The conclave this time was a rarity in many ways. Just having one was rare, not counting the gatherings that had happened since the first one before Neleh’s coronation. Before her appearance, gatherings like this had been exceedingly rare. What made this time even rarer was the presence of the rulers of several races. Even in the gatherings in the last eleven years only the representatives of each race was present. This time every race that had a current ruler had sent them to this conclave.
Now that her race was no longer on the precipice of extinction, the Eternal Empress had a chance to act personally, and she had easily chosen to attend. Similarly to Neleh, the ruler of the beastmen had been at the conclave previously as a representative, so his presence was not a surprise. Neleh and Khali were of course attending, and the Fairy Queen was at this point only a symbol, as her race had already made their home in the elven empire. Thus, her presence was a given.
The other three major races had not selected a new ruler, so of course those rulers couldn’t attend. The humans had sent Prince Sanguinius as their representative mostly because Prince Alexis was considered to be too biased to negotiate properly. Neleh was glad to see the celestials represented by Azrael, though she wondered about the reason for that decision. Much like Alexis, many celestials considered Azrael to be too close to Neleh for proper negotiations, so was her presence here a sign of weakness and appeasement? If yes, then was that appeasement directed towards Neleh or Gabriel though Neleh?
The biggest surprise of all was the presence of a dragon representative in the form of Zamekh. The dragons had never taken an interest in matters between races, but here he was. Of course, part of that was that he was here just as much as Neleh’s guest as the representative of his race. Then again the position of the dragons was no longer quite as dominant as it used to be after the losses they suffered in the battle against the lost-deity Sol. As a result, even they had to pay at least some attention now.
The conclave was held once again on one of the floating islands of the celestials, mostly because they were still considered to be the closest thing to a neutral party in this world. They were all taking part in a banquet before the start of the official negotiations. To many such banquets would seem frivolous and waste of time, but it might actually be the most important part of the current conclave, and all the important people knew that. The official conclave might be tomorrow, but most things would be settled on today, and tomorrow would be a formality. It was much easier to cut deals when the other races weren’t listening.
Even though she might have been the most important guest at the event, for start of the evening she could peacefully take in the machinations around her. The others were busy securing the support and opinions of the other races before approaching her. That and the rather angry looking Gabriel drove away most people that didn’t have to talk to her. She enjoyed the calm and the food. They would approach her when they were good and ready. The frowning celestial also made sure that Khali would not be cozying up with Neleh for the whole evening.
Surprising no one, the first one to approach her was the Eternal Empress. In fact, Neleh would end up spending most of the evening with her. As the two were often in contact, they were quite happy to just chit-chat and gossip to pass the time. Any matters of state between the two races had been handled long before this gathering. They did however finally approach topics with some importance.
“So how are the eggs? Any signs of hatching yet?” Neleh asked, alluding to the Kirin eggs that she had fathered.
The Eternal Empress blushed a little while replying. “None of them has hatched yet, but the first ones are showing the signs. I believe at least a few of them should hatch before the end of the year.”
“Any of yours?” Neleh asked with a small grin.
The blush spread as she replied. “Yes, all of the ones showing the signs are mine in fact.” She had a little bit of pride in her voice. The Kirin could spend long times in their eggs before hatching.
“Good, I’m glad. Maybe I’ll get a chance of seeing at least one of them before…” Neleh mumbled half to herself.
The naga empress looked at her with fondness and understanding. “Speaking of, how are you feeling? No need to hide it. Our seers already know about your illness. We don’t have any way to help, but we are aware.”
Neleh gave a small sigh before replying. “Let’s just say that the elves will be choosing a new empress after the Enemy is gone. So much for your title for me. Immortal Flame indeed.”
The naga suddenly got a secretive smile. “Oh I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
Neleh was just about to ask for a clarification on that cryptic statement, but was interrupted by the approach of Azrael, Sanguinius and the ruler of the beastmen. While the two others seemed a bit more worried, the beastman seemed to be calm and resigned. Neleh could see Khali giving them a small grin and a wave from across the room. The trio had been talking with her before coming to Neleh, and the demoness had chosen not to join the little coalition.
“Should I..?” The Eternal Empress inquired Azrael, clearly questioning whether she should give them some privacy.
“No, stay. I think you’ll want to hear the answers to our questions as well.” Sanguinius replied in Azrael’s stead.
“Well, I can venture a guess, but I think it’s easier to just ask. What brings you to me?” Neleh asked calmly, secretly a little amused.
Azrael was the one to voice the question that must have been on the minds of everyone gathered here today. “We want’ to know your intentions. Even before the war the elves had reached the position of the strongest race, especially if you count in the faeries. This had only become even more apparent ever since. The war has left most other races in dire straits. With your alliance with the naga, I doubt the other races could resist an invasion by the elves at the moment. So what is it that you want?”
