B3 — 32. Divine

Author Note:  I have been waiting since the BEGINNING of the series for this reveal!  I hope you enjoy =D

PoV:

1. Iris (Our Spider Queen!)

2. Elinor (Our Twin Seed Undead Empress!)

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Iris slowly walked through Castle Komrnith’s upper corridor, taking the form of a Nalvean upper-class Maid that she’d put under a deep sleep several hours previous.  She’d paid close attention to where the woman had placed her silk and the folds involved—detail to attire was paramount to Nalvean cultural status.

Six days had passed since she’d discovered the existence of her youngest daughter and the grooming that had been done by the unforgivable Nalvean imposter of a mother to her innocent, susceptible progeny.

Jumi’kerune was a very cautious Nalvean, having lived longer than even Iris herself, and he had taken certain precautions in hiding his tracks; it was conceivable that having studied Thélméthra physiology for more than a century and observing the biological, social network they employed had given him many insights into their nature.

One such annoyance came from the knowledge about their acute senses, having employed some manner of runic technology to mask their scent through the sea as many other aquatic specimens.

However, unlike her daughters, Iris’ experience and adaptability were so far beyond her previous capabilities that Jumi’kerune could not account for them.

Iris moved to the room, which was the bathing room the Nalvean woman she imposed was supposed to have already clean, and setting her bucket of solution down, she activated the heating technology to start the sauna; Statesman Ara’gora would be joined by his most trusted counselor soon to have their mid-day meeting and second daily cleanse.

Spreading out some of the water as the red liquid of the Great Ruby Lakes was pumped onto the hot gems to release steam in the area, she began scrubbing the seats to clean them in the traditional manner.

When pursuing Jumi’kerune, she’d taken several forms of the aquatic life until finding a species that could provide her with the senses she needed to at least have a general understanding of where the underwater vessel her enemies used had gone.

Her metamorphosis ability had a few slots that she could save if she wished to keep that particular genetic marker to transform for later, yet they were limited, meaning Iris had to find new sample material to reconstitute the form whenever she was required to shift her key predatory or prey species to another.

Currently, she could only keep the figure of a Nalvean, human, Jukal, and Ri’bot, and had three more slots at this point that she could swap between since these creatures didn’t offer many advantages other than the sensory niche she needed at the time.  If it became too hard to find one of the creatures, she’d keep the rarer of the few to save time.

At first, the trail went straight south, seemingly attempting to take the route the High Ruler considered—Urna’naga City-State—under Stateswoman Kulumi’s care.

Yet as she’d followed the unique sense of smell her form at the time allowed, tracking a particular style of fish that gathered in schools, the one she followed at that time being far larger than it should have been, the disguised school had taken her to the west.

It was too obvious to this hunter, following the other predators of her transformation on the path of the school that appeared out of nowhere, and as expected, it soon dwindled to nothing, confusing those that followed her for Iris to leave them for her next metamorphosis.

Her next target was the large river that split Masrika City-State from Orphia, Statesman Baltoma’s City-State, which would have been quite a blow to the High Ruler if they colluded against him, as she’d learned more about the political landscape of the Empire.

Yet again, the trail dwindled out, which required her to find another species to pursue her target, bringing her to curve above Orphia, skirting the shores of Nali’masha City-State—a powerful island influence at the heart of the Empire.  She thought they’d stop there, but she was wrong as the path brought her across open waters to Komrnith City-State’s shores—right to Statesman Ara’gora’s seaside castle.

Unfortunately, it was here she had lost the scent using the method she’d been using, and Iris suspected the large fortress had a hidden underwater seaway that the Grand Designer had built into the area, but she was far from out of options.

Working the area, it didn’t take long for her current targets to come bustling in after removing their garments in the previous room—the culture wasn’t abashed in dispensing such articles in specific settings—and a worker involved in their task or of the opposite gender didn’t bother the race; the purpose of clothing was to show standing and dignity in both public and private.

The Statesman had blue scales, flecked with a tint of yellow, which set many of his people apart; he was above average in the Nalvean social ranking of attraction, and this year would be his one-hundred and twenty-fifth.

