B2 — 44. Finally, Progress

Note:  I will be taking my first vacation in almost 3 years starting Monday; so, no chapters for a week.

PoV :

1.  Elinor (The Empress has her angel!)

Recap:  Sar’ollaz met with Elinor as she pondered the path ahead of her and left with some teasing remarks.  Our Empress has barely scratched the surface of this world and already sharks are swimming on all sides … She needs a real win.

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Elinor met with Valdar outside of the palace with a few prominent recent converts from the Xaltan Clan, the Ri’bot clan to the mid-southern half of the valley conquered by Azalea during the previous week.

They’d recovered many of the humans and their belongings that the Komath abandoned on their exodus through the Xaltan lands as tribute.  Elinor hadn’t kept up on it all that thoroughly since she’d been worried about the Nalveans, Baxter, and Iris.

However, the army they brought to her ranks was surprisingly larger than she anticipated—four-hundred and sixty trained soldiers, many of which could act as spies for other clans, and three Xaria.

Elinor didn’t particularly care to learn their names at the time; she had more pressing things on her mind, like maintaining and building her Empire into a functional economic central point to provide a degree of protection to her lands and people.

Valdar and his small company of soldiers all rode trained Torlim; the giant alligator-toads were becoming increasingly more valuable to Elinor as she watched them cart the waste scattered across the ruined fortress.  If domesticated, the creatures became a good war mount and tool; however, they were still unfit for specific activities like agriculture due to their physiology and temperament.

One discovery that surprised her was seeing a horse being guided down the street by a human; it was currently nighttime, but apparently, it had been recently captured by the Ri’bot scouting the jungle.

Tiffany … Do we have horses?

“Hmm?  Oh, yes!  We’ve been slowly collecting them—including the bones of those that have already been killed and eaten.  Many of the horses brought through from Earth escaped the moment they were taken here.  Valdar said something about the Torlim scaring them off or something.”

Humph … How are the humans adapting?  she asked, having Quin slow to a stop while watching the man lead the horse toward the agriculture district, which would take him quite a while considering the distance.  Are they sleeping better now?

“Well, mmh … I wouldn’t say sleeping ‘better,’ but they certainly are adapting from what Lucky tells me.  The horses have actually really helped to stabilize some of them; it’s something familiar that they can look after.  The kids have been getting bold, but that is to be expected, and you putting Adoncia on their tails has put some of the parents’ minds at ease.”

Mhm … I’ve just thought of something, she mumbled.  Do you think I can raise a Transcendent Mount Class like … well, The Four Horsemen?

Tiffany’s interest instantly spiked.  “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?!  Ooooh, that could be really fun … Hmm, it is certainly possible, and I can imagine they’d need to function as a unit to gain their full perks or have abilities that ping-pong off each other, but it certainly is something we can start preparing for.”

Elinor had Valdar take the lead, directing them to the tar pits, where they disposed of their dead.  It’s just a thought.  And while I do enjoy having Quin carry me around…

A giggle slid through her mental connection to the Witch.  “I understand … She will be disappointed to hear that you wish to have a more permanent solution.  Might I suggest we have Violet craft an opulent throne on one of the Thélméthra drones we have?  You may direct it with a simple thought.”

Hmm…  Elinor looked up at the two-headed giant gorilla woman, knowing she was plagued with self-image issues next to the powerful and confident Elite Warriors of her Blood that had entered the Empire recently.  Amra’Cora had her own insecurities, though, comparing herself to her mother, who ruled the Silver Blood of the Quen’Talrat.  I fear that I’ve stunted Quin’s growth.

Tiffany’s tone became somewhat suppressed.  “What … do you mean by that?  She fulfilled a purpose and now will be taking on a new role.”

I thought about it on the way back from Shi’Shuka.  She’s a Mount Class and has developed in a manner to adapt to her position—when I raised her, I wanted to get away—to escape the Ri’bot, and she was changed to the Class that would best suit that.  Now what?

“Elinor … the Mount Class is the fastest option.  It has its own feats that can be developed.  They can develop critical impact-type Skills, impaling, and other mobile traits, and yes, it does have a sort of ‘team’ style of combat, but you simply need to make a ‘Rider Class’ to compliment her.”

Oh … Is that how it works?  Elinor whispered, studying the streets of Nethermore; progress was being made every day to clean the fortress, but it was so huge that it would require many more citizens to aid in the thirty-level colossal city.  That’s helpful.  Has Amra’Cora prepared to leave to scout out the old mines for more Quen’Talrat?

