While Asheara was arranging for furniture to be transported over, Neleh and Azrael went towards Neleh’s old dorm room. Neleh went to fetch her things and to tell Kanako about the changed living arrangements, while Azrael just went along to keep an eye out. They met Maylin on the way, and explained the situation, and the dorm head promised to help Kanako with moving her things. Maylin was also glad to have Neleh back to attend lessons. The lessons so far had been very basic information, with students being brought up to speed on the basics, while the real lessons would start soon.
Neleh found Kanako in the room reading a text on magic theory.
“Hello again roommate. Apologies for being late. As you might imagine, things got a little hectic with the civil war and all.” Neleh greeted the wide eyed naga with a smile.
“Neleh! I was getting worried!” Kanako came to give Neleh a friendly hug, smiling widely. She had been fairly lonely these weeks that Neleh had been gone. The civil war had drawn everyone’s attention, and there had been no trouble for Kanako, but it had been fairly boring. It was also difficult to make friends when most of the students were completely focused on something that didn’t really interest her all that much.
“Sorry about that.” Neleh replied with a smile. “We can talk more, but first I need you to start packing. We have new accommodations.”
“We’re moving? What happened?” Kanako asked with a confused tilt of her head.
“Due to fairly complex circumstances, we got two new roommates. I think you can agree that trying to fit four people into this room would be too much. So I got us something with more space. It’s a bit out of the way, but much nicer.” Neleh gave a truncated explanation.
“Two new roommates? This ought to be interesting. I’m expecting a full explanation later on.” Kanako looked at Neleh with curiosity. “Who are these roommates?”
“First one is waiting downstairs with Maylin. She’s a new celestial teacher, here to teach light magic. She’s also my new advisor and observer, so she needs to remain close to me. The second one is my mother Asheara. Her situation is more complicated, but suffice to say she’s here as a bodyguard of sorts.” Neleh explained carefully.
“Oh right, I heard something about the new Chosen of Elune being named Neleh. I wasn’t sure they meant you, but that would explain an advisor and a bodyguard. Observer, though?” Kanako asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, apparently my age is something of a problem to them. That said, they are correct in that I don’t have complete control over my powers yet, so they aren’t completely wrong.” Neleh mixed a little bit of truth with the lie.
They had finished packing most of their things, storing them in Neleh’s ring, and were now downstairs, waiting for Maylin to finish the paperwork. Neleh had made the introductions between Kanako and Azrael. Kanako liked Azrael’s blue wings, while the celestial seemed to be very amused by Kanako’s antics.
Azrael whispered Neleh. “I like her. Can we keep her?” Eliciting a laugh from Neleh. “She’s so…genuine and full of life.”
“I like having her around too. You’ll like her even more when you get to know her more. She’s great fun to have around.” Neleh answered. Even though Neleh wasn’t that familiar with Kanako either, they had at least spent some time together.
Suddenly Kanako realized something. “Oh right, Neleh. The other naga are looking for you for some reason.”
“Me?” Neleh wondered. “I knew they were looking for something or someone, but didn’t know they were looking for me. They weren’t very forthcoming with information.”
“Yeah, we naga can get like that sometimes. Even if sharing information would help things along, we sometimes stubbornly avoid it and do our own thing. Even I know about it only because they asked me some questions about you. It didn’t seem too urgent, but…” Kanako replied apologetically.
“Alright. I’ll see what I can arrange.” Neleh replied, suddenly curious.
The next morning brought a visit from Estelar to their new place. They had managed to make the move, and their new house was useful for receiving visitors. As the new Chosen, Neleh would probably be receiving quite a few visitors and doing it in a dorm room would have been problematic.
“So the old farts managed to rope you into becoming a duchess?” Estelar asked rhetorically with a grin. “I would’ve imagined you would have your hands full even without the added problems.
“Hey, hey, I only agreed if they managed to rope you into doing the hard work until I graduate from the academy.” Neleh replied with a grin of her own. “By the time I’ve graduated, I’ll be having more time, and having a duchy to rule will give me a good excuse to get out of some other, more arduous duties.”
Neleh thought for a while, tapping a finger to her chin. “My Inquisitor duties will most likely consist mainly of interrogations in the near future. Since I’ve become such a visible member of the Inquisition, I can’t really do the same kind of investigative work I would’ve done otherwise. I’m pretty sure Yunalesca is planning on setting me up as some kind of symbol of justice, where I’ll visibly judge some otherwise hard to approach criminals and corrupt nobles. As the Chosen, they can’t really second guess my judgement, since I’ll be monitored by the goddess. Should be pretty popular with the normal citizens, at least. I’ll be busy at first, but in a few months, I’ll most likely be used mostly as a symbol. And even if I’ll have more work than I thought, I’ll be able to do it at the new duchy. There’s also one thing I’ll have to sort out with my father.”
