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Author's note: It seems the novel is picking up steam with a wave of new readers. Some of the reviews hitting the front page probably helped, so thanks for those. I think we also got out first troll who downvoted most of the reviews, so I know I'm doing something right. :D

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Neleh was walking towards the gate the next morning, bright and early. Her roommate Kanako had been glad to see her back last night, but had given another tearful farewell this morning. Neleh was quite amused with her new friend. The naga girl really wasn’t big on hiding her emotions. Kanako had been especially sad when Neleh had mentioned that she’d be gone a few weeks. To cheer her up, Neleh had promised to give her tips on improving her skill with fire magic, when she got back.

Neleh was dressed in her standard form fitting travel clothes, with the added heavy cloak. She was also carrying a decent sized bag of supplies on her back. The hunters were in charge of procuring and handling the supplies, but it was better to be prepared, and the hunters were for the most part rookies, so mistakes would be made. One of the first things Neleh had done when she got her magic was to enchant the silver rings holding her half sleeves in place into storage items. The rings had a moderately sized magical pocket dimension, where she could store anything smaller than a dragon. The rings were filled with food, drink and camping supplies held in magical stasis, but she wasn’t sure how common storage items like this were in this world, so she had the bag for camouflage. She had seen one or two similar items, but that was it.

When she got closer to the gate, she could see that most of the mage students had already gathered. Despite what Dalyor said, these mage students seemed to be pretty decent with early mornings. Most of them didn’t even look all that sleepy. Aneirin noticed her walking closer and made a cute frowny face.

“What are you doing here? This mission is only for students of the third circle or above. And I certainly received no word from the teachers about you being some kind of special exemption.” She said with disapproval clear in her voice. Apparently she thought Neleh was some kind of overeager wannabee achiever.

“That would be because I’m not coming along as a mage. I’m the priestess assigned for this trip. I’ll be taking care of healing and supportive magic.” Neleh said with a grin, although her grin didn’t show from below her mask.

“You? You’re a qualified priestess? I pegged you as someone much younger.” The confusion was obvious on Aneirin’s face. She was certain that Delia had mentioned Neleh as her youngest sister. Maybe she was confusing Neleh with the second oldest sister, who was also a priestess.

“No you’re quite correct. I am young. But I also happen to be one of the few priestesses still in Elune’s favor, and I learn fast. I’m quite qualified for missions of this level.” Neleh had some poorly veiled mirth in her voice.

“It’s not polite to rub it in. I don’t like crummy winners.” Elune whispered with mock chastisement.

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. If the grand temple decided that you are our priestess, then that is what will happen.” Aneirin wasn’t all that convinced, but she was also pretty good at adapting to situations, and making a big scene was not going to make things better. And Delia had described her youngest sister as a genius, and Aneirin trusted Delia’s judgement, even if it was biased.

Micah approached the two. “Hello Neleh. I have to apologize for what happened in the duel. Things might have gotten really ugly, and you really saved me there. I had no idea that spell would be so effective. I thought that at best I could shatter Daemon’s shield and make him waste some power. I still don’t know what you did to stop the spell.” He said with a thankful smile and a small bow.

“Yes, what did you do? I’m curious as well. I’ve seen ‘Piercing’ used once before, and to my knowledge, the only way to stop it is to use a physical obstacle, like an earth wall, or to unravel the spell. But it seems that was not what you did.” Aneirin asked, suddenly also curious.

“Now, now, a girl’s got to have some secrets of her own. It’s impolite to pry. As for you Micah, I could see from your face how much the result surprised you, which is why I made the judgement as you heard. I hope you weren’t too unhappy with a draw?” Neleh said with a mysterious air.

“No I’m just happy to not get expelled from the academy. You know the feeling, when you realize you royally screwed things up, and only luck saved you from real disaster?” Micah asked with a shudder.

“I know the feeling. The important part is what you learn from such events, so that you won’t make the same mistake twice.” Neleh said with a feigned serious tone, although both of the older students could hear the amusement in her voice.

