B1 — 36. Lingering Humanity

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POV Change:  Elinor, our Lich Empress

Recap: Elinor took over one of her minions to observe what the humans thought about her, trying to determine how she should take the steps at incorporating them into her expanding Empire.  In terms of living creatures, all she has is Gwen, Dalria, and the Yaltha’ma, but now, she must contemplate the manner in which she will lead her new nation.

Patrons have chosen to have the next artwork done of the Court in Session; the Spider Sisters and Royal Court will be present with a few other additional minions.  It will be looking up at the throne from the Ri’bot’s POV on trial.

That being said, a special thanks to my patrons for helping me mitigate the price of things related to the serials!

Elinor sat comfortably upon her mobile throne, resting her back against her skeletal Quen’Talrat’s bony palm while he slowly descended the stairs.  Iris and her bodyguards remained close, and a thought struck Elinor as her glowing green irises moved to the Thélméthra Queen.

She hasn’t ordered the fodder to pick her up and carry her.  Why?  She’s elegant and graceful while she moves but always walks on her own.  Perhaps I’m the one that’s strange to her?  Tiffany and Edmon have no issues jumping aboard.  I suppose it’s just culture, and I’ll likely be exposed to a lot of diverse cultures in this new world.

This is a battle for survival, and I have my minions, humans, and even captives now.  She glanced back at the upper balcony of the second floor, where the soft sounds of human voices echoed from.  Why do I feel so alone right now, then?

Her left hand rose, pressing against her chest, fingers curling in; and the smooth texture of her dress ticked her skin.  All it takes is a moment to alter a life … I’m such a mess.  Why am I feeling so low right now?  Why am I drowning in my thoughts … my heart’s becoming so empty and cold, yet I still have this piece of humanity within me that’s fighting.

“Empress, is something wrong?”  Elinor’s vision dropped to the Thélméthra Queen as she glanced up at her, brow creased with concern.

A soft smile moved Elinor’s lips.  No, not really.  Where do you go when there’s nowhere to go?

“I don’t understand the question.  We can go anywhere you desire.”

Elinor didn’t respond, head turning to observe the group of humans and Torlim resting in the central entryway while Tiffany continued her work.  The crowd was thinning surprisingly fast; at least a quarter of the injured seemed to have recovered enough to bear their pain.

Benira, the Clavex Clan member that had killed a child, seemed to be paralyzed on a wooden table that had been flipped on its side.  Occultish symbols and designs had been painted on her body with clay, lines leading from the teenage Ri’bot to a circle that the humans entered to be healed.

Tiffany moved between the injured, painting different symbols on them, and upon entering the ring, the markings glowed orange, repairing the tissue before flaking off.  One decision … maybe I’m no older than that Ri’bot if I compared her to a human.  Her entire life changed and now look at her.

The young Ri’bot was young no more; her skin was discoloring with every human that entered the circle, and her eyes were beginning to dim.  Elinor frowned as she paused her steed’s march, watching two more humans have three rather nasty gashes healed, an orange radiant glow sealing the wounds.

Ri’bot will say I’m the worst … the humans I save will say I’m the best.  Damn … how do I know what’s real when my mind questions all I know, and how do I protect myself from myself when I’m feeling low?  Emotional Loss should handle this, but it’s not … not completely.

Elinor shook her head.  It’s not a question about direction, Iris.  I know the hurt will come back from time to time; there’s so much love, confusion, pain, and hatred swirling inside me.  She chuckled softly.  I feel like people would tell me to get my s*** together … easier said than done.  All it takes is a moment … one decision and your entire life is in shambles.

Iris’ frown deepened as she moved to follow Elinor’s gaze, glowing red eyes shifting between the injured humans.  “What are your orders?  Do you wish me to kill them?”

Elinor released a soft sigh.  No, that won’t help me.  This human part of me … am I making a difference with the decisions I make?  I suppose you wouldn’t understand what’s going through my mind, Iris.  It’s alright, just give me time to think in silence; these are demons you can’t slay for me.

“As you wish,” Iris stated, and she felt a connection open between her and TIffany, likely asking for her advice.

Elinor let them have their privacy, and she knew Tiffany would make contact with her after Iris’ inquiries.  These things on my chest … am I pretending or coping?  What am I really gaining from saving these humans and throwing so much energy at the Ri’bot?  What is there to live for?  Yet, at the same time, I know I don’t want to die.  It’s so confusing.