“Well you’ll need a new hobby then. Being a duchess should fill that void. Wouldn’t want you to get bored, and start dabbling in something more dangerous. Dangerous for the rest of us, I mean.” Estelar chuckled. “Your father is the elven master smith of the Eldarinwe, right?”
“Correct. The original plan was for me to learn his craft and then pass that on to one of my sister’s kids. That plan seems to have become impossible, seeing as I’m already the Chosen, and there are other issues with the idea. I have an alternative plan though, and that includes the new duchy.” Neleh said thoughtfully.
“Well do tell. If we’re going to do this, I’m going to have to be in on at least most of your plans. I’m assuming I’ll have to start the groundwork on many of them.” Estelar was genuinely curious. Neleh was someone who could come up with a lot of new ideas, and he wanted to know what she could do with a duchy as rich and important as Jao’e’Tinukai.
Even though Estelar was expecting some weird and new things, the more Neleh explained her ideas, the more shocked he became. She really wasn’t the type to just coast to success. She had comprehensive economy, military and social reforms planned for the province, and those were the easy stuff.
“You’re really planning on going all in with this aren’t you. All this will take decades to finish.” Estelar thought for a long while. “But if you succeed with even half of these, you’re going to be ruling a duchy more powerful than any ten other duchies combined. That’s it isn’t it? You’re not really building a duchy, you’re building a kingdom.”
“That may be the end result, yes. That’s not necessarily the end goal, but I wouldn’t mind that result. It might be really beneficial to have another power in the empire aside from the three clans, especially one that is not controlled by your birth. But that’s a very long term goal. Mostly this is all about my own gratification. If I’m going to rule a duchy, then I’m going to make it the best duchy in the world, just to show myself that I can. Be sure to try and draw the members of other races living in the empire to our duchy. Jao’e’Tinukai is currently almost completely made of Eldarinwe, and we will most likely want to change that.” Neleh said conviction heavy in her voice.
“Are you sure you can convince your father? That part will take a quite a bit of my time, and I’d rather not waste it.” Estelar asked.
“It should be doable. It might be a problem if we started with that, but he’ll come around if we show him some of the things I have planned.” Neleh replied confidently.
“Well, I guess I should get to it. We have a lot of work to do, and you’ve managed to get me curious about whether we can pull this off. We’ll be remembered as a result for sure, either as an epic failure or a model for others to emulate.” Estelar said suddenly serious. This was the type of challenge he could appreciate.
Neleh, Asheara and Azrael had gathered at the arena. They planned to have a sparring match between Neleh and Azrael, to test their abilities. This was so that they could have an idea on what to expect when they ran into trouble later on. Neleh was also hoping to fight an opponent that really drove her and her new body to the limits. So far she hadn’t had much chance to test her new limits, partially because of the lack of really skilled opponents and partially because she had to fight with inferior practice weapons. Dalyor had given her the best opponent so far, and in that fight she had been forced to hold back, because the wooden weapon would break under too much stress. Solana was skilled, but she was a fighter focused on speed, and didn’t’ have the strength required to really let Neleh go all out.
Asheara went to the audience seats, which only held a couple of people who had seen them enter the arena and were curious to see what was going on. Azrael pulled out her huge two handed sword while Neleh pulled out her spear from her hair.
“So how do you want to do this? With or without magic?” Azrael asked.
“You use whatever you feel necessary to use, and I’ll match you. Until one side gives up or is unable to continue?” Neleh replied and made sure of the losing condition, getting a nod in reply.
Asheara gave the starting signal, and both fighters moved with full speed, the sand on the floor of the arena getting thrown from the first step of their acceleration. They both started with a full strength two-handed sweep of their weapon, using their whole body to strengthen the blow. All of Neleh’s Ignasia were shining full strength, while Azrael’s aura flared full strength around her muscles. The collision of ki when their weapons collided threw both of them backwards and created a cloud of sand as the ki overflowed from the impact. Usually there was large amount of damage to the surroundings when fighters of this strength level collided. Notably this time, both of the fighters were so good at directing their power and keeping it within themselves and their weapons, that the cloud was very small, almost created as much from the airflow of the weapons swings as the overflow of ki.
The two combatants immediately reengaged, trying to not give the opponent time to recover. They both tried to use a lot of sideways movement to try and catch their opponent off-balance between steps, testing the footwork of the opponent through the fight. Neleh noticed right away that the celestial was indeed a little stronger physically. On the other hand Neleh was a little faster, which allowed her to parry Azrael’s blows, which diffused some of the strength. On the other hand, the celestial’s blows carried such weight, that she was unable to use her favorite tactic of parrying with one end of her weapon, while spinning into an attack with the other end.
