When they were walking home from the temple, the others could sense Neleh was deep in her thoughts. The information she gathered from Nimue was otherwise fairly expected, but Gabriel’s presence had really surprised her. It had half surprised her that she had not been found earlier, until she figured Tian’Zun had finagled some kind of treaty with a local deity to shield her presence on this world. If nothing else, Onoel at the very least should have been able to find her soul. That’s what she had figured had been one of the main reasons for the blessing of Aphrodite, aside from being a practical joke from the old judge. Now it seemed there was more to it than at first seemed. It was unlikely that more than one deity just happened to notice her performing the ritual, yet the ten symbols she had seemed to suggest that. It smelled like a deal of sorts had been struck. What kind of promises had Tian’Zun made in her stead?
When they arrived back at the mansion, Maylin immediately ambushed Neleh. “We have a problem that needs immediate attention. If you’re planning on attending the party at the royal palace, you’ll need to dress accordingly. You’re not wearing that into the court! And I don’t think any of my clothes would fit you just yet.” She was right on that. Although Neleh had grown a lot, she was still very much the height appropriate for her age, and Maylin was considerably busty for an elf.
Neleh turned to Alduin and Asheara with a raised eyebrow. “What do you think? I’m going to make some waves at the party anyway, so should I just make the splash big enough to remember for years?”
Alduin grinned. “Well I already said I wanted you to bring in some chaos. Might as well make it memorable.”
Asheara was more reserved. “I’m all for you having fun, but be careful. The royal court can be a dangerous place. I know you can stand up for yourself now, even if you hide it from captain Gloridas. Just keep your head about you and don’t get carried away.” Despite her worry she finished with a smile. She knew she would be able to feel through the bond if Neleh got into trouble, and could mount some help.
“Well then. Let’s make this a night to remember. Maylin, show me your wardrobe and I’ll see what I can do, and what we’ll need to purchase. There’s some work that needs doing and only so much time to do it.” Neleh was rubbing her hands together in expectation. She had tried to not make too much of a scene of herself since being reincarnated, but she wasn’t by nature a person who could blend in. She had been the Exception all her life, and although that made her more apprehensive than vain, she simply tended to be at the center of things. Just looking at things happening from the sidelines was never her thing. Holding it in and not doing her best at all times went against her core nature. She needed an outlet, and the party offered her a chance to let loose, and not hold back for a while.
Despite their plans for the party Asheara and Neleh still wanted to visit Delia the next day. Maylin had also promised Neleh a tour of the academy, and she intended to collect. There was more than a fleeting chance she might end up studying there after her Awakening ceremony. She was going to need a new teacher for her weapon skills at some point anyway, and the academy had great teachers. Captain Gloridas was a good teacher, but she needed someone who specialized in the use of spear. She also needed to know the generally accepted limits of magic in this world, so she wouldn’t end up doing something that revolutionized things by accident. Many worlds placed artificial boundaries on their magic out of ignorance and then never questioned the veracity of those boundaries. Imagination was important in magic, and the limits placed in our minds naturally narrow down what we can imagine and thus try to accomplish.
They arrived at the academy grounds. The grounds were separated from the rest of the city with a narrow but relatively tall wall. The wall was otherwise made similar to the others like it in Rhi’a’non, white and decorated, except magical formations covered it from one end to the other. The academy obviously didn’t want the mages still in training scorching half the city by accident. They were easily let through the gate when they showed the permission pass given to them by Maylin. Without that, they’d had some trouble getting in to see Delia.
The grounds themselves were rather large, although also rather filled with buildings and students. Following the straight path would lead them to the administrative building, while the path itself was flanked with large and uniform buildings that Neleh assumed to be dorms for students that lived on campus. They could see a single building on either side, but there was surely more on both sides, with small but well-traveled paths running off from the main path, leading behind the first buildings. She also noticed a rather large amount of non-elven students running around. More than she had expected. She’d have to ask about that from Maylin.
