The day after the coronation of the new empress saw nearly the entirety of the imperial nobility gathered within the imperial palace. It was customary for the nobility swear their allegiance when a new ruler takes the office. This custom was used in all elven kingdoms, as well as most of the countries of the other races. As such, the gathered nobility saw nothing odd about the situation until they saw nearly the entirety of Inquisition entering the large throne room where they were gathered. All the exits were blocked off by the Legion of the Phoenix, while the Inquisitors were gathered at the front of the room. In addition to the over thousand nobles ranging from dukes to the barons that actually held domains, the room also held most of the high ranking civil administrators and generals of the elven army. Couple of thousand people with everyone combined.
Even so, there was still a large portion of the nobility not in attendance. The bloated imperial nobility held a large amount of titles that were entirely ceremonial and nobility that actually held no land appropriate to their title. Grand Inquisitor Yunalesca surveyed the crowd with a frown. She had hoped to catch most of the nobility on the first round-up, but there was simply too much people, and this didn’t even consider the families of the nobles, who might be even more corrupt than the nobles themselves. Well, you had to take what you could and hope for the best, when it came to the rest. The word of the events of today would travel rapidly, and many of the corrupt people would attempt to flee, but they would try to catch as many as they could. It was time to start.
Yunalesca moved to the front of the room and amplified her voice magically. “Attention everyone! Unlike what many of you believe, today is not the day when you swear allegiance to the new empress. No, before that happens we have another matter to attend to. Instead, today is the day we address the problem of corruption in the overgrown imperial nobility, and even better, we will hunt down those that would betray the empire for their own benefit. It is the decree of the new empress and the council of electors, that all imperial nobility is to be questioned.” Yunalesca’s announcement brought a great commotion from the gathered nobles.
Yunalesca noted with interest that the emotions exhibited by the nobles varied greatly. There was anger and indignation, of course, from the pompous nobility, some of who had families that had held their titles for generations, which for elves was a long, long time. They could not imagine anything shaking their position now. They would learn. Some were smiling, whether from joy of finally seeing someone finally addressing the issue, or from glee expecting to see the fall of their enemies. More importantly some were afraid, either because they couldn’t understand what was going on, mostly because of incompetence, or because they had something to hide and were now in danger.
She continued. “Each one of you will be questioned by an Inquisitor before you are allowed to leave. You will answer the questions with either a yes or a no. The Inquisition has found a way to magically tell the difference when a person is lying when answering such questions. You’re free to try and lie, just be aware of the futility of the effort. Be aware that we are searching for traitors and those that are corrupt. For corruption the punishments will depend on the severity of your crimes. For slight offences, we will be lenient because we understand that certain greasing of the wheels is part of the process. However, when we encounter corruption in matters that hurt others or carry long ranging consequences, we are prepared to confiscate all your assets, revoke your titles and even punish you with death. Further questioning and death will also be the punishment for traitors and those that associate with the Consortium.” Her tone of voice didn’t leave anyone unclear on how serious she was.
“And what if we don’t feel like answering the questions of a Moon Elf whore?” And elderly duke asked with a loud voice in the front row. Normally this would have elicited a swift response from the other Inquisitors, but they had been expecting a question like that, and knew what was coming.
“Chosen Neleh, would you like to show the duke, what happens to those who refuse to answer the questions?” Yunalesca asked while looking to the side of the room.
“Gladly.” Neleh answered in a clear voice, moving towards the front of the room. The audience could see a large chair floating with magic behind her. There was a man chained to the chair. Some of the people attending could recognize the man as Count Fernand Mondego, commander of one of the first elven armies that had rebelled, due to the actions of their commander.
Neleh placed the chair and the count at the front on a small platform, where everyone could see what was happening. “This man has already been found guilty of treason. In addition to being guilty of various crimes during the rebellion, among them the commands that led to the death of my sister, he has been found guilty of associating with the Consortium. His questioning has already finished, and both the Empress and the Grand Inquisitor have granted me the permission of using him as an example for all the traitors.” The audience had a weird mix of emotions. Most of them had been quite impressed and a little infatuated with the new Chosen, but now they were seeing a new side to her, and it was causing chills to run down their backs.
