It took three days to remove Fallen from the High Court. In addition to her physical evidence, Ardent convinced two of the thugs who’d tried to abduct Miro and the one she’d caught trying to rob her to testify that Fallen had coerced them into their crimes. Others came forward with more details about Fallen’s corruption and misdeeds. Fallen had a variety of methods for indebting and obligating fey to her, from promising artists grants and visibility for their work, to threatening to destroy their creations, to catering to their darkest desires. Once she had someone in her debt, she would ask small favors to drag them deeper into ethical murk, tricking them into enabling much worse acts. Fallen would generously ensure that their complicity remained hidden – and they would end further in her debt for that. It was social manipulation built on fear and secrecy, instead of mutual support and trust. The method had been remarkably effective.
To Ardent, the most appalling part was that Fallen had re-enabled the slave trade in mortals. It was one of her dirty, well-kept secrets, partly because Skein of the Absolute had no tolerance for mortal slavery, and partly because it made a much better handle for control when the fey recipients had to fear discovery and the revelation of their crimes. But some fey, like Stalks Hunter, had supported Fallen’s quest to build a new Etherium because she’d promised them the abuse of mortals would be acceptable in it. “Why should we treat them like people?” Stalks had said, unrepentant. “They’re not people. They’re weak, fragile, powerless, nothing. When one gets broken, who notices? If I choose to be careless with my toys, whose business is it besides my own?”
Ardent found herself helping the Justiciar – whose debt to Fallen now manifested as a puppy-like eagerness to prove he did not support her misdeeds – look for surviving mortals to free. The queen also wanted evidence against Fallen’s worst cohorts. Some of Fallen’s allies refused to give up on their patron, or were determined to obstruct the investigation because they knew they could not make it through the coming purge unscathed.
Days were not enough. Months probably wouldn’t be.
But then the rumors started about what had happened in the Sun Etherium. There wasn’t much contact between the two Etheriums, as normal teleports and farspeaking could not breach the hundred-eighty mile gap between them. But some barbarian traders and wanderers travelled between the two, bearing news and stories that soon turned to wild tales. By the morning of the third day, the Moon Etherium seethed with them. The wildest said Jinokimijin had returned and slaughtered the entire Sun Court while the Sun Etherium’s wards were drained. Others contended that only the Sun Queen was dead, or that no one was dead, or that the Sun Queen had executed Mirohirokon and Jinokimijin had killed her in revenge. Everyone agreed that Jinokimijin was now the ruler of the Sun Etherium. There were further rumors that the Sun King had declared war; upon whom or what varied.
Shortly after the Moon Court convened on the third day, amid rumors of a bloodbath in the Sun Etherium, the High Court ended their deliberations. They ruled that, for the good of the Etherium, Shadow of Fallen Scent was removed from her post as Surety to the Queen. The ruling was unanimous.
It didn’t end with Fallen’s removal. It only began.
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