The Moon Etherium’s archive was a round tower, perhaps sixty feet in diameter, lined by bookshelves and cabinets that stretched out of eyesight far above. It had neither stairs nor ladders, although perches and platforms of varying sizes extended from the walls at regular intervals, forty or so feet apart. Ardent and Miro had arrived at the base, near a set of shelves that held a dozen statues of winged lemurs, each perhaps a foot and a half tall. The floor level had seating, including a cushioned ring wider than a bed that ran most of the wall. The lowest shelves that held books were ten feet above it.
“Hullo, White!” Ardent shouted, to no one visible. She wandered over to the lemur statues. “Huh. The index used to be here. Are you lot the new index?”
One of the lemurs animated, and nodded to her.
“Huh. I’m looking for something on channeling between opposite hosts. Moon Etherium affiliate channeling from Sun Etherium affiliate, or vice versa, I suppose. Where do I go?”
“You don’t,” a voice boomed from above. Miro looked up to see a vast red dragon with a thirty-foot wingspan descending upon them in a tight spiral. The rich aether of the Moon Etherium swirled around the dragon, tendrils pulled in to sustain an otherwise impossibly large shift. White rose tattoos bloomed along red flanks, long thorny stems intertwined down to the tail tip. The dragon was missing the lower half of their left foreleg, as if amputated from just below the knee. The amputation was an unusual affectation; the same shift which gave this individual dragon form could easily have restored a missing limb. They had no visible sex characteristics, but even Miro’s dulled senses could detect the mixture of male and female hormones in their scent. The mix was wholly unlike the genderless scent of a child or neuter shape, and not distinctly male or female. Unimpeded by the absent forefoot, White Rose landed neatly on a perch above the shelves of lemur statues. They craned their long neck down to just above Ardent’s head. “That’s what the golems are for. I’ve had enough of fey idiots tromping through my hoard, re-shelving my books in the wrong place, and making an enormous mess of everything. You want something, the lemurs can get it for you. Stay put.”
Ardent reached up to pat the dragon’s nose. “Hey, great to see you too, White.”
A serpentine tongue flicked out and licked her arm. “And you, Ardent.” Yellow eyes turned to Miro. “And you’re Prince Mirohirokon.” White Rose pronounced his name in proper Sun Etherium style: Mee-roh-hee-roh-cone. The dragon had an interesting soul, a mixture of clear, intense colors and dull patches, with a strong gangrenous tentacle of greed snaking through it, alongside spreading tendrils of arrogance and pride. They and Ardent shared strings upon one another: the bright, healthy connections of long friendship, untainted by unwanted obligation. The dragon had a collection of other strings, but owed few obligations.
Miro bowed. “Mirohirokon is fine. The ‘prince’ is rather out of place, under the circumstances. A pleasure to meet you, noble dragon.”
White Rose answered with a little snort. Ardent was explaining her request in more detail to the lemurs, several of whom had clustered closer to her to listen. One gave a little squeak and flew up, while the rest still attended. “Do you know Sudesunene?” White asked Miro.
“Yes, she’s the Sun Etherium’s archivist.”
“Is she still? Good. How is her collection?”
“Pitifully small and woefully inadequate to the needs of a modern Etherium, due to the callous disregard of a decadent, indifferent Sun Host for the value of true learning,” Miro answered. “Without Lady Sudesunene, the culture and history of Sun Etherium would have been lost beyond hope of recall centuries ago. Or so she has informed me on many occasions.”
The dragon laughed. “Wonderful!”
“She’s working on a project to have golems translate the written Old World tongue to ours,” Miro added. “It is a source of endless frustration to her. She loves it.”
“Oh?” Draconic fan-ears widened, tilting towards him. Ardent had finished instructing the lemurs and a dozen or so were winging about the tower in search of materials. “Does she have any results yet?”
“Yes. The phrasing is awkward, but reasonably intelligible.”
“How delightful. Perhaps I will write her and see if we cannot arrange an exchange. When you see her again, be sure to tell her of the immense superiority of my hoard.” A negligent wave of their tail toward the stacks that yawned above them. “Through dedication, one may overcome even the indifference and ignorance of the masses.”
