Elinor was pulled out of her thoughts by Edmon as he shifted from Tiffany’s light slap on his armored leg, telling him to give her more room. “Your armor’s poky!”
“Then don’t sit next to me,” he grumbled but inched over a bit. “Anyways, I think we need to focus on one topic at a time. We keep getting distracted and wasting time.”
“Oh?” Tiffany huffed. “I enjoy the spur of freeform conversation. What would you suggest, some presentations with flashcards?”
“What’s with your sass,” Edmon muttered. “You’re acting like … are you running low on magic?”
Tiffany pursed her lips to the side before releasing a soft sigh. “Well … I suppose I have used quite a bit of magic.”
Elinor shifted to a better position on her rock before addressing the issue. “Alright, I agree with Edmon; we do need to structure our conversation a little. We will focus on one topic at a time. Let’s start with your abilities, Tiffany, Edmon, and we will have this conversation in private.”
She turned to Gwen, adding a smile she didn’t feel. “I’m afraid I’d like to give Demon as little information as possible; therefore, you will need to be excluded from this conversation.”
Gwen shook her head, looking down at her thumbs as she twiddled them. “I understand. I’m just thankful that … well, that you considered my feelings at all.”
“I may be figuring out how exactly I wish to live now that … since my change; however, I do wish to have a positive environment for my subjects.”
She paused, sliding her tongue along her lips before saying, “It still feels a little strange considering people under me. I suppose that’s what it means to be an Empress.” She swallowed, taking a deep breath. “I have a lot to learn.”
Turning her attention back to Edmon and Tiffany, she communicated through their telepathic link. How do your powers work, Tiffany, and how tired are you?
Tiffany’s pleasant smile didn’t falter as she explained.
“I am a Witch, which means that I utilize the internal qualities of materials through magic to bind them together in a sort of tapestry to accomplish a formula. You could consider it somewhat like cooking; each ingredient has unique properties that can enhance a dish, and the experience can be enriched by combining each item into full-course meals to bring a dining occasion to life!
“Witchcraft is complicated and has many dangers; if I am not precise while weaving the magic, then it can have a backlash; the more complex the ritual, the more disastrous the consequences.
“Compare it with the Japanese delicacy fugu; if fugu is prepared improperly, then it is incredibly poisonous. Similarly, if I mess up a ritual, then I could cause physical harm to myself or those around me, and I could even be cut off from my magic for an extended period of time. There’s also the danger of the ritual causing unintended results or imperfect execution.
“Ordinarily, the physical harm would be terrible for your average Witch, but I am Undead, so long as my bones remain unharmed, then it is of no concern. The big danger is being cut off from my magic.
“It was for that reason that I chose to expel Demon before beginning the ritual; if he was somehow able to interfere with the process, then it could have harmed you by my inability to proceed or alter my intended results.
“Currently, I have used around seventy percent of my magic. It regenerates through rest; however, since I don’t require rest, it’s just a time issue. I suspect it will take thirty hours to fully restore my energy.”
Edmon held a neutral tone as she intervened. “Thirty percent of your energy left … that places us in a bad position. Tiffany is our primary offensive force; Quin’s bones have been damaged, and we do not have the means to repair him. I understand that you have another Toad-like unit that is on its way back; depending on its strength, I suggest we bunker down.
“My abilities can protect those around me, but similar to a gate’s purpose, mine is to buy time; my offensive capabilities are limited. I can lock an opponent down with frost-based abilities if they get close, but I don’t have the speed or penetration type abilities to handle units like Dalria. If we were to fight multiple aggressors with Dalria’s skill set, then it would be a matter of time before my abilities were exhausted.”
Tiffany shifted to glare at Edmon. “It’s not my fault; I had to use so much energy. I had to do most of the heavy lifting here … repelling Demon took more energy than I anticipated. What did you do, deflect a few barbs, and keep watch?”
I understand. Elinor sighed. Thank you for all you’ve done, Tiffany, and I know it was a lot.
