”Is the purpose of your presence here to discuss the terms of such alliance, or to officially invite me to discuss the matter with the Eternal Empress in the Coral Palace?” Neleh asked the naga chancellor.
The old naga gave a small bow. “Indeed we are here to extend the invitation and perhaps provide an incentive to encourage the Immortal Flame to accept the invitation. No one has the authority to negotiate a binding treaty on behalf of the Eternal Empress, may she live forever.”
“Incentives? I hardly think opening a discussion that may or may not result in an alliance really requires that much of an incentive. When such a discussion can take place, may be a different matter. But feel free to make your case Chancellor.” Neleh replied a bit surprised. She didn’t think her negotiation position was so high as to warrant incentives to even accepting an invitation.
“The purpose of the incentive is in fact because the somewhat time sensitive nature of the negotiations. There is no real hurry for the visit and negotiations to take place, but it is the hope of the Empress that such negotiations take place before two years have passed. As for the incentive, I’ll have to quote Her message directly. ‘We drew most of our people back to our underwater empire because we weren’t sure the celestials could or would stop the first conflagration. After all, they could have prevented the event that precipitated the civil war and chose not to do so. If you come to the negotiations before the two years are up, we will be able to prevent the second conflagration.’ I’m don’t know what the message means, but I assume you do?” The old naga looked at Neleh with seeking confirmation.
“I do know. Chancellor Toyotomi, you have performed your duty, and you can inform the Eternal Empress that I will pay a visit to the Coral Palace before the two years is up.” Neleh answered suddenly becoming almost grim.
She had realized two things from the empress’ message. First among them was that according to the Eternal Empress, the celestials had known about the dragon attack on the Sun Palace and had decided to do nothing. This warranted a discussion with Azrael, and would most certainly sour Neleh’s opinion on the celestials if it was true. If true, she would most certainly remember this the next time she had dealings with the celestials. This warranted further investigation, and might even sour the relations between the two races as a whole.
The second thing she realized was that either the empress or some other naga serving the empress had the powers of a seer. And considering the information gleaned from the empress’ message, a very powerful seer at that. If they were able to discover information as precise as the empress’ message let her assume, then their words where worth a listen. It also explained something that had confounded Neleh since the old naga had greeted her. How could they know about her old life? Even for the seers of the Celestial Host, it was almost impossible to see into a soul’s previous life. Now granted, Neleh’s soul was very unusual, so she might be a special case. But If the Eternal Empress had powers as a very powerful seer, then maybe they weren’t alluding to Neleh’s past. Maybe they discovered the title from her future?
There was also the conflagration the message had mentioned. That was an obvious reference to what had happened when Selvaria had died. Calling it the first of its kind and implying that there would be a second, was a clear hint that someone close to Neleh would die to cause it. And the empress was hinting that they might be able to help prevent it. That was a powerful incentive indeed. There was a problem though. Any predictions of future that included Neleh were tenuous at best. That’s why Fate had such a chip on its shoulder when it came to Neleh. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to at least hear what they had to say, and it’s not like she had anything against the possibility of forming ties with the naga. Of all the other races, they might be the best for Neleh’s own purposes, because of their control of the seas and their claim of neutrality.
In the end, promises were exchanged between Neleh and the naga chancellor that Neleh would try to visit the Coral Palace at some point in the near future, and that the naga would welcome her and her companions at that time. Naturally Yunalesca and Nimue were extremely curious about what had transpired between Neleh and the naga, and were asking many questions. To placate the two, Neleh shared her theory about the naga having the ability to see the future, and reminded the two about her skill in fire magic. It was not beyond the realm of possibility that she would be known as the Empress of the Immortal Flame in the future.
Whether that meant that she would be an actual empress at that point was another question, after all there were already acolytes that called her the golden goddess, so it might just be an exaggeration. It also wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that she was elected as the empress some day in the distant future, even if she was woefully too young for the position at the moment. Neleh did notice that a weird look passed between Yunalesca and Nimue when she mentioned the possibility of the naga being able to foretell the future. Perhaps the naga weren’t the only ones. Something to consider in the future.
Once their little meeting was over, the party was starting to wind down for the day. The celebrations would continue tomorrow, but Neleh decided that her attendance was not going to be required. She had made her presence known, and the fact that she, the empress and the Grand Inquisitor had spent a great deal of time behind closed doors might be forgotten if she didn’t give any additional reasons to pay attention. That would also give the nobles some time to find something and someone else to gossip about.
The trio of Neleh, Asheara and Azrael were traveling in a carriage towards Neleh’s original home to meet with her father, when Neleh brought up the issue of celestial’s inaction with Azrael.
“So was the message from the naga empress correct? Did the celestials know beforehand about the dragon attack on the Sun Palace?” Neleh asked seriously.
