As Neleh slowly blinked her eyes open, she was greeted with the worried and slightly guilty looking face of Gabriel. The celestial was hovering above her like a mother hen, an image her wings didn’t exactly dispel. Neleh had to stifle her laughter at the thought because she didn’t want to be forced into explaining the reason behind her amusement. A relieved smile blossomed on Gabriel’s face as she noticed Neleh waking up.
“Well, I have to say that of all the possible sights to see while waking up, this isn’t too bad.” Neleh joked a little.
“I’ll pretend that was a compliment.” Gabriel replied wryly. “You gave me a bit of a scare. You haven’t been taking care of yourself very well.”
“Well you know me; I like to live on the edge.” Neleh replied a little sarcastically. She was pretty sure that Gabriel had already figured out everything that was wrong with her, so there was no reason to try and hide anything. So she decided on a bit of levity instead.
“You know, I might have been able to do something if I had known about this earlier.” Gabriel pointed out with a sad tinge in her voice.
“We both know that I’m just as good at healing as you are. Even with my current strength I could’ve done anything you are able to do. By the time I found out, it was already too late to do anything except delay things. I have to give them slight credit. They really managed to fool me with this. They planned this well. I’m not inhibited too badly from fighting, but by the time I will be done I won’t have any strength to resist.” Despite her bitterness at Alarae, Neleh had to admire the goddess’ ability to plan her corruption. The goddess wouldn’t get away with it, but she would achieve her goal.
“Well don’t worry about the goddess who did this to you. I’m already administering her punishment.” Gabriel reassured Neleh while giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Neleh looked up sharply. “What did you do?”
“Let’s just say there are now less temples of Alarae in this world, and in a week there won’t be any.” Gabriel gave a slight grin while remaining cryptic on the details.
“I don’t imagine the celestials of this world were too happy about that.” Neleh pointed out the obvious.
“I didn’t ask for their approval. They tried to protest while the first temples fell, but they got the gist of the situation pretty quick. They also got pretty quiet when Asariel explained to them that we considered their goddess a traitor for her actions against the person who had done her best to protect this world from the invaders. I’m not sure what their ultimate reaction will be, but they are peaceful for now.” Gabriel had slight smugness in her voice while she explained. She was actually a little proud about how smoothly things had gone.
Neleh gave a small grimace. “I should probably mention that I already had my own punishment lined up. Not that I mind her getting double the punishment. Never mind that though, what is done is done. How long was I out? I’d guess for some time if you already managed to get your punishment started.”
“From what the psion girl said, you’ve been sleeping for eight days. She’d probably be here as well but she finally had to go and get some sleep few hours ago. She was getting delirious towards the end.” Gabriel explained with a small smile. Shiori’s rest gave her a chance to snuggle with the sleeping Neleh.
Neleh had to sigh at Gabriel’s words. “That fool! I told her I just needed rest.”
“Well, apparently you needed a bit more than that. The old priestess called Nimue spent several days here casting healing spells on you before I took over. Apparently your body didn’t react all too well to losing those Ignasia. The corruption flared up due to your loss of strength. She couldn’t do much about the corruption but she did keep you from developing any extra symptoms aside from a fever. I managed to get the corruption back under control. You’ll be ok to move again once we get some food into you, but I’d recommend staying away from anything too strenuous for a while.” Gabriel had a slight note of disapproval in her voice.
“I see.” Neleh replied simply. “So what else happened while I was gone? What’s the situation?” She finally asked after few minutes of silence.
“Well, we dealt with the forces attacking the humans. They lost their emperor and Chosen, but they’re out of danger for now. The lost-deity attacking them decided to cut its losses and retreat. It closed the portal after pulling back as much of the forces it had on this world as we allowed. The humans are now trying to pick one of the princes as the next emperor, but that’s a bit of a problem seeing as the other was a rebel before and the other one has sworn fealty to you. The two princes have two older brothers, but they’re so useless that no one is even considering them for the position. They don’t have a new Chosen yet either. I’m guessing their god is waiting for them to pick and emperor first.” Gabriel was guessing, but was actually right in this case.
She continued. “The naga and elven mages are working together to sink the faerie continent under water. Fighting the remaining Blades and Trow is too troublesome, so on the whole this is easier. Not that the Blades are in danger of drowning, but they don’t deal with underwater too well either. Anyway, their plan is to just lower the continent enough to get it covered and cleansed from all the damage. Then in a few hundred years they can raise it back up and see if anything further can be done. That’s still an ongoing project, so I don’t know how much success they’ve had so far. Not much yet I’d assume, considering the size of the project.
