”Good job.” Shiori told Neleh, who was cracking her neck to release the tension.
“Thank you, though I’m glad I’m finally free from all that.” Neleh replied with a small sigh of contentment.
She had just given a speech that was relayed to the other elven cities. In her speech, she had highlighted that although the threat was not over; the people of her empire had done a great job and should be proud. She had highlighted how they had helped the other races deal with the threat and how they had in effect saved the world. It had been uplifting and pandered exactly to the feelings of her people, while also making sure to point out that they should not rest on their laurels just yet. The people also needed to see their empress up and walking to avoid any rumors.
She’d also gone through several consecutive days of hard work. Just because there was a war going on didn’t mean that her duties as an empress were done. They had trained a group of able administrators just for a purpose like this, but there were some things she had to do herself and those things had piled up while she was busy fighting the war.
“No rest for the wicked.” Shiori said with a small sympathetic smile, as she knew what Neleh was talking about. “The others have gathered in the meeting room.”
“Good. We need to start planning for the inevitable.” Neleh said and lead the way towards the meeting room in question.
There were two planning meetings Neleh needed to have in preparation for the arrival of the Enemy. The other meeting would gather the most powerful people of this world and would be where they would plan the specifics of their battle. The members of that group only needed to know what would most likely happen and their plan to counter things. That meeting was still in the future. This meeting was much more important. This meeting would gather those that were actually aware of what was really happening and were aware of Neleh’s previous life. This would be the meeting where the actual decisions would be made.
As she walked through the door, Neleh saw Khali and Gabriel arguing in the corner of the room. The two had been at each other’s throats since she woke up, to the surprise of absolutely no one. At first Gabriel had an upper hand but Khali managed to bring things back to parity over time. The demon was much more experienced at teasing and wordplay after all. The current argument was most likely due to the fact that the demon felt a bit ganged-up on in the current company, and not without reason. There were fourteen celestials in the room, while Khali only had Shazhar as reinforcements. Shazhar wasn’t aware of Neleh’s old identity, but the latter had allowed her to be present as a favor to Khali.
“If the two of you are quite finished, get seated so we can begin.” Neleh announced her arrival with a slight tone of disapproval. She understood the two had been making jabs at each other for centuries and often took part herself, but now was not the time.
The two didn’t look all that happy, but they went along. Somehow Neleh got the feeling that this was not one of their normal arguments. “You should’ve all figured it out by now, but we are here to make a plan for the arrival of the Enemy. Khali, you can explain to Shazhar anything she doesn’t understand and I’ll do the same for Shiori. Gabriel, you take care of your people.”
“Understood. I think it would make things easier if you told us what exactly to expect. You’re the only one who actually has experience fighting against him.” Gabriel prompted.
“That works for me, though keep in mind that my experience might not be entirely representative of what will happen this time. For one, I was fighting alone last time. For another, last time I used my power as a Destroyer to circumvent some of the problems we’ll face this time.” Neleh counseled the others against relying too much on her memories.
One of the celestials interrupted Neleh at this point. “Sorry to jump in, but I’m not entirely sure why you won’t simply do what you did last time to fight the Enemy off. Gabriel explained your reincarnation and that you don’t have the same level of power that you used to have, but you retained your power as a Destroyer did you not?”
“A good question and something we should address before we proceed. Yes I retained that power, however using that power doesn’t come without a price. That power uses the life-force of others as fuel, and my own life-force will not work. Destroying someone like the Enemy would require so much power that it would lead to the destruction of several worlds. I was borderline berserk the last time so I didn’t mind the price then, but I’m rather fond of this world and would rather it wasn’t destroyed. The deities of this world are allowing me to use their power as an alternate fuel for that power, but it won’t be enough unless the Enemy is severely weakened beforehand. Also, something tells me the gods aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to throw their power at me at the moment.” Neleh raised her eyebrow at Gabriel a bit, who at least managed to look a little guilty.
The other celestials looked slightly ill as they heard of the destruction of worlds the previous time the Enemy attacked, but they kept their mouths shut as they knew more would’ve have been lost if Neleh had not acted. They weren’t too quick to condone her actions either, as there was a difference between losing worlds to the Enemy and condoning their loss at the hands of Neleh.
“Now before we go into specifics, I think it might be useful if we first talked a little about the nature of the Enemy and the lost-deities. You all have theories I’m sure, but I can tell you that my information was confirmed by Fate. The old bastard owed me a favor.” This brought whispers from the celestials, who knew how difficult Fate was to deal with. It also brought grimaces from those that knew why the favor was owed, namely Shiori, Gabriel and Khali. Asariel also knew, but she was less emotional about the issue.
“The Enemy was the first lost-deity. Before him, those deities that lost their place simply faded away. He most likely would’ve faced the same, except his aspect was something that could easily be found on other worlds and something other deities weren’t too keen on exploiting. That allowed him to migrate to other worlds and gain power from those that fell inside his new domain. With his powers restored, he had the idea to reach across several worlds, seeing as there was a lot of untapped power up for grabs.” Neleh explained her theory.
