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A/N: Had a little trouble with this one, but I hope it came out good enough.

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Although the events surrounding Asheara’s return left their mark on the people surrounding her, the rest of the world had little care for such things and things were moving on. It would in fact be a fair while before Neleh and Asheara would have their first proper conversation after her return, because the matters of the world at large drew Neleh away. While she wasn’t happy about the turn of events, it did allow her to take some distance and think about the matter with a clearer head. It also allowed her to quell the emotions that had become so problematic again.

While many matters of note were happening at once, the one that required the most urgent attention from Neleh was the growing rift between the Sun Elves and the Moon Elves. The two clans were rivals at the best of times, only putting aside their differences at the time of crisis, like the previous civil war had shown. The short lived alliance against the old emperor and the Eldarinwe had long since collapsed, and their old rivalries had once again surfaced. For a while, these rivalries had been suppressed by the events that had befallen the Sun Palace and the following recovery period. Even though the two clans were rivals, they did not actually wish to cause the fall of the other clan, so the Moon Elves had been generous in allowing the Sun Elves a certain grace period to recover.

The reason the renewed rivalries required Neleh’s attention was because she was in many ways the main source of the renewed conflicts. The rise of Jao’e’Tinukai had brought many changes, great wealth and a shift in the power structure of the elven race. Neleh’s rising authority and the multi-ethnic nature of her domain suppressed the power and influence of both the empire and the Eldarinwe. As the majority of the wealth in the traditionally Eldarinwe lands went into the hands of those living in Neleh’s domain, it was out of the hands of the Eldarinwe clan. The lands she controlled had also been some of the richest and most powerful even before her intervention and that power was no longer predominantly in Eldarinwe hands. Add in that more and more people looked towards Neleh for guidance instead of the empress, and the empire had less influence.

This removed some of the checks holding the rivalry of the other two clans back, since they didn’t need to worry about the Eldarinwe clan or the intervention of the empress. One of the main driving forces behind the renewed rivalry was the fact that Moon Elves tended to benefit more from the changes made by Neleh than Sun Elves. This wasn’t done by any purposeful bias by Neleh, it was just a matter of her changes being more beneficial to the parts of the economy favored by Moon Elves. Sun Elves tended to focus more on magic and magical products, which were now provided by Jao’e’Tinukai instead in larger quantities and better qualities.

There was also the rising authority of the temples that were traditionally the domain of the Moon Elves. Elune clearly favored the actions made by Neleh, and Neleh also improved the position of the temples in her domain. Her shining figure as the Chosen also encouraged the other areas to put more emphasis on the temples of Elune, as in all parts of the empire new temples were constructed with the backing of both the existing clergy and Jao’e’Tinukai. Interestingly all the new temples decided to have any of their statues, carvings and paintings of Elune depicted in the form she had used lately, which was identical to Neleh in all but the aura surrounding them.

It also didn’t escape the notice of anyone, that the ruler of the new and highly successful grand duchy was a Moon Elf herself. This gave the clan a huge boost in confidence, and made them think of themselves as superior to the other two clans. The Eldarinwe were still collectively feeling the effects of the civil war, and in effect let this feeling of superiority pass, but the Sun Elves were incensed by the development. They tried to fight against this sentiment, which lead to arguments and even violence on occasion.

The real issue however lay in a rather recent development. Neleh had tried to build up her image among the populace and was supported in these efforts by Elune herself. It turned out that their efforts had been perhaps a little too successful. When you combined some of her feats like saving the faerie race and providing them a sanctuary, forming the greatest economic and military power in the empire from a single duchy and forcing peace between the disparate races with the advancements she brought and the influence she wielded as a Chosen and the populace slowly started viewing her as something beyond a mortal being. When you add in the obvious favor of Elune, her superior knowledge and abilities and the grace she showed when dealing with the common people and certain rumors started to circulate.

The rumors started among the common populace of the Moon Elves as simple hints at divine origin, but as is wont to happen, rumors and legends only grow more fanciful in telling. These rumors were reinforced by the identical appearances between the figures of the goddess and the already existing rumors of the ‘Golden Goddess’ to form a narrative that was very appealing to the people, and was reinforced by the other factors mentioned. What emerged were two competing theories where Neleh was either the embodiment of the Goddess Elune or a being created by her to lead the elves into a new golden age.

This was not something that happened suddenly and unforeseen to Neleh or Elune, in fact both of them utilized this to further their own goals. The rumors improved Neleh’s standing and helped to combat the pleasure cults as it was known that Neleh opposed them vigorously. Elune on the other hand became more important and focal in the lives of her chosen people, increasing their attendance in rituals and increased their willingness to pray to their goddess. This in turn increased her power as a deity. She also found it really funny.

As such, neither of them did anything to deter the spread of these rumors, and Elune even went so far as to actively encourage them. The goddess had previously appeared in the dreams of her followers after prayers to provide help and guidance. Now she made sure to appear in those dreams in the appearance now becoming synonymous with her instead of simply appearing as a voice. However, the strength and speed at which these theories and rumors spread surprised both of them.

