”Alright, time to see if you’ve been paying attention during your lessons, and whether or not you can apply what you have learned. I want you to give me a brief introduction to the major races, their tactical situation and your analysis on where those races are headed in their wars and troubles.” Nimue had been the teacher for Neleh for several months now, and knew that she could answer the challenge presented. Nevertheless she was still a teacher, and part of teaching was to test learning. In addition, they had been gathered together with four other teacher-student pairs, and she wanted to show off her student a bit.
“I’ll start with the four races currently at war, and who also happen to represent tactical extremes. First we have the Demons. The demon race is unique in the sense that it is made up of two wholly separate species. First is the species that gives the race its name, the Demons. Demons are the most powerful warriors and mages in the world, after the dragons of course, and by a pretty distinct margin. A standard demon, if such thing even exists, could be considered to hold the power equivalent to two celestials, or a dozen humans in strength and magic. And to compound on the issue, the higher a being’s strength, the less numbers matter against them. So while a dozen humans might hold the same amount of strength, they would still lose the fight ten times out of ten. Luckily for everyone else, demons are quite few in number. They have a very low birthrate and their immortality, when it comes to aging, is countered by their propensity for fighting amongst themselves for power. On the other hand the demons that survive tend to be the strongest.” Neleh started her detailed explanation.
“The second species among demons are known as the Oni. They outnumber the demons almost 1 to 100 000, but in return they have very little magical ability. They make for great warriors, but much lower in strength when compared to the demons. The oni have high physical strength, large stature, fair intelligence and good skills as warriors, but they are not very orderly as an army. They are dangerous when fighting in small groups, but they tend to devolve into berserker mobs when in large armies. Unless commanded by a gifted demon general of course.
Their opponents in the war are the Faeries. Faeries are of small stature, and although fast and agile, lack the ability to really shine as warriors. Their ability to fly allows for rapid deployment, and they favor guerilla tactics, at which they excel. When caught in the open, they tend to fair pretty poorly. In return, they are the race that is the most magically gifted as a general rule, although their gifts tend to be in very specific directions. Illusions and misdirection are their specialty. This supports their style of fighting, and the faerie arch magus are feared on the battlefields for their devastating spells.” Neleh looked at her teacher checking if she should continue into the tactical situation, and got a nod in return.
“The tactical situation between the two is a bit of a stalemate. The demons are the party on offense, as is their habit, while the faeries have adopted a fully defensive posture. The land bridges between the two continents allow the demons to bring about their full might on the faerie continent and their logistical situation is great, but waging a war against the faeries in their own forests is a very, very stupid idea. The faeries are pretty bad on offense, but in return they are excellent in not losing on defense. The problem is, you don’t win wars purely on defense. I see three possible outcomes for this war as it currently stands. Firstly the war will stalemate, until one side or the other manages to garner the support from another race, thus opening a second front in the war. The second possibility is that the demons get stupid, and try to enter the fae forests as is, and suffer horrible losses and will be forced to retreat. The third and the worst option is that the demons get smart, and try to burn the forests from around the faeries, forcing them into the open. This would most likely result in the faeries striking around the demons at the demon continent to make them suffer at home. In that case it would devolve into a race to drive the other into a breaking point or extinction first. Most likely the celestials would step in before then though.” Neleh finished with the first war.
“Very good. How about the second war between the Humans and the Beastmen?” Nimue prompted Neleh to continue.
“If demons and faeries are the two most gifted races magically, then humans and beastmen are the opposite, being the least gifted, and also the two most short lived races. Beastmen are currently the aggressors in this war, though I don’t have the information on which of them instigated the war.” Neleh gave a little pause, giving Nimue a small but meaningful look considering their suspicions about the interference of the Consortium.
“The beastmen are a warrior people, and use fairly little in the way of magic. The magic they do use is usually supportive in nature. Their warriors are excellent though, and they are numerically the largest race. Although their magical abilities leave room for improvement, the different types of beastmen all have their specialties which allows for relative parity. Every beastman both male and female is trained for combat since birth until adulthood and until they choose another profession. Their stamina and speed makes them the best light infantry in the world. Even if faeries specialize in rapid deployment, that’s only in small numbers and distances. The beastmen can run for days, subsist on very little and can rapidly move whole tribes or armies over large distances, even in difficult terrain. They also specialize in stealth and scouting, so catching their armies by surprise is almost impossible.
