Neleh rushed through the Nexus to reach one of the few doorways she had on the beastmen continent. It was hard to tell from such distance, but she didn’t think the doorway was that close to what was happening there. She had sent one of her students to monitor things with the fight between the beastmen and naga and their enemy, but she had recalled that person in preparation for the attack against the portal in the faerie continent. She regretted that decision now, though it was questionable if her student would’ve had the presence of mind to make a new doorway close to the action even if he had stayed there.
She could sense Shiori running behind her, but knew Khali was not with them. ‘That might be better. At least she can help defend our troops if Serpentia decides to take advantage of the situation. Though I wonder if Khali has the strength to fight Serpentia on her own.’ She though with a tinge of worry.
Neleh would’ve asked Elune what was going on, but it was likely that the goddess couldn’t answer currently, and even if she did, she probably didn’t know much more than Neleh herself. Not that she could do anything before getting there anyway, and she’d find out more details at that point anyway. Would the Eternal Empress know? That seemed doubtful, as Neleh had not heard of the Kirin taking part in the battle herself. She most likely relied on reports as well.
As she excited the doorway of her choice, Neleh quickly realized that she was indeed quite a bit of distance away from where the battle was taking place. Despite that, she could already see the bombardment of magic that was happening in the distance. The sky near the horizon was covered in nasty looking black clouds with lighting strikes everywhere and hail of icy lances falling towards the ground. Yet the most striking thing was a continuous bombardment of solar fire all over the horizon. Neleh knew that the mages of this world, even those among the dragons, were not capable of using the power of the sun in such a way. Whoever the lost-deity was, it was putting up one heck of a fight.
Neleh immediately utilized her flame seraph form to try and reach the battleground as fast as possible. She could feel Shiori rapidly moving along the ground, struggling to keep up. Shiori’s powers had reached a point where she could almost keep up with her full traveling speed, but she could feel her falling behind a bit. She would catch up. They had a pair of magical items that would allow them to find each other over large distances.
After several minutes of flying at full speed, Neleh started seeing the ongoing battle. Not the real battle against the lost-deity but the naga and beastmen fighting against a large army of magical constructs of various kinds. Some were golems and gargoyles covered in intricate magical runes, some were large obsidian sentinels that looked like huge dog headed statues swinging their fists and weapons around. There was also a large number of mages and genies using their magic to assault their enemies. Finally there were magical beings chained to the wills of the mages, ranging from insectoid scorpion-men and scarabs to what looked like rakshasa. All this, and still Neleh knew it was all a distraction. She could sense the death of much more powerful beings ahead. The naga and the beastmen were here to draw the focus of the enemy army away from the real battle, while the enemy was happy to oblige to keep them from interfering in whatever was happening ahead.
Couple of the mages tried to cast some spells at Neleh, but they had no hope of actually hitting from this range, considering the speed at which she moved. Shiori on the other hand might have trouble getting past the armies struggling below. As she moved closer to the maelstrom of magical power, she started seeing the bodies of beings that actually decided the result of this battle. Scattered across the devastated ground were the corpses of enormous colossi as well as the remains of magical birds of prey known as Simurgh. Both the colossi and the Simurgh were embodiments of magic, the colossi were enormous armor held together and moved by magic, while the birds were made of pure mana. They could even be called high level elementals of the arcane.
Yet the two beings were not the only corpses on the ground. For every dozen colossi and Simurgh, there was also a body of a dragon. Some bodies were relatively intact, while others were torn to shreds by various magical energies. The dragons had managed to push through, but they had paid a heavy price for doing so. There must have been at least a hundred dead dragons, the exact number being unclear as the bodies were not all intact. As the number of dragons in this world wasn’t enormous in the first place, losses like this would take centuries to recover. And that didn’t take into consideration any that had died in the battle raging ahead.
Just as Neleh was thinking about it, the battle ahead stopped, apparently reaching its conclusion. Neleh could feel the death of the lost-deity, so she knew that at the very least the dragons had not lost. She could feel that behind her, the army of magical constructs started losing its life, and the living members of the enemy army were being slain as they had lost most of their support. Especially the beastmen would have no mercy against the enemy, as their lands had been invaded. She could also feel the portal wink out of existence; apparently because the power that was keeping it open had disappeared.
When she finally reached the battleground, Neleh could do nothing but sigh in desperation at the devastation and the numerous corpses of dragons that were strewn across the place. She could see some of them were only wounded, while others moved between them trying to save whoever they could. Suddenly Neleh’s eyes were drawn to a form that was different from all the others, the form of a Kirin, or what was left of it anyway. As Neleh landed next to the form that was familiar to her, she could see that almost half of the majestic beast was missing, burnt off by the solar energies. Yet the Kirin was still breathing, if barely.