By the time of Asheara’s return, almost the entirety of the Moon Elf commoner populace was convinced of Neleh’s divine origin, and even the majority of the nobility and the royal family were part of the new wave spreading across the clan deifying Neleh. Eldarinwe and Sun Elf commoners were coming around to the position, while their nobility was completely against it. The Sun Elves especially were unhappy with the recent development. The followers of the faction believing in Neleh’s divinity were recently coming into violent blows with those who opposed them. Those in opposition viewed it as blasphemy.

The whole situation could be somewhat remedied if Elune took a firm stance against the growing movement, but that was not something she was willing to do. For one, the situation was actually good for her and taking a stance against the rumors might be detrimental both for her and Neleh. In addition, while the rumors were mistaken about Neleh being her embodiment, they were right in the fact that her birth was far from normal. With the part the deities had taken in her reincarnation, it could be said that her birth was divinely influenced. While her main function was to be a bulwark against the coming storm, it was also likely that her actions would bring about great improvements to the elves for as long as they didn’t fight against it too hard. As such, the second theory wasn’t that far from the truth.

The Sun Elves had called for a gathering in the imperial palace to deal with the matter.

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While Neleh had an almost instant travel possibility, she was ironically the last person to arrive. This was because the Sun Elf king had wanted to get the negotiations started before she arrived. In fact, he would have preferred to get matters concluded without her input and simply present the result to Neleh as something already concluded. That would force her to either go along with whatever they decided or directly defy they authority. It was clear to everyone that this was in essence an open declaration of hostilities, as a maneuver like this was something you could only do once before incurring a backlash from the person targeted. The other important people among the elves were less than pleased with tactics like this, especially those that supported Neleh, but they could appreciate the seriousness of the path the Sun Elf king had chosen.

Neleh of had course gotten the information from her Order spies. Although she got the information with plenty of room to react, she chose to let King Aelrindel think his little gambit had succeeded, and was proceeding through the halls of the imperial palace while the proceedings had already started. She wanted everyone to be aware that she had gotten the declaration of hostilities loud and clear and wanted to make sure everyone else also understood the situation. She also wanted to make a point of showing that no gathering like this could happen without her notice, even if the participants didn’t exactly advertise it. It also made for a dramatic entrance.

As she walked through the halls and corridors, she could see the badly hidden grins and nods from the members of the Legion of Phoenix. The imperial guard had seen countless emperors rise and fall, and by now they could see where the wind was blowing. They knew they were greeting their future charge, and took some joy in seeing her schemes succeed. It was something of a matter of pride for the Legion when their charge was really worthy of their services. It also helped that the symbol of the Jao’e’Tinukai grand duchy was a phoenix. They considered it to be a clever way for Neleh to announce her future plans without making it too obvious. Of course that wasn’t actually the reason she had chosen that as a symbol, but she allowed the Legion their fun.

She could hear heated discussion through the door as she approach the grand hall where the proceedings were taking place. Ironically they had chosen to use the same room where they had selected the current empress and decided on the elector system. Aelrindel wanted to use the symbolism of the room to his advantage, as he was planning on cutting Neleh’s path to become the next empress after Nimue in the same place she had stopped his own bid for the same position. It also happened to be a great place for such negotiations, so the others had not objected.

The guards standing at the doorway flung the doors open with more strength and flourish than was necessary, both to draw everyone’s eyes to the doors and to show their own support. Judging by their looks, the guards were the part of the populace that agreed to the theories about Neleh’s origin. To utilize the moment, Neleh put some extra strength to her aura, so that she looked especially majestic and graceful as she walked towards her position at the center of the room. Her presence had put a stop to the voices arguing.

Aelrindel had arranged for the empress herself to take Neleh’s assigned position around the table. The electors had become the leading positions in the empire, and the table was designed for them, so there wasn’t an assigned place for the empress. Aelrindel’s idea had been to force Neleh into making a scene if she arrived, in an attempt to make her seem less impressive. The idea had not been a bad one, the young king was learning the ways of scheming, but he could only gnash his teeth, as three electors at once stood up to give their place to Neleh. Interestingly two of those electors belonged to the Eldarinwe, who moved of their own volition, while the last one was one of the Moon Elf electors who moved under Queen Amaranthae’s signal.

Neleh decided to take the seat of the Eldarinwe electors as she was nominally a grand duke in the area controlled by that clan. She also reasoned that the Moon Elves would be her supporters at the table, so it was beneficial to let them stay. Yunalesca and Nimue greeted Neleh with a small grin, while Lysanthir the leader of the Templars gave a small nod in greeting. To all three of them, this whole affair was incredibly amusing, as they, more than anyone else, were aware of Neleh’s true purpose and connection with the goddess.