Coming to a stop as he entered, the dignified man released a soft sigh upon breathing in the steam she’d already been building.  “Huu-haaa…  Mmgm.  Jusi’nalra, why has your task not already been completed by this hour?”

“Indeed,” Governor Hekiti added.  “It is unusual for you to not have the area cleaned by the scheduled time.”

Iris bowed her head and placed her fist against her chest, making the gestures she’d observed the woman perform throughout the day when communicating to her superiors.  “I apologize for my tardiness, Statesman, Governor.”

“Humph?”  Ara’gora blinked, breathing in the fumes Iris secreted through her scales, having adapted her biology to incorporate one particular poison of a fish on the lower end of the food chain.  “Have… you always spoken with such… poise and refinement, Jusi’nalra?”

The Governor made a weak gesture in agreement, coughing a tad as he stumbled back to sit down, the fast-acting toxin already taking effect.  “I have not heard such… from none other than those of the Grand Council…”

Iris adopted a mask of concern to support the Statesman as he nearly tipped to the side, helping him to the bench as the steam and invisible poison swirled around them.  “Are you feeling well, My Lord?  You look tired.”

“Mmgm…  I don’t feel… tired…  A tad dizzy, I suppose.”

She’d tested the effects of the mild toxin earlier to gauge its effectiveness on Jusi’nalra—the woman she impersonated—as she attempted to clean this very room.

In theory, it acted as a means to disorient the predators that went after this particular species, yet if strengthened and inhaled, it could prove as a usable hypnotic substance to make the subject more suggestible and their memories subject to reconstruction; it also suppressed the retention of short-term memory while drawing on the long-term to keep a target infatuated with areas of their past.

Now under the influence, Iris straightened in front of the pair.  “Statesman, you were telling me that there were many things you wished to involve me in to support you in your time of need.”

“I… was?  Hmm…  Yes, you have been quite… supportive of me over the many years in my service…  What were we talking about?”

“An issue involving the Grand Designer; he stopped by not too long ago.”

“Did he?”  Governor Hekiti mumbled in disbelief, looking impressed.  “For the Grand Designer to come here…  Statesman, are you seeking to pull him away from Everglade?”

“Mmh…  I don’t remember talking about that?  The Grand Designer has contacted me many times, but his visits are always so short… and I didn’t have much time to spend discussing much with the man because my arrangement with Tranalsa proved… earlier than expected.”

Iris’ gaze drifted to the Governor as his eyebrows rose in surprise.  “You didn’t tell me Tranalsa was planning on making a visit…  Are things progressing well with the Judicus Isles?”

“Mmgm…  So many demands, but yes…  I didn’t plan on meeting her, and it was in the dead of night—they need to be careful…”

“Of course!  Haha.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if the Navy caught wind of it—and to meet in our capital!  I just wish—why wouldn’t you tell me, Statesman,” he mumbled, tears coming to his eyes.  “We have been preparing… hicc… for years…”

It confirmed that one of the most powerful Statesman was plotting with the Judicus Isles; still, she wasn’t too concerned about that—Iris was here for her daughter—but this would be valuable information that would need to be shared with the Empress.

“How would Tranalsa meet you without drawing notice, Statesman?  I would love nothing more than to ease your burden—it must be stressful—and I want to support you in any way I can.”

“Ah, thank you, Jusi’nalra,” the Statesman began to tear up, remembering something in his past.  “It’s been—so hard…  I never wanted this, but…  When I lost my daughters and wife—I had to pronounce them killed at sea from a storm, but—but…”

“It was the Judicus Isles…  They still have your family?”

“Tail splitters—hicc,” Hekiti cursed, rubbing his slick face as he tried to control his emotions in the toxic fog.  “I—I say we send the whole fleet to Uni’ratashina!  W-We cannot allow them—”

“No!”  the Statesman growled.  “No, Hekiti, we cannot or—or I may get another tail sent to me…  It may be one of my daughter’s next, and I cannot subject them to that…  My wife must live without her tail, and… and it is not only my children at risk, but many across our land—the Pirate Lords have been preparing this for many years.”

