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Author's note: This turned out to be a surprisingly easy chapter to write for some reason. Hence why it's out so fast. Just in case someone wonders, Rachiel's name is pronounced Rakiel.


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It was the Awakening ceremony for her oldest sister Delia, where Neleh realized how well and truly boned she was. Apparently she wasn’t to first person to consider cheating during the ceremony. The ceremony was used to determine the aptitude of a particular child with magic, as well as any blessings from the gods he or she might have. As such the results were used to determine future opportunities of the children involved. It was only natural that some doting parents in the past had thought that their little child only deserved the best and could do no wrong, and in an attempt to secure their child the best possible future, had tried to cheat the tests by using magical means to try and inflate the results. Thus nowadays the priests that were responsible for administering the tests were taking precautions against cheating.

Firstly all three parts of the ritual were performed together with no breaks. If you needed a potty break, too bad. You had to soil yourself in front of the people present that had come to watch the ceremony. Secondly the whole ceremony took place with the child in question standing or sitting inside a magical formation that was apparently a gift from the gods. Since this was an elven ceremony, the formations used was a gift from Elune. Apparently the formation drained away any magic affecting the child in question, so no spells to inflate the results were possible. Or in Neleh’s case, no spell could be used to mask her abilities.

She had considered that, if she found no other way to avoid the tests of potential, she could as a last resort teach her mother the necessary spells to mask her daughter’s ability. The magical formation made that idea impossible though. Also the formation would apparently glow differently if a magical item was brought inside, so there goes that plan too.  Not that she wanted to owe that favor to her father. He’d want to know why she needed to mask her ability.

To add insult to injury, the test for magical potential was the absolute worst kind Neleh could imagine. The test used the power of the gods to determine one’s potential, and focused mostly on determining magical affinities. If the test had focused on current magical power or used some less accurate means of finding out one’s affinities, she could have muddled though somehow, and ended up simply as a person with great potential. That would have already drawn more than enough attention, but alas such was not to be.

The problem with affinities was that they were a very complex mixture of factors that boiled down to one simple thing, understanding. If a naga spends most of his life surrounded by and living in water, he develops an innate understanding on how the element of water works. Its little nuances, peculiarities and quirks. Even if he doesn’t exactly know the scientific or magical reason why water behaves a certain way, he still knows that it does work a certain way, and what to expect from it in different circumstances. Thus if that naga then has magical potential, his affinity with water will be naturally great, because he understands water.

Another factor can be personality. A free spirited and adventurous person that spends most of his time flitting from one place to another might develop an instinctive understanding of the element air. His personality is simply very suited to handling the element, and he understands it, not because he spent time with air, but because he does all the right things naturally due to an instinctive understanding.

Of course there was also the third way of developing understanding, by actually studying the different elements, their workings and the effects magic can have on them. Or in the case of more advanced worlds, studying the effect the elements can have naturally, and how to induce those effects with the least possible magical effort for maximum effect.

Usually testing for such understanding is next to impossible, and most affinity tests on most worlds simply test how easily a person performs magic of different elements, if said person was capable of performing magic from those elements at all. Neleh could’ve tried to fake a test like that. But the awakening ceremony didn’t include any magic from the one being tested. In fact they were specifically told not to use their magic. The combined power of the various gods on the other hand could get an accurate measure of a person’s understanding, with no participation required. This affinity was then shown to the priests conducting the tests via an artifact.

The races of this world took the awakening ceremony very seriously. Participation was mandatory. Even children from the poorest of conditions participated, partly because the ceremony was an opportunity for them to rise above their current position in life. The awakening ceremony also doubled as a coming of age ceremony of sorts to the elves. A child was considered a youth after the ceremony and a child no longer. It was common to have a large celebration after the ceremony with all the friends and family invited. If the child was nobility or better yet royalty, the celebration usually involved all the other nobility that could be assumed to attend and often ambassadors from the other races. Elves were considered to be full adults after reaching the age of about 50, but that was a bit more vague, since it was not uncommon for the older generations to not take the young adults seriously before the age of 100. Thus the awakening ceremony was often the most important celebration in his or her life.