“Don’t let my arrival interrupt your little speech dear Aelrindel. I think you were in the middle of describing some kind of blasphemy in the name of gaining power. I’d be most interested to find out more about this. Who would dare to do such a thing? This is an outrage I need to respond to as the Chosen.” Neleh declared with a small smile, bringing out a gale of laughter from the gathered nobility.

“Lady Neleh’s word might be flippant, but the issue is not something to be made fun of. You have caused an upheaval with your actions, and someone in your position making claim to a divine origin is a matter that requires a serious response.” Aelrindel replied angrily.

The others were only too happy to watch things play out between the Sun Elf king and Neleh, so they remained quiet. “Upheaval is rather slanderous way to describe things. I’ve simply made the best of the situation presented to me. No one can deny that my actions have improved the lot of those living in lands under my rule. If you have trouble adjusting to the changed world, then that’s just too bad. It is not the problem of the rest of us. Also, I’d like to point out that I have at no point made even a single claim towards a divine origin. I’m rather shocked you’d even get such an idea somewhere.” Neleh replied with a light voice.

A look of things according to his plans appeared on Aelrindel’s face. “So you deny these rumors then? You’re publicly saying that these rumors are false?”

“While that is what you’d like to read into my words, unfortunately that’s not what I said. Although the rumors about me being the embodiment are a bit wild, it is not my place to make any claims concerning my heritage when it comes to the deities. I wouldn’t know if our goddess had a hand in things or not. However, I would like to point out that the goddess herself could easily dispel these rumors if she wanted and it would be highly dangerous for me to make any false claims as her Chosen. We just so happen to have several representatives of the temple at this very table. Tell me Grand Inquisitor, High Priestess and Grandmaster, has the goddess given any word concerning these theories?” Neleh deftly threw the focus on the other religious figures at the table.

Lysanthir only grunted in the negative, while Yunalesca replied with a wide smile. “The Inquisition has received no such word or instructions from the goddess. As far as we know, these rumors might be true.”

Surprisingly the newly selected High Priestess decided to actually endorse Neleh’s position. “The goddess has not given any hints to show disapproval to these theories. In fact, all contact we’ve had with the goddess seems to indicate that she approves of these theories. In fact, the goddess has taken the appearance of the Chosen in all cases. Or maybe we should speculate that the Chosen is taking the form of the goddess due to her influence?”

“This is ridiculous! You speak of dreams of those already influenced by faith. Do you not that those dreams are influenced by the statues now found in every temple of Elune? Temples either built or sponsored her!” Aelrindel said in anger.

“You would be correct in assuming that I have helped build temples around the land, but you are clearly unaware how the artists choose to show the form of the goddess. They have always and will always be divinely inspired, because the prayers made by her image strengthen her. If I tried to meddle in that, the goddess herself would strike me down. If the goddess has a form similar to mine, then I’ll be honored but not read too much into it.” Neleh replied.

“Bah! All you say is sophistry and dodging the issue. The only reason you are refusing to counter these rumors is because of the power they provide you. So far you have taken a wishy-washy attitude towards them, but I will no longer allow it. I demand that you make your position clear! Either you claim these rumors are true or you admit they are false in front of all these people. This kind of power cannot be allowed to be wielded by a single person, especially if you haven’t earned it.” If arguments didn’t work, then he wanted to force the issue.

“I don’t know why you do this to yourself Aelrindel. You claim that no one should have this kind of authority, but you are within the imperial palace. The empress has always had even more authority. You make demands towards my actions just because the current situation goes against your own selfish interests. You try to exclude me from these proceedings, not even allowing me the courtesy of defending myself. Your actions are those of a rat, not a king. In addition, you have performed several action unfit to your station.

I said before that it is not my place to judge, but I shall grant you your judgement. Let the goddess herself decide the truth of these matters. However, I will have you be judged as well. I claim you unfit to rule Sun Elf clan and kingdom. If the goddess’ judgement of me confirms my position, then I demand your removal from that position as a menace to the empire and race! Either you do so voluntarily, or we will have you removed by force.” Neleh made her demand, while standing up and pointing a finger in judgement at the young king.

Aelrindel scowled at Neleh, but he knew that he had no other option but to agree. He could try running away, but that would effectively remove him from his position anyway, as his own people would have him removed for showing such a disgrace. On the other hand, this way he could force an absolute judgment on Neleh. “So be it then.” He declared.

“That was rather mean of you. You know that I would be lying if I didn’t agree that your origins are at least partly divine, and knew I would give you my blessing. If I didn’t know better, I would think you are taking advantage of me.” Elune said, but her voice was not judging but amused instead.

‘Take any advantage you can, is my motto. The young king has been a thorn in my side for too long. Time to get rid of him. I’ll pay the favor back later, although I believe you still owe me one.’ Neleh replied quietly as she floated above the table, before the light of Elune fell upon her. Everyone could see that light was in favor and not judgement.

“You do realize that this just made certain that your time as the empress will become even sooner?” Elune asked getting slightly serious.

‘Things were headed that way anyway. If it comes, then let it come.’ Neleh thought back resigned.

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Vihyungrang

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