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Author's note: Took a while, because I wasn't happy with the latter half of the chapter. I'm still not happy with it, but it is what it is. Enjoy.

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Neleh signaled Nimue that she would go to the training grounds with Solana. She assumed the priestess would be able to find her there, and as far as safe places go, the academy training grounds were as good as any. There would be people around, warrior students of significant skill and their teachers. The academy was also filled with mages of varying skill, so anyone trying to get at Neleh inside the academy grounds would be suicidal. Besides, she didn’t think the assailants had been there to kill her. There were much better ways to go about that, and incompetent assassins didn’t live very long. She knew she should’ve been more worried about the whole thing, but aside from the number of assailants involved, the whole thing had been so poorly executed that she was almost amused. She would very much like to find out who had hired them though.

If she were to make a guess, she thought the purpose of the assailants had been abduction. For what reason? If the aim was to get ransom, then there were much more lucrative targets that were easier to abduct. Her parents weren’t poor by any means, but there were lot of families with much more wealth and children easier to abduct. It didn’t seem likely they wanted to utilize her father’s abilities, because his work would be too visible and would take too long to keep her captured. Her mother had been a great hunter, but she wasn’t that special, and she had been on light duty for a long time.

So was Neleh herself was the target? She didn’t think she had made bad enough enemies to warrant methods this drastic. Her knowledge and abilities, perhaps? That was a possibility, but seemed unlikely. She had shown some sparks of great potential, but wasn’t there yet in the minds of anyone observing. It would be much more useful to try and grab her after her Awakening, and let her get training before abducting her.  Of course that would make it harder as well. Neleh did have the favor of Elune in the minds of many, but favor of a goddess was a fickle thing, and if abused, would be easily lost. And nobody knew she was on speaking terms with the goddess.

“The other gods do, but they would not arrange something like this. They’ll need you as well, and unlike mortals, we take the long view on things. Antagonizing a destroyer is not among the best of ideas long term.”

‘Yeah, and so far all of you have only helped me. All of you know I’m not opposed to doing some things in return, so all you need to do is ask. You also know I’m not really big on getting involved with the wars between races.’ Neleh sent the thought back. For as long as those dear to her were not threatened, Neleh was the closest thing to a neutral party this world had seen, and the gods were aware of that. If they weren’t, they never would’ve agreed on letting her reincarnate on this world.

For now, she would have to wait for additional information. She noticed that Solana still kept giving worried looks towards her. Neleh found that a little odd. They had gotten fairly close as a teacher and a student, and she really enjoyed the Sun Elf’s company. She had just the type of straightforward and honest personality that Neleh could appreciate. She was also very good at teaching. Although her spear style was different from what Neleh was used to, her teaching methods were effective, and Neleh was finally starting to get to a point where she fought with movements optimized for a woman, instead of a man.

Solana’s worry seemed more than that of a worry towards a student, especially when you considered her easygoing attitude. The amount of worry would make sense if they were good friends, but they weren’t quite there yet. They had gotten close, and Neleh did consider her a friend of sorts, but this was new. It made her wonder if her teacher might have taken a liking towards her.

The two of them had decided that they might as well practice while waiting, and were in the middle of a sparring match when Nimue came to them.

“You’re healthy enough if you’re feeling good enough to spar.” Nimue said with some amusement.

“Might as well spend the time doing something useful.” Neleh retorted.

“I did try and persuade her to take it easy but she was right. A little sparring is the best way to test if everything is working normally.” Solana said with a small smile.

“Did you find anything useful?” (Neleh)

“Yes and no. The assailant you killed was an elf, but we could not identify him.” Nimue leaned to whisper in Neleh’s ear. “We did find this token on him. I believe it’s something the members of Consortium use to identify each other, but I’m not certain. Any reason you can think of why they would want you harm?”

Neleh had to shake her head. She had no idea what she had done to antagonize the Consortium. She talked loud enough that Solana could hear them too. “No idea, but I think whoever it was, was trying to grab me, not kill me. If they wanted me dead, there are better ways with less danger to them, like using a bow and arrow for example.”

“You don’t think they wanted to take you because of how you look? I mean I could see how someone might try something stupid like that when we consider your looks.” Solana asked with some curiosity in her voice.

“I can’t really say. I don’t know their motivations.” Neleh did however find it interesting that the first thing Solana had thought were her looks. It suggested the female elf had been paying attention to her looks above some other qualities that she might hold. Most others would’ve considered her favor with the goddess the most obvious explanation.

“Looks like you have an admirer.” Elune said with clear amusement in her voice.

Neleh paid real attention to how Solana looked for perhaps the first time. She had noticed her good looks before, but now she was getting interested. Solana was very tall, especially for an elven woman. Neleh estimated that she wasn’t all that heavy and she was all muscle, you could see them play under her skin when she moved. She had medium length fiery red hair that came to her shoulders, and skin that looked like she was a barely pubescent girl. Her skin was fairly tanned for an elf, as Sun Elves usually have, almost bronze color. She had small breasts, that she clearly had a slight complex about, slim hips and a very muscular but slim butt.

