Author's note: Betcha didn't see that one coming!
Also I'm trying to gauge the reader's interest in a sort of mini arc focusing on Neleh's school life at the academy. It would most likely be a much shorter arc than the others so far. If people are not interested, I'll just throw in less school focused stuff, among other shenanigans. Basically the school arc would simply have me write more material focused on what happens within the school. Now let's see if I can manage that poll...
Neleh and Asheara were in the academy looking for Azrael. They would have to make some arrangements with the academy headmaster about Asheara’s stay within the academy. Azrael had a proper reason to reside in the academy as a teacher, but Asheara would need an acceptable reason as well. She could theoretically work as a teacher as well, but it would be up to the headmaster. If nothing else, she could feasibly work as a bodyguard of the Chosen. That problem would be easy to solve. The bigger problem was a matter of habitation. Neleh was currently rooming with the naga girl Kanako, and would like to avoid disappointing her roommate even more by dropping her as a roommate. She quite enjoyed the weird girl’s company. Besides, Azrael would most likely also want to stay near them, so they would have to come up with something since the current room was not equipped to handle three or four people. That was tomorrow’s problem however.
Today they had to make introductions between Azrael and Asheara, since they would both be spending a lot of time together. Neleh herself didn’t know the celestial all that well yet either, so there was that too. Azrael would also most likely want to accompany her now that she was going back to her duties. They found the celestial in the administrative building trying to arrange a place to live. She was in the middle of a fairly intense discussion, but stopped when she sensed Neleh and Asheara approach.
“Azrael, may I introduce Asheara Khalidor, my mother and my limiter. Asheara, may I introduce Azrael, the advisor and observer assigned to me by the celestials. The three of us will be spending quite a bit of time together.” Neleh made the introductions, getting the obvious out of the way.
“Limiter?” Azrael asked noticing a title she was unfamiliar with.
“I mentioned to Anauel that Elune had told me of a way to make sure my powers won’t go out of control again. I didn’t want to specify then, but that method is to use someone else as a limiter. If my powers are about to go out of control, she can put a stop to it. As a result, she will have to be in close proximity to me until my body and powers mature enough for me to control them properly, which will most likely take a few decades.” Neleh calmly gave a brief explanation.
“A-ha, now I see why you didn’t mention specifics to Anauel. You knew she would demand that person to be a celestial, and maybe even try to control you that way.” Azrael said amused.
“Exactly. I have my own duties, and I can’t do them while trying to fight her control.” Neleh confirmed easily.
“That’s fine by me. Anauel can get a bit extreme in defense of the celestial interests. You did leave her with a quite significant misunderstanding about the method. She didn’t explain any specifics, but I’m pretty sure she imagined the method included copious amounts of masturbation to keep your emotions in check.” Azrael explained while laughing.
“I find it rather interesting that she would jump to that conclusion from my words. I think it hints at some pretty interesting things about our dear Anauel.” Neleh replied with a grin of her own.
“Well I’ve never heard of her having a lover, so that would not be too out of the picture.” Azrael managed to squeeze out despite her laughter.
“So what is your role exactly?” Asheara asked more seriously.
“Well, theoretically it’s similar to yours in the sense that I’m supposed to stop her from going out of control, but I’m also here to monitor her. She has huge potential, and I’m here to make a judgement on whether she is a threat or a possible ally. One thing though, you don’t have to worry about me reporting every move you make back to the other celestials. I was allowed to make that promise, to better allow me to follow you everywhere, without you having to worry about elven secrets leaking to others. As a Chosen, you will be a part of the elven politics, at least to an extent, and those interactions might be the best gauge for me to evaluate you.” Azrael admitted honestly. She was picked for the position both because of her power, and her great ability to judge people, not because of her abilities to keep her intentions secret.
“I can live with that.” Neleh replied with a smile and waved down Asheara who was about to get angry at the celestial for daring to judge her daughter. “On that note, we can make ourselves more familiar with our respective personalities while going towards the imperial palace. It’s time to pick the new emperor, and I’m expected to attend.”
