The thirteenth teleport took Jinokimijin to her laboratory in the outer ring of the Sun Etherium, strategically located 0.673 miles from the center of the Etherium. The levels of aether were much lower than usual, but it was still an incalculable relief after the oppression of moon aether. She tried to stand with her son in her arms, and realized she lacked both the strength and hands that this task required. She left Fallen slumped on the laboratory floor. At a mental command, the phoenix rose teleported herself and Miro into the large, shallow bathing pool in her bedchamber. Unattended for over a week, the chamber stank of mildew. The water was room temperature and had a thin layer of scum on top. Jino scraped enough aether from the air to cleanse the water, and cooled it by several degrees more. She set the disgruntled phoenix rose on the edge of the pool and hauled herself dripping out beside it. She pulled Miro’s head into her lap. He felt like a furnace, his heart hammering like a hummingbird’s beneath her palm. “No no no, Mirohiro, my Mirohiro, don’t die, Love, Love, what have I done?”
Miro’s eyelids fluttered. “We’re home,” he whispered.
“Yes, little one. Rest. Can you try to slow your pulse?”
“No.” Miro closed his eyes again. “Is it over, Mom? Did you finish it?”
“Not yet, Mirohiro, why did you do it? Why did you let me talk you into this? Justice, I’m a worse monster than your mother ever was. Please don’t die. I love you, Mirohirokon. Please don’t die.”
“Can’t die,” Miro whispered. “Ardent’s orders. You go now, Mom. Not a monster. You need to fin’sh it. Don’t…waste…” Her son’s eyelids flickered and went still, body going limp.
Jino curled herself around his head and shoulders, wracked by helpless, useless sobs. Miro still breathed, in shallow painful gasps, heart still beating. The aether in the air grew a little thicker as a minute trickled past, and Jino forced herself upright. She tried to wipe her face with her bloody stump and realized by the pain in it what she was doing. She stifled a half-hysterical laugh and conjured just enough aether to scab over the wound. Regrowing it could wait. Everything could wait. Jino fixed an aether mask over her son’s face that would ensure he got fresh air. Fey invulnerability should protect him against drowning, but Jino did not want to take chances in Miro’s current condition. The phoenix rose had wandered halfway across the room, exploring. Jino grabbed it and ported to the laboratory.
Fallen was where she’d left her, still unconscious. Jino took the phoenix rose to one of several elaborate extractor cages, and tucked it inside over its squawking protests. “I know, I know, you just got out. I’m not keeping you forever, don’t worry,” Jino told it. She charged a wand from that extractor, then transferred the phoenix rose to a different one while it screeched at the indignity. “Sorry, sorry. We’ll be done soon.”
The screeching was loud enough to rouse Fallen from her aether-induced slumber. “What – what happened?” Horror dawned on her features as the timbre of the aether made it obvious where she was. “You treacherous cow! Take me home, Jiji!”
Jino laughed. “My name is Jinokimijin, but you can call me ‘master’. Get up.”
Against her will, she stood. “No – no, it’s not possible – the phoenix rose was mine first!”
“The deal wasn’t for ‘first’. Just ‘mine’. Mine now.” She took the phoenix’s cage off its hook, and slung it by a strap over her shoulder. Jino took the wand in her left hand, and realized she didn’t have a free hand to grab Fallen with. Sighing, Jino stuck her stump to the fox-tailed woman’s throat.
“What are you going to do to me?” Fallen whispered, frightened.
“Well, that depends. How fast can the Queen of the Moon Host kick you out of the Moon Court?” Jino channeled moon aether out of Fallen and regrew her own hand with the abundant power. She took Fallen’s wrist and teleported to the sky above the Palace of the Sun.
The Sun Etherium had an architectural grandeur and unity entirely unlike the Moon Etherium. It was a beautiful city of white and gold and crystal, with streets arranged in concentric circles about the center. Roads radiated like spokes on a wheel outwards with mathematical precision. The buildings themselves rose with fanciful curves and straight lines, decorated in abstract motifs or pastoral ones. The Palace of the Sun was set in a crystal globe laced with gold that surmounted an improbably slender pillar. It was a beautiful, intricate work of spiraling towers and crystal rooms, radiant with its own light.
