Music is a good way to keep yourself focused on a task. Hope you enjoy...
The next two weeks of civil war weren’t kind for the Eldarinwe. The rebels already outnumbered them two to one, but the weeks saw more and more Eldarinwe units either stepping out of the war declaring their neutrality, or even joining the rebellion. To add to the imbalance, the guards of the Sun Elf and Moon elf cities joined the fight, while the guards of the Eldarinwe cities decided to stay out of it. The civil war was in many ways a very weird form of warfare. The fighting mostly stayed outside the cities and towns, because the urban environment would both increase collateral damage and increase the chance of traitors amongst the citizenry.
Thus, when cities and towns fell into the rebel hands, the takeover was usually very peaceful. A nearby army would let the town know that they were now in rebel hands, and the town would accept that fate without much protest. Elves weren’t usually very big on looting and pillaging even when attacking other races, but the civilians were left almost completely untouched during the civil war. There were requests for food and supplies of course, but even those were usually phrased politely, and often even paid for. In the early days of bloodlust, some units did take out their anger on some pockets of Eldarinwe civilians, but the soldiers who were caught doing that were summarily executed, which crushed that line of thinking pretty quickly.
With the armies coming out of their haze of bloodlust, the battles turned away from slaughters and became more of the tactical and strategic affairs expected of elven armies. Surrenders replaced frenzied last stands, and the rebels pushed into the Eldarinwe territory with rapid pace. There was a stark difference between the first few frenzied days and the sharp and methodical warfare of the next weeks. The civil war had turned as close to a civilized form of warfare as was possible. This in turn made those commanding the Eldarinwe forces increasingly desperate.
When the tide of war started turning against them, the emperor tried ordering the martial orders of the temple, the Inquisitors and Templars to join the war. When the temple refused, he tried the same with the academy and the Hunter’s Guild. Both decided to also remain neutral. This enraged the emperor, who ordered one of the more loyal Eldarinwe armies to march into the capital, and intimidate the resisting forces into joining the war. The emperor believed he could intimidate them, and those forces could tip the balance of the war, since they contained some of the most powerful individuals in the empire. This would be especially devastating, because the Great Silver ranked combatants had so far stayed out of the war. Those on the rebel side tried to avoid a massacre, and those on the Eldarinwe side did it because they would gladly stay out of the battle if that kept the numerically superior elites of the enemy off the field too. So for the first time in ten thousand years, an army approached Rhi’a’non.
The temple had foreseen the reaction of the emperor, partially because of the insight offered by Estelar who knew the emperor well. As a result, they had recalled most of the Templars and Inquisitors to the capital. The martial orders of the temple were joined by the hunters as well as the majority of the students of the academy. To add insult to injury, the combined forces were joined by majority of the city guard, who not only stood morally by the temple’s forces, but also considered it an insult for an army to try and cause trouble in their city. The combined army faced against the Eldarinwe army outside the city.
The forces arrayed against them were cobbled together from various sources, but the general leading the Eldarinwe wasn’t stupid. The martial orders might not be numerically superior, but they were the strongest fighters of the elves outside the Legion of the Phoenix that guarded the imperial palace. The students of the academy might not be fully trained, but the idea of almost ten thousand fledgling mages arrayed on the other side of the field sent chills down the general’s back. In addition, the academy in the capital was where the most promising mage students were trained, so these weren’t your run of the mill mages capable of only a couple of spells useful in the battlefield. They would be capable of causing a lot of death and destruction, and all that didn’t even consider the teachers.
The hunter’s might not be the equals of trained armies in a large battle, but the guild had the largest number of powerful individuals, and unlike the other forces, they were not shy about bringing along their Great Silver ranked fighters, lord Alduin Rhys chief amongst them. The old Medjai was the inspiration of every warrior and mage in the empire, and it was doubtful there were more than a handful of individuals in the whole empire capable of fighting against him equally. And none of those were standing on the other side of the field. It also didn't escape the general’s notice, that the city guard of Rhi’a’non were all recruited from the army, so in essence the guards were all soldiers that had finished their time with the army, and as such had significantly more experience than the soldiers facing them.
