They hung in the overcast sky above the Moon Etherium. The clouds drizzled; this close to the edge of the aether no one bothered to conceal the true weather of the world behind enchantment and glamour. Automatically, Ardent put a shield against the rain around them along with a privacy bubble, as she hauled Miro out by the scruff. “Sunder it, Miro! What was that all about? Why, Justice lose us all, did you let her know you were still with me, after she told us she’s Fallen’s catspaw?”
“Because I needed her to know I don’t blame her, and I may not have another chance to tell her,” Miro said, too calmly. “Did you get the coordinates? Are we near?” He tried to twist his little head around, mouse form dangling between her thumb and forefinger.
“Yes, and no, we’re on the other side of the Etherium. I needed to do a little prep first and I didn’t want her to see it.” Ardent dropped Miro on a cushion of aether, then thought better of it and put him on her shoulder instead. She took off her main locket to get out her bag, and then the wardbreaker wand from it.
“You should send the lockets away,” Miro said. “And restore me to my trueshift shape. Everything that takes aether to maintain – unless we’re going to need it to get the phoenix rose or to fight Fallen, get rid of it.”
She knew what he meant: if it came to a confrontation with Fallen, every scrap of aether might matter. Even though it replenished quickly, every second could make the difference. She sent both lockets away, back to her room at the Underground. “You’re staying a mouse,” she told Miro. “I can protect you better that way. And not give away to Fallen that you’re still here. Assuming Rain didn’t tell her the second we left.”
“Ardent.” He rose to his hindpaws on her shoulder. “Please. Whether or not she knows, the last thing she’d expect is that you would have me be recognizable. Her first thought will be to assume that it’s a ruse to make her wary. And I should prefer to face my fate as a man, and not a mouse.”
Ardent clenched her fist around the wardbreaker rod. “Fine,” she growled. She set him down in the air and handed over his homunculus. As soon as he’d turned back, Ardent pulled him hard against her side. “I’m going to teleport us as close as I can to the coordinates for the ivory and alabaster. Then I’ll use this wand to break her wards, and port to the exact coordinates. If the phoenix rose is there, I’ll grab it and we’ll get out. If not, we improvise. Fallen still has a trace on me, so she’s going to try to stop me as soon as I get there. I don’t think she’ll move the phoenix rose, though. She won’t want to start over with that extractor.”
“Agreed. Ardent – whatever power you may need from me, you have to take it. No matter what. No more being cautious, or holding back.”
She glared at him, furious. “I am not going to risk killing you.”
Miro swallowed. “Believe me, I appreciate that. But getting the phoenix rose away from her is more important than my life. It’s more important than your life. You saw how terrified Rain is of her, and that’s when she doesn’t have her own personal source of power that can potentially destroy an entire Etherium. That was used to Sunder the world and kill tens of thousands of fey, and Divine only knows how many mortals. I do not wish to die, my lady. But if my life is what it takes, then know this: I give it gladly.”
“Shut up,” Ardent said, and hauled him up in both arms to kiss him, hard. “Stop being crazy.”
“I can’t,” he whispered, and she realized she’d given him an order, two orders, and didn’t know what it must have cost him to argue with her anyway. “Not yet. Please, my lady. Ardent. Promise me you will do everything in your power.”
She kissed him again, crushing him in her embrace. Miro answered her passion with his own, cradling her head in both hands, wrapping his legs around her waist as they floated together in the sky. When she broke the kiss at last, tears pricked at the back of her eyelids. “I will.”
Then Ardent opened her eyes, and teleported them both to the battle.
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