“What was his aspect?” Khali asked.
“Negative emotions like anger and jealousy, but chief amongst them was resentment. You all know there’s an endless supply of that no matter which world you enter. Even the members of the Host and Inferno are filled with resentment, as shown by Khali’s death. At some point the Enemy decided that even though there was already a great supply of power, he could have even more if the people were given a proper reason to feel resentful. I’m simply guessing here, but I assume he started out stirring up trouble by pitting everyone against each other, but later on graduated to becoming the enemy everyone fought against by causing up great wars and great strife.
The other deities finally joined hands to drive him off, and cutting his access to other worlds to start over. He lost his position again, which stirred his own resentment, but this time he had gathered enough power that he was no longer fading away. He had become what we know as the Enemy. He decided to force his way if the other deities were set against him, but despite his growing power he didn’t have the strength to act alone.
That’s where the real lost-deities come in. To both strengthen himself, and to increase his reach, he stops other deities filled with resentment from fading away. Similar to the Enemy himself, they become something between mortals and deities. They are bound to his will, as he is the only thing keeping them alive, and in return they fight for him and increase his domain to other worlds and cause maximum of strife so he can draw upon the negative emotions to increase his power. It’s a sick symbiotic relationship, and most of the lost-deities lose themselves in their resentment, in essence just becoming husks of their old selves.” Neleh finished her explanation to a shocked silence from everyone. They had theorized something similar, but it was different to have things confirmed.
“Why do the deities accept such servitude? I think I’d rather have an honorable death myself.” One of the celestials asked with some disgust.
“Mostly fear. Almost all sentient beings fear death. Usually the more powerful you are and the longer you have lived, the harder you cling to your life as you have more to lose. Not everyone accepts his devilish bargain of course, but some do. Mostly those who were very resentful over the circumstances of their death. Those who feel that they had suffered an injustice, those that were betrayed and most of all those that want revenge. That is something he offers, chance at revenge, and it is a bittersweet poison many find hard to resist. There are also some like Serpentia who manage to retain most of their old personalities and cave live rather normal lives, or as normal as almost constant warfare allows. Some find that a life worth living.” Neleh listed the various reasons and nearly all of the listeners found something they could relate to.
After a long moment of silence where everyone considered Neleh’s words, Gabriel finally brought them back to the original question. “So what can you tell us about your battle against him?”
“Right. I’ll reiterate that things might be different this time. There are several things about the Enemy that we should be aware of. First of all, ignoring his offensive abilities for a moment, his greatest strength relies in his almost impenetrable defense. As he can withdraw on such a large well of power, he will quite happily use magical defenses to block any and all attacks instead of avoiding them. This means that you most likely won’t be able to punch through with a powerful attack, instead it will turn into a battle of attrition.” Neleh brought up the first point, raising the first finger.
“We will not be able to punch through that alone, so we will need to rotate in people just to drain at his reserves. We should also focus on attacks that drain he maximum amount of power. This will not be a short battle. Secondly, he will not have a single form he has to stay in for the whole time. I want you to keep this in mind, so it won’t become as a surprise. He can change his shape pretty much at will. If he appears in the form of a dragon, that doesn’t mean that we will end the fight with him in that form. He might also try to fool you by rapidly shifting in the middle of the battle.” Neleh raised a second finger.
“Thirdly, we should try to avoid huge bursts of negative emotions, as that will only increase his power. This will become especially important if you see your friends dying around you. There is also a possibility that he won’t be coming alone. He might have one or more lost-deities with him if he expects resistance. We will have to decide what happens if that is the case. I expect that at least a certain blood god will be with him.” Neleh raised a third finger.
“Now comes the important part, so pay attention. If and when we manage to defeat him, the destruction of his body won't mean that the battle is over. This is where his nature becomes really tricky and he shows his true colors. There are two things than can happen when his body gets destroyed. He will try to use his last strength to take over the body of another and push their soul out of that body. If he fails, he will use the power of the resentment the one who defeated him to retreat. The ones that defeat him are usually the ones that resent him the most and also are the strongest people around. Who better for taking over? He will be weakened for a moment if he succeeds, but will eventually start regaining his powers from the other battles fought by the lost-deities, and he’ll continue his war except now wearing the face of the one that had just defeated him.” She finished with a fourth raised finger, before squeezing her hand back into a fist.
This of course brought a number of questions. “How did you manage to defeat him last time?” One of the celestials asked.
“Last time I could get around some of this. My power as a Destroyer ignored most of his defense and mental attacks were largely useless against me. Although I had lost myself to the darkness, that same darkness also made my will strong enough to brush off his attempt to take me over. And while I had a lot of negative emotions, the one at the top was not resentment but rage.” Neleh replied.
“I’m guessing you have some plans ready?” Gabriel asked. She knew she could come up with some of her own, but Neleh had clearly already considered this so it would be simpler to use her plans as a basis to start off with.