The people making the choice of a new emperor had gathered around a large circular table, within a large room with audience chairs gathered around them at a discreet distance. Only the people at the table would have a say in choosing the new emperor, but a large number of dignitaries and nobles had gathered to follow the decision being made. This included ambassadors from other races, here to monitor the proceedings. Both Asheara and Azrael were sitting behind Neleh among the audience’s first row.
Neleh had expected the process to be a closed door affair, but it seems the others wanted to make the whole situation as official as possible. The people at the table in addition to Neleh were High Priestess Nimue, Grandmaster Lysanthir, Grand Inquisitor Yunalesca, King Aelrindel and Queen Amaranthae. Unlike the meeting the previous day, this process did not include a representative of the Eldarinwe. This was partially because the previous emperor had also been their king, and a new one had not taken the throne yet. Another part was because the winning side wanted to show that the Eldarinwe were punished because of the misdeed of the previous emperor, and as such they got no say in the matter.
The eyes of the audience were locked to Neleh, while they were waiting to start, in large part because most of those in attendance had not seen the new Chosen before this moment. Neleh also had a way of gathering attention, both with her appearance and her presence that grew more prominent every day. To her it was mostly imperceptible, but for those seeing her for the first time her presence felt almost oppressive, yet oddly comforting.
It was hard to rank those around the table, because they all held such important positions. As such, the oldest person present, Nimue was functioning as the leader of the meeting. She started the meeting officially and introduced those present to everyone in attendance, paying special attention to Neleh, who was most likely the only person unfamiliar to some people. Nimue was presenting the proposition prepared by the others the previous day. Neleh didn’t miss the fact that the wording about Aelrindel’s future wife was left as ‘high ranking Moon Elf’ instead of ‘Moon Elf royalty’ and had a nasty hunch why that might be the case. Apparently the young king had not taken the hint previously. No matter, she had a plan, and asked for the turn to speak.
“The current proposal would fix the problem of an unwanted emperor for this generation, but we might have a similar problem as soon as the next emperor takes the position. I have a counter-proposal, which would hopefully prevent the rise of emperors unsuited to the position in the future.” Neleh started, getting the interest of everyone present. “I suggest that all future emperors are chosen by a vote made by a certain pre-defined group of electors. Once the emperor dies, the position will not automatically pass on to his family, but the electors then choose the next emperor. This would prevent one family from dominating the position for thousands of years, and would allow the position to be rotated to other clans when appropriate.”
Everyone in the room had gone quiet thinking about the implications of the idea. The first one to respond was Lysanthir. “So basically you’re suggesting that every emperor from henceforth would be selected similar to how we are doing it now?” He asked seeking clarification.
“In short, you are correct. We can select the emperor this time as we are, but I propose that we assign permanent elector positions for the future, with every clan represented, and the current representatives of the temple also having the position to ensure the neutrality of the process.” Neleh summarized, causing a fair bit of commotion among the audience. They were all arguing what this meant for their clans and families in the future.
“How would the elector positions be decided? And who would be eligible to be elected?” Nimue asked very interested. She could immediately see the benefits, and with couple of slight modifications the idea had great potential.
“The specifics can be argued, but my suggestion is that the grandmaster of the Templars, the Grand Inquisitor, the eldest high priest of the temple and the Chosen have a permanent position as electors. To make sure the temple wouldn’t be able to dictate the election, all three clans should have two electors decided by the clans themselves. I would suggest those positions also be appointed as lifetime, so that the position would not be granted according to their vote, but that is of secondary importance. As for eligibility, anyone the electors deem worthy. Here’s the other important part.” Neleh summarized her plan. “As an additional safeguard, we can also grant the electors the authority to replace an emperor that turns out unsuited to the position, if they can gather a greater majority. In the case of ten electors, I suggest that to be seven votes.”
That definitely stirred the audience. That would mark a remarkable shift in the elven society, but it was hard for anyone to miss the merits of the proposed system. The people in attendance had trouble coming up with reasons against the idea that were not completely self-serving, and even then they were all tempted, because it theoretically gave the chance for anyone to rise to the position, where there was previously none aside from a coup.
“You’ve given this some thought, haven’t you?” Queen Amaranthae asked with a small grin. She could see that the people at the table were almost all in favor of the idea, because it would help prevent trouble in the future. Even Aelrindel was for it, because he assumed he was still a shoe in for the position, and there should be no reason to have him voted out later on, right?
