B1 — 35. A Choice To Be Made

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POV Change:  Elinor, our Lich Empress.

Recap: Elinor has made her decision about both clans and Valdar has chosen to atone for his sins against our Empress in the hopes for mercy.  Now, it is time for Elinor to decide what to do next.

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Elinor took a deep breath as she ordered her two minions by the door to seal it; she watched the large double doors close while letting go of the air in her artificial lungs.  Once it closed, she pulled her hair around, passing through the ghostly veil, and let gravity carry her back onto the oversized throne.  Finally, I can relax a bit…

The cushion was more than comfortable, and it appeared the Yaltha’ma had done their best to maintain and keep the throne clean.   The bright glow of the crystals above blinded her for a moment, and she closed her eyes, letting her body relax.  The hall was dead silent, and she couldn’t even hear the storm raging outside.

Her chest didn’t rise as she refused to breathe, letting the silence envelop her.  There was so much to do.  What am I even doing?  Tiffany’s made it clear that she has no interest in entertaining the living, but she still believes in me and what I wish to accomplish.  Edmon hasn’t mentioned it at all.

She was a little surprised to feel a tear slide down her cheek.  I haven’t really mourned my parents’ passing … or what I did to them.  Is that even something I’m capable of?

The liquid quickly cleared as Emotional Detachment subdued the burning sensation in her chest, but the memories wouldn’t leave.  The thoughts come, but the emotions are pushed back.  My mom and dad weren’t perfect, but they were mine … only mine.  I created something else to inhabit their bodies … yet, even how bad that sounds, I know they’d wish for me to be taken care of.  Should I go forward with it then?

The tranquil atmosphere was like the void in her earrings, pressing in around her, but the only thing that slipped through was the sadness that came and went in quick waves as she tried to let go.  Everything fell apart … it was so fast, and I’m here, on a throne, passing judgment.  Now that they’re gone … everything’s gone … I’m so young, but now I’m left in this cold world.  Tiffany and Edmon can never hold me as my parents did … comfort me in the same way.

Can I ever get over it since I can’t express the emotions, or is my heart meant to burn like this forever as they’re pushed down, left to smolder.  All I could want … but my wants mean nothing.  Certainly, to my minions, my desires are all important, but for me … there’s no going back.  I broke my parents, and how am I supposed to live with that?  Project my part of the blame in breaking them onto the Ri’bot.

What else can I do?  Yell at this cruel universe for cursing me … lash out in fury?  What else do I have to do in the first place?  Perhaps, saving the other humans is a way for me to come to terms with losing my parents.

Elinor opened her eyes, staring up at the bright white light above her; it didn’t hurt the same as when she was human, but she saw spots all the same.  I can’t really say, but I don’t wish to die, and maybe it’s that simple.  I want to survive; to do that, like Tiffany said earlier, intelligent creatures need purpose.  So, I will build an Empire, and I will foster an Empire that I can be proud of, which will require many evil acts, but what is right or wrong?

Sitting up, she took a deep breath while pondering that question.  “It feels so natural to breathe … Iris, do you have such a thing as a conscience?”

Iris hadn’t moved from her position, still staring at the hall below; her tone held no emotion.  “I do not believe I fully understand that particular word, but from what your ability translates, yes, to a certain degree.  I feel a certain urge within me to do right by my daughters and the Queens that have come before me.  It is to this ideal that my decisions are made.”

A small smile lifted Elinor’s lips as she folded her hands in her lap, staring at her extended feet.  “You’re so straight forward, and your answers aren’t anything like Tiffany’s; it’s not as complicated.”

“I do not claim to be right or even to fully comprehend your question, but I make a decision based on that ideal and live with the consequences that follow.”

“I feel like your answer to Tiffany wasn’t complete,” she licked her black lips before lying back down to stare up at the white crystal.  “You may not have much of an opinion on the living, but I sense a bit of resistance between you two.  Are you dissatisfied with the orders I have given or Tiffany?”

“No, Empress.  Tiffany does have a perspective I do not share, but that is her right within the Court, and I accept that.  Personally, I have a few issues with the Witch, and she with I.  Although, I suspect she is becoming accustomed to my presence.”

