Neleh didn’t meet her advisor until it was almost time for them to leave. Apparently the celestials had not decided on whom to choose beforehand. It would take them a couple of days of hard flying to reach Rhi’a’non from their current position. Avant Heim was apparently moving away from the elven lands. A word had reached them that the elven civil war had come to a tenuous end, so the celestials didn’t have much to do here anymore. Their main purpose for coming had been Neleh anyway. From what Neleh was able to gather from snippets of overheard conversations, the floating island was heading towards the Faerie continent next.
Neleh was standing on the landing platform on the edge of the city, looking towards the celestial capital. The celestial capital was notable in the fact that it was a rather small city compared to other capital cities. Of course the usable land on the floating island was limited, but it was surprising how little the celestials had built in the way of tall buildings. There were some tall buildings, a great silver arch and a tall obsidian tower for example, but on the whole the buildings were no taller than Rhi’a’non. Neleh knew the celestials weren’t the most fertile of races, but this seemed a bit surprising. It might have something to do with how a large part of the celestial population was traveling in the lands of the other races. She also had no idea how many floating cities they had. Maybe they were simply spread out on several smaller islands instead? The city was fairly nice architecturally, though nothing when compared to the elven cities. Apparently the celestials didn’t put much weight on architecture.
Neleh could feel Anauel and another powerful celestial approaching, and directed her gaze towards them. The celestial Chosen was easy to recognize with her fiery red wings, but her companion was even more striking. Neleh had never before seen a celestial with blue wings, and that’s counting in her previous life. The celestial with ten wings and deep blue hair was impressive. Those were the two most obvious adjectives that came to Neleh’s mind, impressive and striking. This woman was one of those warrior women and brought to mind a Valkyrie.
She was clearly a warrior, evidenced both by the large two handed sword on her back, as well as clearly defined muscles. She didn’t look like a bodybuilder; instead she was someone whose body had been forged by countless battles. No excess muscle to get in the way, but clearly someone who could do real damage with that terrifying blade. Unless Neleh was mistaken, this was the first time she had met a woman who would be physically stronger than her, while she used the full power of her Ignasia. She was tall, with legs that went on forever, deep blue eyes and hair, fair sized breasts that looked just right on her build, and hips to die for. The woman also moved with grace and certain air of confidence and superiority, only found in warriors that had seen multiple life and death battles. She wasn’t tense, but she was ready to explode into action any moment.
The woman’s eyes held great intelligence, and were doing a similar evaluation of Neleh, that she was performing herself. Apparently the woman approved what she saw, judging her expression. It was hard to evaluate her age, since celestials didn’t really age after a certain point and the woman’s face had this certain agelessness about it, but she did have this feeling of experience that hinted to a fairly long life. At the very least she wasn’t young. The celestial was dressed in a white toga similar to the one Neleh was still wearing, except outfitted with a small leather harness for her sword. The dress was clearly meant for traveling, and she was also carrying a large bag which most likely contained a plethora of items. Neleh could sense the container was something similar to her rings, and probably held enough items for someone who wasn’t expecting to see her home in a long time.
“Neleh Khalidor, I’d like you to meet your new advisor Azrael. Azrael is one of the most powerful celestials alive, and notably a Medjai of great skill. She’s a little gruff, but fair and probably the only celestial that can fight me equally. Azrael, I’d like you to meet your new companion Neleh. Neleh is the Chosen of both Satai and Elune, and most likely the only person who has more potential than me in the fire element.” Anauel made the introductions, with a little twinkle of humor in her eye.
Neleh gave a warriors greeting and went straight to the point. “Blue wings?”
The two celestials grunted. Azrael resigned and Anauel amused. “Not one to beat around the bush, eh?” Azrael stated.
“Might as well get the obvious out of the way, so we won’t have to dance around the subject.” Neleh shrugged her shoulders.
“Good point. I’m not sure why my wings are blue, but I assume it has something to do with my skill with water magic. My power with water magic is comparable to Anauel's with fire.” Azrael stated. She was a fairly direct person, so getting the subject out of the way immediately suited her just fine. Everyone asked about it anyway at some point. Assuming they dared to do so.
