Asheara was just returning from a funeral. The Rites of Passing had been performed for two people that evening. Her friend had lost her husband and son in a tragic accident. This was the first funeral and one of the first larger social gatherings she had attended after the birth of her youngest daughter Neleh. Of course Neleh was with her. Some had looked at her little oddly for bringing such a young child to see the Rites, as such was not customary. The reason was mostly because it was thought inappropriate to bring children to any religious rites before their Awakening ceremony. This was especially the case when the child had been blessed, and it was not yet known which god or goddess had blessed the child. Imagine bringing a child blessed by the Protector God of Humans Iarus to a ceremony dedicated to Elune the Protector of Elves. Those two didn’t really get along with each other, what with Iarus being the God of Death and Spirits, and Elune Being the God of Life and Nature. There’s also the fact that young children tend to cry at inopportune times, and that could disrupt the tranquility of the Rites. That said Neleh had acted perfectly as Asheara knew she would, and by this time it was obvious to everyone the child was blessed by Aphrodite, who got along swimmingly with the other gods. Most of them anyway.
Thus no one paid any heed by the time the Rites were over. Asheara exchanged some platitudes with the other participants and gave her condolences to her mourning friend. Her friend even gave the faintest of smiles when Neleh reached to put her little hand on her head, as if also giving her condolences in her own way. Asheara knew her friend would survive this when she saw that smile. The Rites pushed Asheara to consider her own family situation, while she walked home. To consider the situation odd seemed an understatement. That said were there really families who didn’t have their own complications?
The situation with her husband had deteriorated fairly badly, though it seemed to be stable now. She had finally found out the driving factors that had resulted in the abduction of their daughter. She wanted to think she had been surprised when she found out Elluin had been cheating on her, but she really hadn’t been. She’d had her suspicions, and had seen the signs, but had simply chosen to ignore them. Apparently the affair had begun while she was still pregnant with Neleh. This probably hurt her the most. Elluin had chosen to initiate the affair while she was carrying their beautiful daughter, and his actions had resulted in that same daughter almost getting sold to slavers. She was glad that somehow deep down, she had realized what was going on, and they had not been sharing the bed since Neleh had been conceived. ‘I suppose I should be thankful for even the small blessings.’ She thought sadly.
It didn’t help that she understood why Elluin had done it. She hated him for it, and would never trust him again, but she understood. She almost wished Elluin had done it out of passion or attraction to the crazy maid. Then it would have been less calculated at least. Then it would have hurt less. The secrets to Elven Crafting had been passed down in the House Khalidor for over 6000-years. Elluin was deathly afraid that he would be the reason why the tradition would come to an end. That he would be remembered as the one who ended the legacy of House Khalidor, instead of his many great works. If he could not pass on those secrets, then all he had done would be in vain. And Elluin blamed her for their lack of a son. It could be easy to hate him for that alone, and she did, but he might be right. Moon Elves had always had a penchant for giving birth to more girls than boys. The difference was not major by any means, but there were some rare cases where some Moon Elves could only give birth to daughters. So her husband had gone to look for someone else to give him the son he needed. And he had done it before he even knew Neleh would be a girl. Something in the calculated nature of that act made it even worse.
For some reason Elluin had not renewed his dalliance with another girl. She’d had him monitored by few people she trusted, and Elluin had shown no signs of getting a new lover. She hoped her husband didn’t harbor any illusions of getting back into her good graces, even if she did consider it positive that her husband didn’t disgrace their marriage any further.
At this point they were married in name only. They would never again be a proper husband and wife, and the only reason they didn’t separate completely, was that at least they could still be parents to their daughters. It was an arrangement they could live with. Asheara did most of the parental duties, and Elluin was there when a father figure was needed. Only Delia and Selene had any understanding of what was going on, while Selvaria and Elsaria only noticed that daddy was around less. The children were surprisingly ok with it. It’s not like they did not love their father, they just loved their mother and each other more and Elluin was just sort of extra. ‘And I have no idea how much Neleh understand. Sometimes she seems to understand everything around her perfectly, but I can never say for sure.’
‘She is now 18 months old. She’s taken to walking like a Nug to a bowl of salad, but I haven’t heard her say a word. I get the feeling though, it’s more due to unwillingness to speak, rather than any lack of ability to do so.’ Asheara was rather unwilling to even consider Neleh being unable to do something other kids were able to do. She had this rather unfounded confidence in her daughter’s abilities, and if asked to explain, she would most likely be unable to articulate a good reason. She simply knew. Neleh might have taken to walking rather easily at home, but Asheara had not taken to letting her walk if she had any excuse to hold her.