“Anything for you!” Tiffany replied with a beaming smile before returning her scathing orange eyes to the Doom Guard. “You haven’t even used many Skill Points, have you?”
Edmon took a deep breath before looking down at the ground, folding his hands across his armored chest. “No, because I haven’t needed to.”
“Because I’ve been doing everything.” Tiffany sniffed.
“Yes, and because of that, I’ve been able to hold my options open for what we might need in the future. I could use it for more offensive abilities, defensive, or utility based on our imminent obstacles. I suppose you used many of your points on that particular cleansing ritual.”
“Well … enough to make a dent,” she muttered, shifting to cross her legs. “I know you didn’t have anything to counter that form of spiritual attack. I’m just a little drained.” It seemed like the best apology Edmon was going to get.
Elinor smiled at both of them, mirroring Tiffany’s example, before resting her hands on her knee. I get your comparison, Edmon. A castle is a preventative measure and best utilized with other factors. I’m proud of both of you.
So, in terms of function, Edmon, you’re centered around utility and defensive abilities to help defend me against immediate threats while other offensive units push back the assailants.
Tiffany, however, has much higher utility and can draw from many rituals to help me, but rituals come with a price; they require a protected environment, time, and ingredients to accomplish. Is that correct?
They both nodded.
Right. She hummed, eyes wandering to the wall. Tiffany, with the spell you cast on Dalria, if what I understand is correct, you’ve basically started a slow process of brainwashing her.
“Yes. The parasite will feed on her resistance and slowly shape her memories to shift her allegiance to you. She’ll see your risen Undead as her representation of angels or innocence to be protected. Her past friends will be twisted in her mind; they will become her representation of demons in disguise. Free thought will be darkness while obedience the light in the night.”
Elinor fell silent as she thought on Tiffany’s words, and after a moment, posed her question. Will she be able to think freely in the future?
Tiffany pursed her lips to the side. “Hmm … unless I remove the parasite, then it will continue to twist her mind. Once done, it cannot be undone, although, if I do remove it, then she would have her ability to think freely restored.”
The reason why I ask is that I don’t want minions that cannot think for themselves. Yes, I want them loyal, but I want them to be able to function independent of my command. They want to help the Empire of their own will and try to do so in their own unique way.
“If I may ask,” Edmon’s helmet tilted a little. “Is there a reason why you desire them to have their own free will, and what kind of Empire do you wish to create with such freedom?”
I saw a movie once that had an enemy that had a hivemind, and it did have its pluses, but also its negatives. I want an Empire filled with unique individuals that think of me … maybe like a mom … progenitor … or something like that.
Of course, they listen to me, but I want them to be more like both of you. I want each one to enjoy living, not just live for me or the Empire, but enjoy being a part of it. I think that kind of kingdom can flourish; I don’t know how to get there yet, but it’s what I want.
They both fell silent, and Tiffany hummed softly.
Sensing they both had things they wanted to say, she sighed. What is it? I told you before; you two are supposed to be my advisors, speak your mind.
Tiffany’s smile turned forced. “The problem I’m seeing is … what you’re looking for is an Empire filled with intelligent minions, and currently, that is limited. There are ways that we can improve upon that, but it is a long process, and would also require expanding your Royal Court.”
“As Tiffany stated, it would be possible to expand your intelligent unit count, but it’s difficult finding units that can survive the process. It is like your phone game; each unit has a rarity, and that connects to their potential.”
Elinor folded her arms as she recalled the game. So, are you saying that the units I can summon have a rarity of say … common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary?
Tiffany chuckled. “A bit more than that … like the game, but more complex. It’s like having … oh, how would I describe it?”
Thinking back on the game, she’d explained to them, she said, could you connect it to colors and ranks?
“I suppose,” Tiffany hummed, “That did seem popular in that game. Okay … allow me a moment to compile that in my mind.”
Her black hair bobbed back and forth as she put together a list, and after a minute’s silence, her lips curved into a smile. “For colors, in order, you could say white, green, yellow, blue, purple, red, orange, dark orange, and pearlescent, or in connection, Poor-grade, Common, Uncommon, Rare, Heroic, Epic, Legendary, Mythic, and Transcendent.”