And there it was. The elves were in a position to take over the other races currently, so the other races were understandably wary. It was one thing to join hands against a common foe, but what happens after that foe was gone? Even if she was instrumental in saving the world from the storm, that only made it easier for her to take control of the other races. Would the relatively exhausted races be able to rise against the still strong elven forces? Would they even want to rise against their savior, even if her role wasn’t emphasized so far? It wasn’t really Azrael herself asking, as she already expected the answer, but the other celestials hiding behind her, hoping their friendship would make things easier.
“What makes you think I have any intentions? From the start, all I wanted to do was to protect against the storm. Now the fact that my preparations have made the elves strong is hardly my problem.” She replied simply.
“The recent smoldering ruins of the temples of Alarae seem to imply otherwise.” Azrael pointed out.
“You assume that was my doing, but you assume wrongly. I won’t claim to have wept any tears for that traitor, but I already had my own punishment lined up. She’s the one you should talk to about your temples.” Neleh replied while thumbing towards Gabriel.
“So you’re saying that you had nothing to do with the attacks?” Azrael asked, not really believing those words.
“Now I didn’t say that, did I? I am the cause of the attacks, but I didn’t ask for them, neither did I incite Gabriel to send them. In fact, I was still recovering from the battle with the lost-deity in the faerie lands when this took place. Your goddess has no one but herself to blame for the situation, and her punishment has been given. You’ll note that only the temples were attacked and the only celestials hurt were those that tried to protect the temples. Besides, you all talk as if the threat to our world has passed.” Neleh argued calmly, making no attempt to hide her own part in the attacks.
Her last words got everyone’s attention. Only the Eternal Empress wasn’t showing surprise. Azrael had suspected, but was hoping otherwise. Sanguinius had been told by Alexis, but the wish for the troubles to be over was enough to have the human prince in denial. “You’re saying there will be further battle?” He finally asked.
“Yes and no. If I’m right, then the most dangerous battle is still ahead of us, but most likely your races will have very little role in that fight. I will call on your most powerful members, but your armies will not be taking part and your lands will not be invaded. Unless I lose that is. In that case you’re pretty much boned.” Neleh had a slight evil grin by the time she finished.
The rest of their negotiations were rather subdued after her words. Unsurprisingly the humans needed help to rebuild, which Neleh promised the elves would provide. The beastmen were mostly dealing with the naga, and the celestials remained paralyzed by indecision. Well they had played their part. Unsurprisingly Sanguinius asked Neleh to weigh in on the internal struggle of the humans by endorsing him as the next emperor. He had assumed Neleh would rather support Alexis, but surprised by Neleh’s open endorsement of him instead.
Neleh knew that the humans wouldn’t accept Alexis, and that Sanguinius would be good enough as the emperor, so why not give her endorsement. She did however warn the prince that her endorsement had a time limit. She suggested the prince to act fast, before the next attack came, or the value of her endorsement would reduce significantly.
As it turned out, the human prince wouldn’t have time to utilize that endorsement
The conclave the next day was in full swing when Neleh sensed that the time had come. She had considered possible ways the Enemy could get into their world, and one of those ways was the black portal they had tossed towards the sun, so she had sent a small spell to monitor the portal. As such, she noticed immediately when the portal activated and allowed three powerful beings through. One of them was the Enemy they had been waiting for. Luckily the portal had made some distance from the world, so they had some small time to act.
Everyone was surprised when Neleh suddenly jumped up and signaled her companions that the time had come. She also sent magical messages to the forces that were waiting for her signal before drawing into the Nexus to be sent to their chosen battleground. Gabriel looked at Neleh and knew immediately, but asked to confirm anyway. “Is it time?”
“Yes, the Enemy is here. And he wasn’t alone. I detected two others.” Neleh replied before turning to address the gathered people of the conclave. ”Ladies and gentlemen, it seems the time for the final battle has come. At this very moment, my representatives are already in your lands gathering the most powerful members of your races for the battle. I’d have asked for your cooperation but there’s no time for that now. I didn’t want to do it like this, but now I have no choice. You all owe me, and now I’m collecting. Those among you who have the strength and courage to stand up for our world can follow me. The rest? You can go hide in your little holes and hope other save the world for you again.”
Without waiting for an answer, Neleh turned around and walked out of the building. He was a little surprised, but secretly pleased to see all of the participants with power following her. The rulers crowded around her to ask some questions while they walked. Azrael was once again working as their voice. Neleh also noticed several messengers running towards the celestial city to gather forces. That was good. This would be a battle of attrition, so they were not all needed immediately.
“Where will the battle take place?” Azrael asked the obvious question.
“We prepared a battleground in the demon lands and Gabriel will try to lure our enemies there. Whether they will oblige is an open question. I would’ve preferred if we could’ve done this in the faerie lands as they’re already devastated, but I don’t want the remains of the Blades and Trow coming to mix things up.” Neleh replied while they reached the doorway to Nexus.
This doorway was a little different in that it didn’t lead to the corridor with the other doorways but the part of the Nexus with the large arches instead. The other could already see large groups of elves coming into the Nexus and converging towards a set of arches that were especially prepared for this purpose. They didn’t go through just yet however. By the time their troupe reached the closest of those arches, they could already see members of other races coming through the other arches. Some looked grim and determined, while others were half dragged here.