Azrael thought for a while. “I’m a warrior, not a politician so I’m not privy to what happens behind the closed doors of the celestial’s upper echelon. That said, I did hear some rumors to the effect, and it would not surprise me. I do know that some of the more important celestials had been worried about the elves taking part in the other wars, and if they had a way to reduce the elven power without any involvement from us, then they would most likely take that chance. I do know that Anauel could justify something like that to her herself, just by thinking that it is not our job to solve all the problems of other races. It’s a rather shortsighted view, but she’s not entirely wrong.” Azrael finished with a shrug.
“Not your job. You are right, it isn’t you duty to fix other race’s problems. I shall have to remember that the next time your race needs help, because it isn’t my job to fix the problems of your race either. I lost my sister to that civil war. I won’t blame you for her death, but don’t expect any good will from me either. Your people made their beds, and now you have to lie in it.” Neleh said anger coloring her voice.
Asheara’s angry voice surprised both Azrael and Neleh. “She might not blame you for Selvaria’s death, but I do. And not just for her death, but for the death of all the others that died in the civil war. Sometimes inaction is worse than actively doing evil. I don’t expect you to have stopped the dragon attack, but at the very least you could have warned us about it. In my book, that makes you just as bad as the ones that actually caused the attack, and by extension the civil war. Your kind knew what would happen as a result of the attack and chose to do nothing. You may argue that you didn’t cause the civil war, but you did allow it to turn much worse. That’s blood on your hands.” Neleh had never heard her mother that angry.
“Sometimes the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Neleh whispered quietly.
“What was that?” Azrael asked.
“Just something I heard long ago.” Neleh said while gazing out the window.
“Right, well I’m not disagreeing with your points, but I do say that your anger may be a little misdirected. We might have had our part to play, but it was a minor part at best and completely ignores all the good that we have done over the years. The world isn’t that black and white.” Azrael said with another shrug of her shoulders.
The celestial was not wrong. Neleh was acutely aware that the universe was nothing but shades of gray. But that went both ways. She had very little in the way of good will left towards the celestials, and would feel no obligation to help them, should they ever need help.
They arrived at the old home of Neleh and Asheara and went off in search of Elluin, leaving Azrael to make herself comfortable at the house. Naturally, the first place they went to search was Elluin’s workshop. The man took his work seriously after all. They didn’t even need to get inside when they heard the telltale sounds of the workshop being in use. They found Elluin in the smithy, hammering away at some project of his.
Elluin was so shocked to see his estranged wife and his youngest daughter all grown up that his hammer missed the target completely, and he messed up the piece he was working on. He cursed at the ruined work, but at least he had not spent too much time on the piece. The materials were kind of wasted though.
“Hello father.” Neleh greeted Elluin with a small grin.
It was hard for Elluin to handle the change that had occurred in his daughter. The girl had always been self-assured and beautiful, but now she was…more. The girl practically radiated power, and her looks had acquired certain flare that had not been present earlier. The only way Elluin could explain it in his mind was that there was a certain sexual component in the girls charm now; when earlier she had been mostly cute and beautiful in a childish and innocent sort of way. Now she gave off the impression of a woman. And then there was a big chunk of something that could only be described as majesty. She looked like someone born to rule.
“Daughter, Asheara. Welcome home is the proper greeting, I suppose. What brings you here? Not something bad I hope?” Elluin greeted the two. He knew about what had happened to Selvaria. He had missed the Rites of Passing due to the simple reason that by the time he had heard about Selvaria’s death, the Rites had already been performed. He had visited Selvaria’s grave. He had been to Rhi’a’non on several occasion in fact, just to check up on his family, and to see that they were alright. “I heard you became the new Chosen Neleh. Congratulations are in order. I know I haven’t been much of a father, but I am proud of you.”
That earned a scoff from Asheara, who had elected to stay silent as much as possible. Neleh glanced at her mother with a grin. She could feel the anger and disappointment through the bond. “Thank you father. Not to worry, there is nothing bad going on. In fact, it’s the opposite. We have come here to borrow your skills.” Neleh finished with a smile.
Elluin could not hide his pleasure at being called father by her very successful daughter. “My skills? Well this is interesting. What can I do for you?”
“Asheara has renewed her training as a warrior, and is doing very well. The problem is that the path she has chosen to pursue requires a very specific type of weapon. A Weapon that is not used normally by the elves, and as such needs to be custom made for her. And who better to make that weapon? I have the general plans for what is required as well as the necessary materials.” Neleh was now grinning openly at the situation.
Elluin could also see the humor in the situation. “Well, I’m touched by your vote of confidence, and I certainly owe Asheara my best effort if she does require something from me.” Asheara had still not spoken a word, simply standing behind Neleh resting a hand on the girl’s shoulder and glaring at Elluin.