They entered the administrative building and were pointed towards Maylin’s office by a helpful receptionist. Maylin knew to expect them, and had already found out where Delia’s lessons were currently being held. They wanted to surprise her. She had already informed the teacher in charge of her lesson that there would be an interruption to her lesson. She led them through a door to the other side of the administrative building, where Neleh saw several long buildings fanning out in shape from the building they exited.
“These buildings are all dedicated to the different elements, one building dedicated for each and the largest building dedicated for general magical theory.” Maylin pointed towards the building in the middle that was about twice the size of the others. “We'll find Delia in the Water building. It’s early in the year yet, but from what I’ve heard she’s been making good progress so far. She seems very talented.” She led them towards a building to the right of the big general magic theory building. There was a symbol the water element on a board above the door of the building.
Neleh removed her hood and scarf when they entered the building. She wanted her sister to be able to identify her immediately. They went to a classroom on the second floor and stopped in front of the door.
Maylin knocked and pulled the door open without waiting for answer. The teacher had smoothly stopped her explanation because she knew to expect them. Maylin started off. “Excuse our intrusion. We have some visitors for one of your students.” Neleh and Asheara entered the room while she was talking, and Maylin had almost managed to finish her sentence before Neleh was bowled over by a golden haired diving tackle.
A loud voice could be heard yelling. “NELEH!!!”
Neleh managed to cough out. “Good to see you too sister dearest. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we hadn’t seen each other for years.”
“Shut up and let me recharge my supplies of Nelehium. It’s the only source of strength even more important than mana.” (Delia)
“Honey, mommy dearest will get jealous if you keep leaving me out.” (Asheara)
“Jealous of which one of us?” Delia asked with a raised eyebrow. The girl knew her mother.
In the end they caused enough of a commotion that there were heads peeking out of the other classrooms as well. Maylin lead them out of the building with Delia being excused from the lesson, for the simple reason that she wouldn’t be following anything said anyway. Maylin and Delia led them into the school cafeteria. Delia was practically oozing happiness from her pores, while still hugging Neleh and telling them stories of her school life so far. Apparently Delia really was doing well on her lessons, and had been successful in making friends. Only thing of note was the disdainful snort she gave, when Asheara asked her about meeting any interesting boys. Apparently that wasn’t a thing for her, not yet at least. They talked for hours only leaving the cafeteria when it was time for the other students to enter. At that point Maylin and Delia decided to show them around the academy.
The tour took them from the cafeteria, to see the practice grounds and the arena. The practice grounds were shared between the mage and warrior students, and were in active use despite the call for lunch. The majority of trainees at the training ground were warriors, which made sense considering they’d probably have more hands on training, as opposed to the theory lessons of the magic students. Much of the magic could also be done indoors, if kept small. Keeping things small was also an important skill for a mage to master. Interestingly it also seemed there were some younger students mixed in among the warrior students.
Maylin explained that the warriors took students before the age of 16 since the Awakening was not necessary for warrior training. The only requirement was that the student was able to pass the physical tests and performed sufficiently in a test fight against an academy teacher. Of course the Rhi’a’non academy was mainly for magic students and students that trained in both skill at the same time, in the faint hopes of becoming a Medjai. Strictly speaking the title Medjai referred to a person skilled both in the use of mana and the internal power used by warriors. In practice though, to be called a Medjai one had to be a master in both. Thus only the students with the very highest skills in warrior training were admitted to the academy. The academy didn’t teach basics warrior skills. You were expected to already be highly skilled, hoping to become a master.
The arena was currently not in use and Maylin explained it was mostly used for official events, competitions, tournaments and the occasional duel that rose with the students. The city itself had its own arenas, where nobles could work out their blood feuds. Duels between students were discouraged, and were not allowed at all for the purposes of family feuds. You were expected to leave those behind when you entered the academy. That rule of course met with only a limited success of course, but bringing your family’s matters into the academy was cracked down on heavily. Thus those feuds often took on other outlets besides duels. Whether that should be considered a good thing was up for debate.
