Since Shiori knew that Neleh had not been especially enthusiastic about visiting the naga, she decided to meet her in the Nexus when Neleh was returning. She noticed Neleh coming out of the mansion, and was about to greet her, when Neleh turned and noticed her coming. Shiori sensed something different, and there was a weird feeling of incongruity around the woman. In her mind, Shiori shifted from calling her Neleh and thought of her as ‘the woman’ instead, because she realized that this person was not Neleh. They looked almost identical, but there was a different aura about them. The aura of this woman was gentler and more subtle, while Neleh’s was so powerful as to be almost oppressive. Neleh could show a gentler aura while she was putting on the mask for the common people, but it was never quite like this. Even when wearing the persona of the Chosen of the people, she was more like a shining star charming everyone, sometimes hot enough to burn, while this woman had the gentleness of a mother welcoming you home.
The woman saw the suspicion in Shiori’s eyes, and noticed the half made greeting suddenly turning into a wary preparedness. This seemed to amuse the woman as she gave a wide smile before suddenly disappearing in a shimmer. ‘What the heck?’ Shiori thought in confusion. She knew Elune looked similar to Neleh, but it didn’t even occur to her that the elven goddess could be visiting their mansion in the Nexus.
As she found Neleh inside the mansion, she noticed the baby in her arms immediately. To be exact, she felt the discussion going between Neleh and the child. As a psionic, she was especially attuned to magic affecting the mind, and although she couldn’t listen in on the magical communication, she could feel it happening, as if a soft murmur just beyond her hearing. The second thing she noticed was that the child had a huge shining presence in the emptiness of the dark space that souls inhabited. The only other person that had a huge presence like this was Neleh, so she knew the child was different. Neleh had told her some things about being reborn, so it didn’t take much for Shiori to make the connection.
“Another reborn person?” She asked simply? “I thought you were the only one.” She continued in a questioning tone.
Neleh gave a look halfway between a smile and a grimace. “She’s an exception, much like me. Her power is necessary to fight the Enemy, but unfortunately some people can’t see beyond immediate gains. This is the safest place for her until she can regain some of her old strength. Shiori, meet Khali, Khali meet aunty Shiori.”
“Khali? I’ve heard that name before. Do you mean Khali as in the ruler of Inferno? Also, aunty? I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed if you were pregnant.” Shiori asked with a raised eyebrow?
“The one and the same. You’re also correct on the second point. You might have seen the child’s mother leave as you came in.” Neleh replied with a mischievous smile.
“I was about to ask about that. It’s not like your looks are normal, so it’s even more shocking to see someone that looks so much like you. Who was she? And if she’s the mother how can I be an aunt?” Shiori was talking almost to herself, and Neleh let her figure things out herself.
“Wait a minute; she couldn’t have been Elune, could she? I can imagine a goddess would be able to handle the biological issue of two women as well. So that would explain how you can be a parent without being pregnant.” Shiori finally connected the dots. As a testament to her training, the only reaction she showed to the shocking news was the rapid blinking of her eyes.
“Correct, full points.” Neleh replied a little proud of Shiori’s ability to figure things out.
After a moment of thought, Shiori continued. “This happened during the time the bond was severed, didn’t it? I can’t see any other way. How are you going to explain her existence to everyone? This is bound to cause some wild rumors.”
“I don’t plan on explaining anything. Let the people make their own conclusions. The fact that we adopted you might encourage them to think that I did it again here. In the end, whatever they come up with will be less exciting than the truth. Even the worst things they can come up with can’t do too much damage to my reputation at this point, and will most likely just backfire if they try to spread something too outrageous. Besides, no matter what explanation I try to offer, the people that want to think bad of me will do so anyway. They’d just think I was lying.” Neleh explained.
She continued looking at the baby. “On that note though, I really think you need to use some other name while you’re on this world. You can take your name back once you regain your power, but some people on this world have heard of the name Khali, mostly from me I admit. Besides, our house name is Khalidor, so being called Khali Khalidor is a bit…”
Shiori could hear the soft murmur again as the child replied. She could only hear one half of the conversation now that Neleh was talking out loud, but Neleh’s answer was telling. “Stop laughing, it wasn’t my choice to be born into a house that carries your name. Wait until you meet the rest of the family, that’s where the real fun starts. You’ve got several aunts that had all pretty much given up on seeing any of us have children.”
Suddenly Shiori connected some other fragments of discussions she’d had with Neleh earlier. “Wait, she’s the reinforcements you were talking about isn’t she? The one you’re planning on taking care of the demons?”
“Correct again, good job Shiori. You’re doing well today.” Neleh replied in a pleased voice.
“That reminds me. Nimue sent word. The meeting of the races is now official. Every race will send representatives. The meeting place is one of the smaller celestial flying islands that is situated above the islands in the center of the ocean.” Shiori suddenly remembered the piece of information her spies had told her. Nimue would send word about it in a day or two anyway, but Shiori wanted to test her ability to gather information.
