The immersion dissolved around her as her character in it died, and Ardent woke to the world of the glass ship. She was resting on a cushion of air, after her character had toppled over. Miro was suspended in the air beside her, still caught up in the immersion.
Jinokimijin was lying back against aether, one slim hand looped where the sword had impaled her chest, eyes staring towards the spars and streamers of the glass ship’s rigging. Ardent moved over to touch her shoulder. “You all right there, sweetie?”
The girl started, blinking. “Oh! Oh.” She patted her bustier, the chains about her pale-golden wrist clinking, then cupped her breasts with a puzzled expression. Jinokimijin frowned for a moment, then nodded at last. “Right! Yes, I’m fine. I should…”
All around them, the fey woke from the immersion as it ended and they returned to normal interaction with the world. Miro staggered and blinked, as his eyes shifted to focus on the forms in this world again. “No!” he said, in sudden horrified realization. He clapped a hand over his mouth, staring from one to the other.
“We’re fine, sugar,” Ardent told him, gently. “It’s just an immersion.”
“But – you—”
“It was a game.” Jinokimijin shifted to sit, propped on one arm. Her eyes met her son’s, and her lips twitched. “Nothing to do with reality.” Her lips twitched again, and then she dissolved into laughter.
“Nothing at all,” Miro said, with evident relief, and then he was laughing as well. Ardent wasn’t sure exactly what the joke was, but she grinned anyway, and then giggled, and laughed at the absurdity of it all, of a Sun prince playing a Moon prince killing a Sun prince who was played by his ex-prince father. Reflections on Water flew over to them, the centaur’s hooves pacing in the air as he glided on white wings.
“What’s so funny?” Fallen demanded. Ardent wondered who she’d been playing. Not Storm Driven: the Moon princess had been Skein, Ardent was sure.
“Did you enjoy the immersion?” Reflections asked at almost the same time, looking at Ardent.
Before Ardent could answer, Jinokimijin bounced to her feet and proclaimed, “I loved it! That was fantastic! I’ve never been so excited to get killed in one of these! No hard feelings about stabbing you, I hope, my lady?”
Ardent had managed to stifle most of her laughter, but that made her giggle again. “It’s fine. Sorry about ruining your evil plot.”
“Oh, not at all! Your betrayal of my betrayal was so delightfully dramatic! And I’ve never gotten to play anyone so irredeemably evil before! Destroying two Etheriums so I could take the phoenix rose for myself! Quite a villain you crafted for me, Lord Reflections.”
“Er…thank you…” The centaur frowned, glancing between them.
“But a villain is best when they’re stopped by the brave heroes.” Jinokimijin gazed fondly at her son and Ardent, who were still sitting. Miro had finally managed to stop laughing, but his lips twitched again at this. “Though I am just a tiny bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see the Sundering you no doubt had planned for us, Lord Reflections. I imagine it must be spectacular!”
The white centaur rubbed the back of his neck, beneath his mane of pale curly hair. “We did put a lot of work into it…”
“Pity. But there’s always the next performance!”
“Indeed.” The Queen came over, waving them up as they scrambled to kneel. “We can’t always have Ardent around to save the day. It’s a pity you weren’t there in the year 800 to stop the Sundering, old friend.”
“Sorry ’bout that, your majesty. I’m old, but not that old.”
The queen smiled. All around them, guests were talking about the immersion and their pieces of the story. From the sounds of it, there were a hundred other stories unfolding during the same event. None of them were quite so grand and climactic as Ardent’s reveal, but no one had spent their time waiting to see what the royals would do next. The general mood of the assembly was good, although Jinokimijin wasn’t the only one disappointed to have missed the recreation of the Sundering. Ardent was sure that Fallen was upset, though the fox-tailed gray fey worked to conceal it. She thought Skein was displeased, too, beneath her surface smile. But Skein made no unkind remarks about the immersion or her performance.
Ardent was aware that the immersion would have gone very differently if she hadn’t insisted on swapping roles with Miro. Miro would have been fully immersed in the role of Loreveroro, and would not have thought to break character to protect the Moon Etherium as Ardent had.
Everyone knew that immersions were not histories, nor records of events as they actually happened. But immersions were effective at making participants feel as if an event were real and true. So it’s another ploy to discredit the Sun Etherium, using our own Sun Host fey to enhance its authenticity. Is this Skein’s plot, or Fallen’s? Why do they care what we think of the Sun Host? Ardent filed the thought away for further investigation later. At this point, it was late enough that she could collect her prince and take her leave without disrespect to her illustrious hostess. Further, she was genuinely tired enough to justify that course, so she did.
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