The carriage of Estelar had traveled towards Rhi’a’non for six days. Neleh estimated that they were about halfway between their destination and Solaris. Estelar had made several offers to try and sway her to his cause, ranging from personal wealth to a nobility rank for her family. None of those were particularly interesting to her. What did at least get her a little interested, was the man’s attempts at logical and emotional reasons why she should join them. Estelar was a persuasive person, but unfortunately for him, most of the reasons he could think up, would apply doubly as arguments for joining the others side. It’s a bit hard to argue for saving of civilian lives, when more lives could be saved if she was to help the other side and hasten the fall of the emperor. Luckily for him, Neleh wasn’t interested in joining the other side either. At least the whole issue made for a more entertaining journey for both of them.
Neleh was just practicing the new magic she had developed for music, when she started hearing sounds of battle. Sounds made by thousands of people trying their best to kill each other. Their group only had ten guards, because who would be stupid enough to attack a Great Silver and an Inquisitor? So the sounds were not caused by them. The sounds were also coming from a distance. The fact that they could hear the sounds over such a distance, spoke volumes about the number of people involved. Estelar had also heard the sounds, and both of them gave each other a brief look of understanding.
They left their carriage and started running full speed towards the sounds, to see what was going on. Before they could see anything, Neleh’s senses could detect the presence of several hundred thousand people battling each other, and many of those presences were winking out of existence as they approached. They crested a small forested hill, and saw the two armies battling each other on a large plain. On one side were units wearing the armor of the elven army, made up mainly of Sun Elves, and the occasional group of Moon Elves. The other side was similarly garbed in the armor of the army, but was made up entirely of Eldarinwe.
Estelar drew breath and cursed. “By the goddess, the army units have turned against each other. I was afraid this would happen, but didn’t expect it to be so soon.”
“Looks like some of the Eldarinwe are trying to exit the battle. I told you your forces did not want to fight against their own race. There are even a few units of Eldarinwe that have joined the other two clans. It seems they agree with their cause.” Neleh said pointing at few units fighting alongside the Sun Elves and Moon Elves.
“It seems the Eldarinwe forces still hold the upper hand though. The other side is outnumbered 2:1 even with some of the units refusing to fight. I wonder what happened to cause the rebels to take such an uneven fight?” Estelar had no difficulties imagining that the Sun Elves especially would want to rise against the Eldarinwe, but why here and now with these odds?
“I think I know why.” Neleh whispered, and pointed to a corner of the battlefield. There was a hastily improvised gallows there, with several Sun Elves hanged from trees.
“I see. That would do it.” It wasn’t difficult to imagine that the Sun Elves there were punished for something like sedition. Seeing their kin hanged, seemingly unjustly would have riled the other Sun Elves enough to cause them to take up their arms and fight. And if the punishments really were unjust, and meant more as a warning, that would explain some of the Eldarinwe joining the rebellion.
Estelar noted the unit banners and grimaced. “That would probably be why. The previous commander was recalled to Rhi’a’non for being too sympathetic towards the Sun Elves and Moon Elves. Against my judgement and advice I might add. The replacement was unfortunately one of those officers that gained his rank by connections and not due to his ability. Count Mondego is the sort of man that could’ve had people hanged just to establish his position. One of those men that should never be given authority, but has just the right friends to get the position.”
Neleh also noticed the unit banners and her eyes went wide. “Oh no. Nononono. That’s my sister’s unit. She was supposed to be relatively safe under a good commander.” Neleh hastily cast out her senses towards the battlefield, to search for her sister.
She managed to locate her quickly, in one of the units that had sided with the Sun Elves. The time seemed to slow down to a crawl. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion as her sister’s unit was in the process of being overrun by a much larger force of Eldarinwe, and the Sun Elves weren’t really offering much in the way of support, since they still thought of them as suspicious. Fiery wings burst from Neleh’s back incinerating the back of her shirt and cloak when she assumed the form of the Flame Seraph excelling in speed, and burst towards the location of her sister.
Estelar could only stand there in resignation as the embodiment of fiery death burst towards the battlefield. Neleh might not have had a reason to fight against them before, but if her sister was hurt, she sure as hell had one now. He cursed the inept commander in his mind, while he saw the scales of war swing and fall tumbling down against them.
