Elena popped into existence on the other end of the teleport she executed to leave Samodiva's court. It took her to her patio behind her house. A tall, black haired, large breasted, Megami was sitting waiting patiently in one of the chairs. She was dressed in a sweatshirt and leggings. Not her usual fashion, but Elena knew why.
Elena really kind of hated when she did this. Used her insights to predict when someone would be vulnerable and likely to accept comfort from the, essentially, empathic vampire. The entire breed was that way, but Elena didn't have emotional ties with the entire breed. Just the one here. Chandrakanta rose from where she sat, smooth and silent, with a humble expression fixed on the Grandelf.
Elena fell into the arms of her friend and surrendered her strength, trusting the celestial pokegirl to hold her.
She really kind of hated when she did this.
"Are you okay, Nel?"
Elena was silent for a long stretch of time. "I had to do it. I had to see her in person."
Chandrakanta lifted a hand to smooth out Elena's hair where it fell away from the central part on her crown. "Samodiva?"
Elena nodded, rubbing her cheek against the Megami's bosom as she did. "I was confident even before, but now I know. She's another one from the Sewicks."
"Is it really the Sewicks? I do not understand how they could retain their admiration if they are always producing Elfqueens who are so violently anti-social."
Elena signed. "No one connected to the main family. Probably a distant, disgraced offshoot desperate to get back in the good graces of the trunk of the family tree. And it's probably not even the same members of the family each time…" Elena pulled herself up away from the embrace and motioned towards the door to her kitchen. Once inside, she continued speaking as she started heating water for her tea.
"It's just their antipathy towards Elves from the Vesna incident. As a whole, they can't stand the idea that th- that we, exist out here acting independently, counter even, to their designs. Their ambitions of a world returned to the economic might of the twentieth century.
"From a distant, abstract perspective it makes sense. A perspective of spreadsheets rather than reality. Take a bunch of Bimbos, who except for the rare exceptions are difficult to make useful. Evolve them to Elves with low grade leaf stones not suitable for market. Evolve those Elves to Elfqueens through lust poisons and taming aids and then sell them to farmers with the suggestion that the Elfqueen issues her call to attract Elves to work the farms. Therefore removing them from the wilds. It seems win-win…"
"But it is not." Chandrakanta said from where she had sat at Elena's dining table.
"No. And the Sewicks know this on some level because they never buy their own Elfqueens. It's Iliescue Elves for them. Most Elfqueens settle into the role of a farm queen well, but some… Usually the ones who, as Bimbos, were the highest functioning, they can't forget the series of mistreatments that shaped them. The fear and pain takes root and drives them to embrace unseelie ideals. Inevitably, they become the next Samodiva…"
Elena's unique position, one in between the worlds of humans and Elves, frequently saw her aware, if not involved, in these sorts of tragedies as they unfolded in the Dnipropetrovsk region. And since this part of the league was one of the locations where Sewick territory bordered the a great deal of farmland, the majority of the cases she was discussing occurred within the oblast.
Elena froze over the stove top and stared out at the grey winter sky. "I still couldn't save you, my queen… I still couldn't hear you call out to me..."
Chandrakanta rose and moved next to the stove. "Let me take over, Nel. I'll bring you your tea when it's ready." Elena turned to gaze, just as forlornly, at the Megami and then nodded once before shuffling to the living room and her preferred chair and blanket.
It was not very long before the water was hot and crushed and dried herbs steeped. Chandrakanta perched on the stuffed footrest that matched the Grandelf's chair, putting them close enough that their knees were touching. "I am sure you have thought about this, Nel. Is there a way that you see for this cycle to end?"
