In the end it took a whole year before Asheara and Neleh ended going to Rhi’a’non to visit Asheara’s old teacher. The trip to the capital took a week via carriage, but it didn’t take even a whole day before they knew they had a problem. Neleh was starting to look more like a young girl instead a child every day, and the Blessing of Aphrodite and her diligent training were bearing fruit. Her hair that now was in a permanent state of looking like the starry night sky, and her deep blue eyes that stopped anyone in their tracks weren’t helping. In short, she was drawing too much attention. That said, both of them had expected something like this, even if the degree had surprised them. The people around their mansion had simply gotten used to her, so had a lesser reaction.
After the first night Neleh dressed appropriately. She had made herself an outfit with this possibility in mind, utilizing both her tailoring skills and her new and expanding leatherworking abilities. She was wearing blue pants with legs that came just below her knees, sleeveless black tunic with silver thread running in patterns that covered her upper body to her neck, black leather boots with similar silver patters that came up to meet her pants and a large dark blue cloak with a hood and the House Khalidor insignia on the back, in silver thread. The cloak could cover her whole body if necessary. Because she knew she might be forced into using enough of the power from her Ignasia, that the sun and the phoenix on the backs of her hands might become visible, she also added a piece of clothing she knew she’d be using a lot in the future. She added a pair of blue half sleeve gloves that started just below her elbows, came to her wrists and had a triangular piece of cloth cover the backs of her hands, with the point of the triangle ending at her middle finger connected to a small silver ring. She also had a small blue silken piece of cloth on her neck that she could pull up to cover everything except her eyes and forehead.
Neleh was actually a bit proud of her ensemble. The good materials, details and workmanship communicated “daughter of a noble”, being beautiful while still not drawing attention. She had a feeling this manner of dressing would become very familiar to her in the future. There were times where drawing attention was ok, like parties or official situations, but most of the time it might be better to dress like she was at the moment. Might as well get used to it.
The rest of their trip was less eventful with both her face and hair covered. The real fun begun when they finally got within sight of the elven capital. The elves had always been proud of their capital city as a distillation of their skill in architecture, art and culture, and for good reason. The city was obviously large and was shaped almost perfectly circular. The city was located in a large flat valley next to a large forested mountain. The mountain was the location of the royal palace and was the only exception in the otherwise circular city, with the mountain protruding into the city. The city was pure white, with even the walls being made of white marble, clearly not designed for any sort of siege. All the buildings in the city were made from white stone, marble or white wood. The city had several tall spires reaching hundreds of meters into the air.
Later when they entered the city Neleh noticed that all the stone buildings looked as if they were made from one piece, earth magic clearly playing its part. The stone and wood all had intricate carvings on them, so much so that not a single piece of wood or stone was completely without decoration. The city had plenty of plazas and parks with vegetation and flowers. Many streets and crossroads had marble statues of various kinds decorating them, and the streets were as a rule wide with fair amount of space. No small alleys in this metropolis of a city, seemingly out of conscious design. As if compensating for the uniform color of its buildings, the inhabitants of the city had sown a veritable cornucopia of colors around the city in the form of decorations, fabrics and clothes. White was not a popular color in clothing unsurprisingly, only used for accent if anything.
The city was clearly divided into districts. The royal palace on the mountain was surrounded by official buildings meant for administration, embassies of the other races and the facilities that catered to the various needs of the Legion of the Phoenix, the royal guard of the Rhi’a’non empire and the Eldarinwe kingdom. These were followed by the mansions belonging to the nobility, which took a large portion of the city extending out from the palace like spokes from a wheel. As the dual capitol, the city attracted large amounts of elven nobility, who wanted to be close to the center of power in the elven continent.
Between the “spokes” were various entertainment and trade districts. Theaters, museums, art galleries and bath houses were common in the entertainment districts, and the trade districts held various high class inns with a large amount of travelers flocking to the city for their own reasons. Interestingly the trade districts had very little in the way of warehouses. Very little in the way of exchange of goods went on inside the city, although trade deals were aplenty. All goods that were brought into the city were there because they were needed, not for storage. The craftsmen didn’t keep large amount of stock, and worked on request, instead of displaying large amounts of wares. Only the largest and most successful trade companies kept enough space for display purposes, and they were almost galleries onto themselves. This didn’t apply to the street peddlers of course, which were numerous with goods ranging from jewelry to various food items to spells and enchanted items.