As for the rest of it, most of the races think this is already over and that they’ve won. I hear there are already victory celebrations in the beastmen continent. I tried to council against celebrating just yet, and most seemed receptive to the idea. The Order had nearly all of the troops return home for now and enjoy the peace while it lasts. There’s not much point in having them on full guard when we don’t yet know if and where they will be needed. Most of the races want to gather for the Conclave again to discuss the future. I don’t know what their exact plans are, but I’d guess they want to know what happens next. I think that would be a good idea, so I already put things in motion. You can get it cancelled if you think otherwise. The elven continent is feeling rather jubilant and would very much like for you to make an appearance. I think you should do that, if for no other reason than to make them think you’re still ok. That would be a lie, but it’s one they need to hear right now.” Gabriel finished her report.
“It seems I was gone a bit too long. We can’t let the others become too complacent just yet. Though I say that, I doubt most of the others will be much help in the fight against the Enemy. We’ll want to start gathering the people we can use though. I have a plan and I need to go over it with the people involved. In addition to us, we’ll need at least Khali, Asariel and any other celestials you brought with you and Shiori. Anyone beyond them doesn’t need to be aware of the plan and details just yet.” Neleh had already made some plans for the possibility of the Enemy coming to this world, but now it was time to start working on the specifics.
Aphrodite couldn’t help but watch with amusement as Alarae raged around the room. The fool was actually creating items just so she could smash them to pieces seconds later. The goddess of light and order had been raging for days now and had called for the gathering of all the major deities of this world. Normally that would’ve excluded Aphrodite, but the call had not specified that the lesser deities were not allowed to participate. Furthermore, the other major gods had been very slow in answering the call so Aphrodite had been the first to arrive and had already spent several hours silently laughing at the misery of Alarae as she was unable to do anything to stop the destruction of her temples.
Aphrodite was pretty sure the other deities were staying away on purpose because they knew exactly why Alarae had called for them and had no intention of helping. She herself was wholly powerless to help, so she wasn’t worried about being called to contribute. No, she was here for the show. She wouldn’t miss this drama for anything. It had been eons since she had seen any other deity this agitated, and the last time was when the Chosen system was created to protect the other races from the rampaging dragons. The drama this time also concerned her favorite mortal, if Neleh could be called such, and she was rather displeased with Alarae at the moment. Thus she good great joy at seeing the orderly and serious goddess in such a state of despair.
Their location was the gathering place the deities used for negotiations and serious decisions. The deities could use the pool in the center of the large chamber to view things in the mortal world from a neutral perspective. Normally they were limited to the vicinity of their servants, or whatever their powers allowed them to see. It was not uncommon to see a deity or three near the pool viewing the events of the world out of curiosity and boredom. Usually the deities took the form of the race that served them, so Alarae was in the form of a celestial, though a very angry one.
Aphrodite herself didn’t have a dedicated race, but she actually resembled Neleh quite a lot. Or it would more correct to say that Neleh resembled her. She had after all molded Neleh’s looks based on herself and Elune, though the latter had now taken the form of Neleh because that was the current ideal of an elven form. Aphrodite knew that her looks were a further annoyance to Alarae, so she did nothing to hide or change them. This was also her unspoken admonition towards the action of the angry goddess.
Finally once the limits of all propriety were being reached, the other major gods started appearing, as they could no longer delay without it being an unspoken declaration of hostility. Some of the deities looked equally amused at the situation, the goddesses of faeries and naga the doing the worst job of hiding their joy at Alarae’s predicament, while others simply looked on in disapproval. It wasn’t obvious from their demeanor if they disapproved what was happening, or what had led to it.
Aphrodite noted that Elune was conspicuously absent. This surprised her a little, not because Elune would mind making a declaration of hostility, but because the topic would most likely turn to Neleh sooner or later. It was surprising that Elune wasn’t here to stand up for her interests. Was there a reason behind her absence?
“Well it’s so nice that you deigned to answer my summons.” Alarae said sarcastically. “Though you all took your sweet time with it.”
“I should think you’d be happy were here at all.” Lulu the goddess of faeries said, not even trying to hide her hostility.
“Though even if we did come, I doubt you’ll get what you were hoping for.” Medea the goddess of naga continued with only slightly better hidden disdain in her voice.
“I should think an open attack on one of the major deities of this world would be a matter of some importance! If that isn’t enough to bring out a joined effort from us, then I wonder what is.” Alarae pointed out angrily. She hadn’t yet realized that the other deities were aware of her actions. Not because it was hard to see that something was wrong with Neleh, but because there was little reason to connect that to her. Unfortunately for her, Satai had informed all of them before he even told Neleh about it.
Satai was the last to arrive as always, and Alarae was actually a little surprised that the god of the dragons even showed up. He rarely did unless specifically asked. “I find it rather ironic that you expect help from us after bringing this on yourself. I wonder, what do you expect us to even do about it? Surely you don’t expect us to try and fight against the Celestial Host? Even if we were inclined to help, that would be a fool’s errand.” He declared in a calm voice.
Finally Alarae was starting to catch on why the others were looking so hostile. Her action had been found out. Not completely out of her expectations considering everyone gathered here was connected to Neleh via the blessings. It would take some work to figure out what she and Loki had done, but the evidence was there to find if one cared to look closely enough. As such, she had to moderate her position somewhat.