“Hmm?  Eh, I’m not involved with that one, but I’ll pull Edmon in to update you … I’m getting soooo close to perfecting this Ritual!  Once I do, some humans have offered to be the first to take part; I believe we have a candidate to take over the command of your new army, and Sari’aél has inspired them.”

A small smile lifted Elinor’s lips.  Is that right?  Do they want me to name their unit, or is there a name that’s been passed around … Because I’d rather not have to think about random names.

“Heh, umm … Yes.  His name is Vergil, but … I suspect it isn’t really his name.  From what I’ve heard, he wishes to name his group ‘The Argent Dawn.’  I mean, it works, and he probably got it from looking at a pretty angel or something—heh, who knows.  It does have a certain appeal to it—I mean, Argent is French!  The silver-white dawn of a new era … other people could be attracted to that thought.”

A brighter look for the religious aspect could work.  If he can get people to follow him, then I don’t see why not.  About the horses, how many do we have?

“Umm, Lucky’s handling it with the humans; they’re figuring out the best place to keep them close to the agriculture block.  I believe … sixty-two.”

What … How do we have sixty-two horses?  How many humans do we have now?

“Eh, Elinor, they kidnapped a small town and various wildlife around it.  They also worked in waves with the Komath and Roxim taking a majority of the humans while the others went for the items—we have guns, drugs, and all sorts of things Gwen is sorting through with Lucky.”

How many?

“After the invasion … Well, the town had a rough population of fifteen-hundred people.  Overall, we have around six hundred?  There are around three hundred corpses that we’ve recovered, but the Ri’bot didn’t bring ‘everything.’  A lot of bodies were left behind, but anyone living was pushed through.”

Elinor frowned, looking up at the solitary gray cloud hanging high above her city as Valdar continued to lead them through Main Street to the East Gate.  Six hundred humans … thousands upon thousands of Ri’bot.

“Three thousand eight hundred and ninety-three Yaltha’ma, too!  El’Co’Ca’s faction had two kids this week.”

Hmm … How big does that make our empire?

“Oh, I actually had a bit of fun working this out the other day.  Eh … the Clavex is a bit harder to track down since The Mother Superior can only give me a rough amount.  Doing the math, though, in total, a low-ball estimate would be around fourteen thousand Ri’bot.  So, added with everyone else … around eighteen and a half thousand?”

Where are they?!  Elinor asked, glancing back at the palace as Quin pivoted to allow her to see, following her gaze with confusion.

“Mostly around the agricultural district; some are still here, taking shifts on cleaning up the palace, but there’s a lot to do to get ready for a crop.  I’ve been looking through what products we can grow with Antonietta that would provide the best nutrients for everyone, and there are some options.”

When do you have time to do that?

“He-he-he, well, when I take time off of pounding my head against a wall on this ritual to clear my head.  I’ve kept abreast of the happenings within the city.”

Huh…  She settled back into Quin’s hand, looking down the long pathway to the gate, far in the distance.  We’re growing faster than I thought … I have noticed more people joining the religion daily.  I’ve been so focused on relations with the Nalveans and our enemies that I don’t know a thing about how the Empire is functioning on a ground level.

“Honey, Honey!  You can’t possibly be focused on everything, which is why you have the Royal Court and those under us that report the happenings.  If you wish to get more involved, then we can make that happen, though.”

Maybe … In time.  There’s still so much I need to do to keep the Empire safe.

“Indeed, there is!  When, heh, The Argent Dawn is formed, there will be even more support to bolster our armies.”

By her tone, Elinor wasn’t quite sure she thought they’d be that helpful.  And they’d do?

“Eh, he-he-he, well … In short, they’re an honorary puff-group to give the people a more picture-perfect view of the Empire … Walk around, talk to people, make them feel secure, and the like.”

A small smile lifted Elinor’s lips.  Mhm … Although, that all is contingent on you completing this ritual.

“I’m close!  I really am!”

I’m sure, Elinor chuckled.  I’ll let you get back to your work.

“My multi-task game is on point!  If you ever wish to talk and chill out, then don’t hesitate to rope me in, dearie!”

Noted.

Cutting the conversation, she bridged a connection to Edmon.

“Is something the matter, Elinor?”

No, nothing in particular.  What can you tell me about Amra’Cora’s task?  Are there any updates after discussing it with you?

“In short, she is going to the largest mine in hopes of collecting the bodies you requested.  There is a railing system that would make it extremely convenient to travel between the areas, but it is in disrepair, and we do not have the expertise to fix it as of now.”

