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Author's note: I happened to be bored so I managed to finish this one earlier. Chapter 6,5 was really short, while this one is probably the longest so far. We also get a little glimpse of our two favourite stalkers...

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It had been a few days since ritual, and Neleh was finally getting adjusted to her new body. It was time to test her new limits and start expanding them. In the early light of the morning, she moved outside of their mansion to the garden. Their garden was a space enclosed by fences and several plants ranging from trees to bushes. The garden was not large by any stretch of the imagination, but it was meant to be a place of serenity and tranquility and not the type of garden where you grew stuff for consumption. The open space in the middle was ringed by bushes of about chest height of an adult person. In one corner you had a pure white gazebo made of some white tree that Neleh did not recognize while in another corner was a small pond that had several small stones rising in the middle of it. The stones were small enough, that they looked ideal for basic footwork training, but that was not her intention today. In the center of the garden was a large area covered with white sand, that Neleh assumed was meant for practice of drawing magical formations, since calligraphy didn’t seem like a thing in this world.

The sanded area fit what she had in mind. It would provide for a ground that was even enough for her purposes, but wouldn’t give solid enough footing, so you had to pay attention to how you were distributing your weight, so as to not get out of balance when a foot or a hand sunk into the sand more than you had expected. She started going through a series of movements, positions and stances she was familiar with from her old life. The technique she was using was a combination of a martial art, dance, meditation and a sort of yoga. The technique was designed for improving one’s body instead of any combat or aesthetic purposes. You worked your muscles by using stances designed to work those muscles their extremes, improved flexibility by stretching yourself to your limits and beyond, and improved your balance and control of your body by taking positions that would drop you on your ass on the ground if not done just so. It also gave some work for your mind, when you tried to find the best ways to smoothly flow from one position to another, with the most minimal of movements.

The technique had multiple levels of difficulty depending on your aptitude in the various facets required by the technique. Then there was the added difficulty of trying to have your internal power, or in Neleh’s case the power she gained from the heavenly bodies the Ignasia, flow just right to support the actions you were taking. That’s where the meditation aspect came in. The idea was to use only the minimum amount of power in just the correct portions of your body that was required to perform the stances and positions. That taught you better control of your power. The best part of the technique was that you could focus on the areas you wanted to improve. If you wanted you increase your strength, you used the stances that required the heavy use of muscles, if you wanted to improve your flexibility you used the positions that relied more heavily on that. Though of course many of the stances were designed to work on everything at once, especially the higher in the difficulty levels you went. She had learned the technique long, long time ago, and had actually never heard its real name. As such she had always called it the Body Sculpting Art in her mind, in a vain attempt to be funny.

It was somewhat ironic then, that she was now considering the technique a bit from the perspective of how she wanted her body to develop in the future. It would not be a good idea to overdo training at her current age, so as to not inhibit her growth. She was still young and too heavy training might result in her not growing properly, or in a way that she preferred not to happen. Focusing on flexibility and balance was an obvious choice, but she didn’t want to go overboard on muscle training. Especially since the vast majority of her strength would come from the Ignasia. She intended to aim for a body type that could be described as athletic, due to her own preference, but she wasn’t too keen on the idea of having the body shape of a body builder. Since she apparently had a blessing from Aphrodite, she might as well make use of it. Well she’d be able to make adjustments as the years went along, and developing flexibility was best when starting young anyway.

One of the side effects of the technique she was using was that it required her complete concentration, which is why she didn’t notice her mother and captain Gloridas watching her.

“Have you ever seen a technique like that?” (Asheara)

“No, but I can immediately see its usefulness. It’s perfect for training and developing one’s body. I sure would like to know where she learned it though.” Captain Gloridas replied while frowning.

“That I cannot tell you. The ritual really improved her body’s ability though. There’s no way she could’ve performed most of those things before. She seems to be using quite a bit of strength. Some of the patterns on her skin are starting to glow.” (Asheara)

“I’m not surprised. I don’t’ think even I could perform some of the things she’s doing. Might be a good idea to start training her basic skills with weapons soon. Normally she’d be too young, but then again she isn’t exactly normal is she? I know the mansion has the protection of a dragon and all, but she does have a penchant for getting in trouble. I’d feel better if she had at least the basic ability to defend herself.” (Captain Gloridas)

Asheara sighed. “I would really rather she stopped getting into trouble altogether but you are right. Sooner or later trouble will find her, and it’s better if she can defend herself, as opposed to being helpless.”

“I’ll talk to her then. Who knows? She might have some secret knowledge or aptitude with weapons as well.” Captain Gloridas laughed at his own thought. He failed to notice that Asheara was not laughing, and was considering the idea seriously.