Neleh took her usual spot behind the sitting man, taking a hold of his shoulders. She leaned closer to the man’s ear and started a quiet little song. She spared nothing in punishing the man who was in large part responsible for Selvaria’s death, and also wanted to make a real example of him. So the Song of Khali she sung had more power behind it than usual. The screams of desperation and terror brought a whole another kind of chill to the gathered nobles. Many of them would have vomited but they were too shocked and afraid to draw attention. This was the first time Neleh used the Song of Khali to kill someone in this life. The nobles certainly got a real good look at the other side of their gentle Chosen.
After the song had finished, and the prisoner had experienced a gruesome death, Neleh straightened out and faced the gathered audience. Even some of the Inquisitors were a little queasy. They had heard the rumors, but this was the first time seeing her in action. “Any questions?” She asked in a calm and gentle voice. “No? Well then, we can get to the questioning and those who are innocent can get home.”
The purge of the nobility progressed quickly after Neleh’s little demonstration, but it still took most of the day. Unsurprisingly more than half of the nobility had taken part in corruption severe enough to warrant heavy punishments, and there was another surprisingly large group of people involved with Consortium activity. Those were quickly put to question in order to find out more names, which yielded knowledge of many members of other races as well. That information was relayed to their respective races to handle in a way they willed, which garnered the elves a lot of good will among the other races. It also made the elven Inquisition the biggest threat to the Consortium, and thus they were expecting some kind of retaliation in the future. Luckily the purge in the elven lands was very thorough, so it would take a long time for the Consortium to get another foothold.
Another result of the purge was a large amount of landed titles that were suddenly freed. The empire took a hold of the titles for the time being, but with the supposed protectors of those areas gone the army was deployed to keep the peace. Banditry would most likely be on the rise, with a lot of noble’s families on the run with their retainers, and those bandits would most likely consider those provinces without a ruler easy pickings. Hence the presence of the army in those provinces. Those provinces would be assigned new rulers when suitable and promising personnel would appear. The most worrisome part was, that the higher ranked the noble was, the more likely he or she was to be guilty of corruption. As a result, majority of the duchies were now without an owner of the title.
Nimue, Lysanthir and Yunalesca were just discussing the issue privately when Neleh came into the room. “We just finished questioning the last of the nobles. I’m sorry to report that every single noble in the duchy of Jao’e’Tinukai was affiliated with the Consortium. They almost managed to slip our notice, but it seems that particular duchy was the main entry point of Consortium agents into our lands. That’s why it took so long for us to finish. We had to spend hours questioning the duke and the counts to be sure we got all the information available. They have now been executed, and warrants have been issued on their families.” Neleh said tiredly.
Since she was the best at using the magic that could detect lies, she was the one forced to do most of the interrogations where the person’s guilt was already determined. Part of it was also that the surviving nobles would accept her judgement more readily, because they knew she was monitored by Elune and could not lie about their guilt. Her fatigue was more mental than physical. She could use her magic to wipe away physical fatigue, but dealing with such a large amount of corrupt and evil minds would tire anyone. She was glad of the interruptions provided by both Azrael and Asheara, both of whom had kept her company.
“Dammit!” Cursed Lysanthir. “Jao’e’Tinukai holds our most important trade ports, and several rich mines. In addition it holds two large naga cities that handle a major portion of our trade with the Naga Empire. All of the seafood consumed by Rhi’a’non is provided by those naga cities.”
“We can’t leave that duchy unattended. It’s too important, as well as being one of the two closest duchies to the capital it’s also one of the richest. There’s going to be pirate galore along the coast. And if that province truly is the landing point of Consortium agents, we need to be even more vigilant against trouble in the area.” Yunalesca also said cursing.