Jino leveled her wand upon the crystal globe and blasted a hole in its wards, already weakened by the depletion of aether from the Sun Etherium. She teleported with Fallen into the Sun Court.
The Sun Court was held in a long golden hall. The Queen of the Sun Host sat in all her regal finery on a gigantic throne shaped like a rearing dragon. The High Court was arranged in rows to either side, their proximity to Her Majesty decided by the queen’s favoritism at the moment. Lesser courtiers took stations even farther away. Petitioners waited at the far end, and walked the length of the carpet at the center. How near they were allowed to draw to the queen depended on their social standing.
Jino put herself and Fallen in the air two paces in front of the queen’s throne.
Queen Eletanene had her head turned to one side and was in mid-rant, and so managed not to notice Jino anyway. “—is on you, Princess Amalatiti! If you hadn’t thwarted my efforts to have that worthless offspring of a disgraced coward removed from the High Court, we wouldn’t be vulnerable now. Chancellor Vayanivan! Have you figured out yet how long it will take the aether to regenerate to normal levels? Surely we can’t have to worry about this again – that idiot boy Miro must be dead by now, praise the light.”
Blood roared in Jino’s ears. She ripped power through Fallen’s body and launched herself like a spear at the throne. Some well-intended fool tried to put a ward over the queen: it shredded under Jino’s wand. The ceremonial dragon golem guards sprang to interpose themselves, and the wand crumbled them to dust. Moon aether pinned the queen to the throne, turned the wand to a club, and drove it against her perfumed head.
Even with the Sun Etherium depleted, the Sun Host fey retained invulnerability. The moon-aether-enhanced blow did not smash open her skull, merely made her reel to one side in the throne and split the skin. Blood trickled down Queen Eletanene’s face. She stared at Jino. “Who dares?” She tried to rise. Jino clubbed her again.
Jino was dimly aware of shouting in the room: cries of “Assassin!” and “Stop her!” She pulsed moon aether out in a wave across the hall that sent courtiers flying, or pinned them to their chairs, or forced them out to evade. Jino clubbed her ex-wife a third time, then finally recovered her senses enough to stop. She dropped the club and stepped on it to discourage herself from picking it up again.
“Who are you?” Eletanene asked, half slumped on her throne, her voice thick and dazed. “What do you want? I am Queen of the Sun Etherium, surely we can come to some…arrangement…”
“Your throne. And your absence. I am Jinokimijin, Ele, and if you ever speak of our son again I swear you will wish that I had killed you this day.” Jino unslung the phoenix rose’s cage from her shoulder and rested it on the queen’s chest.
“Jino?” Her tone reeked of disbelief. “No – no – you can’t possibly be that fool. Who are you in truth? What are you doing?”
“Taking your heart.” Jino activated the extractor. The Sun Queen screamed. “Or, more accurately, the heart of the Sun Etherium.” A brilliant golden glow pulled loose from the queen’s body, with a sickening wet sucking sound. Eletanene fell to one side, unconscious but still breathing.
Jino took the glow in her free hand and pushed it into her own ribcage, then turned to face the court. “My ladies, lords, gentlefolk: this is a coup. I hold the Heart of the Sun Etherium now. By ancient tradition of Might Makes Right And I Have All The Justice-Deprived Might You Can Imagine, I proclaim myself the Sun King Jinokimijin. Your ex-queen is not dead. I intend a bloodless coup, but if any here have objections to my rule, I am sure I can be persuaded to revisit that intent. Anyone? Come now, you all know there’ll be a reckoning in the days to come. Doesn’t anyone want to try me before my grasp is secure?” Jino pulled more moon aether out of Fallen, and she staggered.
Nervous courtiers exchanged glances, shifted in place, and said nothing. “No? All right.” Jino rolled the queen’s body out of the throne and onto the floor, and took the empty seat. “On your knees, now, Fallen. You know your place. There’s a good girl.” To the rest of the hall, Jino continued, “I’ll accept your pledges now. Let’s start with – oh – you, Princess Amalatiti.” He beckoned to her with one finger. “Don’t be shy.”
“Yes, your majesty.” The tenth-favorite child of the former Sun Queen stood to ascend the steps towards the throne. She dropped to one knee before Jino. “I pledge my loyalty to the good of the Sun Etherium, and to the realm’s rightful ruler, the Sun King Jinokimijin.”
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