It took Neleh two hours two run through the whole first and second difficulty level programs. She was quite happy at how her body was functioning. She should be able to run through levels three and four tomorrow, and after that she could focus on running the whole technique at level four and slowly increasing other parts of the program, while leaving the muscle training to a lower level. She finally noticed the good captain approaching.

“Good morning captain. To what do I owe the pleasure?” (Neleh)

“Your mother and I were watching you train. I don’t suppose you’re willing to tell me where you learned that? It seems an extremely efficient training method.” He continued when he saw Neleh just smiling while shaking her head. “I figured. No matter. Seeing as you’re already starting your physical training, I thought it might be also prudent to get you started on combat skills and weapons training. Might come in handy the next time you get in trouble, so your mother won’t have to stay at your bedside hoping for you to awaken again. She also gave her permission.” (Captain Gloridas)

He was trying to goad her into accepting by using guilt. Truth be told, he was eager to get started, because he wanted to see how good she could become when she put her mind to it. Even if he didn’t quite know how exceptional she was, he knew her ability to learn was abnormal, and she tended to progress very fast at whatever she put her mind to. Two of her sisters had actually already shown high aptitude with weapons training so he had high hopes. Neleh didn’t really require any goading though. She had already thought she should try to find a teacher, and now one had appeared. She also knew Captain Gloridas was an accomplished teacher, from all the rumors and conversations she had overheard.

“Seems like a good idea to me.” (Neleh)

“Excellent. Do you happen to have a preference towards a particular weapon? Or shall we just start with the normal set used by the Eldarinwe military? The beginning will include general combat skills anyway.” The Eldarinwe military excelled in discipline and uniformity of their training. The standard was to train in the use of an elven longbow and sword and shield.

“I do have a preference actually. I would like to train in the use of a spear.” In her previous life, Neleh had mastered the use of several weapons, but had always preferred spears. As her best weapon she thought she might as well try and get her new body used to the old spear skills as soon as possible, so she could modify those skills where necessary to match her change in gender and power. It was also fit her new body better than many other weapons because the spear was a bit less reliant on strength, and more in speed and technique.

“Alright. I doubt you’ll end up as a grunt in the Elven army anyway, and I think your choice of weapon suits you. We’ll start your training tomorrow. You can do your physical training in the morning, and we’ll have your weapons training in the afternoon.” He was actually glad the girl had actually made a firm choice in weapons. That showed interest, and might help keep that interest if she was aware that it was her own choice that led to the training.

“All that said, I think it’s about time I had a talk with my father. The result of that conversation might have impact on what we just discussed.”

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Neleh approached her father’s workshop. The workshop was a large structure at the edge of the town, where the lands belonging to their mansion started. Since the workshop had facilities for blacksmithing, jewel crafting and enchanting, not to mention the facilities to store the materials safely and a space where one could meet with prospective clients and show some of his work, the building took enough space to match four normal workshops. The building also had a modest living space that was normally used when her father had to work on projects that went on overnight or even several days. For most of Neleh’s life though, Elluin had lived in that living space. Her parents were separated in all but name, and interestingly enough the mansion actually belonged to her mother. Not that Neleh actually thought her father would have Asheara move out of the mansion even if it was his. He had enough moral fiber for that at least.

She found him in the enchantment portion of the workshop, working on something that appeared to be a bracelet. If she could read his work right, he was adding some sort of enchantment that would react in the presence of poison. She didn’t want to interrupt his work, and elected to watch and learn instead. As the work progressed, it became clear that the enchantments in this world were done in three major parts. First you used a curio to give the enchantment its basic properties and level. Secondly you used a catalyst of some sort to increase to potency of the enchantment. Both the curio and the catalyst were absorbed by the enchantment. Finally you used magical runes to force the enchantment have the exact effects you wanted. She saw her father using some magical power for the runes, but not the life-force that made his crafting so special. Either she had missed that part, or this was not a piece important enough for that.

Elluin finally finished his work and turned to his daughter.

“Thank you for waiting. It’s bad for the item if you have to interrupt the process in the middle.” (Elluin)

“Of course. It seemed like a delicate process, and I didn’t want to ruin your work. It was also fascinating to watch.” (Neleh)

“Really? You could tell what was going on?” Elluin asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I might not be able to use magic myself yet, but that doesn’t stop me from being able to feel its flows.” Neleh replied with a small smile.

“Remarkable. Well, be that as it may, what brings you here? I believe this is the first time you have visited my workshop. Your mother is not hurt, is she?” Elluin asked with slight worry.

“Nothing of the sort. In fact, I’m here to offer you a solution to your problem.” (Neleh)

She didn’t need to specify which problem. They both knew there was only one thing she could be alluding to. “Alright I’ll bite. What is your solution to the problem that has eluded me for so many years?”