“Hmm…”  Iris folded her hands behind her back to stare between them; Voukey made his rounds nearby, which was perfect timing.  “Is Jumi’kerune supporting you?”

“Gah…  I only wish he could be like you, Jusi’nalra—I don’t know half of what we speak about… he always leaves me in such a fog.”

In the rising steam, Iris would need to revert to her human form to have the required senses to identify what she suspected, and taking the opportunity when both Nalveans glared at the floor, she found the waves—Jumi’kerune did get to the Empire’s youngest princess through Ara’gora—the Statesman had been controlled first.

Knowing pushing for specific information could damage the host and not having the proper knowledge to handle the deprogramming, Iris asked one question before ceasing her manipulation and leaving the pair to recover.

“Where do you meet the Great Designer when he visits our city, Statesman?  I will be sure to make it spotless when he next arrives.”

Ara’gora waved his hand dismissively.  “Mgmm…  Mesna…  Why are you here?  Did you—escape?”

“The Grand Designer?”

“Yes…  Yes, of course, Mesna…”  he rose, tears in his eyes as he hugged her, Iris allowing it; the toxin was drawing him too deep into its mesmerizing spiral, and the Governor seemed very susceptible to the delusions because he was now in his own little world.

“Never would I dream of having you clean anything yourself, Mesna…  No, heh, but you needn’t worry about such things—because… because he always asks me to accompany him in inspecting the Royal Crypts outside the city—you know he loves the architecture…”

Iris morphed into her human state, instantly delivering another solution through her hair directly into his primary vein, and leaned them against the wall; opening the door, she allowed the fog to be pushed out by the pressure.

The pair would sleep until the next guard patrol saw the unusual sight of the door being open and investigated; she’d already laid the footprints of foul play by a third party from inside the kitchens, leading to a criminal in the city she’d spotted in her initial examination of the population.

Fascinating yet understandable… laying out my webs throughout the city yielded few results because they never entered it.

Calmly walking to the nearest window, she transformed into her perfected Jukal state to swiftly make her way to the area the Statesman had indicated, and on her path to the location, Voukey met her in the skies; the Supreme Molifoph was quite attractive for his species, leaving a trail of emerald colors.

“High Lady Iris…  I cannot help but notice how ravishing you are as a Jukal; I cannot say I have seen any of such splendor in the far north.  Might there be time for me to inform you of the current state of the Empire?”

Indeed.  Accompany me.  I am in the process of investigating a possible lead in discovering the location of my youngest daughter.

“Excellent news, High Lady!  I will summarize as best I am able.”

On their path, she gained a general understanding of the network the Flock General had been planting throughout the Nalvean Empire; Klaus was busy setting up the future of their dealings with the Nalvean Empire, and Mirelitel was becoming an important starting point for gaining a foothold in the political system.

Further information regarding the Covenant was provided, making Iris’ blood boil at the thought of what Sar’ollaz had done to her—she still couldn’t return to her true Thélméthra form—and it seemed him forcing her to stay in a human state had imprinted it as her default figure.

He hadn’t been in contact with their Empress for a few days as he’d worked his way down to her, but he planned to return at once when finished here, making a short detour to gain a report from Garu, currently to the east of their borders.

Once he’d finished informing her of the state and current plans of their Empire, Iris detailed her own journey and discovery to be returned.  Their flight was so fast that she was still discussing it as they entered the Royal Crypts, effortlessly bypassing the guards by putting them to sleep.

 Finally, she had Jumi’kerune’s scent as she proceeded, Voukey walking beside her, wings folded tightly against his sides to fit in the space, and the giant bird joined her in the final stretch to get a firsthand display of what she’d already discovered through her reaching webs.

Passing through several hidden passageways, quickly identifying the places the runes intersected to activate them—the pattern was simple to trace that they’d left—and once descending more than fifty meters below the surface, they found life.

Iris had already scouted most of the lengthy crypt, and before them stood two terrified, paralyzed, white-scaled Nalveans, posted as guards in front of a wide tunnel.

