We are Queen Nephira, Quela an Effyis. We bear the honour and burden of the royal crown for centuries, as we have sworn to protect our Ii-tala, our world, and the gift of the Goddess whose name has been lost in the wind of imminent change, left behind and forgotten, memory imprinted in our people’s mind as nothing but a remnant of the past. Yet we know better: the holy spirit has revealed itself to us, blessing us with its trust and choice, moving our whole being with purpose the moment we have taken our first breath.
In the days of past the holy land of Effyis, Naetala, was ruled by the Elders, an assembly of the most glorified and mighty family heads. Though efficient at its own time, the days of its elongated omnipotence have been long gone, leaving people with nothing but a bunch of nagging, incapable old men who could barely keep their weakened physical selves at one place, falling apart at the slightest touch. Intimidated by the very idea of having their pitiful lives taken away by the nature and its unexceptional set of rules, they resorted to the power of crystallith, prolonging their existence by mere couple of years to preserve their status of the “wise rulers”. We are no longer surprised at the sight of lack of judgement on behalf of the weaker of minds: their wisdom was limited to depriving our home of its life resources while maintaining the illusion of order. Succumbing to their greed, they prospered at the cost of observing our world’s destruction and being unmoved by its pain.
The land was covered in blood, as we had lost multiple settlements to the enemy, striking from the shadows. The Dark Elves knew no mercy, as they had embraced their twisted nature. But the physical threat was nothing compared to the utmost fear displayed by our people: you could feel its claws entering your mind, feeling your body with an empty feeling of hopelessness. Their small voices, whispering prayers and farewells; the gentle hands of mothers, giving their children a false sense of safety in their warm and caring embrace. Crippled by their lack of strength, they abandoned their homes in hope to find a haven beneath the vigorous crown of the holy tree and all the area around it, as it was protected by a magic shield. The Elders had proclaimed this land to be sacred, prohibiting any being from accommodating themselves there. Their endless debates resulted in nothing, no issue lived long enough for them to make a decision in time, and whenever they had made up their mind, people already had to suffer the consequences of such a delay. It was disastrous. It was chaos.
I was in possession of vast knowledge of the whole Elder governing system and principles topic, as I used to be no less but a member of such a family. My parents craved power and obedience, and I were to play the main part in their theatrical art. To form an alliance with yet another family of high importance, I was to endure a greatly unsatisfactory sensation – to partake in a dynastic marriage and be a victim to their cravings. The spouse was of no interest to me: 40 years or more had set us apart, and, being a child who had barely experienced the gift of life at the age of 13, I believed 40 years to be an absolute lifetime. I was furious, the thought of escaping this bridal prison crossed my mind more than once, and every time my eyes met with the sight of this wreck of a man I could not help but let a sigh of disappointment and disgust. As any lady of my age, I was dreaming of eternal love, pure, innocent, fueling my very existence with a breath of hope and life. But my quick wit provided me with a thoughtful discovery, a scenario not yet considered: I could turn the prison into a golden palace, break free of all the chains and give my voice the strength it needed. It was an ultimate choice between fighting for my youth and innocence and fighting for my land, for my beliefs. My decision was obvious, my mind set on a certain goal, as I have forsaken the idea of pursuing happiness through love, which would be good for nothing but being put on a wall as a static framed instance of beauty. The opportunity that presented itself now was of immense value, more important than any attempt of mine at chasing a possibility based on emotion rather than reason. Even now, I remember this moment of clarity as if it was yesterday.
What I considered to be a poor excuse for a man turned out to be not the worst representative of our kind, but he made a mistake which was to be quite common. He considered prejudice to be good enough of an excuse to disregard my reason, and as any other man of the Elder assembly, he underestimated me heavily. I could not blame him: there was nothing convincing about the look of a 13-year-old lady who, certainly, was not wise enough to comprehend any aspect of an adult life. I turned that into an advantage of my own. I knew that his pride and arrogance would be sweetened by my honeyed speeches of great respect and appreciation. Certainly a man of such high rank knew better than slave his precious hours away with tedious paperwork! I gently offered assistance and help he could not refuse. As I had gained access to information of governmental value, to my inexplicable disappointment I discovered that the rulers of our holy land had vigor of a rotten twig. I was growing impatient. I have mastered the art of forging the seals and read through all the letters both addressed personally to my poor husband or those which were sent out by him. As I familiarized myself with the situation, I started providing subtle hints and advise in a convenient enough way to make him consider those ideas I planted in his mind to be of his own. He harvested the fruits of my wisdom, being recognized by the Elders as the wisest upon presenting new plans and approaches. But where there is success, there is always place for jealousy… And fear. It didn’t take long for gossips to grow into an idea of a possible murder. I could see through their plans with ease: they were to get rid of my spouse and invite his brother to partake in the council in his stead, the brother who displayed even less signs of wisdom or any presence of mind. I had to take action and prevent the disaster to win myself more time to have my long-lasting plan to be completed. Thankfully, it does not take much to disturb the illusion of peace: I have poisoned the wretched brother myself, spreading rumors throughout the castle. A whisper grew strong enough to become a voice. It was a mistake, said the voice, the lethal fate was planned for another, but a brother of his had to take the blow. The one who carried the deadly medicine surely had their glasses mixed up. I remember the look on the cook’s face as he was about to meet his end at the guillotine – the look of an innocent victim. And I knew that there were to be more, unless I act faster.