The two of them still attended the lessons meant for Delia and Selene. All parties involved seemed only too happy to let that trend continue. Asheara got to spend time with her family, Neleh seemed happy to listen to the teachers, the teachers were happy because their students were attending the lessons diligently and they even got help with the lessons. Delia and Selene seemed happy to be doing whatever as long as it allowed them time in the presence of Neleh. ‘That reminds me. The girls were getting a little bit better with spending some time apart from the little one, but I should really try to help them to be a little less obsessed with their sister. It could be a problem in the future if this continues too long.’ Asheara thought while completely missing the irony of herself talking on that subject.
Asheara finally got home, and saw her other daughters running out of the house to greet them. ‘Maybe I should have taken a carriage. Would have saved some time on the walk. At least I got to clear my head a bit.’ Suddenly she felt Neleh’s small hand on her cheek. She was looking at her with those deep blue eyes of hers that made you lose yourself for a moment, just giving you the feeling of simply floating around inside an endless but gentle ocean. ‘I’m drifting off again.’ Asheara thought and gave herself a small shake. She had noticed the worry in her little daughter’s eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’m alright now.” Asheara said while giving Neleh a small smile. Neleh gave a bright smile back at her. ‘Oh goddess, that smile of hers will cause wars someday.’ She thought while the children reached her hugging and laughing.
It was couple of days later when a messenger from the Hunter’s Guild came to the mansion. Asheara had been a very successful hunter before she had gotten married, and she still worked as the protector of the town they lived in, Aletheia. The town had inhabited lands and other towns and villages on three sides, and the southern forest was rather peaceful and only had few low level monsters. Only real danger there was for game-hunters who got too greedy and tried for prey that was beyond their abilities. Thus she had only had to venture out of the town on very rare occasions, and the local lord’s guards were quite capable of dealing with any threats that arose. The only reason she even was named the protector of the town was because she might as well, since this was where they lived. If the Guild had wanted to place an order with Elluin, they’d have gone straight for his workshop. Thus the messenger could only be here for her, and the matter must be serious.
“I’m here looking for Lady Asheara. I have an urgent message from the Hunter’s Guild. “She heard the messenger tell the guard at the door. The messenger was ushered into the meeting room where Asheara was waiting for him behind a heavy desk, placed there exactly for such official business.
“You have a message for me?” (Asheara)
“Yes. It’s an urgent message from the Head of the Rhi’a’non Guild Office, Lord Alduin Rhys.” The messenger said handing her the message.
Asheara looked up sharply.
“Lord Alduin?” (Asheara)
“Are you aware of the contents of the message?” (Asheara)
“I am not. I was however told to bring back a reply.” (Messenger)
This really was serious. Rhi’a’non was both the capitol of the Eldarinwe kingdom and the Rhi’a’non Empire that spanned the elven continent, a sprawling metropolis city that was the pride of the elven culture and architecture. As such the Rhi’a’non Guild Office was the headquarters of the Hunter’s Guild in the elven continent, and the Head of the office was in effect the guild master. He also happened to be Asheara’s teacher in magic and combat skills and one of the five most powerful elves in the world. He didn’t send messages just to ask for her wellbeing. The message had a mission, and it probably needed to be performed quietly.
The message indeed was a mission to investigate the deaths of several people in a village some few hundred km from Aletheia. The message also mentioned a group of hunter’s that had already gone to investigate, but had not returned. That was worrisome. The Guild rarely sent hunters on missions beyond their ability to handle. On the other hand, the Guild never repeated their mistakes, hence why they had asked her to handle it. She might not have been in active service for the last ten years, but she was still the best student of Lord Alduin Rhys. She noticed the messenger staring at Neleh sitting in her lap, and couldn’t really blame him. The girl looked adorable with that adorably huge red ribbon in her raven black hair.
“I am ready to give the reply. One word: yes.” (Asheara)
The messenger turned and left immediately, not waiting for a rest or a meal.
