This is where Neleh’s hunch started taking form. Fire seemed somehow too obvious as a choice for her. She also didn’t necessarily have the personality traits most often associated with the element, even if her affinity for it was otherwise great. Thinking that far, she gave the golden warrior a small glance and walked through the door marked with the symbol of fire.
Unsurprisingly she was met with a hellish landscape of ash, black rock and geysers of lava erupting in all directions. The heat would’ve felt oppressive to most people, but to her it felt like coming back home. This was the plane she was the most familiar with. The air was rich with the energy of the fire element. Neleh scanned her surroundings and her sight came to rest on the form of a gigantic man with ash black skin and a hair of flames.
“Surtr greets master. Ready to serve.” The giant said in a voice that sounded like rocks grinding against each other. Not a very talkative spirit. Neleh could feel that the giant was not stupid by any measure; it just didn’t feel it was necessary to talk more.
“What, no deep analysis of my personality this time?” Neleh asked amused.
“Doesn’t matter. You used to be an empress class fire spirit. Anything below Surtr would be an insult, and the only one above Surtr is the elemental king of fire. Surtr is number two. So I was chosen.” Feeling like that explanation sufficed, the spirit disappeared and Neleh felt the connection forming.
“Now this is an interesting ability.” Neleh said to herself, thinking out loud, a bad habit that she was forming. Surtr was a very dualistic spirit. On one hand, Neleh could use the spirit as a channel to draw on the elemental energies of the fire plane. Combined with her already ridiculous affinity with the element, that meant the mana she spent on fire magic would be negligible. Only with fire magic though. So this would not work with holy fire for example, or more precisely it would, but it would still require the holy power to be spent as normal.
On the other hand, Surtr was a spirit whose combat ability could be enhanced exponentially the more power you used to empower the spirit. Most spirits had the strength they had. Giving them extra power could boost their power a little, but not by a wide margin. They required a certain amount of power to materialize and maintain, but that was it. Surtr on the other hand could be fed with extra power, and its power would rise drastically if you did. It wasn’t a weak spirit by any stretch of the imagination even at base level, it wouldn’t be the number two spirit on the plane otherwise, but with enough power fed to it Surtr became powerful enough to snap dragons like twigs. Of course the power required to reach that level of strength was currently beyond Neleh’s ability to provide, but the potential was there. This spirit would see some use, especially in the future. Honestly speaking, Neleh had been worried about what to do if the lost-gods decided to take to the field of battle in person, but Surtr might be a viable answer.
Neleh exited the plane of fire, to once again hear the voice of the golden warrior. “Five down, two to go. A correct choice once again. How will you choose between the remaining two, I wonder?” And the warriors laughed again. That voice and laugh were really getting on her nerves. The golden warrior was enjoying the process too much, and Neleh wasn’t overly fond of people laughing at her expense.
She looked at the two remaining doors of death and darkness. Not very cheery elements, though often very misunderstood. The hunch kept urging her in a certain direction. As it happens, she had another reason to go along with the hunch. The golden warrior was a spirit of light. So it should be a certain kind of loss to the spirit if Neleh was to choose her personal spirit from the opposite element. She looked up towards the golden warrior spirit, made a rude gesture just to make her point, and entered the door marked with the symbol of death.
She entered a desolate world void of all life. The ground was cracked, dry and held no life. Everything seemed to be covered with a layer of gray dust. She could not see very far around her, as the whole place was covered in a thick grey fog. She could faintly make out an outline of a figure larger than a human, but much smaller than a giant. As the figure drew closer, she could see that it was dressed in black and silver robes that covered the spirit entirely. The figure had what seemed a bit like wings made out of the fog behind its shoulders. If Neleh had to describe the being, the first thought that came to mind would be an angel of death.
“Welcome to the plane of death, oh great destroyer. I am known as Morael. You are one of the greatest sources of death seen this universe. The only things capable of rivaling you are the forces of nature, hunger, war and the Enemy. Yet you do not deal death indiscriminately, and in this new life of yours you even restrain yourself. You do not view death as something evil or even bad in many cases. You view it as another step on the journey, a simple truth of the world that will meet us all in the end. You even took this step yourself voluntarily, and one could say you came better off for it. Death is the great equalizer, something neutral. Your nature is not really that of neutrality, instead it is a balance of extremes that sometimes exist in harmony, sometimes less so. Strong personalities often have trouble maintaining neutrality, as their personality draws them to one extreme or another. You maintain a delicate balance most of the time, but that is not your normal state, instead it’s something forced. You are suited for death, something no one can deny, but your personality is not that of death. Yet, you knew this already.” The spirit once again disappeared, and the connection was made.
