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A/N: A bit shorter chapter, but I assumed you'd rather have this one now, than a half page longer one after christmas. Speaking of, I will be visiting family during the holidays, and I can't say how much I will be able to do in the way of writing. Assuming I can even write, I don't know when I'll be able to post them. I'm hoping that I'll at least get some writing done, and then post everything after I come home, but we'll see. I hope you all enjoy the chapter and the holidays!

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As Neleh and Shiori entered the room they had semi-officially named as the war council, they could see that the other important military personnel had already gathered. In fashion similar to the room for the council of Electors, the room had a large table in the center with chairs for the most important people and a lot of room on the sides for the other officers to both listen in and offer feedback and ideas. Unlike the Elector room, the war council had a much larger table that was filled with detailed maps of especially the elven continent, but the elves had maps of the world as well. The various races didn’t take a positive view of other races trying to make maps of their continents, so the maps of the other continents were not as detailed.

Unlike in official court events, Neleh waved everyone back to their chairs before they even had chance to kneel. This was not the time or place for ceremony. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure all of you have been briefed about the upcoming storm, and have been told all the details that we could anticipate. Well, just two hours ago, I felt the opening of several portals to other worlds. These portals will allow our enemies the access to our world. The storm is here. It’s a bit earlier that I anticipated, but that’s just something that we’ll have to deal with.” Neleh started the proceedings, meeting the eyes of everyone gathered.

Most of the people here were officers of the Order, which now included the elven army and the Templars. Estelar lead the forces that formerly belonged to the army, Lysanthir had managed to retain his position as the grandmaster of the Templar after going through the Order training. That made Estelar also the leader of the first Order and Lysanthir the leader of the third Order. Elendil Arnor, the demon commander that had lead the Order forces during the war against the Caledor duchy had become the leader of the fourth Order, but also worked as a secondary battle commander second only to Estelar. Somewhat surprisingly Daemon Lucian had decided to take the Order training a year into Neleh’s reign and had shown great skill in planning support and logistics. As such, he had become the leader of the second Order.

Neleh’s old warrior skills teacher Dalyor had found his calling in the fifth Order and even became the nominal leader. Everyone knew however that the real power was in the hands of Shiori, as her words superseded even Dalyor’s, but this was in large part because she had become the instrument and unofficial voice of Neleh. It would not look if Neleh ordered the removal of certain people, so Shiori did it in her stead, which provided a certain level of deniability. The other reason Shiori wasn’t the official leader, was because she was so often personally sent on missions by Neleh. As Neleh’s mobility was hampered by her position as the Empress, she sent Shiori instead to work as her eyes and ears, and if necessary also her enforcer.

The only person at the table who wasn’t part of the Order was Nimue, who was Neleh’s primary advisor and represented the civilian angle in such meetings. “How many portals and where?” Nimue asked.

“So far, I can detect five portals. It’s hard to tell exactly from this distance, but I would estimate one portal per continent. On a related note, the faerie continent is no more. That continent is nothing but a wasteland now.” Neleh’s words caused a commotion, especially among the faerie members of the gathered officers. Their eyes were filled with sadness and rage.

“How?” Elendil asked simply.

“It was our enemies’ first strike. It was originally aimed at the capitol of the celestials, but I managed to redirect it. I had to make a choice, and the faerie continent was almost uninhabited. We’ll have to try and help our faerie friends restore things after this war is over, should they desire to return home.” Neleh said in a solemn voice.

“Should we expect more similar attacks?” Elendil continued.

“Not the same kind. This attack was…shall we say rather unique. That said, we might face attacks of similar strength in the future, but hopefully we will be better prepared.” Neleh answered with a corner of her mouth twitching into a half smile.

“We have started mobilizing our forces, and will be able to move in force within few days. The first forces can be sent immediately. You said one of the portals per continent, so I assume we got one too? Where exactly?” Lysanthir asked.

“I can’t tell the exact location, because the magical interference is too thick, but roughly south of the Sun Elven lands, within the great forest. I’ve sent my best scouts as well as my special unit to find out the exact location and to determine the nature of our enemy.” Neleh replied.

“Do you think it’s a good idea to send your students? Those people are a little…shall we say battle crazy. I doubt they can resist the chance to make first contact with the enemy.” Nimue pointed out, as she was well aware of the special forces Neleh was referring to.

“I wouldn’t worry overtly much. They will strike the first blow, but they will also retreat in time. I promised that if anyone of them got too antsy or battle crazy, I’d personally immortalize their name as the first failure of this war, and have it cast in stone for all to see.” Neleh gave a small grin, remembering the looks she had gotten when she made that promise.

“I assume our plan is to deal with the portal within our continent first?” Estelar asked.

“Indeed. I want to get the first enemy faction dealt with as soon as possible, so we can focus on the others. The enemy won’t be expecting the strength we have, and I hope to catch them by surprise.” She replied.

“I’m guessing the portals will be the lynchpin of this whole war? Those seem to be the only way for them to bring forces into our world. Will there be more of them?” Lucian asked. The young demon wasn’t usually very vocal among the other leaders, but usually had good ideas.

“Yes the portals will be the key, but for a different reason than you assume. The lost-deities managed to open these portals, so they are capable of opening more of them. However, each time they do so, it will cost them a lot of power, and that power is much harder to get back, since it is something that is a remnant of their time as deities. To answer your question, yes they are capable of opening more portals, but will not do so unless absolutely necessary. However, I can’t say whether these five portals represent all the enemies we will have to deal with during the storm. There may be others in the future.