“Before that, I want to make sure we both are on the same page as far as the problem is concerned, and that I haven’t missed anything. You want a son desperately enough to betray mother, because only a male child is capable of continuing the family and passing the secrets on within our house. This is because any female would suffer a miscarriage of any potential pregnancy due to the work requiring the smith to put his own life-force into the work. There is also the possibility of sterility for any female smith trying to take over the work.” (Neleh)

“You are well informed. That is a fair summary of the problem. So let us hear your solution.” (Elluin)

“You are too focused on the only solution that is obviously available. You can simply train me as your successor, have my sister’s suitors marry into our house, instead of the other way, and I can then pass on the knowledge to one of their children. I know you consider adoption to being the same as being forced to train someone not of our house in the secrets, but I will still have that as the last option even if something should happen to prevent all my sisters from having children.” (Neleh)

To Elluin’s credit, even if he was too stuck in his ways to think of a solution outside the box, he was smart enough to give serious consideration to her suggestion and recognize its merits. “I’m not shutting the idea down, but I have some questions and reservations.”

“As you should. Ask your questions, and maybe I can allay some of your reservations.” Neleh knew she had him now. As long as her father was willing to give the idea some serious consideration, rest could be worked out.

“Firstly is the matter of strength. I love you, and I hate to imply there was something wrong with you, but you haven’t exactly been the model of bodily strength so far as a child. The blacksmithing portion is hard work, and will require much in the way of strength and endurance.” (Elluin)

“The key point there is ‘so far’. As a magical being that elves are, you should know very well, that in the end muscles are only a minor part of a person’s physical strength. You are aware of the ritual mother helped me perform some days ago? Yes, the one where I was brought home by a dragon. That ritual granted me a power similar to the aura the celestials use. In addition I started my physical training this morning. We both know you can’t properly teach me your craft before my awakening anyway, and by then you should be confident enough in my strength. Besides, I’m assuming you’ll want me to learn to use my magic, to properly use it in crafting, so serious training with you would have to happen after that.” (Neleh)

“All right, it seems you have given this some thought, and if you are right, then you might have the necessary strength. I can live with the arrangements you laid out. Though I assume you’d be watching my work from now on, so you can start learning?” (Elluin)

“Correct. I am quite confident in my learning ability. Even if I can’t do the work yet, I can learn some of it by watching. You tell me when the best timing is and I’ll fit that in with my physical training and weapons training.” (Neleh)

She wasn’t being boastful about her learning ability. In fact she was majorly downplaying it. One of her main strengths in her old life had been her learning ability. In fact her learning ability combined with the ability that had made her the Exception she was in the first place, were the two main reasons she had become one of the most powerful beings known. If she could pay close attention to what someone was doing, she could learn any ability or skill, why the skill worked the way it did and come up with at least three theories for making the ability or skill more powerful or easier to use. That was also part of the reason why she was such a lousy teacher. She had such an easy time learning things that she had no ability to relate or come up with ways to tech beyond just showing what to do. Also no patience. There were a couple of skills that she was just plain unable to learn, partly because of her ability made her bad at learning things that her learning abilities didn’t work on.

“You’re also doing weapons training? Never mind, late evenings and nights are best for my work, because some of my work requires the light of the moon and the stars. Especially if I’m crafting something for the Moon Elves. On to reservations then. You are obviously aware that taking up my job will make you unable to have children of your own. Even if you’re thinking that you will be working less than me, or plan to have kids after a retirement of sorts, it is highly likely you will end up sterile. I know you are too young to make decisions that far reaching especially since you don’t even feel the biological urge for children yet. You’re simply too young to make decisions like that.” (Elluin)

“As to that, I can only say I’ve made my peace with the idea. I hope to be an aunt to a whole horde of nieces and nephews, and if I really feel the need to be a mother, I still have the option to adopt, even if I won’t be teaching the secrets to the adopted child. That said, it would be unfair for me to assume you’ll just take my word for it. As such I suggest we proceed as we planned with me learning by watching until I’ll be older and have learned to wield my magic for the craft. By then we’ll have a better idea, if my resolution will hold or not.” (Neleh)

“It is agreed then. We’ll see how this goes.” Elluin said while shaking Neleh’s hand as if making a contract.

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There was still one part of her training that Neleh needed to secure, for things to proceed as she had planned. For that she needed her mother’s help. She had already taken part in her sister’s lessons, but then she had been just a baby carried around by her mother, there to soothe her sister’s need to be close to her. Now she needed to partake in those lessons as a proper pupil. Much of the information taught she already knew, but she still needed to know more of this world, its inhabitants, its customs and history and perhaps more importantly its gods. She was already blessed by at least one goddess, and some other deity had meddled in her ritual. Her fate was obviously tied with the deities of this world and she needed to know how things stood.

