The lost-deity leading the undead horde surveyed the battlefield through the eyes of its servants. In any other situation the arrival of enemies capable of devastating the forces it had created would have caused it to interfere personally. It had spent quite a bit of effort creating and cultivating the higher ranked undead after all, and their loss was bothersome. Re-creating the undead dragons that were being torn to shreds by the psionic lightning would take a long time. The grim riders were another being that took a lot of time and effort to create. Both of them were much easier to re-animate if they were damaged than it was to create from scratch, except re-animation was impossible when they were being destroyed by light- and holy magic as was their fate at the moment. So it would be much better to drive the enemy away.
The only thing was that the lost-deity recognized the golden celestial that was busy annihilating the undead. All the lost-deities would recognize the Executor of the Celestial Host. While most lost-deities were consumed by bloodlust, resentment and other feelings that drove them to battle, they usually weren’t stupid. This one in particular had the cold calm of death and knew its limits. One of those limits was that it would not be able to fight against Gabriel. It specialized in creating and controlling large amounts of powerful minions, as well as causing death on a massive scale against weaker enemies. Single combat against individuals stronger than itself was not its specialty, as beings that could rival it in power were usually also resistant to its powers over death.
It had no idea what the Executor of the Celestial Host was doing on this world, but that was the current reality so there was no point in trying to fight against that fact. Instead the lost-deity decided to take the best option available and ordered all the undead forces to start retreating back towards the portal. It was time to cut its losses and retreat. The invasion of this world had already gone sideways despite the number of lost-deities that had committed to the invasion. It was doubtful if the lost-deity would’ve have been able to win even if the Executor had not come. Whatever or whoever had been killing the lost-deities would eventually come for it too, and it knew better than to fight against an opponent that could kill Serpentia. Even the Executor would’ve had a proper fight against Serpentia, who had been one of the oldest and most powerful lost-deities
Besides, this had not been a total loss. The presence of at least one lost-deity on this world allowed master to draw on the negative feelings of this world. While this world had reacted more stoically than most worlds would in the circumstances, these humans at least had been a good source of power for a while. That power would help master when it came time to fight the Executor who had pushed the undead back. That power might also be the difference between a victory and defeat.
Alexis watched as the last of the undead were being destroyed, while at the same time trying to re-organize the human forces while the celestials were busy with their hunt. As a death mage himself, he knew that the celestials were much better suited for that job. Users of light and holy magic were much more effective against undead and beings of death and darkness. The same applied the other way around, so a battle between a death mage and a light mage often became an arms race where the victor could destroy the enemy with impunity. The celestials were clearly the victors this time, hence the scene unfolding before them.
As his brother Sanguinius also joined in on the effort of trying to establish order, Alexis finally got enough time to send a word towards the capitol city to halt the evacuation for now. Assuming the celestials were here to help for more than one battle, there would no longer be a need for an evacuation. ‘Which reminds me; I need to get in touch with the celestials and find out if they really are here to help win the war. That weird golden celestial seemed to be their leader. Where did she disappear?’
Alexis didn’t have to wait for long as he noticed several celestials approaching his command point, led by the golden celestial that luckily was a bit less radiant out of battle. A total of thirteen celestials came towards him, one of whom Alexis recognized as Azrael. The two had trained together under Neleh, so they were at least somewhat familiar with each other, even though Azrael had spent a lot less time with the other people trained by Neleh.
The golden celestial stepped up towards Alexis. “Are you the leader of these humans?” She asked in a voice that brook no-nonsense.
“For now that seems to be the case, though that might change soon. Our emperor fell in battle, as did many of our generals and the Chosen. That leaves either me or my brother in charge for now. I’m Prince Alexis. Dare I inquire as to the identity of our savior?” Alexis replied, managing to return to his diplomatic persona.
“I am Gabriel, the Executor of Celestial Host. As that won’t most likely mean anything to you, suffice to say that I lead the battle against the forces of the Enemy across the worlds attacked by his servants. Worlds such as yours.” Gabriel replied and gave a small gesture towards the other celestials following her, which allowed Alexis to understand that they too were not from this world. Aside from Azrael of course.
‘Well this is…she’s a real big shot isn’t she?’ Alexis thought to himself.
“Hmm, not that I want to sound ungrateful, but aren’t you a bit late in arriving? I appreciate the help, but it’s a bit last minute compared to when the attack started.” Alexis couldn’t help but point out.
Gabriel gave a small amused grin. This human had gumption. “You’re right. However, there are hundreds of worlds under attack and we’re stretched thin, especially since our counterpart, the Inferno, isn’t really doing its job properly. Besides, your world already has a dedicated protector. We didn’t think there was much need for additional help. Even now we wouldn’t be here, except we have a reason to think the Enemy might be coming here in person.”