The humans in turn are a specialized bunch in various ways. The human mages have fairly abysmal abilities, but despite this, they are the race that has had the most success in conquest. So much so, that it has required the celestials to step in and put them back in their place multiple times, more than any other race. The reason for this is, that despite the abysmal abilities of their mages, the humans have one type of magic they are very good at, that being the magic granted to them by their Protector God Iarus, spirit magic.
There are two main applications that the humans use spirit magic for. The first one is that human soldiers almost always have a personal spirit that supports them in their specialization. Defensive spirits improve the defensive abilities of their masters, making for very effective heavy infantry. Offensive spirits naturally improve the offensive abilities of their masters and make for excellent heavy cavalry. Their heavy infantry is the immovable anvil on the battlefield while their heavy cavalry makes for an impressive hammer. The second way the humans utilize spirit magic is by binding spirits into magical constructs that fight by themselves. These constructs range from numerous human sized suits of armor that know no pain and don’t get tired, into huge colossi of stone and steel that can give the most powerful of beings a run for their money.
The tactical situation in this war is much more interesting than the other one. The human armies are only as good as their preparations, since their magical constructs require time to create and deploy. Their armies are also not known for their mobility. If the beastmen can do significant damage before the humans are ready, and avoid full engagements with the human armies, then they will have the upper hand. If I were in the beastmen’s shoes, I would try to bait the humans into giving chase and then take out the human armies piecemeal. The human cavalry is a lot less impressive when it has lost some of its momentum and has been separated from their anvil, and the beastmen can run circles around the rest of the human forces, taking out priority targets. On the other hand, if the humans manage to pin down some of the beastmen armies, then the beastmen are in for some very bad times.” Neleh finished her analysis on the second war.
“Well-reasoned again. Do the other students have anything to add so far?” Nimue looked at the other acolytes who kept their peace. “Ok continue Neleh.”
“Well, then we have the three of what I’d call ‘in-between generalist’ races. First we have the Naga, who are the quintessential jack of all trades. Their only real mastery is their dominance over the seas, which should not be underestimated. They don’t have the special strengths of the other races beyond the seas, but neither do they have the weaknesses. You could say that the blade-masters of the naga are among the best in one-on-one combat, it’s hard to argue with 6 arms each holding a weapon after all, but that doesn’t really carry over so well into full army level, where the ranks are packed tight. Nevertheless, the naga are very honorable as a people, and make for stalwart allies welcome in any battlefield. They get the job done, no more, no less. As for their situation, I couldn’t venture a guess with my current information. We’ve heard every rumor from civil war, to sea monsters, to a plague, but the fact is that the court of the Eternal Empress has not sent a word. At least not one that the acolytes of this temple have heard.” This brought some laughter from both the acolytes and their teachers.
“The Celestials are a weird counterpoint to the naga. They have the greatest potential of any race beyond the dragons, but not that many celestials actually reach that potential. However, if the naga are decidedly average in everything, then celestials as a rule are at least good at everything. They lack the conflict that drives the demons to greatness, but they are a lot more numerous in return. They are unique in their lack of internal conflict, and in their constant meddling in the affairs of other races. The populace of the other races is happy with the meddling, because the celestials almost always help the common populace, but the leadership of the different races is usually less thrilled. This is partially because every other race has been on the receiving end of a smacking from the celestials, when they’ve gotten too powerful and aggressive. That leads the leaders to be bitter at being stopped at their moment of triumph. On the other hand they don’t really complain so much, when they’re getting decimated by some other race and the celestials intervene.” This brought another burst of laughter from the people listening.
Before Neleh went on to describe the situation with the elves, she noted the make-up of people listening. There were members from all three main clans of elves listening, and it would most likely bring out some bad feelings in them, even if she were to be completely objective in her evaluation of the elven situation. No one liked to hear about their kind in a bad light, and there wasn’t much good light going around if one was to be objective. And Nimue would expect objectivity and would not tolerate her glossing over things just because it might make her less popular.