Elinor smirked, mind returning to Tiffany’s scowl as Iris took her position beside Edmon.  “It could be that.”  How much is an act for my sake?  Is it worth considering at all?  No, I’m obsessing over this when I should be looking toward the future.

Laws need to be established, order.  We can start with simple ones and work up from there, but first, they must realize this is not Earth.  I think they already know I am in charge by their reactions, but how will that be viewed over time?  An Empire needs land and people to enjoy it; I have a lot of work ahead of me, and I’m bound to have many enemies in this land.

Her eyes closed as she activated Lesser Possession; she left the minion in control of its body while observing.  The area was divided into four groups; there was the throng of mostly women taken by the Clavex Clan, the Ri’bot, the few uninjured men, and women that were brought back with Camellia, and the children.

The humans seemed to be in brighter spirits as they ate, and they appeared to enjoy Tiffany’s cooking.  Each child was distracting themselves with made-up games, which the Ri’bot watched with fascination.

Her attention didn’t linger long on the children, but she noted that they were playing princess and the prince, taking turns between themselves to act as the blue toads.  She listened to the group with Severino as he talked with a few women that surrounded him.

“… what the Empress said.  We’re trapped here.”

Nohemi pursed her lips, shaking her head.  “I just can’t believe that!  There has to be a way to get back home.”

“I want to believe, too,” a woman in her thirties muttered, “I do, but look around you.  This is either the most real nightmare I’ve ever had, or we’re on a new planet with … the dead protecting us.”

“Where do we have to go?  We all saw the crystal break.”  The women fell silent, so Severino posed a new question.  “What do you make of the Empress?”

They were silent for a moment, and the women from before scooted over to join the conversation.  “Cold … the coldest girl I’ve ever seen—but at the same time, I could see the pain.  I have no doubt she would have done everything she said to those toads.“

“She’s dangerous,” another mumbled.

Severino nodded while eating a piece of meat, and after chewing, said, “I can understand your fear, Cruzita.  She seems to have supernatural powers, but she saved us, and she didn’t have to do that.  Why?”

“Slaves?”  Cruzita huffed, glaring down at the metal-like cup Tiffany had found for them to drink from.

Célia shook her head.  “I don’t think so … you saw what she did to that toad, right?  She could just force us to work as slaves once we’re dead.  She listened to Nohemi, too.”

The third woman chuckled mirthlessly.  “You honestly think that was really a trial?  We all know what it was.”

A crease appeared in Célia’s brow.  “What?  No … she actually showed mercy to the toads that kidnapped us.”

“Yeah, she should have killed them all,” Cruzita growled, nose twisting with disgust.  “I don’t see her being that cold, Ibbie.  She’s just a girl that lost her parents … a lot of young girls lost their parents when they attacked.  You should have said something, Severino.”

Elinor listened silently as the conversation continued; the children were laughing, using the large furniture as their forts while the adults had dark shadows cast over their faces, talking in hushed tones.

“I said what most of us agreed on,” Severino muttered before slowly taking another bite of his meat.

Cruzita sucked on her lower lips for a moment before shooting a scathing glare at the Ri’bot; they were leaning against the wall with two of her minions guarding them.  “Monsters, the lot of them, and they deserve to be treated like monsters.”

“How can you say that?”  Ibbie asked.  “We don’t know anything about them, and they can obviously understand the Empress.”

“And why do you keep calling her that, huh?  She’s a little girl…”

“Shut-up,” Célia growled.  “Don’t make things worse for the kids.  The only reason we have food and protection right now is because of that little girl.”  A lump dropped down her throat as she glanced at the skeletal ape Elinor was possessing.  “I don’t know how, but you saw Iris … the Empress has real power, and you shouldn’t say things like that.”

Ibbie shifted on the floor.  “You heard what she told that one toad; be more careful with your words, Cruzita.”