“Fair enough. I now owe you one very direct question.” Neleh replied with a smile. “We might as well get going. We can work out the details once we get more used to each other. Many things will depend on the situation back home anyway.” Azrael nodded in agreement.
Neleh was just about to change into her Flame Seraph form, when she suddenly stopped. She had gotten an idea out of the blue. Sometimes ideas just came to her suddenly.
“Can you give me a second? I just had an idea.” Neleh said to the two confused celestials.
Neleh concentrated for a minute, trying out a new kind of magic she had never even considered before, mainly because she didn’t have access to holy power in her previous life. Suddenly a small ball of golden fire appeared above her palm. Neleh had used both her magical power and the holy power from Elune to form the flame. Holy fire! It was really difficult to create magic that combined two different elements. This was not to be confused to using two or more elements to form a single spell. Many spells used several elements, for instance a simple lightning bolt used water, air and fire to form the spell. But the end result was just lighting and only carried the qualities of that one element.
This was one of the reasons most mages were unable to voicelessly cast most spells. If you were unable to understand how the different elements affected each other to produce the effect, you had to use a chanted spell to make up for your lack of understanding. If you understood one of the elements, then you could use a shortened chant, instead of a full aria, which was necessary when handling elements you had little talent in.
What Neleh had just done, was combine two elements in a way that carried the qualities of both fire magic and holy magic. If she was to chuck the fireball she had created at a creature immune to fire, the spell would work just fine because of the holy element. Neleh had previously created many different kinds of fire magic, ranging from raging plasma that melted anything, to wytchfire that was a green flame nearly impossible to put out, to flame of life that was useful for healing and purification, among other things. This was new though. Who knew what kind of applications she could come up with this? At the very basic level at least, it would be very effective against certain creatures like undead. Neleh theorized that the new holy fire would be more effective in most ways, when compared to just normal flame, but the exact effect was still unknown. She wondered if she would be able to form wytchfire or flame of life with this new combination. This needed more research.
Perhaps more importantly, she could now use both her mana and holy power for her fire spells. And as a Chosen of two gods, she had an abundance of holy power. The only problem of holy power so far had been the lack of good offensive spells. It was great for healing and protection, but now when combined with her fire magic, the whole situation had changed. She wondered if she could use the combination for her transformation to Flame Seraph as well, and tried immediately. She turned to the now familiar form, except now the living flame from her wings, to the halo, to her hair and eyes was golden in color. Even the small tear on her cheek had turned golden. It felt liberating somehow, as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. It seemed this was the way her old powers were meant to be used with her new body.
“Well that’s new.” Anauel mumbled, stunned.
“You can say that again.” Neleh whispered back breathless. This was huge. She had thought she knew a lot about fire, but had just learned a whole new world was waiting for her to discover.
“It’s about time. We were starting to wonder how long it would take you to try that.” Elune said greatly amused.
‘Give me a break. I lived hundreds of years without access to holy power. It’s going to take me some time to get used to the possibilities.’ Neleh replied defensively.
“Uh-huh, whatever you say, oh empress of fire.” The goddess was clearly laughing.
“Well then, that was interesting, but we still have a trip to make, and I’d rather travel when there’s still light remaining.” Neleh said, a little sullen at the goddess, and started flying towards their destination. Azrael followed, a little amused. She wasn’t sure what just happened, but at least her life was about to get a bit more interesting.
It took the two of them only a day and a half to reach Rhi’a’non. Now that Neleh didn’t have a problem with the power drain of the Flame Seraph form, she could maintain a much higher flight speed, and they didn’t’ have to stop to rest during the night. Now that Neleh was no longer planning on hiding herself, they could also fly straight to the city, instead of landing outside and wasting time walking in. Neleh decided that she should visit the temple first. She had to make a report on what had happened, and give her sister’s body to the priestesses so it could be prepared for burial. She was most certainly not going to dump the body and the severed head at her mother’s house. She would tell her the news, if she had not heard already, but seeing the body of her daughter could be too much for Asheara.
