While Neleh had been meeting with the Grand Inquisitor Yunalesca, Shiori and Asheara had ran various errands around the city. Mainly they made a few trade deals for resources the duchy of Jao’e’Tinukai wasn’t producing. Of course they also did a little shopping for themselves. They met back up with Neleh for a meal in a popular restaurant. The owner of the restaurant had eagerly provided them a free meal just so he could brag about the Chosen eating in his restaurant. After going over the more mundane matters, they finally started discussing the important things.
“So what did Yunalesca want?” Shiori asked. Nimue had told them that Neleh should go and meet with the inquisitor, so the matter must have been of some importance.
“Besides the normal trouble, we got some good news and some weird news. The good news is that I was finally given the position of a full-fledged inquisitor. I have been acting in the capacity of one anyway, but now it’s official.” Neleh said, getting mumbled congratulations from Asheara and Shiori.
“As for the weird news, I’m afraid we have some new trouble. Not us specifically, but the elves as a whole. There has been a rash of new cults popping up all over the place. The inquisition has taken to calling them Pleasure Cults, due to the aim of the cults being the attainment of new heights of physical and emotional pleasure. The cults haven’t been detected in our duchy yet, but that’s largely because of the trouble we’ve had lately and all the work we’ve had to do to recover and institute the changes.
The most common participants in these cults are bored nobles and second and third children of wealthy merchant families who are either bored or unsatisfied with their lives. They seek excitement and self-gratification, and these cults present them with temptations to the weak-minded. The cults don’t start out as anything especially sinister. They start with seduction and beguiling their followers, proceed towards excessive luxury and pleasure and graduate to indulging cruel passions, dark and hidden vices and terrible temptations not offered anywhere else.” Neleh explained with a mix of disgust and resignation.
“Did she want you to do something about these cults?” Shiori asked, not too happy that the Inquisition was trying to foist another responsibility on Neleh.
“Not really. She herself was a little mixed on what to do about them. Only some of the most excessive cults have graduated to something perverse enough to break laws. Some of the things they are doing are disgusting and socially unacceptable, but not exactly illegal. The Inquisition is keeping an eye out, and trying to break up the cults. With things like this, it’s only a matter of time before they escalate into something much worse. Yunalesca mainly wanted to warn me, and asked me to keep an eye out. We don’t want these cults to take root in our duchy, so we’ll be taking an aggressive stance against them. Unlike in many other duchies, in Jao’e’Tinukai they won’t be able to hide behind the strict letter of the law.” Neleh said with heat in her voice. She had a bad premonition about the origin and purpose of these cults. She had been unable to find the Harbingers sent to the elven continent, and they had been oddly quiet.
“How about the disease rampaging among the faeries? Have you made a decision about helping them?” Asheara asked with worry.
Neleh gave a small sigh. “Unfortunately I don’t’ have much choice. Normal plague would be one thing, but the disease rampaging among the faeries is much worse. I only had to hear one of the symptoms to recognize the disease. The problem is that this disease is not natural and more importantly, not something ever seen in this world before. It’s a disease that only affects humanoid creatures with magical capacity. It attacks the mana in a person’s body. The body starts to slowly crystallize; first forming a crystal shell outside the extremities, then turning the body itself turns to crystal. Once the process is complete, the crystal shatters into fragments and dust, which are then carried along in the wind infecting new people. Because the disease attacks mana, normal healing spells not only don’t work, but make things worse.”
“You said ‘normal healings spells’. I’m guessing you know something that does work?” Shiori asked with a small smirk, having figured Neleh out.
“Yes, it’s one of the few projects I did to rebel against my nature as a Destroyer. It’s called Flames of Life. It’s not exactly a cure to everything, but it works against the weirder afflictions that normal healing magic isn’t effective against.” Neleh explained. Shiori already knew more about her past life than Asheara. Shiori was smart enough to notice her knowledge was beyond anything she could’ve learned in her short life and had already guessed much. Unlike Asheara, Shiori was too smart to fool with carefully worded half-truths. Neleh had been forced to tell some of it, and Shiori had guessed more.
“I guess it’s too much to expect you to let a race lose most of its population when you’re the only one able to help.” Asheara said with a sigh.
“Well that too, but I’m mostly worried that it won’t end up with just faeries getting affected. Also, we have to show that tactics like this won’t be condoned. We have to show that there’s an answer, or this method will be used again. I’d also like to find the person spreading this disease. I doubt that the demons as a whole condoned this course of action. They enjoy fighting too much. Most likely it’s only one or two people doing this, while the rest of the demons are debating on what to do with this situation.” Neleh said little angry. She had always thought of the use of disease as cowardly, especially against an opponent wholly unable to react to it.
“So when are we leaving?” Asheara asked in an innocent voice.
“We aren’t. Surprisingly, Shiori seems to be the best person to handle matters within the duchy, with the assistance of Estelar. To my utter disappointment, we still haven’t found people smart enough to rival you when it comes to managing complex concepts like the ones used in the changes I made. I can watch over your training through the Nexus, and you can reach me if there is some unexpected trouble. I’ll take a doorway to the islands. I left a doorway there when I had to return in a hurry. This time the doorway will become useful, since it’s over halfway towards the fairy continent. I’ll drop a doorway on any decent sized piece of rock that I can find, so I’ll never be more than an hour or two away from a doorway I can use.” Neleh started to explain. She was about to continue when she was interrupted by Shiori.