The process had begun: I had planted a seed of doubt in my husband’s mind, as he was growing more and more scared for his own life. I could feel the heavy burden of paranoia spreading throughout his whole body, twisting and changing it. He would only enter the hall of the Elders while being guarded by his elite officers, giving every participant of the assembly a look which conveyed unutterable hate and distrust. Their meetings housed only discord, any thought of potential cooperation was left behind.
I have convinced my pitiful spouse that we have to find allies within other mighty families of Effyis: those who also had suffered a less than pleasing outcome and had all of their chances of becoming a part of governing hierarchy turned futile due to the council of weaklings ‘constant preventive intervention. I had asked for his blessing to become a delegate to spread his influence further on, and he would not dare to disagree, as I was the only person he could trusted himself to. With my skill in speech, I have turned the tides of usual order around, as every respected and influential family of Effyis had pledged their allegiance to my husband personally. By the end of my diplomatic mission there was not a person on Effyis to believe in the old and crooked regime of the Elders, thus I had gathered all the possible vassals for my coup d’état. Though a civil war was not something I was seeking out: the heart of our world was bleeding, lands were covered in blood of our kin, and there was no need to add more to it. No point in extending the list of victims, the only names to be added to it were the names of a dozen of pathetic old men and anyone willing to stay by their side. All of them were sent through the Portals of Death. I have minimized the casualties with this small effort and great help of common sense. My husband became the Head of the Assembly, all it took was a rather simplistic process of sharing the treasures of now diseased Elders with his socially valuable vassals and him gaining the reputation of the one who responded to peoples’ plea. Now that the power was held by a single man, it did not take countless days to come to a decision in regards to matters of utmost importance. The decisions were, of course, followed by action. Guided by my wise advice, my husband was lifted up to the timeless pedestal of fame and absolute respect. However, as he grew old and weary, the true ruler who kept the land in order was revealed to them in the person of me. As his gift of life was fading, he withdrew his rank in my favour, the decision which had passed in a unanimous vote. Under the weight of my long desired crown, I could feel my voice gaining the strength it needed for me to be able to save our land.
My first order turned out to be nothing less but the great resettlement: to my utmost sadness, the furthest parts of our planet had to be left out, while all the others had to gather their treasured possessions and relocate to the holy lands to be protected by the magic shield. Thus there was no need to send precious crystallith to the far lands and up the highroads which were controlled by the Dark Elves. The population was gathered in one place, under the Tree of Arcana, and could be easily controlled. Even though we were short on provision, crystallith grew in abundance. I was seeking allies from the outside to avoid a possible crisis, and my searches naturally brought me to the embassy of Veridis – another planet of our old allies and friends. Even though they did not speak of the true purpose of their stay, the truth was clear to me as daylight: they were in need of the one material we could provide, crystallith, while they had exactly the resources we were lacking – troops and provisions. They were stealing insignificant amounts of crystallith – insignificant enough for it to not become a conflict on a legal basis – to have its qualities studied on their home planet. The secret which I, of course, was aware of, but kept my knowledge hidden until the right moment. I had personally visited their embassy and declared that I knew of their doings. They were at a loss, giving me the confused and guilty look of a misbehaved child who acted upon curiosity rather than malice. Exactly the result I intended to achieve. Instead of highly anticipated anger on my behalf, they had received an offer: I wanted our alliance to be renewed, and in exchange they would receive all the crystallith they need, which was so much more than what they could have imagined before. The delegate returned on the next day, giving me the only possible answer in those circumstances. Impressed by my wisdom, our allies contributed a lot to the war effort, starting with us working together on setting up the portals to let the troops through. But the Dark Elves waited no more…
An army of immense size approached the border of the magic shield. I had never seen that many soldiers, the sight was truly remarkable… and intimidating. They were pursuing only one goal – to slaughter us at our weakest, before we could set up our defenses. Having all of us gathered at one place made this goal of theirs quite easy to achieve. But despite of my army being five times smaller, we were ready to stand our ground and fight till the end. We had nowhere to fall back. Their initial attack lasted for three days, all of them repelled by the effort of our outstanding troops. However, many had fallen, and our numbers were few. I was willing to lead the last attack myself, even though my weak magic was barely of any use on the battlefield. I was giving out orders in the clear voice, but there was no confidence behind the fierce look – we were doomed to fail.