Everything still seemed to move in slow motion when Neleh felt the life of her sister flicker and wink out. She flew towards the location she had felt her sister, now crying several tears of flame. She hoped against all hope that she could still safe Selvaria and bring her back to life. The soul often remained in the vicinity of the body for a short while after death, and if she could fix the damage done to her body, she might be able to coax the soul back. Death was not always permanent, if fast measures could be taken, and the damage was not too large.
Neleh’s whole world turned into a bloody haze of rage and grief, when she saw the slow movement of an Eldarinwe soldier, lost in bloodlust, raising his hand that was holding the severed head of her sister. Elves rarely defiled the bodies of their enemies, but Selvaria had put up a fierce resistance and killed several friends of the soldier who had finally claimed her life. Several of the usually calm and disciplined elven warriors had given into bloodlust, because that was the only way they could fight against their own kind. It was the only way they could raise arms against their former brothers and friends. The elven soldiers, usually famed for their discipline had given into their more primal nature and fought like berserkers.
Neleh’s world frozen for a fraction of a second. Her sister was gone. Selvaria was always standing up for those weaker than her, and was a paragon of justice and good will. She had only joined the army because of the training that would allow her to better protect others. Neleh could feel the warmth of her skin while they slept together as children, because Selvaria had been worried about her baby sister. Her straightforward personality had always been easy to get along with, and she had always had a ready hug for anyone in the family. No longer would Neleh be able to feel the hug of her sister. Her noble sister was gone, and her body defiled.
Neleh barely noticed herself perform one of the spells she had never allowed herself to use before. Even for her, the punishment of her enemies stopped at death. She used her claws to rip the offending man’s soul from his body and deposited it inside the sapphire gem Selvaria’s severed head was still wearing on a silver chain on her forehead. Said chain and sapphire disappeared into Neleh’s holding ring along with her sister’s body and head. Neleh’s last conscious thoughts were: ‘Wait claws? Since when have I had claws?’
Then she lost herself to rage.
The celestials had arrived to the battlefield shortly before Neleh and Estelar. They had landed on the side of the battle, not too far from the hill that the two elves would soon arrive to. Anauel was a bit shocked to see the brutality of the battle. The elves were supposed to be masters of discipline, but this looked more like a battle between two beastmen tribes. Otherwise there didn’t seem to be anything strange about the battle. How were they supposed to know what to do here? And hadn’t the Fateweaver mentioned something about help?
She was just about to start asking questions, when eight indistinct and hazy figures suddenly appeared behind the eight celestials. One figure standing behind each of the celestials. The figures seemed somehow transparent and immaterial, as if they were simply apparitions. Anauel recognized one of the figures. How could the Chosen of Alarae not feel the presence of her Goddess standing right behind her? She was shocked to silence, and so were the other celestials. Apparently there had been some unheard communication between each pair. Anauel also heard a voice in her mind.
“So you have come as ordered, my child. Your greatest and most important task lies before you.” The ceremonial sounding voice of Alarae sounded in her head.
Anauel managed to feebly ask. “What are we to do here mistress? Our instructions were not clear.” This was the first time Anauel had even heard about one of the gods taking any sort of visible form.
“You are to form the eight point isolation barrier around a certain individual, and you are to use all of your power to do so. We will allow each of you to channel some of our power directly just this once. Do not make the mistake of underestimating the threat. That way leads to ruin for all of us. Afterwards, you are to safeguard the person responsible. She is not herself, and on her shoulders rests the fate of this world. Guarantee her safety, no matter what.” Alarae’s voice carried the tone of finality.
The isolation barrier was a hexagonal field formed by eight magicians. The space within the field effectively became separated from the rest of the world, and formed a separate dimension, for as long as the magicians holding the field were able to maintain it. Usually holding the field did not require much additional strength from the casters, because the field was the most powerful defensive magic ever devised. You could have an enormous volcano erupt inside the field, and it would not pose a problem for the casters. Thus the goddess’ warning worried Anauel. How could a single person require not only the presence of the eight most powerful celestials, but also the goddess Alarae and whoever the other shapes were.
‘Wait. If one of the shapes is Alarae, then wouldn’t the other seven shapes be…’
Her thought was interrupted. “You should get ready. It is time to act, and you don’t want to be late. We will tell you the second the field must go up. Start moving, things are about to get underway.” Alarae said.