“Neleh.” The Kirin said in a relieved tone.
“What in the world would bring the Eternal Empress to take part in something like this?” Neleh asked a little sadly, using her magic to stem the flow of blood.
The Kirin gave a small mirthless laugh. “The desire to fly into battle one last time at the side of our cousins. It has been eons since the Kirin and dragons have joined forces. I thought it was time to do so at least once now that the future generation of my race is secured.”
Neleh harrumphed in dissatisfaction. “Silly dragons and their useless pride. No matter whether it’s the normal dragons or you Kirin, you all go stupid just to maintain your pride. I wonder if the dragon race will ever recover fully from this. And for what? We both know it’s my job to deal with the lost-deities.”
“Did we at least get her?” The Kirin asked with a faint smile.
“Yes it seems that you did. Not without throwing away most of your number, but you did.” Neleh replied.
“Then I’m satisfied. It was shameful of us to push everything on your shoulders. And despite what you say, I don’t think you could do it alone. There are some among us that know you’re not doing as well as you’re letting on. Can you do a favor? Could you go help my people win the battle they are waging? I’m fairly sure you saw it while coming here. The least I could do for them is to make sure they don’t lose too many of their number.” The Kirin pleaded.
“I think that problem already solved itself, but I’ll send a message to Shiori just in case. She’ll make sure there will be no undue surprises. That said, you’re speaking as if you’re going somewhere.” Neleh sent the message to Shiori, while teasing the Kirin a bit.
“Oh come now, I’ve lost half of my body. We both know how this ends, even for someone like me.” The Kirin scoffed.
“I really thought you’d know me better at this point.” Neleh smiled while shaking her head. “There are very few things besides death that can’t be healed. Something like losing your bottom half isn’t among those. In fact it’s much easier to fix than something you actually need like a heart or lungs.”
Slowly Neleh weaved a complex spell of healing that combined both the healing power of holy magic, the regenerative power of life magic and added death magic to keep the souls of those that were about to die from escaping. A bright golden aura surrounded her and started expanding from her into all directions. It covered the whole battlefield and started affecting every dragon still struggling to maintain their hold on life. She added the cleansing effect of the Flames of Life for good measure to remove any foreign mana and substances inside the wounded beings. Neleh felt good doing this since this was something she was good at. As a Destroyer she rarely got to use her power to save others. That didn’t mean she didn’t spend a lot of time and effort to master that skill.
The Eternal Empress gasped in pain as the burn injuries were purified and her lower half started growing back. First the flesh and bone, then the nerves and magical pathways and finally the missing organs and the scales covering her body. Her lower half looked and felt like new, and if it wasn’t for the debilitating tiredness that came along with the healing, she was almost tempted to ask for her top half to get healed as well. As the golden glow disappeared several minutes later, she suddenly rushed to support Neleh, who had stumbled a bit once the power left her.
“Are you alright?!” The Eternal Empress asked half in panic.
“I’m fine. It just took a little more out of me than I thought. Dragons aren’t easy to heal.” Neleh said with a small but tired voice.
Suddenly the two were aware of several people gathering around them. The dragons in human form were making a circle around them, all of them going down on one knee and bowing their heads without a word. They could see that there were still way too many dead bodies of dragons around them, but significantly less than there had been before. Apparently the dragons were harder to kill than it seemed. Neleh noted that Zamekh was among those kneeling before them, but the dragon eldest was not. She could see the enormous body of the dragon eldest lying on the ground close to where the portal had been.
It was Zamekh that finally broke the silence. “Little Sister. Your power might have saved us from a disaster.”
Neleh sighed. “No, you’re still facing a disaster but at least you still have a chance to recover. Too many of your kind have died this day. I assume you made preparations before embarking on this but it will still take you thousands of years to replace those that died today.” She gave another sigh. “You may join us yourself, but for the other dragons this war is over.”
Zamekh looked up and started to protest, but Neleh interrupted him. “No. I know you have your pride as dragons, but what is the point if this world loses your race to satisfy that pride. You have killed one of the lost-deities, and judging by what I sensed the strongest lost-deity to enter our world, with the possible exception of the one you chose to avoid at the faerie lands. Take the victory you have gained and be proud of it. Then focus on survival. Know your limits. There’s a difference between fighting for your pride and throwing your life away uselessly.”
After a moment of silence all the dragons brought a fist to their heart in acknowledgement. “As our queen demands.” Zamekh declared in their stead.
