The Moon Court was not in session, so Ardent and Whispers Rain waited in the entrance hall while they tried to get an audience with the Queen. If Ardent still had a channel to the Sun Etherium and had not spent every scrap of sun aether she’d possessed, or if she still had an active wardbreaker, she’d have been tempted to force her way into the Queen’s presence. It was almost tempting to try anyway. She could feel the wards of the Palace weakening, its expansion spells drawing inwards, as aether was channeled away from the Etherium faster than it could replenish.
“What’s going to happen?” Rain stood at Ardent’s side, wings tightly furled against her back. “Can they empty the Etherium?”
“No. Fallen will die first,” Ardent said, with a confidence she didn’t feel. But what if Jino doesn’t need to empty the Moon Etherium? He’s got the phoenix rose now. He can build his own Etherium-destroying extractor. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
How could I have been so stupid? Is anything Mirohirokon told me even true? I only have his word for it that he has soulsight. Maybe it is just a Gift for seeing obligations and aether signatures without spellwork. He said he saw Fallen’s soul as evil – but he would tell me that, wouldn’t he? It’s what I want to believe. Just like saying that Rain’s soul is lovely. All he did was confirm my own biases. I only have his word for it that the Sun Queen was a villain.
After a few minutes, the aether drain stopped and the Etherium began to replenish.
Within a quarter of an hour, the Moon Queen received Ardent – alone and in private, without Rain. By then, the aether levels in the Moon Etherium had recovered to almost-normal amounts. Fey who hadn’t been paying attention might have missed the event.
Skein had been paying attention. “Do you know what happened?” she demanded of Ardent.
“Jinokimijin has a phoenix rose. I think her deal with Shadow of Fallen Scent has inverted now, and Fallen has to serve her. Jino used the phoenix rose to teleport them back to the Sun Etherium. You need to remove Fallen from the High Court. Now.”
“What? How did Jinokimijin get a phoenix rose?” Skein demanded. After Ardent summarized the struggle with Fallen, the Queen glowered at her. “When exactly did you plan to tell me that Fallen had a phoenix rose?”
“I don’t know, your majesty.” Ardent met her gaze with a level stare. “When did you plan to tell me?” Skein drew herself up to protest, and Ardent cut her off. “Look. If you want me to pretend you didn’t already know and approve of Fallen’s plan to destroy the Sun Etherium and replace it with a new Etherium of her own devising, fine. I can also pretend you didn’t only change your mind when you realized that if Fallen could destroy one Etherium to empower her own, nothing would stop her from destroying your Etherium, too. But I’m gonna have to ask you in return to pretend I didn’t know about the phoenix rose and was just, I don’t know, tricked by Mirohirokon and Jinokimijin into thinking I was retrieving property Fallen had stolen from them.”
Skein of the Absolute folded her arms and scowled, the stars on her skin flashing. “You are impossible, Ardent Sojourner. You pledged your word to me.”
“Yes. I pledged to serve the Moon Etherium and to stop Fallen. Well. Fallen’s a prisoner of the Sun Etherium now. You’re not going to have worry about her again, at least not if you can get the court in motion and throw her out of it. I know she’s bound to have some partisans who’ll support her even in her absence, but seriously? She had a phoenix rose and was building an Etherium-destroying extractor for it. Do you want proof? I have got all the proof. Wardbreakers, palace where she kept it, residue of its alien aether, feathers from it, orders that she placed for the materials, everything. All you need to do is tell the court she’s a traitor to the Moon Etherium and you knew nothing about it. Sure, some people will know it’s a political ploy. But there is plenty enough truth to make it stick, and nobody loved her. Do it.”
The Queen of the Moon Etherium compressed her full lips in a surly line, and finally huffed out a breath. “Very well.” She dispatched a message to her adjunct. “I will convene an emergency session of the court. You will testify to Fallen’s actions, and that you were pursuing her under my orders. Including that you didn’t know what she had until you burst in upon it earlier today. Now, if there is nothing else you have just recollected I should be informed regarding?”
Ardent went to one knee before the queen. “No, your majesty.”
“Then that will be all. Diamond will inform you when your testimony is needed. Dismissed.”
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