Neleh noticed that something was wrong when Khali and Shiori exited the training device. Khali now had the appearance of roughly a 4-year old. Although she had looked like Neleh and Elune as a baby, her looks were now starting to diverge. Her hair had started out black, similar to Neleh, but was turning lighter and lighter, now looking more metal grey. Khali had had pure white hair in her old life, and Neleh expected her hair to transition back to that over the years. Her features were also slowly changing. Before she had the standard sharp features of an elven child, but now she was starting to take on the features of a demon with more pronounced eye-brows and wider features in general. Currently those features were stuck in a scowl, while she was eyeing Shiori.
On the surface Shiori looked calm and collected, but Neleh could sense that she was just as perturbed. This was highlighted by the fact that she immediately walked closer to give Neleh a long and tight hug. Shiori had also grown during the time spent within the training device and was now as tall as Neleh. Before going in she had looked more like a young girl starting to blossom, while now she looked like a young woman instead. Her maturity and quick mind often made Neleh forget how young she was. With the time spent inside the device, almost two years would’ve passed for the two. For someone as young as Shiori, that was a significant portion of her life so far, even if it would end up being a blink of an eye in the long scheme of things.
“What’s wrong Shiori?” Neleh asked a little worried, when she wasn’t letting go.
“Just recharging my Nelehium.” Shiori replied, stealing the phrase she had heard Asheara use a couple of times. “Never again, do you hear me? Don’t send me away for such a long time again.” She continued in an almost a pleading tone.
“Did something happen?” Neleh asked Khali, as the former ruler of Inferno looked at them in annoyance.
“Nothing too serious. Let’s just say that our personalities are not very compatible, when we’re forced to spend significant amount of time together.” Khali said with a grimace.
This just made Neleh even more curious. She would have to tease the story out of the two individually later on. She knew Khali was someone who wasn’t easy to get along with, and she loved playing tricks and harassing other people mentally. But if that was the case, then why was Khali so mad? The only other person to cause such reaction in her was Gabriel, and there the reaction was tempered by the fact that Khali was simply smarter than the celestial and thus felt superior. Instead of getting angry, Khali made even more fun of Gabriel instead.
Neleh knew Shiori was smart enough to be a good foil for Khali, and the former demon could respect intelligence. That’s one of the reasons Neleh and her got along so well. But surely the experience of Khali from her long life gave her enough of an edge to allow her to feel superior in other ways. Yet the feeling Neleh got from her mannerism was somehow…petulant? This was getting more and more interesting. Something definitely happened, and Neleh had to find out what!
Before she could think any further, Shiori interrupted her thought. “How about things here in the normal world? Did everything work out well?” She asked.
“Relatively well yes. I learned from the last time I had to spend time away from the public eye. I purposefully made this thing in Nan Yanoi instead of Nexus, because this way I could still meet with people and have negotiations. I just had to have them come to me instead. All of them were wondering about the purpose of the device, which kept them distracted. That actually made couple of negotiations easier. On the other side of things, Estelar is still on vacation. Apparently his nerves have still not recovered from the time he spent with ‘Sinestra’ inside the device.” Neleh replied with an amused smile.
“Hey it’s not my fault he’s so fragile. You act like I flipped his world around or something.” Khali answered a little defensively.
“Well you kind of did. It’s a little shocking to have your entire belief system turned on its head. He wasn’t a very spiritual person in the first place, but it takes a little adjusting to know that the baby you’ve looked after for a couple of years is the literal ruler of Inferno.” Neleh replied with a chuckle.
“You talk as if I’m the locus of all evil or something. Such an antiquated perspective. Wait till I tell him about you and how your original purpose in life is to destroy worlds.” Khali said with some expectant glee.
“Only worlds that are too far gone to serve their purpose anymore. It’s not like we go around destroying every world we set foot on.” Now it was Neleh’s turn to be a little defensive.
“Oh yeah? And how has that worked out for you? How many viable worlds have you destroyed in comparison to dying worlds?” Khali asked with a chuckle of her own, referring to the time when Neleh was allowing her darker impulses to control her, during the previous fight with the Enemy. In contrast, she didn’t actually do much work as a Destroyer in the normal sense, so she had actually destroyed more viable worlds instead.