Story of my life.  Any good news?

“She can use a few of the strange car-like vehicles inside of the area, which will speed up the process.  It just takes a bit to maneuver down there since they need to disable the defensive gates sealing the tunnel.”

A timetable?

“Mmh … by sunrise, you will have received word back.”

Wonderful.  We’re getting closer to the edge of the city.  After I inspect these tar pits, Iris and Camellia should be near.

A dark rumble shook through her connection to him.  “Good.  We’ll get some answers as to why Imiunarus and Lecra’Moro died.  It is worth noting that our proficiency with the Nalvean language has taken a severe hit with the loss of Imiunarus.  Castella appeared to have advanced in her vocabulary and handless speech from the Nexus connection to him, but it is worth considering the effects of Imiunarus’s loss to the Nexus.”

I … hadn’t even thought of that, Elinor whispered.  No one said anything on our way back?

“He-he-he.  Who would?  In any case, we should look for another proficient speaker.”

That, we should … I’ll speak to you about it when we return.

“Safe trip.”

Elinor released a slow puff of air as they passed through the front gates, across the bridge, and down the gatehouse.  Azalea, her maids, butler, and Ri’bot escort continued to scan the area for danger as they made their way through the volcanic region to the south of the fortress.

Her mind was elsewhere, though, taking advantage of the silence of the rushing wind in her ear to passively examine everything that happened over the past two weeks.  She was becoming more used to this lifestyle and had a small Empire of nearly 20,000 souls, many of which viewed her as a goddess.

Valdar sent a questioning ping to her through the Nexus, asking for permission to speak, drawing her green irises.

Yes?

“Empress.  We have been gathering many believers from the Clanless across the valley to the cause and bringing them into the Empire.  However, there is a small Ri’bot kingdom to our west, beyond the mountains that could prove useful to draw more believers.”

Oh?  That certainly is worth the effort.  Have you brought it up with Edmon or Tiffany?

“I have … I understand we are currently in a tentative position, but after seeing Supreme Chief Sari’aél light up the sky upon fighting the rogue heavenly beings—brighter than the sun—surely this is the best time to draw more into the fold.”

He wasn’t wrong, but the issue was the possibility of being drawn into another conflict when they were finally starting to settle into the valley, and they still had the unknown creatures inside of the Maw.  Although, his earlier statement made her realize that the number of Ri’bot might be much higher given the addition of the Clanless.

It is something to consider, Valdar.  In fact, there are a few things we might go forward with later today.  I’ll speak to you about it at the end of the day.

“Thank you, Empress!”

She nodded and withdrew from the conversation.  Her mind wasn’t on the Ri’bot kingdom but the north, though.  If she went around sucking up Ri’bot territory without provocation or backing, then it could spark displeasure in unknown areas.  However, the north was entirely neutral territory by all of the great established nations around her.  If there was anywhere to expand, it was in that direction—the issue was the mysterious mountain range separating them.

Passing through the dense jungle, Elinor zoned out to study her Mythickin System, and when she arrived at the tar pits, they turned out to be a bust; she managed to fill a decent number of her Unintelligent Undead slots but didn’t find anyone of particular worth to return since the Xaria were burned and the bones crushed and sprinkled into the pits for some traditional purposes.

Iris and Camellia were making their way directly toward them, and dawn slowly rose as the valley brightened.  Elinor decided to stay near the river and wait for the pair to reach her; they were making incredible time, considering the distance, and she had to wonder if Iris was even carrying her daughter.

She was stunned at how many things leveled; she was making spectacular progress.

States: 

Lich’s Conquest I:  (Cooldown: N/A Cost: 25DE/Daily Duration: Conditional; Range: Nexus Of The Empress) Reactive Aura, Level Five, Novice, Rank Four; a state that grants certain benefits and requirements when engaging in territorial conquests.  However, if not in a direct campaign against a force that holds land to take, this does not come into effect.

  • Cost Reduction:  While it may cost a daily amount of Death Energy, it reduces the total percent cost of the daily total by 15%.
  • Furor:  Increase all minion Attack Speed and Attack Damage by 5%
  • Sacrifice:  10% of the total army must be sacrificed during the reset; minions can be prioritized over others.  This is by number, not the strength of the minions.

Base Lich Tree Skills: These Skills will slowly be upgraded and absorbed by more powerful versions further up the Tree.

Artificial Body I: (Cooldown: 15 Seconds Cost: 9DE/Daily; Duration: 1 Day; Range: N/A); Reactive, Magical Type, Summoning, Level Five, Rookie, Rank Max; a body can be molded to fit the user’s personal image of themself.  Small custom modifications can be made, but alternate forms cannot be fashioned at will yet.

