B3 — 53. Into The Cavern

PoV:

1. Elinor Irkalla (Ereshkigal, The Sumerian Goddess Of The Dead!)

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Wanting to distract Thor from anything involving Apate or her current location, Elinor sent the Primordial to spend time with Edmon to better understand the tireless improvements being made to her city.

In the next few hours, she’d be calling him to investigate the tunnels the three Spider Sisters had mapped.  Tracking their general direction was easy enough, but that didn’t take into consideration their phenomenal scouting capability with their webs.

Elinor studied the quiet night from within her tower, Theresa humming nearby; the motherly maid had been developing new songs and melodies since her tireless mind and body gave her time to develop her hobbies.

There were several directions their journey could take, and just like the Thélméthra, skulking inside the caves on their mission, Elinor’s mind spun webs, connecting and predicting the effect of each potential outcome.

She’d mostly identified the critical individuals she would need in their travels, yet a few wildcards had been passed between Ishtar and her in their discussions; naturally, Nethermore was the most vulnerable when she left, and there were sobering disaster-level threats that had to be addressed.

If, by some extreme misfortune, she were to be killed while away—something Tiffany and Edmon fearfully resonated with, if more for herself rather than Ishtar’s concern—everything she’d built would collapse in an instant.

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The humans she’d brought under her wing couldn’t survive, the Argent Dawn would lose all power, and the tentative union of races within Nethermore would fracture.

The very real inevitability of Nethermore coming under heavy war also posed the issue that Elinor wouldn’t be there to rebuild their ranks, and that was part of the reason for her ponderings; she needed to raise the dead on their passage and send them back to Nethermore, yet that carried the frightening event of a long procession of Undead, constantly walking to the east. 

In the end, they concluded, she should increase her Intelligent Undead and gather them in small battalions to be sent in waves; the problem from that route came in the form of walking around with an army and drawing attention.

There weren’t any perfect answers, yet that was the burden of anything in life.  Ideally, she’d find someone to fill the Necromantic’s position in her Royal Court, but Elinor wouldn’t hold her breath, and they needed a temporary solution.

Currently, Elinor calculated the personnel she could bring, focusing her gaze on the northeast, where Violet and her sisters searched; she wanted to take at least one of Iris’ daughters—the Thélméthra were far too valuable not to consider—and that was the problem.

The girls would be invaluable for a multitude of reasons for her sister, primarily to guard her when she went to the various nations around their land to meet with the other leaders.

Elinor had God-Touched, a godly trickster, the God of Thunder, and the dominatrix songstress on her roster thus far, and it was a solid team.  The teens would slow them down at the start, but that was a part of honing them into the weapons she’d need when they required the extra muscle of her children.

A smile lifted her lips as she stroked Masmu’s elegant head as her little snake flicked out her tongue, and Elinor assured the spiritual creature she hadn’t forgotten about her.

Voukey could use his communications ability to give her monthly updates, which would be helpful, and the Flock General had the potential to act as a temporary reconnaissance resource whenever making the journey.

She glanced at the humming maid, recalling the longing feelings of her fellow maids to join her on the quest with fondness; in the end, to their disappointment, she’d made it clear Adoncia would be the only maid that would attend to her.

Ishtar was a busy bee, making appearances, spending time with the population that couldn’t rest, and healing many of the women and children who had been rescued.

Luisina—her self-sacrificing cleric maid—had been in a state of awe since regaining consciousness and basking in her new queen’s light; her weak, undead body was having trouble keeping up with the goddess as they kept on the move throughout the hours.

As to the elder of the songstress twins, Ninatta, she supported Neara—Elinor’s new Head of State and the disgraced goddess of servants in heaven—in her address to the other nations.

After which, Sari’aél transported the revived women for care and the goddess pair to Nethermore, where the two returned to their mistress’ side to busy themselves with understanding the ins and outs of their new home. 

Overall, her nation had exited the dangerous time of budding and was now on an upward trend, which was the perfect time to leave things to develop under her sister’s watchful hand.

Elinor’s fingers flexed as she studied the mountains to Nethermore’s east; her enemies were running scared, and just as they needed time to prepare, she could use that time to strengthen her God-Touched.

Her emerald irises shifted to the woman she’d called to her side not long after Thor’s exit; she allowed her the time to ponder on her journey instead of having Noa instantly deliver the maid.

Adoncia, are you feeling better?

The black-haired young woman brushed back her shoulder-length locks, forcing a smile as she curtsied.

“Yes, Empress.”