Neleh was forced to answer with just a grimace. She knew Khali was right. The fact that she would say it out loud though was a testament to how unsettled Khali was. She knew that was a sore subject for Neleh, and would not normally joke about it. The next words from Shiori shocked Neleh even more though.
“That’s about enough out of you. Or do we need another lesson in polite behavior?” She said in a very cold and commanding voice.
“No ma’am.” Khali simply replied, wincing ever so slightly. This made Neleh forget Khali’s previous words immediately.
‘Oh this is very interesting indeed.‘ She thought. Suddenly she felt a hand on her breast, interrupting her thoughts again.
“Shiori, you’re copping a feel again.” Neleh said with some amusement.
“Don’t worry about it. I just missed you.” Shiori answered with a satisfied sigh.
Going forward, their plan was to allow Khali to go inside the device by herself in short segments whenever Neleh had time to sustain the required spell. For now Neleh had to make some public appearances, play at some politics, resolve some issues and spend some time being inspirational to both the Order and the public. It would be difficult to spend a lot of time to maintain the spell, but even small stints every now and then would add up. As for the people with questions pertaining to the baby that had suddenly grown, and would do so again in the future, Neleh decided to adopt the same tactic she had used earlier and not explain anything. Her family had a rough idea what was going on, and that was enough. She could always come up with an excuse if some problematic rumors cropped up.
Aside from her work as a grand duchess, she also had another matter that required her attention. Now that Azrael had returned, she was able to convince the celestial to arrange for a visit to the celestial city that held the gate that allowed travel between worlds. The gate was something of a secret held by the celestials, and normally they would deny its existence, but Neleh was already familiar with the gate, and the celestial knew that the travelers that came through the gate years ago visited Neleh. As such, they might learn something about the gate if they allowed Neleh access.
Despite that, Neleh and Shiori were under heavy guard as they got to the gate, and the whole population of the city was observing them.
“You really draw crowds wherever you go.” Shiori said, while looking at the mass of celestials surrounding them on all sides as the got closer.
“What can I say? I just have a very captivating personality and charm.” Neleh joked.
Her joke failed a bit when Shiori simply replied: “Yes you do.”
Not wanting to waste time, Neleh weaved a fairly complex spell to activate the gate, which brought huge excitement to the gathered celestials. Neleh had hidden enough of her spell that they wouldn’t be able to replicate what she had done, but it did give them plenty of ideas on how to proceed in the future. Ignoring the commotion, Neleh sent a pre-prepared spell though the gate and simply allowed the gate to close. Turning away she spoke to Azrael.
“We are done here. We can return any time you’re ready.” She said simply.
Azrael scrunched her eye-brows in confusion. “That’s it? That’s all you wanted? All this fuss, and you just sent a single spell through the gate?”
“It’s not the amount of spells that matter, but the specifics.” She replied with an enigmatic smile.
Gabriel was in her office, preparing their plans for the war against the Enemy. Khali’s disappearance had thrown all their previous planning into turmoil, and the Enemy forces were already making the first moves, taking advantage of the confusion. With Khali’s direction gone, the forces of Inferno could not be counted on to do more than slow down the enemy advance. She hated the everliving sheit out of the demoness, but she had to admit Khali was excellent when it came to motivating and driving the fickle forces of Inferno. The lords of Inferno that were now locked into an internal struggle were almost useless in that regard, focusing on their own little power plays instead. Even if they did manage to solve things, they would not have the same kind of authority Khali had commanded.
“What happened to that hateful bitch?” Gabriel mumbled to herself.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Her assistant Asariel was the only one allowed to disturb her, and she knew better than to bother her with minor stuff. If Gabriel was the grand strategist and general, then Asariel was the one that kept things going on the other fronts, allowing Gabriel to focus on what was important. Gabriel frowned a bit, hoping it wasn’t more bad news.
“Enter.” She said simply, undoing the spell that disallowed everyone else entry.
The celestial that came in was more handsome than beautiful, and had a very proper air about her. Gabriel had no idea why Asariel insisted on wearing glasses, when she knew perfectly well there was no way the celestial had any issues with her eyesight. When she had asked, Asariel had mumbled something about maintaining a proper image.