As they came through the arch to the battlefield they had chosen, the others could see that the battlefield had been prepared beforehand. Neleh hadn’t known the exact time of the Enemy’s arrival, but she wasn’t about to lower her guard. As such, a large portion of the people she intended to use was already in position. They rotated the people standing ready, so that there would always be a group here even in an emergency.
Estelar ran to meet Neleh as soon as she had come through. “The flying forces are all standing by. They’re keeping a respectable distance from this place and will fly in for support as soon as we give the signal. Your special troops are already on the way and the Fifth Order is picking up the Great Silver ranked fighters of the other races. The others will take time as expected.” They had been keeping tabs on the Great Silvers of the other races just for this reason.
“That’s fine, we can’t have all of them attack at the same time anyway. Did Shiori, Asariel and Asheara already get here? Did they figure out how to hide Asheara? How about the magical formation for Gabriel?” Neleh fired off questions.
“The three are here, but you’ll have to ask them yourself whether they succeeded. I still think that part of the plan sucks by the way, but I won’t bother arguing at this point. Gabriel’s celestials succeeded in making the formation in time. We also hid your little surprises beneath the ground as you asked.” Estelar replied.
While the two were lost in their own world, the other looked at the battlefield. They had arrived to a large but completely deserted valley that looked a little like the caldera of a long dead volcano. They could see that around the valley were several arches similar to the one they had come through. Most of them were overlooking the valley from elevated positions, and it was obvious that the arches allowed for a clear line of fire into the valley. In the middle of the valley was the largest magical formation they had ever seen, several kilometers across. The formation was carved into the rock; with the resulting carvings filled with what they suspected was enchanted dust conductive to great amounts of mana.
There were also several smaller spell circles carved around the areas the arches were, clearly meant to defend the arches against counter attacks. There were already several elven mages and priestesses preparing their defensive spells surrounding the arches. They could all see Gabriel moving to the center of the valley. The people that had followed Neleh were a little confused about what to do, but luckily the Eternal Empress already knew what to expect and advised them.
Meanwhile, Neleh found the trio she was looking for near the edge of the large spell circle. “So did you manage to find a way to hide her?” She asked without preamble.
“When counting in the items you created, we believe so. However, she can’t remain in your vicinity for the whole time or she will be revealed. You’ll have to give the signal to her, while she keeps some distance until then.” Asariel replied.
“Good enough. Gabriel, are you ready?!” Neleh yelled at the celestial in the middle of the formation.
“Yeah, how far away are they?” Gabriel asked magically instead of yelling.
“They will be reaching the atmosphere in half an hour.” Neleh replied with the same method. “If you can snipe one of them, then that’s all great, but I would prefer if you just wasted the Enemy’s power instead. Khali and Shiori will take one target while Asariel and your little helpers will take care of the other.”
“I know, we went through this already.” Gabriel replied a little amused at Neleh’s tension. It’s not that Gabriel wasn’t taking this as seriously, but it was rare to see Neleh this flustered.
They fussed with their preparation for a while, double checking everything. Suddenly they all looked towards the sky. They could sense the gathering and release of great power. The Enemy decided to take the first shot it seemed. They could sense several attacks towards different continents. Apparently the Enemy wanted to make a splashy entrance, while also creating some extra resentment to feed on. Luckily they had prepared for such a possibility, which was why Gabriel’s celestials weren’t here yet.
“Judging by what I can sense, there’s one attack aiming for each inhabited continent.” Gabriel murmured. They could already see one stream of power coming towards the ground. “He’s aiming at the capitals as expected.”
They had stationed one of the celestials in each capitol to prevent any attacks. They might not be strong enough to fight the enemy directly, but they should be able to stop a single attack. That was the hope anyway. The celestial in the elven lands was actually protecting Rhi’a’non, as Nan Yanoi had its own defenses even without help. Now they had to wait for the report.
Gabriel listened to the reports of her subordinates. “The attack against the demon capital was stopped. The same with the naga. Good thing we considered that. Water really isn’t a protection enough.”
“Also the Eternal Empress would’ve killed me if the eggs got destroyed.” Neleh mumbled low enough to not be overheard.
“The shield protecting Nan Yanoi was enough. The beastmen are ok. The humans…on no.” Gabriel blanched a bit.
“Well, we expected that there might be problems. What is it?” Shiori asked, seemingly not caring either way.
“Two of the attacks were not at capitols. Muriel in human lands managed to intervene anyway as the attack was close enough. The attack wasn’t stopped, but at least he managed to deflect it to a rural area. There will be some dead, but not as bad as it could’ve been. However, Zaphreal wasn’t even slightly close to the celestial city that got attacked. They aimed for the city that held the gateway between planets. I doubt the gateway could be destroyed, but I don’t think the rest of the city fared as well.” Gabriel reported.
“Well, I admit that is something we should’ve expected. Gabriel, be a darling and return fire. It’s time we got the Enemy’s attention.” Despite her words, Neleh’s face was a mask of grimness.