Neleh also had to get caught up on the current events. Azrael said that she should check in at the academy, mostly because she wanted to let Neleh have some time with her family and mourn her sister without the celestial hovering over the girls shoulder. Neleh drew quite a bit of attention when she landed in the temple garden. She didn’t bother holding back the glow of the Ignasia on her forehead either. If she was going to announce her identity, might as well do it without holding back.
Acolytes quickly went running, when she asked for a word to be sent to both Nimue and Yunalesca. Apparently the acolytes didn’t recognize her by her name. Maybe they had trouble connecting the young girl acolyte who tried to hide her looks, with the self-assured young woman drawing attention from everyone. It didn’t take long for the two women to appear from within the temple. Apparently they had been together.
“Neleh!” Nimue greeted with a wide smile. “I was wondering what was going on, when the acolyte came in babbling something about a golden goddess appearing in the garden. I should’ve known it was you up to your tricks again.”
“Nimue, good to see you. It’s good to be back.” Neleh answered with a grin and gave the priestess a friendly hug.
“I see you’re no longer hiding yourself, girl.” Yunalesca said, also with a smile.
“Secrecy served its purpose at the time, but it seemed like a bad solution considering the circumstances.” Neleh said, and indicated at the Ignasia on her forehead.
“So it’s true? You’re the next Chosen after Shalheira?” Nimue asked suddenly, not really paying attention to her surroundings. They were still in the temple garden, surrounded by a large amount of people. A sudden wave of discussion and whispers started around them, the bystanders hearing Nimue’s words. Neleh suspected Nimue had done it on purpose, for several reasons. For one, it was necessary to get the word out that Shalheira was no longer the Chosen.
Because she realized it, Neleh also decided to answer the question right there in the garden, where people could hear her words. “Indeed, Elune made me her Chosen after the events with the late-emperor. I decided that it was not appropriate for the Chosen of Elune to try and hide her identity.” This announcement brought a glamor from the audience, and after a small moment they all started kneeling on one knee and bowing their head.
It was customary to kneel, when the Chosen first announced her identity to the world, and Neleh certainly looked quite awe inspiring at the moment. She had left the wings of golden fire out on purpose, because she had expected something like this to happen.
“We made the point. Now we should probably take the rest of this discussion inside.” Yunalesca whispered. The two others agreed. Neleh let the wings disappear as soon as they went inside the temple.
Once inside Nimue’s office, they started filling each other in on what had happened. King Aelrindel and Queen Amaranthae had arrived early, and the first negotiations were supposed to begin tomorrow, so it was good Neleh had hurried on her way back. She did mention that she might have to miss the first day of negotiation, depending on what happened when she returned home. Their family would most likely need at least one proper day of mourning. Estelar had been able to tell them that Neleh had mentioned her sister, and they had suspected that Selvaria was dead, but since they didn’t know what exactly happened with Neleh and her sister, they could not be sure.
“I was hoping that you would handle my sister’s body before the burial. It has been held in stasis within my holding ring, but I don’t want my mother to see her like that at the burial.” Neleh said with sadness in her voice.
“We will take care of it.” Nimue reassured the girl. It was too much to ask for Neleh to handle the last rites of her sister’s body, even if she was also a priestess. Nimue had also often seen what battle could do to bodies, so she was prepared to do what had to be done. “The presence of Chosen is not required tomorrow, since we were only planning on more general negotiations and not the official council for selecting the next emperor.”
Neleh was standing at the door of her mother’s house. She knew Asheara had felt her approach the city, and Neleh could feel her moving back home to wait for her. This was the part she was dreading the most. She had to go inside and tell her mother that she had outlived one of her daughters. Among the shorter lived races there was a saying about how parents should never have to live long enough to bury their children. Unfortunately among the long lived races, parents outliving their children was more common. The sadness was the same however. Neleh was rarely afraid, but this was something she did not want to face.