Thus the reason why Neleh was so boned. She couldn’t cheat, couldn’t fake it and couldn’t try to avoid it. She could only imagine the results. She had after all spent hundreds of years in her old life trying to understand all the possible ways magic and the various elements could work. She’d spent time on technology focused worlds to broaden her understanding of science and its effects on the elements. And she had rubbed shoulders with the most powerful and the most skilled in the universe. And understanding was her forte. Her learning abilities came from her capacity to understand and dissect things at a glance. There would be a ruckus when her awakening ceremony took place. Well she could always hope for a great war or some sort of disaster to distract people when the time came…

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The ceremony this time was performed for her eldest sister Delia. She looked stunning in her pure white dress, with her golden hair that showed she had gotten her father’s genes stronger than her mother’s. She looked every bit the noble Eldarinwe girl coming of age that she was. Well not noble strictly, but in some ways her father’s work afforded them a station that was above the standard nobles. That showed with the amount of guests the ceremony had attracted. The family was gathered of course. Neleh noticed a surprising amount of cousins and aunts and uncles that she had never seen before. Of course her grandparents were there. The girls had often spent time with their grandparents, although Neleh a bit less than the others. The nobility was heavily represented. She assumed they were here in large part to try and get one of their sons engaged with one of Elluin’s daughters. She tried to avoid those like the plague during the celebration, since she knew her blessing from Aphrodite would make her a popular prospect. Apparently her sisters were similarly inclined, and had no trouble showing it.

There were also representatives from a few of the other races, but since Elluin rarely worked for the other races, those were minor dignitaries for the most part. The naga and the beastmen had sent a token representative as their closest neighbors. Interestingly the celestial representative was a fairly important figure shown by the four pairs of white wings on her back. Asheara had been approached by the celestials to have Neleh monitored by one of them, strictly in the name of safety of course. She could be in danger after all. When her mother had gently rebuffed those approaches, the celestials had simply sent one of their number as their “representative” in the area. That had to have raised some questions in the elven court. After all, why would a fairly remote border area require a representative, when the more important areas of the elven continent didn’t have one? She assumed there had been some trading of favors going on to make those questions go away.

The ceremony itself had been fairly uneventful. Delia didn’t have any blessings from the gods, so that part was a mere formality. She looked beautiful while kneeling in front of the priestess that performed the awakening itself, but that was the most remarkable thing about that portion of the ceremony. Interestingly though, it seemed she had quite a bit of potential as a mage. She had especially high affinities in air and water elements. It seems likely she would be accepted into the biggest magic academy on the elven continent, the academy in Rhi’a’non. Seems like first of the siblings was about to leave the nest, as it were. Neleh was happy for her, even if she would miss her sister, who always seemed to have a smile ready for her little sister, and was a glutton for hugs. Delia had always been the sister Neleh got along with the best. While the other sisters weren’t quite as dependent on Neleh’s presence anymore, it was not uncommon for Delia to slip into the bed shared by Neleh and Asheara during the night. Hopefully she wouldn’t be too lonely at the academy.

The celebrations afterwards had caused some headaches for Asheara before the ceremony. It would have been customary to hold the celebrations at their mansion, but the protective spell put there by the dragon Zamekh was still in full effect. They had gotten proof of the spells efficacy when three different dead bodies had been found on the edge of the spell during the years. Two elves and one human, all dressed in black clothing. Asheara didn’t think the guests wished her younger daughter harm specifically, but she wasn’t sure how specific the spell was, and the great game played by the nobles could take some darker forms. She didn’t want any dead bodies ruining her daughters important day, just because one of the guests had an errant thought that could be considered as hostile by the spell.

Elves were a people attuned with nature anyway, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to have the celebration on a beautiful meadow close to the town. The guests liked the setting actually, although dancing was a little less popular, what with the “dance floor” not being completely even and all that. Asheara and Elluin spent most of their time trading barbs and pretending like they weren’t already living separately. Keeping up appearances and all that. Rest of their time was spent fending off nobles with their offers of marriage. They were quite adamant about allowing their daughters to choose their own loved ones. Though Elluin had told them he expected those loved ones to marry into the House Khalidor, since the idea was that I’d in turn train one of their children in the family secrets.

Delia spent most of her time either with her doting grandparents, or talking with the priests of Elune about the magic academy in Rhi’a’non. Since the priests administered the tests, they were also in charge of recruitment and acceptance. Thus they were an excellent source of information for their newest prospective student. Selene, Selvaria and Elsaria spent most of their time shielding their big sister from the hungry wolves they imagined the sons of the nobles to be. Selvaria and Elsaria had in fact shown quite a bit of promise in the warrior arts, so they were students of captain Gloridas alongside Neleh. They made for an effective shield for their big sister, although some of the “hungry wolves” had eyes for them too.