On the southern side of the city, opposite of the royal palace in the north, was the academy of Rhi’a’non, the most prestigious academy for educating young minds and bodies in magic, warrior training or the ways of a priest. The continent had multiple academies, but this one was the greatest and the most sought after. The huge academy grounds were next to the grand temple of Elune, where the future priests were to go through their initiation. Unsurprisingly the Hunter’s Guild also had its office and headquarters near the academy, where it got many of its recruits. As the head of the Rhi’a’non guild office Alduin Rhys had his manor near the academy, and that was the destination Asheara and Neleh were aiming for. It also suited their purpose in another way, because they’d also get to visit Delia who was now a student in the academy, and had been a student for around six months.
The security both at the entrance and inside the city was tight, with several armed soldiers seen at least in every second street crossing. There was a little hubbub at the gates, where Neleh had to show her face and remove her hood, and while that gave the guards a small pause, they were very professional and waved them on without further delay. This was the capitol after all, and the guards were used to seeing beautiful daughters of the various nobles. They both had fun admiring the beauty of the city, even though Asheara had visited several times before and Neleh had seen similar things in her past life.
They got a warm welcome at Lord Alduin’s manor, with both the old man and his wife coming to meet them outside, as if they had been expecting them. The manor itself was a fairly standard fair, with the capitol only allowing a very small garden. The distance from the royal palace lowered the manor’s value in the eyes of the nobles, since appearances and power were more important to them. Alduin and his wife quite liked their home though, because of the location. Alduin worked in the guild offices while his wife was a teacher at the academy, so it was ideal for them. Asheara and Alduin quickly got into old habits with trading barbs at each other, Alduin being called along the lines of “the old geezer” while Asheara had the glorious moniker of “the useless slip of a student”. Alduin’s wife Maylin on the other hand was quite taken by Neleh, who was once again showing herself freely. There was a small bit of confusion when Asheara and Neleh insisted on sleeping in the same room, Maylin assuming that Neleh being shy needed the company of her mother in a strange environment. Neleh didn’t bother disabusing her of the notion, by telling it was more a case of the mother needing her daughter to be within reach.
The dinner was a scrumptious affair. The manor had an excellent cook, and Neleh had developed a taste for great cooking in her last century before reincarnation. Unlike music which she had also developed a passion for, she had no ability in cooking. Cooking was one of the things she just had always found difficult to learn. It’s not like she couldn’t make food at all, but she didn’t have the same intuitive feel for it that she had for almost everything else. Part of this was because for the first about hundred years of her previous life, all her food had been either raw, or at most spit roasted over a camp fire. She had had a rather large culture shock when she had first found properly cooked food, and had almost avoided it until later in life. Also it didn’t help that all the recipes were so Khali damn vague! How much is a “pinch” of salt anyway? Who’s pinch? A big or small pinch? And what do you mean let it simmer for a “while”? She had simply given up on that skill. She could make due but she’d rather eat someone else’s cooking, thank you very much!
It was agreed that the three of them, Asheara, Alduin and Neleh would visit the grand temple in the morning. Their hope was to get Neleh a meeting with one of the high priestesses, from whom she could get better answers to her questions. They were planning on visiting Delia the day after. Maylin offered to give Neleh a tour of the academy grounds whenever she wanted. Her own work allowing of course. Their plan was to stay for a week and let Neleh see the capital and explore a bit. When he heard that, Alduin had an interesting proposition for Neleh.
“How would you like a chance to see the royal palace?” Alduin asked with a smile that told there was more to the suggestion than seemed.
“I’m guessing you have something in mind? You wouldn’t just suggest we march to the palace and have a grand tour. I’d hate to think the royal guard would get cross with us for exploring.” (Neleh)
“Well, as it happens the second prince of the empire is having his Awakening ceremony in five days, and pretty much all the nobles who are worth their salt are invited. I myself am included in the position of the chief of the Hunter’s Guild. I’m allowed to bring a companion, and Maylin hates attending the events of the elven court and I’m pretty sure Asheara would rather fight a dragon than attend. So how about you? Want to get a taste of the life of a noble? I confess that I’d enjoy it greatly to see you sow chaos among the young nobility of Rhi’a’non.” Now Alduin had a grin that showed just how much he’d enjoy seeing that chaos.
“I confess the idea does intrigue me a bit. I haven’t been to too many social gatherings and I do need to get out more often if I’m to have a normal social life. A little chaos is also always fun. As long as you don’t abandon me to the wolves. I don’t want to come out of the palace wearing too many wolf skins.” Neleh also had a conspiratorial grin.