‘Well then. I better get ready to travel. What should I do with Neleh though?’ She was starting the surprisingly easy job of talking herself into taking her daughter along. ‘It should not really be all that dangerous. The Guild probably sent some rookie hunters last time to test them out for more dangerous jobs. Neleh should be perfectly safe with me. In fact she should be safer. The crazy maid is still out there, and she’d gotten past the guards before. Yep, definitely safer with me. And this is a good chance to try and get some distance between her and the other girls.’ She was doing a good job talking herself into it. She noticed Neleh looking at her with a raised eyebrow.
Asheara would have originally preferred to take a carriage to their destination, but that would draw too much attention. The most inconspicuous method of travel would have been to travel with a caravan, but that would take too much time, and might end up with a lot more people dying by the time she arrived. Thus she decided ride there on a steed. The elves did use horses, but for civilian transportation Lopar was better. A lopar was a kind of lizard, a very distant kin to a dragon. They were not quite as fast as horses at full speed, but they could maintain their speed for the whole day, making them ideal for long distance.
Unsurprisingly the girls were not too happy she was leaving with Neleh. Funnily they made no fuss about her being gone, or any perceived favoritism about them not being allowed to come along while Neleh was. No they were mad their little sister was going away. ‘Kind of sobering that they prefer her over me, but I guess that goes with the territory.’
Elluin could tell how serious the matter was, so he only wished us good luck.
The trip towards the destination village was largely uneventful. The only real event worth mentioning happened during the second day, when they stopped for the night in a small town about midway to their destination. The two of them entered fairly nice looking inn, with Asheara carrying Neleh inside. They noticed what looked like the innkeeper in his apron standing behind a counter. They approached him for a room.
“A room please, and a meal for one. If you have the option to use the baths, then I’d like that too.” (Asheara)
“The stew is fresh, and we have the bath option. The room plus those will cost you 7 silver.” (Innkeeper)
‘Oh I got the pretty girl discount. It’s nice to know I still got it even after having five daughters.’ Asheara thought to herself with some amusement and a tiny bit of pride.
The innkeeper focused on Neleh. “You have such a pretty daughter, I’ll even comp your meals if you spend some time in the common room with her now and in the morning. We might get a bit more female clientele than usual with a child like her around. And female clientele attracts male clientele.”
The innkeeper didn’t notice Asheara’s smile fall a bit at that comment, he only noticed Neleh laughing. To Asheara’s ears the laugh sounded a bit too amused.
When they arrived at their destination, Asheara went to ask some discreet questions from the local healer. From the healer she found out that the victims all had wounds consistent with being attacked by a beast of considerable strength. They had also found the body of one of the hunter’s, with similar wounds to the other victims. In his case the hunter’s head had been removed from his shoulders by a great force, most likely in a single strike. By his documents, the hunter had in fact been of only middling ability, but the viciousness of the attack had Asheara greatly worried. She had the Lopar stabled in the village, and moved to the edge of town, on the side of the forest, where all the attacks had happened. Now she was a bit worried about Neleh, but leaving her in the village might not be safe either.
At the edge of the forest, Asheara cast a Windscout spell. Air magic had always been her specialty, and it did not take her long to find a small presence 20 km south of the village and moving slowly towards the village. The Windscout could not identify the presence though. She had the scout trail the presence to keep tabs on it, and started moving towards it in a light arc, so as to not run into whatever the presence was straight from the front. She moved rapidly through the forest, with Neleh tied on a sling at her back to allow for free range of movement. It didn’t take her long to get close to the presence.
What she saw though shocked her deeply. She was peering from a large patch of undergrowth behind a tree, at what looked vaguely like a wolf. Vaguely, because the wolf was the size of a large bear, had wings, and had several bright blue lines of power running across it’s otherwise completely black fur. She knew that fur was as tough as steel, and that the creature was not only fast like the wind when it attacked, but also carried a power far greater than any normal monster.
‘What in Elune’s name is a Darkhunter doing in these parts? They should only live in the Human and Beastmen continents, and they should be excessively rare even there. A fully grown Darkhunter is a S class monster, why would it appear here?! I’m fortunate that this one is still not fully grown, but even so. I don’t have the power to defeat something like that. But the damn thing is moving towards the village, and it wouldn’t get this close if it wasn’t planning on attacking the village. There are hundreds of people in that village! I might be able to kill that thing if I channeled all my power into one focused attack, but I doubt I would survive that myself. I can’t leave Neleh here in the middle of the forest.’
