Fallen’s arrival distracted the Queen from tormenting Miro, so it had that much going for it. The silver fox-tailed woman wore a blue suit with a long dress jacket and soft ankle boots. Diamonds spangled it in a starswirl pattern that was dangerously close to echoing their Queen’s skin – one of the few fashion mistakes even Ardent didn’t need to be warned not to make.
Fallen was still forcing Jinokimijin to wear a girl’s shape. The Sun fey looked like a fifteen year-old female version of Miro, complete with the same floor-length white-blonde hair. Her costume was an obscene mockery of Sun Etherium formal wear: a short bustier held together by chains in place of tunic, a thong instead of tights, the open jacket made of lace and so short in front it barely covered her breasts. Loops of silver chain dangled over her thighs and jingled over her bare stomach from the bottom of the bustier. She was still leashed, with her hands and feet cuffed and chained, albeit with a few feet of slack between the chains. Jinokimijin’s youthful, pretty features were blank, devoid of all expression. She followed in Fallen’s wake down the sparkling semi-solid aether path out of the fountain.
While the queen watched them, Ardent bent to murmur to the still-kneeling Miro, “You can get up now, sugar.” He rose as if commanded, but he did not lift his head to meet her eyes. As far as she could tell, he was playing the part of obedient servant flawlessly: calm, placid, and unperturbed by the queen’s unpleasant tone and insulting insinuations. Ardent, meanwhile, was struggling. She wanted to put Skein over her knee and spank her, then demand some answers. What, for all Love and Justice, are you doing? I expect this hateful nonsense from Fallen, but you? I thought better of you.
Fallen strolled over to them, a little smile on her black lips, and went to one knee before her queen. Jinokimijin dropped when Fallen stopped, the enslaved fey going to both knees and sitting with her rear against her feet, head down. Long hair fell like a curtain around her, veiling her better than the scraps of clothing did.
Skein bade Fallen rise. “Ardent and I were just talking about you, my Surety.”
“Were you? I hope our erstwhile Justiciar remembers me fondly. Welcome home, Ardent Sojourner.” Fallen met her gaze with pale blue eyes and a cool, insincere smile.
“Thanks,” Ardent drawled. “Didja miss me?”
Fallen bared her teeth. “Your absence was noted by us all, Lady Ardent.”
“Bring your pet over by hers, Fallen,” Skein said. “I want to see them side by side.”
Jinokimijin started to stand as soon as the Queen spoke, but Fallen jerked at her leash anyway. “Come along, Jiji. Stand there.”
Ardent folded her arms across her chest, wondering how much channeled sun aether it would take to use force against another fey, wondering if she already had enough. Calm down, girl. If Miro can take it, so can you. Jinokimijin’s expression had finally altered when she saw her son, no longer blank, but fearful. Miro faced forward like a mortal soldier, not looking at anyone or anything as his parent moved to stand next to him, silver chains chiming.
Skein laughed in delight, hands clasped before her. “I knew Sun Host all looked alike, but I had no idea how much! Even their faces! They’re like mirror images of each other, in opposite genders.” Miro was nearly a foot taller than his parent, in their current forms, and he had the build of a muscular man in contrast to Jino’s slight feminine frame. Still, the relationship between them was marked, especially among Moon Etherium fey who rarely saw such similar folk as, say, mortals. “Did you two coordinate their attire? It’s charming.”
“Great minds think alike.” Fallen smiled again. “We must have had similar inspirations.”
Punching her would be a waste of aether, even assuming it worked. She’s not worth Miro’s sacrifice. Moreover, the best revenge will be in finding the phoenix rose and taking it and Jinokimijin away from her. That thought, if nothing about this situation, made her smile. Ardent said, neutrally, “That costume certainly is inspired.”
“We should have them perform together. I know! Let’s have them dance. The music’s still playing! Won’t they be cute, dancing together?” Fallen laughed at her own suggestion.
It was a funny idea, if one had a cruel sense of humor. The Sun Etherium fey could hardly aether dance, given that they had no aether, and would doubtless look ridiculous trying. Ardent was deciding which reason to use for refusing when a movement from Miro caught her eye. He’d turned to look at her, and there was determination in his eyes. You sure you want to do this? she thought, looking at him, wondering if she was reading his expression right. He pulled his shoulders back, standing Sun-Etherium-erect, unintimidated. “All right,” Ardent said. “Sure. Let ’em dance.”
She put her hand to Miro’s collar to unleash him. For a moment he leaned his cheek against her fingers, eyes closed. Then Fallen had unchained Jinokimijin, and Miro took his parent’s arm to escort her to a cleared space on the glass deck.
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