Azrael on the other hand was shocked to notice that Neleh’s every strike was aimed at a place where it would be lethal, without a single shred of hesitation. This girl knew how to kill people, and had done it before. A normal person would hesitate to use such obviously lethal attacks in a sparring match. Almost all intelligent beings also had an aversion against taking the life of another, and even in a life and death battle it took a special kind of person or a lot of experience to calmly aim for the death of the enemy with every attack. People could do it out of desperation, or when angry, but calm and calculated? That took something else. To defend against something that dedicated took effort and concentration, because a single mistake would end up in your death. Neleh also had this annoying habit, where her attack and defense flowed flawlessly from one to another, driving her opponent to a slightly worse position on every move. In one or two moves it didn’t matter much, but it accumulated and forced Azrael into taking a bit of distance every now and then to gain back lost ground.
The few people in the audience were cheering and calling their friends to come and watch. The two combatants were clearly of higher skill level, than anything they had seen before. Even if they had not seen any flashy attacks yet, they could tell that every move of theirs was carefully calculated, and masterfully executed. It was like watching a dance with weapons.
Neleh realized that if they continued as is, she would lose. Unlike the celestial, her body had not matured yet, and didn’t hold the same amount of power. Their basic skills were almost equally matched, and Neleh still didn’t’ have the strength to use some of the more complex maneuvers she had learned in her old life. So she had a choice. She could either take this into a fight that tested their skill in outer Ki techniques, where the celestial would have the advantage because of her larger amount of Ki, or she could use a technique she considered cheating, because it would almost guarantee the victory against someone that didn’t know how to fight against it, rhythm break.
Nearly all fighters fall into a rhythm, while they are fighting. This allows them to spend less effort thinking about their actions, letting their bodies react on practiced instinct instead. Rhythm break is the technique by which you throw their rhythm off, by making your attacks just a slight bit faster or slower and off-beat from the expected. This can throw people off balance and into making mistakes. Even if not, it forces your opponent to focus their attention into every movement they make instead of just reacting by instinct. This slows down their reflexes, and makes them tire out extremely fast. In addition they have less capacity to think far enough ahead in the fight.
This technique was extremely effective against those that have not faced it before, and if you have no training in rhythm control it can drive you into glaring mistakes. If on the other hand you did have the training, then it was not too hard to fight against, since it also took some effort on the part of the one performing the technique. The different stages of rhythm control were one of the first things Neleh planned on teaching to Asheara, because they were a great foundation for many greater things, and could easily make a difference between fighters that had the knowledge and those that didn’t.
Neleh decided to go the cheat-y way. She never was someone who avoided using underhanded methods to establish her superiority. In her opinion anyone who tried to cry foul, simply wasn’t skilled enough in cheating themselves. The effect was immediate. Even those gathering in the audience could see the confused expression on Azrael’s face, as she got more and more desperate to avoid large mistakes. Now she was the one losing strength faster, and couldn’t’ quite figure out what was going on. She simply realized something was wrong.
Finally she threw a group of blades made of Ki towards Neleh and jumped to take some distance. “You did something didn’t you?” Azrael grunted. “Well, if were going towards techniques like that, we might as well go all the way.”
Suddenly Azrael was surrounded by a hundred lances of ice that flew towards Neleh. Azrael expected that Neleh would be able to take the attack with her shields. To her shock she saw a swirling mass of air rotating rapidly around Neleh. The air moved so fast that the ice was completely shredded, and it looked like Neleh was standing inside what looked like a white translucent bubble. Some audience members actually thought she was using some sort of light magic barrier, but Azrael knew better as someone versed in light magic. This was not a defensive barrier; the strength of this air flow would shred steel if touched. The ice lances weren’t deflected, they were destroyed.
‘The girl is supposed be a fire mage, so fire/air/holy? But didn’t Anauel mention something about her attending my lessons in light magic? So quad elementalist?’ Azrael thought. Anauel had not spread the word about Neleh’s affinities beyond her advisors.
Suddenly Neleh used her air magic to scoop up a large amount of the sand from the arena floor and sent the wind at Azrael. If you thought the wind alone was devastating, then the sand inside the wind would shear the flesh from someone’s bones in a second, and grind the bones to dust in another. Azrael hastily put up the strongest shield she could manage, while also used one of her most powerful light magic spells as a semi desperate last attack. Asheara recognized the spell as the same ‘Power of the Heavens’ she had used to kill the Darkhunter over a decade ago. The golden pillar of light hit Neleh’s side of the arena. Unfortunately for Azrael the wind had removed her visibility, so she had to try and attack almost blindly.
Both of the attacks fizzled out and Azrael could feel the head of Neleh’s weapon resting on her shoulder. She heard a voice from behind her.
“And you are dead.” Neleh said calmly.
“So I am.” Azrael admitted. She had lost the position of Neleh in the wind, and Neleh had taken advantage of it. Azrael raised her hands in surrender. “I’ll still want a re-match at a later stage.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Neleh replied with a small laugh.