“By the way, that’s something that has been bothering me. Why did you fly back to the islands back then? I know you need some land for it, but wouldn’t the bottom of the ocean been just as good if you surround the doorway with a field to stop water from getting inside?” She suddenly asked.
Neleh was stunned for a moment. “Oh right, there was that option as well.” She finally said, shattering the silence.
“Oh right? That’s it? You just didn’t think of it?” Shiori asked shocked.
“Well, I’m not perfect. I have to admit that was a blind spot. I think I mentioned that I’ve never been too good with water…” Neleh mumbled, a little embarrassed.
“…says the person with SSS affinity in the element.” Shiori grumbled.
“Know thy enemy and all that. Doesn’t mean I like it.” Neleh said a little defensively. Everything had turned out just fine in any case, so she felt a little bad being grilled like this.
“If you’re done fooling around, can we get back to the point?” Asheara said a little impatiently. She had a feeling that Neleh would keep her from coming along as well.
“Concerning that, there’s something I want to talk to you about. I think this evening would be fine.” Neleh replied gently but firmly.
That evening the two of them were sitting on the wide balcony of their home within Nexus. They were looking at the starlit sky visible from their position. Neleh had provided a faux moon and stars to simulate a night within the Nexus. It made sleeping easier, and provided a decent mood on occasions like this. The view of the stars wasn’t anything seen from the world they were living in, instead it was something Neleh had recreated from memory.
“We have to talk about what happens on my eighteenth birthday. I’ve tried to approach the subject a couple of times, but you’ve been avoiding it.” Neleh said with a bit of reproach in her voice.
“It’s just that I know what you want to say. There really isn’t much we can talk about. Either you can come up with a way to prevent that from happening and things will be fine, or you can’t in which case there’s no point in wasting time dwelling on it.” Asheara said with a little sadness in her voice.
“There are some options, you know?” Neleh pointed out.
“I think I know what you have in mind. Let me just say it straight up. I’m not transferring the bond to some hapless person to suffer in my stead. I can’t let you suffer alone, and more than that I’m very possessive of the bond. It was my decision to form the bond when you were a baby, no matter how much you agreed to it. I’m proud of the bond we have shared, both the magical bond and the bond of emotions that has tied us together. I will never regret that. The bond has brought me more love than my whole life before it and I will not give it up. If my journey meets its end when you turn eighteen, then so be it. At least I will face my end with my head held high and unashamed. Besides, we can both feel that even if we did transfer the bond, we won’t be able to remake it after the bond is severed. I’m right, am I not?” Asheara said with some pride in her voice.
“Yes you are. Once the bond is severed, it will stay severed forever. Just because the bond is severed, it doesn’t mean it will be gone completely. Parts of it will remain, and if we tried to remake it with me as the bond holder, it would simply try to reconnect the remains of the old bond and fail. The remains will be there even if you transfer the bond.” Neleh said with a sigh.
“That’s what I thought. I don’t’ want to live like that. I felt the emptiness of losing the bond once already, when we transferred it to Gabriel, and I don’t want to return to that.” Asheara said sadly, with some tears in her eyes.
“There is another option. The one the gods suggested. We can have you frozen in time, until we find a better solution. You would survive at least, even if stuck in time for a possibly long time.” Neleh suggested.
“That still leaves you to suffer alone. Can you guarantee a solution will present itself with time?” Asheara asked, crying a little.
“Guarantee? No. But there is a chance. Psionics are much better with matters of the mind like this. Although Shiori is unable to do anything right now, who knows what she will be able to do in a hundred years. I have faith in her abilities. It might take a hundred years or a thousand, but she will be able to do something. And I will be left to suffer alone in any case. I would suffer even more if you threw your life away. At least this way I can have hope. I don’t have enough family to allow the loss of more of it.” Neleh’s voice was heavy with sadness. She was trying to convince herself as much as was convincing Asheara.
“Then let’s go with that.” Was all Asheara managed to say.
After a long moment of silence, they turned towards their current situation. “I suspect you don’t want me to come along to the fairy continent.” Asheara said simply.
“It’s not just that. I want you to spend time with Delia, Selene and Elsaria. You have limited time available, and you shouldn’t waste it watching me heal some faeries, and kicking around some demons. We can stay in contact within the Nexus like this. You should probably also meet Elluin at least once, to say goodbye. It might be the last time you meet.” Neleh said with a combination of sadness and a small teasing smile.
“Eh, I probably should. Even if there’s nothing between us anymore, we did bring about several beautiful daughters. I feel bad for the girls though.” Suddenly Asheara gave a small little grin. “Although we did manage to bring about another great daughter even without him.” She said referring to Shiori.