Life Tap II (Enhanced By Monarch of Death): (Cooldown: 25 Seconds; Cost: Regenerative; Duration: Until Broken; Range: Five Feet) Active Channeling, Magical Type, Summoning, Level One, Versed, Rank Max; Corrupts 10 Life Energy per 5 Seconds.  This Skill upgraded so rapidly throughout the week from the massive amounts of Life Energy corrupted from the Life Fruit.

  • Rapid Draw II (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: N/A; Duration; N/A) Reactive Proficiency Skill, Magical Type, Summoning, Level One, Versed, Rank Three; Increases the corruption rate by .5% per minute of consecutive draw to a maximum of 30% until broken.

Death’s Reprieve I: (Cooldown: 1 Month Cost: N/A; Duration: 1 Day; Range: N/A); Reactive, Magical Type, Summoning, Level Five, Novice, Rank One; The daily resource cost for a day can be postponed, but the price following night will be tripled.

Racials:

Death Pool IV: (7,454DE Cap (3,842DE Last Checked); Currently 253/7,454DE) Passive, Summoning, Level One, Intermediate, Rank Ten; This energy source is affected by the Endurance Stat.  The glow of Monarch of Death’s crown jewels and the user’s eyes increase based on its current levels.

  • Overpowered IV: Reactive Link Skill, Summoning, Level One, Intermediate, Rank Max; Grants a 30%  reduction of Death Energy loss if over the pool’s cap while also giving a 2500% (Max: 186,350 Death Energy) temporary storage of the surplus that will slowly be drained.

Imperial Presence III: (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: N/A; Duration: N/A; Range: Once Sensed In Any Manner) Passive Aura, Magical Type, Empress, Level Two, Versed, Rank Ten; forces the user to act in an imperial manner.  It makes them more dignified and regal while also implanting that mental image in weak-willed creatures around them.

    • Lesser Aura of Supremacy III: (Cooldown: 5 Minutes; Cost: 40DE Per Minute; Duration: N/A; Range: 45 Meters) Active Aura Link Skill; an Aura Skill that casts Horrify on others; if Horrify fails, it casts Fear.
  • Horrify: overwhelms all senses, forcing the victim to focus on the user while being totally unable to function mentally and physically for a time.  Resistance rolls will be cast every eight seconds.
  • Fear: forces those present to run in terror or tremble in place, experiencing a horrible dread.  Effects last for eight seconds and will not renew once outside of the aura field, but the person’s lingering bodily response will impact them.

Empress Branch: The skills that force The Empress to behave a certain way, curbing her old habits.

Nexus Of The Empress III: (Cooldown: N/A Cost: 75DE Daily; Duration: N/A; Range: Twelve Miles); Passive Aura, Magical Type, Empress, Level Three, Intermediate, Rank Nine.  The evolution to Spiritual Link I connects every Minion within a specific range.  This branches out to Intelligent Minions, unlike Spiritual Link, allowing them to act as command hubs.

Emotional Control II (Evolved From Emotional Loss II w/ ): (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: N/A) Passive Cluster Set; Level Three, Intermediate, Rank Zero; (formally Emotional Loss II, which evolved into its current state due to Imperial Presence and the Religious System’s influence).  The Empress’ emotions are evened out, allowing her to think clearly in stressful situations.  Any emotions dampened by Emotional Loss will continue to have a lasting effect. 

Monarch of Death III: (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: 150DE/Daily; Duration: N/A) Active, Cluster Set, Level Two, Versed, Rank Nine; the physical manifestation of the user’s authority as the Empress of the Dead.  The following skills are a part of this cluster, meaning they do not work if this main branch is not active.

  • Life Tap II (Enhanced By Monarch of Death; Includes RD): (Cooldown: 25 Seconds; Cost: Regenerative; Duration: Until Broken; Range: Five Feet) Active Channeling, Magical Type, Summoning, Level One, Versed, Rank Max; Corrupts 12 Life Energy per 5 Seconds.  This Skill upgraded so rapidly throughout the week from the massive amounts of Life Energy corrupted from the Life Fruit.