“I’m slightly surprised everyone agreed to the celestials working as the hosts. I suppose their reputation as peacemakers helps in this case. Do we have any information on the representatives? I’d prefer it if everyone sent people with actual authority to negotiate.” Neleh asked, actually curious.
The identity of the representatives was a rather important detail, as there was a possibility that some of the races would send only token representatives with no actual authority to make deals. It was a common negotiation tactic to use people like that, so that in case the negotiations didn’t’ go as planned, they could simply say that they had no authority to agree to anything, and that they had to ask the real authorities for instructions. It was a delaying tactic, and Neleh had always hated delaying tactics like that. They could delay decision forever like that, and the only choice left was to force the issue, which was not always easy to do.
“Well, unsurprisingly Nimue nominated you as our representative. That caused some commotion among the nobles, but they’ve been on the receiving end of your plots for a while now, and would appreciate both a brake and the opportunity to see others squirm for a change. I think they’re hoping that you will put the squeeze on the other races for a change, and the elves in general might benefit. Amusingly the Faerie Queen is sending a pair of her advisor mages who are also part of the Order. I think she’s doing that to send a message. No word about the other races yet.” Shiori reported her information.
“Well then, shall we go to the only battlefield worse than the actual battlefield?” Neleh asked with a sigh.
The gathering of representatives from all major races was called a conclave in this world. There had been several conclaves previously, but the long period peace that had preceded the current turmoil had seen no such gatherings. The races weren’t too keen on working together, as allies of today could turn out to be the enemies of tomorrow. The long period of peace gave little incentive to work together as well. Pretty much the only thing that could bring the races together was the presence of a common enemy.
“I’m still a little confused. Why aren’t you telling the other races about the Enemy? You’re preparing the elves, but would it not be beneficial to have the other races prepare as well?” Shiori asked Neleh.
They were standing on the deck of one of their new ships, closing in on the island that was below their real destination. Shiori had insisted on coming along to protect Neleh from any hidden dangers, and Neleh had agreed. Originally Neleh had planned to leave her in charge of things on the elven continent, but she had already put in motion everything that needed to be done to assimilate their new provinces, and now it was mostly a matter of time. Estelar and the administrators they had trained would be able to take care of any problem that occurred, and if something really drastic happened, they could return immediately through the Nexus.
“It’s a matter of timing. The naga and faeries are already fully aware, and are preparing with us. The celestials have a rough idea that a storm is coming due to their seers and the information I gave to Azrael. They might not be fully aware of what’s going on, but they are still making preparations. I’m planning on informing them more clearly during this conclave assuming they don’t act like complete idiots. I already informed the dragons. The problem is the other three races.
The demons aren’t too pleased with me at the moment, but Khali will fix them up in time. The problem of timing comes with the other two races of beastmen and humans. We aren’t sure if the Enemy will attack in ten years or a hundred. Even if I warn them, they might die of old age before the attack actually comes. The war with the Enemy isn’t something that will be fought in a short period of time. Even if the attack starts on the other worlds much earlier, it might take centuries to reach us. I can’t warn them with any kind of credibility until the storm is coming in less than ten years. There is also the more cynical point where I’m fine with letting those two races shoulder the early casualties, if it means we can bring the victory later on.” Neleh said with a certain amount of grim resolve.
“You’re putting a lot of faith in Khali. Are you certain that she can handle the demons?” Shiori asked.
“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that. She didn’t become the ruler of Inferno just because of her power. She has both strength of character and enough brutality to take a hold of a warlike race like the demons. And the demons do value strength highly, so she shouldn’t’ have too much trouble. The only problem there is whether the Enemy will take too long to attack us. That would bring two problems. Firstly, she will have to return to deal with Inferno once her powers return fully. That unfortunately takes precedence over the matters of this world. We will most likely be able to engineer some sort of hand-off of the power over the demons in that case, but it might be problematic. The second problem is that she might rile the demons up too much, and if the Enemy forces aren’t forthcoming, they might try to find other targets.” Neleh explained with a small smile.
Incidentally they had left Khali with her aunts that were all too happy to pamper on the niece they had not been expecting.
The celestials had prepared special facilities for the conclave. The negotiations themselves were to take place in a fairly sizeable round building, made of white stone. The sides of the building had eight doors, one for each of the major races, and the races also had separate living quarters with each race having a separate mansion free for their use. The celestials even made one for their own representative to keep things equal, even if the celestials could live freely within the city. The mansions were sizeable and functional, with enough room for a sizeable staff of people. The humans and the demons had both brought a fairly sizeable staff with them, while the other races hadn’t brought any extraneous personnel.
The conclave building had enough room for hundreds of people to spectate on the proceedings, and there was a round table with three chairs for every race. As Neleh entered the large room, she noted that the only races that actually occupied all three chairs were the demons and the celestials. The two faerie mages had come with them on the same ship, and now gave a salute to Neleh. The Naga had sent the same left chancellor that had initially come to invite her to the Coral Palace. The old naga gave a polite nod in a greeting. The naga also had two Kenshin standing guard behind the old chancellor.
