After several days, Jino felt as if he’d been working as the Sun King forever, and yet that he’d barely made a start on all that needed to be done.
For many years, Jinokimijin had been accumulating information for this coup: not just on the phoenix rose and other potential weapons with which to overthrow Ele, but on the people of the Sun Host. Taking power was the least important part of his plan. Far more crucial was what he did with power once he had it. One of his tools had been frequent conversations with Mirohirokon to learn what his son’s soulsight taught him. Jino had taken careful notes on whom he could trust, what their weaknesses and strengths were, who was beyond hope of reform, and more. He’d spent years piecing details together because he had not wanted to give Miro the obligation of being judge and jury over the Etherium. Miro didn’t trust his Gift with decisions of such weight. Accordingly, Jino had intended to take that responsibility for himself, and never tell his son how much he relied upon his judgment. Not that Miro’s soulsight was Jino’s only source, but it was perhaps the one he trusted most.
A side benefit of having conducted most of his determinations in advance was that he didn’t need Mirohirokon’s aid now. That was as well, given that such aid was not available.
His new Justiciar, the former prince Tiqodomiqon, had been zealous in freeing captive mortals. Their plights varied, from abused creatures tormented by sadistic fey, to bloodsport gladiators, to the pampered, glamour-confused pets of one of his older sisters.
Jinokimijin had separated the abusers among the Sun Host into a few categories. Fey who’d been peripherally involved in abuse, of either mortals or fey, he took no particular action against beyond making it clear that his regime would be different. If Jino was to be fair, the category of “peripherally involved/tolerated” included most of the Etherium, including himself. It wasn’t practical to take preventative measures against them all. The next category involved those who’d been integral to the abuse – slavers and fey like Fallen, who’d manipulated fey into torturing themselves. Some of these, Jino judged reformable and their faults relatively minor, based on Miro’s insight and his own research. With that group, Jino used the phoenix rose to rob them of fey evasion and elusiveness, but did not imprison them. Instead, he put them under tracer watch, and made sure they knew that the only thing that would keep them safe from captivity was the good will of his reign. If they didn’t want to end up in chains, they’d need to behave. With worse offenders, and ones that Jino had little hope of improving, Jino also constricted their ability to hold and use aether. That rendered them much less of a threat to any mortals they might find.
All these effects were reversible, Jino informed his victims, if their behavior and character improved.
Then there were the ones Jino had no hope for: ex-Queen Eletanene; ex-crown Princess Sivakavivi; ex-Justiciar Wodorarava; ex-Chancellor Ovaratata; two exceptionally cruel slavers, Gonoqatoto and Polavatova; and Shadow of Fallen Scent.
He had mixed feelings about including Shadow of Fallen Scent among his victims. He’d released her from their pact after she’d been forcibly unaffiliated from the Moon Etherium – no point in taking the chance of her somehow gaining ownership of a phoenix rose again. But he was still holding her prisoner. On the one hand, he had no doubts that Fallen was a dangerous, vicious monster. The torture she’d made him personally endure was among the least of her crimes. On the other, she wasn’t a subject of the Sun Etherium. Since her crimes had been committed in the Moon Etherium, it’d make more sense to let them punish her. It would’ve been a good political gesture to offer the Moon Queen their criminal back. But returning her to the Moon Etherium for trial meant putting her among her allies. That they’d cast her out in her absence did not guarantee that the Moon Etherium had either the capability or the will to neutralize the threat she posed in person.
In the end, the deciding factor was that Jino had the power to make sure Fallen could do no more harm to any fey. He had no legitimate claim to authority beyond raw power anyway, so why let the lack of jurisdiction stop him now?
Jino had the seven brought, bound and gagged, before him during full Sun Court. His court proceedings were open, so they had hundreds of onlookers, including many whom Jino knew despised him. But they were all silent for this, stunned by the sight of fey who were now as helpless as mortals. Tiqodomiqon presented the seven by name, and lists of their wrongdoings. The Justiciar read every charge aloud: mortals they’d enslaved, or killed, or had killed, fey they’d bullied – many to suicide – possessions they’d seized or destroyed, fey lives ruined, and so forth. It took over an hour.
When he finished, Jino spoke. “To ensure that you can enact no more cruelties of these kinds, you have each been stripped of fey evasion, elusiveness, and invulnerability. I have also severed your connection with aether. You will be exiled to the mortal world, where you will remain for one hundred and twelve years, until the fey shard returns with the next cycle. This is not a death sentence. You remain unaging. You will not die of exposure, dehydration, or starvation. It is a kinder fate than many of your victims received, and better than you deserve.” And I don’t do it for you. “But you will not be invulnerable. I suggest you learn to respect mortals, if for no other reason than because they can kill you now.”
Jino paused for a moment to let that sink in, then continued, “If you wish, I will give you new trueshapes of your choosing. You may find life in the mortal world easier if you look like one of them, but I leave this up to you. You may express your preference now, and say any final words you have for the Etherium. We’ll begin with – oh, you, Polavatova.” He motioned to Tiqo, and Tiqo used a flick of aether to dissolve the gag on the former slaver.