“The Elves fall somewhere between the celestials and the naga. Differing from the other two, the elves do have a specialty and a clear weakness though. The elven army is the most professional and well-disciplined of all the other races, and their ability to work as if controlled by one mind is unparalleled allowing for the use of even the most complex tactics, and quick reactions to the ever changing battlefield situation. If you pit an elven army against an army three times its size from other races, you can reasonably expect the elven army to win 9 times out of 10. But all that is a result of long training, and as such, the elves can’t absorb casualties that well, especially if you factor in the lower birthrates of our race. So we might win the first 20 battles of a war, but if the war isn’t won by then, we start to run into trouble. This is in sharp contrast to both humans and beastmen, that both excel at long wars of attrition, especially humans who tend to ramp up the longer the war goes on. If push comes to shove, we could win a war against almost any single race, but then we would suffer the consequences for centuries.
The situation on the elven continent is complex and comes from several deep-rooted issues. The Sun Elves are especially displeased, because they feel almost like second class citizens. First reason for this is religion. Although Elune is not specifically a nocturnal goddess, most of the ceremonies are held at night in the light of the moon and the stars. This obviously favors the Moon Elves, who are the most numerous among the priestesses of Elune, and as such hold the most sway over matters of faith. Combine this with the fact that the Chosen of Elune is also a Moon Elf, and problems start to emerge. Eldarinwe are rather neutral on this issue, but it does stand in rather stark opposition against the Sun Elves.
The second issue has to do with the army. Each of the three major clans contributes warriors to the army, and the army nominally belongs to the empire and the elven people as a whole. This is because it would be fairly bad if parts of the army were to start taking separate sides in any internal disputes. Both the Sun Court and the Moon Court have their own forces, guardsmen and royal guards, but those pale in comparison with the army of the empire. Now while the army is nominally neutral in any internal disputes, the army is controlled by the emperor and the imperial court in Rhi’a’non. In addition, while advancement in the ranks of the army is equally available to members of all the clans, it ‘somehow’ just so happens that the majority of the highest ranking officers are Eldarinwe, appointed there by the emperor. While the Eldarinwe emperor appoints the generals, giving preference to members of his own clan, those generals in turn give the same preference when considering promotions to the next highest positions, and a vicious cycle is formed. So while the army is nominally neutral, in actual fact it is controlled by the Eldarinwe.
The third, and perhaps the most important part, is that the seat of the empire has been in Rhi’a’non for thousands of years, and the emperor has been from the ruling Eldarinwe clan for the same length of time. Both the Sun Court and the Moon Court feel that it is time the seat and the position should be relinquished to the other clans, their own respectively. This is compounded by the fact that, because the seat of the empire is in Eldarinwe lands far away from the seats of power of the other clans, majority of the imperial nobility that hold the real power in the empire is also made up of Eldarinwe.
The two other clans dislike each other, but they both really hate the emperor and the injustice, perceived or real, that he represents. It is hard to say, if the grievances will escalate into a civil war, but currently it’s not looking all that great. What the end result of such civil war will be is almost wholly dependent on the level of involvement of the different factions. It would also be dependent on whether or not the emperor would try to pull the army into matters. Despite the discipline of the army, I very much doubt that the Moon Elf or Sun Elf soldiers would just happily march against their own clans, perhaps even their own families.” Neleh finished.
The topic had made everyone serious, and no one looked particularly happy with the analysis of their own clan. On the other hand Neleh had expected them to react more emotionally, but they were taking it surprisingly well. She decided to bring a bit of levity with her last analysis to try to salvage the mood a bit.
“As for the final race, the dragons, who the heck knows what they are up to. We can all just hope they won’t poke their noses into the matters.” She said giving a bit of a grin.
“Well, otherwise great analysis, somewhat ruined by a weak finish. You could’ve done better on the dragons.” Apparently Nimue didn’t appreciate her finish, but at least the atmosphere was less glum.