“It may have been in error to put those two together.” Asheara whispered to Maylin.
“Agreed. They are having way too much fun. I have this odd feeling that the elven court might not be the same after those two get through with them.” Maylin was torn. On one hand she was worried, but on the other she was also glad Alduin had found someone like-minded. Even if she was a young girl.
The grand temple of Elune was an impressively large building. Like the other buildings in the city, the temple was built of white stone and marble, and looked like it had been made from a single huge piece of stone. The temple was surrounded by a good sized park, filled with statues of different animals. There was an especially impressive sculpture of a herd of deer, each animal being shown in exquisite detail looking alive enough to just leap into movement. Neleh was sure she could see one of the deer frozen in the motion of flaring its nostrils smelling the air.
They had chosen to visit the temple in the morning, because most of the ceremonies and rituals of the temple were performed at night, in the light of the moon and the stars. As such, there were very little people visiting the temple at this time. It was more likely they’d be able to meet with a high priestess, when there was less demand for their attention. Before that, Neleh had a question, and she approached a priestess near the entrance to the temple.
“How may I help you child?” The priestess asked when she approach.
“I have a question on etiquette. We have business within the temple, but I have been blessed by at least one goddess other than Elune. Would it be proper for me to enter Elune’s grand temple?” (Neleh)
“At least one? So you’re saying you have blessing of more than one god, and neither of them is Elune?” The priestess was clearly surprised. Elves were very rarely blessed by any other god beside Elune, and it was even more rare to have multiple blessings.
Neleh bared her face and hair and smiled at the priestess. “We’re fairly certain that Aphrodite has deigned to bless me. We also have a reason to believe I have another blessing, but were not sure by which god. Might be by Elune as far as I know.”
The priestess gave her a long look, clearly evaluating her. “There should be no issue as long as the other blessing isn’t by Iarus. The quickest way to find out would be to try and enter the temple, but it might be better to be certain first. May I inquire as to your purpose here?”
Alduin took this chance to enter the conversation. “We are here to see a high priestess, preferably one with extensive knowledge of the various deities. I am friends with the high priestess Nimue, but I’m not sure if she’s on duty today.”
“High priestess Nimue is here. I’ll send for her, so she can come meet you. She should have no trouble telling you if entering the temple is ok.” The priestess sent a nearby acolyte running towards the heart of the temple.
While waiting, Neleh took a good look inside the temple. The insides had several statues depicting what she assumed were the previous Chosen of Elune. This was quickly confirmed with a question to the priestess standing by them. In the center of the large open area inside the temple was an enormous statue depicting Elune kneeling on one knee with a small bird frozen in the motion of taking flight from her raised hands. in front of the statue was a small pond with water that glowed light blue. Clearly not your normal water. There were walking passes running around the edges of the large open space, with lightly sloping ramps going up to upper tiers. The ledges had small rooms and alcoves, most likely meant for both privacy and official business.
After a while they could see an impressive looking female elf walking towards them. It didn’t take much to recognize her as the person they were waiting for. Nimue was clearly very old. Elves could live for thousands of years and not show much in the way of age. Nimue carried her years well, still being beautiful and thin. She still looked ready to go to battle. The biggest thing showing her age was her white hair, clearly having such color not because she was born that way, but because age had turned it so. She was dressed in the standard priestly garb with the insignia of a high priest on her shoulder. She was sporting a gentle smile on her lips, and her eyes showed a sharp mind that could see through you with a glance.
“What are you doing here you old fart. You never come to see me anymore.” Nimue clearly was an old friend of Alduin’s.
“Hey granny! You know Maylin doesn’t like it when I spend time with you.” Alduin’s responded with a grin. The priestess still standing close by was sputtering and having an apoplexy.
“Oh pooh! Your wife is too insecure in herself. You wouldn’t cheat on her, if for no other reason than because she would skin you alive if you got caught. I see your young slip of a student is still around.” Nimue gave Asheara a look over. “Some improvement, some not so much.” Asheara blushed at the old priestesses’ evaluation, but couldn’t really challenge it.
“So this is the girl with the blessings?” Nimue turned to Neleh and looked her up and down thoroughly finally staring at her eyes for a while. She broke the eye contact with a little shake of her head, and her eyes widened a bit. “You can enter at your leisure. Follow me and we’ll find somewhere a bit more private to talk.” The old priestess suddenly got serious and turned to walk inside the temple, not waiting for answer.