“This is a joke,” she said. “I haven’t committed any crime, and you are no King. You’ll always be a disgrace, Jino.”
“I really don’t care, Pola. Do you want a new trueshape for your exile or not?”
She flared her nostrils. “Yes. Male, human, large and strong as possible, handsome, of the dominant ethnicity for wherever you’re dumping us.”
Jino shaped a homunculus for her, and set it to one side.
The next slaver didn’t bother complaining about the process. He had the same gender and ethnicity preference as Pola, but asked for average size and high overall fitness. Then Gonoqatoto licked his lips and said, “You said this wasn’t a death sentence.”
“Most mortals of the Old World die of disease long before age claims them. May I have our fey invulnerability to disease restored?”
Jino considered this, embarrassed that he’d not thought about disease at all. “Yes. All of you will.”
Gono bowed. “Thank you, gracious Sun King.” Pola glared at him.
When she was ungagged, the crown princess spat in his direction – to no effect, given the twenty feet between them. She cursed him, the court, the Etherium, offered some consoling words to her mother, and rejected the offer of a new trueshape. The ex-chancellor was much the same, and the ex-Justiciar added in some threats to his posturing.
When it was Fallen’s turn, she asked, “Which mortal country are you leaving us in?” Her spirit had broken when the Moon Etherium threw her from their High Court and unaffiliated her. Jino assumed she was plotting, or trying to, but she’d given up complaining.
Jino smiled and stroked the phoenix rose, which he had perched on the arm of his throne. “It’s a surprise, Fallen. I shan’t ruin it for you.”
She sighed, softly. “Then a human woman, beautiful by whatever the local standards are, and as fit as possible given that constraint.” Fallen swept her gaze over the court. “You are next, you know,” she told them. “What your King does to us…it’s only a matter of time before he does it to you. Or maybe it will be worse for you. He sacrificed a great deal to get the power he has now. You know he’ll never let it go, don’t you? You’ve bowed to a tyrant. You’ll never know freedom again. How long before you start beheading your enemies, Disgraced Jino?”
“I’m not beheading you, Fallen. I’m pretty sure the rest of the Etherium is safe,” Jino said, dryly, and moved on to his ex-wife.
Ele stood erect, as haughty as the queen she’d once been. “Better to live free in the Old World than under the thumb of a slimy, treacherous slug like you, Jino,” she said, scornfully.
“Slugs don’t have thumbs. Do you want a new trueshape, Ele?”
“No. Let the mortals see me for what I am. Let them learn respect. I am Queen Eletanene of the Sun Host, and fey powers or no, they will learn I am a force to be reckoned with.” She surveyed the assembled, and sniffed. “You will all learn.”
Jino wondered for a moment what Ele’s real body looked like, and if she would still be proud if he stripped away the tall elegant golden form she’d assumed. This isn’t about punishment, or humiliation. This is about making sure they can’t hurt anyone again, he reminded himself. He gathered the homunculi he’d made for the others. “Great. Who wants to come with me to see this lot off? It’ll take a few hours.”
Amalatiti and Tiqo both wished to come; Jino let Ama do so but asked Tiqo to stay and keep an eye on things. One of Ele’s husbands, Ivotinono, wanted to come, even though Jino wasn’t visiting her punishment on any of them. Two of Jino’s other partisans asked to join them: Miro’s old friend, Talo, as well as Jino’s Surety, Tari; he let them. Jino asked three other individuals to attend: Kimikireki, Ele’s second husband; a deposed Chancellor, Deqavaneqan; and Manemafate, one of Ele’s pet bards. All three had been open in their condemnation of Jino’s coup, although they’d not been on his list of those who needed to be curbed. They were not pleased by Jino’s request, but they agreed to come. Probably because they assumed he’d make them if they declined. How much harder will this job become, once people realize I’m not going to force compliance with my requests? Guess I’ll find out when that happens.
Jino took the phoenix rose on his arm. He pulled out one of his extractor rings, and used it to restore just the part of fey invulnerability that protected them against disease. Then he gathered the seven prisoners and seven witnesses together, and used the bird to teleport them fourteen miles east-by-northeast. A second later, he jumped the group again, and again, with only the occasional pause to orient himself via scrying ball. While every fey was used to teleporting around the Etherium, teleports in quick succession like this were rarely necessary outside of a few specialized games. After a score of jumps, Ele complained, “Surely we’re outside of the Broken Lands by now? This doesn’t look at all familiar.”
Jino teleported them again. “I’m glad you’re lost already. We’ve only a few hundred more jumps to go, don’t worry.” He followed that statement with another port.
Talo paled. “A few – hundred – more teleports?” he asked, his words taking on a staccato rhythm as they were interrupted by ports. “I regret – volunteering – already.”