It had quickly become obvious to Nimue that learning things was a specialty of Neleh. As such it didn’t take that many months for her to teach the girl all the basics, and let her start taking part in the rituals of the temple. It only took one ritual for her to realize the girl excelled in rituals that required the performance of song and dance, where not only did she learn the required songs and dances after seeing them only once, but also brought her only flair, additions and grace to the rituals. Apparently both Elune and the people watching the rituals and ceremonies appreciated those qualities. In turn, the girl was atrocious when it came to genuflection or supplication, mainly because it was obvious she didn’t consider anyone to be above her or worthy of her reverence. The girl simply didn’t have genuine humility in her. In return her dance and song contained honesty and joy, and her grace and precision honored those in attendance, and gave face to the goddess herself. So Nimue quickly made sure the girl didn’t take part in normal services, but in return performed even in the more important rituals and ceremonies that catered to her strengths. Nimue wasn’t a big fan of humility herself, so that suited her just fine.
Thus it didn’t take long before the girl was performing rituals in front of large numbers of faithful, and perhaps unsurprisingly it didn’t take long for the word to go around the capital, about a new priestess-to-be, and the beauty of both herself and the rituals she performed. Such rituals were drawing ever increasing crowds to the grand temple, and the attendance in the ceremonies was high enough to draw attention from different parties. There was a much larger portion of nobles taking part as well, especially of the male variety, though Nimue did notice a surprising increase in female nobles as well.
It was one of these ceremonies where wheels of events were set in motion once again.
The ceremony was one of the largest held in the grand temple. The ceremony was a once a year event, meant to honor the elven people, the Elven Empire and to ask the blessing of the goddess for the coming year, and to thank the goddess for her blessings the previous year. The ceremony was perhaps the most important of all the ceremonies performed at the grand temple, because the blessings involved weren’t just theoretical. There were actual and tangible benefits to gaining the grace of Elune, and it was not something that was freely granted every year. The goddess had withheld her blessing on several occasions before, when she had been displeased with her chosen people, and the results were usually pretty bad.
As such, the ceremony usually had full attendance, and often representatives from all three of the major elven clans took part. Because the internal strife among the elves was sure to displease the goddess, the three clans all had sent a member of their royalty to attend the ceremony, in an attempt to appease the goddess. In addition both the emperor and the Chosen of Elune were in attendance. The Sun Court had sent their crown prince as a show of faith, and the Moon Court had sent their First Princess.
There had been some argument among the high priestesses on who would perform the most pivotal part of the ceremony, a ritual dance that was both an offering as thanks for the blessings the previous year, and as a plea for a blessing for the new year. They all realized the goddess wasn’t too happy with the elves, so that part of the ceremony was especially important this year. Normally the dance was performed by one of the high priestesses, but Nimue knew that they needed something special this year. And she knew exactly where that special something could be found. She knew Neleh had a different kind of connection with the goddess. After all, she had been told by Elune herself to take the girl into training.
The difficulty lied in selling the idea to the other high priestesses without telling them why she knew it would work. In the end she managed it with the combination of two things. Firstly she sold the idea, that an acolyte performing the ceremony would show remorse on the part of the elves, and thus the plea would be more genuine. Secondly was the fact that the girl simply was the best when it came to performing ritual dances. All the other priestesses had noticed the increase in attendance when the girl performed, and the goddess always seemed pleased. Maybe the girl’s beauty could move even the goddess.
Of course Neleh’s appearance caused a commotion among those attending the ceremony. Even though she was garbed in the ritual dress required by the particular ritual, an almost diaphanous white robe with bells attached and a fan depicting the symbols of the goddess, her youth clearly told everyone in the audience that she was an acolyte. Neleh didn’t let the audience reaction bother her. She had really started to enjoy performing the ritual dances dedicated to the goddess. For added effect, she drew heavily on the power of her Ignasia, letting all the symbols glow on her skin, clearly visible to everyone watching. Even if no one watching knew their significance, the visual effect was impressive.
It didn’t take long for those in attendance to grow deathly quiet while she performed the ritual dance. Although the movements were roughly the same as every year before, her dance brought added emotion to the ritual, that hadn’t been there before. She started with quick and merry movements that relayed the feeling of joy and thankfulness for the past year, flowing into slower and more deliberate remorse and apology for mistakes made. The middle part was a graceful and majestic show of the goddess’ power, flowing in to an ending carrying a sincere plea and hopefulness for the next year.