“Excellent. Here are the plans for the two weapons that we need.” Neleh handed two rolls of scrolls with detailed descriptions, and guides on how to make the two weapons. “And here’s what we need you to use as the basis for the weapons.” Neleh dumped a large amount of odd white metal on the floor of the workshop from the ring she used for storage.
”You’ll most likely need some help on few of the steps of the weapon, as well as some explanations, so we’ll stay around for a while. I look forward to working with you.” Neleh finished still grinning.
Elluin gave the designs a quick glance, seeing a pair of swords, one meant to be fairly large two-handed weapon, and one being a bit more traditionally sized sword, albeit with an odd, slightly curved shape. The larger sword had the name no-dachi mentioned on the plans, while the smaller one was apparently called katana. Elluin had heard rumors about some of the beastmen and naga tribes using similar weapons. What really drew his attention was the white metal Neleh had dumped on the floor. He had never seen anything like it, and he was an expert smith. It was his job to recognize different metals, and he was very good at his job. But this was something new. He had been a little sceptic about needing any help with the process, but Neleh might be right. He had never worked a metal like this.
Elluin got another surprise when he looked up from the weird metal. Asheara was no longer glaring at him; instead she was now looking at Neleh with a very warm gaze. He recognized that look. It was something that Asheara had directed at him, when they were taking the first steps of their life together, and was not something he would ever forget. Directed at their daughter, though? Come to think of it, Asheara had always seemed to have almost an unhealthy obsession with their youngest daughter. That gaze seemed more heated than anything ever directed at Elluin.
Maybe it wasn’t just hate that kept Asheara’s mouth closed. Maybe she was afraid that he would notice something. Despite their falling out and the hate that Asheara now felt towards him, he knew his wife well. Maybe she was worried that he would notice her feelings towards Neleh if she spoke. ‘Now this is interesting.’ Elluin mused. He hadn’t really expected that they would ever get back together with Asheara, and didn’t begrudge her finding a new love. Goddess knows it would only be fair after the cheating he had done before. Trying to find that love with their daughter seemed like a bad idea, though.
Elluin wondered what Neleh felt about this whole thing. It was doubtful Asheara would be able to hide it. It took only a few minutes for Elluin to notice something was going on, and Neleh had been very sharp several years ago already, and likely had not dulled her wits. It was very unlikely that she would not notice. This called for further looking into. And working alongside Neleh would offer a chance at that. This could turn out to be a very interesting process.
Neleh and Asheara were walking back towards the mansion, with Asheara complaining about Elluin. Suddenly Neleh could feel a gateway opening somewhere on the planet. It was not difficult to sense the gate opening if you knew what to look for, and Neleh was paying attention to such signs because she knew what they signaled.
“So it begins.” The voice of Elune said in her mind.
‘It began eons ago. Now is simply the first time that this world feels its touch.’ Neleh replied back.
“What do you think came through?” Elune asked, all amusement gone.
‘A scout almost certainly. The Enemy is nothing but patient. It will look, it will plan, it will bide its time. The real troubles start when the harbingers come through, to sow chaos and unrest. We have time.’ Neleh replied confidently.
“Not that we don’t’ have enough trouble even without outside help already. How much time do you think we have?” Elune asked. This world had not been touched the previous times, so Elune had surprisingly little knowledge of the Enemy.
‘Judging by the last time? At least several decades, at most a couple of centuries. Like I said, the Enemy is patient, and a few centuries is nothing on the grand scale of things. The thing is, it’s dangerous to judge the Enemy by the ‘last time’. The problem with the Enemy is that every time they come back stronger. Especially after the last time. I went a little too heavy, and now we pay the consequences.’ Neleh thought in a serious tone.
“What do you mean too heavy? And how did you beat the Enemy last time? One would think it would be too hard for a single being to do. And do you think we can beat them back?” Elune asked. It was something she had wondered for a while, specifically the part about how Neleh had beaten the enemy.
‘Last time neither side was ready. I ran into the Enemy while they were still preparing. As such, most their forces remained intact, ready for the next time. Can we beat them back? That depends on how much attention we draw. We are not the main players in this little show. The Celestial Host and Inferno are. If we draw the attention of only a few lower scale factions, then you can defend even without my interference. If only one of the higher scale factions takes notice of us, then we can probably beat them back with difficulty. If one of the main factions or Khali forbid the Enemy itself takes notice, then we are in trouble. One thing is certain, though. With the scout here, we can be confident that they will come.’ Neleh replied with a sigh.
“You didn’t really answer the questions. What do you mean too heavy, and how did you beat them last time?” Elune refused to give up on her line of questioning.
Neleh gave a deep sigh of regret. ‘How did I win? I let my darker nature take control.’