“I did tell you it’d take a few hours,” Jino said, before his next teleport.
“I thought you – meant walking.” Manemafate grimaced.
“And leave them just a few hundred miles away?” Jino triggered another port. “No. Where they’re going, they won’t be able to get back before the fey shard moves on.” An hour and a half later, Jino stopped in the midst of a vast plain of tall grasses and brush. A wide, winding river snaked past them, while a few strange twisted trees dotted the landscape. Jino transformed Polavatova into his new mortal form and unbound him, then left him behind as he teleported the rest of the group away. “You’re not even going to exile us together?” Ele said, stunned.
“No. You’ll have years to find each other, if you want to. Think of it as giving you purpose,” Jino said. “You and Sivaka will stand out, anyway.”
“Please, your majesty.” It was the first time Sivaka, Ele’s daughter, had acknowledged his title. “At least let me stay with Mother.”
Jino looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head. “No, Sivaka. Your worst problem is that you’ve spent too much time with Ele already.” He teleported them onwards.
He left them scattered across thousands of miles of land, in wildernesses some miles from the nearest mortal habitation. Fallen asked for a mirror after Jino transformed her, and he provided her with one. “I look like death,” she remarked. Birdsong and the chirping of insects echoed in the forest around them. “This is what these people prefer, is it?”
“The paler the better, as I understand it. I can change you to something else if you prefer. It’s of no matter to me,” Jino told her.
“It will do. I wonder what hideous tongue the locals speak? I suppose I shall find out, if wild animals don’t kill me first.” Fallen turned from them and started downstream alongside the wooded river they were near.
Ele was the last exiled. Jino stopped the group in a forested glen, and she turned to her husbands. “Ivo, Kireki – come with me. My prince-consorts. You still have all your powers. He has no legitimate authority over you. Don’t look at him. Look at me. You pledged yourselves to my side. You owe it to me.”
Despite her words, Ivo and Kireki both glanced at Jino, nervously. Jino didn’t speak. He didn’t want to leave Ele with a fey tool at her disposal, if only because the humans did not deserve a tyrant. But Ivo and Kireki were not monsters. He wouldn’t punish them for what they might do under the influence of their wife.
“Are you testing us, Jino?” Kireki asked directly. “Why did you bring us here? Do you seek an excuse to exile us as well?”
Jino shook his head. “No. Witnesses. That I did as I said I would. That they were exiled, not killed.”
Amalatiti had taken a seat on a fallen log, and smiled at them. “Of course I’d back his majesty up, but at this point, everyone expects me to back Jino. No one expects you to.”
Ele spat at her daughter. “You treacherous little beast. I should’ve strangled you in the womb.”
“I hate you too, Mom. Can we go now, Jino?”
“Wait,” Ivo said. He took Ele’s hands, and kissed her forehead. “I loved you once, Ele. But you drove our child away from us, by your own actions. And this…you brought this on yourself. I won’t go down with you.” He stepped away.
She curled her lip at him in disdain, then turned from him to Kireki. She took her fourth husband’s face in her golden hands. “And you, my love? You know I’ve always favored our daughters. Do you think they will forgive you for deserting me?”
By Sun Etherium standards, they were not alike: Kireki was a strong, broad-shouldered man with dark brown eyes and an oval face. Ele stood a few inches shorter, her frame lean and willowy, her face carved in smooth, delicate lines, eyes amber-bright. But they both had gold-dusted skin and long white-blonde hair, long fey ears, both tall by human standards. They were a matched set. Ele had always insisted her husbands match her. Kireki drew her hands from his cheeks and clasped them between his own. “They already have,” he said, softly. “Your favoritism did not make them your selfless minions; it merely spoiled them. Ele, there is no justice here. Jino is a usurper, a destroyer, a tyrant. I know. But that he is wrong does not mean that you are right.”
Jino listened with the same bland expression he’d worn for all the other insults he’d endured. He’d thought, after everything he’d been through, that words had lost their power to wound. He’d thought himself beyond the need to defend his actions or impress the populace with his righteousness. But Kireki’s quiet, flat condemnation stung anyway. In the earliest days of Jino’s marriage to Ele, Kireki had been his favorite fellow-husband, the one who’d been kindest to him, the one who’d been most fatherly and attentive to Miro. Of course, Kireki had scorned him as much as anyone after the divorce. I truly could not care less what Ele thinks of me. But I guess part of me still misses the friend I thought I had in you, Kireki. He tensed his jaw and let the scene unfold.
Ele had curled her fingers around her spouse’s. “I am your wife and your Queen, Kireki! I command you to stay!”
“I will not.” He freed his hands. “The pledge we once exchanged, I long ago repaid, and you long ago betrayed. I owe you nothing. Goodbye, Ele. And…may the Ideals show you the way.” Kireki turned back to Jino. “I am ready to depart.”
As Ele launched into an obscenity-laced tirade against them all, Jino teleported himself and his witnesses away.
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