They returned to the same spot they’d vacated, but the Queen was no longer next to them. Miro surveyed the ship’s environs, and saw the Moon Queen had joined the aether dancers. Whispers Rain, too, was dancing in the air, graceful swoops while partnered with a fey in the shape of a giant dragonfly. Miro saw Ardent’s eye stray in her direction, and wondered if she was imagining dancing with her. The angle of the heavy, unpleasant chain of obligation on Rain’s soul had changed. By reflex, Miro followed it to see if the holder was present.
The thick corrupted line led directly to Fallen.
Shadow of Fallen Scent stood before a tall, white-winged centaur, deep in conversation. She had so many ugly strings on souls both present and elsewhere that it was hard to pick out an individual strand. But the centaur’s soul was another one of her victims, and Fallen’s soul was pulling on the string between them, making it vibrate with whatever she was demanding.
Miro looked around the ship’s deck to make note of any other people that Fallen had particularly thick strings upon. There were a few High Court members. It struck Miro how important Ardent must have been to the Etherium, that so much of the Court would attend a party in her honor even after a fourteen-year absence. One individual Miro hadn’t seen at court, a flying merman with the black and white pattern of an orca, stood out for the ugliness of his soul. It was a mottled thing with its good parts choked by solipsism and cruelty. Fallen’s looked worse, but it was more a distinction of scale than kind. No wonder he ended up in her debt.
The aether dance came to a close, the final notes dying away as the musicians finished their piece and did not segue into a new one.
Queen Skein of the Absolute flew along one of the aether currents to a position above the musicians on the raised quarterdeck, and hovered before the drifting streamers that hung from the rear mast’s yards. “My friends, we have come together on this joyous occasion to welcome my faithful servant and former Justiciar Ardent Sojourner back to the Moon Etherium. Ardent, I remember you have always been a great enthusiast for history and immersions. In your honor, I present the latest work from Through the Glass, a historical piece set during the time of Sundering.” A round of enthusiastic applause followed this announcement. Even Miro perked up. Immersions were a relatively new art form, a kind of shared-storytelling game. A fey artist or, more often, a large team of fey artists, would design a scenario and then assign various parts in it to participants. The best immersions were complicated affairs with hundreds of parts, each with their own story arc to explore, each intersecting with the whole. The “immersive” aspect came from a form of glamour that gave each participant a full understanding of their character’s background and motivations. Rules governed each scenario, enforcing artificial limits on fey abilities during the immersion that would make its challenges more real. Many of them involved simulated combat. Nothing that happened would affect the participants in reality, but if one accepted the immersion wholly, it would feel as if it were real.
Miro had always liked immersions. They made participants think about times and situations when problems were a matter of life-and-death, and that lent some perspective to the less dramatic woes of everyday life.
After the applause died down, the Queen continued, “Please welcome Through the Glass’s lead artist, Reflections on Water.”
The white centaur who had been talking to Fallen flew into the air beneath his queen, and spoke after a second, shorter, round of applause. “Your majesty honors myself and my friends with this opportunity. Thank you. This is a special preview of our newest work, The Betrayal, an immersive re-imagining of the events surrounding the Great Sundering. It’s never before been performed, and we hope you will forgive any rough spots in the narrative. With your good will, let us begin.” He lifted a hand, and a half-dozen other fey throughout the crowd did the same. Starlit points scattered from their fingertips to target each member of the audience, assigning each one a unique role.
Ardent broke the starlit spells before they could reach her or Miro. She walked to the caster for their parts instead. The caster was a black-and-red naga woman, who gave her a puzzled look at her approach. “Is something amiss, my lady?”
“Just want to know what parts we’re getting before we start,” Ardent said.
“My lady has the role of Prince Wind Rider, and her servant is to be Prince Loreveroro.” They were both historical figures, warrior-princes of the pre-Sundering age from the Moon and Sun Etheriums respectively. Prince Loreveroro had been one of the two princes of the Sun Host who had gone to Moon Etherium during the ill-fated ninth century Centennial Celebration. He’d died channeling for a Moon Host caster during the Sundering.
“Nope. I don’t think so,” Ardent said, flatly. “The prince doesn’t channel for anyone but me.”
“My lady, I assure you the channeling is simulated, not actual. No harm—”
“No. No simulated channeling. He is mine. I’m not risking any accidents with a never-before-performed leading-edge immersion.” Ardent waved a hand to dismiss the naga’s put-upon and offended look. “Just give me Loreveroro’s part and he can be Wind Rider. I don’t care how cute you all think it is to give our Sun Host channelers the parts of doomed Sun Host channelers. You can make him Wind Rider or we can both sit it out.”
The naga dipped her head. “Yes, my lady.” She cast the spell again, and this time Ardent did not intercept it. As Miro received the spell, he reflexively gestured to adjust the immersion as it would affect him: minimal pain, minimal acceptance of the role so it would not override his personality, and a moderate impact on his senses so that he could still straddle with the real Moon Etherium.
Too late, he realized it wouldn’t work: he had no aether with which to control how deeply he was affected. The spell settled upon him at full intensity, and Mirohirokon was gone.
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