  • Lesser Minion Mastery I: (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: MoD Active; Duration: N/A; Range: 25 Meters) Passive Skill, Magical Type, Enhancement, Level Two, Novice Grade, Rank Max; x2 minion base Stats, excluding Tenacity (Resistances and Penetration), and grants 15% bonus experience.  It does not stack with other minion enhancing effects, including Lich’s Conquest.
  • Prose of the Potentate III: (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: See Above; Daily Use; Duration: See Above; Range: N/A) Active Skill, Magical Type, Summoning, Level Two, Versed Grade, Rank Nine; allows The Empress to talk and read any language her minions can, which is then shared with the rest of her host.  However, this means there can be errors if their education was faulty.  She may suffer consequences should her minions not have the proper vocabulary to communicate at a higher level.
  • Plight Of The Empress I: Active Skill, Magical Type, Summoning, Cluster Set, Level One, Novice, Rank One; a set of skills that function as emergency options.
  • Call of the Empress I: (Cooldown: 1 Week; Cost: 10%DE; Duration: 10 Minutes; Range: 30 Meters) Active Skill, Magical Type, Summoning, Level One, Novice Grade, Rank Two; Sends a nova of life energy out that raises all corpses in range of The Empress’ current position, bypassing her summoning limit.  They will be at the strongest the creature was in life, bypassing all resurrection restrictions with their best suitable Class, determined by The System for the Empress’ defense.
  • The Undead cannot be revived once the flames of life have been extinguished.
  • Herald of the Empress II: (Cooldown: N/A Cost: 10DE Per Butterfly; Duration: 50 Minutes/Renews Cost To Stay Active; Range: 25 Meters) Active, Cluster Set, Level Nine, Versed, Rank One; her butterflies are used to revive and identify potential minion candidates.


  • Minion Pool II:  (Cooldown: N/A; Cost: N/A; Duration: N/A; Range: N/A) Passive Skill, Death-Type, Level Nine, Versed Grade, Rank Six.  Increases The Empress’  Minion Pool. 
  • Unintelligent: 2,475:1,407 used (Previous Check 1,250:674 used)
  • Intelligent: 350:37 used (Previous Check 250:36 used)

  • Raise Skeleton II:  Active, Magical Type, Summoning, Level One, Versed Grade, Rank One; The Empress can select between two Undead options to raise.  Increased levels grant her minions more of their original strength when revived, but the price may increase.
  • Intelligent: (Cooldown: N/A Cost: 25DE (x2 Per Grade) and the Butterfly; Duration: N/A; Maintenance: 2DE Daily/x2 Per Grade); Undead that has their spirits returned to a reformed body.
  • Color/Grade – DE Cost/Maintenance Cost
  • White/Poor – 35/2
  • Green/Common – 60/4
  • Yellow/Uncommon – 110/8 (Quin/Garu’s Cost)
  • Blue/Rare – 210/16 (Valdar’s Cost)
  • Purple/Heroic – 410/32 Emelina’s Cost)
  • Red/Epic – 810/64 (Amra’Core/Camellia’s Cost)
  • Orange/Legendary – 1,610/128 (Azalea’s Cost)
  • Dark Orange/Mythic – 3,210/256 (Violet’s Cost)
  • Pearlescent/Transcendent – 6,410/512 (Royal Court Cost)
  • Unintelligent: (Cooldown: N/A Cost: .5DE (x2 Per Grade) and the Butterfly; Duration: N/A; Maintenance:  .5DE Daily/x2 Per Grade); lifeless husks raised and augmented without the spirit for fodder use.
  • Color/Grade – DE Cost/Maintenance Cost
  • White/Poor – 10.5/.5
  • Green/Common – 11/1
  • Yellow/Uncommon – 12/2
  • Blue/Rare – 14/4
  • Purple/Heroic – 18/8
  • Red/Epic – 26/16
  • Orange/Legendary – 42/32
  • Dark Orange/Mythic – 74/64
  • Pearlescent/Transcendent – 138/128

Daily Maintenance Cost

    • Lich’s Conquest: 25DE (If In A Territory Conflict); -15% Total Cost
    • Artificial Body: 9DE
    • Nexus Of The Empress: 75DE
    • Monarch of Death: 150DE
    • Intelligent Minions: 3,192DE
      • Rarity: # Minions / Individual DE
      • Uncommon: 3x / 8 
      • Rare: 14x / 16
      • Heroic: 12x / 32
  • Epic: 2x / 64
  • Legendary: 1x / 128
  • Mythic: 1x / 256
  • Transcendent: 4x / 512
  • Unintelligent Minions: 1,055DE
  • Poor: 908x / .5
  • Common: 465x / 1
      • Rare: 34x / 4
  • Total Daily Cost: 4,481DE
  • Total Daily Cost: 3,830.1DE (If Lich’s Conquest is active)

Whatever happened during the transition of connecting Sari’aél to her Nexus had obviously done wonders for some of her Skills, in addition to her natural effects on the Religious System.  She might be able to even revive the Head of State she had in the Life Room, which could pull a lot of stress off of Iris, Edmon, Tiffany, and Sari’aél.  Although, she did need to increase the number of her army.