All of this caused the general to make the best decision of his life, when he decided to ignore the orders given to him. He also made the fairly intelligent move of keeping his army positioned near the city, thus tying down the forces that were now sure to be fairly hostile against the emperor. Because of this, the combined army had to also maintain their position. The Eldarinwe general was later quoted for having said the following: “Fuck it! The emperor can come here and fight this collection of freaks himself if he wants it so bad. I’m not having anything to do with it.” Of course, this also tied down a fairly large portion of the Eldarinwe army, which was already stretched to a breaking point.
Estelar had to wonder at the collection of powerful individuals that had gathered to discuss the situation in the camp of the combined forces. There were more Great Silver level combatants gathered in the fairly large tent, than in any of the three elven kingdoms, although most of them didn’t advertise their power. Great Silver ranked warriors usually kept a leather cord signifying their rank tying their hair, but this was not a required practice, and certainly didn’t extend to those who followed other paths to power.
There were of course the heads of the martial orders, the Grand Inquisitor Yunalesca and Lysanthir the Grandmaster of the Templars. The great Medjai Alduin Rhys was probably the most powerful individual present, and had brought with him two other hunters who also seemed to be of the Great Silver rank. One seemed to be an older mage, while a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Neleh was more of a mystery to Estelar. She carried a pair of elven blades, but Estelar could also sense the presence of magic around her. She was hiding her power well enough that Estelar was not really able to tell how powerful she was. He would very much like to have a talk with her, and ask if there was any relation between her and Neleh.
The headmaster of the academy was of course one of the most powerful mages in the empire, though interestingly he was accompanied by a pair of students. One was an elven girl, apparently a fifth-circle mage judging by her badge, as well as a fiery natured celestial, also of the fifth-circle. The celestial’s presence was a bit odd, since students from other races were exempt from fighting. Unsurprisingly a majority of them had taken the chance to practice their magic in a real combat situation, though celestials were rare. The city guard were also represented by their captain and vice-captain, both wearing the customary leather cord in their hair.
They had gathered to discuss both the state of the civil war as a whole, and the situation they found themselves in now. Lord Alduin was the person currently speaking, though Estelar had missed some of it in his musings, and because he had heard most of it before. “…and the army across the field is showing no intention of attacking us, but it isn’t showing any intention of leaving either. This leaves a huge hole in the empire’s defense, and the Sun Elves and Moon Elves are pushing in on all fronts. The Eldarinwe are mostly retreating, so battles aren’t common. The rebels are stopping to re-supply at every opportunity, taking no chances and strangling out the empire’s forces methodically and with certainty.” Alduin’s voice was calm and collected.
“They don’t want to take any chances, or walk into any ambushes that might turn the tide of the war.” Lysanthir commented. “They are winning this civil war as long as they don’t do something very stupid, and they don’t want to risk it.”
“The emperor on the other hand should be getting quite desperate, and might try something drastic. He shouldn’t have any aces hidden away or he would have used them by now, so he might do something crazy. Any chance he might try to reach out to the other races for support in exchange of concessions?” The academy headmaster asked Estelar, who had become something like an unofficial advisor after being granted asylum by the academy. It was agreed that he would work as a teacher for some years in exchange, the exact time determined by how long he would need the asylum.
“I believe that’s a strong possibility. He isn’t the type to shy away from using the other races to keep his power, even if the cost should be prohibitive. The only problem to him is that the other races are also at war, aside from the celestials and the naga.” Estelar commented. Now that he was no longer working with Tarathiel, his opinion of the emperor had dropped like a rock, partly because he wasn’t deluding himself anymore.
“Any chance the current flood of naga in our lands might be a sign of an alliance between them and the emperor?” Lysanthir asked. “They certainly have enough numbers present for an army or two, although I find it unlikely the Eternal Empress would meddle in elven politics.” The naga empress was known as a bit of an isolationist. The problems of other races were not her concern.
“No. We have questioned them repeatedly on this matter.” Yunalesca said thoughtfully. “They have been very quiet about their aims, but they have assured us that they do not intend to take part in the war. Whatever else one might think of the naga, they are too honorable to go back on their word in a matter this serious. From we have been able to find out, they are here searching for something. When we asked for what, the only answer we got was a vague ‘for the future’.”
While the discussion continued to speculate about the aims of the naga, Estelar could hear Yunalesca addressing a quiet question to the mystery woman with lord Alduin: “Speaking of searching, any change with Neleh?”
“No change. She is still in Avant Heim. She is still alive, but from what I can tell she is still unconscious.” The mystery woman replied with a frown. Now this was interesting. What was this woman’s connection to Neleh? She seemed to be able to tell accurate information about the girl, information she should not be able to find out in any way.