The other high points of their tour were the huge library and a visit to Delia’s dorm room which she shared with another girl, who wasn’t around the time of the visit. Her roommate was another starting student and one of Delia’s friends. Apparently the dorm rooms were assigned based on ability, and got progressively more luxurious as an inducement for the students to work hard. Delia’s room was a fairly drab fair, her being a new student and all, but it wasn’t bad by any means. You could live with it.
Neleh asked Maylin about the large amount of other race students. Maylin explained that a surprisingly big portion of them were legitimate citizens of the Rhi’a’non empire, and should there ever be a war between elves and their race, those people would stand with the elves. There were a surprising amount of towns and villages in the elven continent that were in large part made up of races other than elves. Most of their forefathers had arrived on the continent as refugees from their original lands, for various reasons, but most often escaping slavery that was strictly banned by the elves and the empire had provided them with a safe haven. There were certain positions that only elves could hold in the empire of course, namely high government positions and the royal guard, but aside from that, the elven continent was the most multi-racial of them all. This came as a sort of surprise to Neleh. She had seen the sort of segregation he had assumed to exist here on so many other worlds that she had automatically assumed the same to hold true here. Of course a part of the students were sons and daughters of ambassadors, diplomats and other people that were stationed here on the continent, but that was relatively minor, as the academy didn’t lower its standards for them to get in.
A lot of tears were shed when they had to leave, but they couldn’t stick around forever either. Maylin needed to get to work whereas Delia still had lessons to attend. At least she got her dose of Nelehium for now. Asheara refilled her tanks on the way back to Alduin’s manor, where quite a bit of work still waited Neleh.
Neleh and Alduin were sitting in his carriage traveling towards the palace. Neleh had covered herself with the same dark blue cloak she had taken to using. Cleaned properly of course. The cloak was simple but beautiful. She was hiding her dress, making sure to retain the surprise factor until they got to the palace. They were at the gates outside the palace waiting for their turn to get through the gates.
“I know I asked you to cause some chaos, but are you sure? You might end up causing a war, and I’m not sure I can quite protect you from that.” Alduin had a sort of strained face.
“I don’t’ deal in half measures. Besides, you exaggerate. That’ll only happen after I actually grow up. For now some creative chaos is enough. And all the beautiful noble’s daughters will be at the party trying to snag them a prince or a duke’s son. I will at most be a pearl among many others.” Neleh said with a smile.
“I wouldn’t be all that sure.” Alduin said near choking.
“Well isn’t that nice! You really know how to make a girl feel good about herself. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were flirting with me.” Neleh said turning her eyes back at the man, clear mirth in her voice.
“Please spare me. I know when I’m beaten.” The poor man was actually crying.
They could finally enter the palace proper. The walls were lined with stoic guards wearing gold and red armor with flame patters emblazoned on their shields and breastplates. Legion of the Phoenix. Every member was chosen purely for their skill, the most elite fighting force on the continent. Their attire giving Neleh some secret amusement. She was asked to remove the cloak before entering the ballroom, and she happily obliged. She handed the cloak to a nearby servant and took a hold of Alduin’s arm. “Well then, be a good boy and do your escort-ly duties.” Neleh said giving his hand a small pat. The usher gave a small choked sound when Alduin asked him to announce their entrance.
“Head of the Hunter’s Guild on the elven continent Lord Alduin Rhys and his companion Neleh Khalidor!”
There were a quite a few heads turning towards the door with some chatter. Alduin was the head of the Hunter’s Guild, a powerful hunter in his own right and well known. It was also well known his wife didn’t attend the court, and now he was bringing a different companion into the party. Normally that would have set the tongues wagging. This time the chatter died like cut with a knife, and the silence spread across the huge room, as people turned to see what had caused the disturbance.