“Let’s just say that I’m not the first one to come up with the idea.” Neleh replied with a grin.
“Let’s put it to a vote then.” Nimue said loudly, eager to get the idea implemented. She had always hated the hereditary nature of titles, because that resulted in lousy rulers every so often, and Neleh’s idea was a vast improvement. “All in favor raise your hands.”
Everyone at the table raised their hands, Lysanthir being the one who took the longest to consider the idea. “Well then. The motion carries. Let everyone present carry the news to the whole of the empire, and let the ambassadors of the various races carry the news to their home countries.” Nimue declared loudly. This would be remembered as the day the elven society changed, whether that change was for good or evil.
“Next we come to the main point. The new electors are free to present nominations for the next emperor.” Nimue continued.
“Do it.” Elune said in Neleh’s mind.
Before anyone else had the chance to make other suggestions, Neleh announced her nomination in a voice that carried authority. “Representing Elune, the Chosen nominates the high priestess Nimue, as suggested by the goddess herself.” Neleh finished with a small smile towards Nimue.
This brought another shock and clamor from the audience, and Nimue stared at Neleh with quiet desperation. Azrael was grinning widely while following Neleh’s performance. The girl was playing the mightiest of the empire like an instrument. Aelrindel was in a shock, while Amaranthae was almost gleeful. Although Nimue’s hair was white from age and wasn’t showing her heritage, the high priestess was most definitely a Moon Elf and a good friend of the queen.
“Suggested by the goddess you say? You’re saying Elune herself suggests Nimue as the next empress?” Yunalesca asked carefully. She knew Neleh wouldn’t make claims like this without it being true. In fact, the only reason she asked was to drive the point home for everyone attending. She had been a little worried about the young Sun Elf king’s suitability, but it was hard to bypass him with the destruction of the Sun Palace. However, if the goddess decreed otherwise …
“By my honor as the Chosen of Elune, and as her Inquisitor, I do so swear.” Neleh solemnly said, knowing that no one could challenge her with that kind of oath.
“Anyone have anything against the will of the goddess?” Lysanthir asked in a grave voice, glad of the excuse to bypass Aelrindel. He also knew Nimue would make for an excellent peacetime symbol for the empire. He knew that the new Chosen had played them all, but he didn’t’ really mind, since he quite agreed with the results. He would keep the events of today in mind, though. The girl was a bit too good at this.
Nimue was unable to say anything due to the shock. Aelrindel was also unable to raise a voice in opposition, but for a different reason. He was disappointed for the result, but he could not go against the will of the goddess, and it would be the height of hubris to nominate himself against those odds. And no one else seemed willing to make the nomination either.
“Then we will call for the vote.” Neleh declared usurping the leadership role of the council from the still shocked Nimue. “All those for the motion, raise your hands.” Everyone else eagerly raised their hands, while Aelrindel reluctantly raised his. Nimue remained the only one not raising her hand. “The vote is five to one. Long live the empress Nimue!” Neleh declared in a loud and authoritative voice.
“Long live the empress Nimue!” Everyone in the audience declared.
Nimue, finally coming out of her trance, stared at the grinning Neleh. “I will get you for this girl. Mark my words; I will pay you back for this.” She said just loudly enough to be heard by everyone else at the table, but no further.
“Oh, you’re welcome to try old friend.” Neleh shot back laughing loudly, while she turned to leave the room. She gave a look over her shoulder and continued. “Do excuse me though, if I don’t hold my breath while waiting.”
The coronation preparations went smoothly, and the rest of the council came to an agreement on the finer details of the elector system during the chaos. Normally the coronation would have taken a week of celebrations and ceremony, but the civil war and many still unsolved problems had caused a sort of urgent nature to the proceedings. The ceremony itself was attended by the imperial nobility as well as other dignitaries, including ambassadors of all the other major races. The ceremony was surprisingly short, with a larger party planned in a week’s time, when most of the other problems would have been solved. The empress was always crowned by the Chosen of Elune, which in this case meant that Neleh crowned Nimue while gleefully grinning at her clear misery.