Estelar’s thoughts were interrupted by a voice from outside the tent. “This is an emergency, you must let me in! I must deliver the news right away!” Apparently a messenger had been stopped by the guards outside.
“Let him in!” Alduin yelled. A winded Eldarinwe messenger entered the tent. His clothes showed him a servant in the imperial palace, which explained the hard breathing. He seemed to have ran all the way from the palace. “What is so urgent?” Alduin asked the panting messenger.
“The emperor and his family are dead!” The messenger managed to announce.
A commotion ran through the tent. “What happened? Surely the Sun Elves didn’t manage to get past the Legion?” Lysanthir asked urgently. This could have huge ramifications. If the Sun Elves had murdered the emperor and his family, then the war might get worse, not better. So far the rebellion had been seen relatively just, but the Eldarinwe would stop standing aside and surrendering if the Sun Elf king had assassinated the emperor.
“No, no!” The messenger quickly answered. “The Chosen of Elune, Shalheira came to the palace under the invitation of the emperor. The Chosen asked for the emperor’s family to also attend, so she could greet them. Then she used her powers as a Chosen to bar the Legion from entering the room and killed the emperor and his family. Once she was done, she lay down on the ground and surrendered to the Legion. She was still alive when I left.”
The tent was filled with silence. There were several parties that wanted the emperor dead, including many among the people in the tent, but they had not expected the Chosen to be the one to finally take direct action. Shalheira had always been secretive, and didn’t take much part in the elven politics. She had deliberately kept neutral during the civil war and the time leading up to it. Had either Neleh or Nimue been present, they might have remembered that the Chosen had approached Neleh with a plan to prevent the civil war.
“Well I guess that answers the old question of whether a Chosen can use their powers during a war.” Estelar mused out loud drawing everyone’s attention. “I have to admit her idea was a good one. If she had just killed the emperor, the nobles would have propped up the crown prince as a puppet ruler. Now with the whole family dead, there’s no one to take the throne. If anyone else had done it, there would have been a lot more bad blood between the clans. It’s bad enough the Sun Elves blame the Eldarinwe for the dragon attack on Solaris, but the Chosen doing the deed might be seen as the will of the goddess. Inquisitor, I seem to have forgotten. What is the procedure for selecting a new emperor when the old emperor dies without an heir?”
Yunalesca gave a small chuckle. “The rulers of all the clans are called to Rhi’a’non, and together with the current Chosen and the leading members of the temple they hold council until a new emperor is selected. In this case that would be King Aelrindel, Queen Amaranthae, High Priestess Nimue, Grandmaster Lysanthir and myself. I’m guessing Shalheira will not be consulted this time. It might be that she will have to be executed, and Elune would pick a new Chosen to take her place.”
“That decision should be made by the new Emperor, or better yet Elune herself. I don’t believe anyone else holds the authority to order the death of a Chosen.” Lysanthir said frowning.
“In any case, it might be a good idea to move our forces into the city and make sure all the nobles won’t kill each other trying to take the throne. I’m pretty sure we can negotiate that with the general of the Eldarinwe army when he hears the news. I’m guessing they also got the message?” Estelar asked the messenger getting a nod in reply.
“Do we have to? It might be good if the empire had less nobles running around.” Alduin asked with a sigh.
Yunalesca laughed. “I think we should. Some of the nobles aren’t all that bad and they might get caught in the crossfire. Also the Inquisition will most likely run a thorough sweep through the nobles and the generals. We will want to make damn sure the ones who remain are not corrupt or controlled by the Consortium.” She sighed. “I just wish Inquisitor Neleh was here. She is damn good at getting unwilling people to spill their secrets. I still have no idea how she does it…”
Estelar noticed the wistful expression on the mystery woman’s face. Apparently Yunalesca was not the only one who wished that. Now that she paid more attention, lord Alduin and the female mage student had also made interesting expressions at the Inquisitor’s words. He raised his voice. “We might want to make sure all the armies also get the message so they can cease hostilities, and allow the monarchs of Sun Elves and the Moon Elves to come to the meeting. They need to be sent a word too. We don’t want to tarry with picking the next Emperor.”
Neleh had remained with Elune for an undetermined amount of time when she noticed the goddess tense up. The goddess had kept to her word and used Neleh as a hug-pillow for all this time, and had a blissful expression the whole time. The goddess getting serious suddenly drew Neleh’s attention. “What is it? Something happened didn’t it?”