Elena took a long sip and then sat back and combed the forward locks of hair in place with her fingers. "There is. There isn't. The Sewicks aren't the only ones with short-sighted business ventures. They're just usually the ones to jump on an opportunity first. If they checked their enthusiasm it would just be someone else coming to the same conclusion, producing the same tragedy. As much as I hate to admit it, the league needs the Sewicks. Someone needs to manage the byzantine monster. All six of the families have their part to play and when they play it well the league flourishes and when they don't the league's people suffer." She stopped talking and looked thoughtful. She blew out a gust of air that, when paired with her half hearted smile, seemed like it could be a laugh. "I suppose that's when the Khyndzals play their part."
"The family Star associates with." Someone who didn't know Chandrakanta as well might have mistaken the comment for a question.
"Right. They have a reputation, deserved, for eccentricity and ruthlessness, to put it kindly. Most of the time the people want nothing to do with them but occasionally… Well, if things are awful enough under the sane families, where is the harm in supporting the mad? Their brutal meritocracy also means that, whatever niche they find to fill, whoever winds up in that position is frighteningly competent."
"They are a failsafe. A Hound to menace the complacent." Chandrakanta observed.
"Yes, I suppose they are. I suppose that is why they get along well with the Pazas, strange as that is."
Chandrakanta smiled. "It was the marriage between Zabel and Demyan. The noble aspirations and sense of duty of the Pazas and the fierce ambition of the Khyndzals."
"I'm not nearly as romantic as you are, Candi. I think it's because the Pazas are just as mad in their own ways." This was an intended dig at the Megami on Elena's part. She was, after all, a Paza sponsored free pokegirl within the Sapphire League.
Chandrakanta laughed. "Are they all not peculiar in their own ways? If they did not produce such extreme personalities they could not be as specialized in their roles. A blending of the six would be tragically ordinary, do you not think?" Elena took a sip of tea to conceal her growing smile, but the curve of her eyes hid nothing from the Megami even without Chandrakanta's supernatural empathy.
"Maybe. Imagine if we could selectively breed them though. What remarkable humans we could produce then."
Chandrakanta's smile became a little dangerous, teasing. "You may select any human you wish to breed you, Nel."
Elena's ears jigged as she glared over the cup. "He's not old enough to be a father."
Chandrakanta stretched her pet name for the Grandelf out musically. "Nel~ We all know Isaac is not what he appears."
Elena was now fighting the blush invading her face. "Yes but… we, I, my reputation. My work. Maybe in another year or two…"
"Maybe in another year or two." Chandrakanta echoed.
“Mizz Elena Hrandelf Vrach and Chandrakanta Mehami Paza are here to see you, Lady Astoreth.” Astoreth looked up from the court documents strewn over the surface of her desk. Nadezhda had cracked the right side door to Astoreth’s office open to make the announcement without peering inside. As Astoreth trained all of her housekeepers. This was her sanctuary within the greater sanctuary of her home.
“I’ll be right out,” the infernal replied. She shuffled the papers around and stacked them in multiple separate piles before each pile went into its own manilla file and then those files went into a leather binder. Svyatylysche’s administrators were rushing to pass a new ordinance in response to a gang of Daimons led by a Demoness causing a ruckus a bit too close to the wealthy north end of the city. Because of the actions of five, the humans wanted to punish thousands with new restrictions, restrictions that belligerent criminals wouldn’t respect or follow regardless. It was a knee jerk solution to make themselves feel better that would only punish pokegirls trying to live lawfully. It was almost guaranteed that the result of these new municipal laws would be to force more infernal pokegirls into lives of crime, exacerbating the issue.
Astoreth’s entire career revolved around fighting against the establishment, perpetuation, or consequences of rules like the one being proposed.
With her work filed away she rose and left her office and descended the quarter turn spiral stairs down to her entryway. She ran her hand along the smooth, polished wooden handrail as she always did. She enjoyed the texture of the varnish as her fingers slid over top of it. A joyful voice called up to her. “Star!” Chandrakanta ran up the stairs, bouncing absurdly under her heavy sweatshirt with each step, and hugged her infernal friend tight around her middle with such strength Astoreth’s heels left the floor.
