They were beside a sky palace: one of the smaller ones, made of pearl with silver crenellations. Glass dragons patrolled the airspace around it. Ardent did not pause to take her bearings or take in the whole. As a glass dragon bore down upon them, she pointed her wand at the pearlescent wall and activated its power. The wall collapsed inwards, in a twisted funnel of mangled spellwork and failed space-expansion. The nearest dragon opened its jaws. Ardent ported again.
The teleport placed them in a large chamber, with pure aether pooled in a circular marble fountain some thirty yards across. In the middle of the fountain, where the centerpiece would be, hung the extractor. It was an intricate cage of not just ivory and alabaster, but gold and steel, polished granite and mirror-bright crystals, in nesting spheres of increasing sizes. The outermost sphere was several feet across. Each of the spheres revolved, at different angles and speeds. A ward of fire and ice swirled about the last sphere. Three humanoid figures of stone and crystal were assembling yet another sphere around the existing one.
In the center of the extractor’s smallest sphere – only a couple of feet across – the phoenix rose perched on a hovering horizontal bar. It looked nothing like the bird from the immersion: this creature had a long body with long, pointed tail feathers, most of it white with purple lines outlining the feathers. Its eyes were bright amber, its beak a deeper purple, like its talons. It hunched miserably, feathers fluffed out, avoiding contact with the cage walls.
Ardent stood calf-deep in the aether pool, Miro in one arm with his own arms looped around her neck, the wand in her other hand. She pointed the wand at the sphere. “The workers are golems,” Miro told her.
“Get out!” Fallen ported in and thrust her hand at Ardent, throwing a massive wave of power at her. Jinokimijin was with her, leashed to her wrist. Instead of evading, which would have thrown Ardent out of Fallen’s palace, the satyress tossed up a ward of her own fueled with sun aether. Claws of sun aether grew from her hooves to sink into the floor of the fountain. Fallen’s wave of power crashed against the ward and shoved; Ardent’s sun-aether-claws dug furrows into the marble as she slid backwards. Fallen hit her with another wave, backed by sun aether drawn from Jino. “This is my home! Get out!”
As Ardent’s ward crumbled under the onslaught, she activated the wardbreaker wand, still pointed at the extractor. The ward around it melted into mist, but the extractor cage was unaffected: it was all real materials, and all located in real space. Fallen shrieked, and shaped a tentacle to reach into the cage and grab the bird.
Ardent ported on top of the cage and threw a ward of her own to encircle the innermost ring, just in time to block Fallen’s tentacle. Fallen pulled aether from the pool and swirled it into a ward to stop Ardent from teleporting. The spell would suck any aether Ardent used for such purpose away before she could start. Ardent dropped her own now-powerless wand and launched herself at Fallen. Her right fist drove a sleep-enspelled spike for Fallen’s head. She drew on all her remaining reserves of sun aether to prevent Fallen from evading, and opened the channel with Miro to let more flood in to replenish it. Purpose anchored her against the intoxicating rush of power. Her nerves hummed, but she had never felt more focused, more aware of the world around her, and of the raw power she could wield in it.
It wasn’t enough.
Fallen drew her own wand to dispel the sun aether and dodged Ardent’s fist. She grabbed Jinokimijin’s wrist with her other hand and turned her wand into a sword to stab – not at Ardent, but at Miro, held in one arm. Ardent burned sun aether to interpose her own body, and grunted as she absorbed the blow. Fey invulnerability made it glance off her skin, the extra power behind it leaving a bruise but not piercing. Miro felt like a furnace on her arm, burning up as Ardent pulled aether recklessly through him. “Never break!” she yelled at him. “That’s an order!” Fallen and Jinokimikin disappeared in a teleport. Ardent looked around wildly as she bolted back to the extractor. She saw Fallen drop on them from above, sword down to slash at Miro, power swirling around Ardent to keep her from evading.
Whispers Rain ported on top of Fallen and tried to grab her. “No!” Instinctively, Fallen evaded the grasp, and changed the angle of her own attack. As she did so, Jinokimijin yanked herself into Fallen’s body by the leash, and drew the arm Fallen gripped in front of the blade.
The sword fell with full force onto Jinokimjin’s arm, severing it just below the elbow.
Leaving Fallen holding her channel’s hand…but not her channel.
Jino tumbled into the fountain of aether with a scream, clutching the stump of her arm. Ardent curled over Miro to take the remaining force of the sword against her back. Fallen ported back a few feet and made another clumsy strike before she realized she didn’t have a channel, or sun aether to pin Ardent with. Ardent evaded and took Miro with her. Whispers Rain screamed, “Stop it! Just stop it!” at Fallen and grabbed for her sword arm. Fallen evaded Rain, but after that Ardent’s sun aether held her in place. Ardent smashed her fist into the gray fey’s face, sleep-spike point first. Fallen collapsed.
“Don’t die don’t die don’t die,” Ardent chanted at Miro as she turned to the extractor. She smashed it apart, ignoring her own ward, and pulled the phoenix rose out. The bird made a querulous cooing noise at her. Ardent dropped to her knees with Miro in her lap. “How do I use this to heal him?” she yelled, and didn’t even know who she was hoping would answer.
Miro’s eyes slitted open at her shout. “Did we…?” His voice was almost inaudible, hoarse, strained.
“Yes,” Ardent told him. “Yes. See? Jino’s free.” She held up the phoenix rose in her other hand. “Rest now. Don’t die. That’s an order, Justice take it.” Miro stirred, tried to lift a hand to touch the bird, said something Ardent couldn’t hear. She put the bird in his lap and clasped his hand over it, tears running down her cheeks.
Whispers Rain helped Jino to her feet. “No, no, your arm—” She tried to stop the bleeding with aether, but could not heal the Sun fey’s injury.
“I can always get another one.” Jino clamped her fingers tighter around her elbow and staggered. “If I don’t bleed to death. But I only have one son. Miro, Mirohiro, what have you done?” Whispers Rain dissolved the chains on Jino into the aether, and made a tourniquet around the Sun fey’s elbow. Rain half-supported Jino over to Miro and Ardent. Jino sank to her knees beside her son, and shifted to take him in her good arm.
Ardent let her. “The phoenix rose – isn’t there anything it can do?” she pleaded.
Miro breathed shallowly, his skin flushed as red as sunburn. He shifted his hand on the bird. “Look, Dad,” he whispered. “We did it.”
Jino swallowed. “So you did, Mirohiro.” She unclasped one of her earrings, a hoop of white gold and rubies. “I will do everything that I can,” Jino said, looking at Ardent, but the tears in the Sun fey’s eyes made her heart stop. “Thank you.” She clasped the hoop around the phoenix’s neck.
Miro, Jino, and Fallen disappeared.
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.