Next followed a large procession through the city towards the grand temple, during which the new empress made herself known and was presented to the people of Rhi’a’non. Most of them had seen the stern woman before in her role as the high priestess. As such the interest in her was slightly lessened, although her being elected as the new empress came as a surprise. On the other hand most people had not seen the new Chosen before, and as such Neleh gathered even more attention during the procession than the new empress.
Due to the end of the war and the choice of a new empress, the grand temple decided to hold the New Year ceremony a little early, where they asked Elune to grant her blessing for the empire. The priestesses were extremely worried as the goddess could not be happy with her children killing each other. Thus Neleh was once again performing the ritual dance that was at the heart of the ceremony. This had been planned by Nimue before her election as the empress. She had hoped that Elune’s obvious favor towards her new Chosen would cause the goddess to relent.
When the ceremony reached its zenith, the light of Elune descended on Neleh but remained there while Neleh was negotiating with the goddess. It became immediately apparent to everyone in the audience, that the goddess’ Chosen was favored, but the rest of them not so much, and that the Chosen was currently making their case for the goddess. Surprisingly this caused a complete silence among those attending.
‘You’re making a scene.’ Neleh remarked to the goddess.
“Well I’m not happy. I really should withhold my blessing as a punishment for them causing this mess.” Elune said in a bit of a sulky voice.
‘Well it’s a good chance to show your magnanimous nature then. Besides, it’s not a good sign for the rule of the new empress if you withhold your blessing, which would go a long way towards repairing the damage caused by the civil war. And it might limit the damage still to come.’ Neleh pointed out reasonably.
“At the very least I should make my extreme displeasure and its reasons known. Speaking of the new empress, she made a most unusual request to me a few hours ago. In return for me practically forcing her into becoming the empress in her old days, she would very much like it if I caused you a heap of trouble as well.” The goddess was showing some of her amusement again.
‘Wait what?!’ Neleh asked suddenly very alarmed. Nimue might have trouble taking revenge for the whole affair, but Elune on the other hand…
“As she is doing such a fine service for me, I think I’m going to grant her request. If I’m going to grant these misbehaving children my blessing, I might as well have some fun at your expense while doing it. I’m just going to borrow a bit of your power for a moment.” The goddess said in an amused tone, while Neleh could feel the goddess drawing on some of her power. She could have stopped it, but then they might not get the blessing.
Neleh could feel a figure surrounded by the goddess’ aura appearing beside her. When she looked towards it, she could see the blasted goddess was appearing in her true form, that she had shown Neleh while she was unconscious. Neleh could already feel all the rumors forming about a goddess appearing inside the grand temple in a form almost identical to the Chosen, just a little more mature version. Neleh cursed silently in her mind, receiving a chuckle in return from the goddess.
“My Children.” Elune started. “Know that I am very displeased with you. It brings me extreme displeasure to see the armies of my people marching against each other and shedding the blood of thousands upon thousands of kinsmen. However, as my Chosen so astutely pointed out, it is now time to rebuild, and mend old hatreds, both things made easier if I were to give my blessing. It would also reflect badly on the new empress I helped to choose if I did not grant my blessing. Hence I will agree, but only because it is my beloved Chosen asking. Next time I expect you to have done better. And make sure someone else does the asking, because next time I expect to judge you on your own merits and actions. I expected better of you. I am not my brother Iarus who takes delight in death, and I expect my children show themselves to be above those despicable humans that serve at his feet. The other races might be at war with each other, but I hoped my children would show themselves superior to them. Do not disappoint me anymore.” Elune chastised her people for the first time in several millennia.
Those in audience were ashamed. They had disappointed their goddess. Internally they swore to themselves to do better. The goddess was right. Weren’t they supposed to be better than this? The audience also didn’t miss the obvious resemblance between the goddess and her ‘beloved Chosen’. What they made of this was up to each person individually, but there was one thing that was certain. They would not remain quiet about what had happened, and would carry the news and rumors across the continent. The goddess disappeared and the light of her blessing once again traveled across the elven lands. Everyone could see the light was not as bright as it was usually, signifying her unhappiness.
Neleh got up to face the commotion and made a discreet but very rude gesture towards the grinning empress Nimue.