The celestials started moving towards the battlefield, wondering where exactly they should go, spreading in a wide hexagon of several hundred meters. Then they saw the being of fire streak into the battlefield. Anauel immediately knew this being was the reason they were here. How she knew, she could not say, but apparently all the other celestials also knew, because they moved in formation towards the being. Everything seemed to slow down for Anauel as well. She could see the most beautiful being she had ever seen land among the elven warriors. Then Anauel started to feel fear, when a wave of terrifying energy radiated from the being, as the being ripped the soul out of an elven warrior. The being momentarily cradled the head of another elf in her claws, before the head also vanished.
‘Wait. Claws?’ Anauel thought, and suddenly heard the voice of her Goddess yell. “Now!”
Anauel drew on her power and the power of her goddess as heavily as she could and put it into the barrier spell she had prepared. She had never handled power like this. She felt invincible for a fraction of a second. Then her vision turned into a world of flame. They were still standing over a hundred meter apart, but the entirety of the inside of the barrier was filled by the form of a graceful but terrifying being. A beautiful phoenix made entirely of pure white fire. The atmosphere inside the isolation barrier ignited immediately and the fire burst against the barrier. It was obvious the fire would have ignited the atmosphere in an enormous area around this place, turning everything into ash. The conflagration might have spread over the continents and maybe even the whole planet, as the extreme heat ignited the air.
Anauel imagined herself as a foremost expert in fire magic. Further proof of this was the fiery red color of her wings. Before this she had imagined that no one was her equal in that element. Now she felt like a candle compared to the sun. And the feeling of invincibility that had existed only a second before, was rapidly turning into helplessness. She felt like a small child trying to stop the fist of an adult, as the barrier bent and buckled under the pressure. She was just about to surrender to her death, when the pressure and the being of fire disappeared as the phoenix let out a heartbreaking cry filled with grief and rage. Luckily for her, and everyone else, they weren’t meant to stop the flame, just contain it until it burnt itself out in a flash of power.
The celestials were all panting exhausted, and looked inside their now broken barrier. The ground had turned into something resembling glass, and there was nothing except ash inside. How many elves had been inside the barrier when the fire came? No way to tell now. They all walked towards the center where they could see something besides ash. The hazy forms of the gods had already left. Anauel was the first to arrive, and could see the prone body of an elven girl. The girl was still wearing the remains of her clothes, the back having been burnt away. The clothes had apparently survived this far because they had performed the vanishing act that always happened when someone shapeshifted while wearing clothes. No one really knew where the clothes went.
Anauel approached the unconscious girl. Even in this situation she could only marvel at the girl’s beauty, which was made all the more imposing by the visage of the being of flame they had just witnessed. She sent her senses inside the girl to check for injuries. The girl was physically fine, but there was one oddity. Usually the body of a being has a natural resistance against the kind of probing Anauel was doing. If such resistance did not exist, a mage could simply reach inside a person and kill him or her. Normally that resistance could be weakened by injury or illness, or the magician could simply go through the resistance if he or she was strong enough. Anauel had expected to face that resistance, but there was none. The girl was completely drained of magic and her natural resistance had disappeared when her power was drained. Apparently the girl’s powers were completely drained in the short instance of extreme fire, when she had transformed.
The girl would need some time to regain her strength, and until then she was in grave danger. Anauel looked around the battlefield. Both armies had been awed and stunned to silence by the inferno, but they were now starting to move. By their looks, the elves perceived the celestials as a threat. Maybe they thought the celestials had caused the conflagration. They had to make some quick decisions. Normally the celestials would be able to fight such armies easily, as they were all Great Silver ranked. This time though, their powers had been drained by the isolation barrier. Anauel could also feel the presence of a single Great Silver ranked elf on the outskirts of the battle.
“Quick, we need to leave! Let’s take the girl with us. This is the second part of our mission the Fateweaver talked about. We can decide what to do with her later, but we need to leave now.” Anauel yelled, and picked the elven girl up in her arms. She could feel the muscles under the girl’s skin. Apparently the girl trained as a warrior as well.