She could feel that the songs that she sung could now contain the words of death. It was not something that killed quickly or something which could not be resisted, but if she chose to incorporate the words into her battle hymn, then the enemy would feel their life force getting slowly drained away. Perhaps more importantly, the words would bring the enemy face to face with their impending death, something which even the most powerful beings feared. There’s no terror quite like the terror of death, resulting in the ability to sap the strength and the will to fight from of your enemy. For some, death might be a release, but for those on the field of battle, struggling to survive against the threat of death was what they all aimed for.
As she stepped out of the plane of death, she faced the awaiting golden warrior. There was no mirth to be seen anymore, just seriousness. “You have chosen well Neleh Khalidor. You know yourself better than most, and for that you will be rewarded. The final door awaits.” The golden warrior, along with the indistinct forms of the other spirit kings and queens, disappeared. Neleh would not be returning to this place in this life. There would be no further spirits for her, and that was as she expected.
She stepped through the final door, into a world underground. For a plane of darkness, there was a surprising amount of light, as dim as it was. There was this faint and eerie light that allowed her to barely see around her even without any sort of darkvision. She suspected this faint light was a courtesy for those visiting the plane. There was also a saying about how shadows can’t exist without light.
Suddenly she could hear a distinctly female voice, but could not locate the source. “Welcome to the plane of darkness. Often also called the plane of shadow and Chaos. This visit is going to work a little bit different from those that you’ve had before, for we have several things to talk about. But first, let’s get the spiel out of the way. You are one of the few who have realized the true nature of darkness and Chaos. You know that neither of them is inherently evil. As you yourself put it, there is no good and evil, those are just points of view. There are only actions and consequences. Beings of light often misrepresent us as forces of disorder and wickedness, while we are simply divergent from their views of right and wrong.
I could also call light and Order dogmatic, authoritarian and stuck in their ways, but that would be equally dishonest. At their core the main differences are these: light and Order value the good of the group, adherence to the strict rule of law, peace and stability, while darkness and Chaos value individuality, knowledge and change. Valuing individuality doesn’t have to mean going against the good of the many, as the good of many is often also good for the individual, but we do not let the individual be lost in the pursuit of common good. We encourage people to find their own morals and limits, instead of relying on the adherents of light to dictate them for us as law.
Knowledge can be a source of great strength and good, but it is often something that breaks the balance and can also bring disorder and destruction. That is the risk we take. The biggest tenet of Chaos is change. Change always threatens the established balance and stability, as change is often accompanied by struggle and war, but it is only through change that we evolve and become something greater. It has a large element of randomness and risk, as the name Chaos implies, but with stability also comes the inevitability of atrophy and decadence.
You are the epitome of individuality, always having trouble with authority and only caring about those close to you. You can’t help but bring change wherever you tread, and the change you bring is almost always to the benefit of others. Knowledge is one of your main driving forces, and you constantly seek to learn more and improve. There is also the other type of darkness within you. The cold and deadly type, which will force change and represents an explosion of your will as an individual. The results of that darkness are often a detriment to others, but that again is the risk we take. Your nature is that of darkness and Chaos through and through.” The voice finally stopped.
The spirits analysis had been what she had largely expected. This was what her hunch had been telling her. “So what happens now?” She asked.
“Now we come to the important part. I become your personal spirit, but there are a few complications with that. The god of demons on your world had the foresight to understand, that it would cause problems if it was known that I was your personal spirit. You won’t be able to hide that your personal sprit is from the plane of darkness, nor should you. You are a force of change, and you should own it. Having a darkness spirit is not looked down upon, except by the most stringent followers of light. Many people have personal spirits of darkness, even if their nature is not inherently that of darkness. However, it would invite quite a bit of trouble if people knew that your personal spirit was the queen of the plane of darkness, as a connection like that can only be made with a person with great affinity of mind with our kind. That makes people who are unable to understand us nervous. Hence the need for a slight deception.” The voice explained.
“The queen of the plane, is it? I’m sensing there’s more to this.” Neleh said with a frown.
“There always is. The god of demons knew of your affinity, so he prepared the way with his blessing. ‘Let the lords of Chaos rule’ I think was his wording. So the Lords of Chaos were specifically named as your spirits by him. Hence again the power of his blessing, and why it can’t be removed. Yes we know of the trouble that is causing you. I am after all Malassa the ‘Keeper of Deadly Secrets’, one of the two Lords of Chaos.” As Malassa finished talking, a great dragon came from the darkness.