Elinor knew the answer, but allowing her to express herself was an essential part of letting her expand and develop a better relationship with Tiamat; out of all her maids, having been granted the power of an Oni through her Seed, Adoncia had the nerve she needed.

Plus, every maid had tailored their own outfits, and Elinor rather enjoyed the cute design she’d come up with; the clothes a girl wore showed a piece of herself that she wanted to express to the world without words.

Sit.  Also, Theresa, if you could pour us tea and join us?

She waited for the two to follow the order; obviously, the teen would feel awkward when her ‘technical’ superior maid was standing, and she was sitting.

The tea was a cold brew, using the new leaves they’d discovered in this alien world; each drink was hit or miss, yet that was the fun in exploring the unknown.  This particular pot was above average and had a slight mint aftertaste that was dulled to bring out a more rich earthy flavor.

How was your time in Irkalla?

Trying not to fidget with her apron front, likely still addled by sensing the titanic entity she was now connected with, Adoncia put on her best smile.

“Beyond words, Empress.  You… told me to be candid and honest about my experiences?”

Speak your mind, Elinor nodded, studying the young woman’s illuminated, crystal-blue irises.  I know it may be challenging for you to accept, but you are far more than just a simple maid.

“That’s what I’d like to discuss, if possible…  What exactly am I?  It’s just… a topic that came up between Sal, Alisa, and Valentina.  We were given a seed… like Valentina, but… we weren’t exactly changed in the same way.”

It’s a good question, Elinor hummed, scanning her figure.  Did you want to become a tiger girl?  Hehe.  I’m sure having permanent, retractable underwear would be tempting, and the striped kind!

“E-Empress…  Hehe.”

Joking!  Well, heh, half-joking.  I suppose that’s a bit new to you.

“It is… but not in a bad way!  It’s just a bit… strange, and how you look now…”

Hmm?  Elinor glanced down at her elegant, floral dress the musical goddesses had crafted for her and her far more mature figureTheresa, if you could rebind my hair, I plan to be going out soon.

“Would you prefer a bun then, Empress?”  the motherly maid questioned while moving into position and accepting the floating, divine hair clips the songstresses had made for her; the maid would use them to keep her bangs from obstructing her left eye.

Elinor giggled after the woman’s quick, yet expert hands completed the style.  Yes, well, I had to add a few modifications since we returned from my wardrobe; what do you think about my spider-themed thigh brace?  Eye-catching?!

“It certainly does look fancy and… impractical for travel.  Hehe,” Adoncia winced.

Haha!  Much like Kulitta’s outfit, I suppose, but we’re goddesses; would you expect anything less from beings who can just get rid of physics?

Her maids gave a thoughtful nod at the point.

Being able to gauge your opponent while also expressing one’s self is crucial…  Haaa, I’m seriously considering bringing Violet with me so I can have her construct new outfits for us, but, unfortunately, I don’t think I can pull her away from Nethermore.

Hmm.  To the topic you asked, though, Elinor chimed, long fingernails tapping the side of her silken throne, causing the teen to straighten.  What are you?  You are an Undead Oni Maid.

Adoncia blinked, processing her answer.

“The Seed?  Thor… said we’re changing.”

   Elinor snickered.  The Seeds my children copied from Valentina are not the same as the one Ishtar, and I have.  Hehe.  You may be able to tell by comparing us.  I have an entire empire and hosts of powerful servants.  Valentina?  Claws and, heh, natural underwear.  There is a limit to it, which is why my children infused them with their own power to enhance them.

“We’re… they’re becoming more like your children?”

They are becoming more like my children, Elinor corrected.  You… are not the same as your brother because you do not have a Seed since you share in mine, which is far… far more potent.

A lump dropped down the girl’s throat as her fingers tightened in her lap.  “I’m not human anymore…  I’ve accepted that, but… will I change more?  I don’t want to scare my brother like I did the first time I changed…  Just my eye color freaked him out.  I’m just… scared, Empress.”

Elinor breathed out a soft, understanding sigh while studying her maid; this was so difficult for her to express, and the contrasting development that was happening between their relationship that the Nexus influenced.

Getting to her feet, Elinor motioned for them to follow her since they’d finished their cup; the two maids swiftly rose to accompany her on their walk around the room.

I told you this would be more challenging than you can fathom…  I know what will become of Sal, Valentina, and Alisa.

Your brother will draw from my eldest son, and the Seed will gradually form to his budding desires rather than all at once as is the object’s preset function—to force immediate change—but I’m not a fan of such… brute force tactics, and find it to be a… mildly desperate action.

