A/N: Light on the pr again. Too tired. Point out any mistakes, please.
After Neleh had managed to walk Nimue through her theological crisis, they returned back to the throne room. Despite Neleh not having any real intentions for forming a separate kingdom, it was fairly obvious that her position as a duchess was vastly different when compared to the other dukes. Even though her position as the Chosen already made her special, that was in the religious context and she needed her position clarified in the world of politics. As such, Neleh became the first grand duchess of the elven lands, as the ruler of several duchies. This position did have precedent in the human lands, where there had been several grand dukes over the millennia.
As this showed Neleh’s willingness to still be subject to the kingdom and empire, it soothed over some of the worries of the nobles. It also clarified her position among the rankings of the nobles. Previously her dual position as a Chosen and a duchess had made her position confusing. Now as a grand duchess she was easier to classify. She was below the empress and the king and queen of Solaria and Lunaria respectively, the countries of Sun and Moon Elves, but above the standard nobility.
The worries of the various nobles returned after couple of months as the duke of Halamshiral died ostensibly of natural causes. His children somehow managed to be eerily similar in their strength and desire for the position. As such, none of them were willing to back away and the duchy collapsed into an internal struggle. All of the nobles knew that this provided Neleh the opportunity to meddle in the affairs of the neighboring duchy, not realizing that the whole course of events was orchestrated by her. The nobles were so certain that she would intervene that they were amazed that it was taking her that long to do it. They thought that if she would do it, she should just do it and save Halamshiral the trouble. As such, Neleh could pretend to be almost reluctant in her actions, which changed the tone in the minds of the people from a takeover into a reluctant intervention to save the common people.
Jao’e’Tinukai had just managed to completely pacify their new territories and were now in the middle of instituting the changes previously implemented in the Jao’e’Tinukai duchy. As the officials and officers had gained experience in implementing the ideas of Neleh, they had gained valuable experience and had refined the process. They were now very effective at bringing those changes into the new areas, as they had seen what worked and what the best way to do changes was. They knew where to start and where they would face the most resistance. The whole process was made significantly easier by the willingness of the new areas to accept the changes. They had seen the effectiveness of the changes in the success of Jao’e’Tinukai. So even if they felt weird about the changes, they put those feelings aside in the hopes of gaining the benefits that obviously awaited them.
The process was also eased by the tireless efforts of Neleh. She spent most of her time in the new provinces easing the worries of the masses and the people most affected by the changes. She also used her natural charm to win over the hearts of the people. For many of the ordinary people, this was the first time they saw their ruler in person. In addition, they got to see the Chosen famed for her beauty and love of the common people. The news of the ‘Golden Goddess’ had also reached the masses, and the nickname had become her unofficial moniker among the people, not used in her presence of course.
The Order had run an aggressive campaign to crack down on any illegal elements in the new provinces. The Fourth Order would locate any illegal elements and the soldiers would be right behind to crush them. The Order had never been big on imprisonment, preferring to deal with any criminal elements on the spot. On the other front, the Fifth Order was eliminating any pleasure cults aided by the efforts of the Inquisition. On several occasions the inquisitors attempted to raid a gathering of cultists, only to find nothing but corpses.
After the Order had finished securing the new provinces it marched on Halamshiral, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. The support that had propped the old dukes children vanished like it had never existed, and the Order took over unopposed. The other nobles had expected at least some chaos and confusion, and had planned to take advantage of the confusion, but were left with nothing as the Order secured the borders, closing out all outside interference. This left the other nobles suspicious about the whole affair, but there was very little they could do about it, especially after Nimue gave her blessing for the takeover.
Normally in such cases the children of the old duke would be faced with a grim fate, but Neleh surprised everyone by simply having them removed from the province. She even gave each of them a generous purse to find their new lives with. Usually this would result in other factions propping said children up as puppets, using them as an excuse for a hostile action, but for some reason Neleh was not worried about this at all. The other nobles also decided that discretion was the better option in this case, and let the sleeping dragons lie.
As a result, all the lands north of Rhi’a’non, towards the coast were now controlled by Neleh. Her demesne now reached from the border the Moon Elf kingdom Lunaria to the Sun Elf kingdom Solaria. She also controlled the whole coastline of the Eldarinwe territory. The naga on the elven continent had already started to focus their efforts in this area, but now they moved almost all of their people to the settlements on the coast controlled by Neleh, only leaving token presence in the other two kingdoms. This left the naval trade of the continent almost wholly in her control. The best land routes also passed through her territory, which, when combined to the trade generated by her lands, made her demesne the center of the elven continent. This became further obvious when the Rhi’a’non academy announced the move to Nan Yanoi, with the Eldarinwe warrior and mage academies in Halamshiral and Saphery following suit.