“Like I care,” Cruzita sniffed, and angry tears appeared in her eyes.  “I’m broken, beat-up, and bruised … this is as far as I can go.  What’s there for me to live for anyway, huh? Everyone I loved is either dead or taken to be killed like dogs.  Didn’t you say your sister was in the other group?”  She asked while glaring at Severino, sniffing back snot.  “Why aren’t you with her, huh?”

Célia’s brown irises turned to him with concern.  “Why aren’t you with her?”

“I’m … I will, in a bit…”  He mumbled, eyes downcast as he lowered his hand from his mouth.  “It’s enough that she’s safe … that one woman that stood with the Empress is taking care of her cuts.”

“Excuses,” Cruzita mumbled.

“Knock it off,” Ibbie snapped.  “Quit taking out your anger on everyone else.”

Cruzita’s nose flared with rage, but she brushed her black hair to the side while moving to the opposite side of the group.  “Fine.”

“She’s getting on my nerves,” Célia growled.  “Does she care about the kids getting hurt at all?”

Severino’s left arm began to shake, and he dropped the meat he was carrying.  He chuckled weakly as the two women’s lips pursed.  “I’m fine … just a little worked up.  Give her a little slack, though.  She’s been through a lot.”

“We’ve all been through a lot; she has no excuse herself,” Ibbie whispered, but she seemed to drop the subject after that.  “Why do you think the Empress wants us around?”

He shrugged, taking a few more calming breaths before picking up the meat.  “Who knows, but I’m sure she’ll tell us.  We need to face the facts, though … it’s not going to be the same, and we have to do whatever she says.”

Elinor had heard enough; she released Lesser Possession, opening her glowing green eyes before sitting up.  I suppose I didn’t really need to listen to them to understand where they’re coming from.  Now is the time to decide what kind of Empress I want to be.  Okay, then I’ll show them.

She ordered the minion beside her to extend its arm, and she transferred to it.  “Iris, I’m going to talk with the humans while they eat.  I have a few things to cement in their minds.”

Iris followed without comment, keeping pace with the ape as he descended the stairs, and halfway down, she had the skeleton pause.  Her vision narrowed while she turned her mount to the side, staring up at the bony toad beside it.

Garu was my link to talking with the Ri’bot, but I have Valdar now.  Keeping him protected makes little sense; okay, Garu, go kill things in the surrounding forest and bring them back with Quin to level up.  Perhaps you’ll break past the speaking barrier within your level.

Garu responded without hesitation, jumping down to run out of the palace through the opening doors as her guards unsealed the entrance.  The door shut behind her, leaving the lone skeletal ape in the sanctuary hallway, defending it.

Iris and her three guards escorted her to the second story of the palace’s right-wing, causing all chatter to die down as her presence became known.  Everyone shifted uncomfortably as she gazed between each face; they were a bit more than nervous.

Elinor held her dignified posture atop the skeletal hand as she addressed the humans, and took notes from what Tiffany had taught her about the makings of an Empire.  

“I understand each of your fears.  We are in an unknown land.  We have been kidnapped, divided, beaten, crushed, demoralized, and left utterly confused, but let me be clear, we will not remain as such.  I know your concerns are justified.  I am no longer completely human; I am sure of it, and you can see it with those that serve me.

“That being said, a piece of me still remains, and I sympathize with each of you.”  She looked at each doubtful face as she continued.  “I am going to build an Empire in this world.  A place where those within it do not need to live in terror of what might be in the jungle or in the fields because I am there.

“The Undead are a symbol of an Undying Empire that will not tolerate any violation of law within my land.  I will be unyielding in my efforts to create this sanctuary, and all those that swear loyalty to that nation will have the weight of an Undead legion between them and the monsters without.

“Yes, the Undead horrify the living in any world.  However, what you see is actually an extension of myself.  They follow every order I give, and they cannot plot against me; I am the only voice in their minds, which means all those under my protection will have no fear of the dead.”

Her focus shifted to Célia.  “Each of you has your own fears of me and this world, but there is one thing each of you craves, and that is security, a place of safety for your loved ones with food, water, shelter, medication, and everything you need to have a meaningful life, which the Undead do not need.  That is the place I am in the process of building.  Do you have any questions?”