They followed her in and Nimue led them to a room on the second level. The room was a bit weird because it had a door. None of the other rooms in the temple had doors. “You two go and entertain yourselves somewhere else. We’ll have a good discussion with just us two girls. I’m assuming she’s the reason you’re here. Now shoo!” Nimue closed the door shutting Alduin and Asheara outside. She then waved Neleh to take a seat on a small sofa next to a small crystal coffee table, and took a seat on the opposite side.
“Before we get to your questions, there’s something I thought I should mention. A very impressive female celestial came here looking for information on gifted children about your age a year ago. She didn’t specify the reason, but I’m fairly sure she was looking for someone specific. The essence of stars and the moon I can sense inside you makes me think there’s a good chance she was looking for you.” Nimue’s look was piercing. Worried, but piercing.
“Your concern is noted and appreciated. I can’t say for sure what her intentions were, but I don’t have much in the way of interest in being found by her, if she indeed was looking for me. I’m quite happy with my current life. Did she happen to mention her name by any chance?” Neleh tried to not show any worry or interest at the old priestesses’ words.
“She introduced herself as Gabriel. Celestials rarely lie, so I think its safe to assume that is her real name. Bring anything to mind?” She was looking for a reaction from the young girl.
Neleh remained calm on the outside, while her insides were making flips. ‘Why is Gabriel here? I mean yeah I can guess why, but how did she find out about this world? Seems too soon to be an accident.’ “I can’t say the name rings a bell. I’ve only had any dealings with three celestials in my short life, and I don’t think any of them carried that name.”
Nimue watched her for a long time, and saw no reaction. Not even the surprise or confusion at the news that should be there, if the girl really had no idea what was happening. That in itself told of something, but Nimue couldn’t quite figure out what. It could be that the girl simply had an iron grip on her reactions. “Well, be that as it may, you had some reason to come here to talk to me. You had questions I assume?”
“Yes. It would seem I have some connections to the deities that are not quite standard, and I would like to know more information about what I’m dealing with. The tutors I have at home are ill equipped for answering such questions, and I have some reason to believe that a large portion of their information is just wrong. I was hoping the grand temple of Elune had more information, and Alduin suggested he might know someone willing to share.” (Neleh)
Nimue tapped her finger at the side of her cheek while thinking. “I think I know the kind of information you’re talking about, and I don’t think you mean your tutors just have a lacking education. I’m not averse to sharing some information with you, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to. Would you be willing to be tested by Elune, to see if she deigns you worthy of such information?”
“If that is what it takes. What did you have in mind specifically?” (Neleh)
“Come with me.” Nimue led her out of the room, to the pond in the central chamber. “I need you to stand in the water as you were born, meaning naked in case you misunderstood, while I address the goddess. She will then show her decision to us.”
The goddess of the elves only had female servants, and there were no males inside the temple currently. Apparently even Alduin had gone outside to the park. So in that sense modesty was not an issue. The only problem was that the pond was in clear sight of the doors of the temple. Luckily Neleh’s hair had grown long enough, that when loose, as it were now, it could be used to cover her modesty from behind. She quickly undressed, getting a raised eyebrow from Nimue when the old priestess saw her underwear.
“My own design, I’ll be happy to provide you some in case you’re interested.” Neleh said with a grin.
“You know what, I think I’d like that. Those seem much more comfortable than my current ones, and have certain allure.” The old priestess replied with a grin of her own.
Neleh was standing in the middle of the pond, the weird colored but clear water coming just above her ankles, when Nimue had finished addressing her prayer to the goddess. A clear blue light descended from above surrounding Neleh, and all her Ignasia started shining. Also one of the symbols above her sex shined with a blue light, the rest still hidden.
“Well, well. It seems the goddess has given her approval to you. In fact, we can safely say that you also have her blessing. I also seem to have missed some of the other power you had inside you.” Nimue said while looking at the various Ignasia on Neleh’s body. “Your questions shall be answered freely.”
“My thanks.” Neleh managed to mumble. What really had shocked her, that the symbol was apparently a sign of the goddess’ blessing. If so, what were the other symbols for? She couldn’t have been blessed by ten different gods, could she? That would be excessively weird, considering some of those gods would have to be ones that really didn’t get along with each other. That could be part of the reason why Gabriel had such difficulty finding her…
Author's note redux: I'm not sure if I'll make the school and the party into separate chapter's or try to fit them into one. We shall see. The answers to the questions from the temple will be interspersed in relevant locations in the future. I didn't think you wanted a two page exposition on the deities of the world, while it might not be important untill later.