Neleh looked at him sharply. She knew the implications of those words. The dragons had already made their choice and denying would crush their remaining pride that she had already damaged. There was also a possibility that they had made this choice so that her words would have the necessary weight to keep the other dragons out of battle. “So be it then. Now look after the dead.” She finally said, dispersing the kneeling dragons.
“Come, there is one more matter we have to see to.” Neleh said to the Eternal Empress helping her stand and who had also switched to her Naga form.
Neleh had no trouble finding the remains of the lost-deity. Even the wrath of the dragons had not been enough to destroy them. The ground around this spot was completely charred black from the attacks she had resisted. The lost-deity took the form of a graceful woman made of fire that had become solid. Even sliced in two her form still had the perfection rarely seen in mortals. “Sol.” Neleh mumbled a name while pain twisted her features.
Even the Eternal Empress noticed the weird grief on Neleh’s face. “You knew her didn’t you?” She suddenly asked realizing something.
“In a way. We weren’t close if that’s what you mean, but we were aware of each other.” Neleh said pain evident in her voice.
“Then why?” The Eternal Empress asked in confusion.
“Because her becoming a lost-deity is due to my actions. This is my responsibility.” Neleh said, refusing to explain further.
She used her magic to form a field of power around both halves of Sol’s corpse, lifting it off the ground. Then she created a doorway back to Nexus, taking both Sol’s body and the Eternal Empress with her. Once they reached the mansion, Neleh used her magic to create a grave for Sol on a sunny hill with a simple headstone with the symbol of the sun. Unlike with the two lost-deities she had killed earlier, there was no need to destroy the embodiment of Sol’s soul as she had come to this world using her own original body and thus couldn’t try escaping.
The Eternal Empress could not understand Neleh’s behavior, and was a little weirded considering Sol was the enemy so many dragons died defeating, and who had almost killed her as well. She assumed it was something like giving respect to a worthy enemy and allowed Neleh her moment, as she had earned it by saving her and many of the dragons. As Neleh showed no sign of moving from the grave, she finally left once Shiori returned to the Nexus with Khali and was shown out.
“What is it?” Khali finally asked once the naga was gone.
After a moment of silence Neleh finally spoke. “Do you remember how I beat the Enemy last time?”
“Yeah, I heard you went kind of berserk, giving into your powers as a Destroyer.” Khali said, a little confused to the change in subject.
“And do you remember what the price was for that?” Neleh asked again.
Khali frowned finally starting to suspect where this was going. “I heard several worlds were destroyed.”
“Sol was one of the goddesses of the worlds that were destroyed at that time. She was the goddess of sun and by all accounts was one of those deities loved by all. I had visited their world not long before the Enemy came, and the world was gone when I tried to return much later. I can tell the difference between a world lost to the Enemy and a world drained by one like me. It didn’t take much to put the two together.” Neleh explained.
“Oh shit.” Khali cursed.
“Oh shit indeed. I was the one who turned Sol into a lost-deity. And now the dragons paid the price for that.” Neleh said simply.
“You can’t take the blame for the dragons. Even if it had not been Sol, some other lost-deity would’ve likely taken her place. Besides, it was the dragon’s stupidity for picking that fight. Besides, it’s hardly your fault if there are some sacrifices when fighting the Enemy. The damage would’ve been much worse if you had not done it.” Khali said a little angry.
Neleh looked at Khali in slight surprise, before she realized something. “Ah, you think I’m beating myself up because I feel guilty? No, I’m not the type to carry false guilt around, thinking that everything is my fault. However, this is my responsibility. There’s a difference between the two. I’m simply acknowledging my role in this. I’m also thinking about how to avoid something like this in the future.”
Khali gave a small sigh of relief. “You do realize though that you might not be able to avoid it? Even if Gabriel comes here, you might still have to use your powers again to defeat the Enemy. That might lead to others like Sol.”
“That is a distinct possibility. Not what I was talking about though. There might be nothing to do this cycle, but I’m trying to think of a way to make sure there won’t be a next time.” Neleh said resolutely.
“You think we can do that? The Enemy always comes back.” Khali asked.
“I’ve been trying to figure that out, and I think I’ve realized something. If I’m right, then there might be a way to stop the cycle, but it will require a bit different approach than has been used so far.” Neleh said half lost in thought.
“Well don’t’ keep me in suspense.” Khali prompted.
“No, I need more information before I can give a full explanation. I’ve already asked Elune to try and contact Fate.” Neleh shook her head in denial.
“You think the old bastard will tell you anything?” Khali wondered, not really hoping much.
“Not as such, but I think he owes me an answer to a straight question. That’ll be enough.” Neleh said resolutely.