“Executor. There’s a message for you.” Asariel frowned a bit. “The spell carrying the message was crafted well enough that it was able to travel through several gates and finally reached one of our outposts, before being asked to be delivered to you. The man in charge of the outpost was about to throw the message away, before deciding to send it to us just in case it was something important. Good thing he did I suppose, because the message had the code words Little Flame. I’m still not sure what that is about, but you’ve left me with standing orders that anything with those words should be brought to you immediately. The message doesn’t seem to be dangerous, but I do feel the aura of a Destroyer.”
Gabriel was grinning widely by the time Asariel had finished, which confused the celestial even further. Gabriel simply didn’t smile like that. “That’s fine. I’ll take the message and any others that come from the same source. I know who sent it. You can go now.” Gabriel made a small shooing motion once she received the message. Asariel was very curious to see the contents, but could recognize the obvious dismissal.
Once she was gone, Gabriel opened the package that was basically a spell surrounding a small ring of holding. The real message was inside the ring, and was apparently tuned to Gabriel’s aura. Someone determined enough would be able to get the contents, but it would take some time and effort. Gabriel trusted Neleh, but just in case protected herself with spells before taking a look at the contents, in case someone had sent her an elaborate trap.
The contents were an odd memory crystal and a written message. She put aside the memory crystal for now, and decided to read the message first. The message was indeed from Neleh. After an adequate amount of pleasantries and queries about the ongoing situation, the message got to the real point.
“I found something you misplaced. You’ll understand once you watch the recording in the memory crystal. It’s specially designed, so you can recognize the souls of those present. I think you will enjoy the contents very much. On another note, I could use a bit of help. I have a friend who happens to be gifted psionically, who could use some help training. I’ve provided what help I can, but you know I’m not a psionic myself. She could be great help against the forces of the Enemy, so I hope you can send someone knowledgeable to help with her training.” Gabriel paused in her reading for a bit.
“Her? Don’t tell me she found another woman while I’ve been gone…” She mumbled.
The letter continued. “I would also prefer if that person was skilled with manipulating the effects of the mind. I have a bit of a problem, and I think I might need your best. I know my request breaks some of the rules about meddling in mortal affairs however, making trades should be allowed, and I’m fairly certain that the contents of that memory crystal will be a sufficient compensation. I wish you all the best in your struggle, and I hope you will wish us best in ours.”
Now Gabriel was really intrigues about the contents of the memory crystal. Neleh’s request was not a small one, so what could the crystal contain that would be enough to compensate? As she looked at the contents, things started clicking into place. Gabriel could recognize Neleh’s sisters, and the crystal allowed her to recognize Khali’s soul within the baby.
“So that’s what she meant about finding something we lost. That explains a few things. I somewhat suspected that Khali was dead, but it’s nice to get a solid confirmation.” Gabriel continued talking to herself. “That said, it’s unfair that the bitch gets to reincarnate on the same world as Neleh. There must be some foul play involved. Grr, it’s unfair!”
She paid more attention to what was going on in the memory. Knowing Khali’s whereabouts was important, but not enough to compensate just yet. There had to be something more, judging by Neleh’s confidence. She watched in fascination as Neleh’s sisters treated Khali like a doll. And then the celestial costume came out.
“Yes! Yes! Do it!” Gabriel chanted out loud. “Make that bitch suffer!”
There was a sort of catharsis in seeing the desperate eyes of the baby, and even more as the celestial costume was put on. Asariel could hear Gabriel’s cheers and laughter even through the magical door. What in the name of heaven realm was going on? Soon she was called into the room, and she could still see tears of mirth in Gabriel’s eyes. No matter what content the message had, Asariel was thankful enough to kiss the sender. Gabriel had been burdened too much by the situation, and whatever brought her some release was more than great in her books.
“Asariel, get the best psionic you can find in the Host, and send them to the world specified here.” Gabriel said, handing her written instructions. “The psionic is to look for an elven woman by the name of Neleh Khalidor and obey their commands to the letter in all things.”
“The best you say? You know that I’m most likely the best psionic within the Host? Does that order include me?” Asariel asked a little eager. It was likely that this elven woman was the sender of that message. It didn’t make sense to give authority over the best psionic in the Host otherwise. She was eager to meet the person who could elicit such a reaction from Gabriel.
“Now that you mention it, you’re right. Are you willing to go, though? The visit will most likely be for a while.” Gabriel asked. She wanted to go herself, but she was not a psionic and she was also too busy.
“I can go. I’ll have my sister take over my duties in the meantime. She covers for me half the time anyway.” Asariel said with a smile.