It took Neleh three days to fly from the islands to the fairy continent. She was able to use her full speed, because she could take small brakes in Nexus, by putting doorways to the bottom of the ocean this time. The faeries were shocked to see a fiery being like Neleh appear out of nowhere, but they were too tired to really care. They were afraid when some of their diseased people were engulfed in flames, but calmed down when they discovered that the people had been cured for now. Neleh did warn them that they would get sick again if exposed to the crystal dust, so the healthy faeries started taking measures against the dust. The city where Neleh had landed gathered every sick person within to the square, and most of the city was engulfed in flames that didn’t burn or destroy.
Still, it was impossible to remove the crystal dust completely. Neleh mentioned that she had some ideas they could try later on, but for now the city’s destruction had been stalled. The disease would be back, but they had bought time. Neleh didn’t mention that she was actually using them as bait, to draw in the person or people spreading the disease. A word of a possible cure should be too much for them to resist confirming. Neleh left several spells surrounding the city, to detect any non-faeries approaching the city. She planned on doing the same in several cities approaching the faerie capital. One of the traps should work.
The mayor of the city she had saved tagged along with Neleh, both to work as a guide in the illusion filled fay forest, even if Neleh had no need for it, and to testify to the effectiveness of Neleh’s ability to heal people. It was doubtful the royal guards would allow a random elven woman with wings of fire to approach their sick queen, even if she claimed to be the Chosen of Elune and have a cure for the disease. Neleh actually claimed that the cure she had was something provided by Elune, the Goddess of Life and Nature. She did this partly to make it more believable and partly to redirect the gratitude of the faeries. There was also a lot of people with relatives who died from the disease, who wanted to demand an answer to why she didn’t come earlier and save their family. They had harder time blaming a goddess than a lone elf.
When they finally reached the faerie capital, after visiting four other cities, they had spent two weeks in the faerie lands. Even with the devastation brought about by riots and neglect, the faerie capitol was an impressive sight. The houses were built among the tops of the impossibly large trees, the houses and terraces peeking out among the vegetation. Long bridges connected the trees and terraces, while the air would normally be filled with faeries flitting around. Now the fay folk were grounded, and tried to stay away from those inflicted with the disease.
There were scant few guards to question them as they approached the royal palace, and went straight for the queen’s chambers as the guards heard that Neleh might have a cure. They had no power to stop them, and even if Neleh wasn’t here to murder the queen, she wouldn’t live long anyway. When they entered the queen’s chambers, Neleh could see that the queen was on her last legs, and could give up at any moment. She removed any trace of the disease from the room with her flames, and had to strengthen the queen with traditional healing magic after removing all traces of the crystal. Even though the queen’s legs and arms had crystallized before, the flames brought life back to the extremities and turned them back to flesh.
Leaving the queen to recover for a moment, Neleh went around the capital trying to heal as many faeries as possible. As soon as the word spread, the healthy faeries dragged their families for healing, and the sick used their last strength to drag themselves to Neleh. By the end of the evening, when the flood of people finally started to slow down, Neleh was quite thankful for the spirit Surtr making her mana costs on fire magic negligible.
In the morning the faeries queen had recovered enough to meet with Neleh. After the polite greetings and expressions of thanks, their discussion turned to the future. “What happens now?” The queen asked simply and sadly.
“We can keep healing people, but that won’t eliminate the disease. The sad fact is that you can’t remove all of the crystal dust no matter how hard you try. If even a shred remains, that can bring the disease back and the cycle begins again. I can’t stay here to heal you forever either. Even if we find the people spreading the disease, the damage has been done. There’s also the problem of your war with the demons. You lost the war, and now you’ve lost almost a third of your population to disease. I doubt you’re cherishing the chance to live under the yolk of the demons that are bitter from the war.” Neleh listed the problems in almost cruel fashion.
The queen gave a deep sigh. “You speak the truth on all accounts, but what can be done? We can’t resist the demons anymore, and our cities are contaminated.”
Neleh gave the problem some thought, before getting an idea. It was a bit crazy, but might work. “How would you feel about leading your people into exile? I have a way to allow you to transfer away from the continent, and we could cleanse anything you bring through. If you come to the elven continent, you will be protected from the demons. The disease will die out with time, and once you replenish your numbers, you might be able to lead an effort to reclaim your homes in the future.”
The queen suddenly got some life in her eyes, seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. “Wouldn’t this bring you in conflict with the demons? Would the elves accept us?”
“The demons can’t afford to complain, since they got help from an outside source with the disease. Even if the elves as a whole might not approve, my duchy at least will welcome you with open arms. We have the beginnings of a revolutionary economy, but we lack people. Our duchy is large, with not that much people yet. It might be too much to try and fit all the faeries in one duchy, but the southern forests are fairly open for settling as well. The area is wild, but has great promise. I can ask our empress, and if she agrees, then we have even better options.” Neleh mused. This might just be doable.
“Do it. I’d hate to go against the will of your empress, but we don’t’ have much in the way of options.” The queen replied eagerly.
Neleh reached out with her mind, and sent a message to Nimue. “Hello Nimue, I have a situation of sorts that might be of great benefit to us.”
“What did you get mixed up in this time?” Nimue asked dreading the answer.
“How would you like to provide refuge for a bit over a billion faeries?” Neleh asked in a chipper tone.