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Author's note: Couple of important things happening in this chapter. Things that most people already more or less guessed, but still had to happen :)


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While Neleh was busy dealing with the burial of her sister, some of the most important figures of the elven lands had gathered at the imperial palace to negotiate the future of the empire. Nimue and Alduin were attending the funeral, but otherwise the members of the gathering looked familiar. The heads of the martial orders represented the temple, while King Aelrindel and Queen Amaranthae represented the interests of their clans. The interests of Eldarinwe were represented by Estelar, which had angered many of the nobles, but they didn’t really get the chance to complain about it as the losing side of the war. The fact was that the other leaders could get along with Estelar, and while many of the nobles disliked him, he still had his reputation as the previous emperor’s enforcer, which helped legitimize his position in the eyes of those that didn’t have a personal grudge against him.

“So we are all agreed then, that the Eldarinwe clan should not be collectively punished for the misdeed of those on top?” Yunalesca verified. They had agreed not to levy any punishment against the Eldarinwe clan as a whole, to repay for the lives lost while overthrowing the old emperor.

“Agreed. We don’t want to make the Eldarinwe feel like second class citizens. That’s what caused the unrest in the first place. We have to take action against the generals and nobles though.” Queen Amaranthae replied, with nods from the others.

“Well, now that our esteemed Chosen has returned, I have a plan to do just that. With the permission of those present, the Inquisition would like to put every imperial noble and army officer to question on the suspicion of treason by associating with the Consortium and more generally corruption.” Yunalesca said gravely.

“Wait a moment! We can’t allow you to go around torturing all the generals and nobility!” Estelar argued back. “I mean a big portion of them probably deserve it, but that’s going to drive the nobility into a riot!” The other participants were agreeing with Estelar. The suggestion seemed a little extreme.

“You jumped too far ahead. We have a more elegant way of going about it. We came up with a plan while talking with the Chosen. She can perform a spell that can differentiate lies from the truth. Now, our other Inquisitors can’t use the spell quite as well, but they can tell the difference when getting yes or no answers to direct questions. Information gained by ‘aggressive questioning’ always has problems with reliability, since those subjected to it will say anything to make the pain stop. This way we won’t have to hurt them, and we can get reliable answers.” Yunalesca said with a smile.

“But how are you going to get the nobles to answer to your questions? I would imagine they’ll just clam up, once they catch a wind of this.” Queen Amaranthae asked.

“Oh that will be the easy part. We just need to gather them to a single location, so that we can give them a little demonstration on what happens to those that refuse to answer the questions. Our new Chosen can be quite persuasive.” Yunalesca said with a wicked grin that brought chills to everyone else.

“I heard a little about that from Duchess Viansola. I’m quite sure that will be effective.” King Aelrindel mumbled.

Lysanthir wanted to steer the conversation towards the main topic. “With most of the people involved already gathered, we might as well get to the main point. We need a new ruler and I’m guessing that ruler won’t be picked from the Eldarinwe. The two most likely candidates are in this room. The sooner we get this decided, the sooner we can get to actually fixing the rest of the empire. We can have all the pomp and ceremony tomorrow, but if the people in this room can come to an agreement, then I’m sure we can convince Nimue and the new Chosen of our position.”

“Well, I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that we Moon Elves suggest the following: the person selected will take a spouse from the other clan’s royal family, and the two will rule together as equals. One of their children will inherit the position as the sole ruler. That child should then marry into the other clan again; though no need to stick to the royal family this time. Few generations down the line, we can allow the ruler to marry from the Eldarinwe as well, allowing them the chance to get the position as well. The spouse of the ruler should never be from the same clan as the ruler, to allow the position to transfer between the clans. There could be trouble if the emperors pick their heir from their own clan every time, but we can set some rule down for that.” Queen Amaranthae gave the starting suggestion, which could then be refined further.

The group argued the merits and set down an initial plan to suggest at the official meeting the following day. Now it came to the point of selecting the leading candidate.

“I’m fine with King Aelrindel taking the throne. I've been a widower for a long time now with no intention to remarry, and I’d rather focus on matters of my own clan. I’ll quite happily leave matters of the empire to one of my daughters.” Queen Amaranthae conceded quite easily. She had managed to negotiate equal rule for the emperor’s wife, empress in this case, and had reached her goals. She could concede the title of emperor to Aelrindel. The young king also didn’t seem to have too strong of a personality, so her strong daughters might even manage controlling him.

“Well that solves things neatly. Anyone against the motion?” Lysanthir asked, quite pleased to be saved from negotiations and arguments that lasted for hours.

“I don’t disagree with the current proposal, but I have a question and a sort of counter-proposal.” Aelrindel suggested suddenly.

“Speak your mind.” Yunalesca urged, having a sudden bad feeling things were about to go sideways.