Neleh elected not to join her sisters in protecting Delia, mostly because then they’d draw even more attention, and some of the suitors might get some of their feeble courage gathered enough to approach them. Even now she was drawing quite a bit of attention, even though she was only 8-years old, and had dressed so as to blend in to discourage that. So much for that idea. She’d have to wear a mask when she got older it seems. Not that a mask could hide the twinkle in her hair that was probably a big part of why she was gathering so many stares. You can’t have as close an image of the starlit night sky running down your back, without drawing notice. While the other Ignasia didn’t give her much trouble, the twinkle of stars in her black hair had chosen to stay pretty much permanently. Even her male relatives had appreciation in their eyes while looking at her.

In an effort to not be surrounded Neleh chose to approach her mother’s old teacher for safety. As it happened, Alduin was currently engaged in a conversation with the representatives from other races. Neleh judged that the naga representative would either not be interested, or be polite enough to not make advances on her, while both the beastmen and celestial representatives were female. At least so far, not too many women had paid that sort of attention to her. Alduin noticed her approach and gave a teasing smile.

“Well well, if it isn’t the youngest scion of the Khalidor family. Did the wolves drive you all the way here to hide?” (Alduin)

“Indeed. Would you be so kind as to help a fair maiden fend off those that would sully her honor!” Two could play that game.

“I shall endeavor to protect milady’s honor from those that would tarnish it, or die trying!” Alduin was laughing outright now, getting into the act.

“Your efforts are appreciated, and this lady shall forever more carry your chivalry in her heart. You have my utmost gratitude.” Now all of them were chuckling.

“If you two jokers are quite finished, I don’t think I’ve had the honor of being introduced yet. Lord Rhys, would you be so kind?” The white winged and flaming red haired celestial asked.

“Most certainly. This fair maiden is Neleh of House Khalidor, the youngest daughter of the master crafter Elluin Khalidor and one of my students Asheara Khalidor. Neleh, this fair lady is the celestial representative in the area Rachiel.” He managed to avoid any reaction in naming her the representative in the area.

“This fair maiden here is a member of the beastmen trade council in the elven continent Echo.” Neleh and the bat-eared woman nodded to each other. “And this reprobate here, who has difficulties looking away from you, is the naga emissary from the Pearl Cove Yasumi.”

“Ah yes, the Naga city closest to us, on the coast. Pleasure to meet you all. I know my presence might disturb any negotiations you may be having, but I really must insist on using you as my shield. None of the noble’s sons is stupid enough to make advances on me in this company. Do act as if I wasn’t even here.” Neleh said in a chipper tone of voice.

“Nonsense. It’s not like we were having any important discussions and I for one welcome your company. I can see how you might have trouble with the noble’s brats.” (Rachiel)

“That reminds me. You were about to tell us why you were assigned to this area, when even the most prosperous duchies in the elven lands often don’t have a celestial representative.” (Echo)

“I seem to remember me avoiding that question, but I might as well tell you since you’ll keep digging and it’s not exactly a huge secret. There was recently a dragon sighting in this area, and we have a reason to believe, there might be more in the future. I’m here as an observer.” Rachiel said that while looking straight at Neleh. At least she was blunt about it. The celestial had relayed the information necessary to Neleh, while giving the other representatives a good reason that could be easily verified by asking some questions, and without drawing too much attention to Neleh. Very blunt, but also somewhat subtle at the same time.

“A dragon? Those are rarely good news. Maybe we should take some precautions too at Pearl Cove.” (Yasumi)

“I would not worry too much. The dragon wasn’t attacking anyone or causing damage, and I’m fairly sure he won’t be in the near future. Unless provoked of course, but no-one is silly enough to provoke a dragon.” Alduin had a crooked grin on his face while she alternated looking between Neleh and Rachiel, clearly putting them on notice.

“I heard from your mother that you had taken up several new types of training. Physical training, weapons training, lessons from a tutor and you’re also learning your father’s profession. That’s a heavy training load for a young girl. How goes it?” Alduin was prying and also changing the subject at the same time. The others also looked curious at her training load, especially Rachiel.

