Floating trays bearing hors d’oeuvres drifted amongst the fey guests. Miro sampled some of the confections as he listened to Ardent catch up with her friends. Many of those present were talking about him, but few bothered to talk to him. He’d been at plenty of gatherings in Sun Etherium where that had been the case; it had long since lost the power to wound. Especially under circumstances like these, when he’d deliberately arranged to be a subject of conversation who’d be beneath talking to. The food was exquisite, artisanal combinations of real food with aether. Someone had put a great deal of care into preparing these delicacies.
“How do you find the Moon Etherium, your highness?” a soft voice asked near him. It took a moment to realize he was being addressed. He turned to see Whispers Rain hovering not far from Ardent’s back, watching him with big golden eyes. She’d delivered the question sincerely, with no mocking stress on the honorific.
“Fascinating,” he answered. “And Mirohirokon or Miro is fine, my lady. My Sun Etherium title is rather out of place, under the circumstances.”
“As you wish, Mirohirokon. You should call me Rain; I’ve never been anyone special in the Moon Etherium.”
Miro glanced to Ardent, who was deep in conversation with Contemplation After the Storm. “I daresay there’s at least one person who’d dispute that.”
Rain followed his gaze. She smiled, cheeks dimpling, but shook her head. “Is the Moon Etherium so different from the Sun?”
“Oh yes. The Sun Etherium is very orderly, at least on the surface. All the architecture is thematically unified from the outside, a city of gold and crystal. Variance in form and lines, to a degree, but…” He gestured to the wild, chaotic city that spread below their feet. “Nothing like this, where even structures on the same block don’t match one another. And the people are the same way. Everyone in the Sun Host looks much like this.” He gestured to himself. “Not exactly the same, of course. Different heights and builds, different skin tones, different facial features, and some wear animal ears, or tails, or wings, though they’re much less popular than here. But you wouldn’t see anyone as tall as Ardent is, or as small as you are. And the two of you aren’t even extreme, for here!”
Rain giggled. “I think Ardent’s a little extreme for anywhere,” she confided, and he smiled. “It sounds so strange, to have everyone look so similar when they could look like anything. Why do you do that?”
Miro considered that. “There’s a social pressure to conform. You need to be a little different, of course, to be interesting, to get attention. But anyone who’s too different…the crowd will turn on them. They’ll be laughed at, mocked, scorned, until they moderate their appearance and actions to fit in again.”
“Oh.” Rain’s eyes loomed even larger and rounder in her brown face. “Did you like it there?”
“No,” he answered, softly. “Sun Etherium is beautiful, in its way. There’s a wonder in that harmony, in that sense of being part of a vast unity, far grander than any individual piece. I do not say it is inherently bad.” Not all of it. “They aren’t an evil people.” Not all of them. “But no. I did not like it.”
Rain parted deep blue lips to reply, but a stir in the crowd around them caught her attention. She turned to look to the top of the aether fountain-path. Miro looked as well, and saw an antler-crowned figure attended by a half-dozen tiny golems.
The Queen had arrived.
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