“I’m wondering on how committed you are to the part about my future wife being a member of the Moon Elf royal family? Or would a Moon Elf of similar position be acceptable?” Aelrindel asked with a small smile. They could see this was something he had been aiming for from the start.

“I’m guessing you have someone specific in mind?” Queen Amaranthae asked skeptically.

She wasn’t opposed to the idea in theory. None of her daughters were jumping at the prospect of marrying the young Sun Elf king. If the wife was not of similar rank though, Aelrindel might be able to become the de facto sole ruler by having more authority. That would leave the Moon Elf clan secondary in authority, and perhaps even a laughing stock due to giving up the power when they had the opportunity to grasp it. Similar to what she had planned to happen with her daughter’s personality being stronger than the young king’s, except with the positions reversed.

“A certain Moon Elf Inquisitor saved my sister’s life after the dragon attack on our palace. I’ve taken quite a fancy to her. Besides, she would work very nicely as a symbol of peace as well.” Aelrindel continued with a smile. “She’s now the Chosen of Elune, so no one can argue her position, and she would be a great sign of rebirth for our empire after the civil war. Not to mention her significant powers.”

Both Estelar and Yunalesca exploded in laughter. They had both been aware of the young king’s fancy of Neleh. They didn’t think he would actually suggest it though. Yunalesca suddenly got a thoughtful expression, while Estelar decided to tease the king. “You’re reaching pretty high boy. Despite anything you say, I’m pretty sure the main reason you want her is the blessing of Aphrodite she so clearly has.” Estelar said while chuckling.

Queen Amaranthae was about to answer, when Yunalesca suddenly interrupted her. “King Aelrindel, could you give us a moment to discuss this?” Her serious voice got everyone’s attention. Aelrindel readily agreed. He hoped it could happen, but he wasn’t completely chained to the idea. The fact that they were considering it was promising.

When the young king left the room, the queen of the Moon Elves had to ask. “What’s going on? What could you not say in his presence?” She was personally actually amenable to the idea. A Chosen made sense to her.

“He doesn’t need to hear what I’m about to say next.” Yunalesca started. “His own fancy aside, there are a couple of very good reasons for agreeing to his proposal. First of all, we can all see that all the trends point to him becoming the next emperor. Whatever we might think of him personally, it would be hard to argue for anyone else on the throne after what happened to the sun palace. We know it was orchestrated by the Consortium, but that’s not what the people think. And the people think the Sun Elves deserve compensation for that event and the mistreatment they have suffered. The problem is, I doubt his personality is well suited to that of an emperor. He doesn’t really have the strength of character. He might grow into the position, but Estelar here can tell you about hopes like that.”

“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m trying to get one of my daughters to rule with him. They have the necessary character and can keep him on point.” Queen Amaranthae said.

“Agreed, and that is one of the reasons I agree with that idea. Lady Neleh would also have the strength of character and then some. In fact, I doubt it would take too long before all the decisions went thought her instead and Aelrindel was reduced to a mostly ceremonial position. Her mind is also suited for the position. She’s young, but I’ve never seen anyone with inner strength like hers. If I didn’t know better and just heard her speak, I would estimate her age equal to Nimue’s. But there’s another reason why I think it makes sense to choose her. If Aelrindel were to marry someone else, in a hundred years we might have a situation where the empire is again divided. The Chosen is still young enough to be called a girl, but already she has power and charisma that will eclipse that of Aelrindel’s. Frankly, he is fairly average when it comes to moving people’s hearts, while Neleh has the ability to make rocks cry.” Yunalesca continued.

“I see where you’re going with this.” Lysanthir said. “Shalheira didn’t take much part in the affairs of the empire and the new Chosen will be different. And the people will follow her will instead of the Emperor.”

“Exactly. In addition, I don’t think we’re even close to seeing the extent of her power, and already the acolytes of the grand temple have given her nicknames ranging from the golden goddess to the empress of the night. And not in an ironic way like they usually do, but with real reverence. What happens when we go to war, and the ‘golden goddess’ tells one thing, and the emperor another? There will be two centers of power in the empire in the next hundred years, I am absolutely convinced. Unless we combine them.” Yunalesca finished.

“There’s one thing you’re ignoring here. Neleh will not agree to marry Aelrindel. He has proposed to her twice already. Both times she has let him down gently, but I doubt she will give the courtesy a third time, especially if you try to put her on the spot in front of everyone. I was there the last time this happened. She was polite to him, but when we walked out of the place, she made it clear in no uncertain terms, that the marriage was not going to happen.” Estelar interjected.

“It would not be the first time that a political marriage happens where the two parties don’t get along. Besides, she might agree when we explain this to her.” Queen Amaranthae mused, not really knowing Neleh personally.