“You wouldn’t feel like becoming a duchess, would you?” Nimue asked looking Neleh tiredly.
“While I have nothing against the thought in principle, I’m going to be spending the next few years in the academy. Hard to govern when I’m not even around.” Neleh replied apologetically.
Nimue sighed. “We’ll need someone who gets along with the naga. Unfortunately we don’t have time to look for a suitable person properly.”
Neleh thought for a while. “How about you assign Estelar as the temporary steward of the area? He’s at least a person with good standing, and he can clean out some of the trouble while you’re trying to find a more permanent solution. Send a group of Inquisitors with him, so they can weed out the trouble.” She suggested thoughtfully.
“Estelar was pretty clear in that he won’t accept any titles. He has hated nobility his whole life, and doesn’t want to become one. We tried to offer him a title already with the other duchies and he stormed out cursing and making some insinuations about my parentage. I think trolls were mentioned.” Lysanthir gave a small chuckle.
Nimue suddenly looked up. “He might however accept a temporary stewardship in the service of someone who he finds worthy. He was very disappointed with what happened with the previous emperor, and I have a feeling he’s looking for a new cause and a way to redeem himself.” Nimue looked at Neleh. “If I recall correctly, he was quite impressed with you. You already said you have nothing against the idea in theory, and I think he might approve of working for you.” The eyes of all three of the tired adults brightened suddenly.
“That would solve a load of problems actually. It would also make for a good example of someone new taking over, and I’m fairly sure everyone would accept the Chosen as a new duchess.” Lysanthir talked to himself. “It would also help to have a strong bastion of success next to the capital. We could later spread the success further away.”
“Well, it’s nice you have faith in me, but I’m going to be at the academy for the next three years at least, unless I can talk the headmaster into letting me test more ranks at a time. I might be able to visit on breaks, but beyond that…” Neleh said thoughtfully. “I’ll leave convincing Estelar up to you. It was your idea, so make it work. Send me a word when you get his answer.”
Neleh and her two companions were going back towards the academy. They were supposed to meet the academy headmaster, to talk about Asheara’s position and their accommodations. The trio had spent the last night in Asheara’s house. While they were walking, Neleh was considering some of the ramifications of the last few days events. Chief among them was Aelrindel’s reaction. The Sun King had accepted the result of the council, but couldn’t help resenting Neleh for her role in taking the title of emperor away from him. Aelrindel also felt rejected romantically. Although he realized that it wasn’t completely Neleh’s fault, if the goddess made her will known, but he still felt cheated and since he couldn’t really blame the goddess that only left Neleh.
As a result, she would not receive a warm welcome in Solaris if she chose to visit. They couldn’t really do anything against the Chosen of Elune, but it would be awkward to try and visit Solana, if she wanted to. Well, she knew this would be the result before she had decided to act.
While they were closing on the academy Asheara decided to approach a subject she had been considering for a while now. “Neleh honey, I’ve been brushing up on my training under the tutelage of Alduin, but I feel that you will lead us into situations where normal training will not be enough. I want to be able to carry my own weight, and protect your back. You’ve never really shown the full extent of your abilities, but I get the feeling that if anyone knows ways for me to improve, it would be you.”
Neleh thought for a while. “You’re partially correct. I do know of several ways, but there’s a slight problem. Teaching is one of the things I’ve always been bad at. A lot of my knowledge is either instinctive or based on fairly complex principles that I’m bad at explaining.” She frowned. “I can help you better when it comes to warrior skills than magic. There are certain useful spells I might be able to teach you, but other than that, I might have trouble teaching magic.”
Asheara smiled. “That’s fine. I’ve always been fairly good at magic. A few new tricks that normal mages aren’t aware of is just what I need. I was hoping you could help me in my warrior skills. Alduin was always weaker in warrior skills as well, and that’s a weakness I was hoping you could help me repair. Besides, I’m pretty sure you have the magic artillery part already covered better than anything I could manage.”