Neleh was wearing a pure white dress, the color not generally used in clothing in Rhi’a’non, made of thin moonsilk. The material was so thin as to be almost sheer, giving a suggestion that it would show everything under it. Neleh had strategically placed a little bit of thicker fabric and decorative gems so that nothing underneath was actually shown and the gems gave off enough gleam from the light to hide that fact. Since she had very little in the way of cleavage, the front of the dress rose high, hiding that fact, instead drawing eyes to her bare shoulders and hands. The dress came down to the floor, but had a split at the front that showed her well-toned legs. Neleh had spent a major part of the last few years training her body, which showed. There was not a gram of fat on her body, but her pale skin from her Moon Elf heritage looked soft and smooth enough to give an impression of softness. She had a long white scarf draped over her elbows that floated up behind her back, held aloft by her inner power that she channeled into the cloth. It gave the whole thing a dreamy and airy impression. Her dress was contrasted against her crow black hair that came freely down her back, her star like Ingnasia now at their full shine just highlighting its beauty. A part of her front hair was combed over her left eye in a long tasteful fringe coming below her jaw, her one hidden eye highlighting the deep blue of the one showing freely. Her small mouth was showing an equally small catlike smile.
Neleh broke the silence. “I dare say Alduin, I think we might have made an impression.” Giving a small clear laugh carrying the hint of flutes playing in the background.
Understatement of a century. The room broke into an excited clamor. Neleh and Alduin moved away from the door towards the middle of the room. They could already see a good number of people approaching. Despite that, they were given way to move forward, when they approached the center of the room to give the prince their congratulations. The prince had managed to gather his wits by then and was gracious in receiving their polite greetings and well wishes.
For the next three hours Neleh spent her time conversing with a large amount of nobles, under the watchful eye of Alduin. There was a large amount of questions inquiring about her origins, her family and whether her parents might be willing to form some closer ties with the speaker’s noble family. Veiled attempts to fish for information and hints towards a possible marriage between the families. She turned those questions around forcing the questioners to talk about themselves instead. They were usually happy to oblige vain as they were, hoping to impress her and others listening with their pedigree and accomplishments. Some of the nobles were a bit more forceful and direct, at which point she was all too happy that almost no one had been paying enough attention to hear her name when they came in and were announced, and those that had would have forgotten it immediately afterwards. Even the usher couldn’t quite remember her name. There was going to be a lot of frustrated nobles in the morning when they figured out they had no idea who she was, and Alduin wasn’t going volunteer that information.
She was finally released from being the center of attention by the appearance of both the emperor, and the Chosen of Elune. The emperor was a strong looking Elf who radiated authority and gravitas around him. The Chosen in contrast was a weird combination of gentle beauty that was covering unyielding strength. The crowd swarmed towards them instead, leaving Neleh to finally breathe out in relief. Power over beauty in the elven court it seems. Alduin approached her.
“You handled all that well. I don’t’ think one of them has any idea who you are. Which is good, because I’m pretty sure the prince was also quite smitten with you. We avoided war it seems. Though I’m not looking forward to all those people sending me letters in the future, asking for information about you.” Alduin gave a relieved smile.
“Eh, all that was fun in its own way but got repetitive pretty fast. I’m glad they got something else to draw their attention for now.” (Neleh)
They had been conversing a while, before a small commotion broke out near one of the groups of performers. The party had many forms of entertainment from music to small scale magic. When they approached, they saw that the commotion was focused around a fairly large group of people, some of which held some basic musical instruments. Clearly they were some sort of group with lot of singers and a few accompanying musicians. Neleh seemed to recall hearing a couple of their songs earlier, and enjoying them quite a bit. They’d had some misplays though. There was an argument between a noble looking man that looked something resembling a leader of the group and the rest of the performers. From the sounds of things, the leader looking guy was blaming the rest of the group for making mistakes and embarrassing him in front of the court, before he finally stormed out.
Alduin leaned in to whisper. “I know that man. He fancies himself something of a musical genius and tries to put on performances every now and then. The problem is that he really isn’t any good, and he just ends up ruining the reputation any group that he manages to swindle into performing with him. Poor people, their careers with the court and nobles will be tarnished for years. And they’re probably new too since they didn’t know about him.”
