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”You again?!” Asked the annoyed and angry voice of the old Head Judge. “What are you doing here?”

“You keep asking that, but it’s not like the answer changes. This is the Jade Palace within the river of souls, where the dead are judged. One would think you’d have learned that by now.” The indistinct form of a soul said in an amused and slightly melancholic voice.

No one managed to cause such headaches as this soul could.

With a sigh Tian’Zun opened the Book of Life and Death to go over the soul’s now finished life. “Well now, I suppose I don’t need to ask why you’ve returned so soon.” With a bit more respect.

“Indeed. As a side note, did the plan work? Did I manage to take the Enemy with me?” The soul asked slightly worried.

“You did. Thanks for that headache too by the way. I processed that soul just before yours.” Tian’Zun replied. While the process had been almost as much of a headache as this soul, at least he was secretly happy to see that soul in front of him for judgement. That particular death would save him a lot of work in the future.

“What happened to him anyway? I’m just curious what that kind of negative karma does to a person.” The soul asked.

The judge thought for a while before answering. “Well, usually we don’t share details like that, but I guess I do owe you one after what happened with Michael and Gabriel. He got sent to Inferno of course, as a powerless soul that they’re going to keep around for a long, long time. Funnily enough, his memories we could wipe, unlike yours. He won’t be having a good time for the next eon or two.”

“Well, I suppose it was worth it then. So what will it be this time? I would imagine that getting rid of the Enemy would be worth some decent karma.” The soul finally asked, getting to the real point.

“You’re right. In fact, your previous life was worth a lot of good karma. Normally that would pretty much allow you a free choice, but unfortunately for you, your new destination has been decided for you according to this. For once I don’t get a say. Too bad. Maybe next time. Except I hope there won’t be a next time. You’re the only damn of your kind to die twice. Don’t make it three times. In fact, never come back please.” The judge had stood up from his seat and was now looking down at the soul rather threateningly. Not that he could really scare the soul in front of him, but he still tried.

“Wait, what? Already decided? By whom? Since when do others get a vote?” The soul complained.

“Oh don’t worry. I think you’ll like it. Usually we don’t allow Fate to meddle in things here, but were making an exception this time. Apparently this is also something of a reward for you. Or at least it’s supposed to be.” The judge waved his hand, sending the soul plummeting towards its next life.

“Aah, much easier this time. It’s so much easier when they specifically ask for a troublesome soul like that. No need to try and find a destination willing to accept them. Funny that she didn’t bring up her future gender this time either. I wonder, what should I do?” Tian’Zun mused to himself. It had been so easy in fact that he might even manage to avoid the headache this time.

-----

Already familiar with the process, Neleh knew immediately that she was now in her new body. Judging by the feeling of life, warmth and softness around her, she was at least being carried by a mother this time as well. So no hatching at least. It would’ve been slightly amusing to be born as a Kirin, considering…

As she spent most of her time asleep, Neleh had no idea how long she spent within her mother’s womb. That said, the time felt different than last time. Maybe it was just that her memory was foggy. That thought vanished however, when the time of her birth came. The whole process was weird. There was no pushing, no blood, no going through the birth canal. In fact, it wasn’t really even what you’d call a proper birth. When the time came, a greenish light surrounded her, and she was pulled through the walls of the womb, and straight outside her mother’s body, as if one of them was ethereal or something.

Quite a confusing experience all in all. Whoever her parents were, they certainly weren’t normal. ‘I wonder how long it will take me to pick up the language this time.’ She thought idly.

“Welcome back. It’s good to see you again.” Came the rather familiar voice from above her.

‘Eh, it’s a language I can already understand? That’s handy. Wait, wasn’t that a rather weird thing to say?’ Neleh thought in confusion as she looked up towards her mother. Her mind seemed to be working slower than usual.

“No need to make such a weird face. It’s not like this should be too much of a shock to you.” A very familiar face greeted her. Too familiar. In fact it was almost identical to her old face.

“Elune, what in the name of Inferno?” Neleh couldn’t help cursing, knowing the goddess would be able to receive her thoughts as she had felt their minds connecting for communication. She must have pulled a face again, as the goddess was laughing.

“I’d prefer if you called me mother instead. At least for now. In about sixteen years you can go back to something like honey, darling or my love.” The goddess said with an amused grin.

‘Wait, wait. I’m the child of Elune and…myself? So I’m my own parent? And my new mother fully intends to go back to the lover-like relationship from before? Even for me, that’s a bit…’ Neleh thought to herself. ‘This is giving me a headache. I might have some sympathy for Tian’Zun now. The old fogey is always complaining about a headache.’

“I’d recommend not thinking about it too deeply. As you might have guessed, this is why I wasn’t available before you died. We couldn’t have some other soul entering your fated new body, now could we? Fate was rather miffed at your impending death, so he arranged for this. Incidentally I loved the irony of the idea myself.” Elune explained. The goddess was showing her pervert side, as the idea clearly tickled her fancy.

Neleh decided to ignore the implications for now. “So how long was I gone? What’s going on with the world?”

“Right, straight to the point. The world is recovering quite nicely. You probably felt it at the time, but some of the gods ‘gave’ their lives to defeat the Enemy. That has had some consequences, and has caused some kerfuffle, but on the whole things are going well. The other races were a bit miffed at what happened during the battle, but relented when they heard the reason. Also, you giving your life to defeat the enemy kind of smoothed things over. It’s been twelve months since your death.

Incidentally, they picked Solana as the next empress. I guess it was as a sort of show of gratitude for you as well as skipping over the Sun Elves twice. They know you two used to be an item. She’s been advancing the reforms you started quite nicely. They tried to get Estelar in the beginning, but he refused and threatened to kill himself if they forced him. He felt too bad for what happened during the battle. Also, they got more statues of you around the empire than they have of me at this point.”
Elune explained the rough situation, and assured she’d give more details later.

The goddess carried her through a door into another room, where Neleh saw several familiar faces. “Welcome back!!” They yelled together, as if they were throwing a surprise birthday party. Which they kind of were in a way.

This location looked like some weird halfway point between the world and the home of the gods. It allowed all of them to be at the same place. She could see the trio she had expecting to see. “I found you.” Shiori said with tears in her eyes, as she took Neleh away from Elune’s arms.

“So you did. Though I think this might be considered cheating a bit. Not that I’m not happy, mind you.” Neleh replied, knowing that Shiori would be able to read her thoughts.

Asheara, Shiori and Gabriel kept passing her around, and Asheara complained a little about becoming a grandmother again. They all knew she was just faking it, since she had given up on grandchildren when she found out about her daughter’s orientation. They knew she was happy, even if the grandchildren were Neleh and Khali, and didn’t really count in many ways.

Neleh got another surprise, as the Eternal Empress entered the room. Apparently she had also been invited. She had a tiny Kirin on her shoulder. “Welcome back Immortal Flame. I told you to have some faith in our seers. Also meet your first sibling. He hatched three months ago.”

This had turned into a rather happy gathering. Things took a different turn for Neleh when Khali arrived. She was holding a tiny white and gold dress-robe that had cute little fluffy celestial wings sown on the back, and smiled with a positively evil smile. That dress was familiar. The other women were pulling out similar clothes. “We have some grudges to sort out, don’t we?” Khali asked in a sinister voice, heralding the beginning of Neleh’s nightmare.
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Vihyungrang

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