The real reason why the portals are the key, is that if we manage to threaten the portals, it is likely that the lost-deities themselves will step up to defend them personally. If we manage to kill them, and then close the portal so that no further forces can come through, then we have won against that enemy. Make no mistake, the real enemies during this war are the lost-deities themselves, and the forces they command are simply a means to an end. Kill the lost-deities, and the rest will fall into place.” Neleh explained to the grim faced commanders.

“Can we kill them? I know you gave us an explanation about their nature, but I’m still confused. You call them lost-deities, but I can’t fathom anyone being able to kill a deity like Elune. What are we facing really? You said we can expect to face something that can wipe out a continent in one attack, so how can we fight something like that?” Lysanthir asked with a worried voice.

Neleh gave a small sigh, as she knew this was coming. “There are some things you are not aware of in play. Let’s just say that I was born specifically to fight the lost-deities. Not to say it will be easy, but it can be done. However, it will require me to focus on them specifically. You are the ones who have to fight the war, while I stay alert for them. This is not common knowledge but even deities can be killed, regardless if they’re lost-deities like our enemies, or even goddesses like Elune. Our enemies don’t have the power of real deities anymore, so killing them is easier than it would be to face our own goddess.” Neleh reassured them. This was one of the reasons she had encouraged the rumors of her divine origins. It would give a source of confidence to her followers, because in their minds it would no longer be a mortal facing a god, but two demi-gods facing each other.

After a moment of silence, one of the junior officers asked. “What happens, Elune forbid, should you lose?”

“Then the only way will be to throw your lives at them until they tire themselves out. Try to combine your powers instead of attacking alone. I have no plans of losing though. I have a trump card of my own. Only…” Neleh hesitated if she should give any details. Telling them a bit might bolster their confidence.

“Only what?” Lysanthir asked.

“Only that the trump card comes with a price. A price we might not be willing to pay. Let’s save that for now though. We have a war to fight, a portal to close, and a pretend-god to kill.” Neleh finished by giving a solemn warriors salute to everyone. The effect of that was similar to a cheer going through the room, but instead of jubilation, everyone was filled with grim determination as they returned the greeting.

-----

As she and Shiori were walking back towards their room to make additional plans, Neleh felt a magical communication coming from Khali. “I assume you already noticed?” Neleh simply asked, before Khali actually had the chance to say anything.

“Of course. It’s not just that though. We have a big problem. Well, we have two problems, one big and one really problematic.” Khali’s disgruntled voice came through.

“Tell me.” Neleh asked with a sigh.

“The problem number one. I don’t know if you noticed, but with the faeries gone, the demons will be pressed on two fronts, from our own portal as well as the one in the faerie continent. Dealing with the one on our continent is one thing, but we won’t be able to deal with both. I haven’t reached the kind of power yet to make miracles happen.” One of the reasons Khali was staying on this world, was that fighting these enemies would provide her with the power she needed to return to the bigger stage of Inferno.

“I’ll ask one of the other races to help you. Luckily we have some strength in reserve.” Neleh replied calmly. There had to be more, otherwise Khali wouldn’t be this worried.

“Which brings us to the problem number two. The former demon lord managed to use her powers to get a look on the forces coming through the gate in the faerie lands. It’s not enough that the lost-deity was strong enough to chuck a portal at us, but the forces he commands are a real problem. Neleh, they’re sending through Trow and Blades.” Khali mentioned two very problematic names.

“Shit. That’s a problem. Give me a moment to think.” Neleh replied.

Trow were a race of giants with a penchant for genocide. Their huge stature, enormous strength and thick skin would’ve been enough to make them one of the peak warrior races in the universe. The real problem was that the Trow clad themselves in armor that could be almost half a meter thick at places. The lowest level Trow might have an armor made purely of iron or steel, but the elites would be clad in magical armor made of the best of metals. Assumedly with the help of a lost-deity the Trow would not be of the iron variety. The only good thing about Trow was that there wasn’t a huge amount of them, but that was a slim comfort when even a single Trow was able to devastate small armies.

The other race called Blades wasn’t all that much better. The Blades were a race of magical constructs made of a strong dark metal. They ranged from human sized weaker individuals to almost dragon sized elites. The Soulforgers of the blades created their metal bodies and sealed malicious shades within the cold shells, all of them united by hatred towards the living. Their name came from their razor sharp claws and the blades that stuck out all over their bodies. The Blades were not quite as powerful as the Trow, but they were much more numerous.

Both of those races were among the most powerful warrior races, united by their near immunity against conventional weapons. The Blades had no weak spots for warriors to strike at, while trying to melee the Trow was suicide. Luckily neither race had much skill in magic, but their powerful bodies made them very resistant against many attack spells. It was somewhat useless to throw a fireball at a metal body that could simply shrug off the heat.

“Ok, I’ll have to ask the celestials to try and fight them, as their ability to fly should give them a relative advantage. They might not be able to fight the enemies straight on, but a skirmish style should work alright. I’ll have to see if I can convince the dragons to also fight them. I doubt the celestials will have a very good time against the Trow, and the dragons are likely the only ones capable of killing them in any significant numbers.” Neleh finally said.

“They should at least be able to delay them until we can focus on them. I see a problem with this plan though.” Khali replied.

“I know. This leaves only the Naga in the reserve, while we still have too extra fronts that might collapse. I’m confident in our abilities, but we will have trouble if the beastmen and humans both start losing their battles.” Neleh said in a grim voice.

“We might be forced into choosing which of the two to save.” Khali pointed out.

“I think that is a very distinct possibility. I’ll ask the Naga to start moving their forces towards the two continents. I just hope that we’ll manage to deal with our portal and come to the aid of the other race before it is too late.” Neleh said with a bad premonition. She had another hunch, and a very grim one.

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