Elinor hummed, glancing around at the near thousand Unintelligent Undead she’d returned; it had taken most of her Death Energy to get this much, but she had all day to restore it through her followers.

With her increased Nexus, she’d be able to speak to Iris when she reached twelve miles away, and every inch helped.  Her fingers tightened in her lap as the Assassin neared.

“Empress, Camellia has secured Demon’s mortal vessel.  Would you like me to bring him to Nethermore, or would that compromise the city?”

Out of everything she imagined would come out of the Thélméthra’s report, this was the furthest from her thoughts, causing her mind to go blank.  Demon … Demon has a mortal vessel?  I’m lost.

“From Camellia’s report: Grand Designer Jumi’kerume designed a vessel for Demon to take possession of using a style of technology the Quen’Talrat use.  The targets escaped as Demon tested his new body, but she managed to dismember his parts to bind in silk … During the investigation, it was discovered that … that I have another daughter.”

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Elinor breathed out a long breath while resituating herself on Quin’s hand; everyone noticed her discomfort and confusion but kept silent as her hands tightened in her lap, looking in the Queen’s direction.  Another … daughter?  A ‘living’ daughter?  A World Queen Thélméthra candidate … That’s a lot … Not to mention we have captured a piece of Demon?

“It … appears so, Empress.  My daughter has been … misled in some manner and aids the enemy … refusing to follow our natural instinct.”

How do you feel about that?  Elinor asked, gut tightening as she thought about the implications for the future; a Thélméthra at full living strength could spell a threat equal to some of the Covenant.

“I am … surprised that she lived.  Queens typically give birth to three offspring, but our line has adapted over generations to have the possibility of four … She should not have survived, not at the tender age of her egg’s development at the time of our deaths, but Jumi’kerune appears to have the technological means to manage her needs.

“Although … her incubation was much longer than it should have been, which has the possibility of … problems arising, and could account for her strange behavior.”

Elinor could feel the uncomfortable emotions twisting the Queen’s mind and heart; she’d learned that Iris had a profound bond to her children that was uncommon for their species.  Camellia was severely hurt from what she could sense, and her mother had been carrying her as a perfected Jukal through the air; her week-long, forced transformation seemed to have advanced the ability to an extreme degree at the expense of draining her total strength—she appeared to be improving, though.

I see … Head for Nethermore and alert Tiffany, Edmon, and Sari’aél of the situation.  I’m returning now, and … How is Camellia?

“Camellia?”  her mother questioned.

“I … I am recovering, Empress.  Imiunarus and Lecra’Moro’s deaths … They died because of me, Empress … You entrusted them to me, and I have failed you.”

Elinor’s lip tucked under her teeth as she anticipated their swift return; Quin and her would go on ahead of the small army.  Azalea was listening closely to the conversation while running beside them.  How so?

“I discovered … They’d been experimenting on my mother’s old eggs … her brood, and … they would not submit.  When I learned of my youngest sister, I grew enraged … upset, and … my mind was clouded.  Lecra’Moro and Imiunarus stayed on the task, yet I was distracted … Their sacrifices allowed me to survive and to … to return with Demon.  I have failed the task you assigned me.”

The girl’s self-confidence had been broken by her own actions that, to her, were unforgivable; she expected punishment and a heavy one.  Her own mother felt disappointment in the news, but at the same time, her heart was conflicted with how she’d react herself, given her response to Baxter and the fake Queens.

Camellia … Imiunarus and Lecra’Moro’s losses did affect me … it hurt, she mumbled, looking up at the blurred trees as they swiftly ran through the jungle.  Did you run into a trap?

“Yes, Empress … They were warned of our coming; Imiunarus suspected it.”

Mhm … I thought so.  So, you walked into a certain trap, learning…  Hot air shot through Elinor’s nose, her throat burning as emotions slipped through.  You learned that they’d been experimenting on your sister … your family … that they’d turned a sister, that you didn’t even know existed, against you, when I’ve told Iris to make it clear there is no fighting between you siblings.  Camellia … I put you in an impossible … an impossible position.

“I didn’t follow the task…”  she whispered upon hearing her voice.