“Candi.” Astoreth responded by wrapping an arm around her friend. “Nel,” she acknowledged the far more composed Grandelf.
“Star. I have your eye drops. You should be just about out, correct?” Elena pulled a small stoppered bottle out of a pouch on her belt.
Astoreth freed herself from the celestial still embracing her and finished her descent to take the offered items. “Actually, I ran out two days ago. The air has been very dry this week.” Astoreth administered two drops in each eye as she answered. She blinked, shut her eyes and rolled them behind their lids, and then sighed in immense relief. Damn the creator and his shoddy work.
What did it matter? She’d been expected to die during her first battle, like so many other Youma. So many others with even more detrimental flaws that had been deemed ‘acceptable.’ She remembered the agony of her sisters as their bodies failed them. She remembered her pleasure when those that survived avenged them on their callous handlers.
She remembered… She remembered far too much.
Well, she was still here. Still alive. She had new sisters now. New sisters who taught her what it truly meant to care. Chandrakanta stepped close, close enough that they touched shoulders. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough.
The three veterans of the war all turned to look up at the elevated walkway connecting Astoreth’s guest rooms. Isaac had sensed their presence through the delta bond. “Candi, Elena.” Elena started to return Isaac’s greeting in a dignified manner but Chandrakanta teleported the short distance up to him, coming out a few inches off the ground and landing to crush his face against her chest.
“Isaac!” She sang happily. Isaac fought to free himself from the smothering affection.
“Candi,” he was staring at her chest and the atypical wardrobe choice for the day. He’d known her for more than a year now and had never seen her dressed so plainly. “Are you… bigger?”
“Yes! I haven’t found anyone who wants any milk today. Are you thirsty?” She started to lift the hem of the sweatshirt before he answered. “I get all heavy and leaky.”
Elena and Astoreth had made their way up onto the walkway where Isaac and Chandrakanta were, the Grandelf scowling at the antics of her celestial friend. “This is the very predictable result of you indulging and you’ve dealt with this before. It’s only for a day.”
“I like feeding people though,” Chandrakanta whined.
Isaac’s mind drifted back to many scenes involving Milktits and jugs of milk filling refrigerators. “If it’s just feeding people why not express and store it? How much do you produce a day?”
Chandrakanta started to giggle, causing Elena to sigh and answer in for her. “One liter a day for a pump, twenty-five liters if hand milked, and an undetermined amount when directly nursing.” She sighed again in response to Isaac’s inquiring glance, with a deeper exhalation than the first time. “It was a long bender years ago and we ran out of patience and bottles. She just needs to not give in for one day.”
Isaac’s brain was stuck on one question. “Did she manage to keep hydrated?”
“It was a bender, none of us were properly hydrated.” Elena pushed a lock of hair back in place after shaking her head. “Anyway, we need to be on the other side of the league today. Neasa is expected.”
“It will be cold,” Elena had warned them all before Isaac recalled his three pokegirls. The ocean currents had been altered. The landmass that composed the Sapphire league had drifted a few latitudinal degrees south from the tectonic devastation of Europe. Overall this had made winters gentler throughout most of the league but that was not true in the remains of the Carpathian mountains to the west; where the Vesna High Queendom held its territory.
Elena’s destination was a tiny human border town with buildings and highland pines threatened with almost complete burial under drifting mounds of snow just like sand dunes in the desert. Only erected barricades, hot tomato vines, and vigilant snow removal kept the accumulation at bay. “In here,” Elena quickly commanded as she ushered Isaac towards a building with a handful of horse drawn sleighs. Pokegirl drawn, Isaac’s mind corrected its own assumption. Frozenare, probably. It wasn’t much of an intuitive leap. He could see members of the ice type horse breed milling about blissfully unaffected by the biting cold. Isaac shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his winter coat, the outermost layer of thick wool and cotton he had on to shield him from the elements. He’d let his pokegirls out inside.