I would rather your brother facilitate what he wants to become rather than bring out what is already within… a bet on the future potential rather than the present, unrefined will, and desires that can be brought forth.  Following?

Adoncia gradually became more comfortable now that they were on the move and not having Elinor’s focus totally on her; she processed the question for a second before nodding.

“I’m connected to you through the Nexus, being an undead servant to you…  I share in the greater power through you.”

Fidgeting with the white-trim, blue-and-black striped bow-tie around her neck, she forced a short chuckle.  “I’m so confused as to what relationship I’m supposed to—well, how you’ve treated me recently.  If I’m a tool, I can understand that…  You needed someone within the Nexus to bond to Tiamat, and I happened to fit the bill.”

Hmm.  Elinor slowed to a stop to stare at the northern mountain, glowing magma still showing from the parted clouds.  Adoncia… you will not always be connected to the Nexus.

Theresa and the teenager stiffened at the information.

“E-Eh?  Why—will I be kicked out because…  What will happen to me?”  

The Nexus provided a place of security—a refuge—from the chaos that had devastated their lives.  They were a part of a sort of family and community within it that could be tapped into whenever needed to speak to those within it.

Elinor’s half-smile caught both women off-guard, and she could feel their uncertainty, considering they believed the Nexus was eternal and not without reason.

Sal and the others are on the path to ascension to become deities on par with my own children; however, there will come the point where I will need to remove you from the Nexus because, to put simply, Tiamat is beyond even these Greater Seeds, and you will grow with her gradual release.  What does that mean?

Adoncia froze in place, unable to process the answer with the motherly maid beside her; Elinor chuckled and turned to face her to provide the answer.

It means we will be equals.  Well, heh, in time…  Not something you expected to hear, I’m sure, Elinor mused.

You are not a tool, Adoncia… you are an investment.  I understand you to your very Core, and before ever becoming aware of Tiamat, I knew your loyalty—and perhaps even more importantly—your stubborn determination to push forward when no one else helps you, would be invaluable.

“I… c-can’t be your equal, Empress,” Adoncia choked.  “Everything I am… even being linked to Tiamat… the power to stand up to the world…  Everything I have comes from you!  No one has helped me—ever… my parents, even Sal…  You’ve given me everything I care about.  So…”

Elinor held up a hand for her to stop.  I am not so selfless, Adoncia.  I am a judge—the judge—and I do so on the merit of spirit, and what I’m saying is… I predict you will prove to me to be my equal, given the opportunity.  So, I’ve given it; that is all…

She brought Adoncia’s attention to Theresa.  When I rose you maids from the hundreds of dead, I was drawn to the most valuable that were worthy of serving me—and I do not select just anyone to serve my needs.

Theresa, ever stoic and composed, soundlessly curtsied at the compliment to not interrupt her explanation.  A part of her charm, Adoncia’s was slightly rigid.

You will have the capability to enhance your Oni powers and express yourself however you wish, heh, and serve me at the same time on our journey; channel that inner rage and love for a challenge all you wish when you want, and, after that, return to this charming young woman you love.

Elinor placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder, shocking her out of her internal panic as her future place within the Empire was explained.

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I want to see you bloom to be who you wish to be because the comrade I need is the inner gem I see within you that Tiamat accepted.  Now, be the rock you want to be for your brother, and show him a path that will bring them in alignment with my children…

Moving away and calling Noa, she shifted to grin at her conflicted maid.

Show them what it means to be strong.

Tight hands held at her front, Adoncia stiffly nodded.  “I… will do my best to live up to your expectations, Empress.”

It’s not my expectations you need to contend with, Elinor laughed, pointing at her chest.  It’s yours that you’ve projected onto me.

“Noa.”

“Empress!”  the crescent-moon-eyed hybrid chimed, seemingly in a good mood after the chaos she’d been dealing with had died down.

“Take me to see Thor and Edmon.”

And Adoncia…

“Hmm?  I-I mean, yes?!”

Prepare the others for a harsh, physically demanding journey that will begin early tomorrow morning.

Runes carried Elinor away, leaving as Theresa moved to clean up the tea and Adoncia to internalize everything she’d been told; the girl had a sense of responsibility few could match and a will to match the ideals she held.

If the other teens were to survive, they’d need her, which was why Thor was so concerned for her condition, but Elinor knew what the God of Thunder did not since she was so deeply tied to the Nexus.

