May 12th, 2017

Me 2012

A Matter of Competence (68/80)

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The new adjunct had arranged for a delivery of aethcacao pods. Jino freed the phoenix rose from its present extractor to hand-feed it bits of pulp and cocoa seeds. Cooing at the creature afterwards, he preened its feathers and ignored Fallen’s disgusted look. Once the bird had eaten its fill, he let it fly about loose in the lab for a few minutes. Then, with some regret, he caught it again and put it into a different extractor. This time he put a gold and diamond ring beneath the device to charge.    

Jino turned to the cloud of folded paper messengers already trailing behind him, awaiting his attention. Farspeaker messengers in the Sun Etherium were all creations of folded paper; only the shapes varied. He’d never thought it monotonous until he’d seen the diversity of the Moon Etherium. After reading several and answering a few, he checked on the ring. He put it on, and took the phoenix rose from that cage to move it into another in the long row of extractors.

“How?” Fallen spoke, for the first time in hours. “Was all my research wrong? Did you lie to me, all that stuff about seasoning and preparation? How could you lie, when you were sworn to me by blood and bond?”

Jino glanced at her and laughed. “I never lied to you.” He reviewed the delivery from the next messenger.

“Then how? How can you have so many prepared and ready for the bird? Did you have one before and lose it? How?

The Sun King laughed again, and stood. He looked down at her with utter contempt. “How? Because I’m not an idiot, Fallen. Because I’ve been studying the lore of the phoenix rose for forty-two years. Because I didn’t decide ‘well, no point in making any preparations until I’ve got a bird in hand’. Because I didn’t start with the biggest and most convoluted device that my newest servant told me about because it happened to be the one that could harness the most power. Here’s a tip for you, Fallen. It’s not how much raw power you have. It’s how well you use it. And here’s another one: you use power like a fool.”

She hissed, stung. “I used it well enough to catch you, Disgraced Jinokimijin. Just because your son was lucky enough to rescue you—”    

Jino laughed again. “By the Family, Fallen. Do you still delude yourself that anything that’s happening here has something to do with chance? Do you still think I didn’t know exactly where this bird was when I struck that deal with you?” She gaped at him, and he shook his head. “Justice. You do. How did you ever manage to amass such influence in the Moon Etherium and still be such a sorry fool? You know, I had failsafes in place to make sure you couldn’t order me to fetch extractors from my own collection, but you were never even smart enough to ask if I had working prototypes. Why yes, Fallen. I do. They’re right here.” He swept a hand across the laboratory. “You heard that I’d been disgraced, that I was a fool, that I was inept, and you never stopped to question your assumptions. No. You were too busy obsessing over your grand scheme – which would never have worked, by the by, because you couldn’t move that monstrous contraption to the Sun Etherium to destroy it, and your little wands wouldn’t be able to make a dent in the Sun Etherium’s supply even at maximum efficiency. I thought for sure you must be planning to transform the Moon Etherium instead. But that wouldn’t have worked either, not without a Moon channel in the Sun Etherium. Nonetheless, you were so sure that your plan was brilliant. You were so convinced that you’d outmaneuvered everyone that you never remembered: the rest of us are all people, too. And we’re not all standing still, waiting while you pull your scheme together. You wasted your time thinking up petty ways to hurt people and admiring your own cleverness at torture. ‘Oh, look, I can’t stab a fey directly, but if I get enough influence over them then I can make them cut themselves, just to keep me happy’.” Each word dripped with his contempt. “And you thought that clever. That’s why you lost, you imbecile. Because everyone may have been scared of you, but they all hated you too. Next time, try making some friends.”        

“Hah! You dethroned your own queen and you talk to me of having too many enemies? How do you plan to make friends, Jinokimijin?”    

Jino leaned back in his seat and gave her a lazy smile. “Mostly? By dethroning my own queen. She wasn’t quite as loathed as you, mind. But it will suffice.” He checked on the latest extractor, and took the bird out of it, along with a charged steel rod. He teleported himself and Fallen to a new chamber: a plain-looking wooden box eight feet on a side. It had no real windows or doors, but for the sake of appearances he glamoured it to look like a bedroom. He even troubled himself to make the bed real. One of the wall panels opened to reveal steel bars behind it, with an empty set of rings going across. He slotted the steel bar through the rings and closed the panel, then leashed Fallen to the bed and expanded the room’s space. “Get on the bed,” he told her.

She complied, looking suddenly worried. “Please, master, don’t – I didn’t make you—”

“Didn’t make me what?” Jinokimijin snarled. “Brand your name on my arm with burning iron? Kiss my own son like a lover? Oh wait.” She cringed back, and he glowered at her in disgust. “Don’t worry. I am not the kind of monster who’s obsessed with petty cruelties.” No, Jino thought. I’m the kind of monster who risks his son’s life for political gain, and hated himself. “Stay on this bed and in this place until I tell you otherwise. Do not attempt anything clever; you’ll only embarrass yourself further. You can sleep if you like.” He raised a hand to port away.

“What are you doing? Why are you leaving me here?” Fallen asked.

“Baiting a trap. Sleep well.”

Of course, his enemies attacked his position that night. When he’d invited the former queen’s partisans to attack him earlier, he’d known they wouldn’t do so. He’d been far too formidable: alert, armed with a channel and the phoenix rose, and with the Sun Etherium’s power at an ebb to boot. But they had to try eventually.

They didn’t go after Jinokimijin directly. A total of six fey tried to capture Fallen. The cage she was in caught them instead, and allowed neither them nor their messages to escape. Another three went into a similar cage, baited with Eletanene, whom he’d intercepted on her way up. Two tried to break into Jinokimijin’s bedroom, where he was sleeping on a bed next to Miro’s. They’d hoped to wrest the phoenix rose from him. Jino let them through his wards so he could capture them and put them into one of the cages. He took the opportunity to check on Miro and verify that the golems were doing an effective job of keeping watch. They’d had to move him from bath to bed twice as they managed his fever and chills.

Jino kissed his son’s forehead and went back to bed, weeping.

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