They hired a small, single pokegirl drawn sleigh, they’d have no issue with a cozy fit in this weather. The ride was incredibly scenic as they traveled down into a valley filled with forest. Other distant crests seemed shrouded by the swirling drifts of snow pushed by the wind. It was beautiful and foreboding. It would be a difficult place to live, but once one mastered, or harmonized with, the elements it would also be safe, in its own way. Safe from other people, at least. Safe from the constant sprawl of human civilization.
The natural fortifications could also help with the safety of these forests. They were difficult to spot but something about the tree line was bugging Isaac, so he did what he always did and studied them more intently. Trees with roots and branches weaving through great stones formed a sort of wall and the tree limbs stretched out and tangled around their fellows to even create something like parapets. Isaac wondered if they’d even have machiculations in the structures, holes that would allow defenders to fire down at any foes at the base of the walls. Maybe the Elves could simply command the trees to deal with those.
They then reached what could only be a border checkpoint. It was a glade enclosed by the same sort of supernatural wall ringed with so many hot tomatoes there was still green grass showing. It made the enclosure mildly comfortable in temperature compared to the air outside.
There weren’t many Elves present, or at least visible, and there were just as many or more members of an evolved form than the base breed. High Elves and Golden Elves acting as peacekeepers. Their presence was a testament to how many Elves must be living in this one pokegirl supercolony. There would need to be many Elves to produce so many evolutions.
Those that weren’t acting as guards were trading or socializing. This place was a meeting point between two worlds, the human and the Elven. And like any other place where cultures joined, there really wasn’t a distinct demarcation. The humans seemed a little Elvish and the Elves a bit more human than Isaac expected. He supposed those that were more stringent in maintaining cultural distinction wouldn’t be here.
One Golden Elf became particularly alert as she watched Isaac’s group disembark the sleigh and she sent one of her kin off into the woods. This Elf returned leading an Elfqueen, one with rich brown hair in an ornate braid wrapped with fine ribbon. She was around the same height as Elena but not nearly as thin, possessing athletic limbs and a defined core. She was dressed in what at first seemed like ornate armor, and it was. The material wasn’t armor or leather though, it was something like plant leaves. She carried a living bow, like all of the Elves who were armed here. She gave Isaac a stern look, Jin one as well. Oleksandra she seemed slightly weary and Neasa elicited an expression Isaac thought was appraising. None of these expressions were very obvious, brief flickers that were there and gone for a moment each as her eyes swept across them. Elena, though, received a welcoming smile that even showed slightly in the Elfqueen’s earthy-green eyes. “Well met, Erethueth.”
Isaac sent a question to Elena over the delta bond. ‘Another nickname?’
‘I prefer the term epithet, and I suppose it’s because I never realize I should introduce myself until after I’ve left an impression,’ was her response. ‘I do wish they would simply call me Elena, though.’
‘It’s elvish, right? Tolkien’s elvish?’ Isaac felt a sense of affirmation, like what he’d feel if Elena had nodded to him. ‘Do you know what it means?’
‘Lonely Pine, essentially.’ The message also carried a feeling Isaac couldn’t quite discern. It was complex and contradictory, but it suggested the epithet was true, but also untrue. At least, less true than before. The raw thoughts and feelings were shared far faster than would have been necessary to facilitate the exchange with speech, so there really wasn’t a perceptible delay in Elena’s response to the Elfqueen’s greeting to her. “Well met, Nimlothel.”
Elena pulled a flower bulb out of one of the pouches on her waist. All of the Elf type pokegirls present reacted to a sudden energy that filled the air, subtle but present. It made Isaac think of the feeling of the early spring, he could feel something too. Jin’s sudden attentiveness made him suspect she did as well. There wasn’t anything visually remarkable about the dormant flowering plant though. “I’ve come to make claim on the debt this represents.”