Adoncia was an exceptionally rare soul among Existence that had the makings of greatness if given the path to walk such a destiny; now, she’d been offered it, and all there was to do was provide the proper kick in the butt to set her on it.

The colorful symbols left her, and Elinor had to smirk as she glanced at the messy library floor of the massive room; Edmon had been referencing and redesigning hundreds of materials and plans for all the projects to turn Nethermore into the visionary fortress it was meant to be.

“What are your thoughts on my city?”  Elinor questioned as the two men turned to greet her.

Thor streamed out a heavy sigh.  “Thy man has a keen eye for the defense of thy city.”

A hearty chuckle came from Edmon, making Elinor lift an eye; from the feelings she sensed through the Nexus, the Doom Guard had been enthralled by picking the Primordial’s brain on every inch of the fortress.

“Thor pointed out many weaknesses in my designs that would make a counter offensive far more challenging than it had to be, given the tools at our disposal and the possibility of growth; sacrificing a way to cripple a siege for more defensive capabilities isn’t the best tactic.  We’ve been exploring ways to balance things out.”

Elinor snickered.  “Sounds like you boys have been having fun!  Unfortunately, I need to steal Thor.”

The God of Thunder grinned, lifting his hand for his gloves, hammer, and cloak to fly from their resting positions on a table to attach to his body.  “We ride to battle at last?”

“Our little bug problem,” Elinor nodded.  “I can feel Violet nearing the walls while her sisters remain underground.”

Noa’s clawed hands tightened at her front.  “She… didn’t ask me to bring her back?”

Elinor shook her head.  “It seems there is a tunnel that is closer to Nethermore than returning to the mountain.”

Edmon saluted her, wearing a big grin; his confidence in her self-reliance had skyrocketed since seeing her in action.  “I look forward to your victory and the spoils of war.”

Contacting him through the Nexus, Elinor gave a playful nudge.  I think Thor’s rubbing off on you.

“Haha.  He is very war-oriented and brings up points I’d never considered.”

Voukey has yet to return from his mission to the Nalvean Empire; keep a close eye on their progress, and if something drastic happens, consult Ishtar as to what to do…  We cannot lose our key communications officer.

Edmon’s gaze hardened at the possibility, seeing as they were on a mission to infiltrate the Seaweaver District to extract the humans isolated within; they couldn’t underestimate Yesenia if she’d been rekindled to her true identity.

Elinor directed Noa to transport them to the northernmost wall as Thor pumped himself up for the coming battle by swinging his hammer a few times.

A soft wind met them, tugging at Elinor’s bun, yet the black clips refused to allow her bangs to obstruct her vision.  Looking out over her empire, the unusual sight of the northern biome spread out below them, displaying their colorful, alien flora, mosses, and trees.

Many sections seemed to have taken a heavy hit from the snowfall that had blanketed them not that many days past, which would likely cause Tiffany to cry at the loss of materials.  Yet, as she surveyed the area, she noticed a very small number of Unintelligent Undead that was gathering a few of each type of growth.

Tiffany, always thinking ahead, Elinor internally mused; the witch hadn’t informed her on this little side project, possibly thinking it wasn’t worth bothering her about.  I would have given her more manpower had I known.

Thor rolled around his shoulders, lifting his hammer in the air for lightning to split the heavens; energy arced from the gray clouds overhead, striking the man to be absorbed into the powerful artifact.

Noa tucked under her bottom lip, eyeing the man’s casual action with worry.

Elinor diverted her gaze not to be blinded, but the rumbles that passed through her bones from the proximity made her shiver, remembering their battle; once again, she was reminded that this Primordial was unlike anyone she’d met throughout her long existence and the power he wielded.

If Primordial Olympus is like Thor…  We have a fight on our hands.

“What is thy goal in this affair?”  the man asked as Elinor rubbed her ringing ears.  “We battle the horde to this object of mutation?”

“Hehe.  Interesting choice of words,” she mumbled.  “Right now, we just need to figure out what it is…  Ah, Violet is above ground.  Thank you, Noa; that will be all for now.”

“Safe trip, Empress.”

Holding out her hand, a fissure split space as she summoned her chain to attach to her spirit and propel her into the night; Thor remained behind as she made her way to the second-youngest spider sister.

As she expected, just before meeting the elegantly dressed spider girl, a bright light streaked past her, dirt erupting in a shower as the earth gave way under the Primordial’s force as Thor came to a halt; the rumble of thunder followed.

Show-off, Elinor sighed, landing in front of Violet.