Elinor’s lips lifted into a soft smile as a few kids’ hands were the first that flew into the air, and they spoke soon after.

“Can my brother come?”

“What about my mommy; she’s with the other toads.”

“I want to protect Amy from the monsters!”

Elinor lifted her hands with a soft chuckle and turned her attention to a wild-looking man with a beard.  “My name is Desi, Empress.  That—trial you held … you told that toad that it was a bad move to send his people away.”  A dark grin moved his chapped lips and shadowed eyes.  “You’re going to hunt them down, right?”

Her gaze moved between a few faces that hardened with anger, and her smile grew.  “Yes, Desi.  There are always priorities, but I will make sure the toads that were involved are punished to the utmost of my laws.”

Another man raised his hand.  “Gervasio, Lady Empress, umm—when you say, your laws.  Could you clarify a bit on that?”

Elinor’s hands folded neatly in her lap as she responded.  “I will not lie to you.  A military guarded every Empire, kingdom, or nation in history, and that military is what secures the rights of those people to do as they please without the worry of outside forces subjugating them and taking all that you have labored for.

“Will there be laws in my Empire?  Yes, and all those that choose to be a part of my Empire, and yes, it is a choice, will abide by them or face the consequences.  Consider what you have experienced with the laws of this land already.

“Life in an untamed world is brutal, you’ve all seen it, and only overwhelming force or surrender can be the response to those seeking to do you harm.  The world standard is set by the strongest nation.  If they do not fear or respect you, then they will never listen to you; to negotiate, you need fear, respect, or both, and both respect and fear are not given, but earned.”

A lump dropped down many throats, and not one person looked away.  After several seconds, a man tentatively raised his hand.  “Will you—will you make us Undead … or our loved ones that have already passed on, and I’m not delusional enough to think we could ever stop you, but … what would they be like?”

From the sudden tension that swept the groups, it was apparent this was a universal question.  She felt Violet returning, escorting Gwen and Dalria.  “I am not unreasonable; I can understand why each of you would have hope and fear of this topic.  I have experience with this first hand.  Is it possible for me to return your loved ones in almost the exact same state?  Yes.  I say almost because they will be utterly loyal to me.”

A woman’s shaky voice gained strength from behind a few women in the Clavex group.  “Will they have their—their memories?”

“In time, depending on certain conditions, it can be hastened, but they must kill other creatures in order to regain those sealed memories.  I will not explain the complexities of why that is, but it is a condition, and as far as I know, they cannot leave my service.  The Undead’s continued existence relies on me feeding them my power.”

A question crossed Elinor’s mind, and she quickly addressed it.  Edmon, can the Undead function long distances while away from me?

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“The Fodder, no.  Only those that can withhold and sustain themselves for an extended period, usually those with higher Grades.”

Thank you, that’s all I wished to know.

“My pleasure, Empress.”

So … I need to increase my distance a fair bit to cover an Empire, but it should be a skill I can obtain if I am meant to rule over a vast region.

Her attention moved back to the throng as they watched her with uncertainty, and a young boy asked.  “What about the frog people!”

“They’re toads, idiot,” Nohemi giggled.

“I knew that!”

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“Did not!”

“Kids, knock it off,” one of the men sitting nearby growled, silencing them as they shot each other heated glares.

“What about the toads?”  Elinor asked patiently.

“Umm … can they—you know, live with us, too?  I want to play with toad kids!  Nohemi’s mean.”

“Nu-uh, you’re mean!”

They quieted down as Elinor spoke.  “Honestly, I don’t know.  We will see in the future.”

“Yes!”  The boy pumped his arm.  “It’s not a no!”

“I want to have fun with the one that saved me,” Nohemi mumbled, glancing over at the Clavex Clan members.  “They look hungry, but Ysabel told me not to.”

Elinor’s lips fell slightly.  “I said that the children could feed them if they wished to.”

A woman cleared her throat, clearly frightened.  “I’m sorry, Empress … I—I won’t make the mistake again.”