“Yes. Like I mentioned, I want to rotate in people whose only job is to throw their power at him to drain his defenses and then leave. I don’t want there to be any extra people he could take over once the time comes. Once he has been drained enough, I have a double pronged attack of my own planned. First to deplete his remaining power, and then to use the power the gods will give me to deal the last blow.” She outlined her general plan.
“It sounds like we need to prepare the battleground beforehand. How will we get him there?” Khali asked.
“Well the specifics depend on how and where he shows up, but I think the simplest way is the best. We’ll have Gabriel attack him to draw his attention. A smack on the head should be enough to attract attention, especially since he doesn’t really have much reason to avoid us. Also, I want Khali and Asariel to deal with any lost-deities that come with him. I’d rather Gabriel stayed to distract his attention, as I’m not sure I can keep up with him should we come into a melee.” Neleh replied.
“What about Shiori?” Khali asked. “She would be able to put a decent fight against a lost-deity with the support of one or two celestials. That would allow me to fight the enemy as well.”
“Shiori has a special job that only she can do. She won’t be available for anything else, or it would ruin her mission. That said, I would prefer there were no other targets besides myself by the time he loses his body.” This time even Shiori was surprised at Neleh’s answer.
‘She better not try to keep me away from the battle. I used to need protection, but now I want to help protect her as well.’ Shiori thought, preparing to argue her point. As it would happen, she would have her argument, just not about the subject she was thinking of.
“So is that the end game? You and him alone, while others pull away?” Gabriel asked skeptically. This plan didn’t exactly make her happy.
“Essentially yes. Gabriel, trust me. I wouldn’t take a risk like this without having a plan. If I’m right, we can end his threat for good. That possibility is worth a little risk, is it not?” Neleh asked, while looking the celestial into the eyes.
“I’m not sure if it’s worth risking you.” Gabriel mumbled too quietly for anyone to hear.
“I’m not sure I’m too thrilled about that either.” Khali voiced her opinion.
“I know, but there’s another reason beyond just my plan. The last attack I plan to use to drain his power won’t be able to recognize between a friend and foe. Yet I will most likely have to use it anyway. That’s part of what makes it necessary for it to be me that he tries to take over as well. In fact, I’m thinking that there’s a distinct possibility that we might have to force the battle back into my mansion in the Nexus in case people have trouble retreating from battle. I’ll prepare a special doorway just for that purpose, just in case. Beyond that, all of you are welcome to try and come up with alternate ideas.” Neleh said simply.
“Either go with my plan, or come up with a better one.” Was the clear message in Neleh’s words.
They spent some time hashing out details, but finally adjourned to consider everything Neleh had told them. While they were filing out, she walked to the balcony on the side of the room, the balcony overlooking the city of Nan Yanoi. ‘I could really use some reassurance that I’m doing the right thing.’ She tried sending a message to Elune. The goddess had been oddly absent since she had last met her to meet both Fate and Satai. Her power flowed normally so the goddess couldn’t be dead or gone, but she couldn’t reach her.
‘I miss you, you know.’ Neleh sent another thought towards the goddess. She never realized how comforting Elune’s presence had become until she could no longer contact the goddess. Now she felt her absence quite acutely, like an open wound. She was also worried about the goddess, but realized there had to be a reason for her absence.
Suddenly she felt Khali and Gabriel approach her from behind. As she turned to face them, she recognized the worried faces of the two. It was rare to see them agree on anything, so this must be something important.
Gabriel was the one to speak. “Before you reply, know that we are not asking, but telling you what is going to happen. You don’t get a vote. We are worried about you, and know that you are shortening your life every time you use your powers. So, until the Enemy comes here, you are strictly banned from using any of your powers. Either myself or Khali will be with you at all times, and you will not be using even a single drop of magic. If you need something done, we will get it done for you, be it an enemy that needs to die or simple cleaning of your dress. Should there be another attack by a lost-deity, you will not take part.”
Khali took the rains from Gabriel. “We will follow your hare-brained plan against the Enemy, until we come up with an alternative. Even if we don’t’ come up with an alternative, you won’t personally take part in the battle until the very end, since I have a feeling we won’t be able to stop you from that. However, most of the fighting will be left to us.”
Gabriel continued. “For the record, we have enlisted the cooperation of Shiori and your family, who will all keep an eye on you as well. Also, Asariel will be taking over your work in secret. She’ll do it better than you anyway. That’s it, you’re allowed to speak now.”
“Ok?” Neleh simply agreed, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to resist the two especially if they had the help of Shiori. Speaking of, she had a hard conversation ahead of her, and she was not looking forward to it at all. Shiori wouldn’t be too happy about her part in the plan. In fact, she was likely to try to fight her on this. That in itself was rare considering her devotion, but she wouldn’t want to go along with this. As for this plan of Khali and Gabriel, the battle would change their mind eventually.