Edmon’s armored head shifted to Tiffany before returning to Elinor. “Going by that standard, one of the main problems I see is that it takes specific requirements to raise a Transcendent Unit; a considerable amount of energy is just the beginning, and only Transcendent Units are able to become Court Members. In addition, only one Transcendent Unit can exist within each Class.
“However, each unit under that Class gains a massive boost by having a Transcendent Unit as its general. These are the highest standards a unit can achieve, and it’s what you forged Tiffany and me into, which is likely why Demon immediately drew an interest in you. Our potential is … expansive.”
I see… Elinor shifted her legs and glanced at Quin; she could feel her Toad minion closing in at a cautious pace, taking care to not be seen. Which grade is Quin?
Tiffany pursed her lips as she glanced at the giant two-headed skeletal ape. “With the standards we’ve set … he would be uncommon. It’s actually pretty good, even though it may seem low. There is a reason why Edmon and I have such an expansive knowledge base, and that has to do with our grade.”
So … Tiffany, your Class is Witch, and your grade is Transcendent, which means that you’re able to hold a Royal Court Title, and that title is Royal Ritualist. I cannot raise any more Transcendent minions in your Class.
“Yes, I count as your Transcendent minion within my specification; however, my Class is technically Witchery, not Witch … although I am a Witch … it’s just how it’s designated. My Subclass is Hexer, and I’m the third-rank of my Class; rank-ones are generally Skeletons beginning a Class and haven’t been able to select a Subclass.
“Rank-two could be something like a Skeletal Mage; they’re not entirely bones … there are some muscles and veins in play. As I said before, I can still rank up further; however, I am unaware of how high ranks go … at least four. As an example, my type is Flesh, but a rank-one Skeleton of the Witchery Class would obviously be bone.
“Each of your minions will have a Unit, Class, Subclasses, Rank, Grade, Type, and Level; additionally, each ability your minions hold has levels and proficiencies. I understand it can be a little confusing at first, and we don’t have to go over it in detail.”
It seems like it. Elinor sighed. Just give me an overview of each for now.
Edmon quickly explained each. “Units are mass groupings. Such as the Fodder Unit, which is comprised of your unintelligent horde, and Magical Unit that deals with mystical energies. Different Units hold different classes, such as the Magical Unit having Archanist and Witchery minions within the same category.
“Classes dictate which direction a minion’s abilities go, and what types of skills they can develop. I am a Doom Guard, and I will develop skills related to that Subclass; I specialized in the Heavy Punisher and Frost directions within the possible branches available to me.”
Tiffany cut in. “Ranks develop our mental state, give us access to stronger abilities, and awaken more of our racials; many of Quin’s Class-based skills are locked to him as a Skeleton, and even his unique abilities his race might hold. Those will unlock as time goes on, and he gains more experience.
“Since I went into the Subclass Hexer, I can do rituals and branch into other magical traits that a Skeletal Mage couldn’t, and it also multiplies my energy reservoir, among other things. Our titles also play a role in our ranks; every Transcendent minion will start at rank-three.
“Our titles give us access to a wide variety of additions; for me, I learned a great many rituals without having to do the research. There’s also the racials of being a human, gaining much of our Earth-based knowledge since we are of higher rank.
“Types have to do with our body composition. You can create Skeletal, Flesh, and Energy-based minions … most will automatically start as Skeletal and transition to Flesh; however, you could create Energy-based minions, but they’re pretty useless early on.
“Levels are independent of the other categories; by gaining experience from doing physical or magical activities, we can obtain points to add to different skills.”
Tiffany nudged Edmon’s side between two thick spikes. “Well, are you going to tell Elinor about proficiencies?”
“Oh, am I allowed to speak?”
“Of course you can; you’re doing it right now,” Tiffany smirked, turning her head away.
“It seems I can,” Edmon replied, shifting his leg a little to poke Tiffany’s thigh.