Voukey’s deep and smooth voice transferred to her as she shoved them to the side with the sea of obsidian and snow-like silk filling the damp, dark corridors.  “Hmm.  So, the Judicus Nalveans and Jumi’kerune are connected.”

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It appears so, Iris muttered, cold hatred in her breast.  Likely, he is the orchestrator behind this uprising, on Demon’s orders.

“It appears that way indeed, High Lady…”  the bird replied as her silk continuously moved to provide him a clear path to walk.  “Through sound, I have identified a hundred and seventy-three Nalveans, yet I do not hear the movement of someone of Quen’Talrat Elite Hunter size, as I have been told is a part of Jumi’kerune’s group.”

I doubted I would find them here; this is simply a backdoor the Judicus Pirates use to get into the Great Ruby Lakes.  What do your ears tell you about the tunnels?

“A great underground network of rivers, High Lady, stretching beyond even my perception to grasp, yet I believe it connects to the great gulf to Komrnith’s northwest and to areas along its eastern shoreline.”

Hands held casually behind her back, Iris and Voukey exited into a grand cavern; it had been excavated to comfortably fit hundreds of living quarters for soldiers.  It was immediately evident the area was regularly stocked—a pirate haven that was nearly complete—meaning the attack on Statesman Baltoma a few weeks ago was only the beginning of their escapades.

Gazing over the small town that no doubt the Grand Designer had been developing for some time unbeknown to Statesman Ara’gora.  One of the most heavily fortified Nalvean cities, Komrnith, had such a weak point under its very feet.  It was no wonder Judicus had managed to spirit away so many high-ranking individuals’ families without anyone being the wiser.

Jumi’kerune had planted the seeds long before, and all of the guards posted in this area had the same spiritual control runes placed on them as the Statesman; they’d discovered a colossal plot against the Nalvean Empire that spanned centuries in the making.

Seeds of discord had been placed, networks developed, and a grand board set to allow a group of Pirate Lords to utterly destroy an entire Empire; Demon worked slowly and methodically.

“What are your orders, High Lady?”  Voukey asked, intense glowing eyes drifting to the helpless pirates as her webs layered the entire cavern.

Hmm…  We find the leader of this group.  I kill him, dispose of the rest, and you bring the body back to the Empress to be questioned.  As for me, I will continue my hunt now that I have rediscovered Jumi’kerune’s path.

“Understood.”

Making her way to the nearest pirate, Iris stood before him, transforming as she walked to display her lovely Nalvean form; now that her webs were spun, she could manipulate them for the most part in whatever state Iris took—although there were limitations as to the poisons she could incorporate—her human metamorphosis had become her base, and all of her Thélméthra talents had melded with it.

“I will be clear…  Take me to the person who leads you.  If you do not, the pain you will suffer you cannot comprehend.  Observe.”

His quivering eyes could hardly move with the poison locking his muscles, and she used the silk to pull over his compatriot; without warning, his scales began to fall off, skin discoloration starting to take on a bright purple hue as he screamed in agony.

Voukey.

“Implode.”  One word and the sonic forces condensing around him violently collapsed his figure into a tight, bloody ball of flesh, wind swirling around them.

“As you can see, it is quite excruciating, and it will last for weeks.  I will leave you here… alone and in the dark, unable to move or scream.  Am I clear?”

Releasing him from the feed of poison, he slowly regained his faculties, quivering in terror; he wet himself as the toxin faded and collapsed to his butt, legs unable to support him.  “I…  I—I understand…  P-Please…”  Sweat pooled between his scales, vision centered on her.  “Please don’t kill m-me…”

A half-smile lifted her Nalvean lips as she bent down to slide her fingers down the side of his lower jaw, making him stiffen in shock.  “You will die… that is not the question, but how you die is what you must decide.  Now, guide us to your leader.”

Injecting him with hormones to bring his faculties better under control, she followed him through the winding stone path until arriving on the docks, where a group of Nalveans stood in place, still paralyzed by her poison.

“H-Him…”

Web circling around him to pull toward Iris, she gave him an unimpressed stare as the silk flowed.  “I can tell you are not lying…  Have your reward…”

Her microscopic thread penetrated his skin and destroyed his brain, leaving not a mark on his body as the pirate crumbled to the ground.