She also recognized all three of the celestial representatives. She was surprised to see that both Anauel and Azrael had decided to take part in these negotiations. Anauel’s presence was fairly easy to explain, as the celestials were the hosts to the first conclave for millennia and wanted to make an impression. Azrael was most likely present because the celestials knew Neleh would also be here. The third celestial was there most likely for the same reason as there was no other explanation for the presence of Rachiel. Rachiel was the celestial who was sent to keep an eye on Neleh when she was a child, and the two had gotten along well despite the circumstances.
It was something of a surprise to see the twin princes of Alexis and Sanguinius representing the humans. This represented how seriously the humans were taking these negotiations, which was only fair since the war between them and the beastmen was the focus of the talks. Very few people were aware that in actual fact the humans were the only race that actually had sent representatives without the authority to agree to anything. The two princes were very high profile and were important generals in the war, so the other races didn’t quite understand how little authority they actually had. The humans had very centralized power, and as such the emperor was the only person authorized to make any binding agreements.
The beastmen had sent two clan leaders of large clans. They could negotiate for their own clans only, but as theirs were major clans, the other clans would most likely follow their lead. Neleh noted that the two clan leaders represented two extremes of the beastmen forms. One of them was a bearman that had a large and muscled build, but looked mostly like a human with some beast features. The other one was a lithe leopardman that looked more like a bipedal leopard. The bearman looked like an old and dignified warrior that still had most of his strength, now combined with cunning. He looked like a real king, while the leopardman looked more like a young but experienced scout that was here just to observe. Yet, Neleh felt that the leopardman was the more dangerous of the two. The beastmen had an entourage of sorts in the viewing area, even if they only had two official representatives.
The people that made Neleh the most wary were the demon representatives. The three of them were highly varied in their looks, but they all radiated power. One of them was a grey skinned and bald man covered in red tattoos from his head down to his waist, and Neleh suspected his legs were also tattooed. He was dressed only in simple pants and a leather harness. Judging from the tattoos and the enormous Ki Neleh could sense, this person was a warrior who favored barehanded combat. The second demon was an old male with a withered face and grey hair and beard. For a demon to look like this would require thousands of years to pass, and not just one or two thousand either. It was also impressive that he had survived that long in the power struggles of the demons. The mana radiating from the demon was a clear sign that this man was powerful mage.
What really drew Neleh’s attention was the third demon that looked like a young woman. The most worrying thing was that Neleh couldn’t judge her power at all. She could sense that the woman had power, but was skilled enough to hide that power. The demon woman narrowed her eyes once she saw Neleh come in, and smiled a mysterious smile. Her look told Neleh that there was only one reason the woman was here. She was here to meet Neleh, meet and possibly fight.
“Interesting.” She mumbled to herself.
She also immediately gave a wide smile to everyone gathered. “It seems I am the last to arrive. My apologies for making you wait.”
“Well, from what I hear, you elves were also the ones most eager to have this gathering. I expect this to be interesting.” The bearman rumbled. There wasn’t any real hostility in his voice; he was just big so even simple words from his mouth seemed threatening.
“Oh I think you won’t be too bored. Every time I’ve seen the Golden Goddess, things have gotten interesting.” Prince Alexis said with an amused voice.
“So this is the Golden Goddess I’ve been hearing rumors of. I can see the goddess part, but I can’t see anything golden.” The bearman rumbled again.
“Before we get to the main point Chief Bjorn, I think there are a few matters of housekeeping to handle.” Anauel stated.
‘Oh that color isn’t from age, but because he’s part polar bear.’ Neleh suddenly thought, correcting her previous impression.
After Anauel had gone over the arrangements, she got to the first important point. “The first matter for discussion is the suggestion by the elves to make a permanent place for maintaining diplomatic connection with every race and to facilitate fast negotiations in case of crises. The idea is to have permanent representatives present in case they are needed.”
“I know the celestial love negotiation, but I don’t see any reason for something like this. I’m still not sure why we are here even now.” Chief Bjorn rumbled again. Seems the bearman wasn’t big on negotiations, a feeling very common among warrior people. They though most things could be solved either with a good fight or a good drinking party. No need for extended blathering and wheedling and making of empty promises.
“The need for it isn’t as imminent as it will be in the future. I’m pretty sure we have all felt the actions of…shall we say a third party? An outside force influencing things, corrupting people and making promises of power that seem a little too good to be true. I’m fairly sure this interference will only increase.” Neleh suddenly gave her own input, looking directly at the demon representatives.
“In fact, there’s a member controlled by this third party among your companions right now.” Neleh continued, and turned her eyes towards the entourage of beastmen in the observer seats, where Shiori was holding her dagger at the throat of a beastman with lion features.