Things aren’t so black and white … I’m not mad at you, Camellia … I’m furious at Demon and this … this Nalvean.  I’m on your side, Camellia, and you pulled it together in what sounds like a nightmare.  Imiunarus and Lecra’Moro are heroes.  Did they have any requests … Did they ask you to pass on anything?

“I … I don’t understand, Empress … Umm … not Lecra’Moro … Imiunarus, though … There were two female Nalvean young women that he wished to see have good lives.  They were killed upon leading us into a trap … One was being controlled and killed the other.”

I see … I’ll get the details later.  Demon … can he regain his strength?

“Yes,” Iris replied.  “His body is held together by energy that Camellia isolated from being able to reattach.”

What would you say his strength level is, Camellia?

“Azalea … would have been able to defeat him without much injury,” Camellia whispered, knowing her sister was listening.

Legendary-Grade, then…  Elinor mumbled.

“Empress, I am reaching the edge of your Nexus,” Iris warned.

That is fine … work out a proper course of action with the others; I’ll be back within the hour.

“It will be handled.”

And, Camellia…

The eldest Spider Sister oozed depression and self-hate for the decorum she’d acted with.  “Yes?”

I will punish you later … It will be appropriate for your actions.  If you are going to think about it … Try to honor their sacrifice by living the life they gave you to the fullest.

“B-But you gave me life again, Empress?”  she mumbled, but her mind was already connecting the dots.  “I … I would not have my life had they not sacrificed themselves … I … Does that mean I have betrayed the life you have given me?”

No … It means we are going to get your sister … your daughter, Iris.  I feel what the three of you are going through, Iris, Azalea, Camellia, and put it to rest.  She is your family, and I will see it reunited … even in death, she can be returned … if worse comes to worst.  Jumi’kerune, and whoever works with him, has made an enemy of the Empire … no matter where he goes on this planet, we will find him and rescue your daughter.

Iris was silent for a moment, hovering at the edge of their connection range.  “… Words cannot express my gratitude, Empress … I do wish to meet the daughter I was not allowed to nurture.”

You will.

Iris and Camellia’s link was severed as they went beyond the scope of her Nexus.

Making it back within the hour, Tiffany updated her.

“Elinor!  This is-is … fantastic!  We have a way to speak to Demon now!”

He is contained?

“Ke’Thra’Ma had quite the prison system built.  Edmon is guiding us there now, and it will be strong enough to contain this ‘power.’  However, I do trust the cunning fiend’s knowledge is sufficient to easily break down a prison he gave the blueprints to.  So, I will bind him here myself as an added measure.”

Good.  Can you learn more about this technology through studying it?

“Minimal, sadly.  I love these types of devices, but they are not my specialty; my rituals function in a very different format.  This would be closer to the Archmage Court Member, I theorize.  Iris tells us that Camellia’s unit managed to capture Jumi’kerune’s son … the Nalvean is shockingly old with whatever treatment Demon’s given him.”

Tal’tamine?  Elinor asked, utterly forgetting about the girl in the heat of the moment.

“Indeed!  He seems to have the capability to at least ‘attempt’ to remove the … whatever it is, and Klaus is hopeful.”

Elinor instantly feared for the boy.  He defected—willing to help us?  Is he in danger?

“Oh, most likely,” Tiffany chuckled, “but Klaus is no fool.  He has asked for an escort once we are able.”

He’s the closest thing we have to discover more about Iris’s youngest daughter.  Iris … I know you just returned and have been going without rest since your confinement, but … I also know you wish to be personally involved in this hunt.

“I will return at once.” Iris was burning to know more about her daughter.  “Camellia, stay within the walls until you are recovered.”

“Yes, mother…”  Camellia whispered.

Azalea began a private conversation with her elder sister; she tried to convince her sister that she accomplished far more than what had been assigned to her, but Camellia didn’t have it.  If Elinor didn’t know any better, the loss of the two went a bit deeper than just a failed mission and losing her temper.

Iris swiftly retook flight, returning to the Nalvean Empire.

Quin soon made it back to the palace, but Tiffany and Edmon had her wait within until the Witch finished her binding ritual; it would take most of the day for the Witch to be satisfied with the sealing wards.

Tiffany chatted with Elinor as she worked, informing her about another fantastic bit of news—her binding ritual between the two Systems had been unlocked.  It had yet to be tested, but she’d worked through enough Skills and Branches to reach the point needed to accomplish it.  Tonight would be the first test of the process, and it would be with the small company that called themselves The Argent Dawn.