Nimlothel nodded solemnly but then smiled. “I do not need to verify if this debt is true, seeing as I am standing here before you now.”
Elena either sensed Isaac’s question through the delta bond or anticipated it from his pokegirls. “Nimlothel is the first daughter to Nimlotheth, the Elfqueen who indebted herself to me. I located her daughters when they were abducted by a tribe of Whorcs. Her mother has stepped down from her duties here on the border and Nimlothel has assumed them in her place.” The Grandelf reverently transferred the bulb to the Elfqueen, who then knelt to plant it in the unnaturally thawed soil.
“Young queen,” Nimlothel focused on Neasa, “come and join your magic with mine.” Neasa hesitantly looked to Isaac and Elena, the Grandelf gestured that she should comply. So Neasa knelt on the other side of the spot on the ground. The same Elf who had run to fetch Nimlothel came with a bag of compost; decaying leaves, some shred fibers, and gritty, crushed minerals all mixed together. She also carried a trowel, which was wordlessly given to the Elfqueen she was attending.
Nimlothel dug a shallow hole into the ground and placed the bulb inside, her Elf attendant poured the compost over top. Neasa watched attentively with the nervous energy of someone who knew what was transpiring was important but not why. Nimlothel buried her fingers in the compost and watched Neasa expectantly until she did the same, their hands forming the four corners of a square. Then they channeled their innate magic.
Long and thin leaves that resembled grass poked up through the decaying plant matter and grit, followed by a purple bud on the end of a pale stalk. The central stem quickly shot up higher than the leaves and the bud opened to bloom into a violet colored flower with three large petals surrounding a cluster of thinner and shorter flower parts. Elena would later teach him that the crocus banaticus didn’t have true petals, rather tepals. A fact that was only relevant to a botanist, but then again she was something of one. The floral scent of this lone flower seemed to fill the entire glade as the magic circulated through the warm air.
Nimlothel stood and brushed off her hands. “It is done. Tell me, young queen, what is your name?”
“Neasa,” Isaac’s diminutive plant type answered.
“And the name of your human?”
“He is Isaac. Isaac Markiyan.”
Nimlothel nodded. “You are prepared to leave him, for a time? He cannot be allowed deeper into our lands. Your needs will be seen to by our people-”
“I want Isaac.” Neasa said defiantly before she caught her outburst and shrunk down. “He… he is my man,” she added meekly.
Nimlothel glanced at Isaac, who was trying very hard not to show his embarrassment or appreciation at Neasa’s possessiveness. The older and much taller Elfqueen smiled. “I did not mean those particular needs, young queen. You may return here to rendezvous with your man every quarter moon. The rest of your needs will be seen to by our people.”
“My apologies for the assumption.” Neasa bowed her head.
Nimlothel nodded. “You are forgiven. Now, the terms Erethueth has negotiated on your behalf are that we are to teach you to summon a living weapon and train you in our methods of war and magic. You will be fighting alongside me throughout the winter. It is my duty to hold the entrance to this valley against human and Goblina interlopers and you must be willing and able to slay both without hesitation or mercy.” Neasa looked shocked and turned a questioning glance back towards Isaac and Elena. “Do not worry, it will be more of the latter than the former and even the stupid Goblina do not bother us much. At this time of year having them raid our caches is the worst we must worry about. These are their runts and rascals and they will scamper back into the hills as soon as they know we are aware of their trespass.” Nimlothel’s face grew serious. “But you will need to be ready.”
Neasa set her shoulders and stood up straight. “I am ready.”
“Very good. Say your farewells, Neasa. I will be waiting for you at the gate.” With that, Nimlothel turned and left.
Neasa crossed the few steps back to Isaac and looked up into his eyes. She was silent for the stretch of a few seconds before she wrapped her arms around his middle and pulled herself tight against him. “I suddenly don’t want to go.”
“I’m wishing we would have done more before we came here,” Isaac said, though he really couldn’t think of what.