“Weapons training and physical training is going well. Captain Gloridas is a fine teacher and two of my sisters are also taking lessons from him.” The good captain really was a great teacher. While spear wasn’t his primary weapon, he was enough skill and experience with it to be able to teach the required skills. Neleh was quite enjoying the training, because it afforded her a good opportunity to adapt her old techniques with her new body. It was also good for learning the techniques used in this world, so she could use those to mask her real ability when necessary. The only really hard part about training with him was that she had to remember to lose on purpose. She had never been very good with losing, being a competitive person. But it was already straining the limits of a genius, to keep up successfully with the captain in a fight that lasted an extended period of time. It would be too much if she suddenly won against him when he got serious.

“Lessons with the tutors are going ok, although I wish I had better sources of information when it comes to theology. I get the feeling the teachers don’t really know what they’re talking about there, and I could really use better information what with having a blessing and all.” (Neleh)

“I may know of some better sources for that. Have your mother bring you to Rhi’a’non one of these days and I’ll introduce you.” (Alduin)

“I just might take you up on that. As far as father’s profession goes, he can’t start teaching me properly until my Awakening ceremony, and even after that it’d be better for me to learn some magic first. I tried to learn by watching him work, but I suppose I was distracting him, and he sent me to study with the local tailor instead.” (Neleh)

It had in fact only taken a year, until Elluin sent her away. Apparently Elluin found the stare of her deep blue eyes too distracting, and he had started making too many mistakes. The occasional feeling of bloodlust that washed over him didn’t help either. Since he couldn’t teach her properly yet anyway, he thought he might as well have her learn tailoring in the meantime. Neleh thought his plan was to mold her into a one stop shop for all things crafting. She didn’t mind. She had pretty much learned what she could by just watching at that point anyway, and she also liked the idea of tailoring.

She took to that profession with gusto, and had already progressed to a point where the pure white dress worn by Delia tonight was made by her. She couldn’t call herself a master by any means yet, but she was getting there. Part of the reason why she liked tailoring so much was because the undergarments for women in this world could use some work. And since she was a woman now, she might as well make herself comfortable. She also had a ready supply of test subjects in her sisters and her mother. The maids in the mansion had also gotten some of their own, once they had seen her sisters wearing them, and started making requests. The old tailor under whom she was studying had fallen in love with the designs too. She had also taught Neleh some leatherworking, but since that wasn’t really her specialty, Neleh had much less proficiency in that. No matter, that would be her next project anyway.

“Have you given much consideration to your future if it turns out you won’t be able to follow in your father’s footsteps? I had heard the secrets of elven crafting only passed to a male child.” Rachiel asked with genuine curiosity. She wanted to know where the child had planned to end up. She might have to modify her own plans accordingly.

“We have come to an accord of sorts with my father. There are some circumstances considering his work, but we’ll see how things work out. I suppose much depends on the results of my own Awakening ceremony. It’s hard to tell for sure yet.” (Neleh)

“Well you are still young, and you don’t have to have everything figured out yet. Like you said, your awakening may open plenty of doors and close many others.” (Alduin)

“And so the adventure of life goes on. It is the uncertainty of our future that both makes life interesting, and gives us hope for better things.” Neleh was suddenly feeling something like a philosophical mood.

“If we are starting on deep subjects, I have a question for our young companion. I’m interested to hear her opinion on good and evil.” Rachiel was going deep in her attempts to get a handle on the girl that so interested the dragon, and now her.

“Well that was an odd segue. Isn’t she a little young for that kind of moral discussion?” (Echo)

“That’s precisely why I’m asking. She hasn’t been around long enough to absorb the jaded morality of her surroundings, so she might have a fresh take on things.” (Rachiel)

“I don’t mind answering that. What I consider right and proper, is something that one does not regret even if one’s actions fail or one has chosen wrongly. Good and evil are labels we put on things that we either agree or disagree with. There are only actions and consequences, and one must learn to live with the consequences of one’s actions. If one can live with those consequences even if one fails, then one has chosen right.” Neleh had always had a bit more lose grasp on morality, which is part of the reason she had gotten along with both the Celestial Host and the forces of Inferno. Her words had shocked her companions to silence. None of them, not even Rachiel, had expected her to have given the concept any serious thought, much less give such a serious answer.

The silence was broken by Yasumi’s voice. “Well then. If you find yourself out of prospects in the future, then come to the naga. I’m sure we can find a use for such fair and wise lady.”

Neleh, Echo and Rachiel all gave a chuckle, turned away from the naga and said at the same time. “Horndog!”
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Vihyungrang

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