Azrael looked at the two curiously. “You’re asking your daughter for training? Aren’t there other people more suited? I mean I know her potential is great, but…”
Asheara gave a faint smile. “There are certain factors involved, that you might find about one day. For now, you should just test her skills, and you would understand.”
“You know what? I think that might not be such a bad idea. If we are going to be spending a lot of time together, some of it in dangerous situations, it might be good to test each other’s abilities.” Azrael replied suddenly interested. She could sense some of the power in Neleh, and was curious to test her.
“It’s a bit too late for it today, but I wouldn’t mind doing that one of these days. Tonight though, we should handle our lodgings.” Neleh said.
The old headmaster met them in his office. He was one of the few elves that was showing any signs of age, but that was mostly in the color of his beard and hair, both of which were almost completely white. Elves usually didn’t have much in the way of beard, but headmaster Saelethil had a beard that would make a dwarf proud. He also still had a physique usually found on warriors, so his age wasn’t making him feeble in any way.
“So gist of the issue is that you’ll need a reason for Lady Asheara to remain within fairly close proximity to Lady Neleh, and you would also need some special arrangements with your accommodations?” Saelethil made sure he understood.
“That is essentially it. While we are within the academy grounds, it’s not necessary for Asheara to remain with me at all times. She will most likely be spending most of her time training. She does need a reason for staying though, and we still need something done with our accommodations. I know the academy has a policy for not allowing the students background affect their life in the academy, but ours is a bit special situation. Due to that, I have a suggestion to make.” Neleh calmly argued.
“Do tell. It would be a bad precedent if a first circle mage was given access to the best dorm rooms. Even those aren’t quite suited for housing four people.” Saelethil encouraged, eager to hear the answer.
“How about you give us a small area to use, and give us a special dispensation to live within housing that I as a student create myself. If I fail at creating something proper, then we’ll be forced to use that. On the other hand, if I create something fancy, then it’s something I’ve earned with my own skills and power.” Neleh suggested confidently.
Saelethil looked at the young woman sharply. “You’re actually far beyond a first circle earth mage aren’t you? How much space do you need?”
Neleh thought for a while. “Actually, I can make whatever space you give us work. That said with a decent space I can make the house more normal, and I won’t have to steal the celestial idea of a floating island that might create some safety risks.”
That brought a laugh from the headmaster, while Azrael looked at Neleh at lot more seriously. “Anything else?” Saelethil asked.
“That’s it for now. I might talk to you about taking several ranking tests at a time, but that’s not really necessary.” Neleh became a bit quieter and then mumbled more to herself. “I’ll have to arrange for my graduation to a full priestess next week. It’s a bit odd to still be an acolyte while I’m also the Chosen”
The headmaster led them to a fair sized empty space near the arena and told them the space was available for their use.
“Can you handle it? I don’t feel like living in a shack.” Azrael asked amused.
“I can handle it. Asheara, would you be so kind and start arranging for furniture and all the other items necessary. Maylin can explain the needs of our fourth occupant. I’ll make the house roughly the size of the one you have in the city.” Neleh replied, while Asheara went to handle her task.
Neleh drew several magical formations in the air and sent them to surround the area. Then she drew heavily on her magic, and started to weave a complex spell combining most of the elements. Azrael and Saelethil stared curiously as a huge and complex magical formation formed on the ground. After a few moments a large building begun to rise from the formation. The building was formed from white stone similarly to the buildings of Rhi’a’non, while nature magic grew beautiful wooden parts where possible. The stone looked like marble but was much stronger, while neither of the observers could identify the wood used. It would be a miracle if they could, since neither material was something that was found on this world.
The ending result was a beautiful and elegant mansion, fairly sized for Rhi’a’non standards. It was constructed in the similar airy style that the elves favored in their architecture.
“Well, I guess you are able to pull a house out of thin air.” Azrael said, feeling satisfied about her new place to live.