“By a protector, do you mean Empress Neleh? Well she has been protecting us fairly well, but it’s a bit much to push everything on her shoulders.” Alexis asked a little pointedly. Weren’t they just pushing their job on Neleh’s shoulders?
“That’s her alright. She’s much stronger than you might think, so she can handle a lost-deity or six.” Gabriel replied with amusement at the prince’s worry. Did he know Neleh personally?
“I wouldn’t be so sure. There was a great battle on the old faerie continent and I haven’t been able to reach her since then. And believe me I’ve tried. You saw the trouble we were in before you arrived.” Alexis pointed out.
This made Gabriel frown. They had sensed the presence of one last lost-deity here in the human lands after coming through the gateway, and decided to get rid of the final threat in preparation for the Enemy’s arrival. They had discovered the local celestial forces milling about in preparation to go to the human’s aid and decided to take the lead of that attack. It seemed the local celestials had just lost most of their leadership so they somewhat happily joined behind Gabriel and her escort given the opportunity.
Usually Neleh would’ve also joined in on the attack after sensing the presence of the lost-deity, but she was nowhere to be seen. Could the human prince be right? Had something happened to Neleh? Had they pushed too much on her shoulders, just assuming she’d do fine because she used to be strong in the previous life?
“Do you know where she is at the moment? And if not, where I would find someone who does know?” Gabriel asked still frowning.
“I do not know of her current whereabouts. However, I can make some guesses. I would assume they retreated back through the Nexus after the battle in the faerie continent, assuming they were victorious. In that case she should be in the elven capitol, or at least someone there should know her whereabouts.” Alexis speculated.
Suddenly they were interrupted by another arriving celestial. “I think it’s more likely that they are in her resort within the Nexus. I can take us there if we use the arch in the human capitol. Most people don’t have access to the place so it would be the safest place for her to recuperate. She gave me access while I was training Shiori.”
“Alright. You six stay here to mop things up and in case the lost-deity still decides to show itself. The rest of us will follow Asariel.” Gabriel said pointing out to six of her subordinates that she had taken along. As the Executor she couldn’t really go anywhere without helpers, not since she had gotten in trouble during one of her sojourns which had eventually led to the meeting between her and Neleh. Her previous trip to this world had been an impulsive exception, which was mostly allowed since Michael had also been here.
Gabriel was impressed how Neleh had arranged her resort in a place that no one would be able to find against her will, yet it had such a good access from everywhere. As she walked through the resort, she noticed someone she recognized, but almost couldn’t believe was really here. After a slight moment of hesitation, she decided to fly closer to have a bit of fun at the expense of her old enemy. The opportunity was just so good that it even overwrote her worry about Neleh for a moment.
As she flew closer, she noticed that her target was standing next to two graves with a thoughtful expression. “Well, well, if it isn’t the ex-ruler of Inferno. It’s been a while Khali. I didn’t really expect to meet you here. I’d say you look good, but that would be a lie.”
Khali was awoken from her thoughts. She cursed silently in her mind that she hadn’t sensed Gabriel’s approach. She knew that she was most likely in for a bad time, and she had expected that since she heard the Executor was coming to this world. She hated to give Gabriel the satisfaction. Maybe she could distract the straightforward celestial somehow?
“Gabriel. You’re late to the party as usual. Celestial Host always shows up after the real work has already been done. What brings you to our backwater planet?” Khali replied thinking of a way to get out of this.
“Hah, how nice of you to say I’m late, seeing as the only reason for that is that the Inferno has been even more useless than usual with you gone. Besides, I’m here for the Enemy, not the lost-deities that even you can take care of. So whose graves are these?” Gabriel’s curiosity got the best of her.
“The other one is of a goddess that became a lost-deity the last time the Enemy attacked. Apparently she was someone Neleh knew, so she gave the goddess a proper burial. The other grave belongs to Serpentia.” Khali replied without any further explanation. She had found her distraction.
“Oh.” Gabriel said simply. That explained both Khali’s presence at the grave as well as why Neleh might have had trouble with the fight. Gabriel could understand that the loss of a rival like Serpentia could be a complex feeling. On one hand you finally won, but Gabriel suspected that the victory was most likely hollow since it was gained with help. There was also the feeling of emptiness when a driving goal of yours was fulfilled. You had strived for something for a long time, and now that you were done you didn’t really know what to do next.
“Where is she?” Gabriel finally asked. No need to specify who she meant.
“Inside. Shiori and one of the elven priestesses are watching over her.” Khali replied, glad that her distraction had worked for now. Gabriel would not give up the change to mock her completely, but maybe the biggest impetus for it had passed. Neleh would distract her further.