The moment Iris closed her communication with Tiffany, Elinor spoke, eyes resting on the aging Ri’bot.  Tiffany, will Benira make it to the end?

The Witch hummed thoughtfully, smiling before waving at her from across the hall.  “Oh, most definitely not.  I’ll soon need to find more sacrifices to fuel my ritual, but umm, Iris said you were asking her questions?  What’s on your mind?”

Elinor sat quietly as the humans shifted on the floor, shooting nervous glances her way, and to her left, she noticed a few of the children and adults peering down at her between the wide railing of the second landing.

People only care when they benefit … I’m no different, I think.  I suppose I’m just trying to unwind, but I can’t really describe the feelings I have.  I know I’m blessed with what I currently have, but at the same time, I feel so empty and cold.  I’m stuck in my mind.

Tiffany’s smile vanished, folding her arms; her black bra poked out as her shirt shifted from the action.  “Questions of the heart are rarely simple, Dear.  Emotional Loss is not handling those feelings?”

You know about Emotional Loss?

“Yes, I’m aware of a few of your abilities.”

Elinor shook her head, eyes dropping to the floor.  No, I feel like Emotional Loss is just a coping mechanism.  I still need to address my feelings.

Tiffany cleared her throat, arms dropping to clasp her hands in front of her.  “Umm, Iris mentioned demons she can’t slay.  Are you having second thoughts about using the Ri’bot in this manner?”

She didn’t respond right away, searching her heart, and there was little to discover other than the hate, but there was pain hidden within that blaze.  Building an Empire is obviously something I must do, but for what reason?  Just surviving isn’t a strong enough reason, and I’m not totally sold on my own thoughts.

Her sad smile returned.  Power isn’t a cure to feeling depressed, is it?

Tiffany’s vision lowered.  “You have a hole in your heart, which is something we cannot help fill.  I may not understand it, but I have the knowledge.  My advice, use your hate to pull yourself out, but I know that might not be the answer you’re looking for.  Your love is dulled, which means you must use another means other than sadness or joy.”

Depression should be dulled, too, but still, it’s strong enough.  No… that’s something for another time.  What about Benira’s replacement?

“Did you have anyone in mind?”

Elinor’s lips pursed as her vision lifted to the dying teenager.  I’ve made quite the impression already, but who should go next?  She pondered on the issue for a moment before making her decision.  It must be one of the Roxim Clan recon members we’ve captured.

It wouldn’t be fair to demand a sacrifice from the remaining Clavex prisoners; to be honest, I’m a little shocked that I could make that decision … with my hate.  Maybe it has to do with these emotions I’m feeling.

“What about that Delthax Clan member?  He was sentenced to death.”

Her mind returned to the Ri’bot left in charge after Valdar had died, and the embers in her heart heated while glancing between the wounded.  How painful is the process?

Tiffany folded her arms again, now completely paused in her task as she focused on her.  “Not that painful, to be honest.  The ritual saps the cell integrity from an individual and directs it into the specified locations of the intended body meant to be healed.  It’s not quite an equivalent exchange; there is energy loss within the method I’m using.  I’m basically just giving the person’s cells a boost in their recovery time.

“The side effect to the one giving their energy is simply that of old age.  It is semi-reversible given time to rest, but we are far beyond that point for this girl.”  Tiffany chuckled.  “She’ll be experiencing frail bones, thin skin and veins, and in general, extreme malnourishment.  She’ll go downhill very fast from here; another patient or two, and she’ll look like a mummy.”

So, it’s basically like drowning, in a way, peaceful; she’s just aging rapidly?

Tiffany cocked her head, flipping her hair back with a thoughtful hum.  “Not quite.  There is pain and discomfort, but nothing compared to what I could inflict.”

Then I chose not to give Folcra for this task; I need an example to be made of him.  I consider the healing you’re doing as a form of sacrifice; she took a child’s life and is now literally giving her own to provide it for others.  However, I need something eye-catching and painful for Folcra that I can show his people.

“I see,” Tiffany played with a lock of her black hair, twirling it around her index finger as she thought in silence.  After a moment, her smile grew.

“I could cause a severe case of full-body hematidrosis.  Basically, he’d bleed from every pore.  I’d love to see it, personally; isn’t it a fascinating thought?  Normally there’s extreme abdominal pain and migraines attributed to the process, too, and I can use his own cellular vitality to replenish his blood to prolong the suffering.