The celestials hastily took wing, the others forming a protective perimeter around Anauel and the girl. Normally they would not have put their lives at risk to shield Anauel, but the events just moments before had caused a strange feeling of unity in them. They had all gone through a life-altering experience, and would have to re-evaluate some of their priorities later when they had time. Now they just felt unified with the purpose of protecting the girl, who might end up being their savior or their doom.
Estelar stared in wonder as the celestials left the field of battle. He had seen the great being of fire, and just for a second felt his life coming to an end. He also knew who was at the heart of that being. The Eldarinwe were fucked. He could’ve tried to stop the fleeing celestials, but he knew better. He had seen the Chosen of Alarae before, and there was no mistaking the 12 fiery red wings. The other celestials all had 10 wings, so they were some of the most powerful celestials in existence. Even if they were exhausted, as shown by their relatively low flight speed, they could still kick his ass ten times out of ten.
The emperor’s lack of skill had finally caught up with them. Estelar was known as the Right Fist of the emperor, but he had earned that nickname because he was forced to crack down on people to cover for the emperor’s bad decisions. He always tried to advice against those bad decisions, but the emperor didn’t listen. And Estelar had to deal with the consequences, because he knew what the results would be otherwise.
“I think it’s about time I try to seek for other employment. I wonder if the lady Chosen would need an advisor? I could probably try and seek refuge in the academy, since it’s a place of neutrality. I think I’m going to enjoy the chance to tender my resignation.” Estelar mused.
He owed it to the emperor to at least give the bad news face-to-face. He also knew the Sun Elves would not be too happy to see him in any capacity, since they were the ones he’d had to crack down on most often. He felt liberated somehow. He had never enjoyed working for the emperor, and now he didn’t have to anymore. It was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The emperor had been his friend a long time ago, but sometimes it was best for you, to sever relations that were too destructive.
“Where are we going?” One of the celestials asked Anauel. They were now out of immediate danger, and the elven Great Silver had shown no interest in pursuing them, so they would need to start making plans.
“The girl is completely drained of magic. We’ll need to protect her until she gains at least some of her power back. That could take anywhere from days to weeks, depending on her level of power.” Anauel said thoughtfully.
A person had only so much mana at his or her disposal. There were two ways of improving one’s capacity. One could either allow their manapool to grow naturally by growing older, and continuous use would also grow the manapool, like a muscle would grow when used. These methods were easy and pretty surefire, but they would also take time and the effect would not be large. The other method was to refine one’s mana to a higher grade, making one’s mana more pure and potent. This method was difficult and would also require a lot of time and effort, but the potential payoff was huge. A person who refined their mana to a higher grade would need to spend a lot less mana to achieve the same effect than a person who did not.
The effect would grow as long as a person was capable of refining their mana further. The downside was that when such person finally spent all their mana, it would take much longer to recover it naturally. Neleh had noticed almost straight after her birth that while she could not use her mana until her Awakening, she could refine it, and she had all the knowledge necessary to do so efficiently and quickly. Her mana was some of the highest grade in the world, even though she was so young, but now she was paying the price for it. The transformation had drained her completely.
One of the other celestials noticed something. “The girl carries the insignia of the elven Inquisition. They might be willing to help, if we manage to get her to the grand temple in the capital. No elf is stupid enough to try to harm someone under the direct gaze of their goddess, especially if that someone is one of the goddess’ Inquisitors.”
“How are we going to get her to the temple? I’m pretty sure the civil war just officially started, and I doubt the elves would simply stand by when eight celestials fly into their capital city. Especially since we aren’t your standard celestials working as ambassadors. Our presence in the capital would be major diplomatic news.” Another celestial pointed out.
“Let’s contact the ambassador Sariel. She might be able to figure something out. And if we can’t come up with something, we can always bring the girl with us to Avant Heim. That might end up being our best option in the long run anyway.” Anauel decided. The girl’s presence might cause the civil war get even more out of hand, especially if she was to take an active part against the Eldarinwe. Anauel doubted the girl’s anger was sated, as shown by the cry of the phoenix they had heard. The celestial capital might be the best place to keep her until the civil war had passed.
Author's note two: Yes, the count Mondego was named after Fernard Mondego, the Count de Morcerf from Count of Monte Cristo. Also the name Avant Heim is a shameless reference to No Game No Life.