Due to their new found focus as the heart of elven trade, Jao’e’Tinukai started a massive ship building program to make the elves a significant naval power. This combined with the alliance with the naga would eventually guarantee Neleh the superiority over the oceans. The Fourth Order got their mandate expanded as they became the party in charge of marine matters. This in itself was somewhat within the expectations of both the elven powers to be, as well as the other races that were monitoring the situation with a keen eye. The odd part was that the design of the ships constructed by Jao’e’Tinukai were different from anything seen before.
The ships were in general larger than the ships made previously. They were especially made wider, and sported almost a catamaran design of dual hulls. The ships were designed to carry either a lot of people of cargo. To compensate for their size, the ships were heavily enchanted to retain speed and stability. This was still within the expected variance of something designed by Neleh, as the others had already gotten used to her ideas. What piqued their curiosity was the presence of three large magical crystals covered in magical formations in the center of the ships.
You could also barely see several orb shaped objects suspended inside the crystals. The role of these crystals was a complete mystery to everyone, and the Fourth Order was not sharing information. In addition, as most ships made in this world were armed with at least ballistae, those weapons were not visible in these ships. in their place were weird contraptions that looked like large magical swords pointing at the enemy, with several orb shaped objects imbedded along the blade. More mysteries for the other powers to solve.
Shiori entered Neleh’s living quarters within the Nexus. She had returned from Halamshiral, after eliminating several gatherings of the pleasure cults. She had for the first time also found hints of symbols similar to the one on the pendant Kanako had used in her attack against Neleh. Similar yet different, proof of outside interference. Neleh had instructed her to keep an eye out for any such hints on her attacks on the cults.
She found Neleh sitting on the balcony, looking very tired and holding her head in her hands, as if trying to hold back a headache. This seemed weird to Shiori as Neleh was capable of healing anything that would cause a headache, and could use magic to wipe away any fatigue.
“Is something wrong?” Shiori asked worried.
Neleh looked up and gave a faint smile. She gave a small wave, calling Shiori closer. Shiori gladly obliged, and was pulled into a hug, sitting in front of Neleh, with her back towards her. Neleh held her close and patted her head in a gentle gesture. Normally this would’ve made Shiori ecstatic and made her mind run like crazy in a more than slightly pervy direction. This time she could feel the pain and loneliness radiating from Neleh, and could sense that she only wanted to hold someone close.
“Entertain my selfishness for a moment.” Neleh whispered quietly.
“Any time, any place.” Shiori replied simply.
After holding Shiori for a long while, that seemed to both pass in a blink and stretch forever, Neleh finally loosened her hold. Shiori didn’t go anywhere, but knew she now had the freedom to do so if she wanted to. Of course she was currently right where she wanted to be, so she wasn’t in a hurry.
“It’s the bond, isn’t it?” Shiori asked in a faint voice.
“Severed, but not gone. Sometimes the feelings of loneliness and despair just come back, like just now. It’s been getting worse lately, but I suspect this is as bad as it gets. Sometimes I just want to feel someone close. It helps to keep me grounded and reminds me that I’m not alone.” Neleh said faintly.
“You know you can come to me any time you feel like this, don’t you?” Shiori asked seriously.
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.” Neleh gave a small self-deprecating chuckle. “I seem to have the kind of nature that isn’t good at asking for help.”
“I would say that you have too much on your plate, except I know that you can handle it. I’d just remind you that you don’t have to. You don’t have to do everything yourself, especially during hectic times like this. There might not be too many people able to live to your standards, but there are a few of us.” Shiori said with an exaggerated chest-thump.
Neleh gave a small laugh. “I wish I could give you the duty, but unfortunately it’s something only I can do. It’s about time for me to fulfill my part of the bargain with the naga.”
She had lately felt that her body had reached the biological maturity. Due to the effects of the contract with the ice spirit Shiva, her form would never change further. She looked almost exactly like the form Elune used. The difference was that Elune had this ageless quality about here, while Neleh would forever have this look of being frozen in time as a flower that just barely reached the full bloom. Her powers would continue to grow, but she would no longer age. This was familiar to her, as her old body in the previous life had also stopped aging, although the stopping point had been later and male.
“You never did tell me what the naga wanted?” Shiori asked with curiosity.
“I think it’s better if you don’t know.” Neleh replied hiding her embarrassment.
As Neleh returned from the Coral Palace, she was contacted by Elune, asking her to come to the Nexus. As she entered the resort, she could feel the presence of the deity inside the manor. She found the goddess on the same balcony overlooking the area.
“I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with a deity being able to get inside my home without my knowledge, even if it is you. That implies someone else could also do it.” Neleh grumbled a bit.
