Neleh considered her options for a while and decided to defer the decision about Kanako’s punishment for now. Before revealing her own decision, she wanted to gauge the opinions of the others. “As I wasn’t really here when the attack happened, I’d like to hear recommendations from all of you.”
She looked first towards Estelar. “Having a trial and the whole nine yards is most likely impossible, as many of the things involved with this case should not be spread about. Traitors such as her usually get the death penalty, for what that’s worth. She also has enough connection with the enemies you’ve mentioned that she might become a problem later on. Releasing her is out of the question in any case. In honor of your past relations, I’d make it quick and painless, but it’s you who got betrayed so I’d understand if you took a harsher stance. I don’t have a stake in this case, so I might not be the best person to ask.” He replied gruffly.
Next she looked at Delia for her answer. “I don’t…I can’t…she was my friend! Yours as well! How could she do this to us? Yet I can’t bring myself around to recommending her death. Have her imprisoned. I know we might never be able to let her out, but there’s the possibility of change at least…” Delia said teary-eyed.
“Alduin?” Neleh asked, looking at the old elf.
“She attacked my wife, so I can’t really say anything. Everything I say would be either colored by revenge or too lenient in an attempt to hold my desire for revenge at bay. Estelar is right about the punishment for traitors, though. The question is, can we classify her as a traitor? She betrayed us, but that doesn’t fulfill the definition as that applies to either an entity such as a kingdom or an empire, or the race as a whole. She colluded with someone bound to become the enemy of elves, but isn’t yet even properly present in this world.” Alduin said shaking his head in disgust.
Finally Neleh looked at Shiori. “I think it comes to whether we can use her in the future. If we can’t see a way of using her to our advantage, then I think death is the only proper option. No need to stretch things out and waste time with imprisonment. If we can use her, then we should keep her for now.” Shiori said simply.
Their opinions had been largely what Neleh had expected them to be. “We’ll have her imprisoned for now, and we’ll revisit this in the near future. She’ll be asleep for that time anyway, so she won’t be able to cause trouble in the special cells. I’d like to get the opinion of the Eternal Empress of the naga as well. I’m guessing she won’t be too happy that one of their number attacked me in such a twisted way. She might have something to contribute as well that might influence our decision.”
She got up and walked to the window. They were currently within the central tower, and the window overlooked most of the city. There was also a balcony that ran around the tower, giving the option to view any part of the city currently hidden. “On to other matters. There are three major topics that we need to discuss and plan for.”
Shiori voiced her own guess during the pause. “I’m pretty sure I know at least two of them. First one is about the new invention you made to cover for your extended absence. The second one is most likely about our neighbors. I’m guessing the third one has something to do with the information about our new enemies.”
“Correct on all accounts. Let’s start with the first one. I knew my absence might become an extended one, which would generate a lot of rumors. For good or ill, I’m becoming a very public figure, and disappearing for several weeks like this is bound to cause trouble. Although the actual length of time I was gone was a bit more than I expected, I did prepare something major enough to cover for it.” Neleh pulled out an orb made of black metal, with several golden lines and runes on the surface.
“This item is called a Source. On the surface it works much like a normal magic well, but with two important differences. First of all, a Source can contain a fair bit more mana than a standard well and can be magically programmed to provide mana for any spell or construct designated as the target. The second point is the most important one, which is that the Source doesn’t need to and in fact can’t be provided with mana from an external source. That means that unlike a normal well, I can’t put any mana inside. Instead, the Source automatically recharges to maximum capacity every twelve hours.” Neleh explained with a small but smug smile.
“Wait, recharges how?” Alduin asked almost half panicked, already getting dizzy at all the possible applications.
“While the actual details are horribly complex, and the spell required to make a Source is a real pain in the behind, the simplified version is that it draws power from other planes. If you want the more detailed explanation, then I can give it. It involves the Source creating a miniature external plane of its own in its core and drawing power from there.” Neleh had an almost evil grin while she teased the real explanation. She knew just the explanation would cause most mages headache and sleepless nights due to the implications.
“I think I can manage with the simplified explanation for now. I can take a look at the spell used in making the item later on for more details.” Alduin groaned with a bad premonition.