She was about to knock, when the door opened and showed Asheara. Of course her mother had felt her hesitation through the bond, and had felt her standing outside the door. “You don’t ever need to knock when entering our house Neleh.” Asheara said emphatically while she let Neleh get inside and shut the door behind them.
Neleh could feel through the bond that her mother knew. Of course she did. She could feel Neleh’s sadness flooding through the bond. “Selvaria is gone.” Neleh simply whispered and brought her mother in for a hug.
“I know. You didn’t do a good enough job when you tried to mask your emotions when it happened. I could feel your grief and rage. When I heard Estelar’s story, it didn’t take much to figure out what had happened.” Asheara gave a small sob, and hugged Neleh harder.
There wasn’t much else to be said. The two simply held each other for support and grieved. They had lost a member of their family and there was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t bother with needless accusations or regrets. There were things they both could have done differently, but they were not omniscient. It was not their fault. What happened had happened, and now the only thing that remained was to mourn. Mourn and hopefully move on. They both had lost people before. The pain would never disappear completely, but it would lessen. This was the downside of a long life.
They spent the rest of the day sharing each other’s grief through the bond, which in a way also helped them. The bond and their constant physical contact reminded them that they were not alone, and that life went on. They shared their good memories of Selvaria most of the night. At some point Asheara brought up the subject of burial.
“It’s just too bad we can’t have a proper burial. I shudder at the thought of my girl lying in some mass grave on the battlefield.” Asheara said with a small sob.
“About that. I managed to reclaim her body before I lost myself completely. I already turned it in for handling at the temple. We can have the burial tomorrow, with the family attending. I doubt father can make it, but my sisters are in town, right?” Neleh asked while pulling out the sapphire and silver chain Selvaria always wore. “On that note, I did something I’m not sure how to react to now that I’m more sane. The soul of the man who killed Selvaria is inside this gem. I think you should decide what we should do with it.” She finished feeling conflicted.
Asheara gasped. “You can do that? Thank you for bringing back Selvaria’s body, but what CAN we do with a soul?” She wondered. On one hand she hated the person who murdered her daughter, while on the other hand she knew it had happened in a battle. She was however beyond relieved that Neleh had brought back her sister’s body.
“Well there are three options really. I can’t keep a soul for very long, but I can make the rest of his time very unpleasant. On the other hand, I know someone within Inferno, who can do much more to a soul. She also owes me a favor. I suppose we could also let it go, though I’m not big on forgiveness.”
“I’ll have to give that some thought. It would probably be better for me to make a decision while I’m not overcome with grief. How long can you hold him?” Asheara asked sadly.
“About a week more.” Neleh estimated, and returned the gem into her holding ring. She knew what her mother would decide. Unlike her, Asheara wasn’t really capable of prolonging the suffering of others. Even Neleh wasn’t big on that, except with the very few people who made it to her shitlist. They spent the rest of the night talking and mourning.
With the first light of the morning, Asheara and her daughters gathered at the temple for the Rites of Passing. Nimue had cleaned the body herself, and was leading the ceremony. At Nimue’s request, Neleh performed a sad and grief-filled ritual dance of mourning, meant to take the soul to the arms of the goddess. Neleh knew better than anyone what happened to souls after death, but decided to stay silent on the subject. She instead put her all into the dance, which brought tears to everyone’s eyes. The Ritual was attended only by their family and Alduin Rhys with his wife, with Nimue officiating. Or that had been the plan at least. The word got out within the temple, that the new Chosen of Elune was performing the Rite to her sister. All the priestesses and acolytes had arrived to attend, mainly to see the face of their new Chosen. None of them had known Selvaria and very few of them had known Neleh, but there wasn’t a dry pair of eyes in the audience.
Asheara also had a pretty good idea, that Elune had very little to do with the souls of the dead, and the same applied to the God of death Iarus. Neleh had not given her much in the way of details on what happened after death, but she had gathered that reincarnation was in the cards for Selvaria as well. That though gave her some comfort. Her daughter might be gone, but her soul would live on.