The audience was stunned into silence, but was not surprised to see the blue light of the goddess descend on the girl performing the ritual, and spreading out over those in attendance, and continuing out over the elven lands. The blessing might have gone over to the elven people, but it was not lost on the audience that the grace had been granted thanks to the efforts of the acolyte, and that the acolyte had also garnered a big portion of the blessing. It was obvious to those watching that the acolyte held the favor of the goddess. Even if they didn’t hear the discussion that went on inside the acolyte’s head and lasted only a blink of an eye.
“Well this is interesting. You perform the forms with never before seen grace, yet I sense that you don’t hold much stock on ceremony and you certainly lack some honesty in you plea.” The female voice was amused. “You really aren’t used to asking for help from others, are you? As I would expect from a destroyer.”
“Well to be fair, there weren’t all that many beings that could’ve or would’ve helped me in my previous life. Old habits die hard. Now I’m no longer in that position, but as I know the nature of your kind and little of what you expect from me, I refuse to bow down. My plea is sincere both in this case and in general when invoking your powers, but I will not beg. And I can sense you don’t want me to.” Neleh replied, a little surprised to hear from the goddess.
“Very true. We require some things from you, and it is only fair we help you in return. You could still follow the process though. Just to keep up appearances if nothing else.”
“It’s only some parts of the process I take issue with. I quite enjoy performing the ritual dances and songs, as you have noticed. They serve their purpose well, even if there is some room for improvement. Invoking large amounts of your power and for long periods of time like this requires the control granted by a well performed ritual, and it is only polite. What I take umbrage with are the little gestures, chants and prayers your priestesses perform when invoking your power in small capacity, like when healing or blessing someone. They only go through the motions because that’s what they’ve been taught, and they have no better way of control. But when they don’t have the understanding required, they’re really just chucking your power at the problem, and hoping it goes away. It usually does, but it is a terribly wasteful and inefficient way to go about it. Personally I can think a thousand more efficient ways to use the power when invoked, by controlling it myself.” Neleh was a little frustrated at the methods used by the priestesses, to utilize the holy power. Following the basic healing lessons had been cringe-worthy.
“You would of course, but not everyone has your level of understanding. I’ll tell you what, as long as you go through the motions to keep up appearances when there are people around, I’ll let you handle the control of the holy power when you invoke it. You can make better use of it that way.”
“Well that’s very kind of you. Also feels a bit too easy. I sense a quid-pro-quo somewhere.” She got suspicious, because she had thought she’d have to go through a lengthy negotiation with the goddess to gain the control she was just promised.
“Huhuhu. Nothing you would object to. As you yourself said, you know the nature of our kind, so I don’t have to keep up appearances with you. It’s hard to have decent company or someone to talk to, while everyone your equal is your enemy or at least a competitor, and all others are so much beneath you. It can get lonely sometimes. There was once a person who gave a warning about power corrupting friendships and relationships. For the relationship to not be corrupted, neither party can be in too large of a position of power over the other. When one becomes too powerful, the other is diminished, and the relationship suffers.”
“That was a recurring problem in my old life as well. Hard to make friends when everyone wants something from you.” She gave a small shudder.
“Indeed, and that’s why I can rely on you not abusing this new relationship. You know the dangers, and how much it can hurt.”
“Well, I guess we can see how this goes.” She really did know the loneliness of power, and didn’t mind befriending someone more powerful than her for once.
While the parties watching in the audience weren’t aware of the new friendship that was formed between a young acolyte and a goddess, they did realize the benefits of having that acolyte as a part of their faction. Some, like the Moon Elf princess realized the importance of having someone so obviously favored by the goddess in their clan. Some like the Crown Prince of the Sun Elves, felt desire at the beauty of the girl. Surely someone like her would be an excellent prospect for marriage into the royal family. Some like the Emperor realized the symbolic value a girl like her could hold. Some like the Chosen of Elune realized the potential the girl carried, possibly being a very important figure in the future.
And then there was the one member of nobility that had seen the girl before, and knew of the girl’s ties with a particular dragon. ‘Well well. If it isn’t the girl that performed the strange ritual and drew the attention of a dragon. The Consortium would be interested in knowing that the girl recorded in the crystal has been found.’