“If I see her again, I shall, noble fey.” Miro bowed. “I am sure she will find it…inspiring.”
“Indeed.” The dragon snorted a puff of aether from their nostrils. The first lemur returned, a book almost as large as it was in its hands. Ardent accepted the volume with polite thanks. “I will leave you to your inquiries. Remember: no flying around my archive. And that includes you, Ardent.” They tapped their chin against the top of her head for emphasis.
Ardent flopped the book open in one hand, and scritched the underside of White Rose’s jaw with the other. “You got it, sugar. Thanks for letting us in.” The dragon chuckled, patted her back with their only forefoot, and then leaped into the air again, flying upwards with lazy wingbeats, on a current of aether.
Another lemur came back, this one with a box of correspondence instead of a book. “Ooooh, doesn’t that look intriguing?” Ardent passed Miro her book and took the box. “Let me know if you find anything insightful, sugar.” She strolled to the couch-ring that girded the wall and flopped on her stomach to leaf through the box’s contents. Miro took one of the chairs and skimmed.
Half an hour or so later, they had a score of books, boxes, and even two scroll cases littered around them. Ardent looked up from her current book. “Miro, sugar, you wouldn’t lie to me about enjoying channeling just to make me feel better about doing it to you?”
Miro wrestled unsuccessfully with a smile and looked to her. “No, I would not. I will admit, had it been unpleasant, I would have done my best to conceal that fact from you, because it would in no way change what needed to be done. But I would not invent taking pleasure in it. For one, it would not have occurred to me, and for another, I would not be able to make such a lie convincing. My – what was the phrase? – pretty Sun Host courtesies only extend so far.”
She wrinkled her nose at the pages before her. “It’s just – this guy hated it. A lot. A lot a lot. It’s weird your experience is so different.”
“What account is that?”
“It’s from, um, the year 630ish? By Red Griffon. He was the only survivor of the Sun Etherium channeling experiments on their Moon Host prisoners, during the war for freedom.”
“If I may make a suggestion, my lady? You’re looking for someone who knows how to channel well. War criminal reprobates from six centuries ago would be the exact opposite,” Miro said, and she laughed. “I suppose you might learn what not to do from them.”
“Fair enough.” Ardent set the book to one side.
There were few first-hand accounts of channeling between fey members of opposite hosts. Channeling within the same host was fairly common. It was an easy way of getting a modest aether boost. Fey used it to infuse aether into a spell faster than one could draw it in from the air, or when one needed to cast more spells in the Broken Lands than one could personally store aether for. Host-to-barbarian channeling was much less common, but still well-documented. But since the Sundering, some four hundred and fifty-odd years ago, it was rare that Sun fey were willing to come to the Moon Etherium, or vice versa, without renouncing their affiliation first. Trust between the Etheriums had never recovered. Such cases as might have happened weren’t documented. The Sundering was the last known time that a member of the High Court of either Etherium had even visited the other Etherium.
Miro did find a detailed account of the channeling practices in use prior to the Sundering, written shortly before that disaster took place and full of unwarranted optimism. “Oh, now, this is counterintuitive.”
“So everyone says if you increase bodily contact, you can increase the speed of aether transferance.”
“Yes. ‘Too slow’ is not exactly the problem here.”
“True. But Venodeveve writes that it also increases control. You get a better understanding of the state of your channel, how much you’re drawing, what the impact is, and so forth. You can draw faster, but you can also draw slower. She has a whole set of techniques regarding it.”
“Oh! Lemme see?” She caught the book in a current of aether and floated it to her outstretched hand. Ardent read the section while Miro picked up a new volume. “Huh. Well, that’s not going to make things even more awkward at all.”
Miro gave her a chagrinned smile. “My apologies, my lady.”
She waved it off. “Not your fault.”
They continued to skim for a little while after that, but found nothing else promising. Finally, Ardent closed the last volume and sat up, stretching. “All right, looks like Venodeveve’s method it is. Let’s go home. I don’t want to keep you up all night with this.”
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