“Edmon!” She barked, indignantly jumping to her feet.
He ignored her as he cleared his throat before explaining; Tiffany glared at him before ordering Quin to move her rock closer to the Doom Guard. Elinor tried her best to keep a straight face, but knew her former father was grinning under his black helmet; even in life, his comebacks were usually short before moving on.
“Proficiencies with skills increase as they are used. Just having my armor on helps me advance my abilities, which eventually gives me a Proficiency Skill that is attached to my ability.”
He breathed a short sigh, blue fog frothing from his face-guard. “That’s a rough overview of what we know; Tiffany covered everything else fairly well.”
Tiffany sat with a loud humph as Quin finished moving the large stone, making Gwen look between them with a confused expression. “Of course I did. In connection to Edmon’s armor, it’s the same with my Witch’s Fire; the longer I have it out, the higher my proficiency gets … however, mine requires magic, which would slow my recovery.
“Also,” she glared at Edmon. “Your Life Energy will heal any damage our bodies sustain as the Royal Court; if you run out of Life Force as the Empress, then we will not recover. Your other minions will not last long without your support, either; the higher grade a minion is, the longer they can last. The Royal Court is nearly self-sufficient to follow your every instruction, even if you are near depleted.”
Elinor nodded, looking up at Quin’s cracked bones. “That’s a relief … is there a way to heal your bones?”
“Yes,” Edmon said, better situating himself on his stone seat. “The Unhallowed Royal Title, leader of the Healing Unit, the Clergy Class; however, the Clergy cannot heal a minion with a higher rank, they must be equal or greater.”
So, I’ll need to find a suitable minion to raise that is at least uncommon.
“Correct, and when raising an intelligent minion, you can force them into a specific class; however, that could also harm their progression if they did not have the talent in life.”
Adjusting her shirt straps and bra, Tiffany added, “If you do not choose a class, then the unit will be classless until chosen by you or the minion itself.”
Is there a way to tell how proficient they are in each class?
“Giving the minion the order to choose their own class is the easiest method,” Tiffany responded. “They’ll be pulled toward their strongest affinity.”
Thanks, both of you. Now, it seems Edmon’s concerns are real; we need to prepare. I also have a bad feeling about Demon getting his hands on that snake-woman. I want to get to her before he does, but I understand we need to bolster our forces.
Demon told me where Ke’Thra’Ma was killed; he was the leader over the Quen’Talrat. You mentioned some kind of fortress in the distance, Edmon?
“Yes. It appeared to be in a poor state from what we could see.”
Good. It looks like we know where he is; my final question is about the Royal Court Titles. What are the requirements, and is there a way to search for possible candidates?
Edmon answered, followed by Tiffany.
They both turned to stare at each other.
“Is there?” Edmon asked.
“Well, sort of,” Tiffany shrugged. “I do know a ritual that will enhance Elinor’s sensing abilities; she can search for possible candidates to raise within a larger area than she would otherwise be able. Once we get to the fortress, we can break it up into sections, depending on how big it is, and we can do the ritual to see if there’s anything of importance.”
How will I know if there are high-grade spirits within the area?
“If you study the strength of the spirits, you can tell how powerful it is, and if it is strong enough to be a Court Member, you will become more proficient at identifying their grades and possible Classes the more you observe. You’ll also know because you can start the trial.”
Edmon hummed darkly. “It’s not something I like, but it is a requirement of the restoration. Transcendent spirits are strong, but usually, there is a reason for that; they were influential in life and held strong emotions that fueled them. That could be rage, regret, joy … any significant feelings, but more than likely negative.
“As a part of the reanimation process, they must accept you as their ruler. The higher grade they are, the more resistance they have toward your influence. Transcendent spirits were not pushovers in life; these were rulers themselves, and they will require something in return, but once the deal is struck, then it is final. They may require something you are unwilling to give, and if that is the case, then you can sever the interaction.”