“It’s not sustainable, of course,” she giggled, making those around her shy away with concerned expressions, but she paid them no mind.  “He’ll get older as his blood is replaced, and his physical strength will slowly leave him as he becomes weaker and weaker until finally, his heart won’t have the strength to keep pumping.”

Elinor’s lips lifted into a half-smile.  Do that, but we’ll save it for when we go to Valdar’s village.  Now, I don’t know the names of the Roxim prisoners, nor care to learn them.  Choose whichever you like most; I’m sure this will be a merciful death compared to what the others will receive.

“Oh, delightful!  I’ll have to choose Roka, then.  Everyone but he has broken their warrior’s oath; of course, he’s not really all there anymore, but it’s to be expected after such torture.  You could say he’s a fanatical zealot at this point.  It was a fun experiment; by their own religious beliefs, those that broke it are going to suffer in boiling pits of oil for all eternity.”  She giggled.

The spark of joy Elinor felt from Tiffany explaining what interested her about the torture gave her a bit of doubt in the Witch’s moral code.  She knew it before, but it was something else entirely to hear her speak so openly about it.  Tiffany was not innocent or concerned about her lost humanity.

I’m not a heroine … I’m not even an anti-heroine.  An itch at the back of her gut told her what she was doing was wrong, and she knew she could stop it with one decision, yet she let it continue without much resistance.  Another night, another battle in my mind and humanity is losing.

She directed her mount to move up the left side of the great hall, ascending the granite stairs to follow her link to Edmon inside the West Wing.  Tiffany continued expressing her thoughts, resuming her work with the humans; Elinor wasn’t particularly interested, but just hearing her mother’s voice helped the tightness in her chest, even with the gruesome topic.

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“Toka was put in charge of their little band of spies, and she had a hard outer shell, but the moment it was cracked, it was like dangling candy in front of a child.  Toka’s weakness was her brother; she couldn’t stand watching him tortured, and threw the others under the bus eventually.  Eltha has a surprisingly sharp mind.  She’s nowhere near the level of voracious savagery that humanity can produce, but given some time, she may surprise me. 

“One by one, they each gave away their eternity, damning their souls to stop the temporary pain of their comrades.  Of course, to them, I could make it last forever, and isn’t that the key?  They believe their version of hell is better than time spent with me.  I’m almost flattered, and I’m not even the Royal Persecutor; it’s just an educational hobby for me.”

Oh?  Elinor chuckled softly while rising to the second level of the West Wing.  You’re a torture hobbyist?

“A bit of dabbling in it has caught my interest; really, it was about pushing their beliefs to the breaking point.”  She mused.  “Witchcraft has many avenues that play with the other Court Members’ specialties; I’m supposed to be a jack of all trades.  Oh, if you’ll excuse me, Dear, it seems my little ball of youthful energy has gone out on me.  Hmm, she withered away quicker than I expected; perhaps the Ri’bot don’t have the life expectancy I hypothesized.  A pity.

“Oh, Elinor, one last thing; what would you like me to do with the body?  I could use it for a few rituals unless you have plans for it.”

Elinor’s green irises lifted to the second floor’s ceiling as she reached the level; Iris had remained utterly silent, a ghost with how unnoticeable she was.  The only reason she even sensed her presence was because of her link to the spider, and she was back in her original form.

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Her mind returned to the moment she’d held the corpses of her dead parents, and her vision lowered to the granite floor.  What … do you think about returning it to the Clavex Clan?

Tiffany’s tone made it clear she was disappointed but soon regained its joyful bounce.  “Returning the corpse to her Clan … well, it would give them a chance to mourn.  If you were going by their cultural beliefs that I’ve learned, they’d respect you for it, if that’s what you want.

“They usually like to throw their dead into tar pits for some odd reason; I don’t quite get why that was, and if you even offered that to them, it would show that you care enough to learn their customs.  I can see you working through the principles I taught you earlier; again, it depends on how you wish to frame your Empire.”

I see … give me a moment to consider it.

“Of course, in the meantime, I’ll send for Roka; it’s time for him to enter his lush jungle in the sky with its dazzling magical stones.  Hehe, such fun beliefs.”

Elinor pulled back her link to Tiffany.  There seems to be a divide among the groups.  Those taken prisoner by the Clavex Clan appear to be in agreement as a majority; they think their captors are intelligent creatures with empathy and reason, and they deserve fair treatment as they were shown.