“Good choice. As you know, the availability of magical power has been an important stumbling block in our development, and we are still horribly dependent on having access to a large amount of mages to make things work. With the use of Sources, we can leave the maintenance of spells to them, and institute several more spells that would’ve been impossible earlier due to a need for a constant supply of mana. I know our craftsmen especially will like having access to a wider variety of tools and methods without needing to keep around a constant supply of mana from mages. I have several new ideas too which we couldn’t use before, because they would need a constant mana supply from mages.
As you all know, while we currently have a pretty good mage population due to the presence of the faeries, access to those mages would become problematic immediately in a situation where those mages are needed for battle. With good use of Sources, we can free those mages to be used for new and more complex projects in the peacetime and for battle during war. I’ve had the idea of using Sources for a long time now, but the problem has so far been that I would be the only one able to make them. Just before the bond was severed, I managed to refine the process to a point where other mages should be able to make both low and medium quality sources. Some of our best like you Alduin should be able to make high quality ones as well. Beyond that quality, I still need to be involved, but that is something we can improve on in the future.” Neleh had a real Cheshire smile. She knew how much this invention would change things. What most of the people present didn’t even consider was that this also had several military applications that had never been seen in this world. They would learn.
The next few hours were spent in furious planning and they had worked out a basic outline for a plan going forwards once they were done here. Nan Yanoi would of course be the first place to see the benefits, but as soon as they managed to get the production on the way properly, the process would become almost self-sustaining, as the Sources could be used to power the production of more of Sources.
“Now we can move on to the second issue. Our neighbors are getting too big for their britches. They’ve been behaving aggressively for a while now, and it’s only a matter of time before things come to blows. While the recent millennia used to be a time of great peace when it came to civil war, before our previous emperor messed things up, the duchies, counties and baronies have not been as peaceful. Several provinces have been swallowed or broken in power struggles and maps have been redrawn in several places. The time since the inauguration of Nimue has been abnormally peaceful so far, and I’m pretty sure our neighbors are about to rectify that. What’s the status of our neighbors?” Neleh asked Estelar and Shiori.
Jao’e’Tinukai was a prosperous duchy that focused on trade, before Neleh took it over. It had been mostly protected by their southern neighbor, the imperial province of Rhi’a’non, as it was one of the main life bloods of the capital city. However, it was surrounded by several provinces that were more militaristic, which also formed the main martial power of the Eldarinwe. The main competitor was of course Halamshiral, the large duchy forming the majority of the western border with Jao’e’Tinukai. Unlike most other provinces, Halamshiral was what one might call a generalist duchy. Most provinces specialized in a couple of things at most, but Halamshiral was good at everything just like the current Jao’e’Tinukai. It also shared the honor of being the largest duchy in the Eldarinwe kingdom along with Jao’e’Tinukai.
Most of the provinces within the Eldarinwe kingdom were standard fare, with a focus on trade, farming and production. They contributed taxes and goods to the kingdom and empire, soldiers for the army and gifted students for the academies. Most provinces formed alliances, and could even be called to be subordinate to the biggest and most powerful duchies. A barony focused on farming had no way to defend itself if a military focused duchy decided to take a chunk out of it, so instead it sought the protection of one of the major alliances, and in trade contributed to the power behind the faction the ruling duchy represented.
Jao’e’Tinukai and Halamshiral were both rather unique in that they had no subordinate provinces, but instead controlled large amounts of land and trade themselves. This somewhat dampened their political power at court, as they weren’t controlling factions of subordinate nobles, but they retained the freedom to support the factions that benefitted them most. The strength of Halamshiral relied on being the home of the Eldarinwe warrior academy, as well as holding several important positions in the imperial army and major trade houses. Jao’e’Tinukai had mostly relied on their power of trade as the crossroads of important trade routes and the home to the largest naga settlements. Even before Neleh took over, the source of Jao’e’Tinukai’s power had been money.
Everything in Jao’e’Tinukai had of course changed when Neleh took over. The duchy had risen in all parameters, even though its military power was still mostly an open question. Neleh’s personal influence had also become a faction in itself at court, mostly supported by the temples and the traders. This caused several issues, especially to those alliances headed by duchies close to it. As Jao’e’Tinukai’s power grew, their influence waned. Many of the provinces under them showed interested in joining forces with Jao’e’Tinukai instead. Even though this was still prevented by the other alliances, mostly because everyone was still unsure of the military strength of Jao’e’Tinukai, the people started moving into Jao’e’Tinukai anyway.