Elinor breathed out a long sigh before turning her attention to Gwen and Dalria as they climbed the side of the stairs with Violet.  “Gwen, how are you feeling after your rest?”

Gwen gave her a nervous chuckle while scanning the new faces, and Dalria refused to make eye contact.  “Much better, thank you, Empress Elinor, and I see we have a lot of new people.  Violet was a lovely—surprise.  Umm, you also made food?”

“Tiffany prepared some.”

“Yes, I saw her healing people … remarkable, really,” she said while brushing her bangs behind her ears.  “Is there, umm, anything I should know?”

“I was just explaining to them that they can choose to be a part of my Empire or take their chances in the wild.  I will not force you to stay, but if you choose to be a part, then I expect you to recognize me as Empress and the laws I create.  Each of you will need to make this decision, and I will be clear, once you leave, I may not accept you back.  You must choose this night to either serve me or try to survive on your own.”

A woman jumped up.  “Carmencita, Lady Empress, umm—what if we start a town somewhere and you expand to that location?”

“I already explained that before,” Elinor stated evenly.  “Once I claim a land, then I will expect those that live there to choose to serve, move, or die, and their corpses are free reign for my ranks.  I will be respected, and if necessary, feared.”

She pursed her lips, nodding slowly.  “Yes, Lady Empress.”

“I will leave you in peace, and know that I do not expect any of you to take part in my army.  You are to help sustain yourselves with my aid in my land, but I am only providing a place of law and order.  Tonight, eat, drink, and rest, but after you have slept, then you must choose.  I am being very generous with providing the items you should need if you do not accept my rule, but know that from what I have discovered of this land, it is far more deadly than Earth, and the toad-people that you’ve witnessed are nowhere near apex predators.”

Turning back to Gwen, Elinor smiled.  “I expect you will be staying with the Empire and helping Tiffany?”

“Yes, but—umm, she scares me, Empress,” Gwen chuckled forcefully, trying to tame her wild red hair.  “Like … she really scares me, but I’m happy to be safe within this Empire you are building.  Violet told me a bit about what has happened since I went to sleep.  Thank you for rescuing so many people; this is amazing.”

Célia hesitantly stood up, glancing toward the kids before saying, “Umm—Empress, for the kids, can we explore this place to clear our heads and decide if we should stay?  I know our options are basically joining you or dying in the jungle, but … it would just make me feel a little better.”

“I don’t see a problem with that, but it would be best to keep an escort.”  She ordered one of her minions to follow and protect the kids, and it slowly moved to stand beside the children as they played, cheering while using the ape’s presence as a part of their game.

“Of course,” she chuckled.  “Oh, and thank you, Empress … all of this really does mean a lot to me, and—please?”

She nodded, causing a soft stir among the others.

“Thank you, Empress,” she breathed a relieved sigh before rebuilding her confidence.  “Umm—if we do stay, what do you want us to do?  I know you said we’d be providing for our needs with some of your help, but … is there anything more?”

“Hmm,” Elinor kept her eye on Célia for a moment as she thought, making her fidget.  “You may be involved in gathering resources for trade with other nations, and perhaps within time, I will provide a framework similar to our previous world, but to be honest, many things are not yet decided.

“I do not need to eat, and I don’t require much, but for a functioning Empire to thrive, I need an active populace.  In the short term, think medieval kingdoms, but I do not require my subjects to go to war.”

“Most generous,” Célia whispered.  “Thank you, Empress Elinor.  It really does sound like a good deal … I don’t know how we can repay you, but I know I’d like to help … if I can, and not be something I’m terrified of doing, but maybe I’m asking too much,” she giggled nervously.  “Sorry for taking your time!”  She quickly sat down.

“No issue,” Elinor nodded before turning back to Gwen.  “This is only the beginning.  I will prepare a bit more, and then I will see where to strike next.  Answer any more questions they might have.”  Her portable throne descended the stairs to meet up with Edmon upon her command.

“I’ll explain what little I know, Empress,” she said with a warm smile.  “Thank you, again.”

Elinor continued down the stairs with Iris beside her.  What has Edmon been plotting?  Let’s see what progress he’s made.


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