She grabbed one of the gems she had in her purse that held a wind spirit. She might be able to instruct the wind spirit to take Neleh back to the healer in town. The healer knew who she was and could send the child home if she herself were to die. She was already halfway through the complex spell, when she was interrupted by a quiet but firm voice.
“Mother, no. You are not sending me away. I know why you are doing this.”
She was so shocked she fumbled the spell. Luckily due to the nature of the spell, there was no feedback. She looked at Neleh with tears in her eyes.
“I knew you could speak Neleh. Mommy knew it! Why did you not say anything until now?” (Asheara)
“I felt no need. I had nothing that needed saying. Now I do. One more thing, I love you, and you’re not choosing to risk death here alone.”
Her daughter’s voice was heated.. She was filled both with incredible happiness that one of the first things her daughter had said was that she loved her, and sadness that it might be the last time she heard those words. With tears in her eyes, she replied.
“Neleh, honey, mommy doesn’t have the power to defeat the big scary monster, so I must send you away.”
“What would it take to defeat the monster?” Neleh asked calmly.
“The monster is weak against light magic, but mommy is not good with that. I must try though, but I won’t have the mana to both attack, and defend myself properly.” Asheara replied, not paying attention that she was talking more childishly than her 18 months old daughter.
“Can you not use mine?” (Neleh)
She shot a look at her daughter, finally realizing something was a bit off. “What do you know about mana?”
“I can feel a pool of power inside me, even if I can’t touch it. I’m assuming that is what you mean by mana?” (Neleh)
She decided to table her suspicion for the moment and just try to deal with the current problem.
“You have not had your awakening ritual. I cannot draw on your mana. And I cannot perform the ritual, even if I wanted to. In any case the ritual would take to long.” (Asheara)
“Are you sure there is no other way?” (Neleh)
Asheara was hesitating, and Neleh noticed that.
“Tell me, please.” (Neleh)
“In the old days, the mages used to form bonds with warriors, so that the warriors would provide them with protection, and some of their mana they could not utilize themselves. In exchange the warrior’s power was increased and the mage could use his power to both aid and support the warrior. My teacher told me how the bond was formed, but honey; there are multiple reasons why this is not done anymore. And I don’t know all the consequences that it might have. It’s been thousands of years since they were used.” (Asheara)
“Do it. I’d rather brave some unknown issues that might or might not come up, than lose my mother. And we might want to hurry, that beast won’t wait for us.” (Neleh)
Asheara stopped hesitating, took her little girl’s head in her hands and performed the complex, yet quick magic required for the bond. She could immediately feel her daughter’s presence in her mind. She knew that no matter how far they were from each other, she could point straight at her. She put her down behind the tree and looked at the monster, now a fair distance from them.
“Go. Do what must be done. I love you.” (Neleh)
And thanks to the bond, Asheara knew that she meant what she said. She stepped out from behind the tree and started chanting the most powerful light element attack spell she knew.
‘It’s been a while since I’ve performed a spell with full aria. Let us hope that his is enough to kill the Darkhunter.’
Small globes of golden light begun to float towards the air about 30 meters above the monster. Now even the Darkhunter could sense that something was about to go horribly wrong.
“…and carry with you the power of light, lest ye be judged. Power of the heavens!” Asheara yelled the last words of the aria, and put as much mana as she could into the spell. Suddenly a great pillar of golden light struck straight down at the monster. The ground below it started to crumble and a large crater was starting to form. The Darkhunter was in agony, faced with the element it most hated, but it was not yet dead, and tried to move towards the pesky elf that was the source of the pain.
Asheara drew on all the mana she could both her own, and what she could draw through the bond with her daughter and poured it into the spell. The amount was definitely beyond anything she could have thought. The girl almost doubled her strength. The pillar of golden light reached towards the sky and could be seen over a thousand km away. Finally with the last trickles of mana fading, the Darkhunter was no more. Only scorched earth and a large crater remained.
She started to move back towards the place she had hid Neleh.
“Honey we did it! The big bad monster is gone. Mommy did it.” (Asheara)
Then she saw her daughter lying on the ground pale and eyes closed. She instantly knew she had drawn more power than her little body could handle.
“NELEH!” The bloodcurdling scream of complete despair sounded in the air.
Author's note: Finally got chapter 3 done. Had a little trouble with this one, and I still feel the end didn't come out quite right. Oh well. Show must go on. A little shift in the POV this time, to explain some things, and obscure others :) Hope you all enjoy. Thanks for all the comments so far.