" She winked back at Smoke. "Good of you to keep us poor janitor-types in mind. What do your wards do, then?"

Smoke wondered if she was being facetious or if corpses were still an issue at Courthall. Normally vermin stopped trying to enter in any quantity with lethal wards as old as the Courthall ones. "I use a combination of deterrence and sterilization. If it's a small incursion, like a single nest of ants or a couple of mice, the wards only prevent them from entering the building. If the wards keep encountering a type of creature -- for example, termites keep exploring the edge of the ward -- then it infects the insect with a contagion spell, one that will sterilize that individual and pass itself along to any other insects of the species it encounters. The contagion can only replicate itself so many times, so it won't exterminate a species. But it provides some population control for the overall area without having to put any death-magic into the environment. It also does some good against the rare vermin that are unaffected by preventive or death wards, because the contagion will still stick to them and infect their fellows."

Licorice tilted her head. "Some vermin are immune to wards? Is that how they're getting through?"

"No -- or at least, that shouldn't be it. The gatherer should have noticed if something just walked by the wards. And immune vermin are extraordinarily rare in the three species that are a problem here. Immunity is more of a concern with cockroaches." They'd reached the cellars by now, and Smoke frowned, studying the wards down here. The braided wards covered floor and the top and bottom few inches of the walls, but not the entire wall. That was sufficient for most things the wards were designed to protect against, but Smoke always did a lattice over the entire wall in any underground areas when she was warding against vermin. Yes, in theory, crawling insects couldn't get down from a wall without crossing the top or bottom barrier, and fleas came in through entrances on people or pets, not through walls. In practice, things got shoved up against walls, and insects could crawl along shelves to find a safe path down. Someone must have already warned Courthall about that in this cellar, because the shelves, cabinets, and other furnishings were all set back at least six inches from the walls. Smoke crouched to examine the gap. "Did they rearrange the cellar after the infestation?"

"Mm? Oh, yeah. Couple months ago. I think the old enchanter said they couldn't stack things against the walls. Didn't help, though."

Ants almost always had their nests outside of buildings, so it should have helped if that was the problem. Still, in a building the size of Courthall. Smoke scrunched her whiskers, thinking.



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Me 2012

A Public Dispute (59/80)

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The satyress and her Sun Host fey were walking on the Promenade. It was late evening, and the crystal bridge glowed like a jewel with the light of glamours. Ardent wore a chiton, as usual, while her servant wore a jacket and tights characteristic of the Sun Etherium. The white gold chain of his leash glittered between his collar and her wrist.

Ardent sighed as she brought up the topic again. “Miro, this ain’t working.”

Her companion turned to her, indigo eyebrows raised. “My lady? What isn’t working?”

“Your plan. It’s been three days, and your Host hasn’t sent anyone after you. Maybe that little act of yours in the Court was too convincing. Maybe your mom decided it’d be easier to kick you out than ransom you and your dad.”

He crossed jacket-clad arms, then uncrossed them and bowed his head, subserviently. “My lady, please, I beg of you to be patient. My mother the Sun Queen is not so heartless as that.”

“Then maybe she’s not so wealthy as that, either. I talked to Fallen. She ain’t giving Jinokimijin up lightly. If at all. And I’m not letting you trade yourself for Jino, so don’t even think about it.”

Long fey ears canted back. “My lady, I seek only to serve you—”    

“Uh huh. And so far, you’ve mostly gotten me in trouble. Everybody wants a piece of you, sugar. A servant I have to keep glued to my side wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

Brown eyes flashed up to meet hers, then dropped again. “Sun Etherium power has gotten you out of trouble, too,” he murmured.    

“Yeah, and it’s still trouble I wouldn’t have except for you. Look, I like you, I feel bad about your parent, but sun aether or not, I can’t keep watch over you. You gotta go home.”