Iris directed the Nalvean Pirate Captain to the white-skinned Nalveans around them with a small chuckle.  “Perhaps at some point, you will be reunited with your people…”

“N-No!”  As her poison left, she instantly killed every Nalvean in the entire area.  “W-Wha… you… what?!”

Without remark on his rambling, Iris scrambled his brain and wrapped him in a neat gift to place on the back of Voukey’s back.  I leave him in your care.

The giant bird bowed his head as she returned to her human state, scanning the waters of the now silent cavern, only broken by the rushing waters.  “Always a pleasure, High Lady Iris.  I will return with this troubling news at once.”

He turned and made his way back to the front of the crypt, Iris’ narrowed eyes scanning the red waters.  Voukey…

“Yes, High Lady?”

You don’t hear any other sounds of life?

“Sea life, yes, and if you take a left, left, right, center, and left tunnels, it should open to the far south of Komrnith and the ocean.  Other than that, I believe a few areas go further below ground, which could be where the submarine—as High Lady Tiffany calls it—may have gone.”

Hmm.  Very well, carry on.

Jumping into the water and leaving her webs behind as a statement, she shifted between forms to find her next lead; her daughter would not be used against her as the Statesman were.  Iris left the field of corpses behind her, finding the trail far easier to follow in the confined space; she was gaining ground.

* * *

  Elinor sat on her throne, overlooking her Empire as the days passed; the two Sages were making beautiful strides in bringing Nethermore out of its dead shell, and all humans, Ri’bot, and Yaltha’ma, were now migrating to a few districts.

Noa had been connected to the city, allowing her full access to interact with the citizens, practically making the A.I. break down in tears to have so many people that wanted to be friends with her.  She was almost becoming a semi-help assistant, saying her name to get her to pop up and direct people to specific areas.

Some humans were resistant to being grouped with the Ri’bot—still holding some grudges—yet she couldn’t allow them to grow more separated; Gwen and Lucky were making strides in getting the various races to work together in their new home.

It helped that many facilities were now coming back online with the Sages’ guidance, and Azalea had taken control of keeping her guarded.  Sari’aél was on her way to a full recovery, and earlier that day, Violet regained consciousness; the young Thélméthra was showing similar recovery signs as Camellia exhibited a few days earlier and was now being taken care of by her eldest sister and the human teens.

Elinor loved it because the experiences drew the sisters closer to how they had treated one another before.  The exposure also made the humans less fearful of the armored spiders.

It was nearly three days earlier that Voukey returned with his reports, including a Judicus Nalvean strapped to his back; Azalea had a tad bit of trouble unweaving her mother’s web, considering Violet was out of commission.

She’d interrogated the spirit, not finding him all that impressive to revive.  Apparently, a new technology from one particular pirate group—the Yupsy Confederacy—had primarily been responsible for changing the game.

Information wasn’t nearly as widespread in this world without the internet, and what he had to share was more or less hearsay passed between captains of various crews; the area he’d been overseeing was a year-long endeavor shared by the Pirate Union.

Discovering the hostage situation regarding many of the southern City-States had been a surprise, and it became more apparent why so much pressure had been placed on their High Ruler by this opposing faction.  If it had just been one Statesman or just Ara’gora’s own problem, he would have likely put the state of the Empire above even his family.

However, it was far more interconnected and insidious than that, applying stress from the Trade Unions to critical members of communities and infrastructure to entire systems being infected by dubious players; there was literally no one they could trust—which put Elinor in a fantastic position—Iris could dismantle the whole operation herself as she searched for her daughter.

Klaus was making great strides in regards to their budding relationship with the Empire, and Tal’tamine would be making a visit that would be more permanent than she initially thought, scheduled to leave today for their land, but the reasoning was perfectly acceptable.

The last thing they needed was the Nalvean Empire to collapse into civil war from her assassination for the Pirate Lords attacking them in their moment of weakness.