“Oh believe me, I’m not using that spell again.” He said emphatically.

“Then you learned the wrong lesson. The problem wasn’t the spell, it was the context you used it in. ‘Piercing’ is a very effective spell when used correctly, just don’t use it if you aren’t willing to kill the person you use it on. What you should learn is that there’s a place for everything, and that wasn’t the right place for that spell. Also you need to know your enemy better. You were losing that duel before that, and that’s because you didn’t prepare properly.” Neleh said with sudden seriousness that got the attention of the older students.

“You are right. I’m curious though, how would you have handled the duel with Daemon? If you were me that is.” He asked suddenly really wanting to know her answer.

“Two things. Firstly you should’ve been aware of his warrior abilities, and tried to limit his mobility. Your problem wasn’t that you didn’t have good enough offence, but instead that you weren’t hitting him properly. Both air magic and light magic have spells for combatting that. Secondly you could’ve suppressed his swarm attacks with defensive fields from light magic, which would’ve neutered his offense. Basically you went into the fight with no plan at all, aside from trying to chuck the biggest boom you could manage his way. That’s just silly.” Neleh chastised him.

“She’s right you know. You’ve always been gifted, but planning has never been your strong suite. You always charge in headfirst and hope your talents will carry you through, which for the most part they have. But you have to learn to judge your enemies better.” Aneirin joined Neleh in chastising Micah. He at least managed to look suitably contrite.

They were just about to go into further detail, when they heard the hunters coming. Dalyor was leading a group of ten hunters towards them, each of the hunters leading mounts, enough for both them and the mage students. Neleh noted with interest that the mount of choice was Lopar, the same type of lizard that she and her mother had used on their trip to deal with the Darkhunter when she was a baby. With ten hunters, eight mage students, Dalyor and herself, the whole group was twenty strong. She also recognized one of the hunters.

“Hey sister!” Neleh greeted Elsaria with arms open for a hug.

“Hey yourself! I was hoping I could surprise you, but you don’t seem all that surprised to see me.” Elsaria said giving Neleh a hug.

“Dalyor kind of spoiled it yesterday when he said he had a surprise for me this morning. I knew it would be either you, mother or both.” Neleh replied with confidence.

“Goddess dammit Dalyor! You don’t drop hints for baby sis if you want to surprise her.” Elsaria had really been looking forward to surprising her sister, and was quite cranky that the warrior had spoiled her surprise. Normally Elsaria didn’t show much in the way of emotion, but now she was visibly unhappy. She also had a habit of being a bit more open around Neleh.

“My apologies, I couldn’t help giving a little teaser. I thought she would assume it to be too soon for you to be on a mission. Lesson learned.” Dalyor replied.

“Eh, hunters aren’t like mages, warriors or priestesses. A hunter doesn’t start learning from scratch, instead she already has her own skills before becoming a hunter, and then learns to adapt those skills as a hunter. After that she adds on some hunter specific skills like survival. And the best way to learn to be a hunter is by working on missions. Besides, Elsaria has already been learning the necessary skills before joining the hunters, so it’s not a surprise to see her.” Neleh explained.

“Hmph, clever girl.” Dalyor went on to distribute the mounts and check their supplies, leaving the sisters to their own discussion.

“So, the first mission as a hunter. Are you excited?” Neleh asked.

“A little. I’m more anxious to just get it done. With experience comes practiced ease, and I don’t like being the newbie that doesn’t know anything. It just occurred to me that, since we’ll be spending a lot of time traveling, you could help me with nature magic and especially illusion magic. It’s hard to find a teacher that could show me some practical skills in illusion magic that I could utilize as a hunter.” Elsaria’s Awakening had shown she had some minor talent in nature magic and illusion magic. Not enough to become even a half decent mage, but enough that she could learn a useful trick or two for her career as a hunter.