The dragon’s scales were black, with purple glow shining through the scales. Small wisps of purple power sometimes escaped from between the scales. The eyes of the dragon were also purple, and its great wings had purple orbs of power with black centers, as if there were multiple eyes in the wings.
“I think I know where this is going. There is another, right? The other will mask your presence.” Neleh said with understanding.
“Indeed. The god of demons prepared another spirit of darkness, which will act as a diversion. The second Lord of Chaos, Abyss. The public will think Abyss is your personal spirit, which suits us perfectly. Abyss will grant you control over shadows, which is only right since he is the embodiment of shadows, ‘The Shadow that Hides and Devours’. What benefits you gain from me is something you will have to discover yourself. I wouldn’t be much of a secret keeper if I simply gave you all the answers.” The dragon gave an eerie grin, and Neleh could feel two connections forming.
The one with Abyss was similar to the ones before, and truly granted power over shadows. Abyss had no other form and had no mind, so it could not be materialized in other ways. The connection with Abyss was the opposite of the one with Jormungandr. While the wyrm was all about the power of the wyrm when materialized and gave no ability, Abyss had no form to materialize but instead emphasized the power of the ability.
When it came to Malassa, Neleh only felt great power flowing into her, and had no idea what it could be used for. The other connections had come with knowledge, but this one did not. She did feel that at the very least her body would be physically stronger, but anything beyond that was a mystery for now. She suddenly felt her connection with the spirit plane fraying and severing.
Neleh found herself waking in bed. She was inside a well-lit room, and the bed posts looked a bit similar to those used in the tower at the center of Nan Yanoi. Then again, beds could simply be similar and she could be anywhere. She could feel the presence of Asheara nearby, apparently asleep according to the bond. She also noted Shiori resting by her bedside.
“Well that was interesting.” She said, clearing her throat and trying to draw the attention of anyone who might be awake inside the room.
Shiori’s head snapped up with enough speed, that Neleh was slightly worried that she might break her neck like that. “You’re awake.” Shiori said somewhat dumbly.
“So it would seem. How long was I gone?” Neleh asked. Alexis had said something about the ritual usually lasting for a day at most.
“Eight days. We were worried that something had gone wrong with the ritual. Asheara did mention something about your emotions still being active and relatively calm, so she wasn’t too worried. Or at least she was hiding it well, which, as you know, isn’t one of her strong suits.” Shiori explained.
“Makes sense. Multiple spirits take more time than a single spirit. There were also some extra complications. I’m fine though. Did anything interesting happen while I was dozing off?” Neleh still felt a little groggy.
Shiori noticed her grogginess and rose up to pour her a glass of water. “Alexis wanted to go back to his mission to negotiate with Nimue, but understood when we detained him here. He was also worried that something might have gone wrong, and knew he’d have to face the consequences if you didn’t come through alright.” She said while walking back and handing the glass to Neleh.
As she tried to take a hold of the glass, it shattered into a thousand pieces. “This will take some getting used to.” Neleh mumbled half to herself. The increase in strength was much bigger than she had thought. There was going to be countless hours of practice ahead of her, before she got used to her new strength. Strength increase was usually something very slow and gradual and something you got used to while it happened. This was something different.
Another problem arose when she tried to remove the spilled water from her bedclothes. She had slight trouble with the simple spell, because it acted as if she was using way too much mana. Apparently the purity of her mana had risen in relation to her physical strength. More practice incoming. At least that was something she could adapt to more quickly, since she had more experience with it. It was more a case of simply taking the changes into consideration now that she knew about them.
“Are you alright? You didn’t cut yourself did you?” Shiori asked a little worried. She had never seen Neleh be so careless. Neleh excelled in precise control after all.
“I will be soon. Just something I didn’t expect. Did anything else happen?” Neleh asked, trying to change the subject.
“Oh right, Azrael returned to the celestial capital in a real hurry. Something big happened there it seems. She didn’t really explain properly.” Shiori said in a musing voice.
“It’s the demon-fairy war. It has finally ended. Nimue will send a word to you soon.” Elune whispered Neleh.
‘Did something happen? I don’t think Azrael would leave if it was a simple truce.’ Neleh asked, hoping for more clarification.
“Even I’m not sure on all the details. The other gods aren’t really sharing, so all my information is from what was told to Nimue, and that’s only speculation. I wouldn’t want to give you erroneous information. You’ll find out soon enough.” Elune replied sounding a bit confused.