“It will only be seven or eight days at a time,” Elena assured them both. Neasa looked to the Grandelf, nodded, and then reached up to guide Isaac’s head down so they could share a parting kiss. With lingering hesitation, she made her way to where Nimlothel waited for her and then was gone. Vanished into the bordering woods of the Vesna High Queendom.
Isaac sighed. “So now what do we do?”
“That depends on you,” Elena said. “We could stay here, we could ride back to the village and stay there. We could return to my home or Astoreth’s.” The Grandelf turned to look at Jin, the Enchantress had been trying to look in every direction at once from all of the strange magic she could feel in the air. “You said Jin’s finer control over her spell magnitude has improved since she’s evolved.”
Jin’s attention snapped to the Grandelf and she answered for herself. “I can feel the difference a lot more.”
“Well then, since you’re going to need to be returning here frequently I think it’s time to start working on long distance teleportation with her. This glade has enchantments to block teleportation but they will be willing to provide you with a key to bypass that. You will be returning here rather frequently throughout the winter, after all.”
Jin’s eyes were filled with bursts of dancing lights at the promise of learning entirely new magic.
(-[|]-) End 12.3 (-[|]-)
‘ereb’ Sindarin Elvish “lone / alone / lonely”
‘thuin’ Sindarin Elvish “pine / pine tree”
‘-eth’ name suffix denoting female
Isaac’s computer played the tone indicating an incoming message. “It’s Candi,” he said to himself as he wondered if he’d ever seen the Megami with a phone before. He had when he thought about it, Elenda, Chandrakanta, and Astoreth occasionally conversed over the electronic devices. She usually contacted him telepathically though.
Check on Star for me? I am worried about her, she seems very tired but she will not let me into the house.
Isaac offered the computer to Jin as she looked at him inquisitively. “Star-nee never shows that she’s tired.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too.” Isaac concentrated on the delta bond with the infernal. He could feel the exhaustion and the effort Astoreth was exerting to hide the sensation from being broadcast to him. “We’d better go.”
“Do I get to teleport us?!” Jin brought her hands up together in excitement. Jin wanted to teleport anywhere they’d already been that was also more than a minute’s walk since mastering the ability. Isaac supposed it was more accurate to say that she still wanted to teleport anywhere that was further than could be traveled by walking for one minute, because she really wanted to teleport everywhere but it took her one minute to execute her cross country relocation spell.
Of course, it was perfectly reasonable to let her teleport them across half of the width of the league. “You get to teleport us.” Jin set about preparations with exuberance.
One minute later Isaac reached for his belt to let Oleksandra out, he habitually reached for Neasa’s ball as well but she was with the Vesna Elves now. They’d arrived at the gates to Astoreth’s property. The front doors were left open and Nino and Sveta were running around outside, calling out a name. Pazuzu. Their tone was the sort used to call out to someone who was missing.
“Who is Pazuzu and why are Astoreth’s maids calling out for her?” Oleksandra inquired. Isaac had no idea, but he knew that Pazuzu was an ancient Mesopotamian mythological figure. He’d thought he’d read that ‘demon’ wasn’t quite the right label, since the mythical Pazuzu was called on to ward off a greater evil.
“Aye yam Pazuzu! Feelsa snugglie grabba ebils onna suuuul!” Suddenly a very young pokekit, somewhere around the age where a human child would have advanced past toddling, with nubbly little horns, excitedly flapping, underdeveloped, bat wings, and a wiggling tail was hugging the Battle Battle Angel about her legs. She was wearing a frilly and ornate dress with common design elements as all of the house’s maid outfits and her skin was composed of mottled splotches; like a calico cat’s but mostly colored crimson with coal black and the yellow of stained bone. The different tones blended together like freckles. She was holding some sort of fabric toy in her hand and staring up at Oleksandra’s rabbit ears with dancing blue eyes.