“That’s not the problem, and I’m sure the Grand Inquisitor here knows it. You would have more luck trying to marry Neleh off to Aelrindel’s sister. It wasn’t an accident she saved her. And no before you ask, I’m pretty sure she won’t just do it if you explain and ask nicely.” Estelar said exasperated.

“Oh!” Amaranthae picked up on Estelar’s hint.

“We’ll just have to see what she says tomorrow. We still have the option of one of the Moon Elf princesses if she turn it down, and there is time to figure out another solution for the other problem.” Lysanthir finished. He was getting a headache from the discussion. He really wasn’t one for politics or the whims of royalty. He did however dislike the idea of trying to force a marriage on someone unwilling.

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“Have you made your choice? It’s time. The others are getting impatient.” Elune asked uncharacteristically serious.

‘I know who it has to be. I’m just trying to talk myself out of it, because I know where it will lead.’ Neleh replied feeling cornered.

“The choice is fairly obvious.” Elune agreed.

‘You know there’s no going back if I go down that path?’ Neleh asked half rhetorically.

“I don’t’ think there’s going back anyway. You’re trying to tell yourself otherwise, but that’s how things are?” Elune went straight to the point that Neleh was also realizing.

‘You’re probably right, and I’m not sure how to deal with that. We are already tied together by the bond, and you will tie us together even further by making her the limiter. She will never be able to get over her feelings if she has to spend the next couple of decades in close company with me.’ Neleh sighed.

“You could just reciprocate her feelings. You already do to an extent. Due to the bond, and due to your past memories, you already see her as something besides your mother. I’m certainly not going to judge.” Elune was getting some of her amusement back.

‘It’s not that simple. But she is the only real choice. We might just have to go with it and let the chips fall where they may.’ Neleh felt resigned.

“There are several reason to choose her, but there’s one thing that the other options can’t offer no matter what. Because of the bond, even a limiter would find it impossible to stop you if she died. And if she’s with you, then at the very least you can keep her safe yourself. You might attract trouble, but at least you also have the strength to save her from almost anything if you’re right there, unlike when she’s at home and you’re out there doing your thing. Besides, she at least will happily spend all those years with you and put her life on hold, whereas many others might not.” Elune said with some finality.

“Let’s get this done.” Neleh said out loud with a sigh.

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Neleh found Asheara at her house. Her mother had obviously been crying after the funeral, but that was as expected. Asheara actually managed a clear smile when she saw Neleh. “What brings you here? I would’ve imagined you to be swamped by the affairs of the empire.” She asked, glad to see her favorite person.

“I will be soon enough, but before that, there is a more important matter. You remember how I told you about losing myself when Selvaria died, and you know that I spent some time in the care of the celestials afterwards. What I did not mention, was why, as well as why they were there.” Neleh said seriously.

“I assumed you were injured?” Asheara asked back, guessing the reason was more complicated.

“I was not injured exactly, my mana was drained. All my mana was spent because some of my power from my old life surfaced, and the celestials were there to stop the damage from spreading to the rest of the world.” Neleh admitted.

“Rest of the world?” Asheara ask worried.

“Well the exact area affected is anyone’s guess, but certainly the elven continent at the very least. My old powers would have ignited the atmosphere because of the extreme heat produced, which was prevented by the celestials. The main point is, that some of my old powers are re-surfacing, for several reason, and I don’t’ really have full control of them at the moment. Apparently the combination of teenage hormones and extreme levels of power don’t’ really go together. Especially with extreme spikes of emotion, like with the death of Selvaria.” Neleh gave a faint smile.

“I’m guessing there’s something that can be done. Specifically something I can do, considering you’re talking to me about it. Not that I’m not happy to listen to your worries anytime you choose to share them.” Asheara wasn’t stupid.

“It always makes things easier when you’re quick on the uptake. Elune told me that the best way to deal with the situation is to have someone work as a limiter, until my body matures and I can get better control. The limiter would be able to stop my powers from going out of control. The downside, if you will, is that the person I choose would have to spend the next several decades in my company. The closer the better. That person would in effect have to put their own life on hold and follow me around.”  Neleh explained looking meaningfully at Asheara.

“I would be happy to. Aside from Selvaria coming back to life, nothing would make me happier.” Asheara answered instantly with a wide smile, and jumped up to give Neleh a big hug. More time with her favorite person? Yes please!

“Elune, if you would please.” Neleh asked the goddess that was most certainly listening.

Two large magical formations appeared beneath the two. Then they both heard the voice of the goddess. “To seal the pact, a kiss is needed.” The goddess was enjoying herself immensely, which her voice made clear.

“Wait wha…?!” Neleh’s half panicked voice was cut short by Asheara grabbing her head and kissing her with enthusiasm. She certainly had no qualms about it.

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Vihyungrang

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