Garu’s encounter with the pirates was also troubling; the Seedlings, as they were calling those with it, were now making their way through the city to her, which meant she’d need to go to the Throne Room soon.

10,000 Ri’bot… plus whatever the other two clans have, and now we have this Sand Clan.  What should I do about them?  We should know if they enter the valley with Violet’s security webs, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to launch an assault in the right manner, but… should I kill them?

It wasn’t about the Death Energy but the Exp that she’d gain, allowing her to raise the cap of her Death Pool further to sustain her ever-growing need; she was running low on positions with all of the Unintelligent Undead she’d risen.

A large group had followed the rogue Runic A.I. out of their lands before needing to retreat; she didn’t want to cause a false perception to any other nation without being able to address it herself.

Quin and Valdar were traveling around the north, spreading the word of her glory, which seemed to be having success; her following was steadily increasing.

Presently, the biggest thing that had been on her mind was this extra Seed within her—this religious side—yet there wasn’t much they could do about it until Sari’aél recovered to give them more information on it, which should be tomorrow.

Then again, they were two days away from a pivotal moment—Sari’ael and Orinvia’s contest—and it was prudent to conceive the event would attract a few of the other members to sit in and watch.

Ever since her encounter with Becdeth, she hadn’t heard from the enigmatic individuals, and that was a tad concerning; she had no clue what they actually did or desired—in fact, it appeared even Sar’ollaz, as powerful as he was, didn’t have complete control over his faction—they did what they wanted.

Lexi and Serris had remained in the city, the mantis-like insect still recovering, taking much longer than Violet to regain consciousness after her stunt.

Elinor figured someone would eventually show up to take the pair unless Sar’ollaz had utterly abandoned them for several reasons Tiffany and she had theorized, but that was yet to be seen.  Also, Baxter would likely recover soon unless his state after the Seraph’s attack was too far beyond repair.

Prompting her portable chair to turn, Elinor gazed upon the sleeping form of Sari’aél; many of her feathers were returning out of shimmering golden light.

Not entirely trusting her Grand Ritualist after her previous statement about the angel’s physical capabilities of bearing a child in her weakened state, she’d transported the Seraph to her room for her Maids to take care of.

Luisina Aristizabal, her Reiki Butterfly healing Maid, had been enjoying the task of taking care of the angel.

Without the Seraph, Elinor felt somewhat vulnerable, especially with Demon’s runic avatar still in their maximum-security prison nearby; he’d been shockingly silent whenever she’d gone to see him, seemingly wearing a smug grin on his metallic face.

Moving to the Throne Room, Elinor waited for the humans to arrive with Garu; Tiffany soon joined her, practically salivating for the opportunity to further understand the Seeds.  Edmon was busy every second of every day, overseeing projects—they were becoming a legitimate nation.

The colossal main entrance doors were opened by fully fleshed Unintelligent Quen’Talrat, having built up their levels through killing wildlife throughout the weeks, and the small throng of humans followed Garu and Nelika, the new ambassador from one of the desert clans.

Tiffany sat on her own throne to Elinor’s left, waiting for the group to approach with anticipation, and Theresa introduced her to the nervous humans and Ri’bot.  Elinor’s gaze lingered on each one as they went to the platform to present themselves to her, yet her mind was listening to Garu’s identification of each.

None of them had significant importance other than the possible Artificer and how the Seed might respond when raising someone from the dead.

Nelika didn’t have much to say other than she was here to represent her great-grandfather, and the poor girl was stumbling over her words and twisting her tongue every time she tried to speak, clearly overwhelmed.

The only important thing was the Seeds, so she swiftly powered through the pleasantries and formalities, yet one thing did catch her interest.

“Nicole,” Elinor called, singling the young, twelve-year-old Fae Wood Dryad out.

“Y-Yes, Empress?”  she nervously curtsied in the dress given to her on her path to this audience after Gwen learned about the group from Lucky.

“I have someone I’d like you to meet; I believe you will get along well with a young Maid of mine.  Her name is Aileen, and she will guide your group around the open-access areas.  Feel free to make yourself at home…  If you choose to make my Empire your home, I welcome you.”