“Edmon and I were reconstructed to fit the requirements, and the future Court Members will not have the same knowledge of this system as we do. However, they will be powerful and knowledgeable in their fields, just as powerful as us. Your Court Members are your strongest possible minions in each area. The difficult part to swallow for us … is that they can refuse the invitation to join the Empire.”
Elinor smiled. Actually, I like that. I’ll be able to learn more about them, and if we’re not compatible, then that’s fine too. I want a family that can count on me, and I can count on them. That being said … I know you went through the trouble, Tiffany, but can you free Dalria of the parasite?
“I’d advise against that,” Edmon said, rubbing his thigh as he looked at the wall, likely following his senses to locate the toad in the next room.
Tiffany’s brow creased with concern, and she bit her lower lip for a moment, but after taking a deep breath, nodded. “I trust you know what you want, and if this is the direction you’re going, then I will follow.”
Edmon groaned before rubbing his armored neck. “I might not like it, but of course, I’ll follow whatever you command.”
I understand both of your concerns, but Tiffany will only remove the magical parasite, not the Blood Subservience. Listening to how the Royal Court Titles function has given me a reason to do this … I can live with this.
“If that is what you wish.” Both of them responded, showing a little reserve.
Elinor got up, causing Gwen to straighten. “Umm—what’s going on? Tiffany and Edmon don’t look that happy,” she mumbled.
“Just watch,” Elinor said with a soft smile. “You’ll understand.”
Tiffany and Edmon rose to their feet, and Tiffany looked over at Edmon with pursed lips but shrugged as he looked down at her. “I suppose we’ll find out as well,” she whispered, forcing a chuckle.
They trailed after Elinor, walking into the room with the stream; Quin shifted to allow them space.
Dalria looked up as they entered, and her tone was conflicted as she stumbled with her words. “Is … is t-there something you—you need, E-Empress Elinor?”
“Tiffany,” Elinor instructed.
The woman scratched her long black hair, pulling her bangs back behind her left ear. “What a waste,” she sighed. Walking over to the toad-woman, she leaned in close to her ear and whispered something.
Dalria jerked back, bag falling from her hand as she tripped. Her wide blue eyes stared up at Tiffany with horror as she tried to get up, stumbling back as she retreated. “W-what—who … the demons, and—and angels—rising … what did y-you do to—to me?” She cried, tears running down her face.
Tiffany cocked her head, hair bending around her shoulder as she folded her arms. A soft sigh left her lips as she studied the cowering toad. “Given another few days, my darling would have shown some wonderful progress.”
“Elinor!” Edmon stepped forward as she walked to the toad.
“Stay where you are, Edmon; she cannot harm me.” Elinor looked down at the terrified creature as she drew near. “Join us in the other room.”
Dalria stiffened as her blood boiled, trying to resist the command, but eventually complied. She trembled as she got up, gripping her arms as she hurried past them into the front of the cave, face creased with horror and pain.
Elinor calmly followed, motioning to the stone that Edmon had used. “Sit.”
She sat without complaint as the others joined them, brows creased with confusion.
“Tell me, Dalria. What do you remember after Tiffany whispered in your ear?”
“I—I,” she swallowed nervously, terrified eyes shifting to the slightly disappointed black-haired woman as she took Gwen’s seat, motioning for the human to join her. “I remember—Chief Krava … you looked like Chief Krava. It was as if—as if you … this was my Clan. It felt—right … somehow—it felt right to obey. It felt—good to obey.”
Elinor nodded, humming softly. “Perhaps there will be the need for such tactics at times, but I’d rather you joined us to heal the rifts; I need that desperation in your eyes … the love you hold for your Clan.”
“H-heal?” Dalria mumbled, thighs shaking as they pressed against each other. “W-what do you mean?”
“I will not lie and tell you that I’ve forgiven what you’ve done … what your clans have done. However, I do realize that you might have had your reasons. Consider it the … new Elinor.” She said with a short pause.
Her cold green eyes appraised the toad. “I can see that you’ve already realized the power we hold, and this is only the beginning.”
Dalria’s eyes seemed to fade out as her imagination spun wildly.