The Eldarinwe kingdom had ten great factions headed by the major duchies. Those under the protection of the imperial province of Rhi’a’non formed the heart of the kingdom, and mostly remained neutral on internal matters, instead focusing on the affairs of the empire. Another famously neutral alliance was headed by Neleh’s old home duchy of Avelorn. Avelorn mainly focused on extending the border of the empire into the great southern forest, claiming land for new cities and settlements. As their focus was on fending of monsters from the forest and being pioneers and settlers, they generally didn’t care much for other matters of the empire, let alone the kingdom.
As Jao’e’Tinukai was bordered in the south by Rhi’a’non, in the north by the ocean, and in the west by Halamshiral, the factions whose activities most interested Neleh at the moment were those on their eastern side. Their eastern border, covered by the new forest of the faeries, was connected with two major duchies that each led their own faction. Those two duchies were Caledor and Saphery. Saphery was located on the coast and stretched far into the east towards the Moon Elf kingdom. Saphery wasn’t a large faction in terms of the area controlled by their provinces, but it had the benefit of having the provinces most populous with mages as well as the Eldarinwe mage academy. Before the faeries came and reinforced Jao’e’Tinukai, Saphery had held the dominion on the magical power in the kingdom, only contested by the Rhi’a’non academy. Their success and fame mostly relied on a system where they specially trained warriors to work as companions and bodyguards for their mages, improving their safety by a large margin. Jao’e’Tinukai had become their main competition. Especially the craftsmen of Jao’e’Tinukai were giving Saphery a hard time because of the quality and amount of magical items produced. Before the changes made by Neleh, most of the high quality magical items had come from Saphery. That had changed fast in the last few years.
Caledor on the other hand was a very militaristic duchy famed for being the home of the best knights and heavy cavalry in all of the elven lands. While heavy cavalry wasn’t as important for elven tactics as it was for humans, the elves were still second in the usage of knights in their strategies. As the home of knights, Caledor also tended to draw in not-landed nobility, who were surprisingly effective at the art of warfare. Unfortunately this also leads to the duchy being the home to the most prideful and belligerent people in the kingdom, eager to show off their martial skills. Jao’e’Tinukai was a supremely wealthy neighbor with apparently weak military, which provided a good opportunity for the lords of Caledor to show their might.
After making sure everyone was up on the history and geography, Estelar moved into the current situation. “Both Saphery and Caledor have been placing heavy pressure on us in court in your absence. Saphery is trying to limit the pressure we exert with our new products mostly with trade and diplomacy, but they’re having limited success. It remains unclear whether they are willing to move from politicking into more martial means, but they’re preparing for either case. Caledor is much more openly hostile. The presence of the faerie forest has provided us with protection so far, but that’s about to change.”
Shiori picked up the subject here. “The Caledorians have managed to wrest control of a county on our south-eastern border from the Rhi’a’non coalition. Nimue wasn’t too happy, but many of the imperial nobility discontent with you stonewalled her attempts to stop it. They want to see your influence reduced, and this provides them with the perfect chance. This county provides the Caledorians a way to get their knights into our lands without entering the faerie forest. They haven’t made any announcements, or claimed any casus belli, but they are gathering their forces near the border of that county.” It was usually frowned upon to make any overt military moves without even the faintest of casus belli, which meant reason for war. The reason might usually be rather flimsy, but it was customary to at least keep up appearances.
“I’m fairly sure one of the first and biggest fortresses I built lies in their way. That should provide us with plenty of opportunity and time when they do make their move. I think it’s time to show the world why they should be afraid of us. Also, Shiori have the fifth Order gathered, I have a mission for them once the hostilities start. Something to give the opponents a reason to worry.” Neleh started making her plans. It was inevitable that they would be tested, and Caledor seemed to be the unlucky first to feel their wrath.
“Finally we come to our third topic. I’m really curious about this one.” Shiori said almost eagerly once their plans for the Caledorians were set.
“Right, this third topic is perhaps the most important, but also the least time sensitive. You all know by now, that our world faces an Enemy from the outside, which is already causing trouble, but will be attacking in earnest in the future. I’ve also told you about the lost-deities and how the blessings given to me by the gods of our world are meant to be used to fight those lost-deities. Here we come to a problem though. I will be forced to conserve most of my power to fight against the lost-deities themselves, but it’s likely that their forces will include other beings powerful enough to cause trouble.