Neleh thought that most men and many women would find her to be very attractive. Even as a warrior of great skill, she didn’t really look dangerous, a look that could be very deceiving. You could tell her warrior side was sort of half-asleep all the time. It was like watching a lioness lying in the sun. There was a feeling that if she woke up, she might kill something. And her smile was gorgeous, a feature even Neleh had paid attention to before. If Solana really did have some fondness towards her, Neleh wouldn’t mind exploring the possibilities. Solana was quite well within her preferences. Or what she currently thought of as her preferences at least. Her new body had not yet fully developed and the effects that come with hormones had not yet arrived fully. But the Sun Elf was certainly interesting.

Nimue noticed the frank look-over and the budding interest in Neleh’s eyes and chuckled to herself. Elves usually only start to develop interest in all things romantic after their Awakening. Neleh was getting to the age where such interests started to surface, and the girl was ahead of her age group in everything else, so why not in this as well. Nimue had been expecting something like this to happen for a while now. Especially since Neleh herself drew the attention of many people of both sexes. Nimue had also noticed the worry in Solana when they came to the site of the attack. By the looks Solana had been giving Neleh for weeks now, the interest was fairly mutual. Nimue was slightly surprised that the significantly older Solana was taking an interest in someone as young as Neleh. With a blessing of Aphrodite it would be a miracle if Neleh had to spend much time single, and Solana was as good as any partner for the girl. Better, in the sense that at least she wouldn’t be such a large distraction from her studies since they were spending a lot of time together anyway, and at least she wouldn’t get the girl pregnant.

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Neleh was a little nervous. Nerves weren’t usually a problem for her, with everything she had gone through in her previous life, but this time she was nervous. She was waiting in Nimue’s office, where she was expected to meet the Chosen of Elune Shalheira. Shalheira was a significantly powerful elf even without considering the power granted by the goddess, and she held quite a bit of sway in all matters political. Many people assumed her to be the representative of Elune to the elven people, even if that wasn’t exactly true. The Chosen were champions, meant to combat the danger posed by the dragons. In order to accomplish this, they were granted power by their god or goddess, but that didn’t imply that the Chosen represented the views of their deity.

Most Chosen were prominent members among their own race, and held positions of power. Shalheira wasn’t an exception exactly, but her motives were a mystery and she rarely exercised her authority. Mostly she just gave advice, which the various kings and nobility were free to follow or not follow according to their own will. Shalheira was a Moon Elf, but she had not taken an obvious pro-Moon Elf agenda in the current volatile situation. In fact, she had not taken much of a position at all. She had stomped on some of the biggest excesses on all sides, but nothing beyond that.

This is what was making Neleh worried. Because she had very little idea on what motivated Shalheira, she couldn’t really prepare for the meeting. And if you came to a bargaining table without knowing the most important sticking points of the opposite side, you made mistakes. You made bad deals.

Neleh rose up in greeting when she saw the Chosen enter the room, but before she could even give a greeting, she saw the woman use her magic to surround the room. The magic seemed to inhibit all forms of eavesdropping and surveillance. Highly unusual thing to do in the grand temple, although Neleh did remember Nimue eavesdropping on her meeting with the emperor’s advisor.

“Sit child, I’m not much for ceremony, and that’s not why I’m here.” Shalheira said while giving a waving hand gesture towards a chair.

“Alright then, may I ask what you are here for Lady Shalheira? You obviously wanted some privacy for the meeting.” Neleh said pointing towards the wards surrounding the room.

“You could sense that? Excellent. Makes things easier, if you can appreciate that anything said in this room while we are here, won’t be talked about to anyone else. In fact, it would be quite excellent if you were to swear by Elune that you won’t be talking about it.” Shalheira pressed.

Her curiosity piqued, Neleh put her hand on her heart and swore herself to secrecy. Such vows were quite binding for servants of the goddess.

“Good. Before we get to the point, I need you to understand why your decisions here today might have rather large consequences. How much have your teachers taught you about how the magic used by the priestesses work? More specifically do you know what role the favor of the goddess plays in things?” (Shalheira)

Neleh knew exactly what she was asking, but not because that had been taught to her yet. Although she wasn’t on the best of terms with various deities in her previous life, you pick some things up eventually. She wasn’t entirely sure she should answer correctly though, and decided to try and find out how much the people of this world knew about it. “I am sorry to say, my lessons have not reached that far yet. I have a working theory, but I’m not sure how correct it is.”

“Then I’ll give a quick run-down so you can understand my point later on. The priestesses use holy power instead of mana to power their spells, and holy affinity is basically a measurement on how effectively you can use that power. Every priestess has a certain amount of holy power they can use during a day, which is then restored either during their sleep, or in meditation. The amount of power a priestess can use depends on two things: the level of the blessing she might have and the favor of the goddess. Blessings come in many forms, and their workings depend on the individual, but in general the higher level the blessing, the more power the priestess can use. Most power of a priestess comes from the favor of the goddess. The more she favors you, the more power you can use. A person in great favor of the goddess but no blessing at all, would most of the time have more power than a person with a greater blessing but whom the goddess dislikes. Are you starting to get an idea why I might be here?” (Shalheira)

Neleh knew why Shalheira was talking to her, but not her purpose. “Because I am favored by the goddess and also have been blessed by her.”