“However, I don’t hate your entire race, and I’m not unreasonable.” Her tone licked with heat. “I just hate the ones that assaulted me. I’m sure you can understand that.”
Dalria’s quivering head nodded; she couldn’t turn away from Elinor’s cold stare. “I—I understand that—that feeling.”
“Good,” Elinor said, straightening the skirt of her gown as she crossed her legs and folded her fingers. “I’d like you to work for the Empire; you have been taken as a hostage of conflict; based on what I saw, you understand such a concept.”
A lump dropped down her throat, but she nodded.
“Good. Through your efforts, perhaps I can curb the desire within me to slaughter your entire race.”
The toad sagged as if a massive weight had fallen upon her shoulders. “M-my—you—you want to—to slaughter my entire,” she choked before coughing.
“I see,” Tiffany hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose pointless slaughter would be rather inconvenient and a waste of time. Learning more about them could prove beneficial. Yes, an excellent plan!”
A cold growl shot through Edmon’s black armor, drawing Dalria’s wide eyes. “I am not satisfied with just cutting off the hand that is raised against you. An example must be made of the entire race; any hostile action against Elinor is a declaration of genocide.”
Dalria’s wild eyes shifted to Elinor as she giggled. “I really do appreciate that side of you, Edmon; however, an Empress without mercy is a poor ruler indeed. Just those that raised their weapons against me; that’s enough for me … at least for the moment … and that’s why Dalria’s here.” She said with a smile that didn’t touch her eyes.
She leaned forward. “This is not an order, but a simple question. Can you calm the hatred burning in my heart, and help me forget the sounds of metal against splintering bone in my memory? Do you think you can convince me to spare your race? Can you be the hero I need you to be?”
Dalria’s lips were tight, throat constricted; it seemed like she couldn’t breathe or blink as Elinor rose to her feet. “Think on it, Dalria. I don’t want to kill and raise your loved ones … give me reasons not to.”
She expectantly turned her attention to Edmon and Tiffany. “We’ll head to the keep immediately and put Tiffany’s plan into action. We don’t have a moment to waste.”
“Oh? Now it’s getting exciting!” Tiffany squealed. “I rather enjoy this new direction, Elinor. This is quite fun!” She smiled innocently down at the numb toad. “Do your best! Oh, Edmon, Elinor and I will take the left shoulder … and who is this?” She asked as a skeletal toad swung down from the clifftop to join them.
“That’s not fair, Tiffany, I need to be close to Elinor to protect her.”
“I called dibs,” she gloated. “You can protect her well enough around Quin’s neck. My goodness! This Skeletal Toad seems to be of uncommon-grade as well, Elinor. You have such a sharp eye for quality! An Elite Warrior Class … although, I suppose his tongue will take some time to be restored. Do your best,” she laughed, slapping him on the back.
“We’re not finished, Tiffany…” He glanced back at Elinor, looking for support.
Elinor shrugged. “She did call it first.”
Edmon grumbled under his breath unintelligibly as they prepared to leave. Gwen giggled as she joined Elinor, and Tiffany retreated to the back of the cave to gather her ingredients.
“You surprised me, Elinor … that was rather … I just feel better about how you decided to handle the situation. I know this can’t be easy.”
She looked back at Dalria, hunched over as she silently cried. “We’ll see how things play out; honestly, I’m not expecting much, but decided to see what will come of it.”
Gwen’s brow creased as she shot a glance at Quin. “Wait … where am I supposed to sit?” She mumbled.
A smile touched Elinor’s lips as a flash of happiness touched her heart; it vanished as suddenly as it came, swallowed by Emotional Loss , leaving the smoldering fires buried underneath her determination.
Yes … we’ll see how this turns out. Can this terrible anger that possesses me be quelled? Can you hold back these monsters, Dalria? If you can spare me of this pain … we’ll have to see. I won’t be ruled by anything … including my own rage.
She glanced back at the toad. Hurry … I don’t know how long I can shield you from the fire in my heart. My resolve will eventually break from this pain’s pressure … hurry, Dalria.