Elune looked over her shoulder back at Neleh and gave a small laugh. “Don’t worry, it’s only because we’re connected. Interestingly it’s much easier to manifest here than it is in the normal world. Maybe that’s because this is essentially a space controlled by you?”
“Be that as it may, it must be important to see you in the flesh so to speak. I can guess all day, but how about you just tell me.” Neleh asked, having a hunch.
“I come bearing gifts. Or a gift as it were.” Elune replied with a smile.
“Isn’t it a little soon?” Neleh asked surprised.
“Time works a little different among the deities. It was actually a little longer pregnancy than normal in our time.” Elune said while turning around, showing the bundle she was holding.
“I should’ve thought of that.” Neleh mumbled to herself, looking into the blood red eyes of her daughter, recognizing the soul within immediately.
‘Hello there Khali.’ She sent a thought towards the child.
‘Little Flame.’ The child sent the thought back, giving a greeting. Neleh was maintaining the connection, so the child didn’t have to use any power, though Neleh wasn’t entirely sure if she would even be able to do so. ‘Or should I call you mommy? Daddy feels weird with you looking like that.’ Khali continued.
‘Neleh is fine. That’s my name in this life. Interesting state you’re in. A coup?’ Neleh asked with a small amount of mirth at the situation.
‘In a nutshell. I like your new name. Much more concise that the monstrosity you had previously.’ Khali replied.
‘Well, you have the chance to switch names now too. How did they manage to kill you? Last time I was around, the lords of Inferno didn’t have that kind of power.’ Neleh asked. For someone else it might have been confusing that they were having two conversations at once, but for them it was rather standard.
‘Eh, I like my old one. Besides, I hear that you named a nice little spell after me. Song of Khali, if my sources are right. The buggers caught me in a moment of weakness. I had just finished a fight with several powerful individuals from the Eternal Sea of Immortals. You know, the type that little miss Serious/Stalker had been fighting while the two of you met. I was weakened after the fight since they had ambushed me. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the buggers had the whole thing planned. Of course that would require intelligence, which they don’t’ really have.’ Khali thought, giving the mental equal of a shrug.
‘Your sources are a bit too god as usual. I’d like to know who squealed. You never did get along with Gabriel that well. You also always relied a bit too much on your strength and didn’t give your enemies enough credit.’ Neleh said with an amused smile.
‘She’s too serious, and her idea of fun is stalking around the person she has a crush on. That’s you, just in case you missed the memo. I don’t dislike her, but I don’t really want to spend time with her either. Also, you of all people can’t afford to talk to me about not giving my opponents enough credit! Excuse me for not being the type to just crush through any adversity without effort. It’s not my fault I don’t have the powers of a destroyer as a backup. At least I don’t go poking at every drago-bear just to see what happens!’ Khali thought somewhat indignantly.
‘Yeah she paid a visit to us some years ago, and made her point. I wasn’t sure if she wanted to kill me or kidnap me. I think only the fact that I’m now female saved me. Also, talking fast helped. Oh, as a tip, there are no drago-bears on this world. They will look like you’re crazy if you mention them. Not that they won’t look you like you’re crazy anyway, I’m sure. Will you just be visiting or staying?’ Neleh asked calmly.
‘You always were good at talking your way out of trouble. The more boring way I say! Much more interesting to just fight them! You look good by the way. Being female looks good on you! For the record, I always thought you were the crazier out of the two of us, you just hide it better. I’m not ashamed of my nature. Too bad about the drago-bears. I always liked the buggers and was hoping to meet a few here. Old man Tian’Zun cut me a special deal where I will keep my memories and regain my powers faster, in trade for fighting the Enemy with the stalker girl. I always thought she was more suited for the serious business like that, but I will have to pay for my mistake. Still, it’ll take at least a hundred years to get into any shape to get my position back, so I guess I’ll be bothering you mommy dearest until then.’ Khali replied jumping between topics.
‘I just don’t like to scare my toys away before I’ve had my fun. If you two won’t fight the Enemy, then who the heck did you expect to do it? The other lords of Inferno are useless. How is old man Tian’Zun by the way? The last I saw him, he seemed to have a headache or something.’ Neleh asked a little amused.
‘He still has the headache, but that’s just because of you. You have that effect on people. Also, I’m fully expecting you to do the real fighting. Let’s be realistic, you’re much more suited for that anyway.’ Khali replied cheerfully.
“Ok, seems like the two of you will get along just fine. I’ll leave the two of you at it before you give me a headache.” Elune said after handing baby Khali to Neleh.
‘See, I told you. You have that effect on people. I assume you’re tapping that by the way? I mean you did parent me and all. If you aren’t, then can I have her? If you are, can I join?’ Khali asked cheerfully, completely oblivious to the parental relations. Not that Neleh was one to judge.