It was pretty easy to find hunters among elves with some skill in nature magic, but illusion magic was rarely practiced outside the faerie race. Illusion magic was complex and hard to find applications for if you didn’t’ have knowledge as a base. It didn’t take a genius to find uses for fire magic or air magic as a hunter, nor was it rare to find talent in those affinities among the hunters. Illusion magic was different, similar to the spirit magic of humans. Neither was even taught in the academy. Elsaria knew though, that Neleh had more knowledge than she was letting on, and her stupidly high affinity in that area of magic was proof of that. Neleh could immediately think of couple of illusion spells that Elsaria could perform with little practice, and would find useful such as ‘truesight’ or ‘hide presence’. Thus she readily agreed to teach her.

Neither of them noticed that Aneirin was close enough to hear them talk. She was rather surprised to hear that Neleh had any knowledge or skill in Illusion magic. Most students of the academy had potential with two or three elements, with a smattering of basic ability in some others, and it was interesting to know that one of Neleh’s affinities was in Illusion magic. She filed that piece of information for future use, planning to find out rest of her affinities during this trip. As a priestess Neleh obviously had strong affinity in holy magic, so in normal cases that would leave her with one more strong affinity, which could be nature from what she overheard. So was Neleh a holy/illusion/nature mage? What a weird combination. And she had heard some rumors that the girl had at least some ability in fire as well. Little did she realize how off she was on Neleh’s abilities. Then again, there had never before been anyone with Omni-affinity, so her misconception was understandable.

What gave Aneirin some pause was that mages could use some basic spells from all affinities, even if they had absolutely no ability in that particular affinity. It just required a full aria incantation, and would be really wasteful with power. Having a strong affinity basically allowed more flexible use of that element, increased your efficiency and gave access to more complicated spells. So theoretically Neleh would be able to teach her sister even if her affinity wasn’t in that area. She’d just be a really crappy teacher.

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As the trip was meant to be training for both the hunters and the mages, the group didn’t stop to spend nights at inns, even when those were available. Even if they were in the proximity of a town when it became time to make camp, they’d pass the town and camp outside. They used small two person tents to ward of the elements, and kept a rotating watch during the night. They paired each mage with a hunter for the tents, and the two also kept watch as a pair. Since the numbers didn’t quite add up, no one complained when Neleh picked Elsaria as her pair, and Dalyor picked one of the older male hunters as his pair, just so there wasn’t anyone left alone. Dalyor made a point of stressing the importance of doing everything together as a pair for added safety.

Neleh was grateful beyond belief when she found out that Elsaria would be helping her with the cooking, when it was her turn. Cooking was just something she could not get a handle on. It required you to rely on your instincts, which Neleh was beyond great at. Her instinctive understanding of magic was something she was proud of, but she had no instinct for cooking, mostly because of her old life wasn’t something that encouraged such instincts. Cooking also required creativity, something Neleh showed with her musical abilities, but cooking didn’t allow you to be too creative, which was again a problem.

Neleh also had a habit of analyzing thing down to the smallest detail, which allowed her cooking to not be horrible, but again too much analysis was not good in cooking. She could do ok, if she could simply make food according to a strict and detailed recipe, but that was the extent of her skill. Elsaria took great glee with finally being better than Neleh at something, and kept rubbing the fact in. If it wasn’t for the fact that Neleh needed her help, she’d string her sister hanging from a tree. By feet of course, she wouldn’t actually hang her sister…much…

The group of hunters was a varied bunch of people with equally varied expertise. There were couple of warriors, a game-hunter specialized in tracking and scouting, two archers that were also proficient scouts, someone that appeared to specialize in information gathering and thieving skills and other various skills. Normally the hunters would also have one or two “mages turned into hunters” but since the academy was providing the magical power, those weren’t necessary in this party.

Neleh noted with some chagrin that they were pretty light on frontline fighters, which meant that she would most likely be helping with that role with her sister. With the mages and archers, their group was quite backline heavy. At least they had Dalyor and herself. She’d have to buy a shield the next time they passed through a moderately sized town. Her touki and magic would protect her better than any plate armor, but a shield would be useful when fighting multiple opponents, instead of one really strong person. She wasn’t as proficient with fighting with a shield and spear, since she preferred to either use her spear two handed, or in a pinch even use two shorter spears, but she would manage.