Elune sighed. “Yes. The emperor and his family are dead. Her choice of action was smart, but I can’t condone my powers being used against the ruler of the elves. Otherwise my future Chosen might get the idea, that it was ok to use my power to elevate themselves into the position of the empress. I don’t mind them having the position if they earn it, but I do mind my powers being used to get it. I’m afraid I have now lost my Chosen. I’ll have to take her powers away as punishment.” Elune paused for a short moment. “Ah, apparently she knew this would be the result, and approves.” She sighed again.
“Shalheira killed the emperor and his family?” Neleh asked surprised. Was this the plan that the Chosen had talked about? “I wish I knew what was going on…”
“Pretty much what you would expect, though the civil war became less brutal only a little after what happened to you. Actually your little show might have had something to do with it, but then again maybe not. One of the reasons I love my children, is that they are not prone to needless violence. They will most likely be choosing a new emperor in a little over a week. It will take that long for the council to be gathered, even though both king Aelrindel and queen Amaranthae were leading their armies in person. On that note, it might be best for you to return to Rhi’a’non by then. As much as I enjoy this, I think it’s time for you to wake up.” Elune said a little sad.
Neleh gave a small chuckle. “It’s not like they need me for that. I have no role in choosing the new emperor, and I’m pretty ambivalent on who gets selected, as long as he or she is better than the old one. I do kind of wish I had the chance to take revenge on the emperor myself, but I suppose that would have been a bad idea. Besides, this has been a good replacement.” She said giving the goddess another squeeze.
Elune laughed. “I wouldn’t be so sure. It’s customary for the Chosen of Elune be present while choosing a new emperor, in the event the old one didn’t leave an heir. And if you’ll remember, my old one just lost her position.” The amusement was back in the goddess’ voice, although mirth bit be more accurate this time.
“Oh, Khali damn it! You’re not suggesting what I think you are?” Neleh sighed.
“Why not? I would’ve given you the position when you performed the ritual for the Ignasia, but the position was filled then. Besides, the other races are already unhappy because the elves have two Chosen. Can you think of anyone more suitable for the position? I’m telling you now; you’re the only hug-pillow I have.” Elune continued mirthfully.
“And having one elf with the power of two Chosen is better?” Neleh tried to argue.
“Well, the celestials are the only ones that know of your other title at the moment, and if you let people know of your title as my Chosen, the other races are less likely to believe the other title, since it has never happened before. The other races also don’t know if there’s even any extra power with being Chosen by a second god. For all they know, the competing blessings might conflict. Also, before you ask, and as you know, they won’t.” Elune finished with amusement. She knew she was winning the argument. Neleh wasn’t really all that averse to the idea, and the idea was a good one.
Besides, the goddess knew she would keep at it, until Neleh accepted her fate. Elune could not even imagine having someone else as her Chosen anymore, and this would bring her into relative parity with Satai. Previously Satai had held the strongest claim on Neleh, but this way things would be even.
Neleh gave a deep sigh. “Ha-ah, fine! Have it your way. I’ll be the servant to a loose cannon goddess that also has an unhealthy fondness for hug-pillows. Do your thing, and kick me awake. I’m guessing there are some celestials waiting for an explanation when I regain consciousness, and if I’m expected to be in Rhi’a’non soon, we better get to it.”
The goddess gave a squee more appropriate for a teenaged girl and gave an even bigger hug. Then she let go of Neleh and stood in front of her. She put her hands on the girl’s cheeks and gave a kiss directly on the girl’s lips. Neleh could feel the blessing of Elune growing inside of her, becoming equal to that of the one granted by Satai, maybe even slightly stronger, because of the connection with the goddess. Neleh thought she had also felt a slightest bit of tongue in the kiss, just before the goddess broke contact. The goddess was blushing slightly, apparently having gotten carried away a bit.
“I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that’s not the usual way of picking a Chosen.” Neleh managed to cough out, giving her lips a small lick.
The goddess blushed a little harder, and gave Neleh a slight push. Neleh noticed she was now falling back to consciousness. As she had suspected, the goddess had distracted her from the civil war, and had kept her unconscious while it lasted. She understood though. It would have been bad if she had returned to take part in the civil war without having the limiter the goddess had mentioned. She might have lost herself in revenge…