It wasn’t the most inaccurate historical Ardent had participated in; she had to give it that much. The rules of war the fey had fought under during the battle were reasonably accurate to the period. Landara had rebelled against fey rule, and that rebellion had been put down by joint effort of the Sun and Moon Etheriums. Although Landara hadn’t captured the phoenix rose. It had been stolen and given to them by Water Crossing, a fey who sympathized with the humans and who’d been one of the fey explorers who’d discovered it. Ardent wasn’t sure why they’d omitted that fey’s role thus far. She’d assumed Water Crossing’s betrayal was the one alluded to in the title. Maybe they’re saving her so they can pin the Sundering on her? That’d be a serious revision of reality.
The re-taking of the phoenix rose was likewise severely ahistorical; Water Crossing and the Landaran general had used it to dig into the earth, literally, and throw up makeshift fortifications that the fey armies had spent weeks prying apart. The phoenix rose had effectively given the enemy a source of their own aether in an area far from anywhere the fey could get aether. Resupply had been nightmarish. Ardent wasn’t surprised the creators had opted against re-creating that scenario: it would have been much less fun than leaping about a battlefield, annihilating their foes.
In the immersion, the fey attack had devastated the Landaran army: thousands of corpses littered the field. The fey companies allowed thousands more to flee. The fey had been bloodthirsty during the combat, but their primary goals in this scenario were the recovery of the phoenix rose and the captives. Most participants didn’t care about maximizing their kills, at least not against panicked, running mortals.
The combined fey hosts had lost five fey, all to attacks aided by the phoenix rose.
That ratio of fallen mortals and fey was true to history. Even four hundred and fifty years ago, when the use of aether was far less refined and fey mastery of invulnerability and evasion had been less complete, aether made the Etherium armies all but invincible against humans.
Ardent was worried about Miro; she hadn’t realized that his lack of ordinary fey abilities would mean he’d experience the immersion fully. Somehow she’d thought the ability to tailor one’s experience was part of the spell, not part of the fey response to it. She should have known better; making immersion work when it had first been attempted thirty years ago had relied on convincing fey participants to allow a mind-altering glamour to affect them at all. The spells were designed with great transparency to fey senses, so that one could discern both the full extent and short duration of the alterations. But a mortal would have no resistance to it, and neither would a Sun Host fey in Moon Etherium. I knew I should have left him in my suite. Well, Wind Rider seems to be having a good time of it so far, and he’s a hero of the Moon Etherium who survived the Sundering, so it should be a good role. Which was more than she could say for her own part as Prince Loreveroro.
The fey forces rescued the imprisoned fey handily, in immersion-blurred time. Water Crossing wasn’t among them, and Ardent’s immersion-provided memories of Loreveroro didn’t mention her. The captives were all Sun Host members instead of a mixed party. General Qihitinene took possession of them. The Sun and Moon companies parted ways to set up their own camps. The plan was to rest for what was left of the night and part of the day.
But before they slept, General Qihitinene and the Sun princes debriefed the rescued fey. Their leader, Teralele, began with an apology. “I am sorry, my lord, your highnesses. We didn’t know how else to keep the phoenix rose out of Moon Etherium hands. We’d hoped the Landaran gambit would buy more time.”
The general glowered. “At least you got your Moon Etherium cohorts killed by them. That’s something. I wish you hadn’t let Wind Rider take the phoenix rose, your highness,” he said to Prince Imilasisi.
Imilasisi shrugged. “You did fine, Teralele. And general, they think we’re allies. We helped them save the day. Don’t fuss so; everything is going exactly according to my father’s plan. We’re not going to squander this opportunity on something so paltry as merely making the phoenix rose our own. Oh no. We are going to use this opportunity to destroy the Moon Etherium.”
Ardent boggled at the scene. She reviewed her immersion-memories and…yes. Loreveroro believed that the Sun Etherium planned to destroy the Moon Etherium by tricking them into Sundering themselves. This has nothing to do with any version of actual history. The Sundering wasn’t some botched plot to destroy the Moon Etherium. It was a cataclysm of shared hubris.
Imilasisi was continuing. “Teralele, you and your people will go with whatever representatives the Moon royals choose to the site of the world-portal. The general, my brother, and I will return with the Moon Host companies to their Etherium for the celebration. Our official goal remains as it always has been: consume the phoenix rose in opening the World Gate to give us new human worlds to conquer, and at the same time open a permanent portal between each Etherium and the World Gate. But Loreveroro and I will taint the channel the Moon casters open with us. While the World Gate and the portal to it from Sun Etherium open, the Moon Etherium’s part of the spell will twist upon itself. It will be destroyed in a cataclysm of misfired energies the likes of which this world has never seen before, nor will again.”
What. The Loreveroro-role nudged at Ardent’s mind, urging to endorse this absurd plan of a one-dimensional villain. That was her in-character response. But she was only lightly immersed in the role; she could refuse it if she chose. But Jinokimijin is playing Imilasisi, and as fully-immersed as Miro is. He doesn’t have a choice. And odds are the other villains here with me are played by the presenters, or just glamours. I’m not going to be able to reason my way out of this. And if I get Loreveroro killed here in this tent, General Qihitinene can replace his role in that ridiculous plot.
Teralele looked worried. “But your highnesses! How will you escape this cataclysm?”
“It’s a magical backlash. It will only affect the Moon Host and their Etherium. As Sun Host, we will be perfectly safe. Its collapse may not finish off the Moon Host affiliates at the World Gate, however; we’ll need you to take care of them.”
Ardent was pretty sure that was complete nonsense, just like the rest of this immersion scene. She sighed inwardly. But I suppose I’d better play along for now. Loreveroro smiled. “And even if we weren’t, our lives would be a small price to pay to rid the Sun of the blight of the Moon Etherium forever.”
“Just so.” Imilasisi raised his glass. “Just so.”
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