“Indeed. Thanks to the internal struggle among the elves, most priestesses are not in favor of the goddess at the moment. In fact, it might be that after myself, you are the one person who has the access to the most holy power in the empire at the moment. Even if you aren’t well versed in using it for now, your presence might have a major impact on how the internal struggle within the empire will resolve itself during the next few years. Luckily very few people aside from the priestesses themselves know how much the goddess is limiting our power, but sooner or later other people will figure that out, and then it won’t be a long leap to notice the exception that you represent.” Shalheira’s voice was tight, almost worried.

‘Is this true? Are the other priestesses really that much in your disfavor?” Neleh sent a thought towards the goddess.

“Yes and no. There are some priestesses that strive towards peace whom still hold my favor, but it is true that I’m sorely disappointed in my people. My disapproval has consequences. You indeed could swing the balance of this conflict, but my dear Chosen is wrong about one thing. She forgets, or doesn’t know to be more precise, that I’m not the only god to have blessed you, and you actually hold more sway than she does. That said, I think it might be unwise to let her know that.” Neleh was surprised to hear the amusement in the goddess’ voice.  Elune seemed to be in a perpetual state of amusement.

Shalheira gave Neleh a suspicious look. She had noticed the girl seemed to have known all about how holy power and favor works and most importantly had not really reacted when told she might play a major part in politics. Normally even a full priestess of adult age would have been at least a little flustered when told something like that. The girl took it like something she was used to. Shalheira suddenly had a thought. She had heard that the girl had been attacked earlier, and she had also heard a ridiculous rumor that the girl had used the high level spell golden sanctuary to defend herself.

“It just occurred to me that if the rumors are correct, you might be better versed in using your power than I gave you credit for. I heard you used a high level holy spell to defend yourself not too long ago. I also heard that you’re skilled with warrior skills. Next you’re going to tell me that that you’re gifted as a magician too.” Shalheira pointed out.

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t had my Awakening ceremony yet.” Neleh said with a small grin.

Shalheira shook her head with some amusement. Then she got a bit more serious when she realized that it would not be surprising if the girl really did have at least some talent in magic. The thought was a bit scary. The most powerful beings in the world were usually gifted in two paths of power out of magic, holy power and warrior skills. She could think of only one or two that were gifted in all three.

“So what exactly are you here for, Lady Shalheira?” (Neleh)

“Well, at the very least I’d like to ascertain your plans concerning the trouble in the empire. I know the different parties have already approached you, but they will become more insistent when they realize your importance.” (Shalheira)

“I already mentioned to the others that I’m too young to take an active role in politics for now. I do not have strong ties, or strong leanings towards any of the factions. I’m planning on becoming an inquisitor when I advance in my training, and would like to avoid any distractions until then. I think all the factions need to make some concessions, and none of them is in the right at the moment. If I had to make any strong leanings, then I think the emperor’s position is currently the weakest in a purely moral sense.” (Neleh)

“I’m glad to hear that, because I have another option to offer that might help when you do decide to choose sides. This is going to be a long conflict, and I agree that you would be more useful if you can complete your training. When you do complete your training and become an Inquisitor you’ll most likely be forced to take a more active position. When that time comes, I want you to keep me in mind. I will be able to offer a better solution.” Shalheira stood up, removed the wards and got up to leave.

“If it turns out that you really do have talent in magic, you really should be careful on how widely that information spreads. There are very few people gifted in all three main paths to strength.” Shalheira said as a warning.

“I am very much aware. Unfortunately I might not have much choice in the matter.” Neleh said with a sigh.

Shalheira’s eyes narrowed. “You know something, don’t you? You already know what the results of your Awakening will be.” Her words started as a question, but ended up as a statement. A certain amount of certainty filled Shalheira. “You really do have talent in magic, and your reaction tells me that those talents will not be minor.”

“I think describing the results as strange would be fair.” Neleh said with a small grin.

“Tell me. You’re a strange case anyway; I might as well know the rest of it.” (Shalheira)

“I don’t think so. I respect your position, and I certainly have nothing against you currently, but you are not my friend or my family, nor are you my ally at the moment. I would prefer not to have you as an enemy either, but it is hard to say what the future holds.” Neleh said with a sad expression.

“Fair enough, but what I don’t know, I can’t help you with.” (Shalheira)

When the Chosen was gone, Nimue came into the office.

“Something tells me this meeting was not as successful as the others.” Nimue said with worry.

“Hard to say. The results of this meeting might be much better than the others, but they could be much more dangerous as well. Our dear Chosen is playing a dangerous game. A game I’m not sure I want to get involved with.” Neleh gave her head a little shake that showed her uncertainty.

Nimue could see the girl was worried. And if the girl was worried, it might be a good idea for Nimue to be worried as well.
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Vihyungrang

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