Neleh suddenly grinned. “Want to make one final splash before leaving and save some reputations while at it?”
“You have a plan I hope? I don’t want to make a fool of myself either.” (Alduin)
“Just back me up. They might have trouble taking instructions from a young girl like me, so I want you to stand over my shoulder and lend me some of your gravitas.” Neleh said cheerily and moved towards the group. She had an idea for a song she knew from her old life, which the people might be able to perform and which would be sure to make an impression on the crowd and save the performers’ reputation if done well.
It took a while to get the musicians convinced, but the combination of “what do you have to lose?” and “don’t you want a chance to salvage your reputation?” finally convinced them. It took another while to get them to speed, since the people would have to sing in a language they’d never even heard according to a tune they’d never used before, but having all the words correct wasn’t the point of the song anyway. What was important here was that their voices fit together in a decent harmony. The lyrics of a song the audience wouldn’t be able to understand anyway wouldn’t matter. The guys with instruments got off easy, because the song was almost completely carried by human voices. In the end she had to draw them notes to guide them through the harmonies, and where each voice was to join in. Luckily the group was filled with complete professionals. They really were as good as Neleh remembered hearing them. And she promised to lead them and sing with them, although there wasn’t as much enthusiasm about hearing her sing among the performers.
Mainly Neleh just wanted to get the group going because the song had been one of her favorites before reincarnating. The strange rhythm and harmony had the surrounding nobles going quiet almost from the first notes, and the silence once again started spreading to the ballroom as people started to listen. The group fumbled a few words, but it sounded convincing anyway, and when they came to the end of the song there was silence in the gathered audience. Neleh decided to run the song through a second time, just to make a lasting impression, and this time the singers managed to finish without trouble.
Once the song ended the second time, the audience gave a thunderous applause and Neleh gave a curtsy with the rest of the performers towards the audience. The true head of the group announced the name of the song “Baba Yetu”, and credited Neleh as the one who had created the piece. Without mentioning her name of course, since he had no idea about her name. There were calls for another one, but the musicians could handle it by themselves now, and Neleh slinked back among the gathered throng. She did notice the eyes of both the emperor and the Chosen following her, but it was time to leave. She was almost out of the door with Alduin when she noticed a majestic celestial landing on the balcony.
Neleh grabbed Alduin’s arm and growled in a half whisper. “Move faster. We’re leaving right now! As fast as you can without looking suspicious.”
Alduin saw her face and decided not to ask questions. There was time for those later, now was the time to move. Neleh cursed in her mind. She’d made a mistake. ‘What in Khali’s name is Michael doing here?! Gabriel was bad enough, but now Crow is here too!’ Crow was the nickname she had given the black winged celestial. She wasn’t found yet, but now Michael knew he was in the right place.
Michael was ecstatic. He had joined the celebration on a hunch, intending to check out the young scions of the nobles in the elven court. He knew he had arrived too late, but he also knew his pray had been here. The song he had heard while flying in and had seen performed afterwards was one he’d seen and heard several times with her in her previous life. And that song had no place being in this world. Michael gave a grin. She had made a mistake. Now he knew where to look. It was almost miraculous, and just like her, that everyone at the party knew about her, had been impressed by her and been marked by her presence, but none of them could tell him who she was. Even the descriptions of her were very detailed, but also somewhat erroneous at the same time. And to top it off they were erroneous in the same way. They could describe her looks, but they’d all been left with a more adult impression of her than was possible, since he knew her age.
Oh well, at least now he knew where to look, and he had a rough description of her. “It’s only a matter of time now Little Flame. I’ve caught your tail.” He knew Gabriel was on this world too, although he had no idea how she had found out. But he was ahead of her now. The race was on.
Author's note redux: If you want to hear the song mentioned in the chapter, youtube link here:
Not necessary to understand the plot by any means, just something worth a listen.
Also if someone is curious about the dress, I used the dress worn by Haydee to the opera in the anime Gankutsuou as a base model.
As a little treat for those that actually read these author's notes, the next chapter will include the first real fight scene in the story.