Now that she checked more closely, her sister used a fencing rapier with two sharp edges, Dalyor a pair of swords, one shorter than the other, and the two warriors in the group both used a bastard sword. So she’d be the only one actually equipped with a shield in the group. She would have to compensate with several protective spells over the whole group. She already had some ideas.

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Anauel the Chosen of Alarae, the Protector of the Celestials, was holding a meeting with a pair of her most powerful advisers and the celestial known as Rachiel. Rachiel had just finished recounting the events of Neleh’s Awakening ceremony to the three powerful celestials on Anauel’s command. She had heard the report before, and recognized the benefits of having Neleh owe her a favor by keeping things quiet, but these were her closest advisors and friends, and they had to be told. Knowing might affect their decisions in the future. Rachiel finished her report.

“So the elves have a second Chosen. And one that has unheard of potential, no less. This could be trouble.” The black winged advisor mused.

“Is it possible to get rid of her? Or alternatively control her?” The white winged advisor asked.

“Killing her is a possibility, but I would not recommend it. She is blessed by Alarae, and I would assume for a good reason. You don’t get blessed by all of the major gods without them having plans for you. Going against those plans could end up really badly.” Anauel said.

“How about the girl’s personality? Is she likely to use her strength against other races in an aggressive manner?” The black winged advisor asked Rachiel.

“It’s hard to say for certain. The girl gives me a feeling comparable to a sleeping dragon. For now she is passive, and will remain so until provoked, but it’s hard to say how she’ll react to provocation. Well, no, she would react in a very decisive and hostile manner to provocation, but only certain types of provocation." Rachiel mused.

“Elaborate.” The white winged advisor encouraged.

“She holds her family in very high regard, and if someone threatens that family, there will be corpses. I get the feeling that she has no scruples about taking the lives of countless people, but she would not do so without reason. It’s hard to describe exactly, but I get the feeling that she sees mindless killing dishonorable. Not evil, but dishonorable. As a whole she seems like a very passive person, but with the capacity for quick and decisive action.” Rachiel explained. “She seems like a person who doesn’t have too many moral hang-ups, but doesn’t enjoy the suffering of others either. And there are certain things that really ruffle her feathers as a person, such as rape and causing needless suffering.”

“A dangerous person. But also a flexible one. She sounds like someone who could be our greatest friend or worst enemy.” The white winged advisor said.

“I’m quite interested in her ties with the one we know as Gabriel.” Anauel said. “Gabriel left this world shortly after meeting Neleh, and from everything we’ve heard the only reason she spent several years on this world, was to find her. The girl seems to have some ties to things outside our world.”

“That would explain her abnormal potential. Personally I find it a good thing that Gabriel is gone, but for how long?” The black winged advisor asked.

“This needs more investigation. We have too many questions, and not all that many answers. I would very much like to meet this new Chosen of Satai. Try and see if it could be arranged.” Anauel said, making up her mind.

“I’ll see what we can arrange. You visiting the elven lands would draw quite a bit of attention. I’ll see if we can mask it with a visit to some high ranking elf, like their Chosen or the emperor.” The black winged advisor mused. “There’s another matter to consider. We have found out about a plot that will most likely plunge the Elven Empire into a civil war. How should we proceed with that?”

“I say we let matters run their course. The elves have a little too much power and influence at the moment, and will have even more so with a second Chosen. A civil war among them would even things up quite a bit.” The white winged advisor said emphatically.

‘There’s an interesting thought.’ Anauel thought to herself. ‘Us celestials are a force for good, but we cant’ fix everything. It’s hardly our fault that the elves want a civil war, and we’d just be allowing things to run their course. We can’t fix all the problems in the world, and sometimes saving the many means not saving the few.’
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Vihyungrang

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