The pointlessly huge hall led to a slightly less pointless antechamber. This one had seats, and some fey awaiting permission to attend the court. Argent farspoke the queen’s adjunct again, then approached the doors to the court, bypassing those still waiting. The unicorn golem-guards opened a little door set into the house-sized double ones, and they passed into the Palace’s Great Hall.
Miro was used to the grand excesses of fey lords, but the Great Hall of the Moon Queen was something entirely other. It was like stepping into the night sky, if the sky were something one could walk in. He didn’t fall, but he couldn’t feel a floor holding him up, either. Ardent strode unfazed through the moonlit darkness, and he followed her as if she were the Path itself. Perhaps she was.
A throne in the shape of a crescent moon hung, unsupported, at the center of this sky-space. The Moon Queen rested at ease in its curve. She was a regal figure, her midnight-blue skin dusted with the swirls of nebulas and galaxies, crescent moons descending from the corners of her eyes. Her hair was a mane of glowing white, while dark antlers crowned her brow and a platinum circlet rested above them. She had dragonfly wings, translucent and gleaming with the stars beyond them.
Ranged about her were the fey of her High Court, Miro presumed, though he only recognized a few of them by sight. There was the great silver-and-blue dragon, Light Calls to Light, curled in empty space beneath the throne: they were one of the three High Lords of the Moon Etherium. To the queen’s right sat the crown prince Shell Inspire, a tall, slender human figure with pearlescent skin and a twisting unicorn’s horn rising from his forehead. He didn’t have a throne like his mother’s crescent moon, but there was a subtle pattern to the stars around him, that suggested he was seated on a throne made to match the backdrop. Now that Miro was looking for it, he could see similar seats among the other High Court figures. At the Queen’s left was the gray, fox-tailed figure of the Queen’s Surety, Shadow of Fallen Scent.
She had Miro’s parent kneeling in chains at her feet.
Miro knew Jinokimijin at once by soulsight, and by the tangled ropes of obligation that joined them, the goodness and corruption in the connection hopelessly intertwined. Jino had a good soul on the whole, or so Miro had always thought: clear, intense blues and greens that indicated durability, kindness, and determination. But it was not without flaws: flecks of bitterness, twisted knots of hatred, and long streaks of deceit and manipulation marred it with the gangrenous tint of corruption.
But Fallen had reshaped her fey slave’s physical form. The facial features were more delicately beautiful, skin paler, hair still rich gold but finer and straighter. Jino’s new body was short, slender and barely clothed, emphasizing a female figure too young to be so sexualized: rounded shoulders, small high breasts, narrow waist and hips, slim legs. She wore humiliatingly literal chains, as if the corrupted cable soulsight showed yoked to her neck might be insufficient. A loose silver chain linked ankle cuffs and a second the wrist cuffs, while a collar had its leashed end looped around Fallen’s wrist. Jewelry dangled from her ears, silvery hoop earrings, including one decorated with rubies. With Miro’s hair changed to white-blonde, the two Sun Host fey looked like the close relatives they were, though a mortal would think Jino the younger sister, not the father. Pale characters marred her inner arm like a tattoo, reading, “Property of Shadow of Fallen Scent”.
Jino met her son’s eyes across the empty space, with a startled expression she tried and failed to mask. A brief smile, perhaps meant to be reassuring, flickered and died on bow-shaped lips. Miro looked away, his face a mask. He didn’t even know how he felt, much less how he ought to feel, or what expression to show. There were another twelve or fifteen figures in the Moon High Court: princesses, another prince, high nobles, ministers. Miro should have tried to figure out who was who, but sick dread forming in his stomach made it impossible to focus. None of them had souls that inspired trust, though most of them weren’t monsters, not even the ogre-lord who wore a monster’s shape.
Except for Fallen, who had the second-foulest soul he’d ever seen. It was more corruption than not, a seething hideous mass of power lust, cruelty, and greed. He could smell the stench of her from here.
And this was the woman that he’d let enslave his father.
Miro turned from the High Court to look around the rest of the space. There were a few hundred fey present, scattered in clusters about the starry space. Collectively, they drifted in a slow orbit around the High Court figures. Their souls were in better shape than the High Court’s, on the whole. The audience had less power lust and less cruelty, although streaks of sadism were still much more in evidence than they’d been in Try Again. Mostly, it was fear that weighed their souls down, fear and obligations – not to their Queen, but to Fallen. All of the High Court held an abundance of strings, but Fallen’s array was dizzying in number, and all miserable corrupted strings. The fey were all in different attitudes and positions. Some looked upside down or sideways relative to the throne, but their hair and clothes always hung as if the ground were under their feet. Sound did not echo here: it vanished into the unbounded space, so the murmuring of the assembly barely carried. Miro could sometimes glimpse outlines like stairs, bridges, balconies, underneath the fey, but when he blinked, there was only the void. And he still could feel nothing beneath his feet.
Ardent came to a stop alongside a cluster of a half-dozen fey. She laid her arm about his shoulders, as if to steer him to stand in the right place. He closed his eyes to breathe her in, and reminded himself, This place is better than you expected.
It was true.
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