Her mother agreed readily to help persuade the teachers, even if she was a little worried that her daughter might be biting off too much with three types of training and the lessons. That said, she knew she’d be following her to all that training to keep a good eye on her. Except the one with Neleh’s father. And as much as she distrusted Elluin, she was also pretty sure he would not allow Neleh to hurt herself.

Persuading the teachers to give lessons was easier than Neleh had assumed, although in retrospect she should have realized the teachers were quite happy to include an extra student since they were getting paid. It took a bit more effort to convince them to skip the reading writing and math lessons, but that was eventually solved by simply having the teachers test her. Thus began her life with four separate training regimen. Any extra time was spent in the loving company of her sisters and her mother. Neleh was quite happy with her new life.

She did run into a small problem though. Her lessons into theology made it painfully obvious the teachers didn’t have the kind of information she needed, and she’d need to find that information either from a temple or from a source of further education. Though she should not have been surprised by that. Most inhabitants in almost all the worlds had sketchy or just plain wrong information on the origin of their world and the nature of the deities they worshipped. In fact most temples in the different worlds also had bad information, partially because of some very natural but wrong assumptions, and it was in the interests of the deities to not set them straight.

The bigger mistake often propagated among the faithful, was to assume the deities were if not exactly all powerful, but at least close to. This was patently wrong and could be realized as such with a little thought. If the deities were all powerful, why would they need to bother with the faithful, and why wouldn’t they simply wipe away those that opposed them? The second mistake that also pertained to the nature of the deities, assumed they had just always existed and then one day decided to create the world now inhabited by the various races. The third and perhaps the most fundamental mistake was to assume the world was created by the deities. All three assumptions were wrong, and all starting from the same origin.

The first thing to realize about deities is that they come in two types. The more rare type is a former mortal that reaches a certain level of power and is then given a choice. Either become a deity with certain rules and restrictions, and in turn gain more power from those that worship you, or become an immortal and become a member of either the Celestial Host, Inferno or travel to the realm known as the Eternal Sea of the Immortals. Most take the latter option. More fun.

The more common type of deity is one that is created along with the world they are tied to. These make the vast majority of all deities, and are otherwise functionally the same as the first type, except being completely tied with their world. The races and nature that inhabit the world may be created by the deities, and in most cases are, but not the world itself or the deities. So who does create the worlds? The real creators are a handful of beings known as Primordial Creators.

The Primordial Creators are an odd type of being. Neleh had met one of them in her previous life, and had an enlightening discussion. They are a type of being that follows a call only they can hear across the planes to the places where they then create the new worlds and the deities that guard them. When Neleh asked where they got the power required for such feats, she got a cryptic answer where the Creator told that they actually didn’t. That what they created was already there, but they simply coaxed them to appear. They in fact had next to no power aside from that. Except that they could not be killed. If one was killed, it would be immediately reborn, just as it used to be, and continue its work as they had done for a trillion years. One could wonder why there weren’t more worlds with such hard working creators. Well there’s always a balancing force in the universe.

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At the same time, Michael and Gabriel had both ran into a problem. They had known Neleh for over a century, and as such they had a very fixe image of her in their mind. This became a sort of a problem, because they had forgotten that any and all search spells requires some details of the one they are looking for to work. But the image in their head was of HIM not her. And to make matters worse, if in the past they needed to find HIM and HE was disguised for some reason, all they had to do was use their senses to look for the most powerful being on the particular planet, and go there. Now they had nothing as basis to use for their searching spells. You can’t even compare the situation with looking a needle in a haystack, because they weren’t even sure if what they were looking for was a needle.

Michael at least knew he was looking for a girl, so he defaulted into checking out any and all exceptionally talented girls of the right age. After all, Neleh had been the Exception in her old life, so surely she would stand out this time too. The mistake Michael made was that he assumed Tian’Zun had gone all the way to have fun at her expense and had her reincarnate as a demon. Unfortunately for Michael and fortunately for him, Tian’Zun was not quite as twisted as the celestial. So Michael was looking on the wrong continent, tripped by his own cleverness.

Gabriel on the other hand realized her mistake immediately as she was about to cast the spell to find Neleh. Partly because of that, and partly because she wasn’t Michael, she was much more diplomatic when dealing with the ‘natives’. She ended up recruiting the local celestials to help her in her search. Unfortunately she still had no idea what she was looking for, and was under the impression that she was looking for a male child. It would take her years to realize her mistake…
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Vihyungrang

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