They all swallowed and gave her more awkward bows before Elinor hummed, silencing them as she held out her hand for emerald flames to light across them; dozens of butterflies floated out to hover around the dead teenage boy and girl they’d laid out for her—the elderly Ri’bot Garu had brought with them could wait.

“Well?”  Tiffany eagerly asked, practically sitting on the edge of her throne.

Hmm…  Vega Jiménez can be raised as an Epic-Grade Smith, and yes…  I do feel a pulsing power within her.  Yago Cerecero can take on the Spy—the Morph Subclass—similar to Iris, which could be useful to Klaus.

“Ooh!  We could get someone in to finally talk to the humans Yesenia has kept from us?”

It is a dangerous job, but possible.  Now, we’ll see what the Seed does when I raise their host…

“I’m so excited!  Is your other Seed resonating with it?”

In a way…  Interesting.

Adroncia entered the hall with a blanket to wrap around the rotting and ravaged bodies as the fire ate away their clothing; so far as she was aware, Adoncia seemed to be getting along better with her brother, which was good. 

Flames erupted around the pair, and as she tugged their spirits, housing their Seeds, back to the land of the living, she felt them be consumed by her own, giving her a wealth of points to be used.

Hmm-hmm…  I absorbed them.

“That is fascinating!”  Tiffany cooed, but she paused when Elinor’s eyes narrowed, unseen by those below because of the distance.  “What is it?”

Elinor rose to her feet to move to her portable throne as her new subjects slowly rose; Cristian was trying to hold himself back from rushing to embrace his best friend, tears in his eyes.

Vega, Yago, you may spend the rest of the evening as you wish; if you have questions, ask Aileen.

Vega gripped her silken blanket tighter around her body, face a tad red at suddenly being brought back totally naked.  “Y-Yes, Empress!  Uh—woah… I died…  Am I talking in my head—telepathy?!”

“Yeah…”  Yago mumbled, almost letting his blanket slip at the shock, yet both swiftly bowed as she prepared to leave.  “Thank you, Empress!”

“Yes!  T-Thank you, Empress!  I’ll try to—to do what I can…  I know I’m not the best, but…”

“Hehe.  That is enough, Dears.  It seems the Empress has some pressing business.  Have your fun today.”

““Yes, High Lady Tiffany!””

A frown in place, Elinor leaned against the side of her throne, knuckles pressed against her lips and nose while retreating to her tower.

Communication turning private, Tiffany ordered her own newly made throne to follow hers.  “What is it, Elinor—Is there a problem?”

Let me think for a moment…

Several possibilities were flaring into life as they rose to the upper floors; this hadn’t been something she’d considered at all, and it had the potential to be quite dangerous.

Once inside her colossal room on the top floor of her tower, Elinor prompted the spider to lower itself to the floor and stepped off to stand before the window.  Her vision drifted to the hidden island of Sha’Guala; the unsettling specter of Becdeth lingered on her mind, putting a shiver through her artificial bones.

Becdeth is far more than I gave him credit for…

“What do you mean?”

I’m sure he knows so much more…  He only speaks the truth, huh?  Heh, it, I suppose the creature doesn’t even really have a gender.

“Elinor, help me understand what you’re so agitated by.  Please, Empress, let me share in whatever you’re contemplating,” Tiffany pleaded, walking to stand next to her.

Elinor shifted her hand to press her fingers against her left diamond earring before removing it and holding it in front of her with a dark glare.  This… isn’t my Seed…  It’s not even really my spirit…  It’s my sister’s.

“I… don’t understand, heh…  How does that make sense?”  Tiffany asked.  “Your sister would have been in my womb, right?  Also, why would you place your sister’s spirit, that you knew nothing about, in another earring?”

Honestly…  I don’t know, Tiffany.  If I consumed my sister in the womb, perhaps it has always been a part of me… influencing me to some degree.  I tapped into her power when making the Religious System, and she is the foundation of that—I’m sure now—but at the same time, it is as if she is chained to me… unable to rest.