Amra’Cora sent Kumi’Relta back with more amazing news.  The mine was full of Quen’Talrat bones, and while few of them would be of any significant combat potential, they would likely have various specializations that could be taught to others—the ruined fortress would soon be under renovations.

However, like always, there had to be a few punches to her gut.  Later that day, Violet returned to report the mist within the falls was rising.  The increase was slow, but given a few days, it would reach the surface of the fissure.  It gave the impression the substance was needed for the creatures within, which could be exploited; still, it was only a working theory.

Elinor wasn’t distraught; the Maw was all the way across the valley, and she was about to have just what she needed to get this old fortress back in operation and with a workforce to man it.

Sari’aél continued to learn more about the Empire, spending time with the various people requiring their protection and the challenges they were facing.  All in all, the Seraph was a massive hit and support for the humans.  It would be interesting to see how they responded to the brighter side she was fashioning within the Empire.  There was the dichotomy of the frightening undead and angelic light taking bloom in her growing kingdom.

As things began to settle down, Elinor started to worry about Iris and how she was doing after so many unexpected events weighed on her shoulders, but that would have to wait until later.

Overall, things were turning in her favor.  The Covenant had entered into a ceasefire; Demon’s vessel, which he’d been preparing for centuries, was now confined in one of their maximum security dungeons; she had her Seraph with the angel’s father giving his blessing, and Iris was back.

On the other hand, a few troubling things could go either way.  Iris had a daughter that needed rescuing, but it was a cause of celebration that she’d survived the death of her family; Tal’tamine had a chance at surviving, further strengthening her bond to the Nalvean Empire; And Tiffany had developed the ritual to create her first Religious Order, The Argent Dawn, which was still somewhat up in the air with how the ceremony would play out.

Elinor sat upon Quin’s hand as they descended the levels to the bottom floor of a particular area within the southwestern district to meet with one of her greatest enemies on this planet; Tiffany just finished and was now on her way to set up her next ritual.

The prison area was blazing hot with what appeared to be magma that was pumped up from the volcanic vents below the fortress.  Rooms of all sizes were built along the wide hallways with triggers that could lower metal gates.

She was led into the deepest floors and into a large, singular room with multiple glowing gemstones that fueled the strange runic prison that Elinor couldn’t begin to understand.

Inside was the strange metallic vessel Demon was using; a prison ward was cast inside, shimmering various colors of pink.  Elinor smiled upon seeing the standing figure, unable to sit in the bare prison; even his massive body looked small for the size of the cell.

“Demon … I hope you’re feeling comfortable,” Elinor smirked.

Demon turned to appraise her with his emotionless, metallic body; his voice was anything but lacking feeling.  “Oh-he-he-he … I do find this rather amusing, to be honest.”  He spoke perfect English.  “You’ve only delayed the inevitable.”

“So…”  Elinor’s smile widened.  “I have delayed you.”

“Hmm … Perhaps.”  His gaze shifted to the ceiling.  “Although, this presence I feel in the sky is … new.  For you to obtain that statue was … unexpected.  He-he-he … I can admit that.  I have not felt so stimulated in eons, and this Sar’ollaz creature is troubling.  It seems you’ve found a rather interesting group of world travelers.

“And then we have Sari’aél … No, something very drastic has changed in you within a moment—somehow beyond my sight.  This … Blood Sun.  Tell me about him … He is Sari’aél’s father?”

Elinor turned her back to her caged foe.  “We’ll have plenty of time to talk, Demon.  However, I’m a very busy Empress.  I just wanted to see you for myself … Edmon, if you could close the doors … All of them.”

“Mmh-hm-hm-hm-hm … locking me away won’t solve the growing crisis, Elinor … You need me.”

“Mhm … Everyone seems to think so.”  She stopped at the exit of the room, turning a leer to the creature.  “I intend to live forever, Demon, and so far … I’ve done fairly well for myself.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

He tilted his head up a little with a snicker.  “I’d debate on that.”

“Demon, don’t take this the wrong way,” Elinor’s tone was dry, “I’m not saying I necessarily hate you, but … I would unplug your life support to charge my phone … Some cause happiness wherever they go—Sari’aél, for example, and others … whenever they go.  Puzzle through that one.”

With that, she left him to brood in silence.

“Feeling better?”  Edmon asked.

Mmh … well, if the world didn’t ‘suck’ then we’d all fall off, wouldn’t we?  she mumbled.  Let’s see if we can make lemonade, though.  The Argent Dawn?  Hmm … How will this ritual work?


Maps:

Post Conquest

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