“Please, my lady, I cannot leave. If you won’t help me—”

Ardent stopped and grabbed his chain, right before his throat. Fey had already been watching the argument, but the use of force drew eyes: a rare sight except when it was staged. Whispering started as it sank in that the Sun fey could not evade. Ardent hauled him to the balls of his feet by the leash. “You swore an oath to me, Mirohirokon, before the High Court of the Moon Host. You will obey my orders. I am not asking. This is an order. Leave the Moon Etherium. Go home.” She put a hand over her chest, fingers curling around the cloth between her breasts, as if to seize the locket or something else beneath it.

His eyes pleaded. “My lady, please.”

“No. I’m done! I’ll stay around a few days, see if there’s anything I can do for Jinokimijin. But you will leave. Tonight. Now.” She ported them to the edge of the Etherium. In silence, she escorted him off the ridge, until the pressure of moon aether could no long be felt. Ardent took the collar off of his neck. “Here.” She handed him a pair of walking boots from her locket, and then offered her wrist. “Channel from me.”

“I don’t want—”

“That’s an order! Do it!”

He flinched, and took her wrist. They stood in the moonlit darkness for some moments, before the golden-tan fey released her.

She swayed, caught her balance, and waved him off. “Go, already! And Justice help you.” In silence, he bowed to her, then put on the boots and departed, on enchantment-lengthened strides that covered dozens of yards each.

Ardent climbed the ridge back into the Etherium, and sat on the ground after she reentered the aether. She put her head in one hand, over her eyes, and breathed for a while. “Justice help us all,” she said, softly.

Then she teleported away.



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Poll RPG: Methodology

Smoke canted back their ears at Licorice's reaction, making their enby earrings chime with the gesture. "I'm sorry. I was just making conversation; I didn't intend to hit a sore spot. Is there something else you'd like to discuss?"

The human put her hands behind her back, rubbing one hand up and down the other arm. She gave a nervous chuckle. "Sorry, I kinda overreacted there. I mean. Any issues we've had with the existing wards aren't your fault. So ... um, you said Blackwood flew you in? Where are you from?"

"Crescent Bay." Smoke peered with enchantsight at the wards that wrapped about the House of Chamber's foundation. The braid of it encircled the door and the first-floor windows as well.

"Oh wow. You came from there today and you're still willing to work now? You must be made of steel."

Smoke laughed. "I'm not, but Blackwood is. He flew there and back today! He's fast, though. Maybe three and a half hours?"  They studied the braided ward, walking slowly along the perimeter with Licorice pacing them. To their surprise, the ward looked as solid as the gatherer had reported it was. They knelt to touch it, parsing out the strands of its components.

"Ouch. Now I see why you wanted to give him a break." She watched them work, head tilted curiously. "So what is enchanter's sight like, anyway?"

"Like translucent rainbows that you can feel, overlaying the ordinary world."  Smoke picked out the exact threads for repelling ants, fleas, and rats, and all three looked solid. They were aggressive wards, designed to kill vermin -- not to repel, sterilize or redirect.

"It sounds beautiful."

"It is, actually. One of the best parts of being an enchanter." Smoke darted a smile to Licorice as they followed the ward around the foundation to see if the threads weakened anywhere. "What do you like about your job?"

"Um, well, you meet some pretty interesting people," Licorice said. "So, can you tell what's wrong with the wards?"

"Not yet. I'm wondering if they missed an entrance.  Are there any tunnels that lead inside?"

"Yeah, a few from the cellars to other buildings. I'll show you." Licorice led them back inside. "So, how are wards supposed to stop vermin, when they work? Is it like an invisible wall to insects or what?"

"It depends on the enchanter. These ones are supposed to kill any of the creatures they forbid."

"... is that safe?" Licorice laughed. "I mean, for the creatures they aren't forbidding?"

"Generally," Smoke said. "It can catch insects that aren't specifically targetted but look kind of right. Like a ward against wasps might kill bees too. But it won't kill a human. Not even one wearing black and yellow stripes."

Licorice giggled. "Is that how you do your wards, too? By killing ... pests?"



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