You’ve seen or heard of me fighting against large groups of enemies at once, and Estelar is also capable of something similar. That said, it is likely that the enemies will also have individuals of such power, and it will be almost useless to gather armies and soldiers if we can’t deal with those individuals. I can’t be everywhere, and even if I could, it would be a disaster if I had to fight a lost-deity after expending my power fighting their lackeys. That’s why we will need our own core group of individuals powerful enough to face those powerful enemies. I want you to keep your eyes open and search for individuals with either great power, or with great potential that we can train. I don’t mean just elves either. We need the best of the best, no matter the race. This should not take priority over your other duties, but it is important, and the fate of our world might rest on it.” Neleh solemnly explained.
“You’ve got me!” Shiori said a little sullenly.
“And you will be important for this. You are a perfect example of what we are looking for. But we do need more than a handful of capable individuals. We might be fighting on multiple fronts and multiple continents. That means we need multiple people. Alright, get to it. We have lot to prepare for.” Neleh finished the long meeting with loud clap of her hands. She already had one person in mind that could be useful, Azrael. The celestial had not returned to them yet, and Neleh was a little curious if she would.
After the meeting and some food, Neleh returned to the balcony for some privacy. There was a conversation that needed to happen, and she didn’t need distractions.
‘Alright, now that I have a clearer head, I think I’m going to need a better explanation from you. What’s this thing about becoming pregnant due to a request?’ Neleh sent a firm thought to Elune.
“This world isn’t the only place where multiple important events are happening. One particular event might have large detrimental effects concerning the fight against the Enemy. We were asked to help fix it since we, or more precisely you provide the best chance of fixing it successfully.” Elune started of carefully dancing around the subject. She tried to give enough hints, so that Neleh could figure out things, without actually breaking her promise of not revealing too much.
‘I’m guessing you were asked not to reveal too much, because if I knew, it would influence my decisions. I might even take measures against what is happening?’ Neleh asked.
“Yes and no. It’s not you specifically that is the problem, actually. We were all sworn to secrecy, because it would be a major problem if a word about what was happening got out. Our world might get destroyed if a wrong person heard about it, and something like this is hard to keep a secret from everyone whose allegiance is a little questionable.” Elune tried to explain carefully.
‘I think that sentence alone answers most of my questions. This level of secrecy could only be the result if someone important was being reincarnated. And I’m guessing it’s a special case with memories intact, like with me. Someone important was killed; someone needed to fight the Enemy. That person’s reincarnation was hastened and given special treatment because that person is so necessary. On the flipside, there are people who’d rather that person stayed dead, even at the risk of things going wrong with the Enemy. They might even work for the Enemy. That’s where the danger comes in.
I was selected as the parent partially because I offer the quickest way for that person to regain some semblance of power, partially because I will hopefully shoo away any curious flies buzzing around the child and because I can protect the child against most threats with my power as a destroyer, even if they are members of the Celestial Host or the Inferno. I was most likely also selected because I’m familiar with the person. Am I getting close?’ Neleh aimed at the important points with pinpoint accuracy.
“I can neither confirm nor deny.” Elune said with a voice that told it was obvious she was smiling. Smiling because Neleh was getting it right, and she didn’t have to break the promise.
‘And that is a confirmation in itself, since you were forbidden from telling me specific things. I can only think of a few beings that would qualify for a situation like this, and who would have the authority to make a deal like this even while dead. Judging from what I guessed and you “confirmed”, even if you will carry the child to term, I’m expected to raise it, correct? You should be able to answer that at least.’ Neleh asked a question that had occurred to her right after returning to her body.
“Correct. The child will not be a normal mortal, but it’s still impossible to raise it among the deities, and that would also defeat some of the purpose of choosing you as the parent.” Elune confirmed quite happily.
“This’ll cause some rumors. The Chosen having a surprise child all of a sudden, even while having no husband or even a boyfriend. I wonder who they will peg as the father. They’ll never believe it’s a child between me and Elune.” Neleh mumbled in a quiet voice.
“You could always claim the child is adopted.” Elune pointed out amused.
‘Won’t make a difference. The rumors will start anyway. And seeing as how we are almost identical, I’m guessing the child will look like us quite a bit, even if it’s a boy. I’m guessing you won’t tell me if it’s a boy or girl, or who the child used to be before it’s born?’
“Correct. I will happily admit that I like to keep you guessing.” Elune laughed.
“I’d say Khali dammit, but there’s a good chance this is all her fault anyway…” Neleh grumbled.