Tiffany’s illuminated orange irises lingered on the black jewel, lips tight.  “If… that is the case…  Can you resurrect your sister, and why have you never noticed you could until now?  No, unless… the two Seeds you absorbed?”

Yes…  My sister absorbed them through me, and now, I have the option of mending her spirit to be raised.

“Mend?”

It’s been ravaged… possibly by me in my mother’s womb when we were first born, but it’s just a theory.  My concern is that if I do raise her or give her more of a place, can she break free and become independent of me?  Hmm…  I have to at least meet her, though.

“In spirit,” Tiffany asked.  “How powerful is she compared to you—has she been leeching off of your Exp this entire time?”

She has…  We seem to be bonded in some… almost fundamental way, yet I can clearly distinguish I am the superior…  That doesn’t mean she isn’t powerful…  Heh, she definitely is.

“Transcendent?”

Beyond that…

“What?  How is that possible…  What is she then?”

Hmm…  So far as I can tell by holding her in my hand… nearly an equal to me.  Above the Royal Court.

“That… is concerning.  We would need to obey her?”  Tiffany hissed, arms crossing under her bust.

Yes, but my orders supersede hers…  However…  A shiver running down her spine, Elinor nervously turned to the unconscious Seraph.  Sari’ael’s bond is more closely tied to my sister’s Seed than mine.

“Unacceptable,” Tiffany flatly denied.  “Too much of a risk!  If she even has the possibility of turning Sari’ael against you…  It is not worth it!”

Gut tightening at the very prospect, questions flooded her mind.

I would wholeheartedly agree, Tiffany, but…  Apollo was the one who did this.  Sari’ael is not Undead, and I suspect that is a reason why I was not the primary link…  We share her, and if that is the case, I cannot think Apollo would do something to hurt his daughter, and putting her between us… it would do that.  So…  I believe I have to at least entertain the idea…  Mmgm…  Yet, Becdeth’s warning makes me hesitate.

“What warning?”

Not wanting to voice it, seeing as it was aimed at the ones she trusted the most, which Tiffany included.  Especially considering she’d recently discovered the dangers her Grand Ritualist presented in how far the woman was willing to go.

I have to meet her.

“Can we think about this?  We should hold off until Edmon, Iris, and Sari’ael are here—we can…”

I know it’s a risk, Elinor whispered, and call it an undying curiosity… but I feel in my soul…  I would regret not providing my sister a second chance.  Well…  What is my sister like…

Spending the 3,000 Death Energy with the Seeds her sister had absorbed as materials to restore her spirit to health, she brought her out to speak, and Elinor’s Undead heart stopped as all time seemed to follow.

A radiance of light broke across the firmament as if heaven itself gave way, and a soft, familiar melody of two divine female voices broke into song; the diamond in her hand went from black to gold, floating into the air to attach to a radiance.

Backing up several steps, Tiffany moved in front of her with her astonished Maids, totally unprepared for what was happening, yet in the next instant, all of her subjects froze, utterly overwhelmed by the powerful presence that passed through them with her reviving sister.

The effulgence materialized into a mirror of her—an identical twin—yet somehow slightly more lovely, in an almost radiant way; the image she’d been shown of her perfected self by Ana’uél, the ten-winged Daughter of the Sun that escorted her to see Apollo.

However, instead of white or black hair, as her locks used to be, her sister’s was an incandescent gold sheen that reflected the heavenly welcome; her aquamarine irises opened as a soft half-smile lifted her cheeks, almost a smirk.

A voice like honey and wine, her words awoke something buried within Elinor’s soul, touching it to the Core, and unlike all other spirits’ she’d raised, it seemed the world would know someone grand had entered the stage.  “It appears we are limited on time, Eldest Sister…  Hmm-hmm…  I look forward to when we can have a proper chat, Ereshkigal.”

Without thinking, her little sister’s name came to Elinor’s lips.  “Inanna…”

The heavens closed, her sister pulled back into the purified vessel that held her restored spirit; they were sisters, bound in a conflict that stretched back throughout antiquity, yet at some point, Elinor had won, and this was to be her final incarnation before ascending again—these Seeds had ruined that plan.


Maps:

Post Conquest

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