‘So she needs someone to look after her? Something happened in the battle against Serpentia it seems.’ Gabriel thought as she flew towards the mansion. It didn’t take much effort to sense the presence of the people within, though there were other people also present whom Gabriel suspected to be Neleh’s family. It was hard to confuse Neleh’s presence though. As she reached the room, she saw two other people present just as Khali had said.
The other one was an old priestess that must have been really old by elven standards to show age. She also seemed slightly familiar. ‘Did I maybe meet her the last time I visited this world?’ Gabriel wondered idly. The other person was a young and beautiful elven girl who looked very worried. ‘This must be Shiori that Khali mentioned. Wasn’t she also the girl that Asariel came here to train?’
Then Gabriel’s eyes fell on the sleeping form of Neleh. She still looked as beautiful as Gabriel remembered, though she had grown a bit more mature in the intervening years. Another difference was that Neleh had radiated life and vitality the last that Gabriel had seen her, but now she radiated bone-deep weariness. There was also a feeling of wrongness that emanated from her.
“What happened?” Gabriel asked almost stunned to silence. What could have brought Neleh to this state?
Both of the elves looked up in shock as they had not noticed Gabriel before she spoke, which was pretty hard considering the presence Gabriel radiated. Shiori especially was usually deeply aware of her surroundings, but she had completely lowered her guard within the Nexus. “Gabriel.” Nimue said recognizing the celestial from her last visit.
Shiori looked at Nimue sharply, recognizing the name and everything that name implied. This celestial was a rival on many levels, but she was also someone important. Neleh had mentioned that she was coming. Maybe she could even help? “Currently she’s resting because she sacrificed a chunk of her power in order to defeat a lost-deity.” Shiori mentioned, not yet explaining more. If the celestial had the sort of power Shiori suspected, then she would be better served by finding out the exact details by herself.
Gabriel walked to the bed and used her power to study Neleh from within. Exhaustion would not explain the feeling of wrongness she had felt. And even if Neleh had sacrificed more than half of her power to take out Serpentia, she should’ve recovered at least somewhat by now. She soon noticed the traces of the missing Ignasia that were no longer present and could make a guess as to what had happened during the battle. That certainly was grounds for exhaustion, though she still should’ve at least gained consciousness by now. It took a lot longer to find the source of wrongness, the corruption emanating from the divine symbols upon Neleh’s skin.
Only a deity could meddle with divine symbols like this, and only if the seeds were planted when the symbols were granted. Gabriel knew Neleh had been blessed by the deities of this world as a child, so at least one of the deities had started to plan against Neleh decades ago. And now the seeds of that plan had festered and grown. By now it was too late for even Gabriel to do anything as the corruption had spread too far and too deep. She could also sense that the corruption had taken advantage of the remains of the bond that still remained in Neleh’s mind.
If Neleh used all her power to fight the corruption, she could most likely live for a handful of years still, maybe even a decade. Every time she used her power that time would be shortened. Neleh must have been aware of that, but she fought the lost-deities anyway. And now the Enemy was coming here too. Neleh would fight. That’s why she was brought to this world after all. She would keep her part of the bargain, even if the deities of this world didn’t hold up their end. Even if she wouldn’t do it out of some sense of morality, she would do it because her word was worth that much. Neleh had always thought that even among scoundrels, the worth of one’s word was all that mattered.
“I only have one question: who did this to her?” The chill in Gabriel’s voice could’ve turned a summer heat into the heart of winter.
Shiori’s eyes got a glint as she realized someone else besides her wanted to exact some real revenge. “Two of the gods, a lesser god called Loki as well as the Protector Goddess of the celestials Alarae. The goddess of light and order decided that this was for the ‘greater good’.”
“Of course she did.” Gabriel said with scorn. She had seen similar feelings among the celestials against Neleh. Neleh had always straddled the line between darkness and light, and mostly fell into the camp of darkness despite the good in her nature. Despite the good she did, those that strived for pure good were never able to tolerate her existence. To them, she was almost worse than those that were clearly dark as that was their nature and they were simple to understand and easy anticipate, unlike Neleh.
Gabriel contacted Asariel magically. “Asariel, send a word to the Host. I want them to send three of the Asura War Gods here immediately.”
“Are you expecting more lost-deities? The Asura are great at fighting them, but their nature makes them weak against the Enemy personally.” Asariel inquired in slight confusion.
“I have a different job for them. They are to burn down every temple of Alarae in this world, and they won’t be taking no for an answer. Anyone who tries to oppose them can face the consequences.” Gabriel replied anger clear in her voice.
After a slight moment of hesitation Asariel replied. “Your will be done, Executor.” She recognized the name of the goddess the celestials of this world served. She also knew not to argue with Gabriel when she was this enraged. Whatever the goddess had done to cause that anger, she could only blame herself now.