Yet, on the other hand, those taken by the Delthax Clan see them as horrifying monsters that should be eliminated.  If I want them to start getting over the trauma this has caused them; then I need to address both sides, but … why would I want that?

Racism could easily bloom among the Delthax survivors, while those rescued from the Clavex would come to defend them, especially the children.  Do I want harmony or division?  Obviously, peace would be more beneficial as an Empire … order is needed, but my hatred.

That divide could be harmful overall.  I can’t be too light on them, but I can’t be too hard … if I want to curb both parties’ concerns, and logically, they’re both valid, then I’ll need to find a solution.  This is more than just returning an executed criminal, but to them, she was someone’s daughter, friend, even lover for all I know.

I recognize that … yet, a part of my heart tells me to crush every family into dust, and my gut tells me not to be hasty about it.  One sentence, yet the consequences that sentence brings … it can change lives; I suppose this is what it means to hold real power and the weight that presses on the heart of a leader.  I’ll be forced to do things I don’t like…

She glanced at her left hand, bringing it up in the pitch-black hallway of the West Wing as they continued down the long corridor; she noticed stairs halfway down, leading to the floors below and above, but quickly dismissed them to return to her internal problem.  After a moment, she contacted Edmon and explained her thoughts.

“I’ll prepare for your arrival,” Edmon stated in a neutral tone.  “As for your question, it is a difficult one.  I agree with Tiffany’s opinion, to a degree, we cannot help you with such emotions.  We are your servants, not your parents.  That being said, I would personally advise taking the indentured servitude path for the Ri’bot.  You wish to be harsh, but not overbearing; order both parties to come together upon the terms, and you act as the enforcer.

“However,” his tone lowered, adding a hard edge.  “You must alter this contract on both sides once it is given to you; it is paramount that you display before all of them that you are in charge and make all decisions.  This is something only given and enforced by your grace.”

Edmon took a deep breath before letting it out in a long stream, audible through the connection.  “That being said, I would start at the indentured servitude part, and let the Clan know that they can earn their right to freedom; that may be inside the Empire or outside of it, and perhaps there can be a clause for both options in the deal.”

Elinor pondered his suggestion before smiling.  Your advice is so different from Tiffany’s.

“Tiffany can be a tad extreme and obsessed with anything she does, and she may be brilliant, but she has the attention span of a cat,” he chuckled.  “Hyper-focused on one thing, and without warning, she’s running off on something else.”

Don’t let her catch you saying that; she’ll bite your head off.

“Hmm,” Edmon’s deep voice was laced with humor.  “I’d be more worried about a Toad Hex, to be honest, but then again, I have high magical resistance.  Probably one reason why the blasted woman hasn’t cursed me already.”

Elinor’s eyes wandered while talking with her Gatekeeper; Edmon made her smile in a different way than Tiffany.  She passed rooms filled with strange devices or display cases of various artifacts.  Some showed signs of damage, but most were intact.  Alright, I suppose I’ll have Tiffany return the body with those conditions placed upon them.

She quickly communicated the information to the Royal Witch, which piqued her interest.  “Edmon totally advised this, didn’t he?”  She mused.  “It just sounds like something he’d put forward!”

Yes.  Elinor said with a soft smile.  He advised me on how to achieve what I desired.  What do you think?

“I like it … I like it a lot; personally, though, I’d make it a bit more fun, but I’ll step back and let him have this victory.  It’ll play with his head, which is even more delicious!”

Right…  Elinor sighed after cutting the connection, establishing a link to Edmon again.  Over the past several hours … I’ve seen hints of my parents within you both.  Your stern, stubborn, and business-like approach … it’s in the confident way you carry yourself, the quick and dry humor while being able to push Tiffany’s buttons with the lightest touch to make her focus her thoughts on you.  You also have his obsession with detail and order.

Tiffany is no different.  She can jab right at your weak spots, to the point that she’s able to pull out that playful side you have hidden below.  She’s curious, intelligent, talks a lot, and is a bit reckless.

Edmon was silent for several seconds before saying, “Yes, we were designed in a manner that reflected your desires, and there is no regret in that.  I am honored to serve you to the best of my abilities, and Tiffany is more than delighted…”

Elinor frowned as she caught sight of the end of the West Wing; the hallway led to a massive bronze-colored double door.   She entered the space with low expectations and was thereby impressed by what she found.