Then, something happened on the very day of the battle. I could feel an indescribable force taking over me; the overwhelming sensation kept my mind and body captive, the dream I had remembered since the days of my childhood appeared to me almost in flesh, so close I could feel it – the Goddess herself looked at me from the heart of the Tree of Arcana, calling me. Trembling, I approached the holy stem, placing my hand gingerly over its bark. Instead of waking up, I was filled by emotion and experience unknown to me before. The vision guided me as I had entered the tree. When I came to my senses, there was nothing but darkness surrounding me, I could feel the touch of cold emptiness on my skin. Then… I had seen her. She was the beauty itself, her burning light and appearance imprinted itself painfully in my mind, on my flesh, I could not help but stare, there was nothing beyond her, her existence became my obsession, my ideal, my purpose. Everything was her. Her voice was that of the universe, and it has spoken: “Avala aneth uelia-al’ fael en enval” (“My child of light, the time has come”).
I regained my consciousness, my body clutched in the hands of our bodyguards. Their faces were expressing fear and desperation, as if all hope was lost. I could hear the sounds of the battle in the distance getting closer, they were fighting till their very last breath. But it was not enough. I have ordered them to come back and regroup near the tree, our last haven. The ones who were not capable of fighting were hiding beneath its blessed roots, and I entered its core. The power of the heart of the Tree of Arcana was unfathomable, capable of creating and destroying anything – the power beyond any comprehension. I was taken aback by the thought that our past held so many secrets, lost in time. I approached the heart, and instead of being annihilated by its breath of magic, I was given a power previously unknown to any living being. I was reshaped, I could feel the strength filling every cell of my physical shelf. I hesitated no more and reached out for the cluster of power. Then I could see her again, but it was barely an echo of the Goddess I had seen before – it was her voice, still in time, her sorrow, her fury. And a shard of her power. She entered my body and soul, the pain of the struggle was that of being burned alive, my mind was in shambles, every part of me was falling apart and rebuilt again. I would not let it murder me, and I gained a second breath at the thought of the purpose I had to pursue. I would not leave my people behind, I would not abandon my land, and no power, whether it is an enemy invasion or a galactic entity itself, would break me. The struggle was more than the entity anticipated, and it accepted me. We were united: me and the echo of the Goddess, her fury and her vengeance. She fell victim to injustice, and we were to avenge her. We were no longer alone.
We ascended from the depths of the tree to join the battle. Our troops were few, broken, deprived of all hope and will to live. But the sight of us brought them back to life, and even imminent death itself was of no power against them. They followed us as we unleashed the power of the Goddess upon our enemies, turning hundreds of them to ice on our way. The wraith of a galactic being threw enemy troops off, but they did not stop their advances, their army seemed to be endless. Then, Veridian mages have finally opened the portal to another side, letting our allied forces through. The sudden arrival of reinforcements was as not anticipated by the Dark Elves as the appearance of the Goddess herself on the battlefield, the sudden loss of advantage broke their immovable morale down.
The battle lasted until dawn, and as the smoke and ashes settled down, we could see that we were standing atop a mountain of dead bodies, victorious. The remaining soldiers of ours could not believe their eyes, the victory which was so far from our grasp what seemed but a moment ago could not be comprehended. They broke down crying, shivering in post-traumatic shock, covering the land they protected in kisses, spreading the dirt of the ground on their arms and cheeks. It made them feel alive again, numbed the pain. Their families left their hideout under the roots to assist in the search of survivors. As we were looking for the ones who were still breathing, we examined the bodies of our foes: barely any of them bore features of the Dark Elves, we were terrified to discover familiar faces within their ranks. There were Effyiseans, people, elves, dwarves, other nations which we had only heard legends of. All turned to lifeless husks to serve their master, to kill and destroy. Our people would have been exterminated without any losses on their side.
The time has passed, and we have recovered everything we have lost in this war. We have completed our fortresses and strengthened the defenses, Veridians have been allowed to settle on our planet upon pledging allegiance to us. Our holy land could finally be at peace and heal its wounds. But we knew of no peace ourselves, as the horror, the threat is not yet gone, and history may still repeat itself. Every day we go down to the heart of the tree, experiencing fragments of the past in the magic chaos to see who is our enemy and how can it be eliminated once and for all. The echo of the Goddess made us immortal, giving us the strength to fight and rule over the country for hundreds of years. We are the protector of Effyis. The wraith of the Goddess fills our soul, but we will not succumb to it. We can feel the end getting closer, we hear whispers in the wind bearing the news of the events yet to come. We must be prepared. The dark times await ahead…