The Thélméthra bowed her head while speaking through the Nexus, keeping a close eye on the approaching God of Thunder, electricity dancing from his bare chest and eyes.

“We have located the artifact you sent us to find, Empress.”

“Aloud, Violet,” she prompted, nodding to Thor.

Nodding again, she repeated herself.

Thor grinned, a hot frenzy emanating from his pent-up frustration at all the jabs he’d recently received from so many women, ready to be released.  “Shall we make an entrance, Lady Irkalla?”

“We shall,” Elinor returned, summoning her staff.  “Yet… I have the sneaking suspicion you are going to steal all the thunder.”

“Haha!  I see that thy words hold merit.”

Elinor put a hand on her hip, adding a feigned dirty look.  “It wasn’t an invitation!  Still, have your fun.  Haaa…  Violet, guide him to the hive center; I’ll take my time.”

“Pleasant stroll, Empress.”

Thor spun his hammer around in a violent tornado at his side as Violet led him to an uncovered sinkhole she’d created.

“This is why I see thy wisdom, Lady Irkalla; despite thy dubious plots and words, thou doth understand the needs and desires of those within thy company.  Thou relinquishes the honor of being first into battle; I respect thy ways, which is not something I often say to other pantheons.”

She held out a hand in a dismissive gesture.  “A modest respect for other cultures can carry you a long way in building allies,” she noted.  “Slaughter away in peace; I’m sure you’ll be met with quite the horde.”

The pair vanished soon after, quakes vibrating through the earth as the man used his power over storms to propel himself after Violet’s swift acceleration.

Azalea…

“Empress!  We have discovered a most interesting nest of insects; they seem to enjoy lava.”

Oh?  That is interesting.  Double back and direct me through this maze tunnel; your sister is guiding Thor around.

“Yay!  I’d love the opportunity to be your shadow.”

Entering the pit, it wasn’t hard to see what general direction she needed to go by the scorch marks the God of Thunder left, but it didn’t take long before she came to a dead end.

Elinor glared at the collapsed corridor.  Freaking Thor…

Azalea cleared it away once arriving, continuing to inform her of what the sisters had discovered, and Elinor proceeded at a casual pace; she wasn’t in a hurry, and it was nice getting out of the keep.

At one point, five creatures shared a floating black obelisk, by the evidence they’d been able to collect; two had been long wiped out.

Apparently, they played a game of tug-of-war, stealing the precious artifact from time to time, but each surviving creature made sure to keep a few queen eggs far away from the primary nest with its own attendants.

Most of the time, these queens died, and one insectoid race had many queens—the race she’d slain on her trip to recruit Noa—yet they were not the ones currently in charge of the corrupted Divine item.

Hordes of ashen and blackened corpses met her as they continued deeper into the pits, entering a drained lava vein, although Elinor suspected it had been more than likely devoured.

Thor seemed to have gone to destroy both of the other invasive species that had continued to evolve through combat in their closed-off, underground war; they appeared to have locked themselves into a bit of a trap, feeding off specific resources underground after adapting to rely on a particular element with the obelisk’s aid.

The creatures Thor went to fight seemed to be more worm-based and thrived in sandy environments, grinding down the stone to create a semi-desert tunnel system and massive caverns in places the spider sisters used to play.

However, Elinor’s fascination grew with the scorpion-like lava-loving creatures she’d begun to see; they had keen senses, from what Azalea explained as she created pathways through the bubbling rivers of lava that all converged into a magma pocket, the scorpions had found supremacy in.

Camellia didn’t have the stealth capability of her sisters to dodge the scout’s senses, causing her to hang back to study a few they’d killed; she pepped up upon seeing them and joined their gradual descent, devastating those that they came across.

From what Azalea reported, they had a chain of command; queens at their top—much like the Thélméthra—but there were also royal guardians and maidens.  These queens could produce offspring with the workers and scouts, but she seemed to leave that task for the smaller servant girls—she was all about mating with those that stood up to her and domesticating them.

Elinor had to chuckle at the conquering nature of the evolved species; she could see what kind of spirit, and, if conditions allowed, she might find another good addition for her sister to use.

From the foot soldiers and drones, they had developed to incorporate the high-intensity fire crystals that formed within the pools and kept a strong exoskeleton; perhaps these creatures would have become prey for the Thélméthra Queen had they lived at the same time.

She hoped the queen and royal guard wouldn’t disappoint her as they descended into the fiery caverns; elemental fire scorpions would be a nice addition to her army, and they could explore more inhospitable areas underneath her Empire.


Maps:

Post Conquest

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