The room was like all the others, large enough to comfortably accommodate the massive apes’ size; the arched ceiling was more than eight meters high, and every inch of the walls was lined with colossal shelves that went all the way to the top of the room.

Broad mats with sun-shaped designs covered much of the floor, and huge tables were set atop them with crude hardcover books more than twice her height.

Edmon had several books spread out across a dusty mat, and she noticed several other books sorted into different piles around the room.  However, the most noticeable transition was Edmon without his black helmet.

His black hair was perfectly cut and shaped, giving him a rather dashing, black knight cavalier presence.  His strong jaw was set and eyebrows low as he studied the work.  My dad really was handsome … if only that crystal hadn’t appeared, or even a day in advance or behind.  How might my life have been different…

Valdar squatted between two large books with El’Co’Ca by his side.  They appeared to be mumbling about translations while Valdar marked things in the blank book with ink in a bottle half the size of his body.  The feather he used was much smaller and seemed to be from a Yaltha’ma.

One of her skeletal apes was moving from shelf to shelf, scanning the content for something Edmon had told it to look for.  The Gatekeeper appeared to be flipping through a big book that housed many of the palace floor plans.

Elinor took in the scene before addressing him.  “I didn’t expect Ke’Thra’Ma to have such a massive library, and they’re all done by hand?”

“Yes,” Edmon stated while following the straight lines of a machine’s design with his index finger.  “Ke’Thra’Ma had a brilliant mind; that goes without saying, and even developed his own mathematical system.”

A rueful smile lifted Elinor’s lips as she remembered the conversation she had with Demon.  “He had help.”

“Even so, to be able to not only grasp the instruction, but develop it, and to advance so quickly.  He may have been a warring brute, but he was also an intellectual giant.”

Elinor moved to join him, glancing down at the designs.  The writing on the parchment seemed like total gibberish, and Edmon pointed at several dots, lines, twirls, and symbols.  “Do you see this?  It’s like a mix between Arabic, Voynich Script, and the Naxi.  El’Co’Ca has made a guide on the numeric system for me, and the math is becoming clearer, but I still can’t read these letters.  Still, I can get a rough estimate of what is being represented.”

Brow furrowing as she leaned closer, Elinor pointed at what seemed like a massive amphitheater or colosseum.  “What’s this?”

“Hmm,” Edmon gripped the edge of the page before carefully turning it back to show a less detailed image of it.  “My guess, something like the Roman gladiator arenas.  There’s a VIP block high above the action which can only be accessed from the palace.  The entrance is under the throne room, and it’s at least four times bigger than Roman’s largest counterpart.

“So far, I’ve stationed guards at the only four entrances to get into the palace.  There’s the West Wing and Left Wing exits, the front, and the hallway leading to the coliseum; even if it’s not easily accessible, since someone would need to fly or climb the walls, it’s still a weakness, and there are Yaltha’ma servant points in the lower levels.”

“The city?”  Elinor questioned, pulling her hair behind her shoulders as her minion lowered her further to study the book; her crown kept her bangs out of her face.

Edmon glanced over at El’Co’Ca and Valdar with a slight frown.  “I have several things to discuss with you, Empress.  Do you have the time to listen?”

“Absolutely,” Elinor responded, glancing at her hands resting in her lap.  “What have you discovered?”

Edmon took a moment to puzzle through a set of markings on the book in front of him.  “For one, we should restrict your movements temporarily to inside the palace; we do not have the manpower to handle a large force.”

“Reasonable,” Elinor whispered while hopping off her mount to walk around the books.  “I suppose we don’t have the numbers to populate the entire city, yet.”

Edmon flipped a few pages before tapping on one.  “This is the floor plan for the palace; I’ve looked over the designs for the first, second, third, and fourth floors.  There are even two basement levels with three more floors below them, dedicated to some kind of mechanical device or devices.

“The odd part is the floors above that … I can’t find anything in these books, but there is a reference to another source where Ke’Thra’Ma’s sanctuary is located.”

Elinor’s lips pursed to the side as she looked at the drawn picture.  “He was quite the artist, it seems, and his sanctuary is a blank spot on these plans.  I suppose it was a secret he kept.”

Their attention moved to El’Co’Ca as her ears flew up.  “Umm, Empress Elinor, Gatekeeper Edmon … El’Co’Ca has information on secret books.  Is the Empress looking for them?”

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