“Not that perhaps, though a show of united force would give them a reason to reconsider. No, the Host doesn’t have any reason to do this except for Elune’s little pet. It’s her that is instigating this thanks to her old connections. Elune could order her to stay the Host’s hand, but chooses not to. That’s a declaration of war if I’ve ever seen one!” Despite being found out, Alarae was still assuming her position to be better than it really was.
“I think you’re misunderstanding your position here Alarae. We aren’t here to offer our support. We are here to judge your actions.” Sydonay the god of the demons said. He was rather pleased that his adversary was in such trouble and was rather angry for having been used to reach Alarae’s ends.
“Judge me? For what? For saving all of us? Surely you don’t grieve over the inevitable demise of a single mortal? I could understand Elune’s anger at seeing her little lover hurt, but don’t claim that you didn’t notice the inevitable danger that the mortal presented. I did what you couldn’t! Don’t claim that you haven’t noticed that Elune is now the strongest of us! And that’s with what I did. Imagine what would happen if I didn’t act! Where is that elven harlot anyway?” Alarae yelled at them.
“You claim to have done us a service while you endanger all of us? You claim to have acted for us, when most of us had no reason to fear Neleh?! She saved my people! She saved this world from attack by forces we couldn’t fight, and you thank her with death?!” Lulu was screaming at Alarae, completely losing her composure and surprising even Aphrodite. She was fairly certain that the diminutive goddess would’ve attacked Alarae if she had not been held back by the calmer Medea.
Despite her tricksy nature, Lulu had always been the simplest and most straightforward of the deities in many ways. When she became fond of a mortal, she did so with abandon. When she found someone worthy of her gratitude and favor, she gave both in spades. Neleh had most certainly earned her favor with her help to the faeries, and their treatment in their new home. She had also been the first one to accept Neleh’s reincarnation into this world, just because she found the possibility interesting. She might have been the one that felt most betrayed by Alarae, aside from Elune of course.
“Not to mention your crimes of twisting our blessings. It was our choice to support Neleh in her effort to keep us safe, an effort she has accomplished despite your betrayal, and you twisted that choice, taking it away from us. You didn’t ask whether we agreed with you. You didn’t try to get our help. No, you made the decision for us, and corrupted our gifts. You used my power to do your dirty deed. If for no other reason, then that alone is enough to condemn you in my eyes.” Iarus spoke from the side.
Alarae gave a mirthless chuckle. “That’s a bit rich coming from someone who just got their race saved by the celestials. I didn’t see her helping you then.”
“You didn’t see her, because your action made her incapable of acting. Besides, it wasn’t really your race that saved the humans. It was the leader of the Celestial Host. The very same leader who ordered your temples destroyed. And it’s not like your people have been all that instrumental in the war so far, so it was about time they contributed a bit. In fact, there are many of our servants who are now dead because of your actions.” Sinir the god of beastmen voiced his opinion. He hadn’t forgotten the losses suffered by the beastmen and dragons against an enemy that maybe Neleh could’ve helped to fight if she was in the condition to do so.
“So you’re all going to just watch as my temples burn? You’re going to ignore the threat she presented? You’re going to allow the elven harlot become the strongest of us? All because of a single mortal?” Alarae asked unable to believe it.
“Not only that, we are going to render judgement on you. You claim that she is just a single mortal, but that’s not really the case is it? Did you even consider the danger you put us through? Did you even think of all the ways this could’ve backfired on us, all much worse than the vague threat of losing your authority?” Satai asked gruffly.
“I took a gamble! I did consider the possibilities, but I chose the possibility of a sudden reprisal over slow but certain demise. I knew she wouldn’t use her power as a Destroyer as long her precious lover was here. For the same reason, I found it unlikely she would allow this world to fall. Her family is here, and while they could perhaps leave, the elven harlot can’t!” Alarae declared angrily.
“And now you suffer the consequences of that risk. What if she is unable to fight the Enemy when it comes here? You talk of certain demise, but did you even consider talking to her? She isn’t incapable of compromise. The faeries still worship Lulu, and they seem no worse off after falling under Neleh’s influence. In fact, they seem to flourish. You acted out of irrational fear, and didn’t even consider other options besides reacting with hostility.” Medea said with sadness in her voice.
“Enough, it’s time for her judgement.” Sinir said. “All this yakking is pointless and doesn’t change what needs to be done.”
Satai rose up in agreement. “Sinir is correct. I wanted to do this after the danger of the Enemy had passed, but we can’t ignore it now. Raise of hands by all those in favor of the judgement.” Everyone besides Alarae raised their hands, even Aphrodite who didn’t actually get a vote. “Everyone agrees. Elune already gave her approval in favor of the judgement earlier, so it’s unanimous.”
Alarae already knew the only real way they could punish her. She could try to rail in anger, but it would be pointless at this point. The others had already rendered judgement before they arrived, and the vote just now was just a formality.